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Of forest gods and herbal healing

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As in all other forms of indigenous healing, the gathering of the special herbs have to be done at specified times of the day or night and under certain conditions

By Ransiri Menike Silva

Reminiscing about the past, a common pastime of old age, my mind went back to childhood and the numerous trips we had made during the school vacations with our historian-archaeologist father. Some of these were jungle treks which we enjoyed immensely as they were unusual experiences as well as educative.

Before crossing the border between civilization and wilderness, we would break off a twig and hang it on a vine strung across the trees as an offering to Ayya Nāyaka Deiyo to invoke his blessings for a safe trip. I do not know what my father’s view was on this ritual he indulged in dedicatedly, but my own was to consider it a highly amusing mythical indulgence. Now, with decades of personal experiences behind me, both normal and abnormal I waver on taking a firm stand one way or the other.

The belief in forest gods is one that is universally accepted, especially by those who have an affinity with the jungle in their daily lives, like collecting firewood, food and medicinal herbs. A god is a supreme being with powers, both good and bad, and the villagers know better than to defy one and expect to remain unharmed. ‘God’ is the spiritual guardian of all, whose wrath can be incurred by despoiling the environment around us, a grievous crime committed by man. On the other hand, if we respect it and care for it, we can reap much benefit.

A film I once watched on TV resulted in my considering this aspect seriously. I cannot now remember its title, but realised soon that it was a second rate film, badly produced by an unknown director, with hardly known actors and actresses. What enticed me to watch it was its intriguing authentic claim that it was based on true proven facts. I shall re-tell it (in my own words) for the benefit of others.

The central character in the story was a pre-teen boy (American?) who had been diagnosed with an incurable cancer and a predicted life-span of less than one year. He survived on medication and the devoted care of his widowed mother. His father, who had died a few years earlier had been keenly interested in butterflies, a love his son had pursued with equal dedication. The computer was his only window to the outside world as he was physically unable to attend school, and through it he kept himself up-dated on his hobby and other affairs.

In this way he made contact with a well-known professor, who was an expert on butterflies, thereby extending his knowledge. Their latest correspondence was regarding an extremely rare blue butterfly which the Professor was keen on adding to his collection.

One day, he informed the boy that this specimen had been spotted in the Amazon forest and he was going there to collect it. He would be away for an unpredictable length of time and would contact him on his return.

This news excited the boy who was keen on joining him on this expedition and requested that he be allowed to accompany him. This resulted in frenzied consultations with the boy’s mother, his doctors and all others connected with the trip. As the boy had very firmly indicated that this was a dying wish there was no option other than to oblige him.

So stocking up on medication, extra nourishment and other vital basic necessities, his mother accompanied him and the Professor, who had made all the necessary arrangements. They would stay in a remote jungle village, the nearest to the identified forest and after organizing the trip, would proceed from there.

On their arrival they settled in and organized the trip with the villagers. Here the boy made friends with a girl of about his own age, language being no barrier to juvenile communication, to whom he showed pictures of the blue butterfly, saying that he had come in search of it.

They set out the next morning with guides from the village to show them the way. When they reached the edge of the massive dark Amazonian forest, the guides halted, fearful of entering it. They pointed out an almost indiscernible trail disappearing into the undergrowth, and turned back.

Carrying with them only a net to trap the butterfly with and a large bottle to bring it back in, they set out enthusiastically. It was totally dark, the sun completely obscured by the over-head canopy of gigantic trees. The trail was no longer visible and they stumbled through the dense undergrowth, blind to everything other than each other and their quest. Their slow progress was hampered further by the giant roots and twisted lianas they encountered.

Then, suddenly, they fell into a deep abyss with no end. But unexpectedly and abruptly their plunge was halted. It was impenetrably dark all around, and after the first stunned moments they realized that they had landed on a broad ledge. Reaching out they contacted each other, and were luckily able to talk.

It turned out that the Professor had fractured his arm and was almost immovable with pain. But his senses were intact, and he made plans. They could dimly discern lianas and hanging roots dangling above them within reach, and he instructed the boy to scramble up them to the top and make his way to the village somehow to get help. This the boy achieved with some difficulty and shouting down to reassure the Professor he set out.

The boy could not say whether it was night or day. Impossibly, tracing the path they had come along, he stumbled on blindly. Hungry, thirsty and exhausted, and unable to proceed, he lay down in the undergrowth to rest.

