The Sunday TimesPlus

12th January 1997



A month of Compassion

By Ayesha Yusuf

The Sacred Month of Ramadhan is here, and with it comes Allah's Mercy and Blessings and the time to remember our obligations to our Creator, Allah Subhana wa Talah, who says: "O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that ye may learn self-restraint". (2-183.)

Fasting is a shield that protects man from evil deeds and subdues his desires. In his wisdom Allah enjoins us to fast, as it purifies the soul and helps control our passions. The month of Ramadhan has many virtues and one is in the Remembrance of Allah. It is the month that Allah in his infinite mercy, sent down The Holy Quran, through his Messenger, Rasulullah (sal) being the divine revelation of Allah, for all times, and a Guidance to Mankind.

The Messenger of Allah said: "Many get nothing out of fasting except hunger and thirst, for it is so if one indulges in hypocrisy, lying or backbiting. Let us shut our ears to things unlawful, refrain from looking at things evil, and keep our hands and feet from reaching or pursuing wickedness." This Blessed month, has brought Paradise within our reach, and if we reject this mercy, only we stand to lose. If we fast with sincere faith we beneift, both physically, and spiritually. The fast prescribed by Allah in this Sacred month is for our well being. When we fast we come to terms with the pangs of hunger the poor experience in their daily life.

Fasting is not feasting as some believe, and make it so. Restriction in the food we take, as also our desires, is an important aspect of fasting. It is however sad to see, tables groaning with the weight of excessive food at Ifthar the time of breaking fast in many homes. To help at least one person in need, to break the fast, is a meritorius act. There are many who do not have the wherewithal to even break the fast, and this is where Muslims who have the resources, should step in to appease the hunger and needs of such less fortunate people.

Zakaat is the poor-due enjoined on man, in order that his wealth be distributed accordingly, specially to kith and kin, in Ramadhan, from the largesse Allah has bestowed for him.

Allah in His mercy gives some more from his bounty, than others. Wealth is a trust Allah gives man, that enables him to help the needy, and not only that he lives a life of luxury himself. Allah reiterates thus in The Holy Quran; "Covet not that which God hath bestowed more freely on some than others." (CH. 4svs 32). Also: "God loveth not the arrogant and the vainglorious, the niggardly who hide the bounties God hath given them. For we have prepared for them a punishment, that steeps them in contempt". (Ch. 4Ñvs 37). The Holy Prophet (sal) said: "Verily for every nation, there was a test, and the test of my Ummah is wealth." (Tirmizi). As God says; "Spend of your substance in the cause of God, and make not your hands, contribute to your destruction, For God loveth those who do good." (Ch.2-vs 195). Remember that in the manner we spend of Allah's bounty we are accountable to Him.

When man fasts it enables him to master himself, and control his desires, as he strives to resist the cravings of his inner self. He finds contentment and peace within himself, and not be a slave to his desires, with the thought that all this, and fasting, is for Allah, and Allah's sake alone. Allah says: "Should he not know, he that created man? "(Ch.67-vs-14). And he it is who understands the finest mysteries, and is well acquainted with them. Allah does not make it difficult for us, he wishes for us ease. Allah most merciful, decrees for us, that which he knows is beneficial to our health and needs.

Fasting promotes piety, and righteousness, God says: "Seek what God hath ordained for you, and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appears to you, from its black thread, then complete your fast till the night appears". (2-187). In this Holy Month, let us devote to Ibadah, and seek Allah's Guidance, Mercy and Blessings, and pray He grants us sound health, that will enable us to fast. Let our human failings, not deprive us of his Blessings. We have to strive to achieve what Allah has made accessible to us in this Sacred Month of peace and tranquility. As we fast let us be mindful of our Creator, Almighty Allah at all times, and be thankful for his mercy, as he gives us sustenance, that helps us fast in this Blessed Month. The beginning of this Sacred month is Compassion, its middle is forgiveness and its end release from the fire.

May it be a Peaceful and Blessed Month for the Muslim Ummah.

