A Novel by Mrs. Jayani Pinnawala- Translated by Edmund Jayasuriya
‘Originality is independence, not rebellion; it is sincerity, not antagonism’
-George Henry Lewes
The background to Jayani Pinnawala’s novel ‘Samukka’ is the 1987–89 insurrection. The book touches on the islandwide uprising and focuses on a section of the youth in Thunkama, the area under reference in this novel. Frustration in these youth forced them to take up arms.
They then engaged in sporadic fights against the authorities, who to these youth were inimical to them and the society. They desired changes to society. The novel focuses on the role of a young boy, Wickrama, who hails from an aristocratic and well to do middle class family. He is the only child of Tittawellas. The protagonist Wickrama is described as different from the rest of the members of other wealthy families he is related to. He detested the cravings of these wealthy persons.
The discussions at home, especially when Wickrama’s mother initiated conversations, were aimed at sustaining the affluent position of the clan. From his childhood Wickrama lived a calm and quiet life. Whenever he managed to get out of home he enjoyed himself with poor youth. Some of his close associates were Cyril and Swarna (Cyril’s sister) who lived in the neighborhood. He was an avid reader, convinced and determined to achieve what he believed in.
He always questioned events which took place around him. In the chapters that take a peep in to his inquisitive mind it is revealed that he wished to forge a close relationship with his teacher. He believed that the teacher shared the same philosophy as he and was frustrated with the decadent society and the plight of the downtrodden masses.
Wickrama was also a youth who viewed the society giving more value to the feelings of people. He often lamented over the degeneration of the upper class which was caused by its life style. The upper class looked down upon the rest of society and regarded them as non entities. These things contributed towards these youth becoming frustrated. Wickrama’s family considered others to undesirables and never permitting him to mingle with them. However, Wickrama on other hand desired to be with them and endured their friendship. In fact he was in love with Swarna, who was one of them.
In the face of ongoing rebellious activities, which featured insurgent groups, the author outlines how circumstances drive this youth out of his home. Feelings of frustration drive him to detach himself from his parents and set in to the world outside, despite he not receiving permission nor the blessings of his parents. Wickrama is determined to serve a cause for the betterment of youth and society. Initially he wants to see reality and understand this struggle. He believes he can obtain a hands-on experience about life through his choice. Stepping in to society he learns about several issues plagues the society, like caste differences. He also learns about conflicts, limited opportunities that exist for education and issues connected with unemployment. These issues highlight that a working class exists. The novel also focuses on events which highlight the attacks carried out on state property and armed forces by unemployed youth, living in rural areas. The book highlights the close study the author has done on the negative environment that existed during these times. That environment made the frustrated youth rebel against society.
Wickrama understood the prevailing situation because he was a studious lad. Since he was well-read he was always articulate during conversations and arguments. The author describes him as a down to earth person. The social set-up and the events during this time lead him to fully embrace socialism. He offers his support to a group which the Government doesn’t wish to see exist. His wealthy parents are initially worried and suspicious of their son’s behavior. They make plans to protect him from being murdered by the armed forces. In their attempt to save their son, the parents sacrifice their health, wealth and titles.
‘Samukka’ is a Sarasavi publication and is available in leading book stores in both Sinhala and English Languages
Using their lofty social status Wickrama’s parents bring him home and send him abroad for higher studies. This severed the contacts Wickrama had with all his neighbour friends. The Government sent the rebels who surrendered and those who were captured to rehabilitation camps.
Besides Wickrama, the author gives accounts of other courageous and brave young characters like Cyril and Swarna. They all leave their relatively peaceful lives to join the revolution for the establishment of a socialist society. But Wickrama’s character is very powerful. He is the only son of wealthy parents, who own a lot of property. Yet he disowns his father, drops a comfortable lifestyle and opts to become a social activist. The author’s depiction of this character is strong enough to make the reader fall in love with him. After completing his studies in India, Wickrama returns home and learns that his friend was murdered in a rehabilitation camp and that Swarna has left home without leaving a trace. Although he has become a successful musician and a writer he realizes that his dreams have been shattered. This situation brings great sorrow to him.
Wickrama is presented with an award for the book he has written, based on his own experiences during the revolutionary years. The book helps him unite with Swarna, his love.
‘Samukka’ is a masterpiece by Mrs. Jayani Pinnawala in which she depicts a heartwarming story of a revolutionary teenager who wants to establish in society the equal rights of the people. In this novel we can understand the bitter truth associated with the society and the never ending conflict between the suppressors and the suppressed.
Though Wickrama rose from the dumps during the insurrection, his friend Cyril ended up dead in a camp. Events like this happen even everyday in our society. The story is an incredible eye-opener for the present generation about real life. It mirrors Government changes, abuse of wealth and power, limitless love and the affection of parents.
Mrs. Pinnawala writes about what happens to families; especially the young and what realities they experience during times of revolution. She shows us how people like Wickrama overcome obstacles, and the manner in which they grow in the face of challenges. People like Wickrama have had to usually put up a fight to become someone and find their place in the society. In this society, one is either born in a castle or in to family stricken with poverty. It is a fight-or-die world. The strongest and the wealthiest always survive while the weak usually perish, unless a strong one takes them under his wing.
This story sends a very important message to the reader. It tells us all to look in to the past and learn from it instead of repeating it. This is because if we keep going down the path our youth twice went on, we would end up obtaining the same results again.
‘Samukka’ is a Sarasavi publication and is available in leading book stores in both Sinhala and English Languages.
(Rusheni Maningamuwa Assistant Manager Imports Sarasavi Group)