Profound Reflections: Jean Arasanayagam in Response to Smrti Daniel’s Searching Questions

Jean faces Smrti 

Daniel 1: What in your childhood contributed to the kind of writer you are now? What recurring motifs and images from that time find expression in your work?

JEAN1: So many factors. As I delve into my mind those images together with the diverse motifs that were part of each and every experience of my childhood. I was greatly loved and cared for by my parents and had aunts and uncles who played an important part in the lives of my brother and sister (I was the youngest) and showered us with gifts, especially books, from a very early age. My parents too read a great deal and the houses we lived in were full of books – of course the individual tastes of my parents were reflected in their reading choices. My father loved reading on everything under the sun, sport, Big Game, hunters and hunting, colonial history and landmark figures, discovery and exploration, plantations and the lives of planters in Ceylon (many of them were his friends), reminiscences, biographies, autobiographies, explorers, wars, the jungle lore of Ceylon … So much and so much, while my mother read a great deal of romantic fiction. She had a great store of memories too and would relate very adult stories to me (in between it was Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm Brothers, fairy tales, family history where she unfolded hidden narratives which penetrated my mind and which I have reconstructed into greater dimensions to trace our lineage and bloodlines – so everything, now that I look on it all, began in my childhood, as being the youngest I was closest to them while my brother was at College, and my sister too spent more time at school (Wesley and Trinity, later the University of Colombo for my brother, and Girls’ High School for my sister). It would take reams and reams to write about just this one aspect of my childhood. There are other aspects too – the freedoms I enjoyed when I was growing up in the provincial township of Kadugannawa, living in that house on the hill.

In my childhood awareness grew of the world that lay outside the protected environs of my home, the consciousness of a world that proliferated with growing things – plants, diverse flowers, trees, both flowering and fruit yielding, animals, birds, the insect world and the thornless rose, a recurring motif in my life, the rose created by my father in his garden in Kadugannawa – that thornless rose has contributed to the many analogies in my way of thought, the mind and imagination, life with its complexities, literature … a symbol of many things, many attitudes, comparisons, philosophies – that thornless rose was not to be found anywhere else in the world where I made my sojourns and journeys – my father’s protective love and caring would not last in the world I was to inhabit where pain, loss, disillusionment, fear, hurt, violation all existed – the very antithesis of that overpowering love he, my father, had for me. It is something I turn to all my life and I have learned to act in whatever ways I can, to offer that symbolic thornless rose to all whom I encounter.

            Yes, the Garden is a central image in my literature, my personal landscape which also relates to the Biblical themes of the Garden of Eden of temptation, sin, banishment and expulsion from that metaphorical paradisal scape. Imagery strongly visual of the Garden is also related to colonialism, hybridity, grafting and cloning in my identity search where I trace changes and transformations in lineage and bloodlines – not just plants alone, but the childhood games I played, together with the richly sourced folklore assimilated by me while I was in the care of my ayah, Mungo (who is still very much a part of my life) and the Bali ceremonies I witnessed in Kadugannawa where Mungo’s brother was the Kattadiya, the exorcist. One of my most significant experiences took place in the garden at Kadugannawa where Mungo and I played with pebbles in the traditional game of athuru mithuru, dambadiva thuru … a beautiful innocent game with its rhythmic refrain – years and years later the image politicised in the poem “In the Month of July 1983” where the pebbles turned into missiles that brought death to the man who is trying to escape from his assailants, climbed a tree but was brought down by stones and trampled to death during the ethnic race riots. Recently too a poem created itself in my mind and the associations from that past, together with the title, resulted in “The Ancient Game of Stones”, a poem that that focusses on the inhumanity of man and the martyrdom, gleefully enacted in murderous violence and death. There are recurring images that form the connections from past to present in that timeless zone of creation and creativity which find their way in my writing.

