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8th March 1998

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He well deserves the honour

A writer of repute with over 40 translations of internationally famous works to his credit in the space of four decades was felicitated last Tuesday on his 70th birthday. Since his entry into this field in 1956, K.G. Karunatilleke has introduced Soviet, French, English and other writers to the Sinhala reader through his translations.

Kaurnatilleke has won the State Literary Award for the best translator four times - in 1968 (Abirahas Mandiraya - a collection of French short stories), 1971 (Welikatarake Ataramangwa, another collection of short stories), 1976 (Waguru Bima, an anthology of great Russian and Soviet short stories) and in 1994 (Piyer Saha Shong).

At the felicitation ceremony arranged by his publisher, Dayawansa Jayakody, two new publications were also released. The two new books are 'Bihisunu Tarzan', translation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' 'Tarzan the Terrible' and 'Makar Chudra', a collection of 12 short stories by Maxim Gorky. Incidentally, this is the sixth in the Tarzan series that Karunatilleka has translated. He has already done Tarzan of the Apes, The Return of Tarzan, The Beasts of Tarzan, The Son of Tarzan and Tarzan the untamed.

Karunatilleke started his career as a novelist with three original works. Beginning with a novel, Jeevana Mayawa, he moved over to writing short stories (Masun Maranno) and followed up with a historical novel, Ajita.

Tracing back to the days he did the early translations he says, ''I thought I must introduce world famous authors to our Sinhala readers.

I selected ten Russian short stories from Pushkin to Gorky for my first attempt. Bim Gei Sirakaruwa (Prisoner in the Dungeon) was the title of the book printed by Saman Press, a popular press in the fifties.''

How does he select the originals? "I read a lot of books. As I go on I pick up stories from here and there, stories which I feel will be interesting and popular with the readers.''

For Karunatilleke it has been a long journey - ''a very satisfying one'', he says.

So they met on Tuesday afternoon at the Jayewardene Cultural Centre down Dharmapala Mawatha to pay tribute to this pioneer.

Bambara Kepeema, a folk tradition

Bee hunting (Bambara Kepeema), a popular trade in the Moneragala area, is also very much a part of our heritage. Few would have realised the ritual involved in collecting the honey until they saw Professor J. B. Disanayaka explain the process in his customary lucid style in a new programme over Rupavahini the other day.

Titled Apekama, the programme discusses glimpses of our culture, our 'ownness', so to say.

Prof. Disanayaka began by tracing the background to the Uva Province, explaining the various theories as to the origin of the word 'Uva'. (Some even believe it refers to the area demarcated according to the distance one could hear a 'hoo handa'). He then described the traditional bee hunting process getting the elderly folk to talk on the subject.

The tree is selected, a fire is lit below to get the wasps to leave the tree, an 'expert; climbs the tree armed with the necessary paraphernalia, down below two mates start reciting verses (asking forgiveness for what they are doing), until the job is done. Not all wasps leave the place, so the 'panikar' who climbs has to avoid being attacked.

The programme turned out to be very interesting and educative. It was the first of a series and it is hoped it will be a weekly feature.

It's nice to see an authoritative person like Prof. Disanayaka bringing out hidden aspects of our culture. A fine learning experience indeed. It is, in a way, an extension of the 'Tumpath Rata' series he broadcast over SLBC a few years back when he discussed Sinhala folk culture woven round the temple. Just as that series came out in two most readable publications - Sinhala Vehera Vihara and Sinhala Budu Samaya - we wish Apekama will also come out in print.

Why not a permanent exhibition?

Sri Lanka, the Resplendent Isle, takes its history back to the days of Batadomba Lena (Batadomba caves) pre-historic inhabitants. They evolved gradually and formed a clan called the Veddahs. These tribesmen enjoyed limitless freedom in the forests and had no territorial bounds for their livelihood. As time passed, our forefathers colonised themselves and entered into a feudal system of settlement giving birth to an everlasting civilization.

With this legend began the fine photographic display of Sri Lanka's history arranged by the Department of Information at the Golden Jubilee Independence exhibition at the BMICH.

In 40 attractive panels, the story unfolds. It takes you through the glory of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa to Kandy, the threat posed to the country's liberty with the invasion by the foreign powers, the struggle for independence and the progress made over the fifty years after independence including the troubled times.

A fine record and an excellent lesson in history vividly portrayed.

A suggestion. Find a place to make this display a permanent exhibition for everyone to see over and over again and get a feel for our motherland.

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