A short story written Thirty Two years ago

Helping my aunt clean her house some time ago, I came across some old magazines and books which she didn’t need. Amongst these was a yellow tattered copy of a Woman’s Era magazine dated January second 1984. Calculating that’s 32 years ago!! Anyway, reading the magazine I came across a short story named “An Eye Opener” by Rukmini Parthasarathy. A story which I loved every bit and felt would be a waste to remain forgotten in an old yellowed tattered magazine…

An Eye Opener
GOWRI READ her check-list again. Fine. She had bought all that she had wanted…cakes and jelly for the girls…a perfume bottle each…some fruits and vegetables…some cosmetics for herself… She lifted her baskets and was about to leave the Super Bazaar when a voice behind her made her stop and turn- “Hello, Gowri”.
She recognized the lady who had addressed her. Her Husband’s colleagues wife. Besides her was another lady, another colleague’s wife.
“Oh Hello?”said Gowri smiling. “Shopping?”. “Yes,the girls are home for the holidays!” said Gowri, a hint of pride in her voice.
“How are they liking their hostel?” “Very well they tell me…”
The conversation sagged at this stage. Gowri was aware of the intensely jealous scrutiny to which the two women were subjecting her. She felt a bit embarrassed,but somehow proud and happy too. Suddenly one of them said, “How old are your daughters?”
“Nineteen and seventeen,”said Gowri.
“And you look eighteen!”
Laughter broke out all around. Gowri flushed self-consciously…of course, the comment was an exaggeration, but it was nevertheless a compliment, albeit a grudging one.
“Now, talking seriously, Gowri, how do manage to look so young? Do you spend half the day in a beauty parlor?”
“Naturally not…it’s a gift from the Almighty!” said Gowri trying to sound natural and jovial…but inside she was fuming. “How jealous can these two women get? They are getting fatter and cruder day by day…beauty parlor, indeed?”
“Okay, I’ll have to push off now. Come home sometime, will you?” Gowri said and hurried off with her baskets…Really, what jealousy! She must tell her daughters about it…

