Italo Calvino

The Kaleidoscope of Italo Calvino

I started reading the book as just another novel, but by the time I read the last page, I felt as if I had read about all the writers and all the novels ever written, and to be written by man in the future. I read it with a mindset nurtured by Eastern Philosophies and way of life.

The back cover of the English translation quotes from Rushdie, 'Reading Calvino, you are constantly assailed by the notion that he is writing down what you have always known, except that you have never thought of it before'. In a way, what all of us are reading all the time are things that we have always known or should have known in our subconscious mind.

There are so many protagonists, if the term protagonist could be used with regard to this novel, where the reader himself becomes a protagonist. One of Calvino's characters says, 'I expect the readers to read in my books something I didn't know, but I can expect it only from those who expect to read something they didn't know'. The real protagonist is the reader himself, "You are the absolute protagonist of this book", Calvino says here. He is playing with the reader, teasing him, confusing him, making him think, to interpret the situations in different ways, and perhaps challenging the reader to put down the book, when each story he begins ends abruptly after a few pages. Even the title itself sounds unfinished, like most of the titles of the narrative chapters.

In one story, about kaleidoscopes, one character quotes Plotinus, "the soul is a mirror that creates material things reflecting the ideas of the higher reason", and continues, 'I cannot concentrate except in the presence of reflected images...' and he uses catoptrics, (the image forming optical system using mirrors), and he himself gets trapped in the room he had created based on Athanasius Kircher's design, where his image is reflected an infinite number of times. Like in ourselves there lives all mankind who have ever lived on earth.

The book is "If on a winter's night a traveller". Calvino talks about books in the first chapter. In a bookshop '..past thick barricades of Books You Haven't Read, Books You Needn't Read, ...Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read,...Book You Mean To Read But There are Others You Mean To Read First, ..." and so on.

At first glance where would a reader place "If on a winter's night a traveller", or Calvino himself would place it among these categories, if the novel had not been written by him? I do not know if this question had been asked from him during his lifetime. It is said that "he was the most-translated contemporary Italian writer at the time of his death (1985), and a noted contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature". I am ashamed to admit that I had not read Italo Calvino till now, till I had picked up "If on a winter's night a traveller", at the British Council library last week, attracted by the line from the Guardian on the front cover, - "The greatest Italian Writer of the twentieth century'.

This only reminds us about how little we know of the books and writers around the world, and what little time we have available to read at least a fraction of the great books so far written and books that are getting published every day. The estimated annual production is over 100,000 works of long fiction, published in English around the world. Even if we could read one book a week, we could read only 0.05% of the new books coming out, and to do that we would have to give up reading all the good novels we have missed up to now.

When it comes to Sinhala novels, since we get only about 200 novels for a year, we have an opportunity to read most of them. But we could still miss a good novel, or more than one. "If on a winter's night a traveller" is the kind of novel we should introduce to our Sinhala readers, translators and aspiring writers, to give them an idea of what a variety of narratives, and narration styles can be created, and that a novel is not just a straight forward narration of a series of incidents.

The translation by William Weaver was so interesting reading. Yet it raised the question how good the original Italian work, 'Se una notte d'inverno un viagiatore', could have been. About translations Calvino talks of a Japanese firm producing new novels based on the formulae of one protagonist or writer, Silas Flannery, and these are 'first-class novels..if retranslated into English, they cannot be distinguished, by any critic, from true Flannerys.'

Could this too apply to many translations of original works today, since almost everyone who reads a translation would not be familiar with the original, the translator could create his own story, or characters or situations. It leads to speculation, like Calvino suggests, what if translations are retranslated in to the original language? Would they be as good as the original, or could they be better and be more popular? What if a Persian poet today retranslated Edward FitzGerald's translation of Rubiyat, back into Persian?

This is considered a novel, but has also been called a "genre-hopping book of short stories", or a novel "capable of endless mutations". A novel about novels, a fiction about fiction, and Metafiction

In the novel "If on a winter's night a traveller", Calvino talks of fake taxis, fake prisons, fake revolutionaries and fake counterrevolutionaries. "Once the process of falsification is set in motion, it won't stop". And in the last chapter, which has just seven lines, is Calvino trying to tell us this is a fake novel?

Dec. 7, 2011, 10:11 a.m.

Jaffna carvings

Temple Carvings in Jaffna

What stands out on the partly ruined six-wheeled wooden chariot are the blocks of intricate carvings. The carvings are really the work of a master-craftsman, devoting painstaking days and weeks on his creation.

We talk about the carvings of Khajuraho, Konark and Mahabalipuram in India, the pre-historic carvings and sculpture, the works in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, while we ignore the great works of art at our doorstep.

