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A movie is being made, based on Sumithra Rahubadda’s pathbreaking work of fiction, Kandak Sema. The author is a Swarnapusthaka award winner who has several well-known titles to her credit.

Kandak Sema is not a work dwelling on your average Sri Lankan subject. The book is about the life of a young Sri Lankan girl who ends up being married to an elderly Japanese man, in Japan.

Many would say that it reinforces the stereotypes about oppressive and chauvinistic Japanese men who dominate their womenfolk, but that particular model is flawed at the very outset, but more about that later. However, Rahubadda’s subject is necessarily alien to Sri Lankan readers, as she negotiates the subtleties of an alien culture.

Harata Saan, the husband in Rahubadda’s depiction seems to be far less henpecked. He tells his wife that his extramarital excursions are not due to any inadequacy on her part. The world is full of joy and is assorted, he asserts. Yes, the man sleeps around because it offers variety, and he does not mind oppressing his wife with the information.

There are some powerful dialogues, but a stand out extract from among the best would be the one in which the protagonist, the Sri Lankan girl, explains her husband’s predilections to another man.

‘I will not call a man that is struggling to be a man, a man’ she says, referring to her rakish man. She qualifies that by explaining that her husband’s braggadocio’s about how it is a great achievement for any gentleman to sleep with his best friend’s woman, keeps justifiably anxious folk away from him.

The question of stereotypes does not count. The prose is unrelenting and on message. It appears that the Japanese moviemakers, that collaborated with the novelist, took a liking to the subject matter, and this writer learns that the casting for the movie is excellent.
There may be a negative stereotyping of Japanese men in the book as sex predators, which is just as bad as the partially true depiction of Japanese salary men as slaves to the big business conglomerates they work for.

What's CookingNow, that’s another story. It has been said that in Japan, the wives consider their men folk unsuccessful and unworthy if they return home too soon before the witching hour, and come back from the job sober.

The men are supposed to work till late evening and then spend the rest of the day carousing with contacts in nightspots, making deals. Any man who goes against this regimen does not make the cut.

Harata Saan, the husband in Rahubadda’s depiction seems to be far less henpecked. He tells his wife that his extramarital excursions are not due to any inadequacy on her part. The world is full of joy and is assorted, he asserts. Yes, the man sleeps around because it offers variety, and he does not mind oppressing his wife with the information.

From a milieu of stock stereotypes in novels, this portrayal of the predator alien preying on the innocent Sri Lankan girl is even if hackneyed, not threadbare, and if that is no qualification for good writing, it has to be said that in Rahubadda’s hands, this material is more powerful than most standard prose about the subject of infidelity, and/or adultery.
The protagonist does not like the insensitivity of her philandering partner. She asks the husband if he is not averse to her humiliation. The reply is ‘you are blessed and you are infinitely better than the rest — so keep your chest forward.’

Her retort is that it is not a question of relative merits of sleeping partners. It is about the homes that are made into living hells as a result of extra marital depredations of wayward men.

Now, that does reinforce some stereotype. Japanese men are often taken to be addicted to manga, the sexualized cartoons that Japanese white collar workers and the labor force alike are fond of scanning on their way to work. Often the manga depicts the defilement of the young and innocent females and this aspect of Japanese fetishism is not entirely incorrect, though it is in parts exaggerated, or made to fit into an artificial stereotype.
Irrespective of the problems about milieu and character authenticity, all kudos then to Rahubadda for wading into these unfamiliar territories and coming up with fiction that appeals to both Sri Lankan and Japanese psyches.

Her treatment of the subject matter is not hindered by her distance from the culture being described, and other limitations. What seems initially to be a disadvantage, which is that she’s far removed from the milieu that she portrays, seems to be made into an advantage as she hones in laser beam like, on the issue of subjugation, male dominance, and the sex slavery that passes off for marriage.

It is almost funny to think that Japanese salary men, in popular lore, are said to suffer indignities at the hands of their womenfolk. Sometimes as retirees, they are said to be resigned to a life of hobbling around at home, at the mercy of the wives, because, as per tradition the entire salary man’s pension is managed by the better half at home.
It is not entirely known whether some of these salary men opt for more pliant companions in women from other Asian countries, but Rahubadda’s foray into virtually unknown territory and the movie that results is a first of sorts.

Scores of fiction writers dive into the subject of the alienation felt by Sri Lankans living in England, but that’s due to the much documented and heavily duplicated ‘Empire strikes back’ phenomenon in post colonial writing.

It is a good thing that this beaten track is eschewed in Kandak Sema, and that Rahubadda’s protagonists tackle new demons in relatively uncharted territories. She may be upsetting certain sentiments in the process and upending certain stereotypes, but that seems to add to the excitement of avoiding the staple.

But more importantly, adultery and oppression is the same anywhere, and shorn of all the cultural baggage, the story that she narrates about what happens when the man’s clothes come off, is a common one, albeit told in this rendition, with uncommon, consummate skill.