10th December 2000
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Kala korner by Dee Cee

A novel for a rupee

A Piyadasa Sirisena novel ('Yantham Gelavuna') for a mere one rupee. Martin Wickremasinghe's 'Rohini' for Rs 1.50 and 'Madol Duwa' for Rs 2. Unbelievable yet true! These were the prices when the early Sinhala novels were published. Today you are lucky if you can get one for Rs 200.

A fine collection of local publications from 1885 onwards was exhibited at the National Archives Department recently. Organised in connection with the National Archives Week, the collection displayed Sinhala, Tamil and English publications providing an insight into how books were printed in the early days, who the writers were, how the book covers had been designed and the prices they were sold at. 

A common feature in the early novels was the use of two names. Piyadasa Sirisena's 'Apata Vechchade' was also titled 'Wickremapalage Palamuveni Wickremaya'. (In fact there was a series involving the 'valour of Wickremapala'). These were priced at Rs 2. 'Walawwaka Palahillawwa' was the third in the series. 'Jayatissa Saha Roslin' was also called 'Vasanavanta Vivahaya' (Lucky Marriage).

Even Martin Wickremasinghe's 'Iranganie' had a second name - 'Papochcharanaya' (Confession). On the front cover (designed by H. Sarlis) it had the English blurb 'a powerful and passionate story'. It was priced at 70 cents.

Two names stand out as cover designers. They are G.S. Fernando and G. L. Gautamadasa, both well known for their work in newspapers. Among the book covers designed by Fernando were Piyadasa Sirisena's 'Dingiri Menika', 'Maheshwari' & 'Chintamankiya Ratnaya', and W. A. Silva's 'Handapana', 'Vijaya Ba Kollaya', 'Lakshmi' and 'Sunethra'. Gautamadasa's covers included Piyadasa Sirisena's 'Palamuveni Pasela' and Martin Wickemasinghe's 'Sita' .

Earliest books

Most of the earliest Sinhala publications exhibited were those printed in 1904. 'Charitha Maladava Chedanaya' was a work by D. E. D. S. Jayasuriya printed at Moratuwa Printing Works. 'Pattini Hella' had been published by W. D. Andiris Appuhamy, proprietor, Sri Gnanatiloka Printing at 11 San Sebastian Street. Among other 1904 publications were 'Madyapa:naditvaya' by D.P.D. Ranatunga Appuhamy, 'Sura: Yuddhaya' by V.B. Vattuhamy and 'Handuru Wewa' by A.F. Kavarakeshwara. Also published in 1904 was a volume by Pedrick Cooray Appuhamy titled 'Buddhagajjaya, Sakaskadaya, Namashta Shathakaya Saha Navaratnaya'.

By the 1930s the number of publications had increased considerably. An interesting series was titled 'Nandana Katha', the first of which was by the Tibetan monk, Bhikku Mahinda on Prince Rahula. Each was ten cents. Also exhibited were the 'Lihini Poth' collection put out by M.D. Gunasena in more recent times. 

Essay competition

Well- known publisher Dayawansa Jayakody is organising an island-wide Sinhala essay competition in memory of the social reformer and patriot monk, Bhikku S. Mahinda (1901-1951) whose 50th death anniversary falls on March 16, 2001.

The Tibetan monk did yeoman service to awaken the patriotic feelings of the Sinhala nation at a time when we were under British domination. He addressed the young through poetry which proved an effective medium.

There will be two competitions - one for school children and the other an open competition. 'Bhikku S. Mahinda's service to the nation' is the theme. The essays should not exceed 1200 words and have to be submitted before January 31, 2001 to Dayawansa Jayakody & Co, 112, Ven S. Mahinda Mawatha, Colombo 10.

A Taste of Sinhala

When monks come and go

By Prof. J.B. Disanayaka
Every language has words to indicate movements such as coming and going. English has the verbs 'to come' and 'to go' and Sinhala has 'enava' (coming) and 'yanava' (going). These pairs of verbs imply a directional movement:

enava indicates a movement towards some point thought of as near or familiar to the speaker and yanava indicates a movement from one place to another point thought of as distant from the speaker.

For example 'amma pansalata enava' indicates that the mother is coming to the temple, and 'amma pansalen yanava' indicates that the mother is going away from the temple.

However, when the Buddhist monk (haamuduruvo) goes about, these two words are not used. Instead a separate word - vadinava - is used. 

This verb is used with respect and it may be translated as 'to carry oneself respectfully.' Thus the Sinhalese says:

'Haamuduruvo pansalata vadinava'.
(The monk carries himself respectfully to the temple).

'haamuduruvo pansalen vadinava'.
(The monk carries himself respectfully to the temple).

When a Buddhist monk moves about, the direction of movement does not matter. However, when a lay person moves about, it does matter whether he or she is moving 'towards a point' or 'away from a point'.

Masked confrontation

An exhibition of paintings by Shehan Madawela is on till December 14 at the Barefoot Gallery Colombo.
By Prof. S.B. Dissanayake
Artists seize from their cultures those of their aspects that fit the art they are producing. It consists of an artist taking possession of something and making it his own. From then onwards art becomes whatever "one chooses to frame" and exhibit.

Like Nietzsche's doctrine of eternal return, Shehan Madawela who has been doing this, taking things from local traditions and cosmologies, almost from the time he took to painting seriously, has now appropriated Sinhala Kolam masks and perhaps similar Indian tribal masks into his obsessive new series of paintings, revelling in dream, fantasy and dreamlike confrontations with the real world of our day. The allergic clairvoyance of these twilit canvases created with generous use of gold, silver and copper dust are not merely for optical sensations, but perhaps, with the serious intention of inflaming our passions against the ills that beset our lives. They are about issues that seem to threaten the very survival of humans on this planet. The masks are the pivots around which the artist has organized his ideas. He draws on ideas from ancient theatre such as the Greek satyr plays, tribal exorcism ceremonies and Sri Lankan Kolam performances which uses laughter as a cathartic weapon in a shared common universal escatology.

The recombinant arrangements of these masks, resetting them singly, or in pairs or groups in a new light, is the artist's licence to articulate fresh truths and more insights, in constellations of awakening. Perhaps he has borrowed from the montage techniques of photography and cinema, again for his own purpose, as an incisive shorthand. This technical device is at the very heart of the artist's new agenda, and I can see it has great potential for more future works. Already many themes from contemporary life are gathered here, with archetypal imaginings about violence and angst, alienating people, and severing objects from their social and functional matrix.

Shehan's art is an estrangement, so to speak, from both Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism. His art, not only because of his use of gold, silver and copper dust as Indians are much wont to use in their popular religious prints, and the facial decorations of Indian women (like their Thilaks), relate not only to the popular and folk arts of India, but to individual Western artists who have adopted the use of gold and silver dust, like Gustave Klint in Vienna at the turn of the 19th Century, and Fra Angelico in Florence (1387-1455) of the early Renaissance in Italy. 

With this series, Shehan has discovered a rich vein to mine; it is about how we confront the world we inherit - parents, religion, sexuality, illness, old age etc., - the list is long. His devices are as old as civilization. The Greeks used them, all cultures have used masks for religious and social purposes, we use masks today with great effect in modern theatre and dance and in street carnivals and processions. In life too it can be said that, we grow with masks, some to hide behind, others for effect. It is behind these masks that we wage our battles in our personal lives as well as in wars. It is rarely that we reveal our true selves. We all end up wearing masks; to conform, to play our roles in life. Paul Gaugin asked the hard question in 1897 in his now famous painting - D'ou' venous-nous? Que sommes - nous? Ou' allons nous? (Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?)

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