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Sunburnt Home - an Australian-Sri Lankan novel

Chapter 19: Coming of age in Australia

Jayadeva looked at the golden ear-rings, and pearl necklace that his mother gave as a gift to Sunitha four months ago. He secretly kept them without even telling Malini to be given at her puberty. It was a grandmother's gift in anticipation of her only granddaughter's progression to womanhood.

-- Next year Sunitha will be in high school. She has grown up fast recently but how long it will take her to become a big girl? When are we going to celebrate Sunitha's Malwara nakatha?

He looked at the golden ear-rings and the necklace again. His mother gave it to him after she was discharged from the Nagoda hospital. Although, doctors had advised her to change her blood pressure medication, and bed-rest for a week, ever since she returned home, Jayadeva's mother was pre-occupied with Sunitha's horoscope and the astrological predictions about her puberty.

Jayadeva recalled the conversation he had with his mother four months ago.

"Putha, according to this horoscope, she will be a big girl soon! Punchi banda weda mahattaya who read the horoscope said that she would be rich and well-known at forty! She would be famous around the world and do well according to this horoscope!"

Though Jayadeva never believed astrology per se, he didn't want to get into an argument with his mother. He felt a bit ashamed when he recalled his attempts to boil milk last April, realising how he spoilt Malini's kitchen when he decided to embrace and continue Sinhala Avurudu traditions in Perth.

"How do we know what will happen in the future? I never thought I would ever leave Sri Lanka, and settle down in Australia. Who knows what Sunitha Duwa and Putha will do? No one can predict the future! After all, Thathatha never believed astrology. Can't you remember he used to laugh at you by reminding, 'what could the stars in the sky do?' ".

Despite Jayadeva's beliefs in Sinhala Avurudu customs and associated rituals based on ancient astrological traditions, he still could remember his father's views on astrology:

Nakkathan pathimeneththan atthobalan upachchaga Aththo Aththassa nakaththan, kin karissathi tharaka

(The fool who procrastinates what is to be done waiting for an auspicious time will not achieve the objective. If you could achieve your objective, that itself is auspicious. What could the stars in the sky do?)

Jayadeva recited in his mind the last line that his father used to quote from a Buddhist script.

"Kin karrisththi thraka?" - "What could the stars in the sky do?" -

He took a deep breath, and look over the saman pittcha flowers that were adding perfume to the surroundings.

Just a day before Jayadeva's departure mother came with a box and said:

"Den ithin Sunitha duwath malawara wena kale evilla ne da? Ehema wunu davasaka, may raththtaran karabu dekai, muthu malai denna man duuna kiyala. Mata inna ekama minubiri ne!"

[Now it is the time for Sunitha daughter's puberty, isn't it? When she attains, give this pearl necklace and gold ear-rings to her saying that it's a gift from me. She is the only granddaughter I have!]

He tried to recall the rest of the conversation.

"You must remind Malini Duwa to take leave at least four to five days and stay home with Sunith duwa after the puberty," Jayadeva's mother emphasised and added:

"Gahanu lamai loku wunhama, thani karran honda neha. Honding mathaka thiya ganna!"

[A girl should not be kept alone after puberty. Please remember that well]

Having waited for four months and noticing changes in Sunitha's physical features, Jayadeva wanted to reveal the secret, the precious gift from his mother.

"Amma gave a gift for Sunitha to be given at her puberty!"

Malini's sarcastic smile revealed everything. After a few seconds, she said:

"She attained puberty while you were away visiting your mother? Now everything has been sorted out and she has no problems of wearing her monthly pads."

"So why didn't you tell me? I kept the gifts Amma gave all this time, and we w'd have had a party!"

Jayadeva took a deep breath and continued,

"You should have told me about duwa's puberty, no? Why didn't you give her a pair of ear-rings when she turned a big girl? These are important things according to our culture and traditions."

"What culture? What traditions you talk about? I'm a doctor and I know about women's bodies better than you do. Australian girls don't receive ear-rings as a gift when they reach puberty!" Malini said firmly.

'Didn't you follow our puberty customs in Sri Lanka? Why did you deprive her of our valuable cultural practices? She is the only daughter we have!"

"Look Mister, we live in a different world now! I asked Niranjala also. Only a very few Sri Lankan families had organised puberty functions in Perth. Nirnajala who is a party person had never arranged a function when her daughter Suwarna attained. After all, she is from the same caste like us. Salagama! These are very private matters!"

