By Vishwamithra –
A rustle of leaves emanated something beckoning a gentle sigh of an old man. Bending tree trunks and wavy paddy, pregnant with budding grains underneath, were absent. In the distant landscape, the horizon is a blending of shady mountain tops with mighty gray skies; the heavens have released a drape of clouds to obscure what lay behind the mountains. Trees which stood like sentries guarding the hill tops and what lay behind too have been covered by the cascading clouds over the mountain top. A breathtaking view of the landscape at dusk could mesmerize many a peasant into a false sense of security. Yet the solitude that wraps around the whole being at this twilight hour is all-encompassing. In that solitude, Mudiyanse, the peasant, finds an eternally deceptive escape, an escape more akin to a nightmarish journey than to a voyage of discovery of a merrymaking life.
He contemplates about Menika, his wife who is emaciated beyond recognition of her youth; her magnetic eyes and curvy body have all faded into a misty past. His love for her has turned into compassion and tolerance. Putting food on the table has taken priority over indulging in romantic digressions. Yet the child who was born eleven years ago is healthy and growing to be a handsome adolescent. Curious about his surroundings and cognizant of the family’s hard times, Keerthi, the child, is showing signs of maturity ahead of his years. He, unlike his peers in school, has not demanded a Smart Phone from his parents; he knows that his father cannot afford to buy unnecessary tools of youth. Keerthi’s academic potential seems to exceed his demands for mundane possessions.
Mudiyanse, at the expiration of hard day’s labor on his paddy lot, given to him when his ancestral land in Kotmale went under the mighty waters of the Mahaweli River years ago, collected his tools, the empty canvas bag- his lunch box- and began trekking down the sandy path towards his homestead. Uprooted from the cool climates of the Hill Country, the soothing Kotmale that is surrounded by the splendor of foliage and protected from a hard and an unkind sun, he and his Menika rose up daily to the songs of a variety of birds; went about their chores in a routine way, dreaming of a better tomorrow. That is all in the past. That homestead is now under water. Dwelling in that past, as Mudiyanse has been telling himself- of course not in the company of his sweetheart- is of no use; its tormenting memory is more of a memory unto itself now.
Yet when they travelled from Kotmale to Welikanda, a locality that was created anew out of the sand and woods, a desolate stretch of jungle in the arid zone, has taken its toll. Mudiyanse is totally ignorant of complexities of malfeasance on the part of the Executive; his only political awareness is limited to the actual voting on the day of the polling; yet his expectations from the Resident Project Manager’s (RPM’s) office in his zone are many but he knows that travelling to that office would cost him one whole day’s work on his field. He has no help other than his wife who is already overworked with cooking, managing the homestead and taking care of Keerthi, his son’s Grade-6 home work. Albeit Menika’s limited education, her education is sufficient to help her son with his homework, at least until now.
Mudiyanse’s daily chores exceed those of an ordinary city-dwelling executive. Being a self-employed farmer- now turned into a status of a peasant- his first priority is to keep his precious family from starvation and providing for his only son, Keerthi with an education that embraces and absorbs the fast-developing technological revolution that is taking the world by storm. Is this a realistic goal for a mere peasant living hundreds of miles away from the high-rise buildings in Colombo?
That question can only be answered by Mudiyanse, Menika and Keerthi themselves. There is absolutely no chance whatsoever for them if they succumb to the current culture of corruption and bribery. Their destiny largely, if not solely, depends on their own will; a will to carve out and shape a destiny of their own, free of the surrounding evil of politics. Keerthi’s future is susceptible to the vagaries of the prevailing socio-political dynamic, a dynamic so intrinsically nasty and irrevocably offensive. On the one hand, in the political theater, from the Pradesheeya Sabha member up to the Member of Parliament and the Minister in the district are so blatantly corrupt; on the other hand, the Kaaryala Kaarya Sahaayaka (KKS) in the District Secretary’s Office to the highest-ranking government bureaucrat is chanting their daily narrative of provision of government subsidies for the poorest of the poor, but hidden behind that narrative is another cruel and corrupt meaning. What lies behind that narrative is over-dependence on government handouts. In ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, Dostoyevsky writes: “There is nothing more alluring to man than freedom of conscience, but neither is there anything more agonizing.” The agonizing conscience of Mudiyanse does not allow him to bribe any politico and/or any servant of the State to get his matters acceded to or expedited. Yet he is compelled to take government handouts and subsidies for granted, thereby fallen victim to this ever-weaving web of entitlement syndrome.
Neither Mudiyanse, nor his wife, understands the subtleties of political manipulation. For them most of life’s affairs are defined and distinguished between rights and wrongs, moral and immoral or basically, good or bad. Their religious devotion to the teachings of the Great One, The Buddha, is unbreakable and passed down from generations of eons ago. The inspiring life of the Buddha, although the likes of mundane Mudiyanse and his family are not qualified to imitate, has been immeasurably responsible for framing and sharpening of major decisions relating to their simple lives. Their lives are simple yet their thinking is not simplistic as is evidently found in the salivating minds of most of our ill-educated politicians. Their faithfulness to Buddhism is much more profound than offering of pooja to Kataragama or partaking in a monthly Sil program at the village temple.
Blessed with an exceedingly patient disposition, Mudiyanse and Menika have passed down that patience and sense of tolerance to their only child, Keerthi. They have collectively, as one family, chosen to live their lives within the confines of decency and morality. That sense of decency and morality has no price; yet it has enormous value. They cannot mortgage that sense of decency and morality to a Bank and borrow money; but when it comes to crunch time, when a friend or foe is found in trouble, they will lend their mite without being judgmental. Such values have no place in the village crossroads; they have no corner in the minds of the majority of those who inhabit the same settlement zone. When that quality of patience and accommodation flees the mundane mind, those who possess the contra pressures, pressures that have been impacting their daily behavior, their daily thinking pattern and their daily responses to diverse problems they encounter, they react in a totally irrational fashion. That reaction may not have any substantive basis on religion and faith, yet could have incalculable consequences.
Interfamily transactions of a piece of homestead, unauthorized diversion of field-channel waters, theft of fertilizer that is given as a subsidy to all farmers/peasants, all these could be sources of these intra-societal confrontations. The real consequences of those conflicts could be long-lasting and maybe for generations; yet these issues would ultimately fashion and sharpen their characters. That is where parental pressures could bear upon their children. Breed matters in shaping one’s character, maybe not totally, but substantially. Patience and tolerance of others are not Kotmale values, they are not Sinhalese or Tamil values, nor are they rich of poor values, they are human values, values that parents pass down to their children as their, parents’ legacy. Keerthi, Mudiyanse’s son is fortunate to be born into a family that has faith in such human values such as patience, compassion, empathy and unlimited faith in the ‘spirit of man’.
Such families resist corruption of politicians who are both the cause and effect of corruption. But families or individuals who choose to resist corruption, more often than not, end up at the losing end. Such cruel irony is heartbreaking, not only for the individual or family in question, but more so for the social fabric that surrounds them.
Battered by circumstances beyond his control and disenchanted with the status quo, Mudiyanse and family trek on an unfriendly and endless path; that path may not lead to a thirst-quenching oasis, but at least to a gentler and more receptive pool of opinion yet tolerant of the other side. On the one hand is the politician with a friendly smile but vicious intention and on the other, Mudiyanse and family with a grim countenance and forlorn hope. The vicious circle of life is unending.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org