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Book Reviews

Positive thinking for women

“Dhanathmaka Kanthava Isurumath”
Author: Menike Sumanasekara
27A, Malwatte Road, Kohuwela, Nugegoda.

Menike Sumanasekara, a leading positive thinker and educator, has treated another aspect of her pet subject by discussing how positive thinking affects women in their day-to-day life.

In the opening chapter she sees women as a wonderful creation of nature. Woman is the epitome of beauty and innocence. However, man has dominated her role by imposing various restrictions. These restrictions come in the form of religious teachings and moral codes. Such restrictions can be expected in a male-dominated world.

The author is at pains to prove that a woman is equal to man. She can perform almost all the tasks done by man. However, when it comes to salaries and recognition, woman gets step-motherly treatment.

In the developed world, women have proved their capabilities as Heads of States, company executives and doctors. But the role of women in developing countries is far from satisfactory.

Sumanasekara sees youth as the season of spring in life. But our life is full of uncertainties. You can fall sick at any time. Death may come at the most unexpected moment.

Despite this impermanence, woman has an important role to play. She is the giver of life to her children who become tomorrow’s citizens. Therefore, from the very beginning all human beings come under the influence of women. As mothers they have to mould the character of children.

If they fail in their duty, future generation will suffer. Meanwhile, motherhood is a sacred institution. A mother is the first teacher to her children. She has to guide their destinies without expecting anything in return.

The author points out that the present deterioration of ethical standards is due to mother’s failure to fulfill her duties. If she does her duties properly, the child can develop his faculties under school teachers. Quoting research findings the author tells us that many children prosper in later life because of the guidance received from the female teachers.

The book extols the virtues of marriage. Without a properly maintained family unit, we cannot build up our lives. Marriage between a man and a woman is associated with many customs and rituals, that shows the significance of marriage. All the religions have laid down rules governing a happy marriage.

The author, however, says that it is futile to rely on astrology to decide whether a particular persons is fit for marriage. The chapter on motherhood is illuminating. Only a woman can give birth to a child. Therefore, she is a unique creation of nature.

The author stresses that a mother should lead an exemplary life in order to give birth to a healthy baby. She has quoted the findings of some research studies conducted in foreign countries that confirm her views.

Taken as a whole, ‘Dhanathmaka Kanthawa Isurumath’ is a compulsory read for all women. The author has considered every aspect of a woman’s life from the standpoint of a positive thinker. Therefore, the book stands out as a worthwhile effort to lead women on the correct path.


Martin Wickramasinghe’s ten stories in English

The Martin Wickramasinghe Trust has brought out an English translation of 10 short stories written by Wickramasinghe. The translator is Ranga Wickramasinghe, the author’s son.

Of this great writer’s three sons, it is the youngest Ranga who has shown a flair for writing. I have been told that he had tried his hand at writing in his early teens. One of his early efforts was a short story captioned “Sata Dahaya”, (10 cents).

I don’t know what the story was about; but I do know that 10 cents had some buying power in the mid forties which, I guess, was about the time young Ranga wrote that story.

Martin Wickramasinghe was a prolific author. Besides his many novels, he wrote a large number of short stories. The translator’s introductory note says 104 in all. These stories were written in a span of nearly 30 years, from 1924, the year Gehaniyak, his first collection of stories, was published to 1952 when Vahallu was published.

Two stories in this publication “Selected Short Stories” have been translated and published earlier Vahallu (Slaves) translated by Ashley Halpe and Gehaniyak (Woman) by Lakshmi de Silva, neither of which I have read.

There had been incomplete transcripts of two other stories ‘Vinodaasvadaya and Irunu Kabaya’ which the translator thinks were the author’s own translations. These two stories are also included in this publication captioned “Diversions” and “Torn Coat”.

‘Diversions’ the first story in this collection brought back to me vivid memories of a scene long gone by. Readers of my generation would remember the scene at the Colombo Jetty crowded with friends and relations waiting for passengers to come ashore.

They were kept amused by young boys leaping from boats or diving into the water to get the coins thrown by the people on the deck. It was a diversion, the title rightly indicates, for the waiting crowd, as it was a risky pastime for the lads.

