Itipahan (Burly Lamp) Chapter - 17
(Translated by Ranga Chandrarathne and edited by Indeewara
"I am a lamp burning on both ends
Known well that I cannot pass the night
See my friends
How powerful light
To dispel the darkness"
Daisy's eyes were tired of seeing the slow-moving arms of the B.C.C.
Clock in Borella. The piercing stench emanating from the toilet at
Borella junction was unbearable. The toilet had no way of cleansing off
dirt of thousands of men and women other than accepting the dirt as they
are. The cleaners were not like to clean the toilet as it was soiled
constantly. The Bo-tree in the middle of the town and the small shrine
was waiting to receive the worries and agonies of thousands of men and
women. The old man with a rectangular face and curly hair, who sold
peppermint shouting, 'do not cough, do not cough,' was engaged in the
last transaction of the day. Daisy realised that the stench of
decomposing human remains emanating from the market was not the stench
of human remains but the odour of spoiled fish and meat. She saw couples
of Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) buses were parked at the bus station and
they were all filled up with passengers. All of them understood that it
was difficult for them to evade the fleeting look of the passersby.
However, all of them thought that they had to abide by the order of
Comrade Lionel and they should wait till his arrival at Ritz Cinema to
lead the group. Otherwise the entire country would fall victim to a
disaster caused by their failure to execute assigned tasks of the
revolution. "Why hasn't Comrade Lionel arrived as yet?" enquired Daisy
as she could no longer keep her silence. The rest of the group looked at
one another as if to find an answer to Daisy's question from any member
of the group. "Yes, it is, people are also looking at us in a strange
manner. If we wait here for a while, police would take us into custody
for something else," said one girl who understood the fleeting look of
the men, expressing her doubts. "Let's join the queue to watch the
movie," the thin girl who until then had assumed the leadership of the
group on her own, suggested.
"What are we going to do if Comrade Lionel does not arrive before
issuing tickets?", asked another girl. Daisy thought that it was an
insult to the revolution if such thoughts would come up at a time their
hearts were gleaming as weapons of the revolution. All of them joined
the queue at the Ritz Cinema.
There was a Hindi movie and the title of it could not be remembered.
The larger-than life posters of Hindi actresses whose images would be in
the bill boards in various cities has been displayed at the entrance to
the cinema hall. Since Comrade Lionel did not arrive on time, all had to
watch a Hindi movie. Daisy while watching the movie thought that she was
committing a sin as if she would go fishing after having observed Sil.
A scene from the teledrama; Nilmini Thennakoon and Priyantha Wijekoon as
Soome and Sirinatha
She could not understand dancing, singing or other nonsense of Hindi
The spectators in the gallery were laughing loudly. At times, they
hooted and shouted.
More than that, they, from time to time, shouted out expressing their
Though none of them were clearly audible, the performances in the
gallery made an impression in her mind than the performance of actors,
who performed acrobatic acts on the screen. Though they came out of the
Cinema, neither Comrade Lionel nor a sign of his arrival was there.
Those who watched the film returned to their homes, sharing the
happiness of watching the movie. "Why had Comrade not come?", a
disappointed girl broke the silence for the first time.
"However, we were not informed about the work. Now, we shall leave
wherever we could go." The group reached a collective decision. The
girls, who went ahead a little, understood that it was not easy for them
to go to wherever they could go. Only the beggars were left as others
had left the cinema. They slept here and there. The woman supposed to be
a sex-worker, was following a man. Soome thought that Borella junction
was engulfed with a great darkness despite the lighting up of a lot of
bulbs. It was clear that security had been intensified at Borella and
random checks of suspicious persons were being carried out. The girls
understood that there would have been a strong reason for comrade
Lionel's absence. With a some doubt, Soome returned home with the cloth
A lot of them looked at her walking swiftly from the junction. Though
there was no one to enquire "where have you been," Soome assumed that
they would have come to different conclusions about her. Soome saw
Kandegedara Lamatheni who met her at Ovita, looking back at her. A
shiver of fear ran through her body when she thought of the attempts to
remain in the city for a few days evading arrest. Soome knew that if she
or any other girl was taken into custody, first they would have to
sacrifice chastity and second, perhaps even life. Soome knew that she
could even sacrifice her life for social, political and economic goals,
she expected to achieve through the revolution. However, Soome thought
that she should, as far as, possible try to protect her life. She
thought that it would not be the end of the fight against the social and
economic disparity or this would not be the end by itself. Soome
consoled hers with the idea that even the Russian revolution was not won
overnight. Soome could not fully comprehend as to what caused her
uncertainty. Somehow, she thought that now she should go home, mustering
her courage. There was no one else to receive her other than home. When
Soome stepped into the hut, Duleena was separating seeds from a half of
jack fruit. On hearing Soome's steps, Duleena turned and look at her.
