The recluse beckoned Rohitha to sit near him, and took his hand to feel the pulse. He took a betel leaf, held it close to his mouth and chanted a gatha. Then he placed the leaf on Rohitha's forehead, moved it down his face, neck, shoulder chest and down to his feet, while continuing to chant. The recluse repeated this action there times and handed the betel leaf to Rohitha.
'You can stand up now' he commanded.
Rohitha stood up, and walked backwards a few steps to where Pala was standing. He placed his hand on his lower back, stretched himself, bent forward and back and sideways, a slow smile growing on his face.
'I dont feel any pain' Rohitha announced.
'You will never feel any pain in the back, not from the same problem' the recluse assured him. 'Keep that betel leaf with you, always'.
The two men sat down on the mat to talk to the recluse. They did not know what their next step should be, and how to offer payment. Rohitha looked at Pala.
'We do not know how to thank you.' Pala started, but hesitated, not knowing how to go on.
'You don't have to thank me. It is my duty to mankind and to all life on earth, to use my knowledge for healing'.
'You have done something that no one else could do, is there any way we could serve you or assist you, in return' Pala started again.
'I do not require anything. My simple needs are looked after by the people in the village'
'Can we do something for this place' Pala asked again, looking around the cave.
'That is upto you' the recluse replied.
Rohitha pulled out his wallet and handed a few notes to Pala who placed it on a side of the small table. The recluse did not even look at it. Rohitha placed the betel leaf, carefully folded, in a compartment of his wallet, before returning it to his pocket. They knelt at the feet of the recluse, worshipped him and left the cave.
The path to the rock cave was across an abandoned rice field and a steep climb, over slabs of stone, from what would once have been a flight of steps. Pala, who was in his forties, was panting and out of breath as they had climbed up to the cave.
'Be careful not to brush against these leaves' he had cautioned the younger man, Rohitha.
'There could be ticks from cattle. their bite is very painful'
They had passed under several large trees. In the shade the ground was moist and the younger man was now more worried about leaches, until he was told that in this dry climate they would not find leaches.
There was a flat ground around the rock that had been swept clean. First thing they had seen on arriving at the base of the rock was a partly crumbled brick wall and beside it a clay water pot with a piece of old yellow robe used to strain the water. They heard voices as they turned the corner and came to the cave.
It did not appear very clean, at first glimpse, probably because of the trees and shrubs growing around the cave preventing any light from getting inside.
On a closer look, the cave was well swept and tidy. There was a bed behind a curtain made of an old yellow robe. Another yellow robe was hanging from the curtain string, and on the bed was a reed mat. There was a mat on the floor against the back wall of the cave, with a small wooden packing crate serving for a low table in front of a cushion. At the other end was another curtain, behind which an oil lamp was burning. A coil of fragrant smoke curled out through the curtain.
A tall man in a yellow robe around his waist had come in from the other side of the cave, wiped his feet on the stone slab at the entrance, and stepped in. He had a long beard and longer hair and his naked upper body was also hairy and muscular. he settled down on the mat behind the low table and only then did he look up at the two strangers standing outside.
The two men had walked in, worshipped the man in robes and at his invitation sat on the mat to a side of the table. Rohitha found it difficult to sit cross legged and was struggling to settle down in a comfortable position, while Pala appeared to sit very comfortably.
'We have come from Colombo. He is Rohitha Jayamanne and i am Pala Sirisoma' the elder one introduced themselves.
The man in robes waited for him to continue.
'We heard about you from a businessman who had come here about a month ago, how you cured his backache'
'So many people come to me with backache. i don't remember each one and i do not care about their profession or their wealth' said the recluse, in a soft voice.
'My friend has a backache, which has been troubling him for several years. He has tried every cure available. He has gone to all the famous doctors in Colombo, he has tried Acupuncture, both Chinese and Korean, he has tried herbal treatment, oil baths, homeopathy and physiotherapy in Colombo, in India, Germany, London and United States, but all those cures have been temporary
'You don't have to tell me. Everyone comes to me as the last resort, when everything else has failed. If you want to heel your body your mind should be calm and clear. You must have faith in your religion. Are you Buddhist? he asked.
First you must offer flowers and pay homage to Lord Buddha, offer merit to the deities and your dead relatives. Then come to me with a sound mind'.
The two men stood up.
'Mens sano in corpore sano' the recluse said as they were leaving the cave. Both men looked back at the recluse, Rohitha looked puzzled, while Pala was taken by surprise.
Rohitha felt unsteady on his cramped feet as they stepped out.
'What did he mean? Rohitha asked Pala, once out of earshot.
'A healthy mind in a healthy body. That is Latin. He must be well educated' Pala said.
'Or, he had picked this phrase somewhere. Could be the only Latin he knows' was Rohitha's response.
