20 March 2014

Suppiah Vijayan moves

Mailvaganam Watta is a familiar place.  There was a time I used to go there many times a day.  Mailvaganam Watta is in Thunmulla.  That’s a little ways beyond Hercules Tailors on the same side of the road.  You would see something which, if surroundings were different, could be mistaken for a driveway.  Things do get driven there, actually.  Three-wheelers for example.  I’ve not ventured deep enough, but I am pretty certain that a dozen of more families live in that cul-de-sac

There have always been kiosks hugging one of the walls that line the path that makes Mailvaganam Watta. Ownership changes pretty often, this I’ve noticed.  The wares on offer remain pretty much the same.  There’s kola kenda in the morning.  There’s at least one shop offering lunch packets and sometimes breakfast packs.  One would sell soap, toothpaste and other sundries.  One or two would have betel.  Suppiah Vijayan sold cigarettes, betel and occasionally sweets and chewing gum. 

He was always there.  That was guaranteed.  Others would ‘put up shop’ whenever regular source of income was lost.  When things get better they close shop.  Life is simple down Mailvaganam Watta.  It was simpler still for Suppiah Vijayan.  He didn’t move. Life moved around him.

He couldn’t move much.  Suppiah Vijayan was stopped in his tracks on March 2, 1991.  Twenty three years is a long time to live without a limb.  It is also time enough to get used to being without the leg he lost courtesy the LTTE.  He was one of those many innocent bystanders who lose out when terrorists target someone or something. The someone was Ranjan Wijeratne.  Suppiah Vijayan lost his job.  So he re-invented himself.  He ran a kade.  He made ends meet.  His work station was also his bed.  It was also where he had his evening ‘shot’. 

I remember walking in one day to find him weeping.  He had been robbed while asleep.  It was easy to rob him.  There were no doors he could lock.  A thief wouldn’t have to spend hours looking for loot.  It was all in a tiny ‘floor space’ of about 10 square feet.  He must have consumed enough so he could sleep like a log.  He had been robbed of all the money he had.  ‘Thirteen thousand,’ he told me between sobs.  All I could do was to give him all the money I had. 

We were friends.  He was ill-tempered and had very bad PR.  His relations (Mailvaganam Watta was full of them) said that he was difficult to get along with.  He treated them with suspicion.  He treated everyone with suspicion. I never asked why.  It took him a few seconds to recognize me.  Always.  Until he did, he looked and sounded utterly glum.  Then he would smile.  That was worth all the glumness that preceded. 

Those were jobless days.  Freelancing is like that.  There are more no-money days than have-money days.  And money-days were not frequent.  If I happened to go that way on a money-day I would ask what he wanted.  Glasses, he once said.  Trishaw-fare to go to hospital. Little things. 

Then I got a job.  A regular job.  I didn’t go that way often but if ever I did, I would drop by to say hello and chit-chat for a while. 

I went there on Thursday.  Not to see him.  Just to check out and take pictures of election posters.  Those who violate election laws pertaining to posters steer clear of the main roads.  They don’t spare the ‘wathu’.  I’ve seen those walls covered with ugly mugs during elections.  Guaranteed photograph. I went with ‘The Nation’ photographer, Chandana Wijesinghe. 

Mailvaganam Watta looked different. Clean. The kiosks were there. There was one that looked pretty fresh.  Freshly painted, that is.  I was focused on work.  So we took the pictures.  Then I looked around.  I looked for the always-there-kade of my always-there friend Suppiah Vijayan.  It was there. It was the one that was freshly painted. He was no there.

First guess: he had, like others, ‘moved on’ in that he had sold his shop.  There was a young man at the ‘shop’.  I asked, ‘Ko Uncle?’  (Where is the old gentleman?). 

‘Thaththa nethi una ne…..pebaravari palavenida’ (Father died…on the first of February).  It was his son.  He said that he wanted to inform me, but no one knew my number. Only Suppiah Vijayan knew.  He had it written down in an exercise book with lots of numbers.   

Suppiah Vijayan was a friend I could count on.  I could count on him to be there.  Always.  That was guaranteed.  Life was and is simple down Mailvaganam Watta.  It was simpler still for Suppiah Vijayan.  He didn’t move. Life moved around him. Now life moves around without him. 

It will be difficult for me to go to Mailvaganam Watta again.  It’s as simple as that. 



Serene said...

You capture the essence of life. Beautiful piece.

Serene said...

Beautiful piece. Your writings capture the essence of life.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

I wrote about him a few years ago too. http://malindawords.blogspot.com/2014/03/lets-talk-of-things-supposedly-inanimate.html

Anonymous said...

I am sad to read this. You have friends who'd be with you if they could. Hope that's a comforting thought. Take care.

sajic said...

Thank you, Malinda. You will miss him but he wont miss you, you know. He'll always be around.