After blogging on In Love with a Whale for 7 years, I have now decided to move on to another space: A Lankan Association
Please feel free to follow me there. Thank you for the support and feedback for 7 years. It’s been a while.
After blogging on In Love with a Whale for 7 years, I have now decided to move on to another space: A Lankan Association
Please feel free to follow me there. Thank you for the support and feedback for 7 years. It’s been a while.
When the Wickramasinghe government came into power under the Presidency of Maithreepala Sirisena, what was set in place was an interim status – or a political hold up – between two elections. Rather than to acknowledge the possible fruits of a holy alliance between the UNP and part of the UPFA / SLFP, the average voter, in January 2015, accepted the hastily called election by former president Rajapaksha as an opportunity to deselect him from the top chair. In spite of the post-2009 militarist hyper-mentality which the Rajapaksha regime had imposed, there were in Sri Lanka (and its non-Northern provinces) a majority who disagreed with the Rajapaksha excesses, and that was manifested through the presidential election result of 2015, where, given the fielding of a “more acceptable candidate” the people were ready to elect him to office. The Northern vote, in this case, was of no debate: they had very little reason to see the kurahan saatakaya suffocating their throats for an eleventh year.
As a voter, I needed a regime-change, even though — given the experience of 2001-2004 — I already knew that a hybrid beast would probably be nothing more than a gatekeeper between two elections. However, promises were made on the run up to election, and pledges were tabled to expose corruption and to bring to book wrongdoers of the previous regime. Yet, the distribution of portfolios and the elections to parliament of some corrupt, vicious heads and a cadre the people had rejected in the election was a bad early omen of what was to come. In reality, President Sirisena, riding this shaky two-headed beast, had to watch his own back; and had to groom his own corridors while walking together with the UNP. This is understood from a political angle, but it would only mean that in a decisive cruncher moment, the people will be compromised in favour of a political edge.
In the first year as a head of state, President Sirisena seemed to compromise between the differences of the two main camps he had to preside over. Also, within this first year, some of the UPFA dirt, dust and debris from the previous regime — among who were Sirisena’s staunchest opponents in his run up to election — had taken their own amnesia pills, offered some to the President, and had conveniently blended in to the new configuration of things. Lasantha and Thajudeen — two bodies that featured heavily in the election propaganda — were exhumed, but frozen thenafter, and the Ekneligoda file pulled out of a shelf and discarded once again. We had earlier seen such sights in 1994/95 when the People’s Alliance of Chandrika Kumaratunga came into power (a government of which former President Rajapaksha was a leading cabinet member) over Suriyakadha and Batalanda allegations; and we saw it again in 2015; though, hopefully, some form of justice and court rule will compensate for the losses of those lives.
The UNP faction of the government began treading extremely thin ice, and the surface gave through in more than one instance. The Prime Minister himself and the party’s co-deputy Minister Karunanayake are among the players who are alleged to have played off side, and who have been in the headlines for the wrong reasons of what —
if proven — would be the best of financial fraud. Sirisena’s rule, in comparison with what Sri Lanka had experienced between 2005 and 2015, is in all senses one moderate and reasonable. Where corruption and wrong-footing of state officials and politicians may still exist, the frequency, the excesses and the blatant nature of such violations during the previous regime were alarmingly as naturalized phenomena. “Yes – the cake has to be divided in chunks among people who are patriots” seemed to be an acceptable, de facto norm. Over all, counting out the actions of the Police force (as reported in the media), the Sirisena government seems to attach a higher value to human lives and heads; which, was not the best call of Rajapaksha’s fame.
Sirisena’s turning point came, however, in mid 2016, when he seemed to react to increasing pressures from extreme Sinhala-Buddhist and Sinhala-militarist camps which form a non-alienable cluster of the Southern vote base. However, these same clusters can be suggested to not have voted Sirisena into office, but by now the dynamics of the political currents and implications had changed. Militants and retired servicemen were being rounded up and paraded to courts as suspects of murder and possible war crimes. The beast of Sinhala insecurity as being a self-persecuted nation was being excited and was being used by ultra-right nationalist groups such as Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (i.e, Udaya Gammanpila), the BBS of Rev. Gnanasara and other extreme Buddhist monk outfits, as well as the so-called Joint Opposition of Mahinda Rajapaksha loyalists of yore. If in the war years the army militant was celebrated in the South as a well-meaning son / husband who kissed the forehead of a mother / young wife and went to battle in the North with a copies of the Sidath Sangaraava and the UN charter in his backpack to uphold the law and to pat the heads of Northern civilians, in post-war years they were known as men of the pen, who scribbled down “war truths” with the ardour of a saga-spinner for the consumption of the delusional South which, to this day, live in denial.
