Madhubashini Dissanayake-Ratnayaka will launch her Gratiaen Prize winning novel at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on March 10, 2013. Times Online caught up with Madhu ahead of the launch for a few words on her winning novel, creative writing in Sri Lanka and more.
Excerpt from ‘There’s Something I Have to Tell You’ by Madhubashini Dissanayake-Ratnayaka
Shhhh shhhh shhhhh!
Janu looked up at the hailing. A boy was standing at the fence that separated the house from the temple premises, his eyes following the movements Janu made with the cricket bat. Janu swung a few more imaginary sixers, casting looks at the stranger in an offhand way. The boy seemed younger than Janu’s ten years, and stood barefooted and bare bodied with only an orange cloth tied around his waist, his dark shaven head shining like a walnut under the Jak fruit tree. Even in its shade his eyes could be seen gleaming as he regarded the bat in Janu’s hand. Once Janu nodded him over, it took the boy only a few minutes to scale the tree and hop over to this side, something he did with more ease than Janu knew he could have managed even with his more convenient shorts and T shirt. The boy was inches shorter than him, and Janu watched the bald head shinning near the bat as the boy bent over it, breathing deep and fast.
“Good bat. From Colombo, no? Only Colombo would have such good bats. Not even my village had bats like these.”
“Aren’t you from Bulankulama?”
“From Madirigiriya. Is this yours? I had a bat at home but had to leave it when I came here.”
“Buddhist monks don’t need bats, they said. Where is the ball?”
“You are a hamuduruwo?”
“Not full monk yet. Samanera, a novice. Do you have a ball?”
Janu left the bat in the boy’s hand and ran back to his house to get his cricket ball. As he sped out again, he half feared that the possible playmate would have gone – hardly any boys came to this ancestral house of his father’s called the walawwa, the mansion of the village, as they were not considered good enough to be his playmates when he was brought here once every long school holiday.
But the boy monk was there, taking position as the batsman, tapping the earth with the tip of the bat so that Janu could bowl without ever stopping the run he had started from the house. Janu breathed a sigh of relief as the ball sailed over his head. Good company at last.
“What do I call you?” Janu shouted as he bowled the fourth time towards the boy, his arms curving over his head furiously. He wondered how he could get to bat – any other boy in the village he could have ordered out. “Reverend Sumana,” he shouted back. “Little Monk, if you wish.”
Janu frowned. There was no way he could fight with someone he had to call reverend. Even a king has to go down on his knees before a Buddhist monk. He would have to catch that ball. Janu waited eagle eyed – the monk couldn’t be that good that the ball wouldn’t end up in his hands. But he was. It took Janu more than three overs to get him out.
“When did you become a monk?” Janu asked when Little Monk finally said he had to go back to the temple to have his lunch. No one who had not held a bat for long could play the way the monk did.
“A few months ago,” Little Monk said, still keeping the bat firmly in his hands as he turned towards the temple.
“That is why I haven’t seen you before,” said Janu.
Little Monk kept a foot carefully on the jak tree avoiding the wire of the fence that ran before it. He reached for a branch with one hand and vaulted himself over, holding the bat with the other. One he was standing on the other side, he tested it a few times on the top leaves of a golden daspetiya plant, causing the tiny petals to scatter on the sand around it. Then he handed the bat over to Janu over the fence.
“Keep it for a while. There is another inside the house,” said Janu. There wasn’t. This was his best bat. But something in the Little Monk’s face made him say it.
“Monks are not supposed to like games. They are not supposed to like anything too much, actually.”
“Liking leads to sorrow. That is what they say,” Little Monk said with his face turned away. Since Janu hadn’t taken his bat back, Little Monk continued to prod the flowers lining fence with it.
“Why did you become a monk then?”
Little Monk shrugged. “The Chief Monk here is a cousin of my mother’s. He wanted someone to take over the temple after him, I guess.”
Little Monk seemed to wait, leaning on the bat and after some moments Janu hastily took his feet out of his slippers and attempted the same leap that the monk had done. It cost him a scraped knee and scratched palms but he managed and Little Monk made no comment about his clumsiness. Perhaps he had known that Janu was from Colombo and didn’t have a chance to posses the skills that he had. Janu got up from the sand where he had landed on all fours, wiping his hands on his shorts. Janu was familiar with the temple, having come here with his parents each time they visited the village. It was only this particular way of getting here that was new.
