Sri Lankan writing
by K.S. Sivakumaran
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
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
"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.
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,
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
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.
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 www.kuviyam.com. The other is edited in Thamil by N. Giritharan.
The name of the e-zine
is "Pathivugal." Web site: www.pathivugal.com. 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