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.

CHAPTER 6, PART 2

Soiled clothes were piling up in the house. It was Podina who noted and responded to everal invitations to perform puberty rites. One was from the village Werahera. She considered this very special and determined to find a way for her to attend, along with her son. If she succeeded she would somehow find Anagi Hamy and speak a few words with him. Podina couldn’t imagine any such opportunity coming her way again. She thought to herself that some affection could be generated once she introduced her son to him and that she could then let her future unfold accordingly.

Work at the laundry had been at a standstill for two to three weeks. Veerappuli Henaya had spent the last few days seated at the bo sapling. Neither Malma Ridee nor Podina disturbed him in any way. Podina, on her way to and from the peththara, had noticed on several occasions her father atop the hillock above the paddy fields looking in the direction of Babanis’ house where his little girl now lived. She knew but could not measure the enormity of her father’s sorrow. Although he didn’t weep the way her mother did, she knew that the magnitude of the suffering held in his heart was far greater.

The next day, the soft light of dawn eased through the breadfruit grove on the left side of the house and found Veerappuli Henaya returning after worshipping the small bo sapling. His gaze travelled along the slowly thinning layer of mist that stretched from the nearby paddy fields to the dam far away and muttered to himself, ‘it will not rain for a month or more…’

It was a morning that was different from other days. Atop the Sooriya tree some distance from the house the seven sisters were singing the anthem of the flock.

Veerappuli Henaya smiled. He went into the kitchen, ate whatever had been boiled for breakfast, and decided to go to the Maha Gedara to see Guna Ralahamy.

* * *

‘Boy….little one….get ready. We are going to Guna Ralahamy uththamaya’s place,’ Veerappuli Henaya said, tossing a saaluwa over his shoulder. Little Baba Henaya joined him, excited to be going on the journey. They had hardly taken a step when they were stopped by the sight of a stranger who had jumped over the fence and was approaching the house.

They had never seen him before. He didn’t carry a sheaf of betel and therefore it couldn’t be about an invitation for a puberty rites ceremony. He seemed to be in the latter part of middle age, wore a sarong, a vest and a white coat over it. He sported a thick mustache. At first glance he appeared to be someone important.

‘You don’t know me, do you? Hehehe…!’ He started off with a laugh and an air of familiarity. ‘It’s still quite cold. As I stepped out of the fields the mist was practically brushing against me, but maybe because I was walking swiftly, I am sweating profusely.’

He took off the coat and used it as a fan, opening and folding it a couple of times. ‘And who is this unnehe…?’ Veerappuli Henaya inquired, stepping out of the house. Baba Henaya followed his grandfather, clinging on to his sarong. ‘I am Napo Signgno…I am from the village of Yayinna in Kahawatte.’

‘Unnehe….for work related to clothes in that area there’s our people in Bungiriya and also Magalwatte….’ This made the stranger laugh even louder.

‘Hehehe…this is not about washing some damned clothes, man…hehehe…first of all, let’s see you bringing me some water….’ Veerappuli Henaya whispered something into the little boy’s ear and sent him scurrying into the house.

‘Sit down, unnehe….’ As he sat down on a bench with his customary laugh, Podina who had brought an enamel jug poured some water into a coconut shell that had been cleaned and offered it to him. He glanced at the vessel and laughed again. ‘Hehehe…what’s this…a coconut shell?’ He took the jug from Podina, kept his mouth to it and drank his fill. Baba Henaya went back into the house, exclaimed ‘Some unnehe has come.’ Malma Ridee and Nambu Henaya, who was returning from the kitchen, came out to find

Veerappuli Henaya being extremely apologetic to the stranger. ‘Please, unnehe…whoever you are it is because unnehe seemed a good, respectable person that we offered water in a coconut shell and not from one of our cups. It was I who sent a message inside insisting that water be offered in a coconut shell that had been cleaned well. There was no intention to insult, please understand….’

The stranger laughed again. ‘Hehehe….insult? What nonsense! Although I dress well and look important, it is because I am one of your kind…In fact it is to explain to you this important matter that I came here today.’ Neither Veerappuli Henaya nor anyone else in the family had any idea about what the stranger had to say. In any case, both Veerappuli Henaya and Malma Ridee had no interest whatsoever in strange matters beyond their simple existence. This is because of the hurt that was typically at the end of such matters. And yet, they felt that in this particular instance there would be no danger of that happening. That the stranger laughed when he referred to laundry and had drunk from their enamel jug was proof enough.

‘Your loku putha Lewis Henaya…?’ It was Malma Ridee who responded to this query from the stranger, ‘Yes unnehe….Lewis Henaya is our son…has anything happened to him?’ ‘No, no…nothing has happened to him. All of you….me….we are like coconuts in one bunch after all…now there’s no one called Lewis Henaya. That was in bygone days…when he was mining in secret in the Nagaspola jungles…Oh dear! Your knowledge of this world is absolutely putrid. People now call him “Podi Tissa.” The gem shop in the Ratnapura town called ‘Podi Tissa’ belongs to that gentleman. Now do you people understand what I am saying…?’

Veerappuli Henaya and the others stood still and said nothing. It was as though they were unable to understand what had just been said. Finally, Veerappuli Henaya found his voice and it was as deferential as it could be.

‘Please unnehe…don’t feel offended…we don’t understand any of this. The boy hasn’t come home in many months, this is true. When he does visit it’s at night and he leaves before first light. He was barely eighteen when he decided to try his hand at mining. For seven to eight years all he did was to look for precious stones under stones and among trees in the jungles. We have no knowledge of this big story that you just told us unnehe…’

‘Well, even I don’t know how to make you understand. I worked with that gentleman when he was mining in the jungles of Sinharaja. Most of the people who worked with us died in the pits from malaria. Mister Podi Tissa and I went to Kalawana through Pothupitiya and from there we went to Ratnapura to join those mining for precious stones along the Kalu Ganga. It was during this period that this great transformation happened.

‘We worked in the pits owned by Tissa Appo of Ratnapura. After some time he handed over his aedun pits to us. A few months ago Tissa Appo suffered a heart attack and died. It was even reported in the Dinamina along with his photograph.’

This made Veerappuli Henaya think that Guna Ralahamy would know all the details. The stranger continued to relate his incredible and entertaining story. By this time Veerappuli Henaya and others in the family had moved closer and were standing right next to the stranger.

‘This young man had a secret relationship with Tissa Appo’s daughter, Miss Ruby. I was the only other person who knew about it. They got married about six months ago. When he cut his unruly hair and shaved his beard the boy looked even grander than a Diyavadana Nilame, I am not exaggerating! Tissa Appo’s properties went to Miss Ruby and now it all belongs to Mister Podi Tissa. This is indeed an amazing story.

Although they got married in a rush I have never ever seen any wedding like his. I doubt I’ll ever get to see another wedding like it. The bride got her sari and the wedding cake from some big company in England. Do you understand the enormity of what I am saying now? The hard liquor for the wedding had been purchased from Cargills in Colombo. It was I who went to purchase. He changed his name to “Tissa Prera.” That name has been written on many a piece of paper now.’

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