The creative art of Anula de Silva | Sunday Observer

The creative art of Anula de Silva

23 August, 2020

Anula De Silva is a veteran writer, translator and a journalist. She had been contributing to the Mihira newspaper, a Lake House publication since its inception in 1964 and subsequently worked for eight newspapers for nearly half a century as a journalist and editor.

More than 100 books including popular novels such as, Ahas Maligä, Unmaththakayö, Manjeshwaree, Maha Muhuda Mamai and popular translations such as Deviyangë Adawiya (Not without my Daughter), Thunweni Birinda (Third Wife),Pilikä Wättuwa (Cancer Word’), Tibbatha Diyaniya, (Daughter of Tibbatha), Thittha Köpi have been published by her.

Her latest literary endeavours include the launching of two translations, a novel and a young adult novel, all of which are to be launched in September at the annual International Book Fair at the BMICH. The Sunday Observer spoke to Anula de Silva about her new literary event and her art of fiction.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q. What is this literary endeavour?

A. There are two new Sinhala translations Hiri Othap and Adaraneeya Wiyaruwa, and a new novel Api Mahalu Wayasë (When we are old) and an adolescent novel s Histhenala Sita (From a blankPlace are to be launched next month.

Hiri Othap is a Sinhala translation of The Best Laid Plans by Sydney Sheldon, which is about an American President’s love affair while Adaraneeya Wiyaruwa is a Sinhala translation of Some Inner Fury by Kamala Markandaya which is about a love affair between a Hindu woman and a White man during the time of the freedom struggle in India.

The novel, Api Mahalu Wayasë includes a love affair between Sri Lankan woman and foreign lecturer though their age difference is very wide, and Histhenaka Sita describes the life of an orphan girl from a children’s home.

Q. How was the novel, Api Mahalu Wayase written? Or what is your art of fiction?

A. Every novel I write is more or less associated with people I know, but the characters are not exclusively about them. Characters are developed from a few known facts about them and largely from the unknown facts about them. Take the woman behind the protagonist of this novel. She died recently and was in her fifties. I was at that funeral and got to know that the woman who passed away, had a love affair not only with that foreigner, but also with another man. So, the novel was written based on this sad story. However, the protagonist in the book lives on unlike her real character.

In my fiction I develop my protagonists by means of real persons in society, and every time I create a female protagonist, I try to implant some courage in her. Therefore, every woman protagonist in my fiction is a courageous one as is the case with this novel too. And also I generally do research on my fictitious protagonists.. When I was writing Manjeshwaree I had to do a lot of research. That novel was based on a real love affair between a Sri Lankan naval officer and a Hindu girl from India.

The naval officer had to go for training in India and there he meets this girl, Manjeshwaree. But you know according to our laws, a soldier cannot marry a foreigner. However, in this particular incident the naval officer was offered the permission to marry his lover through revising the laws by then President Chandrikä Bandaranaika Kumaratunga.

So, when I wrote this novel I had to do excessive research on India’s naval headquarters, its related places, and the laws of our naval system.

Q. Do you predetermine the storyline?

A. Generally, I decide on the role of the characters from the outset, but it is not a rigid plan. The narrative must be attentive to the needs of a particular moment, and the editing process will also affect the storyline. In that context nothing is predetermined in fiction writing.

Q. Do you revise the story when you are editing it?

A. I do not make major corrections now, but at the beginning I sometimes rewrote the story and revised the storyline. Now rewriting is very rare.

Q. How long do you take to write a novel?

A. At least one year. When I began to write, I took years. Now it is somewhat quicker. I write about two, three pages per day now. And there are times when I couldn’t write at all. My new novel, Mata Mahalu Wayasë’ was written over almost two years. But I don’t take that much time for a translation as there is no such revision.

Q. Do you write or type directly on a computer?

A. I don’t key on a computer, I write. Writing by hand is a time consuming process, but it is easy going. If I write on a computer, it will disturb my imagination. Some of my writer friends key directly on computer, but in my view they are also like computers, very artificial.