The idea of an army militant being a war criminal or a murderer was new to the Southern psyche, as much as it was unacceptable and sacrilege. When it gained independence from Britain in 1948, Ceylon / Sri Lanka was very much a secular state in its modus operandi. Finger-waving monks who knew no constitutional matters or matters in government and policy were not featured in the Lankan formula until 1956. Even in 1971, when the insurgency took place, the state mechanism tolerated a semblance of due process, as witnessed by the farcical but significant Criminal Justice commission that was appointed to inquire into the Insurgency of the JVP. Between 1978 and 1990, much had changed. The democratic machine was derailed and the country was firmly set on the rails for dynastic rule of a despotic kind which heeds no law, authority or compromise known to civilized politics and society. The placement of a power superior to the judiciary and the entertainment of an idea that the law, at its very best, too, is bendable is a very corrupt and hazardous idea to plant in a society. The constitution of 1978 did just that, and frameworks that governed social and political practices — even in the nominal sense — have since been easily shifted and flouted with very little consequence.
In the excess with which the Insurgency of 1987-90 was quelled there was no due process, inquest, testimony or record of sorts. While the JVP frontline was killed to a man, society watched in petrified silence or in silent admiration of the heroic militant whose extra-judicial adventures under the consensual eye of the political powers that were was seen as “necessary violence”. For political reasons, perhaps, only one out of 46 alleged torture camps that operated in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 90 was ever brought before an inquest — Batalanda, with which the current Prime Minister’s name (who, in 1995 was Leader of Opposition) was centrally connected — and there, too, no justice was established. Other prominent alleged para-militants of that era includes senior ministers whose actions have, by now, long faded into the oblivion of short memories people have.
The defeat of the LTTE and the possible killings that took place in its aftermath follow this historical pattern. What was unleashed on the JVP in late 1989 and early 1990 was now likely the fate of LTTE prisoners of war, and others who were featured in the so-called “final phase of war” between January and May 2009. Right now, there are charges made against army and navy militants of systematic human rights violations in both the South and the North. It has been alleged that both the Lasantha Wickrametunge killing and the Prageeth Ekneligoda murders were carried out with military involvement. It is also projected and alleged (and in some cases established) that the abductions and attacks on journalists and activists were carried out by units operating under the defence command. President Sirisena’s comment that no “war hero” should be prosecuted, ambiguous as it is, comes in a backdrop such as this. perhaps, it is a coincidence, but there is some perceivable retardation to these justice-meting mechanisms over the past year or so.
In a Sri Lanka that is caught in these contradictions and complications, two former militants who have suddenly shot into fame are Sarath Weerasekara and Kamal Gunaratne. These are both Rajapakshe-loyalists who, much alike Roman times, were given suitable pensions and a diplomatic plot of land to cultivate in a far away field upon retirement by the state. Weeraekara has since shot into fame as an anti-Eelam / anti-LTTE (since, for most Southern Sri Lankans the two are interchangeable) lobbyist who virulently attacks LTTE propaganda. Weerasekara is probably a better combatant than orator, and the Sinhala (mis)belief that if one shouts over the other even in a limited English vocabulary he is a Cicero and that he makes a lot of sense has stood in Weerasuriya’s favour. As for Gunaratne, he is very clearly a Rajapakshist (possibly more Gotabhaya than Mahinda) and this is amply proven by the platforms he takes and through others who grace his platforms. He is also the author of a book called Road to Nandhikadal which created much hype among the militarist Sinhala South when it came out in 2016, which accounts for the defeat of the LTTE in terms that would appease the beast of Sinhala-nationalist zealotry. As a group, the Gunaratne-Weerasekara types must speak and must write; as they must keep the cracks and holes of the “final onslaught” in check. It is for them, and whoever is above them a matter of life and death; of satin and stain.
For the North, the next crucial step would be the proposed constitutional change which is being drafted for parliamentary sanction. There is reason to believe that this is a document that would circumvent the incredible powers of the presidency, and which might include clauses to make meaningful regional representation and autonomy which have already been granted — but, in a “give-and-take” way. The North has gained a few positive steps in the last 5 years or so, including a meaning to their vote and elections through which they can now speak. Cracks have also appeared in the Northern polity with many shifts and movements of both cadre as well as ideology of individual politicians from what they may have believed in pre-2009 years. But, the North has to be practical, patient and prudent in the way they react to the developments both in the North as well as in the non-North regions. It is my belief that if all the cogs come together the North of Sri Lanka will have a better tomorrow than it has since 1956; and perhaps, one day, its own cherished welfare and social aspirations can be fulfilled as a natural consequence of good governance and democratization.
