05 April 2014

This country belongs to Pinchi Appuhamy

The terraced paddy fields of the tract that runs through Walgama are in various stages of preparation.  They appear as a patchwork quilt made of differently textured cloth in a various shades of brown and green. The earth has been turned, ploughed, evened out, plotted, sown and planted.

There’s a kingfisher perched on a small rock, watching the water from one liyadda to the next. Beyond the paddy fields and through the dark green thickness of the typical Kandyan home garden, homes and people come sliced. At the far end, two farmers diligently raise mammoty, bring them down, drag and repeat.  The common bathing well is deserted. It was around 11 in the morning last Sunday.

A ten year old girl, unfettered and ‘unfetterable’, had turned this lilting landscape from home to universe, just by the snap of mind-finger.  She distinctly remembers soaring over paddy field and canopy, reducing home and village accordingly as she surveyed the kingdom she never claimed ownership to or ever needed to.  The older villagers still remember her speeding along the made-for-slipping niyaras topped with fresh mud, trying to evade her 65 year old grandfather, who ran after her, cane in hand, enthusiasm cleverly camouflaged with stern countenance and admonishment.     

‘He is still talked of as a honda goviya,’ Ven. Walgama Munindrawansa Hamuduruwo said.  This was while the Thero was delivering the anusasana at the almsgiving held on confer merit on Pinchi Appuhamy last Sunday.  He died in 1994. 

‘Farming was an art for him. He took great care and pride in his work.   When he prepared the paddy fields and repaired the niyaras marking the boundaries of each liyadda, it was beautiful to behold. That was how he did it and that was how he thought it should be done. He had little respect for those who were lazy or not as meticulous.  He considered it an art form. It was sacred to him.’

Munindrawansa Hamuduruwo’s reading is shared by many.  Pinchi Appuhamy was a giant because he never neglected the tiniest detail, because he was rooted in the soil and he strived to live the doctrine he subscribed to.  He took the blows that came his way with courage, fought back but not with anger, did what he had to do and even more than was expected of him. 

The almsgiving was not held in a house he built. His had been a small, two-roomed mansion (in the eyes of his 10 year old granddaughter). He built it with his own hands.  Literally.  When his son-in-law wanted to build a house, Pinchi Appuhamy had single-handedly created a level plot by bringing down the side of a hill. Single-handedly. No backhoes.  No labourers.  Once, having fallen from a motorcycle, he had hobbled home with a knee-cap hanging tenuously to his limb. He had demanded a knife to cut off whatever it was that still made it body-part. According to his granddaughter, the old man had lost consciousness at that point. Fortunately.

‘Every grain of rice on your plate contains a hundred beads of my sweat,’ he would often tell his grandchildren. He was made of rice. He was made of honest labour and the will to treat with equanimity the ata lo dahama: profit and loss, joy and sorrow, fame and notoriety, praise and blame.  He did not ravage the earth he walked of and which gave him life. He did not spit on it.  He trod softly, even as he chased an errant 10 year old girl across paddy field and over hillock. 

I had seen Pinchi Appuhamy once, a few months before he died. He had already been unburdened of memory and tormented at times with that impossible-to-cure ailment of remembering things that had never happened. I saw him again, last Sunday.

It was around 3 in the afternoon.  The almsgiving was over. The pirikara had been offered and accepted. Those who came and went were duly remembered and offered merit.  I strolled down to the wela. The two farmers were still working. There were a few people at the well.  There was some ‘art’ visible but it was still an unfinished piece of work. Forgivable.  The kingfisher was not to be seen. 

A ten year old girl was sprinting across the landscape, unerringly finding the right spots in that made-for-slipping terrain.  She had left her cousins far behind, for they were wary of ‘slip and fall’.  From some faraway place and from another century and lifetime, an old man was watching, I am certain.  He must have been smiling. 

The little girl has not claimed she could fly or that she in fact had, but she spends a lot of time on trees. Just like her mother. Unfettered and ‘unfetterable’. Her great grandfather would have called her ‘Punchi Sama’, recognizing in her the genetic signature of a clan, a way of life and a way of growing up and of course as the daughter of his favourite granddaughter, Samadanie, who he had chased and embraced, chided and taught, and whose name he murmured long after his mind had left home, village, relative and all things named behind.

Civilizations don’t die easily, and that’s because of people like Pinchi Appuhamy, a ‘honda govi mahaththaya’ from a small village called Walgama, a few miles from Rambukkana. Unfettered and ‘unfetterable’, I am sure Munindrawansa Hamuduruwo would agree.  

[First published in the Daily News in May, 2011]