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Sensitive novel based on Buddhist philosophy


Author: Daya Dissanayake

Sarasavi Publishers, Nugegoda

182 pp Price: 350


FICTION: Daya Dissanayake is a bilingual writer, and such writers are scarce in all countries. The most notable example in Sri Lanka is Ediriwira Sarachchandra. There are one or two others such as Sita Kulatunga and Padma Edirisinghe. Sarachchandra's 'Curfew and a Full Moon' (1978) is a free rendering of an earlier novel in Sinhala, 'Heta Echchara Kaluwara Na' (1973). 'Foam Upon a Stream' (1987) was based on two novels of Sarachchandra in Sinhala, 'Malagiya Aththo' (1959), his first novel in Sinhala, and 'Malawungae Avurudu Da' (1955).

In Sarachchandra's case, the English versions were written after the Sinhala.

Padma Edirisinghe published her novel in English. 'The Curse', in 1998. The Sinhala version, in her case, came afterwards - 'Sapaya saha Samaya' in 2000. In Daya Dissanayake's case, the two versions of his new novel, 'Moonstone' (2006), in English and in Sinhala are published simultaneously.

One novel is not an adaptation or transcreation of the other. Dissanayake can think and write in both languages, English and Sinhala, and, given that the two versions are published at the same time.

These are genuine co-creations, two simultaneous yet independent works of fiction - a unique event in Sri Lanka and, perhaps, in the world. Samuel Beckett published English and French versions of his works, but not at the same time.

Daya Dissanayake's novel in English is, significantly, titled 'Moonstone'. The title requires the kind of knowledge of Sinhala which everybody possesses. It reflects the names taken by the hero to suit the three roles he adopts.

In what he refers to as his first life, or role, in Sri Lanka, he is called Chandraratne - in Sinhala, 'moon gem'. In his next role, as the super rich global IT businessman based in Seychelles, he calls himself Sandaruwan - a 'hela', more euphonious version of Chandraratne.

When he returns to Sri Lanka and chooses a life of simplicity, virtually a life of deprivation, he calls himself, appropriately, Chandare - a common name, yet meaning 'moon'. The names link his three lives and signify that he is one and the same man though following different lifestyles.


Daya Dissanayake as a novelist is both trendy and alert. He blazed a trail by using the new information technology to publish novels. In fact, he published the first electronic novel from Asia, "The Saadhu Testament", in 1998.

In 'Moonstone', the new information technology is woven into the texture of the novel during Sandaruwan's life as an IT typhoon rivalling Bill Gates - being able to operate his global business empire from his house on an island in Seychelles, with no office staff as such, while his offices scattered over the globe run with a skeleton staff yet efficiently and with perfect adequacy.

The setting of 'Moonstone' is the whole world. It brings in many countries by reference to scenes set there and by other kinds of reference, including food items from diverse cultures.

The novel is, from one perspective, philosophical and takes, as its philosophical context, world thought, both past and present. I wish to draw your attention to a sample of the stream of consciousness of the hero, the writer's main preoccupation - on page 166.

"Chandare was Romiel. A younger Romiel in a worn-out pair of shorts instead of a loin cloth, living on a coconut plantation instead of a small vegetable plot.

"Romiel was the son of Chandare. Chandare was the son of Sandaruwan, Sandaruwan was the son of the Chandraratne. Chandraratne was the son of Romiel."


Yet the chief philosophical basis for the novel is Buddhist thought. Daya Dissanayake's is a modern mind contemplating Buddhism and he conceives new, even startling ideas.

In 'Moonstone', the central desire of the hero is for his father to be reborn as his son. The hero is prepared to become a parricide to carry out his plan. Various reasons for his desire occur to the hero but none conclusively, thereby involving the reader in sorting out motives.

In his preoccupation with ideas, Daya Dissanayake recalls Bernard Shaw. Yet Dissanayake's aim is not only to take the reader on an intellectual journey. I wish to draw you attention to the thoughts and observations of Chandare on a beach - on pages 149-150.

"When he saw the fish caught in the net, struggling as they suffocated out of the water, his sympathies turned towards the fish. It was a slow death for most of the fish. Was their deaths painful? Did they feel pain?

"Yet the fish were luckier than the men who caught them. Even though they too had no escape, their suffering would end in a few minutes, while the suffering of the fisherfolk would never end.

Till that moment the fish had been free to swim around, had enough food and had no other burdens to weigh them down.

The fisher families were caught in an eternal net, of the owners of the fishing gear, the traders and the society around them. Their death was agonisingly slow, from the moment of birth. They start dying from the moment of conception."

