“....Lamps and flowers and incense for sale. The women at the stalls snap the stalks off the flowers with impressive speed and hand them to the devotees. It’s like an assembly line. Everything is a little business, sprung up around the god.”
- The Dancers, Names and Numbers (page 9)
“…perhaps he had a way of leaving his voice switched on while the rest of him went to sleep?”
- The Journey, Names and Number (page 41)
“This is a complex story with vignettes of familiar scenarios: who has not experienced the plea of someone to fill out a form? Or the cold, soullessness of the visa officer? What story could a visa officer tell, I wonder?”
- Somasiri Devendra, speaking at the launch of ‘Names and Numbers’
The first thing that catches the eye is the cover of the book. It’s a vivid eye catching blue and yellow. A bright blue banner on a yellow background. The first impulse is to look a little closer at the yellow background– what exactly does it show?
A cool balmy evening in Colombo recently saw the launch of ‘Names and Numbers’, Chiranthi Rajapakse’s debut collection of short stories. Published by Perera Hussein publishers, the collection consists of fourteen short stories.
BOOK LAUNCH- ‘Names and Numbers’
The evening started with introductions by publisher Ameena Hussein. Somasiri Devendra and Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe commented on the book, followed by a reading by the author.
Somasiri Devendra in his comments gave a skillful analysis of the stories. He divided the stories into three groups; story telling stories, fragments and conflict driven pieces. He noted that the first story in the collection, ‘The dancers’, was an exercise in sustained suspense. “At the end you wonder - has he sold his soul?”
Of the story ‘Going home’ he observed “It keeps you guessing where the action is. And it brings up the question, what does ‘going home’ mean? Or ‘home’ for that matter?” Describing the short piece ‘Leaving’ as a fragment, capable of expansion, he pointed to some evocative phrases used –‘Cool green of mango leaves’ ‘Dark, musty smelling places that must be avoided.’
He noted, “A whole drama is being enacted but the focus is on the girl and the cat. What does the cat think about it all, I wonder?”
The talks were followed by a reading and remarks by the author. Describing the process that went in to the writing of the collection she observed, “I wrote things down because I was trying to describe something that interested me. And then I came back to it and rewrote it. And then I wondered if I change this word here and that one there --- does it say what I’m trying to describe? And you remember books that you’ve read and admire and you think how did those writers do it? How did they arrange words in a particular way to make you feel things? There are 26 letters in the alphabet. And that’s all a book is. But depending on how you arrange those letters you can sometimes make something wonderful. And it’s this process of writing something that is interesting.”
Chiranthi came to writing by a rather roundabout route - soon after school she joined Wijeya newspapers as a journalist. After leaving Wijeya she qualified as a dentist and worked for a while at Badulla hospital. She commented, “I knew I liked words and I liked to write things down. This eventually led to a degree in law. And all the time I looked for writing workshops, groups, anything which would give me a community.” She notes “Lawyers, doctors, dentists, all have a community. Writers have no natural community – you have to find one”
Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe in her remarks commented on some of the stories and talked about how she met the author at a writing workshop organized by writer’s lab.
A fine collection of stories, slightly sour, slightly sweet and a little hard to capture
And the yellow cover? Look a little closer. On closer inspection the slightly strange yellow things turn out to be ‘lunudehi’ – that classically Sri Lankan treat. Slightly sour, slightly sweet, a little hard to capture exactly. Like the stories themselves.
Names and Numbers’ is available at the Perera Hussein website https://pererahussein.com/index.php/books/short-stories/names-numbers-phph.html, Barefoot, Vijitha Yapa and other selected bookstores.
‘Names and Numbers’
by Chiranthi Rajapakse
Published by Perera Hussein publishers