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A Book review of Thisuri Wanniarachchi’s novel, Colombo streets, by Professor Sunanda Mahendra, Daily News 2009

Portrait of a grief stricken young girl
Professor Sunanda Mahendra
colombo streets, a short novel by Thisuri Wanniarachchi,
Vijitha Yapa publications May 2009,
103 pages.
Rs. 300This maiden creative effort by a 14-year old Sri Lankan writer revolves round the character of a upper middle class young girl called Sarah. She has been gifted with quite a lot of skills inclusive of sports and studies. She is being looked after by her parents who live with her grandmother, who is portrayed as a talented business-minded lady who has a hand in the promotion of her son’s business dealings.As a result she, though busy, tries to manage the domestic front, looking after Sarah, her brother Nirvan and an adopted girl, who is evidently a family member.

She is Indeevari who has lost her parents as well as family connections, which is gradually revealed as a sub narrative in the central experience of the life of Sarah.

While Sarah, Indeevari and Nirvan grow up to be young and talented, a strange fatality befalls on Sarah which disturbs the tenor of sensitivity of family links. Sarah though a gifted swimmer as well as an athlete, gets a cancerous growth for which no stone is left unturned in the medical field at home.

Then they proceed to Singapore to get more treatment, which presumably does not change for a better state. What is most striking about this narrative is the way the ballad-like situations are revealed with a restraint effect on the reader. I am sure the writer does not fall into the pits of banality and sentimentality which would have been visualised in such a narrative as this.

To be frank I remembered the popular novel ‘The Love Story’ by Eric Segal which was also made into a popular film. Though the comparison is not at all regarded, it must be emphasised that Thisuri’s narrative has similarities which she would not have known. But I don’t want to make any further comparison on this point. May it be said in good earnest that the short narrative or novella, Colombo Streets is a welcome variant to the existing pattern of most humane stories we pick up easily from book shelves. Most significantly the narrative is page moving to the point that a reader of my calibre visualises the subtext or the inner layer much more vital than the mere upper textual layer of the storyline. In 23 short chapters, Thisuri draws the attention on a pivotal protagonist Sarah and the family members as entrapped in a complex web of fatality. But the point in focus is that the young girl Sarah, despite her return with a disgusted mood of sorrow, is given a spiritual dose of healing process, which is the moment of illumination. What else can an individual stoop down to do, when all the medical discoveries fail to bring back the required recovery? The narrative in this vital moment of illumination highlights that even some of the age old perhaps believed to be irrational rituals, may be a certain degree of solace to a grieved person. May this not be regarded as a serious psychological nuance in the life of a person in turmoil?

As the narrative flows the reader too encounters certain moments where the depiction of the generation gap too is fused. The habits and the patterns of behaviour in young and old dare not strange. But the duality of this nature edifies the narrative in certain ways. The writer has a penetrative skill in the use of the dialogue over shadows, authorial comments. I was touched by the words:

“Sarah and her parents sat in the doctor’s consultation room for the doctor had gone to the washroom to return. It was now three months since they returned from Singapore. If the doctors were right, Sarah can’t be alive by now. The monk had said to Sarah that compassion is the medicine for all diseases and she believed it. She was now a vegetarian. So was her whole family. Hours of meditation and yoga made her feel stronger.

The situation of the attitude of Sarah develops a point where she feels better as she contemplates, as she comes home.

‘Nothin can last forever’ Sarah thought. She looked out of the shutter. She could see a rainbow appearing through the clouds. ‘Things will change’, she thought. ‘They always have’. (103pp)

Though to my mind the title of the ‘Colombo Streets’ is not quite apt, the writer may have reckoned it as symbolic.COLOMBO STREETS(less) ”

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