Writing is about daring to pick a pen up, and setting down what is in one’s mind on a piece of paper for the rest of the world to read. In this sense, every writer is engaged in a kind of strip-tease with his/her work. In doing so, the difference between a writer who attempts at being good and those who are happy being mediocre is that the first type reveals just enough to keep the interest of her/his readership while getting the ‘message’ across while the second type engages in orgies of confessions in which she/he embarrasses herself/himself while boring her/his readership with the nitty-gritty details of her daily existence.
Kanchana Amilani’s collection of short stories Gammiris Kurulla clearly belongs to the first type of writing. The writer willfully creates a screen between herself and her characters by making most of her protagonists animals (albeit human-like in their behavior, I must admit). Those stories in which humans play main roles such as Angaharuwādā Re (Tuesday Night), ĀdamGè sandluthalaya (Adam’s Balcony), and Pokunata Ā Pāththa Menaviya (The Goose That Came to the Pond) often there are animals that play important roles. In addition, in all these stories the line between the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’ is never very clearly defined. And the characters walk between the two realms or remain somewhere in between with delightful ease. In fact, the writer uses the phrase ‘stories in marvelous realism’ (could this be a play on the term ‘magical realism’?) as the sub-title of her work.
At first glance, Gammiris Kurulla is a collection of some witty (and somewhat raunchy) stories which are not so different from those often exchanged among colleagues during breaks. While the main ingredient of these stories is clearly aiming at tickling some quick belly-laughs out of the reader, one comes across little bits and pieces that are of different texture that requires some careful chewing in order to digest them. And it is these very bits and pieces, not the animals – as interesting as they are, that urge me to take a second and a third look at Gammiris Kurulla.
The first short story of the collection Angaharuwādā Re which operates mainly at a domestic level lay bare the hypocrisy behind the prevalent Victorian attitude both sexes have adopted towards nudity (in its many aspects?). Aish, the female lead of the story suddenly decides not to wear clothes anymore. Her husband, Abhi, finds her nudity titillating yet he is horrified at the thought of her body being exposed to the rest of the world. He resents the way other men ogle at his wife’s nakedness. Consequently, he threatens to throttle his wife and says that it would have been better had the wife killed him instead of subjecting him to the indignity of being known as the husband of the woman who parades her naked self around the town. It was all a dream, but the husband does not know that. In the end, he wakes up resigned to accept (and even embrace) what he could not change. Of courses, it is Aish who is horrified by the thought of her husband parading himself in nude for the entire creation to see this time around.
Mālu Hatana, on the other hand, is a delightful little sociopolitical satire on the operations of the proponents of modern democracy. It is about leaders who hoard power at the expense of their followers and how their ineptitude and hypocrisy are often exposed by those who are near and dear to them.
Pokunata Ā PāththaMenaviya reminds me of several well-known children’s (?) stories I have read as an adult. In addition, it contains echoes of Maname, too. In that sense, it deals with the concepts of machismo, male-female relations, and male sexual jealousy. Male partners of heterosexual relationships with queasy stomachs are strongly advised against reading this story. Wāsanāwe Ran Doratuwa is a tragicomic depiction of a common human dream of winning a lottery with a new twist.
Finally, the eponymous protagonist of Gammiris Kurulla (Pepper Bird) is a petty dictator incarnate who wants the proverbial cake all to himself. In the end he gets what he deserves. In fact all the characters in this story as well as those in the rest of the collection get what they deserve. In this sense reading Gammiris Kurulla restores one’s faith in justice to a certain degree.
Another point in favourof Kanchana’s Gammiris Kurulla is that given the limitations imposed by the scope of their individual plots, these short-short stories, as they have been called, are long enough to cover the essentials while at the same time being short enough to not to test the patience of the reader.
And coming to the end of the book, if one is to look for a common thread that binds all the stories of the collection together, then she does not have to look too hard. It is satire, or more specifically not-so-gentle satire directed at very human foibles, that links all the stories of Gammiris Kurulla. Hopefully some of us while laughing at the characters in Kanchana’a stories might see them for what they were and experience a moment of catharsis that would make us more bearable to have around for those around us.