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 8, PART 1

‘A…Aaaa…Ae….Aeeee…’

Guna Ralahamy voiced the first letters of the Sinhala alphabet. Baba Henaya listened keenly and committed them to memory. Veerappuli Henaya sat on the steps, chewing a wad of betel, watching this beautiful scene. They had decided that this lesson would be held twice a week at Guna Ralahamy’s house. On these occasions, Baba Henaya would wear the new shirt stitched for school and his new sarong. He attended these lessons with great enthusiasm. Veerappuli Henaya needed to ask something. He waited for a pause in the lesson.

‘Honestly, Guna Ralahamy, who was it who first found these letter? It’s not an easy thing, is it?’

‘Veerappuliyo, it is said that Brahmins from ancient times discovered them. Letters are very powerful. What is written is far more powerful than anything any of us say. The boy is now writing ayanna, the first letter. I will teach to the best of my ability.’

He directed Baba Henaya to the slate once more, but noticing the stranger who had just arrived, lifted his head. Veerappuli Henaya too had seen this individual in the village on numerous occasions but didn’t know who he was or what he was about. He had a bundle wrapped in a white cloth which he carried on his shoulder always. He wore a white sarong and vest and sported a towel wrapped like a turban on his head. He was dark in complexion, neatly shaven except for a well-maintained and thick mustache. Guna Ralahamy, who knew him very well, addressed him warmly.

‘Ah…Bavatha…come, Bavatha…you’ve come at the ideal time!’ Guna Ralahamy welcomed him thus.

The man relieved himself of the burden he was carrying and sat on the floor as one who was quite familiar with the place. The attention of Baba Henaya and Veerappuli Henaya was now focused on all this.

‘So…Bavatho….did you come across any new books?’

When Guna Ralahamy inquired thus, Bavatha started untying the knot of his bundle. The bundle, which probably weighed twenty to thirty pounds was full of all kinds of books, neatly packed. He handled the books with great respect. Once the bundle was untied, he gently stroked the books and brought his hands together in worship. He then untied the turban and used the towel to wipe the sweat off his face. Then he spoke.

‘Do you know something?’

‘What’s that?’

‘Our Mister Kayes has arrived in Lanka.’

Guna Ralahamy knew very well that the person referred to as Mister Kayes was the poet Sagara Palansuriya who had been ordained as Rev. Kalalelle Ananda Sagara. Bavatha, while going through the books, spoke.‘

Theunnanse has returned after obtaining some grand degree from the University of Calcutta. I went to Kalalella to see him. That’s not what’s most surprising. When I arrived, I found that Allis Perera and Miss Indra Kumaranayaka were both there. They had both travelled in a car from Colombo to see their good friend. You know, just being in their presence was like reading a really interesting book. Now, although I’ve sold their books, I had never ever set eyes on these great people. Allis Perera unnehe was joking around. Our Keyes Hamuduruo introduced me to them saying that this was Bavatha who goes from province to province selling books. Allis Perera was full of praise for me. We even had a meal at the same table. There was an ocean of stories at that table. I almost choked at some of the jokes. Some of it are of course unrepeatable, but they were related very tastefully with a lot of insinuation. They are after all renowned poets. You know Ralahamy, our Keyes Unnehe has written a lot of new poems. If anyone asked me about an unforgettable day, this is it. After lunch, before we could get up from the table, Allis Unnehe cleared his throat and recited a kaviya. I got him to repeat it twice or thrice and memorised it.

‘Let’s hear it,’ Guna Ralahamy encouraged. Veerappuli Henaya and Baba Henaya were transfixed by the man’s stories. Bavatha, for his part, cleared his throat and with a lot of pride, started singing the verse.

From a long ago until this very day

perusal of books day by day doth increases

for protecting grand exploits without discarding

one and all should take care of the good man Bavatha

Having finished the verse, Bavatha looked at the three in the audience with pride. Guna Ralahamy was full of praise and even said he was privileged to have had the opportunity to listen to it.

Both Veerappuli Henaya and Baba Henaya enjoyed the hospitality of that household that day. Bavatha was an educated man who knew as much about the world as did Guna Ralahamy. In fact when it came to books he knew even more than Guna Ralahamy. He could recite from memory books such as Amavatura, Butsaranay, the Guttila Kavya and Yasodaravatha.

Guna Ralahamy would learn about various things asking Bavatha pointed questions. Bavatha spoke at length about a wide range of literary texts from the Jathaka stories to the latest novel by Piyadasa Sirisena. Veerappuli Henaya was thrilled to listen to it all. Baba Henaya decided that one day he would be as educated as Bavatha. Guna Ralahamy purchased a large number of books and gifted them all to Baba Henaya. The latter cradled them all in the manner of one who had just received a wonderful treasure. He turned the pages one by one with excitement. He only understands that there was a wonderful world among those pages.

Bavatha addressed the boy as ‘Chooti Unnehe.’

‘Read them all, somehow, Chooti Unnehe.’

If there was a man or woman from the Govigama caste in the village, no doubt he or she would have chided Bavatha, saying ‘Bavatho…it is improper to call this boy unnehe…he’s our hene maama’s grandson.’

There was nothing of the sort here. Guna Ralahamy didn’t care about such things. What was important was books. What was important was knowledge.

What mattered was appreciation. Veerappuli Henaya reflected on this singular difference and then remembered his bo sampling. Then he offered merit to the Brahmin who had discovered letters.

The amazing man named Bavatha and Guna Ralahamy spoke for an hour and a half about books and the new material in them. Although neither could understand anything, Veerappuli Henaya and Baba Henaya listened keenly and with great affection to what they were saying and how they were saying it.

Bavatha was next due to visit the Emitiyagoda Walawwa. The Emitiyagoda Appo was also a keen reader. Guna Ralahamy gave this inimitable man who took knowledge around the world an extra bit of money as well as a comb of plantains wrapped in a newspaper for him to have during his travels.

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