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Wlakulu Bamma


Walakulu Bamma, Fiction, 544 pages
Published by Sarasavi Publishers (2015)
Author: Chandrarathna Bandara
ISBN 978-955-31-0506-6


Walakulu Bamma is the latest creation from the award winning novelist & poet, Chandrarathna Bandara. His literary pursuits had begun as a school student in 1982 with a collection of poems, named somewhat unconventionally and indeed mischievously,as the Asikkithayage Sihinaya:loosely translated to English as the Dream of an Uncouth Man. The pinnacle of his literary pursuits was winning the D. R. Wijewardene memorial award for the best novel in 1992 for Wana Sapu Mala that was translated to English as the Hostage City.He has recently published collections of short stories (Undercurrent, 2009) and poems (Kata Kirill, 2007) while domiciled in Toronto.

One of the underlining themes of his work spanning three decades is his own fascination with the traditional Sri Lankan village and their way of living guided by Buddhist values. Walakulu Bamma is no exception. However, it appears that he has gained a new height of sophistication in his writings after a long hibernation as a novelist: now it is not just the author but the reader who is fascinated by the traditional village that Chandrarathna so eloquently recount in his work.

This story is gyrating around a distinctive young man called Piyasiri, his life and his loved ones hailing from a small hamlet in upcountry Sri Lanka in the 1970s. Chandrarathna is able to vividly recite how the customary village life, guided by Buddhist heritage, is shaping Piyasiri’s early childhood. His insights into the socio-economic and cultural landscape of Piyasiri’s surroundings are expressed in a powerful manner with the aid of not only several characters but also by colourfully narrating elegant religious celebrations conducted in his village.

However, while admiring the seemingly unadulterated village life, Chandrarathna has shown his capability to see through and find some ugly realities in that society too. He does it with some discretion upholding his allegianceto their way of life.

The reader may sense a certain fatigue by the end of Piyasiri’s early childhood with many repeated accounts of customs and celebrations in spite of the vibrancy of the language used to tell this story.

Unexpectedly Piyasiri’s life takes a little detour when he enters a Christian high school in Kandy. He makes a lifelong friend, Wanasundara, who entices him to take part in a drama production of Shakespeare’s Othello as the beautiful Desdemona (Did I mention that Piyasiri is not only a sensitive soul but has a delicate constitution too?). There are quite a few quotes from the translated version of Othello by one of Sri Lanka’s cinema giants, late Tony Ranasinghe (Chandrarathna does not forget to pay his reverences to Tony Ranasinghe for allowing him to include citations from Tony’s book even before it was printed).

One powerful episode is the death of Piyasiri’s father. It also reveals an unforeseen side of his father’s life.

Piyasiri’s life turns upside-down when he is enrolled in a drama class by the veteran director Dhamma Jagoda at Lionel Wendt. He makes acquaintances with a character called Udumalagala who had a long history of left-wing political rendezvous but unknown to Piyasiri has also become a hardcore LTTE activist. It appears that Chandrarathna has lost a golden opportunity to develop this eccentric personality in detail since he himself has a long memoir of left-wing politics as an ardent supporter of Lanka Sama Samaja Party since mid 1970s. He must have a plethora of insights as to why some progressives had gotten radicalized to become pawns in the hands of violent extremists in the 1980s Sri Lanka.

Circumstances created by a number of unfortunate incidences land Piyasiri in Toronto, a diametrically different city than the place he grew up.

Piyasiri now answers to the name Clifford too!

The tone of the story undergoes a makeover in Toronto. Piyasiri starts relationships with two partners having entirely opposite outlooks. His writing style evolves as the protagonist finds love & joy. The writing becomes fairly salacious although he manages to see complexity in character of both women.

Piyasiri’s return to Sri Lanka is uneventful except the emotional encounter with his mother. The ending also feels somewhat of an anti-climax, mainly for the reader and may be not for the protagonist since Piyasiri hears joyful news from Toronto at the end of this tale.

Walakulu Bamma is an excellent story written in a realistic fiction mode. I hope it will be widely circulated, and most importantly, will be discussed in Sri Lankan literary circles. I would love to see more in-depth reviews of this book in the near future.


Pramod Kandanarachchi

Brecksville, OH

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