He has fought the battle of life – paid the bills, nurtured a family and faced private scuffles at his workplaces. The journey is almost over and Joseph Denzil Abayasekara has stepped out into the streets. He wants the bitter times of eating bread with sugar and walking around with one rupee in his pocket to be over.
“Find me a home,” pleads this 79 year old, “I need to have some solace before I die,” he cries. With only his books on horoscopes and his ability to read the fate of others through them together with his knowledge of palmistry; as if by instinct Denzil seems to know that his own destiny is not so good.
His movement has slowed down, his vision has dimmed. His bags have got heavier and his purse noticeable lighter. Old age can be hard. But Denzil Abayasekara finds that he is in a worse situation than most senior citizens. “I have got no place to go,’ he whispers, fear creeping into his red rimmed pale eyes.
For years Denzil Abayasekara who has worked as an engineer has fought a labour dispute with his company. “This lawsuit almost destroyed me. I had to spend everything I had. In addition to this, to drown the woes I started to take a drink. Then want and hardship began to creep into my home. My wife felt it and so did my daughters. But there was nothing I could do. Your family sometimes may not be able to understand you when you fail to provide for them. A man seldom has an alternative – he has to go to work, he has a provide,” said Denzil.
Denzil Abayasekara has not gambled, he has not spent all his money on liquor. “I sold all my valuables and went with my family to England hoping to settle down. But my wife who was suffering from asthma got worse and wanted to come back. She asked me to stay back and get my charter from the Council of Engineering Institute. But I came back with her,” recalled Denzil Abayasekara.
After that the company I worked for did not give me a better position. Yet I continued to work, as I had taken no-pay leave. Thereafter I was transferred from Colombo to Nawalapitiya,” said Denzil.
“I had to respect the decision of my superiors, hence I resettled my family in Nawalapitiya and found schools for my children and life continued,” explained Denzil who went on to add that he lived happily with his family in Nawalapitiya.
Then within a short span of five months, a change came again, this time Denzil was asked to go to Badulla.
With his children settled in Nawalapitiya which was now beginning to look pleasant, Denzil just could not go home and break the news, and their hearts, by announcing that they had to move again.
“So, I declined the transfer. Then the harassment began. They obtained a letter to show that I was being transferred on disciplinary grounds. I was accused of failing to send a letter on time, they said I failed to send the monthly statement of time. While being a manager, I was also required to go on circuit, as a result postal delays of just a day or two occurred,” recalled Denzil with sadness.
With five charges made against him, Denzil Abayasekara was ordered to attend a domestic inquiry.
“I went to Labour Court and I was reinstated. However at the domestic inquiry Denzil was found not guilty of four charges, but guilty of one – of sending an enhanced estimate.
“I did this because the estates were going to be taken over. I enhanced the quotation so that my company would not lose in the event of the estate being taken over. The quotation was for engine spares from England which would have resulted in the engines being repaired,” explained Denzil.
“Nothing, I repeat nothing of this was for me, it was all for the company,” said Denzil.
“I was reinstated but transferred from Nawalapitya to Colombo. I obeyed the order and left my family in Nawalapitiya and came back to Colombo,” said Denzil.
Denzil worked in Colombo, but was miserable. “No work was given to me, let alone a table and a chair. I was being harassed by the personnel manager, ignored my appeal for work and executive facilities, but I was given neither,” alleged Denzil.
“I took the matter to the Labour Court. After 17 years, it ended in the Supreme Court. Their appeals were dismissed,” said Denzil.
But the legal costs and involvements and the devaluation of the rupee during this period, 1978 till 1994 made Denzil Abayasekara’s compensation valueless.
Denzil Abayasekara found that the legal involvements had purged him of all his assets.
Unknowingly age had taken over. He was now a senior citizen.
Another step that Denzil took caused him to fall. The fact that Denzil Abayasekara had requested his mother to give all the property belonging to him to his sisters and get them married had left him with nothing to fall back on.
A senior citizen, without property, without savings and without a steady job, provident fund or pension to fall back onto, Denzil Abeysekera finds that there is only one thing to do.
He needs a home, a place to rest, till death takes over.
“I have booked a place in Moratuwa but they said they cannot give me a ‘word.’ I have nothing. I live in a small annex for which a brother pays the rent. My sister helps me with Rs. 4000 a month to exist,” said Denzil.
“I find it difficult to buy my meals or have the nutrition I need. I am a complete vegetarian. I have one meal in the morning and wait till night time to eat a piece of bread or a left bit of rice from the morning,” he said.
“Neighbours and well wishers have been sending me food on rare occasions,” said Denzil with tears in his eyes.
Denzil says that food is a cause of many sicknesses, “So I don’t go for luxuries. I like my herbal preparations which gives me sustenance. But I cant afford even that. I like to eat ice cream and cheese are delicacies that I dream of.”
We all have worries, so does Denzil. “I am worried that my little refrigerator will stop working before I get a home. It is eighteen years old,” said Denzil Abayasekara who insists that he lives on his ‘no frost’ fridge, which also did not seem to have anything else other than a little cooked green gram.
Denzil Abayasekara has many hopes. His landlady has been kind enough to permit him to stay till he gets a home. “But homes require me to pay,” said Denzil Abayasekara who had Rs. 50 rupees on Friday, to have a great weekend that we wish each other. “When I am in desperate need, I borrow money from my neighbours and return it without fail. This is called rolling,” said Denzil Abayasekara.
And for those of who are having a roaring time, the life and times of Denzil Abayasekara are worth a second thought.
As he lives in hope about being taken into a home, time is catching up, his feet a failing and his heart is aching. This is a senior citizen, with a wealth of knowledge, this is a father who had bathed and cared for his children and has brought home the provisions. The question now is who is able to provide for him.