According to Countries and Their Cultures”: “Literature. Sri Lanka has a long and prolific history of written as well as oral literature. As early as the fifth century c.e., both Sinhala and Tamil writers were recording histories and religious stories, as well as writing on more secular topics. This tradition continues today as fiction writers, poets, playwrights, and journalists write in all three of the nation's languages; some of their works have been translated into other languages as well. However, Sri Lanka's university and public libraries, once reputed to be the best in South Asia, are underfunded and poorly maintained as a result of increased budgetary constraints since 1977. [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

D. O. Lodric wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”:“Sinhala literature dates back well over 2000 years and is heir to the great Aryan literary tradition as embodied in the hymns of the Rig Veda, the collection of Sanskrit verses composed by the ancient Indo Aryans around 1500 B.C. There is literary evidence to show that the Mahavansa, the great chronicle of Sinhalese royalty composed in Pali in the 5th century., has drawn heavily from the ancient commentaries in the Sinhalese languages known as the Sihalatthakatha. It is evident that many of the early Sinhala prose works, the earliest of which dates to the 9th century, were intended as accessories for Pali works. [Source: D. O. Lodric, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

However, the golden age of Sinhala literature is widely considered to be the 13th century, with many stories and tales from this time dealing with the life of the Buddha. Sinhalese scholarship has traditionally been the domain of the clerical establishment, which accounts for the scarcity of good secular works in the language. It is not until the beginning of the late 19th century that we notice a surge in secular Sinhala literature — the novel appears during this period. Twentieth century Sinhala literature was based primarily on the Western model. The situation changed in 1956, when Sinhala was adopted as the language in which education was carried out. Works of the late 20th century in Sinhala tended to return to Sinhalese religious roots though many assumed a political flavor in light of the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka. *\

Famous Writers with Links to Sri Lanka

It the beginning of the late 19th century, works by writers such as Albert Silva, Adara Hasuna, and W. A. Silva appear as secular Sinhala literature and the novel take hold. Martin Wickramasinghe (1891-1976) and his protégé G. B. Senanayake made names for themselves in the 20th century when Sinhala literature was based primarily on the Western model.

Science-fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917 -2008), author of “2001: A Space Odyseey” was born in England but famously lived in Sri Lanka. Regarded as the H.G. Wells and Jules Verne of our time, Clarke became a citizen of Sri Lanka and initially fell in love with scuba diving. Author and poet Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka in 1942 but now is a Canadian citizen. He received the 1992 Booker Prize for his novel “The English Patient”, which was made in an Oscar-winning movie. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations”, 2007]

Romesh Gunesekera's short story collection “Monkifish” was shortlisted for the 1994 Booker Prize. His second novel, “The Reef”, and his third novel “Sandglass” (1998), were also well received. Canadian-Sri Lankan writer Shyam Selvadurai has also won some acclaim. His debut novel, “Funny Boy”, is story about coming fo age in war-torn Sri Lanka. The “Cinnamon Garden” is about a relationship between a man and a woman during the colonial period. Michelle de Kretser was regarded as an up and coming writer in the 2000s. “The Hamilton Case” is a novel about colonial Ceylon.

D.R. Martin Wickremasinghe (1890-1976) was a well known short-story writer, novelist and literary critic, whose works were extremely popular among the Sinhala literati of the time. He made tremendous impact on the Sinhala-reading public. Don Stephen Senanayake (1884–1952) was leader of the Sri Lankan independence movement; and is regarded as the father and founder of Sri Lanka. He steered the country to independence and it could be said that Sri Lanka's post-independence began with him. [Source: My Sri Lanka ]

Dr. Ediriweera Sarachchandra (1914 — 1996) was A playwright who sought to revive indigenous dramatic traditions; He began his career as a teacher and wrote Maname and Sinhabahu, two of the best loved plays in Sri Lanka. In literature, he introduced standards of criticism and authored some books.

