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Breathtaking incidents woven into heart-warming story

Duruthu Sihinaya
Author: Saman Mahanama Dissanayake
Dayawansa Jayakody Publishers, Colombo 10
Price Rs. 300

FICTION: Novels are not meant to be written about dull and monotonous events in lives of ordinary people. Rather, we expect stories about extra ordinary life struggles of colourful people living eventful lives either by choice or fate, to be the subject of novels.

However, readers may find even a novel with a highly complex and intricate content to be tasteless if the structure through which the story is presented is not sophisticated enough. A versatile writer who has grasped these concepts extremely well is Saman Mahanama Dissanayake, a long term resident of Sydney, Australia.

Duruthu Sihinaya, recently published by Dayawansa Jayakody, Colombo, is Saman Dissanayake’s fifth novel. He has made his contribution to the Sinhala literary scene previously with Bambarende Kangavena, Kengaroo Nimnaya, Punchi Sir and Randenigala Walawwa. These novels have all been well received by Sinhala readers in both Sri Lanka and Sydney, Australia.

Tragic loss

Saman Dissanayake’s greatest strength as a novelist is his ability to line up a series of breathtaking incidents around the characters he creates and to produce a convincing and heart-warming story.

This, he has amply showcased in all novels to his credit. Moreover, characters created by Saman are not just plain, black and white ones. Rather, characters in his novels essentially represent the universal behaviour of human beings in a realistic way.

Saman also excels in selecting a writing structure for his novels that nicely chronicles the awesome experiences of credible characters he creates. These creative abilities of the author are well demonstrated in Duruthu Sihinaya.

The story of Duruthu Sihinaya twines around the life of Mihindu who is raised by his father after the tragic loss of his mother and the twin brother. His father Ananda Mudalali is also living a lonely life after having experienced a series of tragic events.

As an 11-year-old boy Mihindu resolves to find his mother and his twin or to find the truth about them and this quest takes him as a young medical undergraduate not only in and around Sri Lanka but also to Sydney, Australia in a fact finding adventure.

At the end, Mihindu not only fulfils his hopes but also finds long lost relatives of his father thereby bringing some consolation to Ananda’s otherwise miserable life. At the same time, Mihindu also finds his future partner from Australia.

All this is told by means of a well arranged and exciting series of melodramatic scenes. Saman Dissanayake cleverly captivates the reader from the beginning to the end of the novel by a structure that uses uncomplicated dialogues, interesting monologues, timely flashbacks and well written narratives.

However, Duruthu Sihinaya does not have a completely joyful ending. The reader is left with a mind mixed with both happiness and sorrow. This, I think is another skill of the writer.

Monologues

The most complex character in the novel Duruthu Sihinaya is Kusumalatha, the mistress of Ananda Mudalali. The writer purposely limits narrations and monologues that involve Kusumalatha to an extent and thereby forces the reader to analyse the behaviour, thoughts and actions of this character even after reading the novel completely.

Another admirable feature of Duruthu Sihinaya is its rejection of the racial divide that has plagued Sri Lanka in the last couple of decades. The author does this directly in some instances via dialogues between Ananda Mudalali and villagers during the 1983 riots and in a subtle manner on several other occasions.

The author also deserves praise for his attempt to describe at least a few important aspects of Australia and its people within the limited scope. I am sure this will be an added bonus to the readers in Sri Lanka.

Duruthu Sihinaya is a novel that raises the standards of the Sinhala novel which has in recent times had a negative impact from Mills and Boon type easy reading paperbacks. Saman Dissanayake who is currently finalising his sixth novel, must be commended for his continued contribution to the Sinhala literary scene.

This is a great achievement for a person domiciled in a country such as Australia.

Rasika.Suriya@gmail.com


Triumph of human dignity over oppression and exploitation

Shadows of the White
Author: Piyadasa Welikannage
Published by: Godage International Publishers, Colombo 10

FICTION: The year 1986 marked the appearance of an important work of Sinhala fiction, “Sudu Sevaneli” written by the twice Award-winning novelist, Piyadasa Welikannage. The book was to achieve a considerable measure of renown among the country’s Sinhala readers.

