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28th June 1998

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'My parents are my greatest fans'

By Marlon Fernandopulle

It's dedication and determination on the playing field, coupled with the constant encouragement he received from his enthusiastic parents that inspired twenty two year old Niroshan Bandaratilake to achieve his cherished dream of representing his country on the cricket field last month.

The Mirror Magazine caught up with Sri Lanka's newest Test Cap at the hotel lobby soon after a tiring practice session last weekend, but still with a pleasing smile on his face Niroshan traced back his Niroshan Bandaratilakecricket career.

"I first played for Thurstan when I was only nine years and went on to captain all the Junior teams in College before being appointed Vice Captain of the First Eleven side . I learnt my basics from Lionel Mendis at the NCC school of cricket. After having a very close look at my bowling Mr. Mendis said "Don't worry Niroshan, you will play for Sri Lanka someday."

" I was surprised but highly taken up by the words of my coach and happily repeated those sentiments to my father who was a very keen follower of the game. He smiled and said, yes you work hard and I am sure you will make it. Those words of my coach and my father echoed and re-echoed in my mind whenever I was on the playing field."

Ten years later Niroshan Bandaratilake fulfilled that prediction and realized his childhood dreams when he earned his test cap.

The young men from Himbutana, Angoda grabbed the opportunity with both hands and proved his talents by capturing 15 wickets in his first three tests against New Zealand with his intelligent left arm leg breaks.

When asked what made him take up spin bowling Niroshan had a mischievous smile."I started off as an opening bowler for Thurstan. After bowling a few overs with the new ball I used to bowl leg spin for the rest of the innings. But when I started playing for the First Eleven I wanted to improve my skills as a top order batsman and so stopped bowling medium pacers since it was tiring and concentrated only on spin. It paid off. That season I scored over 850 runs including a century and captured 60 wickets."

After leaving school Niroshan joined Tamil Union to further his talents. In his first Sara Trophy game ( against BRC) Niroshan grabbed five wickets and has never looked back since. Bowling in tandem with Sri Lanka's ace spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, Niroshan has already played five years for Tamil Union and taken over 250 wickets. An achievement which surprisingly went unnoticed until very lately.

Speaking on the support he received from his parents Niroshan said, "Dad and Mum are my greatest fans. My father was a cricketer himself who played for Dharmapala. He will never miss a single match of mine whether it's school or club. Infact he even lost his job by taking excessive leave to watch me play. Later he began his own business but failed because he was more in the playground rather than at work. Today thank god he has a strict employer who does not grant excessive leave. My mother is also a great fan and most often joins my father provided she has completed her work at home. However on some days, she even avoids cooking meals when she wants to see me in action."

Now that he has graduated to the highest level in the game, Niroshan Bandaratilake's goal is to represent his country in as many Test and One Day International as possible. "I want to be a part of the Sri Lanka team for many more years and take as wickets as I can," concluded a confident Bandaratilake.


Introducing our newserial 'Fragments' by Manel Abhayaratne

Chitra hated this time of the evening. The silence of the house normally filled her day and when the morning sun filtered through the slanting window she felt comforted and unafraid. But when it was twilight and the room was filled with its dim brightness, fear touched her and she wanted to run from the silence of her own self. It was a remembrance of the terrible reality of her childhood when she woke up from her shivering fever into a world that was lonely. She looked down at the paper on which she had drawn her frightened fears, then with the hard dull sound she could emit from her lacerated throat she crushed the paper and flung it away. Her mother would soon be in, she thought glancing at the clock and arranging the table for the evening meal. Chitra then walked to the window. She was small for her twelve years and the evening light lit up her dark long lashed eyes and touched the still hair framing the mobile face so given to expressions now that she could not speak. The slight wind was chasing the bits of paper in the street below and Chitra smiled playing in her mind a game she often did, of which paper would fly the farthest.

The lamp lighter lazily lighting the street lamps with his hooked stick glanced up, saw her and smiled. She waved back, he was a familiar figure. Soon the dull twilight was brightened by the bluish hue of the mercury lights. It was almost seven o'clock and her mother would be back now. Neela, her mother, always rushed home from work frightened to leave her too much alone. She wondered where her father was now. She remembered him kissing her saying he was going abroad, her mother had sadly said it was a business trip. She shook her head trying to forget the angry voices of her parents and the terrible sadness she felt because she thought she was the cause of that anger. Chitra's eyes darkened as she tried to remember what her father had said before he left but at that time she was not so quick in deciphering soundless words.

