Enter a kid’s world with Paduma

Paduma Meets The Sunbird by Nihal de Silva. Published by Popsicle Books, an imprint of the Perera Hussein Publishing House. Price: Rs. 499. Reviewed by Dr. Tara de Mel.

“Assertive discipline is a very simple process. It is about choice. A choice offered to students about their behaviour, knowing the consequences.”

These words are from an inspirational speech delivered by the Principal of a leading school in Colombo, based on how and when to punish children for behavioural lapses. These words are relevant to Paduma, his life, the rural school he attends in the outback of Sri Lanka, and his gang of friends.

Nihal de Silva gently seduces us into entering the world of Paduma, his loves and hates and his fun-filled escapades. Paduma is ten years old, extremely mischievous, and very clever. He is a hero to his friends, adored by his mother, admired by his Environmental Studies teacher and hated by Wije Sir (the Principal) and some others, both in and out of school. Sunil, the class monitor, hates him the most, since he knows that his nickname (Patholay) was the brainchild of Paduma. Saro, an unpopular and bossy classmate, hates him for his guts and brains. She also hates him, because he is so resourceful that he wins the day in whatever he does, good or bad; mostly the latter.

The author transports us into the real life in a rural village school, where teachers teach and students learn in harsh and impoverished settings. It is a world where computers and the internet, science and technology are alien. Through the eyes of Paduma, we see the efforts of the school Principal to manage and administer a poor school with meagre resources. We see the various approaches used by different teachers to educate a group of diverse ten-year-olds, under very trying circumstances.

Paduma’s heartthrob, Ms. Kanthi, the Sunbird, is the young teacher, who tries out innovative methods to teach Environmental Studies. But she is taken to task by the ‘School Inspector’ for doing so. She is not, according to the Inspector, expected to deviate from the prescribed syllabus or traditional methods of teaching in any way. The fact that the children love her methods of teaching, and that they find Environmental Studies fun and exciting doesn’t matter. It breaks Paduma’s heart to see Ms. Kanthi humiliated in front of the class, instead of being rewarded for her good efforts. For the School Inspector, the due completion of his bata sheet and Subsistence Form takes precedence over creativity in teaching.

But then that is also so typical, isn’t it?
The disregard by school authorities to regulations on fundamental issues like corporal punishment of young children, strikes home. Should Paduma and his incorrigible bunch of mischief-makers be punished with physical pain for executing typical child hood pranks? After all, it is this same group of pranksters, who show kindness to the physically handicapped Somay. They give him a chance to enjoy the pleasures of childhood he has missed, since he was crippled and confined to a makeshift wheelchair.On several occasions, the importance placed on the Grade five scholarship examination, the most rigorous ordeal for a ten-year-old, is reiterated by several characters in these stories. The hard reality of having to pass the scholarship examination to gain access to a better school, and to be eligible for the monthly stipend, is of great significance for most families in Paduma’s village. The many colourful characters in the novel, and their trials and tribulations bring to light the grave difficulties of eking out an existence in poverty-stricken rural Sri Lanka.

At first glance, the reader might feel that Paduma is nothing but a scamp, a troublemaker, yearning for chaos and mayhem. But then his sensitivity and vulnerability emerges through the stories, and the Sunbird’s ability to see his potential and talent, a typical characteristic of a perceptive and caring teacher is vividly portrayed.

Paduma Meets The Sunbird consists of a series of short stories, each conveying its own poignant message. But they are also connected by a delicate thread, which makes the narrative a moving one. The events seem very real, and once more Nihal de Silva puts the reader at the centre point of a story that is truer than life. He did this beautifully in Giniralla Conspiracy, a novel that is so authentic and so relevant to the university referred to, and the entire education system of this country.

Paduma Meets The Sunbird is not just a storybook. It gives voice and meaning to the dreams and actions of children. It tells us adults how we must look at a child’s life through his eyes and not ours. Therefore, the book becomes a ‘must read’ for everyone. For schoolchildren who would relate to him best, for teachers and Principals, who have to cope with so many ‘Padumas’ on a day to day basis, and for parents who would commiserate with Paduma’s mother for the innumerable headaches he gives her. It is also delightful, because it takes you back to your own childhood, your own pranks and the woes that your own teachers and parents were subjected to. But the book captures your heart, mostly because the writer has created in Paduma, a character you can’t help but love.

Nihal de Silva will autograph copies of his new book on Saturday, June 3 at Makeen Bookshop on Havelock Road.

