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Chandrika and I | Erik Solheim & I | My Part in the Census | Census Again! | Not Cricket! | I Crossed The Line | My Part in my Funeral | The Gamarala and the Temple | Gamarala and the Puhul | Two men and the bear | Nari Bena (GM and the Jackal) | Incense and Candlewax | Fasting & Feasting |

the mark of the beast
My father and The Devil

Part three of a nostalgic series of essays and stories on growing up in the grim shadow of the Church....almost entirely humour and no Vitriol.
"Nostalgia (n) regretful or wistful memory of an earlier time…" Oxford Dictionary.
I first heard this story from my mother with additional material from my father. The additional material was of course my father's own explanation of events, which I believe. This incident involved my father nearly dying (according to my mother) and also involved a broken mercury filled thermometer.
Mother might now have forgotten this story but perhaps this might jog her memory. I must add that at the time of writing this account my mother is alive, well (within reason), rather fussy but most importantly compos mentis.
This incident must have happened in late 1949 or early 1950. My father and mother got married in 1948 and I was born in 1949. At that time we lived in a house at Hendala, a suburb of Colombo to the north of the city. For obvious reasons I can't remember this house. Salvadore Dali claims to remember the time he was in his mother's womb... I can't..... Senor Dali must have taken LSD. Sorry, I digress!

My father was a teacher in one of the Catholic schools in Colombo. It was either St Joseph's or St Peter's but that doesn't really matter. The principal of the school was Fr Peter Pillai and as such was my father's boss. I am not sure what sort of working relationship that my father had with his boss, but having known my father and his temper for upwards of forty years I don't think it was a happy one.
Even in those post-colonial polite days my father had no hesitation in calling a spade a spade! He had very little respect for the Catholic clergy; a trait which I seem to have inherited! By today's standards his swear words were rather mild but in those days would cause my mother to blanch visibly. In latter years he became bilingual in his swearing but in those days it was mostly English and with words mostly prefixed with "bloody".
Bastard was one of his favourites. Mother was rather distressed when myself and my sisters picked up his vocabulary, with my baby sister Chuti mixing up the word with Basket! She (baby sister Chuti) would refer to the old cane shopping basket as the "Bloody Basket"! Mother would never tell us what the words meant. We looked them up in the old dictionary. That caused us even more confusion!

The incident in question, which I have seem to have left miles behind in my efforts to give you the background, started when my father ran up a high fever. Those were the days before antibiotics and other modern drugs. Mother was of course concerned and no doubt fussed over him. After all they were newly married. Father continued to run a high temperature. Mother took his temperature at frequent intervals with a mercury thermometer. Father's condition became worse and when mother stuck the thermometer in his mouth for the umpteenth time he panicked, started spitting and claimed that the thermometer had broken in his mouth and that, in addition to his fever, he was now going to die of mercury poisoning as well. Mother panicked as usual.

The thermometer was broken of course because father had thrown it out. Meanwhile, father who was lying in bed pointed to an imaginary spot near the foot of the bed and slightly to his left and demanded, "What are these devils doing here?" This reference to devils on the left hand side of the bed convinced mother that father was in his death throes and furthermore he was going to hell. Literally this time!

The Catholics of course believe that at the moment of death Angels gather on the right side of your deathbed if you are going to heaven. The devils on the left if you are going to a barbecue at their place.

I am not sure how this incident actually ended. Mother must have first had hysterics and then called a priest, which would have caused father to lose it completely. Mother probably called Martha Hami instead; a maternal female who lived next door and who probably sorted things out.

Father's explanation of this event is quite simple, interesting and believable. He had a high temp and had delirium, which accounts for the thermometer incident. The thermometer never actually broke in his mouth. He thought it did at that time but in retrospect he admitted that it didn't.

As to the devils it was not really devils that my father saw. In his delirious state my father saw Fr Peter Pillai his boss (complete with cassock and Crucifix) dancing with a short-skirted young Burgher girl at a wild party at the old Grand Oriental Hotel in Colombo!
So naturally my father asked, "What are these Devils doing here?"
This of course begs the question as to what my father was doing at the same wild party in his delirium? Was he with mother or was he with a short-skirted young Burgher girl?! I never thought of asking him that at that time and now it is too late!

the mark of the beast
Chandrika and I | Erik Solheim & I | My Part in the Census | Census Again! | Not Cricket! | I Crossed The Line | My Part in my Funeral | The Gamarala and the Temple | Gamarala and the Puhul | Two men and the bear | Incense and Candlewax | Fasting & Feasting |

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