Even now she found it difficult. She had asked her mother in continuous little notes ''Where is thaththa?" But her mother had not really replied till recently when she had said, "He does not want us any more". Chitra had wanted to ask why but the loneliness in her mother's eyes had prevented her asking any more questions. Quick bitterness filled her. She was almost twelve and the future stretched out bleak and silent. She shook her head to forget her sudden unhappiness. She leaned out of the window and sighed. Her mother was late.

The street was lonely now, for the normal rush of people who came in the buses from the city had gone to their flats and the children who often played in the street had been called in, the windows were closed and the street looked bare, only the sidewalks were filled with shadows caused by the light falling on the trees. She watched idly the two men get down from the car and walk on the pavement. They were looking up at the flats and the light filtered on their faces. One of them, a tall man with a quick smile saw her and waved. She waved back and smiled. The older man, Michael asked perversely "Is that the flat"? "No," said Nihal, "But isn't that girl lovely, she reminds me of a still painting on the stained glass window of the church I went to as a child, I am sure she'll grow up to be a beautiful woman.'' "You can think of such things on a day like this?" Michael asked glancing again at the cluttered flats. "You can't forget a face like that in a hurry," said Nihal. "Anyway are you sure the man would be here"? "That's what he said," Michael answered, "He'd be near the tree at the entrance to the housing complex. Look that seems to be the tree." "But there doesn't seem to be anyone there," said Nihal. "It may be a false lead. These chaps are very smart, we are novices in comparison."

Chitra wondered who they were, why they were walking gazing so much at the flats and why had they not travelled in the car.

Michael said thoughtfully, "I somehow can't believe half of what Ranjan said." "You musn't believe all that people say when they make a confession in custody. They will say anything just to get out of trouble or pain. Yet I think something of what he said must be true. It seems to be a gigantic problem, but at least now we've got a little bit of information." "I am so afraid Nihal for too many of our secrets become public knowledge soon. I don't think all those in our group can be trusted and if someone guesses that Ranjan has given us this unusual lead, there will be trouble."

"Michael was worried again. He was not a hero he thought, life was important when one had a wife and four little children. Cynically he thought, "The world will forget me so soon when I am dead. So why should I risk my life," but the years of traditional conscientious training made him eager to find the truth. He sighed. The stillness of the street and the eerie shadows of the neon lights gave him an uneasy feeling. Nihal laughed saying bitterly, "We are now so timid, frightened even of our own shadows."

Chitra watched the men with curiosity, it took her mind off the anxiety as to why her mother was late. She glanced again towards the bus halt and saw with surprise the car. Its headlights were off and it came gliding silently towards the two men on the pavement. She waved her hand but the men were talking. She glanced desperately at the other flats, the windows were closed. She hit her hand against the open window bruising her fingers. Nihal looked up and saw her, waving her hand, first he thought she was waving at him, a lonely child at a window, but then she seemed so excited that he turned back, but he was too late, the car was on them, it swerved hitting him and then running over Michael.

Chitra gazed terrified. She saw the driver's face as he glanced at the flats and for a moment he lifted his eyes from the road and saw the wide eyed terror in the girl's eyes. His lips tightened but he silently turned the car around and was gone even before the doors were opened by those who had heard Nihal's strangled scream. Chitra was shivering, the blood and splattered bits of flesh gleamed translucent in the brilliant light. She shut the window and stood terrified. She remembered the face of the younger man, his smile and the way he had been flung aside when the car struck him and the splattered bits of brain of the older man like pieces of curdled milk. It was horrifying she covered her face with her hands, feeling sick, and started sobbing.

Neela's bus was late. As it screeched to a halt, she saw the accident. Quickly she glanced at the mangled bodies surrounded by the jostling crowd and rushed in, afraid that Chitra would have seen it and been frightened. She called out to her as she opened the door and not hearing her welcoming voice, ran into the bedroom. The child was huddled on the bed sobbing. She hugged her, caressing her head saying "Hush daughter, hush". It was agonising to watch the heaving shoulders, the muted hard sounds and the silent tears coursing down Chitra's face. If only she could howl and cry as she had done as a child, Neela would not have felt so desperate. She feared that when her grief was too much Chitra would once more start banging her head against the wall as she had done when she woke from her deep fevered sleep and found she could not speak, her lips had moved but no sound came from her damaged throat. Neela was tired, the day had been heavy, working for an irritable boss was not easy but the pay was good and she hoped the extra money she so diligently saved would help her one day to take Chitra for the operation that would make her talk. "What happened daughter, child I have come home don't be frightened, nothing will harm you." Chitra looked up at her and in her tear brimmed eyes she saw the lie of her assurances.

