There’s a Kind of Hush
There’s a Kind of Hush
My Father by bunpeiris
Friday, July 27, 2007 There's a kind of hush By B. U. N. Peiris, Lakshapatiya, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka 24th June 2005
“Do your allotted work regardless of results, for men attain the highest good by doing work without attachment to its results” Krushna to Arjuna: The Mahabarata
“Energy can neither be created nor destroyed” I just happened to overhear a colleague from mine saying while I was passing his desk. ‘So, you had a fine Physics teacher, eh!” I butted in. I was pleased that my colleague could still remember his Physics lessons at college. Since The Fundamental theory of Physics, that preceded Newton’s three famous Laws of Physics, has withstood all the tests to date, I could safely say that my father too was not destroyed even in his death. After all, all of us are made of the same stuff: energy.
But then again, it is not acceptable my father is no longer with us: he has left us for a rebirth, according to the Buddhism, that is. As every action follows a reaction, as laid out in Newton’s third Law, the merits & demerits, virtues & vices of my father would warrant another birth in another form of a living being somewhere in the cosmos. Once again that is according to Buddhism. One can end the almost eternal cycle of birth & rebirth, suffering of living only if one could break free from all desires, free from all vices, animosity & pride, anger & enmity, jealousy & greed & reach the summit of all virtue & yield into the power of impermanence as Buddha & few of his disciples preached & reached: Arhath, the state of eternal enlightenment. Attempts to fit in the round peg of science into the square hole of religion would be a task beyond ordinary human perceptions. But then Buddhism is not an ordinary religion. It is an atheist religion that conforms to the scientific foundation; action & reaction, cause & effect, reason & result. As Tenzin Gyatso, his holiness the Dalai Lama proclaimed in his latest book “The Universe in a Single Atom” that if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science & abandon those claims.” Dalai Lama doesn’t sound like a dogmatic religious leader, but rather like a sophisticated scientist in the tradition of Darwin: If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory (of evolution) would absolutely break down. Scientist Richard Dawkins, one of the most prominent proponent of atheism, would be pleased to hear those words of Tenzin Gytso, since he argues that God should be no less explicable than any other natural phenomenon. But then neither the creationist nor atheists ought be at the loggerheads, at each other’s throat since science & theology can coexist, side by side. I suppose the world is big enough. Perhaps not. Perhaps, The world is not enough (with apologies to Bond) for the battle. Rushdie (may all gods, big & small protect him!) argues that such a truce would have a chance of working only if it were reciprocal-if the world’s religions agreed to value the atheist position & and concede its ethical basis, if they respected the discoveries & achievements of modern science, even when these discoveries challenge religious sanctities, & if they agreed that art at its best reveals life’s multiple meanings at least as clearly as so-called “revealed’ texts. No such reciprocal arrangement exists, however, nor is there the slightest chance that such an accommodation could ever be reached. Rushdie could be wrong in terms of such a chance, since non other than Pope John Paul the second himself declared (in French) ‘Aujourd’hui, pres d’un demisiecle après la parution de l’encyclique, de nouvelles connaisances condesuisent a reconnaitre dans la théorie de l’evolution plus qu’*une* hypothese.'(‘Today, almost half a century after the publication of the Encyclical [Humani generis, 1950], new knowledge has led to the recognition of more than a (a, as Vatican newspaper L’Osservatroe Romano translated-French “une” means a or one) hypothesis in the theory of evolution. The Pope appears to think there’s evidence to support evolution, hence it is “more than a hypothesis.”
When Tenzin, the Sherpa hero, returned home from conquering the Mount Everest, his mother queried whether he witnessed Buddha at the zenith. Unwilling to hurt the feelings of his mother Tenzin had replied in affirmative. In the days (sixties) of heroes Hillary & Tenzin, the philistines in Nepal believed Buddha lived on the highest peak of the world, while the Buddha, having got rid of all desires, having attained the ultimate enlightenment, had seized to exist. No, not simply in the sixties, even in the eighties, the philistines could believe their religions in their own lights. Isn’t your mother secretly proud you are a poet? “She wouldn’t have even a sense of what being a poet is” For someone like Linus’s mother, living within an achieved civilization, poetry was something that had already been written, provided, a kind of scripture; it couldn’t be added. Among the Believers, V. S. Naipaul (1981). No, not only in the 20th century by the philistines. In the 21st century with western educated university students too: 9/11, the 11th September 2001, New York, U. S. A.
