The Indelible | Sunday Observer

The Indelible

Making a sincere attempt to bring an unimagined and unexplored treasure trove of modern Sinhala literature to the English reading community, Montage is bringing Mahinda Prasad Masimbula’s award winning novel Senkottan translated by

Malinda Seneviratne, veteran journalist, writer and poet. Senkottan (The Indelible), a remarkable creation of literature by Mahinda Prasad Masimbula was his debut effort in his literary career for which he won the State Literary Award in 2013 and short-listed in Swarna Pusthaka Literary Awards and many other Literary Award Festivals in the same year. The book has been published by Santhawa Publishers and Senkottan has blazed the trail in the self-publishing industry as one of the best-selling books in Sinhala literature.

CHAPTER 10, PART 2

The following morning, Veerappuli Henaya picked up a mammoty and took off to work the long abandoned paddy field. He had stopped going to collect soiled clothes after Podina’s death. While a few people decided to bring clothes to be washed, Malma Ridee felt this was a serious lapse on the part of the family. She did not say anything about it however. She attended to the work to the best of her ability.

Nambu Henaya had developed a debilitating wheeze of late. He would stop after every ten steps or so for a breather while taking messages about kotahalu ceremonies to Bungiriya. On certain days he would cover himself with a bed sheet even during midday and sleep in the front room.

Malma Ridee, having decided to visit Heen Ridee, placed a pot of polos on the fire. Then, since the coconut charcoal was over, she set fire to a heap of shells outside the kitchen to be used for ironing. She remembered how her mother, Sinindu, had made a delicious polos dish to satisfy a craving developed when she was pregnant with her first child, Lewis Henaya.

‘I should make her something whenever I can,’ she thought to herself.

The coconut shells burnt and uncurled, sizzling in quite a spectacular performance. The sparks flew as though from the mouth of a dragon. Malma Ridee piked at the pile of burning coconut shells with a stick. She suddenly got the sense that there was someone standing near her and turned her head. It was Heen Ridee.

‘Kelle, I was thinking of going to see you this afternoon and started cooking some polos. I didn’t expect you here at this time. That’s alright. Just sit right there. It’s too warm by the pile of coconut shells.’

She pulled the small bench a little distance from the burning shells so she could sit. The girl said nothing. She just sat down. The shells had burnt. Malma Ridee sprinkled some water which was in the earthenware, koraha. The coconut coals hissed and spluttered as the water fell on them and then set out puffs of smoke to lessen their pain. Malma Ridee began to speak.

‘Garu Ridee told me. I am so happy! It’s good that you managed to come here instead of being stuck at home. You don’t have to stay put in one place in times like this. I spend hours thinking of Podina to fight the sorrow of her absence. The moment I heard you were pregnant I was overjoyed. It wouldn’t be easy, though, for your father to forget her. He just stares into empty space, lost in thought. Sometimes he looks for Podina’s jacket in the clothes box, just to touch it for a bit.

Finally, I got the little one to keep it in the front room. It was only when he heard about you that a faint smile appeared on his face. Last night itself he decided that the paddy field should be worked. It wasn’t for anything else but the thought of giving you some new rice. He loves farming. He begged Nagolle Ralahamy to give him this abandoned field. Half the harvest goes to him. They are not too happy about giving us that plot of land. Maybe they think it is a come down of some kind. It was leased only because our man troubled him incessantly.’

Heen Ridee did not interrupt her endless chatter. She sat on the bench like a statue. There was no expression whatsoever on her face, but suddenly Malma Ridee noticed her swollen eyes. She asked with some concern, ‘what’s wrong, little girl?’

Heen Ridee was silent for a few moments and then suddenly got up, stifling her throat and running to the Suriya tree at the edge of the garden. She didn’t vomit despite an intense effort to do so. Malma Ridee came up to her and smiled. She spoke lightly.

‘Little girl, it is natural to feel nausea. This is how it is when a little one is conceived in your belly. Wait. I’ll pick a starfruit to dispel all that. It is a good remedy for this heat.’

Heen Ridee leaned against her mother and spoke with some difficulty.

‘This is not that kind of nausea Amme.’

Heen Ridee laughed.

‘Really? What do you know? This is what it is. It’s just that you are not used to it. There’s nothing to fear little one. Tell your man what you would like to eat. In fact you can tell anyone in the village and they’ll give you just what you ask for. Although the rice you yourself cook might seem like poison, even a katta sambol made in someone else’s kitchen tastes divine. That’s how it is, in times like this.’

Heen Ridee didn’t pay attention to Malma Ridee. She spoke through sobs.

