By Helasingha Bandara
The following is a true story.
(August 16, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The tomb appearing like a small Buddhist stupa was discoloured with time. The green moss that had been encroaching on the tomb failed to hide the plaque of beautiful round Singhalese letters that said “Dissanayaka Nawarathna Mudiyanselage Mudalihami hitapu Aarachchila (retired Village-Headman). Birth 1888, Death 1948.
Dissanayaka Nawarathna Mudiyanselage Mudalihamy alias Mudalihamy Dissanayaka was born in 1888 in a remote village called Dodangollegama in the Nikaweratiya region. He was the only child of his father, Mudiyanse Korala of Hulawa. He had a half brother whose name was Malwila Sri Brahmana Wanninayaka Thennakoon Mudiyanselage Thennakoon Banda. Mudalihamy Dissanayaka married Abeysingha Mudiyanselage Ranmenika of Nawana and settled in Nawana as the Village Headman. They had four sons, three daughters and thirty two grandchildren, most of whom have remained illiterate and unsuccessful. Some of his great grandchildren have done better.
He was blind in one eye and was known as Potta Arachchila (Blind Village-Headman, referred to as PA hereafter in this article). PA became famous not for the blind eye but for his relatively good education, extremely good knowledge of the law of the country, his acumen for just rule and his sharp brain. Diminutive though, PA had an air of authority about him and the respect that he earned from the villagers was a mix of honour and fear. He was well known and well connected that he managed to marry his children into respected families of the area.
PA was feeble with illness when he retired from government service. At this point the Elagammillawa Korala, his distant cousin, approached him with a brilliant plan of how to make both of them richer. Korala had come across a man from Patha Rata (low-country) who knew how to make two ten rupee notes out of one (counterfeiting currency). The plan was to double their wealth.
Although the Singhalese were generally known to be foolish, the folks of the up-country regions have truly been gullible. The country was broadly demarcated as low-country and up-country. The inhabitants of the up-country regions assumed superior status over the low-country people for some inexplicable reason while frequently falling victim to the sophisticated cunning of the low-country traders.
The agreement between the two cousins was to collect as much money by a certain date. PA did not have as much cash as the Korala had. The Korala agreed to lend him more money to equal PA’s share with that of the Korala’s. Thus PA pawned all his lands to the Korala to generate more cash. The two bundles of ten rupee notes of equal size were made and kept under lock and key in the drawer of the Korala’s writing table (liyana mese) until the due date.
When PA arrived at Korala’s house on the fateful day Korala had sent his household away on the pretext of various missions. PA made sure he arrived after the sunset at Korala’s residence to avoid village gossip. The Korala greeted the cousin with his usual friendly manner and told him “Pathaya denatamath soldora uda weda” (the man from the low-country is already busy in the attic). This brought a wishful smile to PA’s lips. The magician had already told them that the operation would take an entire night. The old civil administrators settled down on their reclining chairs in the Manorhouse of the Korala. Many Jaffna cigars were finished before the tired old men dozed off in their easy chairs. It was dawn when finally the Korala woke up first and made it upstairs. The Pathaya had disappeared. With him the two bundles of ten rupee notes were gone forever.
Somehow the story got out and it kept the village poet busy for some time, writing on the hot subject of forgery (Salli Achchu Geseema-counterfeiting currency). The posters (Kela Paththara), with a newly composed poem on them went up around the two villages. The poem described how Potta Aarachchila fell from grace to disgrace losing all his savings and land. Instead of earning riches, he earned from the village poet another alias “Achchu Pottaya”.
Achchu Pottaya was none other than my grandfather and Palitha Range Bandara’s maternal great grandfather.
The moral of the story is, excessive greed is disastrous for individuals or nations.
Note: The local administrative hierarchy in the upcountry regions of Sri Lanka during the colonial administration were Disawas (probably similar to the status of a current Government Agent), Koralas, Aarachchilas and Vidanes in descending order.
-Sri Lanka Guardian
By Helasingha Bandara