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Sunday, 20 December 2009

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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

Yet

See my friends

Foes

How powerful light

Burnt

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 upon her.

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 skirt.

“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 the prison.

“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 later.

From morning onwards, Daisy tried to be happy and to show off happiness.

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 shoulders.

Soome saw Mother’s hair had turned white during this short period of time.

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 watering.

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 inquired.

Vajira smiled

“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,” Niyathapala said.

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 led.

“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 understand that.

“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.

Footnote

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).

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