“ඔබේ යහපත වෙනුවෙන් එය අමතක කර දමන්නද?”

මෙහිදී කිසිවෙකු එල්ලුම් ගස් යැවීමක් හෝ පීඩාවට පත්කිරීමක් සිදුවිය යුතුද නැහැ. සිදුවිය යුත්තේ කාපට් එක යටට තල්ලු කල කුණු එතනින් එලියට ගෙන ප්‍රසිද්ධියේ, සම්මත ආකාරයට බැහැර කිරීමක්. අවංකව, හෘද සාක්ෂියට එකඟව වැරදි පිලිගෙන, ඒ පැවති තත්වයට වගවෙමින්, සමාව ගතයුතු අය සිටීනම් සමාව ඉල්ලා සිටීමක්. පිිලිගත හැකි නීති රාමුවක් තුල යුක්තිය පිහිටුවීමක්.

මේ කවිය ඇතැම් විට මාත් සමඟ උසස් ‍‍පෙල සාහිත්‍යය කල අයට මතක තිබෙනන්ටත් හැකියි. දෙවන ලෝක යුද්ධයත් සමඟ ජර්මනියෙන් විප්‍රවාසීව සිට, පසු කාලෙක ලාංකික ජාතිකයෙක් හා විවාහ වී තම ජීවිතයේ ඉතිරි කාලය කොළඹ ජීවත් වුනු ඇනලීසා කැට්ස් නොහොත් ඈන් රණසිංහගේ කවියක්. යුදෙව් ජාතික ඇගේ පවුලේ (මට මතක ආකාරයට) පියා හැර අනෙක් සහෝදර-සහෝදරයන්, මව ඇතුලු සියලු දෙනා නාසි හමුදා අතින් මිය යනවා. ඇය පසුකාලීනව ලියපු කවි සැලකිය යුතු ප්‍රමාණයක් මේ අතීතය සිහිපත් කරනවා. මම මුලින් සඳහන් කල කවියේ නම “Vivre In Peace” – “සාමයෙන් ජීවත් වීමට නම්” වගේ අදහසක්.

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ඈන් රණසිංහ

මේ කවිය දිගහැරෙන්නේ ලෝක යුද්ධ සමයේ ආර්යවාදී ජර්මානු හෙවත් නාසි පාලනය අතින් සිදුවුනු මානව විනාශය ගැන ඡායාරූප ප්‍රදර්ශනයක් ගැන පලවුනු විවෙචනයකට ප්‍රතිවිවේචනයක් ලෙසයි. ප්‍රදර්ශනය විචාරය කරන්නා අසා සිටින්නේ – “ජර්මානුවන් අතින් අපරාධයක් වුනා. ඒත් මේක හැමදාමත් මෙහෙම මඩේ දම දමා හෝදන්නට අවශ්‍ය වන්නේ ඩිප්‍රෙෂන් සමඟ අනුරාගයෙන් වෙලී සිටින්නෙකුට පමණකි” වැනි දෙයක්. කිවිඳිය මෙයට පිලිතුරු සපයමින් පවසා සිටින්නේ ඡායාරූපයකින් එහාට ගිය භීතිය, ම්ලේච්ඡත්වය, මරණය, අහිමි වීම සජීවීව තමා ඉදිරියේ මැවුනු බහු-විධිත අත්දැකීමක් නැවත නැවත ස්මරණ කිරීම වැදගත් බවත් එය ඒ භීෂණයේ ඡායාවක් පමණක්” බවයි. “ඔබේ යහපත වෙනුවෙන් එය අප අමතක කල යුතු වන්නේ ඇයි?” ඇය එතනදී විචාරකයාගෙන් අසා සිටිනවා.

අද, 2020 මැයි 18 වෙනිදා වනවිටත් සමස්ත ශ්‍රී ලාංකික දේශයම ග්‍රහණය වන ආකාරයේ පශ්චාත්-ගැටුම් වැඩසටහනකට හෝ එයට අවශ්‍ය පරිකල්පනයකට යාමට අප තවමත් අසමත්ව සිටිනවා. ලංකාවේ රාජ්‍යය ගැටුම් සම්බන්ධව දේශීය මට්ටමින් සාමාන්‍යයෙන් අනුගමනය කරන පිලිවෙල වන්නේ කාලයාට ඉඩදී බලාසීටීමේ සහ රොඩු බොඩු සියල්ල කාපට් එක යටට අතුගා දැමීමේ ක්‍රියාවලියයි. ජාත්‍යන්තරව බොහෝ විට සිදුවන්නේ කොටු පනිමින්, කොමිසම් පත්කරමින් ගෙන යන ක්‍රියාදාමයක් (මේ සම්බන්ධයෙන් ඇම්නස්ටි ඉන්ටර්නැෂනල් විසින් වාර්තාවක් පවා සම්පාදනය වී තිබෙනවා). යුද්ධයේ අවසන් කාලයේ මෙන්ම පසු-යුධ සමයේ මතුවුනු ඇතැම් සංකීර්ණතා අප ඉදිරියේ අදටත් තිබෙනවා. උතුරු ප්‍රදේශයේ ඉඩම් හා රැකියා සම්බන්ධ ගැටළුව විවිධ ස්වරූප වලින් තිබෙනවා. ඇතැම් ඉඩම් හා සම්ප්‍රදායික වගා හා ධීවර බිම් නිදහස් කරදුන්නත් එය උද්‍යෝගයකින් කරදුන් යලි පවරාදීමක් නොවේ. ඒ සඳහා දැවැන්ත අරගලයක් කරන්නට වසර 30ක යුද්ධයෙන් බැට කෑ ඒ සමාජයට සිදුවුනා. ඒ තත්වය තුලදීත් හෝටල්, නිවාඩු නිකේතන, සංචාරක කර්මාන්තය සම්බන්ධ අංශ ආදී නවීන ආර්ථිකය හා සම්බන්ධ තැන් රැසක ආධිපත්‍යය අදටත් පවතින්නේ ඒ ප්‍රදේශවල සාමාන්‍ය ජනයා අතේ නොවේ.

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අතුරුදහන් වූවන් සඳහා යුක්තිය සොයා යන පවුල් සම්බන්ධ ක්ෂමා ආයතන වාර්තාවක් 

මේ අතර, දෙමළ ජාතික දේශපාලන සිරකරුවන්ගේ ප්‍රශ්ණය යටයමින්, මතුවෙමින්, පවතිමින් තිබෙන එකක්.උතුරේ ජනතා නියෝජිතයින් මේ ගැන පසුගිය සතියේදීත් අගමැති මහින්ද හමුවී තිබුනත්, මෙය ඉතා පැරණි ප්‍රශ්ණයක විපරිත වර්තමාන අවස්ථාවයි. විවිධ පාර්ශවකරුවන් රැසක් උතුරේදීත්, දකුණේදීත් අවස්ථා ගණනාවකදී මේ සම්බන්ධව මතයක් ගොඩනගන්නට තැත් කලා. විශේෂ නිති යටතේ අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන, පාපෝච්ඡාරණ මත සිර දඬුවම් නියම වූවන්ද ඇතුලුව සන්නද්ධ දෙමළ ව්‍යාපාරවලට සම්බන්ධ යැයි කියන තවත් 70කට නොඅඩු පිරිසක් සිරගෙවල්වල සිටින බව පැවසෙනවා. ඉතා අඩු වයසින් සිරභාරයට පත්වූ මේ ඇතැම් අය ද්වේශසහගතව සිරගත වූවන් බව විසාකේස චන්ද්‍රසේකරම් වැනි පර්යේෂකයින් කල අධ්‍යයනන් හරහා යෝජනා වෙනවා. ඒ ඇතැම් අය දැන් අවුරුදු 20 ගණනක් මෙම සිරගෙවල්වල සිටින්නේ සිවිල් යුද්ධයේ අවසන සිරභාරයට පත්වුනු සන්නද්ධ කැරලිකරුවන් ද පුනරුත්තාපනයෙන් පසුව යලි සමාජගත කෙරුනු තත්වයක් යටතේයි. මේ අතරම, යුද්ධයෙන් හා පසු-යුධ සමයේ අතුරුදහන් වුනු අය ගැන යුක්තිය අපේක්ෂාවෙන් කෙරෙන වසර ගණනක් දිග්ගැස්සුනු අරගලයක් ද රටේ පවතිනවා. මෙවැනි මතුපිට කාරනා හා බැඳුනු ව්‍යාකූල සමාජ-දේශපාලන ගැටළුවක් නොඇසූ කන් ව, ඒ ගැන අවධානයක් යොමු නොකරමින් රාජ්‍යය ඉදිරියට යන බවකි දක්නට තිබෙන්නේ.

cd615529e0194dfd855f9bbe20604251_18
යුද්ධයෙන් පසු අවධිය තුලදීද තම අයිතීන් වෙනුවෙන් අරගල කරන උතුරු වැසියන්. 

