The SILENT women
The SILENT women is taken from Jean
Arasanayagam’s latest collection of short stories “Dragons in
the women were allowed to stay in the Big Bungalow. Sometimes
the men went back home on furlough and brought back English
wives. Then the concubines were no longer part of the life of
the bungalow. The children, oftentimes, were sent to Roman
Catholic colleges and convents, where they were in the boarding
and hostels, having little or no contact with either parent. I
had many such friends at the Girls’ Home. Millicent Clements and
her sister Grace who married into another Eurasian plantation
family were two of them. Millicent became a trained teacher like
myself while her sister Grace spent her married life on estates
which her husband had inherited from his father. There was
Gertrude Thorpe too. When Gertrude grew old and retired from
teaching, she who remained a spinster, went back to spend the
rest of her days in the only true home she knew, the Girls’
home. Cathy would share my home when I married Dr. Edward
Lorensz. And after his death we would remain together.
Sometimes the planters married the women who lived permanently
in the bungalow. As the women grew older they were cared for and
looked after by their children with great love and respect. The
children were fortunate not to be separated from their mothers.
But the casual liaisons? The women would come to the Big
Bungalow but not remain there all the time. They would return to
their own lives, accepted by their own people as if it had been
the duty of these women to serve the grande seigneurs, the
They remained the silent women. No records exist of their lives
with the colonizers. The men they co-habited with. No written
records. The only records were found in their progeny and with
time, with death, loss, age and migration this race of people
gradually came to be considered distinctive, a small group
unique through their hybridity. I myself with my marriage
allowed myself to be assimilated, superficially so, with another
hybrid group, the Dutch Burghers.
My father did not deny me his name. That was an important
signifier to my inheritance. But I wished, I wished very much
that my mother too had been allowed to name us. She, I think had
the greater right to do so. Her blood had nourished us and yet
her name was not set on any memory stone. It was our mother’s
name, like a secret, yet a sacred talisman, invisible against
our hearts. My own heart was sometimes stony, cold, unfeeling
with a sense of loss. A heart that became the tombstone to our
I thought of the Englishwomen who came out to the estates, the
wives of the planters. Were they tolerant, even complaisant, I
wonder, about those relationships that their husbands had had
with their mistresses? Relationships which could be terminated
at will. The man pursued only the language of the body. And how
much subtlety was practiced there? They had possessed the land
with all its primeval myth and legend, its natural scents and
fragrances, it gave them vast potential for exploration; for
taming and subduing, for possession and for the secret thrill of
the very source and spring of pleasure embodied in the bodies of
the women they lay with. It was both license and freedom allied
with a sense of power and bodily territorial acquisition.
And the planters’ wives? I moved with them freely after my own
marriage. I had entrance to the exclusive Planters’ Club because
of my husband’s social status. Not only was he the doctor
well-known to the planters’ families in Bandarawela, but he also
belonged to a highly respected Dutch Burgher family. It was a
family that had its own Court of Arms, the Arms of Putland
impaling Bligh, dating from the late eighteenth century. It bore
a painting of elephants and a coffee plant and the words “Domine
Dirige Nos”. 1 did not understand the language of herald’s’ but
I did understand the Latin words “0 Lord lead us.” How
significant those words were to that family, a God-fearing
Methodist family, but originally what religion had my husband’s
ancestors followed? A stern Calvinism in the Netherlands which
had experienced the Protestant Reformation. My husband’s people
were pillars of the Methodist Church and I was drawn into the
church as a result of Fanny Cooke, the missionary and later, my
marriage into the Lorensz family.
My mother however had remained true to her own faith.
She went to temple, listened to bana preaching and after my
father had left, took ‘sil’ on poya days in the village temple.
It was from her that Cathy and I had heard the Jataka tales, the
re-birth stories of the Buddha ... my father had not been able
to change that part of her1ife. Nor did he feel the necessity to
do so. He had already set his plans.
