Steering clear of deadlocks
Alokayen Parinamaya Vuvo
Author: Kumari Gunaratne
Ratna Publishers, Colombo 10
303 pp Price Rs. 375
AS a teenager, I had the bliss of reading the beautiful book entitled
"How to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie way back in
1955 or so.
It was the original English version. And I was absorbed in going
through it breathlessly upto the end of it. It was the era of Enid
Blyton's just after A.L. Bright Story Readers dominating the children's
or teenagers' books which I enjoyed very much.
Dale Carnegie was quite different but it hoisted me to a higher plane
of thinking quite suited to the adolescents who are eager to broaden
their circle of friends and their outlook of life. I benefitted a great
deal from Carnegie's work.
Last week, after about a gap of fifty years, I came across another
book of interest, going out of the beaten track, peeping into wide
vistas through "light". This is Kumari Gunaratne's Sinhala translation
of "Transformed by the Light" authored by Melvin Morse M.D. with Paul
The Sinhala version "Alokayen Parinamaya Vuvo" is a torch-light
indeed to open the eyes of the Sinhala reader to the fact that truth is
more interesting than fiction.
This book pushed me into a totally different field. This work deals
with "The Powerful Effect of Near-Death Experiences on People's Lives"
as explained by the original authors.
Fortunately, I had studied something of Ethics - both Western and
Oriental revolving round the axis of Hedonism, the doctrine that
pleasure is the highest good. It attracted me for some other reason too.
That is, I learnt Pali and Buddhism for my S.S.C. or G.C.E. O/L Exam
And we were coached in Buddhism by a then-newly-passed out graduate
from Peradeniya, one Gunawardene. He was a real master at that. Somehow
or other, he made us feel excited to learn Buddhism. A study of religion
Inspite of my moulding mind, I was very inquisitive about a line of a
Pali stanza preached by the Buddha which is prominent in my memory even
now. That is, "Na ca so, na ca anno" (He is not the same but he is not
It explains that birth and death are not two separate entities in the
flow of Kamma but only the manifestations of two links of the same chain
of rebirth. I presume there is a strong relevance of that idea of life
here and life-after to the near-death experiences under review in this
Before trying to get at the substance of this book, I would rather
deviate a bit to air my views on the form or style of translating it
into Sinhala. Nowadays we find heaps of rank writing where Sinhala is
concerned-a dull and lurid language.
Variety has vanished paving way for the march of monotony. Once we
read a para or two of such a book, we feel like dumping it into the
dust-bin because of its insipidity. The root-cause of all that
deterioration is that the writers are not well read and pathetically
ignorant of grammar.
In such a situation I find a promising writer in Kumari Gunaratne
presenting the reader with this translation written in good Sinhala sans
grammatical mistakes, sans monotony, sans paucity of words. I have never
before met her in person but I saw her photo on the back cover.
For her age as seen from her photo, her command of the language is
incredible. Thanks to her gurus or her own voracious reading of Sinhala
classics of a bygone era or else she must be a prodigy. I am not in the
least exaggerating but, based on my own observations, only admiring her
This is remarkable as she is a graduate in Law where as even those
who have followed disciplines in Sinhala language are no more than
weaklings in the art of writing good Sinhala.
As a translator, her use of Sinhala is closer to that of Hemapala
Munidasa for the depth as evident in the Sinhala version of the Indian
Epic, Mahabharatha, I.M.R.A. Iriyagolle for his fresh spirit, newly
coined words and compact idea in "Manuthapaya", his Sinhala translation
of the great French classic, "Les miserables" by Victor Hugo and
Professor Somaratne Balasuriya for clarity and plainness of expression
in "Pitastaraya", his Sinhala rendering of the French novel", "L'
Etranger," by Albert Camus.
Throughout this whole book of 302 pages, I found only three awkward
terms which are negligible. I would, however, point them out below: (1)
Ovunta pirimi lamayakugen dinayak nolebunoth (P 101) meaning "If they
don't get a date from a boyfriend."
If this were rendered in Sinhala as, "Thama pemvatha hamuveeme
awasthawak nolebunoth" it would be familiar and facile to the general
reader who as had no English education and also it would bring out the
correct English idiom, (ii) The verb, "Parikalpanaya kala hekke" (at P.
128) apart from its English technical use, can easily be translated as "Sithagatha
hekke, nirnaya kala hekke".
