Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 21 September 2014





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

The mystic aftermath of a book launch

I am still suffering from the after-effects of an event popularly known as a book launch. I am not sure when the madness of holding one entered my head. I have held two launches before, but holding one when you are about to evacuate the hustle bustle of life approximates to sheer madness. Further, more intelligent behaviour and better attitudes are expected with advanced age.

But I tended to be rather self centred cum even “funeralistic” with this and that complaint that the great man Ariyaratne who has emblazoned his name all over the world via a magnanimous project known as Sarvodaya retaliated with this advice in his speech at the launch.

“Die while working, don’t die before that”. Actually so many of us die before that. And we sidestep the issue that people do not die of bad knees.

Now, to a query more close to the topic. How academic have you to be at a book launch? Not having ever come across a manual on “How the author should behave at a book launch” or

“The author’s role in a book launch” I think I behaved rather naively and going on to superlatives, made the most non-academic speech at such an event.

Withdrawn as I am, what made me do it? The provocative factor was again, the villain of my knees.

To be very frank, I would have acted the worst hypocrite if I did not derail into what was uppermost in my mind. I have to thank that not a single member in the audience (unaware how the two objects, books and knees were tightly interlocked) got bold enough to get up and say, “Look here. We are not interested in your knees.

Say something more about the book”. Well I did and that was Magey Kathawa (my story) and the Pothey Kathawa(story of the book) that involved tracking back into my childhood.(The bad knees were a much later development).


Is the author not expected to talk at all at his or her book launch? The more she or he sits like a tomb in a cemetery the more perfect the image.

That is very unfair. And educational alibis welded into me due to my profession certainly justified my stand, especially in a developing country hungry for the grasp of the international language. That is, what I was trying to get across.

Though my initial society was miles away from the English language, from English books and English literature that I clutched on to it at some odd angle and rose through it all to a little height, needs mention not to fatten my own ego but as a courier.

But I could not go the whole hog due to an inexplicable whim of mine, I entertained some contrary ambitions too.

In fact there is a tendency on my part to admit to very humble beginnings and that too in a village bogged in a pastoral landscape. Did I state that we had to forego the three meals? No. That would have been an absolute lie for however we lacked English education, we had full three meals a day and lots of fish and meat that I wonder where all that nutrient food went into, just by passing my knees.


So I reiterate that somehow for some mysterious reason that cannot be deciphered I wanted to attach myself to the lowest rungs in society but the nearest I could get there was by mentioning the Amabalama or way-side resting house.

I could see the titillation of facial muscles of some of the audience as I began to talk about the old Ambalama by the Negombo - Ruwanwella Road. Were they surmising that I was born there , left by parents who did not want to get burdened by another life?

But sadly, I disappointed the audience who were unaware of my bio-data. I was only referring to the landmark from where one has to turn to the rustic village.

Through the brambles thick and thin we waded till my father bought his motor vehicle.

That again jarred the scene. This vehicle was almost an incongruity in that set up. A bullock cart would have matched the scene more.

Anyway I sought to make up for this lapse by going into details about my father’s driving career. Did he win trophies in the Siyane korale for driving six children to school in that Fiat? He stayed on till late in the evening for his office work for he happened to be a school head and he would regale us with many an adventure.

The most fantastic was his midnight encounter with a very tall white horse.

I remember him recounting details of this to our housemaid, who competed with him by describing the White Horse that stood before the Aiyanayake Devale.

The maid by the way was from the Deduru Oya delta terrain. (All that in my autobiographical Sinhala text, Siyawas Dekak Sisara. Across Two Centuries).

Was father a deft driver? No. He would ‘boast’ he returned every evening after getting lambasted by all other drivers for bad driving, lambastes that thrived on cutting remarks, as “Iskola mahaththayo, panson yannako” (Teacher, go on pension). Maybe I myself would go on writing till I receive that admonition.