අද මැයි 18 වෙනිදා මගේ ෆේස්බුක් එකේ දෙදෙනෙක් වෙන වෙනම දමා තිබුනු පෝස්ට් දෙකක සාරාංශය පහතින් තිබෙනවා. දකුණේ ජීවත් වන පලමු කෙනා පවසන්නේ, රාජ්‍ය හමුදාව එදා නොසිටින්නට මේ රට අද අලු ගොඩක් වන්නට තිබූ බවයි. මොහුට 2009 මැයි මාසය වන විට වයස අවුරුදු 13යි. 2001 සටන් විරාම ගිවිසුම ඇතිවන අවස්ථාව වනවිට අවුරුදු 6යි. ඔහු උපත ලබන්නේ චන්ද්‍රිකා බණ්ඩාරනායක ආණ්ඩු සමයේ සාකච්ඡා බිඳවැටී විමුක්ති කොටි සංවිධානය නැවත යුද්ධයට අවතීර්ණ වන වකවානුවේදීයි. දෙවන පෝස්ට් එක උතුරේ ඉපිද, එහි හැදී වැඩී, යාපනයේ උසස් අධ්‍යාපනය ලබා, ජීවිතයේ එක් අවස්ථාවකදී අත්අඩංගුවට පත්ව එහිදී වධබන්ධනයටද ලක්වුනු (එසේ වුනු බව පවසන) අද ලංකාවෙන් බැහැරව ජීවත්වන කෙනෙක්ගෙන්. ජාතිවාදී සිංහල හමුදා විසින් තම භූමිය අත්පත් කරගනිමින් නිමාවට පත්වුනු යුද්ධය අමතක නොකල යුතු බව ඔහු පවසනවා. අවසාන සටන් විරාම කාලයේ විශ්ව විද්‍යාල ශිෂ්‍යයෙකුව සිටි මොහු අද හතලිස් වියට ආසන්න කෙනෙක්. ප්‍රහාරක ජෙට් යානාවක් ඔහු මුල් වරට දැක ඇත්තේ අවුරුදු 8-9 වැනි කාලයේදී. ගුවනින් පැමිණ ප්‍රහාර දෙන ආකාරය ඔහුගේ ළමා වියේ අත්දැකීමක්. ඒ 80 දශකයේ අග භාගයේදීයි. ජිවිතයේ අවිනිශ්චිතබව සමඟ ජීවිත කාලය පුරාම ජීවත්වුනු ඔහු අදටත් (මා දන්න තරමින්) සරණාගත තත්වයේ සිටින්නෙක්.

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සංස්කෘතික සහජීවනය ව්‍යවස්ථානුකූලව ස්ථාපිත කර ඇති අවස්ථාවන් තුලදීද කපටි දේශපාලකයින් වාර්ගික බෙදීම පවත්වාගැනීමට ඉදිරිපත් වීම ජාතික ගීය පිලිබඳ අර්බුදයේදී දැකගත හැකිවිය.

යුද්ධයෙන් තවමත් පීඩා විදින විවිධ ජන කණ්ඩායම් ගැන 2020න් ඇරඹෙන දශකයේදී වත් අප 20-20 දැක්මක් (20-20 vision) ඇති නොකරගතහොත්, සහ රාජ්‍ය මට්ටමින් මේවා සම්බන්ධව පැහැදිලිව මැදිහත් වී ජන විඥානය මෙහෙයවීමක් සිදුනොවුනහොත් එය ඛේදවාචකයක අනවශ්‍ය දිග්ගැස්සීමක්. දේශපාලන සිරකරුවන්ට පසු-යුධ සමයක අත්විය යුතු යුක්තිය, භූමිය හා ප්‍රාදේශීය සම්පත් ඒ ජනතාව අතට පත්කිරීම, අතුරුදහන් කෙරුනු හා මරණයට පත්කෙරුවන්ට අත්විය යුතු යුක්තිය වැනි දේ තවදුරටත් පමා නොකල යුතුයි. මා මීට පෙරදීත් සඳහන් කර ඇති ආකාරයට මෙහිදී කිසිවෙකු එල්ලුම් ගස් යැවීමක් හෝ පීඩාවට පත්කිරීමක් සිදුවිය යුතුද නැහැ. සිදුවිය යුත්තේ කාපට් එක යටට තල්ලු කල කුණු එතනින් එලියට ගෙන ප්‍රසිද්ධියේ, සම්මත ආකාරයට බැහැර කිරීමක්. අවංකව, හෘද සාක්ෂියට එකඟව වැරදි පිලිගෙන, ඒ පැවති තත්වයට වගවෙමින්, සමාව ගතයුතු අය සිටීනම් සමාව ඉල්ලා සිටීමක්. පිිලිගත හැකි නීති රාමුවක් තුල යුක්තිය පිහිටුවීමක්.

සිවිල් යුද්ධයකින් පසුව උදාවෙන සමය යුක්තිය හා සාධාරණත්වය ඉටුකිරීමට වෙන් විය යුතුයි. ජයග්‍රාහිකයින්-පරාජිතයින්, ම්ලේච්ඡයින්-ශිෂ්ඨයින්, උතුම් උන්-නීච උන්, අපේ උන්-උන්ගෙ උන් කියන දේශපාලන බෙදීම්වලින් එහාට නොයමින් බහු-වාර්ගික රටක මේ දේ සිදුකිරීමට කොහෙත්ම බැහැ. “කොටි නැගිටින” බවට කපටි දේශපාලකයෙක් මුරගාන මොහොතේ රටේ සැලකිය යුතු පිරිසක් සලිතවන තත්වයකයි අප තවමත් සිටින්නේ. මේ සියල්ල වෙනස් විය යුතුයි. උතුරේ ජන ජීවිතයේ ගැටළු දකුණේ විඥානය සමඟ සමපාත වියයුතුයි. අප දැනටමත් අවුරුදු 11ක් ප්‍රමාද වැඩියි.

Jaspreet Singh’s Meeting with Ernest Hemingway: An Unknown Station, “Chef”, and “Hills Like White Elephants”.

Jaspreet Singh is a Punjab-born, Canadian-resident writer who had been brought up in Kashmir. His novel Chef (2010) narrates the story of Kirpal Singh – or, Kip – a former chef in the army as he, after many years, returns to Srinagar (in Kashmir) and the army general he once served. The narrative unfolds as Kip lives through a train of past memories as he sits in the Kashmir-bound express. Though inferior to Singh’s second novel Helium (2013), Chef is a powerful work that is sensitive to the hypocrisies of a war-gripped marginal world, its complexities, and deeply-human, ,yet unlikely, moments. Chef is a critique of blind patriotism and the underbelly of militaristic nationalism. But, this essay is about something else.

9781408805183As Kip’s journey progresses, the train stops for 40 minutes at an “unknown station” in an indistinguishable place(pp. 81-84). This is where Jaspreet Singh has an encounter with Ernest Hemingway. In Hemingway’s short story collection Men without Women (1928), the fourth story is titled “Hills Like White Elephants”. It is a particularly short short story – four pages in all – and takes place within 40 minutes, as a couple – a man and a woman – await a train in an unnamed station in a remote part of the Madrid-Barcelona line. The story is highly dialogue-driven with minimal narrator intervention. In fact, the narrator steps in mostly to break the tedium and to explain something that cannot be known through the dialogue – such as, for example, the weather and the scenery.

In characterizing the couple in Hills Like White Elephants Hemingway doesn’t use names. Few physical details or attributes are given. They seem to be in disagreement over a personal matter – something that weighs on their company and interaction. Though it is not explicitly detailed, their conversation insinuates that a pregnancy has taken place and the couple is undecided what to do. The woman wants to go through and have the child, while the man seems to want an abortion performed. The couple Kip encounters in Chef, too, carry some tension between them. The woman is pregnant and  there is a disagreement over a proposed ultra-sound test: the man wants to do a scan of the partner’s womb to determine the child’s sex, while the wife doesn’t want it carried out.

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Jaspreet Singh

A small girl selling tea and pakoras walks along the station platform. The man buys two teas and passes one to the woman. Later, he buys another tea, and two pakoras. In Hills Like White Elephants, the man and the woman – between them – have five drinks. Together, they drink beer and anis. Later, just before the train arrives, the man goes into the station bar and has a second beer. The waitress who brings the beer and the woman cannot communicate properly – the former speaks Spanish, and the woman doesn’t speak that language. She seeks her partner’s help to convey and receive. In Chef, too, the girl selling tea and the wife are unable to communicate properly. The girl presses the couple on to buy pakoras, to which the wife gets annoyed and screams in order to chase the girl away.

Sections of the dialogue that takes the action over echo of an eerie familiarity. The following are examples:

Chef:

“Listen,” the man said to his wife, “the lady-doctor says she can do it quickly. Nothing goes inside you.”
“But, I don’t want to get it done.”
“Don’t worry, I will go with you. The lady-doctor says it is safer than X-ray. Ultrasound is like taking a picture only.”
“But, I really don’t want to.”
“Think about it.”
His fingers were grubby with pakoras.
“For you I will do anything. But, not this thing,” she said.
“Please don’t do it if you feel like that. No one is forcing you.”