In late 2008, the Sri Lankan government’s war against the Tamil Tigers entered what is now generally known its “final phases”. With the fall of Kilinochchi in January 2009, the Tigers were being pushed north east, where in May 2009, they were militarily defeated at the cost of a minimum 30000 lives and internationally agreed on protocols of war. In those seven months, a projected 350,000 people were zoned together into which the government troops are alleged to have launched shells and artillery. Hospitals, schools, temporary sheds, civilian zones have been established in the literature as marked areas of shelling. Supplies and medicines were cut off, international aid providers were withdrawn, and the free media was barred access to the North. The post-May 2009 period was a continuation of this harrowing tale, with reports of incarceration, forced disappearances, arbitrary rape and assault to women in detention centers, and the media – with the exception of choice parrots of state-media lobbies – still being kept away. The media persons that dared were dealt with as “traitors” are by despots who ride on binaries, and God complexes of sorts.
Silenced Voices (2012), a documentary film drawing on the suppression of truth and voices of dissent in the final stages and the aftermath of the Sri Lankan Civil War, by Beate Arnestad is a very important supplement to a growing corpus of interventions regarding the post-2009 Sri Lankan situation. The documentary is just over one hour and anchors itself around the final months of the war from a post-war entry point through the lives, recollections and reflections by three Sri Lankan journalists who have been forced into exile.
Beate opens the film with footage from the North, a media-free zone even in 2011, when she visits the area for the first time, and the compelling icon of a cordoned off detention camp – which Beate’s driver / informant identifies as Menik Farm – is visible in the passing scenery. Video and other recording equipment is banned, and the heavily militarized area (said to consist of a militant for every two civilians) is representational of the state’s muffling politics of the humanitarian tragedy of our times. Beate uses this sense of arrest – where the state is seen to convert the terrain into a “wasteland and call it peace” – as a departure point, and channels her documentary film through the exiled lives of Rohitha Bhashana Abeywardene and Sharmila Logeswaram, A. Lokeesan and Sonali Samarasinghe; and the fates of journalists such as Lasantha Wickramatunge and Prageeth Ekneligoda.
The documentary detains my attention for two reasons, of which one is the reference it makes to footage leaked from the North of Sri Lankan government militants summarily executing probable LTTE prisoners of war and other civilians. Earlier these footage were featured in Callum Macrae and Channel 4’s documentary film Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields which, when it was released in 2011, caused an uproar in global platforms. In Sri Lanka, where the government and sections of the Sinhala community have been living in denial of war crimes and questionable manoeuvres by the State were now thrown a hornet’s nest which they didn’t know how to deal with. The government’s politically appointed diplomats had little answers when confronted by the media, while the Rajapakshe-regime’s then Professorial Minister Rajiva Wijesinha in his staged Oxford accent suggested the summary executions to be staged.
In Silenced Voices Rohitha Bhashana informs that this footage in all probability and for whatever reasons were exported from the combat zone by Sinhala persons. An earlier supposition was that the footage that found the way to Channel 4 were likely to have been transferred by military men returning from Mullavaikkal. Another suggestion could be that these material were voluntarily handed over to responsible media parties as a way of conveying evidence of the tragedy the State would rather keep under wraps. In that way, Silenced Voices gives a direct enough response for the disbelieving lobby regarding the authenticity and credibility of the mass massacre in May and June 2009, while hinting that the depository of evidence is of a corpus larger than what has been socialized at this point.
A second, and possibly a more intriguing line to quote from the documentary is where Sonali Samarasinghe compares the UN general assembly to a eunuch: an incapable body, gregarious in size but of no consequence. She views it as a club where the despotism of the worst kind can seek legitimacy. Footage of President Rajapakshe addressing the UN and conveying in an air of gusto that there is now “peace” in Sri Lanka, along with the strategic shots taken of the Northern streets in the peripheries of which billboard images of Rajapakshe in various poses collectively contrast with the otherwise poignant themes of the exiled lives. Sonali and Bhashana both hint that no positive outcome would come of the various processes which are dragging on for years without end through which truths and measures of justice are being sought for the victims of war. This very much remains the conviction of most reasonable heads in Sri Lanka, too, as governments that come into power on promises given on election platforms soon take the character of Judas to the progressive expectations of society.
