SRI LANKA: Universality of poetic feelings ( a book review )

by Professor Sunanda Mahendra

Basil Fernando is a poet cum lawyer and bilingual writer who lives in Hong Kong. Apart form his day to day legal activities, he writes poems both in Sinhala and English. Several English poems have appeared in foreign learned journals. Quite recently one of his collections of English poems came to be translated into Sinhala by Radika Gunaratne titled as ‘Handanu Mena Desaya’, a discussion ensued about the calibre of the unconventional poems, where the poetic persona is seen constantly in search of social justice.

This collection of poems followed the appearance of a Sinhala collection of poems titled as ‘Avanita Hevanella’. This collection was scheduled to be launched at the International Book Fair. In concurrence, Basil Fernando, in his indefatigable mood, has brought out some of his reminiscences which he titles as ‘Nitigngnayakuge Papochcharanaya hevath Mage Kathava’ (Confessions of a Lawyer or My Story).

This, I felt, is a remarkable effort in the search for the truth, and nothing but the truth. He triggers off from his childhood days in a semi-urban village in Handala in the vicinity of the well-known Hamilton Canal namely Palliyawatta. The nature of the dwellers in and around Palliyawatta portrayed vividly with a touch of humanism. He recalls how they are being exploited and as a result made out particular moments to be downtrodden and forcefully made to be poor.

One of the most touching events goes as following. A certain business magnate possessed all the land inherited by villagers. The business magnate, who did not realize the magnitude of his evil deeds, regretted later and reached the point of being imposed a punishment from the natural law.

As a reader, I felt that the readings of Basil Fernando are fused with a certain sense of religio-sensitivity which depicts the needs to express the inexpressibility. The narrator, Basil Fernando, portrays himself as a certain youth who learns from the environment over the mere classroom.

For the narrator, various types of people tend to give more experience as food for thought later in his life. He learns English from erudite teachers and enter the university. He joins the Law Faculty and earns a degree, which enables him to go beyond the required functions of a legal scholar. Instead he achieves the status of an English teacher attached to a new university.

This, he achieves, through his own skills. As a university English teacher, he comes to grips with the student-teacher struggles for a better climate of living and learning. This is shown and turning point in his career, where he sees the need to gain ore knowledge in socio-political thinking.

In his search for more social thinking, he undergoes a series of changes culminating in the need to be in active political activities. Then he recalls how he was transformed into the membership in a left wing political party. Though the author attempts to summarize some of the past events, as a reader I felt that more could have been recorded, giving vent to a better narrative form. Nevertheless the attempt is by no means a loss to the reader.

All these events are recorded in the pages of the story of a lawyer goes to pinpoint yet another significant factor. It is his legal career which he deems as a fortune to be guided under a superb senior lawyer cum judge.

He records with grateful thanks for he was groomed to be honest as a practitioner without stooping down to crafty manipulations of earning more and more money. The earning of heaps of money had never been his policy as a lawyer. Achieving the state of mental balance being honest and stern in personality, he records as the indelible marks in the life of a good lawyer. As indicative, the failure to be in such a state of mind tends a person to search new pastures.

Even without the use of the term ‘brain drain’ or any term that comes closer to it, the writer Basil Fernando heightens the trends that go into the making of a man forcefully leave his birthplace. This has happened all around the globe.

Writers, both creative and otherwise, have been driven to the situation reluctantly. The reader gets the view that the writer of these reminiscences is yearning to make a comeback based on nostalgia which is no longer the reality. Recalling the university education he had at home during his formative stages of the legal career he points out the gravity of parochialism he had undergone in the lecture rooms. He stresses how with energetic stress he underwent the circumstances to achieve the accepted goal

Some of the gravest moments in his life as a lawyer are recorded. These may perhaps help our young lawyers to get a glimpse of the experiences of a senior member of his own regiment. All in all, as a reader I felt that Basil Fernando’s poetic persona is emerging from the pages of the work.

To his credit, the writer Basil Fernando has written six English books and four Sinhala books. Apart from the Sinhala poetry books, he has published several books on human rights and other aspects of jurisprudence. Adhering to the Zen thinking, he states at the very outset that he gets a sudden delight in his own reminiscences. Certainly the reader too feels the same. This book season is in full swing. Among those books that appear before us, this could be reckoned as one of the best for the season.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-072-2014
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Democracy, Human rights defenders,