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K Jayathilaka:

The living icon of Sinhala Literature

Gifted Sri Lankan writer, K. Jayathilaka, is a pioneer of the Sinhala realistic novel. As a creative writer, he showed his talents since the early 1960s. His novels and short stories represent ironic social perspectives and had a profound impact on Sinhalese literature. K. Jayathilaka demonstrated talents that could be compared to those of that great literary genius Martin Wickramasinghe.


K. Jayathilaka

He wrote a wide range of literature from novels to short stories as well as children’s literature. K. Jayathilaka has authored nearly 12 children’s books and added some of his childhood experiences to these books. His autobiography that narrates his childhood - Punchi Palle Gasavena - reminds us of the first book of an autobiographical trilogy by Maxim Gorky - Deistva (childhood). In Punchi Palle Gasavena, Jayathilaka exposes some of the social injustices he experienced as a child.

The children’s books of Jayathilaka vibrantly describe the relationship between the environment and the child. His children’s books enhance stable concepts as well as reasoning and fantasies of children. His books especially Irunu Balala (Torn Cat), Oralosuwa (Timepiece) help children to recognise logical relationships in elements and improve his ability to view things from the perspective of others. These books are truly facilitating children to use logic in the concrete operational stage. (As the Child Psychologist Jean Piaget stated, at the concrete operational stage, children are able to use logic and this ability can be improved by external support).

Punaruppattiya

As a short storyteller, Jayathilaka proved his talents enormously. His short stories were influenced by Anton Chekhov, Edgar Allen Poe, and probably by Joseph Conrad. In his astonishing work Punaruppattiya - a collection of short stories - Jayathilaka recounts numerous characters that can be found in contemporary society. However, some of the characters had unique characteristics. One of the characters who was portrayed in Punaruppattiya was a desolate man in a rural village named Mudumaya.

Mudumaya was a cynical character who had voyeuristic impulses. He was expelled from the village and led a secluded life. Mudumaya had artistic talents no one had ever known. His paintings were discovered many years after his death and revived by the experts. They found incomparable artistic attributes in his paintings. Posthumously Mudumaya was named Pandit Mardamana.

Jayathilaka wrote about ethnic harmony. His short story Mee Ambha (Mango) describes the friendship between a Sinhalese boy and a Tamil boy who found common ground not via language but in a mango tree. Through some of his writings, he conveyed the message of coexistence. The metaphors that were used in Issaraha Balanno (those who look foreword) recount similarities between North and the South and emphasises the fact that both Sinhalese and Tamil people could live without a conflict.

Charitha Tunak

As a novelist, Jayathilaka exposed the social dynamics in the Western Province. Jayathilaka’s famous novel - Charita Tunak - analyses three brothers who bore three different characters. Born to a lethargic, gambling farmer, the three brothers and their sister struggled to survive. The eldest son, Isa, realised the family hardships and tried to find a way out by becoming a hardworking farmer. His efforts were ridiculed by his father who took no effort to work energetically. The parents and the neighbours demotivated Isa when he tried to cultivate a massive land named Kokilana. But he was determined in his plan and eventually cultivates the Kokilana. Then he was accepted as a hard working farmer and gained respect.

The main character - Isa’s personality - has some similarities to the Chinese farmer Wang Lung - the character that was created by Pearl S. Buck in her Pulitzer Prize winning novel - The Good Earth. Isa and Wang Lung were hard working farmers and both had ties with the land. K. Jayathilaka portrayed the character of Isa as an introverted, self-punishing and egoless character. But Wang Lung was an extrovert who was energised by being around other people.

Isa was disappointed in his second brother Sana who was a drunken vagrant. Sana’s resentment towards Isa was destructive and a number of times Sana took revenge from Isa by harming his crops. Sana was an aggressive and disrespectful person with a lot of negative characteristics. Sana could be described as the opposite pole of Isa.

Sana had a drastic impact following the negative parental style adopted by his father. Sana’s unhealthy lifestyle (gambling, drinking and quarrelling with the villagers) was the results of vicarious learning. Debra Umberson of the University of Michigan, more scientifically explains this phenomenon thus:

‘The effects of marital and parental status on mortality are usually attributed to the positive effects of social integration or social support. The mechanisms by which social support or integration is linked to health outcomes, however, remain largely unexplored. One mechanism may involve health behaviours; the family relationships of marriage and parenting may provide external regulation and facilitate self-regulation of health behaviours, which can affect health.’ (‘Family Status and Health Behaviours: Social control as a dimension of social integration’ - D. Umberson - Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, 1987 - JSTOR ).

The third character, Ranjith, is more convoluted and profound. As a young child, he realised the consequences of poverty that hounded his family. Education was his escape route. He got his freedom through the free education system that was introduced by the education reformer C. W. W. Kannangara. After becoming a teacher Ranjith’s ambition grows and he buys land and consented to an arranged marriage that offered him a large dowry. At the end of the novel the readers come to the conclusion that Ranjith was a self-centered egoistic character, more powerful than Isa who had the strength to confront Sana.