This acclaim has been vindicated by its winning the State Literary Award for 1987 and, when its film version appeared in 2002, with its Screen play written by Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne, it won further publicity. And now, its English version (Translator: Tilak Balasuriya) is on the bookstalls.

Author Welikannage’s story is simple enough and its little drama is enacted within a brief time-span of about 25 years: it commences with the Rebellion of 1848 (Puran Appu against the British) and ends shortly after the 35th anniversary of the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne which would be around 1872.

The story is woven around a poor farmer-family and, could be summarised thus; of the two sons in the family, the younger, Sudubanda, the chief protagonist of the story, when it opens, is in robes but leaves his robes to join Puran Appu’s rebel army (1848); when the Rebellion fails and the British are in a ruthless hunt for the rebels, he flees to Colombo and joins a carpentry workshop there, and works as an apprentice for nine years and becomes an expert carpenter; when he feels it is safe, he returns home to find his elder brother, Heenbanda in Bogambara jail, serving a twenty year term for murdering the chief Headman the Korale, who had raped his wife Podimenike. Sudubanda now finds himself left with his brother’s young and comely wife with two children and a half-mad mother.

Complex situation

The author thus creates a very complex situation loaded with imponderable possibilities! Podimenike finds Sudubanda, her husband’s younger brother, now in his lusty youth, irresistible; on a morning, when he sits, his torso bare, combing back his hair, she is hardly able to take her eyes away from him. But under these tense and tempting circumstances, he conducts himself with amazing restraint by resisting every temptation Podimenike actively offers him.

It is true that Sudubanda’s defences break down, but not before they receive the tacit approval of Heenbanda the elder brother whom they visit several times at Bogambara prison and obtain it.

They now live as husband and wife and soon have a son of their own. Sudubanda’s conduct is all the more praiseworthy because, at the time in the Kandyan country, polyandry, particularly where two or more brothers, for economic and other reasons, could and did share a common wife and there was no social opprobrium accruing to such a practice!

In fact, when Sudubanda and Podimenike had started living under the same roof, the villagers thought they were living as wife and husband.

Indeed, it is on this triangular relationship particularly, on the strong bond that the author builds between the two brothers and the common wife and later with the children, that the story see-saws to the very end and, it is when this relationship is blighted with the sudden and unexpected arrival of the elder brother on an amnesty after eighteen years, and Sudubanda finds his position untenable at home, and unable to come to terms with this sudden reversal of fortune, he leaves home to enter priesthood, that the story ends.

Tenderness

The author presents this relationship and its fortunes with great tenderness and delicacy: true there are other human relationships and situations giving life to this sprawling story, but they are in the second line and are not paramount to it.

But, in the long view, it may be stated that the author’s narratives of all these relationships are merely the fallout, so to say, in the course of his development of his overall theme the triumph of man’s dignity, his spirit and endeavour over the exploitation and oppression by rulers in this case, by the British imperialists.

The author achieves this through his chief protagonist of the story, Sudubanda, whose intelligent and single-minded approach to the difficulties and set-backs both natural and those others, created by these evil forces, until he finally overcomes them all.

Indeed, a considerable part of the book goes to deal with episodes related to the injustices systematically committed by this privileged class who are in a conspiracy with their white masters to exploit them and keep them permanently impoverished: it is the overthrow of this pernicious system that is the main theme of this story.

In Welikannage’s story, the Ratemahatmaya, the Korala and the Vidane Aratchy are jealous of the progress and prosperity of Sudubanda whose carpentry workshop flourishes; his carts and carriages are eagerly sought; he has in his employment many workers and he provides the Ratemahatmaya, the Korala and the white Padre with handsome carriages; he acquires great wealth, buys houses and lands; his son and step-son attend the newly opened English School (Christ Church College) and they pass the Cambridge Senior Exam enabling them to closely associate the sons of the Padre and the Ratemahatmaya: they now enter a new strata of society when they secure Government employment.

The Korala whose thugs burgled Sudubanda’s house, broke his carts, killed his bulls, completely fails to stop Sudubanda’s upward social mobility. Events soon come full circle and he is even able to buy an estate of the Korala who has fallen on bad circumstances.

