Wednesday, 17 November 2004  
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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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Focus on Books

Creative Communication of Sugathapala de Silva

Some random thoughts

by Prof. Sunanda Mahendra

"Two years have gone since the demise of our well-known dramatist, broadcaster and novelist Sugathapala de Silva." Reminded Buddhi Galappatthi recalling what we should do about that event. In order to help the modern generation of literary enthusiasts, I thought of jotting down some notes regarding his creative communication career.

Though most of us know Sugathapala (Sugath as we called him) as a well known theatre man or dramatist, he was also creator of many parts. Basically, he was a humorist at all levels. He started writing short stories to newspapers and extended his creative career to be a novelist, a columnist and a poet. His constant stay was the theatre.

The very first book he has written and published on his own was titled 'Anu Navaya' (Ninety-nine). His book, though defunct, could suit the present reader as it is a detective story with a difference. The reader comes across a detective, who gets trapped, but escapes narrowly from his opponent. Once Sugath told me that it was not a successful narrative by any means, for he had written it as a school boy.

Then came the mid-fifties and late fifties when he came from Gampola to Colombo and worked in a bookshop. He had the good opportunity of reading quite a number of English books. While working as a book seller, he was also a freelance writer to Sinhala newspapers. His forte was humour. For the very popular Sinhala weekly 'Sinhala Jatiya' he commenced writing comic stories titled 'Saibu Nana'.

Here the single character was a Moor, who is caricatured as a witty person. Wherever possible, he has ups and downs, with his friends and well-wishers. Sugath used the pen name 'Agasu' to write these pieces. Later on, the publication unit of the same newspaper brought out the collection of these stories titled 'Saibu Nana'.

Thus began his literary career. Sugath was always fond of wit and humour even in his day-to-day life. He had a repertoire of jokes and yarns, which he explored to his best level via plays like 'Tattu geval' (flats) 'Boardingkarayo' (boarders) and 'Dunnadunugamuve'.

His first novel came out during the mid-fifties titled 'Asura Nikaya'. The background of this work then existed in Sinhala film world with characters drawn from studios, such as producers, directors, actors, managers, jokers, villains and others.

This clearly indicates he was quite interested in the local film world and he revolved round it. His main stay in this work too was deplorable state of human contact in a make-believe world full of pseudo mannerisms and contrasts.

He tried his best to do a film. As I remember he wrote a film script for Dr Lester James Peries carrying the title 'Davasak da' (on a certain day). But due to some unforeseen circumstance, this never materialised.

Sugath, who narrated the theme of the film script, told me that the central story depicted the happening in the life of city dwellers. Perhaps it was beyond the time. And that may have been the reason why the production never flowered.

Then he tried his own film titled 'Samanalayo' (butterflies), which too fell into a category of abortive productions. I have never come across a person, who has seen many films like Sugath, for he was one of the film mad creative minded person, who lived amidst us. Whenever he felt like relaxing from a particular play production, he would sit down write a novel or translate or adapt a foreign work into Sinhala.

His most recognized novel 'Ikbiti siyallo satutin visira giyaha' (then all of them departed happily) won State Literary Award for the best novel. To my mind, though it was an award winning work, it did not receive the discussion that it deserved.

The narrative centred round the conflicting and revolting nature of men and women, who have entered the city from the suburbs and rural sector. Their likes and dislikes, whims and fancies, agreements and disagreements are visualized in various situations. The reader feels that the interaction, though happy on the surface layer, is heightened by an impending calamity.

His next novel, 'Ballo bat kati' (dogs eat rice) was quite different from the earlier work.

There were quite a lot interwoven stories within stories one comes across in day-to-day life. There were the conflicting characters of the new rich merchant class intermixed with their trading process spied by others, who so likes to attack them.

There was also the encounter of the villain and lover intermixed into the central narrative. Club scenes, people behind bars, street disasters, car chases are all intermixed with money minded people despising the human values in society.

This novel was received well by the popular readership as a welcome variant to the existing pattern of writing.

Then in the early eighties, came out his explorative novel titled, 'Hitler ella marai' (Hitler is hanged), which depicted era of Hitlerism, with all the elements of genocide extent in Nazism. Sugath made use of quite a number of foreign source materials to restructure his narrative. This factor was foreseen as helping the reader to understand the nature of social tyranny and brutality.

