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THE TRIBAL WOMAN

Short Stories
by
Samara Wijesinghe

Translated
by
Vijita Fernando
by the same author

Starlet (Choola Gaikava- Sinhala)


Short stories 2003
Tribal Woman (Gothrikava- Sinhala)
Short stories 2004
Non-Events (Nosiduveem Keepayak- Sinhala)
Short stories 2005
Colours Washed Away (Sedee Giya Paata- Sinhala)
Short stories 2007
One hundred times (Eka kaviya siya warak- Sinhala)
Poetry 2009
Dhamma Stories (Saddharamakatha- Sinhala)
Short stories 2009

The Tribal Woman

Original title Gothrikava (Sinhala) 2004

This translation was done in 2007

This e-book edition in 2010

2
Acknowledgements

Thank you Ms. Vijita Fernando, for the


translation.

Thank you Ms. Men and Women, for giving me


pieces of your lives for me to write about.

About the translator:


Vijita Fernando is the winner of the first ever Ian
Goonatillake prize for translations in 2005. She has
also won three state awards for translation in the
last five years.
As a creator writer in English Ms. Fernando won
the prestigious Gratiaen award for creative writing
in 2002. She is the author of two collections of Short
stories in English. Several of her short stories have
been anthologised in collections here and abroad.
Currently one of her short stories is being included
in a collection of adapted short stories from South
Asian Writers by the Oxford University Press in a
new title in the Oxford Bookworms Library.

3
4
Preface

I thought ‘What if…?’ Then I thought ‘Why not…?’


So this is it. The Tribal Woman; translation of my
Sinhala short story collection ‘Gothrikava’.

Thank you for purchasing this book. Now you are


authorized and free to read it.

I am the author of this book. The one who has sent me


here, has made a small world for me. He made me live
happily trapped in it. I am trying to observe the universe
through the keyhole. It is not a wide angle view. It is
not high either. I am a narrow angle. I view through the
key hole. I see only a small patch of the world. The
small patch I see is not really so bad. There are men
and women in it, living and or trying to live. These are
their close-ups taken from a distance.

5
I am the author of this book. My pen is light. So
the book is light. Not heavy. Please read it light
heartedly. You will note that all these stories are
similar. I assure you that they all have the same
taste and feel too. It was quality controlled to be so.
There are no identified allergies or adverse side
effects in administering the contents of this book.
However, if you feel uneasy, when you continue
reading, you must stop reading. You shall restart
only after you recover completely.

The stories in this may appear to be pieces


assembled together. And not joined properly. If it
appears so, it is correct. They are assemblies. Pieces
from men, women, movies, songs, landscapes etc.
etc. Some do not fit together well. I like this ‘not
fitting togetherness’. The discreteness. I see life that
way.
Samara Wijesinghe
2007-03-02

14/2, Sri Nagavihara Road, Kotte, Sri Lanka.


Phone 94 11 2854876, e-mail samaraws@sltnet.lk

6
Contents

1. The tribal Woman 9

2. Let’s Wait a While 19

3. Space 31

4. The Hill 41

5. Threesome 49

6. A Tale of Cruelty 57

7. The Palace 65

8. Violence 73

9. The Bridge 83

7
8
The Tribal Woman

She was slim, long limbed. On her flat chest


sprouted two small round breasts. She was tall, too.
She was the incarnation of an African form sculpted
on wooden pillars, created in ebony.

I fell in love with her. I eke a livelihood by hunting


with tribal people. Her parents knew about my wealth.
They pushed her towards me, urging her to go with me.
She soon began to love me. I did not belong to their
tribe, so I could not live with them. Though they did
not tell me so, I was aware of it. Also, by their standard
I was a wealthy person. Her relations did not favour
our relationship, as I was an outsider. We lived in a
cave in a place away from the tribal people and their
village. The money I had earned while I was in the city,
helped us to live. Knowledge did not support us.
9
Though from my reading of civilization I knew that
there were tribal people, they were not in my world at
the time. Even if there were, I had not seen them. Had
I seen them I would have refused to recognize them. I
met the tribal people quite by chance. I was walking in
a direction opposite to the one shown by civilization.
Then I met them face-to-face. And then, I met them
again and again.

This slim, tall dark skinned woman must have cast


a spell on me. They can do such things. I succumbed
to that philter. From then on I followed her. I stopped
in front of her house, with my bag on my shoulder, my
degree and my diseased head. By then the effects of the
philter must have been waning. They charmed a thread,
tying seven knots in it, and charmed me all over again.
Now I was completely hers.

Earlier I was a wanderer. I could not stay in one


place. And climbed up. There were also many factors
to make me tired and disgusted of walking and stopping.
Of these, my loved one’s desertion and my junior officer’s
promotion were the strongest reasons. Lack of
promotion and my love leaving me, I feel, were inter
connected. It may be that my loved one’s desertion was
due to my not being promoted or my being unable to
rise was the reason for my love deserting me. But it is
not important. What is important is the result.

I will not cry again. I can be as things had not


happened. I will erase all events. I can do it. I am a
10
man. I will be a great man. A great man will not be
moved by petty things. An insignificant refusal. Small
thing is a small thing. Tomorrow the sun will come up
as usual. I will continue to do my usual work. I will not
move. I can stand up. I can live.

If she could forget me in this manner, then I am not


unable to forget her.

I did not use machinations. I am not the guilty party.


I am not the only guilty one. Therefore I should not be
punished. I need not punish myself. She is by no means
fully innocent. She knew everything beforehand. She
knew early what was going to happen and how it was
going to happen. She was an adult, of my age. She had
the knowledge to take decisions herself. She could have
turned back at any time. As things were so, I need not
take the whole guilt on myself.

Traditionally it is the man who leaves the woman.


The woman’s role is to weep and lament. But she made
me a woman.

We went there by train. The distance was long and


so was the duration. She slept on my shoulder. She
became a little child. I had to become a big man with
responsibility. I became her protector and keeper. I softly
held her on my lap. She slept. She slept with such
beauty, I felt sorry to wake her.

11
Dusk was falling when we reached our friend’s
house. They greeted us warmly. This was the first
time the two of us were spending a night out together.
We were invited to refresh ourselves and change.
She took a towel from her traveling bag and came to
the well. That was a very pleasant episode. She was
performing her womanly duties very well. She filled
the basin from the bucket and looked on, towel in
hand, while I washed my face. I had never enjoyed
such a personal, intimate occasion before this. She
kept me on a patriarchal pedestal. My heart
overflowed with love. I was truly a prey to her
respectful love. I dried my face with the towel she handed
me. The towel had the aroma of sandalwood.

The friend was my love’s friend; they were of the same


age and recently married. I had been doubtful about
the way they would treat us. But there were no
questions, no hesitation in the way they had made up
their minds about us. In the little two-roomed house
one room was theirs and the other was an all-purpose
one. The all-purpose room had been prepared for us.
Things had become so unbearably overwhelming. I gazed
at my love in the glow of the chimney lamp. She was
getting into her nightclothes and combing her hair. The
two of us were going to share one room, one bed for one
whole night.

She wrapped the softness of her body in mine nestling


against my limbs. She was soft and delicate and also

12
lithe. I enjoyed simultaneously the softness of the
soft places of her body and the hardness of the hard
places…. I touched her softness with my rough hands
and she with her soft hands caressed my roughness….

She decided to wash the bed sheet.

She wore a chintz cloth of her friend’s as a bathing


cloth. The stream flowed on silently, casually. The rays
of the sun pierced the flow and shone on the round
pebbles and the sand at the bottom. The beauty was
almost unnatural in that naturally beautiful place. We
were part of that beauty. Youth belongs to any place, to
any thing. Like a little child, she was dipping in the
water. I poured bucketfuls of water on her head. She
washed the cloth I wore to bathe in. She knew her
woman’s role well and treated me as a man.

If she could forget me in this manner, then I am not


unable to forget her.

I am tying to be calm. Still, the sporadic breeze stirs


me. Even a slight gust of wind stirs me. How can I
achieve forgetfulness? How can I believe that she is
walking with her hand in another’s? Another does not
suit that place at all. She slept on my lap. She lay beside
me one whole night. Is there no value to her of any of
these?

I stood before her, crying, yet not crying. She did not
speak. She stayed mute for a long time. I read her.

13
“Loved One, do not beg for love. Even from me don’t
beg for love. Love, like everything else, has to be
earned, earned with effort. You will leave me now or
later. I have seen the signs. I am not unemotional. I
take with me the memories of a whole host of
beautiful happenings. I will keep them inside me.
You feel this as something infinitely sad because I
decided to leave you before you decided to leave me.
Everything happens as they should. We are not heirs
to the future. The real heir is someone either of us
does not know. He changes it unjustly and changes
it only according to his desire. The past is ours. No
one can change it, nor can anyone erase it.

I knew that I could not race competitively. I


inherited it from my father. Once my father begged
my forgiveness for it.

‘Son, I could not be a good father to you. I did not


have the qualifications to be introduced to others as a
respected father. As a father I must have taken wrong
decisions regarding you. I must have told you things
that are wrong. Son, these are not the only deficiencies
of mine. I have wept and lamented a great deal over
those. I failed to be a successful man, a successful
husband or a successful worker. The wrongs regarding
you are few. But I know that comparatively they are
enormous.’

