Poplar trees of Hanthana


Dedigama V. Rodrigo is just a name, that we used to see in the second page of most Russian books (translated to Sinhala) found in Sri Lanka. I called him “just a name” due to reasons. We have at least seen photographs of other translators and have managed to collect some information about them, but not about Dedigama Rodrigo. Dedigama Vincent Rodrigo himself seems to be an untold story.

Sri Lankan readers have been influenced by Russian literature than any other stream of literature. Specially, when we were young and youthful, we were amazed and addicted to the true beauty, romance, power and progressiveness of the contexts of books by Aithmathaw, Gorky, Austhrovski and etc. They really touch our hearts and they were helping us to identify new emotions in us. Russian books translated to Sinhala by Dedigama was like a comprehensive example for the influence, books can made to a community.

One day, when we were having some tea at Colombo public library canteen, while chatting about Russian literature, we decided to find out some information and probably to meet this legendary person. Our attempt was not successful since the first clue we could collect was about his death.

Very recently (in 2010), I could read a little bit about Dedegama’s life from an article published in Divaina Paper. Though, I knew he was a communist party member who lived in Russia, just with the objective of getting Russian literature to Sinhala, I didn’t know he was initially a doctor who left the profession for his noble task.

Though it is controversial, I too agree with the idea that Sri Lankan society was well-fed with ideology of a fair society through literature that lead to a revolution in 1971. It was a society without many developed audio/visual communication and information media we enjoy today. Luckily, Sri Lankan society was maintained with high rate of literacy than most other developing countries; in fact, it was a good background for development of literature. One should do an in-depth study on the reasons that Russian literature reached each and every layer of the society than English literature, considering the fact that we were under the administration of Queen for a long. We have adapted to most Victorian traditions, but not English literiture. In other terms, I wonder why “Tale of Two cities” didn’t reach all the layers of the society, but “The Mother” of Gorky and “The first Teacher “of Aithmathaw. One reason should be the context which is friendly for our agriculture based society. Other reason could be the clever translators like Dedigama.

The First Teacher (Guru Geethaya) was one simple example for a Russian book, which captured the hearts of young readers in Sri Lanka. It is a masterpiece for me and most of my friends who like literature. Once I visited my brother at Peradeniya University. My brother was one big fan of Guru Geethaya. There was an amazing view of Hanthane Mountains from my brother’s hostel room. From there we could see two significant trees, which they used to call “Poplar” trees, which was a well explain symbol in the book. Sri Lanka hasn’t got Poplar trees, but they live in the hearts of the youth!

Below poem is one of the nice once that shows poets passion on this book and its characters, which I saw in a Blog recently.

(Duishane and Althenai are the main characters of Guru Geethaya)

It’s not an exaggeration, if I say, we lived with Russian literature than one can imagine today. Some characters became our heroes. We tried to grab some characteristics of them. We loved the way they think.. We wanted to be brave as them.. We wanted to have the commitment of Duishane in us.. We tried to find Althenai within the girls we liked.. I was wondering whether Steps plains is far different from Horton plains..
Anyway, this is becoming the history since, reading is very much lacking in the agenda’s of the generations followed afterwards. Literature was also removed from school curriculums since J.R Jayawardena though it’s nonsense. As he wanted, new generations didn’t have “fantastic” heroes we had, but “real” heroes like cricketers and Super stars!

I recently met a Russian lady and had the chance of asking some questions about their literature. Surprisingly, she hadn’t read some of the Russian books I have read in Sinhala. So I had to explain how Russian literature influenced us and the mysterious person behind it.

This faded image is the only one, I could ever find of Dedigama;


Anonymous said...

Dr. Dadigama V. Rodrigo was married to a Russian lady and he was far more better looking than the picture you got there. Sorry I forgot all the other details, which I read from the magazine 'soviet deshaya' when I was a kid. This was in mid or late 80s.