Here Dissanayake reveals his sensitivity to the inescapable human reality. His sharp eye for the human condition is the ultimate justification for the reading, writing, of 'Moonstone'.

Death be not proud

Coalescing with Omega

Author: Rita Perera

Vijitha Yapa Publications,

2006 - pp. 192


FICTION:I simply had to take a line from the sonnet because this is, in truth, the declaration the author makes. The problem, as I see it, is that we have all come to regard death as something final and also the end of mortality.

We still weep, express our sorrow when someone dies, thus telling all around us that there can be no reprieve. Life has decamped. Death is a sickle-wielding finale.

As Rita Perera says in her synopsis: 'to us all, death, like birth, remains a totally unavoidable personal experience.' But there is a point to be raised. Who can say today that he or she was afraid to be born? The mother, on one hand, may fear the trauma of childbirth. She is aware of the pains of labour and the expulsion of the burden she carries in her womb.

Yet, who among us can truly say that we were afraid to be born? That was our first emergence, our first 'step' on the road we are destined to travel. Why, then are we so afraid to die? Isn't this but another step on this road?

We switch from the physical to the spiritual, find that we are deemed worthy of the new path that lies before us... and we proceed. As the Buddhist scriptures also say, we become aware of the monstrous faults that we are guilty of and are then thrust into darker by-lanes, perilous roads that we must traverse.

This is not something that I claim to be original thought. It is the essence of all religious teaching - the Christian Scriptures, the Vedas, the Buddhist doctrine, the Koranic injunctions where, I find in 82:1 the following: When the sky is rent asunder; when the stars scatter, and the oceans roll together; when the graves are hurled about; each soul shall know what it has done and what it has failed to do.

As the author shows, there lies, deep in the cultures of old, this awareness of a circle of existence. It is like a long learning curve, and to die is to learn not to exist - and it is this that arouses fear, uncertainty, even dread.

To many, it is utterly incomprehensible because in life, we relate more to our bodies than the spirit within us. And when did this 'spirit' take up occupation, and why? Is all humankind ensouled and is this true of every other living thing also?

Five people

Rita Perera has wrapped her story around five people - a young Muslim cripple, a rich US citizen, an elderly Sri Lankan Buddhist woman, a Hindu residing in England and an Australian with aboriginal ancestry.

They all die at he same moment and are, to put simply, waiting at a station to be carried to a new existence, each facing the after-death experience in his or her own way. This brings me to a letter I recently received from an old classmate.

He invited my wife and me to the Royal College 1947 Group bash - the 50th anniversary of the Group to be held in 2007 - and he adds: "As you well know, we are all in the Departure Lounge. We will never see the end of the next fifty years."

Quite a sober thought, that, and here are Rita's characters, hovering in some timeless, spaceless 'departure lounge' waiting to be moved on. Lie that old Phlogiston Theory, they live on. It is like knowing that the lighted cigarette becomes ash and yet remains the cigarette in its new form.

We first have destitute beggar Abdul Karim who died. His leech-friend Mustapha says it was of pneumonia. Rita raises an interesting point here in describing the relationship between the two.

One the stumbling beggar, the other the man who milked him in the name of concern, care and friendship. A one-beggar mudalai, to be sure. I wonder how many beggars each of our own mudalalis have in their beggar cabaret !

Then to Luke Morgan who, to his ex-wives, would give them a final extravaganza - his funeral. His plane has crashed near the Columbia Gorge. There was only Tammy, his daughter, to make the most elaborate funeral arrangements.

Joy and peace

Padma Gamage was on her way to a Buddhist shrine when she died. Her son, Sunil, was at the wheel, and lost control. So tragic. Padma was old and to her, it was quite a relief to die even if so many said her death was quite uncalled for. This begs another question.

Can the devas, or whoever is up there, engineer a fatal accident for one engaged in a meritorious deed? In her after-life existence, Padma watches the long-drawn-out funeral arrangements. But she was glad. She had died and knew great joy and peace.

There was not much family grief when Mohan Das had his coronary, but many made demonstrations of grief they did not really feel.

In fact, many family members regarded him as a selfish hange-on to life and of decided nuisance value. He could not be impressed by the elaborate funeral plans and was quite soured by the way his body had been embalmed to keep for many days.

It was a spectacle he found distasteful. He was at peace, but down there, his family gave his body no peace! Question: What good does all this do to a body, soon to rot or burn? Is it all a social 'show' of sorts? Is it just an event, a happening that gives people the opportunity to wear their mourning faces, tell the world how much they missed someone they didn't really care a fig for ?

