Ranjani de Silva

Those days when my father was a little boy, village life was intertwined with myth and legend and all sorts of superstitions, paranormal experiences imagined or otherwise. Village people believed in ghosts, evil spirits and evil eye and all sorts of `metaphysical` phenomena. Many elderly villagers had actually `seen` or experienced ghosts of one form or other. They believed that physical or mental disease occurred as a result of the action of evil spirits because they could not think of any other explanation for these every day occurrences. They had never heard of bacteria or viruses let alone that these organisms can cause disease. Mental illness was beyond their comprehension; there was no other explanation but the action of evil spirits. Kattadiya or witch doctor claimed to be able to get rid of evil spirits or the effects caused by evil spirits by magic. The main means of getting rid of evil spirits was to enact an all night thovil ceremony with incense burning, drums, dancing and chanting to expel the devil from the body of the affected person. Usually all the able bodied villagers helped and participated in the ceremony. It cost a considerable a mount of money and the kattadiyas made a good living out of it.

There were several well-known evil spirits whom the villagers knew by name from their appearance or their actions. A well-feared female evil spirit, Mohini always appeared carrying a little child. She usually accosted lone males near the village cemetery, at nighttime of course, and would beg them to look after the child for a while. If you agreed to her request it was usually your end, and you would suffer for the rest of your life with various mental and physical illnesses; that is, if you did not die then and there of fright!. The best way of avoiding her was to make sure you never met her- accidentally or otherwise- i.e. never to go near a cemetery alone and/or at nighttime. If by any chance you happen to see a woman, a pretty woman with long curly hair carrying a child at night time near the cemetery---RUN for your life, NEVER NEVER NEVER comply with the request to carry the child for her. This was the advice given to many vulnerable young males of that era. They were strictly advised never to succumb to her charms. Therefore a well-known dare at that time among young men of the village was to walk through the village cemetery alone at midnight!! A game of "chicken"!

When my father was a little boy, one day his grandmother decided to attend an all night pirith ceremony at the village temple. My father accompanied her to the temple. All night pirith ceremonies are grand affairs attended by almost all the village people. But it was very boring to a little boy; perhaps that is why he decided to play with the other children in the temple compound. The temple and its compound were really crowded and by the time he decided to find his grandmother, he could not find her any where within the temple compound. By this time it was near mid night, and he should have gone to the priests and asked to be put up for the night in a corner of the temple or told an elder about his plight. But he was a village boy and he knew the village like the back of his right hand and so he decided to walk home on his own without informing anyone. It was about a mile to his home AND he had to walk past the village cemetery. Those days there were no electric or gas lights and in the villages there was no way that the roads and paths that crisscrossed the village be lit by any means. Although the temple and compound were well lit by myriad oil lamps he had to walk home in the dark. Village people usually carried oil lanterns if they had to go anywhere in the dark.

Main means of `sophisticated` transport those days was the bullock cart. Only the rich people of the village had bullock carts. Therefore people walked every-where for miles and they were very healthy and hardy, and walking several miles a day was not a problem. As I mentioned earlier, my father had to walk home alone past the cemetery and he had no lantern. Children brought up in the villages were used to the dark and he was not scared otherwise he would not have set off on his own. At that time being a very young boy he did not know about Mohini. Only young men were warned about her. When he approached the village cemetery he saw a bullock cart in the distance coming towards him. He was able to see the lantern attached to the cart swaying in the dark and hear the footfall of the bull. When the cart came nearer, quite innocently he ran up to the cart and asked the carter 'Have you seen my grandmother walking home this way?` He was rather surprised by the carter's reaction to this question. The carter screamed and whipped his bull frantically to run for his life.

My father arrived home without further incident and slept in the verandah so as not to wake up his parents. The following morning when his grandmother could not find him at the temple she was not unduly worried because those days there were no paedophiles or child abductors (only ghosts bothered them). She came home to find him fast asleep on the verandah floor. The following morning when he told his elders about the carters strange reaction the previous night did he get the explanation that the carter was frightened because he thought that Mohini had sent her child to entice him! Later on in the day they heard through the village grapevine that a young man of the village had met Mohini's child near the cemetery and was suffering from high fever and chills as a result. A hastily arranged thovil ceremony was to take place that night to cure the young man.

To this day I do not know whether my father's family offered any explanation to put the record right. My father told me that when he was older and a young man of the village 'dare devil club' his friends had dared him to walk across the cemetery several times and he had won every time and never met Mohini or her child.

The above incident is true and actually happened during the early part of the twentieth century when Robert de Silva (born March the 3rd 1915) was growing up in a village by the name of Hirimbure in Southern part of Sri Lanka, about 5 miles distance from the city of Galle.

Robert died fifteen years ago on the12th of December 1984 at the age of 70, of pulmonary embolism as a complication of deep vein thrombosis. By the time of his death we were living in a different world from his childhood or so he used to say.....

Ranjani de Silva, his eldest daughter put pen to paper in the millennium year of 2000 to preserve for posterity the family history of Hirimbura Gamage de Silva family.

EDITORS NOTE :The above story was written by Ranji and was only very very slightly edited. The style is her own...Robert de Silva lived life to the fullest..Ed

©Gyan and Ranji Fernando 2000

Robert de Silva
CIRCA 1940

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