Martin Wickramasinghe’s books are of high value - Dayapala Jayanetti | Sunday Observer

Martin Wickramasinghe’s books are of high value - Dayapala Jayanetti

25 July, 2021

Dayapala Jayanetti is a close associate of the late Martin Wickramasinghe, foremost Sinhala writer in Sri Lanka. He works at the Martin Wickramasinghe Trust, editing and publishing his books. When Wickramasinghe was alive, he was the proof reader of his books too. So, we spoke to him to discuss Martin Wickramasinghe’s literary life as Wickramasinghe’s 45th death anniversary fell on July 23. Dayapala Jayanetti is a veteran writer of more than dozen books including award winning books.


Q: You are always a great admirer of Martin Wickramasinghe. What is the significance of his books today?

A: I am now preparing a book on his literature titled Martin Wickramasinghe Grantapadanaya (Analysis of Martin Wickramasinghe books). I try to summarise all his books in this single volume. In fact, I was amazed by his insight when I reviewed his books for this volume.

He foresaw today’s life some 60 – 70 years before. For instance, in his science education book Grameeya Vidya Praweshanaya (A Preface to Local Science) published in 1931, he explains on pandemics. There he elaborates about pandemics that spread through air which is very much similar to Covid-19.

He also mentions about quarantines too which amazed me thoroughly.

In his book Sinhala Sakaskada (A Collection of Sinhala Articles Finely Edited) published in 1961, he said that our culture was confronted with Hindu culture long before it confronted with Western culture. So he suggests that it would be necessary to persuade university students to write a Ph.D. thesis on this mix of cultures. However, that type of thesis was yet to be published as our university lecturers and students are not interested in reading Wickramasinghe books which is a sad thing.

He also talks about the chaotic life that we are waging now in this volume. He said that “After Independence we, as a nation, rapidly changed to a complete confusion just because of our politicians who badly organized our changing society at the outset.”

In the Sinhala Sakaskada he describes about the menace of illegal drugs while in the other book Wrukshlatha Saha Satwayo (Forests and Animals) published in 1916 he discusses the importance of nature for life.

In this way his books are very much relevant to today’s life. In my view, these books should be read over and over again. But unfortunately no one goes to use his library in the National Library at Torrington.

Q: You worked with Martin Wickramasinghe since 1969 until his death in 1976?

A: Martin Wickramasinghe was a person who read immensely. Because of his unrelenting reading for more than 75 years, his sight was started to weak soon after I met him - I first met him in 1969. He was completely blinded in 1976. His last novel, Bhawa Taranaya was published in 1973. Due to his lack of vision I proofread it completely. At that time I worked as a teacher at a school in Horana. I went to meet him on weekends and holidays. I think the seven years that I spent with him since 1969 to 1976, is a memorable time in my life, because I learnt so much from him during that time.

Q: What are your special memories about him?

A: Those days so many people visited him. Civil servants such as Bradmand Weerakoon, writers such as Sarachchandra, Gunadasa Amarasekara, K. Jayathilake, Siri Gunasinghe and journalists always came to see him at his house in Nawala.

In 1974 he started to write a book as Manawa Vidyawa haa Sinhala Sanskrutiya (Anthropology and Sinhala Culture), because he was grown a passion to write on cultural anthropology in this time. But his sight was so much weak that he couldn’t read or write in his study room. So he came to verandah to write the book by means of the sunlight and a magnifying glass. As he had to refer many books for this writing, I had to assist him by bringing out the necessary books from his library when he asked me to bring.

One day he asked me to collect a book from a location in one of his bookshelves which he dictated by his memory. I brought the book which was Mirror for Man by Clyde Klok Form, a cultural anthropologist. Not only that, he asked me to turn a page of the book and read the sketches that he had written on the margin of the pages in pencil. I got a spine chilling feeling by his extraordinary memory.

I think this last book of him, Anthropology and Sinhala Culture is of high value for the readers. There is a chapter in it titled Weven Upan Sinhala Sabyatwaya (Sinhalese Civilisation Emerged From the Tank). There he says that, “The first seeds for an Independent Sinhala civilization was planted not by King Vijaya, but by King Pandukabhaya who built the first tank in Sri Lanka. A tank cannot be built by a small group of people, but by a large number of people.” He further said that if you want to remove the mud at the bottom of a tank, you first have to stir the water with elephants, and then open the mud sluice gate of the tank to drain off them to paddy fields as they are fertilisers for the crops.

Q: WIckramasinghe is a writer who wrote early in the morning?

A: Yes, he awoke early and came to his study room at about 5 o’clock. After taking his morning coffee, he started to read and write until 9 o’clock. His library had about six thousand books, and every morning he walked around the bookshelves and selected the books that he wanted to read. He treated his library as his own baby.

Most of his books include the notes he wrote on the margin of the pages. Once, his son, Dr. Ranga Wickramasinghe catalogued his books in the library in a different manner. Martin Wickramasinghe was very angry about it, because with that new manner he couldn’t find the books as he was used to.

Q: If I say Wickramasinghe had a balance between the peers of life and social activity?

A: Definitely, he participated in every literary event in Colombo if one invited him to come. And he visited his native place Koggala too most of the time. He didn’t forget about the villagers and his friends in Kogglaga. Not only that, he also brought up six children with good manner. He played with them when he was free. Dr. Ranga Wickramasinghe, his youngest son wrote a book on this matter. And he encouraged his children to read and write. Because of this he had a good family life.

I should also mention that he helped so many writers in Sri Lanka. In fact, there are more than thousand letters sent by various people including prominent writers and their wives to thank him for his helping.

Q: Don’t you have an idea to publish a selection of those letters?

A: Yes, we are planning to publish them. Now we have collected four volumes of them. Especially, we have a lot of letters corresponded with Dr. Sarachchandra. He sent many letters when he worked as an ambassador to France. There he mentions that the person behind the most of his accomplishments was Martin Wickramasinghe, and that “without you I might not be lived thus far.” People only speak about the disagreement between these writers, but they associate each other thoroughly. I remember the day in 1974 Dr. Sarachchandra came to see Wickramasinghe when he was ready to leave the country for his new appointment as an ambassador to France. Sarachchandra worshipped him before he leaves.

Q: Could you recall Wickramasinghe’s last effort to write?

A: His last book was Wyawahara Bhashawa haa Parinaama Dharmaya (Practical Language and Evolution), a scholarly book. At that time his vision was weak. He couldn’t read words. So I was the one who wrote for him when he dictated me. He himself wrote some pages in it, though he couldn’t read them. I not only proofread and corrected the manuscript, I finished the book with his sketches written in various places. The book was started in March and April 1974, and it was published in July 1974. His last written words were also in that manuscript.