By Jayashika Padmasiri –
If the “Mahawanshaya” can be considered as the biography of the ancient Sri Lanka, then certainly the latest ‘vanity publication’ in Sri Lanka “Chamal Rajapaksa” written by Punya de Silva (and sold for Rs.2000), can certainly be considered as Chamal Rajapaksa’s biography. It is a universally acknowledged fact that history is narrated and repeated in versions. However when considering history we must not forget that even ‘Mahawanshaya’ is also a version of history”: which boldly speaks the invisible worlds‘one point of view’. So with that cleared out from the picture, and getting the most obvious fact which is the writer sucking up big-time to please the main character or his family in the book (which in simple terms in Sinhalese is called as ‘kadde yamma’ these days) out of the way, the book “Chamal Rajapaksa” can be called as an informative book which is very well researched, and a book which not only relates a lot of information and incidents about Chamal Rajapaksa and his family, but also about the writer Punya de Silva as well in a none chronological order (since the book proves that the writer has lost all sense of order and organizational skills while writing this book.)
For an example, Silva would suddenly mention about Chamal’s father’s death through a letter written by Chamal’s mother at one point, then mention about it again somewhere in the book, and then after many more incidents he would bring up that same subject again and explain it completely from beginning to end while adding the stuff he forgot to mention the first few times he mentioned about the death of D.A Rajapaksa. This same lack of chronology can be said about the incidents concerning Chamal Rajapaksa’s marriage to Chandra Wijewardana, Chamal’s days at the Diddenipotha Estate, then Chamal’s resignation from the police force and even about the election loss of Dr. Wijayanada Dahanayake and many other such incidents, where the readers would be forced to read about the same incidents again and again later in the book with more details, which unfortunately exposes weak organizational skills of the writer and bad editing skills, since repetition in the book can be widely noticed as one of the major flaws of the book.
While reading the book “Chamal Rajapaksa” there is a tendency for the readers to get confused as to whose life story or biography they are reading, since irrelevant information such as the writer Punya de Silva’s eldest son’s marriage and where it was taken place, and then about his trips abroad with his family are also mentioned in this so called biography of Chamal Rajapaksa. For example the quotation on page 102 can be considered as a point where the writer tries to showoff his close relationship with the Rajapaksas while trying to establish this point in the minds of the readers.
“My mother Soma Weeraratne sincerely treated Chamal like her own son and called him “Chamal Putha”. She appreciated and thanked Chamal for visiting her on his way to Medamulana through galle and on his way back from Madamulana to enjoy a cup of tea at my place. Sometimes, my mother prepared lunch or even dinner when Chamal, with his sisters Preethi and Gandanie, stopped at our house to see my mother. Chamal’s sister Gandanie yet speaks how she enjoyed lobsters and ambul thiyal my mother prepared for them” (from pages 102-103)
What part of this information is relevant or important for Chamal’s biography? That his sisters liked to eat lobsters and ambul thiyal which was prepared by Punya’s mother and that his mother addressed Chamal as “Chamal Putha”. …..So what’s the big deal? The readers can question. And what is so extraordinary or necessary about this incident that it should be mentioned in a biography, other than to boast about the writer’s close connections with the Rajapaksa family to the readers? And the fact that Chamal’s sisters enjoy eating lobsters and ambul thiyal, here the readers naturally starts to wonder whether Punya de Silva has started to write the biographies of Chamal’s sisters too. And by the way, most ironically, no where in this book, has the writer mentioned what Chamal likes to eat at all. But the next paragraph in the book on this page, without any doubt establishers the fact that the writer wants to boast about his relationship to Chamal’s family and that perhaps that was one of his main objectives behind writing this book.
“Chamal with his brother Mahinda, then member of parliament attended my father’s funeral in 1992, and in 2007 Chamal was present for my mother’s funeral. His Excellency the president expressed his condolences over the phone when Chamal was at our house and sent a wreath from Colombo with a letter of condolence. In 2008, my wife Kamani’s mother died and Chamal with Chandra attended the funeral at Maharagama.” (Page 103)
If all the funerals Chamal Rajapaksa, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa or Namal Rajapaksa visits for a year are to be mentioned in their biographies, the pages would be filled without nothing-else other than the list of funerals they attend to. So again the question arises, how is this above paragraph, relevant for Chamal Rajapaksa’s biography???
