» Tagged as: Tamil novels , Tagged as: Sri Lanka , Tagged as: Sinhala translations , Tagged as: cast issue in Jaffna
Marakoku was written in 1993, and had won the State Literary Award in 1994. Yet it took 22 years to cross the great divide from Jaffna to Colombo. It was only after Upali Leelarathne had translated the great novel by Kanthiah Nadesan (Theniyan) from Tamil to Sinhala as 'Kula Anaganavo' that I was able to read it.
This gap between just 20 million people living in one small country of 65,000 sq.km. was created by language. Man believes that he is the only animal on earth who is gifted with the ability to communicate using language. But because in his arrogance he began to use different languages we have continued to widen the gaps between ourselves.
There was no such gap in this country for the past one thousand years or more, and a crack appeared only with the invasion of Europeans. The crack widened into a huge gap and English became a bridge for us. But the handrails of this bridge were removed around the mid twentieth century. Since then no one bothered to repair and maintain the bridge, and there were also several attempts to burn it down. Today it is probably beyond repair. The gap is also too wide for us to even think of building a new bridge.
The only way to cross the divide is going down into the ravine and climbing up on the other side, which not many of us could do. Upali Leelarthne is one such hero among us, as a translator. We have in our country many writers who are called bilingual, because they are able to write in English in addition to their mother tongue. But a true bilingual in our country is one who can write in Tamil and Sinhala, the urgent need of the day.
It has been a long, silent and unsung service by Upali to our literature and to our society. He has so far translated 42 books from Tamil to English, not only novels, and short stories, BUT children's stories and biographies as well. He is a creative writer too, with 8 novels to his credit. Upali Leelarathne has won recognition and awards in India several times, but is ignored by our own organizations offering literary awards.
Mara Kokku has been called the 'Gamperaliya' (revolt in the village) from the North, but it was a greater revolt leading to greater changes than what we saw in Koggala. Because in the north, it was the struggle not only among the haves and have nots, but among the touchables and untouchables. Theniyan uses many symbols in his novel. One is about the Kanda Shasthi festival, of the battle between the Sura (enacted by touchables) and Asura (enacted by the untouchables). The Sura always win, just as it has happened through the history of mankind.
In this story, the old three-legged teapoy is covered with a green tablecloth with flowers embroidered in white thread. A woodcarving of a lone stork stands on it on one foot, as if in deep meditation. This carving, known as Mara kokku is there throughout the story, by the easy chair on which Vijayalakshmi spends the whole day. A stork would be rewarded for his patience as he finds a fish, but would Vijayalakshmi be rewarded for her long patient waiting.
Theniyan wrote about the plight of the people in Jaffna, the elite who were chained to their traditions, to preserve their family honour and status, while the poor people were shackled to the other end of the chain, suffering a far worse fate. We cannot blame the owners and managers of the temples when they try to prevent the untouchables from entering and desecrating their holy spaces. We cannot blame the younger generations who realize they are oppressed, that they need not accept a position of being less equal in society, who believe that the gods belong to them too, or they too belong to the gods.
Upali has translated many books by Indian writers, bringing them to us, the same way he brought the North to us, to enable us to learn about the culture, social life and religious practices in the North of Sri Lanka, and also South India. We can learn more by reading these novels, short stories and biographies than by making flying visits to these places as tourists or as pilgrims.
When we read the creative works by Upali Leelarathne, about the people living in the present day tea country, we realize we knew hardly anything about the people and their culture, even though we have travelled through tea country so often.
Upali takes us through the time when the British planted tea in the hill country, destroying all our beautiful, valuable forest cover, and pushing the people who lived in the region into small pockets of infertile, inaccessible remote villages. The people who were brought at gun point from South India, in the same way the British took Africans to America, worked like slaves in the beginning. But gradually they began to receive more benefits and a certain amount of freedom, because they banded together under trade unions and had politicians fighting for their rights. The village folk in the region had no organization to fight for their rights and no politicians took any serious active interest in their wellbeing.
To learn about these people, and more importantly, to learn how they lived in peaceful harmony, how they coexisted and how they broke down the language barrier, is why we must read these books. We learn it from Upali Leelarathne's own life, in the way he became a real bilingual writer and in the way he is sharing his knowledge and experience with all of us.
We need more translations between Sinhala and Tamil, and we bow our heads to Deshabandhu Sirisumana Godage and Mrs Godage, for their commitment to publish these books.