The bread and broth parade of mid 40s
I wonder whether school children in the upcountry went hungry during
the Second World War since schools took on the onerous duty of feeding
them. Welfare State policies? That was welfare not with a vengeance but
with much mercy. Sort of Divine Welfare originating probably from Divine
Rights of kings, that were at one time embroiled with British politics.
Anyway, no state documents were involved as far as I know though as
the head master's daughter I could have had a peek into office files and
investigated. So no issue could later crop up in Parliament as to
whether state funds had been played out, say 500 loaves supplied by the
bakery daily including Saturdays and Sundays! That was open robbery of
Whoever came to school during weekends except the latrine coolly? But
go through the files, very carefully. The weekends have been left out.
The bakery man himself came up the hill puffing only during weekdays
sharply at 10.30 am but no child gave his or her ear to the teacher from
10 am. for they were simply doing the sniffing from that time like the
Ah! What a fresh and sweet fragrance it was, even the boss's
offspring remembered it not forgetting it to their dying day. Can bread,
however fresh and white be eaten by it alone, an issue that even Marie
Antoinette of France forgot or did not forget? Going off the point, I
read in a Mag that it was not poor Marie who said it but a maid of hers,
but when times changed bad for the monarch's lady it was hinged on to
Palingu now enters the picture. Who is she? She lived in the vortex
of Padiapelella mountains and was famous for her Wattakka (Pumpkin)
broth, amazingly yellow hued like the daffodils and smelling sweet only
next to the bread.
The more striking fact was that she cooked it in the school compound
on an instant cooker propped by three Liggal, or fire stones. Try the
Great Encyclopaedia for more details of Liggal that may be deciphered as
Lip or cooking space and gal, stones.
Palingu was a singularly fortunate woman in that her raw material
came in unlimited supplies. The Liggal could be obtained from the vast
heap of granite that formed the boulders rising behind the school
No child could ask, "Palingu nanda, are you looking for the liggal?"
for the supply was so unlimited. You have only to dig or scrape the
massive mountain. Anyway, the woman has to take her cooking posture from
about 9 am. for the pots of the wattakka curry have to be cooked one
after the other to fill the bellies of the future citizens of Lanka.
Palingu would take central place among the three pots positioning her
vast buttocks carefully among the three. The firewood was free too but
no wood smoke was allowed to enter the buildings. The woman was mighty
scared of the boss and the baton though I never remember him using it on
the poor widow.
A bundle of spices, mostly cinnamon and enasaal, was always tucked in
between her breasts which after due washing was immersed in the bubbling
broth. I think that it was this addition that gave the curry its special
flavour. Her breasts in themselves were a treat for they too appeared
like two exposed rocks whose cleavage could outdo any of that of
Hollywood film-stars. But Palingu cared least for immodesty for her sole
intention was to produce the best of curries that could radiate its fame
all the way from Mahanuwara to mist-ridden Ragala.
My mother and she however were never friends and the enmity rose over
me. Though not openly proclaimed I sided with Palingu for I felt that
she was correct. To elaborate matters, since my ma or amma happened to
be a trained teacher entrusted with teaching civics to all the classes
beyond KG, she was the most non-civic when it came to personal matters.
I can state this matter boldly since she is now dumb, 15 years dead. The
major illustration of this aptitude of hers was that she was completely
against my joining the Wattakka Procession. It began with my request for
a Belek Pingana, just like what my pals were bringing to join the parade
and have their glorious mid day meal. Nothing surpassed a dream of mine
those war days as sitting on a post KG bench my pals immersing the white
bread in the broth and oozing it all. So I voiced my wish for this
plate, a new one gaudily decorated with flowers and fruits and to be
bought off the Sundae. Sundae, that was the word used for Fair in that
area and my mother had concluded that since the fair was always held on
a Sunday that it came to called that. My father opined that it shows the
British domination even in daily matters to which mother retaliated by
saying, "Rubbish. That Britain so mighty to you is so far away. You are
the last person who should be teaching civics with your narrow views,"
father thundered to which I mutely I agreed despite my low position in
the form just above the Kindergarten.
First she refused to buy the Pigana for she just hated the sight of
her daughter with her ill clad pals (no Premadasa then to give school
uniforms) on the school benches eating off the tin plate though she gave
long lectures in the higher grades on the values of equality and what
"Gem. Your meal is on the table, rice and three curries. So you are
not to rid a poor girl of her meal by eating her share too". But I
outplayed her by getting a pal to bring a new plate for me and I would
line up as mother stood at the entrance to the quarters and glared at me
as I slung mud on two great families of siyane Korale who had traversed
about 100 miles purposelessly.
Palingu too served me with trepidation saying that one day Loku Nona
would rush in there across the Liggal and thrash her to to death. But
selfishly I weighed my joy as against her agony. Meanwhile the Wattakka
broth procession went on and the children just gluttoned on the white
bread and the broth. In Europe Hitler was now getting weak against the
enemy. The German G boats that had raided many sea vessels carrying food
to the colonies were now being shunted out and the red rice from Burma
and other places came floating in to Lanka. In the evenings the pundits
of the village would sit around father jingling glasses and rationalise
on it all.
"Who ate up all that paddy our ancestors grew but the imperialists.
They were negligent of our tanks and then introduced bread which the
kids are still eating".
"It is a trick engineered by the missionaries. Paan (Bread) is a
foreign food and even mentioned in the bible and now they are all eating
A gramophone record is on. "God save the king" it sings. "Break that
thing" somebody hollers militantly while another intones bravely, "But
the bread and broth procession were beautiful". The rest are fluttered
as to which side they should align themselves.