The bus ride ............................Nelum Kulunuthilak, Srilanka
That day I got into a bus from the Pettah Bus Stand to go to Galle, my Home Town as one of my cars was in the garage where I had put her for a new paint and to put some new seat covers.
Though I had the opportunity to ask my driver to come and fetch me from Colombo as well as the means to hire a car from Colombo to Galle, I did not do so because I wanted a bus ride for a change as I had not gone by bus for the last couple of years or so. I did not prefer an A.C. Bus as it was fully covered and did not give me the opportunity of viewing the passing landscape.
I comforted myself in a corner seat of the bus which gave me an opportunity of viewing the greenery of the roads overtaken by the bus which opportunity was not afforded to me when driving a car.
The morning breeze was refreshing and it fanned my chest and face giving me a feeling of freshness. Gradually when the bus was nearly full the conductor gave the signal to the driver to commence the journey.
My seat was shared by a young boy who was busy reading the daily Paper. The paper was fully opened and though I had the chance of peeping into it and gathering some news by reading the headlines I did not do so because my preference was to watch the scenery on either side of the road.
I was deeply engrossed in enjoying the picturesque scenery and when the bus stopped at Thurstan Road about five or six students including three female students got into the bus after having a word with the bus driver. Some of them had Tills in their hands and the sound of the rattling coins woke me from my sweet slumber and to listen to their speeches.
“Mother, father, brother, sister, we are students of a Campus and due to a strike organised by some of our brothers and sisters the Campus has been closed indefinitely.
The strike was organised to ask for security of jobs on obtaining a Degree but that went unheeded by the Authorities and as a result or a forceful agitation the Campus has been closed down indefinitely - we cannot use the Library as the Campus has been declared out of bounds and our examinations have been postponed indefinitely.
This has created a big problem to us - we are unable to go to our home towns - one reason is without completing the Degree - and if we leave the boarding houses presently occupied by us the lodgings would be given to others at a higher rate.
To send us for higher education our parents had mortgaged their properties and pawned their jewellery with the hope that once we complete our courses and obtain employment we would settle all the loans but now the situation has come to a situation where we are unable to complete our studies and obtain the Degree leave alone a job.
At the boarding houses occupied by us we are not provided with meals - only lodging and in one small room we share with four students with no beds and only two small tables and two chairs.
We have to undergo much suffering and in the campus cafeteria we usually share one cup of plain tea with three others leave alone the meals. This is our plight dear mother, father, brother, sister. So please help us in some manner to get over our hardships until we return home after completing our examinations.”
The students started walking down the passage of the bus shaking their tills and one of the female students came to me and held her till. At once I recognised her as a batch mate of mine at the Maha Vidyalaya. Her face looked haggered and withered - so was the dress worn by her and a pair of bata slippers to cover her feet. So were the clothes worn by the other students.
When my glance fell on this female campus student my mind ran back to the past when I was a student at a Maha Vidyalaya in a remote village in Galle. My father was not living, he having died of a car accident leaving my mother and sister to fend for themselves. The only property we had was the dilapidated house where we lived.
My mother used to prepare string hoppers and hoppers early morning and sell them to the nearby boutique to feed my sister and myself both of whom were school-going. It was with the utmost difficulty we managed with the meagre income earned by my mother daily and it was a normal routine for us to skip a meal or two every week.
The only person who helped us was my mother’s younger brother who did odd jobs as a Labourer and spent all his daily earnings on our education and feeding us. He did not get married as he had thought that if an outsider came to the family there would be chances of cutting off the assistance given to us by him.
I still could remember how I came to school walking about 3 miles over paddy fields on an empty stomach. I walked bare-footed through the Paddy fields as I wanted to save my pair of shoes and it was only in the vicinity of the school that I washed my feet in the nearby water stream and put on my shoes as my mother did not have the money to buy me another pair of shoes.
I studied hard in the night with the help of the kerosene lamp and passed my Ordinary Level Examination obtaining Eight Distinctions and the Principal of the school called me and commended me.
Thereafter undergoing further hardship by studying late at night mostly on an empty stomach I passed the Advanced Level Examination with four A passes and I had the clear opportunity to continue my higher studies.
The Principal of the Maha Vidyalaya surrounded by the Teachers who taught me summoned me to the Office Room and commended my achievement and advised me to pursue my higher studies for which I replied with half a smile as I did not want to displease them - I was not keen to join any University due to my family commitments.
My mother was over-joyed to hear of my results and in fact wanted to mortgage the house and property which we live and send me to continue my higher education to which I said a polite ‘No’ without causing a pain to my mother’s wishes.
To the astonishment of the Principal and the Teachers who taught me but with due respect and thanks to them I decided to forego higher education and joined a Hotel School for a Twelve months course where I learnt all the culinary.
Thereafter I applied for a post of a Cook in a Hotel and on my being selected to the post of Cook I worked very hard and after some time.
I was promoted as a Chef and whilst working there I got an opportunity to go to Middle East as a Chef. Serving for six years in the Middle East I returned to my country to look after my mother, sister and uncle. With my foreign earnings I managed to buy a plot of land and build a small hotel for tourists and with my contacts abroad my Hotel business flourished in no time.
I had several vehicles and there were about twenty people working under me all of whom I looked after well. So within six years I had established myself well looking after my mother, sister and uncle very well.
I had no immediate plans of marriage as it was my duty to see that my sister is married and settled down before me. And I also persuaded my uncle to get married which he did and I provided him with a good job in my hotel as well as Quarters for his family in the hotel itself.
All this enormous wealth could not have been earned by me had I opted for a University education. I never regretted for not pursuing my studies and I was right in taking the decision and joining the Hotel School. Had I opted to join a University my plight would have been the same as the students who got into the bus doing a ‘honourable begging’.
When I decided to sacrifice my University career for the sake of the well-being of my sister, mother and uncle I still could remember how this batch mate of mine, Sagarika, came to me and advised me to continue my higher studies.
She told me that one day I will regret it and that she will be a University Graduate holding a prestigious position in the Government Service whereas I would be a cook in a Kitchen of a Hotel throughout my life.
I was not keen in holding a prestigious position nor did I want to obtain any initials after my name. My only wish was to look after my mother, sister and uncle well.
The memories of my past were cut short when the Till held by Sagarika was before me. I took a Two Thousand Rupee note and forced it into her Till. She looked at me with a smile and I thanked God that she did not recognise me!