SHE was panting slightly when she reached home. She realized that these shopping sprees with heavy loaded baskets were tiring these days; but she brushed aside the realization quickly. Tiring her? Only old people get tired so easily!
Asha and Usha were playing chess with each other. They looked at her and her baskets. “Apples!” said Asha and took a basket away from her mother’s hands. “May we have some, Ma?”
“Sure, but wash them first” said Gowri, as she sat under the breeze of the fan. It felt good to sit down and ease her legs and hands. Meanwhile, she noticed that Usha’s was fixed on her face.It was a sort of careful scrutiny, but somehow angry and impatient in its overtones.
“You look as if you have run a mile… Surely you are aging fast!” said Usha. There was curtness in her voice, cold cruelty which somehow did not match the innocence of that seventeen-year-old face.
“Really? I only wish you had listened to what two of my friends said just a while ago!” said Gowri.
“What did they say?” asked Usha
“They must have said that you were getting younger and younger!” said Asha, tossing an apple to her sister and biting into hers.
“Or that you look like glamorous cinema star or something equally silly and ridiculous” said Usha, hazarding guesses.
Suddenly, in dawned on Gowri that her youthful looks did not exactly please her daughters. She felt decidedly uneasy… “Oh, it’s probably nothing” she consoled herself .“The girls are probably under some sort of strain. After all, the holidays are nearing an end and the hostel grind will start soon.”
Gowri’s uneasiness received a further shock a few days later.
Mother and daughters were to attend a wedding reception. The bridegroom’s father was a close family friend.
Gowri, as was her habit, dressed very carefully. She applied a thick layer of cream to her face and rubbed it in, thereby freshening up her ivory skin. She oiled her lustrous hair, brushed it again and again till it shone and plaited it. The plait descended beneath her waist. This long thick hair was her plus point and she always showed it to advantage. She wore a short-sleeved blue blouse and a lightly printed blue nylon-georgette sari. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and smiled. How old did she look? Twenty-eight? Thirty? And she was really forty-five years old!
THE smile vanished from her lips when she saw her two daughters. They had taken pains over their dressing too-and how!
Both Asha and Usha wore heavy silk sarees. Their blouses weren’t visible; the pallu of the saree covered the blouse completely. Their hair was rolled up in buns; their faces were scrubbed but carried no traces of powder ,cream, lipstick or kajol..
It was immediately obvious to Gowri that they had taken pains to look older than they were.. and had succeeded. But why? She looked at the air of defiance in their eyes. What were they trying to do? Take revenge on her for looking young? But why?
Suddenly she felt ridiculous and stupid, with her printed nylon-georgette sari and her plaited hair.
“Are you girls coming in that dress?” She asked.
“Yes!” said Asha
“You look dowdy!” said Gowri
“Oh?” said Asha
“Really?” said Usha
Gowri did not know what to say. She looked again at the seriousness in their juvenile faces…Was there something in their eyes? A moisture? A hurt?
“I think I’ll change into a silk sari too and put up my hair!” said Gowri weakly.
“Don’t!” said Asha
“If you do, you’ll look your age and that will be a calamity!” said Usha
“We’ll go to the reception just like this, Ma…People will tell that you look younger than your daughters. Won’t that be lovely?” said Asha without the slightest trace of a smile.
“I’ll change”, said Gowri.
“No time now!” The girls came to her and took her hands. “Just enough time to catch a taxi and rush!” They almost pulled her out of the house and quickly locked the front door.
“Relax, Ma!”, said Asha.
“And enjoy the compliments!” said Usha.
On the third occasion, Gowri received not a shock but a flash of realization. It happened just a week before the girls were due to leave for their college hostel. Asha came to Gowri in the kitchen.
“Ma, I want to let you into a secret”, said she.
Gowri’s eyes sparkled in joy….She, a part of her child’s secret! Her greatest sorrow in recent times was that her daughters have been making an effort to keep het out of their joys and sorrows….
“Yes, Asha?”
“You’ll cooperate, Ma?”
“I’ll surely do my best…..”
“It’s about Usha….It’s her seventeenth birthday tomorrow and she wants to give a party to her friends.”
“What’s difficult about that? I’ll bake a cake, prepare some snacks….”
“Yes…yes…but that’s not the tough part”
“No?”
“No…I hope you won’t misunderstand but you must not be in the house when her friends come….”
“What?” Gowri’s eyes became sad in a flash.“But why?”
“Usha wants it like that….Alternatively, she’s prepared to treat her friends in an eatery….”
“But I won’t be in anybody’s way…..I’ll only help you two….” Gowri’s voice was in the verge of tears.
“That’s just the point, Ma. It’s a teenager’s party and we don’t want any adults around”
Gowri remained silent, too hurt to reply.
Asha’s voice was gentle, almost apologetic. “You could go for an evening movie, Ma. By the time you are back, the party would have ended. Actually, father says it would be best if Usha took her friends to an eatery and then to a movie. So, you can opt for that if you like….”
“What does Usha really want?”
“I don’t know….”
“Ofcourse, you know…..what does she want?”
“I think she would prefer a party at home, with music and indoor games……”
“All right…..I’ll leave for my movie at 5:30 after making all the eats….”
“I’ll help you Ma”, said Asha. Gowri could see that Asha was trying her best to be understanding and sympathetic. But what a request to make! Was her presence such a bother to her own children?
Gowri was full of self-pity when she left for the movie the next evening. She had baked an exquisite cake, made mouth-watering snacks…..Usha had frisked around happily, like a carefree lamb…Oh, how much she wanted to be wanted to be at home! She wanted to see her daughter cut the cake, to hear her friends clap and sing. She wanted to hear their laughter, to take part in their jokes….why was she denied all these little pleasures?
The movie was mediocre and crude…..she wanted to leave half-way through, but she forced herself to stay on. She did not want to go home when the party was in full swing. If her daughters did not want her company, she was not going to thrust it on them. She felt tired and worn out when the movie ended. It was not her habit to cry while watching movies, but today her tears had come forth spontaneously and copiously.
She caught a three-wheeler, but asked the driver to stop at a little distance from her home. She would walk the rest of the way; that would delay her reaching home and give as much time as possible for the party to wind up successfully in her absence.
She reached home; and a mild shock awaited her. Usha’s sobs reached her ears before her hand pressed the call-bell. She quickly withdrew her hand and went round to the side of the house. She could look into the girls’ room, hear the girls speak….
Usha was sobbing and Asha’s arms were embracing her protectively.
“Now, don’t cry….Ma will be home any minute,” said Asha.
“It was such a mean request to make of her, asking her to go away from my birthday party….”
“Forget it. She was hurt but she will forgive us”
“I couldn’t help it, Asha. She would have spoilt everything had she been around. Everyone would have started cooing, how young your mother looks! And she would have giggled like a ten year old and I would have felt like killing myself….”
“I know…”
“It’s not her youthful looks that get in my nerves, Asha…. But the way she brightens up when someone comments on it, its nauseating…..”
“Yes…”
“And her dressing…..the type of saris she wears…..the dangling stuff she hangs from her ear-lobes…..her kajol and cream….”
“I know….I know…”
“My friends have beautiful mothers too. But nobody looks so ridiculous and inefficient….”
“I’ve gone through all this Usha. So often I’ve been faced with problems but I never had the confidence to take them to Ma. She is so obsessed with her youthful looks that I’ve felt she couldn’t possibly be mature enough to advise me…”
“You know something?” Usha released herself from her sister’s protective arms. “I wish a good fairy would wave a magic wand and turn Ma’s hair white overnight!” Having said this she burst out sobbing.
“….I understand….a mother should fill the role of a mother, not be just a wax-doll…”
“I hope she wasn’t hurt too much!” she said softly. “I still feel so mean…..and such a fabulous cake she had baked for me, and such delicious snacks…..if only she would have been a wee bit different….”
Gowri walked back slowly to the front door and pressed the bell. Asha opened the door.
“How did the party go off?” asked Gowri, making sure she sounded cheerful and happy.
“Wonderfully……The cake was glorious….”
“And where’s the birthday baby?”
“In the bathroom washing her face…”
“At this time of the day?”
“It’s been a strenuous day for her Ma…..But she’s so happy and thankful to you…How was the movie?”
Gowri looked at the understanding face of her elder daughter… what a mature person she had grown into!
“What did you ask Asha?”
“How the movie was?”
“Well, so-so”
“I didn’t hear your three-wheeler”
“Oh, the driver dropped me in front of the next house by mistake, I had to walk up”
In bed, that night, Gowri kept thinking for a long time. How mistaken she had been! She had thought that youthful looks were a matter of pride and, therefore, worth preserving at all costs. It had come as an eye-opener that her daughter considered her pride a sign of vain immaturity. It had almost become a barrier between her and them.
Her daughters wanted her mother to be a figure they could look up to and respect and trust with their problems….a dependable, reliable person, capable of giving guidance and advice…and she had been only a ‘’wax-doll’’….
“Usha, my little, my little baby,” she thought, “the services of the magic wand of a good fairy will not be necessary to turn my hair grey….i merely have to stop using a hair-dye…”
“ Asha and Usha, when you return from the hostel next time, you will find silver strands in your mother’s hair….her chiffons and nylons will be in your wardrobes…her costume jewellery will be in your trinket boxes….you will have someone whom you can trust with your problems, someone who won’t embarrass or irritate you…..”
With these soothing thoughts, Gowri went to sleep, the tears still moist on her cheeks…

