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- by daya dissanayake
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daya dissanayake is a sri lankan writer who has written eight english and five sinhala novels as well as a book of poems.

dr jaydeep sarangi is professor, departmentof english at jogesh chandra chaudhuricollege (calcutta university).

j.s.: you are the only person from sri lanka who won state literary award for english novel twice. how do you feel about this very special award?
d.d.: i was the only writer from sri lanka who won the state award for the ‘best english novel’, till 2012. in 2012 carl muller also won his second award, so i am only the first author to win it twice. it was a very special award for me, because i won it in 1998 for my first novel, 'the kat bitha' which was an author publication. it encouraged me to continue writing.
in sri lanka, unfortunately it is not considered very special. most of our mass media do not give any importance to the state awards, even the publishers. i published my 2nd novel online 'the saadhu testament' for free reading, and it happens to be the first e-novel from asia. novel i published my third novel as a print-on-demand book in usa, 'the healer and the drug pusher'. when i went to a local publisher for my next novel, 'moonstone' i had to pay the cost of printing, even though they were aware of my award.

j.s.: you are bilingual. do you think that bilingualism is a virtue for many of us from the continent?
d.d.: many writers are bilingual in our part of the world because we study english as our second language. my mother tongue is sinhala, which is spoken only by about 15 milion people in sri lanka. so the only way to reach out to the readers around the world is by using english.

j.s.: your second book the saadhu testament; is the first electronic novel by an asian author.how did you get the idea?
d.d.: in the saadhu testament, i wanted to reach out to the readers around the world, and because i believe in sharing my writings with everyone. that is why i released it for free reading, and i would be happy to release all my writings online for free. i got the online reading ideaas i had been a computer programmer at one time (1983 onwards) and the computer has been a part of me since then. the idea was put to me by my son raditha, who developed the website and maintains it till now. i have another online book for free reading, 'thirst' and also the first sinhala e-novel.

j.s.: what is the main theme of the saadhu testament?
d.d.: the theme in the saadhu testament is what we see around us today. at the time i wrote it, and even now, there are many people, of all religions visiting the saadhus in india, seeking their help for their sickness, for their business, even for success at elections and cricket.  

j.s.: you have eight novels to your credit. how are they reviewed globally?
d.d.: i have eight novels in english, one collection of poetry and five in sinhala novels, but global reach is poor. but currently i have my novels on amazon for kindle. my books are not available even in india, our closest neighbour, because indian book distributors are not interested in books published in sri lanka, and so the doors to the publishers are closed for us.

j.s.: ’know your neighbour’ is a call from many of us who write and teach in india and srilanka.do you see any silver lining in future? 
d.d.: there is a silver lining now, or at least we hope it will be. the efforts by the federation of saarc writers and literature (foswal) is doing a wonderful job to get the writers from all saarc countries together, and there are new anthologies and journals, like the annual anthologies by the saarc cultural center, colombo, ‘bengal lights’ in dhaka, and many groups in the social networks like saarc writers. 

j.s.: did you read indian authors in english?
d.d.: i read indian authors, just as i read authors from other countries too, and any other good books i come across.

j.s.: who are the important contemporary voices from your land?
d.d.: we had great writers in our country, but unfortunately even for them their global reach was minimal. martin wickramasinghe and ediriweera sarachchnadra were great bilingual writers. there were many others, who wrote only in sinhala, like simon nawagattegama, sugathapala de silva, mahagama sekara – all of who unfortunately- did not get their books translated into english.
outside our country, people know and read only our diasporic writers. some of them write for the western reader and about their 'imaginary homelands', who visit our country once in a way as tourists.

j.s.: do you write in sri lankan english?
d.d.: i don’t agree with that term, ‘sri lankan english’. if we use sri lankan english, we could be understood in sri lanka only, with just a population of 20 million and with only a small percentage speaking english. no one outside our country would ever be able to understand it. it is a political gimmick today.

