There is nothing prettier than a lighted Atapattam lantern against a dark sky. Driving from Rajagiriya to Battaramulla the streets are lighted up by pairs of yellow, orange, green lanterns. There is street lighting along that road but no lights. The contractor is Sumal Perera, I have been told. He lives in the neighborhood on Tickell road. Should drop by sometime and check but that is another story.

For Poson it works out. Rain clouds are keeping the moon out and the lanterns stand against the dark sky giving a soft light. It is almost as if Colombo is celebrating quietly because the North and East has become a killing field and it hurts too much. Unfortunately that is not the reason. Vesak was louder as ever. We live in the city the rest of the country we want to own but we don’t care about them big city south celebration. In contrast Poson seems to be quieter and regional.

Lalitha went home for Poson. After the new-year break she opted out of the Vesak holiday to get a longer break for Poson. Her sister and her husband had bought a new van and invited the whole family to go to Mihintale for Poson. They always go to Mihintale for Poson, but usually it is bump bump all the way in a tractor trailer.

Lalitha carried a light bag for the trip and was dressed quite tastefully. She is very frugal but does not mind spending a little for fair &lovely cream, nail polish and lipstick. She has enough clothes to last a life time. She bought them when she worked in the middle-east. She owns several gold chains, pendants, bangles and rings. Most of those are buried in the backyard ready to be pawned if she needs cash. She also has fixed deposit with the bank. She married a cad on her return from middle-east and he promptly stole her stuff. She separated from him after nine months and the divorce was finalized last month. The court ordered him to pay her several lakhs for the jewellery he stole. There is another suitor but he sounds fishy too. For now she is happy to be by herself. Lalitha will buy two tickets for this trip home, one for herself, and other to put a bag between her and cads who would harass her or steal from her.

Oldest brother died of drinking. The wife was in the middle-east. She came back and married another man but went back again leaving the daughter and son with the step father. The girl told the teachers about troubles at home and the teachers found the boy at home with a concussion. Lalitha and mother went to the police and brought the two children home. They went through a the process to adopt the children in Lalitha’s name. The magistrate explained her responsibilities in detail and warned her that the courts will be watching. Our justice system seems to actually work, sometimes.

The boy is not quite right. He stares into distance but the girl sounds chirpy and normal. She is the older one at thirteen. She sent me a card for Vesak. There was a heart and a sprig of roses in the cover. Brother Valentine clearly had a hand in the design, but the verse said roses were ‘meth mal’ or flowers of loving kindness. Works for me. Her card stands on my desk and heartens me everytime I look at it.

The second brother was ordained when he was about eight. Left with eight children after her husband’s death, Lalitha mother entered the son into monkhood against his wishes. She wanted him to get an education. Education he did get. He got his degree from Rajarata university to make the mother happy and gave up the robes soon after. He managed to keep his teaching job at the pirivena and continues to looks after the guru-teacher priest with devotion, but is relieved to be out of the robes. For New Year he saved up and bought gifts for the whole family, mother, siblings, their spouses and children. It cost Rs: 19,000. He comes from Anuradhapura once a week to see the mother.

The mother is alone in the house with three grand children, because Lalitha is the wage earner for this remaining mother-daughter part of the family, and Lalitha’s works away from home. Apart from the two children Lalitha adopted, there is a third who was sent by the sister who lives in Kebethigollawa, a border town, for fear of tiger attacks. The grandmother wakes up early to pack lunches for the children. The children eat rice for breakfast also. When they come back from school they are hungry again and a make a beeline for the kitchen to eat the leftovers from lunch. They do their chores, study, have an early dinner and go early to bed. There is a TV but they are not allowed to watch teledramas. The children bike to school. The bikes were given by PanLanka or some such NGO that seems to be quite active in the area.

The youngest brother works in a government farm in Anuradhapura. He never came home for the last three years. There is something strange about his behaviour that the family can not quite figure out. An older sister seems to be a fixture in the middle-east. She comes back home, runs out of money and goes back. She does not seem to manage her money as well as Lalitha. The most interesting one is the youngest sister. She is the entrepreneur in the family and the van that the family will use for the trip is hers. She and her husband collect produce from the neighborhood and sell them in Kurunegala, and many more enterprises. All except the sister in ME will join the trip. Everybody will chip in. Lalitha and mother will make Imbul Kiribath and rice packets for the trip. It is going a quietly happy Poson for the family.

Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu.

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