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 11, PART 2

Veerappuli Henaya did not go to the paddy field early the follow morning as he customarily did. He went to the bo maluwa instead. Malma Ridee watched him. She felt an immense sadness about him. He was an extremely innocent human being. He would bow his head to one and all when speaking and would never harm even the tiniest of creatures. His mind had been shattered by recent events. Malma Ridee knew that although he didn’t let out, each of these issues troubled his mind intensely. He had been able to deal with them thanks to his religious activities. There was just one matter that he couldn’t resolve in this manner, the inability to fulfil Baba Henaya’s wish to go to school.

This had festered him for long and had now broken the skin of tolerance. A few weeks previously he had confessed to Malma Ridee alone that he had visited the homes of the parents who had objected to Baba Henaya being enrolled in the school and had pleaded with them. In fact he had even gone to see the man from Kompitiya who had been the most vocal in objection and promised to collect and wash all soiled clothes until he died. Malma Ridee still remembered how he had wiped away tears while telling her at the vellaa hut how in each and every place the people had chased him away.

The bo sapling was now his only source of comfort. He could, if he so wished, spend the entire day by it in deep contemplation. Even right now, he was there, seated, Malma Ridee could see through the trees. He wasn’t still, however. He was waving his hands about and uttering something. She was intrigued and slowly made her way there. She hid behind a kenda tree and listened to her husband. He was murmuring something very slowly, addressing the bo sapling. She listened more intently. There were three new leaves that had sprouted from the top of the sapling. He stroked these new and tender leaves softly and spoke.

‘You are my big boy…you my second girl and…and you my heen kella…’ he touched each leaf in turn as he spoke. Then, as though addressing, three small children, he spoke with utmost affection.

‘…no one will harm you, my children…this is why you are growing so well even as I cast my eyes on you. Anyway, you will always have me, even if there’s no one else. You will have your mother too. You should continue to live joyously, swaying like this in the breeze. You have no use of surnames. There’s no distinction in such things. You should stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone else in the community. And you should educate those who know letters and yet know not, do you hear…all three of you?’

‘Oh god…!’ Malma Rider couldn’t stifle the tearful exclamation.

Veerappuli Henaya spent the entire day just like this. Baba Henaya and Malma Ridee took him lunch. He looked down, ate a few mouthfuls and gave the rest to Malma Ridee saying ‘feed the little ones.’ He spoke about Baba Henaya attending school all the time. Occasionally he would also mention Podina. He spoke of Heen Ridee and broke into sobs.

Meanwhile, Napo Signgno, who had come earlier with a message from their son Lewis Henaya who was also known as Podi Tissa, visited again with another missive. He wanted them to send at least his nephew if they were reluctant to go. After Napo Signgno left Veerappuli Henaya hugged Baba Henaya and wept.

It was during this time that they learned that Babanis would come home drunk every evening and assault Heen Ridee. Two evenings before this he had beat her so hard that the handle of the mammoty had broken in two.

That evening, when Guna Ralahamy came on his way home from Ratnapura, Veerappuli Henaya was at the bo maluwa. Malma Ridee appraised Guna Ralahamy of the changes in Veerappuli Henaya’s behaviour. Guna Ralahamy came close to Veerappuli Henaya and spoke.

‘Veerappuliyo….I am Guna Ralahamy. I went to Ratnapura, you know? I met the elder son. The story is true. He’s like a lord now. He treated me very well.’

Veerappuli Henaya kept looking down and slowly cast his eye to see if Guna Ralahamy had left. Guna Ralahamy had stepped away from him and was speaking to Malma Ridee.

‘There’s been a change. He’s not quite there in his mind. There was a time when he would just come running to see me if he was bothered even by the most trivial thing. He hasn’t come in months now. Malmo…it has upset me as well.’

‘This is how it is. He doesn’t talk with us either. His conversations are with the bo leaves.’

‘What upset him most was the business of the little one’s schooling. He wept inconsolably as he told me about it. Veerappuliya said, “I have washed the dirty clothes of everyone in this and all the surrounding villages, but these people soiled my mind.” It upset me very much Malmo. Who can we petition, who can we tell our woes to? We don’t have any use for a Prince Diyasena…if at least a socialist capable of turning this society inside out soon, we will never see this situation change. We don’t know how it would happen, but Malmo, I can tell that the day this system of vile domination and hypocrisy ends is not too far away. When that day comes, Veerappuli Henaya can stand straight and tall and live in this society. I don’t know if you heard, but a few days ago some of these powerful individuals were defeated. NM won Ruwanwella. Who was defeated? Why, it was Adeline Molamure! Philip Gunawardena took Avissawella, defeating a similarly powerful person. And for this reason I am not ready to give up hope, Malmo!’

