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16th July 2000

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Taste of Sinhala

Bathing and body washing

By Prof. J. B. Disanayaka

In a tropical country like Sri Lanka, bathing is a daily ritual. Monks usually have a bath before their mid-day meal and laymen bathe whenever they can, except, of course, on Tuesdays and Fridays, when they think that they shouldn't.

The Sinhala word for bathing is "na:nava". If you call on someone and are told that "eya: na:nava:", that means that he or she is having a bath. The Sinhalese also have a habit of asking their doctors and native physicians whether it is good to have a bath when they are taking medicines.

The doctor might say "na:nda epa:, aenga ho:danda", which means "Don't bathe, but wash your body". What is the difference between 'bathing' and 'washing the body? In Sri Lankan English too, we speak of a 'bath' and a 'body-wash'.

The Sinhalese make a clear distinction between "na:nava:" (to bathe) and "aenga ho:danava: (to wash the body). The Sinhala verb "ho:danava:" simply means 'to wash' and when it is used after "aenga" meaning 'body', it denotes the washing of the body without getting the head wet!

In the view of the Sinhalese, the word "aenga" refers to the 'body minus the head', as if the head is not part of the body! and the Sinhalese jokingly say in Sri Lankan English, "Everybody is paining". This is that their whole body is paining, "mulu aengama ridenava", where "mulu" means whole', "aenga" means 'body' and 'redenava' means 'pains'.

Kala Korner By DeeCee


Godage his silent service

Publisher Sirisumana Godage is a simple man. Quiet. Unassuming. He believes in helping writers to get their books published. He rarely sends away someone who comes to him with a manuscript. That's how he has been winning the award for the largest number of publications year in, year out. For the past 14 years. Does he make good money? Your guess is as good as mine.

At the first Godage Literary Awards presentation, he virtually took a back seat. True he was at the head table but he let the others run the show. He was more interested in seeing that everyone enjoyed the kevun, kokis and veli thalapa at the end of the proceedings. (A change from the usual cakes and pastries served at book launches). Once he made sure that everyone had a cup of tea with the sweetmeats, he was seen near the door, with a plantain and a kokis in hand, bidding goodbye to those who turned up for the unique event. The broad smile was an indication that he was happy.

How did it become a unique event? It was the first time that awards were made on the preferences of readers, critics and scholars. "A more democratic way of selecting the best," according to the Awards Committee comprising Sema Thoradeniya, Dhanapala Gunasekera, Tennyson Perera and Godage himself. "How can there be literary appreciation or presentation of awards ignoring the 'rasika'? All these years, the 'rasika' was ignored when awards were made. Now we have given him a place," the committee pointed out.

The two winners appreciated the gesture. "We value this award because it is an endorsement by the readers. That's what matters," they said.

Deputy Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. A. V. Suraweera (himself a renowned writer) had a slightly different view. Readers' choice should not be the only criterion in selecting the best, he said. He was in a hurry that evening to get back to Parliament (the Emergency was being discussed), so he did not have time to elaborate.

Yet he made the point that with talented writers and enthusiastic publishers, we have the strength to boost our literary effort. And we should do it, he stressed.

It was a welcome change to see the National Library Services Board auditorium full for the occasion. Writers (veteran Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera downwards), academics, readers and well-wishers were there in full force.

And that in spite of two other literary events being held that afternoon - at the Mahaweli Centre and the Public Library auditorium. Neither was there any musical entertainment, which is now part and parcel of many a book launch. (I really can't understand the need for musicians at a book launch unless the publication has a relevance. Possibly it's a gimmick to draw a crowd).

What a struggle

Langani Fernando Abeydeera was the award winner for the Godage novels (out of 16 which vied for the award) published in 1998 for her creation 'Kundawadaya'. Arawwala Nandimitra won the award for the collection of short stories for 'Nangi'. Both have had a tough time in getting their work published.

This was Langani's second novel. The first had won the D. R. Wijewardene award for best manuscript but she had found it extremely difficult to get it published. Even the National Library Services Board had rejected the script.

It took her a few years to get it published and when she did, the novel won the Sahitya Award that year. She had no difficulty in getting 'Kundawadaya' published. Godage was ever willing to do it.

Langani confessed that she had not studied the finer points of creative writing. She had only been reading the works of renowned writers. She specifically mentioned Gunadasa Amarasekera's 'Jeevana Suwanda' and A. V. Suraweera's 'Atta Bindei Paya Burulena' as two works which influenced her.

Arawwala Nandimitra's 'Nangi' was selected the best collection of short stories out of 10.

He too has had a tough time in getting his early books published. "After I wrote my first book in 1965, for five years I tried hard to get it published. I walked from one printing press to another, from one publisher to another. I was desperate when Mr. Godage agreed to publish it," he told the audience. Thereafter he didn't have a problem.

The beginnings

Delivering the keynote address at the Godage awards, Professor Pushpakumara Premaratne of the Peradeniya University's English Department traced the history of literary awards in the world. The earliest recorded awards were from the French Academy, Academie Francaise, a literary linguistic society established in 1635. Its membership was limited to just 40, the so-called 'Immortals'.

The German Academy (1617), Rome Academy (1690), Spanish Academy (1714) and Netherlands Academy were among other European academies which supported creative work by young writers. After the Renaissance, there was an upsurge in literary activity in England.

The Assembly of Antiquities had been established in 1572 but it took many years before the Academy of Arts and Letters was set up. In the United States, the first awards were made by the Academy of Arts and Letters set up in New England. It later became an institution for the whole country.

The best known award in the US today is the Pulitzer Prize created by Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), the Hungarian born US publisher. The prizes are awarded through a foundation created by the estate of Pulitzer and administered by Columbia University.

Then there are the Nobel Prizes created by Alfred Bernhard Nobel (1833-1896), Swedish born inventor of dynamite. Since 1901, the annual awards given to individuals or institutions judged to confer "the greatest benefit on mankind" in any one of six fields - physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, peace and economics. The first Asian to win the award for literature was Rabindranath Tagore for 'Gitanjali' in 1913.

Closer home, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) set up the Indian Academy of Literature and was its founder President from 1947 to 1964 when he was Prime Minister.

Professor Premaratne said that we should not forget the Don Pedrick Literary Award which was the first literary award in Sri Lanka. H. Don Pedrick was a proprietary planter from Horana. It faded away after the State Sahitya Awards came on the scene.

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