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17th December  2006  Volume 13, Issue 23

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Arts

Nihal de Silva’s last request...

This review is long overdue. This review was requested by Nihal de Silva before his untimely death in May 2006. By the time this review is published, Nihal de Silva would have met his last Sunbird in the kingdom of the gods, in the playground of the birds where the spirit of childhood lives on, as in his last novel Paduma Meets The Sunbird.

By Professor Manique Gunesekera

Paduma Meets The Sun bird: Stories From Paduma’s World is a new genre of writing for Nihal de Silva, the author of The Road From Elephant Pass (2003), The Far Spent Day (2004), and Giniralla Conspiracy (2005).

While children’s stories in English have entertained both adults and children for centuries, as in Mark Twain’s immortal Huckleberry Finn, the less classical but more colonial Richmal Crompton’s William series, the more recent phenomenal success of Harry Potter And His Friends, and closer home, C. Felsinger’s It Was The Babblers’ Nest (1972), Nihal de Silva writing for children is a step in a new direction.

His award winning The Road From Elephant Pass is a serious analysis of conflict from the perspective of majority culture and minority politics. His The Far Spent Day is a serious indictment of corruption in contemporary Sri Lanka, particularly in the urban milieu, his Giniralla Conspiracy is a serious study of politics and enticement in the university setting; and now, he gives us his not-so-serious novel of childhood joy and sorrow in Paduma Meets The Sunbird, which is different from all the others.

The colourful cover of this, his novel for children symbolises the playfulness and joy of childhood in the use of lemon green and purple with a cartoon-like character in the foreground. This collection of short stories is interspersed with visuals of the same cartoon-like characters in various situations depicting the hilarious struggle of children versus grown ups in a Sri Lankan village.

Different world

In this novel, he takes us to a different world, away from the hurly burly of national politics and national shame to a world of delight in childhood affairs, where the worst form of corruption is cheating in a competition or getting even with a friend or rival. It is a precious world remote from adult worries, a world of catapults and kites, of sports meets and school exams, of favourite teachers and favourite games, of secret hiding places and childish plots, a world far from the milling crowd of treachery, guns, bombs, and death.

In Paduma Meets The Sunbird, it is almost as if Nihal de Silva has come to the crossroads: he has analysed politics from different angles. He has taken on the ethnic conflict; he has penetrated the web of JVP politics and its attraction to the disadvantaged; he has exposed the thuggery of politicians and their goon squads, and finally come home to rest in the secluded little village of Paduma and his adventures.

Paduma had thought about staying home, pretending to be ill. But then his mother might drag him to the village physician, the veda, whose potions taste worse than cattle urine. In any event, that will only postpone the meeting with Sunil by one day.

(Adopting Somay, p. 18, Paduma Meets The Sunbird)

As this extract demonstrates, Paduma Meets The Sunbird: Stories from Paduma’s World is set in the village. This shows a sense of continuity in his novels, as much as deviation, since this is the only novel set in the village, although his protagonists in The Road From Elephant Pass and Giniralla Conspiracy are from the village, and the author makes frequent references to village life and customs.

The village setting of Paduma Meets The Sunbird is in itself a challenge to urban educated Nihal de Silva, who was an alumnus of St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. A graduate of the University of Peradeniya, a businessman cum chemist, a Rotarian, and a golfer.

While he would have been most at ease in the setting of The Far Spent Day based in the urban jungle, he has done justice to the conflict set amidst the beautiful fauna and flora of the Wilpattu jungle in The Road From Elephant Pass, and succeeds in capturing the trauma of undergraduate life in a Sri Lankan university, which he himself would have undergone, although in less dramatic times, in Giniralla Conspiracy.

In Paduma Meets The Sunbird, this member of the urban elite steps into the playground and humble homes of Paduma, Bothalay, Mahi Bada, Patholay, Bunnis, Somay, and Saro, and walks us through the trials and triumphs of village life seen through the eyes of a child. The author takes on the persona of the child and narrates the stories using the simple logic of childhood.

