Romesh, born in London to Sri Lankan parents, grew up in the absence of any cousins or Sri Lankan friends of his age to spend his childhood. Therefore, his parents devoted extra time with him with lots of love and care. Against this backdrop Romesh was taken to Sri Lanka on holiday often.
He was only six years old when he first visited his grandparents’ house in Kalutara. The sunshine, beaches and especially playing ‘koom pittu’ (sand cakes) and sand castles were what he enjoyed with a poor village boy of his age, who visited his grandmother’s house, with his mother who worked as a daily domestic help.
The servant’s little son gave Romesh half a smile, while wiggling his body and biting his nails with shyness or being nervous. Body language indicated that the young lad was keen to communicate and play with Romesh. Naturally the poor child was bored to tears while his mother had to spend all day laboured in the kitchen cooking to fight a survival game in the absence of his father. During school holidays Nandawathie had to bring the boy with her to work place, as there was no one to look after the child at home. Her husband had died of a lung cancer, which left her helpless and having to survive while bringing the little boy up.
Romesh started to play by himself with a tennis ball at first, running up and down the spacious lawn while he enthusiastically looked at Romesh from the corner of his eye, being shy to come forward. Obviously there was a language barrier, the boy could not understand English and Romesh could not converse in Sinhala although except he understood only a few words.
“Come…! Come..!!. You want to play…..”?Romesh invited the little fellow signallinghim to come towards him. Hesitatingly the boy started to take one step forward at a time.
“ Come…. Don’t be shy.” Romesh said to the boy who could not understand English but he gathered what Romesh wanted him to do, from the body language.
As the boy hesitatingly approached, Romesh threw the ball to the garden, and the boy ran quickly after it and brought it back and dropped at Romesh’s feet, akin to an action by a puppy dog that would play with his master.
Seemingly as Romesh’s holiday came to an end, the two had become best of friends by that time. The different languages they spoke did not hinder their communication or playing together, nor did any class distinction enter their innocent minds. They became close to each other like iron filings to a magnet. At the end of the holiday Romesh sat inside the car, with a drawn sad face waiting to leave for the airport. Two tear drops rolled down the village boy’s eyes expressing his inner feelings, which millions of words could not express! Finally, it was time to bid good bye to his new-found friend forever, Romesh thought. Perhaps that very temporary bond between Romesh and the poor boy made him think about Sri Lanka quite often than ever.
When children in the UK reach the age of sixteen, they consider themselves as adults and try to be independent and do whatever they wish to do, most of the time disregarding their parents’ advices. Romesh’s attitude to life was different. He was brought up with a lot of care and love by his parents, which he reciprocated with respect. Romesh preferred to confine himself to his room most of the time and kept himself busy with serious reading at home.
Once a friend showed Romesh a fountain pen and asked a critical question.
“ Romesh, do you think this was made by someone” ?
“Of course, yes Anton, how can it be otherwise”?
“ Then do you think then, Romesh, that a complex world we live in was created by some force or emerged automatically”? Anton questioned.
That threw Romesh into the orbit of serious thinking to try and understand the complexity of the Universe. He started reading books on science and religion, looking for evidence of a Creator or to understand the Big Bang theory. So much so, that he automatically stepped into a rapid spiritual path, which could otherwise be regarded as an internal spiritual revolution.
One day he sounded to his parents his wish to go to Sri Lanka on his own. His parents most willingly encouraged an arranged everything at his uncle’s star class tourist hotel in Anuradhapura where he would be looked after and receive VIP treatment.
The hotel building was a mixture of oriental and Spanish architecture, which had fifty air conditioned rooms and a large swimming pool in the centre of a delightfully landscaped garden, with full of plants and conspicuous flowers that attracted a variety of local and migrated birds that used to visit the garden. The management of the hotel had got an artist to draw the type of birds that visited the hotel grounds and had fixed those picture birds at the very appropriate places where particular birds would come and perch.
“Thilina, make sure that our London sir is comfortable….. And don’t let him pay for anything that he orders…… bring every bill to me so that I can cancel and initial it…. ok…?” It was the order to the Manager of the hotel – Romesh’s uncle, the Chairman.
For Romesh it became very unusual to see the excitement written on the faces of all the hotel staff, just because he happened to be the nephew of the Chairman of the hotel! He was quite impressed with the hospitality and respect he received from the hotel staff.