‘So when will this change you talk about happen, Guna Ralahamy unnehe?’ Malma Ridee inquired, a thousand new hopes taking root in her mind.

‘I cannot say exactly. The way things are unfolding, if the white man leaves then people like NM will become more powerful and we will be able to have a government we can call our own.’

‘That will take a long, long time…’ Malma Ridee became disenchanted again.

Malma Ridee figured from what Guna Ralahamy had said after his visit to Ratnapura that her son had done even better than she had expected. This made her happy. Veerappuli Henaya said nothing and just looked up when she told him.

Their son had sent a message through Guna Ralahamy, indicating that he was unable to visit since he had a lot of work to attend to and had asked them to send his sister’s son Baba Henaya since he didn’t have children of his own.

Malma Ridee was agreeable and this was due to what Guna Ralahamy had said.

‘I know that it is not in you to leave this little village which has always been your home. I don’t think Veerappuli Henaya would leave this bo sapling and go out of the village for even a single day. Your little boy is still quite tender. He hasn’t put out roots yet. He’s at an age where he can go anywhere and establish himself. Nothing ill will befall him if he were to go to Ratnapura. There’s wealth beyond our imagination there. The boy could go to school, and not a jungle-school like the one here, but a really good institution. If he remains here, he’d just go wild, that’s all. He’s our boy and more importantly he’s Veerappuliya’s grandson. He will find the correct path. I am telling you, he will become a good man, a man who has humanity and would learn the right politics. Send him to that world in which the doors are open.’

Determining that neither he nor Nambu Henaya were suitable to undertake this journey, she got down her older sister Rambari and made arrangements for her to take Baba Henaya to Ratnapura.

‘Worship everyone, my son,’ Rambari said. Baba Henaya worshipped his aatha and kiri amma. Veerappuli Henaya said nothing, but took Baba Henaya’s hand and began to drag him away. This agitated Rambari somewhat but Malma Ridee stopped her.

‘He’s taking him to worship the bo sapling.’

Veerappuli Henaya, having brought Baba Henaya to the bo maluwa, looked at him. Baba Henaya sat on a nearby bounder and began to think.

He was wearing the clothes that had been made for him to wear to school. This is what he had worn when going to learn letters from Guna Ralahamy. Even on this occasion, Malma Ridee took him to Guna Ralahamy before he embarked on his journey. He stroked the boy’s head and spoke as though to his own child.

‘Learn, my son. Learn what’s right. Just like you learn to write, learn about the trees, the vines, all creatures, the sun and rain….such things too. Become a man. Become a man like your aatha. If you do not find that superior quality called humanity in your books, then think of the innocent man who you call ‘aatha.’

The boy, having tossed his belongings into a bundle, left the house with his Rambari kiri amma. Rambari had planned to go to the Rideevita Junction and then get into a bus heading for Ratnapura. Baba Henaya, eyes filled with tears, took leave of those who were part of his life. His sleeves were drenched with the tears he had brushed away. Etched indelibly in his mind was how his aathaa had taken him near the bo sapling and how his eyes had been shining. The fragrance of soda-mixed boiled cloths which he loved so much wafted from his aathaa. He told himself that he would never breathe that smell ever again and sobbed as went away.

They went past the peththare and walked along the tract of paddy land. Malma Ridee and Nambu Henaya came running to watch them go. The two of them blurring in the distance they saw through tear-filled eyes. With much sadness did this image get marked in their minds. The image disappeared at the end of the tract of paddy fields. Nambu Henaya sat on a rock and began to sob.

‘Don’t cry Nambuwo. The boy went on a journey that will take him to a better future. My boy will never go wrong,’ Malma Ridee said and turned back.

As she approached the house passing the bo maluwa she noticed that Veerappuli Henaya wasn’t there. She noticed something else which caused her heart to be pierced as though with the point of a very sharp blade. The ground near where Veerappuli Henaya had sat with his head bent low was wet with tears, but he was nowhere to be seen.

The bo leaves swayed in a soft breeze that came from the paddy fields. A yellowed leaf fell from the sapling, was caught in the wind and floated towards the talipot grove.

Malma Ridee ran in all directions, looking for her husband.

Thereafter, in addition to the rays of the sun that descended on the earth as always, there was rain, high winds and even earth tremours, floods, forest fires and oceanic tragedies from time to time all over the world. Such things disregarded distinctions such as high and low, roughness and tenderness, but powerfully went about indulging in their primordial habits. The planetary system altered in various ways the fate of individuals, industriously as always. The doorways of the east swung open easily to the morning that arrived following each and every night. The all-knowing skies made its way with usual equanimity. On account of the somewhat thick sighs escaping from certain people, however, there was a slight heaviness in the air that could be felt.

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