E-Sankalani is the name given to the new e-journal launched by several young creative writers. It is an outcome of the group on Facebook, "Space for Sri Lankan E-Writers", which was created on 21st, August 2014, and as at March 18th evening, there are 3576 members in the group. They may not all be writers, but they at least read e-books and e-journals, and posts on social media, specially Facebook.
This FB group is the wall, where any writer is free to write, like what they used to have on the mirror-like wall at Sigiriya. We are getting closer to real freedom of expression, what had been enjoyed by the pre-historic people who wrote on cave walls, long before man invented language, for they had their own language in the form of drawings. We lost our true freedom of expression when a few men began to control the rest of humanity. Then market forces took over, and when literature became a commodity, the publishers, and traders decided everything about what was marketable.
E-writings, be it novels, or stories or poems, are all independent of market forces. There is no need to market them. All e-writings are free in cyberspace. E-readers could read what they like and reject others, and the great writings will be with us for generations while the rest will simply disappear. Writers have the freedom to write and publish what they want, and the readers have the freedom to select what they want to read. Yet the writers will continue to have the responsibility of what they offer to the world, and not to abuse or misuse the freedom they have gained.
On March 18th, when the e-writers released their first E-journal, we should say they uploaded it on the internet and coined a Sinhala term, 'Jalagathakireema'. We still need many Sinhala terms for the creative writings in cyberspace, we do not even have a Sinhala term for 'Cyber'.
We also need to think different, as we often say, we should think outside the box. We have
e-newspapers, but most of them just follow their printed format, and we have to keep turning the pages, searching for what we want. In that the Daily News is ahead of some of the other newspapers in our country, because they do have a real e-paper, not in the printed format, and they allow us to read it free.
Silumina will be 85 years old this month. Will it reach its centenary? It should, according to the prediction made by G D Fonseka in the Silumina December 4th, 1938 writing about a newspaper in a hundred years, in 2038. Silumina too would survive, but in what form, we would not be able to predict. There could still be a limited edition of the printed paper, but it would otherwise be an e-paper, or even an audio paper only.
It has been suggested that people would become totally illiterate by about 2050, because there would not be any need to write or to read. We can dictate and we can listen. But they have coined a more modern term, Cyberliterate, instead of saying illiterate. And we do not have a Sinhala term for this either.
E-Sankalani has a long journey ahead, as the pioneer e-journal in Sri Lanka. Once it gets out of the cave, the journal could do anything with the available technology and the tech-savvy young people. They could create interactive poems, stories or even novels. They could publish a written poem, linked to an audio copy, and may be even a short movie clip. They could digitize a song and create a painting, or create a piece of music from a painting.
An e-journal can breakdown all the existing barriers and what are labelled as 'genre' so that all arts become one, with one art form merging into another. It could even be multilingual, someday with a translation facility to translate into other languages, then the journal could reach the entire cyberspace. At present, it has already reached out to the Sri Lankan diaspora, who can not only read it, but contribute their creative works and their reviews on what is published.
E-Sankalani could go viral, very soon, even though the concept of e-writing has been very slow to catch up not only in Sri Lanka, but in our part of the world. The first e-novel from Asia appeared in 1998, and many readers would take out a hard-copy to read it. At the time, reading an e-book was not as easy as it is today when we have young people reading not only the daily newspapers, but even novels on their smartphones.
Most of the articles in the first issue of this e-journal are in Sinhala. We are faced with major obstacles in writing in Sinhala. One of the very serious problems is with the Sinhala characters. We still do not have a standard unicode for Sinhala, which covers all the Sinhala characters. That is why we cannot upload our Sinhala novels on Kindle and other e-book formats yet.
We have so many vowels, phonetic-vowels, consonants, semi-consonants, touching letters, altogether making 1640 characters (Akuru.org). It is time we started to think of Sinhala characters in the digital age. We have got out of the shackles of the woodblock and movable type, but we are still mentally imprisoned inside the characters in these wood of lead blocks. Let us try to design a new Sinhala character set, simple and convenient for digital writing.
Let us also rid ourselves of the present keyboard, designed to slow down the typist, as the typebars got entangled every few seconds. We did not change it with the daisy wheel in the electric typewriter, and we still retain the same keyboard on the smartphones where most of us use only the thumb or the index finger for typing.
E is the Future.