Historical Sources on Sri Lanka

The famous German Orientalist Wilhelm Geiger said: “One of the greatest contributions of the Sinhalese people to the cultural development of South and South East Asia and to world literature is the creation of a historic literature. It is well-known that on the Indian sub continent before the invasion of the Islamic conquerors virtually no historic literature had developed... Sri Lanka tells a different story. In the Dipawansa and Mahawamsa and in various other Sinhalese texts, we are given an account of the political and cultural history of the island from earliest times until the present time", [Source: Wilhelm Geiger — His Life and Works, Heinz Bechert, 2nd ed]

“The first literary reference to Sri Lanka is found in the Indian epic, the Ramayana written about 500 B.C. The epic tells the story of the Indian Prince Ram’s 14-year exile from his homeland, Ayodhya. Accompanied by his wife, Sita, and his brother, Lakshman, the trio wandered through the north Indian forest. Ravenna, the demon king of Lanka, saw Sita and wanted her for his bride. Through magical treachery he abducted her and took her to the Island of Lanka. While she was there, she refused all his advances and was kept a prisoner. With the aid of Hanuman, the monkey-god, Ram went to do battle with Ravenna and eventually slew him. This epic has provided a mythohistorical basis for constructing a historiography of mutual enmity between Sri Lankan Tamils (of Indian origin) and the Sinhalese. [Source: Robert T. Francoeur, Victor C. de Munck, Ph.D., Patricia Weerakoon, Ph.D., “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, 2002]

Study of Sri Lanka’s archeology began in 1890 when the Archeological Survey of Ceylon was established by British authorities to examine the remains of Sigiraya and other sites “before the rapidly disappearing monuments of the past have altogether perished”. There was some conflict between monks who wanted to use the sites as pilgrimage sites and archeologists who wanted to study and preserve them.

The “Epigraphica Zeylinica”, assembled by the University of Cambridge, comprises 274 volumes and has over 3000 inscriptions from Ceylon. That is more inscriptions than the whole of mainland China has, even though Sri Lanka is only 1/2 the size of the state of New York. The oldest inscriptions date back to the 6th century B.C. Over 2000 of these have been deciphered, indicating the consistent development of the Sinhalese language.

Mahavamsa and Culavamsa

Much of what is known about ancient and medieval Sri Lanka — as well as a lot about ancient and medieval India — is based on the historical chronicles, the “Mahavamsa” (“Great Chronicles”), which describes the history of the Sinhalese beginning with the arrival of the first settlers from northern India in the 6th century B.C. and ends with events in 1815. A meticulously kept historical chronicle first written in the Pali language the A.D. 5th century in an epic poem style, it describes Sri Lanka as a land predestined to preserve and spread Buddhism. Some of the information in these chronicles is of questionable veracity. The founding prince for example is described at the offspring of a lion and princess.

The Mahavamsa and other chronicles were assembled by monks. The “Culavamsa” (“Small Chronicles”) and “Thupavamsaya” (“Chronicle of the Great Stupa”) are other historical records. The most well-known historical chronicles of Sri Lanka include the Dipawansa, Mahavamsa, Culavamsa, Thupavansa, Rajavaliya, Pujavaliya, Attana-galu Vihara Vansa, Dhatuvansa, Elu-Attangaluvansa, Elu-Buddha Vansa, Maha Bodhivansa, Daladavansa and Viharavansa.

Unlike India, which has no tradition of historical writing, the Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka kept historical chronicles, the most famous of which is the Mahavamsa (the great dynasty or genealogy), written in the 6th century C.E. The Mahavamsa is a compilation of historical chapters, many of which center around the adventures of Vijaya, a Bengali prince who sailed to Sri Lanka in the 5th century B.C. and married the queen of the Vedas, Kuveni. Vijaya is acknowledged to be the primogeniture of the Sinhalese people.

