A scribe who made a mark on the Sin­hala arts scene

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - TRIBUTE/PEOPLE AND EVENTS -

Today marks the 90th birth com­mem­o­ra­tion of Sa­man Tilakasiri, poet, jour­nal­ist and award-win­ning author. He was a se­nior editor of Lankadeepa dur­ing the Times of Cey­lon days, and then went on to be­come Chief Editor of the Rasavahini magazine. He also pub­lished re­search work on Sin­hala lit­er­a­ture and books on gram­mar, apart from a trea­sure trove of chil­dren’s books, sev­eral of which won na­tional awards.

Sa­man Tilakasiri was born in 1928 at Nav­aga­muwa, De­valegama in

Ke­galle. He was first ed­u­cated at a school founded by his el­der brother, and then went on to Ke­galle

Maha Vidyalaya. The scribe in him seemed to have been ir­re­press­ible: he was writ­ing prose and po­etry by the age of 12 and was a news­pa­per correspondent for the Ke­galle dis­trict while school­ing.

Sa­man’s po­etry and es­says on lit­er­a­ture and cur­rent top­ics were pub­lished in a num­ber of news­pa­pers and magazine in­clud­ing “Sin­hala Baud­dhaya”, “Ni­da­hasa”, “Per­a­muna” and “Kavi Sam­me­lanaya”. In 1952, he joined Lankadeepa as a trans­la­tor. Men­tored by the great D. B. Dhana­pala, who was al­ways a source of in­spi­ra­tion for him, Sa­man would em­bark on a dis­tin­guished ca­reer in jour­nal­ism.

Sa­man was also part of the fer­ment of Sin­hala Arts that reached a peak in the 1960s. He was also a lyri­cist, and his songs in­clude Nilmini Dese sung by Sisira Se­narathana. His chil­dren’s po­ems were set to music and sung by Nanda Malini, while many verses were in­cor­po­rated into the Sin­hala school text­books. He also con­trib­uted to the film Daskon, star­ring Ruk­mani Devi. His lyrics helped a num­ber of singers to break through, among them W. D. Ama­radeva.

Sa­man was also a trail­blazer as a chil­dren’s book writer. His story books were clas­sic con­tri­bu­tions to the genre as well as to Sin­hala lit­er­a­ture, with their unique style of story telling through con­ver­sa­tional and lyri­cal poetic ex­pres­sion, en­joyed by chil­dren and adults alike. He part­nered with the gifted artist G. S. Fernando in turn­ing out these beau­ti­ful child­hood favourites for many gen­er­a­tions. A few works were also il­lus­trated by his wife Chi­tra Tilakasiri, an English teacher who was also a muse for her hus­band.

He re­ceived many awards for his chil­dren’s books. His po­etry book “Pasal Lama Gee” (School Chil­dren’s Songs) was ad­judged the Best Chil­dren’s Book in 1969. In 1979 he won an award for his po­etry col­lec­tion “Mal On­chilla” (Flower Swings) at the na­tional book com­pe­ti­tion for Year of the Child, or­ga­nized by UNICEF. He also trans­lated two col­lec­tions of Chi­nese folk tales for chil­dren (Cheena Lama Katha i & ii). How­ever, his sad demise on Jan­uary 5, 2000 meant that a num­ber of un­pub­lished works he was work­ing on were left in man­u­script form.

Among his best known works are Puwath­path Kalawa (a work on jour­nal­ism), Niveredi Sin­hala Maga (on cor­rect Sin­hala gram­mar), Sahithya Wi­ma­suma (on Sin­halese lit­er­a­ture), and the story books, Makara Baba, Peni Ru­paya, and Ma­suru Mithuru- apart from the unique chil­dren’s verse col­lec­tions he be­queathed to young read­ers.

From chil­dren’s books to books on gram­mar by Sa­man Tilakasiri

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