The Indelible | Sunday Observer

The Indelible

Making a sincere attempt to bring an unimagined and unexplored treasure trove of modern Sinhala literature to the English reading community, Montage is bringing Mahinda Prasad Masimbula’s award winning novel Senkottan translated by

Malinda Seneviratne, veteran journalist, writer and poet. Senkottan (The Indelible), a remarkable creation of literature by Mahinda Prasad Masimbula was his debut effort in his literary career for which he won the State Literary Award in 2013 and short-listed in Swarna Pusthaka Literary Awards and many other Literary Award Festivals in the same year. The book has been published by Santhawa Publishers and ‘Senkottan’ has blazed the trail in the self-publishing industry as one of the best-selling books in Sinhala literature.

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CHAPTER 4, PART 3

It was about an hour before dusk when loud chirping erupted from the direction of the Maraketiya jak tree that grew in the areca nut grove a small distance from their house. The birds were chirping incessantly and insistently. Baba Henaya and Nambu Henaya, both given to be alert to such unexpected disturbances, followed the sounds to the Maraketiya jak tree at a quick pace. When they neared the tree and peered through the branches they noticed the shaking of leaves and branches at the top of the tree. They both concluded at the same time that something out of the ordinary was taking place. In such situations they were both persuaded to go to the aid of any creature that could be in some trouble. Such occasions were many. The father and son derived great joy from such interventions. They would talk about it again and again. Therefore, Baba Henaya and Nambu Henaya, armed with much experience displayed particular keenness in their approach.

‘Something tragic has befallen the tiny bird family. That’s why they are screeching for dear life. This is not the way they chirp when they are joyful. Maybe the rat snake has crept into their nest. It could also be the batagoya. Such uncivilized creatures will never leave these tiny birds alone. You wait here babo. For what it’s worth I’ll go get the catapult.’

Nambu Henaya ran towards the house like an excited child. It was these childlike ways of his that little Baba Henaya found most endearing. The chirping became even more intense. Baba Henaya found a place which enabled a better view. Baba Henaya’s eye fell on the agitation of the birds as well as the commanding presence of a large hawk. Nambu Henaya arrived just at this moment panting heavily.

‘Thaththe….thaththe…you can see through the leaves from here. Ugussa…ugussa….it’s attacking the nest…there…there!’

Baba Henaya was shouting in excitement. Nambu Henaya placed a stone, drew with all his might and shot at the hawk. He missed.

‘It’s hard to take aim…let’s shout…choi…choi…’

They both started shouting. At the height of the screeches emanating from the nest, the hawk took wing with a great noise. It did not fly with nothing for the efforts. It left with what was most valuable in the nest.

‘Did you see that utterly uncivilized act? It took the darling little bird. May it be hit with the seven bolts of lightning while it is flying. Couldn’t it have let them be after hearing their fearful screeching? No! Nothing can beat uncivilized nature.’

The wicked hawk flew towards the Pussiliwatte tract of paddy fields with the little bird in its talons. Another bird, quite likely the mother of the victim, gave chase and kept pecking at the mighty hawk until they had covered quite a distance. Then they saw a few feathers of the hawk floating down to the paddy fields. The father-son duo, easily moved, watched until the hawk and the mother-bird disappeared from sight. Nambu Henaya spoke with sorrow and a heavy feeling of defeat.

‘The hawk, the rat snake, the batagoya…they are wicked creatures. They are also strong. They do this all the time and they always win. The little birds lose out. If those birds had bigger bodies this would not have happened. This is what happens everywhere, boy. The powerful win, the weak are defeated.’

‘I will not be a weak one, thaththe. I want to be strong,’ little Baba Henaya said innocently.

‘I am absolutely certain that my little baby bird will one day become strong…that you will be strong and take care of all of us. You’ll even be stronger than our aatha…’

Nambu Henaya suddenly felt love surge in his heart for his little boy. He knew that although he was certainly his son, the determination could not have come from him. It was Podina’s courage. Podina was far more courageous than he. At times she was like that hawk. Nambu Henaya would recall several times a day the brave life she has led from their first encounter until this very day and of course how she had rendered him helpless at every turn. It never angered him. He had the deepest respect for Podina. One of the main reasons for this was Baba Henaya. Baba Henaya gave his mind relief and also a sense of victory. These were embedded in Nambu Henaya’s heart. He felt proud when Baba Henaya was by his side or followed him around. He noticed however that Baba Henaya did seem rather anxious with his grandparents gone. He wanted to carry the little one.

‘Come here, I want to carry you…’

He managed to lift the child with the greatest of effort. Such things happened when the two were alone. Baba Henaya was well used to this showering of affection.

‘Well, well, well….what’s all this cuddling about?’

That was Rambari’s voice. They hadn’t noticed her arriving. Baba Henaya slid down to the ground in embarrassment.

‘Rambari Nandamme…I didn’t see you until you came right up to us.’

Nambu Henaya was very friendly with the woman Rambari. She was friendly to him as well. She was more than seventy five years old and was always lighthearted. She was Malma Ridee’s sister.

‘And how could you have seen anyway? The father and son were lost in affection, after all!’

Fairer than her sister, Rambari used several havari to create a large bun of hair on top of her head. She was loquacious and quick-witted. She would secure and exercise absolute authority even at puberty ceremonies. She always insisted that the business of washing clothes should be seen as a great privilege enjoyed by her kind.

‘There’s a puberty ceremony on Thursday in Pallekanda. I have to do it since your mother-in-law is away on a pilgrimage. I haven’t seen you in quite a while….anyway, I brought some balu-kakul for this little magpie. I got them from a boutique in Wellandura….here…have some…’

She took out from her bag some biscuits shaped like the legs of a dog and gave them to Baba Henaya. Baba Henaya accepted with glee and started nibbling on one. Nambu Henaya stretched his arm towards the boy and when he was given one too he placed it between his cowcatcher set of teeth and bit it, with a takas sound. Rambari, watching this, burst out laughing.

‘Disgusting! You know, nephew, when I see this set of teeth I go mad. What’s worse, your teeth are stained black having chewed betel. Why can’t you crush a coconut husk now and then and brush your teeth? Disgusting! It’s like the roots of a kumbuk tree. And I saw what happened to your face when you bit on that viskirigngnaa. Now give me a dried karunka gediya and I will bite it as though it was a boiled jak seed…he he he…where’s your woman?’

‘She was somewhere around the kitchen…’

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