Source: Sunday Observer
It would not be an exaggeration to say my heart sank to my shoes when I heard on the radio, on my way to work, on Monday morning, Simon Navagattegama had passed away. I knew I would be assigned the task of writing a tribute to him, and for the first time in my three months at the Sunday Observer, instead of facing this challenge with an overdose of enthusiasm, I wished I could run away.
I knew whatever I write would not be an atoms tribute to one of the greatest writers our country has been blessed with. Yet, here I am trying to achieve the unattainable.
Simon Navagattegama, the award winning novelist passed away on October 9. Another candle in the literary arena is no more". No. How bland the words seem to bid farewell to someone whose life symbolises the true meaning of the word Bohemian.
For, none has lived the life Simon Navagattegama lived. None dropped out of the University of Peradeniya, half way through his degree and went off to live as a hunter and a farmer in the Vanni, none returned to complete the three year degree, under special permission within eight months, and none strayed from the conventional paths set by society the way he did. A rebel in life as well as in his work, he was a hunter whose prey was the human psyche.
On an evening as the sun bids adieu to the world, he would read a slim volume of Chekhov's short stories. While reading a story by Kafka, he would chew betel, and smack his lips as if he is tasting the story.
Reading Professor Sarachchandra he would recall an event in his own past and a story would begin to form on the tip of his pen... till finally he would write a "long-short story"; one in which the paragraphs might claim kinship with a short story of Chekhov, with a novel of Martin Wickramasinghe, with a story heard in childhood, with a dream he had in the early hours of the morning.
Characters would emerge from the misty past, maimed, distorted waving their mutated arms and legs, wailing for the attention of the writer, wishing him to make them perfect.
Born on September 15, 1940 educated at Maho Vidyalaya and Anuradhapura Central College, he lived a life of a non-conformist, roamed the country with a restless mind and stopped now and then to record what he had gleaned of the mechanics of the human conscience through his work.
Having written his first collection of short stories at the age of twenty, titled Ohuge Kathawa, with his best creation, "Sansaranyaye Dadayakkaraya", he would have put to shame works of Salman Rushdie or Chinua Achebe had he written it in English.
Among the five stage plays he wrote Suba Saha Yasa was claimed by critic Gamini Akmeemana as a masterpiece which proves that the state of governance has not changed from 2000 years ago to date. An actor as well as a writer, he starred in movies like Premavanthayo, Thunweni Eha, Kinihiriya Mal and Bawa Duka.
Let this short biography suffice, lest I too become a Judas, for as Oscar Wilde once said, "Every great man has his disciples, and it is always Judas who writes the biography". Let this unconventional tribute bring a sardonic grin to your lips, the way he would have wanted it.
There is no death they say, only a change of worlds. I do not know Simon Navagattegama, where you are right now.
But I hope you will find everything you loved in this world from your golf cap to the brown corduroy trousers, from the cigarettes to the mice, to whom you dedicated "Sagara Jalaya Madi Handuwa..." whereever you are. You deserve the best.