26 March 2020

The ‘village’ in the ‘city’ has more heart than concrete

 Urban. Rural. Where does one end and the other begin? Well, one rolls into the other and vice versa if the identifier is concrete density. Hard to draw the line. We get fixated with generalizations though. People don’t know their neighbors in the city, for example. This could be true in apartment complexes, especially among units on different floors. It could be true on streets with walled housing units. And yet, we say hello to our neighbors, stop for a chat on occasion. We know more or less what goes on.

And the key: a coming together to celebrate and commiserate. We have to put aside everything, including long-standing disputes, doubts, suspicions and animosities for the magula (celebration, typically a wedding) and maranaya (death). The two are metaphors in practice. It’s all about rejoicing together and being there for one another in trying times.  At other times too we see people drawing frequently and easily from the magul-marana frame of reference.

Two stories might illustrate.

My father, almost 82, lives alone. He can get about and manages certain things on his own. He can fix a meal on occasion. He likes string hoppers. He likes rice and curry. He is aware of what’s happening in the word. He knows about the coronavirus. He knows what it’s done and is doing to social life and to routines. So he, like others, adjusts. About food, this is what he had to say:

‘Whatever is almost ready-to-eat or needs little cooking. Am accustomed to - eggs, bread, instant noodles, baked beans, cheese, butter, yogurt and fruit. Tomato/chillie sauce would help. Ginger, garlic.’

There’s enough cooked food to last a few days in his freezer. If the curfew is not lifted, what then? What of medicines? He has enough to last a week. Issues. Issues. So I called a neighbor. Davinia Roberts.

‘Uncle eats like a bird. Don’t worry Malinda, I know because my mother is like that too. I will make sure he gets his meals. I will send Robert (that’s her husband) to have a chat with Uncle.’  She’s an angel and has always been one.

I’ve known the Roberts for more than 40 years. Neighbors. Friends. Family. 

I don’t know the people who live in a set of houses down the lane where I live right now in Kohuwala. The tiny houses seem to be knitted together and probably have doors connecting one to the other. I’ve not inquired, but it’s like one large extended family. I’ve seen them. Smiled. Exchanged greetings. They noticed that my car had been knocked up recently. They noticed that it had been fixed. They mentioned. We talked.

There are some kids. They sometimes play down the tiny lane. There’s a girl around 2 or 3 who says ‘bye’ as I pass and continue to say ‘bye’ until I am out of sight. She says ‘bye’ and I respond ‘bye’. She repeats. I repeat. It’s a little game we play. I have given her chocolate on occasion.

A few days ago, returning to my apartment after going home to Kottawa, I offered them some polos I had brought with me, one fruit and a bag of cleaned and cut pieces. On Tuesday, once again, returning from Kottawa, I gave them some cut and cleaned jak fruit and a couple of coconuts in case they wanted to make kiri kos.

This afternoon, one of the men was on a mango tree. He came down with a bag of raw mangoes and offered me some. ‘We are going to make achcharu,’ he said. I am not an achcharu person but I told him that if they are cooking a few mangoes, to give me a portion of the ambula.

Someone rang the bell a few hours later. They shared their dinner with me: rice, dhal, an amba ambula and a chicken curry [they didn’t know I don’t eat meat, fish or eggs].

I don’t know their names. They don’t know mine. It was neither a magula nor a maranaya. Not an easy time, though. There’s more concrete than trees where we live. There’s more heart than concrete, that’s for sure.

I sent pictures of the dishes to my daughters. ‘That’s sweet,’ said one. ‘That’s so cute,’ said the other, adding, ‘and the food looks so good.’ ‘Delicious, I told her. And to the other I said, ‘we are so privileged to have been born in this country.’

It doesn’t matter whether you want to call this urban or rural, really. We are a family when it really matters.

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News' on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week]

Heroes of our times Let's start with the credits, shall we?   
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing? 

 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds
Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter 
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo? 
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody  
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays   
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry
Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop 
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave