5th November 2000
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Recreating a book she loved

By Ruhanie Perera
Ten years ago Padma Edirisinghe, an avid reader, picked up the book 'Changing face of Colombo' and before long was lost in R.L. Brohier's fascinating narrative of Colombo. "I took a great liking to the book immediately. Unfortunately shortly after I read it, a friend borrowed the book and never returned it."

Despite the book that was lost so many years ago, this year Padma Edirisinghe launched 'Kolompura Purawurthaya' - the Sinhala translation of Brohier's book.

What impressed the translator of the book so much was the significant mass of history that was presented in the book. "Usually this type of data is tedious to read. But Brohier's style is such that the facts just flow in the most picturesque language. So much so that it feels more like a novel than a chronicle of historical events." 

Yet another fact that Padma Edirisinghe finds significant about the book is that it touches on both the positive and negative aspects of the development that took place in the city over the years.

Mrs. Edirisinghe admired and respected the author because he never looked down on the "brown skinned". That, according to her, always came through in his books. "Instead he saw the splendour of the East and recognized the fact that the civilizations of the East were on par with their Western counterparts." It was this deep respect for Brohier, which prompted her to undertake the translation of his book at the request of his daughter Deloraine Brohier.

Padma Edirisinghe's relationship with Deloraine Brohier was born of a commemorative article she wrote on Brohier. "Later on Deloraine called and told me that she had cried when she read the article. Shortly after we discussed the possibility of doing this translation." Nothing gave her more pleasure than to translate the book that she loved so much; written by a man she had the utmost respect for. But more than that she wanted to do it for her new found friend Deloraine.

This book, in Mrs. Edirisinghe's opinion reflects a daughter's dedication to her father. "For if it wasn't for Deloraine's untiring efforts 'Changing face of Colombo' would still be a manuscript." Furthermore Deloraine's close relationship with R.L. Brohier constantly reminded her of the relationship she shared with her father. "I also felt the book stood as a lesson to the younger generation who don't realize or recognize the work of their parents." It was these little personal details that really motivated Padma Edirisinghe to take on the task of translating the book.Within three months the work was done. "There was no difficulty in translating the book. I only had to get some assistance in translating a few Dutch terms," says this one-time Director of Education, who seems to have the power of language in her blood. 

Having written 13 books and hundreds of articles both in English and Sinhala, she understands the amount of work that goes into the writing of a book. Thus when she translates books she is always faithful to the original writer. "The translation is always almost word to word. That is how I show my respect to the writer - by preserving his thoughts and ideas. I feel it's a crime to change what was born in the mind of the original writer."

Having lived out of Colombo most of her life, Mrs. Edirisinghe too sees Colombo from a stranger's eyes. "I could relate to the book because I had a similar fascination for the city and I was intrigued by the development that was taking place." Grateful to all the people who have recognized her talents and given her an opportunity to develop them she feels that by doing this sort of work she can give something back to society. "Life blesses us with talent, so I feel it's up to us to use those talents to give something back to society."

Kala KornerSomething rare 

It is not often that Sinhala readers get an opportu- nity of enjoying reputed works written about our own country in English. The unassuming publisher that he is, Gevindu Kumaratunga has taken up the challenge of getting these writings translated and published for the benefit of the average Sinhala reader.

Last week he launched the first book in a series he is planning to release. 'Kolom Pura Puravurtaya' is the translation of renowned writer R. L. Brohier's 'Changing Face of Colombo', the highly acclaimed book covering the development of Colombo through the Portuguese, Dutch and British periods. Padma Edirisinghe is responsible for the translation which has come out from Gevindu's outfit, Visidunu Publishers.(see adjoining story)

What made Gevindu undertake a project of this nature? Being a lover of the language (he is a grandson of Munidasa Kumaratunga whose contribution to the Sinhala language is immeasurable), he asks whether we can be satisfied with the knowledge we can gain through Sinhala even after half a century of independence. Sinhala has been the official language for nearly a half a century. "Leave aside new knowledge creation through Sinhala. Can we be satisfied with the efforts made to at least put into Sinhala the wealth of knowledge that we possess," he asks. We have been lethargic, he laments.

Gevindu selected 'Changing Face of Colombo' to inaugurate the series not just because it would fill the void where a meaningful work on our capital city in Sinhala was lacking. He also considered the fact that the book has been universally accepted as a distinguished work on the special features of Colombo recorded by a highly respected writer, scholar, antiquarian and historian.

Views of Colombo

Changing Face of Colombo' includes a fine collection of 22 plates with views of Colombo between the period 1500-1900. The Sinhala versions of architect Ismeth Rahim's narratives have also been included.

Translator Padma Edirisinghe has done a fine job. Hers is a simple style which helps the reader absorb the contents easily.

The Sinhala book has been released along with a reprint of the original English work. Those interested now have access to both.

He departs

Ven Mapalagama Vipulasara Thera who passed away last week was better known for his art and sculpture than 'bana' preaching. He popularised the display of the Buddha statue in the home more than anyone else. The statue he designed was made available at a reasonable price.

Buddha statues designed by him are seen in most of the leading viharas in world capitals.

A Taste of Sinhala-37

When the belly is on fire

By Prof.J.B. Disanayaka
Hunger is a feeling that every man or animal gets when he needs food and the Sinhala word for hunger is 'bada ginna' where 'bada' (pronounced like 'budder' in English) means 'belly' and 'ginna' means 'fire'. For when a Sinhalese feels hungry, his belly begins to burn him like a fire.

When an English speaker feels hungry, he says "I am hungry" but when a Sinhalese feels so, he does not say "I am hungry" but "for me, there is a fire in the belly": "mata bada gini-y" where 'mata' (pronounced like 'mutter' in English) means 'for me or 'to me'. Even if the speaker drops the word 'mata' and says "bada gini-y" it still means that he is hungry.

When a Sinhalese feels very hungry, he says "mata yakek kanda bada gini-y" meaning that he has a hunger that tempts him 'to eat' (kanda) 'a devil' (yakek).

In Sinhalese, fire comes in many forms:

the word 'gini' means 'fires',
the word 'ginna' means 'the fire'
and the word 'ginnak' means 'a fire'.

If there is a fire, 'ginnak', a Sinhalese will shout "ginnak ginnak" and he will inform the fire brigade, 'gini nivana hamuda:va', (literally, the fire extinguishing army)

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