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Surekha Samarasena | (Pics by Chandana Wijesinghe)

Me Kathawa, which tries to explain the dilemma women face, is a novel enriched with psychology, sociology and politics

What is the responsibility of a woman in a political arena? Is it to serve tea during the discussions? Is it to satisfy the desires of the male activists? Have we identified the potential of a woman in politics? Surekha Samarasena publishing her debut novel Me Kathawa (This story) questions the role of a woman in the political arena, and society in general.

Notebook-of-an-achiever“ගෑනු කියන්නේ දැවෙනකොට ලස්සන, දැවීම තුලම දියවෙන ඉටිපන්දම් වගේ ජාතියක් ද?” ” (Pg 53)
“Are women like candles; beautiful when burning while evaporating in flames?”
“I believe it’s time to start a discussion. Women no longer need to be the losers in the political arena,” Surekha said in an interview with The Nation. “If it’s odd when one calls it feminism, let’s call it humanism.”

Surekha is a freelance journalist who started her journalism career with Ravaya newspaper in 2007. Studying journalism from the Sri Lanka College of Journalism, she honed her journalistic skills in both news and feature writing. She bagged the ‘Young Reporter of the Year’ award at the Journalism Excellence Award Ceremony 2009  and received a scholarship to study journalism further in Goa, India. She currently works at the Verite Research Institute as a parliamentary affairs analyst.

book-coverSurekha is from Ratnapura. She studied at Ratnapura Ferguson Girls High School. Apart from the encouraging environment created by her friends and family, her main inspiration for writing comes from the veteran writer Sunethra Rajakarunanayake, who hailed from the same school and area. She said that she has admired her work since school days. “Maybe the inspiration behind my journalistic career is her, maybe I followed her trail unconsciously,” she said.

She also had a keen interest in post-leftism and received the opportunity to connect with post-leftists since the beginning of her journalistic career. Speaking about her novel, she said that her life experiences in the post-leftist cults itself nurtured her novel. “Me Kathawa is based on women’s experiences in a political setting, my experiences and those of my close friends who worked with them,” she iterated.

Surekha further said that she used her novel as a tool to convey to the society her cynicism against the system. “It’s better when the negative attitudes are showcased with creativity than with violence,” she opined. Creative showcasing of such political topics is highly sensitive and is accepted by the society better. “I wanted to initiate a discussion on the topic rather than fight over it,” she explained her intention behind publishing her book.

Leftism always took literature and arts as a tool in presentation of political ideologies. Even in Sri Lanka, Russian Marxist literature played a significant role in nurturing the leftists’ political ideologies. Surekha pointed out that today’s younger generation has less exposure to such literature. “Unlike the generation above us, reading is rarely a common habit of the young generation. Of course they watch films in this cyber era, yet their bond with the book is fraying,” she said adding that the discussions are mainly built around films today compared with other forms of literature.

She further said that along with this decline of exposure the humanity discussed in leftism too has been degrading. “Today a simple dispute will turn into hatred and wrath. Where are love, compassion and humanism leftists speak of?” she raised a question. “These are not even to be found within the political groups themselves,” she lamented. She further said that women get severely oppressed compared to men. “It has been made more difficult for a woman to face the challenges over a political dispute. Even the weapons used to attack a woman in the political area are cruel. They are different from what are used to attack a man,” she said. “When a woman in attacked in the political arena, she will be attacked with personal information; maybe her femininity or her sexuality,” she pointed out.

Me Kathawa tries to explain this dilemma women face, through life stories of three generations of women dealing with socialist politics. The novel is enriched with themes of psychology, sociology and politics with a little support from magic. Her message is direct and strong and the conclusion of the story reminds of the forgotten responsibilities in ensuring the security of women of future generations.

Surekha is also a poetess; she has a habit of writing down her thoughts in a form of a poem. She believes writing is a way of venting her emotions and aggressions. Yet, she is not inspired to become a published poet. When asked, she said that the internet and social media provides her with a platform to share her poetry and she receives the satisfaction of writing poetry from this. “Unlike a poem, a novel cannot be introduced to society through cyber space. It has to be printed, if not it will not be grasped by the readership,” she emphasized.

Some of her poems are available on boondi.lk, yet her main platform in sharing poetry is her facebook page.

අපට මොන පාස්කුද ජේසු… !

ඈත පල්ලියෙ පාස්කුව දා – දෙවියන්ට තුති කියනු ඇසුණා
මෑත දොරකඩ අයෙක් දැවටී – නෝනා නෝනා කියනු ඇසුණා
”නැද්ද නෝනා බබාලාගේ – ගවුම් පොඩි හෙම අහක දමනා
අලූත් ගවුමක් දෙකක් ඉල්ලන – දියණියන් දෙදෙනෙකුම සිටිනා”

ඇයට දෙන්නට ගවුම් කොහිදැයි – මට බබාලා නොමැති බැවිනා
මා සතුව තිබු එකම සීයක් – ඇගේ අත ගෙන මිට මෙලෙව්වා
ඒ අතින් ඈ ඇගේ පපුවේ – දිගට හරහට කුරුසෙ ඇන්දා
ජේසු පිහිටයි කියාගෙන මට – තවත් ගෙයකට පිය එසෙව්වා

පල්ලියේ යාතිකා අවසන – තියෙන මිනිසුන් පාටි දැම්මා
වයින් නැති උන් පාන් නැති උන් – ජේසු නාමෙන් හිඟා කෑවා
මම මගේ ඉරිදාව හින්දා – ගෙදර මිදුලේ වල් ගැලෙව්වා
මිදුලෙ තුත්තිරි මගේ ගවුමේ – ඇලී ගැලෙමින් මුකුලූ කෙරුවා

පාලූවට ගිය පල්ලි මුදුනත – ?ට ? වී තරුව දිලූණා
ඒ තරුව යට දෑත් විහිදා – පිළිමයක් වී ජේසු හිටියා
නගරෙ තැන් තැන් විදුලි බුබුලින් – අලංකාරව තිබෙනු දුටුවා
එදා ඉරිදා මගේ ඉරිදා – පුරුදු විදියට ඔහේ ගෙවුණා

What Easter for us Jesus…!

