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Thoughts on inspirational and exemplary people

Being close to them - among some eminent personalities

Author: W. T. A. Leslie Fernando

Publishers: Godage

International Publishers (Pvt) Ltd, Colombo 10

Pages: 200

Price: Rs. 400

Review: Stanley E. Abeynayake

PEOPLE: W. T. A. Leslie Fernando of Negombo, former High Court Judge has once again presented to the English reading public a very readable, highly motivational and inspirational book titled "Being close to them - Among some eminent personalities."

In a fascinating style written lucidly in simple language even to be read by undergraduates and students, the author has scrutinized in his usual critical way the working of the human mind.

Leslie Fernando has been not only right throughout his career as a teacher, lawyer (advocate) judicial officer - High Court Judge but also as undergraduate student leader at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya above board like Caesar's wife so to say, is most attuned to the task of writing on men and matters, that are near and dear to him.

Exemplary characters

An author of several books both in Sinhala and in English besides his numerous articles to the newspapers and other reputed publications in this book has made his mark by selecting 17 worthy exemplary characters all of whom have contributed in no small measure for the well-being, welfare and progress of the motherland.

The distinguished and learned personalities the writer had dealt with are namely, Bishop Edmund Pieris, Ven. Siyabalangomuwe Sri Gunaratana Thera, Philip Gunawardena, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody, Ven. Meegomuwe Jinawansa Thera, Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara - the Father of Free Education, Fr. W.L.A. Don Peter, Ven. Ittapane Dhammalankara Thera, Dr. Hector Fernando a former MP Negombo, Fr. Gregory Fernando, Ven. Horathapola Palitha Thera, W. P. N. de Silva - a former District Judge, Fr. Henry Rodrigo, Ven. Matale Dhammakusala Thera, W. A. Abeysinghe, Lawyer, Kuliyapitiya, literary colossus and socialist statesmen, Bro. Paul Nizitor FMS and Warnakulasuriya Santiago Fernando - socialist revolutionary of Negombo called "Little Rome". The article on Santiago Fernando is written by an outsider - Basil de Silva one of his colleagues in politics.

Remarkable influence

No doubt, all these great personalities had a remarkable influence on the learned author of this excellent work. A good number of them are no more. Of the survivors, a well known literary figure, critic exemplary leftist politician turned able lawyer is W. A. Abeysinghe of Kuliyapitiya. Any reader would be taken up by surprise while perusing his many-faceted life - a prominent past student of Central College Kuliyapitiya.

W. A. Abeysinghe has come under the benign influence of a well-known English teacher from Gampaha. A. M. G. Sumanapala B.A. - English Hons. (London) the younger brother of an equally prominent senior English lecturer, Kelaniya University - A. M. G. Sirimanne B.A. English Hons. (London), M.A. (Washington).

The other distinguished religious dignitaries alive referred to are Rev. Fr. W. L. A. Don Peter, Ven. Ittapane Dhammalankara Thera, Ven. Horathapola Palitha Thera and Ven. Matale Dhammakusala Thera. One of the greatest English authors rather essayists was Francis Bacon.

In his essay "Of Studies" - he asserts "Some books are to be tasted, some to be swallowed and some few are to be chewed and digested." However, this is a book to be chewed and digested in the sense it ought to be read as a whole with diligence and attention to be fully appreciated.

Moreover, Leslie Fernando, chip of the old block following in the footsteps of his illustrious father Warnakulasuriya Santiago Fernando, is possessed of the audacity to call a spade a spade. So much so even as a campus student union leader of the radical left, later as a lawyer and impartial unprejudiced Judge fostered that deportment or demeanour.

In his work too he has the guts or force of character to point out the errant, unbecoming behaviour of some members of the clergy both monks and nuns.

Of them a high degree of moral conduct is expected by the laymen. The sooner they are rectified by the pontifical ecclesiastical hierarchy so much the better in the interest of a decent society. He should be highly commended for vindicating nothing but the whole truth true to his conscience without rancour or malice.

This book deserves to be translated into Sinhala as well. Leslie Fernando has dedicated his labour of love most appropriately to his mother - Mary Teckla Fernando (nee Costa) who spared no pains to bring up her children in the true Christian rather Catholic spirit.


Unravelling the mysteries of life

Nonimena Ganudenu

Author: J. K. P. Ariyaratne

Stamford Lake publication

Lake House Bookshop, Colombo

(125 pp Price Rs. 245)

Review: Dharmadasa Amarasekera

FICTION: Professor J. K. P. Ariyaratne's latest novel Nonimena Ganudenu (Recurring Accounts and Balances) is a continuation of the earlier novel, Thanha Asha Olagu Karela (A Shoulder Bag of Craving and Desire).

