The star attraction
Kosala is a man with a one of a kind personality. If the story of
Genesis is to be believed he was not a descendant of Adam, Abraham or
Noah. If Darwin was correct, Kosala’s ancestors were not Homo-sapiens.
He was unique so were we to a certain extent. We were the ‘fighters’.
Many adjectives were tagged to the title ‘fighters’ to us a unique
group. It was the dignified title we were bestowed with. We had earned
this honorary position without any hard labour … a sort of a noble
‘Verbal fighters’ was what we were. In whatever description we were
termed, we were a group of fighters, fighting for the sake of fighting.
Our fights were essentially verbal. They have not elevated to fisticuffs
as yet! We were a religious group, hence no murder was permitted.
The place was the highest helm of ‘earthly hell’. This was my work
place. We were the virtual representatives of ‘Lucifer.’ Peace and
harmony were words that were alien to us. None could be worse than the
other. We were competitive in outdoing one another in all our day-to-day
activities but most of all in our verbal out-lashes.
We were a group of 12, seven males and five females to be precise.
Ours was one of the many teams of our organisation that was serving
in the remote parts of the country in social development. We were a
group of relatively ‘well educated’ people who were committed to serve
hapless communities. We claimed to be a dedicated team for a common
However, among our own team ‘common cause’ was only a distant dream.
Though we spoke the same language and belonged to the same religion we
were diverse in every possible way, or we chose to be diverse in our
actions and thoughts simply to make life ‘not so comfortable’ for the
others. We argued on politics, religion, skin colour, our appearance and
what not. If I chose to list them down my story will be swallowed by the
Chandi was the centre of attraction among the team. He was a
long-nosed youth in his early twenties, well groomed in appearance.
Merrill was a star, a well -dressed fashion conscious man married with a
Then there was Mithree, Yasiru and a bunch of others including me who
are nondescripts not worth describing, except to introduce us as the
members of the fighting gang with special traits.
Kosala was the centre point of all our arguments. He deserves a
special description. He was a man in his mid-forties, a father of two
teenagers. He was dark in complexion and had luscious bouncy hair. He
took pride in his jet black locks that had a slight curl. “I maintain my
hair in topping condition” mustered Kosala whenever someone commented on
his well-combed volume.
He was a vegetarian and his meals were adorned with lots of greens.
Women secretly coveted for such jet black hair. “Be a vegetarian” he
will quip to a woman who will ask him for the secret of his lovely
“You claim to be a vegetarian yet, you are eating our flesh day and
night” was a common statement from Chandi, an equally efficient
‘fighting cock’. It was a colloquial idiom. In local dialect ‘eating a
person’ meant ‘murdering or destroying’.
Kosala would argue with ‘out of this world’ points to justify his
statements. If permitted, Kosala would have claimed that Ptolemy was
born in his native town and had later migrated. And among us there would
have been a few who would have endorsed Kosala’s claim but with a slight
correction that indeed Ptolemy was born in Sri Lanka but elsewhere in
Once, Kosala had a bitter a fight over a herbal hair product. Yes a
fight…they fought over a brand name of herbal hair oil.
Jagath declared war saying that Kosala was using a herbal hair oil to
keep his hair intact. Kosala claimed that he doesn’t need any oil to
keep his locks in place.
The women in our team commented that there might be a secret behind
his lustrous crowning glory. Kosala negated. But the very next day we
smelt a sophisticated scent in office. Kosala had shifted to a branded
hair gel to shape his style.
Kosala enjoyed being the opponent at all times. He was tagged the
‘destined opposition leader’ among the rest. Even in ‘obvious confirmed
facts’ he chose to differ from the entire group.
For example, he will point at a white coloured object and claim that
it’s black. Inadvertently there would be scores of others who will
proclaim that it is a lighter or darker shade of grey and not black or
white, while a minority will whisper it’s white.
However trivial the issue would be, the argument would continue for
hours, at times even to the next day. When the debate reaches the peak
with no consolation left, the entire team would proclaim that Kosala was
correct and it indeed is black.
That’s when the drama begins to unfold. Once the majority given in,
Kosala will reverse his argument and claim that it is white. This was a
habitual action of Kosala. Kosala was notorious on this account while
the others fell into varied other categories of disagreement.
There was too much entertainment in these discussions which was
enjoyed by the bystanders and onlookers though it caused much stress to
the people within the circle. We were a trademarked notorious team among
the many departments in our organisation.
It was within this culture and context that we were struck with a
A fellow team member of ours was diagnosed with cancer. Merrill the
ever bubbly young man was the victim. The team had diverse thoughts in
addressing the medical needs of Merrill.
