‘Soaring Spirits and Shooting Stars’, the second book to be published in the year 2016, by author Lakshman Ratnapala, is as interesting and evocative as his first book ‘Flickering Fortunes’, published in February of the same year
This second book contains primarily pen portraits of fourteen men who have had a significant impact on the author’s life. Among them are a number of the author’s colleagues from PATA and the world of Tourism who have chapters of their own. It is an eclectic collection of subjects that Mr Ratnapala has dealt with, here.
The novelist Joseph Conrad has written that the task of a writer ‘is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel - it is, before all, to make you see. That - and no more - and it is everything.’ Mr Ratnapala’s biographical writings have done just this. Just as his first book helped the reader not just to engage with the life of the subject but also of the subject’s times and seasons, so this second book will also serve this purpose.
The great British Historian G. M. Trevelyan in his ‘Autobiography of an Historian’ from An Autobiography and Other Essays writes ‘The dead were and are not. Their place knows them no more and is ours today...The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow.’ A study of the lives and times of men and women of the past help us to realize that we are all part of a grand design; that we will get some things right as did our forebears and we will definitely get some things wrong just as they did.
Although characteristically, as in his first book, Lakshman R., does not pull his punches, he treats his subjects with respect and with a sense of humour that is by no means irreverent. However, he is guilty of betraying his loyalties to his heroes! But then most biographers do tend to treat their subjects ‘subjectively’! There is perhaps a fine line between biography and hagiography that is the uncritical and even reverential description of a subject’s life.
Trevelyan has identified that ‘bias’ is very much a part of the historical biographer’s weakness. And so, Mr Ratnapala’s pen portraits of some of his heroes can be described as having been written in similar vein.
Reading through ‘Soaring Spirits and Shooting Stars’ I have been struck by the fact that the author has remembered so many details about people, places and events. It is obvious that he paid attention to the little things and made a note of the details. In a fast-moving world like ours we would benefit by remembering the small things and the little details for at the end of the day it is perhaps these things that matter.
Mr Ratnapala shows us also the value of remembering, the value of respect for people both great and small. This shows us that we all need mentors, people we can look up to and respect and seek to emulate and be inspired by for our own journey through life. It shows us the value of heroes – men and women who stood for the right kind of public opinion and principles whose courage, integrity and lifestyle continue to inspire. Someone has said ‘Next to doing things that deserve to be written, nothing gets a man more credit, or gives him more pleasure than to write things that deserve to be read.’ These pen portraits deserved to have been written and certainly deserve to be read!