Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 10 April 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Reality in fantasy and fantasy in reality

The novel A Roadside Saga by Aruna Shantha Nissanka is an important contribution to Sri Lankan literature in English. It stands out for both the impressive narrative style and the manner in which the author deals with myriads issues within a matrix of turbulent times.

The story is woven around the bizarre incidents taking place in a farm where the protagonist Arkanshak assumes duties as the deputy manager. He stays in the bungalow with his pregnant wife Aryoma. The story shifts from reality to fantasy and vice versa. For instance, dogs, who feed on a body of a killed man, speak and clash with the people of the village. However, the novel concludes with the protagonist Arkanshak going into the wild indirectly signaling whether anarchist political environment in the village is the end of the civilisation.

A Roadside Saga
Author : Aruna Shantha Nissanka

“In contrast to the past days, clouds resisted heavily that night and remained stuck even after the mid night still damp, cool wind started blowing gently fanning the sleepers into sound sleep. Towards the crack of the dawn the damp stillness of the morning air heightened the rattle of guns echoing on the mountain massif rising far away. The farm and the village that partly skirted it were stirred by the rattle that lasted for a few seconds. And the dwellers raised their eyelids heavy with sleepiness to spend a few hours of sleepless suspense till the sunlight of the day break. The suspense and the fear of those awakened grew up as they failed to locate the direction of the gunfire.

The first round of the gunfire brought Arkanshak into a half-awakened and half-sleep state. Lying in a semi-conscious state he took rattling as somebody disturbing the corrugated iron sheets of the poultry pens. He became disillusioned with the sound as he heard the second round of gunfire…..No doubts around the main gate…outsiders…automatic weapons…killing squads..”

The author brilliantly portrays the volatile political atmosphere in which the killer squads become the order of the day. Although one could draw a parallel with the turbulent times during the period of terror in the 1980s , the unfolding scenes in the novel may occur in any part of the world under similar circumstances. It could be in the North and the East of Sri Lanka or in the South or in Ethiopia.

Political violence as a sub-text

The novel commences with the murder of the watcher of the farm. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the murder, it is obvious that it was carried out by a Para- military group that roamed the area.

However, the novel does not extensively record the bizarre incidents of the period in grotesque manner. The authorial voice always expresses through the protagonist Arkanshak who witnesses the political violence, internecine killings and their impact on society. It is not a realistic description as dogs who feed on the body of the killed watcher begin to speak and to taste the human flesh. At most of the times, social reality is couched in fantasy and the thin line between fantasy and reality is rather blurred so that it creates a surreal effect on the readers. However, it is obvious that the narrative style adapted by the author is the one which is demanded by the plot.

In The Literary Theory, Eagleton describes the distinction between fact and fiction ; “A distinction between 'fact' and 'fiction', then, seems unlikely to get us very far, not least because the distinction itself is often a questionable one. It has been argued, for instance, that our own opposition between 'historical' and 'artistic' truth does not apply at all to the early Icelandic sagas. In the English late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the word 'novel' seems to have been used about both true and fictional events, and even news reports were hardly to be considered factual. Novels and news reports were neither clearly factual nor clearly fictional: our own sharp discriminations between these categories simply did not apply. Gibbon no doubt thought that he was writing the historical truth, and so perhaps did the authors of Genesis, but they are now read as 'fact' by some and 'fiction' by others; Newman certainly thought his theological meditations were true but they are now for many readers 'literature'.

Moreover, if 'literature' includes much 'factual' writing, it also excludes quite a lot of fiction. Superman comic and Mills and Boon novels are fictional but not generally regarded as literature, and certainly not as Literature. Ifliterature is 'creative' or 'imaginative' writing, does this imply that history, philosophy and natural science are uncreative and unimaginative? Perhaps one needs a different kind of approach altogether. Perhaps If iterature is definable not according to whether it is fictional or 'imaginative', but because it uses language in peculiar ways. On this theory, literature is a kind of writing which, in the words of the Russian critic Roman Jakobson, represents an 'organized violence committed on ordinary speech'.

