Opening doors to Sinhala writers
By D.C. Ranatunga
Judging from the response of new writers, the D. R. Wijewardene Memorial Award has become a keenly awaited event in the literary calendar with many newcomers vying for the prestigious award to get their creation tagged as the best manuscript of Sinhala fiction for the year. The comment made by this year's head of the panel of judges, Professor Kusuma Karunaratne that "without doubt the D. R. Wijewardene award has been instrumental in adding a number of highly acclaimed works to our collection of novels", is certainly something to be taken note of. Having been Professor of Sinhala at the Colombo University for many years, she knows what she is talking about!

Another newcomer - the 17th in the list - joined the list of winners.ß Deepthi Mangala Rajapakse won the award for 2001 for her manuscript titled ' Athwela Bindi Gihin'. It was one among 36 manuscripts received - the highest so far - even though the time limit to submit entries was rather short. Generally the entries have been in the region of 25.

The organisers - Lake House Investments Limited - are already planning to call for manuscripts in September this year giving the new writers a period of four months to submit manuscripts. The awards presentation is being planned for D. R. Wijewardene day - June 13.

Impressive list
The D. R. Wijewardene Award is slowly moving on to complete two decades by 2004. The Award was inaugurated in 1984 and every year given to a new writer except in 1995 when the judges decided that there wasn't a single manuscript worthy of selection. The long list of winners begins with Eileen Siriwardena (Balan Harimi Kadathurawa) followed by Ajantha Rajapakse (Gal Boralu Nopegu Yuga).

The other winners were Swarnalatha Kiriwaththuduwa (1986 - Isuru Soya), Jayatilleka Kammelaweera (1987 - Ata Avurudda), Sarath Wijesuriya (1988 - Avindu Andura), Piyadasa Ranpathwila (1989 - Diyata Handana Kedeththo), K .G. Karunasena (1990 - Choranaga), Chandraratne Bandara (1991 - Vanasapu Mala), Langani Fernando Abeydeera (1992 - Kandak Gini Avilenne), Sepali Mayadunne (1993 - Debeduma), Bhadraji Mahinda Jayatilleka (1994 - Pavuru Bendi Rajyaya), Sita Kumarihamy (1996 - Aratu), J. C. P. S. Siriwardena (1997 - Pambaya), Shanti Dissanayake (1998 - Vara Mal), Yasawardena Rodrigo (1999 - Vipiriyasaya) and D. M. Dharmasena (2000 - Kamalalage Thaththa).

Looking beyond 'swabasha'
Professor Kusuma Karunaratne mentioned in her keynote address that there are some who have been able to make a name for themselves in the literary field, and some who have profited by their success in their creative work as a result of winning the D. R. Wijewardene Award.

In the course of her address titled 'The Development of Human Relations and Creative Writing', Professor Karunaratne stressed on the need look beyond 'swabasha' if we are to bring about a virtuous society through literature and the arts and if writers and artists are to take leadership in the transformation of society. They should not only imbibe new knowledge but should also leave off taking a narrow view of matters.

Taking a look at the school system, she pointed out that our children are enmeshed in an examination learning exercise.

"There is no interest shown in examining the knowledge which comes about by way of understanding the relationship between man and environment.

Parents spend a large percentage of their income on the education of their offspring. Even though we have children who are able to score high marks in examinations, we have to examine whether we have been successful in moulding our children so that they can take the lead in developing worthwhile human relations and are equipped to merge with civil society. We cannot be satisfied with university students who resort to violence instead of intelligent interactions," she emphasised.

Professor Karunaratne lamented that with the advent of modern electronic media, the child is entrenched in a world of pictures and his interest in listening (which he did when he only could listen to the radio) and reading has greatly reduced. In learning, showing less interest in spending less time on reading does not lead to good results. Reading is not only for learning, but is also a means of appreciation and a prerequisite for understanding life.

Frolicking in French in years gone by
By Tissa Devendra
Fifty-one years ago, a group of pioneer undergraduates decided to "go where no man had gone before" by producing a play in French before an invited audience in King George's Hall. The play was "L'Anglais Tel Qu'on Parle," a comedy by Tristan Bernard.

It is interesting to recall how this came about. Before 1949 a bare minimum of French and Dutch, had been taught to students of history by the jovial Canon Lucian Jansz.

Professor of English E.F.C. Ludowyk now decided it was time his students learnt other European languages too and recruited Dr. Vally Reich, a Jewish Austrian refugee domiciled in Britain, as Lecturer in French and German. All four of us reading English for our degree - Nissanka Seneviratne, Frederick Bartholomeusz, Victor Gunawardena and I - opted for French, to the delight of Dr. Reich who (for obvious reasons) preferred it to German. After preliminary skirmishes with the torturous intricacies of French grammar and pronunciation, Dr. Reich threw us into the deep end.

