A creative mind flows like a river - Rohita Munasinghe | Sunday Observer

A creative mind flows like a river - Rohita Munasinghe

30 August, 2020

Rohita Munasinghe is an expatriate Sinhala writer in France. Starting from the Kalu Dumäraya (Dark Smoke), a short story collection in 1996, he has written 33 books, including novels, short stories and several non-fictions. His books on the JVP political movement are controversial, popular books and his second book, Eliyakanda Wada Kandawura (Eliyakanda torture camp) shaped his literary career. The Sunday Observer spoke to him to discuss his books and his art of fiction.


Q: What are your new literary endeavours?

A: New editions of my three previous books are to be published by Sarasavi Publishers. One is Eliyakanda Wada Kandawura (Eliyakanda torture camp) which is a non-fiction and others are novels, titled Seine Gangath Henduwä Madhu Oba Giyadä (The River Seine also wept when you leave me) and Madhurangige Kathäwa (Story of Madhurangi). I have finished writing a new novel too for which I couldn’t select a title as yet.

Q: What is that novel about?

A: Once our family - me, my wife and my eldest son - travelled to Switzerland. My youngest son was three years old and got lost among the crowd in Geneva. We searched for him everywhere, but couldn’t find him. About ten minutes later, we found him at the subway station in Geneva.

Rohita Munasinghe

Though it wasn’t a long time, those ten minutes haunted me, because there were many children who got lost at the time in France. My new novel is based on this incident.

Q: You were first known in Sri Lanka as a writer, when you published Eliyakanda Wada Kandawura which includes your experience of torture during the ‘88 - ‘89 terror period. Could you describe how the book was launched?

A: In the 1980s, I joined the JVP and worked for the party. In 1989, I was captured by the Army and had to spend a year as a political prisoner. It was rare at the time for a youth to survive when caught by the Army. But with sheer luck, I could survive. One thing that kept my spirit in camps was reading books. When I was at the Boossa Army camp, I read all the Sinhala and English books that the Red Cross had brought us. I left the country illegally to France in 1990, which was an incredible journey. Eliyakanda Wada Kandawura was written, when I got political asylum in France. The book, containing my bitter experience in camps was launched in my absence in Sri Lanka in 2000.

Q: You are a speedy writer who launches three or four books for a year?

A: The late writer Chandrasiri Dodangoda also regarded me as a speedy writer. In his last letter to me, he stated, “Writing leisurely is not writing.” There are many materials in my creative store. It is not difficult to write three fictions for a year. The most difficult task for me is to deal with publishers. One publisher destroyed my books by printing manuscripts without proof reading.

Q: Could you elaborate on your art of fiction?

A: I don’t predetermine when I write. I have no plans or sketches. All the things in my fiction emerge from my creative mind and flow like a river. If I predetermine the story, I cannot create something new. Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian writer once said, “A very strange thing happened. You know that pretty girl, Tatyana, she suddenly got married! I never thought she would do such a thing. Anna Karenina also did the same. Some characters in my fiction do so strange things that I never imagine. Their deeds aren’t mine, but theirs.”

As a rule, I start to write a story with one or two images, but with some stories, I see the ending. I have a good memory from childhood. Because of this, I reckon, the things I write automatically come to the page when I sit at the table.

Q: How long have you been writing a novel?

A: For two or three months.

Q: Can you engage in two or more book projects simultaneously?

A: I can write a short story while I write a novel. But it is difficult to write two novels simultaneously.

Q: How do you end a book?

A: I try to end a book with a tragedy. When I write a sad ending, sometimes tears fall from my eyes. A mother who read my novel, Madhurangige Kathäwa once reproached me for its shocking end that created trauma in her.

Q: Your novel, Hinnikathara, deals with a fantasy. Is it easy to write a fantasy novel?

A: No, it is difficult, because there you have to maintain a certain level of realism. If the reader cannot believe the events you describe, he abandons reading. But it is fun to write fantasy. When I was writing Hinnikathara, I enjoyed immensely.

Q: Mostly your characters and settings are from Sri Lanka, not from France where you have been living for 30 years?

A: I write my feelings to which there are geographical boundaries. But when I talk about my home environment in Paris, I see it’s a blend of multi-cultural, globalised Paris life and conservative Sri Lankan life. France or Paris is a place where so many different ethnicities, cultures, languages, customs and ideas are mixed. I have to deal with this reality when I write a fiction. But most of the time, I write my nostalgia about my motherland.

Q: You are an expatriate writer. Is it difficult to write from a foreign country where you don’t hear the mother tongue around you?

A: It is a difficult question to answer. However, it hasn’t been a problem when writing in a language that I cannot hear around me. But there is a problem with regard to the common usage of Sinhala in Sri Lanka as we are less aware of the words and idioms of the contemporary society. It is also difficult to imagine some of the current scenes in Sri Lanka.

For instance, I write about the bullock carts (Bara Karattha) and venders (Kathkaarayan) in my fictions, but I don’t know whether those bullock carts and Kathkaarayan are still functioning.

Q: Do you edit your manuscript before sending to a publisher?

A: I edit my manuscript while writing the book. But there aren’t major corrections in it. I send the first version of the manuscript to the publisher directly. I have no habit of rewriting the manuscript many times.

Q: I heard, you write fiction while you are working at a hotel. Isn’t it?

A: Yes, you are correct. I work at a hotel in Paris. Though I worked from 2.00 pm to 10.00 pm, I am more or less free after 7.00 pm. when I can write a story conjured up during early hours of the day. I am used to this routine.

Q: Is there any person who helps you develop your manuscript?

A: No. I have nobody to develop my manuscript. However, I believe that if my manuscript is developed by somebody else by adding things, it is no more my work.

Q: How do you manage time with writing?

A: I write at my workplace. During my weekend holidays, I spend time with my family and work in the home garden. I read while travelling by subway train. Generally, my life is free as I do not use mobile phones.

Q: France is the heart of the literary world. Have you been influenced by this environment?

A: It’s a sheer luck to be in a country, such as France that produced many great authors. Incidentally, the bus-stand in front of my house is also named ‘Balzak’. All these things are great fortunes for a writer. I was attracted to the French literature when I was a teenager in Sri Lanka.

Q: Who are your favourite authors in France?

A: I like old time authors, such as Maupassant and Victor Hugo. Although now I read them in French, those days I read their literature in Sinhala translations by Dadigama V. Rodrigo, K.G. Karunathilake, Cyril C. Perera, to whom I am indebted to.

Q: What do you think about the Sinhala novels that have been translated into French?

A: Martin Wickramasinghe’s Virägaya, Jayasena Jayakody’s Amä Wessa and a few other novels have been translated into French by Ven. Mandawala Pragnawansa Thera, but none of them were received by the French readers. I don’t know why, but French readers are not interested in Sinhala literature.

Q: What are the new literary trends in France?

A: There isn’t any prolonged literary trend as they are changing every time. However, since last month, readers are interested in President Nicoloi Zarcosi’s book.

There is a demand for thrillers, romantic novels, autobiographies and fantasy books. It is the same for postmodern literature too.