Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 10 May 2009





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Writer's DeN

Dabbling with mystic themes

Writers of the East do not congratulate themselves enough. For what? For owning a wider area to draw content material. And that not in the modern period alone but from ancient times. One massive feeder area for the domain of Eastern literature is that spawned out of the belief in rebirth. Fantastic tales of humans getting re-born, better still lisping their earlier births keep readers spell-bound due to the mystic flavour.

Daya Dissanayake, who won the State award for English novels twice is slowly on his way to fame as one dabbling with such mystic themes peculiar only to the Orient.

The healer and the drug pusher
Author -Daya Dissanayake
Publishers - Vijitha Yapa Publications
Price - 450

His book "The healer and the drug pusher" not only is permeated with the mystique and romance of 10th Century Sri Lanka but can easily fall into the category of pragmatic literature for it encases a strong message aligned to human values. Welding of different elements? Wait. He does it subtly for he is seasoned in the art.The characters in the book themselves form a patchwork of various segments of humans who walk in and out of the tale, that follows a novel pattern, in that sense are set alternately between 10th Century Sri Lanka and modern Sri Lanka. Walking in and out of the chronicle of the 10th Century is Mitra, a Persian of Christian faith, washed ashore in the upper North West shores of the island under strange circumstances. The Easterners are very romantic, so much so that very few of their stories do not own a young couple in passionate love. The author too follows this trend, that could be the book's strength or its weakness. Completely blind on his arrival by a sudden sickness the young man is given shelter in his home by a Tamil Adikari, who bothers to take him all the way to an Eye-hospital in Ruhuna that undertakes eye operations. The daughter of the Adikari who has fallen in love with the Persian sailor accompanies the blind young man to Karagama Hospital in Ruhuna after a hasty marriage (very hasty in that all, including the mother, favour the girls marriage to a blind stranger!) and when the man's eyesight is restored he finds before him the prettiest girl in the world. That is hurrah for the setting in a popular commercial film running to packed crowds.I would have much preferred if the blind man saw standing before him the ugliest girl in the world. That could have tested the author's usual and admirable veering towards philosophising far better. Yet all the world, ancient or medieval or modern, love a beautiful girl and we will leave it at that, for they say beauty and love make the world go round. Just forget the scientists. From the area around an ancient sea port to the streets of Battaramulla, a sleepy hamlet then now turned to a flourishing suburb of Colombo and Sri Jayawardenapura is a long way. And here in alternate chapters are typical up-to-date characters. There is Raju, a Tamil who turned away from the medical field to become an agent for a pharmeutical company that goes to work hand in gloves with unscrupulous doctors. There is his admirable daughter, Bhanu who wages a constant and praiseworthy battle against her father's activities that victimize many a patient. Raju's Sinhala friend, Sumanadasa too plays a major role.

Whatever the blurbs may say the book is majorly an eulogy for the compassionate modes of Eastern treatment and that is the main message as far as the reviewer can guage. Even the title of the book implies, so much so that one wishes that the title was not that direct. In our childhood days we were expected to write hymnal literature on the coconut trees and the culminating literary depression set in when we were asked to name the essay, "The coconut tree" and never to go for any other title. Here the author with all his freedom cages himself.

The damnation of the world of present medicinal practices and the role played by pharmeutical companies just glares via the literary work.

It is completely vis-a-vis the world of Eastern medicine where God Mammon (God of money) simply has no place. The patient and the healer are bonded in love and affection and nothing is more dear to the healer than the patient. How much is there in your pocket, is not at all the issue of the typical Eastern healer. The questions that predominate his mind are can I heal you, how do I heal you and he goes all out to do so even keeping him as a residential patient. Hospital charges? Nil. Imagine that kind of thing in the modern setting.

But do we need clever writers like Daya Dissanayake to give such messages? Yes. We do encased are two entrancing stories about two families living in entirely different times and claims, that are being narrated while the message keeps ticking. Third world cannot afford useless extravaganza. If a book can enthral the reader while teach too, what is wrong in it? And that is what Daya Dissanayake has done. Eye surgery had been practised in India at early as 1800 BC. We want more on the subject. Read the book.

Easter, its traditions and practices

The latest work of Bernard Sri Kantha, the well known Catholic writer, who has presented many novels, books on Catholic artists, Catholic Negombo and other Catholic topics is 'Pasku Ha Janasampradaya'. As the name of the book implies this work deals with Easter and its traditions and practices.

Although Christmas is celebrated all over the world on a grand scale, it was not there among the earliest festivals of Christians. It was only after the Roman Empire embraced Christianity, that the Christians began to celebrate Christmas.

Pasku Ha Janasampradaya

Author - Bernard Sri Kantha
Publishers - An author publication
Price - Rs. 140

It was fixed for December 25, the day Romans celebrated the feast of the Sun God. The feast of the Resurrection of Christ was the greatest festival of Christians all the time. Throughout the death and resurrection of Christ have been commemorated in the Christian world.

The commemoration of the agony and death of Christ is not confined to Easter. The Church has set apart 40 days in the Liturgical calendar to commemorate the agony and suffering Christ underwent for the salvation of mankind. This period is called the season of Lent. In Sinhala it is called `Korosme Kalaya' following the Portuguese term `quaresema.'