Its correspondent in “Hills Like White Elephants”:

“It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not
really an operation at all.”
The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.
“I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let
the air in.”
The girl did not say anything.
“I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in
and then it’s all perfectly natural.”
“Then what will we do afterward?”
“We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before.”
“What makes you think so?”
“That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us
unhappy.”
The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of
two of the strings of beads.
“And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy.”
“I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people
that have done it.”
“So have I,” said the girl. “And afterward they were all so happy.”
“Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t
have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.”

The dialogue in “Hills Like White Elephants” is caught between intent, half-heartedness, and defense. The couple tries to press on with their individual position while already being aware of the other’s will and need:

“I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you
don’t really want to.”
“And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and
you’ll love me?”
“I love you now. You know I love you.”
“I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like
white elephants, and you’ll like it?”
“I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I
get when I worry.”
“If I do it you won’t ever worry?”
“I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.”
“Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.”
“What do you mean?”
” I don’t care about me.”
“Well, I care about you.”
“Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything
will be fine.”
” I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.”

Here, both players shift the responsibility of the act to the other, and seek a kind of control through that shifting. In Chef, the corresponding section reads as follows. In Singh’s composition, questions asked are being answered with questions : a more clear demonstration of responsibility being pushed or ducked away from:

“What if the picture isn’t right?”
“It will be alright.”
“Are you sure?”
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“But how can one be sure?”
“Because if it isn’t alright then we must find out a way to fix it. Don’t you want it to be alright?”
“But what if it is a girl?”
“Of course it will be a boy.”
“You don’t like girls?”
“I like you,” the man said. “I go to work every morning because I like you. Have I done anything to show you I don’t like you?”
“I know you like me. But would you stop liking me if I don’t get this thing done?”
“You don’t go to the lady-doctor, nothing will change between us. I assure you. But, it will make me unhappy.”

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Ernest Hemingway

In both stories, it is warm weather while something big and imposing is found as a part of the scenery. In Hemingway’s story, it is the mountains that lie across a field and a river, as they are seen from above an intersection of trees. In Chef, the left end of the station is cluttered with “a pile of dismantled army vehicles and a badly damaged MIG-21 fighter plane with only one wing” (81).

This episode of 40 minutes has no bearing on Chef‘s bigger concerns. Unless it was to force an inter-textual conference with Ernest Hemingway’s short story, there can be no other perceivable reason why Jaspreet Singh took four pages over this redundant set piece.

Shelling Demons: Kaviru Samarawickrama’s “Walking in Blind”

Kaviru Samarawickrama’s Walking in Blind demonstrates an individual’s attempt at working-through an emotionally-shattering and traumatic past, while attempting reconciliation between that past and the present. It is arranged in four movement, which loosely represent a transition in progress: one that begins with acute trauma – where, the persona is struggling with her surroundings – and gradually builds up through a resurrection of the self. The palpable linearity of this progressive track – the sense of moving forward towards a definite, albeit positive, end – makes the line up a bit tedious and predictable. But, perhaps, from an authorial perspective – and given the deeply psychological preoccupation of the poetry body – this gradual build is both a demonstration and a protest.

43897522._SX318_Almost all poems in Walking in Blind are personal, and stem from a sense of displacement and emotional numbing. The poetry can be proposed to capture a three-part engagement where the persona and her past are at play: one, an engagement with the self, which is often compounded by the second, a negotiation with the world that surrounds her, and a third – an intense externalization against the memory of an ‘ousted other’: a former lover who is also the author of trauma and breakdown. Featured in some of the more intense, emotionally-charged pieces, this ‘ousted other’ becomes the departure point in a journey of self-recovery and retrieval of displaced confidence and esteem. This journey of reawakening requires atonement and working-through. On the whole, the poetry becomes both the act and the product of that ongoing process of working-through: the externalization and revision through which the persona/poet attempts to reconcile her past with the present/future. .

The ex-lover often occupies a center-to-margin space, but immediately and unequivocally becomes the navel of gravity. He is often projected as a breeder of insecurity and self-loathing and an agent who undermines the narrator’s body and person. In a poem (“Girls Never Stop Play Dress Up”) that builds up as a negotiation with the self and the surrounding (the home, the mother and so on), the lover makes a sudden, brief appearance and tilts the lens-focus in his direction. As the one who fails to understand the narrator – the one who lacks empathy or the effort – he offsets and upsets the symmetry of the piece. In another poem,(“Home is Where the Heart Is”), he is the insidious presence who irks the conscience of the narrator – a player and comforter of women other than her; and who is insinuated as having a duplicitous role. In “You Can’t Tell Anymore”, he is pictured in a bar discussing other girls with his friends. Subtle ploys such as where the narrator refers to her lover’s preference for cuss-play while at the same time being inapt in appreciating her love of colour are crucial as subtle moral judgments of the ‘ousted other’. In “Innocence”, the depth of antipathy is dramatized in the following words:

He suffocated me.
He looked down on me and said you are nothing.
He took advantage of what I didn’t know…
… While I sat there as tears fled down and hit the floor
I secretly bled inside from the sharpness of his words. (50).

This, perhaps, is one of the most powerful protests – charged with expiring energy against emotional betrayal and humiliation: a ballast emerging from a voice regained, and a confidence restored.

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Kay Adams

Filled with references to dressing up, lipstick, rooms, toys, mirrors, Kaviru uses all that is on the surface ephemeral and “child-like” to build a poetry body that at times digs deep into our own consciences and convictions. The same hand trains a line of thought that reflect on (or, on what ought to be) the purpose and end of life:

In life, the purpose to live isn’t to be protected
But to be the saviour to the ones you love.
And times will appear when you cannot save others,
When your hands are left with no weapons.(90)

But, from such pensive and meditative philosophizing, Kaviru snaps into bouts of anger, frustration, and confusion in poems like “Dug Deeper, Myself”. “Sometimes I wonder why I pretend to be strong and hide my tears,” she writes:

Sometimes I wonder if my burning words of anger
Would hurt if I blurted them out at people who don’t like me
Though at night around 2 o’clock i wish to escape and be free (69)

In reading Kaviru Samarawickrama, a concern for caution was the undeniably prosaic quality of her work: her writing, quite frequently, being more prose-like than poetic. But, in the context of the overall work, and with the knowledge that Kaviru has an influential open-mic background, this is a premise that I wish not to follow through. In addition, the emergence from trauma and shattering experience and their literary representation cannot (and should not) be reduced within a conventional poetic.

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Kaviru Samarawickrama

Two of the few reviews to date on Walking in Blind were carried by OnlineBookClub.org featuring a Sun_shi_nii and a psychopathycathy. They both give Kaviru 3 stars on a scale of 4 (75% is a good score for any poet), and hails her for taking “readers into a world of in-depth grief where a girl tries all the best she could to show to the world how strong she really is” (Sun_shi_nii) and for provoking in depth thought on depression from psychological and sociological perspectives (psychopathycathy). Sun_Shi_nii endorses the latter assessment by agreeing Kaviru’s poetry to be provocative of “melancholy, depression, and anxiety” yet being “thoughtful and sweet”. My personal feeling (and, perhaps, I may be wrong) was that these reviewers use words such as ‘melancholy’, ‘depression’, and ‘anxiety’, in a loose sense, as we do over tea: a usage born out of nostalgia for the GCE Literature classroom. The use of such terminology can, at one level, be counter-productive as they define and limit the poet and the writing to a convenient capsule – a freezing that would serve ill the journey Kaviru Samarawickrama attempts to draw attention to.

What is memorable in Walking in Blind is the energy of revival and the process of working-through of overcoming past trauma. The work has cathartic pretensions and deeply-moving, powerful moments of a varied pitch and throw.

The Sri Lankan Concern in Michelle de Kretser’s “The Life to Come”

The Life to Come (2017), to date, is arguably the best novel Michelle de Kretser has written. Consisting of five narratives that interact with one another through shared threads, The Life to Come is concerned with the lives of a group of Sydneysiders: persons who cross one another’s lives, and others yet who play marginal roles or make occasional appearances. It is a well-thought through, intricately-crafted work with a social concern, psychological depth, and – at times – a philosophical preoccupation.

unnamedIn addition to its being anchored in suburban Sydney, the blurb of The Life to Come promises us settings in Sri Lanka and Paris. As such, the third part of the novel, ‘The Museum of Romantic Life’, is set in Paris where the writer Pippa Reynolds – in many aspects, the closest we find in the book to an overlapping central character across narratives – spends time authoring a book. Where Sri Lanka is concerned, there are two socio-political references to the island nation – initially, in the second section, ‘Ashfield Tamil’, and in the novel’s concluding ‘Olly Faithful’. In Ashfield Tamil, the central thread is preoccupied with two men of Sri Lankan lineage – one her grocer, and the other, her lover – who become to Cassie, a PhD student, two overwhelming presences, if for a fleeting moment, in her life. The grocer, a onetime Tamil postmaster from Jaffna, runs a typical ‘Sri Lankan style’ shop in Ashfield from which Cassie purchases to make ‘authentic’ dishes for her partner Ashoka (Ash). Of Sinhalese parentage, Ashoka Fernando has very little ‘authenticity’ about him as a Sri Lankan. Having been largely brought up outside of Sri Lanka, except for a five year spell where he was educated in a Colombo International school, Ash carries but a fragmented memory of his Sri Lankan childhood. Cassie, an Australian woman whose education includes theory on identity and displacement brings within the same reference frame the ‘Ashfield Tamil’ and Ash the boyfriend, who are otherwise divided by ethnic and politico-historical circumstances.

