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 7, PART 1

‘I’m thinking of going to see my brother-in-law in Thiriaanakeriya. Maybe two to three weeks from now. I could stop by in Ratnapura, meet this son of yours and discuss this matter. Until then, there’s no reason to get agitated, Veerappuliyo.’

Guna Ralahami spoke to Veerappuli Henaya thus drawing the ilattattuwa towards himself and chewing on a piece of areca nut. Veerappuli Henaya sat on the step while Baba Henaya was spinning around a pillar in the verandah. Although Guna Ralahamy always invited him to sit by the reclining chair on which he was stretched out, Veerappuli Henaya preferred the step which had become his customary seat. This was what gave him ease. Guna Ralahamy would more often than not invite Baba Henaya to sit on any chair he liked, but the boy’s pleasure was to twist himself around the pillars in the verandah. By this time they had already discussed many matters. They had spoken for hours about the pilgrimage to Anuradhapura, the new leaf that had sprouted from the bo sapling, Heen Ridee and the unexpected story narrated by the stranger Napo Signgno. What interested Guna Ralahamy most was Veerappuli Henaya’s account of the pilgrimage.

Veerappuli Henaya had animatedly described how the Ruwanmeliseya was being renovated under the patronage of Ransiriyel Veda Mahattaya of Evariwatte and Henegama Appuhamy of Akuressa. He also mentioned how he had spent an entire day in the long line of the devout passing bricks from one to the other and towards the sacred dagoba which was rising like a mountain.

‘You know Ralahamy, the great and ornate crystal stone that is to be placed atop the Ruwanmeliseya was ceremoniously and with great veneration brought from that country called Burumaya across the seas while we were there. I remember the name of the country because Thegiris Unnehe, the carpenter, uses a tool called burumaya. The size of that crystal stone has to be seen to be believed. It was….as big as this…’ he pointed to the distance from elbow to wrist to indicate the size.

‘My maayya and I were blessed indeed to be able to touch and worship it. I thought at that moment that I could happily die then and there. Devout people had been working tirelessly for months, camped in that sacred area itself. There was no difference there, everyone was equal. My maayya and I were hesitant to get involved in this great and blessed effort. We watched from a distance. But she had previously got friendly with a group of pilgrims from our clan by offering a piece of aratta yam to add to the betel chew.

Some people from Horana. They knew a lot about the world and how things happen, so after that we weren’t scared at all. In fact we travelled with them on the way back, all the way to Avissawella. They told us that they would proceed along a path through the jungle through Padukka. Would you believe Ralahamy that from Avissawella onwards we travelled with renewed strength? There was no fear or doubt. We spent a night at the Saman Devale. Apart from the fact that the little girl had left, there was not even the weight of a rat’s droppings to trouble my head, Ralahamy. It was as though the entire mind was full of merit. I tell you in all honesty, Ralahamy, that I’ve never felt anything like this before.’

‘I was sure that you two were fortunate enough to complete this greatly meritorious act…little one, give this ilattatuwa to your aatha….’

Baba Henaya who had been twirling around a nearby pillar took the ilattatuwa from Guna Ralahamy and gave it to his aatha. Veerappuli Henaya made a chew for himself . Then, selecting a tender betel leaf, tore it down the middle. This he rolled one part into a small ball and pushed it into Baba Henaya’s mouth. Guna Ralahamy looked straight ahead and spoke while chewing.

‘If in fact this son of yours is in a place such as the one he’s said to be we should be proud of him. Anyway, it cannot be a lie. I say this because I’ve observed this boy Lewis from the time he was very small. He is a strange fellow. He has never once helped you in laundry work. There was always something strange in the way he looked; yes, a strangeness that’s not in any of you. It was a look of someone who wanted to turn the world upside down. If politics took his fancy he could very well have gone in a direction similar to that of N.M. Trade of course would take him somewhere else.