The Jaffna peninsula is a true museum of carvings, sculpture and religious architecture. The Maviddapuram Kanthaswamy Kovil is one temple where one could spend hours, studying the carvings on stone and wood, and cement and mortar. After a complete walk around the entire temple complex, it is easy to shut one's eyes and try to imagine what the temple would have been, 5000 years ago as a small place of worship, as the legend goes, and after the temple was built by the Chola princess, Maruthapura Veeravalli, who had been cured of her ailments and her horse face had disappeared after bathing in the Keerimali tank. It is at this kovil that the chariot stands to this day retaining much of it's former splendour.

There had been an attempt to destroy the temple and build a church at the site. The attempt had failed, but there is still traces of the efforts to be seen at the main entrance to the temple. Unfortunately the Nallur temple had been destroyed in the 16th century, but the foundation can still be seen. The temple was rebuild at a short distance from the original site and stands today as one of the major attractions in Jaffna.

Goddess Lakshmi is often portrayed with four hands as Gajalakshmi, specially on the door frame or the entrance to a house. Yet in Kankesanturai, close to the cement factory there is a very old house, with a figure of Goddess Lakshmi above the arch at the entrance. This figure had only two hands, when I first saw it on March 1st, 1968, since two hands had broken off. The figure still has only two hands, as I walked into the house on November 8th, 2011. Nobody had attempted to restore them. Not many visitors would notice this, as the stumps of the broken hands had been painted over and over again and are not noticeable. Probably it was accepted as it is, even by those who were aware of different forms of the goddess, to accept the figure as a two-handed Lakshmi, known as Samanyalakshmi or Indralakshmi.

Incidentally this house was assigned to us as our hostel, when we joined the Cement Corporation 43 years ago, making me realize today what 'walking down memory lane' really means, where a cruel war had ravaged for over 30 years.

Keerimali tank is still a popular bathing place, and how wonderful if all visitors could accept this as a sacred site, that people come to bathe at this tank with the hope of curing their ailments and that the tank has a long history behind it.

The same could be said about the Keerimali Thirutambaleswaram Kovil, now known as the Naguleswaram Sivam Kovil. Just as the Maviddapuram temple is said to be at least 5000 years old, the Keerimali temple is also said to have a very ancient history, as it is identified as one of the five ancient Siva temples in Sri Lanka, alongside Ketheeswaram in Mannar, Koneswaram in Trincomalee, Muneswaram in Chilaw and Tondeswaram in Dondra.

Just as persecution and suppression cannot keep any religious faith down for long, no one could destroy a place of worship and expect to keep it down for long. The faithful will always re-erect the buildings, replace the statues, carvings and paintings. Maviddapuram is also one such place of worship, which had been destroyed and rebuilt, several times. The wonder is how they have retained the ancient glory of the structure every time.

Retaining traditions and preserving the atmosphere of the temples is what we find all over Jaffna, where the artists and the sculptors have been playing a major role.

Walking through these Kovils, we are reminded that modern art is also like a religion, and the Art Galleries today are also like temples, with the difference that art galleries are for the few while the temples are for everyone, the rich and the poor, the educated and the not-so educated. In the pre-historic art galleries in the caves too, we could identify some of the paintings as conceptual or perceptual, depending on how we look at them.

This was explained by a visitor to Sihigiri 1,300 years ago. "He (i.e. the painter) by (the art of) painting, fixes even the real nature of the very source of consciousness. Having seen, with (his) eyes, a long (strand of) hair, he paints and fixes diverse feelings of the mind" (Paranavitana translation)

Religion could have been the beginning of art, if we are to believe that primitive art forms found in caves occupied by pre-historic man were religious symbols and images. If on the other hand art was the beginning of religion then we could also consider that almost all religions have survived because of art. It was the artist who did the paintings, the sculptures and the symbols and who helped to preserve the religious faiths and practices, during all suppressions, forced conversions and anti-religious campaigns.

Unfortunately what is sacred art for one man could be a pagan idol for another, which could explain the vandalism faced by ancient temples throughout history. Tourists and curious visitors would see them simply as works of art, which did not demand much respect.

When we look at art as a religion it reminds us that very often it is the iconophile who creates the iconoclast, who could end up becoming a new iconophile himself.

Nov. 30, 2011, 2:20 a.m. » Tagged: Jaffna , temple carvings

Creativity and food

Eating and Creativity

Recently an idea has been floated that N-acetyl-aspartate or NAA to Neuroscientists, could be the chemical which controls creativity in the human brain. If one or more chemicals in our brain or the nervous system could be the decisive factor for creative talents, it opens up a Pandora’s box.

Are NAA and other such chemicals evenly distributed among all mankind, or does it favour certain ethnic groups or races? Is it hereditary, or does it depend on environmental and social conditions? Since the process involves chemicals, which have to be produced by our own body, it has to be from the food and drink we consume. Then it could mean that our food habits and subsequent conditions of our bodies, play a major role in our creative activities.