In this collection of short stories, through the adventures of Paduma, Nihal de Silva captures the essence of life in the village. Most of the stories (80%) are based on the village school, while some are set in the homes of the children or the village shop, and a few at Sri Pada and Ratnapura. All the stories are linked with the happenings in the village or the school, such as the Grade 5 scholarship exam, school inspections, new teachers, pilgrimages, local elections, proposals, light readers, charms, and preparation for a wedding. Through it all, the protagonist is Paduma, a mischievous natural leader, the bane of adults representing authority and the darling of like-minded rascals. The ups and downs of his life, his fears, his triumphs narrated through his vision provide most of the humour of the stories.

Paduma’s feet stop moving. Josa will be pleased when he returns the money, won’t he? Or will he? Josa had ignored him earlier and might do the same thing again. It is his fault anyway.

In his entire life Paduma has not had 10 rupees to spend.

Cute names

His feet, as if controlled by another being, make the decision for Paduma. They turn towards home, slowly and hesitantly at first and then in a headlong gallop. He rushes into the house and drops the bread and two-rupee coin on the plank that serves as a kitchen table. He leaves before his mother can think of another task for him.

(Josa Makes A Mistake, p. 33, Paduma Meets The Sunbird)

The names of the characters are cute and fit into the world of nicknames and childhood frankness: names such as Bothalay (bottle), Mahi Bada (fatty), Patholay (snake gourd), and Bunnis (buns) add to the funny situations the children find themselves in. In addition to the humour of the nicknames, Nihal de Silva, uses the technique of juxtaposition to create humour.

He contrasts the world of children and their goals such as making a quick buck to buy sweets, with the world of adults and their goals of cheating the system as in Josa’s pretence family funeral as a cover for illicit activities. The children’s straightforward opinions on adult activities also add to the humour, as in the following extract.

‘It’s a shame we have no vote,’ Bothalay says, throwing a pebble into the water. ‘Both of them would have tried to bribe us.’

Paduma lies on the rock looking at the fluffy white clouds drifting across the sky.

‘If you had a vote,’ he asks, ‘which of them would you give it to?’

‘Both are stinkers,’ Mahi replies without hesitation. ‘I won’t vote for either one.’

(The Village Election, p. 167, Paduma MeetsThe Sunbird)

Another technique used by the author is symbolism. The reservoir is the symbol of community life, tranquility, and beauty. It is the haven to which children escape from the challenges of life, as in Paduma and his friends finding solace in their hiding place on the banks of the reservoir. It is also the place Miss Kanthi takes them to, to guide them towards appreciation of nature and protection of the environment.

Mover and shaker

As in his other novels, Nihal de Silva creates a loveable protagonist who is a mover and shaker. The protagonist in this series of short stories is Paduma with his daredevil approach and adventurous spirit. We are with him in adversity and triumph because the author has drawn him with such detail that we empathise with him; we want him to win the kite competition, just as much as we want him to reach home safely having missed the bus at Sri Pada.

While Paduma enjoys the limelight, his sidekicks, Bothalay and Mahi Bada are suitable foils to their dynamic leader. The scrapes they get into, the goals they set themselves in their little world are appealing and interesting. The female characters are unfortunately stereotypes in their bossiness and mischief making such as Saro, Bunnis, and Sopi Akka.

Importance of education

Amongst the adult characters, the teachers and other officials in charge of education are shown in a poor light. Other than for the exceptional Miss Kanthi, the others are bullies and fascists with no idea of teaching to enlighten young minds.

Amongst the themes, the importance of education is highlighted, with constant reminders of the Grade 5 scholarship exam, which will lead the fortunate child to upward mobility. However, the author shows how violence is widespread in the name of exercising discipline. The narrative starts with a stinging slap, with the old fashioned notion of teachers and adults as strict disciplinarians who crack the whip.

Then he thinks about the many whippings he’ll get. First from Miss Rupa, then Wije Sir the principal and hovering in the background, his own mother!

(Paduma and the Monitor, p. 11, Paduma Meets The Sunbird)

Adults are shown to be generally hostile towards children for whatever reason, and the children are shown to inhabit an angry world with constant threats of violence. The basis of the children’s friendship is the safety of huddling together to face a hostile world.

