The Waiting Earth – Punyakante Wijenaike

Punyakante Wijenaike is one of Sri Lanka’s best-known English writers. The Waiting Earth is one her novels which was prescribed for Advanced Level English Literature some time ago. I too read it for AL. It was written in a very simple style. The story is set in a rural village in the Dry Zone and what is described in initial pages is all about the misery of Sellohamy, a young wife and her husband’s plight.The couple’s first child, a deformed son dies within hours of birth and the lady again gets pregnant and this time, with a girl. Husband is unhappy when he sees a baby girl as what he needs is a boy to help him in the farms. He  works as a peasant in someone else’s farms and the only dream in his life is to own his own plot of land.

Things change when an attractive male teacher comes to the school and starts teaching the students. Sellohamy’s daughter becomes a teenager within the same time and she is attracted to the teacher due to the respect she has towards him. But the teacher takes advantages of the attraction and one day seduces her and deflowers her in his hut with the girl’s consent. The incident is described in a very erotic language by the writer from the place where the teacher fondles the girl’s young breasts comparing them with lotus buds to the very end of the deflowering her.  The girl becomes pregnant with the teacher’s child and she reveals this to the teacher with the hope that the teacher will marry her. But he gets a transfer to a faraway school instead without telling anybody. And he is already married and has his own children too.  Due to the inability to face the village with a fatherless child, the hopeless girl commits suicide.

There is a lot of sex in the sexual encounter between the girl and the teacher. Maybe the author was targeting the international market for the novel. I taught some Advanced Level girls English literature and while teaching The Waiting Earth to them, when the sex scene between the student and teacher reached closer, the girls looked uncomfortable. One of them mustered some courage and told me, “Sir, we have read the rest of the story. Let us start another book now.”

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