Strolling down memory lane isn’t that much of a bad idea when you have negotiated a hurdle every year and a little unsteadily skip over the 83rd one. Anyway it’s not all that bad for the young man who grew in years and wonders how the heck it happened. Truthfully, it just happened gracefully. Taking everything as it comes pays dividends. Anyway, with all the skids, scrapes, narrow shaves, fun and frolic not forgetting the heartburns and aches, so far so good. But will it last? Don’t bet on it. “You’re telling me.”
Everything went well till somewhere in early 1942. I underwent orthopaedic surgery and returned home in two weeks. We were living in Darlington Gardens adjoining the Benedictine new grounds in Kotahena. There were four identical houses in a row. Fairly large. We lived in one. The college grounds and the four houses were commandeered for war use. We were given twenty-four hours to quit. My Pa was stickler to rules. So! We quit.
This is exactly how they commandeered our house.
I was seated all alone, My Ma, Pa and brothers had gone out. My leg was encased up to my knee in a Plaster of Paris cast. It was lying on a chair in front of me when the war department barged in. A Suddha officer with a crown on each epaulet. Another young British officer and a brown Burgher sergeant. I had a good training about war details. A relation of ours deserted and sought refuge in our house. He was a bombardier in the C. G. A. I knew more about war and tactics. The whole works. I was good as nine-year-old five-star general. I am a nine- year-old annoyer. The Major looked at me in a peculiar way and I reciprocated with one of my war path grins. With that grin even St. Peter would lose all the Pete in Peter. Now he looked at me as if I was Tarzan’s ape. He blasted an order. “Ask this grinning impetuous little puppet where his parents are.” “Sergeant! That’s an order!”
The Sarge being a Burgher was certain by the look in my eyes and grin on my face that I was one of those incorrigibles. Looked me in the eye and winked. He bawled out in army style “Thaththa ko. Amma ko?” His wink gave me fillip. I being a mezzo soprano in the Colombo Chetty Christian Carols of Kotahena winked back and in highest octave I could muster, yelled back. “Thaththa no, Amma no.”
The major slammed both hands on ears and grimaced. He was emitting British Greek under camouflage. Not the local Greek that Ceylonese of all denominations use on their neighbours ad lib. The sarge could not help himself, he came out with a cacophonic guffaw and I followed suit with one of my soprano ones in crescendo. Now the major was livid. “What the hell’s so damn funny?” The major bawled out. The sarge regained his composure and replied in army lingo” Sir! the small boy, Sir! And his answer, Sir!” The major was foaming and frothing in rage that his face turned into an obnoxious colour that reminded me of Uru Peduru’s pork stall where he hangs his skin peeled hog’s legs painted in the swine’s own blood.
The colour took my mind back to what my big brother, the journalist once told me. He said. White folks an anaemic pale yellowish pink when born. White when growing up. Red when angry or our sun peels off their skin like our Uru Peduru does it. Blue when the female of the species kicks their undercarriages. Green with envy. Purple with rage and many more as the occasion arises. For the first time the young lieutenant put his tuppence in. ‘sir! The impertinent, impetuous, cocky little rascal isn’t he, Sir.” The sarge gave me the eye, smiled and turned away. The major added the coffin insult. “The grinning ape.”
Grinning I gave him a surprise that even his buddy Jock who helped him hold on to his hanger would bust his straps laughing. I learned a line from my second big brother who was itching to join the army. So, I let the major have both barrels without ever bothering pull the trigger. “Tut. Tut say what!” Jolly good. Thanks for the compliment. “Oh! Tarzan’s ape speaks.” The major said it in a sarcastic way. I said, “The next time you call me an ape I will tell Tarzan to strangle you with his span clothe.”
“What’s your father’s name?”
Mr. Cecil, and my mother’s name is Mrs. Cecil. “You are impertinent, insolent and simply terrible.” “And all that I am. And by the by. I am Ivan, you know what.” The young lefty was trying to hide his laughter. The Major said, “Oh no.” and I said, “Oh yes! Oh yes! I am he.” Just then mother walked in and the major decided that one from the family was too much. He opened his brief case and handed the document. We found a house in Wellampitiya and shifted. A few weeks later when the Japs bombed us, I was an eyewitness to certain incidents which I could relate in its authenticity.