Martin Wickramasinghe
Martin Wicramasinghe,  The Great Author of Nation
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Ape Gama

Madol Doova

Eve of The New Year

(From “Madol Doowa”, translated by Ashley Halpe)

Father refused to take me home that Sinhala New Year. He wanted me to stay on at the headmaster’s to study for the examination.

If it wasn’t for the two children it would have been as bad as living in a deserted house. The headmaster and his wife spent their time joylessly doing the same old things going to school and back daily, spending the
rest of their time until they went to bed, shouting at us
Madol Doova
“Don’t 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 and 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 our presents.

“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 the winner.

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.

“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 old-fashioned ways.

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 cerebral letter.”

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!

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