4th March 2001

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Bringing alive the world of peacocks and turtles

By Harriet Grant

The problem with Sri Lanka," Cyndie de Silva is eager to explain, "is that although it offers writers, artists and musicians a natural source of cultural inspiration they have always been content to rely on the heritage of British imperialism." Cyndie, a writer of children's books, is keen to redress the balance. Petite and full of energy, she is very late for our meeting. Juggling her career and two small children leaves her little time for such frivolities as interviews.

Talking to Cyndie one feels that her life story is even more colourful than that of little Oafie, the Orphan Elephant and the animal friends who fill the pages of her brightly coloured books. She studied aviation and chemistry at university and went on to become a professional pilot, doing loop the loops in small fibreglass planes and pushing trolleys up the aisles as an air hostess. She was forced to rethink her life however, when two children came along.

Her children's father is American and one day when trying to find some light, fun books, to send to friends in America to illustrate the pleasures of Sri Lankan life, she was shocked to find that there were none available.

This is despite the fact that even young children are aware of what their country has to offer in contrast to the west. When Cyndie and her husband split up, he asked their eldest son to come and live in America with him. "But daddy" the little boy exclaimed, "there aren't any peacocks or turtles in America." So Cyndie set to work, in the little spare time she had as a single mother, bringing the world of peacocks and turtles to a wider audience.

Cyndie had to snatch time to write the books from her hectic schedule as a single mother. She often scribbled away while sitting in the Deli Market at the World Trade Center, letting her children be amused by the in-house entertainer Rudy the Bear. After a while she approached the management there, showed them her stories and a fruitful partnership was born. On February 18, Cyndie had her first ever signing there and until the 18th of April copies of her books are being given out free with children's meals as part of a special promotion.

Devika Saelen, Chairperson of Hospitality Management Services, a group which includes the Deli Market, couldn't agree more with Cyndie's belief that, "what we see every day we often take for granted. We are so entranced by the culture of other countries that we do not see the riches around us."

The Deli Market has been committed to encouraging home-grown talent and in the midst of an expansion programme, with more branches opening soon, Ms Saelen still has an eye on what the company can give back to the community it is a part of. "We would like to see such cultural links become part of our identity," she stresses.

Cyndie originally bound the books herself although they are now bound by hand elsewhere. She wanted the books to be in hardback so that they will last, perhaps be handed down from children to their children as the classics are. She has ploughed all her funds into these books and illustrated them herself to save money. She is keen that the books stay as affordable as possible so that they are available to children of all backgrounds. Although they are only available at present in English she hopes to translate them into Sinhala soon.

Full of energy, she is delighted to discuss the characters she has created to bring Sri Lankan history and nature alive. Such names as Oafie the orphan elephant, Poppin the porcupine and even Veddah Vinoth and his magic monara get up to the kind of scrapes that children always find hilarious.

Veddah Vinoth, Cyndie's latest character, and one whom she hopes to develop later into longer novels for older children, is based on the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka and we see little Vinoth travelling forward in time on his special monara (peacock).

On March 18th, Cyndie will be signing her books again at Deli Market.

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