As they walked through the coconut grove, Janu could see the clay lamps lit even in the afternoon around the bodhi tree, shivering points of light underneath the shade. As he stepped into the white sand of the temple proper, the grains of which were swept into the pattern of a coconut palm, the white stupa rose over him. And more than any other temple he had been into, there were flowers here, lining the outside of the shrine room, all along the path to the monks’ abode, alongside the bell tower. Pottering among them was the dark form of Saranelis, the temple acolyte, the sight of whom made the Little Monk give the bat back to Janu.
“Walawwe appo, little master,” said Saranelis, cracking his old face open in a broken toothed smile, the first scowl vanishing at the recognition. “I heard that you had come.”
Little Monk went without stopping to the clothes line hung by the well and took down his saffron robe. He draped the robe around himself and Janu stared at him, startled. He could not have played cricket with the person standing in front of him now.
“Your father came to see our chief monk a few days ago,” Saranelis said walking out of a flower bed, wiping his face with a dirty rag he had slung over his shoulder. “I was sorry that your mother hadn’t come this time.”
A flood of coldness hit Janu’s stomach. He had forgotten that something was wrong. Janu wished he had been allowed to ask her what it was before he had been bundled into the car by their driver before the silent drive that had brought him and his father here.
“She was not well.” Janu said shortly. “She had a stomach ache.”
“Yes, yes,” said Saranelis absently. “Ah, life!”
Sarala’s father began bringing home any old English newspapers that he could find since that day in 1975, when the Tamil New Tigers shot and killed Durraiappah, the Tamil Mayor of Jaffna. Durraiappah had been a strong supporter of the Sinhala lead Sri Lanka Freedom Party which had come to power first on the promise of making Sinhala the only official language of Sri Lanka. Rumour had it that it was one among a small group of young Tamil boys making a crazy demand of a separate state up north of the country, who had shot him, a man called Prabhakaran.
Sarala’s father brought home English words wrapped around tea buns, crushed around bunches of plantains – the yellow ambul and kolikuttu, the long green anamalu. He smoothed the pages over with his palm on the kitchen table, leaning over it instead of sitting down on a chair. Often still in his white kurta shirt and sarong he wore to school, he called Sarala over to his side to point out the words to her. As she leant her elbows on the table and squinted at the black print, he followed her progress, tracing with his forefinger unfamiliar sounds that twisted her tongue strangely.
“It is almost as if he has forgotten he is the Sinhala teacher in our school, not English,” she complained to her brother and his friend as they sat outside the Vivekaramaya temple one fullmoon poya holiday. They were here lured not by piety but the laden mango tree that bordered the temple ground.
“Do we have an English teacher in school?” Upali asked.
“We are supposed to have. But it is difficult to get English teachers to come to villages like ours.” Kamal said.
“What do you mean, ‘villages like ours’?” Upali asked.
“These areas far away from Colombo are called ‘difficult areas’. Trained English teachers come here only for the compulsory two years they have to serve after their training. The moment that is done, they leave.”
“Who told you?”
Sarala had heard her father mention to her mother that Kamal had an unusually good brain, that they will not have to worry about their son. As she twisted her tongue around strange English words, she hoped that by doing so she would lessen the worry they had about her as well. A girl was a weight, needing protection till marriage and a dowry then. She knew there was no gold, money or land that her parents had to give as her dowry. The house they were in had been mortgaged to Lucky mudalali even before it was inherited by her father. It was a small amount the mudalali had needed to lend her grandfather – the mudalali was the richest shopkeeper in Bulankulama and could afford to lend money to the whole village if he wanted to – but the debt kept getting bigger and bigger as time passed with the accumulation of the enormous interest rate. Sarala imagined it going down the generations. Kamal paying it, then his son. She hoped she would one day marry a man who had a house that was not mortgaged.
They were sitting under the Crow Bo tree growing outside the temple premises. Sarala sat cross legged on the cement slab lodged at a gentle angle on the earth below the tree. She was at ease because this was a Crow Bo, not commanding the awe and respect demanded by a sacred Bo tree. The seed for a Crow Bo was believed to have been carried in the excretion of a crow. It sprang accidentally. The Bodhi tree inside a temple was planted with much ceremony.
All three of them were holding mangoes in their hands, sitting comfortably in the shade, the boys sucking the mangoes in companiable silence. The three of them never spoke about Walawwe appo’s visit. Appo had returned to Colombo the very next day and after that Upali behaved the way he always did with Kamal. The brother and the sister never wanted to ask him what had happened because the little they had gathered of his past has told them that it was better left untouched.