This was yet another new chapter and opportunity for our team to
unearth new points for disagreement. There were varied statements
regarding the physician. Ten members proposed ten names of ‘capable
doctors’... “Doctor A cured so and so” was claimed by one and the other
would propose a different name “who had cured so and so”.....
The ‘so and so’ and the ‘such and such’ cliché’s continued. Merrill
was taken to the city hospital for in-house treatment. It was an eight
hour drive for us from where we were domiciled. None of us could visit
Merrill as often as we wished due to the distance and also because of
our job demands.
Our lives continued as before except that we had a new staff member
who was beginning to master ‘our culture’. He was the temporary
replacement for Merrill. Merrill too had informed us that we should not
‘bother’ ourselves to visit him as he was under good care.
It was April. More than eight months to Merrill’s malady. The
National New Year was around the corner. Our office too would be closed
for a week.
One day during lunch time Chandi proposed that we visit Merrill in
hospital before the New Year.
Since we all had pre-planned our holidays, none of us could oblige to
Chandi’s suggestions. Hence the idea was stillborn. However, Chandi was
determined to visit Merrill.
During the holidays one late night I received a call. It was Chandi
at the other end sobbing profusely. A feeling mixed with fear and
anxiety engulfed me.
But the news he broke to me was both joyful and sad. In between sobs
Chandi explained to me that Merrill will be discharged from hospital as
his health condition has improved and went on to say that he has drawn
down to a walking skeleton. “I couldn’t recognise him.
He looks old, haggard and skinny. He has lost all his hair for the
Chemo”, sobbed Chandi.
I was relieved to know that Merrill was out of danger, yet was
saddened that the once buxom youth appeared wasted. The ever unsatisfied
human nature of mine demanded that healing alone was not sufficient but
his appearance too should be restored.
The holidays were peaceful and we all had enjoyed our relaxed stay at
home. Merrill had returned home. All our team members except me and
Mithree had visited him. Many stories were related to us by them in the
most descriptive manner. There was only one message in all their
statements. “Merrill looks wasted”.
Once I mustered the courage and visited Merrill. It was the worst
nightmare of my life. Merrill looked different. His appearance has
changed beyond recognition. If not for his eyes and the smile, I could
not have identified him.
He was a skeleton. His ears looked large for the frame he bore now. I
returned home with such disgust and depression. I hated the sickness of
Merrill which has swirl-pooled the bubbly young man, leaving a crushed
soul and body.
The visits to Merrill by our team members continued. They never went
in a group but chose to visit individually whenever it was possible.
One day during a Monday meeting, Chandi proposed that we let Merrill
come to work. It has been a request by Merrill as he was feeling bored
to be at home. There were many a negating statements from the group. “He
is too feeble, he might collapse any moment. It’s a risk, “said one. “If
he returns somebody will always have to remain in office to keep
company. Our field visits will be hampered,” said another.
The statements were endless. They commented on the office facilities
and the infrastructure that were not conducive to cater to a patient
such as Merrill. I was unable to grasp whether these words were out of
sympathy and genuine concern or a measure of reliving ourselves of an
However, the statements were less than sympathetic or, so I felt.
After much discussions and arguments, and with the consent of the
management, Merrill was granted two days a week in office. It was given
due consideration on humanitarian and sentimental grounds.
The day dawned as usual. It was a Monday, where the majority of the
staff do not fix field meetings. Merrill was to come to office after a
lapse of nearly a year.
However, unusually we did not see a single male staff in attendance
that morning. They had called in and had informed that they will be
coming late, much to the disgust of the female staff. “Now when Merrill
comes only we women will be there to greet him. At least at a moment
like this the men should have set aside their differences,” said Mithree.
“Typical male chauvinists” said Yamuna under her breath. It was a moment
of despair for all of us. We were in a daze not knowing how to act and
receive Merrill, our ailing colleague.
The women had fixed a glittery ‘welcome back’ decoration on the door
post. Mithree had baked a special chocolate cake for the morning tea. We
were at our tables waiting for Merrill to arrive at any moment.
While we were engulfed in our routine work, we heard the shrieking
loud voice of the security officer. “Here, Merrill sir has come”
We ran in unison to the front door. All we wanted was to see Merrill.
But what we witnessed was an amazing sight.
A loud “Oh” chorused from the women in awe.
We saw a group of bald headed men pushing the wheel chair of Merrill.
They were our team mates. Merrill flashed us a jubilant smile it was
only then that I noticed my entire team the ‘gang of fighting cocks’
looking so radiant. Their well shaved heads shining in the morning
An elated Chandi looked too smart in his new style..... Jagath
resembled Yule Bryner of Ten Commandments fame.... and there was Terry,
Sunil, Raj and everybody else. But Kosala was the star attraction... the
oldest among them...He was holding on to the wheel chair...his eyes
brimming with a special sparkle!
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