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17th January 1999
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Vanya Mama a boon to students

Book Review

By Leonard R. Mahaarachchi

"Vanya Mama" is from the pen of popular writer Pram Deldeniya who translated and produced Anton Chekhov's 'Uncle Vanya' way back in 1965. His production won as many as three awards at the State Drama Festival in 1965. Besides this work, Pram has done other translations, written novels and an assortment of short stories.

'Vanya Mama' is the same play staged in 1965 in book form. Veteran novelist and critic Gunadasa Amarasekera, after seeing Pram's production in 1966, had this to say. "Mr. Deldeniya by his selection of this play, has presented us with a situation, a problem and a set of characters to which we could readily respond. How many Uncle Vanyas pass off unnoticed amidst us, toiling away, wasting their lives for the benefit of some self-seeking individual, or institution?" I suppose Gunadasa has said a mouthful. In fact Pram is correct, when he says in his Introduction to 'Vanya Mama' that Chekhov is not alien to the Sinhala reader, but that his name is a household word. 

The Russian author is a celebrity all over the globe, where he has a large following of admirers who relish his simple style of writing. Even Leo Tolstoy admits that Chekhov is a legend of his times. So, 'Vanya Mama' is no exception. 

Pram's book is a boon to students, undergraduates or anyone who is interested in the discipline of drama , or any ordinary reader who wants to improve his knowledge of the classics. 

Doctor Amarasekera has not only mastered Russian Literature, but has also gone to Russia and enjoyed Anton Chekhov's plays. Coming back to our author, Pram is no novice in the writing trade, since his genesis as a scribe and translator goes back to the mid-sixties. 

As for the latest of Pram's works, I leave it to the reader whose prerogative it is, to judge the quality of the translation, as he is the best judge.

Many many flowers from one Munasinghe

Book Review

By Carl Muller
FlowerMunasinghe won the Arts Council Award for 1998 for her book of short stories.

Her daughter Neela Silva was at the BMICH that day because Flower herself was away, and being (as she always is nowadays) the grand old lady, very much the Miss Marple, gentle, quite innocuous to those who don't see the ways of her observant, inquiring mind and that quite extraordinary intellect that sees and probes and fills her with bustling energy that is so well portrayed by Angela Lansbury in the TV series portraying Agatha Christie's Miss Marple.

Even Agatha Christie once admitted that her Miss Marple was based on her own grandmother - a very Victorian lady who possessed a knowledge of criminality that was the amazement of her granddaughter. But here, the likeness that swam into my mind must end; and here a truer likeness begins to impinge. 

Flower Munasinghe could be just as inquisitive, as calculating, as shrewd, as worldly-wise, as discriminating, as persevering and as interesting as Miss Marple, but she investigates the world, around her, society, the community, even her family. 

She neither applauds nor condemns. She just dips in, as deep as her scalpel will go and gives us a story. It is a gift, surely, to be able to seek, see, listen, absorb, even do nothing and yet make of it all a story that is both riveting and entertaining.

Flower Munasinghe bases most of her stories on actual events, and this is where she excels. Can a ghost come out of the darkness of Passara to help a man to safety? Can the acceptance of karma give a heartbroken man new hope and the will to live? 

How does a man live with a woman who cheats on him night after night? How many men fly in and out of Sri Lanka today, playing a part, claiming to be what they are not, anxious to strip their hosts, their sponsors of their valuables? Who would be foolhardy enough to disturb the three evil sisters who reside over the Diyaluma falls? What happiness comes when professed love is only a means to an end? Do not religious sisters also love as humans do? 

Is there a true deathlessness in real love? Will the slain elephant return to confront his murderer? Does not the full moon prompt an onrush of madness, even if it were a Vesak full moon? What is it to be the mother who cannot allow her son to love another? What sense of thankfulness is there in being able to live in the strong house of another's careful building, knowing that its strength will shelter and protect you as well?

These are the questions one finds answer to in Flower Munasinghe's award-winning book, "The Spinning Wheel and Other Stories." 

I will not, as I usually do, try to take each of the twelve tales, wring them, shake them out and hang them on a line. They are not, I assure you, simply some bundle of washing. Each is a slice of life, presented with the very careful and studied approach of one who sees the drama in the ordinary and knows how commonplace even drama is if shorn of its magic. 

lt is the storyteller who needs to put in the magic and, as far as Flower Munasinghe goes, hers is that quiet, unobtrusive sort of magic subtly woven in the use of words that flow, words that refresh, words that touch with sensitivity. There is also the incredible ability to draw you into the spell she weaves.

What attracts is the manner in which the mood changes with each, sometimes all too philosophical as in her last story, "Eddystone House"; at times tempestuous as the torrent that swept away Andrew's wife in "The Spinning Wheel" where she employs the quiet, mellow welcome of a homely country inn to set down a tale of loss and heartache and the salvific peace of the Buddhistic acceptance of the impermanence of all. 

One sees the entrapment of Simon in the sleazy coils of New York in "Between Two Fires"; and the cold fingers of the supernatural that reach to touch your flesh in "The Guide".

Pretence and pretensions, deceit and a dash of Simon Templar seem to all raise heads in "Journey's End"; and again, there is that sense of personal agony, of that blurred line between life and sudden death in "The Devil's Tarns". It reminds us that we can, even in this world, venture out...and what awaits the one who ventures too far? It is as if there are bounds and we defy these to our cost.

Somehow, Flower seems to develop a pattern in her two stories, "Johnnie" and "The Spinning Wheel". 

It is the man who lives on to protect the child, cherish the family ideal. In "Johnnie" she takes the idea to an explosive end. There is the real love for the child by the man...not the woman - or is it in the nature of the woman who can use the child in order to hurt her husband? 

There is this deep sense of irrationality that Flower wishes to show, the sort of irrationality that will only well up when love is but an artifice and the woman uses the man for what she can extract from him.

It may be that we should take Flower as literally as we can, think of these many flowers she holds out to us. But some are coldly scentless, like those mottled tiger orchids that open like speckled vaginas and only mesmerise and do not inflame. Others are as fluffy-textured as dandelions, others creamy and gently touched like the butter tint of the frangipani. Some open to seize the senses like the tempting cups of the pitcher plant. Yet, flowers surely. What more can I say? "Spinning Wheel and Other Stories" is a piece of truly accomplished writing. 

Read it and you will surely agree. There are many flowers...and only one Flower Munasinghe who, even at 60, when she wrote these marvellous stories, was and still remains a true flowering of the Sri Lankan writer's art.

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