Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Strange tales

Saturday, January 30, 2016


email from Lesley Sirimane

 The Ratnapura district has some of  the largest tea and rubber plantations in the island. When the plantations were owned and managed by the Sterling Companies whose  head  offices were in Mincing Lane London, one of the largest Sterling companies was Carson Cumberbatch and Company Limited who owned very large estates in the district. Doloswella, Hapugastenna,
 Hunuwella, and Palmgarden Group were  some of the estates which had an acreage of
 over > 2500  acres. It was on one such plantation that the god of love Cupid, had a field day (pardon the pun!) with his bow and arrow, targeting a very handsome young English assistant superintendent and a winsome Tamil lass.
 The thought of romance in the sylvan surroundings of a plantation sets ones emotions aflame but sadly this love tryst had a tragic ending for one of the protagonists in this romantic drama. As I recall, the first name of the young planter was Mark.I cannot remember his surname.The
 sultry Tamil beauty was named Visalaachi. (I may have  got  the spelling wrong). She lived in the neibhouring estate, but her quarters as fate would have it were on the border of the plantation where Mark was employed, and very close to his bungalow. One can surmise that this is how they met. In the course of time she used to go to his bungalow everyFriday, spend the weekend and return to her quarters early on Monday morning. Two full days in the week was all the  time they spent in each others company. At the time,amorous liaisons between a planter and a native worker were not uncommon, and if an English planter was having a
 liaison with the daughter of a Kangany or a labourer, the family of the latter considered it an honour ! In the solitude of this  faraway plantation, in a lonely estate bungalow amidst  carpets of green,,and stately rubber trees,Cupid ran riot with his bow and arrow as love blossomed between the handsome young planter and vivacious Visalaachi.
 Meanwhile, in England's green and pleasant land, in the  garden state of Kent to be precise, a mother and father, were worried about their son working in a far away island as a tea planter. It was not his job that was their concern. The fact that he was a bachelor is what worried them. He never gave them an indication of wanting to marry and settle down. Whenever they raised the issue with him in their letters,he skirted surround the edges and avoided any discussion on matrimony. So Mark's parents decided that direct action was necessary. Family friends of  theirs in England had a daughter about the same age as Mark, still unmarried. In fact this girl and  Mark had  practically grown up together as children, gone to the same school, and visited each others homes. But as adults they went their separate ways down life's road, as often happens. The girl got a job in a town close by, while Mark set sail for Ceylon to begin his
 planting career. Without consulting Mark, his Mum and Dad visited the parents of  this  girl and broached  the subject of marriage between  their son and their daughter.
 To their delight, they and the girl herself heartily consented to this proposal. After all the families were no strangers, and their children had  known each other since childhood. The girl was getting on in years, and thought that Mark would be the ideal husband. She was always fond of him, but upto this  time love had never entered the equation. Now there was a big hurdle to clear.To inform Mark of this  proposal and get his approval.
In a letter to Mark, his Dad laid it on the line in an  honest and forthright manner advising him that he may never get another chance to marry a girl like his childhood friend who in some ways had become like their own daughter. To their unbridled joy, Mark consented and told
 them to go ahead with  plans for the wedding while he would arrange to have his leave approved by the Manager of the Group. Apart from Mark, there were two other assistant superintendents
 on the estate, and obtaining leave from his Manager would not be a problem.   
 After his leave was granted he made plans to set sail for England for his wedding after which he would return to Ceylon with his bride, to begin life anew.However, he reckoned  without the Everest he had to climb, and that was to inform beautiful Visalaachi that he was leaving her to  get married. If he thought that  this was going to be a matter of course, then he had not heard the phrase  about  "hell having no fury like a woman scorned !" Their relationship was one sided. She had fallen deeply in love with him. He liked her and enjoyed  her company. But a long term romantic love affair on a permanent basis was the last thing on his mind. Came the fateful day when Mark decided to tell his lover about his decision to marry a girl back in England, and the forthcoming wedding. 

