Posted on April 20th, 2012


There was unusual festivity in the village.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  As on any other festive occasion, the villagers partook of the traditional milk-rice and pastry.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The women played the rabana, the traditional goatskin drum, to rhyme with a good selection of raban sural (tunes).ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The men played the card game buruwa (Blackjack) and talked endlessly.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  They were all in great good humour.

Was it the Sinhala Aluth AvuruddaƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  (Sinhalese New Year)?

No.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  For it was not Bak (April) but Binara (September).

But the occasion certainly called for rejoicing, because a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-reign of terrorƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ had ended in the usually tranquil Pathegama.

Kalu Appu, the terror of the village, had been murdered in cold blood in the dead of night!

If ever a man was born in a remote village to live on his might and main, he was Kalu Appu.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Gifted with prodigious strength and a marvelous physique, he apparently did not know what fear was, though he must have been aware that he had the singular power of inspiring jitters in those who were not endowed with his attributes.

He was dark as a native African, a quality that would have stood him in good stead from his professional point of view.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  He was one of the famous sons of a distinguished father, Atha Kota of Galagamulla.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The distinguished father had discerned in the famous son great talent in housebreaking very early in his life, and had accordingly given him a good training in that specialized field.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The technique of housebreaking being something best executed in Cimmerian darkness and the practitioner himself being hardly distinguishable from the same darkness, it is not difficult to comprehend how his complexion aided his professional pursuits.

If one were to lend credulity to the scores of stories that the villagers related about the professional adventures of Kalu Appu, one would be inclined to dismiss ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-BillƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ Sikes or Toby CrackitƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚the two vicious criminals that Dickens createdƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚as simple rookies!

This predatory worthy, like all the other worthies in his family, had absolutely no regard for the law of the land; neither for those who were authorized to enforce that law.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The law-enforcers, therefore, were kept in continual suspense inasmuch as burglary, brigandage and plunder, not to mention cattle lifting and the like, turned out to be regular proceedings.

Kalu Appu and his distinguished father and eminent brothers had made it known by word and deed that they did not attach any significance to human life.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Anybody who stood on the way of their professional pursuits was destined to say good-bye to this world quite prematurely.

Nobody understood this better than the local Bobbies.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Though they were valiant mercenaries pledged to protect the life and property of all the subjects of His Majesty, they probably had a notion that they themselves being a constituent part of the said subjects, it was nothing but proper to protect their life and property first so that they might continue to be of service to civil society.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Thus every night a brace of brave policemen made their way to the village on bicycles, each armed with a truncheon and a revolver, on patrol duty: which duty took the form of heading straight to our place, spreading two camp-beds in the verandah and slumbering for a few hours, and on awakening inquiring from grandfather (who was the mighty headman of the village then) whether anybody had reported any mishaps, and finally reporting at the Police Station that everything in the village was calm and quietƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ Though in fact everything in the village was not calm and quiet. Many a villager had more love for life than for property.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Thus the professional pursuits of Kalu Appu were often not officially reported.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Even when they were reported, there was an understandable lack of witnesses who were willing to corroborate.

Kalu Appu, the terror, lived at Palatunawatte.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Legally, he was not married; extra-legally, he was.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The woman he was keeping at his home was another manƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s wife.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  She was married to a man of the lime-dealer caste in Kudalumulla.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  By an impressive display of his might and main, Kalu Appu had made it known that if the de jure husband wished to continue his existence in this world he would do exceedingly well to forget about his de jure wife and think of some other female for the performance of commubial functions; and with that edifying declaration, Kalu Appu had separated the two legal partners and taken the poor spouse to Palatunawatte.

This human acquisition of Kalu Appu happened to be the daughter of a man called Vidane Appu who lived in Pitiduwa.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Like Atha Kota, Vidane Appu too had lost a forearm and, therefore, was also known as Pidtiduwa Atha Kota.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Apart from this common epithet, the two Kotas had nothing in common, Vidane Appu being a quiet man who was used to peaceful living and co-existence.

