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K.S.Sivakumaran's columns!!
Kamalaharan: a new creative writer in English!

by K.S. Sivakumaran

Creative writers in English among the Lankans who come from the Thamil community, at present could be counted in one's finger tips. I could think of only A.Sivanandan, A.Santhan, Pon Kulendiren and Jegatheeswari Nagendiren. Santhan has received National awards for his creative writing and had received favourable notices and reviews from members of other communities in Sri Lanka as well. Kulendiren, who now lives in Toronto, Canada, has also brought out a collection of short stories. Jegatheeswari has a few collections of her poems published and she too has received acclaim. Sivanandan has received the attention of academics here and abroad.

In the past too, a few writers from the Thamil community, but with Anglicized names have written fiction.Crowther and Proctor are two such names. And others like  Poet Tambimuttu, Thambiah, C.V. Velupillai, Alagu Subramaniam have written in English.

There are other Lankan writers originally writing in Thamil and some of their works have been translated into English.

I am talking about creative writing only in this piece and critical writing in English by Lankan Thamilians are not spoken of here.

In this context, arrives a Lankan writer from Inuvil in the north. He had been publishing his poems, short stories and the rest for sometime, but hardly noticed by academics. He is C.Kamalaharan, who had his youthful experience Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. A science trained teacher and later a graduate with English, Kamalakaran has taught in various parts of the island.  He also retired from the English Department of the Uiversity of Yaalpaanam. he was affected badly by the  local wars and shifted his residence to Chennai in Thamilnadu. Presently he is in Colombo.

His first collection of short stories and poems published  recently was launched last Saturday  (Feb 19,2005) at theThamil Sangam, Wellawatta. It's called Reflections. The book is available from the author ( telephone:2365846) and is dedicated to his late brother, Dr.C.Manogaran, who was a professor at Wisconsin University in the U.S. There are 10 stories and 14 poems in this collection.

Lankan born Canadian professor in English at the University of Toronto, Chelva Canaganayagam has written a Foreword to this book, while  the author's English teacher at Palaly Teachers's College and presently a teacher of English in the U.S., R.Kanthiah has  reviewed his writing, particularly  the poems. The writer, Kamalaharan, himself written the Preface in which he says. ( quote begins) " I Have used simple language so that my message will be driven home to a wider section of society, the majority of whom have studied English as a second language. In the words of William Wordsworth, " I want my message to reach the common man "' " ( quote ends)

I shall now comment briefly on each of these stories without letting you know about the plots in them.

The Dawn of Peace

This is an idealistic story of coexistence among the various communities in this country and as such it is a welcome piece of writing. It takes us to the period nearly a quarter of a century ago when the legendary Yaal Devi running on the rail tracks up north to Yaalpaanam and Kaankesanthurai. The writer has cleverly woven two clear incidents into the story and has successfully conveyed the message in a way that satisfies the reader. The central figure in the story is understandably a benevolent teacher. The craft of this story is appreciable. This story appeared in the Sunday Observer on January 16, this year.

The Home-Coming

This again is a well written story. However, one would have liked that the writer had extended the latter part of the story a little further so that it ends convincingly. The feelings of the three characters involved in the story could have been described in a manner that the change  that was to come at the end is accepted by the  reader in a realistic communication. If not for the somewhat abrupt end the story is a welcome portrayal of the changing scenes in Yaalpaanam. The story is about marriage without parental prior approval of two people belonging to two different religions even though they are from the same community.

Belied Expectations 

This story published 17 years ago once again portrays exemplary characters vis-a-vis unwelcome  characters.
Precision  in observation and style seem  to be the hallmark of the writer as he tries to depict  the lifestyle of two people belonging to the same community.

Hand in Hand  

What underlies in most of the writer's stories is an ethical and moral stance. The noble qualities inherent in the  humankind gain primary importance in Kamalaharan's world view. Hand in Hand is such a subtle piece of a short story. However, though it is desirable that a short story should be short in length an attempt to hasten the development of the movement and plots in the story might give the reader a sense of incompleteness. This story about two loving  old couples encountering lots of mental and physical inconveniences ends with a positive and happy note.

No Regrets

The nobility in Kamalaharan's perceptions come to light in almost all his stories This story is such a creation. Besides debunking a fake astrologer who does this kind of thing for a living, also expresses his humanism at the end of the story.

The Last Journey

This is a story of ill-advised choices and the resultant consequences. The vaingloriousness and ostentatiousness of an irresponsible character and his pitiable downfall is described in the story

The Parting

This is a story of ideals and goals, if pursued in the right direction would become fruitful is the contention of the writer. The healthier relationship between two friends with similar pursuits,  their getting together after sometime and their parting ways with sorrow and endearment is the crux of the story.

A Taste of Literature 

The writer loves teaching and loves literature go without saying. The close-up in an English class in a school and the method of teaching in an appreciable way is  retold in the story. But the amusing part  comes at the end with an unstated and implicit observation: That is  understanding literature  is not easy if you do not go beyond the surface level of understanding. a poem for instance.

The Prick of Conscience 

This is also an amusing story with a twist or surprise ending. And the writer uses words in context and those words could in a story of lust could mean something different in such sex fiction. Kamalaharanhas written a  a c lever story with an ethical realization.

Deepavali Fiesta 

Finally, this story is also amusing and implicitly says that the purpose of a celebration  is lost when the day is spent on drinking and acting foolishly.However, the writer makes his characters working towards positive behaviour in the future. 

Readers would find this collection easy and profitable reading. Kamalaharan could not be ignored by compilers of Lankan Literature in English.

Since the writer has knack for writing a short story  in the right form, he ca show writers in Thamil the art of writing a short story, if he could write in Thamil as well.

Chelva Kanaganayagam's observation 

Prof Chelva Kanaganayagam  in his foreword says this:

" For Sri Lank an writers, writing in English has always been an act of translation. Even in an increasingly globalized context, the world thy depict does not easily accommodate itself to writing in English. in that sense any kind of translation is a challenge. t the same time, the very," othernes" of translation is its special strength. In the hands of able and gifted writers, it allows for new perceptions and insights" .This comment is worthy of note.

Kanaganayagam further states " Kamalaharan's work is a wonderful example of what translation can achieve. In Kamalaharan's poems and short stories, the mundane and the quotidian is suddenly transformed into the unusual and the magical. Kamalaharan's work is a pleasure to read, and it marks an important stage in the evolution of Sri Lankan writing in English."

That comment by Chelva Kanaganayagam is a testimony to Kamalaharan's innate talents.

I avoid commenting the second part of Kamalaharan's book, which consists of some of his rhyming verses. R.Kanthiah's note on his poems is illuminating.

But I would like to include a paragraph from his note because it exemplifies Kamalaharan's career and therefore analytically comments on his progression.  This is what Kanthiah , Kamalaharan's guru says:

"His (K's) life drama, too, consists of three acts: the early mundane life as a home-based teacher,the victim of agonizing civil strife and the years in exile, the denouement of fulfillment and Ecstasy consummated in the serenity and tranquil repose of a life of contemplation and service as enunciated by Sai Baba"

contact: sivakumaranks @yahoo.com / 257617
Contact: kssivan19@sltnet.lk
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