He begged for forgiveness. Had he used any words


they would have been to a great extent similar to these.
14
Father, you do not need to act completely devoid
of all faults. You have a right to take wrong decisions.
You didn’t take a decision to willfully do wrong. At
that time you did not have all the facts and the data
with you. Even in the facts that you had, most of the
data were variables. Without knowing the time
equation of variables, how could you determine the
total value then?

Father, it is true there was a flight of steps. It is


also true that there were many who climbed those
steps. But I have never questioned you as to why
you did not climb those steps. I value you. I am glad
that you did not participate in the rat race. I am
proud also that you did not train me to join the race.
You were not inactive. You participated in productive
activities. You contributed to those, found sufficient
food not depending on others for sustenance. You
saved for myself. You were able to do all this without
being part of the race. I am proud. To me you are a
great man.

It is a virtue of mine that I do not compete, that I


do not want to climb high. Because of this my love
must have decided that I was not a worthy man for a
woman to be close to.

***

I take the bow in my hand, bend my body and I am


walking forward. The tribal woman is to my left, a few

15
paces behind me. She points her slim long arm and
her finger to show me the location of the prey that I
should shoot. Both of us crouch to the maximum
and move forward silently. We both had narrow bits
of cloth wrapped around us.

I go hunting not only to find food. I want to be a


tribal man. I was learning from her the techniques of
hunting. There was enough food for a long time in our
cave. Traditionally, hunting and fishing are done by
the men. What the women should do is to cultivate
yams and tubers. There has been fine division of labour
between man and woman so that one could not exist
without the other.

I sprawled on the flat rock, my head in my hands.


She lay beside me, so that the disc she wore on a black
thread round her neck was now on my chest. A grain
of sand on the rock had injured her knee. She treated it
effectively with some spit rubbed on it. Then she sat
down. Against the shimmering background of the sky I
saw only her, silhouetted against the bright sky.

As soon as we reached the stream, she threw away


the cloth and jumped into the water. I went into the
water, clothed. She was disregarding the fact that we
were living outside a tribal village. I wanted to see the
source of the stream. I walked towards it with her. We
clung to creepers and walked with difficulty creeping
under overhanging branches. As we went upstream the
flow became thinner. In a grove of grass the stream
16
vanished. Under the grass it was mushy and moist.
So much so that it was difficult to walk on it. The
trees around were stunted. A slight distance beyond
was a deer. It gazed at us without fear. It did not see
us as the enemy. We did not see it as a prey to be
hunted. She went forward a little as if to catch it. It
did not run away, but moved back slightly.

It was a beautiful mosaic, the deer, the tribal


woman and the plain on which the stream had
flowed.

I was the outsider.

The deer went away, slowly, at its own pace.

The time was flowing slowly taking its own time. I


tried continuously to behave like a tribal man. After
the ‘slow time’ had passed some time slowly, she tried
to abandon her tribal appearance and take the form of
a rural woman. First of all she stopped colouring her
face and body. With that her beauty became sharper.
That made me even more drawn to her. All the stones
she had collected to grind her paints, she tossed under
a tree at the back of the cave.

She asked me for a kind of soap to whiten her skin


and a lotion to straighten her curly hair. She was fast
becoming a village woman. Now she began to cover her
upper body, wear a clinging dress. Gradually she was
not her. One day she spoke three words of my language

17
in front of my friend. Till then she did not even come
out of the cave when my friend, who came seldom,
visited me.

I am walking towards where she was. She is walking


towards where I was.

I stand above and look below.

She stands below and looks above.

(2003)

18
Let’s Wait a While.

“Hi, may I?”

“Yes, you may.”

“Where to?”

“To the city.”

“City? Do you always go alone?”

“No.”

“Then…”

“Plenty of men and women go.”

“That is true. So my coming won’t add to them…


But I don’t know if they will say I am new and will
not give me a ticket.”

19
“Yes, that might happen. But if you say you are
going with me and buy me a ticket there may be no
problem.”

“All right then let’s do it that way. You tell them


that I am the one you are hoping to fall in love with.”

“There is no problem why I can’t say that. But if


the bus driver questions me at length, I will have to
say that there is very little chance that there is
going to be a love affair.”

“But if the bus driver is a man of keen intelligence,


he will know that you are telling a lie.”

“If the driver is a man of keen intelligence then he


will know who has said the first lie. Will this not be a
problem to the driver’s work? He might sometimes refuse
to budge even a foot from here.”

“A foot?”

“A foot is one rotation of the tyre. You should


understand the words and pay due regard to the other
words because the meaning of words can change
according to the occasion and the environment.”

“Now which words was it that gave a wrong meaning?”

“Those words which said there is very little chance


to fall in love. I am an educated, intelligent, handsome
young man. For such a person there is very little to be
20
told that space is lacking for him. Plenty of
respectable young women have come to me praying
for my love. But I decided to give you that chance.
Now, don’t you reject that chance and afterwards
feel remorseful.”

“Taurus, aren’t you?”

“… How did you know?”

“One who is not Taurus can see.”

“You?”

“Human.”

“Human…human is woman… woman is Virgo…


the Virgin. Aren’t you testing my I.Q.? …Amara
Devi!… All right, then. Are you a virgin?”

“Be civilized, be refined in your speech.”

“Forgive me. I forgot that being a virgin is


uncivilized. Traditional wisdom overcame the wisdom
in the modern free economy and… that happens at
times.”

“For the second time… be civilized… speak in a


refined way.”

“All right, I.Q. tester… Second question. Does your


father also make one into two?’

21
“No. He makes three into four.”

“That means he is a government servant. You give


intelligent answers.”

“Isn’t it difficult to stand on hind legs for a long


time? Never mind me. You may put your front legs
down.”

“HA…HA…HA…we will laugh at that, loud and


long! Sarcasm is good. Though generally beauty and
wisdom are not compatible, once in a while there
are mismatches in genes… All right, for you I’ll use
a really new approach. Something new and direct.
What is your name? I want an honest, direct answer.
It is on your answer that I’ll decide whether to
continue or not.”

“Your body has been well nourished.”

“Address?”

“… …”

“Age/date of birth?”

“… …”

“Are the parents married or not?”

“… …”

“Educational qualifications?”
22
“… …”

“Family income?’

“… …”

“I don’t think it is necessary to carry on this


examination any longer. When can you start work? The
post of girl friend? The sooner you can start work the
better… There is a lot to be done.”

“Is it a long time since you started feeling this way?”

“Service will be made permanent after an year’s


probation… You must work hard… Behave well.”

“Is there no one at home to look after you? Has no


one at least told you not go about here and there alone?”

“All right, in three months.”

“I have not applied for your job.”

“No. This is a recreation of the situation in the latter


part of the fifties decade. If you pass the exam the job
will be given even without an application. You have to
accept it. Learn archeology and Sri Lankan history. Just
now history has become an important subject.”

“As things are there does not seem to be any problem.


Whatever it is, there are treatments for mental
retardation… When I say ‘treatments’ it means training

23
to be able to do one’s work well, even though it doesn’t
come up to a full grown adult.”

“… …”

“Can you read? Can you find the bus in which to


return?”

“All right. Shall I write, signed in blood? … Here,


have you got a pin”

“… …”

“A safety pin? Never mind. If you don’t trust me, just


ask my mother. Mother will say exactly what I am
saying.”

“Don’t talk about family ailments with outsiders…


father is the same?”

***

“Can I go to the city with you?”

“No, you cannot.”

“Why?”

“Today is Saturday.”

“On Saturdays people don’t go to the city?”

“There maybe those who do. But I don’t.”

24
“Then where do you go?”

“Nowhere. I am waiting for someone to come.”

“So, Here … I have come.”

“Are you a someone?”

“Yes, yes…I am fully a someone. How did you


know?”

“I did not know. How to know when there are so


many like you.”

“All right. Apart from that someone and this


someone, is there still another someone?”

“Yes, there is.”

“Then apart from that someone and the other


someone, is there still another one?”

“Yes, there is.”

“Then that is the someone you love. If it is not true,


look at me and say it is not true.”

“… Not true.”

“But you didn’t look at my face when you said it.”

“?”

25
“You see, you can’t say it looking at my face.”

“Yes, it is true I can’t look at your face.”

“Is there nothing different in my face from those


other two? A lovable look?”

“There is a difference. Not of love. An ordinary


stupid look.”

“You are right. That is the latest fashion. Most


people like a look of stupidity than a look of learning.
When you appear to be learned, then you are forced
to discuss serious and difficult problems. Otherwise
we can talk about cake making or beauty culture
and things like that.”

“I am not talking about ‘like being stupid‘. I am


talking about ‘stupid.’

“You are not wrong in saying so. I have been


behaving in a way to suit you. Otherwise it might
have been degrading to you.”

“Do you harass every girl on the road in this


manner?”

“Oh, dear no. Only girls who are a little pretty, a


little dumb.”

“How do you know they are dumb?”

26
“When you talk to them they reply in what they
think is in an intelligent way. That is how I find
out… Do you really have somebody?”

“… …”

“Even if there is, don’t make it a problem for you.


