By DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA
Economics is not a hard science. There are no scientific axioms in economics that can be universally accepted. It all depends upon the economic paradigm or episteme one operates with and within.
Economic policy is a matter of choices. There is no one, single, correct answer that is self-evident. It all depends on where you are coming from and want to get to.
Unlike in the case of hard science, where the correct methodology applied to the data points you in a certain direction, in the case of economic policy the choices you make can take you into the minefield of civil war.
UNP-NOMICS, POHOTTU-NOMICS, JVP-NOMICS
In economics, the dogmatic rightwing liberal school of economic thought has never figured out what happened to the periods of Ceylonese/Sri Lankan history they applaud and approved of:
1. The UNP of the 1950s, which ended with the hartal of August 1953 and Sinhala Only 1956
2. The UNP of 1965-1970 which ended with the rise of the armed JVP and a two-thirds majority for the SLFP-led coalition;
3. The UNP of 1977-1988 which led to a massive Southern insurrection and the near-decapitation of the UNP (and had to be rescued by Premadasa through a shift to a very different economic paradigm);
4. The UNP of 2001-4 which ended with the Presidential ouster of the PM and the electoral victory for Mahinda Rajapaksa;
5. The UNP of 2015-2020, which ended with the electoral extinction of the UNP.
This is why I do not trust for a moment, the prescriptions of those who belong to that same school of economic thought and have made no public criticism of and rupture with the policies of those times.
When these successive experiments have ended in sociopolitical backlashes, it would be suicidal to approach the same doctors for the same diagnoses and prescriptions.
Sri Lanka has experienced twin disasters:
(A) Statist closed economy/low growth (SLFP 1970-1977, SLPP 2019-) and
(B) Open economy/rapid growth/trickle-down/free-market fundamentalism (UNP)
The JVP-NPP’s discourse and printed proposals so far, take as a starting point the denunciation and rejection of the Open Economy of 1977. That alone tells us that they cannot offer a solution to the present crisis or a better future for Sri Lanka. the JVP’s rejection of the Open economy instead of a progressive reform OF the Open Economy will lead us to the kind of abyss that has given socialism a bad name as an economic system.
Thus, three options we are offered, namely the current regime’s policy which is a throwback to that of Sirimavo Bandaranaike -NM Perera, the Ranilist UNP’s economic policy –summed up in the ‘IMF First!’ approach—and the JVP’s rejection of the Open economy, are all disastrous.
Based upon empirical evidence, it is only the paradigm of President Premadasa that gave us high growth including rapid industrialization, high inflows of foreign investment, a lively stock market and zero-socioeconomic polarization/backlash, because it also witnessed rapid decline in inequality. I do not trust anyone who fails to recognize that fact.
That is also why I insist that any discussion of ‘exits’ from the crisis and an economic strategy for Sri Lanka’s future, takes as a start-line, the economic paradigm and policies of President Premadasa.
It is only that combination of ‘growth with equity’; of state-led social and economic intervention and an Open Economy, that can avoid social instability and ensure a better future. That is what Sri Lankan Social Democracy looks like.
Thanks to the Rajapaksa regime’s policies we are poised on a volcano. The wrong policy prescription will make the coming explosion far worse than it needs to be. The problem is not the IMF as such. The problem is the austerity programme that will be presented as a solution either by the IMF or this Government or its successor.
This country has seen far too much turmoil and bloodshed, and I have been in and around too much of it, that I tend to fight against anything that would cause more of it.
In the context of a grave and deepening economic crisis, if we are to avoid further social and political polarization, the political leaders and policy-makers, current and aspirant, must look for the Middle Path or Golden Mean, because this provides and has almost always provided the best solution.
The economic paradigm of John Maynard Keynes is an excellent example of a middle path between free-market capitalism and state-controlled communism. Keynesianism was the animating spirit of the Beveridge plan and the welfare state erected by the Labour government of postwar Britain.
If we move into the realm of economic reform at times of grave crises we have President Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was a middle path between unreconstructed capitalism and Marxist socialism. While many countries were succumbing to the lures of either Fascism or Communism, the Rooseveltian New Deal saved US democracy from being rent by civil conflict and class struggle during the great depression.
