Saturday Magazine
SPARKLING STORIES FROM KACHCHERIES AND BEYOND
"Those Were The Days"- P.G.Punchihewa
 [ Vijitha Yapa Rs.300]

Book Review
by Tissa Devendra

To those of us who had the good fortune to work in Kachcheries a few decades ago, Punchihewa’s title is singularly appropriate. It calls to mind an era when Government Agents of provinces saw themselves as benevolent , MPs were cordial and peasants humble. And, of course, the country was at peace. I am happy that Punchihewa has joined the quietly increasing ranks of district officers whose memoirs of life in the provinces both inform and entertain the reader. They were foot-soldiers in an army of public officers who went uncomplainingly wherever their transfer orders dictated, however distant, without squealing ‘exiled to Siberia!’ They settled down to provincial life with their families or, if bachelors, in jolly ‘chummeries’. And, of course, they "ran the Province" from that hoary, but unobtrusively efficient, institution

the Kachcheri

via a network of officials reaching right down to every single village. It is no wonder that officers whose competence and skills were honed in the provinces rose to the highest positions in the administration and , like Punchihewa himself, in the international sphere.   Punchihewa has avoided the boredom of a pedestrian, chronological memoir or self- glorifying anecdotes. He has a delightful sense of humour and each chapter is a neatly rounded story of a real event. These are all events arising from official activities such as ‘vap magul’, by-elections and Rest-House lunches. The stories are brief and crisply related , with a straight face but a twinkle in his eye. It is difficult to grade these stories or describe them without giving the away the punch(i) line. I thoroughly enjoyed [2] the story of the electioneering MP , staggering from house to house canvassing votes. It opens a window into an age of simpler electioneering

" the group set out ….to walk from house to house…..As he walked along the gravel path….pretty girls (were) strategically placed to garland him along the route with cheering squads to fete him with cries of Jayaweva." The S/T’s story from a much earlier era is of a’lost & found’ ballot box on which a by-election had to be decided. "I suggested [to the two candidates] that we count the votes in the box to see whether it would change the results [already] announced. They agreed and in their presence, I did a count. It further confirmed the results already announced…….The defeated candidate accepted the results. They shook hands and went away. Both were gentlemen…" A situation barely conceivable today. These ‘adventures’ have taken place in a variety of locales

the Vedda country, ‘vap magulas’, storm-tossed lagoons, a sea-going ferry in Samoa, a Roman taxi and a Warsaw hotel. What I enjoy is the writer’s sly humour and total lack of self promotion. In quite a few stories he even cuts a less than heroic figure.   Each story is free-standing and the reader can dip into the book at any story to which he may be attracted by its catchy or intriguing title. The delightful cartoonish illustrations by Lalith Senanayake add much spice to these charming vignettes by a skilled teller of stories.

 

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