Tuesday, July 07, 2009






Saturday, July 04, 2009

A.J. Canagaratna: Knowing an unsung-belatedly honoured critic
by K.S. Sivakumaran

It is gratifying to note that the late A. J. Canagaratna, a literary critic from the North has been appreciated by at least a few people in the South and by one or two in Thamilnadu, India, particularly when Historians of Lankan English Literature do not appear to have even heard of him.

Cover page of the book, AJ: The Rooted Cosmopolitan

Somewhere last month the ICES (International Centre for Ethnic Studies), courtesy the chief librarian, P. Thambirajah, organised a meeting to introduce a book in English a Festschrift titled AJ: The Rooted Cosmopolitan. I wasn’t there but I heard about it. Chaired by Haig Karunaratne, the speakers included scholars in the calibre of Dr Wilfrid Jayasekera, Dr Sumathy Sivamohan, Seelan Kadirgamar and journalist Lynn Ockersz.

The 250 page book is neatly divided into two sections: Collection of Essays on A J Canagaratna and Essays and Reviews by A J Canagaratna. The book also includes photographs of the late AJCA Lanka born Canadian academic, Chelva Kanaganayagam, has edited this volume.

The Southern writers who have written so gloriously on AJC are Regi Siriwardena, S. Sivanayagam, Harsha Gunewardena, Navaliyoor S. Nadesan (his was a translation from Thamil), S. V. Rajadurai (a Marxist critic from Thamilnadu), Thamilavan (again from the neighbouring country), K. Sivathamby, M. A. Nuhman (his article originally written in Thamil is translated into English), Suresh Canagarajah (Lanka born academic in the U.S.), A. S. Panneerselvan (from Thamilnadu), M. Pushparajan (his article in Thamil is also translated into English), Nirmala Rajasingam (Lanka born Londoner), Rajan Philips and A. Sabaratnam.

I was not sure whether the late AJC was a Marxist in the classic sense but most of those who had paid tributes to him happened to be Marxists of one kind or the other.

What was surprising to me was that when I read the second part of the book, I found that AJC had written excellent essays and reviews in English mostly to a particular and not so well known publication called Third Eye that was published in the East.

He has written reviews of books by Lanka born Londoner A. Sivanandan, Lanka born Canadian Shyam Selvadurai, Lanka born Londoner Rohini Hensman, Regi Siriwardena, Tissa Abeysekera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Lanka born the late Guy Amirthanayagam. AJC also had reviewed some Thamil books in the English language. Those Thamil writers are Mu Ponnambalam, M. Pushparajan, S. Pathmanathan, Santhan, S. Jeyasankar’s edited book, K Sivathamby and S.Ratnajeevan H. Hoole. AJC also as reviewed a book by a Thamilnadu writer named S. Jeyamohan.

Apart from the above AJC wrote an Introduction to Neelan Tiruchelvam Commemorative Conference Papers and above all a Preface and Introduction to the two volumes of Selected Writings of Regi Siriwadena.

Some of his other articles include Tambi and poetry, London, Some Heretical Thoughts on the Proposed Educational Reforms, Naatsaar Vedu Vs Proscenium Stage, Annai itta Thee: Ome Impressions, Some Reflections, Kimathi’s "Trial" was No Ordeal, From Decaying Aristocrats to Lumpens: Cine Yatra - a festival of Sri Lankan Cinema, A One-Woman Show: Rani Moorthy’s pooja and The Man who said "NO".

The late A. J. Canagaratna was not only a writer and critic in English but also an author of a few books in Thamil. He was an English Honours graduate from the University of Peradeniya. He had worked for the Daily News as a journalist. He edited a Yaalpaanam Co-Operative journal. He had taught in schools in Yaalpaanam and in the East. He was an Instructor in English at the University of Yaalpaanam.

AJC has written the following books in Thamil: Maththu, Marxiavaathikalum Theshiya Ina Pirachchananium, Avasarakaalam ‘ 79 Part 1, Maerxiamun Ilakkiyamun : Sila Noakkuhal, Ellalan Samathiyum Varalaatu Mosadiyum, and Senkavala Thalaivar Jesunathar.

The Illustrated Weekly of India, Times of Ceylon, Ceylon Observer, Third Eye and The Little magazine have carried translations of Lankan Thamil short stories into English by AJC.

The following anthologies also include AJC’s translations of Lankan Thamil stories and poems: Lute Song and Lament, A Lankan Mosaic, Favourite fiction: Stories from South Asia-Part 1 and Part 2.

Midweek Review

The Third EyeAs I Like It

by K. S. Sivakumaran

In Greek mythology we have Zeus with a third eye. And God Shiva or Siva as the Lankan Thamilians say, has a third eye, which is known as ‘Gnanak Kunn’ in Thamil.

The now defunct Thamil ‘little magazine’ had its name "Moontravathee Manithan" (The Third Man). We all viewed a celebrated film called The Third Man with Orson Welles, a great Shakespearean actor.

Now, there is a publication in English called Third Eye. I have with me the eighth issue. It says that it is a publication of the "English Forum". Inside there is a page saying that the editors of this publication are S. Jeyasankar and N. V. Rajapillai. They are from the Department of Fine Arts, Faculty of Arts and Culture, Eastern University, Chankalady. The contact man is S. Jeyasankar.

He has the blessing of an advisory board which consists of eminent educationalists. Among them are two well known bilingual (Thamil and English) writers: R. Murugaiyan and A. J. Canagaratna. The other members are T. Kirupaharan, S. M. Felix and I. A. Leon.

The cover carries a photo and sketch of the late K. Ganesh, a pioneer progressive writer in Sri Lanka. To know more about him, there is a note and publication details of the important writer in Lankan Thamil literature. I have also written a few lines on the late Ganesh.

