The Lovina saga | Daily News

The Lovina saga

The story of how the name ‘Mount Lavinia’ came about is known mostly to people who are interested in history. The details of course are quite hazy and without much historical evidence. There is talk about how Governor Maitland permitted ‘Rodi’ woman to cover their upper body in response to a plea made by his Rodi girlfriend Lovina. There is also talk about how he ordered a tunnel to be dug from his residence to the outer area to help Lovina visit him secretly in his stately seaside mansion which today stands as the 5-star Mount Lavinia Hotel. Maitland obviously did not want to advertise to the world that Lovina was playing ‘hangi muththan’ with him. Of course when a folk-lore based sensuous story such as Lovina’s is brought out, there could always be different versions. The exaggerations and distortions by various narrators do give contrastive anecdotes with contradictory interpretations. Yet there is a lot of truth behind the amorous details of Lovina and Thomas Maitland. I am not trying here to separate the grain from the chaff. Mine is simply a literary appreciation. I am just reviewing a book I read which is very well-written and beautifully presented and is a definite page turner.

It is not just the love story, but a lot more; about that period and the people and especially the life and ways of the Rodi Clan of which we know very little.

This book written in Sinhala would be a very interesting read to a lot of people. It should most certainly be translated to English and Tamil.

OK Author Mohan Madawala, that is your call.

The narrative begins with Punna, a beautiful young village girl who was Lovina’s great grand-mother. To me, she is the spark of the story. Of course Lovina takes prominence as her qualification for fame is ‘more gossipy’ being the paramour of the Governor. Yet, Punna is the star. Let me tell you about her and a little of the fascinating story that author Madawala unfolds. What is loosely known in history and what is carefully created by the writer is cleverly woven together. That is what makes the book a beautiful read.

This is 18th century Kanda Udarata. Punna catches King Narendrasinghe’s eye while he is strutting his lands with his entourage. ‘Lust at first sight’ and he takes her back with him to the palace to be a concubine. Now enters Gascoigne to the scene (better known among us as Daskon of the ‘sakman karana maluwedi bandi haada’ fame) He is a palace prince and a close friend of the King. Gascoigne of course is French and may have been a source of nocturnal nourishment for some palace ladies including the queen. He engages in a bit of ‘jilmal’ with newcomer Punna too, and the young concubine ends up carrying Daskon’s child. The King is not in the sharing business especially when it comes to his women. He throws Punna out of the palace and adds to the punishment the supreme insult of down-grading her to a Rodiya by caste. Punna then goes to live with a ‘Rodi Clan’ in their hamlet in Udugalpitiya, Kadugannawa. Here her name is changed to Punni and she is given to the old man Baiya as his woman by the Hulawali (leader of the clan.) Daskon’s son is born to Punni in the Rodi village, a boy named Sisira. Junior Daskon Sisira in adulthood has a woman who bears him a daughter Pinchi. Lovina is Pinchi’s daughter by a white-skinned man called Aponsuwa. That is the ancestry of Maitland’s lover Lovina. It was the Governor who in romantic melody started calling her Lavinia.

I do not think during the time the events took place they wrote records covering what went on behind the curtains of colonial palaces. Certainly not of illicit ‘love magic’ of Rodi dancers and Governors. No scribe would dare record the romance of the all-powerful Governor of the Maritime Provinces and his Rodi girl-friend. It was ‘Rule Britannia’ time where the British Raj was almost royalty. Perhaps what we have in story form here is the residue of what may have really taken place.

Be that as it may, if you want to hear all the possible details and buy a copy of ‘Lovina’ and get it autographed by Mohan Madawala, make a note. He will be at the Annasi and Kadalagotu Lit Fest on 14th May at the Aesthetic Centre Colombo 7. A ticket is only 100 rupees. The book too will be sold at a discount. More than all that, you can hear the man himself who created this fascinating story tell you all about it. About Punna who became a Punni and how Daskon and the concubines came to the scene. Then about the Rodi clan and Thomas Maitland and Mount Lavinia and of course lover Lovina who licentiously danced her way into the governor’s heart.

It is some enchanting tale, a worthy subject for engaging discussions on stage, leading to a very interesting Q & A session.

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