Underneath the graphic picture is a subtle indictment of the callous affluent class, that wouldn’t give 10 cents to a little boy holding out his grubby hand, but would throw 25-cent coins with a flourish and a challenge “Here, get it”.

The ‘Torn Coat’ opens on a hilarious note. A young man sets out for his marriage to a girl to whom be has spoken only once, dressed in borrowed clothes, dragging his feet because they are too large as in most of Wickramasinghe’s stories there is an unexpected twist to the tale.

In the bridal chamber, when the bride coaxes her sullen husband to speak, he blurts out the tragedy - that he tore the coat on a nail in the carriage and cigar ash had burnt a hole in the cloth, and that he didn’t have the money to pay for the damage.

The bride’s instant and magnanimous offer to sell her jewellery, takes him by surprise, and as he looks into her eyes love is kindled. Wickramasinghe writes with restraint making the situation speak for itself.

The translator doesn’t say why these 10 stories were specially selected. What was the criterion of selection? However, each story reveals Wickramasinghes skill and versatility as a story teller. “Exploits of Ando aiya” the last story can be classed with Baron Munchuisen’s stories.

The title of the original is ‘Baygul’ - Tall stories. Martin Wickramasinghe didn’t write of people and happenings he remembered from his boyhood or early teens.

Son Ranga the translator says: “The people and the social and the physical environment, both in the village and the town that inspired Martin Wickramasinghe’s creative writings were familiar to me in my childhood”.

Wickramasinghe wrote of people and the way of life in the rural South six to eight decades ago.

There is the miserly Andiris who listens to his dying sister-in-law’s plea to look after her children, and departing give the niece two 10-cent coins to buy whatever is needed, a poor labourer nagged by his wife for drinking, can’t find Rs. 5 to buy some malted milk for his sick son; there are the long-suffering and self-sacrificing women and there is Lizzie Nona, the half emancipated woman (Gehaniyak).

Congratulations Ranga on a job well done. The stories do not read like translations. The stilted style and halting pace encountered in some translations from Sinhala to English or vice-versa is refreshingly absent.

It is a well got-up publication neatly laid out and the print easy on the eye. The translator had said, in an interview with a journalist, that although Martin Wickramasinghe’s novels have been translated into many languages, very, very, few of his short stories have been translated into english or nay other langauge.

Hence, the Wickramasinghe Trust has set about to fill the lacuna. I hope more trilithons will follow.


Mastering interviewing skills

An art of Interviewing
Author: Methlal Weerasooriya
First in a set of practical journalism books

“Before you do an interview, ask yourself; why am I interviewing this person, for this programme, at this particular time? What important aspect of life or politics or what scandal that will emerge from the interview.”

Quotation marked above from the book titled on the technique of Radio journalism written by John Herbert. I thought that is very important quotation for young journalists, who are very interested in interviews for their newspapers and I would like to introduce a new Sinhala publication on the ‘Art of Interviewing’.

The recent publication of a Sinhala book titled on ‘Sammuka Sakachcha Kalawa’ written by young journalist Methlal Weerasooriya is very interesting and informative on the art of interviewing with fine descriptions of real interviewing method in contemporary journalism, in the modern world. The book explains the complex subject in simple, clear and concise version.

Writing an interview is one of the most popular subject in new journalism today, but it is really a difficult assignment for a newspaper. It takes practice, patience and a command of questioning ability, not everyone can write a good interview.

The interview should intimate and penetrating. That’s why there is a saying,” the best interviewers are not born, but made.”

The writer, Methlal Weerasooriya says a good interview brings out four points, what the person interviewed wants to say, what the listeners need to know, what the interviewer considers important and knowing about reality of incident or situation. A skilled interviewer is well worth his salt. He or she will know from experience when to persist with question when to desist.

Good interviewing means mastering the subject quickly and intelligently so as to raise the right questions and get the right answers, and on the other hand interviewing is subject definition; It is the reporting through one’s own worth product and initiative matters of importance which some persons or group want to keep information, attitudes or secrets.

This book testifies as to a how to make a best interview with your knowledgable person as well. Many interviewers think it is so simple like “I ask questions and they give the answers”.

That is not best interviewing. Methlal says to many good points for making the best interview as well. I quoted the following points from the book which are very useful guidelines for reporters for a newspaper interview.

