By Dimithri Wijesinghe
PHOTOS Krishan Kariyawasam
On 3 March, Saitha Gnanaratnam launched her second book Still Steeping at The Sooriya Village; the proceeds of which would raise funds for LEADS’ Work with Survivors of Child Abuse i.e. to aid LEADS’ work in providing care and psychosocial therapy for child survivors of abuse in Sri Lanka. LEADS’ work in child protection includes prevention, residential and nonresidential counselling, aftercare, and reintegration support services for survivors.
The Chief Guest for the event Hayley’s Plantations Director Dr. Roshan Rajadurai addressed the gathering which saw the attendance of those affiliated with the plantation industry of Sri Lanka, sharing that the time which the novel is set in, the 1980s, is a bygone era that once played a prominent role as a catalyst in irrevocably changing the planation industry in the island, adding that since then it has continued to prosper.
LEADS CEO Roshan Mendis also addressed the audience stressing on the importance of the cause, as children are being abused at an alarming rate in Sri Lankan and majority of the cases go unreported primarily due to a lack of immediate response or action and for those whom are fortunate enough to come out of their experience physically unscathed would suffer deep mental traumas that require attentive care.
Saitha worked as an application developer in Canada and having been in the IT industry for nearly 30 years she gathered sufficient knowledge and experience to establish herself as an independent consultant, and finally in 2004 she chose to pursue her “love for the marginalised and for their spiritual growth”. Since then, she has pioneered various community development projects overseas, beginning with West Bengal, India.
Still Steeping, which is a sequel to Steeping and much like the first one, is based on the plantation industry of Sri Lanka as Saitha draws from her own personal experiences as a grand-daughter, daughter, sister, and wife to men who hail from the tea industry.
It is important to set the scene for the novel as those unfamiliar with the planation industry, especially the side Saitha experienced, would not be able to truly relate. The book will share these stories of the women of planters whom were adapted to a life of leisure, including activities like high-teas, socials, planning and hosting functions, participating in private tennis club circuits, and travelling to Colombo and overseas to shop.
The new novel explores the impacting role played by the women of the post-colonial tea and rubber plantation era and portrays a unique perspective in its narration, including anecdotes from 18 spouses of PDs or “Periya Durais” of the plantation sector in Sri Lanka.
Speaking to Saitha Gnanaratnam, she shared with us what prompted her to attempt a sequel and how her personal experiences impacted her work in the book.
She said: “When I launched my first book, I met with friends and acquaintances from my era. It was an opportunity to reestablish familiar keepsake stories after almost 50 years. As we reminisced, it brought smiles, laughter, and cohesiveness to or conversations. This prompted me to write the new one.”
As for her own personal experiences she said that veteran planter Priya De Mel says it best, sharing his forward on her book about how she encapsulates the enchanting facts of estate life of which only very few have experienced, and that she has the best pedigree to bring forth a book of this calibre.
Saitha said that her intention was to bring, for the women from the plantation who have held prominent jobs, a measure of notice, as they played an important role in the industry, as while the “plantation Rajs” were involved in manufacturing tea, the women took on the most important role at home – to supplement and maintain their home and social life.
She said that the book is essentially about women of impact, women helping women, and empowering women as they stepped into the shared lifestyle. Saitha said that for many decades power and powerful positions were associated with men, but the women form the arena she is writing about – the plantation sector – were in a position of financial independence as from behind the scenes they were the ones who provided the supplementary income for their families via various extracurricular activities by being involved in income-generating projects.
Still Steeping is a journey exploring a lifestyle of a waning era and the impact that women had during this time, and with every scent of the proceeds being pledged to an important cause, we can recommend that you explore the almost fanatical and most certainly unfamiliar lives of the plantation women and the vintage sentimentality of times gone by.