Village Sketch—25:Four Merry Gentlemen
Posted on July 20th, 2012

By Arcadius

After my mother’s younger brother, Punchi Maama, left Pathegama, he settled in a village in the Northwestern Province. The new headmaster of the village school was an elderly man. But he was quite different from the common run of his confreres (fellow members of his profession). He did not care to be dignified. Neither was he interested in assuming any degree of gravity or sobriety. Whether he had anything in his head that could be called learning was rather doubtful.

If Oliver Goldsmith (1730″”…”1774) had heard of a similar worthy in his day, his description of the village schoolmaster would certainly not have been the same. Goldsmith put his guru on a high pedestal, thus:

The village all declar’d how much he knew;
“ƒ”¹…”Twas certain he could write, and cipher too:

The villagers of Gomugomuwa, however, had little evidence to figure out how much the new headmaster of their school knew. They learned to tolerate him rather than respect him. They soon became aware that he was a master of practical jokes and not a master of any other science or art.

Once, on the occasion of a religious festival in the village temple, the wily headmaster set one of his most infamous pranks in motion. After nightfall, he hired a buggy (an ox-driven carriage) and got the Ralahamy (village headman), the Vel Vidane (irrigation headman), and a Buddhist upasaka (devout layman) to accompany him to the temple. The unsuspecting threesome had joined the schoolmaster in the hope of acquiring some merit by participating in the religious festival.

As they jogged on toward the temple engaged in merry conversation, it had suddenly occurred to the village schoolmaster that it would be more exciting if they had a drink somewhere.

“Don’t you worry about the money. I will foot the bill,” he assured his distinguished company. “Let’s get our spirits up before we go to the festival.”

The Ralahamy and Vel Vidane mulled over the offer and then agreed it was a capital idea.

“We cannot decline the headmaster’s generous offer, particularly on a festival night,” both said. The offer of free drinks was tempting and hard to reject.

But the devout layman stubbornly refused to be party to violating the fifth precept (abstention from drinking alcohol). Thereupon, the schoolmaster politely told the devout layman that he could avoid violating the fifth precept by following the middle path.

“Let the rest partake of grog, so we can raise our spirits before we attend the temple festival. We aren’t going to get intoxicated with a few drinks. The upasaka can have a nonalcoholic drink or engage in vipassana bhavana,” the headmaster told the trio.

So they gleefully repaired to a boutique where drinks were served on the sly. The Ralahamy and Vel Vidane helped themselves to a couple drinks, and having found the resulting kick quite agreeable, they merrily assumed the position of Oliver Twist, smacked their greedy lips, and asked for more, particularly in the light of the fact that its pecuniary aspect was the responsibility of the headmaster.

The benevolent headmaster arranged for the upasaka to be served a glass of sherbet, courtesy of the boutique. The upasaka found the sherbet to be exceedingly stimulating as he tossed off a couple glasses. The sherbet had stirred the upasaka so much that soon he joined the others in the merrymaking, which was quite contrary to his earlier determination not to do so. The poor man was not aware that his sherbet was mixed with a dose of a strong alcohol.

The headmaster congratulated himself on the success of his perverse plot so far. The four merry men had then got into the carriage and allowed the oxen to propel them to any place that the oxen desired. Now that they were in high spirits, they had conveniently effaced from their original destination and the purpose for which they set forth.

As they proceeded on the buggy at the mercy of the oxen, the schoolmaster made a tempting suggestion. “Gentlemen, we should get off the buggy and dance our way forward by foot instead of burdening the two oxen.”

His three companions thought that would be great fun. So they propelled themselves on their own rhythmical steps, singing appropriate ditties to boot:

Kapalla, beepalla. jolly karapalla

(eat, drink, and be merry)

Heta marunath sithata sepai ada jolly karalla

(enjoy today even if tomorrow you die)

[SG1] As the merry gentlemen danced their way onward, singing popular Sinhala ditties like Kapalla, the headmaster broached another bright idea. “Gentlemen, our clothes are an encumbrance. They restrict the free movement of our limbs. Let’s dispose of them. Free yourselves and throw the garbs into the buggy.”

Another alluring idea! That suggestion also having received overwhelming approval, the unencumbered jolly old boys were dancing their way most vivaciously that they did not bother to find out why the carriage overtook them and disappeared from their sight.

It was a sight to see, four elderly men, respectable as well, dancing and singing in their birthday costumes on the public road. Being it was late night, the road was clear. But as the merry party approached the junction, they had reason to sober up instantly when they noticed a crowd waiting at the boutique, where two petrol lamps were illuminating the road.

Brought back to their proper senses, the Ralahamy, the Vel Vidane, and the devout layman had turned about in a flutter to grab their clothes when they realized that the carriage was nowhere in sight. Nor was the village schoolmaster.

The three elderly men, merry no more, had taken to their heels with amazing expedition to the great delight of the crowd and taken shelter behind three coconut trees alongside the road. Thus, it was too late when they realized they were victims of a well-planned practical joke of the schoolmaster.

By the next morning, everyone in the village knew the story. The piety of the devout layman, as a matter of course, became a matter of doubt. The priest of the temple, according to village rumor, had summoned the devout layman to the temple and inflicted on him a special sermon on the consequences of violating the fifth precept (“I shall refrain from misusing alcohol”).

The Ralahamy and Vel Vidane were not available for public view for several days.

[Note: The original version of this Village Sketch by Arcadius appeared in the Daily News Magazine on 11 Feb. 1966. Arcadius revised it in 2012. All of the 28 stories in this series will appear in a book titled Village Life in the Forties: Memories of a Lankan Expatriate. iUniverse will release  the book later in 2012 as one volume of an autobiographical trilogy. It has won the Editor’s Choice award.]


 [SG1]Please let this formatting stand””‚each line of the ditty followed by its translaation. It’s far superior visually than centering each line.

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