14th May 2000
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Her joys, fears and tribulations

By Alfreda de Silva
A day for celebrating mothers - that's what today is. A remembering of this segment of society, who because of this symbiotic relationship with their offspring, make the world tick. A special day for them means that they are shown appreciation, no matter what their station in life is.

A sourcebook of American women's poetry edited by Marilyn Sewell and titled 'Claiming the Spirit Within' does just that. It gives a special place to the minutiae of the everyday and the common place, in mothers' lives so often taken for granted.

These poets have got at the heart of the joys, fears and tribulations of mothers in universal situations.

They take stock of generations of mothers who play their part on the stage they create. They point to the importance of identity in mothers' lives; the defiance with which these characters face seemingly impossible challenges; the way they relate to the earth and its creatures and teach their daughters about the simple blessings like family, friendship and love.

Conception and birthing are the strengths of a mother's kingdom as are mothering and caring. She knows to handle compassion, the day's many occupations and ageing. They are her birthright.

In her poem My Mother Susan Griffin states:

"At the centre of the earth there is a mother,
If any of us who are her children chooses to die
She feels a grief like a wound deeper
Than any of us can imagine.

Great-grandmother, grandmother and mother talk to us, teach us and hold up for our benefit situations with which we can interact emotionally.

We have portraits of mothers working under extremely difficult circumstances as in Restaurant by Maxine Hong Kingston where two women stand in for a cook who is ill.

I lose my size. I am a bent over 
child, Gretel or Jill, and I can
Lift a pot as big as a tub with both hands
Using a pitchfork.... 
We put the quiches in the oven then we are able
to stick our heads up out of the sidewalk into the night
and wonder at the clean diners behind glass in candle light.

In The Piemaker by Liz Max, a mother rises before the dawn and goes down to her kitchen to begin her work - sheer drudgery and monotony that she veils behind her dreaming.

I always thought I'd have little girls
and be a good mother, be the mother
I never had, teach them how to make pies
and how to get past wanting to quit 
show them?
the place in our minds beyond the last ridge
..... the place where there is no time.....

The next extract I've chosen is an example of a mother who makes an unbearable sacrifice. It's by Alicia Ostiker and is called Surviving (excerpt):

Mother, chatterer, I ask you also,
You who poured Tennyson
And Browning into my child ear, and you
Who threw a boxful of papers, your novel
Down the incinerator
When you moved, when your new husband
Said to take only
What was necessary, and you took 
Stacks of magazines, jars of buttons, raggy
Clothing and not your writing
Were you ashamed?

In Christmas Eve: My mother dressing by Toi Derricotte, we have the pathos of a child watching a work-worn mother getting ready to change her image for Christmas:

Now I remember her hands, her poor hands
Which even then were old from scrubbing,
Whiter on the inside than they should have been
And hard, the first joints of her fingers, little fattened pods
painted a jolly colour.

Florence Weinberger's poem The Power in My Mother's Arms brings memories of her special way of cooking, and the change brought about by her death:

To every celebration
She matched flavour
Giving exile the bite of bitter herbs
God's word drifted in fragrant soups
Vigour in the wine made
Herself, clear and original
My mother's death 
Changed the alchemy of food".

All over the world mothers are combining their careers with looking after their children and doing all sorts of household chores without letting go of that still small place for dreaming.

Peggy Garrison has it in Mother Notes for Elaine:

So during these blessed 20 minutes 
between picking up my son at the babysitters 
and macaroni and cheese for dinner 
let me crouch down 
in my peanut shell chair 
tiny and folded like an unborn child 
to write this poem".

This writing steers away from the sentimental. Loss is acknowledged without maudlin self-pity.

Poem in September for my Mother's birthday by Judith Sornberger is a sensitive and meaningful walk through the woods by a dying mother and her daughter.

It draws its imagery from the Red Riding Hood story:

Mother this is not the view
I brought you here to see:
Both of us are on the way to Grandma's
Whoever walks ahead, you'll get there first;
The woodcutter is up there on the hillside
Felling trees for cottage after cottage

These women know joy and grief, anger, love and loss, gain and sacrifice. They have come to terms with ageing and dying.

A Taste of Sinhala (19)

Things and people

By Prof. J. B. Disanayaka
When communicating, it is necessary to describe people and things, either because we like to express our opinions or because we need to evaluate them. Different languages have different ways of doing so. 

Most languages including Sinhala use an 'adjective', to make such evaluations: lassana (pretty); loku (big); unu (hot, warm); and la:ba (cheap). 

These words usually occur before nouns to modify them: lassana kella (pretty girl); loku geval ( big houses); unu vatura (hot water) and la: ba pot ( cheap books). 