Though she said, 'Puthe,' she could not get up from where she was. Soome
sat by Duleena, having thrown the bag onto the bed. "Are you thirsty?"
Duleena asked seeing Soome's state. Though Soome' did not respond,
Duleena got up and poured some cold water from the earthenware pot, into
the same coconut shell that covered it. Soome began to munch a jack
clove before Duleena brought water in the coconut shell. Soome felt
hungry that could not be satisfied with munching even hundred of jack
cloves. "Wait, till I cook this," said Duleena, offering the coconut
shell containing water to Soome with both hands. Duleena looked at her
daughter who emptied the coconut shell with one go, while fighting
against her urge to cry out loudly. Though her heart and the eyes were
craving for an outburst, she understood that she had more to do for the
child. Before doing anything else, she had to satisfy the girl's hunger.
"Mother, did any one come here looking for me?" Soome asked Duleena in a
low tone Duleena had been cutting jack cloves with some impatience.
Duleena with a bent head continued her task. But she felt, her finger
tips were more active than before. Soome could not resist mother's
silence. She understood that was something hidden in that silence. "Has
anyone come here looking for me?" Soome asked, this time, in a high
pitched voice. Duleena thought that she needed a quick answer. "Yes
Puthe, the Police visited several times. They searched for you at every
nook and corner. I was afraid thinking where you have been hiding," said
Duleena attempting to minimise the intensity of the matter. "Mother,
then, I cannot stay at home, can I? Now, what are we going to do?",
asked Soome impatiently sitting on the floor. Duleena did not raise her
head. She thought that she should not disturb the mind of the girl.
"Yes, they just came, a little while ago. Therefore, they will not come
again until night fall," said Duleena putting the pot of jak on the
fire. Soome watched the roaring fire around the pot, burning rubber
sticks and coconut stems. Soome listened to the rhythm of Duleena
grinding a coconut Sambol which was similar to the sound in her mind.
Duleena, who put pol sambol onto the steaming plate of jak, offered it
to Soome, and placed a glass of water.
Soome thought she should satisfy her hunger, forgetting her troubles
for the time being. She emptied the plate quickly and dragged out the
trunk box under the bed. "Police has taken same kind of gowns in the
trunk. They have scattered your books. It is ok to take gowns, but books
should be cared for.
They took some papers stacked among the books and asked whether you
have sewn the gowns. "As Duleena explained, Soome understood all what
had happened. Now this hut was not a secure place for her. But it was
only her mother and herself who knew that there was no one to protect
her. She could neither go out for protection nor stay in the hut. "Don't
be upset. I do not understand any of these things.
But I should not allow any harm to befall on you. So I prepared a
place for you to hide," said Duleena. Since the darkness reigned in
throughout the rubber estate, Soome could go into the secured place
prepared by mother without being noticed by anyone. Mother had put a mat
in the pit between rubber estate and Ovita. It was intended to be a well
but had abandoned halfway through. Soome had a sense of relief when she
saw that mother had made up a strange house by covering the mouth of the
pit with a coconut leaves putting across coconut poles. Mother had put a
pillow made up of stuffing pieces of rags and a sheet of chintz on the
mat. "Slowly get down into the pit. Take this bottle of water. I will
leave a bucket of water near Bovitiya bush" Soome, who got into the pit,
saw mother trying to cover up surface. She was engulfed with an intense
sense of regret for mother who understood everything, but questioned
nothing and without any complaints.. She thought that destiny had
mercilessly taken away an opportunity to salvage mother from her
"I am going. Take care of yourself. I will come in the morning," said
the Mother who put a couple of coconut leaves on the coconut bars.
Soome vaguely heard mother uttering "I am going." There was only
pitch darkness inside the pit. It was a kind of darkness that penetrated
not only into the bone marrow but into her very soul. Though there was a
candle and a box of matches, she thought that lighting it would be
dangerous. There was no room for her to stretch out on the mat in the
pit. It was enough only either to crawl or to sit on. Soome thought it
was better to sit rather than crawl. The various sounds of animals and
serpents made fearful thoughts in Soome who hid in the pit. She was
afraid that a poisonous cobra would sting her with its poisonous teeth.
