Siri Gunasinha Novel in Thamil

by K.S. Sivakumaran

Acclaimed Sinhala novel of the 1950s, Hevanella (Shadow) by Emeritus Professor Siri Gunasinha is now available in Thamil translation. The translator is Sarojini Devi Arunachalam, a reputed translator conversant in Sanskrit, Thamil, Sinhala and English. She comes from a great family of poets and educationists in Navaaly in Yaalpanam. Her father Navaaliyoor Nadarasa was a poet, critic, and a pioneer broadcaster over the then Radio Ceylon, and a scholar in Sanskrit. He had translated Kalidasa’s Saakuntalm into Thamil. Not forgetting is his translation of Selalihini Sandeshya from Sinhala to Thamil. Sarojini Devi’s grandfather was Somasundara Pulavar, credited with fine poems.

The translator retired from the Official Languages Department after holding highest position there. I met her first in a youth programme over the Thamil Service of the then Radio Ceylon in the late 1950s. Soavanna Nadarasa, her father, who later became a Buddhist monk, was the compiler of the programme.

In order to inform the non-Thamil speaking readers what the translator had done and how she had approached the translation process, I shall focus on these features for the benefit of the reader in English.

I first read about this novel from an article in English by the late A.J.Gunawardena. Culling information from that article, I wrote a piece on important Sinhala novels in Thamil to the monthly literary journal Mallikai

The hard cover book has 258 pages neatly printed with vibrant shades of colour as its cover page.

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In a seven page introduction, the translator gives an outline of the late 20th century fiction in Sinhala, which is useful to the uninitiated.

Says she:

In an epoch of revolutionary social changes, Siri Gunasinha joined the teaching staff of the University of Peradeniya. He actively scrutinized traditional views and principles in literature and when necessary, did not hesitate to reject them. He thought anew. It was he that introduced Nissandas, a tradition of New Poetry. This was new to Sinhala Literature. His book of poetry, Mas Lae Nathi Aeta was the first of its kind. In this new poetry tradition, the traditional metre, rhyme, rhythm etc. were not adhered.”

According to the professor, the poetic sensibility is seen through the meanings encompassed in words. One cannot preserve tradition merely by ancient poetic forms like “Samudraghosam” and using archaic words. One cannot enjoy the nuances of poetry and its meanings, says Prof Siri Gunasinha.

Sarojini Devi Arunachalam informs that Prof. Siri Gunasinha has in his two anthologies of critical essays Sahithya Ha Sampradhaya and Chiranthana Sampradhaya Ha Pragathiya has explained what Tradition is. She also points out that the learned professor’s premise is that a poem doesn’t fit into a pre -designed form and it is based on literary tastes like experiences of Rasa. He cites the epic writers in Sanskrit.

Critics of Free Verse were adequately enlightened by his essay on modern style of Sinhala writing. The essay titled Varthamana Sinhala Sahithyae Bhasawa also critically examines language employed in the earlier novels in Sinhala.

The translator, Sarojini Devi Arunachalam, is quick to point out that in Siri Gunasinha’s later collections of his poetry – Abhinikmana and Rathu Kakila, the tone of his poems is less rebellious.

One another contention of Prof. Siri Gunasinha was that though differences are there in the form of letters like Na and La, there is hardly any difference in the enunciation of these alphabets. Even in his creative writing he didn’t pay much attention to these.

Siri Gunasinha wrote poetry, criticism and fiction. As for novels, the novels of pioneers Piyadasa Sirisena, W.A.Silva, writers during the Independence era and also by nationalistic thoughts and a deep love for cultural traditions had an impact on him. However, he contented that the above works lacked artistic qualities though they had substance.

Artistic works in Sinhala novels evolved after Martin Wickramasinghe’s creations. Gamperaliya is one such work .Talking further, Siri Gunasinha points out that Wickramasinha tried to depict the fallout of traditional social setup due to the then predominant commercial economy.

An interesting aspect of the earlier novels was that almost all the writers followed a similar technique, namely, their works had a same structural pattern of a beginning and right through to an end.

Siri Gunasinha deviated from this trend with his novel Hevanalla. A psychological depiction of characters based on primary events in the story is deftly handled by the writer. Rather than writing the novel from an objective point of view, he went inside the characters and used the Stream of Consciousness technique.

