questions, missing answers
Sunset Years and Missing in Action by Punyakante Wijenaike.
Reviewed by Vijita Fernando.
Punyakante Wijenaike's two most
recent works in this omnibus volume are a study in contrasts. The
one, ‘Sunset Years’ is a nostalgic journey into the
past spanning several decades and the other, ‘Missing in Action’,
is a commentary on the stark realities of our times.
Years’ is the story of Wijenaike, the celebrated writer of
fiction in Sri Lanka, winner of many awards nationally and internationally.
It is a saga of her youthful years, her marriage and later, more
importantly, how the chrysalis in her emerged as a full fledged
writer. It is not an easy story to write but she does it with sincerity
and wisdom, never once slipping into sentimentality.
through the reality of her life is a silken thread, the bond that
she shared with her husband who died early leaving her to grapple
with life alone. The encouragement he gave her when she started
writing; getting up early, feeding an infant and writing for two
hours is treasured throughout the book.
among her personal reminiscences is the story of her writing. Often
this takes second place to her family and her daily pursuits. But
a careful reading shows the early attempts, the successes and the
striving to write, shining through the pages. Even when actual writing
was dormant through the dark days of her husband's illness, the
will to continue urged her and during this time several of her well
known books were written and published.
ask her ' how do you write about people you have never met, who
have lived far away from you?' Her creativity is her answer in which,
as she says, her imagination makes her think, feel and react, just
as if she herself had lived the incident...
is a simple explanation of the realities of her fiction. ‘The
Rebel’, in the title story of a collection of short stories,
in which Kumari reveals another aspect of the 1971 insurgency, ‘Giraya’
with its dark overtones, ‘Anoma’, a harsh comment on
incest, ‘Yukthi’, a soldier's dilemma, ‘Amulet’
where a son worshipping mother "never allowed her daughter
to send roots in her father's garden," and ‘Enemy Within’,
a story on the aftermath of the Central Bank bomb attack.
so many others.
Wijenaike does not have answers to whether she has a social
responsibility when she refers to other people in her life. She
wonders how a writer can determine her position in relation to humanity.
She says, "All I can say is go where the story takes you, taking
care though, that nothing is irretrievable. And in any case it is
not the writer who decides these issues but the reader..."
style as much as in content, the second book ‘Missing in Action’
gives us another kind of writing, away from the even tenor of ‘Sunset
Years’. Here the atmosphere is stark, deadly, often uncompromising
and the writing brisk and unemotional.
title story ‘Missing in Action’ combines a number of
strands, from the early childhood problems of the protagonist, the
traumas of growing up, the problems of adolescence and the thorny
path of an arranged marriage till she reaches peace and love with
the man who becomes a number in a long list of “missing persons”.
It is a harrowing story in which the reader at times gets lost.
is a prize winning gem, the tender treatment of a nasty subject
- incest. The conversation which the child/woman victim has with
the growing foetus in her womb is an indictment not only on fathers
who sexually use their daughters but on mothers who leave them.
is not the only story in this collection that the author has written
on current social problems. There is ‘Memories’ in which
the age old problem of parents not having enough time for children's
needs is vividly related.
Investment is very much a story of these times. Sixteen-year-old
Jagath from a poor fishing family stands poised between two worlds,
unable to make a choice. Should he follow the two German men who
befriend him, give him wrist watches and Levis and “turned
him into a whore”? The boy's dilemma is genuine and as he
makes his choice, he watches the two foreigners repeating the same
sordid tale with another and then another victim.
is the strong point in Wijenaike's narratives. There is nothing
surreal except perhaps very briefly in the story ‘Guess Who
is Coming to Dinner’. Even here it does not take centrestage.
of Wjenaike's stories in ‘Missing in Action’ pose questions
to the reader. What was it that made a woman unable to face her
life alone when her husband is missing in action in Mullativu? Was
it her upbringing, the harsh treatment at her mother's hands that
made her so in adult life? Are we too quick to indict the mother
who left the little teenager with an aged grandmother so that her
father could seduce her, and turn our eyes away from the social
circumstances that compel her to leave the child for the sake of
a better life for her family? Even a cursory reading of Wijenaike's
stories will leave the reader pondering on these issues.
