Stirring the heart and mind
When I first opened this volume of 21 short stories, I had no idea what to expect because the author, in sending me the book for review, had spoken very modestly and hesitantly about her first attempt at writing short stories.
However, her Foreword had such an engaging style that I felt eager to read on. I was not disappointed.
From the first story to the last, I recognized someone who looks beneath the surface of people and things, one with a rare gift for summing up human situations here in our own country and for presenting the familiar with unusual insights and clarity in stories that induce serious reflection.
Delaine’s first story, “Consequences”, showed an extraordinary perception of the sufferings of Tamils in the North in wartime – extraordinary for a Sinhalese, I thought – simply and unsentimentally woven into a single incident that caused the disintegration of one family.
|“Consequences & Other Stories by Delaine Weerakkody. (Vijitha
Yapa Publication. Price: Rs. 400. Reviewed by Anne Abayasekara.
She brings to light different facets of the situation in Jaffna and when the scene shifts to Colombo, she skilfully depicts attitudes that prevail about peace marches and “NGO Kakkas”.
She makes no judgement or conclusion, but leaves the reader to think for herself/himself.
The story of a middle-aged Sri Lankan immigrant in Australia, unfolds through the thoughts that go on in her head and the conversations she has with others, and come across as authentic. How she firmly puts aside negative thoughts and comes to terms with her new life, makes interesting reading.
“Civil Disobedience” is a clever piece of writing, depicting a couple who remain under one roof and keep up appearances even though “The uxoriousness of early marriage had turned into polite indifference”.
The husband went his own way and the wife had come to feel that “They did not owe each other anything except civility.” She comes to resent the fact that he chooses to take notice of her only when he wishes to use her skills as a hostess to further some business deal of his.
It would spoil the surprise ending if I were to reveal the non-violent but effective revenge she cunningly plans. But even that turned to ashes in her mouth.
Another story that held my attention is called “Protecting the Kid”. It’s about the children in a post-tsunami orphanage, apparently well looked after by a caring matron Hester is a young English woman who had appeared on the scene, “eager to help, impatient to offer her expertise.”
She makes the acquaintance of a fellow countryman, Ken, who had come here a decade earlier, fallen in love with the place and its people and had eventually settled down in a beach-front property he had acquired, on which he had built a comfortable house, elegantly furnished.
He was a good friend to the children. Ken paid Hester to come in twice a week to teach English to his daily maid, Sumana, and Hester found him to be a congenial friend. Hester’s discovery towards the end of the tale, that Ken was a paedophile whose use of the brightest little boy in the orphanage, with the connivance of the matron and Sumana, had destroyed the child, comes as much of a shock to the reader as to the unsuspecting Hester.
In her Foreword, the author says that just three of her stories are based on real events and people. What to me is the most poignant piece in the book, is called “The Golden Boy” and is based on the murder of the young lawyer, Kanchana Abeypala, one of the first victims to be eliminated because he dared to stand up for human rights.
There are no happy endings to Delaine’s stories and I confess to feeling slightly depressed by her reading of human nature and human relationships. Yet every story rings true, be it about “Invisible Women” (those who serve us in our homes).; or about young love betrayed (“Violated” and “Restoring the Idol”); or the hapless migrant maid in the Middle East, (“Imagining Shehana”); or an ironic tale about ragging in an university (“Buddhih Sarvatra Bharajate” which is the motto of the Colombo University and means “Let Wisdom Shine Forth Everywhere”).
I must confess that the one story which puzzles me more than somewhat is the only one depicting violence and is called “The Ugly Stepfather – A folk Tale for Adults”, purporting to be written by two grim sisters “who were tall and thin and ugly, with long forbidding faces.” Since it tells of a long conflict in the course of which most of the men are forcibly conscripted, leaving a lot of women without husbands and children without fathers, there is an echo of the war which devastated us for almost three decades.
It tells of irresponsible mothers and some ugly step-fathers, focusing on a particularly nasty man who tormented his step-sons and daughters without provoking any protest from their indifferent mother and who were eventually driven to use their ingenuity to get rid of him in a cruel way. I guess it’s a take-off on the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm which were familiar to people of my vintage and whom Delaine charges with having a down on step-mothers and who probably made up stories just to make money, whereas the grim sisters wrote true stories.
In her “Apologia as Foreword”, Delaine admits to her preoccupation with the more melancholy aspects of our times, yet avers that “The aim of all story telling is to connect the reader to fundamental experiences and situations either familiar or outside the range of his/her own emotions.’
This aim, she has undoubtedly achieved in what is her debut as a short-story writer. I hope she will give us more – and perhaps some with happy endings(!), in due course.
Retelling the original stories of the architects
In setting out to present an overview of the progress of architecture in this country, the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA) has produced a massive volume which seeks to encompass many of their members work over the 50 years of the Institute's existence until 2007.
