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 2

Veerappuli Henaya and Baba Henaya returned home with their hearts full of new hopes. Veerappuli Henaya decided that the journey should be undertaken the very next day itself. Baba Henaya had a small sarong that had been stitched for him for the last avurudda but he didn’t have a shirt that was suitable to be worn to school. Veerappuli didn’t waste any time. He asked Malma Ridee for a piece of white cloth and immediately took off to Godakawela along with Baba Henaya.

Veerappuli Henaya was somewhat acquainted with Wine Mahattaya, the tailor who had a sewing machine in Godakawela. It would be possible to get him to do this within the day. Podina took out the small sarong from a bundle of clothes and washed it. Malma Ridee asked if this was something that was absolutely necessary. Her thoughts were of the possibility that her boy would have to suffer all manner of insults if he were to be among children from high standing families. Podina said that since school was a place where right and wrong was taught such things could not happen. As for Nambu Henaya, he just wanted the boy to stay at home without going to school. He didn’t offer any comments however. He secretly wished that this matter, embraced with such enthusiasm and yet still up in the air, would be unsuccessful.

The grandfather and grandson returned home that evening with the small shirt stitched. Baba Henaya took it out several times, wore it, then removed and folded it. His little mind was filled with this new dream. He didn’t sleep well that night. When slumber finally came to him he saw strange dreams about the new and strange place called school. He couldn’t really understand these dreams but what he saw just before dawn was frightening.

Some nasty boys stripped off his shirt and sarong and ripped them to shreds. He sat on the ground and wept, naked. Thereafter, four boys brought along a kind of crude trellis, set him on it and carried him around the school. He saw other children watching him and writing something on their slates. Then they sang the verses they had written on their slates. Baba Henaya couldn’t hear them clearly. In the midst of the cacophony, the four boys carrying him suddenly dropped the trellis and fled. Before it hit the ground Baba Henaya heard Veerappuli Henaya’s voice and woke up.

‘Frail One….Baby….’

It was first light. It took him a few seconds to recognise their house from the shape of the roof. The moment he realised that what he had just seen was only a dream an immense joy enveloped him. He smiled.

It was still very early when Veerappuli Henaya took Baba Henaya to the small bo sapling, but there was already a small basket of flowers and a lamp that was lit.

‘Now sit right here and bring your hands together in worship, my boy. Think of letters. Think of writing letters. Close both eyes and think. Remember the things that Guna Ralahamy said. Think of beautifully written, perfectly round letters. It is true that life is about endless hardship and sorrow, but if you learn the secret of letters you’ll be able to free yourself of all that and live a life that benefits the world. Little one, I don’t really know what the letters spell, but think wholesome thoughts always. There’s no reason whatsoever to cause hurt to even a tiny ant. If ever your mind is filled with sadness, think of this bo tree. That will give you some relief.’

Veerappuli Henaya, in a steady but low voice, uttered many such things to his grandson who absorbed all and held them secure in his mind.

It wasn’t as easy as they had thought. What hurt Veerappuli Henaya most was Baba Henaya’s silence as they returned home that evening. He was just a little boy but he had understood as an adult would everything that had transpired. Veerappuli Henaya felt that his heart had been ripped out. Baba Henaya, who had set out with him wearing new clothes with great anticipation about attending school was now walking a few steps ahead of him in complete silence. Seeing this, Veerappuli Henaya’s feet trembled.

He was now convinced that it was not their fate to enjoy such powerful things and that it was but folly to get fixated on such things and pursue them. He wondered how he could explain all this to this little child. He wanted to tell him that it wasn’t a serious matter and that there was still time for him. He spoke for the first time after they had passed Godakawela and turned towards Malwatte.

‘There’s more time for this, boy. You are still very small. You noticed did you not that the other children in the school were all bigger than you? We’ll go back after a little while…’

The boy thought for a while and stopped.

‘If that unnehe with a big beard hadn’t shouted, I could have learnt letters sitting on the ground, isn’t that so Aathe?’

Veerappuli Henaya didn’t say anything. He felt that they had gone to the school on an inauspicious day. It was a day when parents visited the school. The teacher had just got Baba Henaya to sit on one of the benches. The wicked woman who was the mother of the child at the other end of the bench had barged into the class screaming.