In a forthcoming collection of poems, I penned these lines, titled them Too Late:

he cried for sympathy... but no one heard,

He sought for happiness ... no kindly word;

He tried to stand ... and others dragged him down,

He begged companionship ... and earned a frown.

And then he died ... and everybody cried.

They sent him flowers that he could not smell;

They said how good he was ... he could not hear,

They wished him peace ... in life they gave him Hell !

It seems they waited until he was dead

To heap on him the loving things they said !

Strange place

We come to Nicky Wanagu who shared the feelings of joy and serenity with the four others who had died at the same instant he did. This was a strange place to be in.

There were no dividing lines, no black man or white, none of those dastardly human ideas of rich and poor, great and lowly, no ethnic divide, no superior or inferior.

Nicky traced back to the aborigines, to a tribal harmony with nature, to the times of the 'dreaming', the spirits of the All-Father and Sky Hero.

Kunapipi was the Fertility Mother. Such myths held Nicky for the greater part of his life, as well as the bark and rock paintings, the Kultana who receives the dead and, of course, the Rainbow Serpent. Nicky watches is funeral ceremony, is upset at the way his wife and children deliberately hurt themselves in their shows of grief.

Rita has constructed a philosophy in her own way. The dead wish, above all, to convey to those they leave, that they shouldn't grieve. Yet, as Nicky knew, his own human tenure had been riddled with the contempt of the 'white fellas'.

As his cousin, Gary, had told him one day, "We Abos are all ... regarded as scum." Well, with the others with him, who had died when he did, he was not scum - not to Abdul Karim, to Luke Morgan, to Padma Gamage, and not to Mohan Das. And yet, it had been a white man who had killed him.

Rita has also filled in the blanks, as it were, in giving her readers event-filled pictures of each of her dead-alive characters and of those who mourn their passing.

This is vital to the tale for it reminds us, and archly too, of the many foibles of our so-called enlightened society, of our own sense of morality and ethics and we begin to wonder sometimes at the totally useless rituals we uphold.

Mustapha cried out: "Please help me bury my crippled friend."

Tammy: "Please see that the coffin is open at three o'clock ... No salmon sandwiches please ...The one thing he was allergic to was salmon ..."

Funeral rites

The once-dead Luke tells Abdul Karim: "You are very lucky to be free so soon (funeral rites performed within 24 hours). It would have been sensible if everyone followed the same practice."

Padma cannot be buried on a Friday. It's an old custom; and her Canadian son-in-law says he cannot understand why funerals have to be so long drawn-out in Sri Lanka; and Sunil says: "People come if they live anywhere near a funeral house ... it is the custom."

Rita gives us the absorbing five funerals, each so distinctly different, each holding the rituals of five cultures and no one is any the wiser that the dead look upon them all with that number feeling, so much as to say, 'oh, come on, get it over with.

Only then can we really go our way, leave this departure lounge.' As she tells us, "(Nicky) was particularly averse to the tradition of the long-drawn-out rituals funerals entailed among his people... He knew the mourning rites would continue even after only his bones were left...."

Eventually the relief came, and the five were able to get on with their new lives. Please do not look for a laugh line in what I have just said - for this is the very pith of this book: that life goes on and death is just one hurdle that must be taken in stride. Also, there are new relationships - five different people knowing the true worth of each other.

Chapter Six brings the philosophy, the concept to its true form. It must be read carefully and with a wide-open mind, for we learn of one final destination for all - that place of no return we call Parinibbana.

We will each go as our spiritual guides lead us, along many way, and as pilgrims making progress, to that final goal.

Rita has given us something both rich and lustrous. The certainty that death is just an imposter on our journey from mortal to immortal. She could have gone on to Zoroastrianism; the Bon-pos of Tibet; Taoism; Shinto; the Mesopotamian Tablets of Destinies; the three creeds of Heliopolis, Memphis and Hermopolis; the mysteries of Eleusius; the Orphics; but then this would have become a tome ! She has given us the songs and poems of the "Aborigines, but if you would cast your net you will find so much more to open your eyes to the truth of life and death and eternity.

This is a book that begs reading for it will make us intensely aware of what life, life-after-life, truly is. And death? Oh, be not proud!

The fall of a warrior

Edirille Bandara

Author: Sarath Kumarawardane

52 Wilmot Perera Mawatha, Horana

41 pp. Price Rs. 100


HISTORY: King Parakramabahu VI of Kotte Kingdom (1412-67 AD) unified the entire Island of Lanka under his reign in 1450. The country remained so under a unitary rule upto 1477. After the demise of the king, kingdoms of Jaffna and Kandy fell out of Kotte's rule.

