Relocating Viragaya | Daily News

Relocating Viragaya

More than six decades have passed since the first appearance of the Sinhala novel, much discussed, titled as Viragaya (Dispassion), written by veteran writer Martin Wickramasinghe. For several years, Viragaya happened to be a prescribed text at t he higher examinations in language and literature. This too came to be translated by the late English Professor Ashley Halpe as ‘The Way of the Lotus’. I found that some of the scholars disliked the title as it perhaps tends to disarray the central theme of the original creative work.

Once I asked Professor Halpe about it. The reply seemed interesting. He said te name of the of the protagonist in Viragaya is Aravinda and the same is used purposely by the writer to denote the certain way of living.

Discussing the matter further, the professor said that Aravinda denoted the concept of the flower lotus, which raises its body from the muddy water of a pond and brightens aloof from the watery level. This is symbolic of the protagonist’s mode of living as depicted by the writer Wickramasinghe. Though the protagonist leads a life amidst people in many ways, he resembles a lotus. He is engaged in various humane experiences learned by himself resembling the manner of an alchemist. At times he discusses quite seriously about matters related to metaphysic and anthropology.

Aravinda is portrayed as a character of a hermit, but keeps abreast with a deep sense of loving humane kindness.

For the average reader of Sinhala novels, storytelling as handed down the years happened to be the most popular trend. Wickramasinghe, as the author of Viragaya, detours from that trend by laying more emphasis on the inner nature of the stream of consciousness of the protagonist Aravinda. As such perhaps Viragaya could be pointed as the novel that uses the pioneer narrative technique of the psychological mode of narration via the stream of consciousness. But I feel that Wickramasinghe differs from the contemporary writers of the west like Marcel Proust, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

Wickramasinghe does not use the psychological narrative technique all the time. The protagonist Aravinda was perhaps misunderstood by literary critics of the day branding him as a parajitha, defeated or inactive person. But on rereading Viragaya, I found that Aravinda is neither defeated nor inactive. He is more contemplative on social issues to the point that he is a silent type of human being. Wickramasinghe does not brand him as a religious image in the traditional pattern of social thinking.

Instead, he attempts to portray a character trapped in several grips of females like Sarojini and Bathi with whom he is once attached and then detached. In this manner, Viragaya in a way is a series of sensitive human episodes linked to each other. The reader gets gradually elevated from the mundane to sublime.

The undergraduates of the Department of Mass Communication and Sinhala at the Sri Jayawardanapura University and Diploma Course students of the Sri Lanka Press Council are trying their best to rediscover the merits of Viragaya from several literary and social standpoints. They are being helped by the encouragement on the part of Dr Ranga Wickramasinghe, the president of Wickramasinghe Foundation.

The Press Council students are scheduled to pay a visit to Koggala Museum as a part of their academic exercise in order to gauge the creative intensity of the late scholar’s social, anthropological, literary and creative insights. The cine work based on Viragaya as created by Dr Tissa Abeysekara too will be shown as a part of the literary discourse at the Jayawardenapura Premises.

Amidst the flood of literary and arts controversies that spring up from time to time, the creative works of Wickramasinghe like Gamperaliya, Viragaya and some super short stories like Irunu Kabaya, Vinodasvadaya stand as unshaken epitomes over the years. The creative works of Wickramasinghe that springs up from 1924 onwards show to the contemporary scholar, how dedicated a creative writer cum journalist of a high order could be in a changing world.

Martin Wickramasinghe (1891 – 1976) studies should not be confined to mere narratives. He was a pioneer in the field of folklore, anthropology and investigative column writings. His award-winning essay Bamunukulaya Binda Veteema, ought to be reassessed in the light of the new knowledge of socio-political insights. One could gauge the extent to which Wickramasinghe was enlightened on seeing future events via the knowledge he inherited as a self trained media person.

As was emphasized by Bertrand Russell, the cultural element in the acquisition of knowledge, when it is successfully assimilated forms the character of a man’s thoughts and desires making them concern themselves in a part at least with large impersonal objects not only with matters of immediate importance to himself. Russell too stresses that when a man (a writer especially) acquires certain capacities by means of knowledge he will use them in ways that are socially beneficial. For Wickramasinghe, creativity happened to be a function of benefit to the society at large.


 

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