  The motifs, visual imagery, are all recurring elements in my work, embedded deeply and indestructibly in my psyche, growing with time, knowledge, accumulated experience into a visionary other world. I have never as a result felt that corrosive sense of loneliness that assails many human beings. I have a full, rich investigative world which leads me through endless passages and routes to reach the destination I seek … encounters aplenty on the way with minotaurs and monsters, phantoms, violators of the spirit, predators, Cyclopean monsters … hindrances, obstacles, snares, traps, near escapes …

I convert everything into my writing and painting, sketching – my recent drawings are all of foliage, gardens, untrammelled growth and proliferation …

Music too is very much a part of my life … beginning with my father’s flute music and the enthralling melodies not only of his own compositions, but also of the classical composers – his favourite being Handel’s Largo – he also adored the Londonderry Air – yes, his flute notes still echo and reverberate in my mind – my mother’s songs from different eras and epochs of her colonial lineage, the music my sister played on the ancient German piano (Nagel), my brother’s violin playing (he learned from the famous Wagn in Colombo) together with folksongs and lullabies of my beloved ayah Mungo …

The Maze – first encountered in the park in Nuwara Eliya as a young child – the image and its significance has never ever left me.

School too from my early days – so much music, song, movement – classical ballet, Country Dancing, choreographed ballet, mimicry, choral singing, drama (one of the earliest plays I took part in was Maeterlinck’s “The Blue Bird”). Also, the potential of “the voice” was focussed on – we read aloud “with meaning and expression”, we recited a great deal of poetry in the classroom … it is something I value to this day – the depth and resonance of the speaking voice.

There are many other motifs that have left their indelible imprints in my mind … innumerable visuals with all their associations:

  1. The shadows of moving living creatures my father created with his supple hands and … against the lamplight shaded walls – a universe of living creatures …
  2. The newly minted coins he poured out of a cardboard cylinder on pay day, to me immeasurable wealth, glittering, golden.
  3. The bee hives in our garden in Kadugannawa. I still write poems on that act of purloining the wealth of their honey by smoking them out, causing death and destruction … we, the human marauders and violaters, ruthless, plunderers … disrupting the natural order of their lives … drawing analogies with our own human martial expeditions and distinction of life, disrupting nature ..
  4. Captivity – caged birds on the verandah of the Kadugannawa house – selalihinis, mynahs, parrots … compared to the birds that abounded freely in the garden – the honeysuckers, golden orioles, mynahs and selalihinis, woodpeckers, kingfishers, the solitary owl on the anodha tree …

Caged birds – caged spirits – human incarceration, loss of freedom, captivity imposed on human beings as well as the trafficking and imprisoning of birds and animals … allied to greed and plunder …

Daniel 2:    You have been a prolific and dedicated writer. What drives you to write? What does the act mean to you? Is it how you engage with the world?

JEAN 2: Searching questions indeed! Questions that do not occur consciously to me but yes, it has now become, more than ever, a driven force generated within myself, a kind of revelatory act which defies concealment – but first I am aware, especially through countless years spent with the living WORD – the awareness of the tremendous power of language to give birth to what lies within you – the potential of language allied to emotion and experience. In the act of creation you conduct monologues with yourself, dialogue with those you summon to have exchange, communication with … you need a deal of stagecraft for all these dialectical manoeuvres and you need to have those stern and uncompromising disciplines to craft your perorations. You need to have your mind and senses alive to every single particle of thought and emotion – you cannot go into darkness, a depthless , interior darkness and grope your way blindly, mindlessly in your search … you bear with the guiding light of illumination which shines forth from those invisible eyes that cast even a single ray of piercing radiance to show you the way you must take – the poem is there, secreted within your mind, striving, experiencing birth pangs to emerge, and it does … perhaps in a single word or line, phrase, stanzas, visual imagery full of shape, colour, form, texture … but you need a language, you need to know every nuance and inflexion, but you needs must have the central theme, the subsidiary themes, and you need, yes, you need knowledge, wisdom and all the attendant factors attached to and related to your penetrative, investigative, interrogative primary gestation of thought – call it inspiration, where the poet detaches, temporarily, the mundane realities of the everyday world – preoccupation with mundane realities has to be transformed by language, imagery, form, shape, discipline …

Metamorphosis is necessary – the poet, as in my case (often) can take on another life exempt from mortality and being merely human – I can become a red or white carp or even an eagle, or dodo, speak with different tongues! Return, yes, always, to my true self and move within the familiarity of a language which cannot be separated from my natural tongue … Transformation, wearing that invisible cloak, a mask, sometimes necessary disguises.