Towards the latter part of his career, Sugath's creativity was more inclined in fantasy, history and the exploration of myth and fable.

One of his most notable translations is 'Eta messa' (gad fly) a spy story with a difference. He was trying his best to recreate in his own way some of the narratives he had read so far. This helped the reader to gain awareness in the new writing abroad and the underlying social conditions.

He tried his hand on poetry as well. Some of his poems written at home and abroad came to be anthologized as 'Ane devdat noditi mokpura' (See how Devadatta did not achieve a higher state).

All in all Sugath was a versatile creator of our times. He excelled in radio playwriting and productions and introduced new vistas to sound media. He is remembered for his two hand books written for the radio and stage. They are titled 'Handa Naluva' (sound play) and 'Sonduru Agngnadayakaya' (good hearted dictator). These two are now used as supplementary readers for communication studies.

With the exception of a few works like 'Maratsad' and 'Dunnadunugamuve', Sugath was not quite interested in getting his scripts printed. It may be that he was not quite attuned to printing processes.

His main interest was the use of the stage and the expressions via theatre craft.

But perhaps it would be worthwhile to see a complete collection of his play scripts published in a single volume. A modern day scholar and a researcher in theatre craft may be interested in knowing the types of play he has written and produced so far.

And as such, a good tribute to Sugath would be to collect them all into a single volume.

Footprints in the sand

Sri Lanka - A Personal Odyssey, 
Author: Nihal Fernando, 
Reprinted 2004, 
Price: Rs. 5,950, 
Available at Studio Times, 16/1, Skelton Road, Colombo 5 and leading bookstores

When the first edition of Sri Lanka A Personal Odyssey came out seven years ago, the organizers of the book launch had to substitute the caviar and champagne they had lined up for the celebration, with refreshments of vade, murukku and iced tea. The change was made at the authors insistence, out of deference to the situation in the North where poor village youth were battling impossible odds in a murderous war.

The gesture was typical of the man, of the unity of purpose that has characterized his life, his work and his ideals. A reprint of Nihal Fernando's book has just been released and, judging by the rave reviews that met the first, it will not take long to clear the shelves of the new stock.

It would be easy to classify the Odyssey as yet another luscious-format, glossy paged coffee table book, replete with high quality photos of Sri Lanka's rich natural heritage.

But this would be to miss its import altogether although it serves the purposes of the coffee table well enough.

Many are the breathtaking pictures that testify to the amazing diversity of Sri Lanka's plant and animal life. We are shown the familiar and well-loved historical sites and monuments, not in the usual mundane way but through a poet's eye, with a picture perfectly composed, or simply taken from an unusual angle.

Typical idyllic scenes from the rural countryside abound, conveying the rhythms of life of a farming community whose fortunes are tied to the cycle of cultivation, the moods of the monsoon.

These are the staple ingredients of your coffee table book. What makes the Odyssey different is that running through it all is the author's impassioned plea for the land and people he loves, faced with a relentless onslaught on the basis of their survival, taking place in the name of development.

Beautiful as they are, these pictures carry an undercurrent of foreboding and eventually, despair, for the passing away of the very bounty they celebrate.

Consummate artistry

The author's progressive sense of disillusionment and ultimate resignation to defeat are stated with wry humour in the Preface:

In my previous book The Wild, the Free, the Beautiful, a decade ago, I confessed to having lost every skirmish to keep this island so. I continue to do so.

The sanctity of our catchment areas has been violated, elephants fed a sugar-coated pill to desertification, waterfalls to be dehydrated by foreigners who consider their own holy, forest cover dwindling with added export crops all in all an all-encroaching environmental disaster with even the healing rays of the sun becoming lethal. I have now given up the battle and feel much better."

Nihal Fernando is known not just for his consummate artistry as a wild life and nature photographer, but as a vigorous environmental activist. There are many fellow travellers on that rugged road who will empathise with the attitude of cynicism that it has led him to. "Traveller, there is no path. You have to find your own", is the greeting that hails the reader who opens the book.