He did not know how long he rested there, but in time he felt himself totally wrapped by some external force. He lay enmeshed by this strange feeling, for how long he could not say, and then felt a gradual easing of the ‘bonds’ binding him. On his complete release he felt rejuvenated in some inexplicable way, and was able to go back to the village without difficulty.

[This episode was crudely and wrongfully depicted in the film. It showed the boy frightened and held captive by menacing forces, with the trees closing down upon him accompanied by eerie noises. An incompetent director’s attempt at dramatizing, I believe]

Hearing the boy’s story activated the villagers. Leaving him in the care of the womenfolk, they set out to rescue the Professor. They carried axes, machetes, flares, food, and drink and a make-shift stretcher. They made a lot of noise in order to scare away the dangerous wild animals lurking in the bushes, and finally succeeded in rescuing the stranded professor.

After resting the boy had a happy re-union with his new friend who had a surprise gift for him – the much-sought-after blue butterfly in a bottle! It had flown into the village after their departure and she had trapped it for him.

All missions duly accomplished, ‘The Hunters of the Blue Butterfly’ and their entourage were transported, first to the nearest hospital and then back home. At his next clinical examination, set immediately after his return, the results of the tests stunned all the doctors, consultants and specialists, the cancer had vanished completely!

What had caused this mysterious inexplicable occurrence? Overcoming cancer and other terminal illnesses through religious devotion, irrespective of faith, and also meditation has been medically recorded and publicised even by some of our own countrymen. But this very young boy had not indulged in such mature exercises, which would have been far beyond his understanding, and the solution appears to be elusive.

Allow me to indulge in some private speculation. The first is his exposure to the healing vegetation that abounds in a forest. The second is the healing power of the Amazonian Forest God, our own Ayya Nāyaka Deiyo, extended to the innocent child.

The first calls to mind a story or legend I had read regarding a village in the unchartered Indian-Nepalese territory. This was on the edge of the jungle into which the villagers trekked for gathering of fire-wood, fresh water, food as well as to pasture their goats whom they took along with them.

One day a goat stumbled and fell, and the master, to his dismay, found that it had fractured a leg and was unable to proceed. Turning back was unthinkable, so he made a comfortable bed out of the surrounding vegetation, which would also serve as fodder, laid it to rest there, tethered to a nearby bush, to prevent him from sliding down the slope.

On his return at dusk the master was amazed to find the animal standing upright, his fracture completely healed! Collecting the goat along with a bundle of the leaves it had rested on, he returned to the village with his story. This discovery resulted in the use of this particular herb in the healing of fractures by practitioners of the Ayurvedic School of healing that is in use even today. Legend or fact – who knows?

The other is a personal experience. Many decades ago I was undergoing a course of acupuncture at the Ayurvedic Research Centre in Navinna, inaugurated by our farsighted Prime Minister of the time, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. It was then a small place with only two wards, one for each gender. The rest were OPD patients like me and another lady getting oil massages for acute arthritis.

We would sit out in the open verandah chatting and comparing notes as we awaited our vehicles. We faced an extensive garden dotted with medicinal trees, shrubs, creepers and other medical herbs. The gentle breezes wafting towards us from them were soothing, not only to the body but the mind as well. We both, individually, found the experience beneficial in more ways than one, and as I realized years later, much longer lasting than the treatment I had received there.

Also at Navinna I witnessed an almost miraculous result of Ayurvedic treatment. Walking around the ward was a skinny little girl chatting happily with the patients as she followed the nurses on their ward rounds. But she would scream out in pain each time she had her daily oil massage. I commented on this to a nurse and she told me this fantastic story.

“You know madam, when this child was brought to us she was a bundle of twisted limbs, just like a crumpled up dead spider. After several years of treatment see what we have achieved. She is due to be discharged in a few months.” Miraculous indeed!

During British rule they effectively stamped out our indigenous medical system from the towns, but it continued to be practiced in other parts of the country, even among the educated middle class. My mother’s persistent Amoebiasis which could not be handled by practitioners of Western medicine, was completely cured by a well-known Vedamahaththaya of Piliyandala.

I also personally know a relative who was once discharged by the Government Hospital as he had been completely paralyzed after a stroke and considered incurable. However, after several years of treatment from a famed ‘Veda Gedara’ he is now leading a normal life, with only a walking stick to aid him. His speech too was very coherent as he spoke to me about one year ago.