It can then be conveniently comprehended; (iii) the nominal, "Sadana
lada katha" (P. 146) would sound better and be clearly understood by "Gothanalada
katha" (Fabrications). Nevertheless, these oddities may well be ignored
considering the big task of translating this medico-philosophic work of
Now to turn to the substance or the cases under review and the
author's inferences. At the very outset, on reading Dorna's reference to
a light as if emanating from a camera, I remembered Plato, the Greek
philosopher and his "Cave Analogy" and its reference holds fast as long
as the end of the book.
As for Dorna's dream, of her grandfather dying a few days later, her
dream, is a premonitionary one. This is in other words, precognition as
used in Morse's work. But the mention of her grandfather's communication
with his grandson as confirmed by his notes refer to retrocognition.
The following extract from Ven. Narada Thera's "A Manual of Buddhism"
first published in 1949, Chapter XII: Rebirth will surely illustrate
this matter without religious bias: "The development of this supernormal
vision is not restricted only to the Buddha and His disciples.
Any person, whether Buddhist or not, could possess this faculty. Some
Indian Rishis, even before the advent of the Buddha, developed such
powers as clair audience, clairvoyance, thought reading, and so forth."
At one place (P. 35), Dr. Morse quotes one's near-death experience as
follows: "Now I know that life is for living, light for life-after." The
term, "light", apart from its physical context, also means
In Greek mythology, the human-being, Prometheus is said to have
stolen "fire" from the abode of Gods. Nevertheless, that "fire" which
gives light is to be interpreted as wisdom or power of understanding.
Light is often associated with great sages like the Buddha or Christ.
Lord Buddha once uttered, "Aloko udapadi, Panna udapadi" (There arose
light; and, there arose wisdom).
Dr. Morse says that he learnt a lot during his study at Seattle. The
main thing he had learnt there, according to him, is "listening,
listening to the wisdom of children." He states that it is possible to
pursue the biggest mystery pertaining to man from his inception.
So he poses the most pertinant problem thus: "What happens after we
die?" He points out a clue to that question by quoting a certain
Banker's belief that there is a spiritual aspect of the universe and it
adds more meaning to life than merely seen by the naked eye.
Spencer's experience (P. 94) has convinced him that life remains even
after death of the body. Is this view not relevant to the pre - and
after - death formless floating state Gandabba described in Buddhism.
Author Melvin Morse being a Catholic I presume, uninfluenced by his
religious faith, infers that "death is no more journey's end but only
one route on the journey." How true it is with the Buddha's doctrine.
It points to rebirth. Ven. Narada Thera explains rebirth as follows:
"If one believes in the present and in the future, it is quite logical
to believe in the past. If there be reasons to believe that we have
existed in the past, then surely there are no reasons to disbelieve that
we shall continue to exist after our present life has apparently
Dr. Morse seems to explain that the near-death experiences are
conditioned by psychic powers. This view is consistent with that of Ven.
Narada Thera: "Extraordinary experiences of some modern reliable
psychist and strange cases of alternating and multiple personalities
tend to throw light upon this belief in rebirth."
Yet another remarkable discovery by Dr. Morse is the phenomenon of
stopping of watches when worn by people with near-death experiences
which subtle transforms the electromagnetic power around their bodies
and their cells.
Dr. Melvin Morse is engaged in his research with intelligence,
sensibility and distinction.
He obeys two impulses as a researcher - one to submit himself with
candour and humility to works he admire, the other, to uphold his own
scale of values. And his research poses many questions worthy of further
Kumari Gunaratne ably enables the Sinhala reader to gain access to
the torch-bearers trying to seek light of wisdom. And her attempt is
commendable. A glossary of technical terms, however, is a must for this
Handy reference book on history
Kandy at War
Author: Dr. Channa Wickremesekera
Vijita Yapa Publications
KANDY at War by Dr. Channa Wickremesekera with its subtitle
'Indigenous Military Resistance to European Expansion in Sri Lanka
1594-1818' is a creditable achievement in the field of research as
relates to the history of the Kandyan kingdom. It is a definitive
contribution in an area of our history that has not had the benefit of
We have remained satisfied with citing the invader's accounts of our
military capacity without, except in a rare instance or two, seeking to
correct the obvious bias or prejudice in such accounts. This is
especially so with the Portuguese material on this subject as on several
other issues too.
