He never turns the radio on while driving his noiseless car. He likes
to feel the quietness of the morning breeze. That quietness fuels the
conversations drifting and floating in his mind.
Dr Praneeth Abhayasundara, who is Sociology lecturer at the
University of Sri Jayawardenepura, Deputy Chairperson of All Ceylon
Buddhist Congress as well as a guest member of several government
institutes and boards, is fully occupied in his own thoughts still
focusing on the road that lay ahead.
Then the questions come, tumbling out, on culture, arts and a little
more. Finally we come to a conclusion: we are witnessing a cultural
Q: You have once said that university teachers don't know how
valuable their profession is. Comment.
Some of Dr Abhayasundara's works
* Sanhinda Pamula
* Bauddha Samaja Palnayaa Ha Aparada Vidyava
* Baranesa Nam Nuvara
* Brahmachari Valisinha Harischandra Charitapadanaya
* Golden Links in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, with Ahungalle Arunatilaka
Some of the felicitation volumes (edited)
* Tissa Kariyawasam
* Nandasena Ratnapala
* Sanath Nandasiri
* Nandadeva Wijesekara
* H B Hettiarachchi
* G B Senanayaka
* W D Amaradeva
A: When I was young my ambition was to become a schoolteacher,
and serve my alma mater, Ananda College. My teachers inspired me a great
deal. They did not just teach, but they taught us about life. They
became a role model.
I did science first, but it did not work for me. Then I picked arts,
and entered the University of Colombo. After university education, I was
interested in sociology because of Professor Nandasena Ratnapala.
Eventually I was fortunate to teach at the university. I have been in
the profession for 25 years.
University lecturer's basic role is to research and teach. You have
to learn before teaching others. But today most university teachers are
money-oriented and goal-oriented. You pass the degree and follow up the
post-graduate works in unholy chaste. Once established, you are no
longer interested in research. You are concerned only about money.
Most university teachers don't read. They don't write anything
creative. I feel isolated because I cannot share what I read with my
fellow professionals. University teachers have many ways of earning
money, but they don't know how precious their profession is.
Q: You teach sociology, a subject which doesn't have direct
links with art. All the same you are known for your contributions to
A: I teach General Sociology. Sociology examines the society.
I add a bit of literature and other arts in my lectures, though the
student response seems to be negative. Art is a crucial subject which
decides the good and bad side of a society.
Q: "Student response seems to be negative." What do you mean?
A: Most students don't read. I get to read many new books, but
they are not familiar. Some of them don't know any novel beyond Martin
Q: Why is that?
A: It's the question that bothers me too.
Q: Could you elaborate on 'student response'? How does it
affect society as a whole?
A: There is a saying reading maketh a full man during our
childhood. Now it has taken different shapes with the Internet. It makes
us see life in a different wavelength. There are lots of students who
surf Internet. There are some others too who do not even do that. They
don't read, write and don't at least surf the Internet. I simply don't
know what they do. Imagine these are university students!
I don't know if there is something wrong with my observation. And
yes, it affects the society.
Our modern critics don't read either. But they criticise. They
appreciate or condemn. They have sadistic pleasures. They derive much
pleasure from hurting others. There are some newspapers which commission
these critics to condemn writers, publishers and almost everyone in this
society. They look down on some books labeling them as rubbish. But when
you ask them whether they have read, the answer is obviously no.
Q: Swarna Pustaka award went to Kavi Kandura, while the
Vidyodaya award to Chumbana Kanda. Both these novels jointly bagging the
State Literary Award seems pure coincidence.
A: I like both novels. I was also involved in the Vidyodaya
award. We picked Jayatilaka Kammallaweera's Chumbana Kanda mainly for
its refined language and sublime plot manipulation. That imagination was
quite different and novel. Sunethra Rajakarunanayaka's Kavi Kandura was
also quite good, but it had confusion here and there, especially in
We had to read over 70 novels. And we had a few recommended books as
well. Anurasiri Hettige's Kaluvarai Purahanda and Sunanda Mahendra's
Dangara Tarappuva were among them.
Q: Vidyodaya award is a single-person judgment. You were the
one and only judge who picked Sumithra Rahubadda's Kandak Se Ma as the
best novel of 2009. This was in 2010 when you were criticized to have
given a single-person verdict.