‘No, Amme…it’s simply repulsive. I just can’t bear it.’ ‘Why is that sweetheart? Tell me. What is it?’ Malma Ridee was surprised.

‘Sit me down there….’

Malma Ridee helped the girl back onto the bench. Heen Ridee stared into the distance, in silent thought.

‘Tell me girl…what happened to you? What is this revulsion you feel? Tell me!’

Heen Ridee explained tearfully.

‘That man brings me various dead animals every single day and says “cook this for me!” Sometimes it’s a woodpecker, sometimes parrots, pigeons, giant squirrels. He doesn’t even spare the maakandayas that come to the wild woodapple tree at night; he shoots them with his catapult. He tries to force me to eat but I don’t touch that dirty stuff. One day he brought home a baby monkey. He skinned it and offered it to me. Aney…it was like a little baby, mother!’

Heen Ridee began to cry.

‘There should be a special hell just for this devil!’

Heen Ridee sniveled and continued to speak.

‘I got sick of everything mother. I had once seen the mother monkey at the stream, taking handfuls of water and bathing her little one. Just like we bathe babies. It was this playful little baby monkey that this brute gobbled up, saying “it has a creamy taste!” Even this I suffered without complaint, mother.

‘This morning he brought a huge hawk. He removed the feathers and gave it to me, asking me to chop it up. He said that I needed to learn how to do it. I thought to myself, “he’s my man, after all,” and I started slicing it.’

Malma Ridee placed a hand on her head in shock. Heen Ridee trembled and continued to sob while she continued with her story.

‘…it was when the bird’s stomach was slit that I saw it…there were pieces of a cobra that the bird had just eaten.’

She felt overcome with nausea and rushed towards the Suriya tree again. Malma Ridee herself was sobbing as she followed and caught up with her daughter.

‘What on earth happened to you, my darling. It’s not good is it for you to cast your eyes on such disgusting things when you are in this condition? When you were with us you didn’t even touch indalodu mushrooms, saying that it looked like meat. How is it that you were fated to live in a meat shop with such a butcher, my little girl? He should be dragged alive to hell, for what he’s done to you.’

‘I can’t go back to that hell again Amme. Let me stay with you. Each time some animal is cut I visualise the Aveechi Hell. He even serves me while he chomps on the meat. How can I eat such rubbish with a little one inside me? How many days have I gone without food simply because I didn’t want to touch that stuff? Forgive all the wrongs I’ve done and let me stay here. I will die of vomiting if I had to live with that butcher again.’

She was wailing now as she spoke. She felt like vomiting again and once again ran towards the Suriya tree. Malma Ridee ran after her.

Malma Ridee recounted all this to Veerappuli Henaya that night at the Vellaa hut. Veerappuli Henaya couldn’t bring his thoughts together to find some way out of the situation. He didn’t speak. Malma Ridee fed her some rice with polos while Heen Ridee lay on a mat in the room.

Suddenly they heard a loud male voice coming from the direction of the paddy field. The voice came nearer and nearer and they were able to identify the person. Babanis was screaming in a drunken stupor. Heen Ridee got up and went outside. The others joined her. Babanis, dead drunk, was uttering raw filth, berating Heen Ridee and the rest of her family.

‘You are hiding my woman, aren’t you? I will set fire to your house, do you hear? Send her to me. Heen Ridiye will you come or do you want me to come get you?’

He was now at the Kumbuk tree at the edge of the field. Heen Ridee knowing her man very well, got ready to leave. Malma Ridee held on to her. Babanis continued to let loose another stream of filth.

‘Are you coming or not Seen Ridiye? Do you want to go to the other world like that other one, bitch? What’s keeping you here? When you came away with me, didn’t you say you would never set foot on his house ever again? Will you come? Or not? Do you want to see a murder being committed here?’

Heen Ridee escaped her mother and ran towards the Kumbuk tree in the darkness. Malma Ridee began to wail.

The next moment they heard the sound of Heen Ridee being assaulted. Veerappuli Henaya didn’t have the strength to keep standing. He just sat down.

Veerappuli Henaya spent a long time that night in the vella hut. He looked down and thought. Malma Ridee came by several times, asking him to come home and sleep, but Veerappuli Henaya ignored her. Baba Henaya saw the light from the fire play on Veerappuli Henaya’s face. His eyes were moist.

‘Sooti Eko…bring me my blanket…’

Baba Henaya brought it and spent that night with his aatha, covered with part of the blanket. They didn’t fall asleep for a long time. The light from the fire glanced off the roof above them. The smell of washing soda wafting from the blanket and his aatha and the smell of boiling clothes kept away slumber and brought him a unique feeling.

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