A captivating anthology of a mother’s extraordinary journey | Sunday Observer
Book review

A captivating anthology of a mother’s extraordinary journey

25 June, 2023

Title: Nil Agasthi Maalaya

Author: Seetha Mahendra

‘All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation’, the final words of wisdom by Buddha have the eternal advice for the humankind.

The twilight sets in a village estate, a devout mother whose eternal love for her children finally, materially bade farewell. The family of the deceased mother is flocked nearby the pyre. They all are in sombre mood. Passing shower by the nature may just remind it is a finale.

The family contemplates the hitherto events among each other. They share their experience– a hint of nostalgia in a sombre environment. It is the prologue of Seetha Mahendra’s recently published book titled Nil Agasthi Maalaya’ in Sinhala.

For most of us, she is a well-known translator in the literary circle, most notable titles included Amaraneeya Sithuwama, Miringuva and Avaragiraga Endi Sithuvama.

Nil Agasthi Maalaya, perhaps, is quite contrary to them and may be classified as an anthology of memoirs of a happy child whose mother had passed away and how the goodness and the piety of her have impacted.

My mind suddenly ran away to fetch the copy of ‘Selected Essays’ by D H Lawrence, the small penguin book published in the 1970s. Little writings of events are fascinating, especially when they consist of number of different facets.

Life experience

Seetha Mahendra as the narrator remembering and researching unfolds little yet significant events that took place around her mother (protagonist) in the past from her childhood to adulthood. They contain some childhood mischief and life experience.

These events are written in a simple, yet absorbing style for the reader to enjoy an era that consisted of traditional almsgiving especially the Kapruk daanaya (around 1950s), followings of precepts in Buddhism, old motor car journeys to view the Vesak festivities, the silencing of the gun (how the father has stopped shooting animals using his gun), life in the village with a big family, mother’s management skills of a large estate following the demise of the father and to reap benefits appropriately in addition to being a workaholic principal in a school, journeys to the city and the lifestyle while educating.

There are over 50 anecdotes elaborated in the compilation. All these events were real events thus make it all the most interesting to the reader as they display the times, intricacies and cultural values intertwined in the olden times. These real-life stories may provide a food for thought life experience even in the 21st century modern day living. How does the protagonist change from an ordinary mother to someone beyond ordinary? The Buddhist way of living.

The noble eight-fold path (Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration) in Buddhist teaching is a cornerstone for a person to manage one’s life.

Right View

According to the author, the protagonist deemed to perceive the Right View in much of her life, especially subsequent to the demise of her husband. The life may not be rosy as one may perceive especially in a big family that no one had married and most of the children were still attending school. Life’s challenges are overcome via Right View, and the lessons she has disseminated is praiseworthy.

Seetha Mahendra has portrayed ample examples to display a mother par excellence and how they impacted herself and other siblings around her.

All the most, a mother not only for her children but for her grandchildren too to tell a fascinating tale once upon a time from their own perspectives.