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Focus on Books:

Resourceful travel notes


Evidda Paya


P G Punchihewa.


Stamford Lake, 2008.

Page count: 277

Price: Rs. 415.

There is a well known saying in Sinhalese which means that the feet which had travelled much are worthy, while the same when stayed at home are worthless. Punchihewa takes out a section of the traditional Sinhalese saying to heighten how very worthy the travelling from country to country is. In this direction as a senior administrator who had served a long period in the public service at home and abroad, Punchihewa had covered forty-seven countries to his credit experiencing the process of observation and participation.

Perhaps this may be a very rare opportunity which is destined by many a present day administrator, for as I see most of them are bogged down to their routine official duties bowing their head in agreement to the tune of the political song they hear regularly. In the end what do they possess? Some of course grab the opportunity of becoming consultants once again to politicians or becoming mightily rich with property.

I see an entirely changed person in the calibre of P G Punchihewa, the data collector and the creative narrator and interpreter is seen methodically planning his work with the intention helping the reader to obtain insights to the various countries he had traveled. In this sense this piece could well be reckoned as travelogue or travel notes.

He covers such countries in the areas of Europe where he presents his maiden travelling session to Poland. From there he goes to UK, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Germany, France, Holland and Greece. In each of these places he tries his best to present a general picture of the demographics with a selective eye on a personal experience. At times this personal experience may be seen as a racial discrimination or an under treatment which in the last resort adds a plus sign for the notes. But his is not seen more often for the writer is more inclined to be impartial about social issues. From the Eastern European sector, he travels on to see pyramids which he read in books during school days, enriching a reality. From there he makes duty visit to Ghana, and embanks on some resourceful project pertaining to plantation.

There are duty trips as well as holiday relaxed trips covered in the work of Punchihewa. He presents Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica as places which uncovered some of the latent travel inclinations that lay buried in his mind. For most of us who have had no opportunity of this nature in traveling from place to place this work becomes a mirror in many ways, especially for the student of environmental matters and social issues. I felt a certain degree of freshness in the area of observation nearer my heart on reading the accounts on the Pacific islands, New Zealand, and Australia. There were several witty and eye opening experiences gathered from these place a resourceful encounters, in diversity.

Then we come to a more intimate cultural scene as the writer takes us to Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha, and a few other places in the Asian region. His travels take us to such places as Indonesia, Bali, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Campuchia and Myanmar.

At times the reader feels that the travel notes Punchihewa presents in his pages are more of figures and demographic details than actual human interest stories.

I would have preferred to see more of the latter as sensitive and creative reading materials that links up the diversity in human groups. But may it be said in good will that one's own mode of expression cannot be forced to change in keeping with the desirous trends of others. When all these are stated, the book also looks a fact file pertaining to various cultures are social orders. Jotting down some of the observations while spending time in Greece, a reader of my calibre would have preferred to know more of the present conditions of culture and people. But unfortunately browsing the material presented I simply found a mere displaying of such names as Socrates, Archimedes, Euclid, Homer and Herodotus. But the writer uncovers the fact that it is the Greeks who visualised the footprint of the Buddha and the design of the Buddha statue. It may also be the limited time factor where Punchihewa my not have found more time to rediscover Greece, as he does in other instances. As he records in the last chapter recalling the time he had spent abroad, it is there had been the inner urge to come back to his motherland. Now that he had done so it is these reminiscences that help him to keep alive.

The writer who had spent seventeen years away from the motherland, had been eagerly waiting to return.

Perhaps at last, needless to say, a senior administrative officer in retirement finds his leisure profitably spent, especially to write this book in a surrounding which he admires so much, that is his own motherland, Sri Lanka.


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