‘You’ve got a radaa boy from Ridivita to sit on the same bench with my one! We are respectable people. We sent the child to school only because the arachchi unnanse came home and invited us to send him. And this is how our children are being treated! Many times have I seen this fellow accompanying this hene maama carrying a bundle of clothes. Do you expect my one to sit on the same bench with such a fellow and learn letters? How in God’s name did you have eyes only to notice my child? Why are we being insulted so? The arachchi mahattaya is distantly related to us and therefore I will not suffer this kind of insult. If you don’t correct this, I will take my child and go home!’

The other parents were drawn by the woman’s rant. The young teacher was helpless, but he finally found his voice and spoke calmly.

‘All these children are equal to me. I teach all of them the very same letters. The very same words. The very same values. We may be of different stations at home and the village, but once they are here all these children are the same. If that was not so, how could good values be taught to them? First and foremost we need to teach them exceptional values such as the idea of equality. It’s based on this that a child will learn about the world. It would be wrong to have even distinctions such as boy-girl in a school. Dear parents…the children should be allowed to learn such things naturally. No one’s status would be harmed, not even in the smallest way possible, just because they all learn together.’

‘It may be so for you mahattaya, wherever you may have come from but we are people who live respectable lives in these areas.’

It was a man who made this observation. It seemed that if the young teacher were to argue, he would be mercilessly beaten by both men and women. Veerappuli Henaya, stepped up in the middle of all the chaos in the classroom, bowed low and spoke in a humble tone.

‘There’s no reason to get angry, dear respected people. Don’t blame this guru uththamaya. I will take the boy home, but before we leave please consider this small request. Let me know if it displeases you and we will leave. This is not a good place to quarrel after all…’

‘Make your request,’ was the consensus in the room.

‘Even I am not happy about our child sitting on the same bench with your children. It is true that even I went numb at that moment. If you, respected people, have no objection, let our child sit on a mat in a corner. He won’t mind. He will write letters.’

It seemed that the crowd was agreeable to this. Veerappuli Henaya saw the helpless young teacher wipe a tear.

It was then that the man with a big beard spoke.

‘The iskole mahattaya himself said that even if such an arrangement was made it would be the same things that will be taught. We are not pleased by this. What nonsense is this? How could we continue to live in a village if our children had to sit with radava children, badahela children and padu children? If that’s what you want, iskole mahattaya, do it your way. We will take our children and leave. You are just mouthing N.M. Perera’s sermons. We are not interested. It’s such nonsense that we had to put an end to our farmer society. If you can’t run the school in a way that is agreeable to us, wait and see what will happen after tomorrow…’

This speech agitated the parents all over again. Veerappuli Henaya was even more self-effacing this time around.

‘This is not necessary. We will leave. Come, boy….just tell the iskole uththamaya that we are leaving.’

Baba Henaya went on his knees and worshipped the teacher. The teacher touched the boy’s head and with the other hand wiped his eyes. It was clear that if things hadn’t been resolved thus, the teacher would have been assaulted even if they were spared, Veerappuli Henaya thought.

They had passed Galahitiya. Veerappuli Henaya, his face drawn taut, thought many things. He remembered how they had stopped by the barbed wire fence and turned to look at the school for a moment.

The parents had dispersed. The children came out of the classroom carrying the benches on which they set around a Jak tree. They sat down. The teacher arrived and started on a lesson. When Veerappuli Henaya said ‘let’s go, child,’ Baba Henaya had replied, ‘let’s watch for a little while more Aathe.’ These words came to him again and again. He walked, head bent and eyes on the road before them. Baba Henaya spoke exitedly.

‘Aathe, I saw the iskole mahattaya write my name on a piece of paper. He wrote many round letters…’

‘Dear child, let’s not say anything more for a while,’ Veerappuli Henaya said softly.

He needed to think. His thoughts went to the bo sapling but they didn’t stop there. Whatever he thought was interrupted by the sight of his grandson who was walking a few feet ahead of him. Baba Henaya.

He had wanted to give him a modern name such as ‘Elpenis’ or ‘Saraneris,’ but when he took the child to the house of Bandara Appo, the gampathi of Nambuluwa, the question that was asked was ‘a boy or a girl?’ The moment Veerappuli Henaya said ‘boy,’ the gampathi said ‘call the fellow Baba Henaya’ and went into the house. Veerappuli Henaya remembered clearly how Podina’s eyes filled with tears when he told her that the child had been named Baba Henaya.

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