Many of the other chapters in the Mahavamsa document the many Sinhalese Buddhist kings who rose up against Tamil conquerors. Aside from Vijaya, the central heroic figure in the Mahavamsa is King Duttugemunu, who, around 145 B.C., waged a 15-year war against the South Indian Tamil King Elara. Duttugemunu finally defeated Elara and is consequently considered a hero by the Sinhalese. The Culavamsa (or lesser dynasty) is a continuation of the Mahavamsa, and traces the history of Sri Lanka through the 18th century.

Both the Mahavamsa and Culavamsa were written by Buddhist monks whose main objective was to recount the glories of Buddhist kings who fought against Hindu kings. Contemporary popular accounts of the current civil war in Sri Lanka frequently cite the battle between the Tamil invader, Elara, and Duttugemunu, who is depicted as the defender of Buddhism and the freedom of the Sinhalese people, as the basis for the civil war that has been ongoing since 1982. But the actual history of Sri Lanka does not support this contention. In fact, according to Tambiah (1986), most of Sri Lankan history is marked with cordial and extensive trading relations between Tamils and Sinhalese, with only rare outbursts of interethnic violence. In fact, the last Sri Lankan king ruled from the highland city of Kandy and was of Tamil descent. In 1815, he signed a peace treaty with the British colonial government and abdicated his throne.

Origins of Sinhala Literature

Newton Pinto wrote in "A Short History of Sinhalese Literature": “Extant literature does not lead us beyond the 9th Century CE (Common Era). Yet it cannot be said that this alone proves the non-existence of an earlier literature. The Nikâya Sangrahaya mentions twelve poets during the time of Agbo II, about the 2nd Century B.C. (Before Common Era). [Sources:"A Short History of Sinhalese Literature" by Newton Pinto (Colombo: M.D.Gunasena, 1954, no longer); "The Sinhalese" by Nandadeva Wijesekera (Colombo: Gunasena, 1990). Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

The extant Pali commentaries, according to their principal compiler Buddhaghosa Thera are also said to be translations from Sinhalese originals all of which are now lost. Dr Adhikaram lists 28 works now lost which would have been used by Buddhaghosa many in Sinhala such as: Sihalatthakathâ Mahâvasa, Mahâ Paccâriya Atthakathâ, Sîhala Dhammapadatthakathâ, a Sinhala treatise on medicine, etc The Gätapada works also betray traces of other strata of language harking back to earlier times.

The earliest extant works of substantial length in Sinhala are the Siyabaslakara and Elu Sandas Lakuna. They too refer to earlier works and the fact that they are works on poetics shows us that there must have been an earlier literature.

Both Sanskrit and Pali appear to have influenced the Sinhalese of the Anuradhapura period. New sounds were added to the language as words were taken into Sinhalese both as derivatives and in the pure form. Verse however remained "Elu" or pure Sinhalese. The Sigiriya verses also belong to this class — reminiscences of a lost age.

Sinhalese Prose Literature

Asiff Hussein wrote: ”Sinhalese literature dates back to well over 2000 years and is heir to the great Aryan literary tradition as embodied in the hymns of the Rig Veda, collection of Sanskrit verses composed by the ancient Indo Aryans around 1500 B.C. Vyasa"s Mahabharata, Valmiki"s Ramayana, Kalhana"s Rajatarangini and Somadeva"s Kathasaritsagara are some of the masterpieces belonging to this great literary tradition, not to mention the Panchatantra composed by an anonymous Indian author in about the 3rd century . which is the source of a good many European fairy tales as shown by the German Scholar Johannes Hertel in his "Das Pancatantra" (1914). [Source: Asiff Hussein, Explore Sri Lanka]

There is literary evidence to show that the Mahavansa, the great chronicle of Sinhalese royalty composed in Pali in the 5th century . has drawn heavily from the ancient commentaries in the Sinhala languages known as the Sihalatthakatha. The German Philologist Wilhelm Geiger has shown in his "Noch einmal Dipavamsa and Mahavansa" that the Mahavansa was based on an old Atthakatha (commentary) composed in old Sinhala prose. This work appears to have comprised of historical records of a religious nature and collections of legends. These legends dealt with the early beginnings of the Sinhalese nation from a band of Aryan-speaking colonists from Bengal, deeds of the early kings, wars and other matters of historical importance.

