Focus on the place of women in society
Author: Yamuna Malini Perera
Publisher: Fast Publishing (Pvt) Ltd.
Yamuna Malini Perera's latest Sinhala novel, Saumyawanthi has been
published again. It unfolds the story of an innocent, young girl fleeing
away from the clutches of her licentious step-father and to be free from
her immoral and despicable mother and sister.
While her father, Wilson, is the only person in the family who shows
real, fatherly affection for her, he is a bed-ridden invalid. He is too
feeble to come to the aid of this poor girl, Somalatha. Her mother Mary
Nona is dipped in vice. She sells pot-arrack and keeps a run-away,
good-for-nothing fellow as her paramour who is later taken into custody
by the police on a charge of murder. Mary Nona's younger daughter,
Wimala leads a lustful life.
The family's only benefactor is Akmon. He is simply helping Wilson
out of sympathy in the typical way of supporting a man in distress.
Although he looks after Wilson, the vicious Mary Nona prevents him from
even doing so. Somalatha's step-father is ever bent on finding a chance
to rape her. So, it is nothing but a sine qua non for her to escape from
such a precarious situation at home and go to Colombo.
There, she finds employment in an office and takes up lodging at her
father's sister's house at Kotte. Here, a romantic affair develops
between her and her cousin, Suminda. It ends up in her being seduced and
later deserted by him. Suminda is an opportunist and he gets married to
a wealthy girl, a manager of a company and they take up residence in
After the demise of her aunt, Somalatha is driven out of her aunt's
house. Later Suminda occupies that house with his wife and child.
On seeing Suminda with his wife and child going out in a car,
Somalatha is awakened to face the bitter truth. Finally her cousin,
Jayadasa from her own village, the son of Akmon, forgets her past and
There is a strong resemblance of this story to that of Wilkie
Collins’ novel, Woman in White. In her novel, Yamuna Malini Perera poses
to us the issue of the place of woman in society. Woman is still treated
in many quarters as a play-thing at the hands of the domineering males.
This novel is a realistic one in that it weaves around the real
attitudes of carnal love sans spirituality of most males in society.
The reformist urge of the novelist is conspicuous in the novel.
Through my experience of having read and reviewed a few novels by Yamuna,
I reckon that she engenders extreme intensity of feelings in girls
overwhelmed with various vicissitudes of life. Mostly her heroines are
made to undergo indescribable agony and dismay caused by deceitful
lovers and subsequent harassment by their parents.
I, however, feel that this novel is devoid of that extremity and
Yamuna's maturity as a novelist stands out since she generates moderate
intensity in this novel. And she presents it with restraint.
The author tries to bring forth another aspect in the novel. That is
the difference in social values between urban society and rural society.
Her main character, Somalatha falls into the pitfalls of a towns-man
from Kotte who vavishes her by showing her a false love.
Her human nature is not to blame. Her tenacious love for Suminda
becomes a kind of frenzy and a mirage. Now she is desperate. At this
critical moment, comes to her rescue, her rural cousin, Jayadasa who
marries her displaying his noble, all-pervading love.
I do not, however, agree with her as regards the monstrosity of urban
people altogether because it is Greta, an urban, polished woman who is
loyal to her right from the beginning to the end of the story. Sexual
gratification alone is sought by men not only in the urban society but
also in the countryside. Fairness in this matter depends on how people
are brought up.
According to the theory of 'the racial unconscious’ by Carl Jung, the
psychologist, emotions of love, hatred and sex are common to humans down
the ages. In the same way, there appears no difference in sexual
attitudes of men and women whether they are from the town or village.
Sexual continence and the cultured of young people matter a great
deal in this matter. So, knowingly or unknowingly, the novelist exposes
this fact by creating the characters in her novel. She shows adeptness
With the main character with whom she seems to identify herself, she
is quite dexterous in bringing out a girl's dedication in love. Her
meticulous description of how Somalatha, who is ever hated by her aunt
looks after he by tending on her, feeding her, washing her body and her
dirty linen, and, at the same time, cooking food for her so-called
fiance and his brother, Nilantha, is commendable.
I see this sort of punctilious descriptions also in the novels of
Piyadasa Sirisena and in Nihal de Silva's 'The Road from Elephant Pass.
Saumyawanthi is enlightening to young readers for moral development.