Jathika Chinthanaya by Sankajaya Nanayakkara. Reviewed
by Vijaya Jayatissa.
One of the most paramount obstacles for the progress of Sri Lankan
society has been the resistance to re-conceptualise the State in
Sri Lanka. This kind of resistance is clearly identified with the
extreme right of the Sinhala society. Right wing resistance to political
reforms that attempt to accommodate the aspirations of the marginalized
sectors in Sri Lankan society has usually been violent. It has assassinated
populist prime ministers like S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, progressive-left-of-the-centre
politicians like Vijaya Kumaratunga and radical student leaders
like Daya Pathirana. Until the emergence of the Jathika Chinthanaya
ideology or the Chinthana Parshadaya School in the mid 1980s, the
Sinhala extreme right did not have a well-articulated discourse.
An extreme Sinhala ideology gradually emerged in the writings of
Gunadasa Amarasekera and Nalin de Silva, the pioneers of the Chinthana
Nanayakkara's extensive essay on Jathika Chinthanaya makes a valuable
contribution to our understanding of a discourse that has been the
prime inspiration of anti-political reform politics in Sri Lanka.
In this essay Nanayakkara traces the historical development of the
Jathika Chinthanaya ideology with reference to texts and newspaper
articles of the school. He elucidates the contours of this particular
ideology. The author has fulfilled the long felt need for a comprehensive
critical scrutiny of the Jathika Chinthanaya. This essay is not
confined to a mere analysis of secondary sources of data such as
books and articles of the Chinthana Parshadaya School. It is evident
that the author has used primary data, which most probably has resulted
from interviews conducted with informants who have been activists
of the School and opponents of it. Nanayakkara characterises Jathika
Chinthanaya as a false consciousness that emerged in certain sections
of the Sinhala petty bourgeoisie as a reaction to disorienting economic,
social and cultural changes of the post-1977 era. In conclusion,
the author emphasises the need for a more inclusive identity that
will reflect the plural nature of Sri Lankan society.
author who is a lecturer in sociology and anthropology at the Sabaragamuwa
University of Sri Lanka has presented his essay in a comprehensive
and accessible manner. Yet one cannot overlook his scholarly style
of writing which probably is a result of the academic training he
has gained. This extensive essay is an invitation for scholars as
well as activists who are interested in understanding the ideological
foundations of the Sinhala extreme right.
storms brewing in this teacup
Coffee Stains in a Camel's Teacup by Deepak Unnikrishnan.
Reviewed by Carl Muller.
Unnikrishnan is just 23. That says nothing, does it? But how many
23-year-olds possess a heart that swells into a stunning glory-hued
flower, bursting into voice that makes of life's way a sheer lyric
of sliding, gliding words?
first collection of short stories is surely but an aperitif. Someday,
I hope, a feast awaits us. He asks us to sip lovingly and not consider
the small measure of the glass. Just seven stories told with such
uncontrolled power. One gets that champagne taste, turning to a
rare Medoc, then to ambrosia. It simply has to be like that - and
then there is that scent of a burning rose that, long ago, George
MacDonald told us of in his enchanting children's classic, ‘The
Princess and the Goblin’.
cannot help but revel in the way each story in this slim book conveys
the author's deepest emotions. He is in them all - both male and
female - and with the sort of ease that only rare artists can embody
on canvas. He allows his mind to speak, as though his tongue, deadened
by the mystery, the grandeur of it all, has no need for words. The
writing flows, gathering colours, sights, sounds, winding with the
wind and city din, living room windows, urban conscience riding
the waters of Lethe or the waters of Avalon, it matters little.
