Light at the end of the journey
“'Doctor’, why do you want to attend weddings…? You come with me,
I’ll take you to the university.” “Why not”, I jumped at the idea.
The day is still gleaming in my memory though it was some 60 years
ago, recalling a visit to the University of Ceylon, at Thurstan Road, as
a child of seven or eight years; the solitary ‘Campus’ that existed at
the time. My memory is still vivid, of that Saturday morning, when my
parents left for a wedding in the village, leaving me with Mary Nona.
We got off at Thurstan Road, opposite the old colonial structure at
the University of Ceylon in which the main section yet remains intact.
After attending to some academic matters, he came out. “You saw the
university; where else do you want to go now?”
“Nowhere… Let’s go back” my mind was elsewhere, preoccupied with
torch bulbs among many other small gadgets that a pavement vendor was
selling, at the entrance to the university premises.
“Why men, you are a fool, come I’ll show you the races.”
“What race… 50 yards?, I came fifth at the sports meet, Nihal came
first, and he received a prize.”
“Not 50 yards, this is horse races”
“Ah! Yes, we’ll go then. Is it far?”
“Don’t ask questions. You just follow me.” We came out through a
different gate and crossed the road, walked a few hundred yards, until
we arrived at the racecourse. The races had not started yet. “I cannot
see any horses, where are they?”.
“Horses are running only after 2 in the afternoon”, says a tall man,
who is standing at the ‘tickets counter’ and seems to be highly
engrossed with some figures in a small note book.
We walked around the huge building. The tall man left his notes aside
and raised me up to show the tracks. White fences run along.
“Do the horses jump over the fences?”
“No they run between them; fences separate the lanes in the track.”
“Shall we go now?” I suggested “Why you don’t want to see them
running?” The tall man inquired. “That’s it, you crazy fellow,” said my
“If you stay for a while you can see the horses running, how the
jockeys whip the horses and all that”, said the tall man with the note
“What is a whip?”
“It’s a cane to make the animal run fast, the jockey lashes it.”
“I don’t want to see that… and the torch bulbs will be over then, I
saw boys hanging around, they were all looking at them”.
“But we are not going that way again, because we can take the bus
from here. I will buy you a bulb at Bambalapitiya, on our way to the
Railway station, there are shops; and then you can enjoy a train ride as
“But, do they have torch bulbs there? Or shall we go back to your
university and buy a bulb and then go to the station?”
“No, you might miss the train”.
“We can go by bus, can't we?”
“Tell me why you are so crazy about bulbs? Do you want ice-palam”
“No, let's go quickly, I want to light it and see how it glows.” The
train journey was another misfortune; it stopped at four places for want
At some places the sea was so close to the rail track, it was like we
were sailing in a boat.
The waves hit the big boulders near the edge of the track, splashing
water in the compartment. We couldn’t buy a bulb at Bambalapitiya. He
promised one at Panadura town.
The water is so violent near the shore, but calm and tranquil in the
boundless distance away, I was ‘all at sea’, after observing the playful
wild movements of the waves.
“But, why is that the water comes rushing in violently, hit the shore
with a bang, and then go back calmly?”
“What comes in has to go back, that is nature,” he said.
The gap between steps and the platform was too wide; he carried me
out of the compartment at our destination. Where does the light come
from; is it inside the battery or the bulb… my mind was wandering?
Is he going to buy a bulb at a shop or on the pavement… “Oh, there..,
there that man is selling torch bulbs” I screamed. I was lucky this
time; “How much are those torch bulbs?” asked my brother.
“Fifteen cents only, Sir, these are good ‘Made in England’ bulbs”
I grabbed it like a precious diamond. “What did the man say;
something about England?”
“Now put it in your pocket till you go home, or you will break it;
the bulb is made there in England by Suddhas”.
I wrapped it in my handkerchief and pushed it into the trouser
The one-mile trek will take a lot more time.Edmond, my classmate next
door will be surprised to see the bulb; let him go and tell the others
in the class on Monday. But why do you need wires to connect the bulb…?