Wondering what they should do next, they looked around for flowers, for offering to Buddha. They had not come prepared.
'What are we to do?' Rohitha asked looking around helplessly.
we really dont need flowers and oil to worship Buddha. Anyway, let's look around' Pala told him, walking towards the other side of the rock where they heard someone moving around, and saw a young boy, washing a few clay pots. The boy looked up on hearing their voices.
'We need some flowers and some oil and joss sticks. Can you tell us where we could buy them' Pala asked the boy.
'There is a shop near the road. You came past it', the boy replied, getting up, pulling his sarong down and wiping his hands on it.
'Do we have to go back all the way to the road?' Rohitha asked. we should have bought flowers there, when we parked the car'
'We didn't know we would need flowers' Pala told Rohitha, and then he asked the boy, 'can you help us?'
The boy, looked at them without replying.
'You buy us some flowers and oil and keep the change' Rohitha offered a hundred rupee note to the boy. The boy hesitated, looked at the money, at Rohitha and then at Pala, and wiping his hand again on his sarong slowly extended his hand for the money, which he then clutched tightly, turned around and ran down the hill, without looking back.
'What if he doesn't come back' Pala asked.
They walked around the garden, where they saw a small lean-to, against the rock, that was used as the kitchen and probably where the young boy slept. On a make-shift table outside the hut were some clay pots and a pot of water.
A dog who was sleeping near the hut, and had once looked up when he first heard their voices, ignored them now. They saw a cat asleep atop a branch of a mango tree.
They could see the paddy fields in the distance, at the foot of the hill, and beyond the fields a mountain range. The two men walked round the rock and came back to the flight of steps to wait for the boy, and they could see him running up the crumbling stone steps. The boy came up to them panting, and handed the flowers wrapped in a broad leaf and the oil in a little glass bottle. He offered the balance money to Rohitha, who insisted that the boy keep it. The boy looked as if he could not believe there could be such generous people in the world, because to him it was a large sum of money. He indicated the small Bo tree on the other side of the rock and the altar where the flowers could be offered and the lamp lighted.
The Bo tree appeared very ancient. There were a few stone pillars and slabs around it.
'This would have been a temple hundreds of years ago' Pala pointed out the stone slabs to Rohitha, 'these must be remains of an old bodhigara'
The altar had been built recently using an old stone slab, which was completely covered in burnt oil and camphor. It had been cleaned in the morning and they could see a heap of faded flowers at the foot of a tamarind tree nearby.
The two men had sprinkled water on the flowers from the clay pot, placed them on the altar, poured the coconut oil in the lamp and lighted it, along with the joss sticks. They stepped back a few feet and with their palms together at their forehead, offered the flowers to the Buddha.
Then they had walked back to the cave for their treatment.
'How much did you pay him' Pala wanted to know, on their way down.
'Five thousand rupees'
'Don't you think that is too much'
'No' said Rohitha.
The road ran straight, 'like a ribbon unwinding', as Martin Wickramasinge had described the Galle road, thought Pala. On their left was the sugar cane plantation, stretching as far as the eye could see, and on their right was a teak forest, which was the Udawalawa sanctuary.
'Shall we buy some fruits here' Pala suggested
Rohitha stopped the car outside one of the small cottages. In a small hut, were bunches of bananas, papaya and some vegetables. From the roof of the hut were hanging packets of green gram, sesame seeds, dried tamarind and dried ranawara flowers.
Rohitha bought several bunches of bananas and all the papaya fruits on display, while Pala bought a packet each of the green gram, sesame and ranawara.
'That electric fence is to stop the elephants from getting over to the plantation' Rohitha said
'It doesn't stop our elephants. They are more intelligent than us humans' Pala replied
'How do they cross over'
'The elephant uproots a tree and throws across the wires and steps over that. Very simple'
'So how do they stop the elephants, do they shoot them'
'No. These people have more respect for life, even animal life. The company has allowed people to build their houses along the boundary of the plantation and this is a human barrier, which the elephants would not normally cross'
'Then what is this we hear about sugar companies shooting all our elephants' Rohitha asked
'That is at the other plantation, where they do not care about either the forest or the wild life'
Passing the cane fields they came to the Udawalawe tank. They had to stop at the security point to identify themselves before they were allowed to cross over the dam. There were signs everywhere that it was prohibited to stop vehicles on the dam, which was disappointing to Rohitha who wanted to stop and take a few photographs, of the tank with the hills far off.
'You should come here for a weekend, visit the sanctuary and take all the photographs you want' Pala suggested to Rohitha as he directed him to take the right turn when they came to the main road.
'I have been thinking about this priest. You could make use of this fellow' Pala broke the silence as they were passing Sankapaala viharaya.