The ‘Ashfield Tamil’ section ends with a confessional note written by Ash, in which he refers to the 1977 anti-Tamil riots in Sri Lanka (pp. 79-87). As a child who had been sent to spend a few days in Anuradhapura with his physician father, Ash becomes a secondary witness of this (largely under-represented) organized attack on the ethnic Tamils of Sri Lanka. Through proxy and insinuation, Ash learns of acts of arson, pillaging of Tamil property, killing and so on – which includes the death of a deformed boy whom, during Ashoka’s drives to the father’s office, he had seen selling lottery tickets on the roadside.

The ‘Ashfield Tamil’ section, in certain ways, is predictable and cliched. The Tamil grocer’s being from Ashfield to dramatically correspond with Ashoka’s Caucasian-savvy abridgment notwithstanding, the narrative exposes several other cavities that take away from its strength. The fact that Ashoka has a suppressed ‘Sri Lankan violence tale’ to tell – and that that story will be told in short – is already a foregone conclusion. When the 1977 pogrom is presented, the imagery and the characterizations feed off overused descriptions of the violence. For example, the reference to the south-bound Jaffna-Colombo train being attacked by mobs at Anuradhapura station is an exhausted and hacked set-piece. Ashoka’s coincidentally being in Anuradhapura to witness the violence  is as forced as his father’s hurried send off of the son to Colombo (in the care of a hospital clerk) a day after the riots. In a passage which can be best understood as being dictated by de Kretser’s need to spell out the actual violence, Ashoka’s father makes the son travel in the train – a relatively uncertain option in the context of things. Here, young Ashoka’s travel companion reveals him the brutal murders carried out by the mob the previous day in barbaric detail (84-86).

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Michelle de Kretser

In contrast to Ashoka’s brief appearance and his retrospective account, the story of Bunty and Christabel in ‘Olly Faithful’ presents a powerful, socially-penetrating, psychologically-rich rendition of modern day companionship, ageing, and isolation. With Sri Lankan roots, Bunty and Christabel first meet as neighbours and school fellows in immediate post-independence Ceylon. Alfrieda ‘Bunty’ Sedgwick is fourteen, and Christabel is twelve. The story is narrated through Christabel’s perspective, and the early passages have to do with post-independence complexities of the island nation which, for 450 years, had been ruled by European colonialists. The prospects of the flag-bearers of the colonial rule begin to gradually splinter in the face of new nationalism. The 1950s’ exodus of Burghers and other established families of Colombo’s classed English-speaking milieu results in a growing isolation in Christabel’s life. The Sedgwicks, too, leave – but, Christabel’s father decides to ‘continue’: a dogged decision amidst growing social and cultural alienation. After his death, the only daughter is pushed to a hand-to-mouth existence until – out of the blue – Bunty writes to her from Australia, inviting Christabel to move in with her.

The story of Christabel in Sydney is dividable into two sections – her life with Bunty, and the connection she develops with Pippa Reynolds, the writer who lives in the partitioned other half of the house. Overall, ‘Olly Faithful’ is a complex section to write, and de Kretser’s close engagement with the thinking that levers its powerful execution is commendable. However, the narrative provides a bleak and obscure timeline which, at times, challenges the general shape of the narrative flow. Incidents and episodes – from innocuous encounters to memorable exchanges – pack into a narrative frame that is internally confused of time and space.

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Colombo’s Pettah in the 1950s

If at all, de Kretser gives only a few approximations which, in the long run, mean very little. For instance, adjacent to the passage where Christabel is introduced to the reader as a twelve year old (p.274) a reference is made to her father’s lecture on ‘The Romantic Imagination’ being interrupted by Sinhala nationalist students who demand “Sinhala Only!” (p. 277). In spite of its presence among nationalist lobbies, the Sinhala-Only demand became a political slogan only during the run up to the 1956 general election. Taking a cue, this encourages us to situate Christabel’s birth between the mid-1940s and 1949. This, in turn, corresponds with her being in her mid-60s, when the narrative comes to its end in Sydney, presumably in the late-90s or early-2000s. Similarly, Christabel’s arrival in Sydney – in her mid-30s – can be dated to have taken place between 1974 and 79. In one of her early picnics among Sydney friends, someone makes a reference to Sri Lanka’s having been called “Ceylon until 1972” (p.290). The warped timeline frustrates a reader intending to map the social and political indicators on which Christabel’s childhood experiences are hinged. This, in a context where the post-colonial environment, its proponents and dissenters are a central discussion space in Sri Lankan narratives; and, indeed, narratives of a postcolonial bearing.

An interesting contrast can be found in de Kretser’s well-crafted maps of Sydney (and, for that matter, Paris) and character-less references to Sri Lanka’s Anuradhapura and Colombo. The former is complete with classifications of suburbs, street details, demographic specifications, while not a single street, place, or suburb is captured in the Sri Lankan digression. Other than the not-very-original reference of Christabel’s being employed in a Cinnamon Gardens speech and drama school, the geography of her childhood and youth is more or less a complete blank.

ලියනගේ අමරකීර්තිගේ “රතු ඉරි අඳින අත”: ඉරෙහි නැමියාව ගැන.

5e047b59aa0dc_Untitled-1-Recovered-Recovered-Recovered-Recoveredඅටවක පුත්තු, කුරුලු හදවත හා අහම්බකාරක හරහා ලියනගේ අමරකීර්තිගේ නවකතාකරු දිවිය හදුනාගෙන සිටි මම ඔහුගේ නවකතා ශ්‍රෙඪියේ පස්වැන්න වන රතු ඉරි අඳින අත (2019) ද ඉකුත් දා කියවීමි. වේගයෙන් කියවාගෙන යා හැකි, පේජ්-ටර්නර් පන්නයේ හුරුවක් ඇති, පාඨක උනන්දුව ඉතා පහසුවෙන් කතාව තුල රඳවාගන්නට සමත් මෙම කෘතිය කුතුහලය, ත්‍රාසය, භීතිය, මානව දයාව, අනුකම්පාව ආදි භාවයන් රැසක් කැටිකොට සංස්ලේෂණය කරන්නකි. ඒ අතරම තත්කාලීන සමාජය ඉතා තියුණු ලෙස විනිවිදින සමාජ කියවීමක්ද අප ඉදිරියෙහි දිගහරින්නකි. නූතන ශ්‍රී ලාංකික සමාජ-දේශපාලන-සංස්කෘතික-මාධ්‍ය හා ඇකඩමික හැඩතල එකිනෙක හා සමපාත කරමින්, ඒවා අතර ඇති නොදුර බවත්, ඒවා එකිනෙක හා ගැටගැසෙමින්, එකිනෙක පෝෂණය කරමින්, සමාජ සාරය උරාගනිමින් පවත්වාගෙන නඩත්තුකරගෙන යන මාෆියා පන්නයේ අවකාශ සමූහයත් අමරකීර්ති තම කෘතිය හරහා මතුකර පෙන්වයි. අනෙක් කාරකයින්ගෙන් විතැන් කර එය ලඝු කර දක්වනවා නම්, රතු ඉරි අඳින අත වඩාත් ප්‍රබලව තම කාචයට හසුකරගන්නේ මේ අවසානයට කී කාරණය නොහොත් උඩුකුරු තෙරපුමකින් හැසිරෙන, විශ්වය තම අණසක යටතට බැඳ හසුරුවන දේශපාලන ව්‍යාපෘතියක පෝෂක අවයවයන් ලෙස එම ව්‍යාපෘතියට රැකවරනය සපයමින් සහ එයින් ප්‍රතිපෝෂණය ලබමින් පරිවාරයේ හැසිරෙන මාධ්‍ය පතාකයින්, ව්‍යාපාරික ප්‍රජාව, ඊනියා බුද්ධිමතුන්, සංස්කෘතිය හා අධ්‍යාපනය මෙහෙයවන්නන් ආදී අක්ෂයන්ය.

