13 April 2020

Gunnepana -- Planet Earth's new name

A long, long time ago, before the bheeshanaya and those other periods of de-facto lock downs, six undergraduates took up residence in a ‘chummery.’ It was located in a small hamlet called Gunnepana, about a mile and a half from Dumbara Campus, University of Peradeniya. Three rooms, two beds in each and two boys in each room.

A few months before the end of their first year with enough time having passed for friendships to grow, six others decided to join them. They were warmly welcomed. Still three rooms and six beds. Two boys to a bed.

It wasn’t exactly plush accommodation. There was no kitchen to speak of and so they chose to have their meals on campus, arriving early enough for breakfast before classes and leaving late enough so they could have dinner. No tea or coffee to spur late night studying. No radio or television but they were more than capable of entertaining themselves.

Water was a problem. They had permission to use a well at the edge of a paddy field about a quarter mile away from the chummery. That was for the morning wash. Showers were taken on campus, mostly. It was a tedious affair every morning to walk that distance in the pre-dawn cold, walk back, get dressed and walk all the way to campus.

No one complained.

And then something happened that gladdened their hearts. The monsoon!  For several weeks they didn’t have to make that morning trek to the well. A large barrel, rusty though it was, collected enough rainwater for all of them to have a decent wash every morning.

And then one day it stopped raining. Easy access to water had made them a tad lazy. They had got used to waking up later than usual. And so they rationed the water. It was an unspoken agreement. They used the water sparingly.

Naturally the water level dropped and kept dropping until one day the daily ration was down to half a cup. A bit of water to wash the right eye, another bit to wash the left and the remainder to rinse the mouth. That was it. It was down to washing away the sleep. And each boy walked into that house after these ablutions positively glowing. Well, maybe the eyes that gazed on them were conditioned to see glow where there was none.

So from that day onwards, almost by agreement no one bothered about the ‘morning wash’. They all got into their clothes and walked to campus. And when they got there, they attended to ‘morning business’. Some of the boys or maybe all of them had adjusted; tooth brushes, soap, razors and towels were kept in the canteen. The ‘canteen boys’ and the canteen boss didn’t mind. The rear part of the canteen had become a chummery for all intents and purposes.

They made do. Partly out of rank sloth. Partly because they were young enough to weigh marginal costs against marginal benefits and figure that adjustments such as the ones they made wouldn’t really hurt. A few years later they were forced to survive on their wits alone where the slightest error could mean abduction, torture and even death. It was all good back then in Gunnepana, Kandy.

Today, many, many years later, locked down by circumstances beyond their control, all those who survived the bludgeoning of life and times find themselves facing a barrel with a dwindling quantity of water. A different kind of barrel to be sure. And water is not the problem. Back in the day they could ‘make do’ but today they must.

And that’s the story of the world today. The world has been renamed Gunnepana and its residents have expanded from six to twelve to 7.5 billion and counting. Those boys in the way-back-when didn’t complain. They looked reduced circumstances in the eye, so to speak. They laughed about it. They laughed at themselves. They made do. We all must. Now.

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']   
Let's not stop singing in the lifeboats
When the Welikada Prison was razed to the ground 

Looking for the idyllic in dismal times    
Water the gardens with the liquid magic of simple ideas, right now    
There's canvas and brush to paint the portraits of love    
We might as well arrest the house!
The 'village' in the 'city' has more heart than concrete
Vo, Italy: the village that stopped the Coronavirus    

We need 'no-charge' humanity 
The unaffordable, as defined by Nihal Fernando
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
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.