Bow your head before you hang it!!

Many it seems are busy these days hanging out…themselves I mean. Last one I heard was a young carpenter who hung himself because he had lost his new phone (????). I mean a PHONE FOR HEAVENS SAKE!!! The statistics tell us that every few minutes (or was it seconds?) a person in this world dies, i.e. by their own hands. And little Sri Lanka is high up on that list mind you.
The first reason for suicide is cited as stress and depression. But did you notice the reasons? Failed exams, lost things, love problems, losing jobs, positions or wealth ,death of a loved one etc. True, its traumatic. But is it worth throwing away your life for? A life that your mother patiently carried around for 9 months and then sacrificed her whole life to bring up. A life that your father toiled day and night to provide for. A life they shared with dreams for the future. And its thrown away in just a few seconds??
If that was what life is worth then why are government hospitals so crowded and the private hospitals flourishing and expanding and the rooms booked even more than the hotels?? Isn’t it because people want to live, to be healthier and to go on with their lives? Isn’t it because life is worth living and not thrown away just for some girl or boy who just doesn’t deserve you?
Did you know that it costs Rs 1,000,000 just to undo a block in your heart? Did you know that it costs Rs 300,000 just to get your kidneys corrected? Did you know that it costs Rs 350,000 to screw together two broken bones with a metal rod for support? Did you know that it costs a monthly Rs 170,000 to replace just one type of cell, namely Immunoglobins that your bone marrow fails to produce? And people are actually paying up for it?? Did you ever realize how valuable you are, how much your body is worth to you?
Do you know how much it means not to be always sick. To be strong and vibrant and full of life? To not have doctors and nurses a constant part of your life? Do you know how much it means to be healthy? Maybe you don’t and maybe you will never know. But writing this from my hospital bed with a file as thick as a novel by my bedside and a canola up my right arm, I know, I really, really do know.
So yes, we are human beings. Problems in our workplaces ,our homes, workload, financial troubles do disturb us. It does cause depression and stress, but that’s no excuse to give your life away. Without the help of expensive yoga classes there is, however, a way to relieve yourselves from this.
Have you ever wondered why Muslims pray five times a day? Doesn’t it seem a bit too much when you like have a million things to do? But no, every time a Muslim bends down in prayer keeping his forehead on the ground the gravitational force of the earth absorbs two chemical reactions, mainly andrelin and cortisone, the stress causing culprits from the brain leaving the brain clearer when its lifted off the ground. That is if you don’t henpeck the ground by the way. You have to let the earth’s gravity do its work. So you do that 5 times a day of course that annoying boss doesn’t disappear and neither does your creditor. But it bothers you less and you are depressed and stressed less. Whatever your troubles you are always carefree, happy and content. Needless I say what good results that positive attitude will have?
Next time you are feeling depressed or think of killing yourself, just think of this. You are too valuable to die, you mean too much to others and mostly to yourself. So just lock your room, and off all forms of sounds and go down to the ground. Keep your forehead on the cold floor, you will feel your frustration and your stress peel away from you. Stay as long as you feel its enough and when you lift your head I promise you will be a different person. Nothing in this world can bother you. Do this and please don’t make taking your life an option. Don’t even think about it. Just bow your head before you hang it.

