Focus on books
Agonies and ecstasies in the life of a scholar-journalist
We Vi 90
W W Abhayagunawardhana
Published by Godage Publishers Colombo 2008
328 pp Rs. 1500
The notes of a journalist cum scholar who is resting on his laurels
and recollecting his life spent over a period of eighty years is
significant for several reasons. The resourceful series of notes in the
form of episodes instead of itemised chapters envelope the agonies and
ecstasies that had gone into the moulding of an integral personality.
This is one other than one of the well-known writers, namely W W
Abhayagunawardhana, (known more as We Vi) who had authored a number of
books, edited several newspapers and above all the compiler editor who
is responsible for the new Mahawamsa which appeared as a result of his
As the book uncovers, the writer depicts how he strived to learn
three languages, Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit from his childhood under the
tutelage of learned scholar priests of the time like Venerable Kodagoda
Followed by this erudition, he shows how he came to study English at
school level remembering even the titles of text books utilised for
learning. In this background he gives the reader a lucid account of the
social background of the pre-war and post war periods in our country.
He in one hand is a recorder of social events that revolve around
politics culture and social changes on the other hand he shows himself
at times as a participant and at times as a victim of these
But the sensitive thread that unfolds all these events is his
capability and urge to learn, write and work in the most independent
manner possible. The reader is shown how he moves from one journalistic
venture to another.
In the first instance, he belongs to a particular linguistic school
pioneered by the great scholar Munidasa Cumaratunga, where he
convincingly becomes a member of the Hela Havula.
Then with this background he searches for a suitable employment,
moving from the position of a price controller attached to the Food
Department, which had been defunct later due to several reasons.
Then he is blissfully engaged into a newspaper known at that time
named Peramuna, where he works to his delight in gaining a job
satisfaction. The reader is then made to be known to this writer, but
lay beneath the sands of time.
The truth is that when our protagonist We Vi becomes the Chief Editor
of this period, quite a number of scholars of the time rallied round the
paper contributing articles and controversies of lasting interest.
The period is 1950âs where the necessity for a good newspaper was a
clamour and our friend spearheaded the movement. But the latent force as
it is suggested is the political layer where, a seemingly despairing
tug-of-war had happened.
These are some of the moving points, that can be rereading the light
of new knowledge on social history and communication. There are quite a
lot of interesting episodes laid down as regards to the inner natures of
rivalry of those in power. For a moment, I am reminded of the dictum
that the legacy of a journalist is what he leaves behind for the
The writer Abhayagunawardhana, with all his active life as a
journalist, is also depicted as a self made scholar who eventually
transfers his position from journalism to the staff of the Sinhala
Dictionary office which was headed by Professor D E Hettiarachchi. He
shows the difficulties as well as the pleasures he gained working as an
editor, and a state sponsored dictionary.
He shows the reader how blissful he had felt on achieving the
scholarship to do a post graduate research work. He also records a
situation where the late scholar monk Ven. Welivitiye Sorata had come to
see him with several queries pertaining to some words, phrases and terms
in Sinhala versifications.
Abhayagunawardana has edited with long introductions such classical
works as Kusa Jatakaya, which is his pioneering effort. Ama watura, Elu
attana, galu vansa, Hansa Sandesaya, Saddharmalankaraya, Butsarana,
Subhashitaya, Kavusilumina and Lokopakaraya etc.
He records his experiences with his contemporary writers such as W A
Silva, Martin Wickramasinghe and politics such as J R Jayewardene, and T
B Tennakoone. For a present day practising media person, I feel that
there lies an ocean of source material to gauge some of the trends
extant today, and evaluate in terms of the evolution of factors relating
to the use of mass media channels. There is a salient point that he
tries to underline in this biographical events.
This being the oneâs struggle in the social torrents to overcome
barriers to liberate oneself from the pangs of victimisation. At times
he shows how he is moved on to political partialities. For example had
been working as the editor of Siyarata with great difficulties
sandwiched between cultural nuances and political pressures.
He shows the reader how he becomes apolitical or indifferent to
politics to elevate himself as a scholarly communicator. In this manner
we may gauge the intensity and the integrity of a person remembering
events of his past with a glee. He uses a minimum number of episodes to
picturise his travels abroad. But the reader feels that the subtext is
much more significant than the outer narrative.