Where exactly is my father now? The precise answer will not be found since such knowledge is beyond the comprehension of living beings, not within the reach of living beings. Again, that is according to Buddhism. Perhaps a person who had become a Rahath would be able to answer. Perhaps even he wouldn’t know. My father is now reborn another living being in somewhere in this cosmos. According to Buddhism, there are other living being in the cosmos. He could be in our planet called earth, or somewhere in our galaxy called Milky Way 600 quadrillion miles across, or somewhere in our contemplated universe with 100 billion other galaxies, or somewhere across our universe, across our thin membrane of space-time (brane), one of many, (in the new frontier called “brane new world” -Stephen Hawkins) all of which may warp, wiggle, connect & collide with one another in as many as 10 dimensions. We can’t see anything outside our brane, as were the people in the well of Plato’s analogy with respect of limited human perceptions & knowledge, because light can’t escape or enter the brane. We can’t hear anything outside, because a sound travel through matter, & matter is stuck to our brane. We can’t use radioactivity to sense what’s beyond, or even break through with nuclear bombs, because nuclear forces are also firmly nailed to our brane. There could be a big blue elephant sitting not a millimeter away in another dimensions, but we wouldn’t know it’s because everything (except gravity) we use to” see” is stuck to our brane. That is the latest mind-boggling theory of multiverse, the universe of all universes, the celestial mother of all mothers. Socrates liked to tease his interlocutors by saying that the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing. The magnificence of Greek thought! “All the knowledge, the human race has gained so far is akin to a drop of sea water from the great oceans,” my father would say since then electric vacuum valve era to today’s micro technology age. I believe he had heard of the incoming Nano technology era. The limited perceptions of the human race confine us to our frail nature & pathetic three-dimensional organs. Einstein made extra dimensions an integral part of Physics when he used fourth dimension, time, in his theory of Relativity in 1905. Ten years later, he showed that this interwoven fabric of space-time could warp under the influence of massive objects-“causing” the force we know as gravity.
Then there is a logical & simple answer too. As a friend of mine who I have never met in person remarked (funny, isn’t it the friends, never met! Still a friend, in view of the exchange of ideas & touch of empathy between us, one from a poverty stricken country, that is me & a person from an affluent country, that is him of course) emailed, “He will only remain in your memory and heart but there they remain forever and so your father continues to live through his children.” Very true. Like hell, Moritz, by providence, my father will continue to live, in some sense, by way of his children & grand children. Amen.
My father is survived by my mother, 5 children, 7 grand daughters & 1 grand son. By providence, his grandchildren could become fair, upright, educated & productive citizens. That is something to pray for. But then again, in Buddhism you have no God to pray for. You are the saviour of your own life. Karma, the fate takes over almost everything almost eternally. Can you override your Karma? Has Buddhism given an answer in a single word? Is our destiny determined? Or is it not? Will science ever provide an answer? To the hell with destiny! So, what can you do? You may only strive, strive, strive till you stumble & fall. The again you rise up & strive, strive, strive for the betterment of your sons & daughters till the death. That was what exactly my father too did.
“Oh! My second daughter has sent me a nice SMS,” remarked a friend of mine, a Sri Lankan Muslim Gem trader opening his mobile phone alerted by the incoming message beep. “ Dada I am not angry at you even though you scolded my yesterday. If I do, Allah would punish me. You are the Best Dada in the world” No doubt, to all the children their Dada Boy & Mummy Girl are the best Daddy & Mummy in the world. Even the children of Hitler (if he had any), Himmler, Hess, Eichmann, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, The Pol Pot the Second would have no hesitation to nominate their respective mass murderous fathers to the International Best Dada Boy Championship at Rose Gardens, White House. Really really? Scottish philosopher David Hume in his essay titled “An Enquiry Concerning the Principals of Morals” theorised that universal traits like benevolence towards one’s own children, kindness towards one’s own children & love for one’s own children are “natural” virtues, while socially necessary traits like courage, honesty, justice, & loyalty are ”artificial’ virtues.