This is what has transpired now. In any case, Veerappuliyo, the new moneyed class was not necessarily created from among the nobility. The best example would be Don Maurice Attygalle unnehe. He was but a minor employee at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens in the 19th century. By and by he acquired enough money to purchase a small plot of land somewhere in the vicinity of Kadugannawa and started growing coffee. Then he became a distiller and later the owner of the Kahatagaha mine where around 2,500 people worked. That’s who he became. So if this boy Lewis is doing well we should all be proud of him. He’s our boy. He hasn’t forgotten his roots. That’s exactly why he sent that man to see all of you. I’m sure he wishes to take care of you.’

When he said ‘he’s our boy,’ the respect that Veerappuli Henaya had for Guna Ralahamy increased. Guna Ralahamy belonged to the nobility and an important personality in the region. And yet, even at a time when a villager from lower castes such as badahela or vahumpura was wont to be condescending towards the likes of Veerappuli Henaya, Guna Ralahamy would immediately rise to his defence, treating him as one of the same family or clan.

Weerappuli Henaya looked at this amazing human being with much reverence and then offered silent thanks.

After a moment of thought Guna Ralahamy addressed Baba Henaya who had returned to his tireless game of turning around the pillar.

‘Punchi Kolla…come here. I have something to tell you.’

Baba Henaya went towards Guna Ralahamy. Guna Ralahamy sat him down on the arm of the reclining chair and asked a question by way of broaching an important topic.

‘Tell me boy, would you like to learn akuru?’

Unable to offer an answer Baba Henaya remained silent. He didn’t know much about letters. However he knew that akuru referred to something that was written. The answer came from Veerappuli Henaya.

‘Our Ralahamy, the boy is an artist. You should see how beautifully he decorates the clothes with senkottan marks!’

‘The school at the bottom of the line of shops in Godakawela is quite developed now. I once heard an elderly lady at the Rideevita Junction saying that there were thirty to forty children. That’s where I learned akuru in fact. At that time there were just twelve students including me. Talking of the school reminds me of a wonderful story, Veerappuliyo. We were taught by a teacher named Dunakadeniya. He wanted us to write kurumba kombe on the blackboard. Several of us tried to write this. There was a fellow from somewhere near Meddegama who we called ‘Mal Mandaa.’ The iskole mahattaya burst out laughing at what he had written. The fellow had written ‘kuru baba ko’! He had got the letters mixed up…’

He laughed. Baba Henaya and Veerappuli Henaya also laughed.

‘For a long time he was called Kuru Baba.Such amusing things also happen in school. Now how old is the boy?’ Guna Ralahamy switched to a serious tone and asked Veerappuli Henaya.

‘I think he’s around eight years of age.’

‘This is a good age. It is true that you help your aatha by carrying bundles of clothes here and there. And yet, boy, you must learn akuru. You have to develop your brain. That’s how you become a man, do you understand? The world is very different now. The teachers first teach the ayanna, the first letter in the alphabet. Later when you are able to write the word Amma, you begin to feel more love than you do when you just utter the word.’

‘Is the word aatha also written?’

It was a question Baba Henaya asked after careful consideration. Veerappuli Henaya felt a great love for his grandson.

‘ Yes, my heen kollo, aatha is also a word that can be written. Amma…Thaaththa…Aatha…Kiriamma…Punchi Amma, Maama, Nanda…all of these can be written. You can write all kinds of words and in this way learn a lot about this world. You don’t have to be a super rich man, son, but you could become a great man. Only such people can make the lives of people better. Veerappuliyo, take very seriously what I said and encourage the boy to learn akuru. You people need not live in the margins of society. Those who push you to such corners get you people to do all their dirty work. This is what happened even from the times of our kings.

Those who have the power trample those who don’t. They use your innocence to wipe their backsides as well. This need not happen. Our time is over now, but when the era of these tiny fellows begins there should be an environment in this country that enables them to stand firm and straight on their two feet. The day that there are a few educated people who refuse to be servile…and yet, who prevents such people from emerging? The powerful, no one else.

They abuse the status, nobility, caste and such that they have got without any payment whatsoever, putting down others to live the good life. This need not happen. If someone is talented and has the brains, such a person must have a place. That’s how it is in Western countries. If people have to be separated it should be along the lines of good or bad. Veerappuliyo, separating them like cattle by beating, branding and dividing won’t do at all.’ 

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