Austin Fernandoâs reminiscences in controversial new book
My Belly is White: Reminiscences of a Peacetime Secretary of Defence
by Austin Fernando was launched recently in the presence of a
distinguished gathering. The book is published by Vijitha Yapa
The Authorâs vast knowledge and experiences on the North-East
disaster situation and balanced outlook are incorporated in his book. It
contains twenty one chapters dealing with sensitive and controversial
issues related to the Ceasefire Agreement, like separation of forces,
High Security Zones, controversial Dehescalation Plan, Millennium City
episode, Manirasakulam Camp, transfer of Voice of Tigers radio
transmission equipment, Peace Talks and implementation of decisions
My Belly is White is a penetrating study of the Peace Process from
2002-2003 that graphically and logically unravels with proof when
explaining the Governmentâs Defence establishment stances. Some of these
references, interpretations and explanations have never been made public
He says that Eric Solheim was wrong in saying the Government donated
the radio equipment to the LTTE and proves the involvement of the
Norwegian embassy with documentation.
Some mistakes the operatives committed in peacemaking are also stated
in his explanations. Austin Fernando is a Bachelor in Arts (Peradeniya
University), Masters in Business Administration (Sri Jayawardenepura
University) and trained abroad in Public Administration, Business
Feasibility and Disaster Management. He belonged to the Sri Lanka
Administrative Service (1967-1996).
His illustrious career started in the districts. He was a Government
Agent and later appointed as the Commissioner of Cooperative Development
and Post Master General. Afterwards he was Secretary of several
Ministries. i.e. Rehabilitation, Home Affairs, Provincial Councils,
Local Government etc.
He saved the United Nations as a consultant and was serving the
private sector as a senior executive until he was invited to be the
Secretary Defence in December 2001. He kept a tight grip on the Military
to successfully implement the Ceasefire Agreement.
He often met stakeholder and motivated acceleration of progress of
implementation of the ceasefire. To suit he took fearless decisions
under acute criticisms against him. The Government appointed him as an
Advisor to the Sri Lankan negotiation delegation.
On the strength of Peace Talks decisions he served in Committees to
accelerate normalization. He led the Government Team at the Sub
Committee on De-escalation and Normalization. When it collapsed half-way
the negotiators requested him to have dialogue with Karuna Amman to deal
with Ceasefire Agreement violations and facilitate district level
This showed the confidence both Parties to the conflict had no him.
The nearly 1000 page book is the most authoritative publication on the
ceasefire agreement published in Sri Lanka, as it gives an inside view
of what really happened in that crucial period.
Like a rapier, he darts forward and backward, using his insight and
knowledge to give the reader new information on a crucial period of Sri
History of Tamil Literature Demala Sahithya Ithihasaya
Senior Prof. Sunil
Publisher: S.Godage and
Brothers, Colombo 10.
Pages 312; Price Rs. 575
It is claimed that that History of Tamil Literature is the first of
its kind, which covers the gamut of the Tamil literature and the aim of
Senior Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne in writing this book was to introduce
Tamil literature to the Sinhalese and encourage them to study the Tamil
as a language and gain proficiency to read and understand the beauty of
that language, appreciate and assimilate the Tamil literary work.
The book deals with the topic he has chosen to treat by introducing
the difference between Tamil land and Tamil language, an essay on Sangam
period, talk about Sadukthi books, about Seelappadikaram and Manimekalai,
Bakthi gee(Devotional songs), Kamba Ramayanaya and other Mahakavya,
different types of poems, about European Pandits, Subramaniya Bharathi
and new wave of Tamil poem and finally deals with Sunhala Rata and Tamil
With this present work Prof.Sunil Ariyaratne joins the rank and file
of men and women in the annals of our long history of Sinhala
literature, which introduced Tamil literary work to the Sinhalese
The early history of Sinhala literary were adorned by great men who
were keen students of the Tamil as a language and they turned experts
and exponent of that language. Today we have among us those who claim to
be well versed in other foreign languages but they have not shown
interest in learning the Sinhala or Tamil language, the language used by
his or her neighbour. We feel ashamed but it is the naked truth.
Incidentally this is the second edition of the book, coming after 17
long years of the first edition in 1991, and that shows what sort of
interest we have in enhancing our knowledge of Tamil literature ,
leaving aside our keenness to study the Tamil language!
It is a pity that authorities shouting from the house-tops for ethnic
harmony, seemed to have not taken sufficient steps to popularise reading
books of this nature which paves the way to unity among the different
communities and help better understanding.
The lack of books in Sinhala on Tamil history and their literary work
and the lack of sufficient Tamil books on Sinhala literature work, make
it difficult to educate the masses to understand the others, alien to
them be it Sinhala ,Tamil or Muslim or any other ethnic group. This has
contributed heavily to the present predicament we are in today.