“People tend to become what you tell them they are”

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There was an inmate at a certain prison who had been given a death sentence for a crime commited. The doctors there used to place a tablet beneath his tongue daily, promising him every single day that on the 30th day this tablet would cause his death.The doctors, however, were flabbergasted when the inmate, as promised immediately died on the 30th day the moment the tablet touched his tongue.The reason for their surprise was that the tablet which was being given to him was vitamin C! Nothing else. See what you mean by the power of words??

Then how about your children who you continuously keep calling ‘mutt’, ‘idiot’, ‘stupid’ and ‘good for nothing’ each and every time, sometimes every single day, everytime they do something that doesnt appeal to you?? If some words for continuously 30 days could have killed a hardcore fully grown criminal then how could not your words day by day dent the life, personality and future of a child who is but yet a young plant and not a fully grown tree?? Do you not know that people, and mostly children usually tend to become what you tell them they are ???

Made in Cheena

Doing some last minute Eid shopping two months ago it occurred to me that nearly everything in my shopping bags was made in China. From a tiny pin to a huge toy, a head shawl to a prayer mat, even an ear phone to a smart phone seems to be from China. Evidently the Chinese have been very busy. The number of cleverly made items that come coupled with very bad English (that leaves you confused as to what you just read) makes you wonder what the rest of the world is doing, Sri Lanka included.
Interestingly, these products seem to be characterized by some basic qualities. The first being its incredible cheapness, the second, the simple ingenuity of it and then of course the advertising of rather imaginative sentences that does the English language proud. This, I think is the Chinese form of colonization. They gradually creep into our private homes, seep into our lifestyle & slowly take over our country. It definitely wont be surprising if in some way they influence even the upcoming presidential elections.
Note that the whole of our beloved Galleface has been taken over by china leaving only the prawn vadais and the acharus untouched. Even our dear dusty pettah has been conquered by Chinese tags. The nelum pokuna, B.M.I.C.H, the Norocholai power plant is also from them. East, west, north, south……. These cheena kaarayos seems to be everywhere. And what is more hilarious is that even the ones who go abroad bring you back gifts that eventually carries the ‘Made in china’ tag, with the same bad English. As I mentioned before it makes one seriously wonder what the rest of the world are doing in the name of production? What are we Sri Lankans doing??

Even the United States is supposed to be in debt to china. And maybe the ISIS and the rest of those idiots who kill innocent citizens in a bid to take over the world can take a lesson or two from the Chinese. The Chinese have taken and are taking over the world little by little, right from our backyard even without us realizing it. Not a drop of blood though. That is the Chinese skill I would say. Next time you go shopping make it a game and try to find something that doesn’t have the obvious tag, ‘MADE IN CHEENA’.

Supermoms: To be or not to be??