Vidane Appu had two sons.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  One was John Singho, who was also known as Yakaduru Mahattaya because he was an exorcist.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The other was Martin Singho, who was also known as Podi Mahattaya.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  When their sister came to reside at Palatunawatte, the two bachelor brothers too eventually made that place their residence.

When the reign of terror continued unabated, my grandfather thought it fit to do something to call a halt to the nocturnal pursuits of Kalu Appu.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Accordingly, he had sounded the valiant law-officers sleeping on our camp beds, and devised an ingenious plan to trap the offending criminal in the act of housebreaking.

The plan was well executed.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  On a murky night, in the pouring rain, several Bobbies had braved both the weather and their inclination to lie on camp beds, and kept a close watch of the movements of Kalu Appu.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The time and the weather conditions being very favourable for practicing his specialty, the dreaded burglar had sneaked out of his house, armed with the house-breaking tools, and had wended his way to a lonely house in Egodahagoda.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  When he was trying to get into the house through a hole in the kitchen, the policemen had taken him by surprise, giving him no opportunity to defend himself.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The next day, he was taken to the Courts in Matara, where a judge convicted him and ordered his imprisonment.

Having enjoyed the comforts of His MajestyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s hospitality for a year or so, Kalu Appu returned to the village with a grudge.

One morning, he was seen carrying a home-made blunderbuss along the main gravel road facing our house making the public declaration that he would lose no time in taking revenge from the party (referring to my grandfather) who put him into trouble.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Fortunately or unfortunately, the party in question was not at home when the ruffian made that declaration.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Considering the ease with which the party in question was used to accelerating his temper, if he were present at home when the offending declaration was made, there is little doubt that he would have worked himself into a frenzy that would have resulted in his demise or the demise of the offender or the demise of both.

That night, there was a religious festival at the temple.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Grandfather was returning from the temple in the company of Hirigal Thattaya (so named because he was baldheaded) alias Mullewatte Mudalali, who had allegedly become rich by pilfering from the bodies of those who died in the Katukurunda train crash. At the turn to the path leading to our house, Thattaya had alerted grandfather to a slight noise behind the hedge.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Sensing danger, grandfather instinctively ducked when a bullet whizzed into his shoulder ripping the flesh.

Going on the basis of the threat issued by the burglar in the morning, grandfather told the Police, when they appeared on the scene, that it was Kalu Appu who had shot at him.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  In the hospital, the doctor had found him out of danger though it was found that the bullet could not be removed without endangering his life.

(Thus grandfather lived the rest of his life with a bullet permanently implanted in his body.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  He went for annual medical checks to ascertain whether the bullet had travelled to any sensitive regions.)

Grandfather had got Wadu Mahattaya (Carpenter Gentleman) of Kombalawatte to give evidence to the effect that it was Kalu Appu who did the shooting.

When the case was came up at the Courts, Kalu Appu pleaded not guilty pointing out that on the day in question he had been detained at the Galle Police Station for ticketless travel in the train.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  On the day of the shooting, Kalu Appu had boarded the train at Weligama without a ticket and a ticket checker had handed him over to the Galle Police.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Thus Kalu Appu had been spending his time in a cellar in the Police Station when the shooting had taken place.

The judge had no alternative but to acquit Kalu Appu and warn the plaintiff and the witness regarding the false charge.

The villagers, however, knew that Kalu Appu was behind the shooting incident. being an outstanding thief probably, he was known for his outstanding astuteness.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  It later turned out that the shooting was actually a clever plan of his.

Kalu Appu would have reasoned that his public declaration about taking revenge from grandfather would create the ideal climate to suspect him about the shooting.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  So he had instructed his older brother, Karo Appu of Agatollawatte, to do the shooting and then taken the aforesaid step to ensure that he was under the PoliceƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s eye at the time of the shooting.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  And his clever plan was a mighty success except for the fact that the shooting did not kill grandfather.