ඇකඩමිය සම්බන්ධ අමරකීර්තිගේ විවේචනය ඔහුගේ එදා-මෙදාතුර නිර්මාණ මඩුල්ල විනිවිද යන්නකි. රතු ඉරි අඳින අත තුලින් එක්තරා කූඨාප්‍රාප්තියකට ගෙන එනු ලබන මෙම විවේචනය එක අතකින් අටවක පුත්තු හරහා පන්නරය ලැබූ, කුරුලු හදවත හා අහම්බකාරක හරහා වඩා අඩු ජවයකින් පවත්වාගෙන ආ පහරදීමක තාර්කික මීලඟ අවස්ථාව යැයි හදුන්වාදිය හැක. මුළු රටකම ජීවන රිද්මය තම වචන වලින් හසුරුවන, තම සමස්ත පැවැත්මම ප්‍රවාදයක් හෙවත් “ඇන්ඳීමක්” වන, හා ඒ ප්‍රවාදය මත පිහිටා සමාජයක්ම “අන්දන” මහාචාර්ය මිහිඳුකුලසූරියත් ඔහුව වඩාත් විශාල සමාජ-හැසිරවීම් ක්‍රියාදාමයක සවිඥානිකව නමුත් සියුම් ලෙස යොදවා ඇති ඉත්තෙකු ලෙස භාවිත කරන දේශපාලන හා ආර්ථික “මහත්වරුනුත්”, පොදුවේ ඇකඩමියත්, ඊනියා විදග්ධභාවයත්, දැනුම නැමැති ආයතනික සංස්ථාවත් අමරකීර්ති තම කෘතිය හරහා කම්පනයකට ලක් කරයි. රතු ඉරි අඳින අත හරහා මිනීමරු දේශපාලඥයා, පාතාලයා, කුප්‍රකට ව්‍යාපාරිකයා හා සරසවි ඇඳුරා අතර පරතරය ඉතා බිහිසුනු ලෙස හකුලුවාලීමට කටයුතු කෙරෙන අතර එය හිත හිරිවට්ටන ආකාරයේ සංකෝචනය කිරීමකි. තත්කාලීන සමාජ හා දේශපාලන ප්‍රභූ සමාජය ලෙස අප සාමාන්‍යයෙන් දකින සංඥාව ප්‍රතිවර්තනය කරමින් එම දේශපාලන ප්‍රභූ තන්ත්‍රයේ අතීත නිකම්භාවය, පාන්තික හා සමාජ පරිධිය මෙන්ම දේශපාලන බලය ස්ථාපනය කරගත් ගමනේ සැහැසි, රුදුරු, හා දැඩි බව අමරකීර්තිගෙ අවධානයට කේන්ද්‍රීයව හසුවේ.

unnamed (1)
අමරකීර්ති

රතු ඉරි අඳින අත පොදුවේ ජනප්‍රිය ධාරාවේ කෘතියක් ලෙස ඉතා උනන්දුවෙන් හා ආයාසයකින් තොරව කියවිය හැකි වුවත් අමරකීර්ති විෂය සම්බන්ධයෙන් පැවසිය යුතු වැදගත් වෙනත් යමක් ඇත. එනම්, අටවක පුත්තු තුලින් මතුවී කලින්ද සඳහන් කල කුරුලු හදවත, අහම්බකාරක හා රතු ඉරි අඳින අත හරහා එන නිර්මාණ ගමනේදී යම් හේතුවක් නිසා ලියනගේ අමරකීර්ති (එක්තරා ආකාරයකට) තල දෙකක් අතර අතරමං වී සිටින බවයි. ඔහුගේ නිර්මාණකරුවෙකු ලෙස ඇති ප්‍රභවයට හා ශක්‍යතාවයට – මෙම ප්‍රභාවත්බව කෙටිකතාකරුවෙකු ලෙස වඩා සාධනීය තැනක පවත්වා ගැනීමට අමරකීර්ති සමත් බව සිතේ – සාධාරණයක් ඉටුනොවන බවට යෝජනා කල හැකි මෙම සිරවීම විශේෂයෙන්ම දැකිය හැක්කේ ඔහු තම නවකතා වෙනුවෙන් යොදාගන්නා ආකෘතිය තුලයි. අටවක පුත්තු නොසලකා හරින්නේ නම් ඔහුගේ දෙවන හා තුන්වන කෘතිවල ඇත්තේ ජනප්‍රිය ආරට බර තැබුනු, ජනප්‍රිය පාඨකයා මූලිකවම ඉලක්ක කරගන්නවා යැයි සිතෙන, සරල හා රේඛීය ආඛ්‍යානයකින් පන්නරය ලබන නිමැවුමකි. අටවක පුත්තු හි ඇතැම් පර්යේෂණාත්මක ලක්ෂණ බැහැර කරමින් නිර්මාණය වුනු – ඔහුගේ දුර්වලතම කෘතිය ලෙස මම අදටත් දකින – කුරුලු හදවත හරහා පිවිසි කතා කීමේ ශෛලිය හරහා අමරකීර්ත් අදටත් වැඩි අවධානයක් යොදන්නේ තම කතාවට අවශ්‍ය “අවස්ථාවන් සම්පාදනය” කරගැනීමට බව නිතරම හැඟේ. සාහිත්‍යය ඉතා ගැඹුරින් ශාස්ත්‍රීයව අධ්‍යයනය කර ඇත්තෙකු නිසාත්, නිර්මාණකරුවෙකු ලෙස ඔහුගේ ඇති දක්ෂතාවය නිසාත් මෙවැනි ඇතැම් “රසබර අවස්ථා” නිර්මාණකරුවා යොදාගන්නා විවිධ මෙවලම් හා ආකෘතික ආයිත්තම් සමඟ සංස්ලේෂණය කරමින් තම කතාව ඉදිරිපත් කරන්නට ඔහු උත්සාහ දරනු පෙනේ. අහම්බකාරක තුලත් රතු ඉරි අඳින අත තුලත් මෙම සංකලනය දැකිය හැකි අතර කුරුලු හදවත හරහා ලත් බැස්ම තුලනය කරගන්නා ප්‍රවේශයක් මේ හරහා අභිමුඛ වේ.

unnamed
වෙඩිවර්ධන

නමුත් කලින් අවධාරණය කල ශාස්ත්‍රීය ශික්ෂණයත්, සාහිත්‍යය පිලිබඳ දශක ගණනාවක ඔහු කරන විමර්ෂණයත්, ලබා ඇති නිපුණතාවයත්, ඔහුගේ ඇති ප්‍රශස්ත නිර්මාණශීලීබවත් නිසාම මෙයින් ඔබ්බට යන පර්යේෂණාත්මක “යමක්” අප අමරකීර්තිගෙන් බලාපොරොත්තුද වන්නෙමු. වෙනත් ආකාරයකට පවසන්නේ නම් අමරකීර්ති තුල මා දකින්නේ පර්යේෂණාතමක බවින් යම් සාධනීය අදහසක් ඇති කරන අටවක පුත්තු හරහා යොමුව තිබුනු ගමනක් ජනප්‍රිය ධාරාවේ ආකෘතියක අවශ්‍යතා තුල සිරවුනු අවස්ථාවකි. සමකාලීන කෘති දෙකක් ලෙස 2007 දී දොරට වැඩි අටවක පුත්තු හා මංජුල වෙඩිවර්ධනගේ බත්තලංගුණ්ඩුව සලකන්නේ නම්, එදා-මෙදා තුර ගෙවුනු අවුරුදු 13ක පමණ කාලයේදී පර්යේෂණාත්මක ලෙසත්, තම ප්‍රවේශය හා ආකෘතිය සම්බන්ධයෙන් තමාටම හා තම පාඨකයාටද අභියෝග කර සිටින නිර්මාණ ශිල්පියෙකු ලෙසත් වෙඩිවර්ධන ලබා ඇති දියුණුව මගින් අමරකීර්තිව පසෙකට තල්ලු කර හරියි.

රතු ඉරි අඳින අත කියවන අවස්ථාවේදී ඊට සමාන්තරව මා කියවූ අනෙක් එක් කෘතියක් වූයේ වෙඩිවර්ධනගේ දුස්ටකමේ සවුන්දර්ය සහ රත්මලානේ තවත් කතා කෘතියයි. ආකෘතිය, වස්තු විෂය අරභයා දක්වන ප්‍රවේශය, ආඛ්‍යාණය හැසිරවීම වැනි කරුනු සැලකීමේදී බත්තලංගුණ්ඩුව, මගේ ආදරණීය යක්ෂණි වැනි කෘතින්ද, වඩාත් මෑත කාලයේදී වෙඩිවර්ධන පලකල පැරිස් වලාකුළු හා ඒ අහඹු අතීත හැන්දෑව වැනි නිර්මාණද හරහා ඉතා පුළුල්, බහුවිධ, විෂමජාතී තලයන් ගොන්නක් අතරෙන් තම නිර්මාණයන් මුවහත්කරගැනීමට වෙඩිවර්ධන සාර්ථකව සමත්වී ඇත්තා සේය. ඒ අර්ථයෙන් අමරකීර්ති යෙදෙන්නේ ඇතුලට ඈරුනු, ඇල්මාරුනු ගමනකය.