The Mahavansa in itself is a literary masterpiece of the highest order. Composed in fine Pali verse, it narrates the adventures of Prince Vijaya, the founding father of the Sinhalese nation, the romantic union of Prince Gamani and Ummada-chittha, the wars waged by their son Pandukabhaya against his ten uncles, the campaigns of King Dutthagamani against the Dravidian invaders, the justice of the Tamil usurper Elara, the insatiable lust of the nymphomaniac Queen Anula and the self-sacrifice of King Sirisangabo, the paragon of Buddhist virtue, amongst other stories.

These wonderful narratives are based on actual fact, though they contain much literary embellishment. The Sinhalese possess a vast corpus of literature both in prose and in verse written in the Sinhalese language. The old literature has been preserved in palm manuscripts (pus-kola) penned with a stylus.

Sinhalese Poetry

Asiff Hussein wrote: The Sinhalese have, of all the arts, excelled in poetry. Sinhala, the language of the Sinhalese, is a poetical language. It lends itself easily to meter and rhyme due to its grammatical flexibility and rich vocabulary comprising of a large number of synonyms. Sinhala itself is a mellifluous language with a high vowel content and is comparable to French and Urdu, widely regarded to be the two most romantic languages in the world. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Explore Sri Lanka]

A specimen from a late 18th century poem, the "Kalingabodhi Jataka-Kava", a versified form of the story of Prince Sulukalingu contained in the "Kalingabodhi Jataka", composed by the poet Dunuvila will bear this out. Cited below is a quatrain from the poem describing the prince"s journey to the forest.

Nil digu varal kusuman benda gothala
Pul rathu upul mal savanata sadala
El gevi kal kiyana liyagi asala
Lol hera giye
Kumarindu mana pinala [The prince heard the heart-captivating songs of the pretty women in the fields of rice who had arranged their long flowing hair with flowers and tucked full blossomed red lotuses behind their ears, and went away, full of joy, but not captivated by them].

According to Prof. Sen-arat Paranavithana (Brahmi inscriptions in Sinhalese verse Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Ceylon. 1945), the earliest extant specimens of Sinhalese metrical compositions may be dated to the first century B.C. At least four of the early Brahmi inscriptions of Sri Lanka have been identified as poetical compositions.

As may be gleaned from literary sources such as the "Pujavaliya" (13th century) the reign of King Aggabodhi I (568-601 ) was a period of great literary activity. Twelve famous poets, namely Demi, Bebiri, Kithsiri, Anuruth, Dalagoth, Dalasala, Dalabiso, Puravadu, Sakdamala, Asakdamala, Suriyabahu and Kesub-Kotha-Epa flourished during the king"s reign.

See Separate Article on POETRY IN SRI LANKA

Oldest Sinhala Literatur

Asiff Hussein wrote: ”The oldest extant Sinhala prose work we have dates back to the ninth century. This is the Dhampiya-Atuva-Getapadaya, a glossary to the Dhammapadatthakatha (a Buddhist story book in Pali) compiled by King Kassapa V (913-923 ) This is not to say that there existed no Sinhala prose work before this period. In fact the commentary to the Mahavansa, Vansatthappakasini, mentions a collection of a thousand stories known as the Sahassavatthuppakarana which is now lost to us. It is possible that some of its stories survive in the 14th century Saddharmalankaraya just as the tales of the lost Persian work Hezar efsaneh (thousand stories) survive in the Arabian nights (Alf layla wa layl). [Source: Asiff Hussein, Explore Sri Lanka]

There is reason to believe that the above work was based on some old Sinhala original. Another lost old Sinhala work, the Katha-vasthu is believed to be the source of the Rasavahini, a collection of popular tales in Pali compiled by Vedeha thera. Another early work, the Mahabodhi Getapadaya composed about the 12th century by an anonymous author is a glossary to aid students master the Mahabodhivansa, a history of the sacred Bodhi tree in Pali.

