Bherunda’s flight options | Daily News

Bherunda’s flight options

For too long, Sri Lanka has grown up with its own highway code: heavy traffic congestion. Hit the road in Colombo at noon, and it is but a mirror that lets us see ourselves. And never forget to question yourself: are we ready to come to terms with the heavy traffic congestion and the scorching sunshine? The answer flies away from us. But the very act of diverting your concentration to something productive may generate a kind of coherence for any professional.

Lakshani Wilarachchi provides us with a demonstration.

The recipient of the Godage Award for the Best English Poetry forces us to watch a bird that has never existed. The title of Wilarachchi’s award-winning book, Bherunda, is based on a mythical bird with two heads that is unfamiliar to Sri Lanka. But the author begs to differ.

“Well, Bherunda is not completely unfamiliar to Sri Lanka. Especially people who are familiar with traditional Sri Lankan art recognise this bird as a symbol of power and strength. But for me, this two-headed bird of the legends represents split identities, dual nature and infinite beauty. Ever since I saw it first during my art lessons at school, I was fascinated with it. I felt as if it represents duality in people,” Wilarachchi reasons.

Most of her poems have come into being not through harmony, but conflict – she claims. For that reason, she opts for Bherunda as the embodiment of her writings. In a way, Bherunda is a metaphor for the human condition.

Lakshani Willarachchi is a poet and writer who captures scenes, realities and emotions from the world around her via words. Using poetry to bring fresh perspectives into experiences and emotions that we are familiar with, she uses empathy, wit, and even irony and sarcasm to illustrate her themes. While distinctively Sri Lankan, her writing is an attempt to transcend cultural and geographical boundaries by tapping the core of human nature. Apart from being a creative writer, she is an academic who has obtained her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Kelaniya and Master’s Degree from the University of Colombo. She is currently serving as a lecturer in English at General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, Sri Lanka.

In the introduction to her debut poetry collection, Wilarachchi writes: Finding solace in turning thoughts into poetry, for me, has always been a solace. Does that disclosure encapsulate the primary creative impulse in her work? Possibly, it is one of the key creative impulses.

“I usually take public transport, and that allows ample time to muse over day’s events, things I see etc as well as for observing people. Sometimes I get sudden insights into issues that keep bothering me and bursts of creativity (which often involves sarcasm), and I quickly type them in my mobile as a draft text message. Later, I go back to them and edit.”

In addition, she is moved by injustices, the suffering of people and the beauty of nature. Poetry is the preferred outlet for venting out her emotions. Initially, it was a personal space to spill what she had to say.

Wilarachchi’s mother tongue is Sinhala, yet chose English to express her muse.

“I feel that is a result of having studied English literature for a long time, and a lack of exposure to free-writing in Sinhala poetry in my formative years. I love Sinhala classical poetry, sandesha kavya and all. Those are so skilfully constructed, and both meaning and structure are exquisite.”

Somehow Wilarachchi felt that structure did not allow her to express what she felt. She admits to having a natural aversion to anything too structured and formal. Even amongst English poets, those who uphold form and structure over the feeling of poetry (Augustan poets, for instance) are not her favourites. She sides with poets such as Maya Angelou and Emily Dickinson who capture poignant emotions, social realities as well as imagination and human condition via poetry.

“I prefer to write free verse. I aim to bring out the content effectively without the restrictions of rigid structures. Among Sinhala poets, Mahagama Sekara is my all-time favourite, as his poetry appeals to both the heart and intellect.”

In an interview done with this writer, a decade ago, Dr Gunadasa Amarasekara shoots down any possibility for Sri Lankan bilingual creativity (http://archives.dailynews.lk/2009/09/30/art01.asp):

If we are to write a creative piece in English, then it should have a universal appeal, shouldn’t it? I don’t think our Sri Lankan English literature has a universal appeal. In fact, I have never seen our English publications in European markets.

But the young award-winning academic cum poet takes issue with that theory.

“I think Dr Amarasekara has overlooked the potential of Sri Lankan poets. He believes that writing in English is an inferiority complex and, at the same time, claims that Sri Lankan literature has not penetrated European markets. Don’t you see self-contradiction here? I raise the following questions: how can any writer from Sri Lanka writing in Sinhala or Tamil gain an international audience if their writing is not in English or translated into English? Do we need to penetrate the European market to become successful writers? As an academic, I make a responsible statement that this is not the case. If we look at poets such as Lakdasa Wikkramasinha, Patric Fernando, Yasmin Gunaratne and Jean Arasanayagam, we can see a distinctive Sri Lankan sensibility and universal appeal. This is particularly evident in the works of diasporic writers hailing from Australia and Canada. Modern Sri Lankan poets such as Vivimarie Vanderpooten, Jayani Senanayake and Vihanga Perera tread a fine line between Sri Lanken-ness and universal appeal. The writers should be encouraged to express their views in whichever the medium they are comfortable with, and make use of good translators to convert them into other languages,” Wilarachchi elaborates.

She adds that the poetry readership is rather limited in the global platform. The anthologies may not noticeably penetrate markets. Even in Sri Lanka, publishers refuse to publish poetry anthologies because, in their own words, “Who buys poetry books? No profit there.” Wilarachchi questions as to how to promote Sri Lankan poets and create a readership that is sensitive to literature, not discouraging writing in English.

“I must mention the invaluable service of publishers such as Godage Publishers in undertaking to publish the works of new poets. If it were not for them, Bherunda would not have soared into the skies,” Wilarachchi concludes.


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