VILLAGE SKETCH—5, BANDARAWELA BAPPA TAKES ON MYNA
Posted on March 2nd, 2012

Arcadius

Ceylon was a Crown Colony during the World War II era. The colonized subjects of His Majesty George VI (1936-1952) of the United Kingdom felt jolly good because the coffers of the colony were the responsibility of the British governors””‚Andrew Caldecott (1937-1944) and Henry Monck-Mason Moore (1944-1948)””‚who represented the Crown. Not having to worry about budget deficits and national debts, the humble “native” subjects of His Majesty living within the territorial limits of Pathegama did not have too many things to grumble and complain about except perhaps the poor state of the communication link joining the town and the village””‚the muddy, rutty, gravel track that mainly accommodated push bicycles, carts and other bullock-drawn conveyances. Neither the railway track nor the telegraph lines reached the village.

Although the natural conditions of the “road” might have delighted the bullocks, they were repugnant to any motorist who dared to cause a sensation in the village by driving in an automobile. The stumbling block for automobiles was a point along the gravel road called Batawala Kanda, a steep hill that turned into a veritable swamp after the slightest downpour.

A man whom we called Kelaniye Loku Thaththa (“Big Dad from Kelaniya”) used to visit us about once a year in a chauffer-driven Ford car. Being an executive for the Dunlop Tires Co., he had to keep up appearances. Thus, he always traveled in the back seat.

On each of his visits, we had to politely listen to the grumblings he made about the damages caused to his car by driving it along this rutty road as if we were responsible for it!  On several occasions, his car had got stuck in the mud at Batawala Kanda causing him and his driver to solicit the assistance of passers-by to extricate the vehicle from the grip of the mud and push it uphill.

As it turned out, the grip of the mud at this crucial point happened to be very tenacious, and the place being very slippery to boot, the attempt to push the car uphill was more or less Sisyphean.  Thus the distinguished occupant of the car had to leave the driver and the vehicle there and arrive at our place by self-propulsion.  On such occasions, he gave vent to his unrestricted feelings by reference to an unspecified s.o.b.

Apart from this irascible relation from Kelaniya, there was an uncle of ours, whom we called Putu-Putu Maama, who visited us occasionally on his motorcycle.  He was a hefty man, who worked as a sanitary inspector in Dondra. On his visits, he used to tear along the gravel road deliberately making a shattering noise causing quite a sensation in the entire village.  Villagers, men and women of all ages, rushed in hordes towards the road leaving aside whatever occupations in which they were engaged to have a closer look at the noise-generating vehicle.

One day, a stranger to the village made one of the biggest sensations.  He had come there in a convoy!  The convoy comprised the old car of the irascible gentleman and the motorcycle of the uncle aforesaid.  The stranger, who was a close relation of both, had come with his bag and baggage to stay at our place for a couple of years to take up a job in the Weligama Post Office.

The stranger hailed from Bandarawela.  He was a young handsome man with a somewhat square face sporting a razor-thin mustache.  Dressed in Western attire he looked smart enough to engage the attention of any pretty damsel.

Being an affable and jovial man by nature, it did not take him much time to get used to the bucolic surroundings and make friends with the villagers.  He made his daily journey to the town Post Office on a push bicycle and often bragged that he had made the right decision in coming to stay in the village rather than in the town.  He was so enthralled by the village that on one occasion he threatened to settle down there forever.

The villagers got used to call him Punchi Thepal Mahattaya (Small Postmaster) inasmuch as my father, also a postmaster, was known by the senior name Thepal Mahattaya.  I wonder why the villagers did not attach any significance to his place of origin, which was more than 198 km away by road, when devising the mode of addressing him.  May be because they discerned a greater significance in his job.

With the passage of time, the handsome stranger seemed to have made a too intimate friendship with the members of a particular household with special reference to a female member of that household.  And it looked as if he was impatiently waiting to carry out his threat at the earliest opportunity. 

Thus Bandarawela Bappa (Uncle from Bandarawela, as we used to call him) assumed the role of a lover with composed humility.  The poor item of mortality upon whom he had chosen to bestow his affections was one of those special products brought into this world by Upasaka Mahattaya in the neighboring Habaradugewatte.  She was next in line to Menike Nenda, and we called her Pathma Nenda.

Thereafter, Bandarawela Bappa made it a habit to return from office early so that he might proceed on to Habaradugewatte to show loving kindness.

At that time, a certain weekly newspaper carried a cartoon strip for children that I was very fond of.  On expressing my desire to collect these cartoons, Bandarawela Bappa readily agreed to bring me a copy of this newspaper every Saturday.  Thus, on Saturday afternoons I waited impatiently till his return; and the kind man that he was, he brought the copy regularly and handed it over to me with a benevolent pat.  I mention this point to show that his loving kindness was not restricted to only a particular person.

