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Sunday, 3 February 2013

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Laugh and live longer

"Can you recognise my voice?" It was a Sunday afternoon when elderly people after a siesta begin to think of others in the same age boat they associated. Some really wish to check the others' existence. "No. I cannot" Politeness debarred me from adding that the voice sounded as one coming out of a deep cavern, so hollow and ghostly.

"That is not strange. I am speaking without my dentures. Misplaced it. Wife busy finding it for even my legs are not functioning now. I am so and so."

He was so matter of fact about a grave matter and I wished to toe the line..."Ah. It is you. Maybe the robbers got away with the precious stuff ....Anyway you remind me of the story of Princess Dona Catherina and her dentures."

He said that he never knew that this famous historical character wore dentures and wanted the story. Here it is as I related it to him.

Rasingh Deiyo

Rather obsessed with this princess who generated the progeny of our last line of Sinhala rulers starting with Rasingh Deiyo. I visited the city of Kegalle many years ago to collect some facts from an authority on her. Let us call him X.

"You have come on a bad day" X haw-hawed. "I have forgotten to wear my dentures today. I cannot speak properly." Not to be outdone, I suggested that he phone his wife and get them down. He agreed but said that I may hear some choice words from the other side. I agreed to be deaf. The conversation some what went on as follows

"I am sending old David just now. Find my dentures, darling. Wrap them carefully and send immediately." Steaming hell opening on the other side and after that, "No. The blessed thing is not there."

"Try under the bed. Or under the mess of newspapers. Don't give up."

Finally they had been retrieved from the kennel to which the dog had removed the pair dutifully. Now washed in Dettol mixed water, old David stood holding them sheepishly along with a note which X read laughing. "Do you like to hear what she has written?"

"If you do not mind" Actually I was dying to know the contents.

"It reads as, Next time you tell me to find parts of your body I will walk to the Divorce Courts"

Sacred vows

Done easily for in this city all the State buildings are so cloistered together that a wife could walk in five minutes to the courts and annul the sacred vows. Try Kegalle for divorce. The Westernised man revealed to me that despite such threats she loved him much. The typical Easterner is more secretive about the love of wives. Once fitted with the dentures there outpoured from X's mouth an avalanche of information on the princess. The account was interspersed with sobs too.

"This queen should get much more national recognition but she does not, just because she was a Roman Catholic. That is glaring religious discrimination. We at Kegalle are, however, mighty proud of her. She chose Welimannathota, a ferry area on the Ma Oya to spend her last years and she lived there till her death. A palace was built for her and that was the only palace the four korales can boast of but today it lies buried under a housing settlement.

There is simply no veneration for her though she was the mother of Rajasinghe II, one of Lanka's most valiant kings. Archaeologist Bell declared it a preserve but today it is a colony".

I could have sobbed along with him but I had to get my facts.

"Why did she come to Kegalle to spend her last days and do the exit?"

"Her physician lived at Hettimulla, a village nearby and that was one of the reasons added to the dry climate she had got used at Mannar. The Kandy cold made her sick and she was also subject to a rare disease, perhaps left over from the small pox infection that killed her whole family." X was thorough with his information.

"Do you like to speak to the descendants of the Veda Mahaththaya who treated her?

He runs his Ayurveda clinic along this same street."

Alacrity

He phoned him and within half an hour the descendant of the Hettimulla Vedamahaththa of the 16th century was in the room. He X told me, was the vice president of the "Queen Dona Catherina Commemoration Committee", hence his alacrity at meeting anybody interested in the queen.

"Can you give me any details of the queen's health as to what you heard from your ancestors?" I ask. "She was in very poor health for she had given birth to seven children by 33 years. She had also been given a strong medicine by foreign doctors that made all her teeth drop". Everybody here seemed to be dropping their teeth.

"Oh Lord", said the Christian X who displayed a picture of the Lord on the wall, "you never told me that. Veda Bandare. So did she wear dentures?"

Veda Bandare weighed the possibility.

"I am not sure if dentures were made at that time. I will probe on it and let you know. Spilbergen's diary could refer to it"

"No, I said, "He refers to her squint eyes but not to dentures"

Dialogue

There was a call and it was from his wife. She was reminding him of a luncheon party.

"Just hang it", he said bravely, "I am in the midst of a very important dialogue on dentures"

"What is there to talk on it. I sent them to you. You....."

"Those are mine. We are talking of the queen's dentures. An issue has sprung whether she used them."

"You remember that when digging the palace grounds they came across some object that resembled dentures" informed the wife.

"Good Lord", exclaimed X as though the end of the world predicted by the Mayan calendar had begun".

What happened to them?" "What happened? I think the dog ate them up"

The howl the doctor emitted reverberated all around this city that rose into prominence with the A1 road and eclipse of the old road. Back to the beginning.

Hello, Hello, Are you listening to Dona Catherina's tale? But the telephone had been left aside probably after the glee of my friend's wife finding his dentures and bringing them to him. This is a story of dentures in toto. Laugh, it will do you good.

 

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