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Thursday, 18 November 2010

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On behalf of all her sons and daughters...

Today, as I write, it is morning on the 17th day of November in the year 2010. I am in receipt of a text message that took me back to the early 1970s:

'It is the 17th (of) November once again and it was a special ritual for me every year to give a call to that very special teacher we had and wish her Happy Birthday! This year, like last year, there is a sense of emptiness about the day. Instead I have remembered her in prayer and thanked God for all the wonderful memories of her. I also prayed for all of you and your families. God bless you and give you special strength today.'

On the way to the year 1976, I stopped for a bit in the late eighties. It was, looking back, an unnecessary argument. My mother was berating me about something. Apparently, a batchmate at Peradeniya had complained to her that I was in the habit of asking for money from 'people' and not returning. The truth was that I had borrowed hundred rupees from this individual and had not paid it back. The other part of the story was that lots of others had borrowed much more from me and not returned. I never kept track.

Youthful indulgence

'I gave you three shirts when you entered campus. Where are they?' she asked. I could not answer. People borrow shirts and they end up owning them. That happens a lot. I didn't know whose shirts I was wearing half the time. She was mad because she didn't want to hear ill about her children.

'You don't love us!', she accused.

I tried to explain to her in a clumsy kind of way that all parents of all friends were like mother and father to me, all friends were brothers and sisters, all children mine. She gave me a withering and contemptuous look and went back to sweeping the garden with that extra bit of purpose marking disagreement and dismissal.

Today I know such claims are nothing more than easy rhetoric; innocent, yes, but nothing more than youthful indulgence. Today I know that there are children and children, mothers and mothers, siblings and brothers.

Drama competition

Let me go to the year 1976. My mother was in charge of the Royal College Dramatic Society (Dramsoc). I remember long nights of rehearsals at the 'Little Theatre'. I remember 'Black Comedy' by Peter Shaffer which was produced by Dramsoc in 1973 along with a short play called 'Electronic Explosion'. This was followed by Agatha Christie's 'Mouse Trap', 'Ah! Wilderness' by Eugene O'Neill and 'All my sons' by Arthur Miller. There were also excerpts from Julius Caesar and Othello for the Shakespeare Drama Competition.

She dragged us to rehearsals. 'Dragged' is wrong. We were very small but liked running around and watching the big aiyas moving around the stage. It was essentially a gang of players. Each year a different play and different roles. Same players. Same supporting cast.

Those who had left school would come to help. Gerard Raymond, Nilar, Ranil Abeysekera, Chris and Arjuna Parakrama, Ravi Algama, Arjun Mahendran and Dion Schoorman are names I associate with that time. I remember someone writing on my mother's copy of the souvenir commemorating the last of the four plays mentioned above, 'Madam, we are all your sons!'

Text message

It was like that. There was no 'sibling rivalry' that I felt. They were all my brothers. They didn't take my mother from me at all. Not for one moment. They gave her an opportunity to be who she wanted to be: energetic, fun-loving, motherly, strict and warm.

One batch was special though. The batch that left Royal in 1977, i.e. who did the A-Ls for the first time in April 1976. Niraj De Mel was Head Prefect I think. Those who studied English and Greek and Roman Civilization, the subjects my mother taught, were of course closer to her than the others. They came home all the time. While at school and years later too. Dion, who sent me the text message a short while ago, took up residence for a year and was my roommate. That was in 1978 I think. Shanmugavadivel Ranjithan, 'Chippie' to us, also stayed for a year after the July 1983 riots. Arjuna Parakrama was a Loku Aiyain ways that did not require residence as criteria. They were all our brothers. They were all my mother's sons.

Favourite student

Last July, when my mother was in the Intensive Care Unit of the Cardiology Unit, for observation more than anything else, courtesy the kindness of Dr Ruwan Ekanayake I believe (whose child she had taught), Arjuna visited her thrice a day with food. She loved to be pampered. He was there at her side, feeding her breakfast, lunch and dinner although she could manage it herself. He was her favourite student and among those who studied literature from her by far the most accomplished. A son, certainly and one of the eka pun sanda kind.

I am convinced that she didn't know all her sons. A few months before she died a batchmate at Royal I hadn't seen in over 20 years told me, 'I am where I am because of your mother; I was a hosteller and my parents didn't have money to support me. Madam (that's how everyone addressed her) got someone to give me a scholarship. Please tell her how grateful I am.'

I didn't get a chance. Slipped my mind. She would forgive me, I am sure.

There was always room for another. That was her way.

She left quite a number of sons and daughters orphaned but had made sure we had one another for consolation.

malinsene@gmail.com
 

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