Acquaintance of Goddess
It was a Friday. After work, I was coming in my departmental motor cycle towards the quarters. Mr. Suppiah was coming with a gunny bag on his shoulder and another bag in his hand. I could guess how heavy the bags were from the expression in his face.
“Where are you going?”
“What is it on your shoulder?”
“Lime fruits. I am taking them home.”
“Please get on to the motor-cycle!”
I went to the railway station with Mr.Suppiah and his bag of lime.
“It is 5 cents a lime here.” – Mr.Suppiah told me without any questioning.
“What are you going to do with all these limes? You want to make lime-pickles at home?”
“I will make pickles from a few and give the balance to a shop next to my house. He will pay me at the rate of 20 cents a lime.”
“Very good business,” I smiled.
“You are a young man. You have no family!”
His voice reflected the gravity and the intensity of the married life.
I dropped Mr. Suppiah and his gunny bag at the Railway Station and came back to the quarters. Rukman asked me whether I did not go home, as it was a Friday.
I politely said no.
“You are a peculiarJaffnaman. What do you wish to do?”
“I have a small job to do in the office.”
“Shall we go to Padaviya? It is also coming under your administration.”
“Instead of asking to come to Padaviya, you could have requested me to come to your house?” I said jokingly.
“I thought as much but I was bit reluctant as it is a small village,” Rukman said hesitantly.
“I will come.”
Saturday morning at about 10.00 a.m. I started riding my motorcycle with Rukman on the pillion.
“Padaviya road is not so good. Be careful in riding.”
“Rukman! I do not know much about Padaviya.”
“Padaviya is one of the colonies where the jungle has been destroyed and new settlements prospered. The unemployed and landless youth have settled in these colonies. Most of the people have come from the South of Sri Lanka. Some landless Kandyan Singhalese also have settled in these colonies. My father is one such settler. We were given not only free lands but also free rations of rice, dhal and dried fish for three years. My father was an early settler of the scheme. Even though the land was and rations were given free, people were reluctant to come and settle down as it was jungle area. Some people died of malaria. My brother also seems to have died of malaria when he was five years old. We were born and bred in this place.”
“What is your father’s native place?”
“How many of you are in your family?”
“My parents, my sister and myself”
We went towardsPadaviyaLake. TheLakeis a few miles away from the main road.
PadaviyaLakeis fairly big. For a long distance, I could see only water. Several women were bathing on one side of the embankment. As most of them knew Rukman they were waving at him. Rukman had been waving back showing his affection towards them.
“Are you aware of the Tamil name for Padaviya?” – He asked. I was totally engaged in appreciating the beauty of theLakeand failed to lend my ear to his words. He kept quiet, as he did not want to disturb my sight enjoying mood. We traveled along the main road to reach his home at Siripura. It was a sandy track with ups and downs all along.
I noticed many differences between the people of Medawachchiya and Padaviya. Since these settlers were not traditional farmers, their houses were fairly big and the properties were fenced and land-marked. Visible were the fruit trees planted in their compounds..
At last he showed me a house at the extreme end of Siripura. He wanted me to park the motorcycle in front of the house. Even though the house was small, it had a tiled roof. I parked my motorcycle under a jack tree.
A middle-aged person came towards us when we were walking towards the house. He had no shirt on and had a bush of hair on his chest.
Rukman introduced me to him and he was Rukman’s father. He went inside the house, brought a chair, placed it in the front courtyard and made me sit down. He introduced to me his mother. Rukman resembled his mother.
“Are you fromJaffna?” – She asked.
I gave a friendly reply in the affirmative.
I got up, looked at the green paddy field behind his house and asked what type of paddy he was cultivating. His father replied that it was I.R.8 variety. The paddy field was a pleasant sight during the noon sunlight. While I was watching the paddy field, I felt as if someone was behind me. I turned around and looked behind.
I was totally surprised and speechless. The girl standing in front of me was really a stunning beauty. I had seen several girls when I was studying at Peradeniya. They were beautiful ones who had to an extent agitated my mind. Kandymay be called the central location for beauties inSri Lanka. The glamorous bewitching bodies of these girls had never seen sunlight peeping through the mountainous region. However, this charming damsel appeared to be of a different caliber when compared to the kandian beauties.. She had captured an instant place in my heart.
Like a goddess in front of me, she was holding a tray with a glass of water and a cup of tea. Her long hair touched her knees. Her eyelids fluttered like the wings of a butterfly.
After recuperating from the shock, I walked two steps forward. Rukman’s voice could be heard from behind. He said, “She is my sister, Chitra”. I turned back with a feeling of fear whether Rukman had noticed my perturbation. Rukman was still behind me. After touching the water in the glass as done in traditional Singhalese custom, I accepted the cup of tea.
“Chitra! What are you doing for a living?”
“I am a Teacher attached to Padaviya Maha Vidyalaya.”
“What subjects do you teach?”
“Science. I have only 6 months of service.”
“You are more advanced than me. It is just 6 days since I joined the Department.”
She smiled. There was a sound similar to that of collision of seashells.
“have you prepared any food? I have brought him without letting him go toJaffna,” Rukman asked her sister.
“Our acquaintance is equivalent to having a good feast. Do not worry.”
“You are talking nicely.” – Chitra said.
Her commendation was as sweet as honey.
