VILLAGE SKETCH – 3-PUNCHI AMMA SAYS GOOD-BYE
Posted on February 18th, 2012

ARCADIUS

The World War II era was the time when my grandfather reigned supreme in thevillageofPathegama””…” liege lord of his territory, displaying a bearing as if to say “I am the king of all I survey.” The villagers, liegemen one and all, did not dispute that, though a degree of resentment against his omnipotence latently gathered momentum unnoticed by him.

Perhaps my grandfather, poor man, was unaware that his decline and fall were approaching.  He was advancing in years and very near retirement.  The myrmidon of the law would soon be relieved of his duties, and a younger man would succeed him.  Without power, one could not wield commanding authority.  May be my grandfather thought that the villagers would be loyal in his retirement too, and he continued to rule the roost.

Apart from my mother and Loku Maama, grandfather had two other legitimate children:  a daughter, known in the family circles as Chitta and whom we called Punchi Amma (“Little Mother”); and a son, who answered to the name of Podi Eka (Kiddo or “Tiny Tot”) by his mother, and also to the names of Podi Ralahamy and Podi Mahattaya by the villagers, and whom we called Punchi Maama.

It was a well-known fact in the village that my grandfather and my grandmother (known to the village as Kelaniye Hamine), never got on very well.  Rumor had it that the Ralahamy had a mistress at Gederawatta that was the cause of disharmony at home.

Rumor apart, I know that a woman called Weligama Hamine visited our place quite often.  Grandmother resented the woman’s visits. Whenever grandmother sighted her bƒÆ’†’ªte noir at our home, grandmother was wont to throw biting insinuations employing the technique implicit in the apothegm “Those the cap fits, let them wear it.”

Grandfather too used to visit Gederawatta frequently.  Whenever a visitor called on grandfather and he was found to be absent, the first place that a messenger would be directed to fetch him home was Gederawatta.

Grandmother, however, rarely lived at home.  She deemed it better in the interest of family harmony to live in Colombo.  I think she lived with a European family there, employed as a housekeeper.  But whenever she was at home, crockery, pillows and other such handy missiles, were readily exchanged on mid-air by her and her spouse as if by tacit consent.

Weligama Hamine, whenever she visited our place, did many of the household chores, and she was a woman gifted with a swift hand.  Very often she would take me to the well by main force, draw water from the pot and bathe and cleanse me thoroughly with as much attention and minute care as if I were her own child.  She was a married woman, and had grown-up children “”…” all of the fair sex.

Punchi Amma was a nurse in the Tangalle Hospital, and rarely came home.  She was much loved by everybody in the family, and even her inexorable dad had a soft spot for her.  A quiet young woman, with pleasing manners and a very pleasing fair face, she was a very kind, very feminine, affectionate person, quite the opposite of my mother.

I know how much she adored me.  I begin to wonder whether the quality of love and affection that she had in store for me exceeded that of my mother’s.  For whereas mother was a peppery woman who would sometimes frown upon or beat me, Punchi Amma never even once threw an angry glance at me.  My mischief, my shouting, and everything I did was complete fun in her eyes.  For anything and everything, she would cuddle me warmly and say, “O my piece of sweet-candy, what pleasure you give me!”

During school-vacations, she would write to mother pleading that I should be sent to her quarters at the Tangalle Hospital because she found life miserable without me.  And I was only too glad to go there because that would give me a respite from the drudgery of studies that grandfather would insist upon if I stayed at home.

The days I spent at the Tangalle Hospital were the happiest in my childhood.  If even by chance I happened to express a desire to have something, this fairy of a Punchi Amma bought that something for me.  And because she was ever ready to give me anything that I desired, I asked her only the least that she could afford.

With the lapse of a couple of years, news came from Tangalle that Punchi Amma was ill.  Mother, Punchi Maama and grandfather immediately left for Tangalle, leaving my sister and me thoroughly scared at home.  The very next day, they brought Punchi Amma home in a buggy-cart, and the figure that emerged into my view was of an emaciated pale woman who had completely lost her vitality.  Even in that state of illness she kissed me as warmly as she could and muttered how nice I had grown. 

Punchi Amma lay on the sickbed in a separate room, and physicians (both western and native) called on her at our house to diagnose the disease that ultimately gave her so much suffering.

About two days later, my sister and I were removed to our father’s ancestral home in the interior of the village, called Mederikoratuwa.  We were told that we should go there in as much as Punchi Amma was suffering from an infectious disease.  And for the next three or four months we had to make Mederikoratuwa our home, where the only pleasure we had was stealing “ottapalu“ (latex) from rubber trees in the adjoining plantation called Kitulegodawatta.  We made balls from the ottapalu we collected, and played volleyball, football and many other games in our own way.

They were unhappy days.  I prayed everyday that my fairy aunt should recover her health.  Once a while word would come from home that Punchi Amma was pining to see me.  So I had to repair home, which I did very gladly, and stand at the edge of the screen in front of her sick bed with my nose covered with a piece of cloth.

“O my piece of sweet-candy, have you come?”  Punchi Amma would ask raising her head with difficulty.  “Now, I feel your absence, my son.  I feel like kissing you madly.”

Tears would flow from my eyes as I tried to mumble something. 

“Why do you cry, sweet son?  I am getting better, day by day.”  But everyone knew she was getting worse everyday.

“Remember the days we spent at Tangalle?” she would add.  “I told you funny stories, didn’t I?  And how happy we were together.  How much do you love me, sweet son?”

“Even more than this world,” I would mumble.  And she would laugh as loud as her strength would allow.

“Now here’s a kiss from me,” saying which she would pout her mouth as if that kiss could be thrown at me.

Somebody would drag me away though my fairy aunt wanted to have me by for any length of time, and I could hear her say, “Good-bye.”

Good-bye forever.  The inevitable grisly day dawned bringing in the news of the death of Punchi Amma.

As I rose from my stupor over the next few days, I saw a montage of scenes appearing before me: Punchi Amma’s corpse on display in the hall; mother, grandmother, Weligama Hamine and several others, not only crying but also pounding their heads on the floor; a sea of volunteers making the funeral arrangements; the fragrance of eau-de-cologne; the corpse being carried away; monks chanting pirith (sacred Pali stanzas); loud lamentations; corpse disposed of and the sea of heads dispersing; somebody expressing regret that Ratagiya Mahattaya could not attend his sister’s funeral and inquiring in what part of the world he could be at the moment; and so on.

On the funeral night I could see grandmother earnestly speaking to Weligama Hamine, both still weeping.  I could hear what they said.

“Poor Chitta,” said grandmother, “a doctor had fallen in love with her.  A jealous attendant gave her poison that gave so much suffering.”

That was the first and last time in my life that I saw grandmother speaking in earnest to Weligama Hamine.

 

[Note: The original version of this Village Sketch by Arcadius appeared in the CDN Saturday Magazine in June 1965. Arcadius revised it in 2012. This is the work of a Ceylon-born rural lad who used his mastery of English to give the global literati direct access to the principal characters of his birth-village in the mid-20th century.]

2 Responses to “VILLAGE SKETCH – 3-PUNCHI AMMA SAYS GOOD-BYE”

  1. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    ARCADIUS
    Very interesting story and similar to mine.
    This story reminds me of my Punchi Amma, we used to call her Chuti Punchi Amma who died under similar tragic circumstance when I was barely 7 years old. This loving lady had some heart ailment unknown at that time (61 years ago).

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    True stories from Lanka always moves me. Thank you, Arcadius.

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