To have the English translation of one’s work published is always a dream for a Sri Lankan writer writing in Sinhala. I am delighted that my dream has materialised. Though Teesta Setalvad and I live in two different countries, we have been involved in similar work with the same goals. In the past few years we have shared our experiences at work — building peace through activities related to child education. Here I must add that KHOJ has been a very useful guide in the development of our own peace education activities at the Centre for Children and Youth Development (CCYD) in Sri Lanka.
Indian and other English readers could share our peace efforts and experiences through an exchange of literature such as this. I should first thank Ms. Teesta Setalvad and the KHOJ project for publishing my work in English and making it available to so many new readers.
Ms. Faizun Zakariya played an important role in introducing me to KHOJ. I thank her for her eagerness and co-operation. Ms. Padma Basnayake, the book’s translator has undoubtedly done her best. I believe her translation is a genuine one, one that will allow its English readers to absorb what I offered in Sinhala. Ms. Mangala Dissanayake found time to design the cover even though she was busy with a lot of other work. Her creativity and imagination make the book look very attractive indeed.
This short novel, The Fragrance of Friends, was written for children immediately after the ‘Black July’ of 1983.
Readers’ reactions to the first edition in 1992 were very encouraging and copies were sold out in no time. Thereafter, a second edition was also printed.
The background to this novel is the misery of a war that has been going on in Sri Lanka for more than fifteen years. It is based on early incidents in a chain of events that triggered off the racial violence. The cruelty of racism has destroyed Sri Lanka. Whether one is travelling, working on a site or sleeping behind locked doors, its flames lie in wait, threatening to devour us. Under such circumstances, it is easier to perish than to survive. Despite this, Sri Lankans have learnt to face up to these troubled times, to take them in their stride and cope with the pain.
I present this book to the young people of Sri Lanka during this time of conflict. It is the duty of the older generation to prevent our youth from believing in racism or seeking refuge in a war cult. The consequences of various aspects of a war that has lasted nearly two decades have proved to us, as well as the rest of the world, that war is not the solution to racism. The time has come for us to begin thinking of ourselves as human beings, as Sri Lankans, not as Tamils and Sinhalese. I hope that this book will, if even in a very small way, encourage children to view each other as human beings — even though they grow up in a racist and war culture. If that is done then I have achieved my goal.
— Sydney Marcus Dias
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