do that don’t laugh so
noisily don’t hurt that animal”, hoarding money like termites
building an ant - hill, counting five rupees over and over before
they parted with the money…Such life as there was in the headmaster
must have been shriveling up steadily, like the kernel’s of those
coconuts that villagers keep in their kitchen lofts for years
I spent most of the time playing outside with my school friends
until I was ready to drop. Somalatha and Gunadasa were not allowed
to go far from home. Perhaps the headmaster let me go where
I wanted only because he was afraid of the damage we might do
to the furniture and the crockery if I, too, was forced to spend
all that time about the house.
On the first day of the Sinhala New Year festival the auspicious
guest was one of the shop-keepers. Mr. Dharmasingha had chosen
him because he thought it would be especially lucky to receive
the auspicious coins from the hands of a money-maker. We all sat
on mats spread on the floor, as everyone was supposed to do, and
ate the first meal off plantain leaves at the lucky time. A little
later, the shop-keeper arrived. He sat at the table, on which
had been placed a dish of milk-rice, platefuls of various New
Year foods, and a brass oil-lamp. He rolled a little of the milk-rice
into a ball and put it into the oil-lamp, which had already been
lit. He put a one-cent coin beside it. He then gave each of us
a silver coin and a copper wrapped up in a betel leaf. The headmaster
and his wife took the whole thing very seriously. Mr. Dharmasingha
locked his gift away; the old lady treated hers with the reverence
we give a sacred relic. I wonder if she burned incense before
it? I heard that they didn’t touch these gifts until the next
Sinhala New Year.
Gunadasa and I were each given a ten-cent coin and a one-cent
coin. Somalatha was given a five-cent coin and a cent. After
the shopkeeper had left, Mr. Dharmasingha, too, gave each of
us a coin wrapped in a betel leaf. We got together to examine
“Mine’s a cent,” said Gunadasa.
I showed them what I had.
“That’s a cent, too!” exclaimed Somalatha. “Don’t you spend
that money now,” said Mrs. Dharmasingha. “You must keep it wrapped
in the betel leaf until the New Year comes round again.”
Somalatha immediately began to chew her betel leaf. I loved
to see her doing exactly the opposite of everything she was
told to do by the Dharmasinghas.
We were allowed to play for money only on New Years day _ on
any other day we would be punished for it by Mrs. Dharmasingha.
Many of our friends came to play with us. Among them was Piyadasa,
the boy who nicknamed me Gal-ibba.
We played Gadol Manuma with our coins. I kept winning, while
Somalatha was losing steadily. I watched to see why. The next
time she threw her coin it fell almost in the centre of one
of the squares. It would be hard to make a better throw. I kept
watch. I saw Piyadasa edging the coin away from the centre of
the square with his foot. Perhaps he didn’t want Somalatha to
win because he’s seen her borrowing money from me. I went up
to him and kicked him in the shin. He hit me, and I hit back.
But then the other children rushed between and pulled us apart.
We dropped Gadol Manuma after that and started “Catch the Fly”.
We each put a coin on the floor and then stood quietly, watching.
The owner of the coin on which a fly settled first was the winner,
and he got all the coins. Piyasena won five times in a row.
Then two others won. I noticed that Piyasena was careful to
keep back the coin he put down and hand over another coin to
Why did he do that? How had he won five times in a row?
A fly settled on Piyasena’s coin for the sixth time. I grabbed
it, looked at both sides carefully and then I got it! It was
stinking of rotten dried fish! I asked another boy to smell
“It smells of Karawala,” he said and threw it down. Piyasena
saw the others, too, stooping for the coin and he jumped on
it and began rubbing it hard on the floor with his foot. I pushed
him away roughly and picked up the coin again. The smell was
much less now.
Piyasena was furious. He hit me with his clenched fist so violently
that I could barely keep my feet. But I soon got over the pain
and shock and went for him. He hit me again, and then the others
pushed him away and saved me. He struggled to get at me and this
annoyed the other boys. They set on him, so vigorously, that he
was forced to break free and run away.
He must have kept his coin in a bag of Karawala for at least
a day! The, boys nicknamed him “Karavalaya.”
After the New Year, Mr. Dharmasingha made his class work harder
than ever. The exams were quite close now. I wondered why he
took so much trouble, for we thought him, a nuisance and even
made fun of him. He wasn’t content just to earn his salary;
he really loved teaching and it kept him going despite all his
Most of us did learn quite lot of Arithmetic, Geography, Grammar,
Composition and History. I hate studying, so if I know anything
at all, it’s because Mr. Dharmasingha was such a good teacher.
Even though he was taking such pains he became very nervous and
excited as the day came nearer. He was particularly worried about
our dictation-he was sure we would not remember when to write
the “dental” and “cerebral” versions of na and la. Examiners always
pay special attention to these letters. The headmaster knew that
even scholars who knew Pali and Sanskrit could not always be sure
which letter to use. Only masters of etymology and classical prose
could be expected to get them right every time.
The headmaster decided to use a trick. He told us “when the dictation
is given I will scratch my head whenever you ought to write a
When the day came the dictation was given by the headmaster
himself. We looked at him slyly whenever we came to a na or
la and everything went perfectly!