Seated on the open veranda and sipping a Papaya drink he could see a young white girl seated on the lawn wearing a black bikini near the swimming pool, surrounded by a group of local youths. She was obviously a foreign tourist, petite and had long straight hair cascading to her shoulders. With layers of make-up and creams, her face shone like a mirror even during late hours in the afternoon. She wore blood red lipstick and a straw hat to avoid sunshine. The local youths were certainly entertaining her and Romesh could hear rows of laughter from time to time coming out of the crowd.
Walking towards the pool for a swim, Romesh could not avoid hearing the overpowering voice of the girl clearly, which was full of coarse language such as ‘Jesus Christ’, ‘Jesus wept’, ‘What the bloody hell’, ‘ for God’s sake’ etc, which seemed to tickle the boys to great lengths, but vibrated inside Romesh’s ear drums as painful frequencies. Romesh walked pass the girl quickly and dived into the pool as if to ease off his pain emanating from the girls mouth.
On Friday evenings, the tourist hotel had its weekly entertainment in the form of a dance with a live band performing. Romesh was a lover of Country and Western music , and it made him automatically walk towards the band area to take a glimpse. It was such a coincidence and unintentional that he found himself standing adjacent to the table where the tourist girl was seated and sipping a Vodka and Gin. Romesh greeted her:
“ Good evening”
“Hi, good evening…. come… come and sit here….. No one is sitting here….,” the girl responded.
He sat down with a nod and a smile.
“I saw you once or twice in the garden area and in the pool too. You don’t look local to me. ”The girl said.
“Yes, you are correct to a certain extent. I live in London, but my parents are from Sri Lanka.”
“Glad to meet you. I am Helen, Helen Volkenstein,” she chucked her paw with a greeting smile.
“ I am Romesh Merennage”
“ Are you British then”?
“ Well, technically you can me so, because I was born in London, Paddington”
“How come you have a funny surname as Merennage? All the boys I met were either Perera, De Silva, Mendis, Salgado, Coorey etc
“ Actually I also have a Portuguese name, but I am using my family name as my Surname”.
“ Jesus….! You are a clever dick aren’t’ you”?
“ From your English accent you do not look English to me, am I correct , Helen”?
“ I am half German and half Austrian. My father is Austrian and mother German. What are you doing Romesh in Sri Lanka, I guess you are also on holiday here like me!”
“ Yes Helen, I like Sri Lanka a lot. I have been reading quite a lot about the country and have visited Sri Lanka several times in the past with my parents. This time I thought of adventuring on my own. Have you been to Sri Lanka before Helen?
“ No, in fact, this is my first trip here. My father normally arranges holidays for me across the world, but most of the time I have no inclination to go either, but I do not want to make him unhappy, Romesh.”
“ Good on you Helen”.
“My father is a businessman and he has loads of money. Since I am his only child he goes to town to make me happy.” Pardon me for asking, how old are you Romesh?”
“Just nineteen years old”. But I have never been anywhere on my own. This is the first trip and even that it is to uncle’s hotel”.
“Jesus wept ! After being born in London, and to say that you have never been anywhere on your own! I can’t believe it, just can’t believe it Romesh.
It might come as a surprise, Helen, although I was born in London, my parents have brought me up to appreciate Sinhala traditions and Sri Lankan culture. Do you realise that Sri Lanka has a civilized history of over 2000 years?”
“ Fantastic. But can I tell you something to you Romesh, you sound like a bloody old man. What do you do in London, I suppose you are still studying?”
“ Yes, I just sat for my ‘A’ levels. My past time is reading books on spiritualism. That is my pet subject. What do you think of it. As far as I am concerned I strongly believe in a High Source or Power, whatever labels people attach to it. As otherwise how do you think everything exists harmoniously? Some would like to call it the Nature. What is nature after all Helen?
Look at the nice cool breeze that is touching us right now, can you see that ? But it is there, you know.
“For God’s sake, Romesh, don’t give me that crap . I don’t believe in a God at all. I’ll tell you something Romesh, and if there is a God, why did he make people like me suffer? What’s the use of my father having money and willing to spend a fortune on me just to please me? Even this holiday is part of his work. I am bloody fed up with my life, and money does not make me happy Romesh. Just have a look at my polio leg. Everyone is staring at me when I start to walk. That is why I always try to sit near the pool and pretend to be sun bathing and everything is fine with me. Come on … come on, bloody hell, you also have a look at it and have a good laugh behind my back.”
