VILLAGE SKETCH—16, SISTER AND I: GETTING (CASHEW) NUTTY
Posted on May 18th, 2012

Arcadius

It is Bak, the first month of the Sinhala/Buddhist lunar calendar, according to which each month begins on the Poya (full-moon) Day.  Yet another day is about to break, and a throaty cockerel makes this break known with a well audible cock-a-doodle-doo.

Although I am still asleep, I can hear mother say, “Get up you lazy tots.  You won’t find a single cashew nut under the trees by the time you get up and go.  The Habaradugewatte kids are already searching for cashews under our trees.  I can see their smoldering torches.”

I am aware that the words are addressed to us””‚my sister and me. We wriggle on our mats and get up in good earnest.  Darkness still lingers.  Susila, our housekeeper, is up and ready.

Mother applies some water on our faces to resuscitate us.  Susila gives each of us a torch made of dry coconut fronds.  We light the torches and proceed toward the cashew trees in Udaha, the upland area about a quarter-kilometer away from our backyard.  Susila brings up the rear carrying a fairly big bucket.

As we plod on toward the trees along the footpath through briar and brake, the dew settling on the undergrowth, which is so cold. It invariably bedaubs our bare feet pleasantly exciting us.  I feel the presence of cold all over.  The skin of my body has responded to it.  My sensitive feet cannot stand the prickly pebbles.  And over the patches of pebbles, I have to walk on my toes.

We can see the encroachers as we approach the cashew trees.  They are the “Habaradugewatte kids,” meaning, Podi Nenda, Kuma Nenda, Kiri Nenda and their cousin Podda.  Though we called each of the three females Nenda (aunt), they were of our own age group.  They were the youngest daughters of Upasaka Mahattaya.  Since Podda’s mother had died when he was an infant, the family of Upasaka Mahattaya had brought him up.  He was better known as Kadduwa Podda because his parental home was in Kadduwa.

We see the poachers/encroachers busy picking up the cashews under our trees.  We see them bent over the underbrush scanning the latest layer of fallen leaves with their torches. Their booty often lies on this layer.  As they see us approaching, they take to their heels with their haul down the green backwoods. We clench our fists and shout at them in chorus with as much anger as we can muster.  We let off our steam with degrading but appropriate epithets aimed at each of them.

We can hear them retort with a joint hoot.  Podda’s voice is the loudest.  Obviously, they are mocking at us.  The audacity of the vermins!

Realizing that we are not in a position to catch them instantly to adequately deal with their respective anatomical parts that would render them incapable of having such nerve, we are obliged to abate our anger and set about the task for which we had come.

To avoid domestic disharmony and warfare between my sister and me, mother had equitably divided the ownership rights of the cashew trees on our property between the two of us.  Pethan-gaha (so named because its cashew-nuts were podgy in shape) and Kirikaju-gaha (so named because its cashew-nuts were creamy colored) belonged to me.  Sister owned the Dekethi-gaha, the cashew nuts of which had a sickle-like shape, and Seenikaju-gaha, whose cashew nuts were both creamy and spotted.

We started searching for cashew nuts under our respective trees.  Apparently, the bats and the squirrels””‚formally classified as nocturnal flying mammals and bushy-tailed rodents””‚had done a good job of tasting and relishing the juicy cashew apples and dropping the refuse onto the ground to thrill the nut-crazy kids. The night creatures had no interest in the cashew nut because of its hard rind.  So they discarded the nut as part of their waste fit only for human consumption. We picked up what they had discarded, separated the nuts from their spent apples and put them in the bucket that Susila was carrying.

The first faint rays of the sun were beginning to warm us.  Now we could see the ground clear.  We no longer needed the torches.  The balmy air swept smoothly and lightly past us. 

It being the prime and vigor of the year, the vegetation had burst into strong life and health.  Everything was flourishing.  The cashew trees were full of ripe apples. Ripe mangoes filled the mango trees. The squirrels were actively running about the branches gnawing at the mellow fruits.  While they did so, a few apples with loose stalks fell on the ground.  We picked them and greedily munched the parts the rodents had not spoilt.

The cashew apples of Dekethi-gaha were usually infested with worms.  Thus, sister was at a disadvantage.  Whatever the botanical reason for this phenomenon might have been, I did not feel sorry about it.  Being the older of us, sometimes she was cruel toward me; she often provoked my anger when she was in the mood to deliver a couple of blows on me.  Perhaps it was this cruelty of hers that caused her this disadvantage!  But I did not mind becoming gracious and offering her a couple of cashew apples from my trees.

Having rummaged the underbrush for cashew nuts, we began plundering the hedges for those luscious berries, dan and himbutu.  We snaked through briers and brambles, leaped over ditches and ant-mounds until we came to himbutu creepers and the wide variety of Eugenia shrubs: heen-dan, madan, balu-dan and rata-dan.  We plucked the toothsome fruits and ate them then and there.  We also showed no objection to the black edible fruits of the bovitia plants.  So that when we returned home with our bucketful of cashew nuts, our lips were painted purple.

