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K.S.Sivakumaran's columns!
12 Centuries of Sinhala Poetry!

by K.S.Sivakumaran

A Sri Lankan anthology of 12 Centuries of Sinhala Poetry translated by Dr Lakshmi de Silva published by Vijitha Yapa publications with originals has just been published. Lakshmi de Silva is bilingual and an excellent translator as evidenced by her previous translations of very important works in Sinhala: Ape Gama by Martin Wickramasinghe -Lay Bare the Roots, Gajaman Puwatha by Dayananda Gunawardena - The Gajaman Story, Kuveni by Henry Jayasena, Sinhabahu by Ediriweera Sarachchandra and Lord of the Mountain: The Sardiel Poems by Rienzi Crusz, joint translation with Sita Kulatunga and Tissa Jayatilleke -Sardiel (in Sinhala)

Lakshmi de Silva has won the Gratiaen award and the Arts council award for her translations. Former senior lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Kelaniya, her doctoral thesis was " Form, Function and fidelity: A Study of their relationship in the Transaltion of Poetry. Thus we see that the translator is of a high repute in Lankanliterature. Amiable, articulate and understanding, Lakshmi appreciates Thamil poetry as well when she finds them in English translation. I felt elated when she said that she liked a translation of a Thamil poem by me in English and she encourages me to bring out a collection of my writings in English.

The book has the following contents: Sigiri Graffiti 306,582, 595, Similes from the Siyabasalakara, Kavisilumina: The drinking Festival, From the Guttila Kavya, From the Selalihini Sandesaya ( The grackle's Mission), From the Hansa Saandesaya ( The Swan's Mission), excerpts from Kuveni Asna, To the Virgin,From the Kusa Jataka: Manik Samy, From the Subhasithiya, Palanga Halla, Patini Halla,Swarnamali, Folk verse, The Combat of the Mat, Denpiti Verses, Debate, Rhyme -Munidasa Cumaratunga,The Ruin of the Race-Ra Tennekoon, Unduvap Has Come - Gunadasa Amarasekera, To My Daughter Sunetra - Ediriweera Sarachchandra,Book Bird - Wimal Dissanayake, To a Friend -Wimal Dissanaike,, Upon the Moon - Wimal Dissanaike, Strange Flowering -Wimal Dissanayake, Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Maname (1956) - excerpts - Ediriweera Sarachchandra,Sinhabahu (1961)- Act IV -Ediriweera Sarachchandra and transliteration. This 100 page book includes all of the above

In a very informative Foreword, the translator also adds that "The choice of poems presented here is intended to provide the reader with a quick yet sweeping glance at the range of moods and variety of styles in Sinhala poetry from the 8th century to the present."

In the 11 page Introduction, the translator gives valuable information regarding the history of early Sinhala poetry with analytical comments. Excerpts: "The Sinhalese in brief had devised a precision tool, a diction that combined maximum expressiveness with euphony. There are three types of Sinhala poetry, unrhymed Gee, Kavi, the monorhyme quartrains employed by both literati, and rustics from at least 8th century onwards and modern Nissandas. Gee and Kavi are both to be found on the Mirror wall while Nissandas originated in the late nineteen forties. Each is strikingly different."

Among the many poems of Sinhala poetry I liked is one by Wimal Dissanaike. It's called 'Strange Flowering', written some 30 years ago. This how Lakshmi translates this poem into English:

On a night where the light of moon or star is forbidden Of some day of May, it is said, when the cuckoo calls In the midst of a swamp that is lost in the jungle's thick gloom Where moaning water falls in dense grooves hidden, In a silent moment of midnight, a flower will bloom

It is said that this flower, red as a clot of blood Tells the world of its tidings of grief in an undertone: But the wild, without heart or mind, has not understood- And before the coming of daylight the flower is gone."

What does the book strives to achieve? Let me quote from the blurb which explains much better than I could:

"The book provides a view of hitherto hidden territory, the highways and by-ways of Sinhala poetry. It presents many facets of what Yeats termed 'the craft of verse', many moods and modes, from the amorous to animosity, the lyrical, comic, tender, cynical, satirical and melancholy, employed by kings or peasants, the erudite and the unlearned."

"The translator strives to remain faithful to the dynamics of each verse. It also includes a concise yet informative introduction to the belief, precepts, practices and background from which these verses emerged."

Essentially it is poetry for pleasure and thanks to Dr Lakshmi de Silva for making it possible for a reader like me to enjoy them.

25 Sinhala Short Stories in Thamil!

If any of our readers cannot read Sinhala but could read in Thamil, there is a collection of 25 Sinhala Short Stories translated into Thamil. This book is available from the Publishers - Mallikai Pandal, 201-1/1 Sri Kathiresan Street, Colombo 13. Telephone: 2320721. The compiler is Sengai Aaliyan (Dr.K.Gunarasa), a prolific writer and the present Municipal commissioner, Yaalpaanam.

