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Chekov’s humanistic approach vividly recaptured

Anton Chekov after 100 years

A collection of short stories

Translated from original Russian to Sinhala by Palitha Ganewatta

S. Godage & Bros, Colombo

256 pages, Rs. 375

FICTION: ‘My ambition is not to solve problems, but to state them correctly....’ (Anton Chekov)

Anton Chekov’s short stories are not unknown to Sinhala readers. They have been translated or adapted into Sinhala from English ever since 1944.

‘Samskruti’, a reputed magazine devoted to literary criticism started in 1953 in Sri Lanka on the basis of ‘Cambridge Critical quarterly’ attempted to introduce Chekov to the broader Sinhala reading community in 1960 by their special issue devoted to Anton Chekov.

Further Chekov became the first non-western writer to impact on the Sinhala literature through his short stories prescribed for the G.C.E. (Advanced Level) Sinhala and university courses of studies leading to Bachelor and Masters, since early 1960s in Sri Lanka.

In this context, Palitha Ganewatta’s contribution to Sinhala literature through his above translation is unique.

For he is the first Sinhala writer to have translated and published a collection of Anton Chekov’s short stories from original Russian to Sinhala. His collection consists of eighteen well-known short stories of Chekov of which, some have never been translated into Sinhala before.

Experience

Palitha Ganewatta’s competency in Russian life and language coupled with his authentic experience in Sinhala rural and regional life, its linguistic features, idioms and expressions are well reflected in the short stories.

The Sinhala version is presented realistically that the reader does not feel that it is an alien theme or experience.

This is specifically seen in his translation of Chekov’s ‘The lady with the toy dog’, which has been previously translated by many famous writers of Sinhala.

Chekov is an unusual short story writer, whose techniques of presentation were unparalleled. For instance he did not dead as most other contemporary European short story writers, who had (1) Situation (2) Rising actions (3) Climax (4) Falling actions and (5) Conclusion.

For Chekov formal structures inhibited natural flow of human and social events. However, Chekov’s short stories are not sequential collection of material events but an inward pattern of portraying human thought process and its relationship with people and contemporary society.

Central theme

Palitha Ganewatta has maintained the original artistic flavours of Chekov’s prowess by his swift language style that depicts his proficiency in Russian and Sinhala Languages and social fabrics.

All Chekov’s short stories translated in this volume involves a central theme, which he develops through his chosen characters and social situations with precise intuition.

The connection between individuals and events relevant to social situations are directed towards the theme.

His handling and developing of characters are incomparable. The European writers did not capture this human and social insight that Chekov possessed.

Chekov’s stories were so true to life that they did not have a formal beginning or a surprising end. As the famous English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, Chekov’s best works of creativity occurred in the latter period of his life.

It was then that he derived spiritual complexities and socialist realistic experiences that were visible in his maturity. Palitha Ganewatta’s translations from original Russian to Sinhala encompasses these qualities, which were hitherto unknown to the Sinhala reader.

Chekov was critical of the ruthless contemporary middle class in Russia while dispelling his anger through formidable artistic means.

This is a timely message required in the Sri Lankan context which has been creatively handled by Palitha Ganewatta. Chekov’s humanistic approach to life was vividly recaptured in the Sinhala translation, which makes it a worthy contribution to the wealth of Sinhala literature.

The reviewer is Head of Sinhalese Program National Special Broadcasting Service Corporation of Australia


New vistas of research on gender injustice

Annotated bibliography on violence against women in South Asia

Author: Bhawani Loganathan

Publishers: International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo

Review: Shyamala Devi KARUNAKHARAN

SOCIAL PROBLEM: ‘Violence against women’, is a very common but overlooked issue. The term is synonymous with almost every single household in the South Asian region.

It is a current human rights concern. Women experience physical or mental abuse throughout their life - in childhood, adolescence, adulthood or old age.

Besides causing severe health consequences for the affected, violence against women is a social problem that draws an immediate response from various sectors.

According to reports in South Asia, one in every two women faces gender-based violence in her life. While maternal deaths are reported to be high, it leaves room for the questioning of the standard of health and other facilities available for women in this region.

This issue disintegrates women’s fundamental right to live and enjoy life and is fast becoming a legitimised, accepted, not-so-important norm in these societies.