Upali’s mango was sucked to the seed. Kamal was peeling the second half with his teeth. Sarala was holding hers reddish green and whole in her hand. Upali had knocked them down from the temple mango tree heavy with fruit. She would not eat it because it had been got by breaking the second promise of the five that all Buddhists had to take every day. But she would not say it either and get laughed at by her brothers. She spoke about the more pressing problem instead.
“Where would we use English even if we were to learn it? Who speaks English here? I don’t see the point.” She was tired of squinting at the smudgy newsprint like she had been doing the last two months.
“Ask him then. And stop complaining to us.” Kamal said dismissively. He didn’t know her problems, being quick to catch most things in school. She pressed her lips together. She would.
Anila’s island had been called Serendip by the Persians, who got it from the Arabs’ Serendib, who in turn had used the name Swarna Deepa – the Golden Island – by which the Sinhalese called their land. The heroes of the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip were always making discoveries of things they were not seeking. In 1754, Horace Walpole used this story to coin a new word into English, Serendipity.
So many names for this little piece of earth. The island was Tambapanni – bronze palms – for Vijaya, their Aryan ancestor, falling exhausted off his boat onto the golden beach, rising with copper coloured sand on his hands. Alexander the Great called it Taprobane, though he didn’t live to cross over the mountains to India and come to its teardrop in the Indian Ocean. For the Portuguese, the drinkers of blood and eaters of stone that the Sinhalese watched as the white men had their bread and wine on the beach, it was Ceilan.
They left behind Roman Catholicism and names like Becker, De Souza. The Dutch called it Zeilan, leaving behind a people who didn’t want to return, the Burghers. The third and last colonizers to come sniffing after the fragrance of cinnamon and the smell of profit were the British who named the island Ceylon.
They brought with them like the others, according to Uncle Senevi, injustice and exploitation. But when they were gone, the islanders found themselves left with plantations for tea, a transport system to ferry it throughout the country, a language, a religion, a way of life.
Anila had once gone to see the Kotmale reservoir with her parents. It was part of the giant hydro electricity project that was made by diverting the natural course of the longest river in Sri Lanka. The great Mahaweli was dammed and made to run over villages and lives in the name of progress. On the viewing bridge, the wind that whipped her hair across her face carried the smell of water and wet earth.
The waters were of a blue that one would choose to draw it with if one was very young. As far as the eye could see, it was only water and mountains and sky – the hill country was most beautiful in this area of Kotmale. It may never have been touched by humans, even if it were people who had dammed the river and made the reservoir. There had been life once where there was water now. Villages, temples, devales, ancient reservoirs had gone under water to allow the Kotmale Reservoir to exist. Water moved through doors in rooms where people had slept, over fields where children played. Now the sky they flew kites in was water. Mud that had raised paddy, river bed. Stupas stood sentinel over the drowned villages still.
The shrine rooms once thick with joss stick smoke and faith, now had a thicker element contained within its walls. What remained behind? Anila wondered. One can never leave completely. Her trip to the hill country with her family lasted only a day but there would always be a woman, on leave from her office in Colombo, standing on the bridge, watching unmatchable beauty with haunted eyes. The three thousand families who lost their homes to the water had lived on this land that had passed down to them from centuries.
What was falling apart underneath? What never will?
The rock fill dam towered 285 feet. It was 600 metres long. It was powerful enough to hold 141, 000 acres of water in check.
She looked at the water and thought – that is my heart. Then she looked at the barrier – that is what I have done with it.
Kasun Ediriweera has tapped into what is perhaps Colombo’s most profitable niche market with his Photobooth concept.
The Photobooth operates on a basic premise that has worked like a charm around the world. The subject is guided into a small box-like space curtained from the outside. A screen in front will reflect your image back at you-press the big red button and make sure to change your expression every three seconds or so because that’s how long it takes for the Photobooth to get three (often hilarious) shots of you. The result comes in the form of a narrow strip of three pictures-much like a reel, your memento from whatever event you happened to be in.
Kasun’s brightly lit Photobooth is barely three months in business, but already it’s become so wildly popular that Kasun and his team struggle to recover from one event before launching themselves into the next. They’ve been to a spectrum of events, from a carnival to an open air concert to balls and parties and graduation nights and even a wedding!
The 20-year-old, a product of Gateway College Colombo, is also a skilled techie-he’s been messing around with electricals for as long as he can remember. “I came across the photo booth concept online,” explains Kasun. “We’ve all seen it in movies and TV shows but there’s never really been a proper one in Sri Lanka. I read about the concept extensively and eventually decided that I could probably rig up my own.”