In a faraway church on Easter —  thanks offered to God I did hear
By my door someone knelt — crying ‘Ma’am! Ma’am!’ I did hear
‘Have throwaway clothes your kids outgrew, do you?’
For two girls who cry for a dress that’s new or two.

What dresses could I give, since children I have not
Took her hand and closed it o’er the single hundred that I got
Her hand she waved left and right a cross to draw
With a Jesus-bless to me she she paced to another door

Once the mass was done, partied they did those who had
Those sans bread and wine in Jesus’ name did beg
It was my Sunday, to my garden’s weeds I turned
The thuththiri were coy as to my dress they brushed

To the lonely church-top came the star at night to shine
Beneath with open arms stood Jesus as a statued-shrine
Here and there the city with pretty lights did glow
And thus my Sunday in usual manner did goSimilar to the story in her novel, most of her poems also question the common notions of the society and forces open the eye of the reader to a different perspective; a humanistic and a realistic perspective.

පූසන් නෝනාගේ කවිය

නැතිවත් කෑම මට මං දුප්පත් වෙනදා
බළලූන් කෑම ගෙන ආ යුතු නොම වරදා
කරවල මස් මාලූ රස කිරි දෙමිනි බෙදා
බළලූන් අටක් රැුකබලනෙමි වඩා හදා
කවුරුත් එන්නෙ නෑ ගෙට ගේ ගඳ හින්දා
කුස්සිය ගඳයි සාලයො තම්බන හින්දා
ඉඳහිට ගෙමුල්ලෙන් හමුවෙයි බෙටි තිබිලා
බුදියා ලගියි දැම්මම රෙද්දක් උනලා
ගෙට ගොඩ වෙන කොට ම අඬහැරයකි හවස
වට පිට මිනිසුන්ට පුරුදුය කච කච ය
නම් ගම් කියා අණවමි උදය ද හවස
වීදියෙ මගේ නමිපූසන් නෝනා‘ ය
ගිය විට මුන් හැත්ත පෙළ මනමාල රැුළේ
බෙලි නැටි කඩාගෙන එයි පෙර පෙරා ලේ
බැළලියො වදන කොට නං ගහට බර වගේ
ඒවත් වඳ නොකර ඉවසා ගනිමි වදේ
කොච්චර බැන්න මුත් හිත වද දෙනවා ය
ඔක්කට අරන් ගෙල මුල කිතිලනවා ය
ලෙඩ දුක බලා ගෙන බෙහෙතුත් දෙනවා ය
මේ හිඟනුන් පැටව් මට හරි වටිනා ය
ඇබ්බැහි වෙච්ච බළලූන් ලීලය හින්දා
කොච්චර බැනුම් මං අහනවදෝ මන්දා
එක එක තැන් වලින් මුන් පැන්නුව හින්දා
ගත්තෙමි ළඟට වර වර කියලා කැන්දා
දෙපයේ දැවටි කෝලං හුරතල් කරතී
කොයි තැන ගියත් මට මුන් අට ම සිහි වෙතී
කන බත් පතත් සමහර විටෙක හිර වෙතී
පෙර අත් බවෙක මං අම්මා වෙන්ඩ ඇතී

Cat Lady’ is my name
Even if hungry I go poverty regardless
the cats I must feed with meat and fish,
karavala and milk too do I give
to the eight felines under my care.

No one visits ‘cos the house stinks
the kitchen stinks for there I boil salayas
from time to time their droppings I encounter
spread out a cloth and that they make their bed.

At evening there’s cacophony as I enter the house
the neighbors know and are used to the mewls
I know the names, each one of them
on the street though ‘Cat Lady’ is my name.

With bite, scratch-mark and bitten tail
they return from scattering heat on city street
when they litter I feel like the weight-bearing tree
and yet I suffer their unsterilized states

I do scold and rant and then lament
I have it up to my neck but it stop right there
check on them, feed and even sickness treat
precious to me are these mendicant cats

Addicted to feline love am I
and for this endlessly vilified am I
called them to me, one by one
each one a thrown-out from who knows where.

Around my feet they scratch and purr
I remember them all wherever I go
At times I just cannot my food swallow
perhaps a mother in another life was I

Speaking further about social media, Surekha said that it also works as an alternate media where a writer can freely express ideas. She expressed her grief that none of the mainstream media allows ample freedom for journalists. “This is why I have always tried to find alternative ways of expressing my views; through alternative newspapers, magazine or even cyber space,” she reiterated adding that this lack of freedom is one of the main reasons she decided to leave full-time journalism.

“Since childhood, I always dreamt of becoming a journalist. Becoming a journalist at a newspaper like Ravaya seemed like something incredible,” she said. “But sadly, few years into journalism, I realized that it is not as incredible as it seemed to be from the outside. This is why I decided to leave and this is why I had to find an alternative way,” Surekha further said.

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