Itipahan (Burly Lamp) Chapter - 19
(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
See my friends
How powerful light
To dispel the darkness”
Though Soome wrote a number of letters to mother, She requested
mother in all of them not to visit her. Soome knew that mother who could
not read a letter would get Nanawathi Hamine to read her letters. If she
was to write everything that was needed to write down, mother should be
literate. Within this short period of time, she realised that even if
the ocean was a bottle of ink and the entire sky a paper, she could not
express her agony.
No one had to teach her that there was a strong personality in
mother’s thin body.
Soome thought that during the past few months that someone would
devour her youthful body, veins, skin as well as her strong will. Soome
could not decide from where she should begin to measure up what a change
had occurred in her since she was taken to the police heaping insults
Insults, humiliations, pain and agony, diseases, pain of mind and
excruciating isolation had encircled her like huge giants. The life, now
she led in the Magazine Prison, like a seasoned prisoner, was strange
after she had been shifting from one police station to another and a
prison to prison.
She thought hardships had made her life jagged.
The dust-stained cold floor and the blood-stains on the wall in the
prison registered in her mind as firmly as the big gecko in the hut. She
considered the smell of dust in the prison like a smell quite used to
her nose. When sleeping on the cold floor, she could hardly tolerate the
foul odour emanating from the lines of toilets. Her entangled flocks of
hair as well as pestering scratches on the face and chest disturbed her
as if those just caused by attacks by ruthless people.
She thought of the story of the devils and the stranded girl which
she read as a child. She lamented that she was such a girl surrounded by
demons. In the night she tried to look outside the single-pillared house
through a hole. She felt as if the blanket darkness tried even to devour
her eyes. She looked out in the darkness like one who had a mere drop of
water in a desert. She heard a loud shout of a soldier followed by
scream of a woman.
Soome felt excruciating pain in the index finger which was virtually
crushed in the interrogation during day time. It had swollen and turned
blue. A swell had formed under her armpits. Her small breasts were
exposed through the torn off jacket. She had no reason to be ashamed of
it and the painful body was not at rest. The pain ran along the spine
stopped at different points, giving an excruciating pain to the bones.
She was sad why that pain had not entered the chest cavity and
suffocated her to death. She was not the only one suffering from pain.
There was a cry and panting from almost every cell here and there. In
secrecy, Viola told her that there were many who had fainted. The
muscular bodied officer, taking finger prints, on the first or the
second day, could not control the already turned finger, forcefully
broke it like breaking a stick before it was lowered onto the pad of
ink. She could remember blood sprayed out with squeezed noise when the
officer clutched her mouth with a powerful hand after she shrieked out.
But she could not remember why and when the sensation of burning
began in the chest. She had the desire to run up to her mother and get
out into freedom. But she thought why she had desired it knowing well
that it was only an illusion. The past had been worn out and future is
yet to arrive.
The Present was like a fallen tree. The darkness had devoured the
night. In a few moments, the footsteps of the demon of the night coming
to the cell could be heard. When the protectors’ night arrived, it
became a carnival for them. The verdict of that carnival was in their
hands. That verdict could not be pushed away. If attempted, that would
only result in slashing off the entire jacket or to get rid of the
“Daisy Akka, there is no point in thinking of it, again and again.
When mother comes, you will feel rest. Wherever around us, at last,
there is only mother who brought you into this world and the father. If
there is a brother, he would also come,” Sister Vajira said extracting a
louse from her head. Daisy saw Matron going off sporting a smile. Soome
thought that all of them had changed in their behaviour compared to the
first couple of days in the prison. Instead of an enemy mentality in the
first few days, the prison officials had developed a friendly attitude
towards the inmates. Now, the women officers would not allow officials
to shift prisoners from here and there or to hold carnivals at night in
“Vajira Nangi, my mother is an innocent woman. I even have her. But I
don’t know whether she even had a mother. If she comes, she could not
bear up all these. That’s why I don’t want her to visit me. It would be
great relief for me if I could see her,” Soome expressed her heart out
to Vajira. Daisy thought, ‘Now, it is ok for mother to visit”. If mother
came on the first day, she could have born it up because she was ‘Duleena’.
She could not imagine how mother could bear it up seeing her smelling
body; bad odour from the mouth due to not brushing the teeth, uncombed
dishevelled hair, and fluid from the rash spread over the body. Soome
thought that she could assure that mother who brought up her like a doll
from her childhood could not bear it up. The smelling body of her
daughter would have been an intolerable experience for mother who
brought up her according to hygienic practices of Agent’s Bungalow in
Jaffna. Now, that unpleasant period in the prison had been passed by. At
least, now there was space to sit on and reflect on the past.
“I must write a letter to mother asking her to visit me. That would
be consolation for her too. “Daisy mentioned to Vajira after a few days
From morning onwards, Daisy tried to be happy and to show off
Because of the memories of mother she had not had a sound sleep
throughout the night, but a little rest from time to time. Every time
she woke up from her catnaps what she had been dreaming was her
emaciated and pale looking mother. Daisy experienced an extraordinary
sense of happiness due to different thoughts that sprang and died down
in her mind from the day she received a letter from mother, informing
her visit. That moment had arrived.
