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Six Short Stories & Hundred Insights

These short stories discuss a range of social and human themes such as women’s empowerment, JVP insurrection, ethnic conflict, abortion, deception, grief, and lust.

by Pramod Kandanarachchi

අපරාදේ ඒ නොවැම්බර් (That Lamentable November)

Author: Kapila M. Gamage

ISBN: 978-955-677-870-0

Published by Fast Printers (Pvt) Ltd. (2020)

The latest collection of short stories by Kapila M. Gamage was shortlisted for Rajatha Pusthaka, Vidyodaya Literary, and Godage Literary Awards this year.

At the end of his Preface to the book, Kapila challenges us: “Read the book and be brutal in your criticism”.

Kapila M Gamage

So, here we go.

These short stories discuss a range of social and human themes such as women’s empowerment, JVP insurrection, ethnic conflict, abortion, deception, grief, and lust.

Kapila M. Gamage is known as a Poet in contemporary Sri Lankan literary circles. This is his second attempt as a short storyteller after a long hibernation. His first short story collection සෝදාපාළුව සහ තවත් කතා (Erosion and Other Tales) was published twenty-three years ago. He has a long career in Mass Communication field.

His past literary work and comments in social media confine him to ප්රබුද්ධ (Prabuddha) artistic model that is some enlightened form of expression embraced by many young and idealistic in Sri Lanka since 1960s. The writing is done in such a way to guide the reader to some deep subtext using symbolism. Therefore, you need to be prepared to decipher Kapila’s poetries presented in code (sometimes utilizing linguistic gymnastics too) to enjoy and most importantly, to glimpse inside his head that is a sea of insights.

However deep he buries the intentions of his artform and expect the reader to decode the true meanings of his verses, one thing was crystal clear as I have been reading this collection of short stories.

Almost all of his female characters are strong-willed, capable, outspoken, and non-conformist. And their male partners are empathetic and progressive. Amusingly, perhaps not by design but by accident, even a skirmish between two dogs ends up with the female one winning. So, it seems that Kapila M. Gamage is a serious subscriber to feminism. Maybe he is just a fan of Wonder Woman.

Me too!

I also noticed that there were many words from the author to justify the viewpoints of his female characters. However, I sometimes felt that it was not necessary. I wish Kapila would have allowed his protagonists to display their intellectual depth and strength in character by virtue of their own roles in the stories without any assistance from him. This comment is in no way to undermine the ideas of life, politics, and society that Kapila offers in his commentaries. There is a plethora of wisdom and wit throughout the book.

The story that I most admired out of seven is “කිරි කිරි බෝලේ - රැලි රැලි මාලේ” (kiri kiri bole – rali rali maale). Kapila employees this nursery rhyme to symbolically express psychological torment of Menaka, who was a head-strong and unconventional girl once in her youth. This story discusses abortion, a taboo subject in Sri Lanka although it is widely practiced there often in unsafe conditions. Once they found out about the baby, Menaka preferred to terminate the pregnancy despite her boyfriend Kosala’s objections. Author does not reveal the reasons why she made that choice. The heavy burden of that decision ruins their relationship.

Although Kosala’s regrets about that choice is shown, it is not discussed deeply. But Kapila reveals the deep anguish that Menaka undergoes in a very humane and symbolic language. Kapila makes us appreciate the human angle of this difficult issue.

Another emotional story is වසුමති පූජා (Wasumathi Pooja). Kapila was inspired to write this after the writer Anu Sivalingam from Kilinochchi shared her painful memories of the ethnic conflict.

Kapila had decided to use his 5th story අපරාදේ ඒ නොවැම්බර් (That Lamentable November) as the title of this work. Interestingly, this one is not written in ප්රබුද්ධ (Prabuddha) mode and there is no apparent symbolism. This is written in the perspective of Nayanananda, a JVP activist in 1988/89 and his girlfriend Khema who was killed in that conflict. The problem with political stories is that neither the readers nor critics can decouple their own political beliefs when enjoying or commenting. He laments the decision by JVP to support a former General from the Army as a candidate for Presidential Election. He sees it as an abandonment of their cause for which Khema gave her life. Obviously, the reality of this dark chapter in our history is multifaceted.

One fable where Kapila uses symbolism in a mischievous manner is ජිතේන්ද්ර නම් වූ විගාමිකයා (An Atheist named Jithendra). I will let you read the book and figure it out for yourself. This one reminds me Kapila M. Gamage’s very first collection of poems අසික්කිතයාගේ සිහිනය (Asikkithayage Sihinaya) published in 1982.

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