She wondered what it might be like to kiss him, both of their lips red and sweet and sticky from their popsicles, whether their noses would bump into each other, if he would stroke her hair gently, the way she saw lovers in films do. She thought about him and pressed her legs together and felt like she was being lit up from the inside. Then she remembered her mother’s words, and knew that this was what she was meant to be afraid of, that the sweet-hot ache she felt for Madhavan had a name, and it was called shame.
All Our Kings Are Dead
The mother goddess is breastless and beloved, her story told in the oldest language in the known world. They say she suffered at the hands of an unjust king.
What we mean is, before she was a goddess, she was a woman wounded.
In All the History of Wanting
It was Suparnakha who had not yet been taught the language of shame, who stretched out her hand and parted the jewel-green fronds of a fern, who saw the way sweat glistened on the roped muscles of the brothers’ backs and felt a quiet, inchoate hunger she had no name for.
It was Suparnakha who dared to want. It was Suparnakha whom Rama and Lakshmana mocked for her desire. It was Suparnakha whom they mutilated, punishing her in the only way they knew how.
First, her nose. Then her left breast. The blood drying like ripened grapes crushed purple against her skin. They cut her and called her monstrous.
For what, after all, is more monstrous than a woman who wants?
Lunuganga: A Self Portrait
A little further ahead, we reach a bench overlooking the river, a stone statue of a leopard sitting placidly right by the water. This, I find out, is where Bawa and his guests—ranging from the Australian artist Donald Friend to the Danish architect Ulrik Plesner—enjoyed a smoke as they watched the brilliant cinema that is a tropical sunset unfold. As we walk, we find a series of bells coyly situated at arm’s reach, hanging from trees or positioned over wells. Each bell has a distinctive sound, as each was rung to request a specific comfort, whether lunch, an evening gin and tonic or a cup of afternoon tea. Evidently, Lunuganga was a place made with a particular kind of living in mind; it is an exercise in carefully-curated aesthetics which, of course, are a necessary cousin to indulgence.
The Things We Could Not Say
In Sinhala we say baaldiya. It is a quiet, banal word. Not one that I have ever thought twice about. Still, one afternoon in July 1983, when Colombo was burning, they say they heard the word cried out a thousand times, flung into the night like a prayer. They say the soot choked the air, that men with kitchen knives and cricket bats and flaming torches stood in their sarongs on the road and stopped cars coming in, to Maradana, to Wellawatte, to Fort. They say they made them say baaldiya. They say that if you were Tamil, your tongue would trip on the diya. That this was the quickest way to tell apart the Sinhalese from the rest—the others. They say 400 Tamils were killed that night. Others say the number is closer to 3,000. All on the back of this one word. Baaldiya.