If anyone thinks that these are old-fashioned ideas, I would suggest he/she reads the writings of Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, not to mention Jeffrey Sachs and Robert Reich. In the USA today, the economics of President Joe Biden represents, in his own words, a return to the philosophy of Roosevelt’s New Deal.
How has the Middle Path in economics and especially in the context of economic crisis, worked in Sri Lanka? At a time of devastation through civil wars and interventions, Presidential candidate Ranasinghe Premadasa deliberately struck a neo-Rooseveltian chord, entitling his 1988 election manifesto “A New Vision and A New Deal.” In his policy practice he eschewed the twin extremes of, on the one hand, the establishment thinking of rapid growth which awaits ‘trickle-down’, and on the other hand, and on the other, the crassly egalitarian socialism that the JVP stood for.
The Premadasa paradigm was of growth with equity, which succeeded in reviving growth rapidly, attracting foreign investment, rejuvenating the stock market while simultaneously—not sequentially—reducing inequality through a plethora of programmes such as Janasaviya, free school uniforms, free mid-day meal, etc.
In a recent speech on the ongoing economic crisis, Prof Howard Nicholas of the ISS at the Hague, and the University of Rotterdam, emphasized that industrialization was the only solution, and pointed to President Premadasa as the only leader who actually embarked successfully on that path.
Premadasa consistently took a Middle Path and did so creatively. In 1992, he addressed the problem of loss-making plantations neither by maintaining the status-quo nor by selling the plantations to foreign corporates as President CBK did in 1995. Instead, Premadasa granted five-year renewable management contracts to Sri Lankan private companies.
Another example of the Middle Path in economics is that of East Asia, namely Japan, China, South Korea and ASEAN, most notably Vietnam. Theirs was not the path of relying excessively on the free-market to work its magic, as in the West. The role of the state is much greater in the East Asian model than in the neoliberal one. Therefore, the formulae of Lankan neoliberals, to slash state expenditure, has to be looked at more closely and with greater discrimination.
At a moment when the JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the FSP’s Pubudu Jagoda and Duminda Nagamuwa have attacked the IMF as a solution, and given that these parties drive a powerful union movement, I renew my call for an Economic Roundtable to arrive through consultation at a broad consensus, based on mutual trade-offs, so as to manage the economic crisis.
The country must go to the IMF only having agreed on the parameters and red-lines as pertains to austerity measures which will impact upon the working people and the poor.
Where should the cutbacks be? Where should they land? Those are choices. Who will make them and for what reasons? To put it bluntly, who should carry the burden of the crisis and the so-called solution? Is it the 99% of the citizenry or the 1%?
There are no axiomatic solutions. Take the issue of State-Owned Enterprises. From the neoliberal right to the regime’s tough Ministers such as Dilum Amunugama, there is an advocacy of privatisation, but is this the only solution? The unions can help identify where the cuts can come.
Any attempt at slashing public expenditure without consultation and the coming storm will turn into a tornado. This in turn could provide the opportunity for the installation of military rule.
Social Democracy is a Middle Path between Right and Left, consisting of a synthesis of ideas of Right and Left.
To sum up, I would use the markers ‘Keynes’, ‘Roosevelt’, ‘Social Democracy’, ‘East Asian model’ and ‘Premadasa’ to demarcate the third space in economics and economic policy; the Middle Path which Sri Lanka should follow.
The Middle Path or Golden Mean is the only approach that will get the citizenry on board the adjustments that are necessary in the context of this crisis. It is a Middle Path between what the minimum that economic policy planners, local or foreign, propose as imperative reforms, and the maximum that the citizens, starting with the working people and the poor, are willing to accept. No economy reforms deemed as fundamental by policy wonks, will be implementable without the consent of the citizens. That consent has to be obtained by the willingness of policy-makers to come halfway.
What the economic fundamentalists utterly fail to realize is that for any policy package or measure to work, the people, starting with those are directly affected, are willing to co-own those reforms. They will do so only if they have been consulted and have participated in the design of policy. Once they feel they co-own the policy they will participate with some degree of voluntary discipline.