The two major communities are now in conflict due to the lack of
proper understanding of each community, their hopes and aspirations. We
urgently need more books of this nature to promote understanding and to
appreciate values in each community and to learn to live in harmony
despite their difference of origin.
The book is an attempt to enhance the knowledge of the Sinhala
community and help them to appreciate Tamil literature and perusing the
pages of this book they will also learn the contributions made by the
Tamil language, culture and traditions to enrich our own culture and
We are being divided by ignorance. The best way to foil all attempts
made for separation and division is to create an atmosphere necessary
for each community to live in harmony with dignity as sons and daughters
of Mother Sri Lanka.
The attempt made by Prof. Ariyaratne in writing the History of Tamil
Literature, should be seen in that perspective. It is a positive step
towards building proper understanding of the other community with whom
we have lived for centuries.
He has shown us that if we have the Will there is a way to bring
about understanding, and move with sincerity of purpose. Prof.
Ariyaratne should be commended for efforts made on his part to wake up
the conscious of the Sinhala community by writing several books to
enhance the Sinhala reader with a wealth of information in respect of
Tamil literary work. What the Professor has done is to light a candle to
fight the darkness and it is left to us to come into the light and
benefit from it.
Gone with the Wave
by Prof. Kusuma Karunaratne
Publishers: Wijesooriya Grantha Kendraya
December 26, 2004 was an awful day. It dawned, of course, as an
ordinary day but ended causing so much disaster, a poor word to express
what it did to human lives. No one believed when it happened, the first
rumours were laughed off as nonsense. The sea coming ashore? Trains
washed away? Hundreds died in Galle? What utter nonsense! Such was the
response of many including the present writer.
Only when the visuals came on the TV a few hours later that all sat
up and took notice because it was something unknown to the present
generation although Thucydides, the Greek historian knew it in the fifth
century BC. The damage was beyond imagination. And the experience ended
adding a new word to our vocabulary - tsunami.
Gone with the Wave, is the translation done by Swarna Kanthi
Rajapakse of a collection of short stories written by Prof. Kusuma
Karunaratne in Sinhala that tries to capture how the tsunami affected
the lives of those who were unfortunate to come within its cruel
In the usual sense, these are not totally imagined writings - not
that I am suggesting that there is no creative element in them. Every
story, I believe, has a factual basis and the value of the stories lies
in drawing our attention to the human tragedy that ensued.
This kind of writing, I believe, serves a dual purpose; it is a
social document on one hand, and on the other, a creative work. Prof.
Karunaratne selects an incident, which she had either heard or read in a
newspaper, and relates it in simple language without adding gratuitous
The stories depict how people are helpless against a natural
phenomenon, but they also pinpoint the helplessness of humanity in their
They show how innocent hopes and ambitions are devastated and people
are left in a vast void of no return. In a way, it is a metaphor of
manâs voyage in samsara, the cycle of birth and death.
Something I noticed in these stories is how the writer connects up
human sensitivity and feelings with the incidents that occurred on the
disastrous day. The example that comes immediately to mind is the story,
It is about an old cripple living alone with four pet dogs for his
company. On that particular day he finds that their behaviour was
Apart from them he has a visitor that comes along the steam for
sun-bathing - a crocodile. He is enamoured by the harmlessness of the
creature and also by his eyes, cool and placid.
He is caught in the giant wave, tossed about, and he loses his
crutches and the wheelchair. He resigns himself to his fate somewhat
stoically when he suddenly spots a log that comes his way. He clings
onto it and is saved as by a quirk of his fate.
Ultimately he finds that the log was nothing but the crocodile that
he treated with compassion and friendliness. âWhen holding onto the
mangrove he happened to have a good look at the log which had saved his
life. Then only he saw the familiar pair of eyes.
He would never ever forget those friendly eyes that used to gaze at
him with the rising sun. Was this a dream? No, he knew. He was positive.
He wanted to recall the kind words he used to whisper yet he was
benumbed with exhaustion.â
The story entitled Mother is a penetrating study of motherly love. A
young mother goes to the dispensary with her sick child when she is
caught in the wave. She loses her child and goes on crying for him like
Moments later a young man comes with a baby in his hands and asks the
mother whether he is her child. Though of the same age, he is
The mother takes a close look at the baby, holds him close to her
chest and offers her breast to him. âVasanti held the baby to her breast
and allowed him to drink as much milk as he liked. So the little one had
a bellyful of milk. Then, contented, he fell asleep against the warmth
of her bosom.â
These stories, though written in a simple, lucid style, captures
piercingly the human tragedy; manâs vulnerability to fate.