At first, the term ‘Food for thought’ could have meant anything that provides mental stimulus for thinking, or intellectual nourishment.

Recently The Environmental News Network (ENN), published some very interesting findings. 75 percent of adults in the 10 richest countries are overweight, while in the 10 poorest, only 18 percent are. A survey of statistics in 177 countries shows 38 percent of adults — those 15 years or older — are now overweight. The trend is strongly correlated to rising income and to an increase in preventable health problems, writes Richard H. Weil in the latest Vital Signs Online release from the Worldwatch Institute.

Who is more creative, the overfed and overweight, or the underfed and underweight? Is it the hunger pangs or the discomfort of a full stomach which flows through the brush or the pen or the keypad? Is it the plain water, tea, coffee, wine or arrack we consume which stimulates the imagination?

Next question is which provides better nourishment, processed food with carcinogenic additives or natural food?

ENN also carried a feature by David A Gabel, commenting on a book, ‘Ancestral Appetites: Food in Prehistory’, written by Kristen Gremillion, associate professor of anthropology at Ohio State University. It is about how people have changed their diets over time in response to new knowledge and new environments. Gremillion has talked about “A new fad that is catching on, known as the Paleolithic or “paleo” diet, which aims to return people to a more “natural” way of eating. Before agriculture, people would eat lean meats, fruits, and vegetables, and they would avoid grains and processed foods…. the so-called caveman diet was abandoned for a reason, and the belief that it is superior is pure hokum…..Humans are omnivores and we can eat a wide range of things,” Gremillion had said. “the obsession with a ‘natural’ diet is a fallacy. He explains that humans began cooking food for a reason. Cooking makes it easier for our bodies to extract certain nutrients, and makes the food easier on our teeth, jaws, and stomachs to digest. After hundreds of thousands of years of cooking, there is no reason for people to give it up.” (

Perhaps what Gremillion says could also be considered as ‘pure hokum’, if human beings had been totally herbivorous. According to the International Vegetarian Union, the fact that raw meat is almost universally cooked to make it palatable and digestible suggests that pre-Promethean man did not eat meat often or in large amounts. Dr David Ryde has quoted reports from the scientific press of degenerative diseases, such as obesity, gall stones, late-onset diabetes, colon cancer, hypertension, strokes, heart disease, diverticulosis, tooth decay, piles, peptic ulcers and varicose veins, which seem to be linked to a high consumption of animal foods.

Thus among modern mankind, who are eating themselves to death, creativity could be dying too, as it is already on the sick list, unless scientists can find ways to infuse synthetic chemicals into our brains and nervous systems. Or they would try to identify the gene which triggers the production of the chemicals and try to manipulate the genes in the human body. Then man would try to buy creativity, like he tries to buy everything else.

Deprivation, suffering and suppressions in society have always led to great works in literature, art and music. Creativity in adversity, it has been called, and they cite Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci who thrived during the time of the Borgias. Terribilita was the word associated with Michelangelo’s work, which is defined in the Oxford dictionary as, “awesomeness or emotional intensity of conception and execution in an artist or work of art, originally as a quality attributed to Michelangelo by his contemporaries”

What is created by a sick and dying person, and what is created by a healthy, happy and contended person, could be totally different. In the same manner what is created by a peaceful, kind hearted person, who lives in perfect harmony with nature, could be creating peaceful, sensitive, mind pleasing works of art. The paintings at Ajantha would have been created by monks who lived on simple food, but with loving kindness in their hearts.

Some of the modern art or fiction or films, could have been created by those who live violently, destroying nature, committing violence on plants and animals, butchering, skinning, chopping, dismembering innocent animals, and then devouring their rotting flesh. Such creations would only contain more violence and mind disturbing works which they would consider as works of art.

Let us hope that man would not be reduced to the pathetic situation where he has to consume chemical cocktails to bring out his creative powers.

Nov. 2, 2011, 4:28 a.m. » Tagged: creativity , food , imagination

cultural chauvinism

Cultural Chauvinism

One of the most noted examples of chauvinism in the Arts is the name given by Marquis Paul de Vibraye to the little female figurine found at Laugerie-Basse. He called it 'Venus impudique' (immodest Venus), mocking the entire feminine world, by relating it to the so-called 'Venus pudica' (modest Venus) who was trying to cover her nudity.

It is this chauvinistic attitude which resulted in naming of the 'woman of Willendorf' as 'Venus of Willendorf'. This small figurine, carved out of limestone, was found on the banks of the river Danube. It is not yet possible for any anthropologist to tell us who carved this figure, a man or a woman, and if it was a religious idol or just a work of art. It is possible that she represented 'Mother Earth' or 'Mother Goddess', because the women who lived 24,000 years ago would not have been able to grow so obese, living the life of a hunter/gatherer.

