5 July, 2022


K Jayathilaka – The Great Literary Icon And The Political Visionary

By Ruwan M Jayatunge

Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge MD

Many adorers of Sinhala litrature have identified K Jayathilaka as a great writer. His literary skills were known to everyone. He was one of the exceptional creative writers of our time. But his involvement in the Sri Lankan politics was not sufficiently discussed . Although he did not play an active role in the Sri Lankan Politics, never been a , promoter or  a fanatical supporter of any political party , K Jayathilaka was a meticulous observer and an analyser of the Sri Lankan political dynamics. He deeply analysed the Sri Lankan politics and often presented it through his novels. Many of his novels conveyed a profound political message that was hardly grasped by the literary critics.

Jayathilaka was a some form of a political historian. He observed and analytically revived the socio political evolution of Sri Lanka. Then he documented these dynamics in an artistic form. Jayathilaka closely worked with many politicians with different social – educational backgrounds , but never became an acolyte to any of them. He pretty well knew that the politics was a dirty business often played by renegades inconsistent with their principles. But its social impact and social evaluation was an important factor for him. He studied the impact of political dynamism on urban and rural societies. He knew up to what extent that the communities were affected by political decisions. In a country where everything is politicized Jayathilaka became an impartial annotator. Jayathilaka claimed that his novel ” Delovak Neti Aya ” was one of the comprehensive political novels in the Sinhala literature.

K. Jayathilaka

K. Jayathilaka recognised that D. S. Senanayaka had a strong pragmatic leadership but at the same time D.S had personal ambitions over the national politics. D.S’s instincts told him that the the British colonial rulers would be leaving soon and he there would be strong competitors like Sir D.B Jayathilaka. D.S never trusted Sir D.B Jayathilaka who was a popular National leader. Obviously D.S knew that Sir D.B could be a potential threat to his future political ambitions. D.S activated an internal conspiracy that enabled him to abridge Sir D.B from the National politics. Sir D.B was requested to go to India to serve as the Sri Lankan high commissioner. He agreed to go to India without realising the after effects of his decision. But in later years Sir D.B realised that he was misled by his colleagues. Sir D.B Jayathilaka was utterly disappointed and died in India. D.S made another radical decision after he became the Prim Minister of Ceylon. When D.S appointed Dudley as his successor Sir John and SWRD became extremely disappointed. This decision caused a major division in the UNP.

The Oxford educated SWRD knew that his chances were limited. His father Sri Solomon Dias was an unpopular arrogant person hated by many aristocrats. Many blamed Sri Solomon Dias for his role in the Predris affair. Sri Solomon Dias had a long years of rivalry with the Pedris family and eventually he was able to take the revenge. Following the alleged incitement of racial riots in 1915 Capt. Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris was sentenced to death by a firing squad. It was a known fact that Sri Solomon Dias supported the Colonial rulers executing  this fatal decision.

Young SWRD Bandaranaike had an eager mind. He was indeed heading for power. SWRD realised the extent of the National emotions soon after the Post Colonial period. The Sinhala language was a commodious vehicle for SWRD. He used  Sinhala Only slogan to gain support of the Sinhalese people. Perhaps he forgot how Indians resolved the language issue soon after the independence. One of SWRD’s favourite politicians – Jawaharlal Nehru once stated : Hindi is important but the unity of India is more important. Perhaps SWRD was blinded by the power that he was about to experience. Jayathilaka realised that SWRD was purely using Sinhala Only slogan to gain power. Jayathilaka knew the short-sightedness of this political game that later erupted in to an unresolved racial tension.

K Jayathilaka closely worked with Dr. N.M Perera and Colvin R. de Silva. But soon he understood  that these two leaders needed blind followers not supporters with a political consciousness. Describing Dr. N.M and Colvin , Jayathilaka later wrote “they were like condors that fly high in the sky , when they needed something from us (the public ) they reach out to us.  , after grabbing whatever they wanted again they went up high in the sky. We had no way of reaching them”. Jayatilaka sympathetically wrote the gap between these two Red leaders and the general public.