The grandmother of another friend had been an Ayurvedic eye-specialist, who would perform cataract removals without surgery on a fully conscious patient, having placed a pot of smoking herbs under the bed as an anesthetic. Sadly, she says, none of her descendants were interested in pursuing her skills and they are lost to the family forever. I have heard of this identical procedure being practiced by a Vedamahaththaya in Maradana who lived across the road from our family doctor (Western!)

Although acupuncture treatment had been reintroduced to our country by medical practitioners who had learnt it in China, Japan and Korea, research had shown that we too had possessed the knowledge in olden times. In fact, ours had been far superior to the ‘imported’, for it can treat only man. Researches have unearthed parchment records with ‘illustrations’ indicating the exact point the needles should be inserted, in two different sets, one for men and other for animals. I saw these displayed at a lecture by one of the researchers who is a reputed practitioner of our local school of acupuncture.

In Ayurvedha, the basic guiding principle is free service, and this rule is followed faithfully by the genuine Ayurvedic physicians, though not by the many frauds now prevalent in society, same as in any other field. To act otherwise is considered a desecration of the sacred skill one has been blessed with, resulting in the ‘culprit’ gradually losing his or her powers. Very appreciative of this Nobel attitude grateful patients donate what they can in cash or kind, for the development and upkeep of the clinic, which the Vedamahathmaya does not handle personally but delegates a deputy to do so on his behalf.

Ayurvedic treatment is a slow process involving diet and other connected conditions the patient has to follow, and is permanent. It involves no damaging side effects as in Western medicine, which is quick. It is not a form of general medication as each patient’s condition is diagnosed and treated individually.

As in all other forms of indigenous healing, the gathering of the special herbs have to be done at specified times of the day or night and under certain conditions. This is the accepted practice in all forms of indigenous healing that had been adhered to, not only in the East but the entire world, and is on historical record.

There was a renowned local Vedamahathmaya whose speciality was healing fractures. His work was revealed to the public in a TV series. In it he described how he had treated a human bone that had been crushed beyond repair by a nasty accident. So he took the relevant part of the bone from a goat and joined it to the human one – and it was a total success! The X-rays taken during the various stages of healing were shown on TV.

His descendants still follow his line of healing but I doubt whether they are as competent as their late father. A vital subject to Ayurveda is astrology. The following episode was related to my husband in my presence by one of his junior officers. His wife had been cancer-stricken and suffered intensely, despite western medical treatment. In desperation he decided to consult a renowned Vedamahathmaya in the outstations. When his turn came he walked into the consulting room, but before he could speak, the Vedamahathmaya said him, “You have come regarding your wife’s illness. I am sorry I cannot cure her as she is too grievously affected by it.” The man was shocked and he inquired how he had known what he had come for. The reply stunned him. “It was the way in which you entered my room that act gave away all the signals.” Giving a time frame for her final release, he gifted some medicine to ease her discomfort, a strange story indeed.

I too had a similar experience once, but not in connection with medicine. I had gone, as a representative of another party to obtain the auspicious times for a wedding, to a reputed astrologer living close by. The old man looked at me keenly and asked, “Why have you come? Is it not the responsibility of the other party involved?” and I had not yet told him that it was regarding a date for a wedding! Maybe the signs I had exhibited on entering the room had betrayed my intentions.

With such authentic episodes on record how can any layman scoff at the existence of gods and demons? To do so harkens the popular saying, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”



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Sat Mag

When a wonderful human being crosses the great divide

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Sarasaviya took this picture of Punya and Milroy at their home after the “Abhimani” Legendary Award was conferred on Punya, during their last visit to Sri Lanka to attend the Sarasaviya Festival in 2016.

“There are friends,
There is family,
And then there are friends
That become family”

Such a friend was Milroy, whose passing away a few days ago, we learnt with heavy hearts and deep sorrow.

To those who didn’t know him, he was the husband of Punya Heendeniya, the actress who captivated the hearts and minds of a nation by her portrayal of Nanda in the film classic “Gamperaliya”; Nanda was the quintessential Sinhala upper class village maiden who valued tradition over love.

To MBS (Siri) he was a lifelong friend “who stayed forever, beyond word, beyond distance, beyond time”.

To me (Kumar Gunawardane) who came to know him through Siri and also through his brothers, he was a pleasant companion, and good friend.

PUNYA:

“He loved music, sing songs and kalawaa (art) in all its forms. That is why he married me. He went out of his way to help the needy in whatever way he could. He did everything for me and the children.