It could be that the 'modest venus' was carved by a man, "to represent the Feminine, or the Female tamed, under control and civilized by the exertions of power by men" ('the invisible sex' Adovasio, Soffer & Page). In the same manner our Sigiri frescos would have been painted by men, to have painted only 'semi-nude' females (by present standards), so also the terra-cotta figurines of the Sigiri damsels, found at Sigiriya would be the work of men only.

The Woman of Willendorf came to my mind as I listened to Dr. Lakshmi de Silva about a book she was writing on the Sri Lankan Woman in Pre-colonial Times. She discusses the position enjoyed by the Sri Lankan woman, before the male dominance with the advent of the colonial culture. Dr. de Silva quotes from the Mahavamsa, "..alone she went forth, desiring the joy of independent life" (Geiger's translation of the Mahavamsa, referring to Suppa Devi, grand mother of Vijaya).

But the Mahavamsa author Mahanama thero, has displayed his chauvinistic views when he described Suppa Devi as "Very fair was she and very amorous and for shame the king and queen could not suffer her", thus debasing the "joy of independent life" the princess had desired. However this comment is not found in Deepawamsa, upon which Mahanama thero based his chronicle.

We find this chauvinistic attitude in the ancient epics like Ramayana, where Sita has to stay within the Lakshman Rekha, Ravana was able to kidnap her because she stepped out of the circle. Then after all her suffering, she has to prove her chastity by jumping into the fire. But Mandodari, Ravana's consort probably enjoyed more freedom, about which we in Lanka could be proud of.

Once man managed to assassinate the Mother Goddess, and enthroned a male god, woman had continued to let man dominate her. Amanda Vickery described the 18th century English woman to have been "cramped by custom, corset and crinoline...conspicuously in need of masculine protection".

Chauvinism had crept into Buddhism long after the parinirvana of the Buddha, when the Buddhists were made to believe that Buddhahood could be attained only by a man, even though it contradicts the term used for the Buddha as Ama Maeniyo, and in our villages we still say 'Ape Amma Budhu Weva (may our mother attain Buddhahood).

Male chauvinism can take different forms, sometimes in the guise of showing respect, like saying "a woman is a gem and should be safeguarded like a gem".

In "Thus spoke Zarathustra", Nietzsche says "The happiness of man is: I will. The happiness of woman is: he wills."

Sometimes chauvinism can outdo itself, like when they renamed Bombay and the new name is from 'Mumba' (a goddess) and 'Aai', (mother). Prof. Wolfgang Mieder provides examples that chauvinistic proverbs could be liberated. "A woman's place is in the House.. and the Senate", simply by changing the word home to house, with a picture of the White House in the background, as the "worm has turned". He mentions this in support of his claim that almost all proverbs have a male chauvinistic theme, with a severe negation of the value of women in society.

Samuel Johnson, if we read his biography, the 'Life of Johnson' by James Boswell, is a typical chauvinist of the period, which is contradicted by Hester Thrale, who claims that Johnson advocated equal rights for women and that he thought highly of women's intellectualism and capabilities.

In the 18th century women were ridiculed if they attempted to write their biography, or even talked about their achievements in public.

Among the English writers though the charge of chauvinism and misogyny was leveled at Lawrence by some feminists, he had portrayed young women as strong, independent and complex characters. "While D. H. Lawrence preached the sexual revolution, H. G. Wells put it into practice" says Blake Morrison, and quotes from Wells' Autobiography, "My story of my relations with women is mainly a story of greed, foolishness and great expectations".

Earnest Hemingway has also been called a chauvinist, but his chauvinism was against all other living things and against women. He could be considered a 'human chauvinist', who believed that man was the superior animal. The feminist ideas of his mother would have influenced him in his writing, as she herself had said, "Earnest is very like me".

With the rise of western Feminism, a form of female chauvinism has encroached into the field of arts. Female chauvinism was called "a celebration of sex" by Ariel Levy, who wrote "Female Chauvinistic Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture". She also said that the soft-porn writings by these feminists is an attempt of empowerment through sexual exploitation. It is a battle now between the male chauvinist pigs and the female chauvinist pigs, all wallowing in the mud'

The Willendorf woman would have been carved by a woman. This leads to speculation of what our paintings, sculpture and literature would have been like, if woman had been able to enjoy her independence and had been free to develop her creative talents.

Oct. 12, 2011, 7:21 a.m. » Tagged: chauvinism , feminism , literature , venus

voyeur and exhibitionist

daya dissanayake

“Every writer, without exception, is a masochist, a sadist, a peeping Tom, an exhibitionist, a narcissist, an injustice collector and a depressed person constantly haunted by fears of unproductivity.”- said Edmund Bergler, the psychoanalyst who has been called “one of the few original minds among the followers of Freud.”