We can solve it in an honourable way. Or else we
can restructure it. Now there are new strategies. In
the first stage we must invent a problem with a
solution, which is honourable to both parties. Then
it must be made common to both parties… Actually
by now you should have developed a pleasant,
affectionate mind towards me.”

“Why were you expelled from school?”

“?”

“Up to what grade did you study? Five?”

“Yes, this is the last year. When I write my thesis


it is over. You?”

“When I look at you, I feel like stopping my


education… I feel like stopping and teaching… a good
lesson.”

“Teach me. I would love to learn from you.”

“I have thought about it. Must look for a good time…


a time when there are others.”

27
“A group class?”

“No. A private lesson. The others will bear witness.”

“No, we’ll have a private lesson. Then if you make


a mistake only I will know.”

***

“Hold your hand.”

“What?”

“Something.”

“Oh… my… Who asked you to bring these?”

“Me, myself only. Happy birthday, twenty six year


old teenage girl!”

“Why, boy, you are still a student… This is your


parents’ money… It is very pretty… Thank you very
much.”

“Yes, I am still studying… but I am not the age of a


student. Actually, by now I should be a father of three
or four children.”

“Really? ...damn sin ! With what difficulty you must


be bearing all this.”

“You don’t feel that sort of difficulty?”

28
“No, thank god, we have no such problems.”

“That is the thing, you have god’s help. Very


unfairly, God has given all problems to us. If I am
given the task of re-designing, then I will erase all
old books and will write all over again creating new
‘isms’ in reproduction and production.”

“Please don’t. What we have now is good.”

“I won’t do it if you tell me not to. But one must


fight against injustice. It is the responsibility of the
educated intelligentsia.”

“Oh… all right then if that is so. I thought ‘you’


were going to get involved in those.”

“You are still under estimating me.”

***

“You didn’t get a reply to any of the letters?”

“… No.”

“What will you do now? Mother is asking me a


thousand questions. I give her just one reply to all the
thousands – Amma, don’t bother me.”

“Father asked me to come and stay in the farm village.


Everyone knows that it is said that there is
unemployment. My problem is not the people. My

29
problem is me. Father is a great man. I am the son
of a great man. I went to become a great man and I
got handicapped. I remember how father used to pray
aloud when I was small. He prayed for me to become
a great man and blessed me. Father has brought a
whole host of sins from his previous birth. Maybe he
is suffering because of me. Or else he may be
amassing merit to overcome earthly sorrow and
attain Nirvana or to take that merit to his next birth.
This amount of merit is enough for father to attain
Nirvana.”

“Come to our house and speak to my parents. They


will understand.”

“Child, I am still not tall enough to sit at the table in


your ancestral home, so let’s wait for a while.”

“Let’s wait for a long, long while.”

(2003)

30
Space

I am traveling in space-time. The direction I should


take was marked by small arrows. They were small
arrows. We have to travel along the geodesic designated
to us. We cannot decide our traverse by ourselves.

I questioned. There were some who travel freely,


steering along the way they want. I was answered. One
has to spend energy whenever he changes course. To
spend energy we have to have earned energy. But the
answer did not contain the way to earn. The ones who
had energy in their savings travelled to places they
wanted. To the Universities, to the exalted seats of
learning.

I was travelling along my designated energy free


geodesic. The geodesics are designed to move at the
slowest possible speed. Then there were black holes.
31
My track was adjacent to many of those. The path
was curved and running on steep slope near black
holes. It was necessary to move fast near black holes
to avoid falling into them. Although there was no
one watching me, they may have thought it is natural
for me to fall in. At the end of the curve I have
attained sufficiently high speed. Actually this is not
a thing I have earned, but it was induced to me by
the black hole. It was a random act. The whole of
life is a series of random acts. The sum total of
winnings and losses.

There were no straight lines for me. Those were


there only in geometry books we read when we were
small. They were very solid geometries. New
geometries are different. They are not solid. They
are warped and twisted. There are no straight lines
on them. So the word straight line has no meaning.
The word we have to use is the shortest distance.
Then again shortest distances are different to
different people. It depends on the curvature and
the warpness of the space-time they live in. Then
again the curvature or warpness is a function of
energy content. The shortest space-time interval
again depends on the speed at which they are
travelling. This too is meaningless. What is
meaningful is whether one can skip this space-time
gap.

32
I was able to skip the space-time gap. Now I am in
the university

I saw her then riding along the path close to me.


Though the route she was riding on was near me,
our paths were across each other and did not cross
or meet.

Yet we decided to love each other.

We loved each other so much that we held hands


and promised that we will not be separated as long as
life lasted. Though we rode on two paths in which did
not meet, we were bound with a love, which we would
not meet, nor separate.

We could not think that anywhere near our route


was a place where we should go to. We would in the
end be forced to go towards destruction with no
important happening taking place.

***

Then we were trees and stones that could withstand


any climate, any weather. That is the zenith of youth
and health. It is a wonderful age. Whenever we felt like
it, we could switch on and off even hunger, thirst. We
were in the flower of youth.

When we plot a graph, our sorrows and comforts on


the vertical axis and time in the horizontal axis we were
living below zero. Yet we knew the absolute zero is well
33
below this zero and we shifted the horizontal axis
so that we were in plus-plus sector.

The two of us alone, and together had understood


clearly sorrow and what causes sorrow. All round us
were rain, wind, storms, drought and agitation. We acted
together to heal the minor wounds and scratches we
had suffered facing these and we found cures and the
way to find cures.

***

“I am here. See what I have brought you. You will


like it… Get up and see.”

“ I was doing some work.”

“ Work?”

“Yes, some important work.”

“I was doing a calculation about probability?”

“Probability?”

“Yes, the probabilities of meeting another one like


you.”

“There is very little chance of that. But the probability


for me to meet someone like you is greater.”

“If you like, work it out and see. You are an ordinary
foolish graduate. I am a fair, cute, intelligent, high caste
34
honours graduate. See what a scarce commodity I
am.”

“Have you sufficient and necessary facts to prove


without any doubt the fact of beauty and intelligence?
The fact of high caste must be written in your horoscope.
The other thing is these two qualities do not come
together. First, at first glance one can see that the first
one is absent. Secondly, I have associated with you for
a long time and I have my doubts about the second.

“That means that you accept the adjective ‘foolish’


as correct even without questioning and without a
doubt. Do you know that errors in genes can cause
transformations? Couldn’t I be the primary step in that
change? A combination of beauty and intelligence? …
Isn’t this a letter you got? From home. You haven’t
even opened it.”

“You read it.”

“Dear brother, … … Signed, your loving elder sister.”

“… …”

“So why the tears? Be a man. Crying is not for men.


You are the only male I have seen who cries reading a
book or watching a movie.”

“I am not crying. These are happy tears of


understanding the truth. … There are two and only two
forms of fate that influence me. They are the ‘Ditta
35
Dhamma Vedani’ -quick result karma and ‘Ahosi’ -quick
annihilating karma. All the sins I commit give quick
results. All the good things I do soon annihilate.”

“You didn’t see what I have brought. Here. This is


my grandfather’s pocket watch. This is a family
heirloom. I told my mother and brought it. This has
twelve numbers, hands and it is a venerable watch. My
grandfather used to take this out from his pocket and
read the patient’s pulse. My grandfather was my greatest
hero. I would like to see you too take this out from your
pocket and look at the time, at your tuition class.”

“You like to see me look like an old man?”

“No, like a great man, a hero. Without looking like a


bull in a herd.”

“Give me. I will agree with your desire. Tell me what


else do you like? I will try to fulfill those. From my body
or any part of my body. What was it that you said about
a bull in a herd?

“Be civilized. The difference between the civilized and


the non-civilized is being civilized… You didn’t pay the
house rent, did you? When I was coming the landlady
was looking at me. I borrowed some money from my
mother. I will pay it with that money.”

“Don’t say house rent. Say room rent.”

“They call it house.”


36
“You don’t have to pay it. I worked for two weeks
at the Pirivena. I can always get a loan from the monk.”

“What about the house where you give tuition?”

‘Oh, they are scrupulous about their dealings.


That is how they have made money. We give our full
support for those who want to go ahead, to go further
ahead.”

“Its six months now.”

“… What? … Six months?”

“ For the degree and unemployment.”

“ Oh, that?”

“ How many jobs for six months?”

“ Three. One and half for each.”

“Actually a zero for me.”

“My maths degree is a good thing. People think


that those who do maths are brainy. Recently it has
been found that it is a mental deficiency. Have you
read about a mental illness called ‘autism’? That
means the inability to express oneself. Such people
cannot express love or hate, kindness or anger
correctly. But they can be very clever at things like

37
mathematics, the arts, and memory and things like
that.”

“How much longer can we go on teaching maths?”

“We can, for a long time. All that good advise about
learning took about three generations for people to really
learn. Though the educated now keep saying, ‘don’t
learn, don’t learn’ people will learn for at least another
three or four generations.”

“Then you expect to give maths tuition for another


three or four generations?”

“Aren’t you wearing a slip? I can see through your


skirt the light from the window. Come here to see if you
have worn anything underneath.”

“An uncivilized rascal!”