Accordingly, the book `Pasku Ha Janasampradaya' is not limited to the Easter but deals with the whole season of Lent. The book gives a vivid account of the way the Catholics observe the period as a season of penance and repentance. Gloria and Alleluia are not sung in churches during the Lent. Catholics avoid weddings and merry-making. It is a time for prayer, penance and meditation.

The author describes special prayers, meditations and sermons during the Lent. The sermons are taken from the Nine Sermons of `Dukprapthi Prasangaya' written by Fr. Jacqme Gonsalvez. These sermons and prayers like `Mal Uyane Yakgnawa' and `Kayaduskara Prarthanawa' are recited in a plaintive tone in the chanting style of Sinhala prose. The Way of the Cross is a meditation on the sufferings of Christ that is divided into 14 stations. The author highlights the significance of each station.

The season of Lent begins on the Ash Wednesday. The author elucidates the special features of the Ash Wednesday. According to the Christian belief, Adam the first man on earth was created by God with soil.

It is shown how the priest marks the sign of the cross on the forehead of the devotees at Mass saying "You are dust and to dust you return". The author explains that this ash is made burning the Palm leaves used on Palm Sunday of the previous year.

In the past it was a common sight in Catholic villages along the Western coastal belt in Sri Lanka, groups singing aloud `Pasan' at nightfall. It was Fr. Jacome Gonsavez who introduced the chanting of Pasan. Pasan fall into two categories.

Lamentations coming from the Blessed Virgin Mary on the agony of Christ is called `Lathoni' and those sung by others on the same is called Pasan proper. In this book the distinction between the two are shown illustrating how in different places they have taken a distinct outlook of their own.

The Easter traditions and practices culminate in the Holy Week. In this book the importance of each day of the Holy Week is illustrated. The Holy Week begins on the Palm Sunday where Christians commemorate the triumphant entry of Christ to Jerusalem when people welcomed him carrying Olive branches shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest."

Here the author highlights how this event is commemorated in Sri Lanka with a local outlook using coconut palms.The next important day in the Holy Week is the Maundy Thursday where the establishment of the Holy Eucharist is commemorated. On this day at Mass, the priest washes the feet of twelve people to signify the washing of the feet of disciples by Christ as an act of humility. After the Mass the Holy Eucharist is placed on a special tabernacle and groups perform holy hour before it. In this book all the details of the rituals on the Maundy Thursday are described. The most important day in the Holy Week is the Good Friday where Christians commemorate the death of Christ after three hours of agony on the cross. Here the author vividly portrays how the Catholics commemorate the event in a penitential atmosphere.

He also highlights that in some places, Passion plays or three hours of agony of Christ are enacted connected to Good Friday Mass.

In this book special attention is paid to the Easter vigil performed on the Holy Saturday. All the details of the renewal with blessings of fire and water are aptly described.

The tradition of children creating fun clad like devils to show that they have been driven out by Christ from the hell is also disclosed. The importance of the resurrection of Christ on the Easter Sunday is well emphasised in the book. The Passion plays that enact the passion and death of Christ on the cross is a popular feature all over the world. In this book the origins and development of Passion plays are dealt with. The famous Passion play at Oberamaugau in Eastern Germany performed once in ten years is also discussed. The history of Passion plays in Sri Lanka performed with a combination of statues and human beings - found only in this country is well described.The author being an actor of the now defunct Duwa traditional Passion Play, the world famous Duwa Passion Play is emphasised in the book. He identifies three phases in its development. The first was the bringing of the statue of crucified Christ created by the famous sculptor of Cochin - Jokeenu Maistri by Juwam, Peduru and Domingo, the three sons of Mihindukulasuriya Adrian Fernando to Duwa in 1838. This had given the Duwa Passion Play and outstanding statue of crucified Christ not found anywhere else.

The second phase was the recast of the Duwa Passion Play by Fr. Marcelline Jayakody in 1939 based on Doroty Saeyer's famous work `Born to be a King'. Since then its fame spread far and wide and it was considered the greatest Passion show in Asia.

The next phase was in 1970 where it was renewed directed by Clement Fernando to meet the needs of the time while maintaining the outlook of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody's play. It is a pity that this traditional Duwa Passion Play is not enacted now.The book could be on immense value not only to those who do research on Easter and its traditions and practices but also to those who are interested on the subject. As usual Bernard Sri Kantha has presented this book in his inimitable simple language that provides fascinating reading.

The book is also well illustrated specially with pictures of Oberamaugau and Duwa Passion Plays and that enhances its value. The book which provides wealth of material on Easter and its traditions and practices is moderately priced for only Rs. 140/-

The writer is a former High Court Judge and Vice-President of the Neman Society Alumini Association.

 'Punchi kaete vathure gihin' in Spanish

 Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara, Professor Kusuma Karunaratne, Professor Sam Karunaratne along with Mrs. Indrani Ratnasekara are in the picture at the event of presentation of copies of the original work and the Spanish translation to the Speaker.

