14 June 2023

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi

Kaelaelikaarayo,’ translatable as ‘The Scarred’ is an excellent title for a book; a novel, in this instance, written by Liyanage Amarakeerthi.  I didn’t know about it until yesterday (Monday). Amarakeerthi is a prolific writer and I am not a voracious reader; it’s hard to keep up with his work. I learned about it thanks to a Facebook post by Janaka Inimankada, the publisher who runs Vidarshana Books.

Strange. Coincidental. I had for a long time wanted to write about my friend Amarakeerthi but last morning I decided that I would finally get down to it. And then I saw this post. So no, I haven’t read the book and therefore this is not a review. It’s about a teacher, poet, novelist, short story writer and a literary critic who is also a farmer and activist. And my friend from more than 25 years ago.

First encounter: he wrote an anthem of sorts to be sung at the launch of the political party, ‘Janatha Mithuro’ in August 1993 (Nishad Handunpathirana composed the melody). He must have been in his second or third year at Colombo University.

Amarakeerthi came to see me a few years later when he was applying for postgraduate studies in the USA. He gifted me a copy of what I believe was his first collection of short stories. I forget the name but remember being delighted by the stories. He wrote something by way of dedication: ‘barasaara buddhimathek vee navatha paeminenna,’ or ‘return after becoming an erudite scholar.’ Maybe he wrote ‘maubimata (back to the motherland)’ but I can’t remember. I felt then that this was something he aspired to do. I returned, so did her. He became an erudite scholar, I did not.

It was to him that I sent the first two chapters of my translation of Simon Navagaththegama’s ‘Sansaaraaranyaye Dadayakkaraya.’ It was he who encouraged me to complete that exercise. He was, then, my guide and teacher. And even today, whenever I have some issue with a word or phrase I call Amarakeerthi to obtain clarification and clarity.

A few years ago, I was invited as a chief guest for an even organised by the Library Readers Association of Royal College. As I walked through the gates, I saw Amarakeerthi walking in the same direction. He too had been invited.

I spoke of my ‘library recollections,’ in particular how my mother, a teacher at the school, would take myself and my siblings along with her to school during vacations when she had to attend extra curricular activities such as the school’s Dramatic Society (DramSoc). She left us in the library. We sat and read for hours.

Amarakeerthi offered that he had to travel a fair distance to the nearest library where he devoured all the reading material available. I was privileged, he was not. He held no rancour, and he did not belittle me either. I knew the long history of his trials and tribulations. I admired him. He inspired me. And probably many, many others as well.

I don’t know all the professors and lecturers in all the Arts Faculties in the country. I know some and know of others. I can say though that few can match Amarakeerthi’s productivity, quality of scholarship and commitment to expand the horizons of his students, in and out of class. He may not claim he’s the best writer of his generation, but he’s certainly among the most accomplished and possibly the most prolific too. Across genres. He has been frequently shortlisted for the top literary awards in the country and has won several of them including the prestigious Swarnapusthaka Award. His poetry and short stories are excellent. And he’s still evolving as a writer.

Amarakeerthi is also one of the foremost literary critics in the country. His relatively short comments at book launches are delightful and edifying. Something I truly appreciate and admire is the fact that he reads almost all books of poetry published every year. He reads and he comments. He is a teacher, through and through; he will encourage but will not sugarcoat his criticism.

He’s an educationist out of the classroom as well. He teaches when he posts on social media. He teaches when he proudly posts photographs of his outside-academe endeavours, be it in the cultivation of vegetables, opting to walk or cycle to the university or encounters in a bookstore. He does pick and choose, he does privilege that which supports his convictions. Not a crime.

I don’t agree with his political choices, but unlike many he is open and non-apologetic about these things. It’s the same with ideology. I have issues, others may too, but few would disagree that he articulates his preferences in both word and deed. And regardless of the ‘needs of the political moment,’ he will not compromise one bit the duties associated with his position. He teaches.  

When I saw Inimankada’s post, I called Amarakeerthi. The coincidence (of that post and my decision to write about him was compelling). He didn’t answer. Then I realised he was in Isreal because he has been posting stories/pictures from that country, once again sharing and educating. So I called Inimankada. He said it was a novel (I wasn’t sure if it was a novel or a sociological treatise, but maybe it is both). And he informed me that I was one of three individuals he had dedicated the book to.

Amarakeerthi replied to my text on WhatsApp and told me, by the way, about the dedication. He said 'I always wanted to dedicate a book to you, but waited until I became a senior writer so that the dedication has some value.’

My response: ‘It would have been a great honour even if it was your first book.  You can’t imagine how honoured I feel.’  
['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. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Beyond praise and blame

Letters that cut and heal the heart

Vanished and vanishing trails


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya

The soft rain of neighbourliness 

The Gold Medals of being

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri

All those we've loved before

Reflections on waves and markings

A chorus of National Anthems

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer


Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

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