A psychoanalyst could have his own opinion, but not many writers would agree with him, at least not completely. His description could also apply to almost everyone on earth, from a doctor to a farmer, an engineer to a sculptor, a businessman to a soldier. Among all the human weaknesses mentioned by Bergler, perhaps a writer could be called an exhibitionist and a voyeur.

“For every voyeur there’s an exhibitionist, and for every exhibitionist a voyeur”: That’s the lucky equation in Alberto Moravia’s novel, “The Voyeur.”

“Moravia suggests that novels are like keyholes. Novelists are voyeurs, he says, and so, often, are characters within their narratives. Of course, readers are voyeurs as well, peering over the novelist’s shoulder: Moravia is just too polite to say so.” says a Los Angeles based critic, Susan Slocum Hinerfeld.

“Miller’s true importance is not as a pioneer of free expression but as an exhibitionist of the soul, and lies in the triumph of one man over chaos that is achieved in an ironic collusion with chaos.” American novelist Steve Erickson had said about Henry Miller.

Rushdie has been called a writer who had become an exhibitionist with words, “a serial creator of self-delighting sentences” wrote Alok Rai in Outlook.

The Tameri Guide for Writers, states, “Writing is intellectual and emotional exhibitionism.” and advices “If you do not want others to know your thoughts, you should not be a writer.”

These are all the opinions of the critics, and many readers may not agree with Alok Rai or Hinerfield, in the same way a writer would not agree with Bergler. All writers do not follow the Tameri Guide.

It is unfortunate that the terms ‘exhibitionism’ and ‘voyeurism’ have been associated with sexual perversions and as a psychopathological condition. Exhibitionism in a broader sense could be explained as the revelation of one’s mind, and when it is sometimes exaggerated or inappropriate or when used to dominate social interactions, it is considered psychological or psychic exhibitionism. And it is also good business for psychiatrists.

Exhibitionism is found in nature, among all life forms, as we see in the peacock, and the lion too comes to our mind immediately, and so does the rose and the lotus. The male animals do it to attract a female partner and the flowers to attract the bees and the butterflies.

Thus writes James Hartley, a Landscape architect”…the shameless exhibitionism of the more flamboyant summer plants to the exclusion of all others. These summer showmen, which often are far more demanding than their more subtle counterparts, seduce you, but can leave you wanting at the end of the year.” .

It is only among mankind that the role has been reversed and the female has been compelled to attract the male. Probably that is why the human male has become perhaps the ugliest male creature in the animal kingdom, and why he covers his body and is always fully clothed, when the woman is trying to wear minimum clothing. And this could be the reason for man to exhibit himself in other arenas, in technology and arts.

Exhibitionism has been defined as extravagant and conspicuous behavior intended to attract attention to oneself. It is not only actors and singers who resort to this, because their survival sometimes depends on attracting attention to themselves. Even among businessmen, sometimes it would be necessary to flaunt one’s wealth to get an edge on a business deal, or convince a client of his financial standings. Like wearing a most expensive brand of a wristwatch, while never keeping to a time schedule, or keeping the latest fastest desktop computer on the desk, beside an iPad, but getting the secretary to read and respond to one’s e-mails.

A writer or a painter too sometimes needs to attract attention to himself, because in today’s world of commerce, often one has to sell oneself to sell one’s creative works. Musical stars and actors could be sometimes exposing themselves on stage or on camera, and they can always blame it on ‘wardrobe failure’ and get away with it. Most writers today are compelled to become an exhibitionist in order to sell himself to a publisher or a literary agent, and then to the reading public. An artist has to sell himself to an art gallery, the actor to a producer.

Vanity Publishing is the term used from about the mid 20th century, for self-published writing, paying their own money for it, assuming it is because of their vanity. Hence vanity publishing, for vainglory, too could be considered as exhibitionism.

Autobiography, is considered as a literary art form mostly in the West, perhaps because the exhibitionist tendency was more common in the Western culture.

There are books openly considered as narcissistic/exhibitionist autobiographies beginning with ‘Confessions’ by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ‘The Sexual Life of Catherine M’ by Catherine Millet, or ‘The Story of My Life’ by Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt, and ‘My Life and Loves’ by Frank Harris.

We have the works of D. H. Lawrence and Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, and later authors like Harold Robbins who exhibited their sexual fantasies to the public, making the reader to be the voyeur, and they could be called advertently exhibitionist.

If not for voyeurism, narcissism and exhibitionism, writers would not have anything to write about, or singers to sing about, or cinematographers to film about.