The theme of the novel is based on the Buddhist concept of rebirth and the related notion Nacha so nacha Anno (neither he nor any other). These form the bed of the Buddhist philosophy. They are concepts which transcend the compass of the rational mind and they are very abstruse. The Buddha very wisely cautioned his followers: "This doctrine of mine is for the wise and not for the unwise."

I digressed just while a little, to point out how as a novelist the insurmountable obstacles the author would have faced in structuring the novel and as a reader how difficult I found it to follow his mental ramifications in tracing and linking the characters in their various existences. Where such a transcendental philosophy governs the course of a novel, the reader has to expect these obstacles.

Only a person who has had extra-sensory experiences or noticed such phenomena generally in children, or a student of parapsychology, would have the necessary sympathetic understanding to enter the world created in the novel and mix with the characters and the situations in which they are placed and think of them as possibilities.

However, the question how real is the novel will persist in the reader's mind. Such doubts will hardly impede his appreciation.

Imaginary past

The characters in this novel live in an imaginary past existence as well as in a palpable present existence. They are like shadows from a past life. The characters are not expansive like most characters we meet in other novels.

They move in a narrow fast lane as it were; they do not portray minor details of the various actions, aspects and vicissitudes of life. The author carefully and sparingly utilizes them to illustrate his theme, and projects his vision, and they serve him fairly effectively.

Sandaseeli, Dinura, Nimalnath, Dhanadasa are some such characters. Sirinatha is the main character and he is the one who is unfolding the story.

He gets off to a fascinating start surrounded by mystery. Sandaseeli, his former wife, dies under tragic circumstances and she is born as Sirinatha's daughter and she is named Sandunika by Sirinatha to commemorate his late wife Sandaseeli.

Likewise are other characters reborn and renamed to suit the circumstances. All these characters are linked to a past existence making the story sometimes an impenetrable maze.

Following them is a fair test on the reader's memory and intelligence. The author should be commended for maintaining the continuity and linkages without snapping or interruptions to keep the characters on course.

These links among the characters are vital to the novel. 'Recurring Accounts and Balances', because the vision of the author is embodied in them. They are born and live as members of a family or as friends and associates to complete what has been initiated in a previous birth to fulfil obligations and duties that have not been fulfilled or neglected, settle past accounts, to pay off old scores or do what has been undone etc.

The story gives the impression that each one and all are tied together by a chord of indebtedness and obligations whether one is inclined to believe it or not. That is the crux of his vision - the invisible link.

Elusive field

When the theme of the novel enfolds this elusive field, one can imagine how difficult, or even insurmountable, the task of the author has to be. He has to resort to the unreal to prevent the story going on the rocks. He does so anticipating the critics whip. It is to forestall the critic that the author admits in an introductory chapter that the story is highly unreal in parts.

I will recount some of the incidents and situations which appear to be unreal. The emergence of Gunabanda from nowhere after an absence of ten long years just at the moment Sobhini, needed solace, because of her desertion and pregnancy; Gunabanda's willingness to take her to Dr. R. Veethotamudiyanse a quack, for an abortion - all this as a preliminary for her marriage; the arrival of Sirinatha the same night and marrying her three days later; Gunabanda who was nursing a secret love for her readily giving his tacit consent, and heaving a sigh of relief for escaping from a hell-fire; his entering into a business partnership with Sobhini and Sirinatha and wishing for their welfare; their lives gradually getting woven together as one complementary to another.

All these events and the conduct of the individuals have a tinge of the unreal. However the author has covered himself well, by a previous declaration! The marriage of Sirinatha is central to the story and the lesser events hinge on this crucial event.

There are two supermen with Extra-perception abilities among the characters. I call them peak characters, not because they reside on a hill top forest dwelling, apo Aranya. They are the two ascetics who by mental discipline and meditation reached the state of 'Abhinna' - transcendental wisdom. They have gained psychic power.

They have achieved the conquest of time and space, they can see the passing away of beings, their coarse lives and their rebirth. The Senapura ascetic had prescience of the death of the senior ascetic and succeeded him the same day. The senior ascetic had foreknowledge of his death and knew that he would not live to meet Sirinatha and convey his message to him so he leaves a note and the some important manuscripts common to be conveyed to the author.

These are not characters in our world, though they can possibly manifest. They contemporaneously penetrate into the past and the future and see the samsaric drift of beings.