Professor Kusuma Karunaratne's collection of short stories, `Punchi Kaete Vathure Gihin', based on the theme Tsunami has been translated into Spanish by Mrs. Indrani Ratnasekara.

A copy of the translation was presented to the Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara recently at the Parliament premises.`Punchi Kaete Vathure Gihin' has already reached the English and the Japanese reading public with its translations published by Swarnakanthi Rajapaksha and Tadashi Noguchi respectively.

The author, Professor Kusuma Karunaratne hopes that German and Tamil translations of the book could be published before December 26, the fifth anniversary of Tsunami disaster which Sri Lanka and several other nations experienced.

The stories in the book creative expressions of sad experiences resulted in this disaster.

First person narrative of the bygone era

In "Bringing Tony Home stories by Tissa Abeysekara" which was recently published by North Atlantic Books Barkley, California.

Tissa Abeysekara embarks on a nostalgic journey into the past and revisits the pastoral human landscape in which he spent his childhood and adolescent braving the turmoil caused by his family's economic woes. Apart from revisiting an era gone by, the book bears testimony to the turbulent past of the writer which would have left emotional scars on him and defined the salient features of Tissa Abeysekara's personality.

With a keen eye and an ear of a filmmaker, Tissa Abeysekara codifies his past, socio-economic life of the era, personalities dominated by in his circle and uneasy ups and downs in the family. Filled with minutest details and decorated with visual and auditory images, Abeysekara paints the era with sweet and bitter memories against the backdrop of post-colonial Sri Lanka.

The anthology makes up of six short stories on diverse themes. However, a common thread that runs through all of them is the strong sense of belonging and the nostalgia with which the author travels through the memory landscape. Tissa Abeysekara's childhood and adolescence were turbulent. He saw not only the transition of agro-based economy to a market economy but the inevitable collapse of the old order from a perspective of a victim in the process.

"Now the old tennis court had been cleared of weeds and a large crowd had gathered to watch the setting up of the giant wheel there, and it was the first week of April and exactly one month after we left Depanama and three weeks after I walked with Tony to our new home in Egodawatta and I -was being sent back by mother to return some money she had borrowed from Mrs. Lawrence Perera; the money was put in an envelope and stitched into my shirt pocket and in it was a note to Mrs. Perera with a kind request to see that I won't be upto doing something stupid like last time.

Here Tissa Abeysekara juxtapositions the changing plight of his family which to that point was leading an upper middle class lifestyle with the collapse of the old order signified by the abandoned tennis court.

Together with the abandoned court the leisurely life of the upper middle class gave way to an emerging social order. A giant wheel was set up in the tennis court.

Abeysekara family moved from Egodawatte to Depanama in an impoverished state. It was the transition from prosperity to extreme poverty. Changed of fortune had reduced Abeysekara family to the despicable state of receiving `food stamps'. In the title story `Bringing Tony Home', the author recounts the uneasy changes that his family underwent leading to the abandonment of once faithful god `Tony'. He grotesquely describes his arduous journey from Egodawatte to Depanama on foot and how he had been afraid that he had actually lost `food stamps'.

Apart from a personal account, Tissa Abeysekara with an evocative diction captures the milieu in which he spent his rather turbulent childhood and adolescent.

In the short story, `Elsewhere; something like a love story', the author was able to describe a chance encounter of a teenage sweetheart as an adult under different circumstances.

She carried a bag full of mangoes For Your Lady. She did not let me carry it. Now the track we were following sloped down to a lower level before it turned to cross the stream and go up to the rail track. In a sudden throwback to adolescence, we held hands and ran down the slope, breaking to a halt just before we took the turn to go up towards the rail track. We could not see the rail track anymore and only the tops of the telegraph poles stood against the grey sky. We kept looking at each other, laughing like two kids. There was something artificial about that run, something put on, like we were playing for time holding back what had been coming inevitably from morning when we looked at each other near the gate. The train whistled rising in a crescendo to a heart-rending - a cry almost musical in its sadness, and it was like waking from a long, healing slumber as I regained my senses, and the Little Train thundered just above us, unseen but sounding like a thousand iron wheels on iron.

Here the author employs his skills in manipulating the subtle nuances of language to achieve the climax of the story which is making love with the ex-girlfriend on the way back to the railway station. Tissa Abeysekara dexterously depicts the change of time and circumstances. The ex-girlfriend has now been a spinster while Abeysekara had already married for the second time and therefore committed to another woman 'Your Lady'. However, human feelings know no bounds and it was the sudden rekindling of a longing for each other that sparked into a fiery force of love which ultimately consumed. Throughout the story, Abeysekara achieves a remarkable degree of fidelity in creating incidents and bringing the tension to a logical crescendo with equally remarkable diction which differs from one story to another and yet has its own unique identity of style.

"Harking the moaning pond" is another story where author revisits the past where his grandmother lived and explores that time. The other stories like 'Story in three movement' and 'Poor Young Man; A Requiem' also explores the sentiments of a by gone era. 'Bringing Toney Home, stories by Tissa Abeysekara offers a compelling read that takes the readers back to the milieu in which life flourished with all its quietude.

St. Michaels Laxury Apartments
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