(i) Where possible research the person before hand in reference books and cuttings so that you know something about him or her. It helps to produce rapport and gives the questioner credibility.

(ii) Prepare the question you wish to ask before hand; It can prevent time-wasting.

(iii) Let the person do the talking. Interview only when the remarks are going off the point.

(iv) Do not output words into the person’s mouth.

(v) Do not ask the person to give views on something about which he or she is not competent to talk about. Be certain you are talking to the right person for the information you want.

(vi) Do not press questions if the person is reluctant to answer or is showing signs of distress.

Methlal also expressed two main points about of interviewing, one is quick thinking, second is fluent questioning.

Quick thinking means activate of questioning and suddenly decide to what is question that should be asked. Fluent questioning is the skill of interviewing. The writer points another important point the interviewer followed during the interviewing,

(i) Eye contact,

(ii) Keep your legs still,

(iii) Keep a distance,

(iv) Sit at an angle, not face to face

(v) Nod, smile but do not be too expressive,

(vi) Look for signs of confidence nerves,

(vii) Write observations, impressions in margin.

Methlal Weerasooriya is the author of seven publications: ‘Yachaka Sannivedanaya’ (Beggar’s Communication), ‘Mulu Lova Ekkala Sakwala’ (Information around the Universe), ‘Sammuka Sakachcha Kalawa’ I (The Art of Interviewing I), ‘Hondata Liyana Hondama Vidiya’ (Good Writing Method), ‘Pattara Internet’ (Internet for Newspapers), ‘Pattara Baskamata Vatina Ingivelak’ (The Best Points for Copy Editing). His books have been published in more than two new editions.

The writer, Methlal Weerasooriya began his journalism career in the Lake House twenty years ago, and he was awarded the diploma in journalism of Sri Jayawardhanapura University. Now Methlal is working at ‘Janatha’ newspaper as the Deputy Editor.

For students taking a degree in the Media for Communications Studies, the book contains useful information for those parts of the course relating to the mass media. The book also offers comprehensive introduction to modern newspaper practice for students and trainees as well.


Characters embody tolerance, compassion and wisdom

Trapped and Other Tales.
Author: Premala de Mel,
Published by Vijitha Yapa Publications
Price: Rs. 700.00

Premala de Mel has the gift of writing stories which make you interested in the characters: why they do what they do and think as they do. In her collected short stories, and particularly in the extended narratives ‘Trapped’ and ‘A Fine Cord’, she gives herself the scope to portray people whose background, cultural identity and extended family networks have created complexity in their lives, within which they act in ways that intrigue us.

I found myself interested in the characters’ lives after their story had ended, which is a good sign, both in literature and life!

De Mel has a range of diverse stories to tell, and is experimental in her chosen forms: their lengths, tones, narrative structures and points of view.

Her use of the first person in ‘The Bridal Sari’, where the whole saga is told in the voice of an inanimate object, is a narrative risk: it distinguishes the viewpoint expressed from the predictable human perspectives depicted in more usual portrayals of the marriage ritual.

The pure satire ‘The Rise of Citizen Amarapala’ satisfies like a fable, and its sharpness and pointed succinctness match its subject perfectly: the portrayal of the kind of person most likely to succeed in the brazen world of politics. We follow an expected path with pleasure, but are also reassured by the reversal of our expectations.

In ‘Trapped’, the moment at which Kareena, expecting rigid prejudice from her partner’s father, meets compassion and understanding instead, is a joyful and unexpected event which enables the characters to liberate themselves from their confinement in restrictive or oppressive situations.

De Mel’s portrayal of character is often cinematic: one can visualise her characters in a film or TV drama, and this ease of presentation enables us to gain a panoramic sense of society that reaches deeper than the social facades people often present to each other.

We ask ourselves, after reading, if all the people we meet may have such interesting histories and experiences, and such complex decisions to make, and can thus see each other with a renewed vision.

I particularly appreciated the positive arc of the stories: many of the characters move forwards in their lives in an invigorating and determined way, after facing great challenges. Many of De Mel’s characters embody tolerance, compassion and wisdom which we can see has been gained through error and self-reflection.

The spirited portrayal, in ‘A Fine Cord’, of Rakesh and Sophie who understand each other across boundaries of race and culture suggests that ‘a love of fun and a spirit of generosity’ are really more important than the qualities conventionally looked for in marriage.