K. Jayathilaka had a bitter experience with Dr N.M Perera when he tried to self learn   Marxism in English and then to have a theoretical discussion with his mentor. Dr N.M disregard Jayathilaka’s attempt as an amateur learner in Marxism and ridiculed him. Dr NM Perera’s sarcasm hugely affected Jayathilaka.

In late 1960s Jayathilaka observed the youth unrest in our society. He admired the dedication of the young people who worked against social injustices and for a revolutionary cause. In the same time he knew that they were inexperienced and lacked political insight. The 71 uprising was crushed within a few months. Many youth who participated in the 71 uprising had a very little knowledge in Marxism and in International Politics. The irony was many participants of the 71 uprising realised that  Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were two people not one only at the rehabilitation camps. Jayatilaka viewed these disparities with a great empathy.

K Jayathilaka had worked closely with the Janatha Lekaka Sangamaya (The Association of Public Writers ) to develop the Sinhla literature. Event though he was partially benefited by the Janatha Lekaka Sangamaya there were some disagreements between Jayathilaka and the association. Jayathilaka stood against the Janatha Lekaka Sangamaya when it tried to dance according to political tunes. Jayathilaka did not agree with some of their political idol worshiping habits and when the association did not agree to accept  his recommendations , Jayathilaka worked separately from them. He did not write any novel according to their standards and expectations.

K Jayathilaka analytically viewed the Sirimavo’s regime. The regime was distancing from the public. Felix Dias openly abused his power. The Ministers like Somaveera Chandrasiri demanded sexual favours and gave appointments in rest houses. The unemployment ruined the youth spirit. There was a scarcity of food items. Food related sanctions created deep frustrations among the people. JR Jayawardene used all these weak points of the 1970 regime to his benefit. JR won the 1977 election with a huge majority. Then he introduced the open economy policy which created a drastic changes in the political- socio economic face of Sri Lanka.

Jayathilaka observed the pros and cons of JR ‘s social and economic reforms. He saw beginning of a new era and the the rising of a new generation with wealth and power. But these new socio economic reforms caused severe social injustices and degradation. The summation of these events created another youth unrest in 1988 and the entire Sri Lankan society was covered by violence and chaos. JR was losing grip and his successor R Premadasa became the new head of the state.

Jayathilaka knew Ranasingha Premadasa from early days. Although Premadasa loved and admired literature Jayathilaka realised that Premadasa sometimes misused the novelists and poets. Premadasa’s artistic plagiarism of Dolton Alwis’s song ” Sigiri Gale Kavi Livve was a well known story.  As a sardonic response the leftist journalist Sri Lal Kodikara wrote : Sigiri Gale Kavi Livve Dalton etc. Premadasa was troubled by his roots and proclaimed that he studied at the St Joseph’s College Maradana. Even some of the clergy of the St Joseph College accepted this version. But Jayathilaka didn’t. After many years of Premadasa’s death K Jayathilaka revealed that R Premadasa studied at St Joseph Night school (not St Joseph College Maradana) with him. Jayathilaka knew that sometimes the truth cannot be revealed at inappropritae times.

Jayathilaka observed and grasped the social and political essences of our society and used it as raw materials in his work. Many of his books narrate the socio political history and the political dynamics of Sri Lanka. He was one of the pioneers of Sinhalese realistic novel. As a creative writer, he exhibited his talents since early 1960 s. his novels and short stories represent the ironical social perspectives and had a profound impact on Sinhalese literature. K Jayathilaka demonstrated talents that could be compared to that of the greatest literary genius Martin Wicramasinghe.

He wrote a wide range of literature from novels to short stories as well as children’s literature. K Jayathilaka had authored nearly 12 children’s books and he added some of his childhood experiences to these books. His autobiography that narrates his childhood – Punchi Palle Gasavena reminds us the first book of an autobiographical trilogy by Maxim Gorky – Deistva (childhood). In Punchi Palle Gasavena autobiography Jayathilaka expresses some of the social injustices that he experienced as a child.

