Happenings in the 'good old days'
Three books by one author being launched simultaneously is quite rare. Former civil servant turned writer P.G. Punchihewa achieved this recently when he launched three of his books at the National Library Services Board auditorium. Two were in English and the other in Sinhala. One is a children's book – the English version of his popular 'Mai Pancha' series discussing the doings of a tiny 'messa' .
Punchi, as we called him from our Peradeniya university days, had three speakers at the launch. There was Sybil Wettasinghe who had illustrated the 'Mai Pancha' books, Tissa Devendra who spoke on his English book 'The Shattered Earth' and Leel Gunasekera (he had collected a PhD from the Sri Jayawardenapura University since we last met) who introduced 'Ávidda Paya`- a travelogue in Sinhala.
It turned out to be an intimate evening. Most in the audience knew each other. They could compare notes of the "good old days" either at Peradeniya half a century ago or in the outposts when they served as bureaucrats. The speakers made lively comments without unnecessary quotes from the books and it was essentially a home and home 'do'.
Punchi recollected how Sybil had done the illustrations for his first children's books even without meeting him and was quite convinced that whatever success he has achieved as a writer of children's books was mostly due to her illustrations.
The Shattered Earth
Punchi introduced his work 'The Shattered Earth' as "the story of the poverty stricken, landless, innocent peasants of Wellassa who fell victims to the development-oriented policies of the Government, implemented through Colombo based entrepreneurs backed by the bureaucracy." We are taken back to the days in the late 1960s when the then Government launched a massive food drive and gave state land to big companies on long lease. Some did a good job introducing new crops like soya bean, getting the villagers to cooperate and providing them with new agricultural techniques. There were others who felled the rich timber and made a quick buck. The villagers naturally had their own fears and that's what Punchi, who was serving in Moneragala at the time as the Government Agent, reveals.
The story revolves round Kirisanda, a chena cultivator who fights a lone battle, unsuccessfully as it turns out, to prevent the land from being given out to a big company. Punchi confesses that most of the characters in the story are persons he had met in the course of his official duties. So it's virtually an authentic tale.
In describing the village landscape Punchi creates a vivid picture introducing the reader to the jungle. Punchi's is a very easy style, yet he captures the mood of the people dramatically. His is a social commentary of a period in recent history when the country underwent numerous changes. Punchi had earlier given the Sinhala reader a glimpse of these changes through his work 'Gana Bol Polowa'. 'The Shattered Earth' is strictly not a translation because he has made changes to make it more interesting reading.