However there are a few plus points in this book too. For example the chapter which was written by Chamal Rajapksa titled as ‘Chamal in a Reflective Mood’ proves better writing skills than the writer Punya de Silva’s writing skills. And this chapter stands out from the rest of the writings in the book, with a genuinely sincere tone to it, while creating a very pensive mood through the details explained by Chamal. And Chamal in a very concrete, straightforward and emotional manner has explained many things in this chapter, which opens a window to the true character of Chamal Rajapaksa while making the readers question why on earth Chamal didn’t write his own biography, since if so, definitely a better product would have come to being instead of this messy creation with unforgivable faults.
However from the few good points in this creation, the anecdotes revealing young Mahinda Rajapaksa’s character are quite interesting. For example, during Chamal’s visit to the ‘Kandawala Walauwa’ along with his elders to meet the Prime Minister Sir John Kotalawala, the incident which followed is very interesting.
The book states, “When Sir John told Mahinda jokingly, “you had better eat the mangoes and rub the juice on your face”, Mahinda retorted, “I will hit you with the mango seed.” Sir John commented, “You are all ‘chandiyas’ like D.M and Lakshman”. Little anecdotes such as this have succeeded to add a bit of colour, humour and irony into the book (and even sarcasm perhaps). Even the anecdote regarding yong Mahinda sitting on the top most step of Temple Trees during Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s time while demanding from the PM to release the JVP youths in Belliatta taken into custody during the uprising is quite comic and interesting.
“Mahinda came over to Colombo immediately and met the Prime Minister but she said she was helpless in that matter and walked up the stairs. Mahinda sat on the top most step on the stairs and threatened that he would not get down from the steps until those youth are released. A few moments later the Prime Minister gave a call to an army officer in Tangalle and the youth of Beliatta were released. Mahinda thanked her and left the Temple Trees. When the Prime Minister met Chamal, she said laughingly, that Mahinda was a terrible nuisance. Chamal thought that Madam Bandaranaike was like a mother who would chide a naughty child and then secretly laugh. Chamal had to take the brunt for Mahinda’s naughty work’.” (Page 136)
Such anecdotes included by the writer have succeeded to make the book less boring. However the only incident emotionally narrated to the readers by the writer, was the time when young Mahinda who was in jail visited his mother who was dying in the hospital. These few paragraphs indicate the writer’s potential concerning writing skills, which he has abandoned from using since he was more engrossed in trying to please while buttering the Rajapaksa family.
“On a request made by the family, Mahinda was allowed to see his ailing mother. He was taken to the house at Mirihana by a prison van. Before he went near his mother, he requested from the jailors that his handcuffs be removed. The jailors granted the request. When mother saw Mahinda, she grabbed his hand and asked him whether he had been released by the Prison. Mahinda answered in the affirmative and when mother asked him to stay behind with her, Mahinda said that he had to go to Hambantota the same day. He stroked her head, wished her well and left the room.” (Pages 145-146)
This paragraph clearly shows that the writer is skilled in arousing emotions of the readers though he has seldom used this talent while writing the book “Chamal Rajapaksa”. Anybody who reads this passage experiences the feeling of steadfast sadness while the writer has also very well created a detailed, emotional picture in the minds of the readers.
Whether to completely condemn the book “Chamal Rajapaksa” as a failure is not correct because it does contain certain good qualities too. Nevertheless the book is confusing… and whether to call this book a biography or not, is even more confusing, as the presented style of the book does not indicate signs of a good biography at all (for example even the narrated incidents in the book are not recorded in a proper order following one incident after another) So the incidents in the book remains to be all over the place, while the pages tell stories not only about the Rajapaksa family, but also about Punya de Silva’s life too. However if Punya de Silva plans to write more biographies (either of the Rajapaksa family or not) there is a lot for him to learn, such as avoiding repetition, improving his editing skills and limiting the book to the relevant subject matter without straying on ‘irrelevant’ paths which would not take him or his readers anywhere.