Wednesday, 31 December 2003  
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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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Budusarana On-line Edition


by K. S. Sivakumaran

Writing skills

Cheers. This week let me write briefly about some interesting notes on some personalities in the writing world and some writing skills they possess.

Let's begin with writing Letters to the Editor. I am a keen reader of Letters to the Editor, whether they are published under that title or other titles like 'Opinion', 'Point Of View' and the like. In the 1950s I used to read in the 'Ceylon Observer' almost every day letters by one reader from Dehiwela, George Solomons. I have a vague understanding that he was the father of one of our internationally known poets, Jean Arasanayagam.

Arul from Kotahena was a regular contributor and so were many other well known people in Sri Lanka. While I was a student at St. Joseph's in the late 50s, an Express night mail train was put on lines to Mattakalappu (Batticaloa) and Thirukonamalai (Trincomalee). Since both my parents were from these two towns, I wanted to suggest a name for this express train ( now known as UthayaDevi-I believe). There were 'Yarl Devi', 'Udarata Menike', 'Ruhunu Express' and other fast trains to various parts of the country. Since there were considerable number of Muslims in the Eastern province, I wanted to name it as 'Beebee Express'.

Rosemary Rogers

After school at 3.30 p.m. one Friday, I took the letter I wrote to Lake House and addressed to the 'Daily News' and left it at the reception desk to be handed over to the Editor. I knew that Cecil Graham was the editor at that time, but had not known him personally although he was a teacher earlier, I gathered.

To my surprise and great delight I found that my letter was published on the following morning as the lead letter with a sketch of a railway engine wearing a 'Purdah', which the rural Muslim women wear. The sketch was by Collette, I suspect. The thrill of writing letters to the editor then enwrapped me.

Writing Letters to the Editor is a skill. Believe me. Thomas Feyer is in charge of editing the 'letters' in the respected New York Times. He wanted to speak to his readers about writing skills to his page. So, he wrote as late as September 14 this year in his paper. Here is an excerpt from his suggestions: "A few important ground rules: Letters should be kept to about 150 words. (Not enough space? Well, the Gettysburg Address was only about 250 words).

They should be exclusive to the Times and respond to an article that appeared in the newspaper in the last week. In fact, writing by the next day is a good idea. Like other sections of the newspaper, the letters page seeks to be timely, so even a very good letter that arrives three days later may get passed over."

The paper seeks to ' conversation about the issues of the day - big and not so big - as well as fresh, bright writing that stands out through its own charm. Timeliness is a must; brevity will improve your chances; stylishness and wit will win my heart.'

Rosemary Rogers

A New York Times best selling author is Lanka-born Rosemary Rogers.

She was once married to ruggerite and one of Asia's fastest human machines in the 1950s - Summa Navaratnam. She is a very popular writer in the U.S. Two of her new books are An Honourable Man (2002) and Surrender to Love (2003). Her other fiction includes Wicked Loving Lies, A Reckless Encounter, Sweet Savage Love, and Savage Desire.

The titles of her novels reveal what type of writing she desires and her avid readers craving for such delights are served adequately. Erotic writing with a touch of romance and love. But very interesting stories and she knows how to spin them and therefore she could remain a successful 'pop' writer for decades now.

I wonder why our own academics had not evaluated expatriate Lankan writers in English ! Michael Ondaatje, Ernest McIntyre, Gamini Salgado, Romesh Gunasekera, Shyam Selvadurai, A. Sivanandan, Rosemary Rogers and few others deserve to be studied exhaustively.

It's true that one or two critiques on them have appeared in Lankan journals. But not adequate. Regi Siriwardena, Tissa Jayathilaka, and a number of new academics and old timers Ashley Halpe, Ranjani Obeysekera, Yasmin Goonaratne, DCRA Goonathilaka, Rajeeva Wijesinha, Lakshmi de Silva, Manique Gunasekera, A.J.Canagaratna, Tissa Abeysekera, Ajith Samaranayaka, et al should not ignore these international writers.

Ranjan Goonathilaka and Yasmin Gooneratne have produced some admirable works on other famous writers in English, but not on Lankan writers. Incidentally, I like very much the English style of writing by Regi Siriwardena, Godfrey Gunathilaka, Lester James Peries, the late Mervyn de Silva, the late A. J. Gunawardena and Ajith Samaranayake.

A Lankan mosaic

Ashley Halpe, Ranjani Obesekera and M. A. Nuhman have 'edited' a book of Translations of Sinhala and Thamil short stories titled A Lankan Mosaic. A subsidiary of The Gratiaen Trust, Three Wheeler Press has brought out this anthology. Lanka-born Canadian writer Michael Ondaatjee founded this trust to promote Sri Lankan Writing in English. Among Ondaatje's books is The English Patient, which was made into a notable film, even though I didn't like it much.

A Lankan Mosaic has some fine short stories written in Sinhala and Thamil. For the benefit of the readers who have not either read or heard about our writers in indigenous languages, I give the names of the writers featured in this collection: Liyanage Amarakeerthi, Asoka Handagama, Eric Ilayapparachchi, Jayathilake Kammallaweera, Arawwala Nandimitra, Simon Nawagattegama, Eva Ranaweera, Ajit Tilakasena, Keerthi Welisarage, Nissanka Wijemanne, Anula Wijeratne Menike, Sarath Wijesuriya, Ottamavadi Arafath, Al Azoomath, S.L.M. Hanifa, Kalamohan, Thirukovil Kaviyuvan, M.L.M. Mansoor, Ranjakumar, A. Ravi, K. Saddanathan, Chakkarawarthi, A. Santhan, Shanmugam Sivalingam, Raja Sri Kanthan, Sutharaj, Thaamaraichelvi, Uma Varatharajan, Francis Xavier.

There are many more good writing in Sinhala and Thamil, which the publishers should consider to publish as translation. There are writers of the earlier generation who deserve to be translated. They would realise that they are as good as any other short story of world class.

I will write about some of the stories I liked in this collection later. It was good that the publishers and editors cared to give some notes on some of the writers, translators and editors so that the uninitiated would know something about them. But they conveniently left out the space for Shanmugan Sivalingam and K.S. Sivakumaran as translators of Thamil short stories. What a pity!

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