The writerâs sensitivity to human emotion and her observation of
daily living with all its complexities and ambiguities have stood her in
a good stead in portraying the essence of each story. She writes with a
deep feeling for fellow human beings, and this quality enhanced the
completeness and effectiveness of the experience she is trying to
Swarna Kanthi Rajapakseâs translation is one of the best I have read
in recent times. Her fluency in both languages is apparent, and she has
the knack of selecting the appropriate turn of phrase and idiom to
convey the original nuance and connotation.
Mahavamsaya and Sansoni Commission
Title: âMahavamsaya Ha Sinhala Jana Jeevithayaâ
Author: Wijesiri Wettimuny
Price: Rs. 500
Mahavamsa which contains the details of Sri Lankaâs glorious and
illustrious history from the earliest time upto the last king Sri
Vikrama Rajasingha bears testimony to the proud achievements of the
Sinhalese Kings. Wijesiri Wettimunyâs âMahavamsaya Ha Sinhala Jana
Jeewithayaâ is based on an extensive research done by the author on
The chapter âMahavamsaya Ha Sansoni Comisamaâ (Mahavamsa and Sansoni
Commission) alone is sufficient to show that Mahavamsa is a substantial
proof of the legacy of the Sinhalese.
The author under 16 different chapters such as Buddhism, Sinhalese
Kings and people, Literacy and education, Military power, Ancient
irrigation system and agriculture, Medical services, Women in Mahavamsa,
Sinhalese Kings and Buddhist Bhikkhus, Ancient food patterns etc, tries
to capture the lifestyle of the ancient Sri Lankans.
Protecting the environment had also been a main focus of interest of
the ancient kings and the writer highlights the lessons we can learn
from them in this regard. The simple and interesting presentation makes
âMahavamsaya Ha Sinhala Jana Jeevithayaâ an easy read even for the
Information regarding the book could be obtained from No:20, Galle
Road, Kalutara North or e-mail
Gripping decor of genuine art
Macbeth out of Shakespeareâs milieu:
âMy hands are of colours; but I shame
To wear a heart so white. (Knock) I hear knocking
At the South entry - retire we to our chamber.
A little water clears us of this deedâ
- Lady Macbeth
Samanthi in focus
Samanthi Vidyapathy has shown remarkable talents in portraying the
seminal role of Lady Macbeth. Her facial expressions and even
eye-contacts were fine-tuned to suit the changing moods of the
character. It should be mentioned here that her present portrayal is far
an improvement compared to the Hecuba in Nirmana and may caused by
slightly slimed figure. Her dramatic face dominated throughout the
The rendering of Shakespeareâs masterpiece Macbeth into an oriental
ballet by Ravibandu Samanthi Narthanayathanaya will be a milestone in
contemporary Sri Lankan theatre.
Perhaps, the selection of Macbeth itself is a daring act especially
given the unprecedented success the play enjoyed over the years since
its original production by Shakespeare himself. Macbeth is one of the
few plays which have been translated into diverse media including film.
The grotesque details that are dramatically depicted in the film version
or the acted on the stage, unfortunately , cannot be adapted into a
ballet, in their entirety, as the dramatic personae confront with
inherent constrains in the medium of ballet.
The principle constrain in a ballet compared to conventional play or
film, is that conversation and dialogue are not possible in a ballet. So
the roles of conversation and striking dialogues have to be depicted in
terms of carefully crafted pieces of choreography together with
painstakingly practiced facial expressions.
The emotional scores and dramatic situation are signalled by changing
tempo of music score that should be the heartbeat of a ballet. Costume
design also plays a vital role in a ballet as the costumes not merely
introduce different dramatic persona but their distinct characteristics.
Ravibanduâs rendering of Macbeth into an oriental ballet should be
judged against this technical backdrop and it should be unjust to
consider it as complete adaptation of Macbeth into an oriental ballet.
On one hand, Macbeth the oriental ballet depicts only a selected Acts of
the original play which are suitable to the medium and out of which an
aesthetically satisfying pieces of choreographs can be made.
For instance, Banquoâs character which plays a prominent role in the
original play, here plays a little or insignificant role in the ballet.