‘Get out of here,’ Josa roars, pointing at the road. ‘If you come here again I’ll catch and dash you on the ground.’

(Josa Makes A Mistake, p. 38, Paduma Meets The Sunbird)

Some of his other themes are power play in the village, bowing down to customs however poor one is, and through it all, the ability of the child to snatch some form of adventure or pleasure with an optimistic outlook.

In terms of language, Nihal de Silva uses Standard English with some borrowings from Sinhala as in "veda," "kora," etc. However, he studiously avoids colloquial Sri Lankan usage as in his avoidance of the tag "no," usually found in speech of Sri Lankans. "But it will be expensive, won’t it?" (Saro Strikes Back, p. 238) shows a determined effort to use the appropriate tag, where Sri Lankans would use "no" or the hypercorrection, "isn’t it?" This demonstrates the author’s mastery of English grammar plus his refusal to give into local variants of English, as in referring to Josa’s kade as his ‘shop.’

In conclusion, the impact of Paduma Meets The Sunbird: Stories From Paduma’s World lies in the wonder and beauty of the world of adventure, challenged by adult authority as presented by Nihal de Silva. He gives us a delightful picture of growing up in a village in Sri Lanka, where however harsh the conditions are, there is beauty, as in the arrival of Miss Kanthi.

Princess

Miss Rupa beckons and a princess walks into the class. Even her sari is worn differently, with a gathering of frills at the waist. The sleeves of her pink blouse are puffed at the shoulder. She is tall and slender; it seems to Paduma that her smile is like a sunrise.

(Paduma Meets The Sunbird, p. 46)

Nihal de Silva is a romantic at heart; he always ends his stories with the impact of love, which leads to the denouement, however drastic the consequences. In this story of childhood, he shows the impact of beauty in a world of hostility, as in Paduma’s response to his lovely teacher, the Sunbird.

All in all, it is a story of the tenderness of childhood emotion, a celebration of a precious time in all our lives. Nihal de Silva’s Paduma Meets The Sunbird: Stories From Paduma’s World appeals to the scamp in all of us, and the magical moment when it is always blue skies.

And may there always be blue skies for you Nihal, as you wake on that beautiful shore, and may you enjoy the colours of the birds you loved so dearly, especially the Sunbird.

Nihal’s request for a ‘review’

05/05/2006

Dear Manique,

I have tried something new and would love to know if it works. Can you spare a little time to go through it? It might just surprise you.

IF you REALLY, REALLY like it, AND have a spare moment in which to review it, I’ll die happy.

If that’s not possible, don’t worry; I’ll understand.

Blue Skies,

Nihal

I have given a copy to Tara too.

A copy of Paduma Meets The Sunbird, and this attached note were mistakenly delivered to the wrong house, and this reviewer did not receive it until about a month after the author passed away. However, the review as requested by the author is now ready, and as foretold by the author, the reviewer "REALLY, REALLY likes it," so here goes.


Laugh, as you make him smile

The popular side-splitting comedy, Cheeriyo Sergeant, will be staged next month to raise funds for a much-needed cause. A.D. Dilshan went deaf and blind following an illness in early childhood and has been so for over 20 years. An operation, to be performed at Apollo Hospital, will help restore his speech and hearing. The estimated cost is between Rs.1.6 million and 2.8 million depending on the model of the cochlear implant used.

The play will be staged at the Maharagama Yovun Rangahala on January 14 at 3.30 p.m and 6.30 p.m.


Get admitted!

The Jayasekara Aponso Art
Educational Academy will
conduct interviews for 2007 admissions commencing December 17 onwards.

Interviews will be held every Sunday from 9 a.m to 5 p.m for the enrolling of new actors and actresses of all age groups for 2007. "Everybody who comes for the interview has a good chance of being chosen to follow the course," Academy officials said.

Jayasekara Aponso remains an unforgettable character for his famous female role in the popular stage play Thatu. Even today Thatu draws a large audience of all ages, some of whom have watched the play many times.