'How?. Can we take him to Colombo and set him up somewhere?' Rohitha laughed.
'Not exactly. But if my plan works out, that five thousand you gifted would be like a ten rupee note you throw away to scratch an instant lottery' Pala continued.
'So tell me' Rohitha waited.
'Wait till i form the plan'
They stopped for lunch at a small tourist hotel, at Pelmadulla and over a glass of beer Pala started talking about his plan.
'This guy could be made into a miracle healer or whatever you call it. No one need know about your involvement. We have to find someone who can get close to this man and get to be his assistant'
'A disciple, you mean' Rohitha added
'Whatever you want to call him. As far as i am concerned, he is going to be the manager'
'I still don't understand how you are going to do it'
'I will explain all the details. But if we are to make this a success no one else should know about it. First we have to find the right man for the job'
'That won't be easy' Rohitha said
'I know, that is why i want to start immediately'
'What do i have to do' asked Rohitha sipping his Lime soda.
'It is your project. I don't have the money to do it and i don't have the desire for money to make it a success'
'What will you get out of it'
'I would be proving something that i have always believed' Pala said, 'that is enough for me'.
The road to Ratnapura, passed through paddy fields, where gemming was in progress. Even though people had been mining for gems for hundreds of years, they still continued to mine and to discover gems.
Rohitha got down at his residence off Flower road and his driver took Pala home.
A few days later Pala came to Rohitha's office. He was a very frequent visitor and walked directly into Rohitha's room, stopping for a moment at the secretary's desk to greet her.
Rohitha's office occupied the entire fourth floor of the building, while the three floors below were used as showrooms and for sales and administration. Above it was a pent-house and roof-top garden, which was used for entertainment of his clients and frequent foreign visitors. His table had a glass top raised about six inches from the table. Through the glass one could see a few files and letters to one side, but the rest of the space was filled with models of all types of boats.
The walls were covered with photographs of more sailing vessels. He had a computer on the side table, which to Pala's knowledge, was used only for playing games, while the notebook that was open on his table was linked to his business empire.
'I think i have found the man for our project'
'You have forgotten our project already. Then i have been wasting my time'
'Oh that project. You have not told anyone about it, have you'
'No. Why should i. I thought we had agreed that youd do it'
'Who is this man'
'He has just returned from Japan, i think, and has not found a job yet'
'Why do you think he is the man for this job'
'He looks very respectable. Speaks in a very soft voice. Was a Buddhist monk till he completed his university degree,' Pala started counting the points on his fingers, 'was in prison for a few years under the Prevention of Terrorism act, as a suspected JVP activist, entered Italy illegally and worked for several years, was caught, sent back home, entered Korea somehow, got caught again, managed to get in and work in Japan for two or three years, and if we are to hire him, we have to do it before he disappears again'. Pala sat back, waiting for Rohitha to assimilate all the data he had fed him.
Rohitha remained silent for some time, pressed the call bell and when the peon appeared asked him to serve tea, lit another cigarette and sat back in his chair.
'Tell me more' he said at last
'He has learnt Buddhist scriptures, is experienced in preaching sermons and chanting pirith, has that kind of voice. He knows all our temple rituals. Is very cunning. I do not think he is worried about his conscience'
'Could we trust him'
'As long as you pay him well'
'I want to meet him, but not here'
'How about the club'
'No, that is worse. Let me think' he paused, 'you bring him home, tomorrow morning'
'I will first talk to him and confirm' Pala said.
The boy came in with the tea and Rohitha lit another cigarette.
Next morning Pala came to Rohitha's residence with a man in his early thirties. As he pressed the bell a servant boy opened the door, and recognizing Pala asked them to come in.
In the small room next to the car porch sat a middle aged person, dressed in full white. He was Rohitha's manager, who looked after all his business activities.
'Mr. Ranasinghe, good morning' Pala greeted him.
'Good morning' Ranasinghe responded.
Pala walked into the sitting room and settled himself in a comfortable chair inviting the other visitor too to sit down. Pala wondered why Ranasinghe had not been invited to the sitting room, and had been made to sit in the office room, and realized that to Rohitha, Ranasinghe was only a paid employee. Perhaps it was Rohitha's way of reminding Ranasinghe of his position.
'Raman, bring some tea for us and serve one to Mr. Ransinghe' Rohitha called the servant boy, walking into the sitting room.
'He is Mr. Peter Dahanayake. Mr. Rohitha Jayamanne' Pala introduced them. Peter stood up but Rohitha sat down as if he did not see the outstretched hand. Peter sat down again.
'I have explained a little of what you had in mind' Pala told Rohitha.
'Do you think you could handle it' Rohitha asked.
'I would like to have more details'
'Not to worry, if you agree to take the job.