5th December 1999

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Oh inspiration, where are you?

By Punyakante Wijenaike

"Please tell me a story,"...has been the running theme of my life. As a child I was the one who would beg for a story while eating rice or before going to bed. Kind aunts obliged with stories of historical Kings and Queens and Saradiel, the highway man. Or with Jataka stories of the Bodhisatva's life. My ayah amused me with Mahadena Mutta and Andare. Or she frightened me with stories of perethayas, greedy ghosts who still went in search of food.

In contrast, my mother read me fairy stories from Grimm and Anderson. That was the foundation laid for my own story-telling later on. A mixture of reality, comedy, morbidity and fantasy.

Later on I began creating my own stories first to my siblings with dolls, each with its own unique character, then to my children and now to my grandchildren.

When I first began writing stories it was because I could not live without a story. Like the singer who sang that the day was not complete without a song, so it was for me without a story.

But now, at the turn of the millennium I am faced with writer's block.

Why? Lately I have not been sleeping well. I cannot even escape reality by sleep. Generally writers are inspired by what they observe, by reality, by what is happening around them. What is happening around me today? Newspaper headlines, radio and television scream disaster at every turn.

'Forces suffer worst debacle!'

'Heroes' hospital for the fallen.'

'Starving Army men in search of food'.

'Polio victim raped by youth'.

'Old man brutally killed'.

'Father, uncle and grandfather molest girl after mother went to Middle East'.

'Children sold through the Internet'.

'Lesbian and homosexuals confer in December'.

'The underworld no longer under but on top'.

'Crime rate at its worst'.

Yes, the present environment in Sri Lanka warns me we are on razor's edge.

'O' Level and 'A' Level students in turmoil over forthcoming elections'.

'Religious festivities will clash with elections'.

'Cost of living rising like a tidal wave'.

Plenty of material, I am told, for writing stories. But one has to be inspired to write creatively.

Should I keep to the people, men and women, who despite the turmoil around them, prepare to greet the millennium? New clothes, new hair-dos, buying exorbitant tickets at five-star hotels to greet the New Year of all New Years?

They don't inspire me either.

Perhaps I could write on the poor woman in a border village who, during a recent massacre, crept up to a terrorist and begged: "You killed my entire family, even my baby. So what is there for me to go on living for? Please kill me too.'

They obliged by axing her to death.

Any child born today is born into pollution. Into corruption. Into the very dregs of human society. Where has civilization gone? Adults who see nothing in robbing, killing and raping. Politicians, leaders without conscience, who love not their country but only themselves.

Who or what can inspire me to tell a story?

A story of hope, of courage and dedication, love and human values?

Maybe I will have to revert to the fantasy world of my childhood.

At least then, I may be able to get a good night's sleep. And be able to face the millennium.

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