Romesh gave her a kind look. A puff of perfume she wore engulfed Romesh with the cool breeze that blew from the lake, that swept across the swimming pool. Her perfume was strong and captivating and Romesh kept on looking at her sympathetically for a moment and noticed for the first time her Polio affected leg but did not want to be unkind.
“Well! To tell you the truth, I never noticed your leg Helen. In fact I think you are quite a pretty girl”.
“For God’s sake man, don’t give me that bull. Don’t try to be a hypocrite just to please me and then like all of them go and have a good giggle behind my back at my bloody expense”.
“Helen my dear, I do not have to lie or pretend to be a hypocrite as you very unkindly suggest. What do I gain from it? As I told you before, I find you very pretty and attractive. Physical deficiencies do not affect me Helen. If you are inclined towards spiritualism, I am sure you will at least get some understanding about our journey on this planet.”
“Good God! Don’t give me all that rubbish again. Are you a spiritual guru then- Bloody hell!!”
“No Helen, I have read a lot on spiritualism and have some knowledge about various things and aspects of life. Maybe just because I am only nineteen you might think I am talking a lot of nonsense. But if you want to experience the reality of life Helen, the first thing you need to do is to get rid of your ego – the ‘I’ factor and the ‘my’ feeling”
“What the bloody hell is that, for God’s sake, Romesh?”
“Why do we get angry or sad? It is when our ego is hurt. So, don’t be negative all the time, but start thinking positively; be thankful for what you have already got Helen – a wealthy father, lavish lifestyle, don’t have to work for a living and everything is at your fingertips and you are free like a bird to travel the world over any time, and the only delay or the hitch happens to be only the time that is needed for you to decide! So, life can’t be that bad for you Helen. Think about it for a moment.”
“Jesus O Lord! You are certainly different from the boys I met here. For goodness sake, you can’t behave like a hermit at a young age of nineteen Romesh? Tell me something, will it affect your ego if I ask you to dance with me? Or will your spiritual halo rupture if I ask you to take me out, right now, in this moonlight and show me the old city of Anuradhapura?”
“Not necessarily Helen, but can I ask a personal question from you..?”
“Go on then, for God’s sake, come out with it and make it bloody quick”.
“Helen, why do you keep on swearing all the time? From the day I saw you first, seated on that lawn with a group of boys, the one thing I noticed was your excessive swearing in your speech. Is it because your English vocabulary is limited that every other word in a sentence comes up with a swear word like bloody hell, Jesus Wept or for God’s sake…..? To me it is a total disrespect to God, Helen. In my book God’s name should be sweet on your lips and not let your tongue act like a razor blade”.
“Who bloody cares, Romesh? I told you that I do not believe in a God and I don’t give a damn about him! If he does exist, why on earth did he make me lame?
“My dear Helen, may I repeat again that you should not make your tongue a razor blade all the time?”
There was a sudden pause, and Helen Volkenstein looked at Romesh in a most snooping manner and said:
“Oh boy! I have never come across a young fellow like you Romesh, and never for a moment have I looked at things the way you look at. Thank you for opening my intelligence and I am sorry my dear. I am so bitter about my physical condition, and I get the feeling that the whole world is watching me. What have I done Romesh to be born like this? I did not want to come to this world in the first place and it was not out of my choice, and especially in this condition, and why should I suffer for it, and what is the purpose of this life? I am really confused. Explain to me if you are able to Romesh so that I can understand this big jig saw puzzle.
Romesh felt so sorry for this young girl who was so perplexed. His mind suddenly flashed back to one of the quotations he had read in a spiritual book, which said:
“A bird may fly high up and up, thinking it is his own world and it will never get tired of flying. But there comes a time it will feel tired, and go searching for a tree top to perch to rest for a while. Likewise, those who deny God and say there is no God and they do not believe in a higher power, will one day have to cry and say Oh! God Please help me!”
In Romesh’s mind it was crystal clear why Helen had to suffer from Polio in this life, only to pay back a massive karma that has been following her from her past birth and she was gracefully paying for it in this life with all the other creature comforts.
If she was in the same spiritual wavelength with Romesh, he thought he could have explained to Helen that she was metaphorically ‘under a surgeon’s knife, in life’s operating theatre, undergoing a major surgery, where cutting is painful, yet unknown to her, the SkilfulSurgeon ( the Creator) has given her a strong ‘anaestheticinjection,’ in terms of worldly comforts, so as not to make her feel the pain of the operation, which, undoubtedly is too excruciating.
Pic credit: google photos