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DateLine Sunday, 18 May 2008

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Smell the perfume of flowers

As a child of seven or eight, I had a somewhat funny hobby. There were no cinema halls, video parlours, televisions, cassette players or radios. As the only child in my family I had no other recreation.

So I used to scribble short messages on pages torn out of exercise books, fold and leave them at places people gathered.

After doing so I used to watch from a hiding place to check whether people were reading them. To be honest, some of them read my messages, smiled to themselves and went about their business. Others simply crushed the paper and threw it away.

The World War II was in full swing. I heard elders discussing about the Japanese bombing Colombo.

However, no bombs fell on us living in a malaria - infested village. Farmers went to their fields as usual. Some villagers gossiped in the ‘Kopi Kade’ while gulping down coffee. We received some rationed goods such as rice and flour. However, even without them we could survive on manioc and bathala.

For me every day was full of excitement. Some days I used to go to the shallow stream flowing by to have a dip in the blazing sun. I was never alone. I had the company of like-minded friends of my age.

They were not, however, the lazy type, who wasted their precious time. All of us wanted to enjoy life to the full. In those far off days everything was possible and life seemed to go on for ever.

Unfortunately, we cannot go back to those magical, wide-awake joys of childhood. But as adults we have journeys of our own to take. Unlike children, today we reason out before doing something. We argue, haggle over prices and negotiate our salaries.

I can still remember a day in early April when the rain started disrupting all the work. Elders ran indoors. Those who really wanted to go out had no umbrellas. They carried plantain leaves to cover their heads.

The young ones, including me, sneaked out of our homes and started enjoying a real shower bath. When our parents found us, we were thoroughly drenched. With a light warning I was given a cup of steaming coffee.

The times have changed. Today we do not allow our children to go out in the rain fearing that they might catch a cold. Sometimes, I wonder whether we are over conscious of death rather than living. Even when the sun is blazing through the window like a trumpet of the down, some of us continue to sleep.

Mine was a small family living a frugal life. Home was the centre of my life. I never thought of diseases or death. Life was meant for living. Although we had no money, we had everything else.

In particular, my mother was an early riser who used to go to the stream to bring fresh water in a clay pot. I used to run behind her not only to keep company but also to enjoy the beauty of nature in the morning.

I did not have many books to read except “Ganadevi Hella”, “Sakaskada” and “Vadankavipotha”, I could remember the text of all these books by heart because they were the only books I read at that time.

Mother did not read but she was an amazing story teller. Some of the stories she narrated are still vivid in my memory. Meanwhile, father encouraged me to memorise slokas and poems. He also had brought home the full set of Royal crown copy books for me to develop my cursive writing.

Six decades ago, we as children ran here and there in the village wakeful as the blazing sun. Our days appeared to be short as they were full of activities.

As an adult, I will never be able to go back to those halcyon days. The desire for travel is irresistible but we remain home-bound for various reasons such as lack of money, fear of catching diseases or morbid fear of suicide bombers.

In my waking moments childhood memories come flashing into my mind. As children we responded to life and many of its fascinating miracles. Today I can only make a mental trip to my bygone childhood with total understanding. What happened to that lovely world and the wonderful time?

Even today some parts of the world are pleasant to live in. Garbage heaps and bombs are man-made. Nature supports human life so long as we do not try to destroy our environment. Apart from our surroundings, most of the people with whom we live are kind and generous. There may be some bad eggs among them. You cannot help it.

Once father had entrusted me to one of his friends in the city to facilitate my schooling. However, I felt like a fish out of water in the asphalt jungle. So I ran away to be with my parents living in the village.

When the night fell I found myself stranded in the Matara railway station. I had no money or anything to eat. I struggled to bear up my hunger but sorrow grew and engulfed me.

Suddenly I felt that somebody was looking at me intently. When I raised my head, I saw a stranger a middle aged man. He invited me to his shanty just behind the railway station and offered me food and shelter. That was one of the most delicious meals I ever had. In a rush of joy and tenderness I saw and felt the love in the world, the goodness of human beings.

In the modern world, most of us are dreamers. We drift along on the surface of things enjoying day-dreams. We do not trust our fellowmen because of the dishonesty practised by a few. We have failed to do what we wanted to perform. Those who desired to receive our love never got it. We have not corrected our wrongs or improved our talents.

Sometimes, I feel, most of us want to remain drifters. If we really want to live, we must be wide awake. This is not an easy task to perform.For a start, stop running away from life. When you live, you have to face challenges. Secondly, you must think that you are a unique person however imperfect you may be. When you realise that the world will never see another person like you, you can feel proud of yourself.

The most important thing in life is to feel like a child. As Helen Keller said, “Use your eyes, as if tomorrow you would be stricken blind; hear the music of voices, the song of a bird, as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow. Touch each object as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail.

Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never smell and taste again”

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