0_8i8p4eqx763Wokrsකුටීරයක් තුල, නිද්‍රාශීලී තැනක නිර්මාණ ජවය බිහිවන්නේ අඩුවෙනි. අප නිර්මාණ ලෙස සලකන කාර්යයට අවශ්‍ය ජවය කොස්මොපොලිටයානු ඝර්ෂණයකින් ලැබෙන්නකි. ක්ෂේම භූමියක් තුල යම් ආකාරයක සිරවීමකට ලක්වී සිටින, වෙනත් සියයකුත් එකක් ලේඛන කාර්යයන්ගේද නියලෙන අමරකිර්ති “නිර්මාණකරුවකු” ලෙස මද කලකට හෝ පේරාදෙණියෙන් නික්ම, මග සරමින් සිටිය යුත්තේද යන අදහසත් ඇතැම් විට නැගේ. නව්‍යවාදී සාහිත්‍යයේ අග්‍රඵලයෝ, දොස් නගමින් වුවත්, තම නිර්මාණ කරමින් රැඳී සිටියේ පැරිසියේය. ඔහුට පහරදෙන පිරිස බොහෝ අවස්ථාවන්හිදි තම ඉලක්කය කරගන්නේ අමරකීර්තිගේ සාහිත්‍යය නොවන නිසාත්, ඔහුව අගයන්නෝ නිර්ධය ලෙස එම සාහිත්‍යයම කසී සළුවෙන් දවටන නිසාත් අමරකීර්ති සාධාරණ විචාරයකට ලක්නොවීමේ හා විවේචනශීලී පහරකෑමකට නිරාවරණය නොවීමේ ඌනතාවයෙන්ද පෙලෙන්නෙකි. මේ දෙපාර්ශවයෙන්ම තරමක් ඈත්ව, නිරන්තර පහරකෑම් හමුවේ රතු ඉරි අඳිමින්, තම අත මෙහෙයවමින්, පාඨකයා සුරාතාන්තයට ගෙන යන ජනප්‍රිය ආකෘතියෙන් බැහැරව යන දිනක පර්යේෂණාත්මකව සිදුකරන ලේඛනය අමරකීර්ති නිර්මාණකරුවාට වඩාත් දියුණු තලයේදී ප්‍රතිසම්මුඛ වීමට ඉඩ ඇත.

Poetry and Ventriloquism: The Quest for a Voice in Mandulee Mendis’ “Me in My Saree”.

Mandulee Mendis’ debut collection, Me in My Saree (2019), is plagued by an unfulfilled search for a voice that’s Mandulee’s own. Received as a charge, it is hoped that this will benefit Mandulee in her future endeavours; and most certainly so, as Me in My Saree leaves an equal measure of expectation and anticipation with the reader for a second, to-be collection.

71278035_2676503809080913_6896619043785015296_oThe absence of a voice that’s the ‘poet’s own’ hints at the lack of originality and conviction in the medium and the sign-system Mandulee uses in her communication. For the main, this leaves the poet as a ventriloquist than as an original expressionist. If, as a point of illustration, a pertinent thread of the collection – patriotism and national pride – is to be considered, the gusto with which Mandulee sets out waving banners, weaving jingoistic verses, and stamping her love and affection for the country and the people are blockaded by her own sense of imagery, description, words, and evocations that degenerate to cliche and overused empty-rhetoric.

The ‘foreword’ tables several lines that substantiate the above/present inquiry. Imagery incorporated herein, such as the “sun that warms the air [the poet] breaths in”, “the pride of a land of might” she feels, and the “grandeur of the sword, justice and the wit” are overused imagery in amateur composition which fail to hold attention. The stanza which follows contributes even less:

I stand for us, and myself:
A woman; A human;
Sri Lankan.
Me with my view, is my light
Me in my saree I write.

The evocation of patriotism and national-feeling are often attempted through references to topography, mythology, and cliched semiotics of the nationalist line. “In a Flower that wants to fly”, the poet/narrator makes the following declaration:

I want to be a bird, a small one
And fly over the golden paddy fields
Over the Samanala mountain
Around the fortress Sigiri
I want to cross the Mahaweli
And lie on the bank of Nilwala
I want to wait by the Sacred Bo Tree.

Who writes like this, anymore? What motivates Mandulee Mendis – probably younger than Vivimarie VanderPoorten and Dushyanthi Mendis, whom she acknowledges for guidance and advice given, – to write poetry that is reminiscent of a W.S. Senior or an R.L Spittel? Either Mandulee has been forced with a semiotic toolkit – a system which, in Senior’s patriotic verse, inculcated a certain national-feeling – which ill-serves her purpose; or, her jingoistic expression itself is insincere and dishonest that they fail to convince.

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WS Senior

Built into poems such as “The Call of Lanka”, “New Year’s Eve in the Tropics” and “A Call to Lanka (A.D 1926)”, descriptions of nature and topography that are meant to be awe-evoking are a repetitive motif in W.S. Senior’s poems. The hyperbolic glorification of the “Kandyan Land” (in “Resurgam”), Haputale (in “Reminiscence”), and the whole island in general (as seen from Pidurutalagala, in “Lanka from Piduru Talagalla”) take shape within such definition. But, in these verses, a larger ecological and bio system – which, to Senior provides a deck to emerge from – are visible. This is partly why Mandulee’s future endeavours stir expectation. With the promise of their being a part of a larger ideology that feeds the poet, these patriotic-pieces leave the reader in suspense as to what is yet to rise.

In a piece that feigns a journey in search of a tradition (of sorts), Mandulee makes the following announcement:

I go on Chaucer’s pilgrimage
And flow to the tune of Kudaligama
Adore the wit of Gajaman Nona
Also Elizabeth Bennet’s
I see traces of Mrs. Havisham
In Sunil’s grandmother sometimes
I can sing an ode to Autumn
Also to Keragala temple
I can wonder (sic) lonely as a cloud
Over Madol Doowa, the island
Selalihiniya and nightingale
Are the same to me, no difference,
Because both, I love
Because both, are mine.

The literary tradition the poet outlines as what informs her creative energy, yet again, is somewhat pretentious and contrived. These self-conscious juxtapositions are commonly found in amateur poems in Navasilu or Ceylon New Writing days – the 1970s. As postcolonial expression, these mutually incongruous arrangements and interventions carry about them a datedness which dulls expression. An ‘x’ number of poets have already exhausted that cliche. The x+1 in that sequence doesn’t add to the universe. In the current generation of writing, such formulas, at best, produce amusement (as in the interchangeability of the selalihiniya and the nightingale); or, at worst, encourage tedium. The resultant outcome is a Chaucer-pilgrimage, but in a medievalist sense.

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Mandulee Mendis

“Ode to Vihara Maha Devi” is not an ode. Set in two contrapuntal parts of eight lines each, the narrator self-interrogates whether she is (or not) a “mimesis” of Vihara Maha Devi. The observations through which the narrator forces a conclusion are more about herself, that their being about Vihara Maha Devi. The Vihara Maha Devi image seems to have been used as a sign – than out of genuine concern – to evoke a nationally-crucial myth within a loose discourse of patriotism. If not Vihara Maha Devi, any other Devi (or Dev) can be equally applied to the poem; and with equal success.

The usage illustrated in the essay so far denotes an immaturity which, one hopes, Mandulee will overcome with time. It underlines an effort and force that renders her project suspect; and takes away from the power of some of the better poems such as, for instance, “Writing by the Thissa wewa”. Here, the writer doesn’t lose herself among the contraptions of jingoism or contrived patriotic set pieces, but through description and detail alone evokes a vista of “grandeur” through the national-icon of Tissa wewa.

Writing by the Thissa wewa
I feel the weight of the mass
of water dark and deep
Swaying with frills of a lama saree
not awake yet not asleep
I feel its coldest touch
under the crimson rays
and see the glistening mirror wall
and vogue of a dancing waterfall
I feel the pride and grandeur
of a time of wealth and greatness

Here, the use of the Sinhala colloquialism has a purpose and is not forced. The detail is held together, and the imagery is refreshing. The water’s being characterized as being “not awake yet not asleep”, and of them giving the “coldest touch” under “crimson rays” are powerful lines. Poems such as “Writing by the Thissa wewa” should define Mandulee Mendis. “Ode to Vihara Maha Devi” must not.

“Dream Catchers” and the Delivery that Had Her Stumped: an Observation of Kanchana Priyakantha’s Recent Stories.

z_p26-Soft.jpgA notice that Kanchana Priyakantha’s Dream Catchers (2018), along with Sasanka Nanayakkara’s Professor’s Mistress and Yasmin Jaldin’s Was too Shy to Tell, has been shortlisted for this year’s S. Godage Award for short stories brought me back to the nine works of short prose that had earlier been published through Kanchana’s KSP label. Incidentally, this prize – which is styled the Regi Siriwardena Memorial Prize – was last awarded to me (whom I will henceforth refer to as Vihanga Perera) during the last round of awards in 2018. It was conferred on the collection School On the Hill which, in all, is a weak story collection. It is an assortment which, I felt, the late Regi Siriwardena would not have liked to see a prize named after him been awarded to. I very much feel the same about Kanchana Priyakantha’s Dream Catchers; if, indeed, it is to win the prize: an outcome with a high probability.

Kanchana’s presence in the latter day literary world has taken many forms. She has the record of being a bilingual writer, and in that capacity, has published in English and Sinhala several short story books, poetry collections and a novella. She is also the owner of KSP Publishers, while managing an online bookstore: the popular K-Books. In the past, Kanchana has also played roles in independently held literary events and spoken at book launches. She promotes young writers and poets – most of them, emerging new voices – through her publication platform. Within the Sinhala literary fraternity, she is a fairly well known rising star with a good network and expanding presence. At the second or third tier, she is what I call a “literary influencer”.