The act of creation not only means life but also probing the very depths of the several other lives within me. Sometimes too, an act of catharsis, of ecstasy, jubilation, of loss, sorrow, the revelation of every emotion under the sun and the means by which those revelations can become meaningful to our world – exposing deception, deceit, betrayal – the guilt of both the universal and the individual …

I must first engage with myself, next offer, not compel, it to others who perhaps are engaged in their individual searching for meaning in a chaotic and disordered world where no definite conclusions can be arrived at …

As was said in Alice in Wonderland: “Eat me … drink me” … and then see yourself transformed from the natural to the dimensionless unnatural and then back to the original human form.

Daniel 3:  When you look back on your body of work, do you see clear phases? If yes, what began and ended each phase? How did your interests shift?

JEAN 3: Originally, yes, clear phases but radical changes take place thereafter. Let me pinpoint one very singular and definitive phase. 1983. The drastic displacement of the lives of everyone embroiled in that cataclysmic event/happening. To me it is a different epoch altogether. The politicisation of every human being in ways that dehumanise the mind and lead to emotions that are destructive, violent, murderous. It is an experience which never leaves you – a permanent tattoo. It will be there forever. So: Apocalypse ’83 (poems), Trial by Terror (poems), Fear: Meditation in a Camp (in All is Burning – prose), Fault Lines (drama: The Captain has Come), and now Camp (poetry/prose).

  Travel: I would not be the writer I am without exposure and contact with the outer world – I have traversed every possible route offered me and my writing has been vastly enriched by my travels in India, UK, France, Italy, Germany, USA, and of course every nook and cranny of Sri Lanka (history and colonialism, etc. play a very important part here …).

Many other aspects, emotions, love, parting, loss, betrayal, colonialism, identity search, alienation through ideologies, my children, the past (memory, very strong, of my parents and siblings).

Lineage is very much a part of my writing.

My interests do keep shifting, but there is often a return to themes I have dealt with earlier but with new insights and revelations. My interests certainly are welcome to change – necessary, too, with the passage of time – from youth to age … but echoes remain, looked at through different lenses, envisioned differently too …

There is no real ending to any phase but often a repetition of themes which take on new significations which. Childhood is a phase that never ends but is carried on into a changed and changing landscape. I am very preoccupied by the marginalisation and exploitation of man and beast, the vile destruction of cultures and civilisations, the deification of ordinary human beings who wield their power over others, of amoral values, criminality that overpowers and destroys the other, partisanship, bias, arrogance …

Daniel 4: What was the hardest book for you to write? Which was the easiest?

A4:      Perhaps Apocalypse ‘83 was the hardest to write – so many different strands to be dealt with – that is why I have used different genres (poetry, prose, drama) to get my discourse across.

  The easiest?

To write, for me, is an enriching experience. The finished book yields much pleasure for me in its completion, but that is a facile way of expressing such a monolithic task – to write is also to expunge, explore, exorcise …

My first book, Kindura (1973) – my first publishing attempt was perhaps less difficult than the others – it was predictive – there were pointers to what was to come later but there was a great deal of innocence and aspects of presenting my individual vision of life, love, nature, landscape which were the forerunners of things to come – so much and so much still to be explored …….

Daniel 5:  How do you know when it is time to start a new book? And when do you know it is time to stop drafting, and send it off to the publishers?

