23 February 2023

The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Anton Joseph Cyril Muller was fondly referred to by his friend the late (Rtd) Brigadier Eustace Fonseka as ‘Malahathilawwa.’  To us, his friend’s children, he was simply ‘Tony Maama.’ Uncle Eustace, probably thinking of Tony Maama, once said, ‘did you know that all Mullers came from one Arthur Muller (which he pronounced, ‘Wanaathamuller’)?’  

I can’t remember Tony Maama ever getting annoyed. I can’t remember him talking too much either. Just the bare essentials and the occasional joke accompanied by robust laughter. He played bridge with us on days that Eustace Maama turned up. He limited talk to bidding and a casual post-game comment; his friend was full of side-comments, wise-cracks and of course generous tips on strategy.  This, however, is not some kind of biographical note on someone I remember as a genial, kind and generous adult who would visit my father often.  It’s about logic. Tony Maama’s logic.

There were a couple of school terms when a regular ride was arranged. One Mr Jayatilleka would pick us up in his car, pick some other kids along the way and drop us off at school. Apart from this and for years it was the bus, until the bicycle became an option.  

Now there were days when things got delayed at home and our father would promise to take us to school in his car, a Citroen which, as the family joke went, was 11 months kota-uda but was good to go for a month or so.  It was rare that we needed him to drive us to school and the car ‘worked’ almost always. But there were those odd ‘off days,’ and that’s when Tony Maama came into the picture.  

‘Call Tony Maama and ask him to come and take you to school,’ our father would say. I remember many occasions when I had to fight embarrassment to make the call. I also felt it was unfair to get Tony Maama to drive us to school.

‘He’s a bachelor and this is what bachelors have to do,’ my father dismissed my objections with a grin. Now, half a century later, almost, I know what he really meant was ‘Tony Maama is a friend, a good friend.’  

We lived in Pamankada, he lived down Sakvithi Lane, Thimbirigasyaya, roughly close to the halfway point on our route to school. He would have to drive to Pamankada, pass Thimbirigasyaya on the way to school and drive back to Sakvithi Lane. He never said ‘no.’  He would turn up and we would get into his car, a red Austin Mini Minor. And off we would go.  

Now the route was quite straightforward: Havelock Road all the way to the Thunmulla Junction where it became Reid Avenue and then left on Racecourse Avenue. School. Around four and a half kilometres or as things were understood back then a distance less than three miles. Except, Tony Maama never took that route.  

Havelock Road, past the ‘Redi Mola’ (the Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills), a right into Park Road, left into the road which fell onto Isipathana Mawatha, a right towards Fife Road, left to Thimbirigasyaya Mawatha, another left towards Thimbirigasyaya, a right onto Jawatte Road, all the way to Bauddhaloka Mawatha, a right towards the Kanatte, a left towards Independence Square and eventually a left onto Reid Avenue and finally a right onto Racecourse Avenue. School.

I can’t remember him being stopped by traffic lights along the way. We were ignorant. It all seemed meaningless. We were amused. He didn’t speak much but when he did it was almost always something funny. He put us at ease. He always got us to school on time.

The roads are wider and better but there are lots more cars now. Almost every intersection and even T-junctions have traffic lights and/or traffic policemen. I don’t know if his logic rubbed off on me, but living in and around Thimbirigasyaya or at least having to drive through this area for many years, I realise that Tony Maama’s route is still the best — a longer route, a relatively easier drive and quicker too.  

If distance is measured in ease of movement or time (and this is possible and logical), then what Tony Maama had figured out was that the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line. He never taught this lesson. He was never the prescribing kind. The route was certainly circuitous but the logic, I am now convinced, was not.

There's no Anton Joseph Cyril Muller Theory of Navigating Morning Traffic. No Tony Muller Foundation, to my knowledge. There's just Tony Maama Logic. Someone asks for help, you help if you can. That’s all. Simple. Straight.


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road