Friday, January 24, 2014

කවි දෝසි | Being Small - [Sindusara Munasinghe | සිඳුසර මුණසිංහ]



There’s nothing wrong with being small
It could be fun and scary

Sometimes being small is very scary.
Walking through big people with big arms and deep voices,
Growing time by time,
thinking you have a bad sickness that makes you large.

First time feeling the coldness of air,
Gazing at the clouds while singing the ABCs
Being helpless to other people who are hurt
because you don’t know what to do.

Meeting problems you don't know how to solve.
Getting some pain for once, being bullied,
Being teased like a banana being squashed,
or a pear left there to rotten
and falling down in a hole of sadness

You see being small is hard,
But it is not bad,
Cause you never know what you will see,
that you never would have seen if you were big.

[Painting By : Donald Zolan]

Sindusara Munasinghe | සිඳුසර මුණසිංහ



Monday, January 13, 2014

සූකිරි ඔත්තු | Write to Reconcile Call for Submissions by 21st February 2014 - [ None]



The National Peace Council, in conjunction with the internationally renowned Sri Lankan author, Shyam Selvadurai, is inviting new and emerging writers to apply to Write to Reconcile—a creative writing project that brings together Sri Lankan writers from Sri Lanka and the diaspora who are interested in writing creative pieces (fiction, memoir or poetry) on the issues of conflict, peace, reconciliation, trauma and memory, as they relate to Sri Lanka’s civil war and the postwar period.

The project will be conducted in English. It will consist of an eight day residential creative writing workshop that will take place March 29th – April 5th 2014 and two creative writing online forums, which will take place between mid- April and June 2014. This will be followed by the publication of the participants’ work in an anthology at a book launch in February 2015. The project is open to all applicants who have Sri Lankan or dual citizenship or who are from the diaspora with at least one parent who is of Sri Lankan origin. Participants must be between ages 18-29 or be secondary school and university teachers of any age who live and work in Sri Lanka and are citizens or dual citizens of the country. Write to Reconcile will cover all expenses of participants. Entry into Write to Reconcile is competitive and only 24 participants will be selected.

Write to Reconcile was inaugurated in December of 2012 by Shyam Selvadurai. The first year of the project brought together 23 emerging Sri Lankan writers. The work produced by these writers was published in the Write to Reconcile Anthology, launched in September 2013. Two thousand copies of the anthology were mailed to libraries and schools across the country and a downloadable version is available as well at www.writetoreconcile.com. The project, which was funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the American Centre, was so successful, that it is to take place for a second time in 2014. The mandate of the project has been broadened to include members of the Sri Lankan diaspora as well.



Speaking about the project, Shyam Selvadurai said, "I am very pleased to be doing Write to Reconcile again. The stories and poetry developed in the first year of the project were wonderful and I fully expect that the work coming out of this second year will be just as important and interesting. Creative work has a lot to contribute in a post-war Sri Lanka. It helps us understand each other, heal wounds and move on."

For more information on the project and how to apply go to www.writetoreconcile.com. Or email for an application at writetoreconcile@gmail.com. The deadline to submit an application is February 21st 2014. First 15 successful applicants will receive an autographed copy of Shyam Selvadurai's new novel The Hungry Ghosts.



Saturday, January 11, 2014

කතන්දර බූන්දි | Colour Pink - [Isuru Chamara Somaweera | ඉසුරු චාමර සෝමවීර]



At the time my hands were in a basin of warm water. By that time I had completed three facials, five clean up and seven or eight threading. I also had another appointment for a cleanup. Since all the work was done using fingers by the evening the finger joints started throbbing with pain. It was from Menu akka that I learnt that the pain would be relieved if the fingers were kept immersed in warm water and cold water for some time. But when I went to bed in the night the pain returned.

I was startled when I saw that face. Kalu Thilaka. No it was not Thilaka. This one is a bit shorter than Thilaka. She has a similar complexion and facial features. Thilaka who looked like eight or nine years ago was at the salon door. Nilu moved forward. I grabbed Nilu’s hand.

‘She is mine….. ’

‘Don’t you have a cleanup at six thirty? ’

‘Nilu, you do that, this is for me…’


Nilu looked at me carefully with narrowed eyes. I looked away. This Thilaka was wearing a dark purple loose-fitting frock which did not complement her complexion at all. There was a lost look on her face. Eyes did not focus but ran everywhere. We know those faces.

