Gamini and I decided to go on a hunting expedition on Friday. He brought a car and two shotguns he had borrowed from one of his friends.
It was mostly Muslims that populated Ramankulam which was situated close to Cheddikulam. Surrounded by jungle Ramankulam extended to the boundary of Willpattu Sanctuary. Hence many animals could be seen wandering around the village. Wild hogs used to destroy farms in the village. Since Muslim farmers dislike shooting wild hogs they welcome adjacent villagers hunting wild hogs. It was for this reason that we selected Ramankulam for our hunting expedition.
We reached Ramankulam by about 8.00 p.m. and met Mr.Lattiff who was known to us. He provided us with two mats. We decided to have a short nap in the front yard of his small hut and go for hunting at 1.00 a.m.. As I was new to hunting in the jungle I deemed Gamini as my master temporarily.
Though there were plantain trees in the front yard, shrubs were found within a short distance. We heard noises in the dark.
“Gamini! What is that noise?”
“Most of the noise is made by Peacocks.”
“Are there no tigers?”
“There may be Jaffna tigers…”, he laughed.
“Gamini! I came on hunting so that I could speak to you on an important subject.”
“What is the matter?”
“This is my personal problem. But I wish to hear your observations.”
“I like Chitra. She likes me too.”
“Then, what? When are you going to have a bachelor toast?” he got up.
“Forget the feast. I must talk to Chitra’s parents. And I do not know what Rukman thinks about it.”
“It is easy. What can I do for you?”
“You need to help me to talk to Chitra’s parents and Rukman.”
“Sure, but how about your parents?”
“My father may feel angry. My mother will worry herself. I think I can make them understand.”
As it was past midnight we rolled up the mats and put them in the verandah. We took the guns. Gamini had in his hand a five-cell torch.
I walked behind Gamini tugging my sarong above my knees. We walked barefoot as boot sounds could alert the animals. The thorny shrubs hurt my feet and legs up to our thighs. We arrived at a small hut situated in a plantain farm. The dense jungle started from that farm. We waited a while for the wild hogs to enter the plantain farm. As there was none we walked along the corridor adjacent to the dense jungle. It was scary as we should not use the torchlight very often.
“Do snakes come to this area?” I asked Gamini several times.
Gamini consoled me and asked me not to get scared. As we walked a short distance, we heard a noise in front of us.
“It is a wild hog. Fire”, Gamini whispered. I aimed in that direction and fired. I heard from his gun the sound of fire as well. We could not see anything. But there was a sound of sudden dispersing.
“Gamini! Flash your torch.” I said.
From the flash of light, we could see the jungle. but not any wild hogs.
“It is in vain that we two fired.” I told Gamini in deep frustration.
Gamini searched carefully for any marks in the area. He picked up a leaf from the ground and showed me the leaf saying, “See there is blood.”
“After receiving the gunshot the hog should be staying somewhere close by. Let us search.”
We searched. We could not find it. It was 4.00 a.m..
“Let us go back to the small hut and come back at about 5.00 a.m. It will be easy to locate the animal in the morning twilight.” Gamini said.
We went back to the small hut and created a fire to offset the cold. This is my first experience in hunting in the wild. I tried to recollect what had happened. Gamini had a short nap.
The rising sun lit up the surroundings around 5.00 a.m. It was a beautiful sight. The soft rays of sunlight provided a pleasant feeling while offsetting the very long darkness. A gentle breeze touched my body and moved away. Several birds chanted their music like crowing of country cocks. Male peacocks came down from the trees and started dancing with their lovely wings spread out beautifully. Female peacocks appreciated the dances from both treetops and the ground. It was an unforgettable sight.
We went back to the spot where we fired at the hogs and found blood spots on the ground. We could not walk in an erect position, as it was dense jungle. We had to push thorny bushes and trees away with our guns, as there was no room for us to move. At some places, we had to crawl on our knees. At last, about several hundred yards away we saw a dead male hog. Gamini told me to hold the rear legs of the hog and he lifted the animal by its front legs happily. The hog was hung on a branch of a tree. We lighted a fire underneath it and burnt its hair. Using his knife, Gamini removed the intestines of the hog and threw it away. After wrapping the hog in polythene bags, we kept it in the car. Then we went back to Lattif’s cottage. We had tea there and gave him ten rupees. At first he refused to accept the money but subsequently accepted it. We were very pleased that our wild hog hunting expedition became a success. We came back to Medawachchiya through the Mannar road.
On the edge of canal!