It was suspected that Hirigal Thattaya also had a role in this plan.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  For on the night of the shooting when grandfather had expressed a desire to return home by a short cut, Thattaya had suggested that they should take the long cut along the main gravel road.

Extermination of the elusive outlaw, who humbled and humiliated him through the District Court of Matara, took top priority in my grandfatherƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s scheme from then onwards. He became aware that his own life was not safe as long as Kalu Appu continued his ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-reign of terror.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

Meanwhile, Kalu Appu had begun to mistreat his concubine thereby incurring the wrath of her two brothers although they prudently refrained from openly expressing their resentment.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Instead, they chose to act as the helpmates of their famous ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-brother-in-lawƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ in the practice of his specialty. Apparently, grandfather had a fair knowledge of this smoldering domestic resentment.

One day, in the small hours of the morning, when the brace of policemen who slept on our camp-beds had just taken their leave to report that everything in the village was clam and quiet, Yakaduru Mahattaya and Podi Mahattaya came panting to our place in a very agitated mood carrying a sword covered with blood.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  They muttered something to grandfather, who, in an audible voice, advised them to wash the sword and throw it into a discarded well.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Thereafter, he sent Loku Maama to the Weligama Police Station to report that everything in the village was not OK and to ask the police to appear in the village immediately.

Grandfather then put on his black coat, took the big club that he ordinarily used as a walking stick, and repaired out of the house with a very grave look in his face.

Soon, it became known in the village that Kalu Appu had been murdered while burgling a lonely house situated along the by-road that branched off at Batawala-kanda.

The details of the murder became known later on.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Kalu Appu had gone to burgle this house together with his two ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-brothers-in-lawƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ ignorant of the fact that the latter were only biding their time to take revenge from him.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  They had safely got inside the house and after usual preliminaries the master-burglar had knelt down to open a drawer with a chisel requesting Yakaduru Mahattaya to hold the torch.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  While he was thus concentrating on the drawer, Podi Mahattaya had raised the sword he brought with him and delivered a mighty blow on the burglarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s neck separating the head from the body.

The story goes that the burglarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s decapitated body remained in this lamentable position until a policeman, who appeared on the scene, deemed it fit to deliver a number of vigorous kicks on it to prevent an unexpected resurrection.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The kicking had not stopped until the cop reached his utmost satisfaction.

Thus ended a reign of terror in the village.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The occasion certainly called for rejoicing.

Nobody was convicted of this murder because understandably there was not a single witness who was willing to give evidence.

A fate of another type befell Karo Appu of Agatollawatte, who was the man who shot at grandfather.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  One evening he had gone to Ihalagewatte to tap coconut palms when a cobra bit him.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Unable to bear the pain he had rolled on the ground for several hours till he died.

An incident, which happened some years later, proved how determined Atha Kota and the rest of his sons were, to take revenge from the man who murdered Kalu Appu.

Atha Kota had encouraged his only daughter to get friendly with Podi Mahattaya, who was at this time living in a small house not very far from Galagamulla.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Eventually, Atha KotaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s daughter went to live with this male friend (and relation) of hers.

One day, Atha Kota and the more famous of his remaining sons, Upasakaya and Ariya, had kicked up a row with Podi Mahattaya for unlawfully keeping the one and only charming lady of the Kota family.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The row had ended up with someone using a sword to slice Podi Mahattaya into several pieces.

People believed that the killer used the same sword used to kill Kalu Appu.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The Kota family indeed lived in a Hobbesian state of nature, where life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

The man who was convicted of this murder, the story goes, was not the man who actually did the slicing.

[Note: The original version of this Village Sketch by Arcadius appeared in the CDN Saturday Magazine on 28 Aug. 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. All 28 articles in this series will be released this year in a book titled VILLAGE LIFE IN THE ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”FORTIES: MEMORIES OF A LANKAN EXPATRIATE (Bloomington, Ind.: iUniverse)]

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