The photographs are arranged in a deliberate sequence, starting with primordial images of nature, with texts drawn from the Bibles Book of Genesis to suggest a motif of this island as the original Garden of Eden.

Chapters that follow cover facets of the rural landscape, the people, their superstitions, religion, and a pristine way of life in harmony with nature. The reality check comes with other starker images such as that of a denuded hillside, or the drought-ravaged cracked earth, cradling an animal corpse.

The author's implicit critique of Sri Lanka's World Bank-IMF controlled development thrust, and the price it exacts from the land and its people his agenda if you will is best set forth in Chapter VI, where the text takes the form of an open letter by Pradeep Prabhu, addressed to the foreign experts and modern-day messiahs of sustainable, eco-friendly development:

"We rub our eyes in disbelief, because now, suddenly, we are hearing from you what our elders have always said. We were almost beginning to forget their wisdom...

Mother earth

"White men come from across the seas to satisfy their greed, and tell us it is our need. Anyway, since you have begun to think of the extent to which mother earth can bear with our abuse, we feel it is necessary to share some of our own beliefs about her and her varied offspring, which you classify as flora, fauna and humans.

We believe that we cannot own mother earth, we can only partake of her bounty. We believe that only one part of her bounty is land, but it cannot belong to us, humans, exclusively. On the contrary, it is we who belong to the land."

Neville Weereratne writing in 1997 aptly described The Odyssey as "a parable for politicians and economists and for plain, everyday people who lay waste their heritage in an unending quest for quick profit." Arthur C. Clarke said it was one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking books he had ever seen.

While the pictures remain the main focus, the poems and prose excerpts that form the minimal texts that accompany them, are highly selective, and intensely personal. Delighting in a complete infidelity to time and place of image, the author has drawn from East and West, past and present, local and foreign, to meet his need.

Whether it is George Keyt or Wallace Stevens, Lakdasa Wikkramasinha or Pablo Neruda, John Still or the Book of Psalms, the one criterion in selecting the text seems to have been, that the writing distils the moment captured in the image. Many of the images stand alone, with no text.

It should be mentioned that the author especially acknowledges his debt to the late H.A.I. Goonetileke, a friend and guide whose complete empathy he had throughout this project, and who wrote the Introduction.

Strangely, none of the reviews of the first edition of odyssey remarked on the picture that appears on the cover perhaps the most intriguing one. Nihal Fernando has always fought shy of being photographed by journalists and interviewers. Even the dust jacket of the book does not carry a picture of the author in the usual way.

This cover picture may be a grudging concession he makes in this regard. It carries no legend by way of explanation, and one can only surmise that it was taken by the author who, trekking along some lonely beach, turned around to photograph either the trail of his footprints, or his own shadow.

And what could be more ephemeral than a footprint, a shadow? If freezing the transitory moment, poetically, on film, is what Nihal Fernando does best, then this signature photo sums it up well.

Lasanda Kurukulasuriya

A story of restless quest of spirit

The Search, 
Author: Premini Amerasinghe, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2004 - pp. 116

Premini Amerasinghe has given us a story that makes an excellent first novel. It moves easily and does not make too many startling demands on the reader. If Rosemary Prins, a Burgher girl of 16 is convinced that her dead brother finds a new dwelling place for his spirit within her, it is her conviction, not Premini's. The timing, after all, is significant.

We have many such stories in our history-spirit transference and rebirth; and doubtless, the most dramatic is that which records the "immaculate" conception of Dutthagamini, hero prince of Ruhuna. As Lankans, we can relate to such a tale and accept such circumstances. After all, who can really tell what choices the soul has?

A seasoned story-teller, Premini introduces David as a troubled schoolboy in his foster home in England-a boy with dreams in his head; the only Asian (a 'Blacky Pakky' in a class of nasty-minded white boys), trying so hard to conjure up his real mother, howling with nightmarish pain when his foster father dies, seeking the sanctuary of his bed to lie in and dream of a home-a true home far, far away...

A totally different ammi and thathi... Their house stood in a huge garden, the branches of the mango trees were heavy with ripe mangoes. There were cadju trees where luscious-looking fruit hung down, the brown nuts dangling from them. Red shaded and yellow, just the same colour as apples...