It is evident that many of the early Sinhala prose works were intended as accessories for comprehensive Pali works. Another such example, composed about the same period is the Jataka-Atuva-Getapadaya, a glossary to the Pali Jatakatthakatha which is a commentary of the Jataka tales narrated in connection with the supposed previous births of the Buddha.

Sinhala Literature in Medieval Times

Asiff Hussein wrote: ”It is the Polonnaruwa (10th — early 13th centuries) and the Dambadeniya (13th century) periods which mark the efflorescence of Sinhala prose literature. The 13th century is widely considered to be the golden age of Sinhala literature. The Amavatura (lit. flood of nectar) written about 13th century by the Buddhist lay disciple Gurulugomi is one such example. This work deals with the life of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. Besides, it also narrates a number of other tales connected with the Buddha or the Boddhisattva (as the Buddha is known in his supposed previous incarnations) such as the story of the beautiful Ditthamangalika and the outcaste, the story of King Ajatasatru the parricide and the story Angulimala the highwayman. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Explore Sri Lanka]

Gurulugomi is also credited with the authorship of the Dharmap-radipikava (the lamp of the good doctrine), a commentary to the earlier mentioned Mahabodhivansa. Gurulugomi"s works are characterised by the use of almost pure Sinhala (Elu) words and limiting Sanskrit and Pali loan words to the minimum.

In this respect, it differs considerably from the language of the getapadas (glossaries) which contained a good many Pali and Sanskrit loans. Other 13th century works of a religious character include the Buth-sarana (Refuge in the Buddha) an eulogy in praise of the founder of Buddhism by Vidyachakravarti and the Pujavaliya (Garland of offerings), a collection of Buddhist tales by Mayurapada Buddhaputra. However, none of these surpasses the Saddharma-Ratnavaliya (Garland of the jewels of the good doctrine) a collection of stories meant for the edification of the Buddhist laity by a monk named Dharmasena.

This extensive work which has been largely based on the Dharmmapadatthakatha, a collection of Buddhist stories in Pali is renowned for the beauty of its style and the simplicity of its language. The stories of Sundara Samudda, Vasuladatta and of Tissa the fat are the more interesting tales narrated in the work.

The Indian tales " upon which the stories have been based " have been embellished and retold for the Sinhalese reader and therefore reflects contemporary social conditions to a significant extent. Martin Wickremasinghe (purana Sinhala stringe enduma) observes thus: "In the pages of the Saddharama Ratnavaliya are to be seen similes and descriptions which reflects the manners, customs, thoughts and ideas of its day. There is no other Sinhala work so helpful in the investigation of the conditions of the olden day Sinhalese." Other works of the period as well as those works of preceding and succeeding periods, also possess this characteristic. In fact, Prof M. B. Ariyapala (Society in medieval Ceylon 1956) has successfully reconstructed the society and life-style of the Sinhalese as it existed in the 13th century through a detailed study of the Saddharma-Ratnavaliya and other similar works. Another notable medieval prose work is the Saddharmalankaraya (ornament of the good law) composed by Jayabahu Dharmakirti in the 14th century.

The work, like the Saddharma-Ratnavaliya has a moral objective. Amongst other tales, it contains the story of King Dutugemunu (known as Dutthagamani in Pali works) and his exploits against the Dravidian invaders from the Chola country and the romance of his son Prince Sali with an untouchable (Chandala) maiden named Asokamala for whose sake he renounced the throne. Other notable medieval prose works include the Thupavansaya, Elu-Attanagalu vansaya and the Dambadeni asna. These works may be categorised as historical literature as they mainly deal with the history of Buddhist edifices and relics.

