Just after the opening of the mesh network in Mahawilachchiya, I went for a walk around the village. I wanted to visit the houses where they have got mesh network facility and see how the villagers are reacting to this revolutionary technology.
Ajith Balasuriya, a home guard attached to the local police post, a real computer geek and a very good digital photographer, accompanied me. For some reason, he took me first to Kumar’s house.
Kumar is a Tamil living in Mahawilachchiya. He was born and bred, and had his primary education in Kalatththewa, Anuradhapura. Later he came to Anuradhapura city where he had his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Anuradhapura. He had to give up education as he had to become the breadwinner of his family. He wanted to ensure that his brothers and sisters get a decent education and sacrificing his opportunities for the well-being of the others was the only option he had.
Guided probably by fate Kumar happened to come to Mahawilachchiya to work at a shop, there he met Mangalika, a beautiful Sinhala village girl, and it was love at first sight. They got married shortly afterwards. He settled down at Mahawilachchiya with Mangalika and continued to support his brothers and sisters from there.
Kumar’s elder sister migrated to United Kingdom with her husband after the Black July riots in 1983 and one by one, his whole family left the country after her. Kumar could not follow them because his wife was reluctant to leave the familiar surroundings of the village where she had lived since she was born.
Kumar missed his family, his childhood friends and many other things from his former life. But he could not leave his wife Mangalika, whom he loved dearly. So, for the last 30 odd years Kumar has been living in Mahawilachchiya.
Kumar and Mangalika had decided not to let their children speak Tamil as they were living in a Sinhala village and the kids were attending a Sinhala medium school. Therefore, their children do not speak a single word of Tamil, which is their “Father Tongue”. Mangalika understands a little Tamil, but they had never spoken to each other in that language in their life together. Kumar liked reading a lot and he used to read all the Tamil newspapers he could get hold of before coming to Mahawilachchiya. But now it was very difficult to find a Tamil newspaper in Mahawilachchiya. One has to go to Anuradhapura for that. Kumar could not afford to make this trip very often. So even very reluctantly, he had to say goodbye to his favourite pastime, reading newspapers.
Kumar was a loyal husband for his wife and a caring father for their six kids, the arrival of who had kept both him and his wife very busy. Nevertheless, there existed in his inner soul an inexplicable loneliness, a nameless void, tugging at his heart, all along those thirty odd long years, Kumar admitted while he was talking to me. Fidgeting with an unlighted cigarette in his hand, with a faraway look in his eyes, he said, “At first, my wife used to ask me why I looked so unhappy at times, why I sat for long hours just by myself. I said nothing because I did not know the answer for that question myself. I had no reason for being unhappy at all. God has sent me the most loving and caring wife in the world; and I have the most adorable kids… I had every reason to be much happier than most of our neighbors. In fact, I was asking the same question from myself, why did I feel lonely amidst such a loving family…?
Then he found the answer, or to be more accurate, the remedy, for his loneliness with the advent of the mesh.
His children, all of whom are students of Horizon Lanka Academy, were very excited about this great event. However, in his heart Kumar did not share the enthusiasm or the excitement that was seething in them. What is the use of this ‘mesh’ in a remote village like ours, he thought.
The very next day, his skeptical outlook towards ‘mesh’ changed; and so did his whole life. He was idly sipping a cup of tea, sitting close to his third daughter Krishanthi, who was browsing the internet. Suddenly Kumar jumped up shouting, “Wait, hold it there!” He had seen a web page written in Tamil, his mother tongue…!
This simple incident brought about one of the biggest changes in Kumar’s life.
“I had not known that you could read Tamil newspapers over the internet.” He explained to me. “I know that was really stupid of me, I mean, with my kids using internet almost everyday at the Horizon Lanka for the past two years… They never told me about it earlier, may be because I did not ask them…” He laughed. Yes, Kumar laughs very often now, a happy Mangalika told me.
Even without his consciously knowing it, what had been bothering Kumar over the last thirty years, was the separation from his mother tongue.
Now he can read all the Tamil news papers published in the country and he can read news in Tamil on many international websites. He can listen to Tamil webcasts. For this, he learned to use the computer very fast with the help of his children. “Our father learned the basics of operating a computer starting from using the mouse properly, web browsing and chatting amazingly fast.” One of his daughters Nirmala told me.
Furthermore, he can talk with his family using ‘Skype’. He can swap photos with them through email. He got re-united with his kith and kin after thirty years thanks to the ‘mesh’ technology…! He no longer feels that inner loneliness that was killing his soul. Isn’t this enough to call him “the happiest man in Mahawilachchiya…?”