Transition from translations
Readers have known her for her translations and children's books. Her
writing style is so simple and uncomplicated that it is familiar to you
heart. Though a bulk of her original works are originated from foreign
languages, she had bound her work with household aspects and language.
Seetha Mahendra. Pictures by Saman Sri
Taking a break from translations renowned author Seetha Mahendra had
explored her own creativity based on her experiences. Around 15 such
incidents had been formed into short stories and composed into a book
Samugath Suhadiniya. The book was launched at an event which saw all
five members of her family launching books.
"I used to read quite a lot of translations as a child. There are
some lovely books written in English that our Sinhala readership would
have enjoyed. I felt that these should on a manner which should strike a
cord in the reader's heart. After doing several books I decided that now
is the time to pen a book using my own creativity. It is true that we
feel that a more of our contribution goes into our own creation rather
than a translation but there are many unique incidents which could be
taken as examples in foreign settings that need to be shared with our
readers," she explained.
She had already written several short stories by then and those have
been published in local newspapers. Some of these as well as several new
stories make up Samugath Suhadiniya. The stories chronicle interesting
incidents in her life.
Queried on what is the most challenging of the two she said that
there are some unfamiliar customs and practices in foreign novels. The
difficult aspect is to find the best means to describe these features so
that the Sinhala reader can grasp what is taking place.
"There was one particular word in Miriguva which I found difficult to
express in Sinhala. We have to put on our thinking caps and find the
best set of words to give a picture of what is taking place," she
unraveled her ideas about the problems she had faced in transforming a
foreign author's story into Sinhala.
Seetha had started her stint with the pen from schooldays. The past
pupil of Anula College, Nugegoda, had contributed her writing to
newspapers. Her father had encouraged her fair for writing by providing
her with the necessary equipment.
"I loved reading. Once I start reading a book, I do not feel like
setting it down. I used to hide behind a big well in our compound to
avoid being disturbed," she recalled with a smile. The general opinion
is that there is more demand for novels in the market than short
stories. Why didn't she try her hand at writing a novel rather than
"It's true that novels and translations are quite popular among the
readers. Most publishers reject short story and poetry collections due
to this aspect. I did not base my decision on the market. I felt good
about starting off with short stories.
Among her translations is Miriguwa, Bandula Chandraratna's Mirage
which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999.
She is the wife of Prof Sunanda Mahendra and the mother of three
sons. All the members of her family had set aside a major part of their
day for writing and reading.
"I was employed in England but had to spend time on behalf of the
family when I came to Sri Lanka. My husband encouraged me to engage in
further studies. He advised and helped me in my writing. I am happy that
I made those sacrifices because my husband was able to serve the nation
while I look after the house work while setting aside time to explore my
creative streak," she said adding that she is not regretful about her
She notes that though the 'I' personality exists in her maiden short
story collection, her next batch comprises of characters which she had
created out of her imagination. Speaking about her goal of writing a
novel she said, "Though there are some novels which runs in several
parts like lengthy teledramas, I believe that a novel should end in one
book rather than drag on unnecessarily. Finding the time to write a
novel is the main challenge. I do not consider this as a barrier. If you
have the drive you should make the time."