By providence, my father was of both natural virtues & artificial virtues that Hume referred to. My father, had not only been a loving & beloved better half of the union of my parents, but also a fair, upright & straightforward man, decent citizen. His word was true, his deal was square & his deed was fair. In his scale of values, the Platonic triad of the truth, the good, & the beautiful took precedence over the Machiavellian triad of money, fame & power. He didn’t have any idea on how to go about collecting commission against the local purchase of electronic spare parts that he used to purchase during the long years of World Meteorological Organisation Aid to the Dept. of Meteorology, Sri Lanka. As then director of the dept. himself once implied, my father could have collected enough of commission to build a house. He didn’t. He was once taken aback with my shoplifting, in one of my fits of kleptomaniac attacks, of a ladies handbag; he would have a smirk on his lips over my exploitation of loopholes of the American & British book clubs.
He didn’t try to achieve his goals by hook or crook; he didn’t imagine he should beg, bribe or rob to build a house or to tour Las Vegas. His way had always been fair way even in castaway situations following a perfect storm. He never marooned & drifted in wasted time or sunk in rudderless despair. He worked all the time. A genuine workhorse. But he had much more than horse sense: a streak of intellect, a good sense of fair play & sound technical mind. My mother, another tireless workhorse played second fiddle. But playing second fiddle to such a man was no easy task. But then my mother has been tough cookie too. She would, in those pre-micro processor years, pre-transistor days, in the era of vacuum electric valves, painstakingly wind electric transformers on a manual hand drill fixed horizontally on a workbench, cut Aluminium laminations of E & L shapes with a metal cutting scissors with a piece of cloth wound round her fingers; cook & clean & do all house about work for seven persons, make delicious coconut honey sweets & sweetmeat for us; wash clothes of seven by her own hands since those days were the days sans washing machines. On top of all these things she would make cartons out of printed labelled cardboard for the Ayurvedic medicine products of my grandfather. For some long years my father even ran a mini poultry farm in a garage. They produced soap using caustic soda & Coconut oil as base. My father borrowed books on handicraft (donated by Asia Foundation, U.S.A. rumoured to be a front organisation of CIA) from the library of Dept. of Meteorology & turned out ornaments for sale. What didn’t they have their hands in?
Thanks to the two work horses, we lived like the rich with December school holidays in the cool, scenic, beautiful, fresh hill country: green mountains, green valleys with green green grass & green trees, green ravines & green slopes, all green & again green, greens of all shades & tones, vast green tea plantations, seamless green paddy fields, green bushes & green woods. And numerous flowers of vivid petals & hues. Pick a Rose for Daisy. Roses aplenty, Daisies all over, fresh air, all flowers & smiles, loose jackets & tight hats. Carrot, Cabbage & beet, Potato & tomato & all sorts of vegetables, Avocado pears, promegenate, in abundance. Water, water, everywhere, cascading water, flowing water, streaming water. Allah …aaaaaaaaa….!!!!!!!!!, the Beer refinery. Water that produce fine local beer. Beer galore. The Real McCoy. Have your poison. The salt content is just right for the climate. Imported Heineken & Carlsberg are no match. And, oh! yes, the bakeries, the smell of fine oven-fresh, oven-hot bread in the streets, in misty yet bright morning. Uncle Baker, is such fine bread is all thanks to water? No kid, you know, it’s all in the hands. You are kidding. No kidding, kid, with the hand of god at play. “I saw deep blue & immense, the entire high mountain system of Ceylon piled up in mighty walls, & in its midst the ancient & holy pyramid of Adam’s Peak. Beside it at an infinite depth & distance lay the flat blue, in between a thousand mountains, broad valleys, narrow ravines, rivers & waterfalls, in countless folds, the whole mountainous island on which the ancient legend placed paradise.” Herman Hesse at the vantage point, the most beautiful city of the Hill Country of Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya
Once my eldest sister, a widow, was about to behave like an adamant fool with respect of the upbringing of her daughters I sent her a letter reminding her of our roots, what my father & mother have been doing for us, what my maternal grandfather & grandmother have done for us. They letter made my sister weep; my parents proud. My sister mended her moronic ways; my parents were to learn I haven’t forgotten the sweat of their brow, labour of their hands. I believe, my father was pleased with the contribution, I have made for his grand children: particularly of financing her higher education of my first niece; quick moves with respect of the education of his preteen grandson, the son of my brother.