How I longed to tell all that to my captured audience but I thought it unfair to waste their valuable time and so cut short my speech.

After I sat down and began to listen to the eulogies heaped on me (what else could the eminent men and women with rich vocabularies do once they have been invited) I began to regret the whole show.

Was I dreaming? How could I have crawled my way up to all that publicity just by scrawling pieces on all sorts of disconnected topics? Of course I know that I tried to justify myself, again using my knees. No, even long before that.

This time I tried to cry on the shoulders of the audience by mentioning my widowhood that made me a prisoner in the house leading me to magnify insignificant issues into material that made headlines in the literary pages of newspapers.

What shamelessness! It is enough that I was invisible to them but now here I am standing before them festooned by my daughters-in-law.


Several times I got an urge to sink under the earth or dig into the concrete and disappear totally but I just could not orchestrate that feat before the public.

Anyway after happening to mention my book, Widows world in the East (incapacitating all widows) today making its star rounds in India, I again decided to sink in.

The book was almost accidentally picked at a manuscript competition held in New Delhi (BRPC Corporation).

Now let me dish out some wisdom to the audience to cover up my lapses. When one gets into a fix as painful knees, the victim especially in the Orient, usually a female scared of surgical instruments goes around the country searching for remedies. Putting it bluntly seeking Goda Vedakam (sorry, no adequate English equivalent for that).

One such consultant told me bluntly, “You have conquered two areas but now the devil has struck you”. There just was no cure, I was told. That was disastrous news. Here I was housebound after a widowhood and then became a pensioner.

So I might as well start writing little pieces and sending them to the press. Actually my Musings was an outcome of that. Better if I had stopped at that venture rather than packing them all into a book of wisdom (which I presumed to be so).

Every time the memories of that book launch begin to vibrate within me, I think of sinking under the earth but the earth just is not that malleable.

Anyway I am glad that under the guise of a launch I threw a party to a set of book lovers one rainless evening. They met each other and met the stars in this bookscope. Of course, they did not look glamorous as those in the glitzy world but the spiritual goodness within them that made them tolerant of species like me, shone through.


Come to think of it, white wisps of patience, goodness, kindness, compassion and all other plus signs of virtue floated all over, fragrant with a holy scent. And wonder of wonders, the pain in my knees seems to have disappeared after the book tamasha, a pain that gripped me for nearly six years on and off. Hope the miracle will last.

I even hope to be back to work at the House by the Beira that promoted my madness. My work permit lay crumpled for years as I sat at home applying all sorts of oils and balms, a miserable pastime.

And steering all that from the top stood a charming professional, Bandu (related) Lotus Prince. he prince was unaware that in some mystic way he acted as the healer of almost an incurable malady.

And these words from Edwin Ariyadasa, the veteran and evergreen writer-cum-philosopher ring in my ears, like the very Amurtha or heavenly nectar, “Padma, this book-socialising is the best therapy”.

Similar words of wisdom about a suitable therapy gushed from famed writers such as Gunadasa Amarasekera, Leel Gunasekera and Daya Dissanayake, matured twins and my dear friend of half a century, Hema Goonetileka.

What is this therapy? Your guess is as good as mine, for it proved the best and that is so far. Touch wood. Was the book forgotten? No. Never, they all had the mental brilliance to knit all that matter into the book that was launched. Wisdom does not come in compartments but as a gestalt or totality.

Now no evil eye, nor evil mouth! And that's straight from the mouths of the village folk.

However much I write in an alien language I cannot forget that I am from the village where the oxen trail the Jah-Mah cries of the farmers who fill our bellies with the green gold seeds. And the bramble in scraping me. And now I am prepared to die while working, obeying the advice given by a true son of the soil.

And this from the man who lisped these words of wisdom, “I wept that I had no shoes till I met a person without feet”. Well, only my knees had gone awry (that too now cured due to mysterious causes) everything else is in perfect order including my mind that produces such ridiculous matter that many opt to tolerate.

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