Focus on Books:
Collection of short stories with an 'absurd' touch
The retired administrator and broadcaster Asoka Colambage had been
engaged in the function of creative writing for the last four decades,
and to his credit had brought out five collections of short stories out
of which one won the State award for the best story collection in 1989
(Ira Koheda Hangila).
As far as his creative productivity is concerned, the Sinhala reader
knows that he is not only a story writer of a particular calibre, but
also is an experimentalist in the field of poetry writing ,
scriptwriting for the theatre, lyric writing for the radio and novel
writing with a modern conscience revolving round such aspects enveloping
sometimes as threshold trivialities, that one could undermine, but could
not be left uncovered by sensitive fiction writer.
All in all, Colombage had had his contribution accepted by the
Sinhala reader of a special type who so anticipated modernism. The
latest to come from him is titled as Adikalpika Sattu Avit, 'The
Primitive Animals are here' if translated into English (Godage 2007).
This collection of nine short stories, each different from the other,
revolves round such aspects as the experiences of a retired
administrator padded with his reminiscences of the past (Valikukula
01pp), where the status of the dual natured present day administrator is
sensitively questioned ironically.
A secluded life of an invalid is constantly transformed by the well
wishers and family members (Hansa Tatakaya 38pp).
This could be regarded as a fine piece of study in fantasy. The
narratives of maladjusted individuals who become culprits but deemed as
great by the society for the imposition of punishment on the part to
others in the social set up (Hodalamayeki Sirimat 44pp) are highlighted.
The narratives revolving round the life of individuals garlanded by
the laurels of their own peculiarities (Kalahaya 30pp), the
recollections laid to rest within one's mind (Valavvaka Andatraya 62pp)
and the narratives of varying types from the campus life (Kisivak
Harinoiyana Davasak 53pp) are more interactive and self referential
exercises than rounded plotted stories as conventionally written over
the years (e.g. Maduruva and Adikalpika Sattu).
All in all, the reader may feel that the Colambage is more a dreamer
of his past fantasies than an onlooker of the crude naturalism which is
a credit as a detour. There are few stories undoubtedly narratives with
a certain degree of a plot outline not clearly observable.
But most of them are more snapshot narrative exercises depicting a
human value with the undercurrent of an effect more powerful than the
story telling forms as traditionally moulded by the fiction writers.
In my re-reading exercise, I could feel that the persona in each of
the stories is the most significant modern sickly character in search of
an identity for realism. He envisages an absurd and ironic behaviour as
against the more serene existence one expects from a society.
The behaviour pattern as depicted in each of these stories is akin to
a half sick and half sane individual expecting that tomorrow would be a
better day for him.
The most significant factor is the selection of the expressive source
materials that go into each of the stories for the reader will come
across some events that are mere slices of life mostly forgotten and
made to forget from the day-to-day behaviour.
Colombage as a narrator of these events make the reader feel that
there is a sort of inner layer of meaning that could be gathered via the
dialogue that the characters speak rather than the search for a story.
The finest story in the collection to my mind is 'Honda Lamayeki
Sirimat'; this is an ironic reference to the growth of a boy who gets
moulded up in an atmosphere where rigid rules and punishments throughout
his childhood on the part of his uncle's duty and have hampered his
whole life from his school days to the upbringing including the
university degree he holds ultimately.
His life structure moulded in a frame of punishments culminates in
the acceptance of a police higher official post where he is shown as a
right lawful official who punishes the victims to the extent that his
behaviour is regarded as the best possible rule of the law of the day.
The entire pattern of the story as written rests on an ironic plane
of narration. Brevity is one of the essential qualities of this
storywriter as it should be the means of conveying the experience at its
highest level of creativity.
Then comes the ironic short dialogue between interlocutors paired to
the minimum by the writer retaining a readability which is lacking in
many Sinhala short stories today.
The title story is a narrative on the ironic nature of the
development based projects which are mostly machine oriented and lack of
humane oriented outlook. The writer is on the premises of the humane
side of the action visualizing the hazardous elements of the mechanistic
orientation and pinpoints ironically, as found in most of his stories,
the victims of circumstances.
The most significant element as regards these narratives is the
finding and depiction of another person in the common man in the society
about whom once the well known playwright Harold Pinter once cited as
the 'Wounded Man' in search of an identity. He is here, there and
everywhere, but he has to be searched.
Colombage attempts successfully to search some of them in his
collection, which is but a welcome variant to the existing searches on
the part of most writers.