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Sinhala novel in public sphere

B y R an g a C H A N D R A R A T H N E

According to Harbermas the public sphere means the of a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Access is guaranteed to all citizens. A portion of the public spheres comes into being in every convention in which private individuals assemble to form a public body Prof Dissanayakes view is that Habermas theory outline in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere served to open up a new and important pathway of inquiry and make a deep impression on the thinking of readers of its time. However, at the outset Prof Dissanayake identifies ten factors as deficiencies in Harbermas work including its descriptive and prescriptive nature and failure to take adequate notice of the exclusion of women from the deliberation of the public sphere before adopting it to examine the Sri Lankas cultural scene. The author discusses in detail the interaction of Sinhala novel with public sphere and how it had influenced in the formation of perceptions citing three illustrative moments; in fact, thereby, revisiting three important phases in the evolution of Sinhala novel. Since the analysis is grounded on the spacious concept of public sphere, it is imperative here, at least in brief, to discuss the concept of Public Sphere. The author states that according to German philosopher Jurgen Habermas Public Sphere is a domain of our social life where such things as public opinion can be formed (where) citizens... deal with matters of general interest without being subject to coercion to express publicize their views.
Cultural nationalism

In conclusion of the chapter on Public Sphere, the author states that the concepts of public sphere and civil society as they enter into non -Western discourses are inflected by local realities as well as place-based traditions of thinking. The author emphasised the fact that Sri Lankan public sphere was, to a greater extent, strengthened by journalists, playwrights, novelists and poets. He particularly cites the contribution made to this end by Munidasa Kumaratunga, John de Silva, Ven. S. Mahinda, Anagarika Dharmapala, Piyadasa Sirisena, Martin Wickremasinghe and Gunadasa Amerasekara.

In extensively dealing with the work of Piyadasa Sirisena, it has been stated, among other things, that Piyadasa Sirisena was a novelist, poet, influential newspaper editor and also an activist who played a vital role in anti-colonial struggle. He worked along with influential public figures such as Anagarika Dharmapala, Ven. Mohottiwatte Gunananda, Ven. Hikkaduve Sumangala and Walisinghe Harischandra. Piyadasa Sirisena is also considered as the father of Sinhala fiction. However, it has also been mentioned that there are five principal players in the making of Sinhala fiction; Rev. Isaac de Silva (18441907), Bentota Albert de Silva (1866-1919), A. Simon de Silva (1874-1920), M.C.F Perera (1879-1946) and Piyadasa Sirisena (1875-1946). In the introduction to the book, Prof. Wimal Dissanayake outlines his three subjects namely the novels of Piyadasa Sirisena, three novels of Martin Wickremasinghe and seven novels of Gunadasa Amerasekara as a basis for his analysis. At the outset, the author points out that though novels of Piyadasa Sirisena lack complex human experiences, well-evolved characters and more similar to didactic early prose in Sinhala, Piyadasa Sirisena has considered the novel as a tool of generating public opinion and stirring passion in order to propagate cultural nationalism. Whilst Piyadasa Sirisenas novels mark an important phase in the transition of didactic prose into the novel, Martin Wickremasinghes novels, on the one hand, mark the evolution of modern Sinhala fiction and display a central role that fiction can play in the public sphere. Prof. Dissanayakes opinion is that Piyadasa Sirisena did not advance a complex and comprehensive formulation of nationhood. However, one can extrapolate from his fiction the kind of understanding of nation that he wished to disseminate. He was making a case for a form of nationalism that was inspired by religion. Comparing the novels of Martin Wickremasinghe with those of Piyadasa Sirisena, Prof. Wimal Dissanayake states: In terms of the complexity of experience, the depth of characterization, narrative techniques and the fashioning of ductile language medium appropriate for the configuration of modern Sri Lankan experiences, these novels represent a decisive advance over the work of Piyadasa Sirisena.
W. A. Silva and Sinhala novel

A reader who is familiar with the growth and development of Sinhala fiction may raise a question on the role of W.A. Silva and his contribution and why Professor Dissanayake has excluded his contribution to Sinhala novel.