It flows, remorselessly, and in its gathering detritus there is
spilled orange juice, stray dogs like Bombay prostitutes, an ugly
West 19 street pigeon, lottery tickets that tantalize. It is first
person writing that compels and, with ease, he also becomes the
female giver and lover and non-lover in a sacrificial dance of longing.
makes this little book a joy to read is the deep humanity that undercurrents
it. Life to Deepak is not lived enough, yet he has reached inward
for depths and the thoughts cascade. Sexual frustration spurred
by desire clashes cymbals. In ‘Travelogue’ he is turning
to Nabokov's ‘Lolita’; then to ‘Perfume’.
In ‘The Silence is a Shout’ he is the grandfather, watching
a lovely girl buying brinjals in a supermarket:
soft and touchable fingers played the purple vegetables like men,
and they almost juiced with desire under her torment.
"Need help?" I questioned.
am not sure, grandpa," came the answer in a playful, lilty
voice that made my body ache with grandfatherless venom... Never
before had I crept into a woman's skirt so seamlessly as she spoke.
tells of the day he had been to the Met, seen a painting by Balthus:
Oh, I almost came when I saw this sensuously vibrant painting of
a little girl...
Everyone in that room that day, every single lover of art, stared
at that painting in silence and in awe - for her parted limbs, I
assure you, were like a tunnel of immense vacuum, sucking all that
looked into her being, impregnating her with a lustful sexual alloy,
gathered from a mixture of silence.
is the author really telling us? He invites us, actually: Read -
read my soul. This is me in the growing-up time, the now-time and
the time to come. I will keep my senses alight and even as age steals
everything else, the Roman Candles with their craving light will
keep me ever needing, never satisfied.
Above all these are the word pictures he weaves. They are abso -bloody-lutely
marvellous. Walk the streets of Bombay with him ("Laugh Lines
hidden in a Lamp Post") and listen to what he says:
colour, vibrant spider webs of colour gushing in and out like spasmodic
cannonballs of life... wandering second-hand colours, flirty bright
hues, and even old shrivelled rainbows... Trousers and jeans pass
in some sort of pre-calculated, confused sequence... some sort of
synchronized bedlam in a coinductorless land.
personal, intimate, broken-egg-raw in spots, impressions that come
from the stench of torn-up carpets; experiences that buzz-saw their
way into the crevices of awareness, then settle like mining dust
to taint or taunt.
hard to put Deepak's seven torrid tales into a cannister and say:
"There, I've got it all pegged down." He comes through
like a new wave, overwhelming the turgidity of the commonplace,
breaks on some sun-dazed shore, scattering word-pearls that startle
the very air into a wondering, receptive breathlessness.
is the first offering of a true, gifted literary artiste. There
is precision of thought behind the seeming ramble that turns into
the many molehills of the senses. It is not that the author cares
whether we squirm or not for blatant or otherwise, he writes from
an innermost part of his own questioning self.
If that is not Truth, what is?
Haiku moment for each day
Firefly Crossing - Haiku poems by Rohini Cooray. Reviewed
by Ameena Hussein.
is small poetry with an oriental metric that appeared in the XVI
century and is popular in Japan. In this century it gained in popularity
and today has become a worldwide phenomenon. It has an old and long
story that blends the ancient spiritualist philosophy and the Taoist
symbolism of the oriental mystics and Zen Buddhist masters who express
much of their thoughts in the form of myths, symbols, paradoxes
and poetic images like the Haiku. It's done to transcend the limitation
imposed by the usual language and the linear/scientific thinking
that treat nature and human beings as machines.
in its traditional form is composed of 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables
respectively. Contemporary international haiku however, usually
relaxes the syllable-count restriction. In English Haiku, 1-3 lines
of 17 syllables or less is the norm (14 syllables is often recommended).
are poems about nature and generally follow the principles of minimalism
and immediacy. Immediacy refers to the sense of a scene being directly
presented to your senses. A Haiku tries to capture a concrete image
in place and time. It's contemplative poetry that valorizes nature,
colour, season, contrasts and surprises. It must register or indicate
a moment, sensation, impression or drama of a specific fact of nature.