Domine Dirige Nos -I was to follow a route, the destiny of which
would be chartered by myself. My marriage had brought acceptance
for me. I was the wife. My mother the concubine. But the lives
of those planters’ wives? Their lives were lived accordingly to
a pattern, one ordained by the status they occupied in a
colonial society. Even the architecture of their bungalows with
their spacious rooms, and the wood panelled ceilings
accommodated their status. From those early days there are still
prints to show us what life was like for the pioneer tea
planters in their log cabins. In one of those books on tea what
intrigues me is the food on the rough hewn table - a pastry pie,
the edges fluted by the white turbanned cook cum butler who
stands by the three planters as they prepare for a hunting day.
In a corner of the room a pile of stag horns, relics of previous
hunts. The shelves are covered with bottles, an oil lamp, a
small hand mirror, hunting prints on the wall and a picture of a
woman, a provocative one, long limbed, voluptuous, clad in the
scantiest of clothes lying upon a couch. In the living room of
the log cabin there was no space for an Englishwoman in those
early days of tea planting.
Continued next week…
Vipulasena residents get
ready for May Day
With three days to go for May Day, preparations to celebrate
this all important event, have already peaked at Vipulasena
As in previous years, the residents of Vipulasena have allocated
the arrangements to mark this special day for Workers, to Pancha
and his motley band of help karayas.
Going by our previous experiences, we knew, we couldn’t have
left them in more capable hands. Pancha’s May Day rallies have
always been crowd pullers. Last year’s rally, was especially
memorable, when Vipulasena residents led by Pancha had marched
round the Lipton Circus, and the Vihara Mahadevi Park,
protesting against uncleared garbage and unlit street lamps, at
Vipulasena Mawatha, and the polluted Norris canal, which was a
perfect breeding place for mosquitoes.
What attracted the crowds most, at these rallies were the comic
skits, performed by the participants, dressed up for their
roles, in appropriate costumes. These novel gimmicks were hugely
popular, and added another feather in Pancha’s cap.
Pancha told us that, he would be promoting one of his pet
projects, at this year’s rally: taking up the cause of “The
Under-Dogs of Society.” They included; the scavengers,
domestics, casual labourers, gardeners, drivers and all those,
who fell into the category of the ‘informal labour sector’.
As he explained to us, “These non formal workers don’t enjoy any
of the ‘Rights’ that their counterparts in the formal sector do,
because they don’t belong to any Trade Unions. They don’t even
know, their own Rights. If we don’t champion their cause, who
else will?” he asked.
His campaign for these people, would be to obtain a minimum wage
scheme, an annual bonus, over time, and some extra perks, such
as getting half an hour off each day, to drop in for a cup of
tea at Sarath’s kopi kade, to exchange the latest political
“Mama Vipulasena Mawathe inne evani ayath ekka muladi patan
gannawa. Inpasu kittu paravalvala padinchivu ayata mevani
udavuvak ena mayi dine, karanawa.” ( I will start with the
workers down Vipulasena Mawatha. After that, I will launch a
similar campaign, for those living in the lanes close by).
To find out, how many of these exploited workers lived down
Vipulasena Mawatha, Pancha first visited the houses of all
residents, who employed domestics, whether on a daily basis,
casual basis or, as live-in domestics. He then proceeded, to
obtain details of the chores, they performed, and the pay, they
received. Having got this information, he divided the workers
into three categories; those who were “Adequately Paid”;
“Inadequately Paid” and “ Grossly Under Paid”
When he made up his final list, he was shocked to find out that,
80% of all domestics and casual employees of Vipulasena Mawatha,
were “Under paid”, 15% were “Grossly Underpaid,” while a mere 5
percent were “Adequately Paid”.
To correct this flagrant violation of their workers’ rights,
Pancha together with his new partner Piyasena, have compiled
their own version of “ Workers Rights,” with some special
concessions to the Vipulsena ‘under-dogs’. Copies of this were
personally distributed, to all these workers, who were
instructed to read the contents carefully, before the May Day
They were also asked to come to his house, to rehearse their
roles in the skits, he had written, on behalf of their Rights.