***

You will remember that four years ago a great asteroid


fell on this earth. It fell making threatening sounds and
raising enormous clouds of dust from the earth. The
cloud of dust rose up to the sky and spread round the
whole earth. The sun was completely covered. The earth
was plunged in darkness from that point on. The sun’s
rays couldn’t penetrate that cloud of dust. Then
everything turned icy cold. Now it is the longest ice age.
There is no life in it.

38
Then, long long time ago, we lived a harmonious
existence filled with comforts. She knew that some day
the asteroid would fall on me. But she did not show
even an inkling of what would happen. It may be that
she was sad to tell me beforehand and make me
unhappy. I saw nothing till the last moment and
stayed warm with the warmth of love.

Now I walk amidst darkness and silence.

The grass on this riverbank is crushed where we


lay together. This is a bead that has broken away
from her dress. This is the pond of cool water where
she and I bathed and found solace. This is a hairpin
that she had forgotten. This is the toe ring she once
lost.

I will come back to my cell either when it is evening


or morning. There is a dress of hers with the scent of
her sweat among my clothes. I am here with all the
doors and windows shut so that I can hear or see
anyone, no one.

Though I had no qualifications to live, she forced me


to live. Though I had no legs to stand on, she helped
me stand. She made me forget that I was hunched.

(2003)

39
40
The Hill

There are no dialogues in this story. There is a


valid technical reason for it. That is because I had to
read these events through a telescope. To be more
precise, through a theodolite. Here ‘read’ is therefore
the technical term for ‘seeing’.

The breaking ground ceremony of the building site


had been postponed. The Minister had no time. The
officer in charge and the surveyor, both being married
men, went home. Unfortunately for me, being the junior
technical officer, I had to stay on. The watcher and the
cook were both saddened, like me. I set up the theodolite
belonging to my friend, the surveyor, and gazed at the
distant hill. The image seen through the theodolite is
upside down. But after gazing at it for some time the
eye gets so used to the upside down image that it no
longer seems upside down. To put it even more correctly,
the activity of the brain makes the image upside
down again and reads it as normal.

I scanned small houses in the distant hill. In the


house least covered with foliage there was a skirt and
blouse on the clothesline. The theodolite was powerfull
enough to discern its red and yellow flowered print. To
us who were in this jungle site, even seeing a skirt was
an auspicious sign. I was curious about the skirt. I
41
expected that at some time the owner of the skirt
would come out to take it in. I locked the theodolite
at that angle. The skirt must be one that was washed
in the morning and spread out to dry. Now it was
past noon. I touched the skirt. And the blouse. They
were dry. Now she should come and take them in.
Couldn’t it be that perhaps she washed the dress
and then went to school? In that case it would take
another couple of hours for her to come home. I
measured the height of the skirt and the width of
the blouse. (both were dry.) If she is a school girl
then this would be her last year in school. Her face
is long, though her complexion is not fair; it is a
shade of clear brown. She couldn’t be taller than I
am. Her hair is in a single plait. It could have been
better if it is plaited into two. That day she did not
come to take her dress in. In the evening the dress
was not on the line.

For two days I could not see the owner of the skirt
or any other inmate of that house. In the other houses
of that mountain slope there were no signs of any
female occupation.

The owner of the skirt whom I was expecting to


see came out at an unexpected moment. She brought
several washed clothes and put them on the line in
front of the house. That was the only place where the
sun shone. Did she come out only to dry her clothes?
Wearing a frock of no definite colour, her hair was spread

42
out. Maybe it was still wet after a bath. I felt a faint
whiff of the smell of soap. The measurements I had
made were correct. She put the clothes on the line and
went inside, but did not come out again. Or maybe I
did not see her coming out. I think that she usually
spent her time at the rear of the house away from my
view. I looked after the cloths, not letting a crow or a
squirrel come near them, till they were dry.

Next day I was doing painting in my mind. She was


going to fetch water, dressed in a cloth and jacket, with
a pot under her arm. She went to the stream (even if
there was no stream a stream would have suited the
picture well) dressed in a bathing cloth covering her
breasts, to swim in the stream. To dive in the water. I
am in love with the woman in the bathing cloth covering
her breasts… I ride my horse above the stream. She
looks at me respectfully… I am the junior technical
officer… It is more apt for me to go in the jeep than on
horseback. I constructed a road by the stream. I stopped
the jeep beside the stream and opened the bonnet. Water
had to be filled into the radiator. I asked her for the
pot and pour water into the radiator. As she took the
pot from me, my hand brushes slightly against hers…

Then an astonishing thing happened. She came


to the clothesline in her bathing cloth. Maybe she
had not changed her clothes after her bath. Maybe
she would have decided suddenly to wash the dress
she wore. She hung on the line the washed clothes

43
in the bucket, one by one. She went inside with the
bucket in hand and in a few moments came out
wearing a large checked cloth covering her breasts.
Could have been a sarong. The bathing cloth she
had worn earlier was in her hand. She squeezed
the bathing cloth and put it on the line and stayed a
few moments facing the sun. The image that I saw
through the theodolite was the sharpest image of
hers that I have seen so far. She lifted her hands,
spread her fingers through her hair and loosened
the mane. It was a beautiful and natural portrayal
of women usually display for men. It seemed as if
she knew that I was watching her. She had to turn
and stoop unnecessarily. She walked inside the
house with a swinging gait. Actually even if she didn’t
swing her body, I made her swing…. For some time
after she went in too, I kept my eyes glued to the
theodolite. I discovered among those washed clothes
on the line the ‘no definite colour’ frock.

The ‘skirt’ was talking to someone in the


compound. He was in a denim trouser. ‘Skirt’ was in
her famous ‘no definite colour’ frock. She was smiling
and talking. Why wasn’t she inviting the denim clad
young man into the house? They were standing fairly
far apart and they stood talking for about ten minutes
and then the young man went down the hill.

I shouldn’t get excited. There is nothing wrong in


her as a young woman talking to a young man. No harm

44
in smiling. There is nothing between her and me for
me to be sad or happy.

I thought how useful it will be if there is a ‘Tele-


listener’… to hear the far away sounds, just like the
telescope to see far away things. I thought this over
several times. It can be made using a large parabolic
reflector and heavy gas lenses to focus the sound and
unidirectional microphone to collect the signals etc.
Actually I designed one and made a sketch of it too.

That day the front door was closed. That meant that
she was not at home. In the noonday heat I saw a sarong
climb up the hill. Inside that sarong was a youth. I
couldn’t say what age he was. The sarong stopped at
the edge of her compound for a moment and then
quickly ran up to the door. As he came to the door, the
door opened swiftly and the young man and the sarong
were sucked in. I think I saw her hand. The door
remained closed for a long time.

I think that the person in the denim and the sarong


were one and the same. What harm even if it was one
person? He could be her lover. There is nothing
wrong in their being alone together. I washed the
denim, the sarong and her and cleansed them. They
are lovers. With no facilities like telephones available
to them they have to meet to set a time for a meeting.
The meeting of the previous day was to set today’s
meeting.

45
I looked at the other houses without looking at
the ‘skirt’. I have said earlier that none of those
houses had any signs of a woman. Today too it was
the same. I tried not to look at the ‘skirt.’ The horse,
familiar in visiting one place, involuntarily goes
there. The theodolite too turns and stops at the
accustomed angle.

That day the front door was open. Suddenly she


came running out of the house. Pursuing her was a
middle-aged man. He tried to grab her by the hand
and pull her inside. When she picked up something
like a piece of firewood from the compound, he
released her. Till he left the compound and climbed
down the hill, she stood threatening him with the
piece of firewood. Then she went to the rear of the
house, with the piece of firewood. That day too she
was dressed in the usual no colour frock. I don’t
remember very clearly whether she had a piece of
cloth draped over the dress.

Violence and threats against women happen in


the plains, slopes and on tops of hills. If she wants
evidence to go to law, I will come forward.

Today is a fine day. Several times she came to


the edge of the compound and looked towards the
footpath. This time she wore that red and yellow
flowered dress that I knew.

46
Someone, with a bag filled with things and a small
parcel was coming up the mountain. Though I can’t
say that he was as young as the denim trouser, he too
was young. As he came to the compound, she tried to
come forward and take the bag from him. He gave her
only the parcel and they went inside together.

That night they had lit the Petromax lamp. Though


at that time I had not constructed the ‘tele-listener’
equipment, I could hear their laughter. I did not try to
wash and cleanse her again.

***

This story ends here. But later something happened


to make it necessary to write an errata. Though you
are satisfied with the un-proofed story, I appeal to you
to kindly read the rest.

Work on the site began. The officer in charge of the


site hired several hands from the village to work there.
People came constantly asking for jobs. My table was
next to this officer’s. Often I listened to him talking
with those who came seeking employment.

“Sir, I head that you were going to take someone


for security work. I came here to see if I could get a
job here. We are not living far away. From our
compound I can see this work site. Our house is on
that hill. It can be seen even from here, I think.”

47
“Sir, I have the application form, certificates and
a letters stating my experience. They are all here.
But, sir, there is no space in the application to write
why I need the job; that is why I thought of meeting
you. Sir, I was earlier in the army. Now I have a
security job far away. There it is difficult even to get
leave. I am not able to come home even once a
month.”

