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Sunday, 23 June 2013

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Alexander the small

A not so strange factor in this global village of ours is how names percolate from one country to another. Whoever would believe that the bare-torsoed man, all skin and bones, pushing about that contraption called a wheel barrow answer to the name of the Macedonian conqueror of centuries gone by?

Reggie's real name is Alexander. It was but natural that the villagers found the original name Alexander "un-pronounceable" and for some odd reason changed it to Reginald, another western name and then shortened it to Reggie. It beats me as to how this village of Madiwela in the backyards of the Great Parliament of the People, has come to be infested with so many foreign names. Names not only as Reggie and Alexander but as Costa, Sigera, Pigera and Boteju.

An acquaintance had a far fetched explanation for this. He said, this area was just adjacent to Kotte or the resplendent Sri Jayawardenepura area where the busybody Portuguese moved about in centuries gone by. But I retorted, "Remember that they all made their exodus to Colombo in the 1550s to ward off the constant attacks by our warrior king, Tikiri Kumaru of Rajasinghe.


Alexander the Great

Not to be belittled he went into a quotation from Queroz.

"So they had to leave the land of their birth. The women were distraught and crying, their hair let loose, the men utterly confused. They were like a set of pilgrims carrying pots and pans and all their household items enroute to the distant and strange port city of Colombo". Just a eight miles distance.

Now he said, "But there were a few who opted to stay behind braving the wild beasts in the forest growing on the deserted kingdom. So those who carry these foreign names could be descendants of them."

Very ingenious. But I must come back to my Reggie or Alexander. He is certainly not great as the young warrior king all set to conquer the whole universe but lost the battle of death at the mere age of 33 with all his dreams vanquished. Poor frail Reggie of Sri Lanka has, however, managed to ward off the demon Maraya so far and live up to 80 years despite a turbulent life passage including hectic murderous politics, ethnic strife of 30 years that made public transport a nightmare, terrible tsunamis, murderously speeding vehicles, dengue, arsenic in rice, environmental pollution, flying objects and threatening asteroids that could come down at any moment and what not. In fact, should not all of us congratulate ourselves that we have survived all that package making Maraya or the Demon of Death simply mad at our resilience?

Back to Reggie who like most human beings has his plus and minus points. Among the plus points are his determination to fend for himself. Never will I hold out my palms to anybody till life lasts in me, he pledges. So, despite sons and daughters who are well to do he could be seen on the road trying to negotiate a bundle of Iriweriya or Hathawariya that could make the best conghee. He would also be pushing around a wheel barrow with his gnarled and feeble hands.

Among his minus points are his accident-proneness. Usually he would come with a bandaged foot, a dog bite or a mash of red flesh or a gaping bloody wound. Since he is stone deaf it is useless asking him what caused the damage for he would go on.

"That is it, nona, this rain. It never stops. We are all in for the end of the world at this rate. "And if you conversationally talk of the bad weather with him he would say, "Yes. My wife also says that I am getting very thin but I am very fit" and he flexes non-existing biceps.

Reggie or Reginald or Alexander is also unusually fair for a Chinghala, with a tinge of gold in his hair, that it set my imagination amok about his ancestry. Could he be of Portuguese ancestry? After all there was no 100 percent exodus. May be his ancestor had fallen in love with a local lassie and stayed behind hiding in the jungles of Baddegana while the rest fled. My fantasies get confirmed by Reggie confiding in me that in his childhood he was a devout Roman Catholic worshipping in Kotte church and singing psalms but now he is as fervent a Buddhist as his Hatara poyata sil ganna wife (one who observes Sil on all the four Poya days).

Anyway this piece, I thought of writing as a tribute to Reggie for just now he is bedridden, could be temporarily. I like to visit him often but his wife despite Sil is said to be of suspicious nature. You never can tell. That reminds me of a small episode in my life.

Those were the palmier days. The 1980s, when my family was complete and we were living in the salubrious climes of Kandy. My husband and I and the three children had gone to Dalada Maligawa. We had left the flowers in the car and all five of us were trying to wrangle the issue as to who left it behind when a human watching us intervened and offered me a whole Wattiya of white Pichcha flowers.

I was about to say, Thank you in western style but changed my mind and intoned with a smile, "Pin sidda vechchave "(May merit be yours) that made him too give me a broad smile. After due homage we were descending the steps when a friend overtook me quipping "I saw you in high company". I asked her what she meant and she said, "That person who offered you flowers is so and so and MP for ......". Not only was he politically noted but was a famous figure in society.

Well. I could not go back and thank him again for the "condescension". A few weeks later I had gone to visit a patient in Class 1 Ward of the Kandy Hospital when I got the information that MP for ...... (my flower friend). has been hospitalised, his hand disjointed by a car accident and is now in this ward, of course in the male section.

Well, I thought it saves the bother of a visit again now that I am here. I will visit him and may be if he is okay thank him for the flowers again. I walked into his room and he was resting. Not much of a calamity had happened. The higher-ups are usually immune to catastrophes.

A female, apparently his wife stood by him and never having seen me earlier just stared at me, in full suspicion.

And no wonder, I had been the first visitor since he had got hospitalised just half an hour ago! This happened 40 years back. How many tales I have lived to tell! Sorry for boring the readers!

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