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
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
Withdrawn as I am, what made me do it?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
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
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
I remember him recounting details of this to our housemaid, who
competed with him by describing the White Horse that stood before the
The maid by the way was from the Deduru Oya delta terrain. (All that
in my autobiographical Sinhala text, Siyawas Dekak Sisara. Across Two
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
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
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.