Focus on Lankan English short stories
FICTION: This columnist congratulates critic Rajiva Wijesinha for
bringing out an anthology of Lankan short stories and editing it. The
book of 230 pages is published by the National Book Trust of India.
The title is appropriately called bridging connections, particularly
in the present context. Bridging connections with Indian readers in
English is one thing and bridging connections within the Lankan
communities is another.
The book is in English and therefore the vast majority of the
population who do not know English would not really benefit. Even among
the English-knowing readers, I wonder how many of them would care to
read these stories.
And even some scholars and academic critics might not pay any
attention. Despite this negative reality, something good had been
achieved - at least some sections of the different communities in Lanka
who know English would have a chance to know something about the
intrinsic culture or lifestyle of the 'other'.
The book is in English, but it includes stories originally written in
English as well as translations into English from Sinhala and Thamil.
The book contains 25 remarkable short stories covering different
aspects and facets of the Lankan people.
The Editor, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha is an academic, columnist and
presently the Secretary-General of the Peace Secretariat of the Sri
Last year he edited a similar anthology. But I haven't even seen the
colour of the book. That book was called An Anthology of Modern Sri
Lanka Short Stories in English.
In his Introduction to this collection, Wijesinha informs that
'included 24 stories by a range of writers, expanding on a previous
collection of writing by women that brought together 12 stories written
originally in English by four women writers.
I wish to quote from passages in the Introduction to show how the
'Other' is ignored. The 'Other' here is Lankan Thamil writers. How sad.
The compiler and editor Rajiva Wijesinha says:
"The first collection to bring together writing in at least two Sri
Lankan languages, published in Arizona in 1981, left out writing in
Tamil altogether. The editors sadly noted what they saw as 'glaring
omission', but explained that 'Tamil Literature in Sri Lanka is terra
incognito for the Sinhala or English reader in the island."
A few individuals in the island consciously think that the country
belongs to the Sinhalas only and therefore the others are 'aliens'.
Therefore even some academics might have been bound to hold such a
But Rajiva is quick to point out that 'this is partly the result of
shortsighted political and educational policies. It also reflects the
present realities in Sri Lanka where the two communities exist in
This comment is attributed to the editors of An Anthology of Modern
Writing from Sri Lanka. The editors of this anthology were Ranjani
Obeysekera and Chitra Fernando. I remember reading an article written by
the former in an American academic review, wherein she has included
writings by Lankan writers in Thamil, perhaps recommended by some
influential Thamil academics that have their own coterie of their
We know that Professor Emeritus D C R A Goonetilleke in 1999 edited
for the Penguin Books, India The Penguin New Writing in Sri Lanka. About
this book RW adds: "In the early nineties there was at last a compendium
that brought together writing in all three languages, prose as well as
poetry, but given 'the limitations', as indicated by the editor, it
contained nothing written in Sinhala or Tamil after 1981.
Indeed, even in English there was no prose after 1983, which was a
particularly significant year. The ethnic violence of July 1983 set the
seal on the compartmentalization I referred to, in a manner that seems
still to defy peaceful resolution. It is no accident therefore that a
high proportion of the stories included here deal with political
I wonder whether the erudite and gentle professor ever read any of
the columns yours truly writes in the newspapers. I say this because,
even in the prose section, he could have mentioned even in passing what
I write about Thamil, English and Sinhala writing in this country.
Whose stories have been included in this collection under review?
They are: Martin Wickramasinghe, Gunadasa Amarasekera, Ediriweera
Sarachchandra, K. Jayatilaka, Karuna Perera, Sita Kulatunga, Sunethra
Rajakarunanayakae, and Sarath Wijesuriya. Their stories were originally
written in Sinhala.
Stories originally written in Thamil are also included. As a
Thamilian, I feel relieved. The Thamil writers whose stories are
included in this collection are: T. S.Varatharasan (Varathar), K.
Saddanathan, N. S. M. Ramaiya, S. Yoganatahan, 'Thaamarai Chelvi',
Aiyathurai Saanthan and Somapala Ranjakumar.
Also included stories originally written in English. These writers
are Alagu Subramaniam,C V Velupillai, James Goonewardene, Vijita
Fernando, Maureen Seneviratne, Gamini Akmeemana, Nirmali Hettiarachchi,
Ameena Hussein, Rajiva Wijesinha and Punyakante Wijenaike.
You might wonder who did the translations. A bilingual writer and
winner of literary awards, critic and former senior journalist Vijita
Fernando translated the Sinhala stories into English. K.S.Sivakumaran
translated the Thamil stories into English.
You have to read all the 25 short stories to understand better human
relationships. Rajiva Wijesinha singles out for a comment: "The stories
by Sunethra Rajakarunanayake and S. Yoganathan and Maureen Seneviratne
suggest why, despite the increasing violence of the last years, we might
still hope that a nation with national identity could be constructed"
If you want to know what 'national identity' means, all the
nationalists, ultra-nationalists, patriots and others could learn a
lesson from a recently released Hindi film starring Sharuk Khan. See it
if you can.
The latter part of the Introduction deals with the stories as
evaluated by the editor. Please read this also to get a better
perspective of Lankan writing.
On one page of this book an error has occurred regarding my initials.
Correct initials of names are essential particularly in a book of this
nature. Names and bylines also matter in writing. K. Sivakumaran should
be printed as K. S. Sivakumaran, as yours truly is known.
As the publishers say 'Drawn from Sinhala, Thamil and English this
anthology is a compelling read that brings out the distinctive flavour
and rich diversity of Sri Lankan prose"
So, please get a copy of this book priced at 85 Indian Rupees and