A: I think that is fair. A judgment must always come from a
collective thinking. What I see might be different for you. So when we
decide on something, you and I have to come to a conclusion, right or
wrong. I stand by my judgment, but I was facing a dilemma of having to
give a single-person verdict.
Q: Compared with previous decades, many more books are being
published. The number of publishers has also increased. How do you view
A: Like I said before I get to read almost every book. With so
many voluntary activities, I'm fighting with time for reading books. I
enjoy reading books. The major problem is most books are published in
quite haste. No proofreading. No proper copyediting. People have started
writing books mainly for some commercial gains. You can be a great
writer, but still what you write could be improved by copyediting.
Copyediting is hardly there.
Q: Isn't copyediting somewhat new to our industry?
A: I don't think so. Most of our writers have cut and chopped
almost everywhere in the manuscripts. The final work is quite different
to the original work. We had a tradition of reading our manuscripts
aloud for an audience before sending it to the press. We had patience.
It's just the same thing that we lack today.
Q: You mentioned most university students are not updated with
modern literature. How far would you justify your statement?
A: When we were schooling we used to do wall paper and the
kind. We brought that to the university too.
I was talking mostly, but not generalizing, about Arts faculty. I see
an awakening among other faculties such as Science and Management in
their interest towards arts. They hold certain festivals. Sri
Jayawardenepura University has also held Nala Mudu Suvanda and Vidyodaya
literary awards festival.
Even so, out of all universities I see University of Kelaniya as the
most energetic beehive of art activities. In fact I enjoy reading and
watching their works. They carry out arts without polluting the
environment. There are some universities which don't have a single art
Q: The modern generation is slowly deviating from books to
technologically convenient forms such as blogs. It's kind of an
evolution. Do you get a chance to read them too?
A: I certainly do. Even a book of such online poetry was
released recently. I admire most of them. They have their soul. But the
only problem is most of them are a bit raw. They need to be rewritten,
to be more delicate. They lack emotion. Post-war environment is one of
the most sensitive periods in the world.
That gives a positive driving force to sharp creative works. But in
Sri Lanka I cannot see that sharpness. May be because we are confined to
Colombo. I honestly feel that we need such a culture.
Q: Your father, Wimal Abhayasundara, started his career as a
journalist, continued into Radio Ceylon and became a household figure in
the local cultural scene. Have you derived any inspiration from him?
A: We didn't have much stuff at home. Usually people change a
table or a chair, but we had the same upholstery for a long time. Still
there was something that continuously changed: books. So many books came
and occupied almost everywhere. Our home was full of magazines,
newspapers and books.
No one had to push us to read books. We were naturally drawn to them.
Father comes home back from Radio Ceylon, mother hands him a cup of
plain tea, and he would retire into his study to read and write till
dinnertime. He was quite kindhearted though didn't speak much.
We were scared of him nevertheless and had great respect. We hardly
got close to him or spoke to him much.
Father greatly admired Sanskrit and Pali, which are more serious than
Sinhala. My mother was a housewife, though she had studied music in
India. She had a melodious voice.
Q: You have penned a number of lyrics. Your father's name is
also linked with one stage of Sri Lankan music. How would you connect
A: I started writing lyrics back in the 70s. They all reached
my father, because he was the authoritative officer in Radio Ceylon to
approve them. He rejected most of my lyrics. He was quite connected in
the music field, but he never pushed me into it. Back at home he would
point out certain fallacies and weaknesses in my words and lines. He
spells out how they can be shaped well. Certain lines, he used to say,
are too sentimental.
What you write has to have a vision and philosophy. It should have
some depth, and ultimately it should give out some aesthetic sense too.
Looking back, I think he did the right thing by refusing most of my
songs. He had given me proper guidance.
Now I don't like to write lyrics, because it has now become a
commercial item. When we wrote, it was more of an artistic work. They
lack depth. Irony or indirect meaning is hardly there. Most of the
lyrics express things quite straight. Figures of speech is something I
love to see in a work of art.
Very seldom do we get a chance to hear such meaningful songs. I was
in the board when we selected Me Tharam Siyumelida sung by Sunil
Edirisinghe as the best song at the State Music Festival.