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Thanks for sharing. Please post me if you find more about him...

නාමල් said...

Thank you so much for the interesting article.
I really liked when you write " We wanted to have the commitment of Duishane in us.. We tried to find Althenai within the girls we liked.. I was wondering whether Steps plains is far different from Horton plains."

I have visited Horton Plains so many times and always got the feeling that I am in the Steps. Guru geetaya is one of my favorite books and my honer goes to Mr. Dadigama Rodrigo a real hero who has given us the chance to read all those wonderful things

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Thanks Namal, great to hear that you like the post. Probably, you also belong to the same era where we loved role models built by Russian literature.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I had the opportunity to meet this great,humble man on several occasions in Moscow, whilst studying way back in late 1980s. A man with tremendous knowledge about everything really, mainly Russian and Sinhala literature. I remember he used to come to our University to give us valuable lectures on literature.
Yes, he was married to a Russian ( may be Ukranian ) lady and had two kids, was living a simple life in one of the Moscow flats. After his death we went to his place and met his family out there with one of his very good friends, Mr Sirimanne Karunathilake from Piliyandala, (who is still very much involved in Russian Culture Centre activities )and remembered his good work. Thanks for remembering him.
Sudath Kumarasinghe

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Hi Sudath,

You should be one of the few lucky Sri Lankans who have really met Dedigama in Russia. Information you share here is very important since they are not from any third party source, but your own experience/ knowledge about him.

I am really thankful to you for visiting my blog and documenting this invaluable piece of information about this noble person.


Anonymous said...

I found your article when I search for the great writer, Mr Rodrigo.
Thank you for composing such a nice article for us.
I should go to see those Poplar trees in Hanthana.
Thank you.

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Thanks Malinda. I am glad you like the article. By the way, as I can remember, it should be 1st floor of Hilda Obeysekera hall.... We used to see those trees :-)

Anonymous said...

I came back here to see whether you've replied my comment,
Thanks a lot I just sent a email to one of my senior friend asking about the popplar trees.
I'll find them then.
Thanks a lot.

dharma said...

Guru geetaya is one of my favorite books and my honer goes to Mr. Dadigama Rodrigo a real hero who has given us the chance to read all those wonderful things

dharma said...

ගුරු ගීතයේ පොප්ලර් ගස් දෙක වැනි ආදරය සිත තුල සගවා ගත් කී දහසක් අද මෙලොව ඇද්ද?

Guru geetaya is one of my favorite books and my honer goes to Mr. Dadigama Rodrigo a real hero who has given us the chance to read all those wonderful things

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Thank you Dharma for the kind comment. It’s so nice to have a word from a like-minded person.

Damitr Mazanov said...

Blog about books from the soviet era:


Harshi said...

Nikita, Altheenai , Duishen, Ulyana touched my heart since I was 7 yrs old, thanks to Mr. Dedigama's clever and unique translations. I remember reading about his death in ' Vidusara ' and felt so sad as a teenager. Now being a mum and been away from my motherland and mesmerising scenes from Hantana , I still treasure my collection of Russian novels, which give me tranquil sensation whenever I read them. Thanks Sumedha for your touching blog, I was googling on Aitmatav's work and happened to pop into yours...

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Hi Harshi,
I know there are people around the world who really enjoyed the passion of Russian literature in the same era. It was the time of truth for me… I am too living in faraway country today, yet in mind I always surf through that past and enthralled by rediscovering real root of our generation… thanks for the kind words..

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post. I've been trying for the last 20 years to find a bit more about this person who lit up my childhood with the most amazing bits of Russian literature. And in so many different levels. From "wada bari dasa' to Gorki's Mother. I have so much gratitude to him.
Thanks again. Please share if you find any more information about this shy, unlikely hero who chose every possible opportunity to avoid the limelight.

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Hi Nikita,
Thanks for your kind words.. I too couldn't find anything for many years which forced me to write this. I will definitely share more, If I find. You all too can share if you find anything relevant.

pasan ganegama said...

