16 June 2015

The fisherman in a black shirt

Pic courtesy www.pearlceylon.com
This is the thirty third in a series I am writing for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The series is for children. Adults consider yourselves warned...you might re-discover a child within you! Scroll down for other articles in this series. 

There are many who earn a living catching fish on the Bolgoda Lake.  People have done it for centuries.  Go there tomorrow and you’ll see fishing boats.  You’ll see nets.  You will see fishermen.    This is a short story about a single fisherman.  Maybe he is unique or maybe he is typical of his tribe.  Anyway, this happened about ten years ago and was related to me a few days ago by a friend who lives by the Bolgoda.  

My friend has wealth.  He lives comfortably.  He is most comfortable when he talks with people, helps those who need help and when he is able to bring people together to work on a project that uplifts lots of people, especially poor children.  He is generous. He is kind.  He enjoys a good joke and is at times philosophical. Let him tell the story.  The story, by the way, was related to me in Sinhala.

‘He passes my house almost every day.  I’ve seen him many times.  We had never talked.  I noticed that he always wore the same shirt.  Black shirt.  One day I stopped him and told him that I had something for him, a parcel of shirts.  I asked him if he would accept.  He replied, “I don’t go out anywhere, so what need do I have for shirts?”

‘We talked.  His wife earned money selling vegetables.  He said he had a daughter who wanted to go abroad and had been trying to do so.  He said he told his daughter “තියෙන  දෙයක් කාලා ඉමු” (Let’s eat whatever we have and let’s just live).  So she never left.  They live.’

‘A few days later one of the men working for me said that the fisherman in a black shirt had given a fish he had caught.  Maybe he was just showing appreciation because I had tried to help, even though he didn’t need my help.  

‘I have seen others like him.  There are fishermen who tie their boats near my property.  I’ve seen them day after day, year after year.  Same men. Same boats.  I have on occasion asked if they have thought about maybe fixing a motor so they can do their fishing rounds faster.  They never showed any enthusiasm.  

‘I’ve often wondered about them and about the fisherman in black.  They work hard.  They don’t earn much.  They live their lives as they have for years.  They eat whatever there is.  And I think about my life and the lives of people I meet all the time.  I travel a lot.  I spend a lot of time in hotels.  And wherever I go I hear complaints.  They complain about the food.  They complain about the service.  In fact complaining is what they mostly do. 

‘The fisherman in black does not complain.’

Other articles in this series