This 64-page publication has poems, translations from Thamil, articles, reviews of books, first hand experience in witnessing the production of a play, a note on a review session of the bulletin, a report on the release of the 7th issue, letters to the editor and a republication of a poem by the late T. Ramanathan in the Times of Ceylon Annual of 1957.

The contributors are: T. Wigneran, Pon Ganesh, George Rajeevan Francis, Thirukkovil Kariyugan, S. Jeyasankar, T. Kirupakaran, M. Nilanthan, M. I. M. Rauf, M. Pushparajan, Amritha A. M., Indiran Amirthanayagam, A. J. Canagaratna, Kandiah Shriganeshan, Kalooran, K. Gunarajah, Antoinette Rajeevani Francis, L. A. Leon, Eloma Muttulingan, Rajeevan Francis, S. Sasitharan, Marilyn Kryse, S. M. Felix, Suresh Canagarajah and T. Ramanathan.

I like the idea of the publication as it carries translations of some selected writing in Thamil by Lankan writers. However, I have some reservations: Whatever the quality of the content and the standard of style, the matter is printed in an unprofessional manner. The contributions are crowded together and they are not easy on the eye. I also noticed a slant towards the projections of a few individuals who appear to have a closed-circuit operation.

Let me now give you excerpts from some of the contributions that may give you an idea of what this bulletin is about:

Suresh Canagarajah says "Anthropologists like Dennis Tedlock have turned their field notes into novels to capture the culture than decontextualized information from the researcher’s field report." His review of a collection of short stories in Tamil by A. M. Riyas Ahamed is profound and exhaustive.

M. Nilanthan has written a fine play in Thamil on ‘The Story of the Refugees’. This is again translated in a productive manner by S. M. Felix. The play was directed by S. Jeyasankar in 1992. Those ultranationalists who could read in English (if they cannot read Thamil) should please read this play to readily understand the genuine problems of the refugees in the North-East.

The first part of the article "Theatre as a Vehicle for Creativity and Language Learning" by Eloma Muttulingam rightly explains why English language teaching in Sri Lankan schools at present is difficult. Says she: "Students from urban areas, rural areas and remote villages walk into the classroom with absolutely no knowledge of English even without knowing the alphabet. Some students hate the subject as they can’t master the subject as others do. The teacher has to cope with these types of students with patience."

L. A. Leon has this to say: "The printers and publishers of the capital (Colombo) will not bother to print or publish the creative works of the Thamils." Will the editors of the English newspapers and journals take a note of this and correct this failure, please?

A. J. Canagaratna on the translation of African poems in English into Thamil by S. Pathmanathan: "...the translation has helped to light up a whole poetic continent. The selection is fairly representative. The translator may have had his own reasons for giving a larger coverage to Nigeria and Senegal. All the familiar names are here: Senghor, Diop, Okara, Okigbo, Brew, Subadiri, Clark and Soyinka and the not so familiar ones. The poets represented here handle a variety of themes and their tone ranges from the lyrical and the nostalgic to the ironic. An intriguing discovery (for me, at least, was Jagjith Singh’s poem "Portrait of an Asian as an East African". I hope the translator will help the monolingual Thamil reader by providing a comprehensive over-view (both historical and critical) and notes about the chosen poets. As an accomplished bilingual, Mr. Pathmanathan is particularly suited to this task."

K. Gunaraja gives interesting information on hitherto unknown details about Kalooran (Pon. Ganesh) who writes poems in Thamil and English. "The poet has had close contact with JVP comrades during the year 1978 and he was greatly disappointed and dissatisfied with their activities. He symbolizes Karl Marx, Lenin and Castro only to convey that he was much interested in communist philosophy and that he lost faith in it due to chauvinistic activities of the so-called comrades."

Here is a poem by Kalooran in English:

Journeying beyond time and space

Depriving of all my identities crowned

I am out in a space within

All beyond the blade of a grass

All beyond the blade of a flower

One of the ‘new finds’ in English writing coming from the Thamil community in Sri Lanka is Aiyathurai Santhan. Propelling him, Kandiah Shriganeshan gives the following information for those readers in English who should get to know Santhan:

"Santhan won the prestigious Sahitya Academy Prize in 1975 for his short story collection in Thamil titled ‘Oru Oru Orilae’... his first collection in English was ‘The Sparks’ released in 1990. Some of his works appeared in Channels vol. 3 and 5, The Island, Daily News, Third Eye vols 5 and 6.... His knowledge of Sinhala and Russian helped him to understand human issues at different planes...."

An observation here: The reviewer mentions and quotes some writers on Santhan. But he has conveniently forgotten about what this columnist has said on the immensely talented writer. Was it by an oversight or was it deleted by the editor of Third Eye? Strange!

What Regi Siriwardena has said about Santhan’s In Their Own Worlds is a must for any reader to understand the writer and his art.

The reader will find Indran Amirthanayagam’s impressions on Lutesong and Lament—a translated collection of short stories and poems from Sri Lanka edited by Chelva Kanaganayakam, appreciable.

The translations of creative writing in Thamil—short stories, plays and poems—give the reader a clear view of how the young minds writing in Thamil works. The stories "Snakes", "Mother" and the play "Naveena Pasmasuran" and the poems "The Journey", "Infinite Justice" and the original poem in English "Goodbye Sweetheart" and "The Library" are realistic pieces of writing of life in the north.

The article on Thiruvalluvan with apt translation of the couplets from Thirukural is also a useful piece of writing.

Editors Jeyasankar and Rajapillai deserve to be encouraged and noticed.