Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 30 January 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

School teacher

An English translation of the short story titled ‘Guruvaraya’ by Gunadasa Amarasekara. Translated by Vivette Ginige Silva.

The quote, “You have destroyed the children’s lives. That’s all what you have done” reverberated in his mind. He realised that dawn will usher soon as he wiped his eyes and looked through the window. Through the window opened out to the verandah, a major part of the rain-laden sky could be seen. He is quite adept at reading the time by looking at the sky.

Therefore, he always looked at the sky before he looked at the clock. The rain-laden sky which caught his glimpse through the trees increased his despondency. Previous night was a sleepless night for him, spent in a confused state of mind.

He thought of Carolis as he came to the verandah and looked at the road. He felt that Carolis who comes quite early to see him is late today than usual. He wondered whether it was because he woke up earlier than usual or due to the intensity of his need.

He started pacing to and fro in the verandah. Under a camp bed a dog slept curving its body. Camp bed cloth is torn and scarred. A black beetle circles by the wall making its usual sound, “Ru:n/Ru:n”. He felt that it would have crept into the house the night before.

He uttered to himself, as he stretched on the reclining chair that he cannot look back on the past life with nostalgia. A life full of hopes has come to an end. His attitude towards all the changes that took place in the past few years was one of endurance and lethargy. It made his life and body worn out like a house that had been battered by rain and shine. Why didn’t he perceive the grievances and changes that came his way? Was it due to the monotonous life he led? Both body and mind may have been engulfed in that monotonous process. Such a person does not see the outside world and tends to be indolent. He cannot say that the world around him has changed even in a trivial manner. He spends sleepless nights. Lamp on the table is lit. Chimney is covered with soot. He thinks of substances which are not woven into one single pattern. Spontaneously, he thinks of the lessons scheduled for the day. He remembers well the previous lesson stopped and the lesson to be started.

“River Nile starts in the Central part of Africa, broadens its way and falls into the Red Sea. World’s first civilisation was started by the River Nile. People took water from it and cultivated. Longest river in the world is Nile”.

In an instant these ideas re-echoed in his mind. Years of teaching had made these facts come quite lively to him. Engrossed in such thoughts he thinks of his death. He thinks of the school being closed on that day and children in white attending his funeral. He thinks of the appreciation the students would write to the newspapers. Such irksome, weary thoughts flash across his mind.

As he sets forth to go to school, his eyes are drawn to the same objects such as the gravel road and the same people who spoke to him smilingly.

A certain person asks, “Why is Master earlier than usual today?”.

‘No, this is the usual time”, it is a reply he had been giving years on end. At times he spoke to them about his students.

“Piyasena is weak in Arithmetic. He must study the tables. Arithmetic will be a compulsory subject”. A villager would respond with a look of gratitude to such words of his.

An old pupil of his took the handkerchief to his hand and smiled apologetically.

“Master looks old”.

“I am burdened with work. Too many things to be taught. Jothipala’s attendance is bad”.

Back in school his thoughts and utterances were the same. Whatever they may be he adopted a lethargic attitude. Using his husky voice he repeated the same things.

‘Fruit trees grow around the Mediterranean Sea. People live by cultivating fruits. Climate suits the fruit cultivation. I believe you have seen the fruits imported from such countries.”

Accordingly, half of his day is spent in school. He comes home to spend the same prosaic life until dusk dawns. He sits on the reclining chair and reads the papers without sparing a single letter. Some days darkness overwhelms the sky even before dusk. Suddenly, the sun withdraws its rays. In an instant, a heavy downpour begins. Raindrops fall emanating a sound of “ki:s”,”Ki:S”. They fall on the surroundings. He draws the chair elsewhere and again stretches himself. ‘That’s the way. Unseasonal rains come by.” He considered everything with despondency.

As he got up from the chair and started pacing to and fro in the verandah, he though that the routine life was never a hindrance to him because it gave him fascination. He was deeply hurt in mind.

