Carl Muller’s latest short story collections

Reflective as well as futuristic

Reviewed by Carol Aloysius
Former Gratiaen Award winner, Carl Muller, who also boasts of several other prestigious awards including the State Literary Award for both fiction and poetry, has just released two new books of short stories.
Titled Read me in Silence and Good Heavens, the books are dedicated to his wife Ms S.O.R. Muller and printed by Creative Printers & Designers. They add to the prolific collection of short stories by the author written over a long literary career that began with one of his most successful novels, The Jam Fruit Tree. Based on his growing up years as the son of a railway engine driver living at Mount Mary, home to most folk in an era when train and tram travel were the most popular modes of transport for common man, the autobiography, which gives frank insights into the Burgher community through his uninhibited revelations of their sexual preferences, their food habits, day to day living and their own unique style of English, (“border catching going”,) far removed from the so called King’s English. The book which earned him the wrath of the Burgher community in Sri Lanka, nevertheless won the author the first of his many awards – the coveted Gratiaen Award.

Toned down
Now nearing eighty and in poor health, the two latest books written in the winter of his life, are more toned down, reflective and futuristic in their content. Nonetheless they still retain occasional lapses of his old style as he talks about past and present events of public importance.
Read me in Silence for example recalls the JVP uprising of the late 1970s.
The story is woven around Mr Annesley Lord, a 60-year-old restless domineering man whose only son Ralston joins the youth movement whose sole aim was to topple the government and bring about ‘change and true democracy in the country’. “Unless we take a hand now, they (the government) will foist tyranny on us. If we want things to stay as they were, things will have to change,” Ralston tells his father while appealing to him for understanding. His last words before leaving his father are, “When I come back I will be waving our Lion flag”.
As Annesley tries to adapt to these changes nothing, not even the threat posed to him and his wife will persuade him to leave his Kandy home once the Police become aware that his son had joined the JVP. When their home is invaded by young men waving rifles and pistols and black bandanas wrapped tight around their cheeks, he reacts by cracking the ribs of his attacker, a foolhardy gesture that led to the fatal knife wound he received in return. Rushed to the nearest hospital and admitted to the ICU, Annesley succumbs to a massive haemhorrage. The author ends with Annesley seeing an image of his dead son and telling him, “Ralston my son I am coming to see you”.

Like Read in Silence, his short story, Guru of the North is also based on a youth uprising – this time in the North. The main protagonist Suriyakumar, ‘a lean faced, wildly bearded young man’ has one all-consuming mission in his life: “to wipe out the Sinhalese and then proclaim to the world our final salvation”. With this deadly mission in mind, he sets out to build an army – persuading young Tamil, male and female children barely of 13 and even younger , who are attracted to his “unconventional, strange meaningless phrases” and join him.
However Suriyakumar made the fatal mistake of ignoring his leader’s orders, and continued to stir the Sinhalese to launch devastating reprisals to the Tiger’s attacks and thousand of civilians fled to war zones and jungle hideouts.

Summoning him, the Tiger chief tells him a few hard truths. “You seek to de-stabilise this country and leave us to pick up the pieces. Who will help us? We need all the systems that the Sinhalese have put into place. We need their organisational skills, airports, harbours, refineries and fishing fleets. We need factories, textile mills and gem pits. Do you seek to inherit a land that you have turned into a bloodied desert reeking with the stench of the dead? I too wish the day when the Sinhalese will lick my boots and do as they are bid.
I will then make a new race of them with our Tamil blood strong in our veins. Then we will destroy the rest – the Muslims, Malays, Burghers for we give them an ultimatum. Serve us or die.” When Suriyakumar begs of him to “Teach me the way I must be”, the Tiger Chief replies, “I will teach you how not to be” ordering a man with an AK-47 to pump bullets into his body.

Fairies and friendly garden insects
Shadow Theatre is reminiscent of Spenser’s Faerie queen where the story weaves around Diana’s garden peopled by her own make believe creatures, fairies and friendly garden insects, birds, butterflies, tiny forms that move in and out of shadows which only young Diana can see. Only she can hear the bewitching musical notes of these other world people who live in secret paths and places of the jungle which she used to visit until her accident that left her paralysed from her spine down, one year ago. And only she hears a thin wailing music speaking to her calling her and sees a ‘splendidly robed figure of a tiny woman who speaks her name and calls herself the ‘Mothers Blessing and Feer’ who tells her “Now we leave a gift for you that when you awake you will be whole again,” a promise that is realized no sooner she wakes up which mystifies her family who promise to let her have her garden back .

