30th January 2000
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All about village life
Local publishers continue to provide Sinhala readers with ample reading matter. Fiction ranks high on the list. Sarasavi Publishers has released several publications during the past few weeks, among them Shanti Dissanayake's 'Vara Mal' which won the 1998 D. R. Wijewardene Award for the Best Sinhala Novel. 

Shanti from distant Senapura in the Raja Rata has a flair for portraying the village and its harsh conditions. She did it in her maiden attempt - 'Ukku Ammalage Kathawa' which has not been published yet. She continues that theme in 'Vara Mal' which confirms her deep knowledge of the village and of rural folk. 

Shanti confesses she has been a prolific reader over the years. That was what prompted her to try her hand at writing. With hope for a better life for rural folk in the future, she decided to record what she observed around her in fiction form.

Renowned writer Sumitra Rahubadda is impressed with Shanti's style. Her language is simple and full of meaning. She is a writer with a future.

Loss of love and affection
Dharma S. Samaranayake has 20 publications to her credit. The latest is 'Davyge Adaravantiya', the Sinhala version of Virginia Andrews' novel, 'Heaven'. 

She confesses that she was quite impressed with the original which she enjoyed reading a few years ago. She found the story of a young man who loses his wife giving birth to their first child, absorbing. 

'Davyge Adaravantiya' is the first instalment of a two part novel. The writer finds the theme relevant particularly in view of the many stories we hear of children in our country having to live either as domestics or in orphanages having lost the affection of their parents.

Little Ali katha
Vincent Periyapperuma won the 1997 State Literary Award for the best children's book for his 'Appuhamige Deli Pihiya'. He had written a children's novel earlier ('Ali Pencha') and has now come out with another elephant story ' Akurata Giya Ali Pencha'. 

The author has been inspired by Munidasa Cumaratunga's 'Aliya Pasal Giya Seti' (How the elephant went to school) when creating 'Akurata Giya Ali Pencha' (the baby elephant who went to learn letters). 


Rich archive for military buffs

Sri Lanka Army : 50 years On: 1949 - 1999. Published by the Sri Lanka Army. October 1999. Hardback, 932 Pages. Reviewed by Brig. Anthony David
Unlike India and Pakistan, Ceylon as Sri Lanka was then known, was not bequeathed a professional army when Britain relinquished power in the sub-continent between August 15, 1947 and February 4, 1948. Again unlike India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka had a smooth transition to independence. There was neither turmoil nor rancour. What the Brits left behind was described at the time as the nearest thing in Asia to the welfare state.

But there were concerns. The threat of communism loomed over South and South East Asia. Trade Union militancy was on the rise. For Don Stephen Senanayake, independent Sri Lanka's first prime minister, these threats appeared larger than life. He was under pressure from British planters too, who dominated the heart of the economy at the dawn of independence. Communism and militant trade unionism were seen by them as a potential threat to their investments and their way of life.

It was to fight, if not to contain these twin threats, that independent Sri Lanka created its own Army sometime after the sundering of the colonial connection. The actual birth took place on October 10, 1949. The birth had a gestation period of almost 20 months.

To celebrate its 50th birthday which fell on October 10, 1999 the army has brought out a single volume history of its first 50 years. It was officially launched at the gala dinner held at the Hilton on the same date. The first copy was presented to the de-facto Defence Minister Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte. Copies for the general public are now available at leading bookshops in Colombo. The volume is published in English with Sinhala and Tamil translations to follow.

The work is encyclopaedic in its range. It is both an enthralling piece of military history in the making as well as a virtual library of documentation that future researchers will mull over for years. A lot of painstaking work seems to have gone into producing what is clearly a monumental work - 923 pages plus 20 pages devoted to a foreword, preface and acknowledgments.

The heart of the book is in the ten chapters which cover the history of the Army from 1949 to 1999. In each chapter the Army speaks in its own voice. But some deft editing has ensured that the prose style is simple and intelligible- the hallmark of style and elegance. In these 562 pages, the 15 commanders who have headed the Army in much of these 50 years have been given free rein to have their say. Some of these Army commanders have since gone to their rest. Here the documents they left behind have brought them back to life. The outcome is a readable work which will stand the test of time.

There are other features in the volume which will be of interest to those with special interests. Lanka was known in antiquity. The island's recorded history goes back some 2,600 years. A section entitled "Prelude" sketches the military history of Sri Lanka from the time of Prince Vijaya's arrival in the sixth century BC to the final departure of the last of the colonial powers in 1948. It is a useful backdrop to the military history of the last 50 years. Sports buffs have a whole chapter to themselves. Here the Army's achievements have been recorded for posterity. Military buffs have 11 chapters to mull over. It is a rich archive for future military historians.

The most moving section of the volume is the Roll of Honour. It runs into 220 pages. It is a monument in script to all those who gave their lives in the defence of the motherland since October 15, 1981. Some 11,000 soldiers of all ranks have their names inscribed here. Against each name is the rank of the dead soldier, the unit to which he belonged, the place of the encounter and the date of death.

The monument is headed by a quotation from the Buddha: "Life is like a line drawn on water". The obituary ends with quotations from the Bhagawad Gita, the Quaran and the beautiful Christian hymn "Abide with me". The hymn has both religious and military significance. The British Army beats the retreat to the strains of "Abide With Me", as does the Indian Army to this day. It was also Mahatma Gandhi's favourite hymn.

The solemnity of the tribute to the dead is enhanced by a humble prayer To the Buddha appearing under the intriguing title: Afterword. The prayer was originally penned by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore during his visit to Ceylon in the month of Vesak 1934. The original was in Bengali. What is reproduced here is an English translation by the master himself. Its inclusion here is a piece of inspiration.

The book is a lavish and sumptuous production. As a work of history it is coherent and lucid as befits an Army that has come of age. The chapter arrangements leave little to be desired. The story is told by the text and by pictures. The book not only reads good but is also good to look at. It is a work of art. It also mirrors the changing social, economic and political history of the period. We are too near the events to judge whether these changes are good or bad for Sri Lanka. That must be left for posterity to decide. But posterity will be in debt to this volume which throws so much light on a period gone by.

The volume was produced by an Army team headed by Lt. Gen. Denis Perera. Lt. Gen. Perera joined the Army as an officer cadet on October 10, 1949 along with me.By a happy coincidence that was also his 19th birthday. He was also the first Sandhurst trained officer to command the Army from 1977-1981. The Army celebrated its 50th anniversary on his 69th birthday. These are the vicissitudes of life that are not easily explained. Lt. Gen. Rohan Daluwatte may or may not have known all this when he requested Lt. Gen. Denis Perera to head the team to undertake this onerous task. Be that as it may. Lt Gen. Denis Perera and his team have produced a Magnum Opus, a worthy gift, which does the Army proud.

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