Since no straight arrow was ever fashioned out of the crooked timber of humanity, (with apologies to the good guys), my father wasn’t the perfect straight arrow either: he too had his deficiency. In spite of round the clock good work he wasn’t a great communicator. My eldest three nieces were on & off disturbed. I used to butt in. “How old are you?” “I am sixteen” “See, you are sweet sixteen, but Grandfather is under the impression you too are in sagacious seventies as he is.”hee heee.. hee hee he heeeeeeee.. heee “He is only protecting you. So take it easy.“ “We are okay, we aren’t angry at him”
My father was one of the few good men, I knew of. If there was ever a blemish on him, it was being the unintended hand of indirect murder in a death of a burglar at a home of one of his best friends: he was the man, who in a moment of lost sense of caution, powered the rear door of the house with a network of electricity above the level of voltage necessary to ward off a burglar. “Everyone, it seems, losses his sense under the influence of destiny” : Mahabarata. The methodical, systematic highly skilled technical hand was to regret his hand in the death of the burglar. But then that was predicted by a gypsy women endowed with superior knowledge of palmistry, who traced the lines of his right palm, while my father & I, then a pre teen were seated at the steps of the front door of our home. I always had good memory of my childhood in connection with my father, a reasonably well read man, since he always seemed to have something to say on any matter on any occasion. His words always etched in my memory. But at that moment of foretelling of indirect murder, he was at a loss of words. The big blemish was to take place. Destiny, Fate, Karma. Or is it hand of God to have a blemish on him, the God seems to have his own divine ways, or rather his fancy & wicked sense of humour. We are just playthings to him, as flies in the hands of wanton boys.
My father, Baminhennadige Donald Benedict Peiris, son of Baminhennadige(= descendants of Hennagige family with the head of the family married to a Bamini-Indian Brahmin lady) Francis Sebastian Peiris of Koralawella, Moratuwa & Dona Lillian Peiris, passed away on 23rd June 2005 at the age of 75. My mother decided against treatment for brain cancer when it was diagnosed in May 2005. At his age he wouldn’t stand for Radiotherapy or chemotherapy. My father who didn’t have any idea what had hit him cried on the phone saying he couldn’t speak. On 19th May 2005, when I returned home & rushed in asking “How is father?”, he stepped out to the yard & embraced me crying. His short memory was in short supply & cohesion of ideas had faded.
My father, well-qualified Electronic Technician was employed in the Dept of Meteorology, Colombo. In those days, such were the values held by the citizens, even the highly-qualified technical professionals such as my father didn’t call themselves engineers in deference to those who had obtained a 5 year full time Bachelor of Engineering degree from a state university or a university in Great Britain to their name. With the death my paternal grandfather at the age of 52, my father was denied a higher education in a state university although his mother managed to educate her three boys, in the medium of English language, at one of the best Private Christian Missionary Colleges of Sri Lanka, Prince of Wales’ College, Moratuwa. I was to study at the same college in the Sinhala Language Medium & to learn English language reading my father’s collection of some 300 issues of then most famous periodical: pro-American Readers Digest of fifties, sixties & early seventies. He had even made an index based on topics, covering the whole collection. That was his homemade information technology. Sixties & early seventies were the days, among others, of the famous American periodical: Life. He would explain the Vietnam War articles & heart-rending photographs to my mother & me. 16th March 1968-Mai Lai massacre: most of the time the Americans failed to distinguish the civilians from the Vietcong soldiers & Vietcong spies, so would kill even the civilians inadvertently during routine patrol & battles, but Mai Lai was a deliberate massacre of 500 civilians by some rampaging American soldiers. “When my troops were getting massacred & mauled by an enemy I couldn’t see, I couldn’t feel, I couldn’t’ touch…nobody in the military system ever described them anything other than Communists” The so called term collateral damage wasn’t coined as yet. Murder was murder. Murder was not yet justified. Lieutenant William Calley was found guilty of murdering 109 Vietnamese & sentenced to Life Imprisonment. He was released after 3 years. My father would argue with his eldest brother, B. Gilbert Francis Peiris, an accountant at Harrison & Crossfield, a British tea broker Co. in Colombo, over Nixon, Kissinger & Vietnam