“Sir, my wife is alone at home. We are newly


married. Her family was against our marriage. In
my family there is no one strong enough to object.
Her father has forbidden anyone in the family even
to talk to us. But her younger brother comes secretly
sometimes and sees his sister. Their ancestral home
is by the road. Even the postman doesn’t come to our
house, sir. I send her letters in my younger brother’s
name and when a letter comes my brother goes up
the mountain and gives it to her.”

“The house we live in belongs to an uncle of mine.


He lives in the house above ours. I have paid him money
sufficient to cover one year’s rent. But when he hasn’t
enough money for drinks he comes and bothers her. If
she has money she will give him something. But when
she has no money he won’t leave till he is chased away.
Anyway the good thing is his wife comes in the night
to keep her company.”

“Sir, if I get this job all my problems will be solved.”

48
He was pleading. He need not beg or plead.
Everything is pure. I will even exploit my friendship
with the officer in charge and somehow work towards
‘solving all problems.’

(2003)

49
The Threesome

“Why did you get late?... I’ve been waiting for over
an hour”

“My brother turned up. He gave me a lift all the


way up to the music class.”

“Is he coming to take you back, too?”

“No, but I mustn’t be late getting back.”

“We meet only once a month and then too you


start laying down rules.”

“Not rules. You know the situation at home… how


many people I have to give explanations. All this is
because of my elder sister’s problem.”

“How many things I had thought of discussing with


you when I came… how many things I wanted to
ask…and now you are in a hurry to get back!”

“Now we have no time to quarrel…tell me about your


new place.”

“No. I am not going to say anything.”

50
“All right then, let’s spend this hour fighting with
each other and then you can go back and weep and
write me a letter… then I will read it and weep.”

“………”

“My brother said that I will get the job.”

“Job?”

“Yes, I told you… the other day.”

“That far away factory?”

“Yes.”

“When will you start?”

“My brother said I should start on the first of next


month.”

“Where will you stay?”

“My brother said he will look for a boarding house.”

***

I am in a humiliating position. I am a condemned


man. I am my own loved one’s illegitimate lover.

I have given her over to my enemy. Then my enemy


was her illegitimate lover. My enemy was avoiding me
being in love with her. And she was in love with my

51
enemy. I returned all the letters and photos she
had sent me. That was a really wretched day. She
had a face about to break into sobs. But she didn’t
cry. I was wearing an artificial half smile on my face.
I tried to show her a really sad face with that half
smile playing on my face. At that time both of us, my
enemy and I were there. My enemy was about ten
feet away, where he could not hear our conversation.
Actually we should have fought a duel. With two
swords in hand, salute each other, and then move
ten feet backwards. And then turn swiftly and begin
the duel. Whoever is left at the end of the duel gets
the girl. But neither of us, my enemy and I, were
heroes. We were not even complete persons, let alone
being heroes. We were handicapped. In fact we were
not people who were able to even get someone else
to fight our battle!

She could have rejected me or my enemy. Or she


could have decided whom to choose. But she didn’t
want to hurt either of us. She must have loved my enemy
secretly, very honourably, without hurting me.

That means she respected me.

I was staying in a distant place. Usually I used to go


to see her on a pre determined date. There were times,
though, that I went to see her without setting a date.
But that was seldom. On those occasions if she was
not in the boarding house, a friend of hers would come
and chat with me; tell me that she had gone to the city.
52
Another friend would go and turn the lover away.
She will come alone to the boarding house and go
for a walk with me. Her friends gave her all the
cover she needed. This had been going on very
successfully. Because I lived far away and he lived
close by, there never was any big collision.

One day when I was going to her place without


informing her. I met two of them on the road. In an
instant my enemy vanished. I did not see where he
vanished to. As I did not see his face I won’t be able to
recognize him if I see him again. I was seeing only her.
She gave me a lot of explanations, all of them
unconnected to one another. One she told me was that
he was her aunt’s son. She did not give me any reasons
for his sudden disappearance.

My enemy must have been walking holding her hand.


My enemy must have kissed her lips. My feet became
lifeless. I fell down. I was shot. I began to bleed. While
walking about, the enemy began to take pot shots
towards me, not correctly targeting me. But the shots
found their target and I lay in a pool of blood. The blood
did not clot for a long time. The blood flowed freely,
endlessly. The tears diluted the blood somewhat. I
was dehydrated. Finally the blood began to clot and
the bleeding stopped by which time I was completely
lifeless. There may have been a decrease of blood
into my brain. I acted in a strange manner.

53
Sometimes I turned to the right instead of turning
to the left. I used obscene language at myself.

After that there were some trivial incidents.


Weeping, blaming, slapping and things like that. They
were accepted by her with no objection as if they
were her due.

The period of transition was long and unpleasant.


During the mid period of the transition no one knew
who was the rightful owner of love. Me or my enemy. I
did not know, either, because I was not able to decide
whether to hold on to her or to let her go. But I expected
her to fall on her knees and come begging to me. I had
even prepared suitable dialogues for such an occasion.
But what happened was something close to my falling
on my knees and go crying behind her begging for her
love. I wept and lamented in front of her friends. They
listened, with not a word from them.

They were her friends.

On a day when the flow of blood to my brain was


reduced, I went to my enemy’s office. I spoke to him in
an abusive manner with refined words. I said that she
still loved me and would come with me anywhere I
wanted. I went on and on telling him details of the
last day we had met. My enemy summoned the
security officer and chased me out of the office. The
security officer pushed me but did not let me fall.
Maybe he felt some compassion for me thinking what

54
a foolish lover I was. I can say that he pushed me
out, in a kindly manner.

I was learning that it is possible to love two people


at the same time. Because two people are two people,
because one person is not a complete person. I wondered
what I should accept, disappointment or indifference.
The salvinia of disappointment grew wild and fast in
front of me. I walked across the flourishing marsh of
salvinia towards the deserted dry land of indifference.

I couldn’t reach the dry land. I began to feel very


strongly that she had not rejected me. I went back to
meet her. She came with me, unknown to my enemy.
This was a very special situation. I was feeling some
sort of a triumphant feeling. The triumph of taking her
away from her lover. And then, after that, I became her
illegitimate lover. Now what I have to do is what my
enemy did then. This situation is really not so bad. Since
I am getting a short respite I must act swiftly. Though
we had enjoyed kissing and embracing endlessly earlier,
they had become routine. They were pure, like distilled
water and they did not have a smell, an aroma, a colour
or a taste. But now the same thing is full of colour,
comforting and there is a whiff of a pungent smell. That
means our love is maturing. It is from these physical
virtues that love becomes attractive and binding. I
can see clearly and definitely that I too was growing
to maturity. I learnt that sex is really sexy when it
is corrupt and unprincipled.

55
When I was ‘small’ the thought that the enemy
held her hand used to make my legs tremble. But
now when I know full well that the enemy has kissed
her, I kiss her lovingly. This is maturing. With
maturing, jealousy abates, selfishness ceases, and
what I now have is a higher plane of love, devoid of
jealousy and selfishness. Everyone who takes a lover
a second time should attain this state of love. On
such occasions mundane love with jealousy will not
survive.

She said further that she no longer needs to


preserve anything. She meant that everything could
end unexpectedly. And in place of the honest love
that I am offering her, she should pay off all her
debts. In the short time that has passed I have gone
a great distance with her that we had never gone
before.

Her friends may still be supplying protection for


her. Friends are friends. They are people who are
active in the welfare of their friend. Their continuing
concern eased our activities somewhat. The two of
us meet at a pre ordained place, at a pre ordained
time. I turned out to be a philosopher and began to
teach her meanings and the finer points of Dhamma,
clarifying deep meanings in simple terms. I made
those so simple that I told her to be active through
feelings and feelings only.

56
From the beginning itself she was happy to be a
woman. It is easy for her. She is a princess. Princes
should show their skills, fight and win princesses.
Princesses don’t have minds of their own. They think
with the mind of the prince who has won them. They
garland the victorious prince. And then they live happily
ever after. This is a successful traditional method, which
has lasted from time immemorial. It is still continuing.
This is a proven and time tested system that can be
carried forward to princesses who are still to be born in
the future.

The enemy was impatient. Someone has given him a


clue. It could be one of her own friends who was jealous
of her. As a short-term remedy he forbade her going
out alone. It became difficult for us to meet. She had to
come out with a trusted friend. The trusted friend would
give her over to me and go elsewhere. The time we had
together became even shorter. I spent my time
demeaning myself trying to find short-term solutions.

57
The enemy has decided his long-term solution to
put into action. He went to meet her parents. And
then under a special license married her. There was
no function.

The enemy officially proclaimed his victory.

(2003)

58
A Tale of Cruelty

She came to me pleading.

There were pleas of ‘I beg you… Please… May you be


rewarded…’ etc. I was able to ignore all those and drive
her away.

Anyone else seeing the way she was pleading will


think what a cruel person I am. Though at one time I
loved her deeply now I don’t feel sorry or compassion
towards her. I am disciplined enough to practice the
heroic deed of not feeling compassion.

At that time by definition of small/ medium


industrialist, I was a cruel man. I had all the
qualifications of a small/ medium industrialist. There
were threats by the Environment Authority that there
was noise pollution from my factory. They said to
take action to reduce the noise volume forthwith.
The Labour Department had warned me that there
were not enough bathrooms and recreation rooms
for the workers in my factory. And that if no steps
were taken to remedy this situation, they will have
to take legal action. The Inland Revenue Department
sent threatening letters at least once a month to
investigate if I earned more income than I should,
59
without giving them their share. Threatening,
frightening and warning signals of danger were
printed on their various forms. After some time mere
seeing of an envelope with On Government Service
was enough to put me off food or raise my blood
pressure.