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Kanchana Priyakantha

Kanchana’s breakthrough into English literature took place through The Virgin Wife (2014, and not to be mistaken with the books with a similar title by Elizabeth August and Alexa Riley), a collection of poetry which – according to poet Anupama Godakanda – looks at “familiar themes from a fresh perspective”. Anupama calls Kanchana a “path-breaker for a new breed of writers”: writers “whose first language is not English yet who choose to use English for whatever the reason”. This is the central observation on which I hope to anchor the few ideas of this essay.

What Anupama says has to be unpacked for nuance and clarity. In the quoted words, Anupama is not merely referring to a writer whose first language is Sinhala/Tamil that had chosen English as mode of expression. There is no “path-breaking” newness in such a choice of medium. Malinda Seneviratne – who produces good poetry in copious quantities, and translates from one language to the other with the ease of flipping a coin – uses as his first language, a confident Sinhala. Ayathurai Santhan – the author of several novels and short story collections in Tamil and English – is a bilingual with Tamil as his first language. All three of Santhan’s English novels have made the finals of national awards. In fact, his third novel is in this year’s S. Godage shortlist for that particular category. In such a light,  Anupama’s use of the phrase ‘first language’ can be read as an implication of the ‘stronger of two languages’ used by a writer; and in her location of Kanchana, the recognition of one whose stronger hand is Sinhala, but who yet chooses to write in the relatively softer language.

The question then arises: why would someone use the less affluent medium when a stronger arsenal is in play? For, in comparison to some of Kanchana’s works in Sinhala, Dream Catchers lacks in its idiom and expression, while the quality of the language she uses desires improvement and revision. Indeed, this is not to write the book off or to be unduly unfair by its author. The collection has its moments and memorable passages of play. But, the language which is used to execute these passages often expose a cavity through which the carrying power of the expression is drained.

As a demonstration, consider the following lines extracted at random from several, unrelated sections. What I consider to be ‘oddities’ in expression are underlined for emphasis:

“Bonikka is now so vexed she decides to ignore her friend. She continues to the meeting in haste. It has already begun. (p.13)

“Not possessing your own home is really pesky” (p.36) – And the word ‘possessing’ (used here instead of ‘owning’) is throughout continued.

“One who is burnt by fire is afraid even of the lights of fireflies” (p.39).

“I turn my head around three hundred and sixty degrees to look for a bell and finally find it. Then like it’s the first time, I continue pressing on the bell, as if hoping a miraculous ghost would arrive and open the gate” (p.39)

“He talked as if something called the past did not exist” (p.60)

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Regi Siriwardena

These extracts are randomly picked up, and without much difficulty. The collection is consistent with such usage which marks down the quality of the delivery. However, the more relevant point is that at least in some of the highlighted instances, expression is interrupted by the stronger idiom of the first language. For instance, phrases such as “I continued pressing on the bell”, “the meeting has begun” and “lights of fireflies” are impoverished in that way because the Sinhala and English referents of each of these actions consist of specific and set usages. In instances such as these, the English expression comes across as an odd and deficient appropriation.

Vihanga Perera’s School on the Hill – which, after being shortlisted, won the Regi Siriwardena prize – was a weak collection for two main reasons. Primarily, it had been written for a specific audience (more, for young adult readers of Kingswood College) and within a neatly defined universe: a high school atmosphere of a bygone day. The work itself had been produced within a confined cage and to satisfy the conditions of that confinement. Being slanted to suit a specified audience, the idiom of the stories is governed by the anticipated range of that limited audience. In addition, School on the Hill also suffers from editorial lapses and several (though not extensive) glitches in expression. It was, overall, a weak collection. S. Godage has to take a long and hard look at the quality of the work it brings under scrutiny. The organization must either attract more contestants to add depth to its submission pool, or opt for ‘non-awardee’ options when the submissions miss the mark.

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One way of responding to my essay.

But, on a concluding note, I endorse Anupama’s overall positive assessment of writers such as Kanchana. That, along with the extended role she plays in literary platforms (as highlighted in the outset) encourages me to applaud her contributions. Indeed, our effort has to be to give birth to as many alternative platforms and outlets as possible: fringe-spaces which, in turn, will de-center the powerhouses who define, determine and steer Sri Lanka’s English literature. But, writing would not manifest itself without a process. Kanchana’s path is for the future to assess and see.

Leaving Kanpur: On Hebe de Souza’s “Black British”.

In Black British (Ventura Press, 2016), Hebe de Souza presents a powerful picture of the growing post-independence insecurity and vulnerability of a Jewish Christian Indian family who, for generations, had been living in Kanpur, and their ultimate exodus and uprooting from home. Narrated as being set in 1995 through a frame which looks back at a child and young adulthood spanning from 1958 to 1974, the narrative as a whole retrieves, through retrospective recollection, the memory of a dislocated childhood past. The central artery of the novel is the story of three young girls growing up in a comfortable middle class home of socially established parents of upwardly mobile ancestry. But, hovering over and incessantly challenging to break through their walls are the nationalistic impulses of a new nation, set free from centuries of western domination.

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Hebe de Souza

Being Judeo-Christian, the de Souzas – by birth, social standing, culture and faith – represent and embody an order which, to the common man, is both alienating and festered with entitlement. Their westernization, Catholic faith, English language and ancestry had set the de Souzas – in spite of their resonableness and generosity – on hostile terrain, while post-independence India is seen to head steadily down a widening gulf of disparity and economic want. There are two immediate shadows which haunt the de Souzas. First, the ugly but raw memory of the massacres at partition are fresh in the minds of the elders. The possibility of a similar riot breaking out anytime and their family being targeted during such a crisis is an overwhelming worry. Secondly, the family lives in a general fear of their house being broken into – a fear ignited by their economic stability and their minority status as an ethno-religious group. The narrative pays close attention to the many security and safety precautions the family elders had taken, from the keeping of dogs, parrots and geese, to being particular about locks and bolts. But, overriding both these concerns, there is a perpetual fear for the lives of the children – all girls – who are thought of being as predated on by the ordinary non-Catholic, Hindu community. The novel hints at the persistent fear of sexual predators: those who are more likely to prey on the three girls owing to their skin colour, faith and entitled background.

With increasing civil unrest and (what the writer refers to as) “lawlessness” in the mid-1970s, the family is pressed more and more to give up their home and to migrate to safer and stabler planes. Hate speech graffiti begins to appear on the compound wall. The fear of being assaulted, kidnapped, or at least, of being verbally intimidated, begin to mount. The collective paranoia of being attacked reaches a high when fear dictates the daily routines of family members (217). For instance, the family is now found to gather together in common spaces of the house, making sure they bolt or shut down unoccupied sections, even during the day. “Without being told”, the narrator – now recalling her teenage years – claims, “each of us recognized that our safety was compromised when we were alone” (217). An ugly incident occurs when the father accidentally brushes against a rickshaw  on the road – a typical ‘accident situation’ where people gather, tempers rise and mob behaviour threatens to take over (224-226). Returning home from the site of the accident in a man-drawn rickshaw, the narrator is followed by two cyclists – young men who had earlier been at the accident – who torment her with lewd and humiliating remarks:

Suddenly I felt a strong tug on the back seat and a voice I had heard before, saying in broken English, “I love you darling. Marry me,” and making insulting, kissing sounds towards me – pwoch pwoch. A second voice joined him in a high-pitched mocking laugh.

I knew who it was, but before i could react two bicycles sped past the rickshaw, turned and swooped back, all the time hollering loudly about my face, my breasts and more that I didn’t hear, as the fear-based thudding of my heart obliterated all sound. (225-226).

When inquired as to why the vindictiveness of the rabble reaches such a pitch, the father explains that the lives of the commoner is so hard and without prospect that “they hate, and rightly so, the oppressive regime that kept them subjugated for so long.” The father adds: “They see you as a representative of that regime” (226-227).

downloadThe novel opens in 1958, with the birth of Hebe’s persona, born in a Scottish hospital in Kanpur, on the 29th of November, a day before St. Andrew’s day (3). As her mother is taken to labour, the doctor is found playing the game of his life in the golf course (4). The midwife was out at a tailor’s shop fitting on her new dress for the next day’s ball (5). The small anglicized community was still securely nested  – with their colonial-gifted hospitals, saints and dances – in a world left behind by British occupation, a decade after India’s independence of 1947. However, on the eve of Hebe’s (rather, her persona’s) delivery, another Jewish Christian writer was already reading the proofs of his disillusioned poetry: an apathy at being rejected – or, even, at his not being able to blend in fully, in spite of his yearning to be ‘Indian’ – from the new nation space in which minority social groups such as his own were being outcast. This writer, Nissim Ezekiel, was born in 1928, and by the early 1950s, was already composing on themes of personal and cultural displacement, identity crisis, and the anguish of being increasingly an alien cast-away in an independent, non-English Indian world. Among Ezekiel’s early poetry – “In India” and “Background, Casually” being the popular twins – one finds echoes of Hebe de Souza’s own anguish and childhood fears.

