Sensitive novel based on Buddhist philosophy
Author: Daya Dissanayake
Sarasavi Publishers, Nugegoda
182 pp Price: 350
REVIEW: Professor D. C. R. A. GOONETILLEKE.
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
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
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
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
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
REVIEW: Carl MULLER
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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 !
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
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
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
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
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
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
Author: Sarath Kumarawardane
52 Wilmot Perera Mawatha, Horana
41 pp. Price Rs. 100
REVIEW: Lionel GULAWITA
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
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
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.
Another notable contemporary of Edirille-rala in the era was General
Azevedo who earned a record of valiant achievements in combat and
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
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
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
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
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
The author takes several pages to tell the tragic end of the warrior
Edirille-rala who bravely fought for the freedom of countrymen against