The much-anticipated letter had been in the mail. That was a letter from Chitra. I kept it in my pocket and soon finished reading the other letters. When I was very young I liked triangle- shaped biscuits manufactured by the Munche Biscuits Company. My habit was to take some triangle-shaped biscuits first and keep them in a safe place. Then I would start eating the round and long biscuits. I was recollecting the days of my childhood.
I closed the door behind me before I started reading my favorite letter. Though there was no one in the front room, I did not want anyone to come and disturb me unexpectedly.
Chitra had written her letter in English, character by character. It was better than what I anticipated. I appreciated her way of writing but felt that it would have been nice if she had concluded the letter by writing ‘lovingly’ rather than writing ‘truly’. She had requested me to come to her house on next Saturday. I had told Gamini that I was going to Padaviya on Saturday. Gamini had already approached Chitra’s parents at my request and spoken about my affair. I was given to understand that Rukman was on leave and attending to political work.
It would be true to say that I did not sleep well rather than to say that I got up early in the morning. If not for the special event, I would have been in bed with closed eyes for several more hours. I did not want to open my eyes, as moonlight will distract my mind and divert my attention away from thinking of Chitra. I felt shy that I had become a grown-up teenage lover.
No sooner I got up in the early morning I glanced at the red saree in my handbag. I imagined how Chitra would look if she wore that saree. In my mind, butterflies started showing their fluttering wings. I bought that red saree in Jaffna Super Market, at a textile shop whose owner was a classmate of mine.
“I want a saree. An Indian saree”, I told him.
“When is your marriage taking place?” he asked.
“It is not for me. It is for a friend of mine from Vavuniya.“, I remembered lying with difficulty. He too did not believe my words. Apart from that, I found it difficult to keep the saree at my home without the knowledge of my mother.
It was 3.00 p.m. when I commenced my trip to Padaviya in my motorcycle. It was very hot. The mirage on the road showed how hot it was on that day. From the beginning of the month of July there was no greenly sight. The greenly pastures had dried up and was full of dead stumps and sticks. Even though the dust and hot weather burnt my eyes, yet the thought of Chitra provided me a feeling similar to the coldness that embraced when eating cucumber in hot weather conditions.
The road leading from Padaviya to Siripura was somewhat cool because the water from Padaviya tank reached Siripura along this road through a canal. There was not much of running water but the grasses at the edge of the canal were greenish. The sight of women bathing in the canal wearing clothes similar to those depicted in Sigiri frescoes made me think about greenish pastures in desert lands. Are these women the so-called ‘flowers blooming in the canals’? I accelerated the motorcycle thinking that it was rather unfair to turn my thoughts in this manner when I was going to meet Chitra soon.
Hearing the sound of my motorcycle, Chitra came out through the front door of her house. She wore a yellow saree and a blouse of the same color. She had decorated herself more than usual. It looked like as if she had long rounded eyes since she had done her eyebrows.
“Actually I think you are a beauty queen.”, I said.
“Go away”, she murmured.
“Are your parents home?”
“Yes. Thaththey!” – She called.
“Why do you want to call Dad? It is better to be without him”, I touched my upper lip with my tongue. Her father came out and her mother followed him. It was unusual that her father was wearing a shirt.
I too greeted them back and asked where Rukman was. He showed the direction where Rukman had gone. We all went inside the house. Rukman and I were seated in chairs. Chitra had gone to the kitchen.
“Rukman! Why did not you come for work?”
“I had a small job to do”, he uttered with a smile in his face.
“How are your parents?” Chitra’s father asked me.
“They are keeping well.”
At that time Chitra brought from the kitchen tea for us. All enjoyed the tea in silence. I thought that if silence was the only language of the whole world there would have been less problems in the world. No one knew what to talk and how to start talking. In an arranged marriage, there would be no such embarrassing situations. They will start the topic very easily commencing with demands for dowry. Chitra went back to the kitchen as she got fed up with our silent drama.
“Did Gamini tell you anything?” I asked without hesitation.
“Of course”, said Chitra’s mother shyly.
“Chitra and I like each other. We wish to get married”, I behaved like a student in the classroom.
“Will your parents agree?” asked Chitra’s mother.
“I like to talk to them after appraising what you all think. Even if they do not like the idea, they will not try to stop it.” I expressed the position on our side.
“Chitra is lucky to get you as her husband”, her father commended.
“We are indeed fortunate”, her mother also commented.
“I am more fortunate than Chitra.” I said.
I could notice Chitra wiping her tears while standing by the side of the kitchen door. I was overjoyed as I deemed her tears were a sign of her true happiness.
“Why are you keeping silent?” I asked Rukman.