That Friday she came over around 6.30 pm anticipating a tryst of passionate love. But after the usual preliminaries, he decided to get it over with. In  fluent Tamil, he told her about the plans his parents had mad e for him to marry a girl who was a childhood friend, and he had consented. If he thought that she would break down, crying her heart out at being cast aside for another, he was in for a rude shock. He then dangled a monetary carrot when he  assured her that he had deposited a large sum of  money in her name for her future welfare, and that she
 would have nothing to worry about, he thought that this would  satisfy her beyond any doubt. Her reaction was vitriolic. Looking him straight in the eye she in very controlled tones replied "Did you think I was interested in your wealth ? All I wanted was your child !"
 He recoiled as if he had  been stung by a cobra a reptile ubiquitous in the plantations. There were no tears or pleading, and when she added "If after all this time you decided that you preferred somebody else, then so be it. Maybe she deserves you....!!" 
Her words were pregnant with meaning and there was ice in her voice, the implication
 being that if he could cast her aside so easily, he could do the same to the girl he decided to marry because he was of dubious character. And with these words, she stormed out of the room and out of his life in a rage, without a fond farewell or second  glance. He sunk into his chair, emotionally exhausted, stunned by her strength of  will. Although it was over he had an uneasy feeling that although she had gone out of his life in a physical sense, somewhere in a future time she would make her presence felt........little did he know then how  right he was. The burning embers of their love had now turned to ashes from a fire which had lost its flame.........
 Mark set sail from England not long after the bitter parting. It was a long sea voyage from Colombo, and on many an evening he stood on the deck at night thinking of the reunion with his parents and of the girl with whom he would share his life. While on a plantation in far away Ceylon, a beautiful girl spent many a night pining for her handsome "Dorai" and the love they once knew. The reunion with his parents and the girl he was  too marry was sheer enchantment. He had not seen his parents for three years, and then meeting up with her family and all their friends was happiness beyond expectations.Their wedding was held in a little  country church in the county of Kent and a long honeymoon followed. Four months after their wedding it was time for Mark and his young bride Jennifer to return to Ceylon. When they returned to the estate they were accorded a  very warm welcome with the usual beating of tom - toms and placing of garlands under the weight of which they almost sank ! Mark was a strict "Dorai" but had been very fair when dealing with his labourers, apart from treating them with the  dignity they deserved. He was always approachable  and they loved him for it. And in organising
 this welcome, they were showing him their appreciation. Mark soon got back to work with his dedication to duty and strong work ethic which had endeared him to his Manager, and rumour had it that he was due for a promotion as Superintendent of  an estate in the salubrious climbs of the Uva district   - to be precise in the Welimada region. Meanwhile, love blossomed in the honeymoon hideaway which was their bungalow. Life on the plantation went on in its usual way........

To Jennifer the bungalow was something from a fairy tale. Having lived all her life in a cramped
 house  with hardly any garden space back in England, this magnificent bungalow so English in
 character, with a long corridor and spacious dining rooms, plus the domestic help to run the house made her feel like a queen in her own little kingdom. The palatial gardens reminded her of the colourful pictures she had seen in the "Home and Garden" magazines back in England.
 She was now going to live the dream, and life with her husband was full of promise.
 When Mark returned home for lunch one afternoon, he found his wife in a pensive mood. Assuming she was not feeling well, he asked her what was wrong. Her answer as totally
 unexpected. She told him she had the feeling she was being followed and observed, each time she went to the garden or took a walk, along the estate paths in the vicinity of the bungalow. He countered by saying that estate folk were  curious at the best of  times and had a habit of staring at strangers, meaning no disrespect. Besides, she was the new wife of  the "Dorai" and their curiosity was thus heightened.Whoever was observing her would have been a labourer working in a field nearby, or passing by on the road which skirted the bungalow. His answer seemed to  satisfy her, but not for long.  A week later she told him she had distinctly spotted a young female observing her from  behind  a large bush at the boundary of their garden, and
 this person soon vanished when she knew she had been spotted.
 One evening they had an early dinner and retired for the night because Mark had a  busy day on the morrow. The Visiting Agent was due to make his customary visit and he wanted to ensure that nothing was left to chance. The next morning  the Appu knocked on their bedroom door signalling that the early morning 'Bed Tea' was ready. After he had deposited the tray on the tea table, she proceeded to make her husband a cup of tea. Mark was awake, but then found  that although he could move his hands, his legs were caught in some form of rigor mortis. Try as he would, he could not  shift his legs off the bed. The more he tried, the more he
 failed and realising that some form of constriction had set in, waves of panic soon engulfed him. He seemed to have some sort of paralysis from the waist down which affected his mobility. The horror of this situation soon manifested itself and Jennifer in sheer panic telephoned his Manager who arrived at their bungalow in record time. He in turn summoned the estate dispenser who stated that Mark should be taken to the Ratnapura hospital as a matter of utmost urgency. The Doctors at the hospital were unable to diagnose this condition, and Mark was taken to the Fraser Memorial Nursing Home, still flat on his back accompanied by his wife.
 A day later the authorities (that is, the Agency House  managing the estate) informed Mark's boss that  arrangements had been made to send him to one of the finest hospitals in London for treatment, the insinuation being that his chances of resuming work on the estate were a forlorn hope. Accordingly, Mark's boss requested a replacement. It was reported in the press at the
 time that from the day Mark awoke on that fateful morning, and until the time he was taken on board ship for the voyage to England, there was no movement below the waist, and he lay on his back. The handsome planter and his bride were never heard of again.They did not ride into the sunset to live happily ever after re-enacting some scene from a  memorable Hollywood screen epic. Instead they vanished into the mists of time leaving many broken hearts among their friends, and the labourers who loved them.

