22 July 2010

The Motherland – Part 2

The Motherland – Part 2

Life in rural areas of Sri Lanka is very different to ones we lead. Udispattuwa, the village of my roots lies in a quiet valley. During day, the sun shines with the quiet drizzle of rain. Birds chirp merrily. Beautiful ‘Maala Giraw’, green parrots with bright orange red necklaces fly by, Woodpeckers urgently tap away at trees, and the bluest of Kingfishers fly by. Squirrels dance everywhere, chattering. Special mention to the young village lasses bathing in the well in our paddy field, laughing and talking to one another.

But late evenings, and at night with mist covering this little village, the far off cries of birds and the howling of an occasional wild animal and you can’t but believe in the spirits. With darkness only the bravest of souls can be seen walking around with a flaming torch. The villagers call it ‘Gods Country’ for justice at night can be violent. A Cobra who snaps at your feet as you tread the wet, muddy paths to meeting my favourite character of youth, the Pirith Kota. Death is unexpected, but yet an expected part of life in these rural communities.

A figment of my mothers imagination or her own invention, or village myth, too much of Pirith chanting (prayers) will summon the Pirith Kota. The Pirith Kota according to her is the one who goes around collecting lost souls who assemble wherever prayers are held. Unable to get away from our world either to violent death or not receiving a proper burial they wonder around and gather at places where prayers are chanted.

The Pirith Kota who I alike to Charon the Boatman sneak up to these places to catch these lost souls. If you are caught daydreaming you is well in chance of this Pirith Kota taking you away too. A midget with round red eyes dressed in white rags stolen from the cemetery, I would imagine him peering over the lush hedge of my Grandmothers house when ever we had a pirith ceremony or almsgiving in memory of dead relatives.

My mother had the quirkiest sense of humour.  I still can’t understand why she would scare us with the Pirith Kota story. But it is a part of growing up and a memory of her and Udispattuwa I treasure in my heart forever.

Listen very carefully on a full moon night. You will hear the tinkle of small bells, as legend says, the King Cobra managed to sneak up on Pirith Kota to fix an anklet of small bells around Pirith Kota’s left leg, so that they the Cobra’s always hear Pirith Kota when he walks the lonely paths in the jungle and do not strike him in mistake.

I grow older, my upbringing as a Sinhala Buddhist becomes more precious. Everytime I go to Udispattuwa and climb those long steps to God Skanda’s temple I silently thank all the gods of the day and night for the privilege.

I celebrate being a Sinhala, Buddhist, Govigama Sri Lankan. In fact I am bloody proud. Especially now, now that my country is one again. 

I believe in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha. I seek refuge from all evil in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. My motherland too, blessed and protected by the triple gem.

A proud Sinhalese has spoken, and will speak more.

21 July 2010

My Motherland

The Motherland – Part 1

Nightfall is here and its pitch black. It’s slightly chilly as I wrap myself more securely in the blanket. I lie on the bed, scared to look out of the window into darkness, and spooked by the sound of insects. My only reassurance is the deep sleep breathing of my sibling fast asleep next to me and all the other cousins all scattered around us in what was called the kids room. I am born and bred a city kid, school term holidays otherwise when it was time for the families to visit my Grandmother in my village of Udispaththuwa, close to Kandy in the middle of farm country in Sri Lanka.

My fear of the darkness was aided more by the fact that I was also scared shitless of my grandmother. A tall stately lady, who used to wear long sleeved, white, lace jackets and a white Osari, the popular form of the saree, worn Kandyan style. We were to never venture to her room and my memories of her were glimpses of her smoking a cigar before bedtime or taking long walks down the corridor of her home. My siblings and cousins had better more pleasant memories and experiences but mine were these. The house itself was large with my vivid memory of the old but still working pinball machine and the brilliant actual Tiger skin hanging on the wall.

The corridor in the back starting with the prayer area leading to the huge smoke kitchen. The long table in the corridor where the less fortunate ate. A huge table in the middle of the dining room where the family would sit and eat. Memories of my father always saying that when he romanced my mother, he was entertained where the less fortunate sat, and how when he married my mother, all she came with was one pillow. Obviously one had to add about 750ml of alcohol into the pater to come out with these little gems. Warm goats milk for the children in the morning with jaggery. My aunt, Cheeti’s occasional forays to the kitchen area to cook us delicious tidbits. The much looked forward to evenings with my huge bunch of cousins, being one of the youngest and always being bullied. The fear of the dark coming from Sumith Aiya’s ghost stories. All of us going to temple. Wesak and all the decorations that came up around the house. Plucking the forbidden Coccoa fruit from the back garden. Thellija, (Honey distilled from coconut trees) each child getting a spoon each as one can become drunk with too much consumption. Walks through the paddy field for baths in the well. Our aunts screaming at the older cousins to ensure we do not fall in.

People, laughter, noise, pets, fun.

All of us have moved on now. Some of us to other lands far away where the ‘Sudhdha’ lived. Exploits of even how the house suffered slight damage in WW2 due to bombing. The house now quiet, locked up. The paddy fields unploughed. Only signs of life being the people hired by my aunt who live in the kitchen area. My grandmothers grave area with the jam tree and cement seat sits forlorn. My daughter I take whenever in my motherland for she must know this is her heritage.

Sinhala, Buddhist, Govigama people from Kandy. During recent years this is fast becoming a point of debate and looked down on. That we the Sinhalese subjugate the others into servitude. I am not ashamed to be Sinhala Buddhist. This is our motherland. Our roots, our culture, our heritage. 

By choice my friends are of other cultures, multi-cultural or ethnically diverse Sri Lankan’s. My best friends and all of them Sri Lankan’s. They belong as much as I do. Especially the Tamils as they are part of our motherlands history and heritage. Not separately, in one motherland – Sri Lanka.

I am not ashamed to be a Sinhala, Buddhist, Govigama Sri Lankan. In fact I am bloody proud. Especially now, now that my country is one again. 

I believe in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha. I seek refuge from all evil in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. My motherland too, blessed and protected by this triple gem.

A proud Sinhalese has spoken, and shall speak more.

(Part 1 of a series)