Martin Wickramasinghe talks about
his unusual "friends" and the machinations of landlords
Today, of course, I live in a world of my own construction. I believe it is not something I deliberately built but one that came up on account of married life. Since the many people were unemployed, Wijewardena didnít pay anyone working in his newspapers enormous salaries. My salary was sufficient to maintain a modest lifestyle. It was not enough to educate the children and to pay for medical expenses in the event of someone falling ill.
I got a modest income from my books. I derive boundless pleasure from writing. When I am not working at the newspaper, I write books. I gradually moved away from friends who are not interested in literature, science and philosophy.
One requires free time to enjoy the company of friends. It is rarely that someone who lives in the city without a big salary gets any free time. I got used to enjoy reading and writing books much as one enjoying associating with friends.
Books are extremely good friends. Some books are like friends who enjoy good conversation. Some are like erudite scholars. Some like traditional and beautiful women who are wont to be coy. Some books resemble pretty women with overflowing hearts. Reading such books sometimes gives the pleasures akin to those one experiences by being with a beautiful woman in a carnal sense.
Such pleasure I derived from reading the French novelist Gustav Flaubertís "Sentimental Education". My mind was excited when I read Tolstoyís "Anna Karenina" in my young days. I felt that "Anna Karenina" was superior to Flaubertís novel. I did not attempt to investigate the reasons for this feeling. I considered those novels that persuaded one to examine the deeper meanings pertaining to life superior to novels that provoked one to dwell on personal desires and perceptions.
Our society, plagued with the shallow elements of Sinhala Buddhist culture as well as the lowest things in Western culture, is like a novice critic. As a result I was the victim of all kinds of complaints, insults and ridicule. Other Sinhala authors suffered even more than I did. My sense of detachment helped me survive all this and work.
Once, while I was talking with a Christian who lived opposite the house where I lived down Templars Road in Galkissa, a bhikkhu arrived. The moment I saw his face, I thought he had to be a crafty individual. He joined our conversation.
"They donít even know Sinhala, much less Pali and Sanskrit," he said.
It was my friend who provoked him to say this. He said that both Kumaranatunga and Gunawardena Mudalindu were well versed in Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit.
"They both know the classical languages very well," I added.
"They donít have a proper knowledge. Knowledge that is not obtained by associating with sanghaya vahansela is but knowledge gathered from here and there," the bhikkhu said.
I lived alone in that new house in Galkissa for around three months. I had expended much energy to find a house and I got this one rather cheap. It had been unoccupied for two months. When I went to see the house, the neighbours told me, "this house is haunted".
A member of a family that had lived there six months previously had been frightened by a ghost and had died suddenly. After that no one had wanted to rent the place. I did not like to live in a house boxed in by other houses. This house captured my interest because there was a mango tree, a coconut tree and a biling tree, and because the house was in a piece of land half an acre in extent.
Since I went to see the house when the sun was dispelling the darkness of the world, the ghost stories did not scare me. The squirrels frolicking in the trees and the demalichchas feeding in the garden reminded me of the village. A polkichcha perched on the biling tree made me recall the belief among villagers that the bird was an avatar of the Reeri Yaka.
After I had been there for three months, my wife and children, who were living in the village, joined me. Paulis told me that I should not bring children to live in a haunted house until I had been living there for a couple of months. He was a compositor at the Dinamina and came by to keep me company.
Before seven months had passed after the rest of the family joined me, the landlord wanted the house back. "I donít have a place to stay and I want to occupy this house," he said. Believing him, I found another house on the Galle Road with great difficulty. For a long time after moving to the new house, I used a set of rubber ear plugs purchased from Cargills.
Three months later, my wife and I took a walk down Templars Road. It was occupied not by the landlord but another family. We met the lady of the house and talked with her briefly.
"How much is the rent?" I asked her.
"It comes to ninety five rupees. How much did you have to pay?"
"The landlord is a tricky customer. But he talks like a small child."
"Are there ghosts in this house," I asked, amused.
"The people in the house over there told us this house was haunted. We are yet to see a ghost. Were there ghosts when you lived here?"
"Ghosts are scared of us. It was we who chased away the ghosts in this house."
"That man is very cunning," my wife told me as we left. "He chased us away saying he wanted to live there. He gave us the house cheaply in order to chase away the ghosts."
Not used to trickery, my understanding of things were
somewhat made broader by this manís deception. The incident became etched in
my mind. Such experiences can be used for self-protection only by preventing
them from becoming engraved in the mind, letting them go. Or else, they
should be dipped in my mind and allowed to dissolve like milk with water.
|NEWS | POLITICS | DEFENCE | FEATURES | OPINION | BUSINESS | EDITORIAL | CARTOON | SPORTS|