Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 31 May 2015





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette


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.

Pumpkin broth

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 State funds!

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 canine breed.


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 her.

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 buildings.

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 not.

"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 it.

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.

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