The living icon of Sinhala Literature
Dr. Ruwan M. Jayatunge, York University, Canada
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.
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
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).
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 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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.