Sex and the Villager: Nihal De Silva’s Undermining of the Village Kid’s Sexual Impulse

by Vihanga

Some writers display weird notions in their understanding of sexual relations among villagers and the working class. At one level, it is intriguing to observe the “more innovative than thou” attitude which these writers – often urban, upper middle class and with socialite boot polish – deem to peddle in their definition of working class / villager sex. An early example of such sexual snobbery which I have come across is in Punyakante Wijenaike’s The Waiting Earth, first published in 1966. Here, Wijenaike makes the villager Podi Singho’s daughter Isabella see her parents’ mating as a brief, bestial encounter – as opposed to her more “sophisticated” act of love making with the village’s school master, Podi Mahatmaya.

(Yet, in Wijenaike’s text, the bestial and primitive light cast on the two villagers’ sexual encounter is more as a way of showing the generational and intellectual alienation the daughter – Isabella – felt within the household. Primitive and abrupt as it may appear to the girl, the village is seen as a sexually normal / active space. There is much innuendo and sexual charge in Wijenaike’s holistic assessment of the village routine – from the harvest field, the well to the domestic settings sexuality by its own definition and norm can be located).

One way of categorizing Sri Lankan novelists who write in English is as the callously class-minded (as opposed to those who are less so) authorship. Sri Lankan English literature, being the “classed discourse” it is, has rendered in its output what, at their best, can be tabulated as “milieu items”: work that represent the interests of and are meant to be ego-pleasing of an affluent, upper than middle class and its milieu interest. As a result the “villager” often becomes a foil for that class and an exotic consumer good with little resonance. Nihal De Silva’s The Road From Elephant Pass and Ginirella Conspiracy are two recent novels (published in 2003 and 2005 respectively) where the “villager”, to the writer, becomes a fantasy “other”. Both novels undertake a characterization of the rural youth, and at degrees, their social as well as sexual tensions. Nihal De Silva’s village youth are both male and female. Captain Wasantha Rathnayake (in The Road from Elephant Pass) is a military man in his late twenties. He hails from Akuressa in the deep Southern Matara and has an intimate connection with the village of his birth. In Ginirella Conspiracy, the protagonist Sujatha, Ranjit and Nishantha all come from rural village backgrounds such as Tanamalwila.

De Silva’s protagonists are featured in several pathetic sex scenes – scenes which more than hint the authorial position of these youth being deficient of a “consciousness in pleasurable sex”: a want in a sexual instinct of one’s own. De Silva, from his metropolitan high seat, regulates the discourse in such a way that the sexual creativeness of all his rural characters become mere imitations of English movies. In fact, the characters are made to confess of such mimicry in the height of the sexual play itself. Captain Wasantha of The Road From Elephant Pass confides as much to Kamala Velaithan (the LTTE female carder whom he happens to escort through an arduous journey across the Wilpattu) even as they lie in each other’s arms, at the verge of having sex.

De Silva, who attempts the novel in “thriller mode” makes the Wasantha and Kamala “sex scene” an inevitable necessity. Hot into the casual encounter at the edge of the jungle’s southern boundary the Captain kisses the other’s mouth, when the latter queries: “Where did you learn to kiss like this” (348). Such a question, as two people kiss, would come across as an anomaly; but, in order to substantiate De Silva’s thesis – that the villager has no sexual instinct – the query becomes all too natural. The Captain’s pathetic response to the object of his desire is: “Watching English movies”.

Sujatha Mallika, in Ginirella Conspiracy, shows no sexual asset, even as she dates his NGO-serving, Colombo middle class boyfriend Mithra. There is very little sexual or romantic play up to the point where Mithra takes Sujatha to his Tangalle quarters. This flight is caused by necessity – for a neo-Marxist group (De Silva’s Orwellish projection of the JVP) is hunting for Sujatha, while killing all those are in close contact with her. While on retreat, the couple slip into having sex – Sujatha’s first kiss is thus received, in her mid 20s. “You kiss like a puppy” the boyfriend teases Sujatha: “Don’t you know how?”. Sujatha responds in the negative. Mithra asks her whether she hasn’t seen it in the movies; to which Sujatha responds: “There’s no kissing in Sinhala movies. They only hold hands” (274). In other words, if we are to take De Silva’s lead, had there been no English movies the rural masses would not know how to kiss or engage in pleasurable sex! The cosmopolitan Mithra then takes the lead in teaching Sujatha how to kiss – and, yet, the girl is skeptic: “Are you sure this is hygienic?”.

De Silva’s attitude towards the villager is both a belittling of their intelligence; leave alone their sexual impulse. Sujatha Mallika is in her mid twenties and has come to Colombo from rural Tanamalwila. She enters “Jaypura Campus” (a mask for the university of Sri Jayewardenepura) and receives a degree in Mass Communication. At the time of her sexual encounter she is already “adult enough”, working at an English newspaper while displaying a mature understanding of other socio-political aspects of life. Nihal De Silva strives to superimpose a “naiveness in sex” as well as a “primitive sexual instinct” on the villager. This, by implication, is contrasted with the finesse and the poetry of the “love making” which De Silva’s ilk-classed, like-minded audience is seen to exhaust. It is Mithra – a representative of the Colombo upper middle class – who teaches the girl how to kiss.

Wasantha – while mesmerizing over the memory of his village girlfriend Sriyani – is seen feeling excited and “wanting to bed her” (italics mine; the stress being on the bestial, deromanticized quality of the reference). Elsewhere, having sex with the LTTE “informant”, Wasantha licks her neck, chest and shoulders. The rationale behind such play is no sexual instinct but because “all mammals do it”. He asks the stupefied woman: “haven’t you seen the Discovery channel?” (349). Such undermining regarding the villager’s sexual instincts betrays a class arrogance and a superiority on the writer’s part.

Sujatha’s father kills his wife and sexually molests the daughter for weeks at end. The adolescent Sujatha is impregnated and her aunt Yasawathi beats the girl’s abdomen with a club until she bleeds and aborts. Such perverse sexual practices and extreme sex-related violence have throughout had a dominant place in the Lankan novelist’s portrayal of village life. This feeds to the text the grotesque and vivid fantasies of the writers which, in turn, become the “villager’s burden” to carry. The chief malady in the writer – as manifested by De Silva – is the lack of empathy with the setting and the culture of the villager he desires to project. The sexual imbecility thus attributed is more a limitation of his understanding and the arrogance of naive judgment.

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One thought on “Sex and the Villager: Nihal De Silva’s Undermining of the Village Kid’s Sexual Impulse

  1. Wasantha’s kisses and licking are not only from English movies and Discovery channel respectively per-se but he refers to Tamil movies as well if my memory serves right:) No wonder Kamala having had her days in ‘Posh’ surroundings when she was with her learned father in Colombo so that she could have watched enough Tamil movies to know better than that:D
    And as you yourself have said, Sujatha in GC has got sexually molested by her own father where those fancy kissing and such sex ceremony are and should be largely absent and highly unlikely to take place. Then why can’t Mithra’s ‘refine’ sex manners be unprecedented to Sujatha? So the bottom line for me is, that’s got hardly anything to do with any of De Silva’s deliberate village sex-deformation exotica:)

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