I believe in storytelling – Buddhadasa Galappatthy | Sunday Observer

I believe in storytelling – Buddhadasa Galappatthy

14 May, 2021

Veteran artiste Buddhadasa Galappatthy’s two new books “Jeewana Susuma” (Moaning of Soul), a collection of short stories and “Kavi Mihira” (Enjoyment of Poetry), a volume of literary columns were launched recently as Sarasavi Publishers. The Sunday Observer spoke to him to discuss his books along with his experiences in Dr. Sarachchandra’s plays as he was the make-up artiste of them.


Q: Most of the time you publish books after you serialise them in newspapers, but this short story volume “Jeewana Suwanda” consists of stories which are not previously published in any paper while your other book “Kavi Mihira” is a newspaper column book?

A: Yes, “Jeewana Suwanda,” my fifth short story volume is a compilation of new short stories. “Kavi Mihira,” on the other hand, comprises my newspaper columns that I wrote weekly as “Kavi Mihira” to a Sinhala newspaper. “Kavi Mihira” is indeed an attempt to review selected poems. I think those reviews help the reader to comprehend the poems while it motivates relevant authors too.

Q: It seems that you take the short story as just a story which is not a high quality in literature?

A: My position is that a short story writer explores an experience which anyone can share. I don’t bother about the structural part of it. I just believe in telling the story. My structure is decided by my experience. My poems are also like that, they recreate life. It is very rare that my poems and stories pursue experiments.

Q: How do you choose the experience for a poem and for a short story if you depend on the story exclusively?

A: Generally, I consider a poem should be short. It’s a moment’s experience. Therefore, if I write a poem, I am not going to tell a story through it. I enjoy more freedom when I write a poem whereas in a short story I spend more time and show more perseverance. Actually, I sometimes feel that some of my short stories are extensions of some of my poems. For instance, I wrote a poem about a Corona patient, and I also wrote a short story about a Corona patient as “Asaditaya”

(Infected Person) in this book “Jeewana Suwanda.” But you will see that it is not the same thing that you enjoy in each genre. I sometimes take down notes for a short story, but for a poem, I never take down notes. It’s a matter of moment’s work.

Q: You said that you are not going to tell a story when you write a poem, but how about narrative poetry?

A: Yes, a poet writes a story when he is writing narrative poetry, because there he has to focus on the character portrayal too. Though I never wrote narrative poetry, I am not going to tell a story through a short poem. It’s a moment’s experience.

Q: How long do you take to finish a short story and a poem?

A: Generally, I spend six - seven months on a short story, but its story perhaps has been lingering in me for one or two years. I don’t spend that much time on a poem.

Q: Who are the people who inspired you?

A: For poetry writing, it is none-other than Gunadasa Amarasekara who influenced me immensely. I have been reading his poems since I was a schoolboy. So he naturally inspired me more than any poet. Besides him, Mahagama Sekara and Siri Gunasinghe also influenced me. As for the short story, again it was Gunadasa Amarasekara who influenced me greatly. Next, Dayasena Gunasinghe, Ajith Thilakasena and Simon Nawagatthegama affected me considerably. Luckily, I could associate with all these writers personally.

Q: Have you associated with veteran poet Mahagama Sekara?

A: Yes, of course. I remember once I went to see him at his rented house in Sri Bodhi Road, Gampaha, with the late Jayalath Manorathne - that happened on August 30, 1971. We actually went there to get him to design the book cover of “Dolos Mahe Pahana.” The book was co-authored by three writers who are Jayalath Manorathne, Sunil Ariyarathne and me. I vividly remember that when we went there, Sekara came to welcome us to the verandah without a shirt. The hair of his bare midriff was also revealed to us like Maha Kalu Sinhalaya. His house was an ordinary and simple one, and we even saw his awards and trophies placed untidily on a cabinet in the living room.

At that time he was the Principal of the Government Arts’ School, and the Registrar was S.A. Premarathne, the organiser of our drama circle. Mahagama Sekara sent us the designed book cover through S.A. Premarathne. In my view, it is his humbleness that he sent us the book cover without asking for charges for the cover design. Today, we can never expect such humbleness from a book cover designer. Through this experience I understood that his humanity was not different from his characters’ humanity in the poetry.

Q: How about the influence of Sarachchandra?