The urge to know the past existences of Sandunika, Dinal and Nimalnath is a craze with Sirinatha and Sobhini. It is almost an exclusive obsession. Whatever the technique the author has pursued, all these characters, whether of this world or not, are cleverly woven into the fabric of the novel, and each has a distinct role to play.

But amongst them, the character of the High Priest of Napathana, whom we meet just once or twice in the course of the novel, is the one that leaves an abiding impression in the reader's mind. It is his sobering advice that enlightens all.

Past existence

Mister Sirinatha, why bother about a past existence when we are already struggling to overcome the "vicissitudes of our own present existence? Do you think that any knowledge about the past existence of your children will enhance your affection for them or ignorance diminish it? It will not. Whatever it may be, you have no right to burden the children with past existences".

The value of a novel is found in its artistic excellence and the contribution it makes to the progress of mankind. Bringing in a new dimension is a courageous attempt. However, modern it may appear to be, it is a continuation of the Jataka story tradition - "Good Old Wine in a new attractive bottle!"

The story in the novel unfolds through his fluent dialogues. They are crisp and lively and make pleasant reading, relieving the reader of much of the strains of concentration.

The spoken idiom of which the author is the master, breathes life into the dialogues and the brief descriptions and tense situations which he has handled with consummate skill lends a touch of prose poetry to his creation. A few hackneyed phrases which occur here and there, perhaps for effect, cannot detract much from its charm.

Finally, one more word with due respect for the author's courageous attempt to unravel the mysteries of life. When I read the novel, I was reminded of the adage, "Truth is stranger than fiction." What is unreal to one, may not be the same to another.

The author has exhibited excellent craftsmanship by weaving together characters and situations into a thought provoking, path-finding story without totally sacrificing art to artifice.


For those who seek adventure

Deception Point

Author Dan Brown

Gorgi Books

585 Pages

Review: Jagath Savanadasa

FICTION: Deception Point, yet another thrilling novel by Dan Brown, did not cause the controversy and the protests that the Da Vinci Code his other novel led to in quite a few parts of the world.

Deception Point is a different genre of a novel to the Da Vinci Code.

In the latter Brown led his vast and global readership on an exciting yet controversial journey, in the course of which he made daring incursions and revelations in regard to little known aspects of Catholism.

He also delved into, several institutions, rituals, customs and Practices connected to the religion. For example, the "Opus Dei" whose long existence seems not widely known.

Unfortunately in the creation of a complex novel Brown crossed accepted boundaries of literary endeavour. His fictional twists and imaginative diversions although part of the privileged repertoire of a novelist did not go down well with some readers. It indeed hurt their religious sensitivities. And this is where Brown is believed to have erred to an extreme degree.

Religion is a subject close to the hearts of people. Any questionable versions of age old religious practices and beliefs could evoke the wrath of people. Salman Rushdhie hurt the sensitivities of the followers of Islam and had to go into hiding for several years to protect himself from the FATWA (death sentence) imposed by the former Iranian President.

Similarly senior readers will recall following Bhavatharanaya, Martin Wickramasighe was subject to extreme criticism because he had commented on the life of the Buddha.

Quite apart from all this, Deception Point confirms Brown's creativity and versatility and his research skills. In this novel, Brown's insightful scientific knowledge especially his knowledge of the undiscovered depths of the ocean fascinates the reader even without the exciting plot that he has created.

To use these as a platform to launch a riveting tale is what elevates Brown to the incomparable league of a selected few like Michael Crichton in today's world of fiction.

In contemporary times these two novelists stand apart from their peers purely on their ability to present diverse backdrops and themes. Thus Brown's Da Vinci Code is different to Deception Point as chalk is to cheese. Similarly Crichton's Congo to his Digital Man.

At the centre of the Deception Point is the discovery of a 300 year old meteorite buried in the remote Arctic.

The United States more specifically the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) who are eternally on surveillance worldwide makes this astonishing discovery which would have great implications all over.

From this point onward the story revolves on intrigue and in perpetuation of an incredible hoax - it's deception at the highest levels of the US administration.

In the meantime, the President of the US is facing a crisis. His popularity is on a steep downward trend. The critics often cite NASA in attacking his image. The principal adversary in this story is contesting the upcoming Presidential Election and he makes relentless attacks on the incumbent using NASA's spending as a principal weapon.

The vast expenditure that NASA incurs in the pursuit of other planets and galaxies seem to have aroused the conscience of the electorate. The President's opponent points out that such extravagant spending could instead be used more wisely and on more worthy causes.

In Deception Point as sometimes in real life, a stand out feature is the role of those close to the centre of political power.