The children’s books of K Jayathilaka vibrantly describe the relationship between the environment and the child. His children’s books enhance the stable concepts as well as mental reasoning and magical beliefs in children. His books especially Irunu Balla (Torn Cat) , Oralosuwa ( Timepiece) help the children to recognize logical relationships in elements and improve the ability to view things from the perspective of others. These books are truly facilitating children to use logic in the concrete operational stage. (As the Child Psychologist Jean Piaget stated, by the concrete operational stage, children are able to use logic and this ability can be improved by the external support)

As a shot storyteller, K Jayathilaka proved his talents enormously. His short stories were influenced by Anton Chekhov, Edgar Allen Poe, and probably by Joseph Conrad. In his astonishing, work Punaruppattiya – a collection of short stories Jayathilaka recounts numerous characters that can be found in the contemporary society. However, some of the characters were no exception to the rule and have unique characteristics. One of the characters that was portrayed in Punaruppattiya was a desolate man in a rural village named Mudumaya.

Mudumaya was a cynical character who had voyeuristic impulses. He was excommunicated from the village and led a secluded life. Mudumaya had gifted artistic talents no one had ever known. His paintings were discovered many years after his death and revived by the experts. They found incomparable artistic attributes in his paintings. Posthumously Mudumaya was named as Pandit Mardamana.

In one of his short stories (Yakadaya) Jayathilaka narrates of a queer character who is physically strong and psychologically fragile. Yakadaya is an able bodied man strong as an ox but he is extremely afraid of his frail wife. The power disbalance  between  Yakadaya and this woman dates back to their childhood. One time Yakadaya was a domestic servant of her father who was a wealthy farmer. After the wealthy farmer’s death the family faces financial constraints and insolvency. The farmer’s daughter had no dowry for the marriage and she eventually becomes Yakadaya’s wife. Even after the marriage she treats Yakadaya as her servant often humiliating and demeaning him.

Jayathilaka broadly wrote about the ethnic harmony. Jayathilaka knew that the politicians of this country mismanaged  the racial tensions and used these turmoils for their advantage risking and sometimes destroying the social fabric. He witnessed the social violence cause by the ethnic unrest. His short story Mee Amba (Mango) describes the friendship between a Sinhalese boy and a Tamil boy who found a common ground not via the language but with the help of a mango tree. Through some of his writings, he conveyed the message of co existence. The metaphors that were used in Issaraha Ballano (those who look foreword) recounts similarities in the North and the South and emphasizes the fact that both Sinhalese and Tamil people could live without a conflict.

SWRD’s 1956 political transformation brought drastic changes in the Sri Lanka society. The social and cultural impact of 1956 were significant and Jayathilaka profoundly discussed about these changes in his novels. With these changes cultural conflicts surfaced. Obviously culture is an essential part of conflict and it shapes perceptions, attributions, judgments, and ideas of self and other. As an analytical novelist K Jayathilaka broadly wrote about cultural conflicts and how it affected the individual. His novels such as Parajitayo and Aprasanna Katavak reveal conflicts associated in multi-layered culture that is constantly in flux.

As a novelist, K. Jayathilaka exposed the social dynamics in the Western province. K Jayathilaka ’s famous novel -Charita Tunak analyses three  brothers who bore three different characters. Born to a lethargic gambling farmer, three brothers and their sister struggled to survive. The eldest son Isa realized the family hardships and tried to find a way out by becoming a hardworking farmer. His efforts were ridiculed by his father who took no effort to work energetically. The parents and the neighbors demotivated Issa when he tried to cultivate a massive land named Kokilana. But he was determined in his plan and eventually cultivates the Kokilana. Then he was accepted as an effortful farmer and gained respect.

The main character – Isa ’s personality has some similarities with the Chinese farmer Wang Lung – the character that was created by Pearl S. Buck in her Pulitzer Prize wining novel – The Good Earth. Isa and Wang Lung were hard working farmers and both had ties with the land. K Jayathilaka had portrayed the character of Isa as an introverted self-punishing and egoless character. But Wang Lung was an extrovert who was energized by being around other people.

Isa was disappointed in his second brother Sana who was a drunken vagrant. Sana’s resentment towards Isa was destructive and a number of times Sana took revenge from Isa by harming his crops. Sana was an aggressive and a disrespectful person with a lot of negative characteristics. Sana could be described as the opposite pole of Isa.

