On most days there are people sitting around the town of Ragama, in close proximity to the hospital and especially under the flyover. Many of them would be clutching a ‘sirisisiri’ bag. This was told to me by my Isy Mama (who I ought to call Isy Baappa or Isy Kudappachchi for he’s married to my Manique Nanda, who I ought to call Manique Punchi Amma or Manique Kudamma but for a childhood error that was never corrected).
|One of the most wasteful products ever, a polythene bag is typically used for 12 minutes but lasts for 500 years but this is not a story about waste or a celebration of waste.|
Isy Mama and Manique Nanda are retired in relative comfort but are hardly retired in the things that count, the cultivation of the mind and the pursuit of truth. Isy Mama said that they often distribute lunch packets to people such as those described above. This is what he had to say: ‘On inquiring as to what they would be doing there seated under the flyover, the answer we got from many of them was that they had been discharged from the hospital the other day, had no money to return home, had no means to sustain themselves and had no way of contacting a near/dear to inform them that they had been discharged.’
There’s no one to blame. When a patient recovers, hospitals are required to discharge him/her for they are not homeless shelters or charities that take care of the destitute. The near and dear cannot be faulted for not arriving a discharge-time for some of the patients come from faraway places and belong to families that cannot afford to either visit on a daily basis or arrange for someone to be near the near and dear all the time. The patient cannot be blamed either, naturally. One can’t blame Government or State either, not when considering the kinds of subsidies that every citizen benefits from, all the way from womb to grave. It’s not a faulting matter.
Isy Mama said that they had once come across an old gentleman under the flyover who had said that his son had promised to come for him a week before. It didn’t seem as though anyone would ever come, Isy Mama said.
‘In the hurly burly and hustle and bustle of life and business as usual, under the bridge, one could see that not many were aware, let alone concerned at the fate of these parents abandoned by their offspring.’
Who knows why no one came? That son may be cruel, insensitive, ungrateful, and be possessed of other such negative qualities. He may have met with an accident. He may have also felt it was beyond his strength to help his father. He may be a callous, self-absorbed and selfish creature too. Who can tell? And who are we to pass judgment, especially since we’ve not walked in the shoes or in the shirt of the man we are quick to find fault with?
We can do something other than asking such questions which will remain unanswered. Isy Mama suggests that it is good on occasion to walk around. There is enough sorrow in this world. There are a million can-do things that we do not do because we feel there is no time or that other things are more important. Maybe other things are important, but reflection doesn’t always hurt. We are here now but tomorrow we will be gone: Pana nam thana aga pini bindu wanne (Life is like a dew drop on a blade of grass – ‘Loweda Sangarawa’).
We live as though we are immortal and I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, we do spend quite a lot of time feeling inadequate. We cultivate jealousies, try to out-do the next person and so on. We seldom stop to appreciate the fact that we are incredibly privileged. It is not wrong or bad to try and better oneself, but a little bit of perspective would not hurt, I believe.
That Ragama flyover is all over the world. So too those people who are dependent on the generosity of the world’s Isy Mamas and Manique Nandas. There’s abandonment all around us. It is sometimes naked but sometimes clothed. We often don’t have the eyes or patience to notice the nudity or penetrate garment and disguise.
There are people with sirisiri bags or silisili malu containing all of their worldly possessions but we don’t see them because our eyes are full of the mansions we plan to build tomorrow. We can stop and ask a question. We can stop to give. We can walk away. No one will blame us. That verse from the Loweda Sangarawa has this line too: kumatada kusalata kammeli wanne? (why be slothful in the matter of doing good?). Yes, good and bad are relative, but still, why pause and be numbed that the relevant philosophical point when it costs nothing to pause at sorrow and gift a smile?
There is a silimalla blowing around. It seems the lightest thing on earth. I can’t help feeling that some old person once resided in it and somehow fell out of it in mid-flight. I am not sure now if it was an old man such as the one Isy Mama described or if it was me.
I am sure of one thing though. I am unpardonably slothful.
This article was first published in the 'Daily News' in February 2010. Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org