‘Take a seat, madam.. ’

I knew exactly what needed to be done. I have not forgotten the look in those eyes. The same look was slightly there in these eyes.

‘What needs to be done, madam?.. a facial.. , a cleanup, a haircut, a manicure, a pedicure.. ? We have a special discount for herbal facials…. ’

New Thilaka did not respond. Those eyes were hovering over the pictures of Jessica Alba and Aishwarya hanging on the wall. She did not really hear me. Those eyes then shifted to the mirror in the front. It reflected her and me both. Both our eyes focused at each other. I felt myself burning. I never had the need or the time to look at Thilaka’s eyes. By the time that need arose I had been far away from Thilaka.

‘Madam, is it a facial or a clean up?... ’

When I held her hand and helped her to sit her face showed a slight smile. I stroked that hair softly. While working I felt the eyes of Menu akka and Nilu on me. This hair was dry. I cannot remember ever stroking Thilaka’s hair. But Thilaka had undone the knots in my hair many a time.

‘Do facials cost a lot?... ' Surely this is her first time.

‘It’s like this madam, we have many packages. Indian products cost a thousand, our special Indian herbal facial is thousand five hundred, products of UK are two thousand. That is very good… many of our clients get it done… a gold facial suits a wedding… that is a bit expensive… three thousand five hundred, but it gives a special glow to the face.. it’s the best for a wedding…’ I said the sentences that we all have memorized. Those eyes enlarged a little.
‘But there are cleanups from six hundred onwards, madam…. ’

In the mirror those eyes entangled with mine. Those were Thilaka’s eyes. Thin long dark face. glistening narrow eyes. They had a look which was the same as a bitch born on a street. Helpless. Fierce. undependable.

‘Madam, you have a dry skin, we have the perfect Indian products that suits this. Shall we do it.. ? It removes the discoloration on the face. But it has to be repeated at least once a month. Shall we do it with Indian products, madam? it’s thousand…’

‘Okay’


Even the seat was lowered this Thilaka did not lower herself. Those eyes were entangled with mine. While holding the drier Menu akka winked and smiled. I held her by her shoulder and lowered her down. Until Nilu brought the bottles and the tools I stroked her hair. It was a hair which had never been treated. Hair ends were cracked, dry. There was dandruff. Even I really wanted to talk to this Thilaka I could not do that in front of Menu akka. ‘You can listen to what the clients say, but you can only talk about the treatment. It’s one thing to acknowledge their response. But we cannot ask questions, we cannot do this job otherwise. ’ That was how Menu akka had told us.

‘Don’t let your hair become ruined like this, madam, let us give it a treatment. Vitamin E treatment is good for it. Beauty is all that is included, not only the face. ’

Thilaka did not respond. She did not speak like the others. Just like Thilaka. Some come to the salon to speak. to cry. to let out their grievances. When the shower cap was put on and the cleansing milk was applied on the face Thilaka flinched. Perhaps it was due to the coldness. It was not mechanically that my fingers ran all over that face. I was watching over all my movements. That was Thilaka, Thilaka whom I will not meet again. Everyday various kinds of Thilakas come here. But this was kalu Thilaka from Hurigassave. Kalu Thilaka who wrote poems, sang in the literary association, undid knots in my hair and came to settle a grudge she had with me.

Though Thilaka was a year older to me, I was the one who attained age early. On the day I was bathed, I wore a tiered dress made of pink organza. My mother got it stitched from Thambutthegama. I can still remember Thilaka stroking the dress while I was having my meal.

‘Don’t… it’ll get dirty.. ’ I said chasing her away. I cannot remember whether she left at the time or stayed till the evening. How many memorable things happened on that day? In the lower classes Thilaka was not a child that made any memorable impression. She was just a plain ordinary girl who kept looking at us like an inanimate rock or tree. When Wimala, Surangi, Mallika and Padmini in our group attained age like flowers blooming in a bunch, Thilaka who was older to us remained intact like a pole. How many things were there to talk amongst us? We compared our chests and chose the biggest bust. Everyone had different beautiful features. Padmini had discolored teeth but she had a big bust. Surangi and I were the fairest of them all. Mallika was plump but showed dimples when she smiled. Wimala had brown eyes. When we were looking at these and discussing them I cannot remember where Thilaka was.