Literature transforms and intensifies ordinary language, deviates systematically from everyday speech. If you approach me at a bus stop and murmur 'Thou still unravished bride of quietness,' then I am instantly aware that I am in the presence of the literary. I know this because the texture, rhythm and resonance of your words are in excess of their abstractable meaning - or, as the linguists might more technically put it, there is a disproportion between the signifiers and the signifieds.

Your language draws attention to itself, flaunts its material being, as statements like 'Don't you know the drivers are on strike?' do not. This, in effect, was the definition of the 'literary' advanced by the Russian formalists, who included in their ranks Viktor Shklovsky, Roman]akobson, Osip Brik, Yury Tynyanov, Boris Eichenbaum and Boris Tomashevsky.

The Formalists emerged in Russia in the years before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, and flourished throughout the 1920s, until they were effectively silenced by Stalinism.

A militant, polemical group of critics, they rejected the quasi-mystical symbolist doctrines which had influenced literary criticism before them, and in a practical, scientific spirit shifted attention to the material reality of the literary text itself. Criticism should dissociate art from mystery and concern itself with how literary texts actually worked: literature was not pseudo-religion or psychology or sociology but a particular organisation of language. It had its own specific laws, structures and devices, which were to be studied in themselves rather than reduced to something else. The literary work was neither a vehicle for ideas, a reflection of social reality nor the incarnation of some transcendental truth: it was a material fact, whose functioning could be analysed rather as one could examine a machine. It was made of words, not of objects or Feelings, and it was a mistake to see it as the expression of an author's mind. Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, Osip Brik once airily remarked, would have been written even if Pushkin had not lived. “

Decadence of civilisation

The ending of the novel is as abrupt as the beginning of it. The author’s utter disgust at violence and upheavals of society is amply manifested when the protagonist Arkanshak leaves civilisation and goes into the wilderness.

“ … The most faithful followers of man might have expected its long time friend would help it in its struggle for life. Aryoma, how can we befriend the dog?

How can we re-start and re-spin history ? …Last night , when I was to leave for the burial of your man, I uttered the same words. How can I believe you utter the same words now…. For its life or what we call life ….common to all living beings, she said calmly”.

The Wildman who appears with a huge dog from time to time in the village is an important symbol in the novel. Wildman on one hand symbolises the rudimentary form of human existence to which society is debased following social upheavals and the ensuing anarchic situation and the sub-conscious mind of the protagonist on the other hand. When society plunges into its deepest abbeys, it involuntarily becomes wild and would be similar to barbaric society where survival of the fittest is the order of the day. Arkanshak goes into the wild to escape from the violence of the society and lives with wild man’s wife.


Intertexuality (story within a story) is one of the effective literary techniques that the author employs throughout the novel. It is not only the political upheaval and the turbulent times that the author depicts in the novel but the unfolding human tragedy. When the ‘leather boots’ follow a target, the targeted man or woman has nowhere to escape into.

This harsh reality of war is expressed through the dog’s words; “ I am the only one living to know the hide-out of the jungle except my mistress …I think you don’t want me to share the secrets of the jungle with leather boots” .

The dog leading Arkanshak to the wild is one of the instances where the reality merges with fantasy and in a way the reality of violence is expressed through fantasy.


One of the significant aspects of the novel is the use of symbols. At times, reader may feel that the entire setting; a farm is an allegory of a closely-monitored and controlled society. Though the incidents in the novel seem far from realistic and credible, they can happen in a similar way in any society following a violent political upheaval or war.

Noted for its impressive narration and apt use of symbolism and modern literary devices, A Roadside Saga stands out as an important English novel in the contemporary Sri Lankan writings in English.

A must read for housewives

Recipes from the cookery book of the last Kandyan dynasty is a book any housewife who is fond of cooking will be proud to own because it gives her new insights and methods of cooking for her to experiment with. For the hotel chef and those aspiring to be chefs, the book will delight their hearts because of the many permutations each recipe unfolds. Going through the book I found something of interest in each section. In the section on meats, I learnt that jak can be successfully cooked along with any meat to make a delicious dish (recipes nos. 29 and 30). I remember one day, long ago, a friend of my father who was an avid cook sent us a delicious baked breadfruit stuffed with mincemeat. It was delicious.