His foster mother Ranee, trapped in her own tears and fears, struggles to understand. The husband Gehan could not give her the child she longed for. Thirteen years married, childless in Sri Lanka, until they went to the little convent by the sea, saw the baby they would soon call their own. The Mother Superior smiled...

"I'm afraid I can't divulge the mother's name. She hated to part with the baby, poor thing... barely sixteen she was... She said, please call him David. Someone very dear to her, I'm sure."

Gehan and Ranee de Silva took David, their new son, to England.

Searing emotions

Who was David? Premini cuts back to Sri Lanka - a railway family, Burghers; daughter Rosemary a beautiful sixteen; son David serving as a naval officer in Trincomalee, a David who Rosemary adored, a David who was coming home soon. The chapter boils over, gale-struck, when Piyasena, a three-wheeler driver rapes Rosemary and David is killed at sea following a sea tiger attack.

Robert and Heather Prins had lost a son, could not find answers to the torment their teenage daughter had to endure. Rosemary, trapped in a monstrous cage of searing emotions, blocked out her trauma, lost her power of speech. She hugged her love of her brother to herself.

He was in her. He had died at the time Piyasena had planted his seed in her. David had come to her. Now, he would grow within her-her brother, her illegitimate son. Heather Prins looked at the baby when it was delivered and exclaimed, "Just like David".

To Rosemary, he was her brother returned out of her womb. Her David. When the baby was given to the convent orphanage, Rosemary "sobbed a tearful goodbye, knowing in her heart of hearts that they would meet again."

Premini does not like leaving her characters unaccounted for. Sometimes, the trend of the story may fall too pat, but she has to put paid to Piyasena, the rapist. She needs to also detail why Gehan and Ranee go to England, take their adopted baby David with them.

Their home is attacked by JVP insurgents who even take the Navaratna talisman David wears.

Then one masked man tries to rape Ranee. A posse of policemen close in and Ranee escapes the fate of David's real mother. The insurgent leaps up, tries to escape. He is shot. He is Piyasena. The spreading violence throughout the island impels the family to go to England.


I will not tell you any more. Twelve years pass. Another David, swimming effortlessly like the David of another incarnation. Another David reliving the nightmare of his ship blowing up, of pain and dark nothingness. Ranee has to "delve into the unknown past".

The search begins - for David's sake; for her sake too.

The rest of the story simply begs reading. The search becomes so insistent. Ranee alone, then David seeking Rosemary, a David who is the spitting image of the David who died at sea. The new David undergoing hypnotherapy in Kandy... Father Anthony swinging his medallion...

"David de Silva, you are whole now in body and spirit. One indivisible being. David Prins, accept that you and this boy here are one, sharing one memory, one life, the present one."

The quest is long but Premini assembles the pieces adroitly. David reaches out again - back to Kandy, to Trincomalee where he had died in a previous life, to a prostitute who calls herself Rosemary - to a nun, Sister Ruth, who tells him of Rosemary's death.

Is the search ended? Perhaps, but the finale is so unexpected, so hugely comforting, that I will not even hint at it. The search inverts, turns boomerang-like, returns to David, making him whole for every more.

Premini has given us a superb first novel and she dedicates it to Christine Wilson who has given her much encouragement. This is one piece of writing that is hard to put down and has been executed with professional ease.

I have every reason to believe that it will claim a wide readership.

Carl Muller

Focus on the concept of colonial medicine

Health Policy in Britain's Model Colony: Ceylon (1900-1948),
Author: Margaret Jones, 
Publisher: Orient Longman (Pvt) Ltd., India

Health Policy in Britain's Model Colony: Ceylon (1900-1948) written by Margaret Jones, is one of the latest books published by the 'Orient Longman (Pvt) Ltd., India'. The book was launched recently at the International Conference on Governments, Medical Markets and Patient's Choice held at the Faculty of Medicine, at the Peradeniya University, Kandy.

The book is one of the series of the 'New Perspectives in South Asian History' edited by Sanjoy Bhattacharya (Lecturer, the Wellcome Trust Centre for History of Medicine at the University College, London), Peter Cain (Prof. of History, Sheffield Hallam University), Mark Harrison, (Reader, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, Oxford University) and Michael Worboys, (Director, Centre for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester). The book by Jones was edited by Nandini Rao member of the editorial group.

