ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 32

Revolving around evolving relationships

Coming to Terms by Punyakante Wijenaike. Reviewed by Vijita Fernando. A Vijitha Yapa publication

Coming to terms for Revathy, the protagonist in Punyakante Wijenaike’s new novella is a slow painful process where she traverses a rutty road, knocking against boulders and falling into ruts. Her traditional upbringing in which her father is the respected but poor gurunnanse of the village while her mother is the seamstress sewing for the rich family of hamus next door stands in her way. Revathy is constantly pulled in two directions, the tradition bound and safe family background and the stars she is reaching out to touch.

Wijenaike, with her facile command of words and her felicitous style, draws a picture of this thirty-year-old woman with startling clarity as the epitome of many women in today’s society. Unmarried, working in a garment factory, with her sights set somewhere far above the everyday events of her life, Revathy is constantly at odds with herself, trying to come to terms with what she is and with what she wants to be.

Running through the fabric of the story of Revathy is a silken thread that wraps her up in a welter of confusion at every decision she wants to make regarding her life, her future. This is the attraction towards the son of the rich family next door. This tenuous bond, unspoken and not admitted even to herself, rules her life.

“We had two separate worlds, though in the same country. His world was one of western culture, where they speak in English ….while we spoke in Sinhala, read Sinhala books and listened to Sinhala music….”
The gap was made even wider in the difference in their economic status where the hamus – especially the lamateni – looked down her aristocratic nose at the humble seamstress who entered her house from the rear door, and her daughter, Revathy.

Skilfully and subtly Wijenaike weaves into her story the point at which the two worlds meet. There is the mango tree whose branches with their burden of fruit fall over the wall to Revathy’s side. Is this the symbol of what keeps drawing Revathy back to her roots and more especially to Bandula, the son of the rich house where the mango tree has its roots, one wonders.

Coming to terms, fraught with problems as it is, tugs at Revathy’s mind especially when Fathima, a friend living in Malaysia lays before her an attractive range of possibilities – training as a physiotherapist, the attractive vision of a free life, living with a “liberated” woman, a regular salary and a build up of self confidence to face whatever draws her back home. But there are no men in Fathima’s life.

“If you want to make independent decisions don’t fall into the hands of a man,” is her dire warning. But the exercise proves to be futile even though some of the dreams become real.

“I went abroad and widened my horizons but I could not see beyond my dream…although I had become a different woman, poised, speaking in English, professionally qualified and moving with ease in the cosmopolitan life in Colombo, I was still looking for happiness….was it still wrapped up in mango seed whose fruit I had never had a chance to savour?”

Relationships are cleverly articulated. Revathy’s fragile attraction to the Malaysian friend Fathima whose rather clinging desire to have Revathy endorse her way of life by living with her, has shades of lesbianism. It is a clever piece of characterization. And in that very cleverness is another stumbling block to Revathy in her effort to come to terms with all aspects of her life which, inevitable as the sun that shines every morning, is linked to Bandula….

Revathy’s fumbling efforts to come to terms with her sexuality is the weak link in an otherwise well crafted tale. The pathetic efforts she makes to contact Bandula when she feels the need for him, the leers of hotel staff, the man in the red car and his seeming overtures take away from the strong character of Revathy that the author has so far successfully built.

Throughout the tale is the mature perception of life that has been characteristic of Wijenaike’s stories for the past many decades. She does not fail us, her readers, in this newest creation.

Coming to Terms is more than the story of Revathy. In the volume are a few short stories touching on modern day issues – “Anoja” the pregnant girl carrying a bomb over her growing foetus, a few soft words of comfort to the growing infant and then the explosion….

The few verses included in the volume really fascinated me, mainly because this is a new area of creativity I have not associated Wijenaike with so far. Here’s my pick:

To a far away tree….

You still stand –
In the glory of a bygone era.
Although I am no more a child -
but an old woman with silver hair –
you make me stand still –
bringing back the child in me –
standing under your towering trunk –
still spreading your arms –
forming a giant trapeze
for my imagination –
to lap from branch to branch
until I touch the white clouds
that sail-
above a blue sky.
Nature has kept
you and me unchanged -
though many years have passed.
May you always be there
For me
Until I die.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.