Sept. 7, 2011, 8:11 a.m. » Tagged: exhibitionist , voyeur

Don’t let the sun go down

Nawalowa Nawahiru’ was the title given by Bandara Eheliyagoda to the biography of Deshamanya H.K. Dharmadasa. I had the good fortune to translate the book into English, with the title ‘Son of the Soil’.


Bandara Eheliyagoda was able to take us through the life of ‘Nawaloka Mudalali’, from his early years in his village, Sultanagoda, to Peliyagoda, from Dharme, to Kalu Mahattaya to Deshamanya H. K. Dharmadasa. Eheliyagoda also take us through the social, economic and political development in our country.


‘Nawaloka’ was the name he decided upon for the small restaurant he began at Peliyagoda, and made it a household name in whatever business he ventured into. Many people have heard of his arrival in the city with only seventy five cents in his hand, and built up his business empire.


Anyone who reads the biography will be able to empathize with Deshamanya Dharmadasa, and we can also understand how he empathized with the people around him, the people who came to him for help. Eheliyagoda repeatedly mentioned how Nawaloka Mudalali’s left hand did not know what his right hand was giving away.


His contribution to the field of arts began with the production of the film ‘Hatara Maha Nidanaya’. In the film, there was a heart rending scene of a cattle slaughter. In the background was a song by Milton Perera, which had been composed by Karunaratne Abeysekara. The song was about how we drink the cow’s milk, get all the work done pulling a cart or ploughing the fields, and in the end sell the cow for slaughter.


‘Hatara Kendare’ his next film attracted Buddhists from all over the country, from remote villages, people who had never seen a movie, because it gave them an opportunity to see all the sacred Buddhist sites in India, an opportunity they could not even dream of. It was a genuine attempt to enable our people to make the Indian pilgrimage at least through the film, which was a most meritorious deed at a time when films were produced with the intention of making a quick profit.


Though the films, ‘Hatara Maha Nidhanaya’, ‘Hatara Kendare’ and ‘Hatara Peraliya’ were produced by H.K. Dharmadasa his name did not appear anywhere in the films.


‘It is not your name, but what you have done, that should remain. If a job is done well, the name will also remain’ he would always say.


To bring entertainment to our people he produced ‘Abuddassa Kale’, with the comedian from Kelaniya, H. D. Wijedasa. ‘Wasana’ and ‘Ihatha Athmaya’ by K. A. W. Perera were also produced by Dharmadasa mudalali.


Every film carried a massage, in addition to the entertainment offered. A good example was the song by Nanda Malini in the film ‘Ihata Athmaya’. The lyrics were by Karunaratne Abeysekara. It was a song to rouse the patriotic feelings of our nation.


“Reminding us of the philanthropists in our ancient books like Saddharmalankaraya, he has won the acclaim of our people as the modern-day Anatha Pindika, after the wealthy financier of Savaththi during the time of the Buddha. If there ever is a living symbol of the power of merit to win heavenly abodes in the next lives, it is Deshamanya H. K. Dharmadasa. The Wesak pandals erected by him depicting the Jataka Stories established his identity as a great Sinhala Buddhist businessman. Who else could have been able to erect such beautiful pandals continuously for over half a century?” Hon. W. J. M. Lokubanadara commented in the introduction to ‘Nawalowa Nawa Hiru’.


We always take pride in our cultural values, and the life of Nawaloka Mudalali is one very good example of such practices in real life. It has shown the very close association between the temple and the village, between the monk and the peasant, which he developed further to a relationship between the monk and the businessman. It also shows the very close bond between family and close family friends, how they help each other. How Piyadasa aiya and Manamperi (Meegamuwe Mudalali) helped the young Dharmadasa when he first came to the city, and how Dharmadasa mudalali in turn helped his own people, his relatives and the youth from his village.


The South of Sri Lanka has always produced great men, in almost every field, and Deshamanya Hewa Komanage Dharmadasa will be the name to go down in history as the great man in the field of business and philanthropy to have come from the South.


Nawaloka Mudalali’s grandson Udesh Dharmadasa had this to say on the day the biography, ‘Nawalowa Navahiru’ was launched. “You are the source of light for us. An honour for your family. A blessing to all of us. A treasure for our country.”


Even though the Sun has gone down, the light and warmth he cast on the New World he created is with us today and will be with us tomorrow. Not only his six children, seventeen grand children and seventeen great-grand children, but all the thousands of people who had known him, worked with him, learned from him, will continue to keep the light and warmth always.


So let us not let the Sun go down, let us ensure the he remains the light not only for his family but also to all his countrymen and all humanity.

Sept. 6, 2011, 8:19 a.m.