JEAN 5:          A new book, for me, starts with a new poem. A sequential series follows. Past themes recur. Looked at from different angles. Past experiences are cast into different forms. Restructured. Change. Movement. New experiences which have impacted themselves on the consciousness, emerge. Yes, I do know when the collection has reached its conclusion, but in between, new experiences lead to new themes and I insert the poems that have been newly gestated.

 I do a great deal of drafting and redrafting, an important lesson and advice from Nissim Ezekiel from years ago. Next follows the typing, proofreading, and then with a sense of completion within myself I send the collection off to my wonderful Publishers. It doesn’t end there – cover designs are chosen with great care by me … then there are other practicalities. I move on and on and on … that’s the way I live and breathe. Hard work but rewarding.

Daniel 6:  Do you go back and re-read your work? If yes, what does it reveal to you?

JEAN 6: Yes, I do, by first turning over the pages when the book, newly published, arrives – refreshing my mind, going over the titles and contents, here and there a stanza or two. Revelations aplenty about the themes that preoccupied me and why I spent time working out my literary theorems with almost mathematical techniques, evolving new theories deriving from the old … I love innovation in language and expression – my studies and research in literary linguistics and literary stylistics helps immensely – I am not tied down to any school of thought – I like and adopt departure from the norms of expression – judgemental ideas and personal prejudice do not hamper me – I’m not seeking popularity . I do not want the celebrity status that earns the kudos of the populace. So much critiquing over here is subjective, politically biased … I don’t want to be “fashionable”, accepted, popular and well-loved – I have been none of those things and I have written about the clash of ideologies, the lack of acceptability, often subjected to narrow-minded judgementalism. I want to go about my business undisturbed by the rumble that echoes and re-echoes about my writing and personal viewpoints and outlook. I had to have the strength of persistence to continue along the routes I take – often many of my readers shy away from my work and I am astounded by their unwillingness to understand what I write – living in a somewhat congested atmosphere in a crowded landscape, how does one continue to survive? I have because there are many who have given me the courage to do so, those who read me with sensitivity and understanding, perception to, innumerable academics, writers, friends abroad mostly who understand that I am cosmopolitan and remain “untypical” to please the crowd. I am much more than a writer – read me and you will know what other aspects add importance to my being human.

  Re-reading my work, sometimes even decades later, I read the saga of my life, of the wrong routes I have taken, the realisation of the issues that I must make my writing accountable for, for being aware of the needs of my students throughout my career as a guide and mentor, helping them to realise their potential, understanding their ideologies, grateful for the impact that each and everyone I encounter has had on me – the inspiration given me, the courage displayed by them (my students especially at English Teachers’ College, Peradeniya), the sacrifices they made, even the sacrifice of life. I had to surmount much hostility, inimical thoughts and feelings about myself, my marriage, my own ways of thinking, cold-shouldering, racial prejudice and bias – many, many negative forces which have led to my being a writer who places personal integrity above all else … Time is catching up with me and I have to complete some important tasks. My family has always come first but I have to leave something of value for posterity. I am happy in my choice of remaining in the Island, HOME to me, and I have created my haven here – the thornless rose does not exist in my garden and I bear the wounds and scars of innumerable thorn pricks but my garden will always be an important metaphor in my life – read me and you will understand.

Daniel 7: What do you do when you have writer’s block?

JEAN 7: Now that I have ceased lecturing to students in Sri Lanka and abroad, and decided to concentrate on finishing my life’s work, I do engage in many other things – have done a great deal of drawing and painting on a very large scale – about a hundred drawings already completed. Have many friends at home and abroad with whom I communicate, mainly “messages”, through email. Travel around the Island when my daughter Devi and her husband visit me twice a year from Canada (providing me with so much inspiration wherever I go), read, read, read. I wake up in the morning and one of the first things I reach out for is a book, a journal, old letters, old poems and fiction (to be completed and published). I think cooking is a skill I needed to master and I find it a pleasure to experiment in creating appetising and palatable dishes; in the past I did a great deal of hand embroidery – now that’s minimal.

