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Sunday, 6 December 2009

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Itipahan (Burly Lamp) Chapter - 17

(Translated by Ranga Chandrarathne and edited by Indeewara Thilakarathne)

"I am a lamp burning on both ends
Known well that I cannot pass the night
Yet
See my friends
Foes
How powerful light
Burnt
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 actresses.

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 feelings.

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 bag intact.

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 miserable life.

"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 said.

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.

Footnotes

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.

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