The Rice Mother

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Lakshmi I was born in Ceylon in , at a time when spirits walked the earth just like people, before the glare of electricity and the roar of civilization had frightened them away into the concealed hearts of forests. There they dwelled inside enormous trees full of cool, blue-green shade. In the dappled stillness you could reach out and almost feel their silent, glaring presence yearning for physical form. If the urge to relieve ourselves beset us while we were passing through the jungle, we had to say a prayer and ask their permission before our waste could touch the ground, for they were easily offended.

Their solitude broken was the excuse they used to enter an intruder. And walk in his legs. Mother said her sister was once lured off and possessed by just such a spirit, and a holy man from two villages away had to be sent for to exorcise the evil in her. He wore many chains of strangely twisted beads and dried roots around his neck, testaments to his fearsome powers.

The simple villagers gathered, a human ring of curiosity around the man. To drive the spirit away, he began to beat my aunt with a long, thin cane, all the time demanding, "What do you want? Ignoring her, the holy man fingered a livid pink scar that ran all the way down his face and walked his determined, tight circles around the cowering girl, always with the darkly whispered query, "What do you want? A shocking transformation occurred suddenly. The little face looked up at him slyly, and perhaps there was even a bubble of madness in the grin that slowly and with unspeakable obscenity spread its legs on her lips.

Coyly she pointed to her younger sister, my mother. The simple villagers were united in their gasp of stunned shock. Needless to say the tall man did not give my mother to the spirit, for she was surely her father's favorite. The spirit had to make do with five lemons, cut and flung into its face, a searing sprinkling of sacred water, and a suffocating amount of myrrh. When I was very young I used to rest quietly on my mother's lap, listening to her voice remember happier times.

The Rice Mother

You see, my mother was descended from a family of such wealth and influence that in their heyday her English grandmother, Mrs. Armstrong, had been called upon to give a posy of flowers and shake the gloved hand of Queen Victoria herself. My mother was born partially deaf, but her father put his lips against her forehead and spoke to her tirelessly until she learned to speak. By the time she was sixteen she was as beautiful as a cloud maiden.

Proposals of marriage came from far and wide to the lovely house in Colombo, but alas, she fell in love with the scent of danger. Her elongated eyes lowered on a charming rogue. One night she climbed out of her window and down the very neem tree upon which her father had trained a thorny bougainvillea bush when she was only a year old in an effort to deter any man from ever scaling the tree and reaching his daughter's window.

As if his pure thoughts had fed the bush, it grew and grew until the entire tree, ablaze with flowers, became a landmark that could be seen for miles around. But Grandfather had not reckoned on his own child's determination. That moonlit night thorns like bared fangs shredded her thick clothes, ripped her hair, and plunged deep into her flesh, but she couldn't stop. Beneath was the man she loved. When at last she stood before him, there was not an inch of her skin that didn't burn as if aflame.

Silently the waiting shadow led her away, but every step was like a knife in her foot, so she begged in terrible pain to rest. The wordless silhouette swung her up and carried her away.

Summary rice mother

Safe inside the warm circle of his arms, she looked back at her home, grand against the vivid night sky, and saw her own bloody footprints leading away from the tree. They remained to taunt her father. She cried then, knowing that they would hurt his poor heart the most. He would beat his own head and cry, "How willing her betrayal? The lovers married at daybreak in a small temple in another village.

In the ensuing bitter quarrel, the groom, my father, who was in fact the resentful son of a servant in my grandfather's employ, forbade my mother even the mere sight of any member of her family. Only after my father was gray ash in the wind did she return to her family home, but by then her mother was a widow gray with loss. After issuing his heartless sentence, my father brought my mother to our backward little village far away from Colombo.

He sold some of her jewelry, bought some land, built a house, and installed her in it. But clean air and wedded bliss didn't suit the new bridegroom, and soon he was off-lured away by the bright lights in the cities, summoned by the delights of cheap alcohol served by garishly painted prostitutes, and intoxicated by the smell fanned out of a pack of cards. After each absence he returned and presented his young wife with jar upon jar of all manner of white lies pickled in various brands of alcohol.

For some obscure reason he thought she had a taste for them. Poor Mother, all she had left were her memories and me, precious things that she used to take out every evening. First she washed off the grime of the years with her own tears, then she polished them with the worn cloth of regret. And finally, when their wonderful sparkle had been returned to them, she laid them out one by one for me to admire before carefully returning them to their golden box inside her head.

From her mouth issued visions of a glorious past full of armies of devoted servants, fine carriages drawn by white horses, and iron chests filled with gold and rich jewelry. How could I, sitting on the cement floor of our tiny hut, even begin to imagine a house so high on a hill that all of Colombo was visible from its front balcony, or a kitchen so huge that our entire house could fit into it?

My mother once said that when she was first placed into her father's arms, tears of joy streamed down his face at the sight of her unusually fair skin and her full head of thick, black hair. He held the small bundle close to his face, and for a while all he could do was breathe in that strange, sweetish odor that is a newborn baby. Then he strode into the stables, his white veshti flapping against his strong brown legs, jumped onto his favorite stallion, and galloped off in a cloud of dust.

When he returned, it was with the two largest emerald pieces that the entire village had ever seen. He presented them to his wife, little baubles in return for a marvelous miracle. She had them fashioned into diamond-encrusted earrings that she was never seen without. I have never seen the famous emeralds, but I still have the black-and-white studio photograph of a sad-eyed woman standing stiffly in front of a badly painted background, a coconut tree growing on the edge of a beach.

I look at her often, frozen on a piece of paper long after she is no more. My mother said that when I was born, she cried to see that I was only a girl, and my disgusted father disappeared to make more pickled lies, returning two years later still roaring drunk.

