The story of Kalumaali could easily be my story. It could also be the story of thousands of other women who choose to put motherhood above everything else and soon forget they had a life before the kids came along. The story of Kalumaali resonates at a more personal level with me because it is [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Kalumaali: Laying bare motherhood’s inconvenient truths


The story of Kalumaali could easily be my story. It could also be the story of thousands of other women who choose to put motherhood above everything else and soon forget they had a life before the kids came along. The story of Kalumaali resonates at a more personal level with me because it is the story of a journalist who gives up her job to savour the flavours of motherhood and allows its all-consuming effect to overtake her entire life. It took me six years of being a full-time mother, having given up work as a journalist while expecting my first son, to realize that in trying to be the “perfect” mother I was trying to be someone I was not meant to be.

Complex relationships: Father, daughter, mother, mother-in-law

As Kalumaali’s mother tells her in the play, I was following others; trying to do what they did, conform to conventional standards of mothering and “even following their mistakes” because “there is comfort there”.
This is a situation that women get sucked into easily because most of us have grown up in an environment where motherhood is romanticized, where mothers in the company of their children always look happy, blooming and fulfilled and often motherhood is portrayed as the be all and end all of a woman’s life. This, I am not saying to undermine or downplay the role a mother plays in a child’s life.

Irrespective of what other roles a woman plays in her life, this for me, is the most important one. It’s a great privilege to be a mother and the rewards it brings with it cannot be matched by anything else, not the most lucrative job or personal recognition but the problem arises when women allow themselves to get entangled in all the trappings of motherhood that their lives become an extension of their children’s , when women obsess over their children’s every want and need and neglect theirs, when their favourite topic of conversation revolves around their offspring and slowly they forget that they had a life before becoming a mother.
In Kalumaali, the main character Dil is struggling to find her niche in life after eight years of being a dutiful mother, wife and daughter-in-law.

“Who are you,” is the persistent question that her daughter Saki asks her which makes Dil realize that she needs a life of her own in addition to the one she’s got bogged down in. There is no easy answer if someone were to ask you the question, “Who are you?” The answer could be, “ I am me, I am a mother, I am a wife, I am a daughter, I am a sister, I am a friend, I am a colleague.” The list is endless.

In the play, several stories are used to discuss the inconvenient truths that go hand in hand with motherhood. A physically present husband but one who has little sense of the frustration building up inside his wife after years of leading a life of monotony as a “full time mother”, a mother-in-law who talks of the “comfort in obligation” and judgmental teachers and “other mothers” she encounters at school meetings who are quick to question her at the slightest slip, “What kind of a mother are you?”

When Dil leaves home for a while, frustrated by her inability to get the message across to her husband Kalana that she needs time for herself, Saki asks her father to tell her a Kalumaali story. In Kalana’s story, Kalumaali is a boy unlike in the Kalumaali stories that Dil was told by her mother and that Dil told Saki. When asked what was the special gift that the angels gave the male Kalumaali, Kalana replies, “strong women.” “Like in our house?” asks Saki.”Yes, like in our house,” replies Kalana.

The hidden and often underrated characteristic of a woman is her strength. It’s not something you can see in a physical sense, it’s not something you can fathom by the way she walks or dresses but it’s always there and comes through when the need arises. I ve always thought how people praise soldiers for their bravery for going to war to face certain death. These men are brave, no doubt but for me the really brave and courageous are the women who they leave behind. The women who pick up their lives and move ahead braving discrimination and prejudices in society.

Maybe, being a “seeker”, I managed to break out and find my “other self” before it was too late to follow my dreams. It’s not wrong for women to want it all, marriage, motherhood, career and everything in between. But a lot of what women can do to realize their dreams also depends a lot on the attitude of men and in this regards what is needed is men’s liberation to make them strong enough to put their egos and chauvinistic attitudes on a hanger and understand that the women in their lives need an identity too. Ironically the task of changing male attitudes towards women also rests with women – the mothers who are their mentors in childhood.

Kalumaaali, for me is not a fairy tale. It’s a very real tale. A tale that both men and women need to watch and listen to. Men , who after watching the play, will hopefully, sit back and notice that behind the smiles, the warm food they put on the table, the numerous hours they spend behind the wheel carting children around, the millions of times they hang the clothes up to dry and pick up tangled underwear from the floor, that there is a strong woman who needs space and time of her own in order to realize her dreams in life. For women struggling like Dil to get a foothold back on their pre-motherhood lives, in Kalumaali you will find inspiration to realize that motherhood does not mean the end of what you want for yourself in life. In fact children can be the greatest inspiration for you to go forth and fulfil your dreams and ambitions.

“I have lost friends, some by death…others by sheer inability to cross the street,” said Virginia Woolf. So ladies, it’s time to cross the street and find out what’s on the other side.

‘Kalumaali: A Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups is an original play directed by Ruwanthie de Chickera. The cast included Peter D’Almeida, Kaushalya Fernando, Lakmini Seneviratne, Nadie Kammallaweera, Juanita Beling, Gihan de Chickera, Shyalina Muthumudalige, Jayampathi Guruge and Malshani Delgahapitiya.

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