A leader with the track record of the most spectacular development success in rapid growth with simultaneous equity, explained the fundamental approach with the following words:
“We as a government cannot claim credit for this. It was and is a people’s effort. We mobilised. We assisted. But it was …the people who participated with unprecedented commitment. Why is that? Why are the people so keen to participate? The answer is very simple. It is because they are consulted. It is because they are involved. It is because they benefit directly.”
(President Premadasa’s, Speech at Gam Udawa 91 exhibition, Kamburupitiya, July 23rd 1991)
Contrary to the approach of neoliberal economic fundamentalists, those are the three practical criteria that any successful economic policy programme must meet: Are the people consulted? Are they involved? Do they benefit directly? These are the criteria that any programme of adjustment and stabilisation, be it by the IMF or the Government – this one or its successor—must meet if a sociopolitical explosion is not to result.
Post-war foreign relations: A diplomatic quagmire for Lanka
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong seems quite confident of Sri Lanka’s capacity to overcome the current economic turmoil the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is experiencing.
The top Chinese envoy, at an informal meeting with a selected group of print media journalists on Sunday (09), soon after the departure of Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, asserted that the crisis was temporary. Ambassador Qi Zhenhong declared that as Sri Lanka had overcome far bigger challenges the country wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the current challenge in debt servicing. The meet took place at the King Emperor Suite of the Galle Face Hotel
Wang departed following high level political talks with the Sri Lankan leadership. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chinese FM Wang inaugurated the Sri Lanka-China Sailing Cup 2022 at the Port City to celebrate the 65th anniversary of China and Sri Lanka diplomatic relations and the 70th anniversary of the Rubber-Rice pact. Interestingly, former Premier and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP, was among the invitees. Wickremesinghe, whose government delayed the Port City project by about one and half years, sat next to Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, who returned from an official visit to Seoul the previous day.
Is Ambassador Qi Zhenhong right in his assessment? Had there been far bigger crises in the recent past that threatened to overwhelm Sri Lanka? Perhaps Ambassador Qi Zhenhong is right in his appraisal. Maybe, he is not. Having joined the Chinese Foreign Service in 1988, Ambassador Qi Zhenhong took over the Chinese diplomatic mission in Colombo about a year ago at the height of Covid-19 eruption.
Amidst a simmering row with the Sri Lankan government over the rejection of an allegedly contaminated Chinese carbonic fertiliser consignment, Ambassador Qi Zhenhong undertook a three-day visit (Dec 15-17, 2021) to the Jaffna peninsula.
Colombo-based The Hindu correspondent, Meera Srinivasan, in a story dated Dec 26, 2021, headlined ‘Chinese Ambassador’s visit to Jaffna sparks concern, commentary in Sri Lanka’, described the visit as an intensification of geopolitical contest between India and China. Qi Zhenhong underscored China’s right to engage people in any part of Sri Lanka. Responding to media at the Emperor’s Suite, Qi Zhenhong pointed out: “Jaffna is in the northern part of Sri Lanka, not south of any other country.”
Ambassador Qi visited the Jaffna public library and the Adam’s Bridge, a row of limestone shoals across the narrow Palk Strait between Mannar and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.
The Ambassador visited a seafood factory in Mannar district, built with Chinese investment, and a sea cucumber farm in Jaffna.
The Chinese entry into Sri Lanka and the gradual expansion of its role here should be examined against the backdrop of Indian-funded terrorism project that destabilised the entire country. The Sri Lanka Army couldn’t have withstood the terrorist firepower if not for military assistance provided by China, Pakistan, Russia and Israel during the early stages of the conflict. Having paid a heavy price for destabilising its smaller neighbour, India allowed the annihilation of separatist Tamil conventional military capability in 2009. The eradication of terrorism has paved the way for geopolitical contest between the two Asian nuclear powers here. Both China and India seemed confident in pursuing their agendas as the cash-strapped SLPP government struggled on multiple fronts. The deterioration of Sri Lanka’s economy as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic delivering a devastating blow to its once vibrant tourism industry and expatriate worker remittances, (both raked in huge amounts of foreign exchange), as well as waste, corruption and mismanagement at every level appeared to have facilitated anti-Sri Lanka foreign projects much to the dismay of the vast majority of people. Sri Lanka seems to be at the mercy of foreign powers.