The new book on health policy of colonial Ceylon came into being as a result of the research undertaken by the author and she in fact had done a comparative study of the colonial medical services of Hong Kong, Malaya and Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the first half of the 20th century.

She had found that her research into the medical services in Ceylon had provided her a unique context in which to explore the implications of the transfer of Western medicine to the Ceylon, the first crown colony to achieve responsible government and carries the social welfare, a legacy of its colonial past.

She also found in her study that the independent Sri Lanka was notable among the third world countries for the State intervention to promote the well-being of her citizens. Her studies throw light on the historical trends while simultaneously avoiding generalisations that subsume events and actions.

Written in a compelling and lucid style, the book is a path-breaking contribution to the history of colonial Ceylon and to the history of medicine.

The publisher of the series 'Orient Longman' says that the aim of the 'New Perspectives in South Asian History' is to publish monographs and other writings on early modern, modern and contemporary history, which cover new areas of research, such as the history of medicine and environmental history.

It also aims to provide a platform for fresh perspectives on more familiar areas like political and military history.

In 'Health Policy in Britain's Model Colony: Ceylon (1900-1948)' Jones analyses colonial medicine through a nuance reading of the medieval services in Sri Lanka. Jones critique is not merely in politico-economic context of imperialism but against the background of human needs and rights.

The question posed by author Margaret Jones, in her book 'Was Western Medicine a positive benefit of colonialism or one of its agents of oppression?' has prompted a vigorous historical and political debate and is explored and has dealt in her book in the context of the 'Model British Colony of Ceylon'.

Jones, a research officer attached to the Wellcome Unit at the History of the Medicine, Oxford University exploring the past has emphasised the need for both a broad perspective and a more complex analysis. Her research is underscored by a detailed analysis of public health measures and services in Sri Lanka.

One of its key findings is the accommodation achieved between western and indigenous medicine. Throughout this work Jones, provides nuanced readings of the categories of colonised and coloniser, as well as the concept of colonial medicine.

The series does not confine to India, but includes work of an interdisciplinary nature and welcomes historical contributions from sociology, anthropology and cultural studies.


Last flight of the yellow butterfly

In my kingdom of the sun and the holy peak, 
Author: Tissa Abeysekara, 
Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo 2004 - pp. 200

Tissa Abeysekara told an appreciative audience at the British Council, Kandy, recently of his involvement in Sinhala and English writing. It was a strange, gripping story - of a mother who spoke no English and a father who spoke no Sinhala, and how he brought these two influences together: his mother's tales of a glittering past, his father's more modernistic views.

His stories, as he says with Salman Rushdie, are "handcuffed to history." In the book, his introductory note tells us of the manner in which a writer needs to endure his own bursts of creativity and the time spent in careful arrangement and re-arrangement, raising, as he says, "a titular umbrella" that covers it all - a pattern that emerges at some sub textual level. But, taken separately or together, they are brilliantly composed.

It is the "Samudraghosa" metre that gives us the movements of "A White Horse and a Solar Eclipse" - a fascinating tale of betrayal pinnioned to the rising sun, then the two suns marshalling a big full moon and the horse-cloud coming out of the waste of bloodied sky. The vision of Ponner Naekethar - a curdled abyss, a sword blade, the banks of Bogambara Lake that sponge blood.

Pilimatalawe would finger-dust the water over him as he ritualized his dawn bath.

His was the curse of the Lambakannas, the craving to raise his royal line, a craving to also know who dared bathe in the pool none could but he. Sense-magic grips him. Sabbamma, with her flesh-scent of jasmine and sandalwood, the morning of his first appearance at the royal court, making of the earth the bed of their intercourse and where, on the sand, she traces with her finger the phases of the moon.

The eyes of the beautiful child are her eyes but he is cunner-saar-mee - Cunner Sami - and old fears and ancient dreams caress Pilimatalawe's spine: the dream that pierces him with Shiva eyes.