Something in the sky is a fururistic story of UFOs, subject which Muller has researched on judging by the facts he includes on UFO sightings both locally and globally. One step too far takes the theme of extra terrestrial life to a higher plane revolving round the sex life of two newly married young people, when the same dream they dream of when sleeping takes over their lives.
Storming the walls of paradise is an indictment on the evils of racial hatred, ambition, which have sown the seeds of war and alienated man from man in a world where peace, love and faith have no place. Those who are guilty will not be spared and await a terrible death in hell, is the underlying message.
Good Heavens, his second book consists mostly of short stories written in a lighter vein, although the underlying messages are serious and philosophical. The story Good Heavens is perhaps the most unusual and profound of the stories as it narrates Muller’s own version supported by extensive references to the Bible, of the conception of the Virgin Mary’s mother Miriam, the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary herself and her son Jesus Christ., in which a humble angel – Angel of the Star Astral who belonged to the Low Choirs in Heaven, was chosen to play a significant role.

Sunil, one of the most delightful stories in this book, is written from the child’s point of view while exploring the theme of how the war in the North can disrupt the family relationships of the soldiers engaged in the war. Sunil, a seven year old, creates his own world filled with imaginary characters to fill the great vacuum left in his life by the absence of a father (by the same name). While his mother is at work in the nearby fields, Sunil engages in make believe games to overcome his boredom-and loneliness. These lead him to encounter a number of imaginary characters in his own garden. In the tree stump and old well at the bottom of the garden, and the water barrel in the swampy patch of garden he finds lurking all manner of weird characters. Soon the thin line between reality and imagination blurs as these imaginary characters take over and the little boy is reduced to a sobbing fearful child whose underground world is filled with monsters. His mother refuses to listen to his fears, dismissing them as figments of imagination. It was only after the arrival of his father who has returned home for good, that Sunil is able to lay his fears at rest as he plucks up courage to run up to the objects that had previously instilled so much fear in him and shout, “Did you see? My soldier father has come home. He will chase all of you away. You had better go away now before he shoots all of you.”

Before the Dhurga Puja is a light tale of a near tragedy that turns into a comedy. It narrates the story of Vinod the potter and image maker entrusted with the task of making a clay image of the goddess Dhurga, wife of Shiva who finds to his consternation that after a week or more of trying to fix the tenth finger of the goddess it had mysteriously fallen off. His repeated failure made him the subject of criticism in the village witchcraft.
Determined to redeem his good name, Vinod soon discovers the truth when he finds that the cause for the broken tenth finger was a goat whose rope had been tethered to the clay statue by its owner in the hope of getting her blessings on the goat’s milk.
The dead and the dying is an emotion charged story about love – the love of a mother Rosalin, and father Marthelis, who sacrificed everything in order to educate their six boys in the best of schools.
In this collection of short stories Muller has once again excelled himself as a writer par excellence demonstrating his ability to take on a variety of subjects that range from philosophy, ethics, politics, history, current affairs, the humanities and comedy which he has perfected into a fine art.


For the 150th anniversary of the Unity of Italy

Chamber Music Society performs Concert

The Chamber Music Society of Colombo and the Italian Embassy in Colombo, will present an evening of Italian music to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Unity of Italy, ranging from the late Renaissance to the early 20th century.
The main composer is Vivaldi, represented not merely by two concerti (not the “Four Seasons”) brimming with his amazing vitality, but also by an opera sinfonia from his middle period. The sounds of baroque brass, so rare in Colombo will shake the rafters of the Lionel Wendt to music by Domenico Gabrielli, Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi – all of whom are better known for their vocal works.
Respighi keeps one foot in the baroque for his Ancient Dances and Airs, and the two dance-like selections entitled Italiana and Siciliana are no exceptions. Another highlight will be the highly influential Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8 by Arcangelo Corelli.
Great figures of the baroque such as Bach, Handel and Purcell arranged music by these Italian masters, and were obviously influenced greatly by them, especially noticeable in their writing for strings. Rarities by Alessandro Scarlatti and Artemio Motta complete a musical feast worthy of the Medici family of Firenze (Florence), for centuries Italy’s greatest patrons of the arts.
The Ensemble of the Chamber Music Society is led by its Artistic Director, Lakshman Joseph de Saram.
HSBC is the principal sponsor and the concert goes on the boards at the Lionel Wendt at 7pm on Sunday, August 7, 2011. Information on complimentary tickets can be obtained by calling 011-269-5794.


