A beautiful space of land with the seashore on one side, and a picturesque river on the other, the village of Koggala is something that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to Sinhala literature enthusiasts. The location sets the scene for what is to unfold in the iconic novel Gamperaliya by the maestro Martin Wickramasingha, which I have been experiencing after a sudden wake up call.
The only way to get good at a language is to actually use it, and there really is no shortcut, and the media we consume has a direct effect on the language we have a grasp on. Once I realised that my consumption of media in the English language has started to cost my grasp of Sinhala, it was time to make a change.
Gamperaliya was my response. In more ways than one, it was a returning to roots. The charming setting of the village, the characters that actually feel like real people, and a story about the changing lives of the villagers, a slow burn with a lot of substance that continues to develop, all wrapped in a neat package of the Sinhala language.
A close friend once told me that the best place you can start to learn and master the language is by reading Martin Wickramasinghe’s work, and I highly agree. It has been a while since I’ve read his works again, Madol Duwa being my first introduction to the legendary author, I found myself comfortably turning the pages as the story developed.
One of the biggest reasons why I’ve avoided reading Sinhalese novels for so long may have been how slow the story progresses, but when it comes to Gamperaliya, it might be its strong point. It takes its time, slowly helping us integrate with the casual pace village life sometimes feels to be. But it doesn’t take away anything from the narrative either. By allowing us to linger on each moment, we can take our time to understand more about the characters in the novel and the reasons behind their actions.
It also helped me to improve on my Sinhala because it turns out I’m not as fast a reader as I used to be. And Sinhala only made things slower.
But while I was reading, not to reveal too much, but I realised that by limiting myself to English literary works for so long, I’ve been missing out on something important. Because as entertaining as English fiction can be, it doesn’t catch some of the nuances or relate as much to some aspects of life of Sri Lanka, which is obvious I know.
Yet, I never realised that I have been missing out by not partaking of fiction that addresses these issues, and more often than not, we have to rely on local authors who write in our local language because there are far too few English authors who do capture this all.
If you haven’t given local literature a try, I sincerely recommend that you do. It has been an eye opening exercise for me, and I believe that it will be so for you as well. For some, that language barrier might be a steep bar to cross over, but with help from the right people, I know that you will be able to make it in time, and you grasp on the language will increase by leaps and bounds.
As for me, I plan to continue my exploration of local authors and writing, and maybe expand into other languages as well when I feel ready. Life’s too short not to be trying new things.
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage