Martin Wickramasinghe, a nationalist sans prejudice - W.A. Abesinghe | Sunday Observer
Commemorating the 44th Death anniversary of Legendary Martin Wickramasinghe

Martin Wickramasinghe, a nationalist sans prejudice - W.A. Abesinghe

Sri Lanka's foremost writer Martin Wickramasinghe's 44th death anniversary falls on July 23. The Sunday Observer spoke to veteran writer and senior counsel, W.A. Abesinghe to discuss Martin Wickramasinghe's literary endeavour as well as his personal relationship with the author. Upon the death of Wickramsinghe, he has taken on the role of editing the late authors' archives and produced biographies and critical essays on the subject.

Excerpts:

Q. How did you meet Martin Wickramasinghe?

A. It was in 1963. At that time, I was teaching at the Kuliyapitiya Central College. My friend Dissanayake who was also a teacher there and I started a school magazine called 'Pratibhana' (‘’). During that time, Wickramasinghe launched his book 'Soviet Deshaye Nageem' ('Resurrection of Soviet Union'). I wrote a review on the book to the 'Veemansa' magazine which was one of the main magazines in Sri Lanka. Wickramasinghe had read the review and sent me a copy of 'Soviet Deshaye Nageem' to our school, which was a great honour to me.

I wrote a letter inviting him to write an article to our school magazine. He obliged and wrote an article titled 'Nawa Sahityaartha' to 'Pratibhana'.

Around this time, I quit my teaching profession and joined the 'Dinamina' (‘n?p?j’) at Lake House. There, I wrote a letter to him asking an appointment. He agreed, and we met at his home at Nawala, Kirimandala Road. Afterwards, we met often, even after I left Lake House. We were constantly exchanging correspondence at the time. I have secured over 30 letters by him. I wrote him in English, and he wrote back to me in English. His letters are long and intellectually rich.

Q. How do you think about him?

A. He was a great man. He didn't hesitate to give his books to anybody. After I resigned from Lake House, I worked as a teacher at a Pirivena in Delgoda. Even at the time, he used to send me copies of his newly published books through his driver. As a result, I have got a number of his autographed books.

Q. Could you remember specific incidents between you and him?

A. I remember one incident. I met Ven. Udakendawala Saranankara Thera, a stalwart in Communist movement in Sri Lanka. He was a central committee member of the party and edited its official newspaper, 'Nawa Lokaya' .

Though I was not a member of the party, I worked with him, especially the 'Nawa Lokaya'. Then, I found that Ven. Udakendawala Saranankara Thera was a friend of Martin Wickramasinghe. Thereafter, I sometimes went to meet Wickramasinghe with Ven. Saranankara Thera.

I joined the 'Attha' (‘R¥l‰l’) newspaper edited by B.A. Siriwardhane and received the membership of the Communist Party. When I worked there, I visited Wickramasinghe a number of times, especially to get interviews for the paper. Wickramasinghe had a close relationship with the Communist Party and the 'Attha' was close to him.

In 1965, Ven' Saranankara Thera wanted to establish a writers' association in Sri Lanka. He convened writers and set up the 'Samastha Lanka Lekhaka Sanwidanaya' ’ - All Ceylon Writers' Association). Wickramasinghe was its president and K.M. Sirisena, a journalist at the Lakadeepa, was the Secretary. I was the Assistant Secretary.

When the America - Vietnam war started, the Soviet Union opposed to America's military occupation in Vietnam. They began to rally around the writers to condemn the attack. They formed an association called Afro-Asian Writers' Association. The association held conferences and one was to be held at Bakur in Azerbaijan. They invited our association too for the conference.

As the convener of the writers' association, Ven. Saranankara Thera discussed with Martin Wickramasinghe as to who would take part in the conference. Wickramasighe had suggested to Ven. Saranankara Thera to go with me to the conference.

I took part in the conference with Ven. Saranankara Thera. I got this opportunity because of Wickramasinghe. It was my first foreign tour and Ven. Saranankara's last foreign tour, because the Thera passed away the following year.

The All Ceylon Writers' Association received another Afro-Asian Association invitation. It was to be held in Beirut, Lebanon. Wickramasinghe was to decide as to who would attend the conference, and he told me, "You should go, but who is the other who should go with you?" I proposed K. Jayathilake. Though Wickramasinghe and Jayathilake were not in friendly terms at the time, he said, "Oh, yes. You go with him." Wickramasinghe did not cross any person forever. When I became the Features Editor of the 'Sirilaka' (‘’) newspaper, launched by Sirimavo Bandaranaike, I contacted Wickramasinghe when I needed a serious article. He was my main source.

Q. Could you remember the time when 'Bhawa Tharanaya' (‘ ) novel came about?

A. Yes. All the bhikkus came up against him at the time. Even Ven. Yakkaduwe Pragnarama Thera wrote three volumes and criticised him severely. We, as writers, defended him and wrote articles on the issue. Though all the people around him roared against him, he didn't panic. He was cool all the time and didn't take any attack seriously.

Q. I heard that there was an interesting incident when Wickramasinghe participated in your wedding?

A. It was 1972. There were no sufficient food and other items in shops. Though we organised the wedding, we didn't offer lunch with rice for visitors. We offered short meals with liquor. Wickramasinghe was not well at the time. He couldn't go to Kuliyapitiya where the wedding was held, straight away from Colombo. He was coming to the wedding with his wife, Prema Wickramasinghe.

He came to Negombo the previous day and spent the night at a hotel there and attended the wedding the next day. I had invited K. Jayathilake and Gunasena Withana too, from Colombo.

When they met at the wedding hall, Wickramasinghe invited them to have meals from the hotel he spent the previous night as they couldn't take lunch. On their way back to Colombo, they had their meals at the Negambo hotel. K. Jayathilake wrote about this incident in his autobiography, 'Punchi Pele Gasa Wena' (‘’). These tales attest to his greatness and kindness. He helped writers throughout his life.

Q. You refered to the 1960s. It was the time that the Peradeniya School was most powerful. You may have personal experiences with him on the Peradeniya School?

A. Wickramasinghe attacked the Peradeniya School. Though it was highlighted in his books, he didn't accept its ideologies. He wrote a book titled 'Japan Kama Katha Sevanella' (‘’) in condemning the Peradeniya School. I wrote an article on the book to the 'Poda Attha' (‘’). He liked it very much. The debate on the book went on, and we supported this.

Q. How did you feel when he died in 1976?

A. I felt it was a great loss for the country. He lived a well-planned, complete and full life. He engaged in most of the genres in literature. He wrote short stories, novels, trilogies, poetry, reviews and translations. He did all things a writer could do. He with his brilliant ideas was an enlightened man. He wrote progressive books.

Q. How about his political ideas?

A. Throughout his life, he remained a nationalist, but he hadn't racial prejudices. He admired the socialist movement and detested capitalism. He politely declined the Magsaysay award as it was an American award.

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