Freddie's fries

By Roshan Peiris

We have heard of the phrase "log cabin to White House" but for popular comedian Freddie Silva it is from "stardom to a Take-Away Little Hut."

Remember Freddie Silva, the comedian who counts 400 film parts and 2000 songs, some in cassette form? For the past year he has spent his days playing a new role, hidden in the depths of Moratuwa having opened up a little restaurant. An out-size umbrella announces the place with black walls and red curtains.


A pretty girl Manel Chandralatha, greeted us with cool drinks. She is Freddie's partner in the business and does all the cooking from Chinese type food to rice and curry and stringhoppers.

"We cannot afford waiters and all that jazz," said the forthright Freddie, imitating a waiter. "I do the waiting upon and look after the business end of the restaurant". What could have brought this actor with his comic genius which became a household word to this pass?

"Sinhala films have no place today. What can I do unless all of us film people get together and protest. Today is the day for TV dramas and tell me why should people pay unless they have something good to see when they can have it free? Besides, if Sinhala films are screened, they are in third rate cinema halls with a few exceptions. The cinema halls are full of cobwebs, have no fans and paint peeling from walls. So who would want to go?"

"All these very many years the Sinhala cinema thrived on commercial films but today it is the classical film that is in vogue. When did we ever build up the Sinhala film industry on classical films?" said a bitter sounding Freddie making a comic face.

"I usually play comic roles, that is my forte, but I did play a serious role in T.B. Ilangaratane's "Lasanda" directed by K.W. Perera."

"But now", he said throwing his hands up, "the Sinhala cinema industry has no policy nor direction. Only classical films get loans, others get the stepmotherly treatment and so I have opened this restaurant with my partner. What can I do, I have to do something to earn a living in a hard world." So Freddie Silva, a much loved film character plays the role of a waiter in his dinky restaurant. He looks harassed but keeps smiling and so does his pretty partner. A hard world indeed.

Feeling the byte

By Rajpal Abeynaike

You get rip off's and rip off's but none so spectacular as you get in the computer industry. In Sri Lanka, if your computer gives up on you, you wait. You might as well. Those who service the computer industry know that they are in a buyer supine market. Meaning that the buyers get a raw deal and there is nothing at all they can do about it.

How do I know? Well, It has happened to me. Time and time again. If you miss a teeny weeny part on your computer, well the industry knows that there is nothing much you can do about it.

Nothing at all if you are at the mercy of the computer service industry. Nobody makes any attempt to get the part for you, because even if it is a simple part that is worth about two hundred rupees, it will be easier for the industry to say they don't stock the part.

That way you will be forced to buy a new computer. You will spend around an eighty thousand rupees for one, because you have no alternative. Unless you want to go back to the dark ages.

There are people called agents. These are specialist rip off artistes. Here is a case in point: A friend of mine is in possession of a particular brand of laptop, of which he is missing the power pack. A power pack, for neophytes, is a simple devise that has nothing actually to do with computing.

It is just a step down device that inputs the correct voltage into your machine. But, the catch is that every model of computer has a different power pack. A power pack you could use on one doesn't fit the other. Talk about customization.

So, my friend loses his power pack. The little hardy nuts and bolts of the nineteenth century device.

Look what happens. He cannot use his brand new laptop. The agents in Sri Lanka are called. They say: we din't sell you the computer you bought it from abroad. True. But what are agents for?

They are here to tell you to go fly a kite. "We don't import laptops though we are the agents" the agent deadpans. Rip off? You think about it.

Before you think about investing in an electronic computer, ruminate. Are you a trophy artiste? Do you want people to walk into your office and say: "my, my what a lovely computer?' Go ahead then, buy one, make your day.

If you can't get a part for it then don't worry, you can keep your ornament. Don't bother about talking to the computer service industry. Anybody willing to dispute this claim? Go ahead. Find me a simple power pack for a brand new laptop. Call 328889, 326247. There is no computer industry in Sri Lanka, because, I bet my bottom rupee, there is nobody who can make good on this challenge. So much for hi-tech.

The absent writers

The Penguin Book of Modern Sri Lankan Stories Edited by D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke.