Chinese and Indian investments as well as relations with political parties here cannot be discussed leaving out the ongoing battle between China and the US-led grouping. India is part of the latter. South Korea is also in that group though it has so far refrained from joining the four-nation ‘Quad’ comprising the US, India, Japan and Australia. Post-war Sri Lanka is in a dicey situation. In spite of overcoming terrorism 12 years ago, Sri Lanka is under tremendous pressure from both parties as each seeks investment opportunities advantageous to them.
Recently, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda expressed concerns over China and India seeking to invest in the Point Pedro fisheries harbour. Devananda, the leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), one of the smaller terrorist groups, that took to the democratic path long before the LTTE terror mechanism was annihilated and primarily active in the Northern region vowed not to allow China to exploit the Northern population. Obviously Devananda is playing politics. The Fisheries Minister cannot take a view contrary to that of the Rajapaksas.
Pathfinder, an organisation founded by Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Milinda Moragoda, in its latest report titled ‘Sri Lanka has no room to maneuver’ carried in the January 10 edition of The Island warns of a catastrophe unless the government adopts remedial measures, immediately. While appreciating the arrangement Sri Lanka has reached with India to meet immediate challenges, Pathfinder recommended (i) restructuring of external debt (ii) an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (iii) mobilisation of ‘bridging finance’ to meet the external financing gap up to June 2022.
Recent US and Indian investments in the energy sector should be viewed against the backdrop of much economically weakened Sri Lanka. The controversial energy deals with US-based New Fortress Energy, and Indian Oil Corporation Limited finalised on Sept 17, 2021 and January 5, 2022, respectively, generated much public interest. The latter was finalised just days before the Chinese Foreign Minister’s visit. Both agreements have been challenged in the Supreme Court. The SC is in the process of hearing several petitions against the US energy deal whereas Ven. Wakmulle Uditha Thera of Nayigala Raja Mahaviharaya, Agrahara, Weeraketiya, filed a fundamental rights petition against the agreement on Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm. The Ven. Thera is believed to be acting on behalf of the JVP, the only party to move court against both the US and Indian investments.
Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, who along with Cabinet colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa moved SC against US energy deal that came through the backdoor, in a booklet titled ‘Regaining Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm’ declared that he gave the ‘strategic leadership’ to the project. In spite of accusations of a sellout and betrayal by many quarters, including the Federation of National Organisations, led by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, which demanded a thorough investigation. Attorney-at-law Gammanpila defended the latest agreement. The booklet released by the Energy Ministry contained a letter dated July 29, 1987 signed by the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that dealt with the Trincomalee oil tank farm, President JRJ’s response, an agreement finalised on Feb 7, 2003, during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on economic projects signed in 2017 also during Wickremesinghe’s premiership. What really surprised the public was that though the Energy Ministry compared the 2017 MoU with the recently finalised agreement, the ministry quite conveniently left the January 5 agreement out of the booklet. The ministry may claim that the agreement couldn’t be included as at the time of the releasing of the booklet, it hadn’t been signed. Perhaps, the printing of the booklet should have been delayed till the finalisation of the agreement.
Declaring the project received political guidance from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Energy Ministry revealed the identities of the two negotiating teams. Accordingly, the Sri Lankan delegation comprised Lalith Vidanagamage, Advisor, Energy Ministry, Buddhika Madihahewa, Managing Director, CPC, Mrs. Hasitha Paragahagoda, Legal Officer, Energy Ministry and Nalin Beligaswatta, Research Officer, Energy Ministry.
The Energy Ministry also named the Indian negotiating team. Deputy High Commissioner Vinod K. Jacob has led the Indian delegation that included Dr. Rakesh Pandey, Head of Commerce, Indian HC, Ms Irina Thakur, First Secretary, Commerce and Cultural Affairs and Manoj Gupta, Managing Director, LIOC.
The Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm comprised two sections (i) Lower Tank Farm and (ii) Upper Tank Farm spread over 827 acres of land.
One cannot forget the circumstances India forced the Indo-Lanka Accord on the latter. That agreement finalised at the height of the US-Soviet cold war encompassed the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm. Today, US-India relations have reached zenith whereas at the time of the Indo-Lanka Accord India was seen as being much closer to the Soviet Union and constantly feared the US using Sri Lanka as a platform to destabilise the country. The letters exchanged between Rajiv Gandhi and JRJ agreed on the restoration and operation of the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm as a joint venture. With the latest agreement, India has consolidated its position in the strategic port city of Trincomalee close on the heels of politically influential Adani Group’s investment at the Colombo port. Gujarat-headquartered company signed a Build, Operate, Transfer (BOT) agreement with Sri Lanka’s largest listed company John Keells Holdings and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to jointly develop the Colombo West International Container Terminal (CWICT) at the Colombo Port, situated amidst one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. China has secured a terminal of its own during the previous Rajapaksa administration as the war was raging with hardly any other investor showing interest and during the Yahapalana administration won a 99-year lease on the Hambantota port. Controversy surrounds the Hambantota port deal, too. Arjuna Ranatunga, who had served as the Ports and Shipping Minister at that time had to give up the portfolio as he didn’t agree with the terms. The then President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe brought in SLFPer Mahinda Samarasinghe as the Ports and Shipping Minister to put the finishing touches to it. Having finalised the agreement in 2017, Samarasinghe switched his allegiance to the SLFP in the run-up to the last parliamentary election in August 2020. The one-time UNPer recently gave up his Kalutara District parliamentary seat to receive appointment as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington.
Former PM Wickremesinghe, FM Prof. Peiris, Minister Namal Rajapaksa and Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong at the launch of Sri Lanka China Friendship Sailing Cup at the Port City last Sunday (pics courtesy PM Media)
Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note
In spite of China and Sri Lanka enjoying excellent relations and the latter regularly referring to China as an all-weather friend, there had been a number of contentious issues. The Island had an opportunity to raise some of them with Ambassador Qi Zhenhong during last Sunday’s meeting. Reference was made to accusations made by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake as regards China taking advantage of Sri Lanka, dispute over contaminated carbonic fertiliser consignment that had to be settled by paying USD 6.7 mn to the Chinese firm concerned and SLPP lawmaker Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s fiery letter to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. There hadn’t been a previous instance of a lawmaker writing to the Chinese leader through its Ambassador in Colombo. Ambassador Qi Zhenhong dismissed Rajapakse’s concerns over China changing its strategy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the wake of the high profile ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) project meant to improving connectivity and cooperation among multiple countries spread across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. One-time Justice Minister and former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) accused China of following an agenda intended to destroy Sri Lanka’s relations with the US, the UK, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and in time to come Russia.
Lawmaker Rajapakse’s stand cannot be examined without taking his call during the previous administration to rescind the Sri Lanka-China agreement on the Hambantota port through the intervention of the Parliament. That call was made in his capacity as a UNP Member of Parliament, whereas he wrote the January 3 dated letter as an SLPP lawmaker.
MP Rajapakse accused China of ruining Sri Lanka’s economy to facilitate their project. The former Justice Minister seemed to have no issue with Quad members, the UK and Korea. Quad members never stood by Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) whereas Western powers brazenly pursued a policy detriment to Sri Lanka. They either voted against Sri Lanka or skipped the vote as in the case of Japan regardless of the Comprehensive Partnership the two countries entered into in Oct 2015. Obviously, Japan lacked the political will to go against the US wishes at the Geneva HRC, whereas Seoul voted against Colombo. On the basis of the Geneva process, the Sri Lankan military is being targeted by the US and some of her allies as part of the overall campaign directed at Sri Lanka.