Tissa Abeysekara writes with a stupendous, Sutra-like beauty. Chosen with thought and care, every word falls like the note of some hoary melody, Carnatic, embellished like the sweep of a rare brocade.

Feathers of sensual excitement swirl as he writes from his own dream-world of ages that come out of the cloud, the burning streets, the passion of death, the triumph of resurrected dreams. The story of Ila Naga and the long-eared clan of pure Aryan stock has to be told. It is Ila Naga who triumphs, enters Anuradhapura in glory, the Lambakannas yoked to his chariot.

The tale spirals. It is like a cone, large-rimmed at the top, dancing to its point of fate, of destiny, so like the tornado - and at the point of impact are the eyes of Subbamma, the same eyes of the one who flayed him, the ox that dragged the chariot of Ila Naga; the eyes that hissed at him out of the tamarind tree in whose shade the essence of man is sucked dry.

White shawl

Now it is Cunner Sami who waits for the horse, the rider with the white shawl. Subbamma will stand within, wait his coming, her son will hold Pilimatalawe's sword, kill the way he has been told to -

Subbamma turned around slowly and began walking away. Pilimatalawe turned to the boy and smiled.

"I've done it, Atthatha, exactly as you wanted me to," said the boy.

"Good boy," said Pilimatalawe and stroked his head.

"Can I now keep the sword?"

Pilimatalawe took the sword from the boy and raised its blade up to his eyes. There was a trace of blood.

"Yes, you can keep it," said Pilimatalawe, "But now you must go into your room with it and not come out until I ask you to."

Outside, the white horse neighed. A dying king looked into the eyes of his Prime Minister.

He saw the chained, whip-lashed ox; and he would no more stand proud, victorious in his royal chariot. Instead, would he be borne to the palace by eight men while the people whispered.

All ceremonial is carried out and the Chief Priest, Tibbotuwawe, of the Temple of the Tooth intones: "... he fell from his horse and passed in the thirty-fifth year of his reign from this world... Here ends the hundredth chapter called 'The History of Kittisirirajasiha' in the Great Chronicle compiled for the serene joy and emotion of the pious."

One has to ask - what serene joy and emotion could one weave around vengeance and murder? But it is Subbamma who now carries the burden of suffering, sees the twelve flames of Kali's raging face.

Her son would be king, but how could she give to him her blessing? To become king with a single sword-stroke! Yes, she would hold close the red eyes of Kali: she, the snow-haired one and her goddess, blood-eyed... and even as he was taken away, Ponner Naekethar saw her come out of the slashing sun-glow above Kadadora hill, a Kali with a writhing snake in each hand.

Ancestral wrath

The boy who had called Pilimatalawa attha, now sits on the throne of the Solar Dynasty, but there enters in him an ancestral wrath, impelled by the hatred of Subbamma, and then does Ponner Naekethar see no horse, no Kali, but a severed head.

Pilimatalawe knows of the fate closing in around him. He raises a force of men from Java but the king was now become as a cobra, fangs ever growing. The hand of death would move, and with it would come a new dance of death. It is time for the white-haired woman's revenge.

"Why did you let him go?" she asks.

"Whom did I let go, mother?" the king asks.

"The one who plotted against you. Your Prime Minister."

"How could I, mother? He was like a father to me. I stripped him of all his powers and confiscated his property in the city. That's all I could do. I cannot take his life."

"He took your father's life. He got you to kill your father. Do you remember the king you killed when you were a boy? That was your father."

Syllables of hate bubble and burst with the woman. Again, a head floats in the waste of sky. Pilimatalawe is executed, more will die, and above the sound of the flashing blade, the cry of Subbamma:

O Mother terrific Kali,

Thy sword has come down in answer to my prayers.

Thy revenge has been swift and terrible,

As it should be.

But there are more to be slain.

More of them like he

I see emerging from dark wombs.

Uncoiling with ancestral venom to strike.

Crush them O great Kali

Before they destroy my son

Be they old or young, men or women.

Fearful night

Now the Devil Bird sings on, its screams fearful in the fearful night, and the dogs turn wolves and crows erupt and vultures come to roost. It is time to drag the king out of his palace, pluck the gold from his queen's earlobes and noses.

