A travelogue for young adults | Sunday Observer

A travelogue for young adults

11 April, 2021

Title: Let’s Go Somewhere

Author: Carmini Sinnetamby

Let’s Go Somewhere is a travelogue for young adults, originally written for radio talks the author gave on the School’s Service of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation in the 1970s.

The author Carmini Sinnetamby, a veteran school teacher was invited to give these radio talks to teach children English. But Carmini who had an artistic and literary talent, designed these talks not only to teach them English, but also to widen their knowledge and kindle their imagination about their own country.

Eventually the output turned out to be an excellent travelogue for young adults. However, Carmini made no attempt to publish the book during her lifetime though she compiled it as a book before her untimely death for the benefit of children of her friends and relations who were abroad, mostly in Australia. Nevertheless, her family published it in 1979 posthumously.

Travel sketches

Let’s Go Somewhere consists of travel sketches written in the form of two fictional youngsters’ guided tour of Sri Lanka with their parents. The two youngsters in the book are Gamini and Sita – the characters may have been named based on historical fictional antecedentes – They start their journey in Kataragama, and then proceed all over the country – Wilpattu, Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Mannar, Yapahuwa, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee, Kandy, Uthuwankande, Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Hatton and Maskeliya, Nuwara Eliya, Ratnapura and Colombo.

At the beginning the author presents an interesting introduction on how Gamini and Sita persuaded their father to go on the journey, which enables the reader to understand as to how the journey was launched and the importance of travel.

Vivid accounts

The first chapter of the book, the journey to Kataragama begins like this:

“Gamini and Sita are far away in a jungle known as ‘Deiange Kale’ or God’s jungle. They are bathing in the Manik Ganga beneath the ‘kumbuk’ trees at Kataragama with hundreds of pilgrims. Every now and again cries of ‘Aro harai’ or Sadhu, Sadhu!’ rise. Swell and pass in a wave over the holy place.

“On their long journey here Thatha had told them how when he as a child he had to walk twelve miles along a jungle track to get here, and he described how the monkeys would leap alongside and overhead from tree to tree. Today, they had driven in their car right up to the river. Looking around at all the new buildings, boutiques, shops and pilgrim’s rests he couldn’t help remarking over and over again, ‘How different it is now!’”

Simple language

Each chapter presents the reader a vivid account of their journey, and it painlessly teaches the characteristics of the places, giving vast knowledge about its historical background. The author’s easy style, simple language and the fictional form of the book also help in this matter. The following extract, from the fourth chapter Anuradhapura 1, is a good example:

“’Lovamapaya’, ‘Brazen Palace,’ shouted Sita and Gamini, respectively. They looked at each other wondering what the other had said, and then burst out laughing when they realised that they had both really said the same thing. From one corner Gamini set out counting the rows of pillars in one direction, and Sita on the other. They both arrived at the same number, forty, and after quick multiplication they came up with 1,600 as the total number of pillars.

“’I wonder what the palace was like in those days when Dutugemunu first built it,’ said Sita.

“’It was a monastery with nine storeys standing on these pillars and roofed with shining brass. On each floor there were a hundred rooms, all decorated in silver and gold and gems. In the middle of the building, they say, there was a gilded hall on golden pillars studded with pearls and in that hall there was an ivory throne canopied by a white umbrella. As you can imagine, this building was attacked again and again during the wars with the Tamils.’ Thatha went on to tell them that the Mahavamsa relates how various kings at different times tried to repair it.’ (Page 21)

Balanced view of the author

The unique characteristic of these accounts is that they give us a thorough knowledge about history through easy reading. Though the main reason for it is its fictional form, there is another reason for it. It is the author’s very balanced view towards the historical episodes of each location. She never understates or distorts the Tamil attacks on Buddhist Viharas and Sinhala Buddhists, during the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa eras although she too was a Tamil. The following extract from the second chapter The South Coast is a classic example:

“The children knew quite a lot about Dutugemunu – stories about his willfulness as a child and his greatness as a king – how when he was only twelve years old he refused to eat milk rice and promised his father that he would never wage war on the Tamils; then, how he lay curled up in his bed and told his mother when she asked him why he slept in that position, ‘How can I stretch out? There’s no room with the ocean on one side and the Tamils on the other,’ and later how he rode his elephant, Kandula, to victory against the Tamils and nobly honoured the defeated King Elara by building a tomb and ordering that whoever passed it should do so on foot and in silence as a mark of respect.” (Page 9)

Lack of aesthetic value

However, there are drawbacks in the book too. One is the reporting style which results in a lack of emotional content. Because of this, the aesthetic value of each description in the book is low despite its fictional form. But it’s not a surprise when we think about how the book was published. As said earlier, it was originally written for radio talks, and the author herself evolved them to a prose. The other thing is the book was published posthumously which means the author wasn’t able to prepare it to be published as a book. So it is not strange at all to publish a travelogue lacking in aesthetic value.

Nevertheless, we should admire the family members of the author who ventured to publish the book, even posthumously. In fact Let’s Go Somewhere should find a place on the shelves of every public, school and private library in Sri Lanka not only because it gives the reader a vast knowledge about our history in a charmingly informal style, but because it merges the history and the geography of places. As Erin Muller states on the back cover of the book, “It will surely inspire readers to discover for themselves Sri Lanka’s ‘storied past’ as well as her fast – developing present and future”. Yes, here is a book that children will value and it should be reprinted again and again.