When the last bus from Kandy to Wattapuluwa grinds its gears to begin the descent to Jaya Mawatha, he runs to light the fire under the cauldron by the well and then informs my mother that the prodigal son is on his way home for the weekend. He has already changed the linen and given my bedroom downstairs a good clean. My preferred beverage, a steaming mug of coffee awaits me when I reach home.
He is nonchalant while I greet my parents and sit in the living room drinking my coffee. Afterwards when I make my way downstairs he has fresh towels and my sarong ready for my favourite part of the day. My mothers dog Ninja, also knows what’s coming and excitedly runs around and around the well for me to start my bath. Fresh well waters drawn and mixed with the hot water in the cauldron as I begin scrubbing Ninja and myself with the bar of Lifebuoy we share. After my bath I dry myself and Ninja and we chill out in the long sofa in my room while he cuts and trims our nails. Then I finally have a chat with him over a Gold Leaf cigarette. While I sip my before dinner old arrack, he quickly takes his to the side of the garage and gulps it in one go.
After a dinner of string hoppers, fish curry and fresh pol sambol, I chat with my parents at the table drinking another cup of coffee. Wattapuluwa nights are quiet, blackness lies like a blanket and only the far away lights of houses can be seen. The noises of crickets are loud. He flitters among us at the dinner table lighting mosquito coils all about the house to keep the mosquitoes away. It’s chilly now and the usual Kandy drizzle of rain has started. My parents are old now and retire to bed while the women who cooks and cleans clears the table. Ninja has trotted after my mother to guard her while she sleeps.
Kumara, the man servant/driver/odd job man/security guard and my valet when in Wattapuluwa came to our house randomly through one of my Dads clients who wanted his son to learn to drive. So he was given board and lodging and in return he provided the aforementioned services to our family.
Most of all he was my friend and companion. He was the one who trimmed my nose, ear hair and nails, shaved the hair at the back of my neck I couldn’t get to, file down the stubborn corn on my right toe and ironed my work shirts with the creases just right. When I woke up hung-over he knew to exactly chill the king coconut juice to the right temperature and have it ready for me with two paracetamol tablets. Followed up with a glass of lime juice and a vigorous head massage with bay rum.
In return I shared my bottle of old arrack hidden under the bed, my cigs, got him the occasional pair of denims and shirt, and most importantly thought him to drive. With of course huge tips when he visited home for holidays. A more than fair enough exchange as far as Kumara was concerned.
Most of you who haven’t had this experience will think ‘rather gay’ but for what a barber, a taxi driver, waiter, masseuse, male grooming salon provides for hundreds of pounds in the west, many Sri Lankan men get for a couple of thousand rupees in the luxury of their own homes.
The popularity of the middle-east labour market has now increased the value of this man-servant and decreased supply in Sri Lanka, but yes it does still exist. In some families in has filtered down from generations where in your golden years the manservant now the dignified chauffer of the family will drive the ‘baby hamu’ and get back to you with a full report of nefarious or other activity on part of the ‘baby hamu’.
So why did I suddenly remember Kumara in this cold, clear Hertfordshire morning? Went to sleep last night with a niggling cold to wake up now with full blown flu. Nose bunged up, stomachs aching and feel squeamish. Begged for Lemses kindness and got a mug of coffee to bed but no soya milk and not quite made the way I like it. Marisa the Philippine cleaner’s banging away downstairs adding to my misery. Lems’s like take a nurofen or something and get on with it.
I want a bit of male, macho company. Where men can fart and discuss the various levels of smell in a fart and reminisce about the how a sexy female art worker in an ad agency would send out silent but extremely violent ones in terms of smell.
Above all, I need my eyebrows cleaned up, nose hair trimmed, and some hairs in the ear removed. I would also like a proper cup of coffee and manly chat. As I do not have the financial means to visit a male grooming parlour I have now come down to make my own cup of coffee and attend the early morning worship at the porcelain pinnacle.
I will sit down, light up a B & H, sip my cuppa and reminisce about Kumara!