Reviewed by Tissa Jayatilaka

This book of over 200 pages contains eight stories in English, four translations from Sinhala and four from Tamil of which two are by one author. It also contains a brief introduction written by its editor, Prof. D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke.

The editor deserves a pat on the back for having taken upon himself the laudable task of anthologising, for the first time, Sri Lankan stories from English, Sinhala and Tamil. This pioneering enterprise would have won for Prof. Goonetilleke even more encomiums had the publication not been sullied by some striking shortcomings which could easily have been avoided. More on this subject later.

The stories in English selected for inclusion in this volume are, by and large, representative of better writing in Sri Lanka although one wishes the editor's taste and the publisher's investment were deep enough to include a story each from such fine writers as Rajiva Wijesinghe, Jean Arasanayagam, Ransiri Menike Silva and Suvimalee Karunaratne. In addition, a story by the promising young writer Madhubhashini Disanayake would have made the English section of the anthology near perfect.

The claim that this book "covers a cross-section of the Sri Lankan life past and present, and gives an account of the changing social fabric over a long span of history..." made by the editor in his introduction could well have proved authentic had stories of the above - referenced authors also been included.

This absence of judicious care in the selection of stories becomes more evident when we come to consider the Sinhala and Tamil sections. For instance, more recent stories of Martin Wickremasinghe and Gunadasa Amerasekera, one feels, might have proved more appropriate for a publication that seeks to anthologise modern Sri Lankan stories from Sinhala. Perhaps the ready availability of good translations of The Torn Coat (1924) and Going Back (1956) may have influenced their selection or these may simply be the editor's favourites. Considerations of space may have proved a constraint - else some stories of such authors as G.B. Senanayake, K. Jayatilleke, Madawela S. Ratnayake, Simon Nawagaththegama, A.V. Suraweera, Ranjith Dharmakeerthi, Ajith Thilakasena, Dayasena Gunasinghe and Eric Ilayaparachchi would have made this volume more representative of modern Sri Lankan Sinhala short-story writing.

This lack of representation becomes glaringly evident when one considers the stories picked from Tamil. As noted above, there are two stories by A. Santhan on offer. This, surely, is a missed opportunity. While the four stories from Tamil are readable, in the interests of fairer representation of modern Tamil writing the editor might have done better had he included stories from among the following: K. Saddanathan, Uma Varatharajan, Ranga Kumar and Thirukovil Yuvan.

Long standing and perceptive literary critics of Tamil writing of the calibre of K.S. Sivakumaran could easily have been approached for advice to make the anthology more meaningful and useful to the reading public.

While the editor and the publisher have been rightly scrupulous in acknowledging their debt to several sources, it is curious to note one significant omission - Gamini Akmeemana's The Drummer appeared in An Anthology of Contemporary Sri Lankan Short Stories in English edited by Prof. Ashley Halpe and published by the English Association of Sri Lanka in 1990.

Akmeemana lives in Colombo while Halpe is resident in Peradeniya. Prof. Goonetilleke should have had no difficulty in tracing either the copyright holder of the story or the editor of the publication that carried the story. But, yet, the editor and publisher claim that every effort has been made to trace all copyright holders!

The worst of the shortcomings of the book however is its proof-reading or the lack thereof. Except for Going Back all the other translations of Sinhala stories suffer from unremoved printerÕs devils. This is the more regrettable because as with Regie Siriwardena's translation of Going Back, Ranjini Obeysekere's efforts at rendering The Torn Coat and Sarana (1969) into limpid English prose are extremely successful.

The most unforgivable bloomer in the publication appears in the Notes On The Author's section. James Goonewardene and Punyakante Wijenaike suffer a great deal here. Wijenaike's name does not appear at all while all her major writings to-date are erroneously attributed to Goonewardena whose own works are not cited here!

Penguin Books India (pvt.) Ltd. and their editor should have acknowledged this error no sooner than it was discovered so that the two writers and the reading public would not have been short-changed.

It is a pity that the editor and publisher of The Penguin Book of Modern Sri Lankan Stories have been remiss in rectifying this unfortunate oversight.

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