Pathivugal  ISSN 1481-2991
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K.S.Sivakumaran's Columns!
Sri Lankan writing
by K.S. Sivakumaran 

K.S.SivakumaranTissa's Assessment... My apologies if I haven't made it clear about what I thought of critiques on expatriate writers of Sri Lanka in English in my contribution that appeared on December 31,2003 in the Artscope pages of the Daily News. I am glad that a feedback on this has been received. Tissa Jayathilake has responded. Thanks to him, I'll put the record straight. Before I give his observations, I wish to recapture what I wrote really on this subject. This is what I wrote: "I wonder why our own academics had not evaluated expatriate Lankan writers in English!... It is true that one or two critiques on them have appeared in Lankan journals. But not adequate..."

In giving the names of some critics who could write full length studies on Sri Lankan writers in English living abroad, I inadvertently left out the names of two important Peradeniya critics: Walter Perera and Nihal Fernando. Besides them there are Neloufer de Mel, Arjuna Parakrama, Ryhena Raheem who are other notable academics writing on Lankan writing in English. Carl Muller, who is another Lankan writer known outside the country, also reviews writing in English by Lankan writers admirably. 

Since I am out of my country for the last two years, I must admit that I am not updated in details. In fact, Walter Perera's entry on Sri Lankan English Literature in the 'Encyclopedia of the 20th Century World Literature', is a noteworthy piece of analysis. 

Nihal Fernando has written many critiques and edited 'Navasilu' with competence. Let me now, include what Tissa Jayathilake writes to keep the readers updated on the subject in question. 

"I think you are not quite accurate in your observation that I haven't written about expat Sri Lankan writing. In fact the last essay I published in an academic journal dealt precisely with the subject. Perhaps your being away from Sri Lanka may have made you miss this. Also several of our academics have written on expatriate writers in English off and on (I mentioned this Tissa in my piece!) Tissa continues: "The English Language Novel of Sri Lanka and the critical response to it: An Overview: was published in 'Navasilu' Vol 17, edited by Nihal Fernando. 

Yasmine GoonaratneIn this essay I have dealt at length with our fiction and included in my comments are critical observations on Sivanandan (incidentally I consider 'When Memory Dies' to be the best novel written by a Sri Lankan English language writer), Michael Ondaatje, Yasmine Goonaratne, Shyam Selvadurai, Romesh Gunasekera, Gamini Salgado." "I don't think I am qualified to write on Rosemary Rogers as I haven' read anything written by her. And I am not sure one would consider her writing to be 'serious fiction' (Yes Tissa, I agree. 

That's why I dubbed her as a 'pop' writer) Tissa also makes this point: "I included Sivanandan's 'When Memory Dies' in a brief course on South Asian Politics, Religion and Literature I taught at Grinnel College in Iowa, USA in 2001, when I was Visiting International Scholar-in- Research there." Tissa adds: "I have elsewhere commented on some of Ernest MacIntyre's early plays. Neloufer de Mel has written a substantial essay in 'Navasilu' that takes a close look at some of Mac's plays." He concludes: "Admittedly, I haven't undertaken any specialized study of our expat writers, but I have subjected them to scrutiny. 

I believe Walter Perera of Peradeniya's dept. of English has written on a number of our expat writers, and if I am not mistaken, he is working on a book on the theme." (Great News) Now, our readers are better informed. Thanks to Tissa Jayathilake. 

Translators of Sri Lankan writing 

It is a pity if you cannot read and enjoy Sri Lankan fiction in Sinhala and Thamil, but there is a way to reach them via English. Some excellent translations are available for your reading pleasure. In fact there is an anthology of translations published by Three Wheel Press. It's called "A Lankan Mosaic" (Remember, I referred to this in an earlier column ). 

It's available from The Gratiaen Trust, C/o Marga Institute, 93 Dutugemunu Street, Dehiwala, Sri Lanka. Apart from Vijitha Fernando, Chitra Fernando, Ranjini Obeysekere. Ashley Halpe, Regi Siriwardena, Eva Ranaweera, A.J. Canagaratna, R. Murugaiyan and S. Sivanayagam who have published translations of Lankan indigenous fiction from Sinhala and Thamil to English for decades now, there are newcomers practising in this field at present. 