War. He raged over the politicians; sympathised with American troops; moaned over the fate of Vietnamese. He had respect for all races without feeling superiority or an inferiority over any other. When Tony Greg’s cricket team lost to Sri Lanka in a one-day cricket match in Colombo, he in his good cocktail & omelette humour, egg on me to take the news to his eldest brother whose boss was British. In those days, even though as recent as the seventies, some of the Sri Lankans would view the British as almost unconquerable. And the idea overflowed even into the sports. But then Tony Greig, always in fine form, stated in good humour “We knew you were going to win this match”. Perhaps that could be the reason that Tony Greig opted to hand over the captaincy to Keith Fletcher & sat at the pavilion seeing his otherwise fully fledged team verses an inspired Sri Lankan Cricket team supported by the boisterous crowd at the Oval stadium in Colombo. It was a strange, uncanny feeling; the team knew it was going to win; tens of thousand of spectators who rushed to the stadium early morning felt, today the England would be humbled. In spite of the bias towards so called superiority of British over the Asians, even during the British colonial period (1815-1948), the Sri Lankans managed huge business firms on their own: The De Soysa family of Moratuwa, the genuine tycoons, shepherded by Sir Charles Henry De Soysa, the greatest philanthropist ever of the island, the founder of numerous Hospitals, churches, temples, bridges, parks, schools & two English medium colleges Prince & Princess of Wales’ College, Moratuwa, prided themselves on managing their estates with no Europeans whatever on the payroll.
The next-door neighbour, a girl named Sita, once asked my mother what did Donald Ayiya carry daily to office in that travelling Bag. My mother explained that my father who repaired electronic gadgets of his clients until past midnight daily, carried major parts of a Radio or a Tape Recorder or some other Electronic Gadget so that he could work on those at the spare time at the Dept. of meteorology once he has completed his day’s work with connection of weather radar & other electronic equipment. A small percentage of income from Radio repairs would go to charity: he would collect spare cash in a small metal till, key of which was retained by Bank of Ceylon, for his yearly Alms Giving to a couple of hundred poor & helpless.
When WMO (World Meteorological Organisation) provided aid to Colombo to set up Satellites tracking weather forecasting equipments, a modern weather radar & SBS Radio transmission network to install in all the meteorological branches all over the island, my father had to give up carrying travelling bag full of electronic gadgets to office: his hands were suddenly full with all new duties & responsibilities. It was a promotion, heavy duty. head ache, heavy responsibilities. But he was up to the task, and there was Mr Berger, a Swiss engineer assigned to Colombo by WMO. My father was made his local counterpart & then his fully-fledged successor. Once when my father had had get onto an atoll without a ladder, the Swiss Engineer had held his palms together so that my father could plant a feet, onto his cupped palms, to climb on. Unwilling to plant a feet in the palms of another human being (that’s not done, as he said), he nestled a folded newspaper in the cupped palms of Mr. Berger. The Swiss threw away the newspaper. Unwillingly my father had to plant his feet on the bare palms of another human being. My father never entertained any sense of inferiority among the Westerners but had great respect for their drive, innovation & efficiency. Sri Lankans who during the 2500 years of history, were once great agricultural engineers of vast rainwater reservoirs, dams & networks of waterworks, making the island “The granary of the Orient”, today could be driven only when kicked into action with carrot & stick. Two Carrots & four sticks to be precise. But then no carrots could be offered since the corrupt politicians are systematically robbing the wealth of the nation; no sticks could be waved since no credible leaders have emerged.
When my father retired form the Dept. of Meteorology at the age of 52, he joined ITT, an American conglomerate, the civilian contractor of US military base in Midway Islands. Again in the Meteorological Unit. Having returned from Midway islands in 3 years, he helped my brother to build up business in his carpentry workshop & even built a huge wooden book rack on rollers with glass doors & an electric circuit of 5 watts bulbs along the inside edges to steam out the humidity to store my hardback editions worth of USD 8000. He was a fine example of a hardworking man. And he worked for his family. For himself, there was no such acquisitions or enjoyments. His joy was seeing his family housed, nourished & educated.