Recipes from the cookery book of the last
Kandyan dynasty
Author: Ananda S. Pilimatalavuva

In the fish section, I came across a very simple recipe for small fish (recipe no. 5). In the rice section, recipe no. 1 seems to be something worth trying out. In the cunjee section, recipe no. 5 seems to be fairly simple to make. In the vegetable section, there is a recipe for a mallun with green gram which is worth trying. Recipe no. 22 and recipe no. 15 using either kekiri, brinjal or polos is also rather straightforward. There is also a kos maaluwa and a polos recipe (nos. 13 and 14). In the sweetmeat section, recipes 6, 7, 8, 9, 14 and 21 all look worth a try and are easy enough for even a child to try out.

I think the section that interested me most of all was the one on health benefits and medicinal uses and other names of the various ingredients. I am ashamed to admit that I did not know that the bo tree is also referred to as the peepul tree.

These and various other facts I gleaned from perusing this section. Did you know that koora thampala is amaranthas, that venivel is calamba wood, goraka is gamboge, katuwelbatu is prickly nightshade, asamodagam is wild celery and kithul is wine palm? Incidentally, our son-in-law who is a chef in Australia, made a mallun of asamodagam leaves which was very palatable. One big bonus is that every recipe page is laminated. This will prevent hassles among housewives who tend to drop a bit of curry they are tasting on to the open book on the kitchen table.

All in all, this is a book that should be on every housewife's bookshelf, to browse through, to read and then experiment with.

Happy cooking to all, housewives and chefs alike!

A dissolution of sorrow and the end of old beginnings

Meet him - and you must - and you can now read close on fifty of his poems he claims are his Letters From Far Away. Letters... or a flow of thoughts, meditations, obsequies, the telling of the dissolution of sorrow, the end of old beginnings, long fiery draughts of an ocean that is life and blank sheets of rising dawns...

Yes, meet Derrick Gamini Pieris Seneviratne - a poet I have been privileged to know for ever so long; whose ever impending exhalation of spirit has found his lines in so many anthologies, and I would list them all if I were given leave to do so. But, as he in An Epilogue (p. 4) says:

"... we did not seek to weave

old threads into new patterns: common sense

demanded that we build anew

and sentiment could not resist it since

we stood on a concrete experience."

This is Gamini, and it was in November 2009 that his Letters From Far Away were read, proof-read, and published in greater part by his wife, in whose memory this, his Requeiescat (p. 7) spins forth:


will be

like again tomorrow

* * *

she will die with me

* * *

Sweet faces

skirts under falling leaves

in the windy avenue at noon

down the school land

* * *

She should have lived

* * *

a little longer, till the buildings changed

and the places disappeared

where the hours speed young with us

under the awning, down the by-path

* * *

to breed brats

* * *

Myself, I should not

have committed this death;

but strangely, I survived.

Let me.

* * *

Let her be born again

* * *



that yesterday was blind.

Fresh twilight

To take this collection is to render a fresh twilight that offers a cleavage in the air-blue sky above and the rosary in a nun's hand. There is a quality of magic and a seeking for echoes and the silence of doom. Allow me to offer readers a bowl of so many sensations:

(1) She writes to me, I think. Our letters cross

as the mood takes us. The wrong letters cross.

Thoughts lapse into old patterns

in the stagnant routine of the ring -

feint swing clinch break and once again

feint. No questions, no replies.

Nobody wins. Jeers -

without? within? Echoes in the emptiness;

Everybody's gone to bed. Shadowless

under phantom lights we play

in the invisible ring.


tell us - this Shakespeare -

who was he? (Waiting for Ariel - p. 2)

(2) Poor flesh

God's body is made bread

in the fruit of meditation

for an exultation of the spirit

deflowers the single man

transmigrates the soul

to animal decay

and when the green awakens

to leaf on bare shoulders,

fulfils with putrid scent the queen of the night.