Dr. Wickremesekera in his history focuses on the Kandyan military
establishment and its functioning in the face of the successive attempts
by the Portuguese, Dutch and English to defeat indigenous resistance to
The military machine itself was no more than the means of politically
mobilizing the people against an enemy. There is therefore
understandably a political dimension too to the subject.
The main political factor was the king and his acceptability to the
Buddhist establishment which was the link between the king and the
The Hill country or the 'Kanda Udar Rata' was the one region in the
country which in the 14th century coped with an Aryachakravarti invasion
from the north by mobilizing an army without the mediation of a king.
The army so mobilized chose its king - Senasammata Vikramabahu.
The core of this army was the militias of the clans that had settled
in principally the Matale and Dumbara regions. They had been subject to
an invasion by a Jyoti sitano who had led an army of Aryachkravarti in
order to establish here a system of tax collection through a zaminadari
The Bandaravaliya that Jyoti inducted to the region assimilated with
the clans and constituted the ruling class of the region.
It rebelled against Aryachakravarti and it is in the resulting
invasion by Chakravarti that Senasammata Vikramabahu won his spurs.
These are alternative versions of events in the region that have not as
yet been recognized by 'conventional' history.
I mention these matters in order to be mindful of the fact that the
Kandyan army had traditions which it did not share with armies elsewhere
in the country.
The concept 'Senasammata' in relation to a ruler breaks the bounds of
carefully maintained dynastic traditions - even those of a spurious
nature - and assets the power a ruler has over a people by virtue of his
command over a readily available army.
Dr. Wickremesekera has carefully abstracted his subject from its
political dimension presumably to gain focus on his closely defined
He operates with the basic concept of a 'frontier' with as in the
case of the American colonists is what had been pushed back with further
settler expansion into Indian territory. The Portuguese had pushed back
its frontier across the Four Korales and right up to the foot hills of
the Kandyan kingdom.
Dr. Wickremesekera begins his account from 1594 when Konappu Bandare
- Wimaladharmasuriya as named by the Sangha - became the ruler of the
Kandyan kingdom and commenced his drive against the Portuguese.
The concept of 'frontier' is new in these studies. It is meaningful
too and contributes to precision of expression.
Dr. Wickremesekera writes, "Across the frontier in the south-west -
and occasionally elsewhere as well - Kandy and the Europeans clashed in
an attempt to gain advantage over each other. The Kandyans often pushed
back the Europeans from the interior, limiting their control to their
Sometimes the European strongholds in the interior, limiting their
control to their strongholds. Sometimes the European strongholds in the
interior had to be evacuated and the frontier contracted right up to the
This appreciation does not allow for what Dr. Wickremesekera calls
the simplistic view that the Kandyans confined themselves to the
strategies of guerilla warfare - "avoiding superior force and weakening
the enemy until they are weak enough to be overwhelmed."
This no doubt was their main combat strategy and was used as a
defensive measure. In almost all occasions when it was used the invader
was annihilated on his retreat.
But there were the daring offensive attacks too as when "the
Portuguese were fortifying the eastern coast and threatening to seal
Kandy off from the world in the 1620s the Kandyans launched raids into
the Jaffna peninsula and attempted to overthrow the Portuguese rule
there with the help of the local population."
Dr. Wickremesekera takes count of all other items too that relate to
an army - its mobilization, weaponry and related technology, field
preparation as the strengthening or demolition of forts, the erecting of
stockades, the cutting of trenches and the movement of military hardware
This is an intensely researched and very readable publication. It is
an excellently arranged handy reference book too. It engages the
sustained attention of the reader and I may add that his skills as a
gifted novelist have been of assistance to Dr. Wickremesekera.
He obtained his first degree in History Special and his doctorate
from Monash, Australia. I would with some trepidation add that this has
saved him from the misplaced 'nationalist' binds and inhibitions of our
'conventional' history of this period.
Enriching children's literature
The Invisible Host
Author: R. S. Karunaratne
Sooriya Publishers, Colombo 10
READING R. S. Karunaratne's The Invisible host was indeed an
enthralling experience, which I digested at a stretch, with much
enthusiasm and animation though this collection of short stories, is
primarily meant for children and young adults.
Each story in this collection can be considered as a fable,
intrinsically woven with a moral lesson.
The author had shown his prowess in ample measure in handling this
form of short stories in his previous contributions such as Once upon a
Time and In The Land of Nowhere both of which can be cited as an
eloquent testimony to prove his success in this form of art and craft.