Regardless of Sri Lanka’s close relations with China, the accusations made by MP Rajapakse cannot be dismissed lightly. The MP issued a warning over possible Chinese investments under the ‘Selendiva’ project, having questioned the investments on the Colombo Port, South Terminal, Coal-fired power plant complex at Norochcholai, International Airport at Mattala, Lotus Tower (Nelum Kuluna) in Colombo, Lotus Theatre (Nelum Pokuna) in Colombo, International Cricket Stadium at Suriyawewa and International Conference Hall in Hambantota. Alleging China created a debt trap, lawmaker Rajapakse said that he lost his portfolio during the Yahapalana administration as he opposed the Hambantota port deal. The copies of MP Rajapakse’s explosive letter have been sent to the President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Most Venerable High Prelates, the Archbishop Colombo, Foreign Minister, Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka and Colombo-based High Commissioners and the Ambassadors of the other countries.
Can the SLPP government afford to ignore Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s actions, particularly against the backdrop of stripping Susil Premjayantha of his portfolio over criticism of the government? Similarly, can Ministers Vasudeva, Wimal and Udaya get away after having challenged their Cabinet colleagues over the US energy deal? The government needs to address these issues as the ruling coalition as well as other political parties represented in Parliament struggle to come to terms with a rapidly changing situation. Avoiding Chinese as well as Western moves and that of India seem a herculean task for Sri Lanka, trying to walk the diplomatic tightrope.
During the Yahapalana administration, the US pushed for three agreements, namely ACSA (Access and Cross Servicing Agreement), SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact. On the approval of President Sirisena, the government signed ACSA in August 2017 though the remaining agreements couldn’t be finalised. No one can forget how Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe authorised one-sided CFA (Ceasefire Agreement) or the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo allowed the Singapore Sri Lanka Free Trade Pact. If those in power and the Opposition are genuinely interested in protecting national assets, they’ll agree on a political mechanism to reach consensus on agreements with external powers/foreign parties.
What is so luring about John Steinbeck’s The Pearl: A translator’s view
Book: Dimuthuwa (A translation of The Pearl)
Translator: K. A. I Kalyanaratne
By K. A. I Kalyanaratne
Having studied Sinhala and English since my early schooling, I thought of rendering into Sinhala an English masterpiece. I knew that such an exercise would help not only test my comprehension in that contextual setting but also measure my capacity to reproduce the ideas in idiomatic Sinhala so that the reader would feel that the rendering was not foreign to him or her.
I did not want to estrange the local reader.
I began my search for a read-worthy book for that purpose. I came across a book, not so voluminous, I had attempted several times to render into Sinhala, without much success. I had given up all my previous attempts halfway upon realisation that the time was not opportune for me to undertake such a responsible task, for any writer has a responsibility by the society to uplift it to the best of one’s ability, and retain the ingenuity of the original writer. I was also concerned about the sanctity of the language, the most sacred tool of its users. It means that any writer should be mindful of the correct idiomatic expressions of that language.
Finally, I selected ‘THE PEARL’ by the American novelist and Nobel prize-winner John Steinbeck. Having read it a couple of times, I was familiar with its content. Considering the number of characters and the span of time involving the narration, many a writer treats The Pearl as a ‘novella’ or a ‘novelette’. As the story is full of dramatic episodes, it is also referred to as a ‘chilling-novella’. As Steibeck has himself expressed in his epigraph to the Pearl, he has re-told a Mexican folktale which relates a series of tragic events that unraveled with a scorpion biting Kino’s son Coyotito.
In his inimitable style Steinbeck says
“In the town they tell the story of the great pearl – how it was found, and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man’s mind. And, as with all retold tales that are in people’s hearts, there are only good and bad things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-between anywhere.
