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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

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A voice from the hills

The professor had to burn the midnight oil to draft the lecture on Mahagama Sekara. He took great pains to talk President into grant permission to hold the lecture at the Presidential Secretariat. His pleas were duly granted, as he was once a politician. When he delivered the lecture, it had a large gathering. The President too graced the occasion.

“As a university don, I always encouraged him to write more creative. He was not academic. I did not want him to be academic either. I single-handedly tried to sharpen his talents as much as possible. Sekara, as I know, is a wonderful human being. His poetry, I don’t think, we will ever see anything similar in many centuries to come.”

The professor’s speech was impeccable, the critics remarked – it had such a great applause. The president formed a Mahagama Sekara Trust Fund and appointed professor as its chairperson. The professor was heavily garlanded and offered a special residence too. His speech was aired on almost every national media channel.

However, little did the professor know he was being stalked.

After a hectic day, a happy professor came back to his residence. Everything was ready for the banquet. His wife was at the doorstep to welcome him with a glass of milk. His grown up children stood behind their mother, with smiles cast on faces. All his friends deserved a grand party. It was well past midnight when the party was over.

The ageing citizen, all the same, was not in a mood to sleep. He was reflecting the day’s happenings.
“Everything went all right, didn’t it, professor?” A voice hissed.
The professor turned to trace the voice. But he couldn’t.
“Looking for me, eh?”
“Who is this?”
“Does it really matter?”
“Who is this,” the professor pointed up.

The voice was like a caress, yet his heart ached horribly. He went cold at once – the voice sounded quite familiar! He wanted to give a shout of surprise, but the sight maddened him with a pang of guilt. It sent a shudder through his body. He was in some kind of daze, no doubt.

Mahagama Sekara stood perfectly still, but his old supervisor could not. He was shivering. The professor prayed it to be a bad dream, or some alcoholic hallucination. But it was not. He had to stand still, feigning to be calm, but actually a caged wolf. He tried to summon courage.

“Don’t play hide and seek with me.”
“It is you, professor, who is playing hide and seek.”
The professor was stunned to hear the depth of that familiar voice. He heard his own voice, scarily meek.
“Me?”
“Don’t talk as if you don’t know anything. I don’t like it.”

The ageing professor became quiet. He remembered incidents one by one.

Mahagama Sekara already had academic qualifications, but he never cared to stick to academic criteria. His creative world had a wider scope, and of course he was recognized for that. The subject he chose for his PhD was rhythmic characteristics of Sinhala music. The professor was given to supervise the thesis. But he was quite strict to make sure the thesis is written according to academic norms.

“Why can’t you just pass my thesis?”
“How can I? I cannot pass it unless it is academically written, you know.”
“No, I don’t know.” Sekara said quite easily.
“You have to know.”
“What do I have to know?”

“You have to know that you should follow academic criteria when you write a thesis. You can’t just write whatever comes to your mind. You have to quote others who have also commented on the subject. Add their names as footnotes.”

“I feel this whole universe is but one rhythm. I have so many things to say to support that theory. There may be others who have commented. But then why should I add their names as footnotes, when I can well include their names too in the body text?”

“That’s not the academic way of thinking.”
“When I say universe is but one rhythm, I don’t see anything academic in that.”
“That may be right. But you have to support it.”
“Then I won’t have to write a PhD!”

The professor was alarmed to hear that. He would not easily let go of that chance: to have supervised the PhD thesis of a national icon. No, he cannot afford to do that.

“I didn’t mean you to give up PhD studies. There are certain conditions, you see.”

“No, I don’t see.”

Sekara had to write the thesis a number of times. But the professor didn’t just let him be done. And at last the doctorate was conferred on the poet, but posthumously. The poet could never see the doctorate alive.

“You remember everything, my friend.”
The professor nodded.
“I came here to remind you all that.”
“Where do you live now, Sekara?”
“I still live in the hills. You cannot claim to have spoken to or seen me. They won’t believe you.”
“I’m really sorry, Sekara.”

Sekara burst into laughter. The professor was silent again.

“Anyway, my old friend, I forgive you. You did such things because you did not know what you do. So I forgive you.”

“I won’t forget this, Sekara.”
“You cannot. Enjoy the luxuries. I will watch for you from the hills.”

But the professor could not calm down. Nor did his heart ache less. As he watched the spirit fade out, the professor sat down with a piece of paper and a pen.

Once he was done rewriting the Mahagama Sekara episode anew, professor felt quite unperturbed.

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