Sunburnt Home - an Australian-Sri Lankan novel
To be or not to be: That is the question...
"Dad, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company is coming to Perth. We
were asked to buy tickets for the morning rehearsal. The drama teacher
said that it would be a good idea to go with the family for the main
show as well, so we can see the play twice."
Jayadeva looked at her face for a while and thought it looked very
plain without earrings.
--Why couldn't Malini help her to have the ear rings Amma sent her?
"What's the matter Dad, are you dreaming or seeing a ghost behind
Jayadeva digressed and answered Sunitha's question.
"That's great. I'd like to see a Shakespeare play. A real one from
England! I have never seen a play by Shakespeare!" replied Jayadeva.
"But there's a hitch Dad! The school tickets are only twenty dollars.
That's for the special matinee show for school children, but the other
tickets will cost you fifty dollars each."
'Do they have student's rate for you and Mallie?"
"I think, so, I can find out."
"What's the play, Duwa?"
"The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark!"
"Hamlet?"Oh, that's a great play. I have studied it at school!"
"It's great. Then you might be able to help me when I get stuck. Can you
remember that famous lines from the play?" Sunitha recited:
"To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep..."
"Dad do you know that Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play? The full
text of Hamlet has 29,551 words and 4,042 lines! Did you know that Dad?
"No, Duwa, I don't know any of these. We didn't have an English
Jayadeva was worried that he could only recite some passage from
Shakespeare in Sinhala. He wished he had the same ability as Sunitha to
quote from Hamlet by memory and to know all the details about the works
of Shakespeare in their original form.
"If you had studied Hamlet, you should know those famous lines.
Everyone in our class know them."
"No, Duwa, I read the play in Sinhala! We only studied it in
"Oh, have they written Hamlet in Sinhala? I didn't know that!"
"I don't know, Duwa! I don't have answers to all your questions. But
we studied Hamlet in Sinhala; a translation. We studied the play as a
subject for Sinhala literature. I did literature because I liked the
subject. I was one of two students in Science stream to study
literature. You know Seeya  was an admirer of good literature."
"I didn't know that Seeya knew English. Achchi  of course doesn't
"Seeya didn't know English either. In Sri Lanka we have a literary
tradition which is over 2500 years old, unlike the Australian or British
"Wow, how cool is that. I didn't know that!"
"Duwa, there are a lot of things that you don't know about Sri
Lanka!" He sighed and continued,
"No Duwa, no one has written Hamlet in Sinhala. Someone translated it
into Sinhala. We studied a translation for our Ordinary Level exam."
"What's 'Ordinary Level'?"
"That's an island-wide exam we had to sit for when we're in Year 10.
After that exam, you have to choose what stream you would be studying in
"So, what did you study?"
"I had to study Maths to study engineering as that's what Seeya
wanted me to do although he loved literature.
wHe taught Sinhala as a teacher until he became a school principal.
Seeya was a very practical person. He wanted me to study Engineering or
Medicine. I'd have studied literature instead. But then we wouldn't have
come to Australia!"
"What a great thing that you did study Engineering. I'm going to
study literature for my TEE with science subjects but I want to be a
lawyer." "Oh now you want to be a lawyer! That's good. Study what you
like to study. Had we lived in Sri Lankan, you wouldn't have chosen
literature with science subjects.
"Why couldn't you do that in Sri Lanka?"
"No, Du, we couldn't study everything."
"Sri Lanka is a funny country, isn't it?"
"It's not the country. It's the system! We got all these from the
British as they ruled the country for over a century."
"So, why didn't you change? Australia got the same system from the
British. Then, how come things are different here, Dad? Anyway, you must
sign this form to reserve the tickets. I need to drop it in at school
"Okay, let me sign the form."
"Dad, what about the money?" "Ask Amma to give you a cheque. She
controls all our money! She is the Treasurer!"
Sunitha came back with a long face.
"Mum says that it's waste of time and money to see a Shakespearean
She said that it's enough for me to go to the matinee show. But, I
need to see the real production and not a rehearsal. I am writing an
essay also on Elizabethan Drama and Hamlet. I want to get good marks."
A little while later when Jayadeva approached Malini and she said:
"What's this mala kolama?  Why all of a sudden having an interest in
Shakespeare? You only studied Sinhala literature for ordinary level. In
fact, I must be the person to go.
We even did the play Hamlet at our Ladies College. It's useless and
waste of money. It's more than half of our weekly expenses.
I haven't budgeted any money for entertainment this month. I need to
buy tickets to school gala function and it will cost us money."
"What's your problem with spending 150 dollars?! It's a great play!"
"Oh, did you study Hamlet?" I didn't know that you were a
Shakespearean scholar! Did you really study Hamlet?" Malini questioned
Jayadeva who changed her sarcastic tone into a serious one this time.
"Yes, I did!"
"How do you know Shakespeare's work?"
"Anyone who has an open mind should know about Shakespeare. He
doesn't belong to one nation!"
Jayadeva thought of Wimal who was a distant relative from mother's
side. Wimal who enrolled at the Peradeniya University and studied
Sinhala, Sanskrit and English and later won a Commonwealth scholarship
to the Cambridge University where he studied Elizabethan Drama.
Jayadeva went to the back yard and look at newly planted
Araliya-frangipani-trees. A full moon was hiding behind a cloud.
Jayadeva tried to remember who translated Hamlet into Sinhala.
--. Who did the translation? Was it Sunnanda Mahinda or K G
Karunatilake? I think Mr K G Karunatilake translated Othello... not
Jayadeva tried to recall the first lines of the play that Sunitha
quoted a few minutes ago.
"To be, or not to be: that is the question..."
That was all he could remember though he knew the play as he studied
The full moon that was shining brightly a few minutes ago had
disappeared. The darkness had taken over the world. Jayadeva sat on a
back yard bench and gazed at the darkness for a while. The moon emerged
again, but moved directionless appearing and disappearing in the distant
He looked at the sky and tried to track down the moon without a
success. He remembered how he would have seen the same moon from home in
Sri Lankan as a child. He wondered whether Sunitha and Asela would
develop the same feelings that he had developed as a child towards the
moon and appreciate the stories that he had learnt about the moon
related Buddhist folk-tales.
The moon was not there to be seen. It was covered by a thick layer of
He didn't want to blame the darkness and walk back to the house
 Seeya - The Sinhala word for grandfather
 Achchci-Sinhala word for grandmother
 Mala kolama - Sinhala slang that may be translated as 'an absurd
thing' or 'a very stupid act.'
The quotation from the Skasepare plays is from Hamlet (Hamlet,
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Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and
incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used