In 1505 the ship in which a Portuguese fleet commander Lourenco de Almeida travelled in his expedition was dashed into Colombo by strong winds.

Almeida soon realized the strategic commercial importance of the island and implored for an audience from Vira Parakrama Bahu the king of Kotte. The king gave him a courteous audience.

The Portuguese made use of the politeness extended and soon returned and established a regular and formal contact with the king.

In 1518 they were allowed to put up a fort at Colombo and trading concessions too were permitted by the successor, king Vijayabahu.

In 1521 three sons of Vijayabahu, the reigning king of Kotte, assassinated their father and divided the kingdom among them. The eldest brother Bhuvanekabahu, ruled at Kotte, and the other two became kings of independent kingdoms Sitawake and Raigama.


An agreement in 1543 between Bhuvanekabahu and king of Portugal had guaranteed the protection of King Bhuvanekabahu's grandson prince Dharmapala on the throne and the defence of the kingdom and in return the Portuguese were to be confirmed with all their privileges and to receive a tribute of cinnamon.

Kotte's last king was Don Juan Dharmapala and with his death in 1597 sovereignty passed to the king of Portugal according to an agreement between Portugal and Sinhala chiefs under Dharmapala..

Set amidst this backdrop, comes the simple and readable narrative on Edirille-rale (Bandara) published under the authorship of Sarath Kumarawardane.

The 40 page book deals with in brief life story of Edirille-rala who is said to have served as a warrior under Portuguese during the time of Don Juan Dharmapala, king of Kotte in 1580s and later realizing the peril the countrymen were exposed to under Portuguese Edirille-rala defected to Sinhalese forces to add his contribution to liberate the country. In this work, author Sarath Kurarawardane aptly portrays Edirille's last battle and his fateful end.

Valiant achievements

Another notable contemporary of Edirille-rala in the era was General Azevedo who earned a record of valiant achievements in combat and strategy.

From the outset of their imperialist domination, Portuguese Army carried on warfare and ruled the maritime belt with hatred and cruelty against the inhabitants.

Appointing General Azewedo to the task in charge of internal warfare in Lanka was nothing short of crowning the expansionist agents to commit ruthless atrocities against the hospitable countrymen who had no choice other than rising against the terror.

Edirille-rala is supposed to have built a stronghold on the Uduwara Hill by the bank of river Kaluganga at Uduwara about 9 miles north of Kalutara on the road towards Anguruwatota a well-known waterfront used for transportation of personnel and merchandise during civil wars and at the time of peace over many centuries down in the ancient history. Uduwara Hill was Edirille's base wherein he lived with his consort, servants, guards etc.

Once Edirille left his stronghold with all his men on a tactical reason. The plan backfired and his stronghold was overrun by Portuguese soldiers.

Edirille made a valiant attempt to reoccupy the stronghold in vain as the Portuguese established their prowess and war tactics cunningly to defeat him. Edirille's soldiers ran away hither and thither under the belief that their leader too had left the battle front fearing the hostile attack.

He could not regroup with the soldiers. His stallion was frightened hearing the deafening sound of drums and crackers Portuguese staged strategically to make the enemy believe that Portuguese army was at hand, poised to mount a merciless assault on Sinhalese soldiers.

Men and resources

Edirille lost everything, his men and resources needed for the battle. The stallion bolted leaving Edirille, fallen on the ground. Edirille walked on, all alone and helpless under heavy rain and stormy wind. There was no shelter or human being to find.

He waded through puddles of mud and grime, dejected with pain from injuries and bruises on his body and moved forth along narrow pathway in the uninhabited jungle. Edirille saw a massive tree of unusual height and girth.

Probing around, he found an opening at the base of the tree. He hid his sword and official paraphernalia in it. Edirille next managed to climb the tree with the support of a creeper and spotted at some distance a hut on an elevated ground with surroundings waterlogged.

The following morning Edirille traced the hut in which one old woman lived. When Edirille asked for some food, he received a plateful of jak fruit cooked.

He introduced himself to the woman and said he would collect an army and go against Portuguese and slept outside the hut on a structure built out of sticks to serve as a chair or sofa for lying down.

By this time Portuguese had proclaimed that whoever provided information leading to the arrest of Edirille would be generously rewarded. The woman's son carried the message to the nearest army camp at Anguruwatota. Edirille was immediately taken prisoner with hands and feet manacled.

The author takes several pages to tell the tragic end of the warrior Edirille-rala who bravely fought for the freedom of countrymen against Portuguese.



Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Sri Lanka

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