Chitra scribbled on a piece of paper, writing hurriedly, "I saw the men who were killed, a car came fast and knocked them. The young man waved to me. I saw the driver," Neela said sharply. "Why did you stand at the window, you know I don't like it and anyway it was just an accident." Chitra shook her head. She took a piece of paper and drew quick sketches of the two men, the car and the driver. Neela marvelled as always at her drawings and sighed remembering that this talent had been one of the reasons for the many quarrels she had with Anil. Chitra had won so many local and foreign prizes for art and when Anil wanted her sent to a special institution after her illness, Neela had been furious. She would somehow see that she would talk again. The child pushed the drawing towards her, Neela glanced at it and then picked it up and looked closely at the figures. Was it someone she knew, the faces, the young man's expression of surprise, the older man's unawareness and the driver's calculated cold eyes were almost as if they were faces in a photograph. She looked again at the driver's face. 'Oh no it can't be, surely not him, the foreigner so popular at many social functions, no it couldn't be him,' she thought and pointing to his face, she shook her head. Chitra touched the picture and wrote, "It's the face of the man who drove the car." "No it can't be,'' said Neela. Chitra looked at her mother baffled and then she collected the piece of paper and stuffed it into her pocket. When she heard the siren she wanted to open the window again, but Neela said sharply, 'No' and sullenly Chitra sat down for dinner.

Thursday Night

Neela was too tired to stay awake even though she knew Chitra was restless. The child huddled in her bed remembering vividly the man driving the car. She was frightened and she seemed to hear the younger man shouting something to her. It sounded like "Child remember, remember." She drew the covering sheet hoping that the total darkness would blind the remembrance of blood and curdled whiteness and as she tossed restlessly she could see the young man's face and his words seemed to be "remember, remember.'' She struggled in her sleep and suddenly she woke up. She went into the hall and collected the paper she had thrown in anger at her mother's refusal to believe her, on which she had drawn the faces, and she hid it under the pillow. She would not forget now, she thought smiling slightly.

The foreigner sat in his study. The window blinds had been drawn, shutting out the garden lights. The room was lit with the subdued light of a single wall lamp. He was a big made tall man, looking as familiar as all foreigners were. There was nothing that could differentiate him from the innumerable tourists and businessmen who came into the country except that perhaps he was regarded as a little bit more eccentric than others because he was more generous than most, especially to those institutions that helped the old. Yet now the muted light cast shadows on his face and his usually genial face seemed cruel. He frowned. He should never have taken the car he thought. But then he could not involve anyone else. The moment he heard that Ranjan had said something connecting him with the guns and the drugs he knew the two men had to die. How Ranjan had heard he did not know and by now, he looked at his wristlet, Ranjan too would be dead. He thought back of the drive, and suddenly he remembered the girl. Her eyes had looked straight at him. Had she seen him or was it fear because she had seen the accident? He wished he knew. He switched on the radio. The late news broadcast came in, "Michael Gunewardene, well known investigator and Nihal Jayaratne were knocked down by a car at Sinhapura Housing Colony. The two men were fatally injured". The foreigner smiled. "Any information regarding the vehicle....." He switched off the radio. They were dead and no one had seen him - the girl - he frowned - he was worried. He thought he should find out whether anyone knew of the accident. The best information he could get would be from a newspaper. The crime reporter of the popular daily paper, Adrian his friend, would know more of the accident than anyone else, normally they were the first to know and with their curiosity they may have found out about the girl if she had seen it. He dialled and said, "Adrian Dias, yes, I heard the news, it was so sad. I think, especially, at this time when this country needs the best investigators to find out who are supplying weapons and money to the terrorists. But I just can't imagine how an accident occurred at that housing colony and no one saw it. Strange isn't it? Oh! you mean to say that everyone was indoors. No one at the bus halts even - Oh! but I am sure soon someone will remember. But please if there is anything I can do especially for Michael's family let me know. Nihal is a bachelor I know but Michael, I believe he has a number of children. I agree it is a tragedy especially when one needed such men. Yes. Yes, anything I can do, right - Good night'' he rang off and sat drumming the table. Somehow he could not forget the girl.

