Motherhood – a choice or an obligation? KALUMAALI examines the options.

 

 
SANDYA SALGADO
 
Congratulations Ruwanthie, you have brought to the discussion table an extremely valid dichotomy.

To be or not to be: A Mother!

For most women, being a mother is the ultimate achievement of womanhood, the supreme sacrifice she makes in life and the most prestigious social adornment.  Most of them may not quite realize what this achievement costs, just like weighing the pros and cons prior to committing to a long-term investment.  Some may also not realize how best it can be managed to make ‘motherhood’ a win-win experience for her, the child and her life partner, for their future gain.

Why has motherhood always got to be a sacrifice?  Why do women make a big issue about how much of a sacrifice they make for the sake of a marriage, her child and her husband?  This is the million dollar question one needs to examine.  In my interpretation, this is what Kalumaali is about.

Ruwanthie, through varied Kalumaali stories narrated by five social actors, illustrates this point without making any judgment call.

I found it most interesting that Dil was married to a kind and gentle man who’s only failing was that he was oblivious to what Dil was going through.  Like most men, Kalana was portrayed as the typical husband who left all the family chores to the wife. One who completely takes the wife for granted.  That was his only failing.  His job was simply bringing the bacon home!  Interesting how Dil succumbed to being a ‘doormat’ after Saki came along.  Interesting too how she subsequently took life into her hands differently, post her soul search.  This aptly demonstrates that a woman does not always need to fall in to the social trap of being the sacrificial lamb, all her life.

Lack of communication, healthy debate and discussion in the family unit was brilliantly illustrated with simple statements, comments, actions and acceptance of it all, by Dil.  Ruwanthie cleverly portrays how Dil is influenced by social pressures and how she succumbs to them without any resistance. Isn’t this the problem with us women?  We need to imbibe the herd instinct, do what the Joneses do, give up our individuality to be accepted and then complain that we are sacrificing our soul to motherhood!

Then there is the universal ‘in-law invasion’ further amplified due to the son and mother not severing the umbilical cord.  The know-it-all mother in law prevails on most Dil’s and Kalana’s family matters demonstrating a common Sri Lankan phenomenon of extended family and it’s intrusion on the ‘son – daughter in law’ equation.  The emergence of Dil’s submissive personality for the blind love and protection of Suki at this point is noteworthy.

It’s interesting how Ruwanthie never portrays the mother in law or the husband as demons.  They simply exploit Dil’s blind love for the child who is the centre of all household decisions and actions.  That too in a well-meaning manner.  One wonders what happened to Dil’s critical journalistic instinct.  Did Dil have a choice in what she made of her life? Could she have handled matters differently?  These are the unanswered questions Ruwanthie leaves for the viewer to ponder.

The current social pressures, norms and the herd mentality towards societal idiosyncrasies are exposed very sensitively, once again leaving the viewer to make her (his) own judgment as to how far one should toe the line.  One’s own individuality post motherhood or the lack of it and the repercussions thereof have been woven in to the script in the most brilliant fashion.

I thought it was particularly interesting how Kalana and Paththtara Archchi managed Suki differently yet reasonably well, while Dil was not around.  Their different interpretations of Kalumaali brought in an interesting dimension to the overall concept of ‘ideal motherhood’.

How prototypically the male evades facing issues and finds his own routes of escapism was epitomized by a caring, gentle Kalana. He almost couldn’t understand Dil’s dilemma.  This is so true in the real world, but increasingly getting better with younger men wanting their wives to play a partnership role in bringing up children. I was so glad that Ruwanthie never portrayed Kalana as a stereotypical wife abuser but a kind and gentle sort.  It made the plot that much stronger and Dil’s opportunity to make choices that much easier.  Even the mother-in-law was not portrayed as a typical virago, but someone who was able to make her presence in the house hold felt and heard, for the sake of the wellbeing of Suki!

Film Archchi was a breath of fresh air to womanhood and motherhood.  It was wonderful that Ruwanthie didn’t paint only the dark side of life but brought in the very positive aspect of what a woman can do with herself if she was not totally guided and blinded by social norms and pressures.  How positively it could impact a child was clearly portrayed in Dil’s free spirited soul which was suppressed for a while but was liberated later with just a short break post her soul search.  I would personally acknowledge the importance of a mother who is open, free spirited, unorthodox and supportive as opposed to one who is blinded and crushed by social judgment, who is constantly living one’s life based on how others perceive you. It is not that easy a task, but definitely not an impossibility!

The fact that the angels gifted Kalumaali with male and female physical characteristics was an extremely smart way of symbolizing the strength of a female which unfortunately is not exploited most of the time by us women and more so once a woman enters motherhood.  It’s largely endurance and sacrifice that’s pursued as the best virtue a mother can boast about.

The simplicity of the production and the genuinely of the script helped in no small measure to get the very complex concept of motherhood across.  I would call it an experimental stage production which attempted to portray a crying social need to re look at motherhood with a fresh set of eyes and a rational mind.

Kalumaali may not be an award winning theatrical production, but a genuine ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ attempt which captured some interesting stage craft in the process.

Thank you Ruwanthie, for sharing this psychosocial journey with us. It was a brilliant effort in portraying the social struggle brought upon themselves by women today. My personal appreciation to you and your team for taking us through this soul search…

 

sandyasalgado@hotmail.com

 

 

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