An unfabricated sociological narrative
Author: Swarnakanthi Rajapakse
A Sarasavi publication
Master's Daughter is a novel, a sociological narrative, of the
disintegration of a traditional village where a cluster of families of
ritualistic drummers lived as a segregated community. They belonged to
the ‘drummer caste’ considered as inferior to the so-called high caste
people in society.
The story recounts the reluctant transformation of the village in the
post-independence years particularly after the ‘people's government’
coming to power in 1956. It unravels how the socio-political changes
during this period impacted upon the community of Davulawatta.
Clearly, in the prologue which resembles a précis of a sociological
research, and not so distinctly at a few places in the narrative body,
the writer conveys the nature of the village and its inhabitants.
The majority of the community lead a hand-to-mouth existence. There
are three families who are a little better off because, they have the
ownership of the plots of land they live; the elderly male members of
the families had the chance of performing traditional dances in the
procession that welcomed a member of the British royal family.
Notwithstanding, they too earned their living by providing the
services to the temples in the villages and the towns in the area and
for the religious ceremonies and functions held at government
institutions. They also got contracts to play drums in private homes at
weddings, funerals, food offerings and ritualistic performances to
invoke blessings on the sick.
The story is built involving two families: Master Salamon's and
Master Roobera's. Of the two, Master Salaman is the most sought after
artiste and the elder who commanded respect in the community. He has
three children: two sons, Ratnasiri and Vipulasiri and a daughter,
Mutulatha, who is considered a differently-abled child due to polio.
Master Roobera has two sons: Premarathna and Sunil.
As the story begins, the reader gets a cue of the predicament of the
young men in the village. They, one by one leave the village. We meet
Premarathna, who has come for the New Year holidays taking leave from
his job of work in a township as an apprentice tailor. His brother too
would follow him. Master Salamon takes his son to his brother-in-law, so
that he would learn how to run a bakery.
These young men, who have not passed the O/L examination were on the
look out for something more than a job. Not that they would aspire to be
rich. They need their dignity and self-respect. They just did not want
to be treated differently as inferior.
“In school, they were looked down upon by the high caste children.
When going on drumming errands with their elders, they were treated as
inferior..... It encouraged Ratnasiri to evaluate his own standing in
this down-trodden society. When he had accompanied his father on
drumming errands he noticed how high caste men and women treated them as
inferior. They had to enter through the back door and wait near the
kitchen or at a side verandah and sit on low benches or reed mats. They
were never offered a decent seat. At meal times they were never invited
to the main table with the family and guests. Instead they had to eat
the food served to them on the reed mat.”
When a ‘people's government was established, this underprivileged
community as well as common folk in the wider society looked forward to
a positive change in their lives. Davulawatta villagers expected to have
lawful ownership of the lands they occupied for generations. The
ownership of land – some of them got but together with them many
outsiders too were given plots in the village denying some of the
occupants the land they lived. With free education drummer caste
children were encouraged to go to school. But often, they were bullied
by the high caste children, which discouraged them pursing education.
When outsiders came to occupy the village land, with them came many
ills unknown to the village until then-Illegal liquor joints gambling
Young men who left the village enjoy the newly found freedom and a
sense of equality. When the semi-urban surroundings and their vocations
slowly erase the stains within them-castle concerns-they gradually
establish themselves, away from home and caste discriminations.
Those who remain in the village experience stressful situations –
outsiders have got lawful ownership of lands in the village while some
of the long-standing occupants were denied it. The traditional
livelihood, drumming is in its death throes although the likes of Master
Salaman try to rejuvenate it. Land grabbers try nasty tricks on the
villagers to evict them from their lands.
Somewhere else Master Salaman's and Roobera's offspring take root and
are being nurtured by social and economics values. Premarathna,
Vipulasiri and Rathnsiri have their chosen paths to travel.
When Premarathna's wife dies of cancer, he marries Muthulatha. Her
perseverance, kind and caring ways, forbearance, bestows upon her a
beautiful world for her.
Master's Daughter is a simple, uncomplicated story. The writer
captures and portrays the joys, sorrows losses and gains of a community
of people at one time of the recent history of the island.
Davulawatta's gradual disintegration could be ascribed to many other
communities of the period, and of the years thereafter. We see it
happening today, though much faster. Villages either turning into urban
or semi-urban places or perishing and moving into oblivion. With the
process vanish the rich traditions and value systems. On the other hand,
as the ideas of independence and democracy coming in and development,
poverty, sickness and illiteracy vanish.
As the inevitable result of the development model in the post
independent Sri Lanka many villages vanished, together with their deep
rooted traditions and value systems. As the second generation moves out,
they merge with the townsfolk, who also are not much better off. They
too struggle for their existence. All get caught in the torrent of
development, just surviving at the edges of rough water.
Master's Daughter tells this truth. It is obvious that the writer has
taken lot pain to study the village and its transforming lifestyle. But
she is not fully successful in conveying the relation between the
looming socio-political charges and the decadence of the village because
the two factors do not merge through the characterisation. They stand
apart. The political transformation in several stages reads like a
reportage. Even the story of the disintegrating village very often comes
from the writer.
No doubt the material with which she builds the story is valuable - I
believe they are an outcome of a painstaking research of a traditional
upcountry village. Had she told the story without trying to be so exact
and precise about the political and socio-economic changes, and had she
allowed the characters to come forward, she would have added more life
creditability and drama to the story. Too exactness has ruined the
All in all, Master's Daughter is a new reading experience. The writer
touches on the plight of an undervalued and segregated community.