“If my sister is happy, I will also be happy. It is very rare to find a good person like you.” he said.
“Rukman! Do not place me in an embarrassing position by praising me. We intend to have the registration of marriage done by the middle of this month.” – I told looking at Chitra’s father.
“We whole-heartedly welcome it.”
It was a unanimous decision. There was a tone of surprise in their voices.
“I will be going to Jaffna next week to talk to my parents. No doubt, there will be problems. But I could overcome them”, saying so I walked out of the house. Even though Chitra’s parents welcomed the idea, I was able to notice a feeling of shock in their faces when I made the proposal directly and fixed the date of registration of marriage. I thought that they would settle down after having discussions among themselves.
“Please excuse me for not talking to you. I could not find words to speak.” Rukman told me while I was waiting outside.
“I would not have met Chitra, if you had not invited me for the feast. Therefore, I should thank you.”
“What does my brother say?” asked Chitra.
“I am thanking Rukman for inviting me and giving me a feast with wild hog sambol. All were in a cheery mood. Rukman left saying that he was going to the boutique.
“Chitra! I bought this for you.” I took the saree out of the handbag and gave it to her.
“It is beautiful. Where did you buy it?”
“In Jaffna. But it is a saree from Jaipur”, I told her with pride.
She placed the saree on her chest. The red saree on her yellow saree resembled ‘kumkumam’ on top of a sandalwood tray.
“Come closer”, I dragged her by her hand.
“My mother is watching”, she stepped back. Actually, her mother was coming towards us.
“Keep the saree inside the house and come back. We can go for a walk along the paddy field.”
She ran like a deer, gave the saree to her mother and came back. We walked along the ridge of the paddy field behind her home.
There was dim light as it was about 6.00 p.m. There was a water canal at the end of the paddy field. We both sat down on the cemented bridge.
“Chitra! Your sight and our acquaintance appear to be a dream.” I embraced her.
“I also have the same feeling.”
She dropped on my lap. When I placed my hand beside her neck and lifted her head close to me, she had closed her eyes.
“Chitra”, gently I called.
I brought her face closer to me. Now she opened her eyes. I pressed my lips over hers. She closed her eyes again. However, her hands crept like a creeper grapping my neck tightly. I wondered how she got this strength, as I struggled for my breath. Nevertheless, my hands enveloped her waist. I also closed my eyes as I felt that it was not nice to look at this world.
A peculiar sound made us to open our eyes. It was dark and nothing was visible. The same noise sounded again. A buffalo was passing on the edge of the canal.
“My goodness! What am I to tell to my mother?”
“Tell your mother that a buffalo woke me up.”
“Go away. You are always joking.”
Her parents were in front of their house when we both reached home.
“It became dark as we were walking along the paddy fields.” she justified.
“It is not good to walk on these areas after dark as there are snakes.” her father told casually.
“Is that so?” I asked and sat down on the chair overcoming my heavy heart.
It was my turn to cook food at the lodge. Gunadasa came to the kitchen while I was about to measure the rice for cooking.
“How many of us are there for meals today?”
Gunadasa lighted a cigarette saying, “It is six if not for the two J.V.P. clans. Anyway make it eight”. Gunadasa is younger to Suppiah. His family is at Gampola. We have great respect for Gunadasa.
“Why did not Suppiah come for his duties? It is now Wednesday.” Gunadasa inquired thoughtfully.
“He is a family man. He may be having some work to do.”
“You are also from Jaffna. Don’t you know?”
“I am from Kokkuvil. He is from Viyapaarimoolai. The distance is about 20 miles – Just 20 miles. But there are 5 lakhs of people residing within this radius.” – I said with my usual smile.
“Doctor!” – I saw Ragavan coming towards the door with a terror stricken face. I thought about the talk of ‘devil’s attack’ when I saw his face.
“What is the matter, Ragavan?”
“It appears that Suppiah’s uncle had been arrested and is in custody at Point-Pedro Police station.”
“Why? ” Gunadasa asked with surprise.
“Who told you?”- I asked Ragavan.
Arumugam of the saloon told me. He is unaware of the reason for the arrest. But it may be because his son had joined the tigers”- Ragavan replied.
“Is it possible? What can a father do?” – Gunadasa asked innocently.
“It has been the practice of the Armed forces to arrest the whole family if a son joined the tigers. They will declare that if the son surrenders to them then they will release the other members of the family. There were instances where the whole family had been murdered. I think Suppiah is lucky in this respect.” – I replied frustratingly.
“This is gross brutality”- Gunadasa expressed in a sorrowful voice.