Interviews for new admissions will be held at the Divineco Showroom, Avissawella Road, Kaduwela.


Rare opportunity for students!

Children playing in the Allaipiddy refugee camp

Send your commentaries to a photograph we publish every week in this page and win attractive prizes!

This is what you have to do.

A photograph depicting some aspect of the violence and suffering that is enacted all around us today, and our eternal hope for peace, will be published in this space every week.

Do write your feelings and thoughts on that photograph in not more than 100 words with a suitable title and send it to us within 10 days of the publishing of the photo.

Please remember to write in your name, age, address and details of the school you are attending. The best creative pieces of writing will be published in this page and attractive prizes will be awarded at a function to be held in March 2007.

The last date for receiving your entries is 21.12.2006

Your entries should be posted to the address given below:

Viluthu,

Centre For Human Resource Development, No. 3, Torington Avenue, Colombo 7.


On adolescence, sex, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases

Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939), the father of psychoanalysis,was famous not only for the invaluable contribution he made for psychology but also for many of his controversial ideologies, some of which went to the extent of challenging morality.

For Freud, everything, both good and bad seem to stem from the expression or repression of sex drive. Despite the fact that many of his theories, including Oedipus Complex, were contentious, and for some were ‘eccentric,’ the debate on sexuality and human life that he started still continues. It is not surprising that Sigmund Freud comes to my mind when I read the book on Adolescence, Sex, AIDS And Other SexuallyTransmitted Diseases (STDs) written in Sinhala by Dr. Duminda Handapangoda, which is the first book written on the subject in Sinhala in Sri Lanka.

Although it does not contain as many controversial issues as in case of Freud, the book challenges many mythical beliefs on sexuality that prevails in rather a conservative and traditional country such as Sri Lanka whilst educating society on the subject.

Sri Lankan society is traditionally known for its mysterious attitude and approach towards sexuality. Open discussion on sexuality, even between husband and wife, is still considered a social taboo if not vulgar and sinful in this country. We have heard of many young women who suffer due to prevailing non-scientific beliefs on virginity.

For Sri Lankan adolescents, sex is a complete dilemma which is not discussed at the most important age at puberty. This coupled with lack of sex education has resulted in many social and mental problems and worst of them being spreading of AIDS and other STDs. In this social context, I consider this book written by Dr. Duminda Handapangoda most apt, timely and very useful to all irrespective of age although it is titled for adolescents.

Dr. Handapangoda, begins his book by giving a valuable introduction to adolescence and physical and psycho-social transformations experienced at puberty. Subsequently, he provides a scientific account of sexual life whilst discussing the wonders of adolescence. Then, he gradually progresses to highlight the dangers of having irresponsible sexual relationships.

He reveals that most youths in Sri Lanka obtain information on sex from unsystematic and informal sources and hence stresses the necessity for accurate scientific education on it. He emphasises that this education should start at home and thus parents have to play a much greater role than what they do now.

Dr. Handapangoda, then moves on to the most important aspect of this book, the STDs. He gives a comprehensive analysis on STDs including AIDS, how they are transmitted and most importantly methods of preventing such diseases. He uses clear, concise and reader-friendly language in his detailed clarifications and gives pictorial illustrations on many aspects of STDs. It is very important that this book provides details of places where treatment can be received in case of STDs.

The explanation that he provides on AIDS, in my opinion, is the apex of all. Once again he commences by giving a scientific account on AIDS prior to progressing into presenting how it can be prevented in a manner that even a layman can understand it. I am of the opinion that his description of how this deadly disease of the modem era, is and is not transmitted helps clear the common myths surrounding AIDS.

This book teaches us to be compassionate towards AIDS patients, a principle that emanates from Buddhism. A doctor who was known to me contracted AIDS, not due to her fault but due to a blood transfusion. She was neglected by society and to much surprise even by some of her colleagues in the medical profession who did not even want to meet her. This book educates everyone including those who are in the medical field that AIDS is not transmitted by normal socialising.

Owing to the aforementioned reasons, I believe that this book is of high educational value and must be read by everyone irrespective of age and sex.

— Professor W.G. Kularatne


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