tapestry of movement and character
Lonely Rapture" by Thiagaraja Arasanayagam
Arasanayagam is known in literary circles as a playwright of
repute, having won the National State Award for his political play,
"The Intruder". He has also a collection of three plays
"Waiting for Kiruba" all dealing with the ethnic and socio-political
situation in modern Sri Lanka.
Rapture" is Arasanayagam's first novel. It is the story of
a man running away from his fears and the torments of society, taking
him away from his roots. Thus it becomes a "journey",
metaphorically his journey through life in which he will learn the
secrets of survival in a world of the victim and the tormentor.
This finally is one of the themes that emerges out of this novel.
The protagonist encounters several situations generated by the conflict
situation he finds himself in. Apart from the fact that the plot
moves fast and smoothly, it is Arasanayagam's technique that holds
One of the
techniques he uses is the movement of time and place. Time in the
novel moves from the colonial to post colonial, and to the modern
post-independence era of political and ethnic strife. Each of these
periods is symbolized by the various characters that appear, such
as the English planter and his suburbia wife who is unable to understand
the people or even the culture of this country; the local versions
of colonial culture in the form of the English educated Sinhalese
who mimic their colonial masters; and the modern period by the scenes
the writer presents of the violence let loose in Black July' 83.
The writer also develops the idea of the movement of place (location)
and this is made possible through the protagonist leaving his village
and moving away from his roots. This begins his "Journey"
which is a sequential movement of location which in turn runs parallel
to two other features, namely, the movement of time (sometimes encapsulated)
and secondly, the theme of growing up to maturity of the protagonist
beginning with his childhood in a Kandyan village, his moving away
to Colombo and then to Balapitiya and back to Colombo before he
finally returns to his village for the final denounement.
also presents the theme of alienation and ostracism through the
experiences of the protagonist. He symbolizes all those suffering
human beings be they Sinhalese, or any other minority ethnic group.
Through the protagonist Arasanayagam brings out the theme and shows
how vulnerable a person could be if he happened to be "the
Other". It is society that determines he is "different"
and has a series of nomenclature that will satisfy its ends, that
is to treat "the other" with derision. So the protagonist
is a "pissa", a madman, "naive"
or a "simpleton.
Thus in the
novel it is the protagonist who has the problem and so it is he
who has to overcome this conflict situation foisted on him by society.
While reading this novel one cannot but think of the ethnic issues
that we have faced over the past few decades.
is also interesting for his ability to effortlessly shift from the
world of reality to the world of fantasy. In this world he "sees"
figures from Buddhist mythology, the Jataka Tales, and all those
gods and devas surfacing. He also goes into the world of dreams
and the supernatural. At certain moments in the novel the reader
would experience a world confounded by the close running parallels
of his worlds of reality and fantasy. And it is the experience that
makes the novel interesting. The protagonist sometimes "escapes"
from the ugly realities of violence, hatred, torment and exploitation
he finds around him into this world of Gods and Devas.
minor characters too add colour to the story. There is his Punchiamma
with her vituperative tongue; Mrs. Dias the widow who runs a photographic
studio; her betel-chewing assistant who spent his days in a crowded
room in Bombay where he lived with other Indians washing at an open
tap in an alley and eating in the cheap Madras Hotel. But he transforms
the mundane into the exotic, through the colourful sherbet and the
exotic women, "the women who had left their heavenly niches
in the rock temples of Khajuraho, to make their tryst with him in
a perfumed 8 by 4 tenement room."
is the English planter, the local westernized land owner, the underworld
character he gets involved with in Colombo; the beggar colonies
of Colombo controlled by the underworld character "Ari"
and the blind beggar woman whom he is forced to look after. All
these make the novel a colourful tapestry of life in Sri Lanka.
schools proud saga of humble beginnings
Fistful Of Rice", unravels the fascinating saga of the founding
of Mahamaya Girls School in Kandy at a time when Buddhist
education had suffered a severe setback due to the relentless onslaughts
of Christian missionary enterprise.
iskole" was the derogatory term applied to it by the Westernized
elite since the school began with funds collected by humble housewives
collecting a fistful of rice every day in a clay pot and selling
these pots periodically. Such was the need for a Buddhist girls
school in Kandy providing English education.
Indrani Meegama in this well researched study reveals how the Kandyan
and Low Country women got together to meet this challenge.
Her work therefore
is not only an investigation into the beginnings of Buddhist women's
education but also a history of women power.
The names of
many women who would have remained "unhonoured and unsung"
emerge from the pages of this book showing how commitment and concerted
action by tradition-bound wives and mothers, by no means feminists,
were successful in founding an educational institution which today
is a beacon of light to the Kandyan districts. Considering their
devotion to their cause, the names of Sarah Soysa, Hilda Westbrooke
Kularatne, Bertha Rodgers Ratwatte and Soma Pujitha Goonewardene
should be written in gold and Indrani Meegama should be congratulated
for highlighting their inestimable services.
The work is
well documented, both primary and secondary sources have been consulted
with intensive care, and it is written in a fluent, readable style
gripping the reader with personal anecdotes intermingled with a
great deal of factual information, regarding the revolutionary socio-economic
and cultural changes that were affecting the country in the early
This book should
be read not only by all Mahamayans past and present, but also by
all those who are interested in the history of education and in
the activities of women, who rendered a silent service and shaped
the destinies of thousands of girls who entered the portals of Mahamaya,
the school constructed by the fistfuls of rice collected by the
humble housewives of the Kandyan areas.