The dearest mother, who had waged a war against the entire village,
defeating dozens of demons for motherly love, had come. Soome saw even
the jaws in her pale face dancing. Mother’s rows of teeth were fixed one
upon the other. She saw mother fasten the sheet of cloth on her
Soome saw Mother’s hair had turned white during this short period of
Both of them looked at each other. Soome could not utter a word and
only looked at blackened area around mother’s eyes.
Duleena felt as if stones were cast upon her chest as she observed
girl’s emaciated body, cheeks with protruding jaws, rag-like cloth. The
prison which was not meant as a due place for women had become a home to
her girl, the one and only daughter she brought forth into this world
and brought up with much care and fondling. Duleena had not the
privilege of freeing her from the prison and taking her away from it.
Duleena thought how nice it would be if she could give the girl a cold
water bath, having taken her to the well and to feed her with rice and
curry with her own hands. Duleena who thought that there was no point in
imaging unachievable things, looked at the girl’s face, expecting that
she would talk to her. Both of them felt deaf. Because they had a lot to
talk about. Duleena heard agonising cry of things to be asked hidden in
her heart. But she thought that it would be affront for her to cry and
leave pain in the girl’s mind.
“Mother, your hair has completely been turned white,” Soome murmured.
A mild smile appeared on Soome’s face and also on Duleena’s face.
“What’s wrong with that!” whispered Duleena.
“I brought a meal for you,” said Duleena retrieving a parcel of rice
and curry together with a bag full of charred but cleaned cashew nuts.
The parcel contained jak, fried dry fish, Dhal, boiled egg, Mukunuwenna
Malluma and piece of pickled lemon. A woman in ashen dress inspected the
parcel of rice and curry and the bag of cashew nuts by untying them.
Duleena wasn’t like another woman would meddle with the parcel of rice
and curry which she had carefully prepared for the girl. But there was
nothing to be done.
Duleena thought that law was their might.
“Mother, how would you reach such a long distance alone? Mother, one
day I will come back, you don’t have to come again,” Soome said though
she was elated by her visit. It was difficult for mother to find bus
fare as well as loitering in the buses. Soome thought she should be firm
as she knew that mother received a pittance through her work.
“You haven’t got any proper dress to wear? Next time, I will bring
you a dress. I could not think about it,” said Duleena took a deep
breath. Duleena wanted to feel for the girl’s head. But she was
reluctant to do so as she had not done it even at home. She suppressed
that idea. She wiped the nose with a shawl as she felt her nose
Though she had million things to talk about, time to leave had
arrived without being able to talk any of those in her mind. As she knew
that time had arrived for mother who endured heaps of hardships to
leave, Soome leaned against the nearby table. Soome thought of deaf
people who understood everything but could not express anything. She
went away bearing the burden of hardships. She did not ask any question
such as how long would she have to stay in.
“Puthe, it is enough that you live somewhere on this earth,” she said
when she was about to leave. Soome thought, as mother said, it was
indeed an adventurous capability to live in.
“Mother has gone?” Matron said showing some concern for her. “Yes,
Mother visited me,” Soome murmured. Soome observed that Matron had
changed over the last couple of days. She understood that the Matron was
trying to corner her out at anywhere. She thought there would be no
peace even in prison in this estrange world. Soome thought she should be
careful not make the Matron angry but try and evade her. Otherwise the
same fate that fell on Violet would fall on her. Violet tried to escape
from Matron by public means.
“I was imprisoned. That’s true. But that was not because I engaged in
misbehaviour. If not, I could have led a comfortable life there. We
cannot engage in immoral behaviour, let alone with Matron but even the
king,” Violet once scolded Matron in public. The Matron used her
authority. Violet had to be in the cell naked. Cold water was thrown on
her who covered herself with shawl, for two or three times, in the
midnight. One day, Matron and her subordinates severely attacked Violet
on the pretext of her being bumping onto Matron.
“Matron has taken a different stand,” Daisy said Vajira.
“Try to avoid her. Don’t try to confront her. Daisy Akka, you know
their behaviour,” Vajira advised Soome.
“Vajira Nangi, every day I cannot bow down. As Violet said we are not
here to engage in immoral acts. On the other hand, we must try and make
changes to this place. There should be an order to taking meals and even
taking medicine. Who knows how many years we have to suffer here,” Daisy
“Where have we ended up, because of our rush of blood against
injustice? Leaders are fighting among themselves. They are all innocent.
At last, we were the ones who took to arms. I would never join them
again. I would marry a man and bear children and lead a miserable life
which is our lot”, Vajira said in a high pitched but with a sad voice.
“Nangi, who would marry us?” Daisy whispered.