If the story is a parable, perhaps everyone reads his or her own life into it. In any case, they say in the town that…”
” මෙ වෙසෙයි දිමුතුව ලද සැටිත්, ඒ යළි නැති වුණු සැටිත් පිළිබඳ පවත ඒ නියැරියෝ පවසති. එ මෙන් ම, ධීවර කීනෝත්, ඔහු ගේ බිරිය ජුවානාත්, ඔවුන් ගේ පුත් කොයෝතිතෝත් පිළිබඳ ව ඔවුහු පවසති. තව ද, මෙ පවත නෙ වර පවසනු ලැබ ඇති හෙයින්, ඒ සෑම අයකු ගේ ම සිත්හි මුල් බැස ගෙන ඇත. මිනිස් සිත්හි එල්බ ගත්, එ මෙන් ම, යළි යළිත් පැවැසුණු පවත්හි රඳා පවතිනුයේ යහඅයහ දේ පමණි. ක`ථ-සුදු දේ පමණි. සිරි-දුසිරි දේ පමණි. මෙ අතරැ වූ කිසිවක් කවර තැනෙක හෝ තිබෙනු නො හැකි යි.
මෙ පවත උපමා කතාවක් සේ සැලැකෙන්නේ නම්, සෑම අයකු ම ඔහුට සීමා වූ අරුතක් ඉන් උකහා ගනු ඇත. තමන් ගේ ම දිවි පෙවෙත ඊට කාවද්දනු ඇත. මෙ කවර අයුරු වුව ද එ නුවර වැසියෝ මෙ සේ පවසත්”
Dramatic End of The Pearl
The Kino’s pearl of the world, incomparable in its beauty, radiance and size, around which Steinbeck spins the whole story with a few characters who in their peculiar contexts behave in self-centred ambitions and aspirations, ultimately meets its own playground, the big blue sea, in whose womb it was born. At last, when Kino realises that the pearl is evil, he throws it back to the sea. The humour, sarcasm and pathos, which Steinbeck aims to generate, is the last of such incidents he narrates when he writes:
“And Kino drew back his arm and flung the pearl with all his might. Kino and Juana watched it go, winking and glimmering under the setting sun. They saw the little splash in the distance, and they stood side by side watching the place for a long time.
“And the pearl settled into the lovely green water and dropped towards the bottom.
The waving branches of the algae called to it and beckoned to it. The lights on its surface were green and lovely. It settled down to the sand bottom among the fern-like plants. Above, the surface of water was a green mirror. And the pearl lay on the floor of the sea. A crab scampering over the bottom raised a little cloud of sand, and when it settled the pearl was gone.
And the music of the pearl drifted to a whisper and disappeared.”
යළි තමා වෙත ඇදගත් අතින්, කිනෝ මු`ථ වැර යොදා, දිමුතුව මුහුදට විසි කෙළේ ය. අවරට යන හිරු ගේ හෙළියෙන් දිලෙමින් ද බැබැළෙමින් ද, එය ඈතට විසි වී යන අයුරු කිනෝ ද, ජුවානා ද හොඳින් බලා සිටියහ. එ ඈතින් දියට වැටී හට ගත් දිය කැළැඹුම දෙස ද බලා සිටි ඔවුහු, දිගු වේලාවක් එහි රැඳී සිටියහ.
දිමුතුව ද, ප්රසන්න නිල් පැහැති මුහුදුු දියෙහි තැන්පත් ව, මුහුදු පතුළට කිඳා බැස්සේ ය. එ විට මුහුදු පතුළෙහි වූ මුහුදු පැළෑටිවල
සසල වූ අතු පත් අත් වනමින් දිමුතුව කඳවා ගෙන ගියා සේ යි. මතු පිටට පතිත වූ ආලෝකයෙන් ඒ කොළ පැහැ ගැන් වී, ප්රසන්න වී තිබිණි. මීවන වන් පැළෑටි අතරින් ගොස්, පතුළේ වූ වැලි මත එය තැන්පත් විය. එ මත්තෙහි වූ මතුපිට දිය කඳ කොළ පැහැති කැටපතක් බඳු විය. එ දිමුතුව දැන් මුහුදු පතුළෙහි රැුඳී ඇත. එ පතුළෙහි ම, දුව පැන යමින් සිටි කකු`ථවකු නිසා කුඩා වැලි වළාවෙකින් නැ`ගුණු වැලි යළි තැන්පත් වත් ම, එ දිමුතුව දැක්මෙන් ඔබ්බට ගොස් තිබිණි.