Despite the fight against this violence by various women’s groups, the interest shown and the support extended by primary groups within the community has shown little improvement.

Bhawani Loganathan’s latest book ‘Annotated Bibliography on Violence Against Women in South Asia’ - actions and responses, focuses on what actions have been taken by the State, NGOs and media to address violence against women.

It also informs what the available legal reforms are and how the overall result has been researched and presented. The publication has a foreword from Radhika Coomaraswamy in which she congratulates Bhawani for the hard work she has put in for the past three years in compiling this publication.

According to Bhawani this compilation sheds light on legislation, policies, programmes, effective remedies provided for victims, with challenges faced to combat such violence in the region.

Information about South Asia has been gathered from news clippings, periodicals, reports, training manuals, monographs, brochures, pamphlets, posters, electronic web sites and audiovisuals.

Reference has been made to initiatives and efforts by women’s organisations, social movements, community groups, human rights activists, law practitioners, national action plans, justice systems, healthcare sector, educational institutions, workplaces, popular media, religious bodies, law enforcers and the Armed Forces.

Bhawani was based at the ICES when she was working on the release of this book. Although she had difficulty in collecting regional information on Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, she has proved to have conquered to the best of her ability.

The information enclosed enlightens us to gain a regional awareness on gender injustice. This will be of great use to researchers and activists.

Bhawani’s other publications were Women in Armed Conflict in 1997, Violence Against Women in Sri Lanka in 1997 and Gendering Humanitarianism: Capacity Building for Women in Armed Conflict in 2003.

Bhawani’s husband, the late Kethesh Loganathan, also maintained an interest in these issues.


When translating Eliot becomes child’s play...

Sivu Desaka Hinda Liyu Kavi

Translation of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets

Translator: Eileen Siriwardena

Wijesooriya Book Centre, 461/A, N.T. Perera Road, Mulleriyawa

Price Rs. 100

POETRY: Eileen Siriwardena has dared to do the almost impossible. ‘Four Quartets’ is the last important poem Eliot wrote, and even the majority of his American and British readers have confessed that it was extremely difficult to make sense of this four part composition.

From ‘Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock’, one of earliest published poems, the poet challenged the average reader’s imagination, sensibility, (knowledge) awareness of trends in modern European poetry and above all belief in Christianity and its spiritual values.

The Sinhala translation of this poem, which is far more complex in feeling, thought, and language than ‘Prufrock’ would have presented Mrs. Siriwardena the unenviable task despite the fact that she had already translated seven books (presumably from English) into Sinhala.

ordinary readers

Translation of poetry at the best of times is a difficult undertaking, because no writer could possibly claim to be sensitive to subtle nuances of expression to the same extent in two or more languages.

Even ordinary readers know from experience that even the same language written 500 years apart, or even a decade apart could be different, and a translator sensitive to one period may not be equally sensitive to another, of the same language.

Again, most Sinhala or even English readers would be unaquainted with French literature of the second half of the 19th century, and to be more precise, writings of Laforgue, Corbiere, Mallarme and Baudelaire (just to take a few of the more innovative and influential ones).

Why these poets are important (for a critic or translator of Eliot’s) is because of the profound and extensive influence they had on Eliot.

No doubt he greatly admired Dante in Italian, or Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins in English, but Eliot was closer to French poets I have just mentioned.

The general translator may not be equally close to two or more literatures, but still present the reading public with assimilable material and who may show varying degrees of appreciation.

T.S. Eliot, in modern times, is one who demands from the reader a more complex response and a profounder sensibility than most other poets.

innumerable critics

To make the task of the Sinhala reader easier, the translator has provided a short biographical note, and also referred to work by one Lyndon Gordon.

Of course there have been innumerable critics on both sides of the Atlantic, but our task here is to see whether the Sinhala version is effective in conveying up to a degree Eliot’s complex personal exploration and enabling the reader to respond to it as a great work of art.

The following opening lines of ‘Burnt Norton’ are deceptively and overtly translatable, and the words of the original text could be translated word for word without bothering about niceties of syntax in Sinhala, and Eileen Siriwardena has done precisely that giving the impression that translating Eliot is more child’s play provided one knows the exact Sinhala word that could replace the English. Questions of idiom and syntax do not interfere.