According to the dictionary, a supermom is a mother who successfully manages a home and brings up children while also having a full time job. The number of these so called “supermoms” has multiplied during the past few decades including in our little Sri Lanka. A fast moving world, directed media and financial constraints due to the high costs of living has, willingly or unwillingly spurred women to be these moms. The glorified image of such mothers in newspapers and magazines liken them to superhumans with multiple hands, multi- tasking many children around. Being a mother of two, with my youngest being just 3weeks old, is this what I really want to be??

                 Despite having had a full time job after completing my studies, I quit the month before my first baby was born. A stupidity and a waste of good education according to some of my colleagues, but not for a moment have I regretted my decision. I manage a home by myself and bring up my children (successfully I hope), but had I not resigned my job maybe I would have been called a supermom….which is the last thing I want to be.

               My children need me when they are growing up, and not when they are grown. After they are older and become more independent they would be needing my advice and my guidance, not my help or support. Until the age of five, the brain of a child develops at a very fast rate and during this time period I can instill within them a good character, values and manners ,also including healthy food habits,. Little things that decide their future .And how could I, during this crucial time in my children’s lives, not be for them? And how can I allow the future and the character of my babies to be shaped by domestic aids, old aunties, daycare centres, or grandparents who tend to spoil kids much more than would be best for them -all of whom I would be forced to leave my children with had I been employed.

                     On the other hand, if you happen to be a single mother, then there would be no choice but to take a job leaving your children with someone else. But just make sure that it would be someone completely trustworthy. And make sure that your job is within the country- don’t be foolish enough to go overseas leaving your children to the mercy of others consoling yourself that it is for their best. You may end up losing your children and destroying their futures forever. Better still, get yourself an online job. Its flexible with timing and you also get to keep an eye on your children.

                       One cannot however deny that there are those exceptional women or rather human machines who with their perfect time management have well kept homes and well looked after children and a successful job. But one wonders how far they are able to cater to the emotional and psychological requirements of their families. Can they keep their children happy and their spouses satisfied at the same time?……..or are they humans too?  

               Ofcourse, this might sound like the bigoted ideologies of a narrow minded housewife willingly suppressing herself within the four walls of her household, but this perhaps is the humble ambitions of a simple homemaker striving, not to balance many jobs to the approving nods of feminists, but to achieve a home, harmonious and happy.

                       

I am hungry…

 

                     The delicious aroma of cooking food wafts from the kitchen making my stomach growl in hunger. But I cant eat. Well, not yet and not until a little after sunset. As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan draws to a close I have been fasting continuously in this manner daily from before sunrise until after sunset for nearly 30 days and so has been the rest of the world’s Muslim population. This obligatory practice of a month long self-deprivation may seem pointless and foolish to many and impossible to the rest. But like the rest of the commandments in Islam, fasting, or depriving oneself from even a drop of water from dawn to dusk has spiritual, psychological and health benefits.

                      Many people observe fasting simply as a religious obligation but only a few know the health benefits it has. Fasting is a good practice and if properly implemented it promotes the elimination of toxins from the body, reduces blood sugar and fat stores. It promotes healthy eating habits and boosts immunity. According to Dr Biodun Awosusi here are the top 10 health benefits you can derive from fasting..

1. Fasting Promotes detoxification

Processed food contains lots of additives. These additives may become toxins in the body and some of them promote the production of Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) most of which are stored in fats. Since fat is burnt during fasting, especially when it is prolonged, these toxins are released. The liver, kidneys and other organs in the body are involved in this detoxification.

2. Fasting Rests the Digestive System

During fasting the digestive organs rest, but the normal physiologic functions continue, especially the production of digestive secretions, but at reduced rates. This helps to maintain the balance of fluids in the body. The breakdown of food takes place at steady rates and the release of energy also follows a gradual pattern.

3. Fasting Resolves Inflammatory Resolution

Some studies show that fasting promotes the resolution of inflammatory diseases and allergies. Examples of such inflammatory diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, arthritis and skin diseases such as psoriasis. Some experts assert that fasting may promote the healing of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis.

4. Fasting Reduces Blood Sugar

Fasting increases the breakdown of glucose so that the body can get energy. It reduces the production of insulin. This rests the pancreas and Glucagon is produced to facilitate the breakdown of glucose. The outcome of fasting is a reduction in blood sugar.

5. Fasting Increases Fat breakdown

The first response of the body to fasting is the breakdown of glucose. When the store of glucose is exhausted, ketosis begins. This is the breakdown of fats to release energy. The fats stored in kidney and muscles are broken down to release energy.