Sudubanda and Podimenike are perturbed however, when they get to know that their son Sunderabanda, after passing his Cambridge Junior, is determined to become a Christian Priest: once again, they ave failed to escape the clutches of the white Padre! No amount of persuation can make the boy change his mind and the parents despair for, never in the history of their families has anyone become a Christian!

Penultimate stage

The story now reaches its penultimate stage; when everything seemed looking up for Sudubanda and Podimenike and their children, a calamity, like a bolt from the blue, descends upon the little paradise, too soon and quite unexpected and blights it!

Podimenike’s legal husband, Heenbanda comes home, on an amnesty for prisoners on the thirty-fifth anniversary of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne. Now things move fast: Sudubanda is forced to leave the bed that he had shared for 18 years with Podimenike and even the room; he is compelled to sleep in the open hall on a mat: all in all, his position at home becomes untenable.

In these trying circumstances, Podimenike is torn between her duty towards her legal husband and her love and loyalty to Sudubanda; but she is yet prepared to share herself with both: however, this is not to be! For days Sudubanda is enveloped in gloom; he is unable to come to terms with this new disaster which he never dreamed of.

At last, unable to bear this any more, leaves home, wife, children, wealth and totally overcome by the reversal of fortune, he dons robes and seeks refuge in religion.

For the woman, the situation could not have been worse; for the rest of her life she is compelled to live with a man who does not love her; he is not without life-long scars left of his long prison life for, he is a drug-addict and a sadist; he loves neither the wife nor the children.

Podimenike has lost her lover Sudubanda who had helped her to pick up the bits and pieces of her life when her husband had gone to jail: Sudubanda had given her everything, comfort, happiness, love to make her life whole and, now she had lost him.

This is no doubt, a powerfully written book: the author’s motives are clear and he has certainly achieved them. All in all, here is a good book, a profound comment on life, made in wisdom, enriching the reader with a deeper awareness of life.


Sense of isolation powerfully depicted

A prayer to God Upulvan and other poems
Author: Kamala Wijeratne
Author Publication
Digital Teleprinters (Pvt) Ltd, Kandy
46 pp Price Rs. 225

POETRY: Identity, history and religious faith, the old and the new, the landscape, the personal and the nostalgic, cultural pride, friendship and love side by side with violence, bloodshed fear and mistrust fill the pages of this collection of poems, the sixth by Kamala Wijeratne, one of Sri Lanka’s foremost English langauge poets.

This collection offers a glimpse of the poet’s consciousness, her worldwide, her fears and concerns, encapsulated in her thoughtful and often elegantly sad words. Her voice is compassionate and philosophical, at times emotional, embittered and edgy, but often revealing a hopelessness of human experience that go beyond human barriers, violence, and death.

History and religion are recurrent themes. Her own perspective is shaped by, and in turn shapes the events of past and the present in her narratives. There is a sense of morbidity, of decay, and of desolation, even while struggling to identify and to reinstate roots.

The hopelessness is persistent, shadowing even the rare moments shared with a granddaughter or an office friend.

The foreboding of death is ubiquitous in her poems - in the form of a withering rose plant, or the fragile short life of an abandoned kitten, even in the ironically humorous bus conductor who will gladly push her out - to a possible death - to get another fare, and in the painful self-image in “Zero” of the gourd stripped of its pulp, leaving only the dried skeins of the hedge gourd of myself.”

Her response to contemporary tragedy is encapsulated in the tsunami poems. She debunks the divine significance of the tidal waves - “If you came as adjudicator/ you have failed miserably” - by setting a scene in which human nature, perhaps a more abiding force, takes over from where the waves left off.

In another poem, this modern apocalypse has even destroyed spiritual sanctuaries, which are now “only broken brick and plaster” but underlying the desolation the struggle to find spiritual solace still persists.

The image of food in “Lunch” recalls the chutneys in Rushdie and Arundhati Roy and the erotic truffles of Isabel Allende, but here the allegory is brought closer home and reinvented, going beyond mere cultural fusion on the lunch plate.

It is a shared lunch that isn’t shared at all; the chatter over mouthfuls that combine brinjal pehi and uppuma hides the speaker’s growing fear and suspicion, a national tragedy tainting friendships with mistrust.

The poem “Growing up” undermines the wisdom traditionally accorded to an elder, a poem quite harsh in its denial of the power of the oral narrative.