‘Time past present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

What might have been is an abstraction

Remaining a perpetual possibility

Only in a world of speculation.

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present’ personal approach

Eliot’s preoccupation with ‘time’ is not that of a philosopher. It is bound up with his own personal approach to the quest for a reality within time and outside. It is in a way similar way to a mystic’s sensation, or vision

“What might have been an abstraction

Remaining a perpetual possibility

In a world of speculation.”

Eliot’s refusal to conceptualise the notice of ‘time ‘ of restated in this way.

“All time is unredeemable”.

One can replace English words with those of Sinhala, as Eileen has done, but one totally misses Eliot’s emotional pre-occupation. A translation cannot get beyond words and conceptualisation, unless language is made meaningless (total destruction of logical structure).

It is the total failure of words that makes Eliot’s symbolism essential for his purpose. It leads him to reminisce within a structure of symbolism, as much as within a structure of paradoxical statements.

“Trying to use words, and every attempt

Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure

Because one has only learnt to get better of words

For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which

One is no longer to say it.

And so each venture

Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate

With shabby equipment always deteriorating

In the general mess of imprecision of feeling

Undisciplined squads of emotion”

Baudelaire in ‘Correspondences’ has another approach:

La Nature est un temple ou de vivants piliers

Lalisse parfois sortir de confuses paroles

L’homme y passe a traverse des forets de symboles

Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.”

I do not want to tire the reader of this review with anymore extracts from ‘Four Quartets’, or a casual piece from Baudelaire.

The focus here is on rendering what has been written in one language which has abandoned all semblance of conventional expression, metaphor, symbolism, and even syntax, and adopted a stance that is non-verbal or essentially para-linguistic.

linguistic device

How do we then effectively translate, or meaningfully convey the sense of an essentially un-translatable apparently linguistic device, which we call a language (because words and symbols are used) which has developed from verbal communication?.

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”


Literary gems of a police officer

Bombs and Oombs II

Author: Bandula Seneviratne

Samayawardhana Printers, Colombo 10

Price: Rs. 200

LITERATURE: I take the privilege in penning a short review on the book titled “Bombs and Oombs” 11, written by Senior Superintendent of Police (RTD), Bandula Seneveratna.

The writer was a colleague of mine, having joined the service as Sub Inspector of Police, a few years after I joined the service in the same rank.

He is the current Editor of the “News Letter”, published by the Retired Senior Police Officers’ Association (RSPOA). Popularly known as “BANDU”, he served in almost all parts of the Island.

He performed his duties to the satisfaction of his superiors. He has an in born talent to reduce his thoughts in writing, not only on subjects of his chosen profession, but on matters of interest he perceived as matters of interest to the members of the public at large.

His passion for writing on “This” and “That”, “Anything” and “Everything” Kings and Cabbages” was manifested during the salad days of his career, and at a time when he was fully engaged in the thick of his responsibilities as a law enforcement officer and Officer in Charge of Police stations, mostly in the outstations.

popular column

His writings were reproduced, quoted and referred to by the late Amitha Abeyasekara, in his regular humorous popular column which was published in the “Island” newspaper.

His first book under the same title was well received which encouraged him to embark on the second one which is now available for sale.

In this issue he had dealt with almost as many as subjects of interest not only to Police officers but also to the members of the general public too.

He has touched on cricket match fixing and drug trafficking, cinema artists, slaughter of trees, many subjects of public interest, his own experience in the police service and about his former superiors and colleagues.

personal experience

No particular article could be picked out as the best of the many which are collectively a presentation of the writer’s best effort. The articles ranging from personal experience, his observations, and his opinions are reproduced in the from of anecdotes, not sparing digs at himself and his colleagues.

He has not loaded the book only with his experience whilst serving as a police officer but has endeavoured to offer the reading population, a book containing articles laced with humour, keeping in mind the dictum “Variety is the spice of life”.

It is commendable that a police officer who was in active service could indulge in writing articles to the newspapers, writes book and continues to do so even in retirement.

The perception of a police officer by the average citizen is that he is all brawn and no brains.

Bandu has disproved this perception by excelling both in police duties as well as in the literary field.

It is evident that he had not shirked his responsibilities as a law enforcement officer and at the same time had enjoyed his passion for writing.