Sana had a drastic impact following the negative parental style attributed by his father. Sana’s unhealthy life style (gambling, drinking and quarreling with the villagers) were the results of vicarious learning. Debra Umberson of the University of Michigan more scientifically explains this phenomenon thus.

The effects of marital and parental status on mortality are usually attributed to the positive effects of social integration or social support. The mechanisms by which social support or integration is linked to health outcomes, however, remain largely unexplored. One mechanism may involve health behaviors; the family relationships of marriage and parenting may provide external regulation and facilitate self-regulation of health behaviors, which can affect health. (Family status and health behaviors: Social control as a dimension of social integration D. Umberson – Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 1987 – JSTOR )

The third character Ranjith is more convoluted and profound. As a young child, he realized the impact of poverty that was hounded by his family. The education was his escape route. His got his freeing through the free education system that was introduced by the education reformer C.W.W. Kannangara. After becoming a teacher Ranjith’s ambition grows and he buys land and consented to an arrange marriage that offered him a large dowry. At the end of the novel the readers come to a conclusion that Ranjith was a self-centered egoistic character powerful than Isa who had the strength to confront Sana.

Professor Sarathchandra was highly influenced by Jayathilaka’s novel -Charita Tunak that discussed the innate connection between man and the earth. Professor Sarachandra headed the Peradeniya literary fraction (Gurukulaya) and writers like Gunadasa Amarasekara, Siri Gunasinghe backed him. Professor Sarachandra gravely criticized the novels of Piyadasa Sirisena and W.A Silva. K Jayathika held the view that these two authors did their best to uplift the Sinhala literature and their work were the precursors of the Sinhala novel. K. Jayathilaka gave due respect to these great novelists.

K Jayathilaka’ s conflict-ridden novel Rajapaksa Valavva describes the inferiority complexes of an administrative officer who was oppressed by the village cast system. In Rajapaksa Valavva K Jayathilaka deals with a taboo subject that was not deeply touched by Martin Wicramasinghe , G.B Senanayaka or other great novelists.

Although the cast related oppression in Sri Lanka is partially submerged and not visible like in India it has caused deep frustrations in the rural communities. The caste oppression was one of the contributing factors of the 71 and 88 insurgencies. This factor was common to the Northern  part of Sri Lanka too. The rebel leader Prabhakaran was able to recruit the low caste Tamil village youth who were marginalised by the Jaffna Vellala community. (According to P.J. Antony – a Social activist the Vellala caste, is the most dominant caste in Jaffna. Nalavar and Pallar work as toddy tappers and labourers in gardens. Parayars  beat the drums at funerals. Vannar wash clothes and Ambattar work as hairdressers).

According to Jayathilaka’ s Rajapaksa Valavva the main charactor – Kamalsiri  was banished by the village cast system and he witnessed the harassments caused to his family. His primary education was disrupted following cast related violence. This incident gave him an opportunity to enter to a Catholic school in Colombo. At the Colombo school, he does not face any cast problem but other social issues like poverty, intensely troubled him.

The youth who were suppressed by the village cast system during Kamalasir ’s era launched a revolution to change the society. But Kamlasiri had far more goals in his life and never became a part of it. However, in a way he became a rebel and supported the movement that dealt with the acquisition of the Catholic schools. After the acquisition, he became disappointed when he realized that the new system did not serve his educational purposes. When most of the fine teachers of the college joined private, education institutes, his education was partially disrupted. Kamalsiri had no money to pay for private tuition. Therefore, he could not peruse science subjects and compelled to do art subjects for his university entrance.

Kamalsiri’s cast issue emerged again when he entered the university. His first love ended unexpectedly when his girl friend came to know about his family background. After the university education, Kamalasiri becomes an administrative officer. Although he becomes a senior government officer, in his entire professional life, he struggles with this cast issue. His inferiority complexes affect his professional judgments and Kamlsiri narrates his unpleasant experiences in the following manner.

” When someone visits our house, my father insists me to come out and talk to him. Often these visitors are Grama Niladaries or petty government officers who are insignificant elements in the administration. When I am at the office these characters are shivering and have extreme fear to reach me. But in the village everything has turned topsy-turvy. The cast becomes the key factor – the element of respect “

Kamalsiri hates the village life pattern and his native community. He decided not to visit his sister’s wedding in order to avoid the relatives and friends. More and more he becomes a remote character disconnected from the rest of the family and the village.

