Giving Voice to the Voiceless
By Nisansala Dharmasena Bertholameuze
Entering into the field of literature in the year 1996 through the genre of poetry Prince Senadeera brings his second short story collection Kalu Usa Manaussayek. Senadeera inks eight short stories with two stories interlinked with one another. Such a narrative technique is found in Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa. Ogawa used interlinked short stories and characters in her short story collection Revenge.
Senadeera uses a bold approach in using this technique within Kalu Usa Manaussayek. Other Shoe is not the unsung heroic song for an unknown soldier who perished. A cobbler down the street is taken in to custody and is questioned over the shoe of a soldier. Under interrogation the cobbler confesses to finding the shoe through a lady that he assumes to be the wife of the soldier. Seeing that the shoe needed mending he offered his services. “I am a cobbler. I can only mend shoes.” The cobber collects money by showcasing this heroic shoe which was once worn by the soldier.
“I understand… Woman of the solider had the shoe… I took it... I should not have collected money by showcasing it. It is wrong.” Lamenting over his mistake he begs for mercy within the interrogation. The narrator takes the reader into the past where the two lovers once found happiness within each other. All memories are gathered into a box as souvenirs for keepsake when the solider is gone forever. “This is filled with memories…” he kept the box near her.
“That day when you gave your consent I jumped and the shirt I was wearing tore. That part of the shirt. That first day when I kissed you the feather which was on the ground…” Souvenirs can’t keep you warm and happy through the battles of life. The lover of the solider questions this. “You think that these things will love me instead of you? That without you these things will keep me company?” Through the interrogation of the cobbler this woman, the lover of the solider is found.
One task is given to the officers of the interrogation which is to find the missing shoe of the solider. The woman weeps in losing her lover who was more than a lifeless statue. For her it was the only song of her life. “Now he is just a lifeless statue in your city..” As the interrogation of the woman begins will the officers find the missing shoe of the solider? Will they be able to glorify yet another solider who perished for a lost cause called –war? The namesake of the short story collection Kalu Usa Manaussayek is met in the second short story where a man accidentally finds the corpse of an unidentified person.
Floating in the river this unidentified body is found by Sethan. Marked by loss of his own son Upali, whose body was never found, Sethan is on a quest to find the identity of the unknown body to give him an honourable burial. In the movie Son of Saul such a quest can be found. From ancient days the development of any civilisation was measured through the rituals used for an honourable burial of a human. Sethan’s son Upali, went missing during the days of war. He was a solider in the battlefield. Marked by this trauma of losing his son as well as never receiving his body Sethan finds solace in the morgue.
His quest is to find the family of the unidentified body that he found floating in the river. He keeps on practicing dialogues that he could tell this unknown family. “I hung on even without a body…at least you have his body.” This body is that of a Kalu Usa Manussayek (a tall dark person). Even the paper advertisements are of no use in finding this man’s family. Sethan goes to the morgue and then to the Police Station yet he cannot find the family of the unidentified body.
As he knows that bodies unclaimed by a family will be buried without funeral rituals he is tormented by his own decision in not letting the body float down away in the river. Will Sethan be able to give a proper burial to this tall dark man? In a society where security is maintained via CCTV technology and privacy is lost at the same time Senadeera uses his penmanship to narrate the story of two best friends struggling with a financial burden within the unfair class system of society. Gunapala is a security personal in a shopping mall and his partner in undocumented crimes is Premarathne.
They get involved in underworld dealings in order to meet their financial needs. Premarathne’s daughter needs medicine for a sickness and one packet of medicine costs more than Rs 20,000. But will they be able to escape the eye of the Police forever with their underworld dealings? How helpless are all fathers in trying to meet the needs of their children? The identity of the unidentified body is met within the story Kalu Usa Manusayek II and the reader is left to identify this dark tall person. To a lady tormented by the present life the past might have sweeter memories. Liyum Mathrawa (Letter Dosage) reminds us of the novel The Postman written by Antonio Skarmeta.
A postman meets the reader in Liyum Mathrawa as well. Rathnapala is the postman who delivers these letter dosages to a lady who awaits his arrivals. Once classmates in the same school fate had it that they should be separated within a short period of knowing each other. Mentally imbalanced due to the pressure and loneliness within her life Kalyani meets her old schoolmate as her postman by accident. Her daily happiness is within these letters and without them she falls back in to the darkness within her mind.
Will two old schoolmates yet again find love in each other or will fate entwine? We see many an insane person walking aimlessly on streets and living on the streets. Senadeera takes the reader towards Kandy Lake Round to view the story of William, a father lamenting the loss of his son. Mudu Molok Kalugal (Soft Stones) is the undocumented story of the undocumented missing people of a nation lost within political conflict. William, who carves the names of the deceased on tombstones considers his work as a ritual; an honour towards the dead. “Every person on this earth has the right to a burial place. That right is what I have carved onto the stone.”
William loses his youngest son due to an accident and he is fated to carve the tombstone for his child. When his eldest son goes missing among the many who lost their lives due to political conflicts William loses his sanity. After carving a tombstone for his eldest son, William travels to places with this tombstone to rest it where his son is taking his final rest. “That wind caressed our cheeks with the coldness of death like that of on a stone.”
Asunawayata Passe (After 89) is a letter which recalls the memories of a school. Do academics make students or do they break them, is questioned by Senadeera within this story. Chandralathath Thiras Darshanayak (Horizontal view for Chandralatha) is the story of an unmarried girl tormented by the love of her past. Throughout the collection Senadeera recalls the events of a nation where sorrows were far greater than that of any heart could hold on to. The everyday struggle of the unnoticed people, sorrows of undocumented people are voiced via the penmanship of Senadeera by giving voice to the voiceless.