As students of literature she felt we deserved stronger meat, and soon after we were chewing over Flaubert, Rimbaud and even Baudelaire! Tough going, but we learned to appreciate French literature in French. Victor and I were even bold enough to translate Rimbaud for the University magazine!

We became a minor jewel in the crown of the newly established French Embassy and were often visited by the elegant Cultural Attache M. Claude Journot, resident in Delhi where he died tragically young. It may be he who suggested we spread our wings by producing a play in French. Dr. Reich suggested a short comedy by Tristan Bernard as within our (limited) competence. After some initial embarrassment about speaking French in public we enjoyed our rehearsals - great occasions for fun and food in the University culture of that spacious era. As policemen Nissanka and I were the only actors who needed costumes. We were kitted out in blue uniforms, on loan from the Fire Brigade, as the nearest approximation to French police uniforms. As the Inspector I strutted in black Wellington (not Napoleon!) boots. Hoots of laughter greeted me when I forgot the silent French 'H' in my very first word and exclaimed 'Hein' in the Germanic style of 'Heil'!

We had a very distinguished audience at our one and only show. The Vice Chancellor Sir Ivor Jennings, the French Ambassador, our professors and almost the entire French community in Colombo - probably not more than a hundred or so. Most of them were engineers from Socoman, building underground water schemes, and their matronly ladies. They enjoyed it - though not for our brilliant acting I am afraid.

Our players have now departed, blown away by the winds of time. The sultry Marguerite Passe, handsome Shanti Kumar, earnest Lyster Pereira and gentle Victor have now joined Professor Ludowyk beyond the sunset. Ethereal Pat de Saram is in Australia, and Latin lecturer Roland Sri Pathmanathan (who spoke French like a native as his mother was one) was last heard of somewhere in Africa. Two greyheads remain, to recall those faraway days when we were young and French was new (to us!).

A broken man still sings his songs of faith
Is it karma? The vicissitudes
of life? I don't know.

Subash Chandran Ponnambalam, one time producer and a performer in the Tamil service of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation now living in Norway, faced the most traumatic day of his life on February 13, 2000.

I first met him during the Navarathri festival at the Sri Sivasubramaniyar/Murugan Temple in Ammerud, Norway in November 1999. The Pooja on that day ended rather late and Subash, as he is called by relatives and friends, travelled back with me to the city centre in Oslo. Our conversation brought back memories of what he called 'his good old days in Sri Lanka'. The July '83 riots had made him leave the country.

Having seen my fondness for classical Carnatic music he virtually forced me to hum a few pieces of classical melodies in the car. I did so, and he then invited me to join in the prayer sessions. I promised him I would, but this in reality happened two years later under different circumstances with Subash turning out to be 'my guest'.

Following our first meeting I kept in touch with him until the shattering news reached me in February 2000. I rushed to the Lovisenberg hospital in Oslo. At first, nothing seemed wrong. The news I had heard was that he had been assaulted by two gangsters and had suffered a nasty blow on the head. He had been unconscious for hours before being hospitalized. I expected to see him bandaged but there was no visible injury. I was relieved, but only for a moment though. He could not recognize me at once. His face remained blank. It was then that I realised the severity of the injury he had suffered.

He could not move but made a vain attempt to reach me. He tried to speak but I could not hear him. I held his hand and waited until he gained some strength to talk. His voice was feeble. It was indeed shocking to see him in this state, having seen his vocal performances and associated with him even for a short while sharing a common interest.

Later, he was transferred out to a hospital away from the city and as months passed his condition slowly and steadily improved. At an 'Arangetram' where I was an invitee, Subash walked in assisted by a friend. Indeed, he recognized me this time and was delighted to see me there. He was able to move about slowly with the help of crutches. Despite this, he missed his music. "I cannot sing and it is not my voice," he said.

Subash is slowly recovering, thanks to his wife, a few friends and relatives who were right beside him throughout this painful period. Inevitably, however, he was confined to an apartment with a few outings to a doctor or a gathering. Being an active worker as well as a music producer and performer, his grief would still have been inexpressible. As one Norwegian daily paper said, "When his court case was over, the perpetrators received 21 months in prison. But 52-year-old Subash ended up with permanent paralysis in his left arm and leg. His eyesight has been reduced. He needs help in managing the most basic things like changing his socks. He will spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair.' In the same interview Subash admitted," My life is physically and mentally ruined completely. "I sit in my apartment 24 hours a day. It drives me crazy".

Almost exactly two years after that disastrous day I arranged a pooja at the Sri Lanka Hindu Temple and wrote to Subash inviting him to join us during the bajan session. He was thankful and indeed, was present on that day, well on time with Sarada,his wife. During the bajans he sang a famous devotional song for Lord Murugan. He performed extremely well and participated in the pooja.

Subash, at least on that occasion was not brooding over what happened. I saw much bliss in his face. He might not fully recover physically, but we sincerely pray that he makes a come back to the classical music field for words cannot express the joy I feel when I watch Subash singing the Murugan song on video.
- Vipula Wanigasekera

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