Dingiri Menika novel celebrates 100 years | Sunday Observer

Dingiri Menika novel celebrates 100 years

The Sinhala novel, ‘Dingiri Menika’ authored by a renowned novelist of that era, Piyadasa Sirisena was published in 1918. The story has now reached the milestone of a 100 years. Although the tastes, and sentiments of the present day readers have changed drastically, the novel Dingiri Menika can still be read with relish. A hundred years have gone by, but even today, we see the main character of the novel, Dingiri Menika as a beautiful woman.The novel had been so popular that, it had gone into reprint 6 times and by the 6th reprint in 1956, the novel has had a record sale of over 30,000 copies.

When Dingiri Menika was filmed in 1956, the film too gained the same popularity as the book, as revealed by its income records. The film was made at a cost of Rs.150,000 then, and earned an income of Rs.15 Lakhs. The songs in the film, “Giri Hel Mudune, Peradiga Muthu Atayai me, Sebewa siihinaya maage” are still popular in the modern music charts.

Essence of the story

Dingiri Menika, the only daughter of Meevitigala Nilame of Gampola was boarded with a non Sinhala , Western oriented family in order to learn English. She meets Ranbanda a young student of Dharmaraja College, Kandy, who is from her own village, supposedly of a lower social class.

With Ranbanda’s association and his guidance, she discards the western oriented ways and adapts herself to Sinhalese customs and traditions. Their friendship gradually turned into love.When the parents learnt about this affair, they brought Dingiri Menika home. Ranbanda too leaves school, goes back to the village, and ventures into farming.Their love gradually grows and she insists on an early marriage.

In the meantime, the parents look out for a suitable partner of the same class and caste for Dingiri Menika. Just four days prior to the marriage Dingiri Menika decides to run away from home. On the same day, their maid, Maggie also decides to run away with some valuables stolen from the house. However, in the thick, dark night, in a strange mix up, Dingiri Menika got into the car that was meant for Maggie and Maggie into Dingiri Menika’s car. When they realized their mistake they had travelled too far.

Dingiri Menika who had fallen into the hands of a gang of thieves was taken to a hide –out in the jungle beyond Ganewatta, and held in captivity. Maggie goes to a “bath Kade.” Ranbanda, deeply puzzled and dismayed goes back to Kandy.

Following a case filed in a court of law Ranbanda was sentenced to 3 years and Maggie to 2 years imprisonment. In the meantime, all efforts to find Dingiri Menika failed. After 10 months Meevitigala Nlame meets a detective –Kongoda Wickremapala in a train. After two months of tedious search Wickremapala manages to rescue her from the ‘Wadiya’ in which she was held. Later, despite all barriers they confronted, Ranbanda and Dingiri Menika were united in marriage.

Kongoda Wickremapala

The most remarkable character of the story is that of Wickremapala. The book is titled Dingiri Menika or Wickremapala’s first adventure. It was in 1887 that detective Sherlock Homes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became extensively popular among English readers. Thirty one years later, Sinhala readers meet detective Wickremapala. Although both were detectives, they played different roles. Sherlock was a great detective. But Wickremapala played a broader, complex role of a social reformer.

Bribery was rife even at the time the novel was written, and, to illustrate it he mentions that even if a person wants to get an appointment as a jailer he is required to meet a high official with a leg of a goat, and a big cabbage and the officer also asks for Rs.15 as bribe.

To find a person who will not take a bribe, from a peon to the highest official is as strange and rare as seeing a comet in the vast sky.“Will there ever be justice and fairplay today?” asks Wickremapala.

Author Sirisena abhorred the elitist society which held on to Western culture, fast relinquishing Sinhala customs, traditions and ways. He expresses such thoughts through Wickremapala.

At a time when names,clothes, food, speech and almost everything was pro- Western, it is not surprising for Dingiri Manika who was boarded with a non Sinhala family getting totally influenced. However, Wickremapala appreciates the transformation of Dingiri Menika when Sinhala traditions were accepted on the guidance of Ranbanda.

The author always despised drunkenness. He talks of how we lost our independence and how we were subjugated to the British with the introduction of liquor to our society. In his novel Dingiri Menika, Wickremapala uses this harmful drink to control the enemies. He creates an opportunity to save Dingiri Menika from the clutches of the thieves by introducing sleeping tablets to arrack. While the thieves were enjoying themselves falling one on top of the other, Dingiri Menika was saved and taken away.

There are some beautiful poems in Dingiri Menika as in some other novels of Sirisena.The poems created by Ranbanda while serving in prison, singing the praise of Menika ,and Menike’s poems about Ranbanda ‘ while in the hands of thieves were considered to be of exceptional beauty. Ranbanda’s poem, “Mata hirage hondai numba hititoth sepeni”and Menke’s lyrics “duk bawa nasana thuru obamai mage himi” were often sung by the lovers of the day.

Dingiri Menika, can be enjoyed even today, not only for the beauty of the story but also for its contribution to the reformation of our society.