It is well known that supporters of a head of state sometimes misguide the leader. Especially in a scenario where the head of the state's popularity is on the decline supporters in key positions in the administration think of salvaging such a situation by resorting to even deceitful means. At other times they do not reveal the truth of a sensitive issue.

This is what precisely happens in Deception Point in which the most powerful man in the world is led up the garden path by a duplicitous gang of top administrators and prominent members of the scientific community.

In a clever plot woven by the author the reader remains absorbed by the discovery of the meteorite and the purported remnants of life in another world.

After all scientific evidence that is conclusively able to prove that there is or there has been extra terrestrial life in whatever form (even a large insect) enforces a monumental change to history and beliefs. It could be projected as one of the greatest discoveries of our time.

But the reader is in for a whole lot of surprises, twists and turns least anticipated as the story proceeds on a zigzagging path.

The technical and scientific jargon in this story whilst baffling the average reader should delight the marine biologist and his ilk.

Brown quite rightly expresses his appreciation and acknowledges the contribution made by the wide range of scientists he had consulted in writing this book. It would have been impossible to create such a story without the cooperation of such scientists.

Towards the latter half of this adventure the action moves over to the sea. It features ultra modern air and sea borne craft. The main players in the story battle it out in the sea in these vessels.

As is usual in an adventure in which the stakes are very high murder is inevitable. In this instance murder largely committed by an ultra secret officially backed squad of killers.

Deception point lends credibility to some seasoned cliches. One is that good will finally triumph over evil; faith in our friends guides and associates could be misplaced; that political power corrupts but such corruption is not always caused by the single most important individual but by those close to the seat of power; in the search for glory one may submerge the interests of one's own kith and kin and lastly it takes true greatness to admit mistakes.

Deception Point is compulsory reading for those who seek adventure and excitement.


All about butterflies

BOOK LAUNCH: The auditorium at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre at Horton place was packed. The occasion was the launch of a book - a book on butterflies for children. Yet the audience was mainly adult. The speakers talked of the environment and conservation. The speeches were interesting, educative and motivating.

Butterflies of Sri Lanka for children has been written by Dr. Sriyanie Miththapala, renowned conservation biologist. The book is extremely well illustrated with lovely colour photographs by the well-known photographer Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne. It has been well laid out by Nalun Harasgama.

The chief guest of the evening, Iranganie Serasinghe was thrilled with the book. She was sure the parents would grab it from the children and get absorbed in it. She recollected the days when she would chase behind butterflies and more often than not, never got a chance of enjoying their real beauty because they would shut their wings and refuse to open them. Nevertheless "studying butterflies is very rewarding", she insisted.

She was happy that Singer Sri Lanka had stepped in to sponsor the publication. "It's wonderful that Singer has come out to help conservation. The corporate world is usually associated with making a lot of money. Here was an instance when they also show interest in the environment," she said.

To Singer Chairman, Hemaka Amarasuriya it was a worthwhile exercise in attempting to get the children interested in nature. "Today we at Singer break new ground in supporting conservation as part of our corporate social responsibility programme", he stated and dedicated the book to the children of Sri Lanka.

Recalling the school days, he said how there was plenty of trees and flowers around the classrooms. Inside the classroom there were pictures drawn by children on what they saw around them. "Today it's a concrete jungle around them," he said.

In his keynote address, Dr. Channa Bambaradeniya, Coordinator - Asia Regional Species Programme, the World Conservation Union pointed out that Dr. Miththapala's book has filled a vacuum of knowledge for children interested in nature.

"As I browsed carefully through the pages, I found that it had all the answers to the queries that I had as a child observing butterflies. Dr. Miththapala provides scientific information on butterflies in a simple yet meaningful manner, enabling a child to understand the natural history of these unique insects".

He was amazed at the way the author has covered a wide spectrum of topics related to butterflies including their identification, nomenclature, life history, food plants, distribution,protective mechanisms, behaviour and threats. "The publication with its concise text, clear photos and sketches will also be a valuable resource material for teachers," he said.

"Children are the future custodians of our biological heritage and publications of this nature will inculcate in them, at an early age, appreciation of our country's natural wealth," Dr. Bambaradeniya concluded.

Recollecting the early days, Dr. Sriyanie Miththapala told the audience how a couple of decades ago when she went to Singharaja with some friends, she was forced to stay indoors being in a plaster cast and on crutches.

"While they set off each morning to trek in the forest, I sat sedately in the bungalow and drew plants. One morning Martin showed me a specimen of a Clipper and asked me whether I would not like to draw it. From then onwards, I was hooked", she explained.

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