VILLAGE SKETCH—17-LOKU MAAMA OUTSMARTS ‘THIEF,’ PARTIES WITH PALS
Posted on May 25th, 2012

Arcadius

Grandfather was fuming in a fit of ill temper. The top drawer of his escritoire was missing together with all its contents. Probably, it was the work of a clever burglar. A huge footprint was clearly imprinted on the wall of the front room where the escritoire stood.

Grandfather had good reason to be so furious. He had won big at playing Blackjack the previous night, and upon returning home, stuffed all his booty in the top drawer, now missing. The famous black jacket that he always put on to signify his status as the Ralahamy, and the hefty umbrella that he carried to serve as a walking stick were also missing.

Apparently, the thief had executed this misdeed under the very nose of Loku Maama, who had been sleeping in the same room. Loku Maama himself expressed surprise as to how the wily burglar could have done the job so neatly without making the slightest noise that would have awakened him.

Presumably, Grandfather had an aversion for round numbers and a disposition toward exaggeration, particularly when he talked of matters involving money. He maintained that the total monetary loss was Rs. 299, thus providing an opportunity for others to make their own calculations either by means of division or subtraction.

The attempt to trace the footprints of the burglar failed. Grandfather deemed it advisable not to report the matter to the police probably because he thought that it would contribute in no way to the reputation he had for maintaining law and order.

That night Loku Maama was seen perched on a branch of the Suriya tree, which had grown alongside the crumbling wall of our front yard, armed with a loaded gun. When Grandfather was informed of the new arboreal habitat of his older son, he promptly ordered him down and curtly made him understand that no thief would think of sneaking into the same place twice that soon, and that he (Loku Maama) would do much better in the world if he could realize that in the matter of intelligence any thief would be far superior to him.

It might be that Loku Maama did not feel disparaged by his father’s observation that he was no match for the cerebral community comprising thieves. That negative observation did not dampen Loku Maama’s ardor. The following morning he brought the exciting news that he had found the lost property””‚the coat, the umbrella, the drawer and all that it contained except, understandably, the money””‚discarded by the clever sneaker in the lantana cluster near the ironwood tree on the plot of land belonging to Myna.

I put together this narrative from conversations I had with Loku Maama after his adventures with the “Desert Rats” in North Africa. For it relates to Loku Maama’s exploits as a schoolboy, before my birth.

 In his junior school days, Loku Maama had knocked down a boy from Kapparatota for being rude. The assaulted boy had complained to his elders, who had turned up at the school premises the following morning in platoon strength, buzzing out invectives. This platoon had more women than men “”…” and all of them fisher folk.

The boy’s older brother had got hold of Loku Maama and delivered a blow with his umbrella, whereupon Loku Maama’s pals, Sandy and Kakkuwa, who were students in the senior form, had immediately come to Loku Maama’s rescue and unnerved the assailant by grabbing the umbrella and treating him adequately with the same until it broke down to pieces. More excitement was added to this drama by screaming schoolgirls scurrying like chickens and the invading fisher folk shouting at the top of their voices.

Meanwhile, the principal had sent word for the police thereby preventing a major incident. The boy’s older brother was taken to the hospital while the other participants were taken to the Weligama Police Station for interrogation. A case was filed for legal action. But before the case was taken up in the Matara District Court, better counsel prevailed and the participants agreed to apologize at a public meeting held in the school. Thus, the case was amicably settled and the case withdrawn.

Loku Maama never forgot the bravery of his two pals. He felt highly indebted to them for helping him to preserve his dignity and honor even at the risk of their school career. His conscience might have bothered him to pay some sort of compensation for the risk they took.

A few weeks after the loss and recovery of the assorted articles excluding money, Loku Maama made arrangements to leave for Colombo in the company of his two friends. On the eve of their departure, the Three Musketeers instructed the driver of the Magnet bus, which was scheduled to leave for Colombo the following morning, to pick them at a particular point in the town.