How does Sarojini Devi Arunachalam read Siri Gunasinha’s Hevanalla?

This is how the translator reviews the novel:

Hevanalla signifies a new chapter in the broad spectrum of Sinhala Literature. The novel’s backdrop is the life and style of the 1940s in the University. It was the elite who dominated the scene then. Even if they extended their influence in the campus they were not capable of understanding the intellectual climate prevailing there. They ridiculed the indigenous conventions behavioral patterns.

Even though the novel has its base the University, it also reflects the social milieu of the time. At that time rich students from the villages too attended the University.

The hero of the novel is Jinasena. He belongs to the village elite. Paradoxically, these people from the rural background entrenched in the indigenous culture threw away these and aspired to get into a pseudo lifestyle.

The novelist examines clinically the conflicts confronted by such people. Despite his critical exposition of the behavioural patterns of the rural folks and the ostentatious grandiloquence of the urban elites, Siri Gunasingha never fails to look at things from a neutral stance.

Jinadasa doesn’t feel shy of loving a young lass. And yet, because of his background, he feels that he is reclined to his original atmosphere. Therefore he thinks about it. He wants to renounce from all bonds and enter into a free world. But he cannot do that. This is because his mother and the High Priest have a strong dominance over him. So, he has to shrink himself like a tortoise. Although he realizes the reality intellectually, he doesn’t have the courage to revolt against it.

Sarojini Devi Arunachalam also adds Gunadasa Amarasekera, Edirweera Sarachchandra and others later wrote psychological novels. But the emphasis was on social problems than on individual traits in characters from psychological angle. Siri Gunasinha literarily gets into Jinadasa’s innate personality and explores his mind.

We learn that Prof. Siri Gunasinha had a deep interest in painting too. He was behind the scenes when Prof. Sarachchandra staged his great opera, Maname. Besides, Siri Gunasinha was given the task of restoring valuable paintings in the ancient viharas. The learned academic’s publication of an Album of Buddhist Painting from Sri Lanka is about paintings of the Kandyan Period in Lankan history. It should be noted that Prof Siri Gunasinha wrote his doctoral thesis in French and obtained his academic qualification.

In the field of the Cinema too Siri Gunasinha stamped his individuality. He produced Sathsamudra, a milestone in Sinhala Cinema. He is attributed to have produced a newsreel titled Ranwan Karal.

In his collection of Critical Essays, he has written two articles on the medium of film. He traces the growth of the medium as a technical dimension as well.

Mrs Sarojini Devi Arunachalam pays her indebtedness to Prof. Rohini Paranavitana, Head of the Department of Sinhala at the Colombo University for supplying details about Prof. Siri Gunasinha.

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Let me now express my appreciation of the fine and meticulous translation of the book from Sinhala. In fact, it reads like an original novel in Thamil. Endowed with proficiency in languages, Sarojini Devi Arunachalam, in my humble opinion, has done an excellent translation in this work. As a translator from English to Thamil and vice versa, I can vouch for what I have said. Her translation while being simple, it is also perfect in grammatical construction. One could not have done a translation of creative writing unless one is familiar with contemporary fiction and tools of literary criticism. She exhibits these virtues admirably in her rendition.

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This book was launched on Monday last (August 13, 2007) at the National Library Services Board Hall in Colombo. Emeritus Professor S.Thillainathan chaired the occasion. Emeritus Professor J. B. Disanayake, Kalasoori S.Sivanesaselvan, K.S.Sivakumaran, and Emeritus Professor Siri Gunasinghe, himself, spoke at the function.

While thanking Mrs Arunachalam for asking me to give my views at the launch, and Ambassador-Designate Prof. J.B.Disanayake for his enthusiastic support for me, I must also express my delight in meeting Prof. Siri Gunasinha once again. I had the privilege of interviewing him way back in the 1980s for the Culture Page I edited for The Island Later I wrote this interview in Thamil for a Yaalpaanam based literary journal called Alai (The Wave)

So, one may say that the literati in the Thamil literary circle know about Sinhala literary figures of the calibre of Siri Gunasinha and more. But I am not sure whether the only Sinhala knowing audiences are well informed of Lankan Thamil Literary activities and Culture. It’s time for us to emerge from the splendid isolation and exclusiveness.

Contact: sivakumaranks@yahoo.com

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