Dhawala Gosaraviya: a love pentagon? Or There is something about Heen-eki?

Dhawala Gosaraviya is Ajith P. Dharmasuriya’s fourth novel. He has published four children’s books and written lyrics for a recent movie Sri Wickrama. He is also a talented painter.

by Pramod Kandanarachchi
in Brecksville, Ohio

Dhawala Gosaraviya by Ajith P. Dharmasuriya
Genre: Historical Fiction
Sarasavi Publishers
ISBN # 978-955-31-1923-0

Ajith P. Dharmasuriya’s novel Dhawala Gosaraviya that won 1st place at the 2019 Central Province Cultural Story Contest, came out recently. This tale is set in early 20th century in Hambanthota when the society was still feudal, although more traditional social hierarchy had been replaced with a new rich class.

Ajith narrates this fiction mainly from the points of view of Rendarala—a powerful aristocrat of their village—his two wives and his love-interest, Heen-eki.

Dhawala Gosaraviya, somewhat confusing title, is how the author presents Heen-eki to the reader. The title itself is an enigma since the noun Gosaraviya (an unkempt women?) is not a very complementary phrase to refer to a female. Yet, the adjective Dhawala (fair-skinned?) is applied in an incredibly positive light as the source of her beauty. 

Amusingly, Heen-eki’s husband Suddappu, an illegitimate son of a Dutch church musician and a Sinhalese peasant woman, also able to win not only Heen-eki’s hand but the heart of one of Rendarala’s wives too.

Apparently Suddappu’s European complexion, even though a basis of disdain by other men throughout his life, doesn’t hurt him with the opposite sex (in an unrelated note: the obsession for the ‘fair-skin’ by those living in Indian Sub-Continent (with many skin-care products endorsed by many celebrities to make someone look whiter) is out of touch and frowned upon by contemporary Woke-culture in the West). But that is a subject for separate discussion.

Dhawala Gosaraviya is Ajith P. Dharmasuriya’s fourth novel. He has published four children’s books and written lyrics for a recent movie Sri Wickrama. He is also a talented painter.

Interestingly, there is a cameo appearance by Leonard Woolf—assistant Government Agent in Southern Province who is well known as the author of the novel The Village in the Jungle (Baddegama). In fact, Ajith was motivated to write this novel after reading his Diaries in Ceylon.

 There is also a spectacular entrance of Halley’s Comet in 1910 that is vividly described by Ajith. All the villagers travel to Kande Viharaya (on Bullock Carts and on foot) joined by Leonard Woolf in person (on a Horse Carriage) to witness this event. Although Halley’s Comet is generally thought of as a bad omen, it was the happiest day of Heen-eki’s life.

There are many background stories throughout the novel that sometimes veer away the reader from more exciting parts. Those are mainly disputes of various characters battling for dominance as the traditional village is converting to a more commercial entity. The author shows immense maturity in understanding the socio-economic forces operating in that era.

The main conflict of the story arises from complex relationships among Rendarala, his wives Karlinahami and Katharina, his cousin Punchirala, Heen-eki and her husband Suddappu. It is not clear whether this was a love-pentagon or even a love-hexagon depending on the situations. And Heen-eki definitely has something about her that attracts many suitors.  On the other hand, it may not be different to what many females face at public transport, workplace or even at places of worship especially if they are ‘Dhawala’ irrespective of whether they are ‘Gosaraviya’ or not.

Despite living in a conventional society, their outlook of life when it comes to amatory affairs is furthest from traditional. None of them confine their behaviors to Victorian values that the European rulers subjected us for centuries. How Rendarala can genuinely love all three women in his life (simultaneously in this case) is indeed astonishing.

However tough, wealthy and powerful Rendarala is, he still cannot have children. So, there is nobody to pass on his wealth or carry his name. And that is eating him up inside. Then, he has this obsession with Heen-eki. To make matters worse Katharina is fond of Suddappu. The lust for Heen-eki on one hand and the jealousy of her husband Suddappu on the other and the guilt in his heart consumes Rendarala’s soul.

This is when the author, Ajith Dharmasuriya, decides to look beyond the shortcomings of the exterior of Rendarala and see the powerful humanity in his heart. Ajith manages to appreciate the complexities of all of them and bring out the goodness of their characters.

This makes Ajith an exceptional storyteller. That is also what makes Dhawala Gosaraviya special and worth reading.

Veteran actor Sriyantha Mendis in his postscript to the novel wishes that this work someday become a visual art. There are all the ingredients for a popular and meaningful movie inside this story.

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