Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Foreign magazines (all languages)

This is a French government publication dating back to 1944. As the title suggests, some space is devoted to articles about Asia, though this issue is mainly about France. Understandable enough, one presumes, as this issue came soon after the liberation of Paris by Allied forces.
The photograph is taken from an inside page and shows a woman member of the Free French forces in Paris.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Non-fiction English in Sri Lanka

“Sindbad in Serendib” is one of those ‘must have’ books on the shelf even if you are not a collector of books on Sri Lanka. This is a collection of articles published in the newspapers over the years by Richard Boyle. It is very scholarly in approach but I never found it dry or boring.
Apart from the aforementioned Sindbad, articles cover, in exhaustive detail, the pearl fisheries of Ceylon, the :anaconda of Ceylon,” Galle in its heyday, the Nittaewo, a pigmy-sized aboriginal group of people said to have existed in ancient times, the archaeological site of Ritigala, Zoologist and artist Ernst Haeckel, and psychologist Carl G. Jung’s visit to Sri Lanka. Rich in anecdote and evidently the product of years of painstaking research, this is one book I’m really proud to have in my collection!

It is beautifully printed and contains many splendid illustrations, including the work of Gustav Dore, archaeologists  P. E. P. Deraniyagala and H. C. P. Bell, Ernst Haeckel, and others.

Publications on Sri Lankan cinema

Sri Lankan magazines in English

newspapers in English/Tamil/foreign languages

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

History through magazine covers

This Time magazine cover takes us back to the time of the Watergate scandal in the United States. Let's not forget that a couple of journalists were able to unsettle a presidency, and that neither journalist was kidnapped, assaulted or murdered because of this.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Children's books in all languages

This section of my virtual library and archives will feature what I have collected as children's literature. It will feature book covers (sorry, but I don't have the resources to scan entire books), pages from books, magazines and encyclopaedias. 
We start off with  the Sinhala version of Herge's 'Crab With the Golden Claws.' The cover looks gorgeous as in all Tintin books, but the inside pages are black and white. More than that, it's the poor printing quality which detracts from  the story. Still, any effort to bring Tintin to children who don't understand English in praiseworthy.

Next, we have two pages from a very old children's encyclopaedia. It introduces parts of an article about Lewis Carol, the author of Alice in Wonderland, with an illustration of the author made by a contemporary artist, as well less-than-actual size reproduction of the last and first pages of the very first handwritten manuscript of 'Alice in Wonderland.' Read the pages and you'll see that the original title was something else.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Books on hobbies and technical subjects

"What is a Model Aircraft: Instructions for Beginners"

This is a very interesting little book in Sinhala by aviation enthusiast Viraj Fernando. Viraj can fly light aircraft and has a factory turning out model aircraft (as far as I know, the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka). In a country which has no regular publications devoted to this hobby, the series of books written by viraj is very important.

The book is attractively designed and printed, and priced at only Rs. 200. It has many excellent black and white photographs explaining many aspects of the hobby.

Viraj Fernando can be contacted on 038 4922019 and email aerohangar@gmail.com


Mee Pura is the only regional Sinhala medium newspaper published in Sri Lanka. It's edited and published by Freddie Gamage, a human rights activist from Negombo. Freddie started this as a billboard news bulletin and created the present tabloid-sized newspaper through sheer hard work and dedication.

This issue has 20 pages with many black and white photos and very few ads, thus devoting much space to news. It covers regional news, some of it controversial and missed by the mainstream media. There are short features covering the arts, history and the environment.

The paper is priced at Rs. 15 and has its own website www.meepura.com

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Religion and mysticism

Non-fiction English in Sri Lanka

“A Cocktail in English” is a very interesting book written by Dr. Navamany Selvarajah. I met her when I went to Jaffna during the ‘happy hour’ when the Ranil Wickremasinghe government signed a peace accord with the LTTE, and we would travel along the A9 to Jaffna for the first time in many years.

Dr. Selvarajah’s book was published in Jaffna in 2005 and she sent me a copy to be reviewed. I’m going to try and get a new edition published in Colombo, but the first edition with all its typos and little foibles is a gem.

The author, who now lives in retirement in Jaffna, is a professor of zoology and former head of the Department of Zoology in the University of Jaffna. She has a B.Sc (Hons) from Sri Lanka and a M.Sc (Research) from Britain. Her book, however, is hardly academic, and that’s why I find it so interesting.

As Dr. Selvarajah states in her preface, she was keen to promote the learning of English among the younger generation, as “the standard of English flopped dangerously.” The book is thus written in simple language but covers a fascinating variety of subjects. So many things are crammed into a little book with just 170 pages ( it was published in Jaffna and the original price was only Rs. 100).

The book may be small, but so much knowledge is crammed into it. You can see at once the sort of wide reading that is so hard to come by nowadays. She quotes Shakespeare, Shelley, Twain, Goethe, Plato, Ibid et al – and doesn’t forget to add a song by Jim Reeves! There are her own charming poems, and a very interesting chapter on birds, hardly surprising considering her background in zoology.

But this is no light romp over laughing matter. Jokes abound, but she writes seriously about her passage in her late thirties through mental illness, diagnosed as schizophrenia. She discusses this with a candour that is rare in Sri Lankan writing. Then there is her account of the Jaffna Exodus of 1995, a panicky flight to safety in the face of a military offensive.

