Ubeyasiri Wijeyananda Wickrama, reviewing Palitha Manchanayake’s Interesting Episodes in Life …. with highlighting emphasis imposed in arbitrary fashion by The Editor, Thuppahi
On the basis of positive responses that the author had on his earlier publication ‘Some Recollections and Reflections’ he was encouraged to produce the current episodes relating to his life. This book consists of 32 narratives in the form of episodes in its contents. The author has presented an introductory preface while the foreword is by the H.E. High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Australia, Mr Somasundaram Skandakumar.
As an engineering professional Palitha Manchanayake has had the unique privilege of serving as an Irrigation Engineer in the Department of Irrigation, Sri Lanka; as Assistant Director, Water Management Secretariat, Mahaveli Authority of Sri Lanka; Visiting Lecturer in Hydrology, for Post Graduate and Graduate Programs at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka and since migrating to Australia in 1987 he had served as Hydrologist at the Flood Forecasting Centre of Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology, Sydney till 2008.
The scope of these narratives range from late 1960’s and early 1970’s undergraduate life as internal students residing at the Halls of Residences of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka to life experiences outside Sri Lanka, especially in Australia.
Accordingly the first ten episodes vividly portrays the intrinsic texture of university life underpinning the socio-cultural value system of contemporary Sri Lanka. The author recollects the period with nostalgia when he presents the layers of innocent fun concurrently appreciated by both the students and the then Vice Chancellor. While the tea parties hosted by the male and female Halls of Residences assist the mutual understanding of each other the deception of Upali as ‘Addin’ and not as anglicised ‘Edwin’ brings the innocent fun to a suggestive climax, in Episode 2. In an age of political turbulence in Sri Lankan universities, it is refreshing to note that student organisations conducted demonstrations on matters relating to socio-moral and gender issues during the 60’s and 70’s. The admirable and rare qualities of university academics who adorned this majestic seat of learning during the period under review are generously represented by the magnanimity of Prof. Fred Bartholomuez, unassuming nature of Prof. W.S. Karunaratne and the humility of Prof. Thurairajah.
The impulses that generate socio-cultural, religio-moral, and middle class values which are constantly in conflict when growing up in a traditional hierarchical society that is superficially absorbed into western liberal livelihood are well demonstrated in most of the episodes.
The unique opportunity that the author experienced by having a cultural maestro of the calibre of Mahagama Sekara as a fellow traveller in the train from Colombo to Gampaha and vice versa appeared to be a childhood dream. The adventures in the jungles of Wahalkada amidst herds of wild elephants depicts the destiny driven life of a professional in the wilderness of Sri Lanka. The ‘repentance over not being mindful’ is the moral message of the episode on ‘Medical consultation’. The cross cultural shock portrayed in the form of miscommunication due to accent and intonation as seen in the narrative of ‘A Cup of Coffee’ is a common linguistic feature in any immigrant situation. William Wordsworth’s saying ‘child is the father of man’ is well proven by learning about cruelty to animals from one’s own children.
It is not surprising to observe people assimilating into the host linguistic culture when living overseas. However, it is only someone with ‘self-esteem disorder’ according to psycho-linguistics that attempt to display one’s social superiority by communicating in a foreign language to fellow countrymen in the country of origin.
‘Gardener in Sydney’ is a symbolic episode that vividly demonstrates the concept of the ‘dignity of labour’. The author would have never expected his gardener to possess in his business card the ‘B. Eng. Sc (NSW)’; MBA (UTS); MIE (Aust); CP Eng’. Why is it that we usually think that a casual lawn mower-gardener chosen from an advertisement in the community newspaper published locally should be an uneducated, unemployed person ? Most of us unconsciously possess the post-colonial mindset that people are judged according to their dress, occupation and probably the wages. In the case of John Samuel it proved to be different!
‘Interesting Episodes in Life’ by Engineer Palitha Manchanayake unveils a panoramic view of the socio-cultural fabric of Sri Lanka and Australia as a responsible participant- narrator. The narrative concludes with a formidable episode illustrating the distinguished service he has rendered for ’20 years of flood forecasting in New South Wales, Australia’, as a Hydrologist attached to the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology, Sydney. The wealth of commendations Palitha has received during his working life is a living testimony to his sincerity of purpose and honest professionalism.