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Behind the retreating Englishman, on the new nation’s flag is poised a stylized lion, all curving flank and ornate muscle, a long, cruel sword gripped in its front paw. It is the ancient symbol of the Sinhala, who believe that they are descended from the lovemaking between an exiled Indian princess and a large jungle cat. A green stripe represents that small and much-tossed Muslim population. An orange stripe represents the larger, Tamil minority.
But in the decades that are coming, race riots and discrimination will render the orange stripe inadequate. It will be replaced by a new flag. On its face, a snarling tiger, all bared fang and bristling whisker. If the idea of militancy is not conveyed strongly enough, dagger-clawed paws burst forth while crossed rifles rear over the cat’s head.
A rifle-toting tiger. A sword-gripping lion. This is a war that will be waged between related beasts. [Page-10] later, in America, when my father sees Christmas lights for the first time, he will astound us with the observation that they look just like dying octopuses.
The sun drops fast, blazing momentarily crimson on the horizon. Father and son wander home. At the front door, his mother, Beatrice Muriel, waits, a lantern in her hand. In her other hand, she grips the shoulder of Nishan’s twin sister, Mala, who by dint of her girlhood is not allowed on beach wanderings. Beatrice Muriel ignores her husband. She is angry that they have spent the day with the fisherfolk, listening to fisher songs, picking up fisher habits, coming home covered in beach sand. It is too dark to bathe, she scolds. Cold well water after the sun has set will result in sneezing and a runny nose. “Running here and there, like a savage. One day I will find you up a coconut tree with the toddy tappers.! That’s the day I will skin you alive. Wait and see if I don’t.” ( ITM 12)
YASHODHRA’S GRANDMOTHER. NISSAN’S, MOTHER
His mother, Beatrice Muriel, comes from a prominent southern family peopled with Vincents, Victorias, Annie-Henriettas, Elizabeths, and Herberts in tribute to the former ruling race. Now, after marriage to the Hikkaduwa Ayurvedic doctor, she is the village schoolteacher. In the small classroom, open to the sea breezes, she teaches the children to read, leads them as they chant loudly an English menagerie: “Q IS FOR QUAIL! R IS FOR ROBIN! S IS FOR ESQUIRREL!” In the sultry afternoons, she teaches them to work numbers so that they will not be cheated when the Colombo buyers come for fish.
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