A: It was his language more than anything that influenced me. His personality, his character also strongly affected me. Though I was not a student of his classroom, I consider Dr. Sarachchandra as my teacher. I joined his drama group in 1969. Since then, I was with him until his death in 1996. He called me for his dramas, and asked me to proof read some of his books too. He acknowledged my proof reading in his autobiographical book “Pin Athi Sarasavi Waramak Denne” too.

Q: You worked under his direction as a make-up artist. What are the things you learned from him?

A: First, he never criticised my make-up work. He actually taught us not by blaming, but by witty remarks. He was very skilful in getting things done. He never manipulated us, but got things done through our own creativity. I always appreciate his literary analysis. Some are very critical about this. But I never felt that his evaluation was wrong.

He admired any good work regardless of its author. I can recall that he appreciated the drama “Maya Devi” by K.B. Herath. It was 1984. He said about “Maya Devi” that it was a great attempt in terms of originality when there were very rare original scripts. Though he was a stylistic dramatist, he appreciated a non stylistic drama by K.B. Herath. Right from the outset, he appreciated the poetry of Monika Ruwanpathirana, Parakrama Kodithuwakku and me. It shows his tendency to help young writers.

And I saw that he always took the right decision. I vividly remember one incident which took place on March 7, 1971: There were two Sarachchandra dramas in a drama festival at the University of Vidyalankara or the University of Kelaniya. The first drama that was played was “Sinhabahu”, but for some mistake in the chorus, students started to hoot at the drama. At this time Dr. Sarachchandra was at Peradeniya. But he got to know about this incident. He was so enraged by it that he refused to give his other drama “Maname” on the final day of the festival.

This caused a huge uproar in the University and a huge problem for its organisers, because at the moment all the tickets were sold. At the moment Dharmasena Pathiraja, a very close student of Sarachchandra was an Assistant Lecturer in Vidyalankara.

So a discussion was held with regard to getting permission from Dr. Sarachchandra to show “Maname” on the final day. Accordingly, five people including Pathiraja, S.A. Premarathne, Padmakumara Ediriweera, a make-up and costume designer of the drama, Edmond Wijesinghe, original Vedda of it and me, went to meet Dr. Sarachchandra at the Peradeniya University.

On our way to Peradeniya, Wimal Kumara De Costa, a close friend of Pathiraja also joined us. When we arrived at Peradeniya, it was midnight, so the final decision by Sarachchandra came on the following morning. But the decision was very clear. He categorically rejected our appeal for allowing the drama for the festival. Today, I think he was quite right in his decision, because if people hooted a drama like “Sinhabahu”, would they deserve to watch other dramas?

Q: Eva Ranaweera is also another person you highly regard?

A: Yes, she was the first who encouraged me to write by publishing my poems and short stories. I was still a student at the University of Vidyodaya when I started to write stories and poems for her magazine “Vanitha Viththi”. She constantly published my poems on her poetry page and short stories on her short story page in the “Vanitha Vitthi” published by Times Newspaper Pvt Ltd. Not only her, but also Sriya Rathnakara, the editor of the “Sri” magazine, Sumana Saparamadu, the editor of the “Tharunee”, and M.A. Wimal, the editor of the “Rasa Katha”, a separate newspaper of the Dawasa Newspaper (Pvt.) Ltd. also helped with my writing.

Q: You were a radio story writer too?

A: Of course, here I should mention Sugathapala De Silva, a veteran playwright and journalist at Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). He produced a 15-minute program at SLBC for short stories to which I wrote stories once a month. At the beginning, he rejected five of my short stories, but with each he wrote back to me pointing out my weak points in the writing. They helped me immensely to develop my literary skills.

Those days it was a fashion to write short stories for radio. Many writers emerged as popular radio writers thanks to the radio. I can recall Arawwala Nandimithra, Kapila Kumara Kalinga, Rohana Kasthuri and Lakshmi Bombuwala were very popular among them. However, at a later time, my name also became popular in radio dramas.

Q: Are you working on another book now?

A: No, I only focus on my journalistic writings. You know I write two newspaper columns weekly, and edit two poetry pages in two newspapers. So my time is full with these tasks. I have no time to work on books though some of my journalistic writings ultimately turned out to be books. The main problem now is you know the consequences of the Corona pandemic. We are in such a pressurised situation that we can’t concentrate on creative writing. Even we have no chance to meet a friend. Because of this tension it seems the mental balance is falling. This is a serious matter as far as I’m concerned.