Surprise package from youthful author | Daily News
Book Review

Surprise package from youthful author

“Children generally hate to be idle. All the care then should be that, their busy humour should be constantly employed in something that is of use to them.” - John Locke (1682-1704), English Philosopher

The seasoned, dedicated bibliophile is in perpetual exploration of the literary field, propelled by the unceasing hope that, a rare treasure will turn up.

Serendipitous good fortune, will occasionally smile on him, enabling the tireless book-lover to discover a gem of glittering literary creation. Such an overwhelming eventuality could very well stun and daze an ardent seeker, into momentary tongue – tied silence.

But, as luck would have it, he will instantly recover his composure, along with his voice, to articulate the rapture he so profoundly experienced.

This is exactly, what happened to me, just a couple of days ago. I will recount the event quite briefly, only as a preliminary approach to what I intend to say, as the core and the essence of this article.

As things are in Sri Lanka today, book-related events are galore. Some of these are formal book launches. Literary awards too take place more or less frequently now-a-days.

Without even the least attempt at ego-boosting, I must quite modestly state, that, I too get the opportunity to participate in many of these literary – rituals, on invitation.

I really appreciate these book-rites, since they keep us updated about the developments in the literary circles. At some of these meetings, we get quite unexpectedly nudged into the thrill of discovery, when we come upon, with high astonishment, a rare treasure of outstanding literary creativity.

My central story begins here.

The distinguished protagonist of the “book drama”, I need to present to you, is a young lady of just 24 years. This simplified introduction would not do even vestigial or peripheral justice to the bewildering range of accomplishments she has been able to achieve.

The Australian born, Sri Lankan young lady, we are talking about, is Abigail Jayasuriya. She is an ethnomusicologist, completing her PhD at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. She has been awarded academic recognition for musical performance as well as for composition. She is a singer and has children's books to her credit.

With that curtain-raiser, you will be ready to witness the main spectacle. This will certainly astound you. She has just launched into the public domain, an unprecedented work.

The hypnotic and irresistible theme of her tome is the iconic, immortal cultural hero of our motherland, ‘Pandith Amaradeva.’

The theme is quite likely to raise some misgivings in some areas. What is there to write afresh about Pandith Amaradeva? Volumes have been produced to compliment and felicitate that genius. Extensive cinematic footage has been lavished to record his doings. His life story has been and endlessly narrated.

This is where Abigail Jayasuriya, appears with the “Magic Wand” to transform all that, into a new and scintillating glory, waving her book, revealing details that would be a revelation even to some of those who knew the Pandith, quite intimately.

In the first instance, let us take a keen look at the book itself. As a printed work, it possesses an allure and appeal of its own. The book cover, in smooth white, adorned with a whimsical sketch, strongly resembling child art, is a tempting invitation to the would be reader to step in

The Author's subtitle to her work reeks this way: “The inspirational story of the village protégé, who became the treasure of Sri Lanka”.

Her opening lines, display a chronicle spirit, but crunched in a lilting lyrical rhythm.

The twin cultural streams – Buddhist and Catholic – that synthesized to mould the formative soul of Amaradeva in his early childhood have been carefully and succinctly recorded by the author.

What is immensely impressive and even amusing at times is the Author's assiduous recreation of some areas of Amaradeva's early life.

The dramatic detail, with which the author dwells on the moment of Amaradeva's arrival in this world, intrigues the reader.

It is as of the author was physically present at this crucial event as a witness. These are the author's words: “It was a chilly night and his two sisters and three brothers huddled together watching the bats dangling from the trees.”

Such a commitment is indicative of the strenuous research the author pursued, in compiling this exceptionally readable life story. When she quite efficiently sums up, a chronicle that spans a long period of time to get at the crucial essence, she admirably displays her scholarly discipline.

As a deft and extensively trained researcher, the author focuses unerring attention on the influences that contributed to the evolution of her “Hero”.

That explains the primary reason, to record in detail, the prolonged link Amaradeva had with his great and massive neighbour the Indian Ocean. The ocean's external rhythms would have raised lasting echoes in the depths of his soul.

The author observes with an evident keenness, child Amaradeva's fascination with the vocational chants of the fishermen, who in unison would chorus: “Hoiya, hoiya”.

The author adds her own note: “When he was older he (Amaradeva) would stand still on the warm sand to watch the clouds floating in the endless sky. In his head he would hear melodies in their movements.”

These imaginative recreations, point to one highly important factor. They all in combination, bear witness, to the author's deeply dedicated empathy to her Hero-Amaradeva.

To my mind, no one has previously turned adequate attention to Amaradeva's unswerving personal devotion to Munidasa Kumaratunga and the guidance he received from that Savant in the proper use of language.

I must quite frankly confess that before I went through this author's work, I was not aware of some of those telling details of Kumaratunga habits. On page 45 of her book Author Abigail, chronicles Amaradeva's first visit to the Learned Gum Munidasa Kumaratunga.

Entering the memory world of Amaradeva, the author makes this record, which is quite enlightening due to the detail recreated: “Munidasa was very hospitable to his guests. One thing he was famous for was the full glasses of cool orange juice he handed out to everyone...”

In this brief note on Abigail's exceptionally admirable life story of Pandith Amaradeva, I can make only a few passing references. Any reader will undoubtedly feel astonished by the significant detail she introduces. Her biography of Amaradeva is at times, adorned by her mischievous recreations of Amaradeva's life style. But, they never, go beyond what could quite well be authentic, in terms of the way of life of her hero.

An area, one will always remember is the author's telling, chronicling of young Amaradeva's courtship to win his beloved Wimala. How he came calling, with his proud new acquisition - the blue Renault, is described by the author, with a mischievous stance.

Abigail's work needs extensive patronage, simply because it is an outstanding instance of classic biographical literature.

As for the book itself, there is an aspect of the work that elevates it into classical heights. This is the highly classical illustrations done in a whimsical child art format.

These illustrations (to my mind) must occupy a significant stature in the stream of Sri Lanka's modern art. The artist is her own mother.

The work by Abigail represents an exceptionally impressive pooling of family talents, resources and assets. Mother, contributed to the illustrative content, father made the lavish investment called for. Mischievous Artist, S H Sarath whose works are barbs aimed at human foible, pointed avuncular guidance to the young author.

Amaradeva family's contribution inclined Ranjana Amaradeva's ready assistance. And, of course a reputed patron of culture Prem Dissanayake displayed a readiness to help. When everything is said and done Abigail is the true heroine of the total exercise. The renderers will be ever grateful to her for classically and impressively revealing some hidden areas of Amaradeva's life – at times, taking the liberty to introduce a mischievous touch of her own.

Many will appreciate the recounting of the genesis of Amaradeva's first ever lyric. “Peenamuko Kalugange.”

I must, of course, add a word of my own. Amaradeva is perhaps the only outstanding personality I know, who has the patience to listen to another without, interrupting the others words half-way. He will lend his ear patiently until he finishes.

If he was alive, he would listen to Abigail's text, without the least interruption. All the success to young Abigail in her pursuits.


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