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3rd January 1999

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Malgudi's Ripe Papayas

R.K. Narayan's "Dodu and Other Stories," Translated into Sinhala by Chandrika Wijesundara, Gunasena, Rs. 75.00

"Hold it to an X-ray machine", a friend advises Govind Singh whose mind is temporarily deranged when he gets a registered letter and is too frightened to open it.

Dodu, who is eight is chronically addicted to money. With the cunning of a Tom Sawyer he comes up with ingenious ways to find a few annas to buy sweets.

Gopinath is another whose life revolves round money. Even when he finds his vow to God is fulfilled, he cannot help but wonder how much a price of coconut would be. 

For Chipi on the other hand, money means nothing. This world would be a paradise to him if not for small yapping dogs, who irritate him no end.You see, Chipi is a dog too. A big dog who cannot stand little dogs. But it is only after you have read well onto the third paragraph of Chandrika Wijesundara's translations of "Chipi", that you get to know who he is. Chipi's thoughts seem so human it is hard to believe he is a dog. Hard to believe too, that the book in your hand is a translation. Titled "Dodu and Other Stories" it is the Sinhala version of a collection of short stories by R.K. Narayan. Chandrika Wijesundara seems to defy the scholars who have argued across the years that when translating a piece of literature achieving 100% success is impossible. Perfect, the work may not be (like everything else in life) but "Dodu" is one prose-translation that comes quite close to perfection.

Success perhaps lies in the smooth flow of the style used by the translator. Not a single word jars the flow of the sentences. Until you are well onto the third story not a word gives away the fact that the stories are set in India; Chipi could be any dog in any country; the unnamed parents, the student and the teacher in "Crime and Punishment" are people you would bump into in any part of the world. They make you recall characters in the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe. In the stories that follow it is only the proper names, Dodu, Gopal, Subaiya, that remind the Sinhala reader that the stories are set in India. If not for them, the feelings, the reactions to certain situations of the characters, are so similar to those of the ordinary Sri Lankan villager that anybody could be fooled into believing Malgudi to be a village in Sri Lanka.

Read "Dodu and Other Stories" and your world too would (at least momentarily) seem like the electric bulb hanging from a post in the streets of Malgudi - bright like a ripe Papaya!

-Aditha Dissanayake


Panduru Gasa kiri Vedila:Tales close to the heart

What do you all have now?

It's the poetry lesson, Sir.

Then go under the mango tree. Then fall in and wait till I come to take the lesson. Now don't run like a herd of cattle. Go in a line.

The headmaster thumps his table with the cane.

He keeps the cane at the edge of the table. He takes the pen, drops it in the inkstand three times and starts writing something. His thick lips are closed tightly. The partially gray moustache gives him a rough appearance. Once he finishes writing he keeps the blotting paper on top and presses. 

I run quickly near the mango tree. Several others also run behind me. I open the poetry book and start memorising..........

That's how Somaratne Balasuriya starts his award winning short story Kavi Padama - Poetry Lesson - (it won the first place at the short story competition held by the Vidyalankara University Sinhala Society in 1965) to open his collection of short stories, Panduru Gasa Kiri Vedila.

Most of Somaratne's stories are simple ones, close to the hearts of many. The loving affection of an elder brother towards his younger sister is portrayed in at least four touching stories-Hulang Bolaya -another award winning story, Parana Poth, on how the brother gets new textbooks while the 'nangi' has to be satisfied with someone's used books; Hangi Muttang on how the sister injures herself while playing hide and seek and is rushed to hospital; and Itiri Satheta, the brother feeling guilty for eating a 'seeni bola' without giving the sister when he realises that she never fails to share whatever she gets.


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