Reading hundreds of translations opened to him a world of wonders. Amazed by the skills of translators, he told himself that one day he too will attempt to translate world literature into Sinhala, while he was still a schoolboy. Keeping his words, he made himself years ago, Hashitha Abeywardena published his debut translation; ‘Path Sindunu Wasanthaya’ recently. Speaking to The Nation about his book Hasitha said that he is grateful for the attempts by the translators who brought world literature to the Sinhala reader. “It’s surprising how much effort they have put into translating, especially in adopting Sinhala to suit the original dialect and securing its originality,” he said. “More surprisingly, these efforts were made in an era where there was no Internet. It wasn’t easy to do their research. It took a lot of time. Today, everything is just a single click away, and it is unfortunate that most of the contemporary translators aren’t even bothered to the least,” he added.

He embraced Russian and Chinese literature as a young man, appreciating the essence of rebelliousness in them and this was the reason he intended to translate Ba Jin’s work. He recalled how the book was priced around 30 rupees and his friend bought it for him since he told his friend that he wants to try translating it

Abeywardena is from Aranayake, Kegalle and attended Dippitiya Rajagiri Maha Vidyalaya for his primary education. Passing the grade five scholarship exam he received the opportunity to join Ananda College, Colombo 10 in 1983. As a young boy, his mother’s encouraging attitude towards literature inspired him to develop a great interest in the subject. He recalled how his cousin’s bookrack became his first library. The translations he found on this rack eventually made him a readaholic. His family background as well as the Maradana school background nurtured this passion further. During his Advanced Level years he became the secretary of the Ananda College Literary Society. Reminiscing his school days he said that Godage Bookshop being in the neighborhood of Ananda College was a blessing to his avid reading.

Notebook-of-an-achieverHashitha recalled how he was encouraged by his friends when he made attempts at translating poems or English songs. Although he never intended to become a ‘published’ translator during his young days, he kept on translating poems and short stories. Among these, there were stories by Hans Christian Anderson, Hermann Hesse and Ernest Hemingway, still unpublished and piled up inside files. Then he attempted to translate ‘Doctor Zhivago’ and realized that he had to improve his knowledge of English in order to become a proficient translator. ‘Doctor Zhivago’, which he couldn’t translate more than one chapter, was the first birthday present from his girlfriend. He fondly mentioned how his wife, the girl who brought down a copy of Doctor Zhivago from England, supports him with his literary work.

Hashitha worked for Ravaya newspaper as a freelancer for a short period till his family forced him not to be a journalist. Following his variety of interests in literature field he took part in street dramas, supported his friends in proofreading, making films or teledramas. Among his circle of friends, the main endeavors were to produce best creations for the Sinhala literature field. Yet, he said since he was selected to the Agriculture Faculty of Peradeniya University he couldn’t continue to give his fullest contribution to arts. At present he works as a consultant for agricultural development at Care International Sri Lanka.

Though his debut published translation Path Sindunu Wasanthaya (Autumn in Spring by Ba Jin) was launched this year, he translated the book during his university days. During 1992 and 1993 was a literary award ceremony organized by a Lakdiva newspaper. “This Jayanatha Sahithaya Sammana Ulela (People’s Literature Award Ceremony) was a boost to our enthusiasm. I first found Ba Jin’s work in the book fair held at the Viharamaha Devi Park along with the award ceremony,” he said. He embraced Russian and Chinese literature as a young man, appreciating the essence of rebelliousness in them and this was the reason why he intended to translate Ba Jin’s work. He recalled how the book was priced around 30 rupees and his friend bought it for him since he told his friend that he wants to try translating it. “This was translated while I was still a young man. If I am to translate it today it would be different from this. Therefore I don’t know how the feedback would be,” he said.

Influenced by the techniques his favorite translators used in their work, Hashitha too attempts to adopt a contextual language in translating Ba Jin’s short novel. Translated in a simple, but amusing language, Path Sindunu Wasanthaya is a good read. It is quite different from the usual translations in bookstores that there is no hero or a villain in the story. Hashitha maintains a Facebook page where he uploads the background information related to the story. He said that he created it to help someone who would be interested in knowing more on background of Autumn in Spring.

He said although translations inspired to read more books, Sinhala literature too is very powerful. He further explained that misprision in Sinhala readership is quite high and this becomes a reason to overrate or underrating certain literary work.  “Our literature is either limited within few topics or it is underappreciated,” he said. He also mentioned that sometimes the well-known Sri Lankan authors are not appreciated for their best work.
He pointed out that Sri Lankan literature was deeper and well nourished during the olden days. “We often speak about magic realism in literature. But can’t this be found in our folk literature?” he raised a question. “Magic realism is a technique used by the storyteller when realistic components of the story cannot be told in a direct manner. If looked into our old stories properly, Latin American literature won’t be so much magical,” he said.
Magic realism in Latin American literature is simple. “There is nothing unbelievable in the story. Everything is simple and believable,” he said emphasizing that if the technique is overused the story becomes complicated and then it will lose its aesthetic component,” he explained. Hashitha is currently involved with a research to look into these overlooked aspects in folk literature.

As a country we have many unused resources in literature and Hashitha said that if we put some effort in understanding these missed aspects we can rebuild the Sinhala literature to meet the standards of world literature. “Imagine if some other country had a collection of stories as powerful as Mahavamsa. They would have used this to create and recreate literature,” he reiterated.

His articles related to the mentioned research as well as his thoughts can be read on the blog he maintains.  Hashitha’s blog, was started in 2009 and it is one of the most read blogs among the Sinhala blog community.  Rasawathiya includes random thoughts, poems, translations as well as reviews on books or movies in both Sinhala and English.

He also said that real-time interaction on internet fascinates people that it distracts people from print media as well as electronic media like television or radio. And he said that newspapers in Sri Lanka have failed to win the cyberspace unlike in foreign countries taking The Guardian as an example which is highly successful in print as well as on the web. “We grew up reading newspapers, but even after so many years we do not see any development in the field. We still do not have subject specific sub-editors in newspapers; we still don’t see newspapers taking over the web space successfully,” he stressed. He also mentioned how the quality of the content of a newspaper is also going down that most newspapers are oriented in publishing marketable articles rather than scientific or analytical articles where the readership can improve their knowledge. “

These can be pointed out as few of the reason why cyberspace is now taking over print media. In addition, agreeing with most of the bloggers, Hashitha too said that blogging is a powerful alternative media where one can freely express thoughts. In his perspective, if there are knowledgeable interlocutors in mainstream media they can combine both blogging and mainstream media that both parties will be mutually benefitted.
Pics by Chandana Wijesinghe