Bulgari Connection

“…white gold and pavé diamonds, cold metal intricately, beautifully worked, lain heavily against the cool, moist flesh of wrist and throat”. This is not a line from a jewellery advertisement, but from Fay Weldon’s novel, ‘Bulgari Connection”. The novel is also an advertisement and the copy was written by Weldon, paid for by Bulgari, the jewellery and watch maker. It is claimed that she had to use the brand name Bulgari at least twelve times in the story, and she was paid £18,000 for doing it.

There were many comments on the book, as probably the first attempt by a popular novelist to use her skills to promote a commodity in the guise of a novel. It could be that Weldon had copywriting too in her blood, at least she had the exposure and experience at Ogilvy and Mather (advertising agency).

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, president of the Authors Guild, had called it the “billboarding of the novel”, and one blogger used the term “Vulgari”.

The danger here for the literary world is that even Weldon's agent, Giles Gordon, had said that he loved the idea. "Does it matter if you are paid by a publisher or paid by an Italian jewelry firm?" he said. He added that he would recommend product placements to other clients, too. The current crop of "chick lit" novels and memoirs about the lives of young women offers potential for touting vodka, cigarettes, clothing and other brands, he said. "The sky is the limit."

Before Weldon’s book came out in 2001, the novel had remained unsullied by advertising, except perhaps for ‘Power City’. Beth Ann Herman had received a $15,000 party at the Wilshire Maserati dealership in Beverly Hills for her new novel about the ‘’sizzling, unforgiving world” of Hollywood public relations, she featured a Maserati whose ”V-6 engine had two turbochargers, 185 horsepower and got up to 60 in under 7 seconds.” Randall Rothenberg also claims that “She also won a window display of her book from Giorgio, the luxury-goods shop in Beverly Hills, for mentioning the store as one of the ”opulent temptations of Rodeo Drive.” (New York Times Jan 13, 1989).

Before Herman, there had been other writers. There were allegations that Jules Verne had been paid by shipping companies to get their brands embedded in ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ which was serialized in 1873. Melanie Lynne Hauser had used a Proctor & Gamble housecleaning product in her Super Mom series, just because she needed to mention a known brand, which had prompted P&G to promote her series.

Hemingway had used brand advertising for self-promotion. He had appeared in an advertisement for Ballantine Ale, for Pan American Airlines and even for Parker 51. “Great success is not possible without a certain degree of shamelessness, and even of out-and-out charlatanism.” Marie-henri Beyle (Stendhal) had said. Herodotus had paid for his own book tour in 440 B.C. Tony Perrottet quotes from Balzac “that it was standard practice in Paris to bribe editors and critics with cash and lavish dinners to secure review space, while the city was plastered with loud posters advertising new releases. In 1887, Guy de Maupassant sent up a hot-air balloon over the Seine with the name of his latest short story, “Le Horla,” painted on its side. In 1884, Maurice Barrès hired men to wear sandwich boards promoting his literary review, Les Taches d’Encre. In 1932, Colette created her own line of cosmetics sold through a Paris store.” (New York Times 29/4/2011)

It is a very common practice today to use ‘embedded marketing’ or ‘branded entertainment’ in television programs and tele-dramas, where the helpless viewer cannot escape the propaganda. It had begun in the days of the silent films, with a Hershey’s chocolate in the film ‘Wings’ (1927) and Wrigley’s chewing gum in the film ‘M’ (1932).

‘Soap Opera’ came to stay with us as soap makers P&G, Levers and Colgate began sponsoring radio plays, even long before the arrival of television. Today the ’soap opera’ is replaced by ‘reality shows’.

How long could the novel survive, without been taken over by big business and their advertising organizations? How long would it be before literary agents would have to go after advertising agencies to get a publishing contract for their authors?

Herodotus to Weldon they were all using their creativity to write what they wanted, and once written they had to find readers for their works. They had to build up an awareness about their works and also an image about themselves. Some of them also wanted to earn a living. Who could judge their actions and decide if it was right or wrong?

In Europe and in the Asian countries the artists, poets and writers had royal patronage, or the support of the church or big merchant families. No one criticized them for that. King Saul was a patron of the arts who commissioned certain songs from the lyre of David, and David himself became a patron of the arts during his long reign as king.

There is a bright side too, to this development. This could boost book sales, revive the reading habit as its side effect. Copywriting too needs creativity, the ability to empathize with the targeted consumers. They have to create attractive, catchy, precise dialogue for their television advertisements, create story lines that could reach the consumer and forceful enough to develop brand loyalty for their clients. These copywriters could have an opportunity to write novels and short stories, while novelists turn to copywriting through their novels. The two professions could merge.