“In the last year or two he took to understanding what real Buddha Dharma was.

“May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!”

SIRI:

“We met on the very first day in the “Block”; alphabetically we were next to each other, Milroy de Silva and MBS de Silva. That day, wearing our white jackets and ties back to front, we had to march to the Anatomy laboratory, jeered by serried ranks of haughty seniors. The naked bodies lying on marble slabs was nauseating. I was directed to the appropriate cadaver by a tutor and paired with a brilliant student JBC De Silva, to dissect the upper limb. Confused and bewildered I could only gaze at the colleague carving the other arm. He looked equally nonplussed wielding a scalpel nonchalantly, while another student recited the instructions from Cunningham’s manual of Anatomy. Our eyes met and that was the start of a beautiful friendship; a coming together of the high-spirited and full of joie de vivre. We immediately downed tools and scampered to the canteen to revive ourselves with a cup of tea, laced with condensed milk, and the cheapest available cigarette ‘Peacock’. Our interests were similar; studies took a back seat, larking around taking precedence. The friendship was sealed further when we joined Bloemfontein the formidable male medical student hostel alternatively feared and lauded.

“I remember our first Block dance at the King George’s hall. He was smartly dressed in black tuxedo pants and a cream jacket; only missing element was a lady companion. I, who wore a black shirt and a white tie, had a beautiful girl on my arm. I asked Milroy where he came by his tuxedo and he disdainfully replied I have two brothers who are doctors and one tuxedo for the whole family and now it is my turn to have it!!

“Our bonds strengthened during our intern year. Milroy returned to his roots in Galle and I joined him a few months later at Mahamodara, the hospital by the sea. It was a year of back breaking work, but also a year of fun and frolic.

“Milroy was then posted as chief (District Medical Officer) of the Moneragala hospital. But “I was left high and dry, Milroy, thoughtful as ever arranged for me to work with his brother Dr A.S.H De Silva, who had a thriving general practice just down the road from the hospital. Three months later, I got a posting to Buttala, which was then a mostly elephant and serpent infested jungle. It was classed as a ‘punishment’ station by the Health Department. The attractions however were the proximity to Milroy, and also the predecessors who included medical giants such as Professor Rajasooriya and the distinguished surgeons Dr Bartholomeuz, and R. L. Spittel the Surgeon of the Wilderness. In this pastoral outpost Milroy was bowled over by the image of Punya. He was at a loss to reach her. I advised him to write and he did so with panache. She invited him to visit them at Mirigama, her hometown to meet her folk. They teamed up in Punya’s own words for 52 years seven months and 22 days; a match made in heaven.

“As a dutiful father, he wanted to give his son and daughter the best education available and so it was that he and Punya migrated to Zambia. It was here that they demonstrated hidden strengths of character which helped them overcome adversities and even threats to their lives and move over to England. Milroy re-invented himself and rose to top of the ladder to become a consultant psychiatrist. His two children also became consultants in the NHS, the son a gastroenterologist and daughter an endocrinologist. He acknowledged freely Punya’s role not only in all his triumphs, but also in the hazards and misfortunes in their paths.

“Yet, more than all this was his humanity and humility, generosity to those less well endowed especially relatives and also to those medical graduates at the threshold of their careers. They were gracious hosts; Punya was an accomplished cook and less well known, a euphonious singer. I and my good friend Karu had the good fortune to enjoy their hospitality on many occasions in London.

“Milroy my friend, “To live in the hearts of those we love is never to die”

“May your journey in Samsara be short and my you attain the Supreme bliss of Nibbana!”

 

KUMAR:

I first got to know Milroy at Bloemfontein, the medical student’s hostel adjoining Carey College. He was a dapper figure, stylishly dressed with an unceasing gentle smile on his face. His chums, Siri, Gerry, Wicky and others were always friendly with us juniors and never intimidating. Their banter and capers in the dining room and the spacious portico were invariably hilarious.

My friendship with Siri was cemented in the hurly-burly of the Galle hospital, where I too did my internship. When I was unemployed after its completion it was Siri who arranged for me to work with Dr ASH, Milroy’s brother. ASH and Kingsley, another brother became my friends and mentors.

“Punya was a heartthrob of many young bucks of our era. But only one, Milroy, could win her hand and her heart. What a splendid partnership it was.

The Buddha Dhamma teaches that death is natural and inevitable. Yet it is sorrowful and we pray for you and your family’s peace and comfort. Their sadness is soothed by the beauty of your life, a life well lived. As the Buddha said death has no fear to those who fashioned life as a garland of beautiful deeds.