"We'd have done something at least."

"We don't have dhobi caste people in Australia to attend to puberty businesses! Don't you know that? A good thing is there is no caste system in Australia!" Malini said proudly.

"So didn't you even take leave and stay with Duwa when she attained?"

"Are you mad, she had a special education test at school on that day. I told her how to wear good pads and sent her to school," Malini said firmly and continued,

"Why should I take leave? These are natural things that have happened throughout the history. A young girl having her first period is not a big a deal. After all, this is not men's business!" said Malini and giggled.

"I'm the father! Sunitha is my daughter," Jayadeva said firmly.

"So what?"

"Throughout the human civilisation, young women have had their first and other menstrual periods!" Malini played her doctor role thinking that it would calm him down.

"Me mona jara kathada ban umba kiyanne? Mama e lamayage thathathane! Eyage wedeeema gana mama danagana eka mage yuthukama!"

["What rubbish you talk? She is my daughter, and I have every right to know her development cycle and it's my duty!]

"So, then wait and see how she will behave when boys come after her in a few years time. Then how would you tackle that development cycle?" Malini said sarcastically.

Jayadeva felt as if Malini's sarcastic tone as a hail storm coming down from heaven above with an unexpected rain.

Jayadeva felt as if the world around him blurring. He attempted to hide his tears and rushed to his study and closed the door.

He was shivering with anger. He looked at the family portray that was taken after they had arrived in Perth and tried to calm him down.

Jayadeva tried to recall the puberty ceremony his parents arranged for his elder sister. A good part of the villagers attended the function held at home.

He remembered how his mother instructed him to inform the dhobi woman who came to wash their clothes every two weeks. She lived in an adjacent village where only the lower caste people who lived in small mud and thatch houses.

"Go and tell redi nanda, akkawa nawanna eka gana katha karrran whama enna kiyala"

[Go and tell the dhobi woman to come quickly to discuss bathing arrangements for your sister. Asked her to come soon!].

As the mother didn't say anything else, the ten year old Jayadeva tried to decode the message and the reason for her mother keeping the sister in a separate room and not allowing even the father to see her.

On recollection, Jayadeva realised the importance of puberty and celebrating it as a ceremony to emphasise an important mile stone of a girl's progression into woman hood.

--There are no such ceremonies in Australia. What a nasty country is this?

He lived with his sad feelings over the weekend and carried his depressive moods to work.

When Peter Ferguson dropped into his office on Monday morning, he noticed Jayadeva's depressive mood.

"Why, do you have Mondayitis? You look sad! You have even forgotten to take a shave today? What's up Mr Gum-mage?" Peter asked in a jovial manner.

When Jayadeva described his story, Peter laughed for a few minutes.

Jayadeva knew that Peter had a grown up daughter from his previous marriage.

"So what did you do?" Jayadeva ask inquisitively.

"Oh, Susan's mother never mentioned a word to me! Jay, these are all women's business. Why do you worry?"

I got a valuable gift from my mother for my daughter. It was gift to be given at her puberty ceremony. I kept it four months, and Malini told me Saturday that our daughter already had her puberty four months ago. I was in Sri Lanka then!"

"What was the gift and why do you celebrate puberty?"

A pair of gold ear-rings and a pearl necklace! Puberty ceremonies are part of Sri Lankan culture!"

"Wow! Look, Aussie teenagers don't wear pearl necklaces! My daughter will be seventeen next August, but no necklaces still!"

"Arrange a romantic dinner and give them to Lee! Your wife will be thrilled. Perhaps one day she can pass it onto your daughter!"

Peter winked at Jayadeva and walked away.

--- What am I going to tell Amma about all these? What a bloody country is this! No Sinhala Avurudu! No malvara nakath! How can we keep our culture in a country like Australia? What is the use of these multicultural slogans we see and hear every day?"

He got up and looked at the Swan River floating slowly through the narrow windows of his office.

He didn't see any movements of the water from a distance.

--This river would have flowed like this for thousands of years taking all the dirt on the way.

The river flowed without any signs of ageing to the Mute Indian Ocean.

(To be continued)

[Footnotes]

Malwara Nakatha - Auspicious time especially when a girl attains puberty

Saman pitccha - Jasmine flowers

Mondayitis - May be defined as a feeling of apathy and sadness that many individuals feel when starting their routine offcial work on Monday mornings.

For feedback and readers' response: [email protected]

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

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