Sept. 5, 2011, 8:21 a.m. » Tagged: embedded marketing

i copy therefore i am

The Art of Copying, a Fundamental part of Life   “Man is an idiot. He doesn’t know how to do anything without copying, without imitating, without plagiarizing, without aping.” Augusto Roa Bastos, (1913-2005), noted Paraguayan novelist had said. “…copying is pervasive in contemporary culture….copying is a fundamental part of being human, …we would not be human without copying…….is a part of how the universe functions and manifests…”. I copied this from Marcus Boom’s ‘In Praise of Copying’ (Harvard 2010). And I copied the entire book free, from the internet.   “All creative work is derivative. human culture evolves through copying.” said Nina Paley, Artist in Residence at “The whole history of human culture evolves through copying, making tiny transformations (sometimes called “errors”) with each replication. Copying is the engine of cultural progress. It is not “stealing.” It is, in fact, quite beautiful, and leads to a cultural diversity that inspires awe.”   There is a Latin phrase, “Nihi sub sole novum“. There is nothing new under the sun. “ut nihil ne- que dictum neque factum, quod non est dictum et factum prius”. There is nothing which is said or done, which has not been said or done previously.   Gabrielle Kennedy reported on the Copy/Culture Symposium which was held in Berlin last month, where designers and philosophers and Media personnel exchanged views on copying and reproducing designs and creative works and technology. Henk Oosterling of Erasmus University Rotterdam had summed up that “copyright culture makes no sense…. China has little need to protect copyright of others…”. Nicolas Bourriaud “…. removing one’s ego from the work and understanding that once a product is released, it is no longer the designer’s. Ownership becomes ambiguous”.   The Danish artists SUPERFLEX (Rasmus Nielsen, Jakob Fenger and Bjørnstjerne Christiansen) have used open source concept in real life situations. They have opened the ‘Copyshop’ where they use ‘Copy Right’, the consumer’s right to customize rightfully purchased products. ‘Supercopy’ is where a customer creates a new original from an existing copy product.   ‘Creative Commons’, founded in 2001, with a mission to “provide a free, public, and standardized infrastructure that creates a balance between the reality of the internet and the reality of copyright laws”, because they believe that “the Internet is a multiplier of cultural innovation”   Man has always copied from nature. He copied nature in his earliest cave paintings, in his sculptures and probably in his music and dance, and we continue to do so. Our own ‘Vannam’ dance forms were copied from the dance of animals. Our scientists continue to study animal behaviour to use them in their technology, they study the chemical composition of plants and animals to develop new medical products.   Copying has been and will always be a part of human nature, and it is a human right. It is only when commercial interests overtake nature that attempts are made to stifle copying, that Copyright laws are formulated, to safeguard commercial interests. Such laws benefit only big business, and not the poor powerless creative artist. That is how Mickey Mouse earns over $ 3 billion a year by extending the period of copyright, and has been enjoying the monopoly since 1923. Even the song “Happy Birthday to you” is copyrighted till 2030 in the U.S. and in 1990 it was valued at US $ 5 million, unauthorized public performances of the song are technically illegal unless royalties are paid for it. In one specific instance in February 2010, the royalty was said to amount to $700.   If there had been a copyright and patent law from the earliest times, the man who first discovered fire would have held on to it, without sharing it, so would the man who discovered/invented the wheel. It would have delayed cultural ‘development’ and man’s ‘progress’ by a few thousand years.   “Borrowing is ubiquitous, inevitable, and, most importantly, good. Contrary to the romantic notion that true genius inheres in creating something completely new, genius is often better described as opening up new meanings on well-trodden themes. Leonard Bernstein’s reworking of Romeo and Juliet, in West Side Story is a good example.” (Chris Sprigman, Counsel to an Antitrust Group in Washington, D.C) All our mass media depend on copying news and features from other media. When one television channel begins a new program which catches on fast, every other channel copies it, without any hesitation. We copy our clothes, our food habits our music and paintings from other cultures. We copy our religious rituals and practices and even beliefs from other religions.   Thomas Jefferson believed that all art should belong to the public. For him, the public domain was a large, thriving democracy, while copyright was a fat king thousands of miles away eating puddings and meat pies. He was against copyright and said himself, “Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property,” but finally had agreed to compromise and include the issue of patents (and, by interpretation, copyright law) in the Constitution. (Lloyd Kaufman with Sara Antill)

“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” Though Jefferson was a slave owner, he had probably not considered creative works as property to be owned.

  “As we look ahead, the field of openness is approaching a critical mass of adoption that could result in sharing becoming a default standard for the many works that were previously made available only under the all-rights-reserved framework. Even more exciting is the potential increase in global welfare from the use of Creative Commons’ tools and the increasing relevance of openness to the discourse of culture, education and innovation policy.” (Introduction to ‘The Power of Open’)   Let all ideas and all knowledge be free and openly accessible to all mankind.
July 27, 2011, 8:23 a.m. » Tagged: copying , copyright , creative commons