Fascinating too, are the glimpses of Jaffna society of old – as recounted in “Memories of Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan as told by my mother.” Such writing makes you aware that the author is one of the final links we have with a vanished culture. What a pity that this book didn’t run into many more pages!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sri Lankan magazines in English

“Tribune” was published in Sri Lanka from 1955 till the early 80s. Hence, it had quite a long run, especially considering that it was in English and catered to the serious reader. It was a weekly mag which came out every Saturday.  This particular issue came out on Aug. 15, 1981 and was priced at three rupees. The editor’s name is given as S. P. Amarasinham. The office was at 43, Dawson Street, Colombo 2.

“On the cover we have a comely rubber tapper blissfully ignorant of the fact that the bottom has dropped out of the international rubber market. Soon she will feel the impact of falling prices,” starts the Letter From the Editor, thus setting the tone. Articles include Editor’s Notebook (Media Again), DDC Elections – LSSP’s reactions, Johnsonese – On English, Book Review – Lenin and Asia, Film Focus—Colour Films (reviews of Sinhala, Tamil and English films. The English film reviewed is the Bond thriller “The Man With The Golden Gun”), Nostalgic Longings – Septugenarian, and others.

The magazine is of a left-wing disposition. The articles are well-written. It isn’t known when the magazine ceased publication.

Sinhala non-fiction

“Rana Derane” (At the Battlefront) is a very special kind of book. It’s a non-fiction work written in Sinhala by Wimal Weerasinghe, a Sri Lankan who served in the British army during World War II. It’s a special book because, as far as I’m able to determine, it’s the only book of its kind written by a Sri Lankan WWII veteran (war literature, in any case, is very rare in this country. The war with the Tamil Tigers went on for thirty years, but how many books written by combattants or ex-combattants are there?)
I have not been able to trace the author. If he’s still alive, he must be in his eighties. The book is an author publication, and not even the year of publication is mentioned. But I bought this during my school days, in the 1970s. It hasn’t been re-issued and I have never come across any review of it. I doubt if many have heard of or remember Wimal Weerasinghe the author, which I think is a great injustice since it’s a fine book and a unique one at that. It also says something for the quality of education at that time because it was written by an ordinary soldier.

I regret that I can’t scan the entire book. This blog only serves to introduce books, with the idea of arousing viewers’ interest to go and look for these books in libraries and archives. But I have translated a few pages for your benefit.

Chapter One—“I joined the army”

“I joined the army due to poverty. I had no need to defend the much-hyped democracy of the British by risking my life to fight German Nazism, Italian Fascism or Japanese imperialism.

“At a time when unemployment ran high in the country, British imperialists who called themselves democrats were able to lure thousands of young men into joining the army.

“…The camp was surrounded by a special guard of troops as I woke up on the morning of Oct. 4 1943. I went as usual for breakfast following my morning ablutions. There was a notice pasted on the dining hall that all troops who had finished their training should pack their gear and get ready to travel.

“Looks like it’s our turn,” a friend said while buttering a slice of bread.

“I prefer to leave this country,” I said.

“Why, don’t you like Sri Lanka?”

“Like? It’s better to get out and die than to face the humiliation of being jobless.”

The author further describes his experiences as a second-line soldier in Italy. During this time, he was based in Salerno (p.137).

“The months spent in Salerno were happy. Sinhalese soldiers didn’t give two hoots for money. They made friends with pretty Italian girls by buying them watches, shoes, chocolates and cigarettes. I have never heard of people of one race making friends so quickly with another race. The friendships sometimes went far and many soldiers became betrothed to Italian girls. Some got married to their Italian sweethearts and returned to Sri Lanka….

“I made friends with a white haired, twelve-year-old Italian girl called Edda by giving her chocolates and sweets.

(Please note -- This wasn’t a romantic relationship. The author wonders why the girl shies away from him, and discovers that the reason for her shyness is her fear of dark-skinned men. Whenever he stops and offers her a ride in his truck, she refuses. Finally, he visits Edda’s home to meet her and her old mother).

“Good evening,” I said, removed my beret.

“Good evening.”

“May I come in?”

The old mother came to the door, looked me up from my head to foot, and said: “Yes, you may come in.”

“Buona Sera.”

“Buona Sera.”

“Sit,” the girl said. She tried to look like a young woman but she was still a girl. Her girlishness could be seen in her smile and adolescent quickness of movement.

The old mother shook hands with me. The girl shook hands rather reluctantly. I sat on the canvas easy chair.

“Why? Tell me, please.”

“I like your girl. We may be around here for a while. While we are here, we need friends. Do you object to our friendship?”

“You have helped us after coming here. You have done us no harm. I have no objection to a friendship.”

“We are afraid of black people,” the girl said.

“Those are Mussolini’s lies. Black people aren’t cannibals,” I said.

“Blacks kill white women,” the girl said.

“How do you know that?” the girl asked.

“I read so in a book by Shakespeare.”

“You must read more. Shakespeare has also written about white men who killed white women.”

The author comes across as an anti-imperialist (independence from Britain was only a few years away, but still only a dream at that point). The book is a fascinating account of the petty hatreds and class differences not just between the Sri Lankans (Ceylonese at the time) and the British but between the Lankans themselves. He has a sense of fairness and justice, and gives credit where its due. The book has atmosphere, colour and emotion. I think it’s very well written considering that the author wasn’t a trained writer. This seems to be his first and only book.