(Meditation - p.3)

(3) Writing now at the end of years

with only a tickling ember of one's hurt

one could not feel, so much, remorse

for what in social terms it meant, nor any regret

for the inundated paradisal isles, only wonder

that beauty is born of friendship and those tears

weren't vainly shed for the innocence we lost

the beauty that in innocence we squandered.

It seems born again now of stony-hearted days

since love was castrate, beauty self-confined

the word compressed in the folds of desire,

indifference in its vacuum refined.

The virgin thought we were so loth to learn

indenting it on time's grim pock-marked face

to prove that passion breeds nothing to admire

and showed us the ways of beauty which is stern.

(Lines from The Second Coming - p 8)

Newer understanding

Do we see a sudden onrush of newer understanding tinged with old-young regret? Let's take the end-lines of yet another, shall we:

....Tears at departing ties

one's own life close, it rises

to skin-deep, pores tear

Love lingers like the earth,

Rivers flow,

Hills and cities peddle fantasies

The dawn with lift. (From Parting at Dawn (P10)

His Paterfamilias offers four poems - the first For Arjuna, his son, accosting a portrait of Dorian Gray:

I can see the charm of my figure

in your face, son.


will invest your figure

with the changes that time brings.

Let growing up, for you

be as a seasoning of hard wood

the hardwood that

my face in your figure sometimes sees

which your eyes on me

must less and less detect.

Astral intersections

The next is for his brother, titled Maiyya, which offer what will and must come to be when all the astral intersections, curves and consequential tangents slide into space:

....You are still child, son,

freed by the rude beam of your brother's oak

on which your parallels roll to infinity

whose intro-linear graphs provide

nodes for tangencies.

The third is for his daughter Nanga and again we find a new making of love as though the times are now upon the poet to nerve himself to the fatherhood he near forgot to give:

And you my daughter, for whom

I have had so few words, survive

the collapse of my lungs.

There will be voices

sweet with singing, voices sweet

singing in the garden, through a high window

as now, in my mind, for you, as you lie asleep.

I see you awake,

dark-eyed your raven hair,

in the arms of a careful mother.

Am I aggrieved, though, though there has been

little conversation between us, as befits

father and daughter?

Devouring nights

The fourth tells of naught but himself and of devouring nights, tired headlights, hither and thither, country-sides and sentiments, hunger and the profanities of ill-spent days. Readers will find these Letters From Far Away projecting the very unconnected corridors of his life. He has to tell of what of what it has been to await the anguish of dying as well as the choking of life. We find these lines in Living where he asks:

"Do the stars

muster configurations

to tug at the threads that bind

this life to this body?" (p 17)

I could go on, and there is so much more, but a few here-and-there lines carry so much:

....How deep beauty is. How grave our need. How swift to die.

Thank you Lord, for this goodbye, (Beauty - p29)

Take Gamini Seneviratne the way he now wishes to be taken. He has put every piece of life's jigsaw together and in so doing has sought the glow of newer moons, brighter suns, an aptitude to live in a frame of ivory leaf and jasmine. Nothing can now make a new youthfulness retreat. He has spread his sorry make-up far and seen the new-life sensations return like a bowl of cascading flowers.


Web Adavi Sakasima

Pradeep Kavinda Kotuwegedara's latest book Web Adavi Sakasima and CD will be launched at Dayawansa Jayakody bookshop, Ven. S. Mahinda Mawatha, Colombo 10 on April 12 at 10 a.m.

Web Adavi Sakasima (Web designing) is a Dayawansa Jayakody publication.

Ektam Geval

Award-winning author Somaweera Senanayake's Ektam Geval (latest edition) will be launched at Dayawansa Jayakody Bookshop, Colombo 10 on April 19 at 10 a.m. Somaweera Senanayake is the author of several books including Raja Kale Punchi Lamai, Mavakage Geethaya, Yashoravaya, Menik Nadiya Gala Basi, Paramitha, Andurata Pahanak, Api Thavamath Sansare, and Sathun Athara Bosathvaru. Ektam Geval is a Dayawansa Jayakody publication.



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