For Donkey’s Years
By Priyangwada Perera Ceylon Today Features
“Why is aiya late?” Shamindri asked. She was eagerly waiting for Shanuka to come home. “Well, you do know that aiya went out on a special work assignment,” her mother replied. “So, he will be back once he is done with it,” she said. “On the very day I want him to be back as soon as possible, aiya had to work longer hours than usual,” she could not hide her disappointment. “Darling Shami, he will be back soon. I do not think he will take the whole evening to return. What exactly do you want aiya to help you with? Perhaps I can help you,” she offered.
This offer got Shamindri excited because she wanted to finish her homework before her favourite TV programme started. “Oh, yes. Why did I not think of you, Amma? That is so silly of me. Let me bring you my Eastern Music book. We just started learning the classical Hindustani Ragas. Do you mind helping with the newest one I learnt?” she asked. Unfortunately her mother’s smile disappeared.
“Out of all the things I can teach you and help you Shami, Eastern Music is not even the last,” she said and Shamindri’s face fell. “But, I thought you also studied the same subjects as me, as a kid,” Shamindri told her mother. For that her mother replied, “Yes, Shami. I most definitely did. I am not too sure of how sound my memory is. Afterall, I have not recalled any of this for donkey’s years,” she could barely conclude when the telephone rang. Shamindri’s mother had to answer the phone. By the sound of their conversation Shamindri knew it had to be her aunt on the other end of the line. This telephone conversation was likely to last for some time –it was the weekly custom of the two sisters.
Shamindri sat down on the sofa and started thinking. She had finished all her other homework. “Why is there no trace of Aiya!” she started worrying. She kept thinking of her mother’s words as well. ‘Donkey’s years!’ What does that mean? How does the donkey come here?’ she kept thinking. Suddenly a thought struck. Maybe it has to do with the Chinese calendar. She has heard her older cousin speaking of each year being associated with an animal.
Her cousin Dili, knew all about such things. Every time she came, she would enlighten Shami with so many interesting things. Shamindri sat there, thinking hard. “Well, according to Dili, this is the year of the Ox. Last year was the year of the Rat. 2019 was the year of the Pig,” she kept recalling. Shami had found this new piece of information interesting and fascinating. That was the reason she remembered all this. At that exact moment the door opened and Shanuka appeared. Shamindri could not stop beaming.
However, she wasn’t as impatient as before to get help with her schoolwork anymore. Although she had been waiting for Aiya to come home to ask him about a Hindustani Raga, what Amma said was even more important than the Raga. “Aiya, remember what Dili said about the Chinese year, like this being the year of the Ox and 2019 being the year of the Pig and so on. What is the year of the Donkey?” she asked. This made Shanuka stop abruptly and look at his sister as if she is out of her head. “Year of the Donkey? I was never an expert on these Chinese years but with Dili we had no choice but being lectured last week. But I never heard of a year of the donkey. Year of the Monkey, they do have but not a Donkey,” Shanuka was very certain.
“Really? Then why did Amma say that she hasn’t been in touch with Eastern Music for donkey’s years” asked Shamindri, quite puzzled. At this point, Shanuka burst out laughing. He laughed so loud that Shami almost got scared. “Oh no, oh no… Shami. You are so mistaken. This has nothing to do with the Chinese New Year. When Amma said she studied Eastern Music donkey’s Years ago, what she meant was she studied the subject a very long time ago,” he explained as he giggled. Shamindri sat there in utter surprise for some time and then remembered the reason she waited so eagerly for her brother. “Aiya, now unlike Amma who has studied it ‘donkey’s years ago’, you can help me, can’t you?” Shamindri asked with a wide grin.