Some of the minor characters such as those of hired murderers who
executed the Banquoâs killing and thereby depicts evil nature of Macbeth
and craving for power, have been left out obviously due to technical
Out of the many predictions that the witches made on the future of
Macbeth and his rule, only one which says that Macbeth cannot be
defeated until Great Barnum wood comes to high Duns inane hills, has
been graphically depicted in ballet. This section was hailed as one of
the scenes with higher degree of audience satisfaction.
A fact should be considered here is that most of the predictions
cannot be depicted by way of choreograph so Ravibandu would have adapted
the one which signifies the eventual end of Macbeth.
Artistâs waning valour
In order to put into context the mediaeval play, Ravibandu has a
modern soldier who opens the floor with a salute.
However the missing of the earlier-proclaimed red-shawl from the soul
is estrange and perhaps only signal the waning valour on the part of the
artist himself on the only podium where he has the dramatic license and
fear of possible reprisal that the âred-shawlâ would invoke on the
It has deprived the ballet of otherwise very topical flavour drawing
parallel with unfolding opinionated scene and the intelligent audience
of their inalienable right to watch a non splintered version.
Costumes in contrast
In terms of costumes and dĂ©cor, ballet is outstanding. The same can
be said of the setting which is also aptly suited to the ballet.
Ravibandu has carefully designed the costumes with Sri Lankan flavour
and the colours used for them are predominantly oriental. However, the
costumes of the three witches though depict the wretchedness in colour
ash and in the walking sticks, are rather out of amid of rather oriental
costumes which dominated the scene.
It seems that the maker of the ballet has taken the witchesâ costumes
out of the original play. The act of departing the witches through the
isles is appropriate and creates an eerie atmosphere which in turn
facilitates the overall effect of the ballet.
Macbeth the ballet has able to drive home the fact that lust for
power and the war which is a brutal manifestation of power, will bring
about destruction not only upon the executors but also upon helpless
generation sandwiched between powers.
Music in conflict
In general music scores of the ballet which versatile musician
Pradeep Ratnayake composed have been splendid and represents an array of
diverse traditions of music. Primarily Sri Lankan tone motifs have been
exploited in creating music scores for intense movements and change of
Acts in the ballet.
The use of drums of Sri Lanka in the scores along with Western tone
motifs shows, among other things, the musicianâs familiarity with
diverse traditions of music and his innate ability to conjure them in a
perfectly blended composition. However, in certain scenes, confusion in
fusion and blend can be observed and music score supersedes the primary
zest of the ballet. It is also, on some occasions, stand in divergence
with the unfolding scene.
For instance, the scene where Lady Macbeth washes her hand in order
to clear blood is a case in point.
âI hear a knocking At the south entry - retire we to our chambersâŠâ
Here the music score which is the heart and soul in a ballet, should
have blended with the scene in intensifying the zest. Instead what had
happened here is that drowning of the entire scene in the vast ocean of
This is one of the key movements in a scene which brings out latent
evil desire on Lady Macbethâs part. Music here is rather abortive and
fractured bringing about an unwanted confusion on the scene.
The director of the ballet and director of music should bear in mind
the fact that though it is permissible to make an adaptation of
Shakespeareâs work, it is certainly not permissible to transmit a sense
of distortion to an intelligent audience.
It is pity that incongruity between music scores and the ballet, at
times, seriously disturbed the sequence and alienate the audience from
the ballet. It is pity that this was committed by the otherwise gifted
classical musician Pradeep Ratnayake.
Well disciplined cast and audience
The cast in general should be commended for their brilliant portrayal
of diverse characters in a difficult production and Ravibandu (Macbeth)
and Samanthi (Lady Macbeth) in particular. For they have created
memorable oriental interpretations for the characters of Macbeth and
Lady Macbeth. Saranga Abhayasinghe as King Duncan played a memorable
It should be mentioned here that taking a master work which is
considered an authentic representation of Western culture, out of its
milieu and transplant in oriental set up is a gigantic task. Sponsor of
the Macbeth ballet Sri Lanka Telecom should be commended as it came
forward to lend a helping hand for a genuine and original production.
Macbeth the ballet is a production that Sri Lankans should watch and
especially the younger generation who must view this as a gem among
productions like NalaDamayanthi and Karadiya.
Maestro Chithrasena would have been the happiest to watch the
masterpiece by his fine student.
The most terrific choreographer we have Vajira Chithrasena who was in
the audience, would have, definitely, proud of this Sri Lankan
production by one time her student.
One of the shortcomings on the part of the organisers is to invite
persons who have not acquired skills and discipline through education to
occupy front strips, for the simple fact that such persons insult
tradition, fundamentals and theory which the civilised society
understand as both wilful and sophisticated ignorance.