The Walauwa

K. Jayathilaka s conflict-ridden novel Rajapaksa Walauwa, describes the inferiority complexes of an administrative officer who was oppressed by the village caste system. In Rajapaksa Walauwa K. Jayathilaka deals with a taboo subject that was not deeply touched on by Martin Wickramasinghe, G. B. Senanayaka or other great novelists.

Kamalasiri who was banished by the village caste system witnessed the harassments caused to his family. His primary education was disrupted following caste related violence. This incident gave him an opportunity to enter a Catholic school in Colombo. In the Colombo school, he does not face any caste problem but other social issues like poverty, intensely troubled him.

The youth who were suppressed by the village caste system in Kamalasiri’s time launched a revolution to change society. But Kamalasiri had far more and different goals in his life and never became a part of it. However, in a way he became a rebel and supported the movement that dealt with the acquisition of Catholic schools.

After the acquisition, he became disappointed when he realised that the new system did not serve his educational purposes. When most of the fine teachers of the college joined private, educational institutes, his education was partially disrupted. Kamalasiri had no money to pay for private tuition. Therefore, he could not pursue science subjects and was compelled to do arts subjects for his university entrance.

Kamalasiri's caste issue emerged again when he entered university. His first love ended unexpectedly when his girlfriend came to know about his family background. After university education, Kamalasiri becomes an administrative officer. Although he becomes a senior government officer, during his entire professional life he struggles with this caste issue. His inferiority complexes affect his professional judgments and Kamalasiri narrates his unpleasant experiences in the following manner:

'When someone visits our house, my father insists on my coming out and talking to him. Often these visitors are Grama Niladaris or petty government officers who are insignificant elements in the administration. When I am at the office these characters are shivering and have extreme fear to reach me. But in the village everything has turned topsy-turvy. The caste becomes the key factor - the element of respect.'

Kamalasiri hates village life and his native community. He decided not to attend his sister's wedding in order to avoid the relatives and friends. More and more he becomes a distant character, disconnected from the rest of the family and the village.

The real hero of this novel is unseen. Kamalasiri's father - the laundry man who underwent immense humiliations, harassments and oppressions, never became a slave to the system. He challenged the system as a silent protester. He raised his son to disintegrate the village caste system by giving him a good education and a higher social position. But Kamalasiri never lived up to the old man's expectations. Kamalasiri who had no such spirit as the old man, used numerous defence mechanisms when a caste related issue emerged.

'Rajapaksa Walauwa' represents several episodes of Sri Lankan social history. The end of semi feudalism, rise of the new business class connected with political power, and the children of free education who became the administrative class of the country, are dealt with.

K. Jayathilaka reveals the plight of the children of free education via Kamalasiri's character. Most of these children came from village schools. They were studious and hardworking. After finishing their higher education, most of them joined the government service and started living in big cities. They gradually adapted to city life. But for people like Kamalasiri who were caste-conscious, their origins and roots troubled them immensely. Some took deliberate measures to hide their past social strata, an attitude which drastically affected their personality. They could not function like their predecessors who had command and control. Government officers like Kamalasiri made public service dishonorable by licking the boots of politicians.

Rural family dynamics

K. Jayathilaka profoundly analyses the rural family dynamics in his two novels, Punchirala and Punchiralage Maranaya that illustrate the destiny of a hard working farmer who had spent his entire life on children and eventually dies a disappointed man. Punchirala who was an over protective father raised his children amid utter financial difficulties. For Punchirala, raising his children, Nandana and Suvimalee, was some form of emotional investment for the future, but he does not receive the expected results. Punchirala suffered old age depression and died a disenchanted man.

In these two novels, Jayathilaka shows us the naked realities of the Sri Lankan villages. They are filled with sarcasm and jealousy. Although many novelists portrayed the rural villages as unspoilt and romantic places, these two novels reflect the actuality of Sri Lankan village life.

Jayathilaka discusses the inner psyche of an aged man in his novel Mahallekuge Prema Katavak. This novel exemplifies the repressed sensual desires of an old man who was physically and emotionally touched by a young girl. The old man's life instincts were active for a short period and the death instinct becomes more prominent. The outlawed relationship ends fatally.

The novel reminds us of the relationship between Pablo Picasso and the beautiful young girl named Jacqueline Roque. K. Jayathilaka vividly describes the psychological conflict of the old man when he was trapped in an unorthodox relationship with a young girl.

The age disparity in sexual relationships has been discussed in the Jathaka stories as well as in Vladimir Nabokov's famous novel 'Lolita'. Jayathilaka's novel 'Mahallekuge Prema Katavak' may have been influenced to a degree by Vladimir Nabokov's 'Lolita' - a girl who was the object of desire of an old man.

K. Jayathilaka is a gifted author who has contributed a vast number of publications to Sinhala literature. His creative writing represents an important hallmark in the Sinhala novel and short story traditions.

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