I cooked rice only. No one had food in the lodge. Suppiah never ate with us. He made up his meals with the ‘lime rice’ he brought from home for the whole week. He had no belongings in his room. It had been his practice to sleep on old spread out newspapers and use his traveling bag as his pillow. We did not press him as he said it is expensive for him to join in our cooking.
At times we used to ridicule him, “What are you going to do by saving in this manner?”
“You are very young. You do not have worries about money”. It is his way of seeking justice by smiling at us.
Suppiah had two daughters and a son. He was talking high of his son’s studies. I could remember Gamini teasing him saying that his son was going to get married to one of his daughters and he would get a lavish dowry.
I had already decided to go to Jaffna on Friday. I needed to tell about Chitra to my mother. My father would become cross with me. My mother would shed tears. These were my expectations. I needed to go to Suppiah’s house and console his family. These programs made me to travel to Jaffna by evening train.
The easy route was to get down at Kokkuvul Railway Station and proceed along Station Road. Students of the Jaffna University used this road and hence the Army used to go on night patrol on this road. Therefore, I changed my way through small lanes. Even though dogs greeted me, I felt it better than coming across the Army. It was about 10.00 p.m. when I reached home. It was dark. I recognized my father by the cigar smoke under the mango tree.
“ Son! Why are you coming in the darkness? Why cannot you come earlier?” – My mother got hold of my hand affectionately.
“Yarldevi will not advance its time for my sake” – I remarked.
However, her meaningless questions made me realize her affection towards me. It had been the practice of my mother to curse me when I got late and kiss me when I came home. After I had grown up, she will kiss my hand or shoulder. I will drag her and go inside. But today I waited till she finished her kissing. It may be because of my guilty consciousness.
“Take him and give him dinner”- My father gave instructions to my mother. My brother Ravi arrived in his bicycle.
“Ravi! What are you up to till 10.00 p.m?” – my father questioned him spitting out the bitter saliva of his cigar.
“Now only the tuition class finished. Brother! When did you come?”
“Just now. How are your studies?”
“It will come to light when the results are known”- my father commented.
My mother served ‘Pittu’ with fish curry and sambol and afterwards I had a bath. He hinted that he would get fish curry only when I come home and sat down next to me. I finished having my food silently and then slept on a mat near the front door. My mother applied holy ash on my forehead. This had been going on from the time I was born. When asked about the application of holy ash, the reply I received was that I would not get bad dreams. Even though I did not apply holy ash on my forehead, yet I did not have the heart to stop her applying holy ash with such affection.
It was past 9.00 a.m. when I woke up from my sleep. When my mother came with a coffee, I asked her where my father was.
“He has gone to the market.”
“Where is Ravi?”
“He has gone for tuition”
“Leave the coffee here. Come and sit next to me. I want to tell you something important.”
“What is the puzzle you are up to?”
“I love a girl. I have decided to get married to her.”
“Who is that girl? Is she your class-mate in the University?”
“No. She is a Singhalese girl. She is from Medawachchiya.”
“You are going to get killed by your father. It is enough that you have worked there. Leave your job and come back.”
“Do not talk rubbish. Listen to me. She is a Teacher.”
“You cannot live in Jaffna after marrying a Singhalese girl. It is also not possible to live in Medawachchiya as well.”- My mother looked at me pitifully.
“I did not go in search of a Singhalese girl. It just happened accidentally.” – I elaborated the whole story right from the beginning and how she saved me at Vavuniya. My mother showed little signs of consent. I wanted to capitalize on my father’s kindness towards her in saving me from the intended death.
“It is now up to you to talk to my father.”
“I do not know. I will let you and your father deal with the matter.”, she tried to cautiously slip away from facing the problem.
“I have great faith in you.”- saying so I embraced and kissed her.
“Go and wash your face”, she pushed me aside.
“I have got to go to Point-Pedro.”
“Why? What is the matter?”
“A person from my lodge is not well.” – Had I told the truth she would have stopped me from going there saying that it is a matter to do with the armed forces.
I borrowed a motorcycle from a friend of mine, a teacher. When I reached Point-Pedro road near Nallur Temple, I stopped to give way to an Army Jeep. When I saw the Army Jeep I got frightened and when it passed me I hated it. This type of hatred would not be felt after passing south of Vavuniya. Jaffna is our country. We are a subjugated nation. I presumed that it was the reason why we got this type of feeling. Since I was enveloped by several of these thoughts I was delighted to see that I had reached Nelliady. When I was passing through the bazaar street I had to apply brakes suddenly to avoid hitting a cow crossing my way. The motorcycle stopped only after slightly dashing against the cow. The cow was tied to a long rope. I cursed the mentality of Vadamaradchi citizens who tied their cows so that they would not only be fed by the grass grown in their land but also by that grown in the adjacent compound and I proceeded towards Viyapaarimoolai.