Saminathan Vimal, one of the translators from the University of Yaalpanam in his foreword says that "The Sinhala fiction was influenced by western literature and has no connection with the ancient Sinhala stories. However there is a connection between ancient Sinhala literature and the arts and western literature. The earlier Sinhala stories were called 'Laghu Katha". These stories appeared in religious propaganda journals. Although the incidents and the society depicted in these stories were contemporary, yet the way they were narrated were akin to the ancient way of story telling. These stories appeared in "Baudhaya" and "Gnanartha Deepaiya".

Piyadasa Sirisena was the first writer to write the modern Sinhala short story. This was published in 1909 in "Sinhala Jaathiya" The story dealt with Daisy's unfortunate day turned Sumana's Fortunate Day. The earlier Sinhala short story writers were Piyadasa Sirisena, W.A.Silva, Hemapala Munidasa, T.G.W. de Silva, Martin Silva. Piyadsa Sirisena's stories were bent on promoting Sinhala nationalism, but they are not available as an anthology. T.G.W. de Silva's social criticism is available in three anthologies. Hemapala Munidasa's two collections of short stories came out in the late 1929s. W.A.de Silva and Martin Wickramasinghe emerged as very important short story writers in Sinhala in the earlier period.

The second phase of Sinhala short story writing begins with G.B.Senanayake. He has contributed immensely to the structure of the Sinhala short story. Gunadasa Amarasekera embellished the Sinhala short story further. His collection "Rathu Rosa" (1953) contained the famous story "Soma' which was considered as one of the world's best 49 stories in 1950.

In the second phase of the development of Sinhala short story, we find K.Jayathilaka, Madaala S.Ratnayake as important writers. They depicted the rural life. Socialist realism found a place in Sinhala short story writing. The standard of short story writing in Sinhala reached a higher statue with stories by A.V.Suravira, Simon Nawattegama, Gunasena Vithana and others. After 1977, new modes of writing came to play a part. Jayathilaka Gammalaweera, Eric Ilayappaarachchi, Nissanka Wijemanna, Somaratna Balasuriya, Tennyson Perera and others have written fine realistic short stories in Sinhala.

Ajit Thilakasena, K.K.Saman Kumara, Asoka Handagama, Manjula Wadiwardena, Dinudhu Siriwardena, Henry Warnakulasuriya, Dilina Weerasinghe, Sunetra Rajakarunanayake, and others wrote stories questioning the establishment. The translations from foreign languages into Sinhala have enriched the Sinhala short story writing"

The Thamil translators who have rendered the Sinhala stories are:

Thambiaiyah Thevathas, Siva Subramaniam, M.A.Nuhman,Ibnu Asumath, Sentheeran,M.L.M.Mansoor,S.M.J.Faisdeen,Neelkarai Nambi, Peri Shanmuganathan, Yaathavan,Kanagasabai Thurirajah, A.Piyadasa and Dickwella Sabwan.

The stories of the following writers are translated into Thamil:

Martin Wickramasinghe, G.B.Senanyaka, Gunasena Vithana,K.Jayathilaka,Gunadsa Amarasekera,Ratne B.Ekanayaka,Nihal Ranjith Jayathilaka,Edwin Ariyadasa,Nimal Sarachchandra,Gunadasa,Liyanage,Mrs.T.B.Subasinghe,B.M.Jayawardena,Bobby G.Boteju,R.G.Wijewardena, George Stephen Perera,Ediriweera Ssarachchandra,Thilak Chandrasekera,Ariyawangsa Chandrasiri,V.Piyaspma Perera,Hema Liyanage, Somasiri Pallewala,Wimal S.Samarasundara,Budhadasa Gallappathige,Wimaladasa Samarasinghe and Priyantha Sujeet  Athanayake.

May I ask a question? How many Sinhala translators have cared to translate Thamil short stories into Sinhala?

Dominic Jeeva's Mallikai Annuals-2003 and 2004

The 40th Annual of Dominc Jeeva's little journal in Thamil, "Mallikai" will be published and released on December 26. An indefatigable writer, author and publisher, Dominc Jeeva is a proletarian writer from Yaalpaanam, now residing in Colombo, was the first Sahitya Academy winner for Thamil writing. He tries to promote harmonious relationship between the writers of various communities. But the response from the major community is not encouraging. The translation of his own autobiography in English is now available from him, but the booksellers of books in English do not seem to be interested. Why this indifference?

The annuals for 2003 and 2004 carry very fine short stories, poems and articles. They also carry translation of Sinhala writing. In the 2004 annual Wimaladasa Samarasinghe's "Kudae" is translated by Dickwella Sabwan. 

K.S.SivakumaranIt also carries a report on the two-day Sinhala-Thamil Artiste's forum which made an attempt to forge harmony among he different communities in this country. It concluded successfully despite the violent disruption and attack by 'unenlightened' chauvinists who used brutal methods and showed their blatant ignorance of understanding other cultures and the psyches. They were only interested in Sinhalization of everything in Sri Lanka. Such rabid mono-racists are living in their own idealistic world not realizing that the world outside is watching their antics and become convinced that the victims of majoritinism need worldwide support. That's a natural process of thinking. But it's not too late if all of us become 'enlightened' and respect each other and live and let live. It's possible because the majority of the Lankans are not fools and chauvinistic.

Contact: kssivan19@sltnet.lk.

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