Ammo, the things our girls did those days. Knowing very well that Mahathun ayya who brewed moonshine with my father was secretly watching us hiding behind a Kumbuk tree, when we were bathing, it was not only to talk and laugh about it later that we turned deliberately towards him and applied soap repeatedly on our bodies by putting our hands inside the bathing cloth. It had a different pleasure of its own. On our way to school we crushed a tender Teak leaf and applied it on our lips knowing that it will give a slight reddishness to our lips. By applying thoroughly the last residue of the bottle of coconut oil, weaving our hair to a single plait and holding our books firmly on our chests, we went to school not only to study. All of us had small pieces of mirrors and combs. We did not return for hours after bathing. We did not rub with a stone the soles of our feet until they were reddish in colour to gain nothing. Before going to bed at night if we wove the hair into many small plaits, the following morning the loose hair looked puffy and tame and was easy to weave a fat single plait. We did all these with a lot of enthusiasm. We felt the worth in doing them. When boys in the upper classes made cat calls, rode their bicycles very much near us, even though we frowned at them by displaying an annoyed face at that time , we like their attention.

My first letter was given to me by Nihal ayya who was in two grades above mine. There was a drawing of a pair of doves surrounded by a bo leaf in red. I received the letter when I went to drink water to the well during the interval. Ammo I would have read that letter more than hundred times. But I did not say that I liked him, except smiling at him from a distance. I cannot remember where Thilaka was at the time. I cannot remember even when she attained age. When gallons of moonshine were caught and my father was remanded off and on, Thilaka’s mother came to stay the night at our place for our protection. Yet I do not seem to remember Thilaka coming there. Thilaka’s mother was a dark trunk just like Thilaka. I recollect that Thilaka’s father did timber sawing and came to our place to consume moonshine in the evenings. My mother did not let me go anywhere near the place where moonshine was sold. ‘Don’t you repeat the wrong I made’ was what she chanted over and over. I knew many mothers in our village chanted the same mantra. That was not a fault that one or two made. However, my mother obtained my help to fry dried fish and boil tapioca roots. When I used to peep through the kitchen window when the boys from the timber mill came to consume moonshine, she noticed it and frowned at me.

My brother had threatened me not to talk to the boys and if ever he caught me at it, he would chop me to pieces. But he took Wimala in our class to Anuradhapura to the films. He rode the bicycle with Wimala in the evenings. Wimala had shown me handkerchiefs, hair bands and sleepers which my brother had gifted her. One day I was overwhelmed by the strapped black sleepers Wimala wore to school. It was made of good leather. Apparently it had been gifted by my brother. When I told this to my mother she tongue tied in confronting my brother about it.

‘Let it be, what the heck, they are men, we are women…’

That was what my mother said. When Wimala brought the stubs of tickets from cinema halls which she had gone with my brother, placing them among the pages of her books, while all the other girls giggled over them, I felt certain unease about laughing at it.

That was the time I saw Thilaka again. I heard her more than I saw her. One day Thilaka sang a song during the meeting of the literary association. I perfectly remember that Thilaka sang the Sinhala song ‘kurutu gaa gee pothe, kurutu gee ke gasa’ [In the book of lyrics, the lyrics written in rough handwriting scream.. ] It was an evocative voice. Dark scrawny Thilaka kept the beat with one hand and sang puffing her rib cage with her gaze placed somewhere beyond over our heads. All the students in the school listened intently in silence. It was a mournful voice which scraped the heart. It was not just a song. There was some other energy harmonized in it. Afterwards Thilaka continued to sing at these association meetings. We could see Thilaka but she was somewhere far away. She was not someone we could see but someone we could hear. It was difficult to laugh with her over a joke like I did with Padmini. Hers was an ugly sorrowful face.

'Look, madam the dirt on your face. Dirt had deposited in the pores on the skin on your face, and that is the reason for the discoloration of the face’

This Thilaka bent into the basin of water and looked at me smiling. A different kind of a glow had replaced the fear displayed in that face earlier. Was dirt the only reason for darkness? How different were Thilaka and me those days?

‘You will feel as your face has been slightly scratched. Don’t open your eyes. If you feel a smarting let me know’

My fingers applied the scrub on Thilaka’s face in a painless manner. One of her eyes let out mucous. What was she thinking with closed eyes? Some come here not only to beautify themselves; to talk; or to float their minds somewhere with closed eyes. Menu akka has instructed to massage the sides of the temple of such clients. Where would be this Thilaka’s mind floating now?