Minister Dinesh Gunawardena on ‘Celeb Chat’

Chief Government Whip and Minister of Water Supply and Drainage, Dinesh Gunawardena talks to Prime TV’s ‘Celeb Chat’ at 9:00 p.m. on Monday August 1 on CSN.
In a long and relaxed chat with host Kumar de Silva, Minister Gunawardena recalls his early days in Boralugoda… school days at Royal College Colombo… his celebrated parents Kusuma and Philip Gunawardena and walking in May Day processions as a little boy, particularly in the 1956-59 era… the influence his late wife Ramani has had on him… and the pride he takes in his two children Yadamini and Sankapali.
How does Minister Gunawardena find quality time for his voters and be accessible to them?
What is his definition of an “ideal politician”?
Which portfolio was/is closest to his heart?
How best would he want to be remembered by the people of Sri Lanka?
This programme repeats on Tuesday August 2, 8:00 a.m.


Climate unit releases virtually all remaining data

The University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit, target of “ClimateGate”, has released nearly all its remaining data on temperature measurements following a freedom of information bid.
The unit works with the UK Met Office to compile one of the world’s most used records of global temperature change.
Most temperature data was already available, but critics of climate science want everything public.
Data from Trinidad and Tobago is being released against the country’s wishes.
Following the latest release, raw data from virtually all of the world’s 5,000-plus weather stations is freely available.
The only exceptions concern 19 weather stations in Poland, for which the Polish national weather service has declined to release data, for reasons it has not elaborated.
The requests were made two years ago by Jonathan Jones, a quantum computing specialist at Oxford University, and Don Keiller, a biologist at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.
They demanded that the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) release data that had been sent to other researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, concerning weather stations from 30 degrees north to 40 degrees south of the equator - a belt around the world.
“It was very much a matter of principle,” Dr Jones told BBC News
“This dataset wasn’t particularly interesting, but we thought the data in general should be available, and we thought people shouldn’t have to make FoI requests for it.
“So when earlier requests were turned down by the University of East Anglia (UEA) on what I thought were foolish grounds, I decided to push this to the limit.”
Public order
The limit was reached last month when the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled that UEA had to release the data.
The Met Office, as the UK’s national weather service, had approached the owners of data from more than 1,500 weather stations around the world - both inside and outside the zone covered by the FoI requests.
Many had given data to the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) on the understanding that it would not be made public - the main reason being that they charge for the information.
About 60% either failed to respond, or responded equivocally. Some were willing to have it go public, while Trinidad and Tobago asked categorically for it to be kept private.
UEA argued that breaking pledges of privacy could damage international relations, and relations between UK research institutions and partners overseas.
But the Information Commissioner ruled that public interest in disclosure outweighed those considerations.
Trevor Davies, UEA’s pro-vice chancellor for research, said the potential for damaging relations was still a concern.
“This particular ruling might have unintended and potentially damaging consequences for international collaboration,” he said.
“We regret having to release data from Trinidad and Tobago against that state’s express wish; but we want to place beyond all doubt our determination to be open with our data and to comply with the ICO’s instruction.”
Data from 3,780 weather stations had been released earlier this year via the UK Met Office, while US portals such as the Global Historical Climatological Network also put raw readings into the public domain.
Concluding remarks?
The release marks the latest chapter in a story that has run for several years, with critics of climate science trying to force institutions to release raw weather station data rather than figures that have been processed and analysed.
The issue peaked just before the 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen, when a batch of e-mails and other documents was stolen from a CRU server and made public - the affair dubbed “ClimateGate”.
Even though virtually all raw station data is now out there, this may not be the final chapter.
“I think people are far more interested in CRU’s corrections, in homogenisation of data, and far more interested in their paleo-climatic data,” said Dr Jones.
“And this process will carry on until the climate science community starts behaving like proper scientists.”
(BBC News)