Thanks Sumedha for the great article,
I was a enthusiastic reader whn I was young. specially Russian lit. Specially Pushkin, Dosteyovsky and Tolstoy. I am originally from Matara and even now can remember the book fairs and exhibitions vividly (Recalling 1980's). I was looking for some sinhala books for my son to read and found this blog. Thanks for sharing this and thoroughly enjoyed reading the article.

Rgds & Thanks


sumedha Obeysekera said...

Thank you Pasan for your kind words. I am glad you like the article. In deed, we belong to the last generation who had the rare privilege of enjoying such literature.

Athula said...

Hi Sumedha many thanks for keeping this literally giant alive,and great article,
Sudath Kumarasinghe told me about this page , and would like to share some of my experiences with you.
In the late eighties as a Lumumba university student I was fortunate enough to associate with late Dr Dadigama V Rodrego. I got to know him through Mr Saman Sirimamnna, son of Mr Sirimanna Karunatilaka an engineering student at that time in the Lumumba University Miscow.Dr Rodrigo is one of the very few Sri Lankan writers who knew the absolute nitty- gritty of the Russian way of life . We had many many encounters ,discussions and just simple chats on various topics -politics to literature, art to music, culinary to medicine and many more.Brilliant doctor and a companionate general practitioner Dr Rodrego was well respected , loved and trusted by his patients. Then as a medical student I learnt many 'Tricks of the trade' from him that still having a huge influence on me and my work.
After his death his rare collection of books was donated to Lumumba University library, the event wes organised by the Sri Lankan student union at the Lumumba University.On that ceremony , one of the Russian speakers payed tribute to him and said , ' This man is the greatest ambassadors of all times who took Russian soul to the Sri Lankan readers , and probably the first Sri Lankan buried in Russian soil in modern times'
I exactly do not know how may books he translated, but I know he touches every single one of his readers even today , many years after his death. I'm one of those few lucky once who had the first hand experience to associate with the literary giant and companionate human being Dr Vincent Rodrego.

Athula Ratnayake

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Hi Athula,
I am excited to see your comment. I am pretty impressed and excited to know you had the rare opportunity of staying in touch with this great legendry person. I could imagine how amazing and fruitful that time could have been... spending good time with such an intellectual. Thanks for sharing your personal experience that only can be imagined by my generation of literature fans..
I feel, Russian speakers statement says it all.. our readers will be so amazed to read your note for sure.
Many blessings,

Athula said...

Hi Sumedha,
Many thanks for the comment.
I was trying many years now to get -in -touch with his son, Volodya(Володя), I believe still live in Moskow, but with no success. If there is anything I'll share with you all,

Kind regards,

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Hi Athula,
That would be wonderful. All our fans will be thrilled to know on that.
Thanks again,

Dee Labrooy said...

Hi everyone. I am Dr Rodrigo ' s niece. I live in the UK. Name Dilanthi. I was too young to appreciate his priceless work, hence lost my collection of his books, that he used to bring when he visited us back in Sri Lanka. His wife passed away soon after him and we lost contact with his sons. I was reading an article about him and just decided to search online, where I could find his books. Especially the one he used my name Dilanthi and his son's name, Dimitri (I can't even remember the name of the book and I'm ashamed ). The other book is soviet deshaya. Please if anyone of you can help me get these books, I would be very grateful!

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Hi Dee, Thanks for the kind comments and sorry for the delay in publishing/ replying. Its amazing to see many people who really connected to Dr Rodrigo being attracted to this humble blog post. Currently, I am not in Sri Lanka, but once I go back I will look into find the book for you through my book fans back in Sri Lanka.

As I can remember, they were published under the name of "Radhuga Publishers". May be its not there anymore, but publishing rights may have been transferred to one of the recent publishers which could be the obvious scenario. Sumedha

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