In fact, the commonalities shared by the two writers – which include a Catholic education, a connection with a war veteran defending the Crown, and repulsion felt towards local attitudes towards their privilege -, in spite of their belonging to two generations, place them in a comfortable, mutually-enforcing dialogue. Ezekiel writes:

I went to Roman Catholic school,
A mugging Jew among the wolves.
They told me I had killed the Christ,
That year I won the scripture prize.
A Muslim sportsman boxed my ears.
I grew in terror of the strong
But undernourished Hindu lads,
Their prepositions always wrong,
Repelled me by passivity.

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Nissim Ezekiel (1928-2004)

The “terror” felt of the “strong but undernourished HIndu lads” with their misplaced prepositions closely mirror the sentiments the de Souza girls felt as a part of their day-to-day existence. When someone spoke too loudly, relentlessly knocked at the door, or hawked and spat, the persona’s father used to claim that “all Hindus are like that”:

All Hindus are
Like that, my father used to say,
When someone talked too loudly, or
Knocked at the door like the Devil.
They hawked and spat. They sprawled around.

However, Ezekiel ends this poem in a tone of resignation – as one who submits to his conditions and resolves to carry on. In spite of being rejected and relegated to a margin, his willingness to identify India as home is locatable in some of his early (pre-1970) pieces. “Background, Casually” concludes with a similar evocation:

I have made my commitments now.
This is one: to stay where I am,
As others choose to give themselves
In some remote and backward place.
My backward place is where I am.

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Hebe in 1969, pic c/o of a Hebe de Souza interview with Marina Marangos

However, the de Souzas decide to snap the ancestral roots and to break away from sentimentality, in view of their daughters’ future well being. Yet, up to the girls’ parents, aunts and uncles  live to thrive and breathe their last in Kanpur – the city of their childhood, youth, middle age and waning years: the nursery of their whole life. The girls’ Uncle Hugh – perhaps, the most understanding and worldly of the elders – summons his nieces shortly before his demise. His final advice to them is one wrought with pragmatism and progressive spirit: “Don’t waste your lives… Be careful you’re not left holding the ladder for someone else to climb!” (244). The tug to sell the family’s ancestral home and leave – a prospect that, at one point, seemed an absurdity – comes from the father. In a long, detailed and persuasive speech, he outlines how – by 1974 – India had become “no longer the country” for a small, Christian minority that wasn’t conversant in Hindi. (248-253). In a speech that places in perspective the adverse effects of colonialism and the social order therein derived (254-255), he maps with dispassion and objectivity the post-colonial trends and treks of surging Hindu nationalism (256-259). “We are too different” he says. “Our culture is different, adopted from a far-off island and left over from a bygone era. Our customs are different, the songs we sing, the books we read, the clothes we wear, the respect you expect and take for granted” (252). Their forebears having migrated there from Goa, and in spite of the life they had inherited in Kanpur, the father’s verdict is decisive: “You cannot stay in Kanpur. If you do, you’ll be a living sacrifice to the glories of yesteryear” (259).

Unlike Ezekiel, the de Souzas are one of the many families that opted for an exit strategy,  and broke away from the dangerous and debilitating vortex of an age. Like their ancestors – who, we are told, left Goa for an industrious life in Kanpur when such opportunities were beckoning – they had effectively moved beyond numbing circumstances, in search of freedom, courage, and hope. Black British is both a testimony  of that removal, as much as it is a eulogy for what they were forced to take leave of, if not leave behind.

In Between the Floors: Dechen Yoesel Chodon’s “Calm In Chaos”.

Dechen Yoesel Choden’s Calm In Chaos is a collection of 78 short poems, aligned under two chapters: chaos (36 poems) and calm (42 poems). Dechen identifies herself primarily as a ‘spoken word’ poet, and the spirit and rhythm of that genre – the conversant, free-wheeling quality of the spoken word – arw consistent in some of the more memorable sections of Calm In Chaos. It is quite possible that some of these poems were originally composed for spoken word recitation, before being collected into a volume of conventional print.

product_thumbnailDechen’s poetry is predominantly – if not exclusively – personal and introspective. The two sections, which are parenthetically subtitled as ‘pain, pleas and prayers’ and ‘realizations, revelations and acceptance’, open out an intense and volatile personal world, the fluctuations of which Dechen attempts to come to terms with. Personal anxiety, friction in relationship, friction at points of change, reconciliation with changing circumstances and with one’s own self as well as the personal struggle for clarity are among the more dominant themes and concerns in Calm In Chaos. The introspective and interrogative features stand out, and are often hard to miss with her questioning of the self for elusive answers (Alternately, this aspect may also be seen as a convenient strategy in poems meant to be recited out, and engage an audience). In all, the collection offers an intensity of emotion and deep feeling within a diverse network of relationships, from family bonds, romance, friendship, to investigations of natural cycles.

A technical or formal critique of Dechen Yoesel’s work requires a mediated consideration of the ‘spoken word’ genre. This is essential since her alignment is confessedly within the zones of that genre. The emergence of writers of Dechen’s mould also coincides with a renewed interest in ‘spoken word’ poetry over the past decade or so; an interest that has been bolstered by non-conventional poetry genres of a digital age. In more recent years, in Sri Lanka, too, the activism among contemporary poetry platforms such as open mic slams, insta-poetry networks, Facebook poets’ fan clubs show great enthusiasm for non-conventional verse, which are freed from classical models of poetry writing and reception. Through the interface (interference) of easy-to-share modalities such as Facebook and Instagram, the whole notion of “what constitutes poetry” has rapidly changed; its vanguard and status police being shifted from student to the faceless mass. The same platforms also mediate between different literary planes, from conventional print to insta: distinct tribes within which various liminal actors can be found. For me, Dechen is one such intermittent player; one who draws inspiration from the spoken word – might even identify with that genre – but, who may also readily venture into modalities of more conventional print formats, as she has done with Calm In Chaos.

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Dechen Yoesel Choden

The distinction I make here has to be fully understood. In order to enter the point in reverse, let us consider a poet such as Jean Arasanayagam: preferably, the Jean who still wrote poetry that had poetic ambition (and not the largely prosaic meanderings which prize judges seem to more readily acknowledge). Some of Jean’s better poetry stand out for its echo of the rhythm and lull of the spoken word. Yet, Jean Arasanayagam would not ever consider herself as a ‘spoken word’ writer. While, in a writer such as Jean Arasanayagam – or a Robert Frost – there may be residues of the cliched ‘living language’ as an integrated part of their craft, there can exist, and by the fold, ‘spoken word’ poets who are conventionally (and in the classical definition) not ‘poetic enough’. This is a debate between form and its deviants, as much as it is a friction between two contesting points of view on art. Overall, it is an ancient debate in its modern day form.

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Insta-poetry and other non-classical forms operate at a different floor from the conventional frame of poetry reception and appreciation.

Dechen, to reiterate the point, is more a mediator between the ‘spoken word’ and the conventional poem. In spirit, the ‘spoken word’ predominates her delivery; but, she is also conscious of operating between mediums and she adjusts her form and craft as she switches between floors. This is clearly visible when one reads Calm In Chaos along with her via-Facebook poetry found in ‘WordChugger’, her poetry page. Compare this with a recently launched collection of poetry, Poison Apple, by Megan Dakshini (which, at present, has earned a 5 star rating on Goodreads and has been given raving reviews by weekend Colombo papers). Megan’s writing has an appreciable, even enviable, social media following. The material that in 2018 became the substance of Poison Apple had had their birth pangs within the non-classical social media poetry frame. Her publication of Poison Apple, in the conventional print form in conventional layout, is a permeation of floors and two different value systems of consumption and reception. In this sense, Poison Apple, the book, in all its palpable implications, doesn’t offer a bite. On the contrary, the published document comes across as insignificant and banal – often, as a waste of good paper carrying commonplace couplets and one-liners, which look naked and exposed on a sea of empty page. Megan’s dilemma has to do with her attempt of crossing floors with a content which (seemingly) ‘worked’ in one medium, but which doesn’t perform the same function (or produce the same effect) in the second instance. Megan Dakshini is just a convenient example. This is not an autopsy of her work to come.

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An insta-poem

The intersection Dechen occupies is no different, but one at which she has arrived with a more nuanced sense of structure and form. Her challenge has been to harmonize the changing climates – from a cosmos oriented with the spoken word, to one tempered by the rubrics of conventional print – which Dechen accomplishes with relative success. However, the length to which Dechen may immerse or carry on in the realm of conventional poetry is for the future to know. As it is deducible through Calm In Chaos, Dechen’s present position is intermediary: she is between floors, and uses tools begotten in one quarter for her operations in the other. In that way, as a printed text, Calm in Chaos has not suffered. Yet, the text itself is a mere juncture of a process in the development of poetic craft. By this I mean that Dechen is yet to foster a language, an idiom, signature set pieces and a style that would set her uniquely apart from her closest other writer. For such an achievement, an ongoing experiment of many years is mandatory. It is equally a case for one’s perseverance, skill and patience, as well.

Dechen Yoesel Choden hails from Thimphu, Bhutan, and is currently resident in Colombo. Calm In Chaos was published in 2019 and is available at Lulu, and other such portals.