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K Jayathilaka - The Living Icon of Sinhala literature

by Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge

(September 02, Ontario, Sri Lanka Guardian)
Endowed Sri Lankan writer K Jayathilaka is 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 has 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.

Jayathilaka broadly wrote about the ethnic harmony. His short story Mee Ambha (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.

As a novelist, K. Jayathilaka exposed the social dynamics in the Western province. K Jayathilaka ’s famous novel -Charita Tunak analyses there 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 consequences 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.

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.

Kamalsiri who was banished by the village cast system witnessed the harassments caused to his family. His primary education was disrupted following cast related violence. This incident gave him an opportunity to enter a Catholic school in Colombo. In 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 issue 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 drastically 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.

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 is 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.

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