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DateLine Wednesday, 17 October 2007

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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).

Campus life

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.

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