I always have this gloomy and guilty conscious feeling when visiting my ancestral home in Ambalangoda. Every year, my wife Rekha reminds me of my duty and for the last two years, I could not spare a minute to listen to her naggings as I was working very hard to win the heart of my boss in favor of a promotion. This year, I could not neglect her earnest request since my mother also had sent me several letters informing that it is necessary to clear and finalize all the issues regarding the deed and father’s last will. It was a long tiresome journey and I was suffering from a throbbing headache so, I changed seats with Rekha and gave her the wheel.
My son, Bhasuru woke me up saying “Daddy wake up, we are at Grandma’s”. My mother was standing at the doorstep waiting for us. My son and wife following me first took the blessings from her before stepping into the house. She burst into happy tears welcoming us and I sneaked into my room as I always feel awkward and disturbed in such overwhelmingly emotional situations. My room had not changed a bit. It felt the same like fifteen years ago. My brother’s family and the sister’s family also joined us at the dinner and Amma had laid a very interesting dinner table which made me feel both young and old at once.
“Putha, Anil’s three-month almsgiving is tomorrow. We should pay a visit. The lawyer is coming in the evening” Amma said.
“Which Anil?” I asked in amaze.
“Don’t you remember? I think I told you that Anil, Shyama’s son died in April. Cancer took him. Doctors couldn’t save. His cancer had already spread all over the body”.
I was not shocked by hearing Anil’s death because the “death” was not an unusual visitor to his family. His house had a special label in the village and everyone mentioned it as the “Treasure House”. However, I was clueless why the villagers keep calling it by that name as the house’s appearance did not do any justice to what it was called. Treasure House was painted in white and all the doors and
windows were shut irrespective of day or night. I hardly saw a human soul living in that ghostly house. No relative showed up at the Treasure House and it seems like it had locked all the secrets behind its walls.
Anil was about my age but he never attended school. When I was studying to sit for Advanced Level Examination, he used to take the cattle out into the fields so that they can graze. He lived with his father, lunatic uncle and feeble aunt who always falls sick. The death had already rung the bell for his mother who used to work in the Middle- East and his grandparents. One day, a neighbor woman rushed to our home dying to report a mouth-watering gossip about the Treasure House. She said that Anil had found fainted in the field and he was possessed. He had gone to fields after eating fried pork and the medicine prescribed by the doctor at the dispensary had been of no use. So, the shaman had come to see him. She left our home assuring to come back with the latest update.
“Nona, shaman tells that Anil is possessed by his mother’s spirit. Remember the day we heard of Shyama’s death? Her body came in a sealed coffin. Anil also went with his father and uncle to Colombo when they were summoned to identify the body. Somehow, Anil had sneaked into the room and had seen Shyama. Just think, how hard it would be to see something dreadful like that for his age? Unfortunate child!” she sighed.
“So, has he come to his senses?”
“Only after the shaman had knotted a blessed amulet. Before that, he was no less than a devil. His tongue was out up to his chest. The eyes were as big as oranges. He had crushed all the vases, pots and pans. Jeewa, his aunt said me that when Anil was in the field, he had felt something had just passed touching him.”
“Like long hair. Shyama also used to have a very long hair remember? Her husband was only able to identify her dead body thanks to her hair.”
“All the misery began with the treasure trove” My mother sighed.
That night I could not sleep as my mind was heavily disturbed. I stayed up the whole night listening to pirith chanting on my mini radio. The next day, I heard that the shaman is going to perform an exorcism to cast out the evil spirit from Anil’s body. I went to the treasure house to give a hand. I was exhausted by the evening from working at a stretch and lack of sleep last night. Anil was locked up in a room the whole day. The exorcism was scheduled to start by midnight. The shaman had given
a long list of stuff needed for the task and I was sent with Kasun to pluck flowers from five types.
“Dude, do you know why that house is called “Treasure House”? I asked him while coming back.
“Once, my Achchi told me that Anil’s grandfather had found a treasure trove while digging the land. That treasure pot had been circulating all over this area. You know, it was first visible to my grandfather. But he could not even lay a finger. That treasure pot had just sprung up from the land and had sunk into the earth in just a second as fast as a bolt of lightning.”
