Mrs Rasheed remembers her late husband and how she coped after his death to raise five children by herself. Photography by Kannan Arunasalam and Menika van der Poorten.
It was the penultimate day of the Ramazan festival, a busy time for Mrs Rasheed. We had first met a month ago. She was our guest house owner’s aunt. Faiz had spoken about her resilience since the death of her husband and her matriarchal role in the large family.
This time we wanted to take some photos of her and hoped that she would be free. Notwithstanding her charitable and fasting commitments during the festival, Mrs Rasheed welcomed us into her home. The house had been divided into two parts. One where Mrs Rasheed lived and the main portion where her daughter and son-in-law lived. Three people lived in this home, but Mrs Rasheed told us about how she once lived in a house of 46 people in her hometown of Gampola.
We found Mrs Rasheed round the back of her part of the house, behind the kitchen. Mrs Rasheed in her element. She and two helpers were busy preparing watalappan, a pudding famous among the Muslim community, in readiness for the upcoming feast.
As soon as she saw me, Mrs Rasheed launched into a series of questions about my marriage. How was my wife and how was I treating her? I was a newly wed and the last time we had met, I’d asked Mrs Rasheed for some advice on how to keep a marriage successful. Mrs Rasheed was the authority on marital bliss. Listening to Mrs Rasheed speak about her late husband really impressed me. She sill adored her husband, nearly forty years after his death. Mr Rasheed was different. He shunned the dowry, customary among Muslims and Hindus in proposed marriages, and it was only after Mrs Rasheed’s pleas in trying to appease her own family who had given the jewelry, had he accepted the wedding gifts. And Mrs Rasheed thought more highly of him for it.
Mrs Rasheed’s wisdom about marriages was something I took away with me. This time she reiterated what she felt was the cardinal sin in a marriage: raising your voice to your spouse. There were other pieces of specific advice too, like you must always allow your wife to go to the market and not question her about how much change she brought back. Mrs Rasheed told me how her own mother had to “tell a hundred lies” to her father in order to feed the 46 strong household!
I reported back to her that all was going smoothly and that I had been applying her simple but effective advice.
What impressed me most about this formidable woman was that although she was widow for nearly 40 years, she still felt it was important to be a good wife to her husband. She was proud to have raised a family of five on her own and managed to get them all settled down. And through this, she had found some comfort despite the death of her beloved husband.
We watched Mrs Rasheed steaming the watalappan in the final stages of the mammoth operation. Although she and her daughter were fasting at that time and had to wait until the feast, we were lucky enough to get a little advance tasting. It was still my favorite Sri Lankan pudding.
Our next Muslim elder is the formidable Mrs Rasheed from Kandy http://t.co/Sh2w0Ast #lka elders http://t.co/4Ysbfosb
RT @iam_project: Our next Muslim elder is the formidable Mrs Rasheed from Kandy http://t.co/Sh2w0Ast #lka elders http://t.co/4Ysbfosb
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