 Shortly after, a successor to Mark resumed duty occupying the same bungalow. He was married and as inevitably  happens when one moves into a new home, his wife suggested that the layout of the main bedroom which Mark and his wife occupied should be altered. She expressed her wishes to the bungalow domestic staff and  the next day they set about moving some items and proceeded to rearrange the room. It was when the mattress of the bed was being carried that one servant noticed something rock solid embedded in one corner of the
mattress. Unable to prise it out, he informed the Appu who cut out the object extracting it with a kitchen knife. It turned out to be a  brass talisman with a clasp, and the Appu opened it without difficulty. To the surprise of those watching there were some dried leaves in the talisman with a small piece of  paper.The appu read the writing and recoiled in horror as the meaning of the words dawned on him. On this paper, the  following words were written in Tamil : TO HIM
 WHO LIES  ON THIS BED, MAY HIS BONES BECOME BRITTLE AND WITHER AS THESE LEAVES. The appu cried out that this was a charm and requested one of the servants to rush to the village nearby and summon a charmer (The word in the vernacular is "Kattadiya") When the "Kattadiya" came to the bungalow he told those  present that the only way to break the power of this charm was to throw the talisman in flowing water. There was a large river not far from the estate and the servants took the talisman to its banks and with the charmer chanting
 some incantations, flung the talisman into the river and watched it swallowed up by the swirling waters.    
 Of course all suspicion fell on the love lorn Visalaachi,  but there was no  proof without concrete evidence. Folks specially on an estate in the context of the times, starved for news from the world outside will talk and what became known as Visalaachi's revenge or Visalaachi's
 vengeance, became the topic of conversation on the plantations and  beyond. 

The Sunday Observer carried this story in the early seventies in a series titled "Strange but
 true stories", and I penned it from memory. The name of the estate was not mentioned, neither was the name of the estate Superintendent. The only names mentioned in the story were that of  Mark, his wife Jennifer, and the "other woman", Visalaachi. 
 All the protagonists in this drama have long departed this earth. But who knows if somewhere in time, this tragic tale is played out in another dimension, and the beautiful Visalaachi still roams the dark night searching for her lost love ?  
 Bernard  VanCuylenburg

In the late 1960s The Superintendant of Health Services, Kandy had his office in the old palace of the last Kandyan King (1817). This was situated behind the Dalada Maligawa. Subsequently the Archeological Department took over this building and converted it to the present Kandy museum. The Archeological Department while renovating this building, found four cavities in the floor, where the ends of the four bed posts of the Queen had been. In each of these cavities they found a charm made of brass, with encrypted magic charms. This is how the Queen of Kandy safeguarded her position. I saw these charms exhibited in the Kandy museum a few years back.

Philip G Veerasingam

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