29 December 2022

Books launched and not-yet-launched



['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Scroll down for previous articles]

Book launches are big in Sinhala literary circles. If one writes a book and it is published, a launch is almost a must. At some level it is about sales. There’s the typical discount and that’s an incentive. Then there’s the publicity. There are notices in newspapers and of late in social media about the launch. There’s live streaming too. It’s not just that though.

Those who attend book launches can be divided into three broad categories (with a little overlap of course). First you get the near and dear of the author as well as the movers and shakers of the publishers. Then you have people who are interested in listening to what the keynote speakers have to say, either about the book itself or some pertinent literary subject. Finally there are those who want to have conversation with kindred literary spirits.

A launch, then, makes for gatherings of many kinds.  Enrichment on literature or broader human things is often possible depending on who else had chosen to attend. 

Last night, i.e. the night of December 27, 2002, I met with two writers around 7.30 pm at Hotel Apsara, somewhere in Horagolla. It was not a book launch. Lahiru Karunaratne, a young poet, tasked with designing the English translation of Mahinda Prasad Masimbula’s acclaimed and award winning novel ‘Senkottan’ wanted certain things in the text clarified. Masimbula was with him.

The ‘work’ was attended to quite fast. Then came conversation about poetry, literature, the human condition, poets, the writing exercise, love, relationships, the status of the Sri Lankan novel, short story and poem, and other things. We moved seamlessly from one to the other of these topics. At one point I asked Lahiru if he’s written anything new (he had already come out with three collections of poetry).  He not only had a book that was almost ready for print, he had the manuscript with him.

Noim (non-existence, boundless or infinite)’ had a rider, ‘kavithi tikak (a few(!) short 'poemlets').’  One hundred, no less! I was offered the privilege of a peek. I turned to random pages and commented briefly on whatever caught my attention. Here’s one:

After one thousand and one nights
there remains the story of a woman

Remains unsaid, is probably what he wants us to read, I thought to myself. ’Scheherazade’ is the title of this two-line poem.  Delightful. So we spoke of stories that end as far as the author is concerned, but continue in the minds of the reader, in particular a novel where a woman leaves a Sinhala king for a white man but leaves unanswered the question, ‘what next?’

Each of the hundred verses could spark a hundred thoughts, but why a hundred, why not fifty, I asked. Lahiru said that he had made this section from a collection of 300 such verses. We laughed and talked about Sinhala poetry books recently published having at least one really good poem but were pretty ordinary when taken as a collection.  We talked about the importance of having the services of a good editor. We spoke to the works of well-known and lesser known Sinhala poets. We spoke of Ariyawansa Ranaweera, for whom anything and everything seemed to be a poem awaiting transcription, which among other things, made for a highly productive poetic life. We discussed what this does to the quality of the work.

‘What if someone does see poetry in all things?’ Lahiru asked. ‘A bottle, a glass and the three of us…makes for a poem, doesn’t it?’ He seemed to empathize with Ranaweera's dilemma or fortune, depending on how one sees it. I could empathize with Lahiru since that first glance reminded me of Ranaweera's work.

People write as they will. People read as they will. Masiumbula made a pertinent observation: ‘sometimes when I read poetry I feel that the poet has only written down the plot but hasn’t really penned the kaviya.’ He should know this, for the publishing outfit he runs, ‘Santhava,’ comes out with a dozen collections every year.

The book will get published. One hundred poems. There will probably be a launch. Lahiru’s friends will be there. Lovers of literature and in particular poetry will be there. There will be others who will make their way to the venue, anticipating interesting conversation. Last night I had a before-launch ‘launch experience.’
I encountered you
only after we parted

That’s another one in Lahiru’s collection. Some poets see things that go unseen even by a thousand passing eyes. Some poets write what we all see but in ways that make us see these things with fresh eyes.

Now, having received a pdf version of his collection, I am re-encountering Lahiru, long after the long night’s conversation ended around 10.30 pm and we went our ways, Lahiru, Masumbula and I.  I wonder about those words we exchanged, the stories we spun together but didn’t write down. Are they already lost among old words and dust, among forgotten authors and over-used used-books? Do we each have a manuscript of the original heart-text? And what of the woman who remained after 1001 nights, 1001 stories and the one story that never got told, the book that never got launched and therefore the conversations that never took place.

Somewhere, somehow, plots will get written. Some poetry too.



Other articles in this series:

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road