Those ‘raceless’ women of Negombo
A 1,000 apologies! I cannot remember who and when and where this
expression spurted itself. But I repeat it after the publication of my
last piece, titled, Xmas time in little Rome.
Is the apology triggered by the incident of a Buddhist writing on
Christmas, a horrible crime that would be denounced by say, BBS? Note
that BBS can be an acronym for anything and that is an antidote to being
No. The apology accrues from the fact that the writer, perhaps
getting a whiff of Alzheimer’s disease due to her age, completely forgot
to mention a very outstanding group, that is the raceless females of
this city, blossomed to fame due to a bee hive way back in 2nd century
The group itself was not at all outstanding. To be very literal, when
the writer last met them in the mid ’80s, on a sojourn to do a piece on
Duwa’s Passion play, to embellish the pages of the Observer Pictorial,
these dames were festooning the streets of Negombo. They were just
seated by the wayside crying out hoarse to sell their ware, a composite
of poor creatures salvaged from the ocean beds.
They were steeped in a heroic struggle not only to maintain
themselves but also their offspring and sometimes even their better or
worse halves if they had still not succumbed to tragedies in the sea or
to overdoses of liquor.
And did the women wallow in self pity while hollering to advertise
their ware? No. They would go on cackling in two of the main languages
in the island and be so fluent in both that would put into oblivion any
Overwhelmed by this factor, my naïve urban sophistication made me
bend and ask one of them, her race.
“What?” She burst out , a mini Vesuvius. But I could not regress and
so I repeated my query.
The woman gave a loud raucous peal of laughter and addressed her
companions flanking her. They were already alert to the scene and were
in turn querying as to what is taking place.
“When this nona doubled down, I thought I was in for a sale but all
she wants to know is what jathiya (race) I belong to”.
“Give it to her in Sudda Sinhalen” (in naked Sinhala that brooks no
rhetoric).‘Nona, we have no jathiya or Janma. Whole day it is one long
struggle. So we use any language we know. And we have no time to examine
to which community we belong. That is all. Are you interested in this
Mora? It is succulent fish and cooks well if spiced properly and
marinated in some strong stuff.”
“No,” I said.” I have no time to cook. Eats what others cook.”
“Santhaanam maaniyaney! Holy Mary! And what do you do for a living?”
“Mostly write or educate those who offer to be educated.”
“On what do you write? On Jathiya and Janmaya?”
“You are correct.”
“What is there to write on them, nona? If you delve into such
unwanted details, you are only adding to the mess and brewing trouble.
Our men will take up the issue and then raising their sarongs exposing
unwanted things, shout, Api Sinhalayo, children of the lion while
another set of hooligans will holler, Api Demellu, Mukkara satan valata
Indiaven ave api thamai.” (We are the ones who came from India to fight
the Mukkara battles in the time of Parakrama bahu).
“All rot, this Jaathi stuff. (racial stuff),” put in another female.”
My husband is a Kochchi and my father is a Malay come over from Java. So
Ja raala too he is called. Very proud of his identity.
We see blue on the census day, with every one trying to crow on his
or her identity, so much so that I just refuse to answer and chant,
jathiyak naa janmayak naa address Naa.’
Meanwhile, the bells or the Gantara of the lofty church towers
bastioning the city of Negombo or Meegomuwa make their presence felt by
loud clangs. Are they announcing noon time, may be.
I am not sure. OR are the bells condoning what the women voiced?
Could be confirming the stuff about the Jaathiya but not about Janmaya,
which is blessed stuff for it generates Blessed Life that is the most
fundamental. No religious leader refutes this entity.