“Whatever are our aspirations, it is based on our journey and it is the journey – the yana maga – that matters, not the destination,” says Captain Elmo Jayawardena. And it is this sentiment that holds as premise for his new coffee table book.
Capt Elmo is no newcomer to the literary world with three notable novels to his name that include ‘Sam’s Story’ which was awarded the Gratiaen Prize in 2001. For his second, The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay he received the State Literary Award and the third Rainbows in Braille’ was short listed for the Singapore Literary Prize. Launched in January of 2012, is the latest addition, ‘Yana Maga, Sri Lanka a gift for all..’, a coffee table book that aspires to be more than a mere keepsake. Most importantly, the author’s share of the proceeds from the book goes towards a charity organisation, CandleAid Lanka founded in 1996 by Capt Elmo. Among his many passions that include piloting of which spans his career, he is emphatic about his humanitarian work. The efforts towards alleviating poverty is one which he regards as his greatest contribution to life.
Yana Maga however stands by itself and at a glance urges you to delve further. Within its total of 165 pages is encompassed all that is essentially Sri Lankan. As the author himself rightly describes, it is ‘a walking yellow pages and many other manifestations’ of his island home. Sectioned into three categories, ‘From the known beginning’, ‘Some Places’ and ‘Some Concepts’ the authors narration takes the voice at times of a historian, another time an anthropologist, and sometimes a naturalist as he writes fluidly on the diverse aspects of the Island. Although a coffee table book, it breaks with convention as its pages, although with vivid imagery, overflows with the author’s words as he describes, unravels and opines. “Through the book ‘The last Kingdom of Sinhalay’, my intention was for readers to gain a deeper sense of our history but it’s an 850 page book and people don’t have time to read,” he explained of producing as a result, “a different kind of coffee table book.” However it is his numerous travels, written works, and the decade of research behind the Sinhalay novel that affords a mine of information to fill the pages of Yana Maga.
As it was intended the book can thus be read in small doses, each segment independent of the other. However a prevalent undertone is the authors fervor as he describes everything from the “winsome smile of the Sri Lankan”, to “haunts of the wild” such as Yala and Wilpattu, to the evolution of the Colombo city, to a love poem of Gajaman Nona, a socialite during the 18th century. The book’s flowing prose chronicles beyond common knowledge as it delves further for the benefit of those who have merely skimmed the surface of a history, a legend or a slice of culture. For instance few would know the nuances of Baila, an inherent part of Sri Lankan life that Capt Elmo fervently declares as “ours, lock, stock and the beat.”
The author has also ventured outside the realm of the familiar to unearth little known details and stories that inspire a new appreciation for our homeland. One among these is the Flight of the Double Sunrise, a significant phenomenon in Sri Lanka’s civil aviation history. Conversely the author acknowledges the everyday sights derived from our environment and that which we easily take for granted. The canvas artists alongside Vihara Maha Devi Park is one such instance whose vibrant displays momentarily add colour to our lives. Readers can also appreciate the conscientious selection of photographs illustrations, and the strikingly appealing presentation that has an informality of a personal journal. Designed by Prageeth Wimalarathne the vivid layouts of the pages not only elucidate the authors narrative but springs it to life such that perusing itself becomes an engaging journey.
The book aptly reaches its end with the poignantly titled “Thirty years is a long time” accompanied with a stirring image that by itself speaks volumes. These are among many other images that have been taken solely for the making of this book. At its conclusion the author is most vocal and contemplative however ends in a hopeful voice. “The land is undoubtedly a gift from the gods and blessed by them to survive.” It leaves one with a stirring of one’s island home that the author introduces at the start of the book.“This is a country that pulses, makes one’s heart beat a little faster amidst the mix of chaos and charm and a kind of warmth that is difficult to define.”
Review Two by Derrick Mendis, s.j., courtesy of the Island, 5 February 2012
This book is about a path (mega). As the book says ‘paths are meant to be walked’. The author describes the path that our beloved mother Lanka has traversed from the dim, distant past to the path that she is on at present, and wonders with hope about the road that lies ahead. In the course of her long and eventful journey our attractive mother has been abused and raped by many forces, foreign and local. But strong and resilient, she still retains her charm and beauty.
Quo vadis? Our present rulers have promised us that the road ahead, strewn with flowers will lead to a rainbow of peace and prosperity. Numerous mega-projects will ensure accelerated progress and development. Our emerald isle will be the pride and wonder of Asia — the hub of aviation, shipping, tourism, information technology and what not. Beautiful dreams, alluring promises. Time alone will show whether the road embarked upon, will lead to the bright and rosy Promised Land. Hope springs eternally…..
How would I describe this book succinctly in a word or two? The words that came to my mind were miscellany, medley, collage, pot pourri, hotch-potch. Influenced perhaps by my penchant for good food, I chose the last. To me, Yana Maga is a literary hotch-potch, not in a derogatory or disparaging sense, but meaning a delicious dish of mixed ingredients, prepared by the master-chef, Elmo, in his unique, inimitable style, without following any recipe book. This delectable dish is flavoured with many condiments and spices — history and folklore, photographs past and present, paintings and line-drawings, plans and sketches, forts and fortresses, temples and dagobas, stone inscriptions and sculptures, breathtaking scenes, birds, animals and fish, trees, plants and flowers — a rich assortment of beauty in its varied forms that adorns Sri Lanka. It is an incomparable a-la-carte dish guaranteed to gratify the taste-buds of any reader and tickle the palate of any gourmet. Any person who tastes this dish is bound to exclaim Wow! Yummy!! Finger-licking good!!!
The book is as colourful as the author. Elmo has been blessed with a remarkable flair for writing. His books and articles, written in what he calls “Koralawella English” are eminently readable and interesting. In Yana Maga we find a treasure-house of information on Sri Lanka, colourfully and attractively presented. It is a hard-cover, coffee-table edition and its sales-proceeds will go to help the less fortunate in Sri Lanka. The cause is worthy and the book praiseworthy.
**** SPECIAL NOTE: The books will be available in Australia soon:
Each Copy costs $ 40.00 …………..For purchases, contact:
Melbourne = ASHA 0403 303 066
Sydney = CHRIS 0419 281 197
Brisbane = MARK 0433 417 988
Perth = YOLAND 0434 075 397
Every book that is sold will feed a poor family in Sri Lanka for one month or pay for a Uni Student for one month or support a cancer patient for one month