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Sweet blend of east and west

Poetry From The East by Ratnam Thiru. Published by Manimekalai Publishers, Chennai, India.
Reviewed by Collin Clark.

Ratnam Thiru is truly an Asian intellectual combining the ideals and cultures of both the eastern and the eestern hemispheres. His book of poetry titled Poetry From The East underscores this fact.

The book consists of 43 English poems written in clear language. Brimming with the author’s novel thinking, the book deals with a variety of interesting themes, including religion, nature, environment, social issues and romance. It covers 200 pages, and is beautifully designed and brightly illustrated.

I read his book in depth, and am convinced that he can be classed with the illustrious contemporary Asian poets.

His passion for writing poetry dates back to the youthful age of sixteen when his first poem, titled “What became of thee, o’ the majestic mansion?” was published in the South Indian magazine, Spring in 1950. His passion to write is still fresh.

In his book, he first deals with the Hindu religion. His favourite deity is Lord Shiva:
“His heart of mercy, His smiling face,
His very holy sight
Pour and pour His sweeter grace
That overlies his might!

The load of killing cares and grief
Fell apart like dropping leaves!
Full of reverence, I fell on knees
And begged my Lord for bliss and peace!”

Lord Buddha too captures his attention. For Ratnam Thiru, all religions are on an equal footing. Similarly, the saints and the sages of all religions have done their best for humanity, and he views them reverently in a dispassionate unbiased manner. He writes of Lord Buddha thus,

“Venturing out of the palatial hold
And exposed to the outside world,
Hard realities touched him cold!
Old age, sickness, and death, all rolled!

Poverty, misery, perils and pain!
These sombre stains of humans main!
This noble youth felt all these lain
On mundane life in endless train!

These harder facts he came to know,
Threw aside his royal glow,
A bogus life of mirth and show,
And took a vow of ascetic go!

Yellow robes, a calmer face,
A tender heart, a kindly gaze,
A prophet of faith in divine ways!
O’ a serene sage of radiant rays!”
Moving away from the religious domain, he becomes enchanted with nature. The jasmine blooms, fresh and glorious at the break of dawn,
“O’ Graceful blooms! A joy to eye!
You toss and dance in drift!
You thrill my heart with a thousand by
In overwhelming spirit!

O’ Tender blooms! A graceful sight!
A splendour of pure white!
In greater rapture I stay and view
Ye, charming jasmines new!

The welkin blue and the lunar light
The sunny day and the starry night
Oceans deep, and hills of height!
They sway me not, but jasmines white!”

Having surveyed religion, nature and environment, the poet looks at what goes on in the social and political systems in the world. His poem on social maladies covers the prevailing disorders, drawbacks and outright injustice in society.
In one poem he hails Aung San Suu Kyi, as the popular leader to liberate Myanmar from the shackles of tyranny.

“Aung San Suu Kyi! I bow to thee!
Thou shalt hark to me!
Myanmar Nation requires thee
For people’s government free!

Thy stronger will and purpose high
For political justice lie!
The common run of people sigh
For their freedom nigh!”
What does life mean? How can one cope with its stress and strain?
“Life is dear, and time is gold!
To live it wise, is best!

Take the best and leave the rest!
Do not test, but show thy zest
For all the beauty and the best!
Let thy hopes on Heaven rest!”
Finally, how does Ratnam Thiru view his own life?
He addresses his wife thus,
“When cares and griefs pierce my heart,
Play thy Veena sweet!
And bring my griefs and cares to naught
With all thy tuneful treat!”

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History through poetry

The Lay Of The Sinhale by Prof. P. A. de Silva. Available at Samayawardana, Sarasavi and Sammana Bookshops

This book of English poetry by P. Ariyasena de Silva, Emeritus Professor of the University of Moratuwa, was launched recently under the auspices of Tin Oo Lwin, the Ambassador of Myanmar and Madame Lwin, at the Institution of Engineers’ Wimalasurendra auditorium. The President of the Institution of Engineers, Jayantha Ranatuga delivering the welcome address congratulated Prof. P. A. as he is known to all, for producing a poetry book in English that covers our religion, history, and also our technology of the past; the technology of the ancient Helas, the technology that was used to put up huge stupas and tanks, built by our ancient kings 2000 years ago. He elaborated on the poems that give pride of place to Prince Gemunu for learning the art of metal working, while he was hiding in the Kotmale hills.

A few lines from a poem should be interesting to children who want to learn our history:
“The Prince who had never handled a hammer before,
Watched the smith as the sound did echo;
Pulled the bellows to make a good flame,
From a smithy to a King I will rise all the same.”