Those from the police also came and went constantly.


They too had various needs that they couldn’t fulfill
with their salaries. Only the representative of the
provincial underworld acted in a friendly manner, devoid
of threats and intimidation. He spoke very respectfully
and took the share we had to pay as we earn. He also
did not forget every time he came to tell us gratefully
that if there was any problem to let them know.

Even under these negative conditions I spent all my


time, my know-how and every effort to produce excellent
goods. On account of my cleverness in producing
excellent goods, I was able to get several overseas orders.
The money I invested, my technical knowledge and my
scholarly capability were bringing me fine results.

There was a day when I knew that I was a really


cruel man. That day there were large advertising
hoardings and posters in the workplace. If one were to
take the total summary of all of the posters, it was that
I was not paying a decent salary to the poor workers; I
was enjoying divine pleasures by exploiting the poor
workers; I was seducing the women of poor workers.

60
(forgive me - the adjectival section of the last
sentence ‘of poor workers’ wasn’t there.)

Wealth is cruel. Wealth belongs to the cruel. The


path to heaven for the wealthy is difficult. The money
I earned spending difficult times from my childhood,
learning various disciplines, toiling under local and
foreign bosses should be the property of cruel persons.
By the time I learnt this I had gone too far. But
those who knew me and those who were around me,
eased my journey back. Everything happened very
easily.

***

Sir, can I speak to you, sir? Sir, if you are busy I


can come later.

Sir, I came to ask if I can ask a favour. I know


that as my service is not yet confirmed. According to
rules and regulations that I cannot apply for a
distress loan. But I came wondering if I could ask
you for a some sort of a loan.

Sir, we have some problems. The roof of our house


is all rotted. Rain leaks in everywhere. Sir, there is
only my grandmother and me. She can’t do anything
and I look after her… No, sir, there is no one else.
My elder sister is married and is living separately…
Sir I will even pay back with my whole salary and
pay off the loan as fast as I can…

61
Sir till my service is confirmed it is difficult to live
in a leaking house, getting wet all the time. If we
wait till my service is confirmed then my
grandmother will die under the collapsing walls one
rainy night.

All right, sir I will write a letter… No, sir I won’t


tell anyone. I know that this is a personal favour of
yours. I will never betray you. My grandmother has
taught me that real gentleman remember a favour
they have received as firmly as a letter inscribed on
stone, and favour they do to another is forgotten like
a line drawn on water.

Sir I don’t know how to thank you. I’ll do anything


I can for you, sir.

***

That woman was then a young woman. She was a


clever communicator. Or else, I was a not-so-clever
listener. The words she used, her turn of phrase, her
face replete with feeling were very special. Both of us
sat on either side of the table and we were able to jump
over hurdles of compassion and trust speedily and
conveniently and enter the oasis of love. My facility
at jumping stiles does not suit the character I have
built up all this time. If anyone had looked at me
they will know that I involuntarily acted foolishly.
But she stood invisible to others and pushed me
strongly towards it.

62
***

Sir, how can I ask you for a favour again. You will
not deduct my loan from my salary. I know that these
things that are big for me are not so big for you sir. But
sir, you have made me a debtor. If you had taken even
small sums regularly, then I could even have asked
you again for a favour. But now since I am a small
worm I have to reject all my refinements. Do I have
permission to ask again, you can do me another favour,
can’t you… I know you won’t say ‘no’ to me…

I really feel sorry about my grandmother. She sleeps


on a mat on the floor. She might even get a chill. We
have no furniture in our house, sir, nothing at all. If we
have a bed and a few chairs then my grandmother…

All right we will buy an almirah and a dressing table


at the same time. That is for me.

I will come to thank you one day.

***

We took the guise of lovers and walked about trade


stalls and restaurants. During those times she could
offer me only a few limited caresses. I wanted to go into
‘resting’ houses with her as full-fledged lovers. She told
me that she was trying to summon up courage and
that she will soon summon it.

***
63
See. Isn’t this necklace beautiful? ... No dear, it
is imitation. I went to a wedding house wearing this…
beautiful, isn’t it… No… where do we have gold… So
you buy for me, will you… If you like to see me wearing
gold, then you can buy for me.

Very pretty, please, I like this necklace and these


eardrops… No, it doesn’t matter… We’ll buy the bangles
another time.

Yes, I will definitely come, truly. If I am not yours


then whose am I?

***

For my love of her, I of my own free will (that should


be written in bold letters) spent a lot of money. I fulfilled
a thousand vows. Though she never gave me the access
to her love. She said that I was the owner of her love.
To establish and maintain this right I had to make
offerings to prove it. I was the proud owner who did not
receive any returns of her worthy love.

I gave over all my responsibilities to my trusted


manager and spent my time loving. He was a very
clever man. Not very long after, he learnt the
technology of my industry, found buyers and got
machinery. What is left was, when I dismiss him to
get maximum compensation and get out.

***

64
Darling, how am I going to tell you this? My
grandmother says that I won’t always stay young and
that I am getting old and not to do things to get insulted
by people… Grandmother has spoken to an aunt… She
has a relation living far away… they expect a dowry…
grandmother is sad that I will get old at home without
a dowry… darling, I get scared when I think of the
future… look at my savings book… how little there is.

They want to have the function in two months’ time…


Dear… Sweet… I’ll come in secret…

***

I waited for her. For a long time, with the love I had
for her. I waited till my hair turned grey. During all that
time she made dates for meetings and every time we
were to meet. She made another date cancelling the
earlier one. Finally the date of love expired and
deteriorated to a level of being unusable.

Then I threw it away.

65
I have now discarded all the cruelty I had
possessed (they have gone away of their own accord).
Now there are no threats. No scares. No pay as you
earn payments. What is left is an infrequent appeal
of ‘Please, Sir’ from a female voice.

(2003)

66
The Palace

I am constructing palaces. It is not against the


law. The new constitution guarantees the freedom
to every citizen, urban or rural to build palaces, either
on earth or in the air. I think this is the best clause
in the new constitution.

But things keep changing in the saddest manner.


It is seen that in the new constitution there is
provision to act against the new constitution.
Accordingly there is room for the government tax
department or a non-government tax department to
act against me. I should promptly follow a programme
to protect me. I took steps to destroy the plans that I
had been preparing and the blue prints of plans I
had already done. They may perhaps present me to
an eye specialist, hypnotise me and then proceed to
take all the data that has been collected in my sub
conscious. I must act before that. I avoided the Rahu
period and set out on my journey. That was an
auspicious day. The sun shone brightly. The sky was
blue. There were no bus strike or a doctor strike. I
went in search of a clever eye specialist for hypnosis.
He put all my subconscious data into a CD. He also
explained to me that there was not enough data to
put into a DVD. By this time digital technology had
come down to the level that even doctors could use it.
67
Now my sub conscious is completely empty. I can
keep the CD in a security vault in the bank.

After I had taken all security measures, the


expected ‘them’ came looking for me all of a sudden.
I identified them as unidentified gunmen. Three
were carrying guns and they were unknown to me.
The other he, I recognized as she. She had come
disguised as a man. But she had not been able to
hide the fact that the end of her lip was slightly
raised. How could I not recognize those lips, which I
had kissed innumerable times?

I was not afraid. They only asked for a share of


my assets and my liabilities, (my liabilities?) It was
something that I had never thought that my old love
would come with some unknown gunmen to ask for
her share. I presented to them the returns I had
prepared for the Tax Department. The man who seemed
to be the leader of the unidentified gunman took it and
tried to read it. My old love without even looking at it
declared that that it was a false return and that they
were in possession of the real figures. Though she tried
to disguise her voice she was not clever enough to
do so.

It could be that these gunmen had brought her


here by force.

Finally she gave up her disguise and began to


speak normally. She said that she was not party to

68
this violent act and that these unknown gunmen
had forcibly drawn her into a contract they had got.
The unknown gunmen said that they were a group
of new gunmen and this was the first contract they
had got according to the new constitution.

I threatened to report them to the Human Rights


Agency. (Agency? Commission? Act?)

They threatened me in turn. We spent a long time


shouting threats at one another. Actually speaking it
was about eighteen minutes. I knew the exact time
because I made a note of the time it began and the time
it ended. I knew the questions they ask in the law
courts. I used that knowledge well on this occasion.
Had I not done so if a clever lawyer asked me in courts
how long the threatening lasted, I would not have been
able to answer him. I can’t possibly say ‘Your Honour,
I don’t know’ If I say so straightaway the case would be
thrown out.

Sometimes the clever one might try to interpret what


happened was an argument and not a threat. We should
prove the contrary by saying that displaying the gun
is in itself a threat, even without saying anything.
Therefore I should be ready to present meanings of
words found in the Oxford Dictionary. That is because
showing meanings of words found in the Oxford
Dictionary is in itself an honour. Though there are no
Sinhala words in the Oxford Dictionary, the English
simile can be found to explain the meaning.
69
As I was preparing for the case they were backing
very fast. Finally they (the three unknown gunmen and
my old love or my office worker) became frightened of
my direct threats and decided to back down. If you
express surprise that the maid was my loved one, I
object to it. I know of a love affair that once a University
lecturer (a professor?) had with a third rate woman.
Therefore this should not be regarded with surprise.
Not at all.