6. Fasting Corrects high blood Pressure

Fasting is one of the non-drug methods of reducing blood pressure. It helps to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is clogging of arteries by fat particles. During fasting glucose and later, fat stores are used to produce energy. The Metabolic rate is reduced during fasting. The fear-flight hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenalin are also reduced. This keeps the metabolic rate steady and within limits. The benefit is a reduction in blood pressure.

7. Fasting Promotes Weight loss

Fasting promotes rapid weight loss. It reduces the store of fats in the body and keeps it in shape.

8. Fasting Promotes a Healthy diet

It has been observed that fasting reduces craving for processed foods. It promotes a desire for natural foods, especially water and fruits. This is one way fasting promotes a healthy lifestyle.

9. Fasting Boosts Immunity

When an individual is on a balanced diet in between fasts, this can boost immunity. Elimination of toxins and reduction in fat store also helps the body. When individuals take fruits to break a fast, they increase the body’s store of essential vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A and E are good antioxidants readily available in fruits. They help to boost immunity.

10. Fasting May Help to Overcome Addictions

 It is believed that fasting can help addicts reduce their cravings, for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and other substance abuse. Although there are other regimens required to resolve addictions, fasting can play a role.

 

                              Despite fasting in the month of Ramadan being made obligatory by Islam on every Muslim, the sick, the pregnant and nursing mothers, the travelers etc are exempted from fasting if they find difficulty in keeping fast.

                              Other than the above health benefits, fasting also makes a Muslim realize the hunger experienced by the poor and encourages charity in him. It makes him humble and teaches him humility in his religious obligations. So the next time my stomach grumbles and growls asking for some food, I won’t be running to the fridge to cram some food into my mouth like I do the rest of the 11 months. My body has been working hard all that time and it is about time I had a break.

The Property of Ward 48

Nestled amidst the sprawling buildings of the Colombo National Hospital of Sri Lanka is Ward 48. Conveniently situated on the second floor of the building opposite the O.P.D, outwardly, it seems to be no different from the other wards except for an exotic treasure it contains. Entering the ward, one would be greeted on the left side by two isolation rooms. Walk into the first one belonging to the A side one would find four beds. Opposite these beds is a bed which might look more in place at a children’s ward. And sitting on it or maybe somewhere around this tiny home would be a little old lady befitting this tiny bed, Nandawathie, better known as Aarchie, the petted, beloved and safeguarded property of Ward 48.
Seemingly, a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease , Aachie, who hails from Galle is a sad example of our elderly rejected by their own children and left to fend for themselves. Found wandering in the streets and brought to the NHSL by the police, this Ward has been her home for nearly 2years. How she came to Colombo from Galle is a mystery, but her condition prevents her from going back. Three times hospital meals and a cup of tea in the morning and evening together with extra snacks given by the other generous patients keeps Aachie well fed and her other needs are provided by the members of the staff. The doctors examine her daily and the nurses ensure that she takes her medicines on time.
What makes Aachie fascinating is her extreme neatness and the manner in which she goes about her normal duties herself, despite her obvious old age. She continuously combs her hair, changes her clothes and maintains herself, washing her plates and cup every time she uses it and arranges and rearranges the cupboard which contains all her worldly possessions in about 6 bags . Although it takes her a very long time, each time it is a job well done. But Aachie’s most valuable possession is a battered ice cream tub that never leaves her bedside. It was heartwarming to see that the precious tub that Aarchie spends hours on arranging contains only an old pair of spectacles, a ball of tangled thread and cord and a lot of silver foil that has been carefully removed from her tablets.
Being in the isolation room with Aachie is never a bore, what with leftover food sometimes wrapped in a towel, the toilet bowl floating in bits of newspaper, Aachie suddenly racing in or out of the room because she has suddenly remembered something important, her frantic search for her always missing money purse and the hours of money counting that follows its recovery. Despite Aachie being content with her life in the hospital, there are times when she tries to go out on her own and is promptly brought back by the security or the staff who fear her safety. It was quite amusing to sometimes see her dress up, pack all her bags, pretend to go to a wedding and then go up the lift and come right back to the enthusiastic welcome of the staff.
“Aah Aachie koheda mey bags tika aragena giye?” Ah! Aachie where did you take these bags and go?
“Aachie shopping gihilla” Aachie has gone shopping.
“Aachie mata monawada genawey?” Aachie what have you bought me?
Then aachie would simply answer the good-natured teasing with a toothless grin and return to her room to change. The Property of Ward 48 has just returned home.