“If someone asked me to marry me, I would reveal the truth. And if he
likes to marry me after that, I will marry him. “Vijira said with a firm
resolution. Daisy did not say anything in return. Like Vajira most of
them had been imprisoned as they firmly completely believed in creating
a just world. Daisy reflected thinking about herself that all of them
not only believed the comrade leader but also worshipped him. Daisy
thought that most of them who believed in a better and a just world and
who came out on April 5, 1971 with firm determination honesty together
with arms were now languishing in prisons. Some of them were among the
dead. A hope was born in Soome as mother used to visit her, once a
month. Soome thought that mother too lived more hope than ever before.
That hope was not to receive luxuries from her but that she would return
to her hut filled with motherly love.
Small eyes in Greek-like face which was covered in black skin and two
rows of teeth smiled with her. Soome could no longer squeeze her lips
before that smile. A man in soldier’s uniform placed the parcel he
carried before prison officers. These were not carefully examined as the
parcel of rice and curry and boiled jak Duleena had brought.
“Niyathapala, why have you visited me? Why should you come here?”
Soome cried in a feeble voice.
“If Soome can live here, what’s wrong in coming to see you,”
Niyathapala asked with a smile.
“Mother told me that Soome is reading for BA here. Is it true?”
Niyathapala asked Soome.
“I could not finish my studies though I went to campus. Here I get
books. On the other hand, I thought of doing something instead of
wasting time here,” said Soome.
“Who brings you books here?” Niyathapala asked.
“Sisters visit from the campus. Madam Wijewardene also helps us to
learn,” Soome said.
“Forget about this? All those nonsense. If you agreed that time, we
would have got married and by now, we would have one or two children.
What happened because of stubbornness”, Niyathapala said with regret.
“I had to languish in prison,” Soome smiled. Niyathapala thought that
Soome’s behaviour had not been changed yet.
“Soome, you don’t have to study more. When the trial finishes in
couple of days, you can go home and you don’t have to work either,”
Soome decided that Niyathapala was a childish man. Niyathapala
thought only about marriage. Though he was a soldier, he had no feeling
for the country.
Soome thought that Niyathapala had no idea of her life as a prisoner
even similar to what her mother thought of her. He could not understand
that even as a prisoner that her thoughts could be free. His strong arms
and black face turned white like a gate-keeper made of stones. That was
only to protect a city Soome thought?
“I should decide on whether I am leaning or not. I should decide on
my marriage. Niyathapala, you should not worry about it,” said Soome and
asked the lady officer, “Is time correct?”
Niyathapala looked at her and said that he would come again. Soome
neither said “yes” nor “no.” As Niyathapala turned to go, Soome knew
that she was worrying. She considered Niyathapala as a good person. It
was Niyathapala who came in for love when the entire village was
insulting her and her mother and looked down upon them. It was not a
difficult task for a person of Niyathapala’s stature to find a girl. But
he whole heatedly followed Soome for love. Soome thought that Sirinatha
was rather a different person than Niyathapala. She questioned herself,
when she was reminiscent of Sirinatha who came with the gentle breeze of
youth, host of emotions generated in her; love, anger and revenge.
Sirinatha had hijacked all the feelings of youth. Though Sirinatha
was a dark shadow haunting in her life, wouldn’t it also prove feelings
of refresh? She could recall as if now a lot of things she did with him
in their youth and teens. Was it not after Sirinatha took away the
happiness, teenage love and all other feelings that she was led into a
world where the words freedom, equality and justice reigned? Though she
did not get any news about Sirinatha, she thought it was better not to
enquire about him from anyone. If she asked so, it is only mother and
Niyathapala who visited her. It seemed that Niyathapala wanted to marry
Soome. He must be having only love.
“When Soome returns, I hope to settle down. Soome, I only have
thought about you, not of anyone else. I have talked with Soome’s
mother. She agreed if Soome likes me,” Niyathapala said when he visited
her once. During her entire term in the prison, the only relations who
visited her were Niyathapala and mother. Niyathapala’s respect for her,
amidst of insults, had been sunken down into her heart like a weight of
“There are rumours spreading connecting you to Matron. Daisy Akka
always goes into Matron’s room,” Vajira said when Daisy was in a deep
thought. Daisy did not get upset. It was only she knew that she took
every precaution to evade Matron. Even now, Matron would not cause any
trouble. But those who spread rumours always did so. It was only both of
them knew that they had only a strong friendship. Even Vajira could not
“Akke, don’t tell me lies. I have seen with my own eyes that Matron
wipe tears from your face,” said Vajira standing up from where she was.
Daisy thought there was no point in explaining to Vajira why she cried
and why Matron had wiped them fears. Despite rumours about the Matron,
Daisy began to like her. Sometimes, Matron brought from home the things
she liked to eat. Though she did not like to gulp them in secrecy, she
could not afford to displease her. Most of the times, the Matron would
kiss her cheeks and neck. Though Soome trembled such overtures, she
could not reconcile to push her off. With that tender touch, she could
help thinking of Sirinatha. However, Daisy made up her mind not to be a
victim of the Matron.
Mukunuwenna Malluma - Mukunuwenna is a thin leafy undercover grown in
Sri Lanka. The tender leaves and stalks are used to make a savory salad
with onion, chilies and scraped coconut. (Malluma means a mixture).