I looked at them with compassion. I threatened them


for the last time and released the gunmen. I kept
wondering if I should keep my former love in my custody
or order her to come every Tuesday for a sacrificial
ceremony. Tuesday is a day set apart for the worship of
gods and suitable for sacrificial ceremonies. Monday is
inauspicious for traveling. In the weekend the rooms
are full.

She came the following Tuesday.

She came on the Tuesday following too.

Every good Tuesday when she came I paid her part


of the money I had to pay the Inland Revenue
Department. I could deduct that amount from my tax
payment under various expense items. Actually this
money I am paying instantly and fully flows down. This
money is definitely used for the upkeep of several at
the lower level or used for welfare activities. Such money
will never be wasted like the money paid to the

70
Government Tax Department. It is definitely used
for such needs, as medical treatment for a mother’s
illness, educational needs of a sister or nutrition for
a daughter.

***

You might think that the rest of this story has no


connection whatever with the earlier section. But the
truth is not so. You, with your higher education, would
know that things that we see are not connected to each
other in a visible manner are joined together in very
clever and complex ways.

I was walking along with the bag slung across my


shoulders. This was a distant area. Maybe I was walking
out of frustration. Or maybe I was conducting a study.
Or couldn’t it be that I was walking about for three
whole weeks looking for my love who had not come or
had run away?

On one occasion during my travels, I came across a


flight of stone steps built by an untrained stone worker
(one who has had no vocational training and therefore
not competent). I had to climb up this flight of steps,
which led to a school. It may have been that the flight
of steps went further up. But for whatever reason I

71
thought that the steps ended here. That is, there
was no road to go beyond the school.

This school was common to both children and


adults. Both sets were either studying or sitting on
tree trunks in the open air. They had sad or
frightened looks on their faces.

All the children’s eyes were slanted about fifteen


degrees towards their noses. Could these be Thai
children? No. Their eyes were as large as those of Indian
girls. Couldn’t these be the products of a mixture of
Thai and Indian genes? I thought since I was doing
nothing, it would be a good idea to do a study on this.

I decided to meet the principal. I could meet him as


a researcher and find out details about the children
and the area. I stood outside his office. He was speaking
with some people on a trivial topic. I saw that the people
he was talking to were even less important than the
topic. If I wanted to meet the principal, I knew I would
have to wait till this trivial discussion was over. To show
my displeasure at this as well as to show that I too did
not have much regard for him, I walked to the row of
boutiques beyond the school. There was a large two
storeyed shop and several small stores. I stopped in
front of a building, which seemed like a bus terminal
or a railway station. I stood there balancing my
options of what I should do next.

72
A rough, tough guy with a moustache came up to
me.

‘This is not a good place for you to be in sir,’ he said.

‘?’

‘Come with me…to a respectable place.’

‘………….’

‘Come on, come on!’

He grabbed me by the hand and took me. Though I


objected to his action, maybe my objection was not all
that strong. I thought he was taking me to one of those
centres supplying womanly services. I needed time to
decide whether I should object to it or not.

I went back again to that same bus terminal cum


railway station place. A police jeep with several police
officers arrived. The people dispersed in a flash. I
expected the mustachioed man also to run away, but
73
he stood where he was, looking down, seemingly
innocent. I addressed one of the policemen and told
him that the man was trying to take me by force to
some place where illegal actions were taking place. I
felt that that the policeman knew the man and even
before I could finish my complaint, the policeman
explained to me that no crime, minor or major, had
ever taken place there. He also explained to me that he
could not take action about a crime that had not taken
place. He told me further that I should complain to the
police after a crime had taken place and that then they
could take action thereafter. He even explained to me
the relevant clause in the circular. I felt that he was a
really good officer. Some others would not have
explained what the clause was.

I then placed before the policeman my real problem


of my missing love. He listened patiently and asked me
whether it could not have been that she had met
someone younger, better and one who pay more income
tax than I did.

I was ashamed that till a policeman pointed it out, I


had not been able to look at this simple problem from
that angle.

(2003)

74
Violence

‘ Sir…sh…sh…aaa’

“What?”

“Take and see.”

“?”

“Don’t be scared…. I brought these from home… I


haven’t put a love potion into them.”

“ You are a student.”

“So… only lady teachers can speak with lord


teachers?”

“You are a student. Behave like one.”

“We know that you don’t have eyes for anyone else
other than Miss. Bio Science.”

“You are a student. Don’t you know how to behave


like one?”

“Lady teachers to lord teachers, they will teach at


home as in school. We don’t do such teaching, other
than learn obediently.”

75
“?”

“………….”

“How did you make these?”

“I got my mother to make them.”

“Didn’t mother ask for whom these were and why


you are taking them to school?”

“She did. I told her that I was taking them for a Sir.”

“She didn’t ask for which Sir?”

“If you are trying to get me to say it. Then why did
you refuse them earlier?

“You are a student.”

“What we give is not eatable?”

“Eatable, yes. But prohibited.”

“You don’t like to eat prohibited things.”

“Ask questions suitable for a student.”

“Right, I’ll ask, sir, why did Pinguttara leave the bed
when Udumbara came to the bed?’

“You are finishing school his year, aren’t you? I’ll


answer that next year.”

76
“You people have taught us never to put off for
tomorrow what can be done today. If it is tomorrow, it
is all right. But next year?”

“Then you are so impatient to learn it today itself.”

“Yes. Not like Miss Bio Science. I like to know if it is


Miss Bio Science that you like to teach.”

“Teaching is my vocation. I am bound to teach anyone


who likes to learn.”

“Then I wonder how many others you have taught.”

“A number of girl pupils have learnt from me.”

“A number of girl pupils!… The way you say it


shamelessly.”

“Why should I be ashamed to talk about the way I


have discharged my duty as a teacher?”

“Give me those.”

***

“Here, my mother asked me to give this to you.”

“ Your mother asked you?”

“ No, Miss Bio Science.”

“If you are angry why did you carry them?”

77
“I didn’t carry them… my little sister brought
them.”

“So your little sister could have given them?”

“No. Shall I send through Miss Bio Science?”

“All right.”

“You are a cruel man.”

“It is true that I am a man. But your adjective is


wrong. Instead of that you should have used a simile.
Had you written so at the exam, I shouldn’t have been
able to give you marks.”

“You won’t pass me in all the exams you have done


so far?”

“I will come to your house and give you the results.”

“You will come? Really?”

“I wonder what your father will say.”

“Your intended father-in-law is very nice. So is


your intended mother-in-law.”

“Don’t know if father-in-law will say ‘My intended


son-in-law, You can find yourself someone who is more
educated and richer than our girl.’ Without saying, ‘My
dear man, our girl can find a bridegroom more educated
and richer than you.’ ”
78
“Don’t know if my intended father-in-law will say
sadly, ‘All right if you are willing, son, we have no
objection.’… Anyway why should my intended father-
in-law object when he gets a princess as daughter-in-
law who is beautiful and has wealth to the weight of an
elephant?”

“Beautiful…? Still, wealth to the weight of an elephant


is attractive.”

“Really? There is one Miss Bio who is as heavy as a


she elephant… that must be what is attractive.”

“All right. Let’s imagine that I came, then who will be


the villain?”

“I’ll tell you later who the villain is. But you will have
to fight with the villain… At an unexpected time. What
you have to do is to draw your sword and fight. The
villain is very stern. Will you be able to defeat him?”

“Has the villain a sword?”

“No. He has a gun. A shot gun.”

“That is very unfair to set a hero of the sixteenth


century against a villain of the twentieth century to
fight.”

“You got scared, didn’t you? You don’t like to fight


and win me, do you? Don’t be afraid. I will tell the
director to leave aside the part about fighting.”
79
“Who knows to whom the sword will be given?’

“…..? You don’t have to come to our house…if you


are already so distrustful of me.”

“Why do you cry? I didn’t say anything. You yourself


have formed the questions, and you yourself have given
the answers…and you yourself are crying…”

“………..”

“I like you. I like your jealousy.”

***

“Hasn’t it been proclaimed by the government to


refrain from violence?”

“Then what you should do first of all is to refrain


from provocations.”

“To behave in a provocative manner is our right.


Whatever we do it is your duty not to provoke. You
must have a discipline, self control and you must be
able to face those who provoke, without being provoked
yourself.”

“We men are also human.”

“The reply is not valid. We are women.”

80
“I swear, you will not go to heaven. Those who
cause grief to people do not go to heaven. I am doing
all this with great faith. Take your hand away!”

“Heaven or no heaven, the hand is mine. The place


where I keep my hand is also mine.”

“It is not material right that is important here. The


right of use is mine.”

“Your right to use will not be yours unless you have


signed the form legally.”

“Those are the laws of one thousand eight hundreds!


They have only antique value. Now we are in the nineties
decade. Use is the legal ownership. Now see, if you use
land then it is legally yours. But not otherwise. A piece
of land belonging to us went to the man who looked
after it, to our uncle.”