Architecture in this country has been in transition since colonial days and the efforts by Sri Lankan architects to develop a Sri Lankan style have been featured in many glossy publications focusing on the work of individual architects. In fact, the coffee table publication, as evinced by the many that have hit the shelves these past years on art, travel, wildlife and antiquities or other subjects lending themselves to pictorial representation has proved a big draw. This book was released for the SLIA's 50th anniversary and the committee has been at pains to make it a comprehensive record, the process of compilation taking as much as four years.
|Asiri Surgical Hospital by Gunaratne Associates
There are issues though. Chief among this is what may seem a trifling objection to some, but the sheer weight of the book and its jacket design make its handling a distinct difficulty. One has to be seated at a table to read it; for this is not a book one can browse through at leisure curled up in your favourite armchair- its bulk forbids that.
Once you have it well placed though, the book unfolds many a gem. The book's contents are prefaced by the obligatory messages from the President and Past President of the SLIA and its organizing committee and they shed some light on the thinking behind the volume. The Chairman of the organizing committee makes it clear that “the editorial team worked on the premise that every project authored by a Chartered Architect has a story to tell. This publication, prides itself on retelling the story, originally expressed by the architect."
The format is simple. The featured work is displayed with some large photographs accompanied by a brief write-up with the architect's picture in most cases carried at the top of the page. Flipping the pages we come across many familiar buildings and are prompted to see them with new eyes and digest in some part what their creators envisioned in their design. The first section of the book 'A Tribute' is devoted to architects who have now passed on and in the work of these 'trailblazers' as they are referred to, Panini Tennakoon, Geoffrey Bawa, Justin Samarasekera, Minnette de Silva, Panditaratna and Peiris, Suren Wickremasinghe among a host of others, it is easy to see the mark they left in the numerous public buildings they created that today are signposts of progress in the field.
The variety in this section is also a point of interest -from churches like the Bethel chapel on Alfred Place, Colombo 3, the Carillionic Bell Tower, All's Saints Church in Borella and the malls and the cinemas like the Majestic and the Liberty as well as university campuses, housing schemes and hotels including Bawa's Kandalama and the Architecture Faculty of the University of Moratuwa, there is a plethora of styles to be seen. The lack here is that the write-ups are not always comprehensive and consistent, perhaps due to difficulty in garnering the information and the photographs, often, seem totally uninspired, a major drawback in a book such as this. In some instances, an all- important detail such as the date of the building is not included.
The second section of the book titled 'Celebration' focuses on the work of contemporary architects and these are a stimulating mix of private houses, public buildings, tsunami villages, visitors' centres at national parks, cricket stadiums, factory buildings, and in line with the current needs- more than a few apartment blocks. The houses, themselves are of varying appeal, some striking in design, albeit others that don't really live up to the reader's expectations as worthy of inclusion in a book on architecture. For the most part, the write-ups are well compiled and provide an excellent window into the architect's thinking.
Overall while setting out to be a compendium of Sri Lankan architects, the book leaves the reader with some questions unanswered. If it is a record of the architects of this country showcasing 'the rich architectural talent that exists in Sri Lanka', then some noteworthy names seem to be missing. Does the book live up to the promise contained in the title 'Identity: The Sri Lanka Architect'? No doubt, the architects included would have immense pride in seeing their work displayed in an official volume of this nature but the book would have been further enhanced by the inclusion of well-chosen articles by some of SLIA's distinguished fraternity giving us more insights into the direction and trends in architecture in this country and how it has evolved in the period covered. That said, it is still a valuable record of the work done in an important chapter in the post-independence transformative era in this country's history.
Useful study for legal practitioners and students of the law
|The author presenting a copy of the book to Chief Justice Shiranee Bandaranayake
Methsiri Cooray in this book succinctly analyses the law relating to the application of Article 99 (13) (a) of the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka. The proviso to Article 99 (13)(a) provides that in the case of an expulsion, a Member of Parliament may apply to the Supreme Court within a period of one month by petition in writing to have such expulsion determined as invalid. In the event of the Supreme Court deciding that such expulsion is invalid the seat of such Member of Parliament shall not become vacant.
In the introduction the author discusses the Free Mandate and the Imperative Mandate Theories of representation. In the free Mandate Theory the freedom of conscience of an elected Member of Parliament to exercise a free mandate in the national interest has been upheld. The relevant constitutional provisions including transitional provisions with their amendments have been enumerated and discussed.
Case Law comprising 22 cases have been analysed in chronological order. From the first two cases of Wijaya Gunawardena V Nandalal Fernando (SC 50/87Spl) and Yapa Abeywardena V Harsha Abeywardena (SC 51/87 Spl) which were heard together up to the case of Muthu Banda V Kaleel SC 2/92 Spl. the expulsions were held to be valid. The first case in the series where the Court held that the expulsion was invalid was that of Thilak Karunaratne vs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and 36 others SC 3/93 Spl. The writer of the present review was then apprenticing in the Chambers of D.S. Wijesinghe P.C., who was the Senior Counsel for the petitioner Thilak Karunaratne. Hence his dissertation for the Bachelor's Degree in Law was written on that case. H.L. De Silva P.C. appeared as the Senior Counsel for the respondents Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and others. Dheeraratne J delivering the judgement of the Supreme Court quoted the dicta of Fernando in Dissanayake v Kaleel with approval to state: 'Our own jurisdiction under Article 99 (13) (a) is not a form of judicial review, or even of appeal, but rather an original jurisdiction analogous to an action for declaration though it is clearly not a rehearing. Are we concerned only with the decision-making process, or must we also look at the decision itself? Article 99 (13)(a) required us to decide whether the expulsion was valid or invalid. Some consideration of the merits is obviously required'.