This is the same for the paintings or illustrations. You know Sybil Wettasinghe, the late veteran artist drew on paper by hand, but when we see some of the work other artists have drawn on computer, we can see clearly the difference between them. In fact, when we write, we not only write words, but our feelings too. Without feelings no art can be created.

Q. Are you inspired by other writers?

A. I don’t follow other writers, but when I was a schoolgirl, I greatly respected Martin Wickramasinghe. He was a god for me in literature. I loved his fiction very much, especially his Gamperaliya. This influence was so much that I did my M.A. Degree on his short stories.

I even registered for it at the Sri Jayawardenepura University. But ultimately, I couldn’t accomplish it because of my pregnancy. However, I was influenced by his stories at the beginning.

Q. You have produced more translations than your original books. What is the main qualification to be a good translator?

A. It is the creativity or talent. Without a talent or creativity you cannot translate fiction.

Most people say that my translations can be read as originals or that they don’t feel that they are translations. The reason for it is their emotional quality. This emotional quality derives from the talent.

Q. Some critics say that you are concise when you translate a book?

A. Generally I don’t do so, but when I was translating Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, I had to shorten some of the repeated lines and dull details. Still, readers say it is heavy. However, I don’t translate word to word.

Once a reader called me and said he thoroughly enjoyed the book Ädaraya Balä Hindee, my translation of Ba jin’s novel. He said it was more entertaining than the English translation.

Q. You spoke about Martin Wickramasinghe. Have you met him personally?

A. No. I never met him, but I have seen him on one or two occasions. When I was working at the Mihira newspaper, our editor, Sumana Saparamadu who was a relative of Wickramasinghe, told me Martin Wickramasinghe was seriously ill and to write an article about him.

I started to write it but when I was writing it, I heard the news that he had passed away. That was a very sad moment for me. I felt if I had written that M.A. thesis on his short stories, I would have met him. Actually, I still consider it the best Sinhala novel so far is Wickramasinghe’s Gamperaliya, The flowing of it is very beautiful and characters such as Kaisäruwatthe Munhandiram, Mätara Hämine, Nandä and Anulä still live in our villages.

Q. Who are the other writers you admire?

A. Prof. Sarachchandra was my tutor in my last year at the University of Peradeniya. I participated in his Nirmäna Panthiya (Creative writing class) at the university and he praised me most of the time when I presented literary work in it. I remember my short story, Jeewitha Äshäwa was highly praised by him at the Nirmäna Panthiya. When all the others were critical about it, he and Thissa Kayawasam who was my batchmate, appreciated it.

Later Thissa said to me that his first ever review was about my short story. And my novel Unmatthakayö was also serialised at the Riwiresa newspaper because of him. It was the first novel that was serialised in a Sinhala newspaper in Sri Lanka. And Gunadasa Amarasekara was also an admirer of my work. I once wrote a short story when I was schooling, and he sent me a letter appreciating it.

Q. How do you think of Dr. Sarachchandra?

A. He was a true artiste, writer and a scholar. He was never rude to students and when he was lecturing, he did it as a normal activity, never gave us notes .I loved him very much because of his calmness and soft approach to students. His lectures were very interesting as he did it taking examples of day to day life.

Q. Are you influenced by foreign writers?

A. Anton Chekov influenced me more than any other Russian writer. Foreign writers didn’t influence me, though I translated world literature into Sinhala.

Q. Do you have a specific place and time to write?

A. No, I haven’t any of those. There is a palm tree in front of my house and I write under it keeping a chair and a wooden plank during the day. At night I write on a terribly messed up table though I have a confortable table in my bedroom.

Q. We heard your books were destroyed by the tsunami in 2004. How did the tsunami affect you?

A. Yes, all my books and paper cuttings except my manuscripts were destroyed by the tsunami. When sea water flooded my house, I had no time to save my books. I was nearly swept away by it. However, the water level stopped at my neck and at that time I saw my manuscripts were on a table with a table cloth in the living room.

I quickly wrapped those manuscripts and other files on that table cloth, and threw them to the upper floor. Because of this all of them were saved. But I was worried about my paper cuttings and old Rasa Waahini magazines that were lost forever. On the whole more than three thousand books were destroyed bythe , but those books mostly were new prints I took from the printing presses to s sell.