It turned out that he was right, but it certainly wasn’t an easy task. For two months Kasun and his partners Sajin Alles and Yashodha Pramudith messed about with complicated technicalities and financial troubles. They even applied for the HSBC Young Entrepreneur competition but were shot down. Eventually, they managed to get the photo booth operational. The Photobooth’s first outing was at the British School Christmas Carnival. “It was our first time, so of course there were some major hitches,” he laughs wryly.”But that first night itself was very encouraging. So many people tried it out and we were ecstatic. I mean, imagine if no one caught on and we had wasted all our savings.”
One day there will most certainly be competition (the idea is too good to be restricted to a monopoly), but these guys are not too worried about that.They’ve got a smart business plan and an even more ambitious dream. As with most young entrepreneurs, Kasun and his partners have big plans for their portable black box. “We hope that Photobooth will be a part of a much larger company one day-maybe event management, who knows?” he smiles. “But right now we’re focussing on starting out small and testing our products on a willing audience. That’s the smart way to do business.”
The English Writers Cooperative of Sri Lanka in Association with ICES marked International Women's Day with a celebration of the writing of Sri Lanka's female authors in English.
Moderated by Kamini de Soyza, with an introduction from Vijita Fernando, the event featured Gratiaen Award winner Prashani Anjali Rambukwella delivering a lecture on the Narrator in Creative Writing. Itwas held yesterday March 7 , from 4.00 pm – 6.00 pm, at the ICES Auditorium , 2, Kynsey Terrace ,Colombo 08
The work of a few female writers was be read out as part of the programme, excerpts of the readings could be viewed at the following links.
SHILLONG, India, (AFP) - India's remote northeast is home to an ancient tribe whose high regard for women makes it a striking anomaly in a male-dominated country.
But as the world marks International Women's Day this Friday, the region has become a staging ground for an unlikely battle in which men are trying to end a matrilineal tradition practised by more than a million people.
The Khasi tribe in the picturesque state of Meghalaya places women at the centre of its society from the cradle to the grave.
“Go to any hospital and stand outside the maternity wards and listen,” says Keith Pariat, a men's rights activist.
“If families have a boy, you will hear things like: 'oh okay, he'll do'. But if it's a girl then there is joy and applause.” Pariat is the chairman of Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai (SRT), an organisation fighting to eradicate a tradition with tremendous staying power.
According to Khasi tradition, the youngest daughter inherits all ancestral property, men are expected to move into their wives' homes after marriage and children must take their mother's family name.
And, in a ruling which helps explain the grand welcome for female babies, all parents with ancestral property but no daughters are required to adopt a girl before they die, since they cannot leave the inheritance to their sons.
The matrilineal system has endured for thousands of years here, but now activists like Pariat are determined to overthrow it.
“When a man has to live in his mother-in-law's house, it tends to make him a little quiet,” Pariat says.
“You are just a breeding bull. No one is interested in hearing your views about anything, you have no say in any decision whatsoever.” The 60-year-old businessman believes that the matrilineal system has been “totally detrimental” to Khasi men.
“It puts no responsibility on their shoulders so they tend to take life easy and they go into drugs and alcohol and that cuts their life short,” he told AFP in the state capital Shillong.
It also makes them unappealing to Khasi women, who exercise their right to marry outside the community instead.
Teibor Langkhongjee, a 41-year-old entrepreneur and SRT member, says the choice is easy to understand.
“Khasi men don't have any security, they don't own land, they don't run the family business and, at the same time, they are almost good for nothing,” he said.
Manning Market, the old vegetable and fruit market in the Pettah, is to be moved to Peliyagoda and a modern�bus station and shopping�complex�is to come up on the vacated premises. It was reported that 1,000 spaces�will be reserved�for hawkers to sell their goods.
Hawkers�are notorious for selling short-weight�goods and sub-standard food. The late President Ranasinghe Premadasa allowed thousands of hawkers�to set up shop in�the Pettah and the Fort. They were allowed to use the pavements to put up their stalls. These stalls force Citizen Perera to walk, at great personal risk, on the road and not on the pavement.
Whenever a traditional market or shopping venue is dismantled and developed, the hawkers or vendors rent out the new shop spaces given by the Government and set up their own business nearby.
Look at Pettah: Hawkers have taken over the bus�shelters�outside Manning Market and built small shops along Olcott Mawatha. It is strange�that the authorities have turned a blind eye to this.