Why not a piece of thread? I will experiment it, will it work? No
it’s just a silly idea. ‘The jockeys are bad; I was thinking…, why
should they whip…, but take the prize after winning’.
If I break a battery can I see the light inside? They say no; then
from where does the light come, and where does it go when the wires are
not touching the bulb?’
Is it like the waves in the sea? He said, “What comes in has to go
back’. I slowed down my pace and got behind him; pulled out the
handkerchief carefully unwrapped the bulb, had a good look at it. It is
Back home Mary helped me change.
“Where did you go with Sudu aiya?”
“Mary, you know something? He bought me a torch bulb.” “But what did
you see, the university, you look elated today?”
“Yes, the university and horse races. Horses can run very fast. The
big one won the race; they don’t give prizes, but only money, and that
‘tall man with the note book’ said the jockey and owner take all the
money and nothing for the horses….”
“Ahh.., that’s why, you are so happy, seeing horse races”
“No, no, it’.s the bulb, I’m going to light it. I will show you how
it glows. Do you know how to connect wires to a battery? …Ha, ha,
ha…but, you know only to cook, don't you?”
“Now I must go to the attic upstairs to pick some wires… but, don’t
know if there are any rats’” ”Mary can you come with me?”
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“No, wait, I’ll show you the bulb” While pulling the hanky from the
trouser pocket , the bulb fell on to the floor and rolled out to the
back yard. I picked it up, oh!, it is broken, only the metal part
remains; I shoved it back into the pocket, hiding it from Mary.
“Where is the bulb? Show me”.
“I don’t know…”
A ‘torch bulb’, what a delightful thing it is? It gives you light…,
but it’s all gone now. I inserted my hand into the pocket and felt the
broken parts of the glass globe fixed to brass screw with my finger tip.
“Mary, do you know why the waves come and splash on the rocks and
then return to the sea? you do not know. But do you know what Sudu Aiyya
said? “That’s nature..”
Mary…, I didn’t see the horses running, I told you a lie. The owner
and the jockey take prize.
No, no the money, after hitting the horses with that…, what.., that,
yes, whip, ‘the tall man with the note book’ said. ‘but, I will not tell
I can feel the remaining pieces of broken glass attached to the metal
screw of the bulb touching the sensitive tip of my middle finger; I
slowly pressed it, will it prick? Will it hurt me?
“Not that, now please show me the bulb”. Tell me, do you know why the
bulbs glow brighter at night, than in day light? You don’t know…,
perhaps, that ‘Tall man with the note book’, will he?; but what was he
studying at races?’ While I was murmuring to myself, I again pressed the
tip of my middle finger against a pointed piece of glass inside my
I felt the thorny glass pieces hurt the tip of my finger inside the
pocket and I pulled the hand out to see, turning the other way to avoid
Mary seeing it—oh, a red dot..!, I pressed the bottom of the injured
finger with the other hand just below the red spot ; a red bubble
appeared, just like a tiny red bulb. ‘Why is that the blood is red?’
…Mary is gone. I sucked the finger; felt it salty. ‘But why does the
blood taste salty…?’, Mary will not have answers, nor do I, .. and
neither the ‘tall man with the note book’.
But sixty-two years on…looking back, the Havelock Race course where
they conducted the ‘Sport of the King's’ and made millions, now turning
out to be the sports and shopping complex of the garden city.
What a miracle? Thanks to a former wise leader, who saved the horses
from the ‘Kings’.
The waves will continue to splash on the shore and run back to the
My brother, a teacher who shed ‘light’ on thousands, for over seven
decades on how things arise and cease, will continue to do so. He turned
nonagenarian a few months ago, while I, who stepped behind him, hanging
on to his finger some sixty-two years before, turned a septuagenarian.
The ‘Tall man with the note book’, our Mary, the jockeys, horses, and
the owners, the bulb vendor, where have they all gone? Will they ever
see the ‘Light’, at the end of the journey?’