Twelve years on- so much has flowed down Channel
"Channels" Vol. 10 - A Compendium of Creative Writing, 1989 - 2001. Edited by Anne Ranasinghe. English Writers Co-operative of Sri Lanka, 2001, pp. 128
by Carl Muller
As the Editorial recounts, it was in l989 that a few writers rubbed noses and decided to form an English Writers Co-Operative. Happily (and with a twinge of family pride) my cousin Maureen Seneviratne was editor of Channels Volume 1 No. 1 which was released in November 1989.
Maureen talked of the channel for the publication of good creative writing: ". .. stories, poems, plays, belles letters and translations in English." As she then noted, "In a milieu where writers find it almost impossible to find publishers for their work and the encouragement they need, we hope to spur them on to ever more creative writing."
A goodly thought indeed, and this is how Channels was born, thanks to Maureens professional midwifery. A system of rotating editorship also helped the publication to assume many identities and reflect the characters of the many who held the keys to the conduit It did mean, I should say, certain facets of individualism and attitude, but these did not distract or even attempt to distort the essential basics of the whole exercise. Channels grew to be a literary venue - a launch-pad and a strong voice to many who lent their own voices to increase its resonance. It is hard to believe that over 160 writers, poets, playwrights, translators, essayists and commentators have given of their best in 22 editions of this book in the past 12 years. Its harder to think that such marvellous people - Kenneth de Lanerolle, Richard de Zoysa, Chitra Fernando, James Goonewardene, Bill McAlpine and Rehana Mohideen (all Channel writers) are no more. As Nirmali Hettiarachchi observed when editing Channels Volume 1, No. 3, "Richard (de Zoysa) was silenced by murder and that murder is the only form of silencing is a clear indication of the power a writer wields." Its hard to think of those who left us. Many called me friend and, for that matter, many who still live and keep kicking continue to contribute to Channels and also call me friend. Anyway, all this is becoming too much of an introduction, so let me first congratulate Anne Ranasinghe who remains the moving spirit behind it all and then get to the nitty-gritty. Volume 10 is a "compendium" - which means that it has put all eager writers on the back burner in order to honour those who have flowed down channel. The process of selection was not easy, mind, and I am sure there will be many who will fret; but as Anne explains, the volume had to be cut down to cost and I trust that any pointing fingers will, instead, move on and write on. Theres really no need to very over spilled type faces, is there?
Thiagarajah Arasanayagam, husband of Jean and father of writer/poet Parvathi (Jean features in this volume too), is a strong and extra-talented writer who has his own strong views on the literary scene. He keeps a low profile, however, and it was cheering to read him. His story, "Aunt Yoga", of the sort of ding-dong battle, quite psychic, when a young woman has to parry bride-hunters in order to keep her heart in Gods hands.
Uthpala Gunatilake takes us back to the old Kala Oya legend of the Aukana Buddha:
"The shades of the western sky made a halo as the Buddha faced the east. The Buddha faced the east so that, as the sun rose each morning, the figure would catch fire and become alive."
This is romantic writing of a rare order and it has that quality that tugs at the heart strings of our own Sinhala-ness.
Madhubashini Ratnayakes "The Proposal" is typical of the psyche - the artist, the lover, the lady who sits, stretches her legs, then breaks spells with a yawn. People tell me that Madhubashini is hard to grasp. Her mind seems to have been fashioned in a large hall with psychiatrists couches! And yet, deeply satisfying, her stories call to the inner being and we are always discomfited when the subconscious responds.
"Cousins" by the late Chitra Fernando, was her novel of the post-independence period. The extract in this volume only reminds us of the gap Chitra left behind. She gave us a sample of the town and country dweller and how a free nation stopped being a servile one. We have another kind of sense conflict in Faith J. Ratnayakes "The Gift". Toleration is so well rendered in this story that we see the waves rise, threaten, then subside and all is calm, all is bright.
Anthea Seneviratne needs little introduction. We read her each month in the Lanka Monthly Digest - quite entertainingly serious. Her story, "Shut ins" is compelling. It draws nourishment from so many like situations and, at the same time, we see how the silent Sarath battens on Jeannie, denies her a life. Yet, she finds a fierce yet tender contentment in caring for him. There is really no sacrifice even if she lays her mind and body on a sacrificial altar every day.
