Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What’s on the outside is not what really is inside

The goings on a small village never seems to amaze me, and each time I come here, I am presented with new information, that has convinced me that there is little cohesiveness and spirit left in villages in Sri Lanka. The same disease that afflicts cities has come to the villages. Its called greed and seizing the moment, no matter what the consequences.

A case in point when I went to a house I know. For the first time after a fight, the son was asked to leave the house as he was accused by the dad of being with the wrong company and indulging in smoking weed, and being drunk and pawning his mobile to pay for his needs. He currently does not work, but has also proved to be unreliable in the various jobs he has recently done, and therefore I am loathe to recommend him to anyone. I think it is the company he keeps that has led him astray.

He spends time in the village at a home of a relative. She is twice widowed by 35, now around 40, living with a younger man, who takes care of her two acres of paddy. She has a grown up son in the Air Force and after her first husband died, married a soldier who died in the war, with whom she had no children and was only married for a short while. She receives a full pension of about Rs30K a month. I understand she took the husband’s parents to court, to ensure she got the full pension, as the parents who are poor, had also claimed a portion. She now has a kept man, and she entertains other young men in the house, and feeds them, so her place has become a haven for those who want to hang about doing nothing. It has become a talking point but the woman is not bothered.

The father who has worked hard to bring him up as a single parent, is beside himself not knowing how to put him on the straight and narrow. When one delves a little deeper, one finds the possible reason for this behavior. His mother left for the Middle East when he was a few months, and has not been seen of since. Perhaps she abandoned the family for another on her return, after a liason there! The boy had girl friends in school who all ran off and got married while still at school, and when he came to Colombo for work, a sweet talking woman cleaned him off his life savings, and salary never to be heard from again.

The latter incident gave this boy a nervous breakdown, for which he is still taking medication. Too many abandonment issues to remain sane!
This is just one of many incidents. The men in the village having liaisons with females, here and near, beggars belief, while they try to keep their wayward daughters from straying, only to see them run off at the dead of night, only to be accepted back pregnant and with no sign of the man!

Another girl, left the village for work in a garment factory in Kurunegala, and began a relationship with a boy at work, got married, had a child, and five years later the husband has gone to Jordan for work, and has a woman there, abandoning the wife, who had to return to her childhood home, for want of anywhere to go, and has to suffer the insufferable father who cannot understand the situation, telling her to bide her time till he returns and get back to him.

In these parts girls get involved at young ages, and sometimes even parents marry them of at 16, to as it turns out unsuitable men, worrying that they will get into the wrong company and runaway from home!

Colombo is positively respectable in comparison to the incidence of marital infidelity and discord. There is no question the movement to and from cities for work, as well as overseas travel for long periods has affected the nuclear family to an extent that there is no nuclear family anymore. If one takes this village, there are so many women on their second or third husband or live-in man! What happens to the kids? There is no role model to look up to. There are so many bad examples to follow where the pattern is repeated.

The village temple and ‘maranadara samithis’ (to assist in funerals) do not help in ensuring moral values. I think some of the priests who give sermons sometimes are out of sync with what is really going on here and are unable to advise the people on how to conduct their lives, due to the transient nature of some of the people who attend and also the lack of continuity of the priests in these temples, which are by necessity far less endowed with riches than the city temples.

I think it is high time a current study is done by anthropologists on today’s village society to understand the core issues and devise a plan to correct some of the ills. It is sad that we do not have people of the caliber of Prof Gananath Obeysekere who studied older village traditions, to do the equivalent of the modern day village, and if we do let us be privy to some of their findings and thesis, not just hidden in University shelves.

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