He could not think that he would be so hurt in the days ahead. A cold wind blows making the atmosphere around cooler than never before. The beetle that circled by the wall still continues. The dog that slept, moaned as if the cold was unbearable.

He, who paced to and fro in the verandah started thinking again. He was immensely attached to the things around him. He regretted having punished a child. He even consoled such a child. It was this attachment that made him not realise the futility of such a dull life.

His attachment extended to his house and surroundings. He gazed at the house worn out and battered with time. He sympathised the dilapidated house and the deteriorated parapet wall around. He embraced all that in his mind. On certain sleepless nights he dreamt of such things as scarred walls and gates of the school.

There is silence in the atmosphere. A child seated on a bench cries due to difficulties in Arithmetic. It cannot be said at what moment he would stop crying. The cracked walls and the roof crumble down. At such instances he wakes up, agonized. He thought that they too lead a dejected life as much as he does.

Once again he looked at the road with his two hands on the windowsill. Carolis or no other soul is to be seen on the road.

The mild cold that prevails just before rain, pervades the air. Windowsill is wet with the previous night’s rain. A broken bottle in the garden is filled with rain water.

“How did that bottle get there?” As he looked at it he realised that it would have been kept there long time back. The garden looked eroded with rain water.

He saw someone coming in the distance and gazed with interest. It was Carolis. His anxiety grew as he saw Carolis as usual, covering the upper part of his body with a towel.

“Why are you late than usual. I was anxiously awaiting your arrival any moment”, he said even before Carolis could get on to the verandah.

It was some years back that he started associating Carolis who lived with him throughout. Carolis stood by him in joy and sorrow and was like a relative to him. He always thought that Carolis too led the same languid and indolent life that he led. It may be the reason that made them live like friends.

“Because of the cloudy sky, I didn’t feel that it was late. Aren’t you going to school today?


“Why, is today a Saturday”

“No”, he answered with effort. His voice slightly shivered.

“I will send a letter. It seems my teaching is bad. School Inspector yesterday said that I don’t know to teach according to the new methods of teaching.”

“Did the School Inspector come yesterday.”

Carolis who looked at his face asked. It was no secret to Carolis that he was attempting to control his feelings as he spoke. His lips and eye brows quiver as if stricken with emotion. His shrunken face and eyes showed a look of agitation.

“He came and said that I could teach only in the old fashioned way. It seems it is useless byhearting History and Geography lessons. I have destroyed the lives of children all these years.”

It amazed Carolis to see his deranged face. Carolis had never seen him in that mood before. He spoke as if to outpour gradually, an immense confusion that arose in his mind.

Both remained silent. Although Carolis wanted to say something, the silence that prevailed did not allow him to do so. The beetle that circled by the wall flies up and down. The dog moaned several times.

“But my pupils have turned out to be great people. Why Carolis, you also know it. Isn’t it?

“Yes” Carolis answered in a low voice.

“That Veliaddada Mahattaya was under my tutelage. It seems he is a clerk in the Kachcheri.”

“Why Wijethunga Mahattaya’s elder son is also a pupil of mine. Today he is an author.”

“So, how come my teaching is bad.”

“Yes, people who were your pupils have become great people,” Carolis said as he felt that it was not proper to remain silent.

“No, it seems I have destroyed the lives of children. Last evening I wrote a letter. I can’t destroy their lives any longer.”

He paced to and fro for a while without speaking and went towards the room. His face had turned remarkably red. Nobody would expect such a look to be on his face.

He came out of the room and kept the letter in Carolis’ hand.

“Go and give this letter to the Head Master. I will not go hereafter.”

He paced to and fro in the verandah as Carolis, carrying the letter went out of his sight.

The beetle that was noisy all this while, silently lies on the wall. Grey sky is perturbed with the wind. A few rain drops fall on the verandah emanating a sound of “(ki:s)”, “(ki:s)”. The rain drops break the silence in the surroundings. The dog moaned again as if it was difficult to bear the cold.


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