Of course, we must have our Punyakante who keeps asking me how I am. I think I am privileged indeed to know her deeply caring side. Her story, "Monkeys" is one of rare contrast and contra-point. A meditative samanera and the cavorting monkeys. What could be more different? But they forge a bond:
"Climbing back to the hermitage, he could feel his friends, the monkeys, calling to him from the treetops. But he does not lift his eyes to them for fear the other priests would see."
The liberation from monkey-bondage was painful, but he had, after all, to remind himself that he was born a man!
Yasmine Gooneratne takes us to Sri Lanka in Australia in "My Neighbours Wife" sort of cultural salad, tossed slowly, because Dr. Whats-his-name did not allow Maureens sari or Thilaka to upset the absent-minded tenor of his bookish ways. Neil Fernandopulle takes us into a simmering stewpot of deception in "Calm", and Maureen Seneviratne analyses pain as another ecstasy of mind-searing passion, as real and as red as Christ-blood on the Cross. Wipul Jayawickramas story of abduction and torture is pain of another kind the hopelessness of a pain that ends in the shock of death; while Sita Kulatunges "A Diptych" skips - in the midst of death there is goat-life to tend to; a Jayamangalam to sing. A Santhan makes his Jaffna life resound and shows us the creature sensitivity we are all heir to. It is also good to see an extract from Manel Ratnatungas "Saga Indonesia" which is still much in demand.
N. Careema Jayaweera recalls the Universitys ragging, raging days when a lone girl had little chance to defend herself; and Tissa Abeyesekera also features with an extract from his Gratiaen- "Bringing Tony Home." Vijitha Fernandos "Menika" gives us the mindset of a woman who knows of an accepts her mans "other woman".
Maleeha Rajons "The Wedding" will always remain somewhat quirky however much re-read. The wedding must go on and the father of the bride must hold his head high in the village.. .and that, one supposes, is what weddings are all about! Ransiri Menike Silva finds the attentions and entertainment of the invalid focused on the house across the street; while Rukmani Samaranayakes story is rather chilling. The ghost room hold a python, a python who swallows a little boy. Rather hard to countenance but the build-up, the climax, is well cxecuted and full of the desired atmosphere.
Basil Fernando could have made his story more appealing with shorter paragraphs and a little more dialogue, but he does a good job in portraying the Japanese mind. "Gravel" by Asitha Dissanayake is quite a part of lifes conundrum too, while Sithy Hamids "Death in Life" (the whiteness of her life sentence) and Ashley Halpes "Wilderness" recalls a sense of desolation where:
"... the loon calls burden is of cold and space."
the sort of world wilderness to which the young husband of Sithy Hamids story, went, leaving his widow to reel under the hypocrisy of her relations.
The poets featured in this volume are Buddhika Dassanayake, Aparna Halpe, Sita Kulatunga, Regi Siriwardena, Gayathri Kurukulasuriya, Gillian Ranasinghe-Conly, Indrakanthi Kotelawala, Kamala Wijeratne, Indrani Samarasekera, Arjuna Parakrama, Prenuni Amerasinghe, Balayogini Jeyakriushnan, Amila Weerasinghe, Suvimalee Karunaratne, Jean Arasanayagam, Lakshmi Wijesinghe, Alfreda de Silva, Ramya Jirasinghe, the late Bill McAlpine and Thilini Rajapakse. Anne Ranasinghe also offers translations from the Rose Auslander Portfolio.
And that, readers, if you have ploughed through this ramble. Makes this a "compendium" of a review as well. What I need to say is that this Volume 10 is the finest representation of Sri Lankan writing in English it has been my fortune to read; and that it is a must for all who wish to know and realize how well and with what stirring passion the English writers world had, 5 developed. "Channels" will always be the pipeline our writers will take - a pipeline that reaches from the starlit wells of their own minds to a limitless lake where dreams call to the moonshadows that Ices the water.
Writers are the precious pith of this land and there are so few opportunities to hand a rare bouquet of their works in ones hands. Well, now one has it. Treat it with the reverence it deserves!.
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