Reading Aravinda in Viragaya | Sunday Observer
Behind the Mask

Reading Aravinda in Viragaya

10 October, 2021

A human being is born into a social, cultural and linguistic network. This is the symbolic world, which is ready to accept the child even as it was born. Language existed even before he was born. And his parents’ ideals and social structures existed before he was born. Even the name given to the child before it is born has been decided. Language is ready to create him in the future. The identity of the child depends on how he perceives the language of his parents. His unconscious is built on the speech he hears.

In view of the above perspective the only criteria for understanding Aravinda, Sarojini, Bathi, Siridasa, Jinadasa and Menaka is not the Sinhala Buddhist culture but the relationship between those characters and the symbolic world. Being Sinhala Buddhist is apolitical but the symbolic world is political. It is the father who leads the child into the symbolic world or rather reality. Therefore, the difference between Aravinda and Siridasa is a difference between their fathers.

Since this is not a political reading of the novel Viragaya, I will only reveal a psychoanalytical aspect of Aravinda’s life. Then we should understand the traits of active as well as inactive as symptoms that Aravinda displayed in his life. Aravinda’s simple meager life is also a symptom. Aravinda has the character traits of a person who rejects the symbolic world or is unable to enter the symbolic world.

The central event to the novel is Sarojini’s proposal to elope. However, Aravinda shrinks in fear at the proposal. He shows Sarojini’s letter containing the proposal to everyone in the house and seeks their advice. Where does this fickle nature of his character come from? Why Menaka was so brave as to think that Aravinda should accept Sarojini’s proposal.? Analysing these questions, one would see that there were people in the same Sinhala Buddhist house who thought and acted in different ways. Therefore, Sinhala Buddhist cultural label cannot always be applied.

Critics have built up a fantasy about Aravinda’s sex life. He is described as having no sexual desire and no love for women. His love for women is something like a shadow love. But with regard to the two women he loved, he acted as if he suffered an obsession. Critics in Peradeniya School referred to him as an inactive character, unconsciously recognising his obsession neurotic symptoms. Such a person is like a living corpse. He avoids any decisive struggle with another human being.

In a psychoanalytical reading of Aravinda’s character, the behaviour of the main female character in the novel is important. I would like to emphasise a point made by the author Darian Leader in his text ‘Why Women Write More Letters Than They Post’. For Leader, there is a difference between man’s desire and woman’s desire.

As Leader observed a woman is not looking for an object all over the world but desire. Because of this, she is interested in the desire that was the cause of the relationship between a woman and a man. It is not an accident for girls to be interested in romantic entanglements between their friends. Their radar is focused on desires rather than objects. The wave length of desire is very close to them.

The conversation between Aravinda and Saroojini about girls of their school is relevant in this regard. What emerges from those conversations is Sarojini’s exploration of the relationship between Aravinda and the other girls.

Why does another woman have a desire for a man? This is what Sarojini as a woman is seeking for in those conversations. Though Aravinda was not aware, there was a lot of talk between Saroojini and Menaka as well Bathi and Sarojini. However, we know very little about Sarojini’s research on Siridaasa. What Siridaasa said when he saw Sarojini wearing a sari must have touched her heart. She oscillates between Aravinda and Siridaasa, exploring where their desire is placed. It is as a result of this exploration that she is able to choose Siridaasa without difficulty.

At this juncture I would like to quote Darian Leader:

“Equally, running through a series of men can be a way of perpetuating the question “what am I for him”, just as a triangle of a woman and a couple can be a way of asking “what is she for him?” Both questions articulate the same fundamental inquiry into femininity”.

But here is not a triangle of a woman and a couple. Instead, a triangle of one woman and two men was formally formed. The question “what am I for him?” has to be asked both men by Saojini. Although Sarojini says that she fell in love with Aravinda, she really sees Siridasa as someone she likes.

It is popularly believed that Aravinda became a loner due to the rejection of women. But a loner is someone who says no to women because of the close relationship he has with his mother. Aravinda’s indifference reveals his inability to separate from his mother’s body (real) and enter the symbolic world.

Such a reading of Viragaya calls into question the Sinhala Buddhist cultural shadow that has hitherto fallen on it. Because we understand Aravinda or Siridasa or Sarojini or Bathi or Menaka or Siridasa not as Sinhala Buddhists but as human beings.