Among them is Madubhashini Ratnayake (She is the wife of Sitarist Pradeep and the daughter of scholar J.B. Disanayake. Her mother is also a translator of Indian fiction.) Madhubhashini translated and edited a volume titled "Contemporary Sinhala Writing: some writers and their writing". Madhubhashini, a staffer of the English Department of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, directs a Translation Workshop. 

S. Pathmanathan, a fine poet from Jaffna has published translation of Thamil poems and fiction in journals including "The Journal of South Asian Literature' and "The Penguin New Writing in Sri Lanka." M.A. Nuhman has translated poems and short stories from English and Sinhala into Thamil. His own poems have been translated into Sinhala and Thamil. One of his collections is a translation into Thamil a set of Palestinian poems. 

Then there are S. Ponnuthurai and N.K. Mahalingam (who live in Australia and Canada respectively) who have translated African writing into Thamil. S. Sivasegeram has to his credit three volumes of poems in translation. S. Sumathy has translated a play in Kannada language into Thamil (via English). A.T. Dharmapriya, Ratna Handurukande, Gamini Haththotuwegama, Kumari Gonnesekera, Sujeeva Sebastian, Carmen Wickramagamge and K.S. Sivakumaran are other translators. (The latter, though not given any notice in the 'A Lankan Mosaic', has translated via English several poems from international poets and Lankan writers into Thamil. Pardon me if I'm immodest, but this is to put the records correct. O.K?) It's not the translators alone that introduce Sri Lankan Writing to a wider body of readers in English, There are others who have written introductory essays on Lankan Writing. 

Take for instance Yasmine Gooneratne. She edited New Ceylon Writing in the late 1950s and wrote entries on Lankan Literature for the Encyclopedia of World Literature (Ungar Press) and Journal of Commonwealth Literature. D.C.R.A. Goonathilake did the same for the JOCL and also compiled Penguin edition of Lankan writing. Ranjini Obeysekera guest edited a special issue on Sinhala and Thamil Writing in Sri Lanka of "The Journal of South Asian Literature". She also co-edited with Chitra Fernando a book titled "Modern Writing from Sri Lanka" Again, Walter Perera, M.I. Kuruvila, Bandula Jayawardane and K.S. Sivakumaran have entries on Sri Lankan Literature in 'The 20th Century Encyclopedia of World Literature". 

S. Vithiyananthan, K. Kailasapathy, K. Sivathamby, Sillayoor Selvarajan, Chellathamby Manickavasagar and K.S. Sivakumaran are some others who have written on Lankan Thamil Literature in English. "Tamil Writing in Sri Lanka" and "Aspects of Culture in Sri Lanka'", both written by K.S.Sivakumaran should be added to this list. The bibliographers, the late Goonathilake and S. Bandara have provided significant compilations on Sri Lankan Literature. There may be other names too. I am sorry if I have left out some names, as I am writing from a far off place and from memory alone. 

Here are some quotations from two of the Editors 'A Lankan Mosaic', for our edification. Ranjini Obeysekera: "Those of us who spent our youth in a saner, quieter world find it hard to imagine that there are generations of young people in the south of Sri Lanka who have not even set eyes on many areas in the north and eastern parts of this tiny island. Similarly, there are generations of youth in the northern and eastern provinces for whom southern Sri Lanka is as remote as another planet." 

"I believe that literary works, more than sociological documents sensitize us to the lives, thoughts and emotions of others - in an intensely personal way...' Ashley Halpe: "Our past addresses our present in a rich polyphony, in five languages - Sinhala, Tamil, English, Malay and Veddah, at least as many dialects, and with echoes of Sanskrit sonority and Pali incantation. 

Electronic magazines 

As far as I know, there are two E-Zines presented by two expatriates from Sri Lanka. One of them has writing on Sri Lankan culture in English, Thamil and French. It's called "Kuviyam" and edited by Pon. Kuleindren. He has brought out a collection of his own stories in English titled "Short Stories From Sri Lanka" His web site is The other is edited in Thamil by N. Giritharan. 

The name of the e-zine is "Pathivugal." Web site: He has published several books in Thamil. These writers are Lankan Canadians. I am not aware of any e-zines in Sinhala edited outside Sri Lanka. Thus we see, there are resources for a researcher on Sri Lankan Writing in English.  

Courtesy: Daily News (Sri Lanka)
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