I smiled with singing Thilaka when I went to drink water during the interval. Unlike Wimala or Mallika, Thilaka like a bitch that follows one with a wagging tail once fed, became friendly with me. She did not have any friends. She came in the morning and plaited my hair. She accompanied me to school. She came to bathe with us in the evenings. The other girls did not take to Thilaka. She was ugly. No words were needed to explain otherwise. She was simply ugly. I maligned Wimala to Thilaka. Thilaka showed me the poems she had written. One of her poems had been published in the Silumina newspaper. Thilaka Chandrakanthi, Hurigasseva. No one I knew had their name published in typed letters in a newspaper, except for Thilaka’s. She had written poems about Kala Oya, morning and love. I could not really understand those poems. Though she had written poems about love, I felt that no one had said that she was loved let alone even touched her by her hand. In my case not only I had been touched by my hand, Mahathun ayya had even squeezed my bum seven or eight times by that time. Mallika had done everything that had to be done by that time. We did not have time to write poetry like Thilaka. We had enough and more things to occupy our minds and experience in doing.

When I removed the scrub and set the steamer Thilaka tried to catch my eye in the mirror’s reflection. I covered her eyes by placing cotton wool over them. ‘let me know if the vapour is too hot’.

There is a day which I clearly remember Thilaka. I will never forget that day. Sirisena mama did not cultivate paddy in the paddy fields in the Yala season. Instead he grew big onions in the fields. During the time the onions were uprooted, we used to go to cut onion bulbs. We had to shake the soil a bit by holding the plants by the leaves and then cut the leaves and roots from the bulbs. We were paid by the kilograms of uprooted big onions. Thilaka accompanied me to cut bug onioions. That evening Nissanka ayya of the Army came on his trail bike to where we were working. Nissanka ayya of the Army was handsome. He had well formed muscular arms. He had an odd look in his eyes which excited women. When he returned home for the holidays he had money in his pockets. How many boys in the village owned a motorbike… I spontaneously looked at his eyes. They were focused on where the hem of my frock was lifted exposing my upper legs. I did not adjust my frock, but smiled at him. I wished if Thilaka was not there. Thilaka placed a fistful of onion plants on a log and kept on cutting leaves. I could see her legs. They were skinny with dry skin.

A woman’s mind could not resist Nissanka ayya’s look. He squatted in front of us and started cleaning his teeth with a grassy stem. Those eyes were fixed on my legs. I did not understand how to respond. I wanted to chase Thilaka away from there. Suddenly Thilaka adjusted her dress to expose her thighs. Startled, Nissanka ayya stood up. I did not understand what was going on. At once Thilaka got up raising the hatchet looking like Sohon Kali.

‘ You uncouth mongrel’

Her cry made Nissanka ayya throw backwards. Kanthi akka who was cutting onions further away looked our way. Nissanka ayya ignited the key of the trailer bike, but it did not start at once.

‘You bony bitch that haunts the path ways at night, we’ll see…’ he said and left with a cloud of dust. Thilaka let go of the hatchet and walked further away from me swaying from side to side. I was thinking what to say to Kanthi akka who came running towards us.

Following day Thilaka did not turn up to comb my knotty hair. But I met Thilaka at the well during the interval. ‘whore…’ was the only thing Thilaka said. After that Thilaka never spoke to me or came to face me. I cannot remember whether she sang at the literary association afterwards. I do not know whether she wrote poems to the Silumina news paper.

There are many black heads on this Thilaka’s face. When I used the loop and removed them to a cotton wool, her eyes had a look of amazement.

‘Isn’t it a bit painful? Don’t take it seriously… one cannot become beautiful easily…’ She smiled slightly.