It's almost like a word photograph of some specific moment of nature.
A Haiku moment is a moment of transcendence; after reading a Haiku
and where the imagery has its sensorial impact on you. Probably
the idea of a Haiku moment was meant to be parallel to the brief
moment of enlightenment after reflecting on a Zen koan. Thus a Haiku
moment is a sudden sense of urgent immediacy as, upon completing
the reading of a Haiku, you feel yourself thrustfully and tangibly
drawn into the scene described.
traditional Japanese poetry has historically been deeply involved
with nature. Natural cycles, such as the seasons and the course
of love relationships, have long been subject matter for composition,
the primary source of figurative language, and a large part of the
basis for organizing poetry collections. According to principles
of Japanese poetry, certain words and phrases embody ideas that
go beyond their literal meanings. For example, using the word ‘blossom’
(hana), without the name of a specific blossom, means the blossoms
of ornamental cherry trees. For any other blossom one must specify:
‘peach blossoms’ (momo no hana), and so on. Further,
the word ‘cherry’ (sakura) always means ‘cherry
blossoms’ - unless one specifies ‘fruit of the cherry’
(sakura no mi).
the Japanese many natural phenomena and human activities, and the
words and phrases traditionally used to name them, bring to mind
the seasons in which they typically occur along with a whole range
of temporally-related images. Every culture has phrases, often used
in literature, which bring to mind whole complexes of associated
images and feelings. In Japanese traditional literature those ‘words
or word groups’ associated with the seasons have been particularly
appreciated and even catalogued.
Crossing is a delightful book of Haiku poetry. In Haiku the poetic
form appear deceptively simple yet embody a complex array of possibilities.
In this collection of one-breath poems you find more than a full
spectrum of colour among the pages. The poems move from serenity
to startlement, sadness to hilarity and from purely innocent attentiveness
to playfulness. The quality of work is excellent and thoughtfully
arranged. The preface is comprehensive and instructive. And each
subsequent reading of this collection of poems produces a wealth
of new pleasures and inisights. The richness of the poetic material
here proves the inspirational nature of Haiku as well.
its best Haiku gives the reader unique insights into everyday situations.
The best Haiku poems in Rohini Cooray's collection compress complex
observations into a few perfectly chosen words. These Haiku combine
Cooray's lyrical gifts of strong musical language and unique, personal
insight with a disciplined form. The poems in this collection range
over a broad spectrum of topics from the poet’s reflections
on places of nature to situations of war and reflections on people.
Of sob-sodden graveyard;
In the camera still.
Dead soldier in noon sun;
Armour ants assembling
In vulture's shadow
Not its sting; just
Shooing away mosquito
Sleeping child awakes.
also has many poems that meditate on nature of which she is evidently
passionate. Many of these poems tend to capture a picture - a photograph
of words. There are some that go beyond this and perceive nature
as a living entity that is connected to all of creation.
Golden rays of dawn
Caressing laden sheaves of
Paddy; harvest time.
A sunny spot:
Glistening on a spider's thread
Full moon beams trickling down
In garden plants.
words caressing, glistening and trickling transform this Haiku from
a snapshot of a moment in time into a vision of the paddy fields
as being alive and a part of an interconnected universe. It suggests
a relationship, a conversation between the earth and the heavens.
Cooray's experience as a poet is evident in the vivid compelling
images she creates, and the gentle voice she has developed. Traditionally,
Japanese Haiku require that each poem contain a kigo or season word
that tells the reader in which season the Haiku is set. Her vivid
earthy sensual imagery provide a rich treasure trove of season words:
An afflicted heart
In a violin.
Honey locust trees
Weeping golden tears scatter
In the autumn wind.
Long ago ghosts -
Empty pumpkin promises
Chilling a fall night.
is said that more than inspiration, one needs meditation, effort
and perception to compose a real Haiku. Rohini Cooray's collection
is one that successfully combines all of these to allow the reader
the luxury of a Haiku moment for each day.