It was like a scene from "Caro Diario" ("Dear Diary"), but my housemates and I didn't talk about soap opera. We were marveling at the panorama of the Garden of Sigiriya shortly after reaching the summit of the rock fortress. We long suspected Greg of having a crush on Professor Mason, who taught Victorian literature. It didn't surprise us that her lecture was the first thing that came to his mind during that exhilarating, if not tiresome, moment.
The subject was the forgotten lives of women who lived during the British Empire, which might have been doomed to oblivion if not for authors who talked about the fishing fleet. It was a term for settlers from Great Britain, including soldiers and their wives, who sailed in cramped and dangerous conditions across two oceans. They never imagined living in punishable conditions. It gave me another reason for Thanks-living. (Backpackers have social media to know the best months to visit Sri Lanka.) The womenfolk would find out that the situation won't be too different from where they came from, but they could avoid the prying eyes of the righteous individuals. Professor Mason mentioned books written by female authors who lived during the Victorian Era. Karen Blixen would come to mind, but there were some books that could be based on real events. I was thinking of "Heat and Dust".
It can be sentimental destiny, but it might be a coincidence
The narrator of "Heat and Dust" was a British woman who traveled to India to find out more about her step-grandmother, Olivia. The latter lived during the British Raj (in the 1920s), the social restrictions imposed upon women prompted her to interact with the locals. A certain Nawab charmed her, even letting him gained control over her life. Pregnancy forced her to abort the child, which caused a scandal among the British community. It compelled her to live in an unnamed Indian town without entertaining thoughts of returning to London. The same thing happened to the narrator.
Greg wondered if this was an isolated case or if such an incident would be an open secret in this part of the world. Charlie and I looked at each other, wondering if Greg didn't enjoy the view from the summit. Besides, we came to Sri Lanka at the right time. (New Year was fast approaching. We would be able to witness the celebration during the day before our departure to Chennai.) The similar fate of the narrator and her step-grandmother piqued my curiosity, though.
Could Ruth Prawer Jhabvala have implied the dangers of "going with the flow"? After all, there were too many restrictions during the colonial period. It won't be the case nowadays, but some attitudes don't change overnight. I was thinking of how settlers (or travelers) react to a foreign environment. Rigidity might have saved Olivia from condemnation, but she would be unhappy for the rest of her life. (And she would wish to live up to this day. I've seen many female backpackers flashing their toned legs.) As for the similar fates, the author could imply something else. But my stream of thoughts was cut short.
It was getting humid. We have an itinerary to follow, where we must go back to Colombo tomorrow night. Greg was exhausted, which would be a good thing. We came here for a much-deserved holiday.