Colonial Period Sinhala Literature

Asiff Hussein wrote: ”From the Kotte period (15th century) until the late 19th century we see a decline of Sinhala prose literature and a resurgence of Sinhala poetry such as war poems (hatan kavi) and message poems (sandeshas) modelled after Kalidasa"s Meghaduta. This is perhaps attributable to the fact that this period was a turbulent one due to wars against successive European colonial powers, namely the Portuguese (1505-1658), Dutch (1658-1796) and British (1796-1815) colonialists. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Explore Sri Lanka]

Such a situation would have naturally been conducive to the growth of poetry in the form of panegyrics and romances. As would have been noticed, the vast majority of the ancient and medieval Sinhalese literary works are of a religious (Buddhist) character. This is due to the fact that Sinhala scholarship had traditionally been the domain of the clerical establishment, which accounts for the scarcity of good secular works in the language during the olden days.

However, beginning from the late 19th century we notice a surge in secular Sinhala literature. The Sinhala novel also had its beginnings during this period. These include Albert Silva"s Vimala (1892) and Adara Hasuna (1894). Another early novel which gained immense popularity was Simon Silva"s Meena (1905). Other early novelists include Piyadasa Sirisena, Sagara Palansuriya, Munidasa Kumaratunga, Hemapala Munidasa, W.A. Silva and J.H. Perera.

This period also saw the revision of old works on medicine and other subjects of scientific interest. Even such themes as the interpretation of dreams did not go unaddressed as is evident in Hisvelle pandit"s Svapna-malaya (1865). Reputed foreign works were also translated into Sinhala during this period, a notable example being Arabinishollasaya (1891) a translation of the Arabian nights. One of the greatest modern day Sinhala novelists was Martin Wickremasinghe, whose epoch making works Gam peraliya and Yuganthaya appealed to the hearts of a generation that was just beginning to shed the last vestiges of European socio-cultural domination in the island.

Other famous modern novels include Gunadasa Amarasekara"s Yali upannemi and Depa noladdo, Ediriweera Sarachchandra"s Mala-giya ettho and Valmath vi hasarak nudutimi, K. Jayatilleke"s Apra-sanna Kathavak and Siri Guna-singhe"s Hevanella

Foreign Writers in Sri Lanka

Foreign writers have long been attracted to Sri Lanka perhaps because of its reputation as a tropical paradise. English novelist Horace Walpole (1717-1797) used the word "serendipity" in his story “The Three Princes of Serendip”. In the past Sri Lanka was known as Serendib as well as Ceylon and Lanka. Serendib is the source of the word serendipity

The writer Paul Bowles — based most of his life in Tangeirs, Morocco and author of “Sheltering Sky” — bought an island off of Weligama and wrote “The Spider’s House” there in the 1950s. He told Paul Theroux: “I loved it. I happened to be visiting the Duke of Pembroker at Wilton...I told them I wanted to go somewhere warm. They suggested Ceylon. It was an awful trip on a Polish ship. I went to Colombo and then down to Galle an then on to this island. It was small, no more than an acre, but covered with wonderful plants that a Frenchman had brought from all over the world. When the island was put up for sale I wired my bank and bought it.”

Describing the weather and birds in January 1950, Bowles wrote: “Muggy, heavy, lazy, threatening, with occasionally a small breeze as hot as the breath of a man with a fever. And the birds in the shadeless trees around the bungalow don’t sing: they cough, choke, gurgle, grunt, hammer, sputter, croak and yell, a welter of ridiculous noises that have no right to come out of the throats of birds. there’s one at the moment which sounds exactly like the telegraph on a country station buzzing out its Morse code.”

Jon Lee Anderson wrote in The New Yorker: “In 1914, Leonard Woolf’s younger sister, Bella Sidney Woolf, published an illustrated guidebook titled “How to See Ceylon.” Leonard, who had not yet married the novelist Virginia Stephen, worked in Ceylon as a colonial administrator, and Bella went to visit him before settling there herself. It was the Edwardian era of languorous travel by rail and rickshaw, croquet clubs, and afternoon teas attended by servants. Woolf wrote, “The stranger, looking down on the motley throng that threads the streets of Ceylon, is bewildered, puzzled. How is he to distinguish between all these people?” She ventured a brief comparison of the island’s two main ethnicities: “The Tamil cooly, it must be conferred, is a much more law abiding, peaceful person than the Sinhalese. Apart from the hot temper which leads to the flashing out of a knife and murder, there is an undercurrent of malice in village life.”