May you attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!

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Sat Mag

A New Arrival at the Pathfinder Wildlife Preservation Centre

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A newly hatched blue and gold macaw bred at the Pathfinder Wildlife Preservation Centre being attended to by a staff member Sisira Kumara.

The Pathfinder Wildlife Preservation Centre has a comprehensive collection of rare macaws, cockatoos, lorikeets, and parrots from Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The collection also includes a range of Arowana fish. This unique collection was originally presented to the Centre by Nimal Jayawardena, a leading business person, lawyer, and wildlife expert.

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Sat Mag

Imagining Malinda Seneviratne

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By Uditha Devapriya

I’d like to begin this tribute with a memory. I wasn’t always an avid reader of newspapers. My father, on the other hand, was. Somewhere in middle school, in Grade Eight I believe, I began picking them up once he had done with them, poring over the columns.

My eyes rested on certain topics more than others. They’d invariably centre on the war. How were we fighting the enemy? How was that enemy fighting back? What new conspiracies had been unearthed? Who had unearthed them? Who was next on the enemy’s kill list? The peace process, dead as a dodo long before it died, had floundered. Officially, we were back at war. As intriguing as that would have been, it was also disconcerting.

Even more disconcerting was the ambivalent stand of the English language press on the war. Not that the editorials called for a cessation of hostilities, much less a return to the peace process. But beneath the fine print, one could discern an almost confused pacifism, an almost abstruse neutralism.

This conformed to the same pattern: an acknowledgement of the heroism of the armed forces followed by a critique of government policy. Ultimately it all boiled down to, not whether the government was conducting the war properly, but whether the war had to be conducted at all. Even there the editors remained indecisive: they concluded that the LTTE had to be defeated, yet refused to endorse the war being waged to achieve that end.

None of that felt frustrating, of course. Cut off from the fears of a war next door, one could only revel in the delicatessen of wartime journalism. Yet it was clear the scales tilted to a side: very few writing in English advocated a military solution to the world’s longest running ongoing ethnic conflict. What explained their hesitation?

I didn’t bother finding out, but given the preponderance of those who wrote against the war, I was transfixed by those who wrote in support of it. Of them, one in particular caught my attention. Seven years later I met him: a coincidence I ponder over even now.

I have known Malinda Seneviratne in his many forms: writer, poet, translator, activist, editor, citizen, father, husband, and teacher. Yet I can’t recall why I wanted to meet him. Was it the eloquent prose, sharp as nails even at its most polemical? The equally eloquent poetry, haiku-like and evocative of both Neruda and Galeano? Or the activism, unabashedly nationalist in a country whose Westernised intelligentsia abhors such “tribalist” sentiments?

Malinda’s political education began with the Left, first with his father Gamini, then with a batch-mate of his father, Nanda Wickramasinghe (attached to the Revolutionary Communist League at the University of Peradeniya), and finally with Vijaya Kumaratunga and Ossie Abeygunasekera (until the latter’s defection to the UNP). The Ratawesi Peramuna, precursor to the Sihala Urumaya, came later.

His activism in (and for) the Ratawesi Peramuna followed his return from Harvard (where he completed his Bachelor’s in Sociology) in 1991. It was while in this group that he deepened his friendship with two of his biggest influences, Patali Champika Ranawaka and Athuraliye Rathana Thera. It was also his activities there that landed him in trouble; the police swooped on a meeting organised in 1992 at Wadduwa, following an exhibition of LTTE, IPKF, and JVP human rights abuses held in Matara, was intercepted by the police, who proceeded to arrest 15 members, including Ranawaka, Rathana Thera, and Malinda.

Held for three weeks, and tortured on the orders of a drunken OIC, they filed a fundamental rights case at the Supreme Court. Upholding their case, the Court, which acknowledged that the RP did not constitute a threat to national security and did not warrant the treatment meted out to its members, ordered the State to pay Rs 5,000 for each applicant. The Human Rights Library of the University of Minnesota later archived the case, “Channa Pieris and Others v. Attorney General and Others.” In the meantime, the Ratawesi Peramuna turned into Janatha Mithuro, a green socialist/nationalist outfit preaching the gospel of alternative development paradigms (what Ranakawa called the “third chapter of development”).

