The call to the ‘Met. Department’

On news these days they speak about how land is sinking in Matale… This reminds me of one of those many crazy things we did a long time ago. Back then I had the courage to speak to people about ‘serious’ matters like it was something I did everyday. This is a true story… from six years ago.
Matale is a city in Sri Lanka, if you don’t know.

It was the third meeting, the day was warm and the skies were clear. We played outside till we had lunch. After lunch we were asked to stay indoors for a while… Of the seven originally included in the ‘club’, only four of us were in the room that day. I was ten years old, one was eleven, the other twelve and the oldest was fifteen. We were as bored as bored could ever be and indoor ideas of play didn’t interest every person alike… Quite spontaneously we got into speaking about this rumoured limestone that was running under Matale. We wondered if at that very moment there was limestone meters beneath our feet and if we would suddenly fall crashing down underground. Ideas were vague, with me knowing the least but being most interested at first hearing it. She ran to her dad’s cupboard and brought out a huge telephone directory. We let the oldest one look for the telephone number of the ‘Met. department’, for that’s how we knew the Meteorological Department. Now was the issue of who was going to speak. The eleven year old backed off simply but you wouldn’t believe who had the most courage that day. It was me. Ten year old me was so much more courageous than a sixteen year old me would ever be. Anyway, we decided to let the oldest one speak. She  dialed the number, someone picked up, and asked what we wanted. She said, worded in a beautiful way, that we were ‘The Seven Detectives’ calling from Matale wanting to know the truth behind the ‘limestone story’. He transferred the call and the second in line (the twelve year old) took the phone. When she asked about it, they gave us two telephone numbers. We were doubtful if the office would be open that day but we tried anyway. The oldest one took the phone again as she happened and still happens to be a pro at saying the right thing at the right time.
I remember the exact words she said, “Hello, I’m an ‘Active member’ (that was what we had named her) of  The Seven Detectives calling from Matale. We would like to know about this rumour about a limestone running under Matale. Is this a true story?” Hopefully we waited for an answer looking at the earpiece of the phone like the solutions hung there. The serious ‘active member’ was suppressing a laugh all of a sudden and writing another telephone number down. Then she said, “okay, thank you very much” and ended the call.
She related what had just happened. She had been speaking about the limestone to the guy who guarded the office and he had replied in another language… after all, they had really been closed that day. But now we had got through the second call and had two numbers that had been given. Coincidentally (or just obviously) they were both the same number… and this call could possibly give us the answer we were looking for. And there had to be someone who had to speak. I wanted (needed would be the better word) to speak to the The regional office in Kandy myself, and so I did.
Motivated and determined, even though a little nervous, I took the phone and dialed the number. I heard rings and finally a woman picked up the phone. I asked in Sinhala (though I sound terrible speaking it) if it was the ‘Met. Department’ and if I could speak to someone who could provide me with some information about a suspected natural disaster. She put me on hold.
A man answered it this time and he was calm and friendly when he said “Hello”. Once again, these were my exact words: “Hello, I’m calling from Matale. We have a club called Seven Detectives. We heard that there is a limestone under Matale. We are not sure if that’s true. Is it?” I was serious, no laughs, no kidding. He seemed impressed. He spoke, “Really? That’s a very good thing you’re doing. I’m happy that you all are doing this. How old are you all?” I told him I was ten and the ages of the others as well. The other three in the room were staring at me probably wondering how a call about a natural disaster had turned into publicizing their ‘secret’ club. He continued, “Where are you all from? Do you do things like this often? What else have you done?” I told him that my brother and I were not from Matale but the rest of us were. I told him about how this was our first ‘official’ project and how we had plans to spread knowledge about the symptoms of the latest mosquito caused illnesses that was prevailing Sri Lanka. He asked us to continue to do what we were doing and he said he really likes it. Then he said he’d tell me about the limestone story. I had a notebook and pen in hand to jot down the important things, like I always did and still do sometimes. This part, I don’t remember his exact words because for some time I thought he was reading it off a book, but what I learnt was that the limestone story was true and someday the sinking might most probably happen. He said there was nothing to worry about but to be aware nevertheless and to tell the elders if there were any visible cracks in the house. He asked me to call back if there was anything else we wanted to know, and he asked me to go ahead and do what we were doing. I thanked him for all he had educated us about and ended the call. We were asked not to make any more calls by our parents since they didn’t know what exactly we were up to, and so we went out to continue with our cricket and hide-and-seek.
What happened that day stayed there, in that room, in that notebook where I wrote down the minutes and the telephone numbers in my neatest handwriting to go back to it whenever we wanted to. We didn’t speak a word about it afterwards though, we didn’t go ahead and tell everyone what we had found out like we had planned to… because we didn’t quite understand it ourselves.
Now when people ask me if I had seen on television what is now happening in Matale I say I have. I pressed my ear to the earpiece of the phone six years ago afraid I’d miss a word and fail in our search, I pretend like I never did it now.
With all the talk about it hitting my ears, I’ve gotten frustrated about how much things have changed since then. I wonder if  by chance, my ten year old voice would have crossed the mind of that nice person who spoke to me that day. If he still works there, or if he’s alive at all. He could have wondered if we succeeded in letting people around us know about the hazards… he could have wondered where we are now… if we had done more of those projects, if we had spoken knowledge about all those diseases. He could have thought about the interest in a ten year old girl, and the determination in seven children who called themselves detectives. He probably never thought this would be what we are after six years… a blog post and only a memory. A distant memory, faded with time and forgotten with the bigger dreams we chased.


Minutes of the day's happenings at the 'meeting'
Minutes from that day’s meeting (Yes, I still have it)


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ziris94
    Jan 02, 2013 @ 16:55:59

    Haha what a tale 😀


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