As Adam Smith stated in his magnum opus, An inquiry into the nature & Causes of the Wealth of nations, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages. Accordingly to Smith each man, imagining that he’s working for his own advantage, is at the same time inadvertently working to increase the general wealth. The concept of social contract.
Then again, my father not only provided bread & butter to his family but also in the process worked towards the general wealth that Adam Smith referred to. While my father worked for his family, he had a better sense, much better than the average man with respect of his contribution to the nation & he was proud of his tireless & bright work at the Dept. Meteorology with weather radar & other meteorological electronic equipment & then again during the exhausting years of Modernisation by courtesy of WMO.
In midway he had a photograph taken in front of an American military transport aircraft together with the pilot. He must have been having nostalgia over the years, in his teen days when British forces had set up a military camp close to his home at Lakshapatiya, Moratuwa. Then there had been his childhood collection of dozens of British books denouncing Nazism & Bushido, British books on second world war Allied aircrafts, battle tanks, ships, aircraft carriers, U-boats, gunboats & stacks of propaganda leaflets in English, Tamil & even in Sinhala, languages on the ongoing Second World War.
It was amazing to those British propaganda leaflets in Sinhala language since Sinhalese were confined only to our small island with no other sizeable Sinhala community in any other area of the world. My father used to say the British must have learned great lessons on propaganda from Josef Goebelles. Pax Britannica was simply a great market. It was not a battle-geared empire, he would say. If not for the Churchill who replaced Chamberlain, if not for the Russians who held the wolf at bay, till Americans were bombed by the Japanese & roused to war, Hitler, to whom no proper adjective is not yet invented, would have made our planet a “day after’ with defeat & starvation. May god, above all, grant eternal peace to all those millions who gave their lives so that others could live!
My father seemed to have picked up the value of propaganda too, for as early as the early eighties he would vociferously state Tamil Terrorist Propaganda against Sri Lanka is bound to become the most destructive, most treacherous propaganda machinery since that of Joseph Goebbles. His calculated prediction, to the tragedy of the island, was to become true within no more than a couple of years
Since returning from Midway Islands, he had dreams of harnessing his technical capabilities into production of electronic equipment. But then his ideas on enterprenship were not to materialise with the birth of his first grandchild. He devoted his time for her & then other grandchildren. As he did to his children, he was to tell stories to his grandchildren too. He used tell us the stories from the Arabian nights in the nights of power failures since without electricity his part time job at home of repairing electronic gadgets such as Radios, tape recorders, Record players etc were interspersed with automatic intervals. He was to tell the Arabian nights stories to his first grandchild while pushing the bicycle uphill, with her on the bar of the cycle & then again down hill after the Nursery school. That was the uphill road that led to University of Moratuwa, where the famous science writer Arther C. Clarke was once the dean. Ali Baba & forty thieves was my niece’s favourite story while, mine was Sinbad the Sailor when I was at the age of his first grand child, my niece. Once when he ended a story in which a titan fried sausages on his palm with a log fire, I too wanted a sausage fried for my dinner, but only on a cooking pan. As the street story teller told Princess Scheherazade who escaped death, at the hands of her husband, a morning at a time for one thousand & one nights, having kept him on suspense as to what was to happen next, at the crucial turn at the end of each sleepless night. Who could have ever invented such lies but the Arabs who among other things brought in Islam & Trading with double-dealings & double-cross to the East. stories are indispensable to the life, they tell you how to live & why
My father would tell Arabian nights stories even to the adults; the fate of a pre-teen prince who was hidden, by his father, a king, in a tunnel in an isolated island with no inhabitants An adult prince from a neighbouring country happened to maroon in the same Island & was to find our pre-teen prince. It so happened they became hand-in glove friends. Destiny was to take its due course. On that bright morning, he reached out, off the edge of mattress of the bed in which his little friend was lying, to take a kitchen knife, to slice an apple, from a rack above the bed. The adult prince slipped with the knife in his hand. And he crashed over the little prince. The metal blade cut thorough the little heart. Even the tunnel in a remote island couldn’t deceive the fate of the prince on such & such year by the hands of so & so prince as, foretold by the astrologers at his birth. The story was told, within my earshot, definitely for my benefit, following the death my one-day-old son in Sana’a. Then there was the story in which the man hid in a box to avoid the death on his forecasted fatal day. In his haste, he failed to notice the cobra in the box. That story is from my mother. Sri Lanka’s 2550 years of unbroken history, which was chronicled by a succession Buddhist priests, deciphered from Pali (by means of Ceylon’s Rosetta Stone, Mulgirigala palm–leaf parchment discovered by a British provincial agent named George Turnour while burrowing in a temple on top of a 200 meter rock called Mulgirgala on the south coast in the year 1826.) into German by Professor Wilhelm Geiger & English by Professor Wilhelm Geiger & Prof. Mabel Haynes Bode, is, among others studded with stunning astrological prophecies too that were to materialise to the very letter.