j.s.: you also a poet of note. people say ‘poetry does not travel these days.’ do you view it as a negative compliment?
d.d.: i try to write a few poems, whenever i get the urge. but i would like my poems to travel, to travel wherever there could be anyone interested in reading them. now i think the door is open for every poet to reach everyone in cyberspace. 

j.s.: what is your message for budding writers from this part of the world?
d.d.: the budding writers from this part of the world should keep writing, and also reading, not only the current writings, but the treasures we have from our ancient writers. a treasure that is unique. and the young writers should get the maximum use of cyberspace to share their work, to exchange views, to participate in discussions, conferences. 

j.s.: your novels are novels of memory and nostalgia.do you want to create a space for a possible peaceful world?
d.d.: i believe in buddha dhamma, as explained by ajhan buddhadasa, ‘being peaceful and useful.’ even in my writing that is what i try to be - peaceful in my writing, in what i consider as 'subhashitha literature' (subhashitha used with the meaning as in the subhashitha sutra of the buddhist tripitaka.) i believe that we must cut down on violence and sexually explicit descriptions in our writings. such writings could encourage some of the readers to try them out, be tempted, and sometimes when they do not have outlets for their desires aroused by the books they read, (or what they watch), the frustrations could lead to the kind of sexual violence we see in our countries today. 
even valmiki's ramayana is too full of violence - cutting off the nose and ears of a beautiful maiden, decapitating a sudra because he was offering puja to the gods, and all the murders and fightings. a real subhashitha rama story is what we find in the dasaratha jataka among the buddhist jataka stories. but to create a real peaceful world we have to bring down all the man-made barriers. language is one of them. till we could have a universal language and go back to a pre-babel era, let us translate from one language to another till we can share and share with all.

j.s.: would you please share with us about childhood?
d.d.: i was born in the southern province in sri lanka, and had my education in a jesuit school, st. aloysius' college, galle. i grew up by the sea, and surrounded by books, based of my father's collection, the school library and the jesuit library. i studied science subjects for my advanced level, but my interest was in more in reading than my studies, with some hope of writing one day. so i could not continue my formal education beyond high school.   

j.s.: do you have any mentor? 
d.d.: my mentors are my family, consisting of my wife indrani, and my children aditha and raditha.

j.s.: why do you write in english?
d.d.: i write in english, because it is the only international language i know. i wish i knew more languages, so i could write in them too, like bengali. i would like to read gurudev in original bengali! but i don’t have the knack for languages. we were taught latin in school, but i could learn very little of it.

j.s.: you have been writing for more than 30 years. is there any change of style/theme of your writing?
d.d.: i have been writing only since 1994.i had written a few short stories earlier, and i had a few stories in my mind for a long time. i was planning to begin writing only after retirement. the first novel i had planned was about sigiriya (the 5th century rock citadel) and finally i began writing while still working as the general manager of a private company in colombo. the first book took me 4 years to write because i had to gather a lot of historical data. i have not intentionally thought of a style or theme. some of my novels are historical, some of them contemporary and some futuristic. i consider thirst as a historical environmental novel. my most recent novel the clone as a historical novel from the future, there are no dialogues in the novel.

j.s.: any immediate wish?
d.d.: i wish i could share all my writings free with anyone who wants to read them!

j.s.: how is the future of sri lankan writing in english?
d.d.: the future looks bright, because there are young writers coming up, who are familiar with our culture, our village life and the life of the common man. they are not from the urban upper class society, who do not read the sinhala writings, and who get their glimpses into our traditional life and culture second hand. we can also learn a lot from india where there are so many organizations to promote young writers, like the sahitya akademi, indian writers abroad, and the book trust, which we sadly lack in our country.

j.s.: do you consider yourself as a postcolonial writer?
d.d.: i don’t use the term postcolonial and using any label for any writing. if we are to talk of a colonial era, we were first 'colonised' by migrants from north india, who almost wiped out the indigenous population in sri lanka, the yaksha and the naga tribes, who were living here for many thousands of years. (there is a possibility that the iron age came to sri lanka even before it did in india.) then our colonial period extends from about 500 bce till the british left us in 1948.

was published in November 2018
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