The book refers to the discovery of silver in Ridigama during King Gemunu’s reign, when the King was thinking of building the Ruwanweli Maha Seya, Prof. P. A. has given the name silver town to Ridigama. An industrial complex of mining, melting of silver and minting of coins is set up. These verses are a joy to read for the young and old alike. We know that Gemunu could not complete the Maha Seya and how Tissa did a mock-up with cloth to show his very sick brother, the King.
Two poems that rhyme with the well-known nursery rhyme “Twinkle twinkle little star…” are ideal for tiny tots.

“Tissa had a simple plan,
My brother shall see the Stupa as planned,
White cloth he got from every weaver,
Spun it round with hands so clever.”

Venerable Dr. Paragoda Wimalwansa Thera, the Chief Incumbent of the Waskaduwe Sakyamuni Viharaya, and Vice Principal, Moratuwa Maha Vidyalaya spoke at length in Sinhala and also in English. He congratulated the author and encouraged him to keep writing such books, so that foreigners would get the true picture about the country.
In a poem that refers to the designing of the Ruwanweli Maha Seya, the author has rightly given the credit of the design to the Maha Sangha. The monks made sure that the King in his enthusiasm did not try to make it too large. He quoted the poem:

“The Buddhist monks who excelled in arts,
Advised the King on many a craft,
The girth and the height and other details
Were chosen to look like heavenly sails.”

Ambassador Tin Oo Lwin said he was very happy to read in poetry, the simple and fundamental rules of Buddhism that the Professor has very successfully displayed. It was interesting to hear the Ambassador reciting the Pali “Sabba Papassa Akaranam” and comparing it with the poem –

“Give up all wrongs from your body and mind,
Practice to perform tasks sublime,
Cleanse your mind and be so pure
This was the message that all Buddhas’ bore.”

The front cover is a full colour picture of Thuparama taken by Professor P. A.’s grand-daughter, Sachintha. Several interesting poems about King Devanampiyatissa’s meeting with Arahat Mahinda, and the construction of Thuparama Stupa are also included.

This little book of 237 verses (34 pages) is a must for every Sinhala child in Sri Lanka and abroad. Parents will find it illumining too in this 2550th year of the Buddhist era.

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A fresh look at Sinhala lyric writers

More and more new Sinhala writers are trying their hand at more research-oriented works rather than writing a novel or a short story. Samudra Wettasinghe is one of them. In addition to pursuing a career in journalism (he freelances for the Lankadipa contributing to its weekly literary page) Samudra writes books. He is right now concentrating on a series of critical appreciations on contemporary lyric writers.


Samudra Wettasinghe

The third in the series, examining the work of Lucien Bulathsinhala, (a Godage publication) was released recently. Lucien is better known as a dramatist, and his name is synonymous with the successful dramas Taarawo Igileti and Ratu Hettakari. The songs in the former were instant hits, and to this day there is a heavy demand for “Sobava de mepura siri visituru balanu mituru” – a vivid description of a street in Singapore, and “Yaluvo maluvo” – a good laugh at the commercialised world. Equally popular is the “Deekiri deekiri” song in Ratu Hettakari.

Samudra has done an in-depth study of Lucien's compositions, and critically evaluates them. The songs are reproduced in toto, and Samudra analyses each. He is impressed with Lucien's ability to write songs on a wide range of subjects, as well as a broad canvas from stage dramas, teledramas and films to operas. Each of Lucien's creative efforts is a conscious attempt to move away from the formula songs. Samudra cites the award winning song from Siri Medura –“Marana thunak eti minisa balasiti”, as one of the most intricate compositions in the Sinhala film. He discusses with Lucien how the song was born, portraying the need for a close rapport between the lyric writer, music director and the film director. Another example is a song from Mee Haraka. Samudra assesses Lucien's contribution as a librettist in the two Sinhala operas Dora Madala and Sondura Warnadasi (both created by Premasiri Khemadasa) – a rare opportunity for a lyricist in Sri Lanka.

The other lyric writers, whose work has been discussed by Samudra are Sunil R. Gamage and Vasantha Kumara Kobawaka. Incidentally, Samudra himself has tried his hand as a lyric writer, and as an undergraduate at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura has won top awards. He has also done a critical appreciation of the works of Tolstoy and his contemporaries. Having read Mass Communications for his degree, he has edited several books related to Sinhala literature and music.

Young writers like Samudra deserve every encouragement to do more and more research to enrich the domain of Sinhala literature.

- D. C. Ranatunga

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