He continued to drum the table and the light from the wall lit the red ruby ring on his finger. He rang up Raju. "Yes I heard about Michael. I don't know who killed him but its a good thing, else he and that friend of his may have found out my involvement. They were the only clever ones left. You are sure that in that prison fight Ranjan was killed. It was smart of you to think of it,'' he said smiling inwardly. It was good to flatter Raju once in a way. He was such a sensitive person. 'Ah yes I don't mind giving Rs. 5,000/- to the wife of the man who killed him. It's little in comparison to the damage Ranjan could have done, had he lived longer. You must exercise a greater vigilance over your boys,' he smiled again. He could almost see the pained expression in Raju's eyes, "Anyway there is something important I want to meet you about, be here tomorrow at 6 a.m.'' he put the phone down and continued drumming the table, seeing in the muted light the girl's wide eyed terror.

Normally he would have forgotten the incident with a few drinks - in fact he smiled wryly, the local drinks were as good as the foreign, for a person to forget - but somehow swirling the alcohol in his glass he could not forget the girl with her wide terrified eyes and the dark hair framing her white face. She looked almost ghostly with the light from the room behind her. He shook his head. He was being fanciful.

Friday Morning

Chitra opened the window in the morning and looked down at the street. The early morning rain had washed away the blood and the street looked fresh and clean. People were rushing for work and some of them glanced curiously at the place where the men had been killed. She saw some, pointing with their hands, shaking their heads, talking and she felt sad there was nothing remaining of the men, it was as if the whole episode had not occurred. She went back to the room, pulled out the paper from under the pillow and smoothened out its wrinkles.

She looked at it once more and touched gently the face of the man who had smiled at her and seemed so friendly. She heard Neela coming into the room and quickly hiding the paper hurried out of the room. Neela looked at the child and thought "I must somehow take her for that operation soon. She must talk, she is so beautiful''. Chitra was not tall for her twelve years but her body was filling out with the outlines of womanliness, and her almost almond shaped eyes with their contained sadness gave her face an unmistakable quality. Her eyes that had the most expressive stillness and when she smiled they lit up with sudden beauty. She had a calm beauty and whenever she went out with Chitra many looked at her. It was seldom now that Neela saw the mischievous laughing child she had been. Watching her eating her breakfast Neela tried unsuccessfully to still the pangs of guilt she felt. Anil and she, if they had been more together, more concerned of the child, Chitra would never have suffered. The servant looking after Chitra had never mentioned that the child was sick and it was when Chitra was really running a high temperature that the woman had told her. The antibiotics prescribed had been for the fever not for the childhood infectious disease she had caught and though later the antibiotics had saved her life, it had damaged her throat and affected her hearing. If only, thought Neela and then she sighed, it was not worthwhile to think of the many, 'if only', and 'may haves' in her life. She kissed the child and left her with the usual warning of "Don't open the door for anyone." Another day had begun.

Chitra was normally reluctant to watch her mother leave but today she was anxious that she went. She wanted to retouch the faces she remembered so well, before the day's loneliness blurred her memories.

Raju got up early. He tried to be as silent as possible but as always Devi slept too lightly and was disturbed. She rubbed her eyes and asked querulously, "Where are you going at this time of the morning." She hated to get up early and now she would have to, for who else was there to prepare Raju's coffee. She could not ask the old servant to do so. He would be snoring in the open verandah. It would take another hour to wake him. She looked at Raju hurriedly dressing. He was too thin she thought critically but it was not surprising because he seldom seemed to have time to eat. She sighed, getting up and shrugging on her old dressing gown. It was so seldom that they now sat together for a meal. Suddenly she remembered Raju had not answered her question. "Where are you going so early?" she asked again. Raju wished she had continued to sleep. It was difficult to answer her and he knew that she did not rally believe him anymore. "I've to meet a client'' he said. "Clients at this time?" she queried. "These are troubled times so one never knows when a client is in trouble" he answered.

"Troubles oh I wish it would end, all these killings and deaths. What is all this striving for, to divide the country and then, when will there be ever peace? It is an impossible thing you are trying to achieve and it is we and our children who suffer. Raju since this started I do not know of a single home of ours where a women has gone to sleep in happiness. How many times have we wept and are so helpless. We watch the street wondering whether our children are safe. We shiver when we hear a knock on our doors. Is it someone searching for our son. To us a son is the gift of god himself. What have you men - you adults done? Even our own eldest son Indran - where is he? You say he is safe? Have you seen him and Mohan is only a child, but you feed him with your hatred and bitterness. Raju what has happened?" she asked, her voice harsh with sorrow. "You don't understand Devi they killed my own sister. I saw the home my parents built with such sacrifice burnt and they laughed. How can I forget.

If we were free that's all you talk of, dream of, that has been our life these few years'' her voice was hysterical." I must go'' Raju thought, the foreigner would be waiting for him and he had very little patience, he was important, very important now. "We'll talk later'' he said." You'll understand then.'' To be continued

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