Those were the days when the buses were run according to the convenience of the passengers! The driver would keep the bus halted sometimes for close to one hour to accommodate a long-distance traveler! The conductor would carry the baggage of the passengers! And the bus-fare from Weligama to Colombo was only 60 cents.

The Three Musketeers, whose knowledge of the City was extremely limited, had repaired directly to the most familiar place they could think of: a firewood shop in Panchikawatte belonging to one Seedin. Staying at this place for a number of days, they had enjoyed their time by going for regular Tarzan shows at Tower Hall and other theatres.

Having had a whale of a time in the City at a cost of nearly Rs.40, the three buddies had returned home with memories of an unforgettable spree.

Loku Maama and Kukkuwa wanted to enjoy more. A few days later, they decided to go to Matara for the second lap of their merry frolic.

Because they had planned to go for a movie that night, they booked a room at Aleviya Hotel, overlooking the Nilwala Ganga (River), to stay the night inasmuch as there were no buses to return home in the evening those days.

Then they had gone to a tailor and given orders for two khaki trousers for each of them with strict instructions that they should take the form of cowboy breeches, the fashion of the time.

The twosome had become more adventurous thereafter. They had walked into a foreign liquor bar in the vicinity and ordered a pint of Hennessey’s brandy at a cost of Rs. 2.50. The poor fellows, who had never tasted brandy in their life, had guzzled down the liquor neat in their ignorance. The barkeeper had not been able to believe his eyes! It had not taken much time for both of them to “see double.”

Kukkuwa had started a lively conversation with the barkeeper supplementing words with action asserting all the while that he was not in a delirium tremens. Loku Maama had deemed it better to do a jig realizing that he was too top-heavy to remain steady. Then the two partners had hugged each other most affectionately and walked away to their diggings on the upper floor of Aleviya Hotel in very high spirits.

In their room, the two affectionate friends had started disgorging not only the liquor they had swigged but also other bits and pieces that were in the process of being dissolved in the system. This had been done apparently on a competitive basis, when a waiter had made an unexpected appearance and solicited them to leave the place if they were unable to stop feeding the boiler below with undigested material of the human body. 

They, however, had not been in the mood to understand that what they were disgorging was falling right on to the boiler of the hotel through the holes in the wooden floor of their room!

Because their enjoyment had taken an unexpected form, they had completely forgotten their plan to go for a movie that night.

After a restless night, the twosome, feeling much better, had left the hotel at dawn.

Then it had occurred to Kukkuwa that two days’ growth of stubble on his face should be immediately shaved for good looks. So they had repaired to a small barbershop on the wayside and ordered the barber, a barrelly Tamil man in a verti (a variation of the sarong family), to start the day’s business right away.

The barber, who was whetting the razor, had suddenly felt a physical need to scratch the privy regions of his body.  Whereupon, oblivious to the fact that two customers were present, he had sent his hand through the verti and started scratching mercilessly.

Having scratched to his gratification, he had dipped the self-same hand in a basin of water and applied it on the bristling face of Kukkuwa, who was snugly seated in a chair facing a mirror ready for the shave. Kukkuwa had not been able to bear the smell! So he had started disgorging another round of undigested material providing much amusement to Loku Maama.

They had forgone the shave and started for home.

That was how Loku Maama paid compensation to his bosom buddies for the risk they took in school to preserve his dignity and honor. For all the expenses during this period of unlimited fun and frolic were borne by Loku Maama.

Subsequently, it became known that the clever sneaker who had removed the top drawer of the escritoire and assorted articles was Loku Maama himself. Years later, he confessed that the drawer contained only Rs. 100 and not the figure announced by grandfather.

Whether Grandfather withdrew his earlier observation and promoted his son to the cerebral community he had in mind, could be anyone’s guess.

[Note: The original version of this Village Sketch by Arcadius appeared in the CDN Saturday Magazine on 23 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).]

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