All Immigration Officers should be like Mr. Dayasiri in ‘Love is Powerful’, who clenches his fist and, astonishingly, offers love,


Making the commonplace speak for mighty themes

Electric Light
Author: Seamus Heaney

Pictured right is Seamus Heaney, revered as a poet of rural life, and who once said that there is a part of him that does not give a damn about Literature. He preferred to be recognised as a man in common with the generations of farming stock from whom he is descended, generally eschewed bookishness and remained true to this roots.

But his new collection of poems, “Electric Light” is his most literary collection to date - so much to do with Literature that he has even disconcerted many of his admirers.

However, he has kept faithfully to his “Heaneyan” language which, like Italian, makes anything sound poetic. There is that cunning play of vowels and consonants and this new collection is also rather elegiac, celebratory, sensuous and burnished.

“Electric Light” (Faber, London - pp. 82) brings in poems that teem with learned allusions. There are, of course, many personal poems, rooted in Heaney’s childhood in County Derry, Ireland, but side by side, there are translations from of Virgil and Pushkin and epistles to literary friends.

One poem is dedicated to the memory of Ted Hughes. Another remembers school productions of Shakespeare where he makes Ireland no longer a world apart, but part of Europe.

However, his title poem is pure Heaney - a wistful childhood recollection of the first time he stayed in a house with an electric light. It carries the true Heaneyan voice and even his literary borrowings have been roughened to suit his purpose and remain true to his private images.

Sharing space with the more personal poems are Greek sonnets and even poems inspired by events to Kosovo. It is if Heaney has selected a different gear, but even with this literary froth, there remains exquisitely apt images of observation that give the collection a thematic wholeness throughout the book.

This makes a superb read, and should be on every home bookshelf. He is the one poet who never sought to astonish - but he always delighted.


Life in the rural areas

A Few Short stories
Author: Leila Ekanayake

“A Few Short stories” is a very readable book for students learning English.

The stories are based on local happenings, events, incidents and characters in some of the rural areas where the author and her husband had been living in while they were carrying out their respective official assignments, students need books that attract their attention, imagination and interests.

Reading these stories would certainly help them improve the standard of their English.

Leila Ekanayaka was the wife of Wimaladharma Ekanayake who was in the Sri Lanka Administrative Service and his first assignment was the Post of Divisional Revenue Officer and served in several Districts, and while living in these rural areas Leila Ekanayake had made many observations of the happenings in the rural areas and the lives of the people who lived therein.

The Short Stories are based on particular events and some life patterns of the people in those respective areas and would certainly attract the attention of students and the process of learning English would become much easier.

The failure to provide the Command of the English Language to the present generation of young people has produced disastrous results.

This little book of “A Few Short Stories” would certainly be an asset to the present day students who come from the not so rich sector of our society who are unable to provide an English education to their children at the expensive English teaching schools.

Leila Ekanayake did not engage in providing private tuition to students and make money like most teachers at the present time.

She devoted her spare time to write many readable articles and books that would help students keen to learn English. The articles and books that Leila had written had attracted the attention, appreciation and admiration of several authorities and organisations.

She has had an exemplary record of service as a member of the Teaching profession. She began as an Assistant Teacher and was made a Vice principal and principal for about 35 years and later joined the Curriculum Development Centre where she was in charge of the Prinsett Teacher Training programme.

“A House for Pala” was a book she had written for children and this book was highly commended by the University Women’s Federation in London in 1965. It is said that over twenty of her story books have been published by the FORUT Foundation and the Ministry of Education.

“A little Bit of Poetry”, another production of Leila who had won the award of the Publication Department in 2003. Another book of Leila “Mali meets Effie” had won the State Literary award.

Her focus was always the school children who needed the proficiency in the English language. She was the ideal example to be followed by other teachers who are interested in providing the ability to students to learn English.

Unfortunately Leila passed away in 2006 before this book came out of the Press. Her husband Wimaladharma Ekanayake did everything necessary to bring out this book in 2007.

Teachers should be encouraged to write on subjects that attract the attention of schoolchildren. Quite unfortunately many of the teachers today are far too busy giving tuition to children and earn money.

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