Social service / a Peace Activist / I like entertaining friends and sharing conversation and a meal with them, listening to music – I just love music, classical, jazz, everything; think, philosophise, become angered at the evil and corruption, the poverty around us, feel for the homeless, displaced, do what I can for all the dysfunctional people around me, the vagrants, the mentally deranged, the old, the poor, those in want – do what I can in whatever way I can to benefit humanity … no, I do not have writer’s block – alien to me … my mind is creative … that’s the way I want it. I adore my family and friends and want to keep in touch with them (Smriti dear, you are one of them for sure).

I like watching films, now on TV – in the past, the cinema – so much in life to be enjoyed … I love my dreams  – turn them into poetry and fiction. Life is a pilgrimage, a quest, collisions, contending with good and bad. Indeed a morality play.

Daniel 8: As both a poet, a novelist and a writer of non-fiction, you have worn many hats. What has been the transition like between each of these roles? In what ways does your approach, your language, your intentions, shift between these formats?

JEAN 8: Smriti, your profound questioning opens up many new apertures and entrances to my writing. I have been, from a very early age, vastly influenced by other writers, stemming, of course, from the canonical works of English Literature, moving on to American Literature as a result of the Fulbright American academics and writers who wielded so much influence on our reading of American writers. As for European literature, I made my own discoveries from the library at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya; oh yes, with certainly I can admit to influences I encountered in my reading – what I began to devise was, I feel, something distinctive and singular in manipulating genres of themes – moving away from the stereotypical – a theme that had its gestation in a poem, the poem becoming fiction  and then again a play – technical manipulation which led to different viewpoints and the utilisation of language in a variety of ways, beginning with the basic event or happening moulded by the perceiver’s (here, the writer’s) attitude descriptively to the protagonist’s or protagonists’ utterance – poem, fiction, drama. Immense potential, different attitudes and voices moving away from mere commentary and the single voice – rather than my chief protagonist, Alice, an ordinary woman, whose life and courage I recount in “A Woman I once Knew”. I have Alice whose voice is heard loud and clear in “The Fire Sermon”, a play. Innumerable occasions when I set the stage for the protagonists to have their say. Perhaps it is the “genre of innovation”, live theatre where the protagonist mingles with the audience or the reader and draws him/her into the action to create greater understanding. I do it over and over again – adds dimension to my creativity … enactments in “The Theatre of Life”. Immortalise character as well as the enactment to reach, even from the mundane, epic levels. Yes, self-created formats, necessary to move away from the acceptable norms of literary standards, from ordained principles and techniques of writing – it is my way of creating new freedoms in thought and expression.

Daniel 9:       You have a unique vantage point on the tumult of Sri Lankan politics. What role, if any, has literature played in sensitizing communities and individuals to the struggle of the other?                       

JEAN 9: Those who read me will be made more aware of many issues that the majority of us may not be disturbed by, their mindsets spoilt by the evidence of witnessing the horrors that have beset our land – I have written on the Border Village Massacres (poems, short stories, plays), the displacement and dislocation of traditional homelands, the death, imprisonment, disappearances and the breakdown in society in the aftermath of civil war, but I have also focussed on the Sinhala radical movements in the Island. I have plenty of evidence from the personal narratives I have given ear to – stories of survival, torture, imprisonment – think of the closure of universities and the effects on the lives of the students in 1989-91 – the total breakdown of values – think of the brutality and inhumanness of the Vidhya rape and murder … alienation, divisiveness in society, exile, migration, the death, murder, disappearances of those antithetical towards the reigning power structures, the marginalisation of the powerless, the rural poor, the lack of basic infrastructure, the unequal distribution of wealth … when it comes to the politicisation of our landscape, I have recorded every single event that has led to violence, chaos, tumult … how sensitised the consciousness of the reader is remains unknown as we haven’t had open discussions on the issues … do we not question the reasons for the plethora of protest on our streets? Do we question the brutality of the brutal inquisitions that take place at police stations when “suspects” are brought in, bludgeoned to death by human hands and violent blows, the torture and exploitation of housemaids, sexual abuse of children (in the past child servants and also in the Wars – the exploitation of Child Soldiers) … the destruction of the environment … so much and so much – there has developed a new linguistics, a new lexicon to document all murder and mayhem that exists and must be paid positive and practical attention to …