“Seriously? Do u believe in such nonsense?”
“Nonsense, my foot, it’s the true dude. Anyway, the heir to that treasure trove was Anil’s grandfather. He took it after performing a special oblation to the genie. There is a belief that when a person digs up a treasure trove, he must offer a considerable proportion to the temple. However, Anil’s grandfather cheated and offered less. Also, he took himself the largest portion and had not divided the money equally among his siblings. They had quarreled a lot. From that day onwards, misery dawned on their family. A few days later, a venomous snake bit him and he died on the spot. His wife fell sick strangely after about two months of his death and died in sleep. The curse did not spare even the grandfather’s two brothers and the sister. The entire family is turned to dust. And you already know what happened to Anil’s mother and the rest of the family. His uncle is a lunatic and aunt is spared only because she is adopted.”
What will happen to Anil?”
“I don’t know, but I think his time has come to face his family’s fate”.
“But it was not his fault, not even his mother. God is unfair”
“Shhh… mind your words. Do you want to get yourself killed? There are many gods, not one. They are everywhere and they have hired some other gods to report what earthmen are talking. They know everything. Anil’s grandfather misused and robbed the gods’ property. God can punish him and his family to any extent he is pleased. Dear Thirty-three million deities, I have said nothing against you. May you take all my merits and attain Nirvana”
By that time, we had reached the Treasure House and again caught up in the hurl of busyness. The shaman came with a rooster. Its destiny was to beheaded as an exchange to Anil’s spirit. The exorcism began on time. Anil was seated on a mat and the shaman was sitting right next to him humming prayers to the gods and pleading them to show mercy to Anil’s poor soul. It seemed that the gods were not interested in Anil’s affair at all. It took more than two hours and hundreds of very lengthy pleadings to get their attention. The shaman stood up and started to play the drums like crazy. At once, Anil hooted and started to walk like a lady. The the shaman continued playing drums while Anil was dancing. Then, the shaman stopped playing drums, took a cane to his hand, and hit Anil. Anil groaned in anger. The shaman spattered some holy water on his body. Anil curled in pain and tried to run but he was seized by the shaman’s helpers. There were lengthy negotiations between the shaman and Anil’s evil spirit about abandoning Anil’s feeble body. The shaman had to put a lot of effort on explaining the mother’s spirit that she is doing no good to her son in this way and if she really loves him, she should leave his body. Finally, she agreed but on a few conditions. She requested her family to organize an almsgiving ceremony on behalf of her since she is currently in a very dark place with the rest of the family. Next was that she will leave the body only after eating some “kevums”. The shaman ordered Anil’s father to bring a plate of kevums and Anil devoured three plates in less than ten minutes. The exorcism concluded after chanting a few other prayers and then, Anil fainted. The shaman accompanied by his two helpers and few villagers including Anil’s father went to the graveyard and slit the throat of the rooster.
I did not hear much about Anil as I left the village after a year since that incident. I was informed that his lunatic uncle too could not escape fate and died a few years later. According to the latest update given by my mother, Anil gave up his job as a shepherd and left the village for work. He married a girl whom he met when he was working in a construction site in Anuradhapura but they were childless. However, they have been leading a very religious life ever since. The aunt still lives.
The sleep did not reach me until late at night. I woke up late the following morning and I heard that the children were playing in the house yard. When I went to the kitchen, Rekah and my mother were preparing some kevums to take to the alms
giving ceremony. Nanda, my sister brought me a cup of tea and told me to eat some “pani walalu” which was on the table. She knows that I’m greedy for them. My whole family has united again after a long time although it is not Sinhala new year. I remember the good old times we missed and very few days we spent together after getting married. When I opened the lid, the sweets were attacked by a colony of ants. Millions have died soaked in the sugar syrup. Nalaka, my brother who peeked over my shoulder, said “together we thrive or together we die”.
Written by Aparna Shavindi Kulathunga
Illustration by DRG