Sri Lanka's celebrated, and much-loved writer of children’s literature Sybil Wettasinghe passed away at the age of 93 on Wednesday. Her passing rekindled in the minds of many grown ups the magic that her books brought to their lives.
The Daily Post gathered some thoughts on what Sybil Wettasinghe’s books meant for some of her ardent fans and how the characters she so lovingly brought to life have remained with them many years after the books were put away.
Aunty Sybil, the weekly visitor on “chithrapituwa”
Aunty Sybil was a weekly visitor, and every Sunday I waited for her eagerly. She came on the “chithrapituwa” on ITN on Sundays with a story and a colourful illustration and as a kid I would not miss it ever. I remember insisting on turning on the TV wherever I was, to listen to her story and watch her draw. Her strokes were like magic creating life on a white sheet of paper. I watched her draw in fascination, I was awestruck. She was my inspiration for the little bit of dabbling I did in drawing. For a kid who lived in the city, who had no grandmother to tell her stories, Aunty Sybil’s "chithrapituwa" was like one hour of bliss, and you got to see her draw as a bonus. She had vivid stories, her voice, ever gentle, kindled the imagination in many young minds. I have long forgotten what her stories were but to watch her draw and fill those beautiful pictures with colours was just pure joy. In grade five, as a kid who struggled with schoolwork and being teacher’s least favourite student, I was always looking for a way to go unnoticed and once ended up in the library. Finding Aunty Sybil’s Matigedara Lamai on a shelf, I curled up in a corner in the library, near a giant panda bear and I entered a whole new world. The story was about how three children from a small mud hut find their way to an aristocratic home, make friends with Jenie who has lost her speech. Jenie, making friends for the first time, is able to come out of her childhood trauma and speak again. A child of nine years, I was fascinated by the story, I wanted to find the tunnel that led to this big aristocratic house, and meet Jenie and her stiff old grandmother who refused to allow her to mingle with local children. And just like that a whole new world opened to me, I was never alone again.
“Kuda Hora”:- Turning point in my life as a child
Reading ‘Kuda Hora’ was a turning point in my life as a child. I remember loving everything about that book, the story, the drawings. As a 7 or 8-year-old, I looked at each and every person/animal she had drawn, completely drawn to each and every line and curve. Her drawings are so different from anything else I have ever seen, yet so beautiful. As an adult, I see that’s where I first understood that there isn’t one accepted way of doing things. Later, books like Vaniyan Kalu Vaniyan showed us a glimpse into her amazing soul, and beautiful mind. She will always live on, in the stories she said, in her drawings, that soothed our entire generation.
Sybil Nenda’s books ignited my childhood imagination
It must have been Sooththara Puncha ,or was it Kuda Hora ? Memory fails as to which one came into my hands first, but storylines still holds strong. There was something about her books .Us little boys literally lived in them .The streak of mischief was irresistible. For me in the little school in the mountains, Kuda Hora was the classic tale woven around the multicoloured exuberance that all of us had in our hands come rain times ,which in fact were nine months of the year .
True Kuda Hora struck a chord somewhere, for the average boy in us who had that ‘monkey business’ very much close to hearts .So did Sooththara Puncha – my earliest memories of Sybil Nanda , as our ever venerable ‘Mihira’ of Lakehouse would often refer to her.
I cannot honestly remember the time my parents brought Magul Gdera Buth Natho. Yet another of her works with her trademark ‘it –could –happen –to -us’ feel .
When I go in to my ‘those were days’ –moods about my earliest years of schooling I might not fail to mention at least one of these three among the yarns I may spin,
Her stories were one of a kind .They seemed very much at home with the crazy little stories that we used to create ,occasionally spiced up with that veneer of innocent pranks and tricks .
I remember few other books. Kiriyata Lawariya, Hakuru Thalapa ,Achcharu Muttiya and some more . The timeline blurs exact period when these books kept me enthralled. Sadly, the number I can revisit in mind, decades later are, sadly, only a few.
There was something that fascinates as equally as the stories-her style of drawing.,particularly the way she drew the boys ,those round faced, big eyed little ones with the mischievousness written all over the face. Those unique,curvy and simple strokes that she used in her art would form the unwritten standard in our drawing books. Years on, a lot among us would still be students of Sybil ‘school of arts’, whenever our juniors pushed for a drawing.
Impact or rather the imprint she left in my generation could be as lasting as her perky tales. It has been for me ,someone who may have read only a few of her 200 plus stories.
Sybil Wettasinghe lives a timeless treasure ,in that childhood imagination that she knitted, spun, and wove around us ,our kids ,and quite possibly theirs….