Avichchiya's cries and prowling across the village reverberated in the
pit. Soome thought that the cry of the owl in the night that made people
in the village shudder in fear, as an attempt to bury her alive. Not
only the nocturnal creatures but also images of ghosts and other fearful
animals appeared before her when she opened her eyes and also when she
closed them. Soome felt sad thinking why mother had left her in a
fearful environment. But mother could not stay here. She thought that
mother could provide security not by staying in the pit. She recalled a
story of a girl who was stranded in the forest as mother had told her
when she was a child. She tried hard to sleep as she crawled inside the
pit. But as everything else she expected sleep has also been drifted
away. She thought that she was destined to undergo such cruel and
merciless experiences. Could she remember anyone who consoled her? Had
anyone who associated with her had given her solace? Sirinatha,
Sriyadari Akka, Comrade Uttamasinghe and Lal Malli, all, of them, had
made impressions at various stages of her life. Sriyadari Akka's love
for her had been deep rooted in her subconscious. Soome reflected on her
nostalgic and enchanted memories of care-free childhood she spent with
Sirinatha and youthful calf love he stimulated. What force deprived her
of the warmth and love she experienced with Sirinatha and love at a
certain stage of her life? Soome needed no evidence to picture her
mother's image with bundle of reed and rubber knife bending before her
which superseded every other memory. Suddenly she heard someone's
footsteps. Intuitively and from the cries of the animal, Soome
understood that it would have been past midnight. Who would walk across
the village at this hour when the entire village was engulfed in
darkness? Simultaneously, she heard a loud barking of dogs in the entire
village? At whom the dogs were barking? What is happening now? The
sounds of footsteps got closer and closer. Soome thought that the blood
circulation in her emaciated body was reaching a faster pace. She felt
sweating inside the cold pit. She knew that the only way was to close
her eyes and face the situation. Soome heard someone who approached the
pit clearing the throat. Her shivering body and mind recognised that
noise. That was mother.
Mother who stood behind her like a shadow ever since Paxston gave her
life and bringing her into the world after carrying her inside her womb
for ten months. Duleena who removed the coconut leaves, murmured "Puthe,"
though Soome wanted to cry out she wanted to speak hiding her feelings.
"They have just arrived and I waited till they left to come and see
you," said mother. Though she wanted to say, "Mother, I am scared a
lot," she did not want to share those words with her mother. "Have you
slept well?" mother murmured. Soome understood that her tone had not
been disturbed as that of herself. "No I could not sleep. I thought of
various things," said Soome with a feeble voice. "Chant Isibitho gathawa
and go to sleep. I stay here till you go to sleep. Don't be afraid,
sleep now." "All these things is under the power of Isibitho chant,"
Soome wanted to tell her mother that she had already chanted Isibitho
ten or twelve times. But she thought that she could not even control her
tongue. Tongue was between teeth like an iron bar.
Her throat was aching like a symptom of dreadful disease. Head was
aching as if it is about to burst. Soome felt her mother's strength and
began to chant Isibitho in her mind. Duleena put back the coconut
leaves. She knew from hearing the sound of heavy breathing that the girl
was fast asleep.
Though Duleena wanted to stay near the pit, she thought that it would
cause Soome harm. On the other hand, she had to cook something for
breakfast. She should keep an eye on what's happening. There was no need
to have evidence for villagers" ill-will for the girl. She thought what
she should do as a mother, is to protect her daughter. "Have you gone to
toilet?", asked Duleena, who brought a jug of tea with boiled sweet
potatoes and Lunu Miris.
"Mother, bring me a short ladder to climb up. I feel tired a lot,"
said Soome. Duleena thought for a while and said: "I will bring you a
ladder in the night. I do not see any way of bringing lunch," Duleena
Duleena could bring a little bit of rice and curry but she could not
think of bringing it during the noon. "Mother, don't come during day
time if you have any doubts.
Jut bring something to eat at night," Soome said and her words were
unbearable for Duleena.
Sil - Observing ten precepts in a Buddhist (tradition)
Ovita - A piece of land in the middle of a paddy field
Puthe - Endearment in Sinhalese for son or daughter
Pol sambol - A Sri Lankan dish made out of scrapped coconut with
chili, salt and lemon
Bovitiya - A flowering plant
Avichchiya - A bird similar to coco bird
Isibitho mantra - A Buddhist stanza that expel evil influences
Lunu Miris - A chili paste with salt and lemon.