  My students gave me their stories. I have recorded them – many appear in All is Burning (I am an Innocent Man). We have as to lesson and record – we are the witnesses and must present ungarbled versions and documentation of the truth (without bias and prejudice). The scenario of violence is expressed with all the vividness and clarity I can summon – being who and what I am, of Dutch Burgher descent, I do not take sides, although being married to a Tamil, ‘the other’, I had to face many false accusations and finger-pointing as having “sympathies” with the other – this was untrue. I have empathised with all those who have and are victims – perhaps I too have been one – sidelines and pushed into the shadows in the past, in fact my writings were even reviled – but I have vindicated myself through the long and painful years and perhaps now, since there is more lebensraum in writing and thinking, given recognition for what I am doing as a writer – as a result of my colonial bloodline and lineage I too know what it is to forge an identity …

Moreover I have through my writings in diverse genres recorded, documented and highlighted the chaos, the tumult, the divisiveness in our Island and in our society – I lectured to students who had been embroiled in the insurrections and radical movements not only in the 1970s but also in 1989-91. Moreover, I was with others in the refugee camps of 1983 – a turning point in my life. My family and myself had to put together the scattered fragmented elements of our lives and resume our journeys – the parting with one of my precious daughters made us all the more courageous to step out of almost indivisible barriers and face life.

Much has been written about the importance of the role I have played as a witness and writer never taking sides, being unbiased and unprejudiced in my views. I have been here, on the spot, witnessing everything, sometimes even been, with my family, the victim. I have never blinded myself to the truth. Many Sri Lankan academics living abroad have focussed on my role which they consider of importance, in their research and publications – Minoli Salgado, Maryse Jayasuriya, together with other writers from India, UK, USA, Sweden, etc., but what is of primary importance is that I have highlighted everything in the creation of a new literature in my writing. It is there for all to read but for certain, I do not know in what manner I have made an impression on the local readership where I have scrutinised, interrogated, highlighted every single cataclysmic happening that has caused debacle after debacle, the Armageddons and apocalyses. I have bared the truth but I know that there are many reactions, some silent, some vociferous about what I have written. I often encountered antipathy too. Hostility. Cold shouldering, but I have never given up. Yes, often left out in the cold. Put me in a strait jacket, berated me, refused to accept the truth but nothing has ever deterred me from putting down the truth and nothing but the truth is what I write … this is a long saga journey that I have made often in the face of acrimony and antipathy – isolation too, but what I have recorded will remain for posterity … I am assured of that … I am aware that expatriate Sri Lankan writers focus on the same themes – what they write is lauded and acceptable, popularised too.

Daniel 10:     What did it mean for you to marry outside your community and also to marry a poet? Looking back on your life together, the home you have built, how have you grown together? If I remember correctly, you call him Arasa, no?