Pancha is now training his ‘papara band’ of street urchins, for
his May Day rally. They will sing the special May Day song, he
has composed, and will lead the procession of workers, with
their home made instruments of tin whistles, flutes and wooden
They are also making decorations, to hang along the lane, which
include green, blue and red flags, to please all three major
Food and tea, for those participating in the May Day
celebrations at Vipulasena Mawatha, will be provided free by
‘Kopi Kade Sarath’.
Come May Day, Vipulasena Mawatha will be transformed into a
glittering spectacle of colour and action.
Pancha tells me, he has some new tricks up his sleeve, to
entertain the large crowds expected at his rally. “ Meken senege
adaganne puluvan vei. Balanne nona, ape mai dina reliya thamai,
lankave hondama eka venne” ( They will be crowd pullers. Wait
and see Madam. Ours will be the best May Day rally in the whole
of Sri Lanka ),” he predicts, when I pass him, on my way to
‘Orchid Fever: A
Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy’
by Carl Muller
Published by, Methuen, UK
Price :Rs. 2000/-
you have dipped into Eric Hansen’s well-shaken cocktail of three
literary genres, the travelogue, the encounter with oddball
characters, and the exposure of corruption in high places, you
have a book that tells you, that the world of the orchid
fancier, is as exotic as the plant itself. But this book also
has a comic thriller air about it, and you will find that ‘plant
politics’ could be a lot more gripping, than that of the
unspotted, rootless variety!
Author Hansen should know. His book, “Orchid Fever: A
Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy” [Methuen, UK -
pp.272], is a free-wheeling study of what he calls “the lunatic
fringe of the orchid world” and he gives us a wry, affectionate
portrait of people, who are virtually prisoners to orchids, in
the way, the Dutch of the 17th century were obsessed with
Hansen knows his orchids. He once led an expedition through the
jungles of Borneo, in search of the rarest orchids in the world.
The book is highly entertaining and informative, and gives
readers, and especially our orchid lovers, that orchids can be
frivolous and funny, or sexy as hell. “They may be perfumed,
gaudy, seductive or strait-laced, but they are fit for any
occasion.” He quotes Charles Darwin, who addressed the delicate
subject of mating orchids, in his 1877 book, “The Various
Contrivances by which Orchids are Fertilised by Insects”
“Nature has endowed these plants [Catasetum] with, for the want
of a better word, sensitiveness, and with the remarkable power
of forcibly ejecting their pollen, to a considerable distance.
Hence, when certain points of the flower are touched by an
insect, the pollina are shot like an arrow, not barbed however,
but having a blunt and excessively adhesive point.”
As the author says, Orchids, men and sex are eternally
Other interesting points:
(1) Skulduggery and treachery flourished in the great orchid
hunts of the 1900s. Lies, deceit, imprisonment, disease and
(2) The Japanese aristocracy treasured orchids as ‘noble plants’
(3) Five hundred years ago in Yucatan, Emperor Montezuma drank a
liquid ground from orchid fruits and cacao seeds before battle.
(4) The Aztecs believed that this drink made them tireless
(5) The Spanish conquistadors took back to Europe, a concoction
of chocolate, vanilla-flavoured, with ground orchid pods.
(6) The Chinese, hold orchids, as symbols of loyalty.
(7) In 1923, a French collector who insulted a native chief in
Papua, because he was not guided to a spot where certain orange
and black orchids grew, was clubbed to death.
(8) The rarest and only blue orchid in the world - Vanda
coerulea - grows in Assam, India.
(9) ‘Blue Orchids’ was a hit song during World War II, penned by
Hoagy Carmichel, and ‘Blue Orchids’ became the nickname for the
(10) The famous writer of Japanese haiku was a monk called Basho.
He once described a flavoured orchid, thus:
‘Orchid - breathing incense into butterfly’s wings’.
In a more polemical vein, the author also sneers at the
international convention, that forbids the transport of orchids,
across national borders, for, as he says, “far from preventing
pillage, the law only increases the black market price of
At Rs. 2000, this book could be as rare to my purse, as a rare
orchid, but it is totally fascinating and a wonderful manual,
that tells me now, how I should care for my own orchids, that
I’m quite proud of, although, I know I’m far from professional.
But that scarcely matters. Suddenly, there’s a clustering riot
of flowers, and they last for weeks and weeks!