My father used to remind us of my pre-school days. Once I wanted a banana seeing the hero, a boy having a banana. That was not from Arabian nights. That was while viewing a Sinhala film titled “Veera Putha”(Heroic son) He had a good laugh seeing me, atop a table scurrying with a red tablecloth, imitating the matador parrying the raging bull. That was when we returned home from viewing the film “Around the World in Eighty days” in the cinema. There were no television sets in Sri Lanka in the sixties. Since the fifties he used to repair Radio sets. “Didn’t you go to see the set?” My father ‘s elder brother, B. Douglas Emmanuel Peiris, a Second World War veteran would ask him in jest. It was not a radio set that he referred. He was referring to my father’s sweet sixteen girlfriend. The handsome 27 years old man with gentle, mild & clean cut face, & brilcream preened smooth wavy hair & thin trimmed Robin Thampoe moustache, married his very fair & very good looking fiancé. (Eh!! praise be to the preserved wedding photographs) a daughter of the Ayurvedic physician of the village, Prangige (=descendants of the Parangi(derogative), the Portuguese) Silmon Peter Peiris & Dona Emelia Peiris, both of who never had an unkind word for anyone, but good deeds for everyone. They were not merely fair in the whole sense of the word including the fairness in complexion. They were compassionate & forgiving. If there was ever a fault in them, it was their immense generosity; they were generous to a fault, which was instrumental in their downfall. The two high-souled grands became wealthy & then bankrupt, but not before gifting a house to my parents & 5 kids. Our family, with the efforts of my father, managed to buy outright 3 more houses once belonged to two of my mother’s sisters & one of the brothers. Those houses were gifted by my maternal grandfather & grandmother to their children, which in turn were sold to outsiders. We bought those back from outsiders. My mother who gave birth to first of 5 children, me, at the age of seventeen, became a proud grand mother at the age of 42, with the birth of my first niece. My father was all smiles.
Once a friend of mine, when he returned home on vacation told his preteen son, that he must get permission from the Boss before stepping out of home. ‘Who is my boss?” There is your boss,” said the friend of mine pointing to his father. “ Aren’t our fathers still the Boss at home? “ he inquired of my views. I nodded with a smile in approval in the time old tradition of Sinhalese. In Sri Lanka, in our extended families, the grandfather will remain the boss all the time. Within our homes my father wasn’t simply the boss, he was our Ace. He lived strenuously; died without being in inert contentment. He died knowing we wouldn’t give up the life struggle. The Ace of the base dead. This is not acceptable. In his honour, we will strive, strive & strive, but there’s a kind of void at our home that wouldn’t be refilled; there’s a kind of hush at our home that wouldn’t be revocalised.
There is a load of scraps of material, slivers of meat, but where is the argument, the bone of contention?
How could the dancer upstairs (with apologies to John Malkovich) live without dancing, even if you, in downstairs, are disturbed? Dancing is his life. Like the impulse to dance, sing, paint or make music, writing is a kind of urgency; vocation to endure the suffering of life. How could a kind of writer live without a kind of writing? Eh! A kind of writercule with a kind of a writery, I mean. Now the point is, you shouldn’t have died. This is not acceptable, by god. I thought, since you were in reasonably good health, you would live to see your great grandchildren. You didn’t have to blow the show. And a damn good one, that was, to the boot.
It was my show. And you don’t get to see it everyday, by god. My Time had come. Now, it’s the turn of all of you now. Your words ought to be of truth & merit; your deeds ought to be righteous & courageous. Swim, don’t sink in these seas of suffering, by the grace of god.
Please accept my apologies for being so cantankerous.