Mark Twain in Ceylon

In “Follow the Equator” (1896), Mark Twain described a visit to Ceylon during a lecture tour of the British Empire. The Clemens party stayed at Hotel Bristol one night. Twain described Sri Lanka as, “a radiant panorama, that wilderness of rich color, that incomparable dissolving view of harmonious tints,” while lamenting this “dream of fairyland and paradise” was being ruined by European and missionary influences. “Unspeakably hot. The equator is arriving again. We are within eight degrees of it. Ceylon present. Dear me, it is beautiful! And most sumptuously tropical, as to character of foliage and opulence of it. ‘What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle’ – an eloquent line, an incomparable line; it says little, but conveys whole libraries of sentiment, and Oriental charm and mystery, and tropic deliciousness – a line that quivers and tingles with a thousand unexpressed and inexpressible things, things that haunt one and find no articulate voice.”

Twain wrote in his notebook: One very seldom sees the ocean slick enough to cast reflections, often as we see the reverse stated; but now (noon) nearing Colombo, the vast piles of pink, and leaden and snow-white clouds on the horizon are repeated in detail in the slick and polished surface of the sea [NB 37 TS 24].

April 3 Friday – Shortly after noon, the Wardha arrived in Colombo, Ceylon. At 9:30 p.m. Sam gave his “At Home” lecture in Public Hall, to what Lorch calls “a highly appreciative but disappointingly small audience,” due to it being Good Friday and with inclement weather. Livy and Clara spent the day sightseeing in Kandy; The Clemenses were guests of Dr. Murray, surgeon, “delightful people and a delightful bungalo” [Ahluwalia 20; Lorch 194].

April 4 Saturday – At 5: 30 in Colombo, Sam gave another “At Home” lecture, probably his No. 2 program. In the evening during a tropical downpour, the Clemens party sailed on the S.S. Wardha for Port Louis, Mauritius [Ahluwalia 20].

Michael Ondaatje

The Oscar-winning film “English Patient” — starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe and Kristin Scott Thomas — is based on a novel by the same name by Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje. The novel also won Britain's coveted Booker Prize in 1992.

Ondaatje was born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1943. He has lived most of his life in Canada and is a Canadian citizen. Despite his relative short time in Sri Lanka, the country often provided settings and material for his books. Ondaatje lived in relative obscurity and established himself as a poet, filmmaker and educator. After “English Patient” won the Booker Prize in 1992 his life changed and could longer find as much time to write.

The “English Patient” was Ondaatje's third novel. His fourth novel, “Anil's Ghost” was published in 2000. It follows three different groups of people and is set during civil war with the Tamil Tigers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “Running in the Family” is his account of returning to Sri Lanka in the 1970s

In Anil’s Ghost, forensic pathologist Anil Tissera returns to Sri Lanka in the middle of the civil war as part of a United Nations Human Rights Investigation. In an ancient burial ground, which is also a government-protected zone, Anil, along with archaeologist Sarath Diyasena, discovers the skeleton of a recently murdered man. Believing the murder to be politically motivated, Anil and Sarath set out to identify the skeleton, nicknamed Sailor, and to seek justice for the nameless victims of the war.

The novel explores the acute devastation caused by civil war and the need to bring into the open what happened and who was responsible before trying to move on. At the beginning of the book, a woman is sitting on a grave, looking down at the remains of two bodies that may be her husband and brother abducted a year earlier. She pictures them resting one beside the other having eaten the lunch she prepared for them: “There are no words Anil knows that can describe, even for just herself, the woman’s face. But the grief of love in that shoulder she will not forget, still remembers.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (, Government of Sri Lanka (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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