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.
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!
FR. PETER PILLAI
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
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
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.
DEVILS ARE HERE!
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
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
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
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!