He has earned a name as a police officer as well as a writer, which has not been achieved by majority of Police officers.

The book is recommended for young and old, police officers in service as well as those in retirement and the general public, for reading in leisure, as the articles are written in plain and simple English, more in the style of anecdotes laced with humour, on subject matters which are of public interest.

The writer is president RSPOA


The story of Gajaba as a novel

Weera Gajabahu Maha Rajathuma

Author: Prof. Bandusena Gunasekara

Dayawansa Jayakody Publishers, Colombo 10

Price Rs. 250

Review: Dr. E. M. RATNAPALA

FICTION: The latest literary work of Prof. Bandusena Gunasekara is a novel named “Heroic Great King Gajabahu.” The plot of the novel flows on the background of King Gajabahu and his father Wankanasika Tissa.

Although Mahawamsa chronicled this period very briefly Prof. Gunasekara has referred other chronicles such as Pujawaliya and Rajawaliya etc. to collect historical information for his novel.

I think the writer has preferred Sinhalese folklore to fulfil his literary work. Some historic characters are met in the novel like King Gajaba and regional leaders in Sri Lanka during the same time.

Some characters and the incidents associated with them are created by the author. So this fiction is a historical novel like Golden Island by Denis Clark and Es Deka (Both eyes) by Somapala Ranatunga.

The writer uses colloquial and everyday langauge for the dialogues, used by the characters. The story flows ahead through these dialogues. That is the technique of this novel.

Prof. Gunasekara doesn’t try to put a traditional language into the character’s mouths. I think an experiment has been done by the author how to use the language in a historical novel. I believe his effort has successful. So it is easy understanding and easy tasting the story.

Development project

During the reign of King Wankanasika Tissa Prince Gajaba commenced a development project in a certain village which has been called “Radadora”. The people who lived in this village had to clean the clothes of the Royal family.

The leader of this village had a son who was born at the same time that Gajaba was born. Prince Gajaba established an industrial zone in the village “Radadora” washing cubes, cosmetics and clothes were produced in the industrial zone, and they were sent to the market.

The villagers were satisfied with their new life. When Gajaba was carrying on this revolution he had to face many challenges. The advisers to the king wanted to avoid Gajaba in involving the project. But it was failure.

A certain civilian who lost a short horned buffalo claimed the Judicature about his problem, expecting a justice. Having got an unexpected decision, the man thought to revenge the king.

So, he secretly immigrated to South India and spied to the Cholas against the king of Anuradhapura. As a result of that Cholas invaded Sri Lanka, and 12,000 young Sinhalese were taken to their country.

With this incident King Wankanasika Tissa left the throne. So it became vacant. Prince Gajaba was invited to become King for Thri Sinhala. He took up his duty. Princess Uttara became royal queen.

King Gajaba happened to know that citizens almost everywhere in the city are living sadly. Because Chola invaders captured their family members. Gajaba decided to take them back as early as possible. He crossed over to South India with his commander-in-chief, Maha Neela and overawed the Chola king.

They squeezed sand and dripped water in front of the Chola king. They said that they had not sailed to India. There were no ships to be seen.

The Chola king was afraid of them. They brought back Sinhalese men who had been captured by Chola invaders with another 12,000 Cholas to Sri Lanka. The holy ornaments of Goddess Pattini also were brought here with them.

The writer makes King Gajaba to address the nation while he was making his maiden speech King Gajaba explained to the nation what he had intended to do. He promised to create a united-peaceful country.

foreign trades

“I may take necessary advice from pandits and intelligensia,” he said. He wanted to make a foreign office as well as foreign trades. He pointed out how it was important to make a friendship among the South Indian countries. He said he would not consider caste, post and power.

Already he had changed the washing people’s village into an industrial zone. The leader of the village has joined the government. His son is commander-in-chief. The king promised not to keep a harem.

He said he would be going to establish a women’s development department in the harem. He had decided to limit the number of ministers of the state to ten.

“According to the Arthashastra of Kautilya small cabinet is caused to a successful administration,” the King said.

The author conveys important messages to the readers through his fiction, according to his own political and social experiences. The responsibility of the literati is showing the correct path to the nation. Prof. Bandusena Gunasekara has done it through this novel in Sinhala.

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