Pot-bellied Pabilis Mudalali with the scanty hair on his rapidly
balding head tied in a tiny knot and his hairy chest puffed forward
rubbed his palms together in a self satisfied manner, as he looked
around his well-stocked boutique and at the villagers pressed around the
counter demanding this, that and the other.
You name it, be had it. His boys who worked for him had hardly a
moment’s peace catering to the demands of the customers.
During this season of Vesak his boutique was well supplied with all
the seasonal requirements. Buddhist flags of all sizes, bunting, kite
paper tissue paper of various tantalising hues, twine, gum, paste, masks
for the children, Vesak hats and bucket lanterns. In fact his boutique
already wore the face of Vesak. Young and old were clamouring for the
breathtaking array, of lanterns he had brought from the city during his
last week’s rounds and the little ones crowding around pestering their
parents to buy these for them, when some of them could hardly afford the
tissue even for a single lantern.
Some villagers viewed the array and with a sigh turned away as they
could ill-afford them. Thankful to the Mudalali for the small mercies of
having even provided them with this fantastic view of what their
children would otherwise never have seen or known about but others more
belligerent vociferously blamed the mudalali for attempting to extort
money from the poor villagers through such means as tempting the
children by such displays.
right has he to bring these baubles from the city to tantalise our
little ones. I have had no peace at home from the chuttas asking for the
fabulous lanterns he so temptingly displays.”
“Yes what is there for him. Look at his well-filled stomach. He’s
hardly able to support it; and here we are struggling to support our
families” Some of them unjustly commented.
Pabilis mudalali harmed no one; he exploited no one. But with him
business was business. Nothing on credit. One had to produce hard cash.
After all he was working pretty hard to amass his wealth. One couldn’t
give it away for nothing. There was a large board prominently displayed.
“By lending, you lose both your customer and your cash.”
Well there was nothing wrong in that’ one would argue but he was a
bit of a tight-fisted fellow. During this season another board came up
in an even more prominent place. “No donations for lists will be
entertained” much to the chagrin of the youth of the area who had
planned to do something in the nature of a ‘Dansala’.
They need not go far to feed people in want of a meal; there were
plenty of them here in the village itself. “The niggardly rascal” they
muttered under their breath as their eyes caught the prominently
displayed board and word went round about it.
It even reached the ears of the elderly monk at the temple leaving
him pondering restlessly. He decided he should do something about it.
The mudalali was so taken up with his money making, he had hardly
time for the temple.
But of course for Vesak a huge pandal would span the road right
outside his boutique, displaying one or the other of the Jataka stories
He would get people from the city to put it up and as it was right
outside his boutique sales would be brisk during the Vesak season as
people from nearby villages too would flock every year to see the
phenomena. That was not all; a huge till made out of a large wooden box
would be placed for collections, to fund the lighting; and the
collections greedily collected and counted at the end of each day. One
of his assistants would even be placed there to solicit contributions.
The elderly monk sauntered along one evening to the mudalali’s
boutique, for the mudalali could always be met only in the boutique. He
would try to give the mercenary man a few delicate hints.
The mudalali spotted the monk approaching and giving instructions to
his assistants to call it a day, hurried forward to welcome the priest
and lead him to his house which was just behind the boutique.
From a distance he called out Haminey, Haminey! The Hamuduruwo is
paying us a visit. What an honour! Spread a white cloth on that
comfortable chair and place a foot stool like a good woman.”
As the Hamuduruwo entered the house both the mudalali and the Haminey
prostrated themselves before him.
Having taken the seat proffered the monk looked about and cleared his
throat several times to bring up the all important subject of the
significance of Vesak. That it should focus on meritorious deeds and not
on superfluous things such as pandals. But Pabilis mudalali seemed so
over-joyed and honoured at his visit, rubbing his palms together and
twisting his fingers that he found it difficult to get to the point.
“Mudalali the purpose of my visit is...” began the monk haltingly
when he was quickly interrupted by the mudalali. “Hamuduruwane you know
it is customary for me to put up a pandal every year at much expense.
The villagers must have something worthwhile to see in the village isn’t
it? These people can’t go to the towns to see these things. “Oh there
goes the same tale” thought the venerable monk. “How am I going to take
his mind off these mundane things?” Well, this needs much patience and
he thought he would wait for the mudalali to have his say.
“But this time I have decided to alter my plans” continued the
“Oh another gimmick” thought the monk as he wrinkled his forehead.
“You see Hamuduruwane the stories we hear from all over the island of
various atrocities committed. I have given it much thought. How in a
matter of seconds hundreds are wiped off the face of the earth. It has
shown me how transient life is.
Today we are happy in our village; tomorrow who knows how many of us
will live to tell the tale. Hamuduruwane I want to organise a daney for
all those observing sil on Vesak day and also for those pulanno in our
village who have hardly the means of existence and yet are ashamed to
ask or beg.
I would like to hold it in the temple premises” said the mudalali
sheepishly rubbing his hands together in a jester of humility. “In fact
I wanted to come that way to ask your permission when you so kindly paid
us a visit. Hamuduruwane can it be arranged?”
The good monk was speechless for a second. “May the blessings of the
Triple Gem be yours.” He managed to say. “That indeed is a very
meritorious act.” He rose to leave muttering under his breath Sadhu
Sadhu. His mission was accomplished.