26th July 1998
Facing reality with sensitivity
Facing out to Sea by Peter Adamson
Sceptre Press, 1997
What would a young Sri Lankan waiter from the slums of Maligawatte have in common with a sophisticated English businesswoman seeking to escape the stresses of corporate life? In his first novel, journalist Peter Adamson explores that nebulous yearning for fulfilment that lurks inside many a human soul.
Set in sultry Colombo alternating between the graciously relaxed ambience of the city's most famous colonial hotel and its teeming slums where a community of diverse inhabitants struggles to achieve a better life, the story moves with gathering momentum to its painful climax.
Vijay Jayasinghe has risen in life. The young man has a diploma from the Catering College and has managed to find a job at a prestigious hotel and rent a tiny house in a Garden No 178 in the Maligawatte Ward, bringing his wife and parents up a notch from the canal bank misery of his growing days, where he not only had to contend with his mother's grimly suppressed fury over the lack of ambition and backbone in the charming ex-Army man she had married but also his own dissatisfaction. Married to Chandra, a dusky bashful beauty, he finds escape in his job where he can feast his eyes on the serenity of the quiet hotel verandah where he waits on the guests, against the backdrop of the Indian Ocean.
Into Vijay's life drifts, Clara, a jaded businesswoman whose Lankan holiday has been a whim, a sudden impulse on seeing a travel article on the "last great unspoilt hotel of the East." When Clara decides she would like to see more of the city, "not the tourist things" she asks Vijay to be her guide. This innocent overture has however, ramifications far greater than the two of them could ever imagine.
The meetings, fraught with embarrassment for Vijay, however, become also a source of pride. "Each time he attended at Clara's table and exchanged a word or smile, he returned as if with a renewed shot of a drug. No matter that the conspiracy was so small, the deception so unimportant, the secret so innocent-so the genie worked on this small potential with a treacherous alchemy in Vijay's mind, metamorphosing secrecy into intimacy, intimacy into an acceptance in which he was investing his innermost hopes, eroding normality, holding before him the undefined possibility of relief, of triumph over his obscure oppression."
The writer and narrator of the annual BBC TV documentary Global Report in the 80s, Adamson has worked for the past 15 years with UNICEF and has a journalist's perceptive eye for detail. He evokes disturbingly moving images in his sensitive portrayal of the Colombo slums, where hopes die for want of daylight. His people are fleshed out in telling realism. Chandra, the bright young wife who finds the courage to stand up to her mother-in-law and start her own cake business, Godfrey, Vijay's father with his faded dreams of migrating to England in the aftermath of the war who nevertheless brings up his son to read Biggles and Wodehouse, and Premawathie, the disappointed yet unbowed mother, who locks away her little treasures in a trunk when they go to live on the banks of San Sebastian canal and allows herself to weep for the first time in 40 years when her son leads her into their own home.
Adamson's Colombo is a city of contrasts that residents will identify with. Stark reality, the reality of the common man prevails and this is why Facing out to Sea is such a satisfying read.
(The book is available at Lake House Bookshop)
Yet in much demand
Tony Ranasinghe has come a long way from the dashing young man, Baladasa in Gamperaliya to Sam, the arms dealer in Yuga Vilakkuwa, the teledrama (based on the North-East war) that is being keenly watched by audiences these days. Having begun as a stage actor with Sugathapala de Silva's Ape Kattiya (best remembered for his role in Harima Badu Hayak), Tony moved over to the cinema. That was in the fifties. From the young romantic (remember Delovak Atara ?), he has graduated to more mature roles and now plays the elderly father or the tough businessman.
In fact, Tony is getting more and more involved with script writing and in recent years he has won awards as the Best Script Writer at the Presidential and Sarasaviya Awards. His scripts for Koti Waligaya (1986) directed by Gamini Fonseka brought him both awards and D.B. Nihalsingha's Keli Madala (1991) won him the Sarasaviya Award. Just a few weeks ago he won the Critics' Award for the Outstanding Script in Pavuru Valalu "for creating a narrative that deconstructs post-colonial Lankan social structures in a manner that emphasises the warmth and the intimacy of human relationships beyond the facades of a religious framework."
Early political papers
The 1930s saw the publi cation of a host of Sinhala newspapers. Samasamajaya, first published on July 10,1936 marked the beginning of political newspapers in the country. Before that a workers' newspaper had been published by the labour leader A.E. Goonasinghe titled Kamkaru Handa(1925).
Apart from these left oriented papers, other political papers were published such as the one Sinhala Maha Sabha started with Sinhala Balaya (1941), a weekly (1941) edited by renowned writer Hemapala Munidasa. In 1942 the National Congress came out with Peramuna edited by D.R. Jayawardena, which became the United National Party's newspaper after the establishment of the party in 1947.
These are among the interesting facts dished out by Sandagomi Coparahewa in his book on the recent history of Sinhala journalism.
Now in Sinhala
American author and humorist Mark Twain wrote the Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876. Now Sinhala readers are able to enjoy this fascinating story of American rural life thanks to its translation by Chandra Anagiratne, reputed author and journalist.
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