01 January 2014

U.L. Ranjith’s Christmas

‘How’s Christmas?’ someone asked.  When everyday seems ok, there’s nothing special about Christmas, even for  Buddhist who gets surrounded by ‘Christmasness’ come December.  This Christmas was special though.  Now we know in general that not only is everyday not Christmas for some, but the kind of festivity associated with that word is foreign to some every day of the year.  There’s no Christmas, no Vesak and no Avurudu for some people.  And that’s our Christmas story this year.

The place name is romantic and rolls off the tongue like poetry: Gallinda Mookalana in the Kuttikulama Grama Niladhari Division in Thirappane.  Gallinda Mookalana could be broken down to Gal (stone) + Linda (well); a rock-well, then in a mookalana or jungle.  And in this jungle of the rock-well there’s a cave.  Even more romantic.  But that’s it. No further romance.  For in this cave lives a 36 year old widow (her husband is one of hundreds who have been felled by CKDu or Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Sources), Chandrika by name.  She has two sons, 5 and 2 years of age.  That cave is home to Chandrika, her two children and her father, who is now 75. 
The details were in the Lankadeepa of December 25, 2013.

‘My father is too old to work.  Whatever the difficulties are one must take care of parents. My children cry because they are hungry.  The older boy begs to be taken to school.  I walk around the nearby villages, begging for food.  This is the rainy season.  When it rains I have to try hard to keep my children from getting wet.’

Bhanuka, the older boy, has a dream: ‘I want to go to school, I like to read storybooks. My brother and I don’t have toys.  Someday I will study and become a big man and I will take care of my little brother, our mother and our grandfather.’

Here are some more place names, no less poetic.    Nambarawatte is in Ethkandura.  Ethkandura is in Ambalangoda.  Then there’s Beliattewila in Millewa.  Millewa is in Horana.  The person associated with these place names has a name: Uswatte Liyanage Ranjith.  Ranjith was born in Nambarawatte but has made his home in Beliattewila. Ranjith is a retired soldier who has been in the thick of battle.  He has a ‘military look,’ certainly, is neatly dressed, looks fit and strong, and is disciplined.  He is now a driver at Rivira.  Ranjith is an entertainer.  He is a good actor.  He will regale you with endless anecdotes.  He will make you laugh. 

Ranjith brought all the poetry and pathos of place names and being together.  He was reading the Lankadeepa in the guard room this morning. 

‘Aney pau!’  That’s how he started expressing his sorrow about the plight of Chandrika’s family.  He related the story.  When he came to the point where little Bhanuka talks of school, he broke down.  He didn’t sob, but the tears rolled down his cheeks freely. 

‘Damn! I never win the lottery.  If I did, I could help people like this.’

One couldn’t figure out which was sadder, the plight of the family living in a cave in Gallinda Mookalana or the incapacity of a total stranger who wants to help but cannot. 

It is recommended that one walks, metaphorically of course, in another’s shoes for seven miles before venturing to judge that person.  There were no shoes for Ranjith to step into.  He stepped into minds and hearts, he walked over territories of sorrow and political economy, passed from one climactic zone to another and another until he was in the environs of a small cave that was hardly shelter, located in a hitherto unheard name, Gallinda Mookalana.  That’s pretty fast.  That’s empathy that is unadulterated. 

Ranjith was unrecognizable from the man who entertains whoever happens to be around at lunchtime or any other time for that matter.  A child, then?  A soldier, certainly.  A citizen who understands what citizenship means.  A man who strings together place names and humanity, can do nothing but cry and therefore weeps without shame. 

This Christmas was humbling. 


sajic said...

I cant speak for non-christian celebration of Christmas. For christians, however, Christmas is necessarily a humbling experience.
Because we see our Lord born in poverty, laid in the manger of a stable-because there was no room for Him anywhere. In the midst of our joy at his birth which we celebrate we are well aware of the way He came.