Worth of words | Daily News

Worth of words

1964-2021: Several State Literary Awards, different categories:
Professor Sunanda Mahendra
Professor Sunanda Mahendra

Awards are nothing new for Professor Sunanda Mahendra, who is an academic, novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright, theatre director and media personality with contributions on television, radio and newspapers. The 83-year old academic cum creative artiste will be receiving his seventh State Literary Award in 2021 under the Junior Fiction category. The award-winning entry is titled Kalandage Lokaya. Professor Mahendra has received State Literary Awards under different categories.

The 1980s saw Sunanda Mahendra heavily involved in writing children’s and media books. His radio features such as ‘Vishwa Keerthiyata Pathwuuwo’ became one of the rare occurrences in the Sinhalese radio. Some of his other radio programmes included were ‘Geeyaka Rasa’, ‘Nirmana Vindana’, ‘Sahan Eliya’, ‘Vishva Sravani’ and most recently ‘Lokavalokanaya’. The 80s also had him visit Hawaii’s East-West centre where he encountered research work with the former head of the department of mass communication, University of Kelaniya, Professor Wimal Dissanayake. In 1987 he visited Poland where he was engaged in folklore studies, the University of Wroclaw offered him an honorary doctorate. Subsequent to his return to Sri Lanka he published a book on Polish folk tales, Polantha Janakatha. For Sri Lankans, this may have been the first experience in savouring folktales from Poland.

In the 1990s he became a revolutionary figure following his tumultuous creation ‘Socrates’ a biopic stage play based on the great Greek philosopher’s life and his works. The drama took the country by storm, unlike his early creations. ‘Socrates’ became an experiment ‘snuff out’ as a final product with a handful of professional actors and as many a student. The drama fetched Sunanda with a plethora of praise and awards including the best state drama award in 1991.

Socratic success

The 1990s also became significant to his career as he was conferred as a Professor in addition to being the Head of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Kelaniya.

Since the ‘Socrates’ success, he had changed his path from an academic award-winning dramatist to an ‘almost’ full-time writer. The daily papers were seen full of his viewpoints and literary works. Sunanda’s notable account on ‘Second thoughts’ a series of features published in the ‘Daily News’ brought him many comments from the English speaking Sri Lankan readers. Professor Mahendra has authored many columns in both Sinhala and English. Some of them are Windfalls, Tales Once Told, Focus on Books and Bookmark.

With plenty of books written and published on many facets such as novels, poetry, children’s literature, media studies, folklore, drama and journalism. Sunanda sometimes pleasantly reminds his childhood past especially those related to living under the bunkers during the world war II period. It may be oddly surprising if he stays away from writing and publishing. Young programme producer from Ceylon turned his fortunes to become one of the brightest and prominent Lankans of the modern-day with a host of students around him in various influential places in the country boasts a sweet-scented dream of a tale.

Labyrinthine path

Throughout his life, Sunanda Mahendra has developed an aura as a novelist, short story writer, poet, dramatist, lexicographer, university professor, administrator and media personality (television, radio and press). In every field he has carved his niche, winning awards and accolades. One gets lost in the labyrinthine paths of his Colosseum of books and the sea of awards.

Upon reaching 65 in 2002, Professor Sunanda Mahendra retired from the university as an emeritus professor. But retirement has been a mere term for him. Now an author of over 400 works spread across many genres such as novels, poetry, children’s literature, media studies, folklore, and drama, Sunanda Mahendra continues to rise early in the morning to work his Rotomac pen holding it in the middle.

He remains the oldest visiting professor while continuing to author books and contribute to television, radio and press in Sinhala and English. He is also currently attached to the Sri Lanka Press Council as the Course Coordinator of Mass Media Diploma Course. Professor Mahendra has been a longstanding columnist to the Daily News.

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