The real hero of this novel is unseen. Kamalasiri’s father -the laundry man who underwent immense humiliations, harassments and oppression, never became a slave to the system. He challenged the system as a silent protester. He raised his son to disintegrate the village cast system by giving him a high education and a higher social position. But Kamalsiri never lived up to the old man’s expectations. Kamalsiri who had no such a spirit as the old man, used numerous defense mechanisms when a cast related issues emerged.

Rajapaksa Valavva represents several episodes of the Sri Lankan social history. The end of the semi feudalism, rise of the new business class connected with the political power, and the children of the free education who became the administrative class of the country.

K. Jayathilaka reveals the plight of the children of the free education via Kamalasiri’s character. Most of these children came from the village schools. They were studious and hardworking. After finishing their higher education, most of them joined the government service and started living in big cities. They gradually adapted to the city life. But for people like Kamalasiri who were cast conscious, their origin and roots troubled immensely. Some took deliberate measures to hide their past social strata that exceedingly affected their personality. They could not function as their predecessors who had the command and control. The government officers like Kamalasiri made the public service dishonorable by licking the boots of politicians.

K Jayathilaka profoundly analyses the rural family dynamics in his two novels, Punchirala and Punchiralage Maranaya that illustrate the destiny of a hardworking farmer who had spent his entire life on children and eventually dies as a disappointed man. Punchirala who was an over protective father raised his children with utter financial difficulties. For Punchirala raising his children Nandana and Suvimalee was a some form of emotional investment for the future, but he does not receive the expected results. Punchirala suffered old aged depression and died as a disenchanted man.

In these two novels, Jayathilaka shows us the naked realities of the Sri Lankan villages that are filled with sarcasm and jealousy. Although many novelists portrayed the rural villages as unspoiled naïve and romantic places these two novels, reflect the actuality of the Sri Lankan village life.

Jayathilaka discussed the sexuality of the Buddhist rural society in some of his books. For instance, Kalo Ayam Te that was published in 1968 reviews the sexuality in the Sinhalese society and how it was affected by the Victorian morality.

K Jayathilaka discusses the inner psyche of an aged man in his novel Mahallekuge Prema Katavak. This novel exemplifies the repressed sensual desires of an old man who was physically and emotionally touched by a young girl. The old man’s life instincts were active for a little period and then the death instinct becomes more prominent. The outlawed relationship ends with a fatal outcome.

The novel Mahallekuge Prema Katavak reminds us the relationship between Pablo Picasso and the beautiful young girl named Jacqueline Roque. K Jayathilaka vividly describes the psychological conflict of the old man when he was trapped in an unorthodox relationship with a young girl.

The age disparity in sexual relationships has been discussed in the Jathaka stories as well as in Vladimir Nabokove ’s famous novel Lolita. Jayathilaka ’s novel Mahallekuge Prema Katavak may have had certain degree of influence by Vladimir Nabokove ’s Lolita – a girl who was the object of desire of an old man.

K Jayathilaka was a gifted author who has contributed a vast amount of publications to the Sinhala literature. His creative writing represents an important hallmark in Sinhala novel and short stories. He was a silent observer of the dynamics of the Sri Lankan political system. K Jayathilaka was a greatl Literary icon and a political visionary.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Either Ruwan Jayatunge or K. Jayatileke or both of them are wrong about what they say regarding SWRD’s Sinhala policy. Often SWRD is blamed for other’s mistakes.

    The extremist group of L.S Mettananda, F. R. Jayasooriya and KMP Rajaratne did not allow SWRD to implement the Tamil Language Reasonable Use Act. JR and UNP march was a different matter.

    Tamils did not have English medium university as a problem because rich of them went to Madaras University. For Sinhala people it was FR Jayasooriya who fought with Dean Nicholus Attygalle to teach medicine in Sinhala. Attygalle told FR, first you go and teach your Sinhala in Sinhala and come to me after that! That was the situation then.

    In the 1930s there was a big debate if Sinhala came from Tamil language and Jayatileke should know this. Sinhala was under attack as a language.