There was, however, one man in the village towards whom Bandarawela Bappa showed no kindness or compassion at all.  This man was the Aluth Ralahamy (New Headman) who succeeded my grandfather.  He was closely related to us, but his behavioral traits compel me to put him in the same category as the Dickensian character Uriah Heep, an unctuous hypocrite. He easily made a good number of enemies in the village as a result of his underhanded machinations.

Because of petty jealousies and certain other obscure reasons of his own, Aluth Ralahamy gradually emerged as a sworn enemy of our family.  Spreading slanders turned out to be his specialty and members of our family happened to be the subjects round whom the slanders were coined.  Of course, Bandarawela Bappa was not spared.

This man was probably in his forties.  He had a round, meaty face with an in-built expression of hypocrisy. He preferred to grow his hair long, and often curled his long tail of black hair into a smooth knot, which earned him the nickname Myna (a starling songbird with a yellow head ornament).  Although many other villagers also possessed similar knots of hair, the consensus was to apply the avian honor only to Aluth Ralahamy.

The town Post Office was situated next to the Police station.  Myna used to visit the Police station almost every morning on official business, and had also made it a habit quite officiously to visit the Post Office for simply enjoying the pleasure of slandering Bandarawela Bappa. This went on for some time and Bandarawela Bappa made a public declaration in the village to the effect that the Aluth Ralahamy would soon regret his activities unless he took extra-precaution to avoid a face-to-face meeting.

One day, when I was returning from school, I saw a curious crowd gathered at Batawala Kanda on the front yard of the home of a man called Uberis.  I noticed a wrenched handle of a bicycle and several other items lying in disarray on the compound.  The crowd was discussing with relish an excellent show of physical might that had taken place on that very spot only a few minutes before.

I gathered that the participants in this pugilistic show of might were the Ralahamy and the Thepal Mahattaya.  At first I was taken aback because I immediately thought of my grandfather and my father.  But later it became clear that the reference was to the new village headman and Bandarawela Bappa.

The fight had taken place on the following lines: Bandarawela Bappa had met Myna going in the opposite direction at Batawala Kanda.  He had instantly got down from his bicycle, caught Myna by the neck, and demanded an explanation for the latter’s slandering campaign.  He had then shifted his grip from the neck to the knot of hair of the poor headman and delivered a mighty blow on his cheek without waiting for an answer.  It was a case of a kayo in the first round.  The mighty blow had cost the headman two precious teeth and a mighty fall.  In the course of administering the blow, the victim had succeeded in bruising the victor’s limbs.

This incident made very exciting news in the village.  In the ensuing days, Myna had taken immense pain to spread his version of the fight, which, in sum, was that he had delivered the said blow on Bandarawela Bappa.  Apparently, true to his nature, he had not learnt a lesson.

Now, Myna had a habit of observing any person whom he met on the road by turning back his head once the person in question had passed him going in the opposite direction.  This was an inexplicable habit, because had he confined such observation to those of the opposite sex who had something to show, that would have been quite understandable.

One day, during the harvesting season, Bandarawela Bappa and I were returning from our rice paddy called Muttettuwa in a bullock cart.  We were transporting several bags of paddy from the field to our residence.

It was an evening.  On the turn along the main gravel road not very far from our house we saw Myna coming in the opposite direction.  Bandarawela Bappa brightened and warned me to keep watch of what was going to happen.

No sooner had the headman passed our bullock cart, Bandarawela Bappa bent forward and hurriedly raising his sarong up to the position of his neck to my utter embarrassment.

As was his wont, Myna turned back his head for his inexplicable observation.  What he observed, I need not say.  But he soon looked ahead and proceeded his way to the utter excitement of the carter, who soon spread the story in the village.

Thereafter, the story goes, Myna gave up his habit of turning his head for back-observation.  But I am inclined to believe that was only temporarily because it is very difficult to give up a long-practiced habit.

Amid all these events and incidents, Bandarawela Bappa continued to show loving kindness at Habaradugewatte.  But because of parental objections he was not able to make up his mind to carry out his threat and settle down in Pathegama.

Then the news came of his transfer to another place.  Well, he had to go.  But he left Pathma Nenda in the lurch.

 [Note: The original version of this Village Sketch by Arcadius appeared in the CDN Saturday Magazine on 3 July 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.]

One Response to “VILLAGE SKETCH—5, BANDARAWELA BAPPA TAKES ON MYNA”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    This is hilarious !
    Some of the best village vignettes ever. Mighty pen there, Arcadius. Many thanks.

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