5th March 2000
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Kala Korner by Dee Cee

Henry writes a patient's story
We don't like to fall ill. When we do, we don't like to talk about it particularly if we have been seriously ill. Not so, Henry Jayasena. In his latest creation, he discusses what it means to be a patient. The title of his book is 'Balha Gilano' , words that the Buddha has used in several 'Suttas'. It means being 'gravely ill'. 

What do we expect from a novel of this nature? To begin with, can we call it a novel? It's not fiction because it's a true story. The names are real, the situations are real. The characters in the book can be identified. The reader can picture them, even if they are not personally known to him. It is also about Henry discussing a personal experience. What can others learn from it? One has only to spend a little time (I took less than one and a half hours to read through the 89 pages) to realise what a fine piece of writing it was.

Henry teaches us many lessons through his new book. As leading writer W.A. Abeysinghe commented at the launch (which, incidentally, was an intimate one with those near and dear to Henry gathering at the National Library Services Board auditorium), it's a book which should be read and digested by society. It should be made compulsory reading, he said, specifically mentioning politicians and other power-hungry types who act as if they are invincible. Henry himself was nervous about his illness, but the way he made up his mind to be rational and take a practical view of things is a salutary lesson to all of us.

"I believe truth is more powerful than fiction. That's why I am presenting this story exactly the way it happened to me. It may not interest someone who is healthy. Some may even be disgusted," Henry says. He gives three reasons as to why he wrote the book. First, to pay tribute to the doctors who treated him and the staff who nursed him. Second, to record an experience which shook him. Third, he is convinced it would be a source of strength to patients who suffer from cancer or any other deadly disease. Through his experience, he wants to stress that if the patient gets down to treatment no sooner the disease is diagnosed, most cancers can be cured.

Carry on youngsters
The evening also saw five of Henry's plays being published. There were three originals - 'Tavat Udesanak', first performed in 1964, 'Manranjana Wedawarjana' (1965) and 'Apata Puthe Magak Nethe' (1968) and two translations - 'Diriya Mawa Saha Age Daruwo' (1972) and 'Makara' (1974).

A few snippets from some of the plays performed by veterans Manel Jayasena and Wijeratne Warakagoda supported by one or two new players, brought back memories of Henry's heyday in the sixties..

Winding up the evening's proceedings, Henry gave us food for thought. "We are in the hi-tech eraof television, computers and the Internet, but aren't we missing something,?" he asked. He made a plea to the younger generation: "Don't neglect the arts. Get interested in music, dance, theatre and other performing arts. Take over from us and carry on."

A stalwart of the fifties
How many of us realised H.D. Sugathapala, a name synonymous with Sinhala theatre in the fifties was 90 years old? As Headmaster of Royal Junior and author of Nava Maga readers, he contributed to raising the standards of education. As Chairman of the Sinhala Drama Panel in the Arts Council, he did yeoman service to improve Sinhala theatre. 

'Sugar', as he was fondly called, was solely responsible for building the Navaran-gahala, then intended as a place for dramatists to stage their plays. That was the time there was no proper theatre. Sugathapala himself was responsible for upgrading the school hall at Lumbini Maha Vidyalaya.

When Navarangahala was opened on August 1,1969, L. P. Goonetilleke, the then Chairman of the Panel on Painting and Sculpture in a note titled 'Salute to a Pioneer' wrote: "Two years ago (1967) on Sinhala New Year's day in the morning, H. D. Sugathapala blew into my house in the Sinhala manner, attired in a batik sarong; he came with a bowlful of Ceylon fruits, some rice, some flowers and a blueprint for the theatre conceived by him and designed by Mahinda Dias; he desired me in earnest, to do an auspicious job at the auspicious time scheduled for commencing work for the New Year - to write an appeal for funds, on behalf of the Arts Council of Ceylon, for the launching of the new Experimental Theatre. Amidst the kiributh, kitul hakuru, the cups of tea and some talk of drama, the job was done - as promptly and earnestly, as he desired."

Sugathapala leads a quiet life today in a more contemplative mood. We salute you for all you have done for education and theatre in Sri Lanka. 'Chirang Jayatu'!

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