This genre of literature has a rich tradition which had its heyday in
Aesop's fables and R. S. Karunaratne had adopted the art of narrating
this form of short stories with enviable dexterity.
There are altogether 32 short stories in this collection. Though they
are short in length, keeping in mind that they are meant for easy
assimilation by children and young adults, these short stories are quite
rich with layers of deep meanings.
Thus they open up a virtual treasure-trove, stimulating young
readers' taste-buds with tales of mystery and suspense, ensuring that
they will experience a joyful flight of excitement and a lot of fun in
Besides, the moral lesson, highlighted at the end of each story,
these stories activate the young readers' minds with incisive perception
which will go a long way in moulding them as discerning readers when
they reach adulthood.
Among these fascinating short stories in this collection, I find
"Cobra Wisdom" as one of my favourites. It is about a wise king who had
strange habits and his Queen who became suspicious about his activities.
The king used to eat some food, all by himself, prepared by one of
his trusted servants. The queen probing into this stranged habit of the
king, bribes a servant to bring her a portion of this food.
To her amazement, she finds a small cobra in her dish which was
brought by the servant. Feeling numb with fear, she encounters the small
cobra, who reveals that the king had the habit of consulting it, to get
advice in worldly matters.
The queen, in vain, tries to persuade the cobra to stay with her,
thinking that she can use the serpent for her own benefit.
However, the cobra does not accede to her request, but condemns her
for trying to corrupt the servant by bribing him and also emphatically
tells her that it advises only wise and righteous kings.
There is an array of such short stories in this book, enticing the
children and young readers to become voracious readers in their quest
for adventure, interspersed with a sprinkling of noble sentiments.
As we are living in a concrete jungle, in which conundrum, corrupting
young minds in numerous ways, dictated by pecuniary considerations is
rampant, and in this set-up the author's contribution to the children's
and young adults' literature is like a dew drop in the parched desert,
which deserves our whole-hearted appreciation and also emulation.
Let us hope fervently, as hope springs eternal in human heart, that
he will be purposeful in striving hard to enhance the parameters of
children's literature through his short stories.
It will result in a renaissance in the field of children's and young
adults' literature in which many new writers spinning the web of
children's stories would emerge to the limelight. To that end, let us
pray, with religious zeal, that he would have a smooth ride, striding
along the cobbled highway, striving hard to reach the pinnacle of
Focus on a literary giant
Munidasa Kumaranatunga and Criticism of Poetry
Author: Prof. Risiman Amarasinghe
An author publication
"Ramindu Mahala", Seeduwa North, Seeduwa. Rs. 400
IT is not easy to evaluate the literary heritage of Munidasa
Kumaranatunga in a short essay or pamphlet. Many are the scholars who
have paid attention to Kumaranatunga's ideas on poetry. But few have
been objective in their views.
Prof. Risiman Amarasinghe's contribution is unbiased, praiseworthy
and noteworthy in this regard. Munidasa Kumaranatunga, we all know, was
an erudite scholar, editor, grammarian, critic, poet and a literary
figure par excellence.
Kumaranatunga was deeply conversant with Sanskrit literature and
applied its principles to the study of Sinhalese literature. This did
not make him a slave of Sanskrit. He safeguarded his independence.
A number of critics of the Peradeniya school paid attention to
Kumaranatunga's views. They were sharply critical and quite
unsympathetic. Prof. Risiman Amarasinghe shows how inconsistent were the
opinions of Prof. Ariya Rajakaruna who was also prejudiced against
Chapter two of this book discussed the "Kukavi Wadaya". It collates a
large number of facts and opinions.
"Virith Vekiya" is another controversial publication of Kumaranatunga.
This is where Kumaranatunga's critical ideas come out most eloquently
according to Prof. Risiman Amarasinghe.
Criticism is not just to say something is good or bad, but to show
appreciation of experience and how they are presented through the
language. This is what has not been adequately appreciated by the
Peradeniya school of critics.
Prof. Risiman Amarasinghe rebuts all arguments raised by the critics
of Kumaranatunga using concrete, powerful and sound evidence.
Prof. Amarasinghe is a scholar with three doctorates to his credit.
His competence in Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit, Prakrit, English, Greek,
Latin, Hebrew and Portuguese is unquestioned. He is also a great legal
luminary par excellence.
Munidasa Kumaranatunga and Criticism of Poetry is his latest
scholarly contribution to the history of Sinhala literature and to the
art of criticism.