Offbeat and Unconventional Creativity – Professor Sunanda Mahendra reviews The Good for Nothing

This article originally appeared in the Daily News newspaper dated February 9th 2022

Narratives created all around the world are classified into va1ious subgroups presently known as short stories, folk­tales, legends, myths and fables to name a few. But they are also known by other titles that go as stories for adults and strive for children and adolescents etc. For the unknown reader of the print 1nedium, they are all stories of very kinds long and short in length. The collection of twelve stories written by Sathis de Mel is titled The Good for Nothing Stories con1es as the indicator of the genre.

From the accepted point of view, one could categorize them as long and short stories of varying types, taking into account the contents the set­ting up the type of expres­sion they belong to. As a reader, I found that these stories come as a variant to the accepted or the conven­tional form of short story type as taught in n1ost liter­ary circles at home and abroad. They are humane stories or for the most part human interest stories indicating human interest delight and frailties.


From a broad perspec­tive, these. narratives or stories of varying types could be looked at from five different angles. In the first instance, these stories, for the reader n1ay look like a series of human happenings in a particular cultural milieu. It is dis­tinctly an ethnic group that belongs to the oceanic subculture of the two cities known as Moratuwa and Galle. The seaside folk of these two cities abound in various places presently. But they could be identified from their various cultural and aesthetic nuances such as speech mannerisn1s, 11a1nes given to their kith and kin, the traditional dwellings and likes and dislike the family lineages intermixed in colonial and post-colonial influ­ences, taking a broad panoramic vision. The writer in a sensitive 1nan­uer of expression does not succun1b to the narrow cultural barriers but takes a synoptic and creative perspec­tive on the humane side of living conditions.

Secondly, a reader may encounter a series of hu1nan events packed up in various class struggles inclusive of the colonial influence, but cultural traits, marriage arrangements, en1ployment issues at home and abroad and various struggles in the upstream swimming type of social clin1bing in en1ployment etc. These are presented not in a trick ending n1anner, but as interpretations via conflicts by way of verbal dialogues and 1nonologues.

One good example is the opening human event as presented in the opening story titled Sush1nan, a pres­entation of a feminine portrayal of how a woman belonging t6 the said cultural standpoint struggle hard to achieve her likes and desires in her social surroundings. The third nuance as observable in the series events en1erge as the sensitive and perhaps the racial conflicts that lurk within the given social and cultural milieu. One visible good exa1nple is the long story titled The Clash of Civilizations. The long sto1y or the offbeat type of long short story engages two racial groups, the Bud­dhist Sinhala and the male and the Muslim fen1ale cha1nber n1ade to meet each other in the first intake secretly and even gradually in the open space. But the two characters are not made to be winners or losers in the battle of the cultural and reli­gious susceptibilities instead as two separate individuals embracing two identical differences.


This paves the way for an under­standing of the humane frame that could exist in any given social situa­tion that could be discerned as a global happening. The story e1nerges at the outset like a commonplace ‘love story’ but it gradually deepens into a deeper sense of human frame presenting a series of mental and inner struggles of human individuals who face such struggles.

Though the story experiences sur­round two individuals selected fron1 a Sinhala and Muslim racial stance, the experience embedded transcends that barrier. As such, the human experience, the reader clasps may be the anticipation of a c01nmon hu1nane heritage that supposes the narrow boundaries of living conditions. As a reader, I found that this particular story is a unique attempt at under­standing son1e of the sensitive issues in ethnicity.

Fourthly, the writer as a creative presenter possesses an identity of his own in seeing and peeping into inner events of human happenings around hin1. He avoids in this direction the common clichés in presentation and as far as possible atten1pts to create a discourse of his own creativity. One good exan1ple is the story titled Pain­ful Achieven1ent. The protagonist of the story, one clerical clerk who hails fron1 the area of Moratuwa as a cleri­cal clerk in a govem1nent depart­ment desires to see his son and daughter learn English and speak in a n1anner that elevates their social status of living. Though they achieve this aim, the reader nevertheless feels that the protagonist hi1nself has not achieved the desire in the man­ner he wanted.

The story titled The Name and the School. revolves around a social issue to the identity one holds in society via the name of a person and the title or the class structure of the seat of learning he or she attended to fulfil acade1nic requirements. The ques­tions to the need for an ethical femi­nine personality is portrayed in the story titled A Short Escape from Her Humdrun1s.


The story titled The Good for Nothing in n1any ways via study on the male dominance factor, where a husband named Milan atten1pts to underrate the achievement of his wife Hema. But in the end, he realizes that he is only a second rate good for nothing partner who could only be a chatterbox and an unskilled partner. All iI1 all, the stories though titled good for nothing encircles things that are good for son1ething.

Perhaps it is understood that in a synoptic view of the underlying crea­tivity of the writer Sathis de Mel, the stories that he wants to present are more cathartic and self-expressive and perhaps experi1nental. I am ren1inded of the statement of tl1e American beat writer Thomas Wolfe in his work The story of a novel that goes as follows: “The quality of my memory is characterized, I believe in a more than ordinary degree, by the intensity of the sense impressions, its power to evoke and bring back the odour, sounds, colours, shapes and feel of things with concrete vivid­ness.”

The Good for Nothing is available from the Perera Hussein Website or from leading bookshops around the country

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