Swarna knew very well that she could have her meal only after her husband had dinner. She didn’t complain, but this was a tradition with the Wickremesinghe clan. The women folk were shown a lot of respect, but given little value. The Wickremesinghes showed to the society that they cared about the women they were married to. The women wore expensive jewelry. They were attired in the most expensive saries and slipped on branded shoes to attend social gatherings. What was a little difficult to fathom was that these beautifully dressed wives hardly spoke at social gatherings. They sat like zombies, especially at weddings, while their husbands drank whiskey and smoked heavily.
Swarna was the mother of three children. She maintained a perfect figure despite nursing all her kids through childhood to teenage years. Her husband, Wickremesinghe, was involved in the copper business and managed a factory which produced locks, nuts and bolts. He didn’t see the need to have a perfect relationship with his wife. However, he was an adorable father to his daughters.
Swarna initially refused to marry Wickremesinghe when she was proposed for marriage. Wickremesinghe was dark and stout. However, Swarna was intelligent enough to understand that she would enjoy financial freedom if she married Wickremesinghe. This is why she said ‘yes’, when her mother entertained this proposal for the second time to marry her off to Wickremesinghe. After all, she never had the habit of going against her mother’s will.
Twenty years into married life, she had three daughters to show after living with Wickremesinghe. Swarna and the three daughters lived like friends. They were a closely knit family. But Wickremesinghe made a conscious effort to distance himself from these four family members. He virtually lived like a boarder. He was out of the house early in the morning and only returned in the night to have his dinner and then go to sleep.
Though Swarna didn’t acknowledge it, she was very fond of the second daughter. Her name was Dilky and she was a professional dancer. Despite being just eighteen years old, Dilky already had a troupe of dancers who performed at show and weddings. She earned good money and often bought her mother and two sisters expensive gifts. There were many boys interested in these three girls, but Swarna kept a check on her daughters’ activities, hence the word got around that it was difficult to do anything behind the mother’s back.
Wickremesinghe spent very little time at home, but he would sometimes invite his business friends for ‘drinks’ at home. Swarna put all the bitterness of the marriage behind her and rose to these occasions. Her dishes were well appreciated by guests. There were times when Wickremesinghe drank excessively and had to be walked to his bed. There had been quite a few occasions when one or two of Wickremesinghe’s friends tried to make advances to her at such times. She defused such annoying situations like a pro by diverting the talk to food and her daughters. To divert the attention the men had on her, she would pour more liquor in their glasses. These situations underscored the fact that men in this part of Mandana Town didn’t value women.
Wickremesinghe had a friend called Ranmal who had a company which specialized in manufacturing stickers. Ranmal had a son and he would often bring him along when Wickremesinghe invited him for a drink. His name was Dilantha. Ranmal’s son and Dilky were of the same age. It was quite understandable when the word got around that the two had started an affair.
Swarna pretended she didn’t know about Dilky’s new addition to her life. She thought that ‘this would pass away’ because she knew about teenage love. However, three years into the affair, they were still going strong. That’s when Swarna got worried because she didn’t approve of Dilantha and his parents. Wickremesinghe was still unaware of these developments.
When Swarna decided to talk to Dilky about the affair, her daughter surprisingly showed anger. As the days passed, Dilky became an agitated woman and would snap at anything that annoyed her. Swarna tried to speak to Dilantha and his parents, but they distanced themselves from her and later ignored her calls.
Swarna couldn’t believe her eyes when her daughter started having morning sickness. The news of Dilky’s pregnancy rocked the Wickremesinghe family. Swarna’s husband blamed Dilky. Swarna and Wickremesinghe had many arguments. Swarna finally decided to standby her daughter and see through the pregnancy till childbirth.
The nine months till childbirth lasted like a turbulent storm. Wickremesinghe often came home drunk. During times like this, Swarna would lock Dilky up in a room and attend to her husband. She also managed the dance troupe in the absence of Dilky. She gave strength to the three daughters who looked at her like at the sun for warmth and protection.
Swarna lived in a restricted environment, but she never allowed the circumstances to blunt her abilities as a mother and wife. Wickremesinghe too knew that his wife had little or no faults and realized that her abilities were akin to a sleeping giant. Dilky’s pregnancy paved the way for Swarna’s hidden abilities to surface.
When the nine months were up, Dilky gave birth to a lovely daughter. Wickremesinghe was silent when he heard that the new born was a girl. He didn’t like the family wealth to find their way out of the house. Swarna gave value to women. She believed in this ideology which fuelled her spirit. That’s what kept her going throughout her married life.
She infected her second daughter with this thinking and it grew in her. Her two other daughters also warmed up to this idea that they had everything within to stand on their feet when the circumstances threatened to make their lives unsteady.
Swarna insisted on Dilky’s return to the dancing troupe when the baby girl was able to walk by herself. In this society where women are forced to be the ones to make all the sacrifices, individuals like Swarna must be acknowledged for the courage they provide society with.