I parked my motorcycle in front of the gate and shouted, ”anyone at home?” I got the smell of new paint. I thought it was the house he built with his small savings.
“Whom are you calling for?” – A voice came from the direction of the well.
“I wish to see Mr.Suppiah. I am working at Medwachchiya”.
“Welcome to our home.”
When I opened the gate and went inside the compound a girl about 20 years of age with twin-pleats of hair and distinct holy ash on her forehead came and stood in front of me. Her smile showed the features of Mr.Suppiah.
“Please be seated. My father will come”, she showed a chair.
I thought it was unnecessary for Suppiah to save money as dowry because he had very beautiful girls and that there will be lads willing to get married to them. Suppiah came with a bandage on his head and he was very much pulled down.
“Why are you in this condition?”- I asked.
“It is the prize the government gave me.”
“How are you now?”
“Yesterday only they released me from the Police station. They had laid a condition that I should bring my son within ten days.”
“She is my eldest daughter, Sumathy” – He introduced her when she came with a cup of tea.
Rays of pain glittered in her smiles.
My mother and sister have gone to Sellasanithy temple.”
“Do you know your son’s whereabouts?” I asked him.
“His friends believe that he had gone to India for militant training.”- Tears smiled in his eyes.
“What do you intend doing?”
“What to do? It is God’s wish. I must report for work next week.”
“Why don’t you take some more days leave?”
“Leaving my gone son, the others must be fed.”- He said frustratingly.
My eyes also became filled with tears.
I got up and tried to console him, “Be firm in your mind”. I knew pretty well that my consoling him had no meaning. With a heavy heart, I obtained his permission to leave.
It was about 3.00 p.m. when I reached home. While coming back, after returning the borrowed motorcycle to the teacher, I noticed my mother who was seated at the entrance. Her eyes were reddish in color.
“What is the problem?” – I went near her and asked.
“All the problems are because of you.”- She replied.
Tears ran down her face.
“Where is my father?”
“He went to the shop on the other side.”
“I will talk to him. I am feeling hungry. Could you serve me some food.”
While I was eating, I felt the heaviness in my heart. The mental agony caused by Suppiah’s plight had not vanished from my mind. The affection shown by my mother and the adamant attitude of my father made me utterly confused. When I finished having food, my father arrived home. I turned to the other side, as I did not have the courage to face him.
“Is it true what your mother says?” – It was my father’s rigid tone. What am I to say? His eyes were red showing his anger.
“You are having a relationship with a girl?”
“Have you decided to leave us and depart?”
“What has this got to do with my relationship with a girl?”
“Do you think that you can live with us after getting married to a Singhalese girl in an era when Singhalese and Tamils are killing each other?”
“What is the connection between the problem of Singhalese and Tamils and a marriage of two individuals?” – I asked with feelings of irritation.
“There is a connection. You educated fool! I do not expect you to get married with dowry or an educated girl like other fathers. It is our wish that you must live with peace of mind.”
I did not give him any response. An obstinate character has an innermost liking similar to a jackfruit having sweet pulp inside it. I never expected my father would give his consent in this matter. It had been the practice of my mother to accuse my father that he had an inborn obstinate character with unyielding temperament. I have heard of his younger days from his sister. He had thrown his books in the pond of Nainativu after clashing with his teacher. He had joined the Royal military Force of Great Britain and when ordered to go to Egypt, he had returned to Ceylon from Singapore disregarding the orders. I have only seen his military uniform depicting three years of military service. I have thought on several occasions that the thorny fence created by these stories about him by my mother and our relatives made my brother and me misjudging his innermost intentions.
“Father! I have met and moved with several girls before coming across Chitra. I did not have any thoughts of building a relationship. I also did not expect to meet a girl at Medawachchiya. I looked at her as the lady of my choice. I do not imagine that my love is neither sacred nor will not affect the problems you are referring to. It is not at all possible to erect human life like building well-planned bridges and buildings. I firmly believe that the ideas emanating from human minds decide the fate of human life. I strongly believe that I could live well after getting married to Chitra.”
“Son! You are now grown-up. You know well that you are responsible for the actions and the outcomes. We have told you what we had to say.“- He got up after putting a full stop to the dialogue.
I put the mat and pillow under the mango tree in the front yard, lied down and continued to watch the sky.