It was also held that a Member of Parliament is not a mere lifeless cog in the wheel of the party machine nor a mere rubber stamp bereft of any independence of action. Ramanathan J delivered a dissenting judgement. After discussing the judgement in Karunaratne's Case under the caption Party Discipline and the Voice of Conscience' published in the Sunday Observer of September 26, 1993 Lakshman Kadirgamar P.C. and undisputed legal luminary of our time concluded: 'The dissents of today can well be the accepted law of tomorrow.
They show that courts can never be taken for granted by any person or party, however powerful and influential. If the court always speaks with one voice on complex matters on which different points must necessarily exist, the apprehension might arise in the public mind that he who pays the piper calls the tune. The recent expulsion cases should help considerably to allay any such apprehension.' In the more recent cases of Rohitha Bogollagama v UNP, Ameer Ali v SLMC, Keheliya Rambukwella v UNP, Mahinda Samarasinghe v UNP the Supreme Court held that the expulsions were invalid.
The author discusses the role of the Parliament and a Member of Parliament in a liberal democracy and the Concept of Conscience of an MP. The argument that an elected representative should be able to exercise his or her own conscience as an M.P. in the national interest has been upheld by the author in his work. The author quotes John Bright (1888) with approval as 'I must follow my own judgement and conscience and not the voice of my party leaders'.
The parliamentary experiences in Britain, India and Sri Lanka have been discussed succinctly by the author. The author speaks of the attitude of respect for the individual conscience of an M.P. advocated by John Stuart Mill in the 18th century. Mill stated: 'If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had power, would be justified in silencing mankind.' Dheeraratne J in Thilak Karunaratne's case quoted the said statement with approval and said: 'Passage of time has not staled the force of John Stuart Mill's statement'.
The author is critical of the recent decisions of the Supreme Court and states that 'party dominance vis-a-vis the Freedom of Conscience is not naturally a corollary of proportional representation in the light of experience in other liberal democracies.' The author concludes that in the cases of Rohitha Bogollagama v. UNP, Keheliya Rambukwella v. UNP, Mahinda Samarasinghe v. UNP the Court has impliedly unconsciously upheld the freedom of conscience.'
The book while ending with copious end notes containing references to materials and cases discussed in the text, commences with a valuable foreword written by Dr. Sunil S.A. Cooray which briefly analyses its contents. The preface reveals that the book is based on the contents of a lecture delivered by the author to the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka in 2008.
The work of the author would undoubtedly be useful to legal practitioners and students of the law who wish to study the law relating to Article 99(13) (a) of the Constitution. Parliamentarians will also benefit from the study of its contents. I commend the author for the able exposition of the law relating to the subject discussed in spite of his busy schedule on the eve of his departure to the Netherlands to take up his appointment as Minister Counsellor to the Sri Lanka Embassy in Hague, the Netherlands.
A scholarly book that brings out the work of a collector and author
Dr. Uragoda’s book is, in fact, an excellent encyclopaedia, rather than any ordinary book. The author has a strong commitment to scholarship, with many years of hard work. He brings to this monograph a lifetime devoted to books both as collector and as an author, especially on books relating to medicine in Sri Lanka; he has spent virtually a lifetime in the collection of books and pamphlets on various aspects of life in Sri Lanka. This private library that he has built up over the years has helped him greatly in the compilation of this book.
Readers will find Dr. Uragoda’s volume a convenient source of information on all the authors of books and pamphlets on Sri Lanka in the years of British rule in the island. Nothing of the sort attempted by Dr. Uragoda in this present work has been done before, and even if it has been done, it is not with the thoroughness that Dr. Uragoda has demonstrated quite apart from a comprehensive and reliable list of books and pamphlets on Sri Lanka, by Sri Lankans and others.
The authors of books and monographs included in this encyclopaedia cover a wide range of themes and academic disciplines ranging from history and classical oriental learning, to botany and medicine, and to plant and animal life. Normally, this sort of work would be the work of an editor working with a host of contributors. It is to Dr. Uragoda’s credit that he has done it on his own in a situation where the world of Sri Lankan universities produces few works—indeed no works—of similar quality.
This encyclopaedia is a major achievement; indeed a landmark in the history of scholarship on Sri Lanka. Dr. Uragoda should have a close look at this encyclopaedia and revise it while he has the strength to do so. Scholars of the future will have a challenging task to do the revision thereafter. If such a revision presents a present-day scholar with too many difficulties, he or she might do well to attempt a study of books and monographs on Sri Lanka published in the post-independence era.
The writer is Emeritus
Professor of History
at the University of Peradeniya