demise created a vaccum in Lankan Thamil Literature!
the field of Lankan writing in English two important personages had the
same initials: A.J. One was from the South and the other from the North.
One was a Sinhala and the other a Thamilian. They both passed out from the
University of Peradeniya and did English Major. Probably they were
contemporaries. They were literary critics among other things. Both had
written books. Both had individual contributions in the field of culture.
Both were intellectuals. They were not Marxists, but they knew what
Marxism was. They had a multi-disciplinary approach in their writing. Both
are no more with us. They were A.J. Gunawardena and A.J.Canagaratna. While
a lot is known about A.J.G, not much is known of A.J.C. They were both my
I wish to focus on AJC since he passed away at 72 last week. I remember two of his friends at Peradeniya were Dr.Wilfrid Jayasuriya and theatreman Haig Karunaratna.
AJC came to be known among the Colombo elites and the literati only recently since he was domiciled most of his life in Yaalpaanam, although he worked in Colombo for a short time as a journalist in the then Ceylon Daily News and later as editor of the Co-Operator AJC�s importance as a critical compiler blossomed when he was asked by the Chief Librarian of the ICES (International Centre for Ethnic Studies), Mr Thambirajah ( who was formally with the American centre in Colombo) to bring out two volumes of writing by one of the greatest Lankan intellectuals in the country - Regi Siriwardena. He did a splendid job.
On Regi Siriwardena
In his edition of Selected Writings of Regi Siriwardena: Volume 1 � Literature & The Arts, AJC wrote this in his Preface:
�It was the heyday of the Ceylon Daily News then: apart from RS (Regi Siriwardena, there were GJP (Jayantha Padmanaba) and later M de S (Mervyn de Silva). They were formidable trio and their writings were heady stuff for a provincial student like me, who was interested in English Literature, in particular, and the arts, in general�
�A little over a quarter century later (May 1976, to be precise), I first met Regi in person. I had joined the staff of the University of Jaffna as an English Instructor (Note by this columnist: AJC, though he did English Honours, he could not obtain a class. Hence he was deprived of a position as a lecturer in English in the University of Yaalpaanam ) and Regi was a visiting Lecturer in English. It was a fellow English Instructor, Harsha Gunawardene, who introduced me to him�
Let me also say that even Regi failed to get a class �as he didn�t answer the specified number of questions within the stipulated time�, according to the late Doric de Souza. I believe even Mervyn de Silva couldn�t satisfy the examiners to get a class. But they were all great giants in English literature and Journalism.
AJC�s greatest tribute to RS is found in his prefaces to the two volumes he edited on Regi Siriwardene�s writings. The second volume was dedicated to the writings of RS on Politics and Society.
Coming back to AJC, we find that he was not proficient in his mother tongue Thamil in the 1950s. It�s interesting to note that in his own admission he became to learn the language and be a leading critic in that language out of vengeance � thanks to the Sinhala Only Act of 1956. From my point of view, the Act was a premature act of lack of farsightedness which has led to disharmony amongst us, although one should give primary importance to our own languages. It is foolhardiness to expect Sinhalization of all the people in the country forcibly. If one would impartially review our past one would realize to one�s shock that the so-called purity of race and all that is sheer hypocrisy.
AJC became a beacon light to the youngsters in the northern peninsula since the Sinhala Only and the shift to mother tongue learning had deprived them from knowing or understanding the English language. This led naturally to Nationalism and militancy among the younger generation.
AJC with his intellectual approach in imparting the humanities of the western world wrote in Thamil for the benefit of those ignorant of the English language. With his knowledge of world literature, he interpreted the writings of a particular writer from Thamilnadu, �Mowni�, who was acclaimed as a fine short storywriter. Although this columnist has his own admiration for the writing of �Mowni�, AJC became a literary critic in Thamil overnight by his critical perceptions.
He wrote a few books like Maththu (presently I don�t have his books in Thamil for me to give you the titles.)
AJC claimed fame rightly as a fine translator � translation from English to Thamil and vice versa. Along with another Thamilian of fine English writing style, S.Sivanayagam, the pioneer editor of the Saturday Review ( now defunct), the first political journal in English to come from Yaalpanam), A.J.Canagaratna translated short stories written in Thamil by local leading writers into English. They were published in the Sunday Observer under the editorship of the late and famous Denzil Pieris. This was in the late 1950s. AJC did not continue this task except sparingly.
Among the bilingual writers from the Thamil community, AJC is ranked the most important critic writing in English. But now there is a void, hard to fill in.
AJC also worked for the Saturday Review after S.Sivanayagam left and came to be well known in the political world.