එ අනුයමින් ම, දිමුතුවේ සංගීතය අවසනැ හුදු මිමිනීමක් පමණක් බවට පත් ව අතුරුදන් විය
Here, one remembers a line from T. S. Elliot’s Little Gidding: “Dust in the air suspended, Marks the place where a story ended”.
“Language is the Dress of Thought.” — Samuel Johnson
The language of The Pearl is one of the enticing aspects which lured me to undertake this exercise to render it into Sinhala. I questioned myself on several occasions whether my Sinhala diction was rich enough to express, with the same efficacy, the nuances of human feelings and sentiments that Steinbeck conveys in The Pearl.
In his retelling of a Mexican folktale, Steinbeck relates the tale of Kino, fisherman, who finds the pearl of the world during one of his dives. Showing how money is the root of all evil, Steinbeck delivers a poignant tale. Fish and pearls are usually the common source of the livelihood of fisherfolk. However, the story tells how each member of the village desires part of Kino’s newfound wealth. Hence, rather than being pleased with and sharing the happiness of this prized discovery, each villager offers his/her unique suggestion as to how Kino should spend his winnings. Steinbeck thus not only exposes human nature but also through a few characters like the doctor who later came in to treat Coyotito, Kino’s son, the priest, and the pearl brokers who attempt to swindle Kino, tells how greed erodes the cherished values, and how people who come upon sudden wealth are affected. This story also teaches us how disastrous it is to take on its face-value and acts mindlessly. The Pearl is, thus, a tale of greed, exposing how people would act and react, if pitted against the circumstances as revealed in the story. In short, The Pearl is a true representation of the secrets of man’s nature, irrespective of time or clime, and the ‘darkest depths of evil”.
An Attempt to Add Depth to the Translation of ‘The Pearl’
I strove to make ‘Dimuthuwa’ go beyond a mere translation of Steinbeck’s novelette and presume that the reader should know the background of the story as well if he or she is to enjoy the translation to the fullest. Hence, the following additional pages have been added to the translation:
i. Background – which provides the geographical setting and the novelist’s objective of turning out a folktale to a novel.
ii. The historical setting revealing the discrimination and injustice that prevailed in society, which became the crux of the story.
iii. Specialty in John Steinbeck’s style of writing and his use of the figurative language especially in describing incidents and the surroundings.
iv. The Pearl Quotes – The products of famous writers contain sayings that will live have their value beyond times and climes. They become eternal truths, and therefore, they become universal truth that are of eternal value. Some describe these sayings as ‘Distilled Wisdom’. One such quote by Steinbeck is appended below:
“For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.”
All these quotes have been rendered into Sinhala in this special section.
John Steinbeck’ background
The Pearl is a novella, a seemingly simple book, woven around a story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale. John Steinbeck was an American writer. He was the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, published in 1939 and the novella ‘Of Mice and Men’, published in 1937. He wrote 25 books, including sixteen novels,6 non-fiction books and several collections of short stories. In 1962, Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature. It so happened that after I completed translating ‘The Pearl’, I was presented a voluminous publication by a friend of mine, which contained five of his novels written before The Pearl, running to over 950 pages. Published in the UK by Octopus Books Limited, its introduction ends with a quote of H. G. Wells: “Steinbeck’s robustness was always mirrored by delicacy of feelings; his pride was always matched by modesty, humility even. He saw himself as a craftsman.” But his readers concur H. G. Wells on his assessment of Steinbeck – ‘THAT TREMENDOUS GENIUS’.
The Mod-Con Tea Party
By Lynn Ockersz
They sure are ‘talking’,
But tongue-tied all the same,
And though at the same table,
Flushed with the thrill of partying,
There’s no mind-to-mind bonhomie,
And the only sounds to be heard,
Are the endless thumping of cell phones,
And the ritualistic rendering of courtesies;
A pantomime of voiceless souls it seems,
But let not this be seen as an ICT Age freak,
For, the land groans under a rash of pains,
With depression emerging a chief dread,
And the need for quality talk is dire;
But the crisis is not beyond repair,
For, a defrosting of hearts and tongues,
And the sensible use of mod cons,
Could some of this longsuffering help end.
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