A Buddhist, a Muslim and an Undivided Nation

No Halal. That’s what they said the last time. No Hijab. That’s what they say now. No Muslims. That’s what they would say the next time. Indirectly No Unity .That’s what they are trying to say the whole time. Who are these people?? What do they really want?? A few Buddhists friends even doubt whether these people who claim to safeguard Buddhism are Buddhists themselves, and let’s say, I am starting to have the same doubts too. It seems that on the pretext of strengthening Buddhism they are actually going against its teachings and trying to create a discord among the Buddhists and Muslims and hence, disunity in little Sri Lanka (And according to some media with the help of some foreign interests) . But on the other hand, listening to the supposedly “serious”, but rather amusing allegations against Islam also makes you wonder if it is not some sort of childish attempt at quick fame.
Buddhism, mind you, is a religion that dates back to more than 2600 years and a beautiful one too. It certainly doesn’t need an army to strengthen it and most certainly not by those who seem to be ignorant of the very essence of what Lord Buddha taught. Listening to some Buddhist sermons and the teachings of Lord Buddha I have to say that over and again I have been fascinated by its similarity to Islamic teachings. It’s actually the same thing, but just in a different way and a different manner. Buddhism teaches to eat what is pure, Islam says, eat what is permissible so that your body can be pure. Buddhism teaches women to wear conservatively when you go out, Islam says, cover everything except the face and hands. Whatever it is, this is not about which one is better than the other. All religions are alike and so are all humans irrespective of what religion they maybe. It is understanding this fact clearly that enables man to live in unity with one another and it was misunderstanding this that spelled trouble for Sri Lanka.
The thirty years of war that racked this little island has set back the country’s development and growth by three decades. This is our chance to move forward and another civil war is the last thing we need. It is our unity that would propel the country forward, fast into a developed nation. We have been ‘developing’ for long enough.
The opening line of these people in most speeches is usually “Maeka Bouddha ratak”, i.e. “This is a Buddhist country”. Let me tell you dear sir, that Sri Lanka is a multi ethnic country, PREDOMINANTLY a Buddhist one. And for us Muslims, this is our motherland, not Saudi Arabia. Know that whatever you say or do, we would never abandon this country. We were born as Sri Lankans, we live as Sri Lankans and we would also die as Sri Lankans.

 

A Buddhist, A Muslim and the Halal factor

                It was with much confusion that I followed the recent protests by some in the Buddhist community against  Muslims and the Sri Lankan Halaal Certification Authority. I mean, do these guys of the “Bodu Bala Sena” really realize what they are protesting against? Or what actually Halal is? And don’t these guys who proclaim to safeguard, protect and fight for Buddhism understand that Lord Buddha himself repeatedly taught his disciples the importance of a pure mind and soul? And that in Islamic terms is what Halal is about??

                 The Arabic word “Halal” means “Permissible”. It  could cover various aspects of a Muslims life ranging from his daily food to what he wears to who he is permitted to get married to. The food that has been made “Haram” or not permissible are that of blood (e.g. fermentation media and sausages) , the human body (e.g. bread improver from hair and cosmetics from the placenta and embryo), alcohol (e.g. used in cooking and cakes), carrion (that of haram animals and animals slaughtered not according to the Islamic Law) and each and every part of the pig (e.g. gelatine, glycerine, rennet in cheese and shortening in biscuits) and any food obtained through ill gotten means ( i.e. stealing, bribery and corruption). And only these foods that are against human nature have been made Haram in Islam and the rest are considered Halal or permissible unlike the common notion among many that practically everything is made Haram for a Muslim.

                      Anything that is forbidden or made Haram in Islam is solely due to the fact that it, in some way or other it is harmful to man. Blood for example has been made Haram due to its high content of a toxic chemical substance called uric acid, 98% of which is excreted from the human body in the form of urine. It is here that the importance consuming meat only from animals slaughtered in the Islamic manner comes in. The wielder of the knife, whilst uttering the name of “Allah”, makes an incision through the jugular vein and the wind pipe leaving the spinal cord intact, thus causing death by total loss of blood rather than any an injury to any vital organ. Were the organs, for example the heart, liver or brain was crippled or damaged, the animal would die immediately and its blood would congeal in its veins and would eventually permeate the flesh. This would mean that the meat would be contaminated with uric acid and therefore be very poisonous. It is also scientifically proven that the Islamic manner of slaughter causes the animal nearly 0% pain as compared with other methods.