Despite this I still retain crystal-clear memories of a village life so happy and so carefree that not a day goes by in adulthood that I don't think about it with a bittersweet ache. How can I even begin to tell you how much I miss those carefree days when I was Mother's only child, her sun, her moon, her stars, her heart?

The Rice Mother

When I was so loved and so precious that I had to be coaxed into eating? When Mother would come out of the house with a plate of food in her hand and search the village for me so she could feed me with her own hand, all so the tedious business of food would not interrupt my play? How not to miss those days when the sun was a happy companion that stayed to play all year round and kissed me a careless nut brown? When Mother caught the sweet rain in her well behind the house, and the air was so clear that the grass smelled green?

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An innocent time when the dusty dirt roads were surrounded by slanting coconut trees and dotted with simple village folk on rickety bicycles, their teeth stained red inside untroubled laughter. When the plot behind each house was a supermarket, and one slaughtered goat was adequate for eight households blissfully unaware of an invention called the refrigerator.

When mothers needed only the gods who gathered in the white clouds above as baby-sitters to watch over their children playing in the waterfall. Yes, I remember Ceylon when it was the most magical, most beautiful place in the world. Regardless of what she was doing, I pushed aside her sari and let my mouth curl around the unbound mounds of soft toffee brown. My head and shoulders burrowed inside the safety of her rough cotton sari, the clear scent of her, the innocent love in the milk that flowed into my mouth and the warm comfort of those quiet sucking sounds that I used to make inside the envelope of her flesh.

Try as they might, the cruel years have not managed to rob my memory of either taste or sound. For many years I hated the taste of rice or any kind of vegetables, content to live on sweet milk and yellow mangoes. My uncle was a mango dealer of sorts, and crates of them used to sit in the storeroom at the back of our house. A skinny mahout on an elephant would deposit them, and there they waited until another arrived to pick them up.

But while they waited I sprinted to the very top of those wooden crates and sat cross-legged, without the slightest fear of the spiders and scorpions that inevitably lurked within. Even being bitten by a centipede and turning blue for four whole days didn't deter me. All my life I have been driven by the blind compulsion to walk barefoot down the difficult path.

My feet bleeding and torn, I grit my teeth and press on in the opposite direction. Dissolute and untamed, I tore the skins off the succulent orange flesh with my teeth.

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It is one of the most powerful images I still carry with me. Me all alone in the cool darkness of our storeroom, high atop those wooden crates, with sticky, sweet-warm juices running down my arms and legs, gorging my way through a heap of my uncle's wares. Unlike boys, girls didn't have to go to school in our day, and except in my father's presence I was mostly left to run wild. Until, that is, at the age of fourteen, when the first drop of menstrual blood proclaimed me suddenly and distressingly a grown woman.

For the first week I was shut up in a small room with the windows nailed shut. It was the custom, for no self-respecting family was prepared to risk the possibility of adventurous boys climbing up coconut trees to peek at the newly found secret charms of their daughters. During my confinement period I was forced to swallow raw eggs, washed down with sesame seed oil and a whole host of bitter herb potions.

Tears were to no avail. When Mother came in with her offerings from hell, she came equipped with a cane that I quickly found to my utter amazement she was prepared to use. At teatime, instead of her delicious sweet cakes I was handed half a coconut shell filled to the brim with hot, soft eggplants cooked in a surfeit of the dreaded sesame oil. In a fit of defiance and frustration I purposely let it get cold. Between my fingers the cold, slimy flesh of the eggplants squashed satisfyingly, but in my mouth they were utterly disgusting dead caterpillars.

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No notes for slide. Summary rice mother 1. This powerful and moving novel revolves around four generations of women who encounter love, war, duty and hope. For a little introduction, The Rice Mother is known as the Giver of Life in Bali, where her spirit lives in effigies made out of sheaves of rice. She is so sacred that sinners are forbidden to enter in her presence or consume a single grain from her figurine. Along with this story, the matriarch, Lakshmi, is compared to the Rice Mother for it is her that holds the burning dreams of her children and grandchildren in her strong hands and passing years will not diminish her courage and strength in defending them.

Every good story carries a theme which is basically a one-sentence description of what the story is about. A theme is not the plot nor the story line but the meaning behind it. In this particular novel by Rani Manicka, it is evident the theme of the novel surrounds the lives of four generations of women who fight for love, war, duty and hope. The setting of the story spans through the pre and post Japanese Occupation period, around the year to the year , in Malaya, now known as Malaysia.

A crucial yet colourful period of the Malayan history, the author has chosen a very appealing setting in which she exploited to her advantage. However, Manicka has done a good job of arranging the sequence of memoirs in a systematic manner, even if it was not in a chronological flow, making it easy for the readers to capture the essence of her book.

Lakshmi, Dimple and Nisha each face life trials from their own generations through the Japanese occupation, past violence, drug abuses, marriages, births, losses and family secrets. At the tender age of fourteen, she dealt with this painful truth while separated from her beloved mother in India and attempts to raise her five children to the very best she could, often being very selfish and forcing her ambitions on her children. Lakshmi's oldest children, twins Lakshmnan and Mohini, are the most developed and dynamic. Lakshmi loves these two for their beauty and potential, but each breaks her heart in very different ways.

All seemed well for the family of seven until the Japanese Occupation landed 2. The author has done a brilliant job of describing the disturbing and gruesome rule of the Japanese and it provides a very thoughtful insight for the readers.


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This line of tension is carried through to the relationship between Lakshmi and his wife, Rani. When Dimple is born to Lakshmnan and Rani, she instantly becomes the favourite grand-daughter of the family for she carried similar physical traits of Mohini.

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