A10:   Well, I went in impulsively, headlong into the unknown, with my marriage. I entered a different world, a world all unknown to me. We met, as artists, together with other painters who have become very famous. I’m speaking of those who have survived the fatalities and vicissitudes of time and age. We did memorable things together, went on innumerable journeys, painted, held Y.A.G. (Young Artists Group, with Cora Abraham as guide and mentor). Exhibitions in Ceylon/Sri Lanka and abroad, one-man exhibitions and had many soul-stirring experiences and adventures. I never envisaged marriage. Never thought of ourselves as belonging to different cultures, different worlds. We had no ethnic differences that we were aware of – marriage at the end of our encounter was a whole new experience. I had to encounter forces that overwhelmed me through lack of intimate knowledge of the family I married into. Moreover, my father especially was opposed to the marriage. I had to find my way – that was tough. Rough patches. I had to learn, the painful way, how to counter the forces that made me an unwelcome stranger. I had to acquire wisdom, learn tolerance. Reach understanding. My greatest reward has been in the birth of my two daughters who were subjected to all the rigours of a dual inheritance. I am still making my journeys into that culture and all it stood for, but ultimately found that so many intrusions, interventions – well, ironically, I infiltrated into the exclusive domains of that culture and hierarchy on which their traditional structures rested and have seen the results and consequences of what has taken place to erode those values. My writing (I have created a new literature out of my expeditions, incursions, interrogating and analysis of that way of life) has been vastly enhanced by my deep delving into that world. My latest poems, like “View from a Sixteenth Century Palanquin” (in “Introspection Poems”) and “Squandered Inheritance” still show my obsessive preoccupation to understand the historical imperatives and perspectives of what I need to understand.

  My husband’s full name is Thiagarajah Arasanayagam; friends call him Arasa, the family call him Arasan! He is also a writer of diverse genres – his dramas are very powerful – has written several plays, also fiction and poetry … our styles are widely divergent. Parvathi and Devi are also writers – Parvathi has published seven books – poetry and fiction. Devi who has published poetry when she was at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, USA, is also a writer of fiction …

Arasa and I have given each other the freedom to preserve and retain our individual ways of life and thinking – I think for myself, because I have had more expectation of tolerance liberalism it has not been easy to form any strong alliance with a family from which I was screened off for years. However, our marriage has endured and at this stage of our lives, we accept each other for our individual ways of thinking and living. Tolerance and the slow, painful passage of acquiring wisdom have paid. For me, family is everything and my marriage, although it has taken me into deep waters, is a saga of survival plus the enrichment and enhancement of my writing.

Daniel 11:     What does it mean for you to take home a State literary award for lifetime achievement? Are you concerned with legacy? What do you hope your body of work communicates to your readers?

JEAN 11: It means a great deal, this recognition and acceptance of the importance of my role as a writer in this country. I have now published about fifty books (poetry, fiction, drama, creative non-fiction) and will continue to write as long as my lifespan lasts. I am immensely grateful and indeed greatly honoured for the recognition accorded me. This award is the greatest reward that my country has given me and I have accepted it with all the gratitude of my deeply felt emotions, but also with humility. Arrogance has never been part of my makeup.

 Yes, indeed, I will leave behind a legacy – one of value, if realisation ultimately takes place of the value of the writer/documentor/recorder/witness/survivor to the generations to come. I am happy to say that the editors of WRITE, a new Sri Lankan (with international contributors) venture has already interviewed me for their next journal issue (December). I have had a poem or two in the Schools Examination Syllabus (‘A’ Level and ‘O’ Level). I hope the libraries will stock up my books for the coming generations to know how literature can throw the piercing beans of its searchlight rays on life. I am a witness of my times, and my legacy is not a selfish, self-centred inheritance for an exclusive clientele but for all time and age.

My readers must search out the deepest concerns and preoccupations of the writer who presents an unbiased vision of the landscape and its populace … Let my work endure for all time, let my readership open their eyes wide to whatever I feel needs to be focussed on and to preserve the best of human values in whatever walks of life each one of us will find ourselves … and continue … free themselves from the trammels of not wanting to see the truth …

I have received the highest honour by being given the Award of Sahithiyaratna. Moreover, I received it from the hands of the Highest in the land. I have been greatly rewarded and it is a reward I will continue to share not only with my country but globally as well with my continuing to write and share my work with whomsoever wishes to enjoy its largesse.



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One response to “Profound Reflections: Jean Arasanayagam in Response to Smrti Daniel’s Searching Questions

  1. Jean was my aunt. She affected my life deeply and permanently. It is difficult to imagine a world without her because she died last morning.

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