“Are you trying to exercise force on me?”

“No. This is a form of civilized force with sanction.


I know that women like to be victimized to force.
Then the whole responsibility can be put foisted on
the male. This is a very special, unfair and
advantageous right given to women by the
government. They can get what they want and they
can also behave as if they were opposed to it. This
wisdom of privilege that women have is integrated

81
in their genes. It is inbuilt in women, hard wired
into the brain.”

“Just talk ordinarily, romantically. This is a


romantic occasion.”

“It is women who have to be romantic, clasp, talk


of love, sweet nothings, flattery. What we have to do
is to carry the loved one and place her on a foam
mattress.”

“Have you selected a good mattress? For a really


good love there should be a double layered mattress.”

“It is a secondary requirement. Before thinking of


a double-layered mattress, must find a place to keep
the mattress. Won’t we be able to keep in the front
room of your house? We’ll pay rent. Even key money.”

“Don’t know if the present occupant of the room


will like it. Where is my big brother going to sleep?”

“We’ll take turns. We will keep standing in the


verandah for four hours and then we’ll ask your brother
to keep standing. For this joint operation everyone’s
support is necessary. All of us must be committed.”

“Let’s put brother into this room of yours. If we try


we can lift him when he is asleep and carry him into
this room. There is no sin involved. Unlike in pre
Buddhist times we are not going to dump him in the
cemetery.”
82
“Hands off! You are unjustly blocking my freedom
of access.”

“How can it be unjust? I am acting in complete


agreement with the government’s new constitution.
Where to keep the hand is determined according to
security requirements.”

“Must you use the uncivilized words found in


newspapers? Even after leaning a civilized subject like
Ayurveda, you cannot still use words that soothe the
mind and the body. Why are you so tough? You don’t
have the virtue of treating others with respect and
tenderness.”

“All right, say I haven’t. What about you?”

“I am a male. I must perforce be tough in my


behaviour. It is through my toughness that I overcome
others. That is how I have won you too. Otherwise you
could have registered and end your life as the love or
the wife of some helpless clerk.”

83
“So women cannot be tough for their existence?
Women have no right to it?”

“You are talking like these liberated women.


Women must be soft in their behaviour. You have
studied biology, haven’t you? Haven’t you seen even
in diagrams that the exterior and the interior of men
and women are different?

“You are acting wrong and at the same time speak


to justify them. It doesn’t matter acting wrong. The
crime is trying to justify them.”

“That is a good sentence. A feminine gender


sentence. Women must fight gently. Men are
frightened of gentleness. They promptly lower their
swords….we have got up from the wrong side of the
bed today. All right then, shall we fight or set about
what we came for?”

“I am sleepy. I think loving a clerk is not going to


be this difficult.”

“You stay where you are. Today I will teach you


about gender differences. My room mate will not
come till late in the evening.”

(2003)

84
The Bridge

They are asking for blood. Surreptitiously sitting in


a van are three heavyset men. I saw something like a
dagger in one man’s hand. The man with a tattoo on
his left arm sang a song about donating blood. To avoid
them I had to take a roundabout route. I was scared
that if I went the other way they would ask for a kidney.
Therefore I again changed course. But I can hear the
sounds of requests for blood even here. How can I give
a kidney? If I don’t, will they dishonour me and demote
me? It is true that I lost my love. But I cannot still
make up my mind to donate my kidney. I was keen on
saving my organs. I decided to fight to the last drop of
blood.

I began to feel frightened of staying alone. Supposing


when I sleep on my right side, someone comes and steals
my left kidney?

I thought of a strategy. A good strategy. I began to


drink. Drinking rots the kidney. No one will ask for a
rotten kidney. This way I could protect my kidney. Later
I thought that actually a kidney is not essential to me.
The need for a kidney is for those who do not drink.

I was gazing out of the window. From there I can see


the flowing river of women. Women leaving the factory.
What one sees as a homogenous group of things is really
85
a collection of women different from one another. If
one looks closely he can see that they are individuals.
Their tiredness is hidden under their dresses and over
their small chests. Some had hidden their love and even
a purse with a few coins in the same place.

Among three women who pass our work site, there


was one young woman who smiled at me while passing.
She showed her keen appreciation at my positive
response. Then she began to stop for a moment and
say a word or two. Then she got used to coming into
my office. That was a little uncalled for. I had to blame
her for that. With the passing of a short time her visits
became commonplace.

My kidney was very important to my office visitor.


She is apprehensive that something might happen to
it.

I have made a slight mistake here. Actually it is not


the kidney that is the problem. It is the heart in relation
to the kidney. It is through the heart that the blood
flows. I like that word, the heart. Especially when it
is called a treasure. It portrays its worth. ‘Heart’
means something heartfelt. But kidney? When you
talk of a kidney it reminds one of something made of
iron in a smithy. If one is to get ill, it must be
connected to the heart. In that respect I am lucky. I
was afflicted with leukemia. It is the blood cancer of
love. No one had the same blood group that I had.
Only the blood of my first love was a match. My new
86
love tried to give me blood. And then there was
another one who came to give me blood. For money.
That didn’t work, either. Finally I decided to go in
search of my first love.

By that time she too was coming in search of me.


We met near a river. She was on the other side of
the river. There was a bridge being built there.
(Actually I was the engineer in charge of constructing
that bridge). There was a raft for the workers to get
across. Though it was not part of our duty, we used
to help the villages by ferrying them across in our
raft. She came and sat on the three-legged stool in
my office. I gave her my assistant’s chair to sit on.
She had come disguised as an environmentalist to
study the damage caused to the many varieties of
living things by building the bridge. She said that
though it was a short-term contract, she was paid
handsomely.

It was the time my new love used to come here on


her way after work. She came in and instead of sitting
on the stool, stood near my chair. Other days she used
to sit on the stool. Now she stood so close to my
chair that her body could brush against me. I moved
slightly. At that time a man selling tamarind went
by. She asked me for five rupees to buy tamarind. I
gave her the money. She ran and came back with a
handful of tamarind and stretched it to me. I refused.
Then she stretched it towards the environmentalist.

87
She too refused. The new love was trying to show
the environmentalist that she was much younger.
She did not know that the environmentalist was my
former love. That day we could not speak of any
important personal matter.

It maybe that she came hoping to stay. By that


time the old situation had changed. My leukemia
problem too was a new situation. She wanted to
donate blood. She expressed this offer without letting
my new love know. We set a date and a place.

My former love has now come to second place.


She comes to see me in secret so that my new love
will not know. She does so as she knows that she
can’t accept me completely. I told her everything
about my new love. She was not distressed. She said
she knows about women because she, too, is a
woman. She also said that ‘that one’s’ biggest weapon
was her youth. But, she said that if I was happy
about it, she was happy too.

We talked about all kinds of things very


intelligently. The non-validity of the laws of physics
for the first few seconds of the universe was a
problem to her. She used to worry about such things
earlier too. Actually we met just to talk. Those days
too we talked. We both spoke the same language. To
tell the truth it was only the two of us who spoke
that language. If I am to go on, I taught her my mother

88
tongue. She learnt. After we parted I did not meet
anyone else who spoke our language.

My new love cannot talk. So we don’t speak. We


sin only through our minds and our bodies. Not in
words. In a successful union most actions should be
in words. Therefore we could not become a successful
union.

Now the former love has come again. Now we can


start talking our fill again. I saw her left knee had been
injured. When I look at it from my angle it was her right
knee. Actually it was not a new sore. It was healed.
That means it was a scar. I did not ask her about it. I
felt pained to think that she might once again feel the
pain of that sore. Several times she tried to get close to
me. But each time my new love or someone walked
about disturbing us. They did not know that we were
trying to renew our love. But the disturbances went on
and on. Once we were so close to each other that our
breath was mingling. That was the zenith of what took
place. Finally she gave up trying. She came to fill the
vacuum that she thought she should have filled but
which she didn’t. But the present situation did not allow
her to do it. She came empty-handed and went away
empty handed.

I was inside a room. Or it could have been a long


hall. I came to see the inside, I think, leaving my
books and files near the gate. At that time the
watcher was getting ready to go, after locking the
89
gate. I shouted and called him. He did not listen to
them, and brought my files and books and gave them
through the window. There were some files that did
not belong to me. I chose mine. By the time I selected
them the watcher was not there. I walked about
looking for a door. I shouted to anyone who would
hear. Someone called out and asked me to wait a
little. May be he was bathing. May be the cook or a
servant.

I studied the room. The walls were covered with


graffiti. The letters were one inch or half an inch big.
They were written so that they could be read from a
distance. Round, beautiful letters, words and sentences.
They were slogans declaiming opposition. Their
collective meaning was something like ‘Oppose
everything.’

There was a slogan there, objecting to the building


of the bridge. One said that at the proposed site of a
pylon there were three fishes, and that apart from that
particular spot, they had no suitable place to live and
to stop the project at once. I studied that slogan
carefully. I could see that there was a non governmental
organisation behind that slogan. They were hiding
behind the environmentalists. Some of the letters in
that slogan had been brought from abroad. There was
a special agenda there. I quickly presented to the
Minister a confidential report on this, describing the
whole scene. I managed through the Minister’s direction
to discuss the problem of the three fishes with the
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environmentalists and find a solution.
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