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Book Review: One man’s Dystopia is another man’s Utopia

Kapila Kumara Kalinga has an illustrious career in writing spanning over four decades as a novelist, script writer and a journalist with occasional forays into song writing and as a stage drama director. 

by Pramod Kandanarachchi writing from Brecksville, Ohio

Adisi Nadiya, Fiction, 328 pages
Author: Kapila Kumara Kalinga
Publisher: Fast Printers (PVT), Ltd. (2018)
ISBN: 978-955-677-798-7

Adisi Nadiya is the latest work from Kapila Kumara Kalinga who won 2019 Golden Book (Swarna Pusthaka) honor for the best novel awarded by Sri Lanka Book Publishers’ Association.

Kapila Kumara Kalinga has an illustrious career in writing spanning over four decades as a novelist, scriptwriter and a journalist with occasional forays into songwriting and as a stage drama director. His most recent stage play Banku Weeraya is gaining popularity these days. He won the state award for the best adaptation for his stage play, Rhinoceros and the Vidyodaya Award for the best novel Piyasi Kawluwa in 2012.

Perhaps his most popular creation was writing the lyrics for Wasanthaye Aga Hamuwemu Sonduriya sung by Edward Jayakody.

A common element of his literary work, whether a short story written for a Sunday edition of a newspaper in late 1970s, his early stage drama script Sihina Sappuwa or his first award winning novel Piyasi Kawluwa, is simplicity coupled with satire. At the same time all were products after deep inroads into socio-cultural, political and psychological factors regulating human behavior.

Adisi Nadiya does the same while exploring a make-believe city on the surface and at the same time digging deep into realities of socio-cultural and political dynamics of our own world.

One of the unique features of his art is that one does not need be a profound thinker or a learned scholar to enjoy and be inspired by his work. There always is enough material on the surface of his writings to be part of his imagination. There is no need to dig deep unless that is what makes you tick when you read a book, listen to music or watch a stage play. Even if that is the case (in other word if you belong to “Prabuddha” school of art), then Kapila Kumara Kalinga provides a cornucopia of insights as you search for a deeper meaning of his art form too.

Adisi Nadiya is not an exception. But let’s first explore the surface of this novel first.

This fable happens in a faraway city—a peculiar one for that matter. This place is inhabited by somewhat mediocre lot who do not mind being without an individuality. Obviously, there are few people here and there who are not content of being mundane. Few would fight to change their situation, but most would somehow find ways to migrate to other countries to be somebody. Unfortunately, unknown to most of the populate, except perhaps to only few ruling class members, the city is facing an imminent extinction level calamity.

That is when the hero of this fable named Max Excel—handsome and courageous with a well-built body, wearing a blue epaulet and denim pants—enters the city (No. Not on horseback. Maybe by train…).

Max Excel may have gotten much more than he bargained for when he showed up in this city concealing many uncomfortable truths among its citizens as well as dangers buried underneath, literal and figurative. He must play few roles such as a friend, a rebel, a lover, etc. other than the part he came to play as a geologist and a humanist to rescue the people from the impending catastrophe.

This story—on the surface—is about Max Excel’s personal incursions into this city. However, this is a story about numerous characters he stumbles upon, their perspectives, triumphs, misfortunes and secrets too.

Obviously Max makes acquaintances with a couple of gorgeous females as all heroes do. Would I be divulging too much information if I revealed whether he ever gets lucky with them? You will have to buy the book and read to the end if I stirred up your curiosity.

Now let me dig a little deeper (no pun intended!).

Kapila Kumara Kalinga’s intentions are not as innocent as our curiosities to find out whether Max Excel discovers love, joy and happiness at the end. Kapila’s Adisi Nadiya is an allegorical novel. His fantasy city is also governed by an exploitative ruling class who are ruthless toward the masses. Kapila eloquently describes through the experiences and behaviors of various characters who interact with Max—sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes directly—how the unjust social and political order is maintained. The physical danger that Max came to address may just be symbolic of the real eruption that such repressed societies—both psychologically and physically—ultimately would face.

The environment he narrates is like the worlds George Orwell created so eloquently in his novels 1984 or Animal Farm. So, in this city that Kapila made up in his vivid imagination “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” too.

But exactly what tyrannical regime Kapila had in his mind in Adisi Nadiya? Is it the communist countries of twentieth century such as former Soviet Union, China or Cuba? Is it a theocracy such as Afghanistan? Are they the regimes in Sri Lanka in 1970 - 1977 that caused economic hardships to people in the name of some socialist pipe dream? Is it the post 1977 dispensation that caused two wars lasting many years due to the arrogance of their leaders? Is it the LTTE terrorism that formed a dictatorship in Northeast of Sri Lanka for 30 years? Or is it the JVP that formed an equally oppressive parallel government in the rest of Sri Lanka in 1988/1989?

I guess we would never know since we can’t read Kapila’s mind. And it is irrelevant. It all depends on your own angle since one man’s dystopia is another man’s utopia (Just pay a little attention in Facebook after any election and you will see what I mean).

But the beauty of allegorical novels is that it is not up to the writer but for the reader to use his own creativity with all his experiences, perspectives and prejudices to interpret the authors motives. I hope the readers of Adisi Nadiya do just that.

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