Adjectives can also occur after nouns, but when that happens, there is a verb, such as 'is' or 'are' to link the noun and the adjective: 

The girl is pretty; Houses are big; Water is hot; and Books are cheap. 

Sinhala, however, uses no verb but adds the particle 'y' after the adjective: 

kella lassana-y (the girl is pretty); geval loku-y (Houses are big); Vatura unu-y (Water is hot) and pot la: ba-y (Books are cheap).

Kala korner - by Dee CeeThey were all there
It was a unique occasion. Twenty-five contemporary writers gathered at the SLFI auditorium on the invitation of Madhubashini Ratnayake. Rarely do we see such a large number meeting in one place. Not even at the much-publicised Sahitya Day festivals. 

Madhubashini wanted them to participate in the launch of her book, Contemporary Sinhala Fiction: Some Writers and Their Writing. And they had responded enthusiastically. She walked up to each of them (they were seated with the rest of the audience) and handed over a book where each had been featured with a profile and an English translation of one of their creative pieces. The book presentation was sponsored by The Sunday Times and the National Youth Services Council.

For the writers featured in Madhubashini's book recognition had come their way. English readers would now get to know a host of new writers. They would certainly have known and read about Sarachchandra and a few others. But here, in one publication, they would get a glimpse of the vast talent we possess. And possibly most of them would want to read the originals and familiarise themselves with the trends in Sinhala literature.

The book also opens the door to the international scene, for contemporary writers.

While the speakers congratulated Madhubashini on her effort, they insisted on the need for more works of this nature. She herself confessed that this was in no way a complete job. There were many more writers who should gain recognition. Pointing out the need for us to get to know Tamil writers, she thought someone like journalist K. S. Sivakumaran could do it. 

A young lecturer from the Colombo University, Sandagomi Coperahewa lamented that literary education and literary criticism are neglected areas in the university curriculum. He stressed the need for English and Sinhala departments in universities to work together in these areas and make a meaningful contribution to the development of literature.

Professor Ashley Halpe, referring to Madhubashini's effort as "a rich and varied collection", said it gave an insight to the creative abilities of different writers.

Congratulating publisher Sirisumana Godage for undertaking a publication of this nature, Professor Halpe appealed to him to give Sinhala and Tamil readers access to works of other writers.

The other side
Pulling out a book from his briefcase at the SLFI after the launch of Madhubashini's book, K. S. Sivakumaran ('Siva' to most of us) responded to the call made to him by saying, "I have already started doing it". 

In 1992 he had published Aspects of Culture in Sri Lanka reproducing an interview given by him to LeRoy Robinson, the American academic in the Nagasaki University who had been responsible in large measure to making Sri Lankan culture in Japan. 

Siva begins with the contribution made by the well-known figure in Tamil drama and literature, Professor S. Vithianathan (whom I myself remember well as senior sub-warden at Jayatilaka Hall in the Peradeniya campus), particularly on how he re-oriented the traditional Nattu Koothu stylized plays to suit modern times. 

He then refers to Professors Kanagasabapathi Kailasapathi and Karthigesu Sivathamby (both my contemporaries at Peradeniya) - the former being identified as "a Tamil intellectual who fostered Sri Lankan consciousness among writers" and one who encouraged awareness of an identifiable Sri Lankan Tamil literature as distinguished from that of Tamil Nadu and the latter as someone who specialized in Tamil social and literary history, cultural communication among Tamils and literary criticism.

Siva traces the history of Tamil fiction referring to the first novel written by a Ceylonese -S. Ignacittamby of Trinconamlee - an adaptation of a Portuguese novella called 'Orzon and Valentine' in 1891. The second Ceylon Tamil novelist has been identified as T. Saravanamuttu Pillai who wrote 'Mohanangi' in 1895. It was not until 1924 that the first woman Tamil novelist appeared -S. Sellammal with her novel 'Rasadurai'. 

According to Siva, 'serious novels' came to be written in Tamil only after 1956. He mentions a host of names - Ilankeeran, V. A. Rasaratnam, S. Ganeshalingam, Benedict Palan and C. V. Velupillai, S. Yoganathan and Chengai Aaliyan. He briefly discusses the work of key writers. 

Siva also touches on Tamil poetry, music and journals in the book.

It's a good start, Siva. Now, take the cue from Madhubashini and make a more comprehensive study of creative writers.

World Publishers' parley
Publishers met in Buenos Aires recently on the invitation of the Argentine Book Publishers' Association for the 26th sessions of the World Publishers' Society. Representing Sri Lanka were the President of the Sri Lanka Publishers' Association, Dayawansa Jayakody and Executive Secretary Gamini Wijesuriya. Books published in Sri Lanka were exhibited in Argentina for the first time during the sessions.
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