Malinda ended his political associations once he started out on his journalistic (and writing) career in the 2000s. By then he had gone through Janatha Mithuro, Sihala Urumaya, and the National Movement Against Terrorism (2006-7). These are, no doubt, colourful affiliations, befitting a colourful memoir. Yet, despite his activism, it’s hard to put a finger on his convictions: he just can’t be categorised in the same way his opponents, or for that matter his allies, can.

On the ‘national Question’, on the 13th Amendment, on our relations with India, indeed on global politics, he projects a provocative perspective. Thus, for instance, while he supported the Sihala Urumaya’s and Hela Urumaya’s parliamentary aspirations, he critiqued the latter’s decision to field Buddhist monks at elections. Even so, however, he does not oppose the entry of monks on a matter of unyielding principle: for him, they constitute a group having as much a right to parliamentary representation as any other.

In any case, whatever those convictions, the more I read him in my middle school years, the curiouser I got: then as now, what defines Malinda is the contrast, one could say paradox, between his ideological predilections and his poetic instincts. The two do get together, more often than you’d think, in his anthologies (just sample his poems on Geneva). And yet there’s a disjuncture between them. Perhaps this was what made me want to visit him.

Our first meeting went by innocuously enough. Lasting a little more than an hour, it ended on the promise of a second meeting, which transpired a month later – to be followed by another, and then another. The rapport between us grew quickly; by the time of the third meeting, he was asking me to come in and write to the paper he supervised as editor.

I hesitated at first. With characteristic flippancy, though, he shrugged my concerns aside: “When you work for me,” he promised, “you will write on everything.” I thus gave in: as with all 21-year-olds new to the trade, I wanted to write and be read in print. A few months later, in fulfilment of a promise he made before the January 2015 election, I was in.

Malinda taught several lessons as a writer, journalist, and senior. First and foremost among them was the line between writing news and writing features. For no matter what people may say, a good writer does not necessarily make for a good reporter. Pen and paper in hand, you need to record whatever it is that you’re covering is putting out to the public. Cutting through a morass of irrelevant anecdotes, you need to distil what you heard. And of course, you need to separate facts from comment: you can’t editorialise.

This proved to be a difficult exercise for me, far more difficult than the light pieces I ended up submitting to the features section. Suffice it to say, then, that insofar as Malinda taught me anything about journalism, it was that I could never aspire to be a journalist.

The second lesson was simpler: no matter how good (or bad) you may be as a journalist, if your editor doesn’t encourage you, your ink will dry. This applies to other professions also: where would Thomas Wolfe be, for instance, without Max Perkins?

Malinda, of course, was not my first editor. Yet he and I shared interests which immediately bridged the gap between him and me. In the end, I wound up writing on topics I had always wanted to talk about. That could not have been possible without him.

The third lesson, the most important one, was that writing to newspapers is never going to be a stable profession, especially not here. I learnt this lesson the hard way: five months after I got in, his paper closed down. Petrified for days, wondering whether I would ever be able to write again, I eventually came to realise that, as shocking an experience as it may have been to me, for Malinda it did not mean much: he’d been pole-vaulting from one paper to another from the day he left active politics for journalism.

His experience there became my guide: one evening, after the storm clouds of his termination had died down, he told me bluntly, “In this trade, if you’re good enough, you’ll never be out of tenure.” I disputed him. Six years later, having contributed to every paper he wrote to and is writing to, I realise I was wrong to do so.

Having read him and met him, I thus ended up learning under Malinda: a trajectory I am yet to go through a second time with anyone else in his line of work. I can’t really assess him, or do him justice, except maybe to note that, for the little or the lot he taught, he never demanded a payback.

Perhaps that’s just as well. For without taking away anything from what he did, I was hardly the only person he supported this way. Many others, most of them as young as I, all of them endowed with a superior penmanship, also found their way to the pages of the papers he oversaw. I know for a fact that he always insisted on compensating them – in full.

The West Indian international relations scholar Herb Addo once wrote that Andre Gunder Frank, from whom he learnt about the political economy of underdevelopment, “taught me nothing.” For his contemporaries, Addo argued, Frank “taught from a distance”, yet let his students develop as individual, independent intellectuals, in their own right.

By no means do I suggest that Malinda taught me nothing, or that he did so from a distance. But reflecting on how he taught all that one needed to know, and how he dismisses it today as though was just letting me evolve on my own, I wonder: was he, as Frank had been to Addo, a teacher in the Gibran vein, leading me to the threshold of my mind?

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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