22nd June 1997


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Capturing that rural setting

By Roshan Peiris

Award ceremonySita RanaweeraThe D.R. Wijewardene award in memory of the late D.R. Wijewardene, a pioneer in the service of nation building has been an inspiration if not an incentive for Sinhala writers, said Dr.S.G. Samarasinghe in his keynote address at the award ceremony held last week.

The 1996 Award for the best Sinhala novel in manuscript form carrying a prize of forty thousand rupees to help the author to publish the novel, was won by Sita Kumarihamy Ranaweera, a woman with a rural background, of which she is very proud. She is typical of the quiet intellectual with no pretension to greatness, though she has an arts degree from the Peradeniya University. She has also taught for twenty years and now lives a quiet life with her husband and two daughters in a rural setting in Maharagama.

Sita Kumarihamy knew we were coming, but yet there she was busily sweeping her house. She opened the gate herself, not specially dressed up to receive us, but in a simple long skirt and blouse.

What is most arresting about this winner of the D.R. Wijewardene Award is that she venerates her roots and is intensely attached to the rural village life into which she was born, and around which she wrote her novel Aratu.

It is people like her that the late D.R.Wijewardene wanted to help. Those with rural backgrounds who are proud of their national language and heritage.

Kumarihamy comes from the village of Holombuwa in the Dedigama electorate. "My father was a some sort of leader in the area and my grandfather was the Principal of a Kanishta Vidyalaya,'' she said.

Pokunutota is the name I gave for the village in which my novel Aratu is set. My grandmother and father bought land in this small village and came to live there. I have known this very poor village surrounded by rubber estates. The rubber tree gives the milk but the centre is firm. Around this idea I built my novel where a Tamil Kangani marries a poor Sinhala estate woman, showing that there are no differences in race - all mankind are the same and stand together.''

According to the story, the couple have a hard time and their two daughters are shunned by the villagers. Sujadin and Pathmakumari cannot attend school. A Mr. Duncan, a L.S.S.P. and a staunch follower of Dr. N.M. Perera takes the two desperate girls in hand and gets them into a convent. But there too they face discrimination lacking proper clothes and books. In the meantime the Kangani, their father, leaves his family depressed at the way they are treated.

The two girls, stand firmly by their mother and support the family by doing odd jobs such as cleaning Mr. Duncan's garden.''

It is a moving novel. Strangely, Kumarihamy's family, her husband and two daughters knew nothing about it. She sent the novel to the Janata Sama Sahithya Uthsavaya which called for scripts with racial amity as the theme.

"They wrote back saying my script was fine but did not elaborate enough on their theme. Even then my family knew nothing until the script was returned. After my family read the script I rewrote parts of it before I sent it for this Award. My husband has not still read my new script. My daughters read a list of English books such as Michael Ondaatge's The English Patient. They now make me read English novels too,'' said Kumarihami.

She says the Award is a great incentive and she will keep writing after her household chores are over''. I wonder whether I can send another script for the same Award some day. The present script is already being type set.''

It was a pleasure to meet Sita Kumarihamy Ranaweera. She is the sort of woman one cherishes to know in a society which can sometimes be most superficial aping the West and being proud to do so.

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