Susila spread the moist cashew nuts in the backyard for drying. Sister and I divided the cashew nuts between us after the sun had absorbed their moisture.  I got the Pethan and Kiri-kaju varieties while she got the Dekethi and Seeni-kaju varieties.  Sometimes, the shape of a cashew nut became the subject of hot dispute, which invariably ended up in an exchange of blows.  When there was no dispute, we peacefully took our shares and put them in our respective gunny-bags on the kitchen shelf.

It is the New Year vacation period.  So we do not have to go to school or to worry about our studies.  We devote most of our time playing indoor games like Lena-iri, Taakka, Madinchi, etc. and outdoor games like Wala-kaju (Cashew Holes), Paswala (Five Holes) and Namawala (Nine Holes).  All these games involved cashew nuts, and one could just imagine their value to youngsters of our age.

Mother’s instructions were that we should use the bad cashew nuts, the hollow ones without the kernel, when we played any of the games with the “Habaradugewatte kids/foursome.” Probably she had very little confidence about the ability of her offspring to make any winnings at the games.  And obviously her purpose was to ensure that even if we lost at the games, there would be no loss in real terms.

We selected the bad ones by putting the cashew nuts into a basinful of water and identifying those that floated.  We put them into a separate bag for using at games.  I, on my part, would mix the bad ones with several good ones so that other partners at the games would not have any suspicion.

Although we were fully aware that the “Habaradugewatte foursome”””‚Podi Nenda, Kuma Nenda, Kiri Nenda and their cousin Podda””‚poached on the cashew and mango trees on our property almost daily, and even dared to mock at us, we had no malice toward them. They often took the role of the challenging team at games during the Bak (Sinhala New Year) season.  Ithali Maama often played on our side. The sharp “foursome” often showed us the cashew nuts they had in their possession to prove that they had no nuts poached from our trees except what they had legally won from us.

Podda was an expert at these games.  He had a remarkable knack to take aim and pitch the “ƒ”¹…”kattiya’ (a flat object) at the desired mark when he played at Wala-kaju.  Even at Pas wala and Nama wala, he rarely missed the winner-all middle hole when his turn came to toss the marble.  Almost always it was he who emerged the winner.  The only one who was able to give him a semblance of competition was Ithali Maama.

Whenever Podda participated, we invariably became the losers.  Naturally, we regarded him with a certain degree of envy and resentment.  In spite of his unrivalled skill, Podda had a weakness to play foul whenever he got the chance.  Perhaps he got that trait from his unsystematic upbringing, which might also explain the reason for his bulging belly and dirty skin.

I have a feeling that Podda was the precursor of the Beatles at least in the matter of their hairdos.  His long uncombed hair had a wind-blown effect just as in the case of a modern “sosh.”  He had allowed his locks to dangle above his eyebrow, a la Prince Valiant.

Because Podda was wont to play foul quite often, I resolved to teach him a lesson the next time he did so.

We had a sandy patch of land along the footpath leading to Habaradugewatte.  This became the particular spot we chose for our games.  It was across the crumbling wall and the surrounding ditch below it, which adorned the left side of our Maha Gedera.  Everyday after sweeping our compound, Susila used to dump the refuse into the ditch; and with every conceivable variety of garbage feeding it, it had become a veritable breeding ground for mosquitoes and an ideal nursery for plants like Habarala (Caucasia) and Kidaram.  Sometimes, the nauseous foul smell of a Kidaram flower, better known as a Geri-mala, pervaded the surroundings.  I do not know whether Podda was immune to foul smell.

One evening Podda joined us at Wala-kaju as usual.  When his turn came, he bent over the “ƒ”¹…”vachchaya’ (the spot from where the player pitched his/her kattiya) and moved a step forward as he struck the mark.  Now that was most foul.

The smell of the Kidaram flower turned almost unbearable.

Instantly, I got hold of Podda and punched his Beatle head.  Although he struggled and managed to aim several kicks at my belly, I succeeded in locking his neck between my hands and felling him on the ground.  Sister, who was the better fighter, now rushed in and made a terrific endeavor to mould his bulging belly.  She had very little difficulty in dealing with Podda having had experience in dealing with me.

The fighting came to an end, when mother appeared on the scene and separated us.  She scolded sister and me for our role in the brawl.

But I did not regret what I had done.  For according to my conscience, it was a fight for justice and fair play.

 [Note: The original version of this Village Sketch by Arcadius appeared in the CDN Saturday Magazine on 16 Oct. 1965. Arcadius revised it in 2012. All 28 articles in this series will be released this year in a book titled VILLAGE LIFE IN THE “ƒ”¹…”FORTIES: MEMORIES OF A LANKAN EXPATRIATE (Bloomington, Ind.: iUniverse).]

One Response to “VILLAGE SKETCH—16, SISTER AND I: GETTING (CASHEW) NUTTY”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Ah, Arcadius, you brought forth memories of my own young halcyon days in the South, especially collecting Kadju under some old trees by our home. Also, we small fry had fun collecting mushrooms, especially of the Indalolu variety, highly prized in the smoke filled wood fire kitchen.
    Thanks for the memories !

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