After having read Manuka Wijesinghe’s first book Monsoons and Potholes which I enjoyed very much even though it was repetitive and a bit of a difficult read, I approached her second book just released early this year, with some trepidation. The launch of the book at Barefoot in Galle at the wonderful Galle Literary Festival was well done, even though the attendance was poor. The skit performed by the extremely talented Indu Dharmasena, Sangvada, Michael Meyler (who knew the man could act as well) and Manuka was hilarious. In half an hour they had reduced this 359 page book into a complete story. Quite a feat!
To my utter surprise the book read well. The story flowed on and on and most important of all kept the reader’s interest. The central figure the Theravada schoolteacher who was referred throughout the whole book as iskolemahaththaya is looking for a wife. Hooked up with an astrologer, they engage in various philosophical discussions that cover all aspects of life until they reach the desired object – the wife. Once married, the schoolteacher’s wife referred to as iskolehamine, as she is also a teacher, produces a number of children, replaces the astrologer as the recepient of various philosophical discussions, and discovers close to the end that she has been nothing but merely a goal post in the iskolemaththaya’s life. There are various kavi’s that are interspersed in the text that even though I read them diligently were rather distractive. Other than for historical documentation, reproducing the kavis in whole did not add more to the novel. In addition the novel has two playlets that they call nadagamas, which while entertaining to read, again was not essential to the story. I fear that both were included because they could not be published anywhere else.
Not having met Manuka personally but heard her speak briefly, I suspect that the book is written the way Manuka speaks. The book is rather breathless as it speeds its way through from beginning to end. There are many interesting philosophical discussions on the way but it almost seems that the book is secondary, and that the writer is using it as a way of transmitting her critique on life and philosophy to the world at large. Sometimes the reader feels battered. Sometimes the reader feels lost. Sometimes the reader feels it could have been said in many more words less.
But the final word is that on the whole it was an entertaining book. Typical of her previous writing there is a cause, but it is less pressing, less intense. I preferred Monsoons and Potholes because it came from the soul. But Theravada Man is better written, more slick and it is only right at the very end, that you ask. And what was all that about?