Balha Gilano : Henry & Manel

by Helasingha Bandara

Henry Jayasena, Manel and their son Sudaraka- File photo
(January 24, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) 'Balha Gilano' of which the Singhalese meaning 'Balawathse Gilanwa' is the story of the final few years of the lives of monumental actors Henry and Manel Jayasena. Words have deeper meanings when taken in a cultural context. In this regard it is hard to find a literal English translation of the word 'Gilanwa' for the meaning that it has inculcated in my mind as a Sri Lanka born person. To me 'Gilanwa' is a blend of age and sickness. The best I can do to translate 'Balawathse Gilanwa 'into simple English is to say 'taken very ill' to convey the meaning of the title of the book for the comprehension of an English only reader.

In 1999, at the age of sixty eight,Henry Jayasena fell ill with Colon cancer and 'Balha Gilano' is the record of events that followed the diagnosis. The book has a true story and real life events. Its characters are not fictitious. Therefore it does not fall into the category of fiction but anecdotes. Nonetheless, it still remains within the framework of creative writing as Henry has been able to use the simplest language and natural dialogue of people to the best effect to tell his story. His purpose of writing the story is to prepare the reader to accept that pain, aging and illness as part of everyone's life . With such understanding people can in fact better mange the effects of the suffering. I did not travel nearly 20,000 KM to New Zealand to hear that life is all about suffering. Being a Buddhist I have heard enough of the subject. I traveled to New Zealand on the invitation of

Dr. & Mrs.C.M.Wijayarathna to be rid of the suffering and stress and to have a change instead. However the accidental reading of Henry's 'Balha Gilano' must have renewed my comprehension of the universal truth into a new height with the real life example that he depicts in his book. It has left an indelible mark in my memory which seems to go on lingering for a long time to come. Only a masterpiece is able to affect such an effect on the human mind! Thank you Nanda and Chandrani Jayasuriya for lending me the book.

Henry falls ill with cancer and Manel was there to look after him during the recuperation following long time treatment. Suddenly she herself started ailing. She dies unexpectedly and untimely at the age of 68 within four years of Henry's illness leaving Henry destitute if not for his only son and his young family. The story was true and simple but not unheard of. The difference between a multitude of such stories and this one is that there was Henry Jayasena who has won love and affection of millions of Sri Lankans to write about himself and his loving wife Manel who is equally loved and appreciated again by millions of people. He has been able to write it in such poignant style that no reader can escape tears. Moreover the real life people in the story who are famous and the true events that take place help conveying the massage strongly and effectively .

Although the book indicates that the couple had not much money and other material wealth, they were not ordinary people. Both of them were highly talented and well known actors. At least from the late 60s to the 80s they were household names in Sri Lanka. I have no idea what the bogus rapper generation of today's Sri Lanka thinks of them.. Hunuwataye Kathawa , an adaptation of The Caucasian Chalk Circle of Bertolt Brecht was synonymous with Henry and Manel as Azdak and Grusha. Some other famous stage plays that are associated with Henry and Manel are Janelaya, Kuweni, Thawath Udesanak, Apata Puthe Magak Nethe and Diriya Mawa Saha Ege Daruwo, The duo were respected by everyone, their friends and family are invariably well to do and if they wanted preferential treatment they were in a position to get it. With all that neither of them could lessen the pain that they had to undergo or change the destiny of each other. Henry's message was that if they could not change the suffering no one else can. What about the millions of poor people of Sri Lanka who have absolutely nothing or no one to help alleviating their suffering! The author himself says that he has seen hundreds of helpless ordinary people queuing in the public hospitals being unable to receive sufficient help in good time.

Thank you Henry for writing your story for everyone to read. Can someone send a copy of this book to each of the Rajapakshas please! If they learn the universal truth that aging, illness, decay and death disregard wealth, power and popularity, they may change their attitude towards ordinary people and work to improve the quality of life of the helpless masses. Improving the quality of the lives of poor people would be the best honour that a government, a country and its people can bestow upon a great son and a daughter of mother Lanka who relentlessly worked hard to put a little smile on the poor peoples' lips. Only the rulers can do this for and on behalf of all of us.

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