Mothers, Mudhilla and a little more than Marijuana

Hope all of you are having a good week out there ! I am in Sri Lanka for a few weeks till first week August and experiencing a few issues with dongel-connectivity.

However, it’s great to be able to write to you from my home in Moratuwa with high ceilings and paint peeling walls. Sitting right here where I used to sleep as a child, the night air is cool as the wind blows fresh from the sea a 50 yards from our front door. The fan overhead is supplemented with a side fan and the kids and I don’t need air-conditioning. A light rain falls in the morning but not enough.

 

This morning kicked off at 7 and we bought Thora Mudhilla from Piyal the long-shorts clad young fisherman who nodded to me and said he knew me.

Armed with the gossip from Vini the cook “it’s good to see you at work” I replied.

Piyal used to be one of the celebrated drug addicts apparently down our road. Thankfully, Girlie, his mother who was a celebrity-fisherlady of the area threw him into rehab, which they call a ‘kandawura’ in Sinhala same as saying Army camp.

I remember Girlie with her strong browned face and body in redde-hatte walking in that shake your ass way down our road and calling out Maalu Maalooo… Well, she did the right thing and something that not all mothers have been able to achieve; bring her son back from the demons.

“It’s been 8 years now since I came out” he said. Neither of us mentioned the word drugs.As he set off with the traditional fish carrying apparatus carefully balanced over his shoulder, Piyal said he wouldn’t be returning for a couple of days till the seer slices and Thora Muudhilla were consumed.

“I have a daughter who is now 16” were his parting words as he walked down the driveway leaving sixteen crows and 2 little kids, one with a barbie pink heart shaped camera to capture the morning’s encounter.

There was the other story of course. The story of Ashok who went to the village school with me; whose tears on discovering that someone had defaced his new bright red satchel with a ball point pen, I will never forget.

“It took a lot of hard-earned money of my mother to buy me this” he had spat out between his tears. I had been aghast at seeing him cry over the bag, though we were not much better placed in the money department. My bag was a gift from Santa Claus and so I was glad at the time that my mother had not spent money on it. At nine I still believed in Santa. It would have been 1981 and nice goods were not cheap nor freely available. Ashok was quiet; not a big-thug.

Later when eleven I went off to a Colombo School, then on to my CIM classes on weekends and getting off the Colombo-Moratuwa bus  I would only have to approach the three-wheeler stand and Ashok’s brother would pull out of the stand and pull the tuk-tuk lever signalling that I get in. There was not a single word spoken between us but the younger bro always took me home. Ashok did not drive a tryshaw, his two brothers did.

Lunawa Lagoon Sun Set  | Sri Lanka

Many people would stop by the little wooden shack by the Lunawa Lagoon, cars, motorbikes, tuk tuks… they all needed what the Ashok family peddled. The little wooden cabin grew bigger, the garden became prettier with flower pots and better furniture, curtains could be seen at the windows.

Ashok’s mother would be seen sitting in a rattan chair outside in the little yard near the lagoon waters and the tryshaws were bought and regular income was not a problem.

Yet, the mafia were not pleased. Gang-warfare was common in our neighbourhood but only at night and among these types. Drugs, tuk-tuks, hand grenades were flung. One day I heard that Ashok and his younger brother had been killed by another gang in a grenade attack.

I could only think somehow of the day that little boy wept for his red satchel and the savings of a mother who sold fish for a living.

When we used to walk home from that village school three quarters of a kilometer away, a boy Sanjeewa used to walk home with us. He was well-built and would guard the two or three girls who walked with him. Our parents did not bother cos we did not have to cross the road to come home. Down Charles Place, across the bridge where Ashok lived on the lagoon bank, and down to the little junction and around the curb straight on to beach road where we all lived on the same side. No need to cross. We were just ten and Sanjeewa was 11 but had failed one year and so was in our grade.

I just can’t imagine us walking home like that but we did; The only danger we encountered was the half-crazed guy who used to hang around the house called The Retreat and shout unintelligible epithets to all who passed. He was simply called ‘Pissa‘ or mad man.

Twelve or so years later I would be studying for my Attorney-at-Law exams and slept in the study on the other side of the house with all the windows open. There was absolutely no personal danger. My clothes rack and desk were near the open window and one morning I found things pulled around as I awoke. My shoes were gone, some of em and the books had been pulled out in the dark by a hand feeling around for a small valuable.

Annoyed rather I went to the open window and saw the books had been neatly placed beside the shallow, dry terra-cotta drain that ran outside my window and around the entire house. With extreme irritation I noted that the thief had clumsily stuffed a pair of shoes back in the drain- or so he thought- but had in fact made off in a hurry on a dark night with two shoes from two different pairs. Oh well, it was Sanjeewa I knew it; he had felt bad and stuffed one pair of shoes back.

He knew we would never tell on him or corner him about it. No one would get a ‘police-thrashing’there would be no reporting of any kind. All the neighbourhood knew he was a petty thief to buy drugs since he had deserted the Army. The year was 1997.

The morning encounter brought these thoughts and today is dedicated to the determined stoic fisher mums, rehab facilities in developing countries and 1.25 kilos of fresh Thora Mudhilla for 1,070 rupees.

 

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