                        The pig and all its derivatives to be forbidden not only in Islam, but also in Judaism and Hinduism is not surprising. It is a well known fact that the pig is an extremely unclean animal and serves as a host for a variety of parasites, viruses and diseases. Apart from this, the pig’s biochemistry excretes only 2% of its total uric acid content and the remaining 98% remains as an integral part of the body. That’s not considering the fact that the pig, according to its natural anatomy has no neck. So even the Islamic method of slaughtering which drains the blood totally from the animal’s body is not applicable here. No prizes for guessing the effect of consuming pork or any of its derivatives on the human body.  

                         The function of the All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulama Halal Certification Authority is to investigate the nature and components of the food or commodity in detail and ensure its purity from anything that is Haram and thus would be injurious to the human body. The Halal certification, however, is granted only to those firms who seek it and is not forced on anyone or any community .The same with Halal products . It is not forced on anyone and it is a person’s individual choice if they want to consume Halal or not. No reason to object to the existence of an authority that serves to the betterment of the society as a whole and not only that of Muslims.

                        Any food that has not been made Haram is Halal.  And as mentioned before, the food that has been forbidden has been made so solely due to its adverse effects on a human body. It is a pure and healthy body that makes a pure and healthy mind and soul. That is the foundation that Islam wants for every Muslim and that is what Prince Siddhartha taught every Buddhist. And thus Halal is the right of each and every human being.

A virgin girl in India

Thirty miles west of Taj Mahal, on the road to the city of Jaipur lies a collection of shelters which houses the 59 families of the Bedia tribe. And their livelihood? A long tradition of caste based prostitution. Girls born here become prostitutes in a rite of passage into “adulthood” as routine as marriage is to the rest of the Indian community. And living in this tribe with her four prostitute sisters is Nita, a 13year old virgin.

                  Sitting on a stool by a fire so that she can be seen by passing vehicles, with her heavily made up face, striking look and  a beautiful saree, Nita looks as though she might be on her way to a party. But the truth is different. A bidding war is being held for the right to be the first to sleep with her. And the price doesn’t come low. Since the “first time” is a valued commodity, the middle class businessmen who pass this way are prepared to pay a premium. The normal rate is 100 rupees, but a virgin  is sold to the highest bidder for anything over 20,000 rupees. If she is very pretty, the community can hope to get up to 40,000 rupees. And one sister boasts that as Nita is particularly pretty, they hope to get 40,000 rupees. “we have been offered 25,000, but it is not enough”.

                    For this amount, the man can have access to the girl for as long as he likes- several hours, days or even weeks. When he tires of her, there is a celebration. Because it is considered unlucky for a girl to keep the money from her first time ,it is spent instead on an extravagant party. Jewellery is bought for her and for her relatives, goats are slaughtered and alcohol runs freely. There is dancing and offerings are made to the gods. Once a girl has lost her virginity she cannot marry. The choice has been made and the community celebrates it- this is her non wedding night.

                          Ignorant of what women’s rights are and too young to realize how it may be to lead a free and a honourable life, at  13, Nita has opted to follow her sisters to the trade. It is her own “choice”, because, she giggled, “I won’t have to do any housework”. But in avoiding making chapattis, Nita has signed up to a life in which she will deal with 20 to 30 clients per day until she reaches her forties. After that, when she is no longer considered desirable, she will depend on any children she may have for support.

                         Two of her sisters, Ritu,35, and Manju,25, have built one of the few stone houses in their village for which they paid the equivalent of 14,600 pounds, and are proud of their success. “There was a lot of poverty, we had nothing to eat”, said Manju. “What you see now has come with hard work”. In a society where men are idle and are considered a burden Manju and Ritu support 50 family members- 35 children and 15 adults. And they also paid for four of their five brothers to marry and now support their sisters in law,nieces and nephews. Marriage however, for the girls of this tribe is nearly impossible as the boy’s family has to pay a very large sum in order to marry a girl who would otherwise be supporting the family, ie through prostitution.        

                         Ritu and Manju each have a daughter whose fathers were clients. “My daughter will get educated and not enter this profession”, said Ritu. “I have seen what it is like. I don’t want it for her”. What is ironic here is that they don’t seem to mind their sister Nita entering the same trade and having the same degrading fate as they did. But the fact is that this 13 year old virgins story came up in the media some time ago. And by now Nita must have lost her virginity. And the Bedia tribe must have benefited from it.