As Sweet as Honey
By Nisansala Dharmasena Bertholameuze
Kanda–aranee is the word used for bee’s honey by the indigenous people of Sri Lanka. If the jungle and the towns were interconnected by bee’s honey instead of hunted animals this world would have been a better place. Yet again that is just a dream of a poet. Fine meat is usually kept inside bee’s honey to preserve it for a long time.
The Veddas by C.G.Seligman and Brenda Seligman was translated by Chandra Sri Ranasinghe. This was one of the bases for the novel Kanda-aranee by Nishshanka Wijemanna. Dabane Gunewardena, an indigenous person who became a bridge between the world of his own people and the modern world was another source of information in building the sketch of Kanda-aranee. Filled with many a song by the indigenous people Kanda-aranee opens to the reader with a knowledge evaluating contest. Uruwarige Thisahami was the first to face such a programme on radio and our main protagonist of the novel Sugandika, also decides to face such a contest. “From one generation to another we have a history of facing questions,” so she thinks.
Name: U.W. Sugandika
Residence: Kotabakiniya, Dabana, Mahiyanganaya
Age: 19 years
School: First to Dabana, then to the town
Education: Has knowledge on how to use a computer, uses the internet, average level in English proficiency, Ordinary Level exams passed.
Favorite subject: Art history, history
Married: Married… Seriously. That would also be asked… Don’t know…
So go the thoughts of Sugandika as she imagines the questions and the answers she would give at such a contest.
The main protagonist of Kanda-aranee is Sugandika whose very name signifies fragrance. Having roots in an indigenous family she signifies the young indigenous generation which enters the modern world that also leads to the change in the indigenous culture in drastic proportions.
Her emotions regarding her clan lead her to put her thoughts down on paper which is one of the unique aspects of the craftsmanship by Wijemanna as he weaves a story within a story. Wijemanna’s research work into folklore of Sri Lanka is evident throughout the novel.
At the opening chapters of the novel the reader realises that Sugandika is in fact pregnant and this evokes curiosity within the reader’s mind. Her story of love unfolds in the rest of the chapters to depict the reality of the rash decisions taken by the younger generation. Sugandika and Amith meet each other by chance. Amith walks in to her father’s small shop looking for someone to mend his broken bicycle. This leads to conversations which make them realise that they know each other by name through their art class. A girl like Sugandika living in one of the most rural areas of Sri Lanka knowing about a world renowned artist like Vincent Van Gogh will surprise the reader as the chapter unfolds. Wijemanna’s knowledge in art history is a key factor within Kanda-aranee.
“Van Gogh…” she said first. “...Poster colours?” she asked a second question as well.
“Acrylic.” He named the type of colours while observing her really well.
“Who is your Sir?”
“Sunil Ananda,” he said.
“Our Sir also.”
“He does classes for us also!” he said.
While the folk songs of the Vedda’s beautify the whole novel Amith Wijesinghe unfolds his narration.
Amith joins the army due to his financial problems. He helped Sugandika to pursue her education. Yet love and kindness has dynamic effects on a person’s life. As linear narration where the events occur in chronological order is combined with flashbacks, the story of Kanda-aranee unfolds. This is used as a technique by Wijemanna throughout Kanda-aranee, the reader will glimpse into the story of all characters within these flashbacks. First person narration is used by the narrator Amith Wijesinghe throughout the novel while a third person narration is used by the protagonist of the novel –Sugandika. This is one of the key features of Wijemanna’s penmanship as he uses different types of narration techniques within a novel. Character development is another area Wijemmanna is a true genius at and this is evident throughout Kanda –aranee.
Sugandika is tormented by the unwritten history of her indigenous people. She searches in historical places for the evidence to prove the folklore about indigenous people of Sri Lanka as she feels she is on a quest to do so. She fights adamantly against the norms of society which expect ‘Veddhas’ to be backward and uncultured when in reality they were one of the most intelligent people to walk on the face of earth.
While questioning the effectiveness of the Sri Lankan education system, Wijemanna points out the vulnerability of Sri Lankan youth, especially from indigenous backgrounds. They fall prey to a devouring capitalistic world.
Kimbulobbe Mudiyanselage Pramila Herath enters to the view of the reader at the later part of the novel. Shifting the story to another level her narration is also done in the third person.
“Kimbulobbe Mudiyanselage Pramila Herath arrived on that day. Sugandika was still among her books while she arrived. Amongst all the books that she had collected. Among the notes she wrote down. May be she decided to face the exams again……”
Pramila is somehow like an avenger of justice. A certain justice Sugandika never sought to meet. Capturing the reader’s attention from the opening lines of the novel Wijemanna brings forth Kanda-aranee, a novel as sweet as bee’s honey and as thrilling as the making of it.