It would not be improper if I give a tid bit of information about SS. He was earlier working for the then Daily Mirror, edited by a Thamilian from the north- Regi Michael. Many Thamilians admired his Victorian and post-Victorian style of writing in his editorials. Although I admired RM in many ways, I didn�t like his style. That�s a personal preference. However, I liked S.Sivanayagam�s style of writing. He did a column called Forum for the Daily Mirror, which was immensely popular with the readers. Besides, he was a fine critic of the Bharatha Natyam. Incidentally some ignorant people pronounce Bharatha Natyam as Bhaaratha Natyam assuming that Bhaaratha Natyam is the dance of India . It�s true it is a dance from India , but it is actually the concert of dancing by Bhartha Muni.
When SS worked for the then Tourist Board, veterans like Maureen Seneviratne and Lucian Rajakarunanayake who were contemporaries of SS in the Board had known his versatility. I remember a fine article written by Ajith Samaranayake on S.Sivanayagm.
I had not had closer contact with AJC since he was in Yaalpaanam. And yet my admiration towards him was boundless. Some years back I met him during the good old days, at the Malayan caf� in Yaalpaanam and had a brief encounter of pleasant conversation that elated me. He was simple and unassuming as great people are. I was told by some of my friends in Yaalpaanam that writers, especially, that AJC had something good to say about the columns I write in English in the Colombo newspapers. That brought some confidence in me and my pursuits.
In the early 1950s, my spouse, Pushpa, and her family had lived next door to the Canagaratnes down the 3rd Cross Road in the northern capital. They were family friends. The Canagaratnes were well known in most circles. The poet and former civil servant Guy Amirthanayagam, business tycoon Page, AJC�s younger brother Selvam Canagaratna, who writes for the Sunday Island are some names to connect.
A confirmed bachelor that rejoiced the pleasures of Backhaus, AJC was like sage with his beard imparting knowledge to all those who came to him. Some of the new writers in the north owe great indebtedness to AJC.
My last meeting with the affable AJC was at his brother�s residence in Colombo some months ago. He was convalescing after he had fallen sick and undergone severe medical treatment.
My only regret was that I missed his funeral due to unavoidable circumstances.
Let him rest in peace when peace is eluding all of us.
The death occurred this month of one of my friends who turned my attention towards contemporary Thamil literature especially those of quality writing from neighbouring Thamilnadu. He was known as �Rainbow� Kanagaratnam. He was a partner with A.R.Rahuman (now domiciled in Thamilnadu) in running a printing press called the �Rainbow� in Wolfendhal Street in Colombo 12. The company was also publishing books.
Earlier he was working for the then ICI (Imperial Chemical Industry) housed in the now depleted Gafoor Building in the Fort. In the early 1960s, I was working for the then Local Government Service Commission office (LGSC) as a Thamil translator. The office was on the first floor. �Kangs� was working in the third floor office. We used to meet during the lunch break and compared notes on contemporary Thamil literature. In those days, I was only interested in English literature. It was �Kanags� and M.S.M. Iqbal, who also worked in the same building that educated me in getting to know quality writing across the Palk Srait. I owed them much to identify good writing from pulp fiction. I thought then that contemporary Thamil literature was far behind the wealth of western literature. But I was wrong and thanks to �Kangs�, Iqbal and another Ramanathan, a Trotskyite. I can recall that the late Ramanathan and the politician Sivadasan (who escaped death recently were room mates down Wolfendhal street )
�Rainbow� Kanagaratnam was not so much a writer than an avid reader. He had a fine perception of understanding a work of art, although he wouldn�t put in writing. He however wrote a few articles to Maragatham (edited by the late Ilankeeran (Subair) a foremost novelist in Thamil in this country.
�Kanags� was an ardent fan of seeing good films. We have enjoyed selected good films together. He was a great admirer of whatever I write in Thamil. This gave me a kind of feed back that I desired. Before I became a part-time announcer on the English service of the SLBC, I used to work in the same capacity as a Thamil announcer on the Commercial Service during the time of the veteran broadcaster, the late S.P.Mylvahganam. �Kangs� and another fan of mine then, A.Kanagasooriyar fed me with encouraging and critical observations in my style of presenting a programme. I benefited from them all. �Rainbow� Kanagaratnam was a couple of years elder to me and he was in retirement and almost bed ridden for sometime. Occasionally I use to visit him and enjoy conversing with him on mutually interested subjects. He continued to read and I used to supply him with magazines and book in Thamil for him to be occupied. Now he has departed. He was affine soul. Let him gain Mukthi.
My deepest condolences to the families of both AJC and �Kanags