Here the poet in the persona of a grandmother shrugs bitterly and resignedly as she expects her granddaughter to dismiss the parables she lovingly relates as “A silly story narrated by an old grandmother.”

The subtext of this line also suggests the poet’s rejection of the power of her own craft, recalling the starkness of Yeats’ line “for poetry makes nothing happen.” Distressing but inevitable, it is an impressive realisation.

The sense of isolation and absurdity that the poet conveys even as she communicates through her poems is most powerful here, and suggests the philosophy behind her effort.


Walking through winds of fire

Gini Dal Madden
Author: Tyronne Fernando
Published by Dayawansa Jayakody company

AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Among autobiographies I have read, Gini Dal Madden takes a special place. This is because of the outstanding career of the multi-faceted personality, that is Tyronne Fernando. His inclination to jump in at the deep end when necessary makes it a gripping tale particularly for the young.

Tyronne Fernando was a student leader at Oxford. As the first Asian to be elected Chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club, he was in the forefront of agitation in the sixties against the Nuclear Bomb, against colonialism in Africa, against apartheid, and for admission of women to the Oxford Union.

Back in Sri Lanka he gave up a promising legal career (He and the present Chief Justice joined the Attorney General’s Department on the same day), and plunged in at the deep end of uncertain politics.

From 1977 he was elected continuously to Parliament for 27 years with honesty and without thuggery. In Chapter 2 he describes vividly the fire he faced in this scene. Delivering goods as Moratuwa MP, Media Minister, Law Reforms Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister and Foreign Minister, he had to surmount many obstacles.

There are vivid sketches of J.R. Jayewardene, Sirima Bandaranaike, R. Premadasa, Lalith and Gamini, but he has neglected the great leader Ranjan Wijeratne.

He has not forgotten Chandrika Bandaranaike who brought him back from the wilderness after Ranil had true to form axed him arbitrarily through insecurity in 2004. Tyronne himself always promoted a second line of leadership in his electorate.

I liked Chapter 3 most - on foreign affairs. He heard Nehru telling Oxford students, “If someone extends a hand, grab it. If there is good faith you have a friend. If not you have at least one of his hands immobilised”. His sketches of Kaunda and George Bush Snr, a friend, are outstanding. He once caught Bush having a mock boxing match with his peon at the White House.

There are more insights into the ethnic problem, Puran Appu, cricket, films and Spirituality.

This book is a must for readers facing these turbulent times. He concludes with a thought from Aldous Huxley. “I tried to change the world. But one can be sure only of changing oneself.”


Bookshelf:

Sahurda Satahan launch on September 4

LAUNCH: “Sahurda Satahan”, the latest creative work by Buddhadasa Galappatty will be launched at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute auditorium, Independence Square, Colombo 7 on September 4 at 4 p.m.

Sahurda Satahan, (Notes of a Rasika) is a collection of selected literary columns by the writer and published in the literary supplement of a Sinhala national daily over the past five years.

The 36 essays included in the book are writings on contemporary issues related to the cultural scene of the day - literature, cinema, television and other performing arts and notable personalities in literary and aesthetic fields. Popularly known as ‘Buddhi’ among the artists, literary circlers and friends, Buddhadasa Galappatty is a versatile figure.

He has been a poet, columnist, lyric writer, TV presenter, literary and cinema critic and a theatre make-up artist.

The most notable event of the launch is Buddhi’s symbolic gesture of gratitude to three veteran journalists/writers, Sumana Saparamadu, Eva Ranaweera and Sriya Ratnakara.

The writer will present them the first three copies of the book at the launch. During the early years of Buddhi’s literary activities, the three of them have given their unstinted support and guidance to Buddhi.

Prof. Tissa Kariyawasam, Senior Professor, Sinhala Department of Sri Jayewardenepura University will deliver the keynote address titled: “A distinctive feature in the art of media”.

Jayalath Manoratne will reminisce Buddhi’s literary life as one of his close associates.

Prof. Sucharita Gamlath will preside over the launch compered by Gamini Sumanasekara.

Holcim (Lanka) Ltd, together with publisher Sarasavi Bookshop, Nugegoda will sponsor the event.

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