Showing the way to writers from vernacular-speaking background
Isurinie Mallawaarachchi, the ‘newbie’ of the lot in a Gratiaen shortlist studded with names already known, has seen the gritty side of life despite her ebullient self whom I meet in a chic cafe, sipping a cappuccino and dressed in white and gold.
Isurinie’s debut collection Flowers Teach Me to Let Go is a frank look at life touching on ‘love, heartbreak, sex and self-exploration’.
Currently a lecturer in English and Sociology at APIIT, Isurinie was educated at St. Paul’s Balika Maha Vidyalaya, Kelaniya and got her English honours from the University of Kelaniya. She is currently pursuing her second Master’s.
Poetry is woven deep into Isurinie’s soul. She first wrote in Sinhala. While pouring forth her soul to the inviting blank page was a habit, it was much later that she discovered its therapeutic properties.
In her early adult years, misfortunes seemed to hound her and amidst crises like her father’s death she found herself broken.
“Putting (her) heart out into poetry” was her way of coping and always she was to find that the weight pressing on her brows was gone after the purging.
Putting out things creatively in black and white and rereading helped her ground herself in real life.
“Nothing in my collection of poetry is fabricated; they were all things I experienced,” she says.
Take Self Harm:
“I am in love with my scars because they are the only ones/ Who come to me when I am drowning….”
To give an idea of Isurinie’s sensibilities, a flower in her eyes is more than just a pretty sight; she sees it vis-a-vis ‘the purpose of reproducing, helping the trees grow and all that’.
With a history of self-harm and depression, poetry’s been a crutch, a cushion and a poultice for her, but the ‘hardest thing’ was not writing but putting it all out in book form.
“I put a significant portion of my life out to the public and (thus) make myself vulnerable… Once you publish a book, it stops becoming you; it also becomes the audience.”
But for Isurinie, one of the most important things was that she would be blazing a trail for a certain generation of writers – those who “grew up without knowing how to pronounce a word while knowing that word” – those who like her come from a vernacular-speaking background and for whom English is mostly a library language.
“I feel getting the recognition (the book) has got might be an avenue for people like me, to be able to put their work out there- and to believe in themselves…”
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