Things started happening at once. It was like rain during the Maha season, continuously, one after the other incidents took place. I got on to the stage where Avurudu Kumari was selected in Hurigasweva because Padmini was contending. My elder brother was vehemently against it. Padmini was able to get his approval to me through Wimala. My father told those who came to consume moonshine that in no village surrounding our village lived a beauty to surpass me. I really wanted to get on to that stage. My school was not very supportive of it. Gunawathie Teacher told me ‘Child, don’t get any bad names’. But that was my desire and it could not be stifled. I wore a pink blouse and a printed clothe of pink and green floral pattern in black background. I pinned a plastic rose on my hair. While on stage those boys who came to drink moonshine did most of the whistling at me. I became the Avurudu Kumari. I received a thermal flask and two beautiful sarees. At the time I was sixteen. I did not go to school afterwards. I understood that a beauty queen cannot go to school. No one forced me either. All would have known it. I was no longer the girl I was before. Even Mallika and Surangi had a certain distance between us. I had to make that journey alone. I climbed the stage of the New Year celebration held in Thambuththegama, the following year. That celebration was about ten times bigger than the Hurigasweva celebrations. There also I became the Avurudu Kumari. I was awarded a Singer sewing machine and Rs. two thousand in cash. My father took the money. That was the day I really felt my beauty.

When I was applying the face pack she was trying to look at herself through the mirror with difficulty. ‘Don’t move, child, you can see your beauty as much as you like after this is over… if this goes into your eyes, it will be painful.. you cannot be beautiful in a day.. but you could see the difference in a day.. ’ Thilaka laughed. I thought that this one would not have gone through that much of suffering and pain unlike the one I knew. But this is also a Thilaka. I am also a Thilaka. More Thilakas. More Thilakas. More Thilakas.

After climbing on to stages firstly I climbed on to the bed of Thambuththegama Maha Kade Mudalali’s son. Saliya Mahaththaya did not force me to climb on to the bed. I had realized the path I had to take. We went to Anuradhapura to see movies at Wijendra cinema. We had meals at Aalankulama restaurant. It was not that I felt a certain fear. But I had a bosom full of dreams. I felt the fear of my life after returning from Nuwara Eliya with Saliya Mahaththaya. My brother chased after me wielding a hatchet. Till then I had not thought that he would chop me with the hatchet which he used to chop the fish in the stream. ‘Girl, you go away without getting killed…’ my mother cried not being able to swallow rice she ate for dinner. Saliya Mahaththaya only gave me five Thousand rupee notes. Nothing else was said either. I packed the thermal flask and my clothes in a bag and came to Colombo. I did not take the Singer sewing machine. How many beds and mats have I passed after that? It was only after two abortions that I really learnt to protect myself.

When I came to Menu akka I had my daughter. Mohamed had gone to jail for peddling drugs. But there was a birth certificate for my daughter and a marriage certificate for myself. I learnt everything quickly. It was then I noticed that my eye brows were too thick, I had excessive hair on my arms and legs, my hair had dandruff and I was too plump. I realized that there were two standards for beauty in Hurigasweva and Colombo, in short the beauty standard in Wellawatta varied from the standard in Bambalapitiya, beauty is… not really the beauty..

I observed Menu akka lifting a chin and drawing an eye brow with a straight stroke without wavering the pencil, drawing the lip liner around a lip and painting the lip without smudging the colour beyond the line. Initially Menu akka asked me to sweep the place. After that I brought tools and products to her when she was working. It was only after that she taught me the skills. First day I drew my eye brow without shaking the pencil and painted my lips and looked from the mirror, I lifted a chin up and playfully muttered ‘whore’ to myself. Thilaka’s words.

By the time I was removing the pack with the sponge soaked in water, Thilaka’s face was waned. It had not even freshened up to my expectations. When I toned the face and applied the lotion I felt the pain in my fingers. Without telling anything I started threading her eyebrows. I noticed Menu akka looking at me. Thilaka narrowed her eyes in pain. I applied mascara and painted her lips dark red. I did not apply foundation cream on the face since it was after a facial. I combed the hair back. Thilaka had a different look.

‘Madam, come back, after doing this for about two – three months there will be a big difference. And madam this kind of loose fitting clothes do not suit you.’

Thilaka smiled. That smile had a different kind of beauty.

‘Thousand rupees for the facial… and the makeup is on me…. ’

Thilaka did not respond. Her eyes smiled with mine on the mirror.

‘Will you come again? ’ I asked.

‘Yes, next month. ’

She left. But she will return.

‘Deduct the cost of the make up from my salary’ I told Menu akka. She would do it even if I did not tell her to do so.

[Link to the original Story- රෝස පාට ]

Isuru Chamara Somaweera | ඉසුරු චාමර සෝමවීර
පරිවර්තනය - Anushya kollure | අනුෂයා කොල්ලුරේ