The white man's eclipse shrouds the kingdom. Kande-uda-rata departs with the king's wandering spirit, taking a long, samsaric journey along the routes his ancestors trod.

Marvellous book

Having told of the first story in this marvellous book, I will not attempt to tell you more. That would be a disservice, I feel. What I wish to impress on is the sheer literary ecstasy that covers Tissa's work. I cannot simply call it "romantic" and I could never call it "history wearing a twin necklace of pearls."

There is a refinement that simply cannot be described. I remember old days when Tissa and I worked together in an advertising agency in the Fort.

Our windows overlooked the port of Colombo and the sky would change colours so often, hazed over with the smoke of collies at Kochchikade.

Tissa was Sinhala copy writer, I would write English copy. And I would learn so much.

His elegant, flawless copy was something I could never find the English for. And today, he has made that flawlessness, that elegance, into an English that is so stupendous that I see an outpouring of romance, passion, drama, intrigue, horror and a dreamtime of centuries old with fervent ardour. He reaches for the immortal with mortal hands - no, he grasps immortality and the devas do not seem to mind.

Sri Lanka has a living treasure indeed, and I urge you to read the other two stories - one of murder and suicide and 'natural' death; the other of fantasy come true.

The raw threads of the esoteric weave as in the courtship of lithe-necked swans and the earth moves with the rampant tread of the black bull.

The book tells us of kingly glory, then the decadence and moral decay, the downslope rolling of the Eighties and all its ills.

Now no longer will the yellow butterfly trace the mist on its way to the sacred peak.

This is a book that simple beggars all one could write of it. It is an anthem of literary triumph, singing loud its own victory canticle.

It is a Booker, sure enough, and then can we proudly say we have such a winner right here among us.

All I can say, and with humility, is, "God bless you, Tissa".

You have given us your mind, your heart, the rarest flowers of your genius. We receive them with greed - yes, greed - for we will keep asking for more and more!

Carl Muller

Knox's major book in Sinhala

Knox Dutu Lakdiva, 
Translator: Premachandra Alwis, Sooriya Publishers, Colombo 10, 
216 pages 
Price Rs. 600

Premachandra Alwis' Knox Dutu Lakdiva is the authentic and unabridged Sinhala translation of Robert Knox's An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, in the East-Indices: together with an account of the Detaining in Captivity the author and divers other Englishmen now living there and of the author's miraculous escape.

Although many other translations of this valuable book were published from time to time, they were incomplete versions.

Robert Knox wrote this book to describe the suffering he underwent as a prisoner for 20 years during the reign of Rajasinghe II.

Knox never wanted to land in Sri Lanka. However, the ship he was travelling in was caught in a storm and was drawn to the shores of the island. Knox, his father and 14 others were taken into custody by the king.

Knox's father died in captivity and many of the others got married to local women and settled down here. However, Knox and Stephen Rutland decided to wait for a chance to escape from the country. As planned they made their escape and Knox began to write this informative book.

The book describes how the king ruled his people with an iron hand. At times he made conflicting statements probably due to the difficulties he underwent as a prisoner. For instance, he praises Sinhalese people in one place and condemns them in another place. His views on Buddhism are similarly contradictory.

Taken as a whole Knox has recorded some of the most important aspect of governance, culture, customs and thinking of the people. Therefore Sinhala readers will be grateful to the translator and the publisher for bringing out this book in print.

R. S. Karunaratne



Author: Viveka Samarasinghe, 
Fast Publishing (Pvt) Ltd, 
165, Devanampiyatissa Mawatha, Colombo 10, 
66 pages 
Price Rs. 100

Rakhi is a collection of Hindi short stories translated into Sinhala. All the stories appeared in Lake House newspapers from time to time.

The short stories included here depict India's culture, civilisation, customs and social norms. What is more each story is written to highlight some aspect of human life.

Out of all the stories I particularly liked Ananda Kaushalyanji's 'The day I smoked a cigarette'. Through a series of events the writer shows how an innocent looking cigarette can destroy your life. If you read this story, you are sure to give up smoking.

Viveka has translated the stories directly from Hindi. She has studied the language as a subject for her degree and used it in writing and speech. As a result she has become conversant with Hindi.

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