W. A. Silva wrote his first novel Siriyalatha in 1907 at the age of seventeen. It has been recognised that when he authored his debut novel, the only formal education he had received was in Sinhala up to the 5 standard in the local school. Conscious of the inadequacy of his knowledge, particularly of Sinhala Grammar the young author read widely in English and also acquired knowledge of Sinhala grammar and Sanskrit under the tutelage of the scholarly monk Pelane Sri Vajiragnana. By end 1906, he had taken up a job as a junior clerk and it was in his free time that he worked on his literary writings. Twelve years after his debut novel W. A. Silva began his second novel Lakshmi which he completed in 1922. In the years to follow, he wrote Hingana Kolla (1923) and Pasal Guruvari (1924) and Deiyanne Rate) (1926). Seven years later he wrote Kele Handha (1933), the first Sinhala novel to be filmed. Thereafter he wrote three historical novels Daivayogaya (1936) relating to the Polonnaruwve period and Sunethra (1936) and Vijaba Kollaya (1938) both relating to the Sitawake Kingdom of Rajasinghe and Mayadunne. He followed with a satirical novel Radala Piliruwe, a romantic novel (Handa pane) and a detective story Julihatha, the first of its kind in Sinhala Literature. During the last years of his life he wrote another detective story Ridihavadiya which was published after his death. He also published 4 collections of short stories. i.e. Lensuva Sakviti Raja, Amurtha Hasthaya and Dalakumar and translated some of the stories from the Arabian Nights. He also wrote a short play called Maya Yogaya. .. In the journalist field he edited the magazine Siri Sara (1919-1923), the weekly newspaper Lanka Samaya (1933) and the monthly magazine Nuwana(1940-1946). It was during this phase of his life particularly in the last fifteen years that he commenced his greatest work, the translation into Sinhala of Valmikis Ramayana Me had written in his own handwriting with prophetic in sight thus on a flyleaf. (( Even long after the departure of W. A. Silva, his work is still appearing in the public space. The best example is well-know playwright and tele-drama director Siritunga Perera bringing W.A. Silvas novel, Handa pana to television. The implication is the influence of Silvas work in the 21st Century. Silvas novel

handa pana was made into a film in 1965 in black and white. It was produced by Herbert M. Seneviratne and directed by Kingsley Rajapakse. In my view, W. A. Silvas work have provided a significant contribution to Sinhala novel by reaching wider readership and need to be discuss in setting the foreground of Sinhala fiction and whose work is still influencing the public sphere in Sri Lanka. Piyadasa Sirisena - a propagator of cultural nationalism. The author describes Piyadasa Sirisena as a novelist of advocacy and a propagator of cultural nationalism. In his novels Piyadasa Sirisena portrayed a broad range of characters of Kandyan nobility, low country elites, lawyers, doctors, teachers, businessman, police officers, Buddhist monks, prostitutes, drunkards, and social hypocrites. However, they belonged to readily identifiable broad categories-positive and negative characters. The dominant themes of his work range from religion, upholding indigenous values and heroes who triumph at the end of the day against enormous odds over the evil. It is always the good triumph over evil. As a result, the positive protagonists in Piyadasa Sirisenas novels upheld traditional virtues and pieties and prospered while those who chose to traverse the opposite path ended up in defeat and failure. Prof. Dissanayake highlights the fact that in any discussion of the interconnectivities between Sinhala fiction and public sphere in Sri Lanka, Piyadasa Sirisena occupies a central position for a number of reasons including those of his being a novelist, poet, journalist and activist in the anti-colonial struggle. However, In terms of complexity of characterization, Piyadasa Sirisenas work suffers by comparison with later writers such as Martin Wickremasinghe. In the chapter Martin Wickramasinghe and the Anxieties of Modernity, the author offers a sharp analysis on the three novels of Martin Wickremasinghe; Gamperaliya (1944), Kaliyugaya (1957) and the Yuganthaya (1949). The central theme of the trilogy is the rise and growth of middle class against the collapse of feudalism. Gamperaliya charts with great subtlety the experience of social change. Change comes to the peasant community, but much of it is endogenously generated states the author. It is noteworthy to acknowledge the fact that Martin Wickremasinghe had captured this social transformation with remarkable cultural sensitivity.

It has been mentioned that in Kaliyugaya, the experiences of the city is central to the meaning of the novel. Prof. Dissanayake states, The novel establishes the point that the city is decidedly a product of culture, but that it is also a producer of culture. Being a generator of modernization, cities influence and shape the evolving patterns of cultures even as they contain essential currents of those cultures. The chapter concludes with a note that among other things, Martin Wickremasinghes novels create a knowable community as described by Raymond Williams. Prof. Dissanayake has chosen the seven novels of Gunadasa Amerasekara commencing with Gamanaka Mula (1984), as the third illustrative moment. The seven novels, the author states, indicate further evolution of Sinhala novel and the complex manner in which contemporary social and political history can be woven into fictional representation. In conclusion, the author points out that Gunadasa Amerasekara can be marked for interpreting history and his seven novels go beyond the classical definition of realistic fiction on many counts. Commenting on Gunadasa Amarasekaras heptology centering around the main protagonist Piyadasa, Prof. Dissanayake highlights that all these seven novels ... pertaining to contemporary social history and density of social formations. The historical consciousness that informs the narrative of these seven novels compel us to re-think the dynamics of the public sphere with a greater sense of purposes and complexity and how they are linked to literary representation. Prof. Dissanayake concludes that Gunadasa Amarasekara ... carries forward the conversation that [Martin] Wickramasinghe initiated in his fiction in relation to the dynamics of contemporary Sri Lankan social histroy. Sinhala Novel and the Public Sphere: Three Illustrative Moments is a must read for Sri Lankans in general and scholars in particular. The book sheds light on myriad aspects of Sinhala novel and its conjunctions with public sphere in Sri Lanka and hope it will generate many more meaningful dialogues in time to come.