The word Collage is derived from the French word coller - to glue. It usually identifies "a picture made from scraps of paper and other odds and ends pasted out; any work put together from assembled fragments." It can also describe a "creative work incorporating various materials or elements." Both definitions apply to this collection of short stories by Nanda Pethiyagoda.
The longer subtitle reads: stories of some imagined Kandy woman through the twentieth century. Thus it is a collection of stories arranged to form a pattern, the canvas being the decades of the 20th century; and the collage material being incidents that occurred in each decade, related from the perspective of a woman. Eleven stories are included in the book, with a story per decade, with an extra one dealing with the years spanning World War II. The backdrop to the stories is the city of Kandy and its surroundings. The first two chapters are set in a village on the outskirts of town. As the decades progress, this rural life is left behind and the following eight stories are sited along Peradeniya Road, Katukelle. The last chapter has three Kandy women meeting in Mt Lavinia to reminisce about times gone by.
The stories encapsulate the progress of time; the change in attitudes, morals, even values as the century moves on. Conservatism, patriarchy, the protection of girls, arranged marriages and subservient women playing the roles of dutiful daughter, faithful wife and devoted mother, give way to emancipated women exploring their independence, and at times, transgressing social norms and boundaries. The extremely conservative, highly protected woman of the 1900s gradually changes into a woman of independence and free will.
Along with this obvious theme runs a parallel sub-theme that infuses the stories: seething passion beneath a calm surface of serenity and stability as life in Kandy was considered to be.
Each chapter consists of a short synopsis of the major event of that decade, followed by the relevant story. Thus each story is linked to a broader change in attitude and societal norms. For instance the chapter dealing with the 1980s features the Southern insurgency as the central theme and its effect on the youth of the country.
The author is very emphatic that apart from the chief protagonist in the first three stories, all other characters are products of her imagination. She states that some flash-recollections of people may have intruded but they are rounded out imaginatively and thus resemble no persons who lived in Kandy through the decades dealt with. The stories may be fragments of incidents from long-ago, fictionalized.
Kandy Collage is Nanda Pethiyagoda’s second work of fiction, the first being Palimpsest, published in 1999. Her non-fiction work includes Folk Tales for Suren and Amrit, Sri Lanka: Idyllic Island and Culture Shock: Sri Lanka (with Robert Barlas). Her style of writing is free flowing which makes for easy readability. The first three stories are comparatively slow paced, to match the slow passage of time in the early decades of the 20th century. As the decades progress, the pace quickens, with much incident and action packed into each story.
The book is hard bound, with a cover designed by Rajiv Wanasundera. It too is a collage, combining historic postcard images of Kandy and her people with contemporary photographs of the city. The image of a traditional sari pin on the front cover is contrasted with that of a tube of lipstick on the back cover, which symbolizes the tensions between tradition and modernity, and between conservatism and rebellion.
Kandy Collage is published by Godage International Publishers under the sponsorship of the National Library and Documentation Services Board (NL&DSB). The book is priced at Rs 650/= and available at Godage Book Emporiuam, Vijitha Yapa bookshops, Barefoot, Lanka Hands and Lake House.