    Nehru made Hindi the official language of India with time for change. The Hindi official language dept in India is thriving.

    SWRD’s work in all other national areas Ayurveda, Gam Sabha etc shows that he was working in all fronts not just on language to help those native people. With only 3% speaking English people had no hope other than becoming clerks. SWRD did so many things in 3 years. He was like John F Kennedy in USA in this regard.

    So many Tamils could go to university because of langauge change. The problem was that the Colombo black-whites turned removal of English.
    into a removal of Tamil issue.

    I hope Ruwan will read some books on this subject before blaming SWRD.

  • 1

    Irrespepective of what C wijewickrema considers as accurate history, Dr. Ruwan Jayatunga’s assessment of K jayathilaka is sound for the most part. Whatever C Wijewickrema’s perceptions may be, it does not diminish the prestige of the great author K Jayathilaka, the greatest literary figure of our times.. Dr. Jayatunga’s, being a literary evaluation, is truly a fair analysis and I am glad that he has unravelled many aspects of the great writer’s wondrous literary skills which the average reader may have missed.

    I agree with Wijewickrema that for Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, (Sinhala) Language was perhaps, just one minor item in his vision or cinthanaya which was founded on anti-colonial attitudes and emerging enlightened humanistic thinking globally, the leaders of which, other than Maxists and Communists locally, were mainly British (Oxford/Camebridge/ London School of Econ..) educated Asian and African elitist political leaders of the time – mostly with left leanings……

    SWRD did embrace nationalism in a guarded manner… but in order to come into power – in view of the fortuitous circustances he found himself in, to his utter delight – he had no choice but to side with all that was nationalistic that the nation’s Ven. Buddhis Monks and Lay Buddhists agitating for recognition represented. He correctly sensed the frustrations of the Sinhalese with the UNP Leaders who had failed to address their bread and butter issues and their national and religious aspirations..

    The UNP Rule since Independence and particularly, Prime Minister Sir John Kothalawela during his administration, had provided a fertile ground and an ideal environment for elements of nationalism and Buddhist aspirations to grow and flower, that happily for SWRD, partially coincided with his own anti-colonial, nationalistic vision.

    But SWRD may not be rated as an advocate of bugbear-nationalism; nor as a Sinhala Buddhist extremist.. or a racist.

    Anti-colonialist? Yes! He indeed was one!

    You see, at the beginning of 1959, a few short months before his assasination, at a public meeting at the Training College, Maharagama (I was a new young teacher (20) in the area who was presemt ) SWRD berated Bauddha Jathika Balavegaya – BJB – Leader, L.H.Metthananda in the course of a merciless attack on him for inciting religious emotions… and more for criticizing SWRD’s MEP Coalition.. SWRD compared this highly respected Buddhist activist, the former Principal of Ananda College, to the ubiquitous “village chandiya – thug – found in every village juction issuing empty threats’ (His art of speaking in Sinhala ‘ which he had mastered by then was brilliant, enunciation impressive and his Sinhala perfectly idiomatic…!)

    But I must say at that time, I did not see much of a strict common ground in the focus of the three gentlemen Wijewickrema brands… as extremists.

    L.H Metthananda had his own hobby horse… F.R. Jayasuriya was closer to KMP Rajaratne in some ways but KMP was altogether a different kettle of fish… Examine some of his pithy anti-Tamil epithets…

    Further, inspite of his ill-fated Sinhala Only, Tamils, mainly the poor marginalized Tamils in Rural North and East – low caste majority -as well as the poor Sinhala villagers in the rest of the nation, benefited immensely by SWRD’s enlightened policies and reforms in Social and Educational spheres.

    I have met many elderly Tamils of the Diaspora here in Toronto who speak in glowing terms of (Language Issue aside)the early social, educational and Local Government reforms the SWRD-MEP Government brough to the rural Tamil communities with no discrimination..

    That’s why history calls the 1956 Government change the ’56 REVOLUTION’ that brought in seething changes in the nation’s socio-economic structure against which no dams could have been built…

    The mess that Sri Lanka today is nothing but the logical outcome of a mismanaged Revolution by those who claim to have inherited the mantle of SWRD Bandaranaike….

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