I noticed a young deer in Rukman’s cow shed. Rukman said that it was caught.in the jungle six months ago. The deer was fostering with the cows in the shed. I felt very excited.
Rukman and I came back after taking a bath at Padaviya Tank. Chitra served us rice with wild-boar curry and ‘sambol’. I was unable to guess what sambol it was. Definitely, it was not a sambol of dried fish. I thought as much that it was a vegetable dish and concluded that it was young jackfruit curry. The Sinhala way of preparing jackfruit was really.good. It was very tasty. When I inquired what sambol it was, Chitra and others laughed.
“This is porcupine sambol,” said Rukman.
“How do you prepare it?”
“The flesh of porcupine is exposed to fire for withering,” he explained the process.
“I have never tasted such a good dish in my lifetime.”
Though I aimed my comments at Rukman, my eyes were searching for Chitra’s glance. I wondered whether her eyes had two butterflies attached to them or not. I felt shy with my imagination running riot.
I thought that the name Padaviya needed to be changed immediately to ‘Vannathikulam’ (butterflyLake). I wished everyone goodbye and left their home.
The speed of the motorcycle was varying up and down with my thoughts going back to Chitra. At one point, the motorcycle stopped after hitting a buffalo that was crossing the road.
There was no one when I arrived at the quarters. I drank a cup of tea and unusually went to bed at 9.00 p.m.
Chitra”s voice echoed in the room. I felt rather shy about my mind wandering behind a girl. But it gave a new sweet sensation to my thoughts. Actually Chitra had conquered my heart and soul completely. I wondered whether it is the so-called ‘love at sight’.
When I got up in the morning and went to the kitchen, Gamini was already preparing tea.
“How was Padaviya?”
“Superb. I have to specially mention the food from Rukman’s home.”
“I am going toAnuradhapura. Do you like to come?” asked Gamini, after giving me tea.
“Shall we go in the after noon? I must wash my clothes,” I said. He willingly agreed.
Both of us toured the old town ofAnuradhapura. For the first time I saw the sacred ‘white bo-tree’. It was surrounded by a fence of golden strings. I did not find much of a crowd. There were ladies dispersed here and there. They were wearing white sarees, which provided me with peace of mind.
“Gamini! Do you have faith in God?”
“Why are you asking me that question?”
“We are behaving like tourists in a place which people treat as a place of worship. That is why I asked the question.”
“I have faith in God. But I do not think that the faith in God is confined only to the places of worship such as Buddhist shrines and temples.”
I agreed with Gamini. We were visiting the ruins of Buddhist shrines.
“The king built this upstairs building as residence of the Buddhist priests. But see this small building. This is the palace where the King lived,” he pointed towards it.
“The Kings had given a prominent place to Buddhist priests even in those days. Therefore there is not much of a difference between that era and the present era.”, I smiled. Having understood what I meant, Gamini said, “Whether it was the King who ruled the people those days or the Government who rules the people today, they have adopted the same strategy for the last two thousand years.”
After having a drink of king-coconut, Gamini wanted to visit one of his friends. We took a route that went along the rice fields. After a few minutes, we stopped in front of a house with a straw thatched roof.
“Comrade!” shouted Gamini.
A young man of about 25-years age came out of the house greeting him, “Comrade Gamini!”
He had a small but distinctive beard. He was introduced to me as “Bandara”. After the introduction, we went inside the house.
A picture of Rohana Wijeweera was hanging on the wall central to the house.
“How is Medawachchiya?” Bandara asked me.
“Very good,” I replied.
“How about the problems inJaffna?”
“The word problem itself is a problem.”
“Is there support for Liberation Tigers?”
“I was inJaffnafor only two days. Therefore I cannot tell anything much. As far as I know people think that giving support to the Tigers is the only way to oppose the Government,” I expressed the real situation.
“Tigers want to divide the country. What do you think?” Bandara asked me.
“Bandara! I do not think that it is possible to divide this country. Nor will the division settle Tamil grievances. But the Sinhala parties, which have governed all these years, should take the responsibility for the present state of chaos.”
Gamini endorsed my view.
“Why can’t the Tamils join us and oppose the Government?” Bandara questioned.
“Us means whom?” I asked. Though I knew what he meant, I wanted it to come out from his mouth.
“The JVP or The Peoples Liberation Front”
“This is a big question. There has been no answer to this question in the past. I do not know whether there would be an answer in the future.”
After that Gamini asked me whether we could go back, as he wanted to stop talking politics. While we were coming towards Medawachchiya, Gamini said, “Please excuse me. I never expected Bandara to talk politics.”
“Gamini! This is a problem of our country. No one can escape from this. Listening to others’ views and expressing my contentions are the basic democratic norms of free speech.”
“I am not a member of the JVP. But I firmly believe in their policies. Comrade Rohana Wijeweera is coming toAnuradhapurafor a public meeting in about two months.”
“I wish to meet him.”
“Bandara is District Secretary. We can arrange a meeting.”
After arriving at the quarters, we had our dinner together and went to sleep. I closed my eyes and was recollecting the experiences of Saturday and Sunday. It was like a cow chewing the cud of grass grazed earlier to the brim.
The round face and slanting long eyes of Chitra resembled a river running without any noise while embracing both sides of a plain ground. Ruins of the buildings atAnuradhapuraand the extremist nature of Bandara’s questions resembled a tributary falling from a hilly terrain and created a moist curtain in my mind.