Friday, November 12, 2010

Humor Rights

"For your correspondence:"

Pathmananda beamed at the big bold English letters at the top of the A4 sheet which he held in his hand. It registered nothing but bewilderment and a distant sign of an unknown warning. He received this letter via post few minutes ago. It is not magic that he receives letters, but not the very type of this one. He sat on the short wall in the porch of his boutique and kept on looking at computer printed English letters with further bewilderment. It was after some time that he suddenly came out of his trans-like stance and rushed into the other sheet with the Sinhala translation, which was in fact what he's supposed to read.

It was signed by someone whose rank was very much beyond the imagination of Pathmananda. He thought that it is some "Mahaththaya" working for a foreign company, in the same way he would think of anyone whose rank is beyond his imagination, and who would send him letters in English. If he had the ability to decode the tangled Sinhala wording, he would have known that the letter was signed by the Project Officer of a famous International NGO working on Children related issues.

The wording of the letter made no difference to the wording of the sender's rank. Pathmananda, with little schooling, only learnt reading and writing through his day today life. He was not illiterate, but not a match to read and understand this type of Sinhala writing. It was as if a story being twisted and stated from back to front - a riddle of some sort. Every phrase is first thought in English and translated into Sinhala, word by word. It was rather English written using Sinhala letters.

Long before Pathmananda prospered to own a boutique in this distant village, he was a hard working farmer. He remembers the "thun theravili" - riddles made up of twisted words, sorted in three-fold – which himself and other farmer lads were used to debate and solve. But this letter was too complex and too long to be one - a riddle of infinite-fold, perhaps.

Fortunately, he found the school master walking past the boutique and ran to him while apologizing and begging for an explanation at the same time. School master browsed through both letters and spoke.

"This was sent to you by an AN-GEE-O Mahaththaya" he stated.

"Ehemayi sir" (yes sir)

"About your child's welfare…"


"He wants you to comply certain things for the well being of your child"

"We are doing our best for the child sir"

"Are you not sending him to school?"

"Apo no sir. We somehow send Koluwa to school. Learning mathematics is essential for this trade"

"That is not enough. Let me see … " (he reads a bit further) "Aha, do you make your child work for the boutique in the latter part of the day?"

"Certainly, it belongs to him. Although he's young I've already made up the plans for it. He's our only son."

"Mahaththaya is stating that it is against the rule"

"Which rule sir? This land and shop is my 'Sinnakkara' (owned outright) property. We are not illegal traders. Boutique belongs to us"

"Miniho it is not a property issue. But you can't use the labour of your son to run your boutique"

"But then… who else sir? My sister's son is there, but I don't want cousins fighting for property, so I did not get him involved here. But why not my son?"

"Because he is not old enough. You cannot employ under-aged children"

"But of course sir, I do not employ him. As I said boutique belongs to him. I, as the father, have the obligation to teach him how to run the business. Learning business is not that easy sir. You ought to get the feel of it from your young age"

"I don't know, but you better be careful"

"But sir, if I stop getting him involved with the boutique, how will he run it one day? Please see what Mahaththaya suggests for that"

School Master glanced at the side he was reading, flipped it for a glance at its back and said.

"Mahaththaya won't say that, this is one of those letters sent by them you know. He has stated that your act is against the law and further action will be taken if it is not stopped soon. That's all."

"They will say, but it is us who care for our kids. Mahaththaya's kids must be going to a big school in the town. Regardless how good they are at studies, they are always assured of jobs after finishing school. Only I know the hardship that I went through to get this business running. I want my son to have a way of living when he finishes studies at whatever level it turns out to be."

"That is true. Ane manda (I don't know). You better be careful. Mahaththaya has sent this to the Child Authority while copying it to you"

"Is that so? Huh, I know what to do. I will settle this with Mahaththaya"

"Now don't go into quarrel my man. You know they work for these An-Gee-Os and police is always there to protect them"

"No no, not that way. You know I'm toddy-tapping the Kitul tree in my backyard as a hobby. And whenever Kalu Appu gets lucky with poaching, I'm gonna call Mahaththaya out for a gala evening here. Dada mas (wild meat) and Kitul toddy will do the trick"

"Well, be careful. These days are not like old days. People have become so wicked now. You may end up arrested for bribing"

"But sir, I ought to do this somehow. It's my child's future at stake. I have to settle the matter with Mahaththaya at any cost"

Several houses and a marshland away, at his new quarters, tired Project Officer Nandadeva sat on the arm chair with his laptop. Hot breeze of dry zone brew sweat off his head faster than the toddy brewing of the Kitul flower in Pathmananda's backyard. He had a hard time at field after assuming duty. He had to gather information on the abuse of child rights in the distant hamlet he's sent to. And he reported it to the relevant authorities, copying it to those who are involved with right abuse. And now he's preparing the report to his chief which in turn will be sent to the international donors for further beef up of their pockets. Nandadeva found that this document has a greater meaning than everything else that he wrote on past few days. Child Authority may or may not take actions, but surely this will suffice for his donors to take the specific actions of theirs, which will in turn strengthen the ever weakening economy of his own.

Nevertheless, regardless of economic perspectives, he was proud for what he did. Nandadeva, since his graduation, has been working on the human rights related issues. As a born activist he knew no limits of protest to stop right violations no matter how hard it is. He was a little concerned whether it is correct to stop the involvement of children like Pathmananda's son, in their parents' work. Something native in Nandadeva kept on nagging, but all the rest that was more rational, well-read and alian, assured that he did the right thing.

Nandadeva had his own matters to bother. Shehara, his school-going daughter, has found part-time work at the American fast food outlet in town. Although Nandadeva supports for all the basic needs of his children, the daughter likes to find some pocket money and be independent to some extent. Some of her school friends are already working there, so she's really looking forward for a fun time. Although she has just passed legal age limits, there were many other concerns in employing a teenager.

"Isn't this unfair child labor??" he pondered.

"Cannot be. If so the people in the west will never allow it"


  1. Your beautifully articulated story shows the problem of looking at everything with a 'western eye'. It reminded me of an argument I once had with a friend- about child soldiers. My friend happened to be a leftist; she said "In fighting for freedom, it's OK to involve children.."
    The way the things are 'coloured' by what we believe in!

  2. They fight hard for their ideals. So we find themselves always biased. Up to this point it is ideological purity. But the ideology of the individual clashes with the donor. Most so called "pro-tiger" NGO operatives themselves didn't line up with the extreme end that they pretended to protect. But they were driven by their higher ranks.

    When money rolls in between these extremist ideologies the end result is inevitable chaos.

    Didn't mean that all NGO, HR activists are the same though.

    Thanks for dropping into this Nalini.

  3. Well written Sujeewa. With western glasses things are different. You have proven talents in both languages.

    This is so complicated matter. Child abuse and using his labour in family matters ..we cant just draw lines.

  4. Human rights and politically lefts! The two extremists in this world. Although their contribution to the humanity was great, its too much now!
    As Bindi said "This is so complicated matter" සෑහෙන්ඩ බොන්න වෙනව මේ ගැන කතාකරනවනං..:D

    BTW this proves you are not Taboo..:D

  5. Well, this is really interesting. Came here via Bindi's Lotus Pond. Well said and well written, Sanjeewa. There should have been more readers. Maybe if you continue writing there'll be more readers.
    Keep writing Sanjeewa, we'll come to read.
    Best of luck!