Kala Korner - by Dee Cee

A winner in the first attempt itself
To win a coveted award on one's maiden effort is indeed an achievement. Former director of the Coconut Development Authority S. N. R. Bandara achieved this distinction when he won the D. R. Wijewardene Memorial Award for the best novel in manuscript form for 2003.

Bandara received the Rs.100,000 cash award and trophy for his novel 'Ulkapatha' from Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse at a ceremony held at the BMICH on June 8. "I was completely taken by surprise. I never imagined I would be the winner. I am thrilled,” he said.

Bandara, a lover of literature had tried his hand at other spheres of creative writing like teledrama scripts. He wrote more as a hobby but after retiring from public service, decided to write a novel. "I based it on the transformation seen in land policy in this country between 1941- when the Wasteland Ordinance was introduced and 1972 -when the Land Reforms Act was introduced. It portrays the deterioration of the plantations. Our national income has dropped from 24 per cent to 4 per cent. This I believe is due to the effects of land reforms. Successive generations lost interest in developing the land," he said.

Hailing from Kurunegala, Bandara is now living in Colombo. In this, the 20th year of the presentation of the D. R. Wijewardene Memorial Award, Bandara became the 19th recipient, the award not being presented in 1995.This year's panel comprised Colombo University's senior lecturer in Sinhala, Sarath Wijesuriya, Dr. Praneeth Wijesundera from the Sri Jayawardenapura University and Latha Gurusinghe, lecturer in Sinhala at the Colombo University.

A critical analysis
Delivering the D. R. Wijewardene commemoration lecture, Panel Chairman Sarath Wijesuriya commented on the quality of writing. Having served on the panel of judges for five years, he found most manuscripts falling into the category of abstract love stories. A young man letting down his partner, heartbreak, building castles in the air, and numerous problems faced due to poverty were the popular themes. He described them as "desperate, unsuccessful attempts of trying to imitate popular romantic novels”.

“It was apparent that the writers were only exposed to cheap romantic stories either in book form or through regular serials published in the newspapers," he said.

Stories relating to the hardships of rural folk were also common while older writers preferred to reflect on the past and talk about the serenity of the village or the devotion of parents. Most of them had some creative flair, Mr. Wijesuriya said. Illicit romances, constant quarrels among married couples, unsuccessful married lives, failure to satisfy the partner sexually - these formed another form of popular writing.

A significant number of manuscripts showed the ill-effects of consumerism leading to the breakdown of accepted norms in society.The last category was the writings revolving round the ethnic conflict and historical novels. Here again, there was no attempt to go deep into the ethnic issue. The writers merely used a few Tamil names and touched on the problem on the surface, Mr. Wijesuriya said. According to him, going through the manuscripts was a painful exercise, as was the decision-making process. He also expressed concern about the future of the Sinhala novel.

Politics the root cause
In a hard-hitting speech, Mr. Wijesuriya lamented that the universities are incapable of guiding the new generation. "We should first identify what has happened to us. We should make a deep study of the current social, cultural, economic and political background in which we exist. We can't isolate the plight of the state of the novel from the political trends,” he said.

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