In sustaining the lobby of dissent and in its function as a generator of awareness, Beate Arnestad’s documentary is of key importance. We are now in a phase where more literature and evidence is being pooled into the discursive space of post-2009 narratives. The Sinhala-dominant South of Sri Lanka is still largely in denial of the humanitarian tragedy that was caused by an inconsiderate state and its free-reigning militia. The ones who accept and see the tragedy for what it is still remain passive as those murdered were Tamils, and not Sinhalese. To penetrate the ignorance of a society where cultural interaction and reconciliation are just buzz words is a Herculean task, but one that has to be nonetheless undertaken, for the sake of our conscience and commitment to truth.
by Eshani Seneviratne
Generally, I’m a tough audience to please. I’ve short lived interests, my engagements are chaos and impulsive but never have I read anything which made me crave nostalgia as much as I did with Music.Death. It was an odd feeling throughout, a blend of euphoria and nostalgia, as if I’ve been associated with each character all my life.
A sense of intimidation when Aurelia would come into play; the choice of the name alone good enough to bring in a sense of unease. Leather jacket was no help in diminishing that image either. The dreamy Dylan: the ultimate portrayal of a tortured artist was a bit cliched, but is yet indispensable. CK? He’s many things all together but is definitely no fool. He doesn’t want to miss a thing and he doesn’t. Detailed, calculated and mysterious. He’s the complete package. The deaths: clever, as they always followed a bizarre memory which added more weight to those trains of thought.
Ironically, like the quote goes death waits for no man, Music.Death is a reminder that we are all tales waiting to be told…… Preferably by Vihanga Perera.
The storyline of Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan, though claimed to have been co-written by Audiard, Thomas Bidegain and Noe Dbre, echoes strongly with Shobhasakthi’s (avatar of Dheepan’s lead actor Anthonythasan Jesuthasan) Gorilla (2001) and Traitor (2010). In fact, before we come to know him as Anthonythasan Jesuthasan, we know him as Shobhasakthi, through his powerful prose which readers like myself, uneducated in the Tamil, would later read in translation. The echoes between the texts referred to, and the overall atmosphere energized by the film are unmistakable, and in one of the post-screening interview Shobhasakthi / Anthonythasan gives he, in his shy-off-screen way, modestly claims that the ratio between his own biographical input and fictionalization is 50:50.
The storyline of Dheepan is set in the immediate aftermath of Sri Lanka’s military crushing of the LTTE in 2009, bringing to close thereby its two and a half decade long civil war, with many questions being asked than answers given. The closure of the war comes after a fierce attack on retreating LTTE combatants, along with thousands of unarmed civilians who were moving alongside the rebels. Between October 2008 and May 2009, these civilian zones come under heavy artillery by the Sri Lankan military, and the exact numbers of lives lost in the closing stages of the war – that is, between January and May 2009 alone – is not known exactly, though a minimum number of 15,000 is often quoted in reports. The number, invariably, has to be higher than that.
In the immediate aftermath of the military victory, developments for which answers are still being sought by the international community as well as the progressive quarters of Sri Lanka’s own citizenry begin to occur. These include the deaths of LTTE carder who were known to have surrendered to the Sri Lankan military, forced disappearances from refugee camps, rape and sexual slavery, subhuman treatment of Tamil civilians and torture and incarceration of various forms of which evidence has since been submitted to the highest platforms in human rights protection.
When Audiard produces Dheepan in 2015, the war has already been over for 6 years, but, the post-war context in Sri Lanka was in a quagmire of an unprecedented kind. In the South of the country, in its Sinhala-dominant areas, a different kind of post-war nationalism was being encouraged by the state, hinged on chauvinistic Sinhala-Buddhist militarist overtones, while in incidents that were covertly blessed by powerful members of the regime, systematic attacks on the country’s Muslim community was being stoked. The Darga Town Incident in Aluthgama, in 2012, was what caught the international limelight, though this was just a headline-maker of a series of strategized attacks aimed at the Muslim minority, from as early as 2011.
In 2015, the then regime led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksha had already sullied its international image regarding post-war reconciliation. It had no clear response nor a clear idea when confronted by questions of disappearances and extra-judicial conduct in the North. In fact, the North was cordoned off, and kept under an iron curtain of military presence. The military-to-citizen ratio in Jaffna alone was said to be 1:5. The incidents that would later slowly, but gradually, permeate into the mainstream as evidence of people abused, humiliated, tortured, killed, raped, and erased off the face of the earth were developing behind this curtain, as the State denied criminality while the world looked on in passive disbelief.
Dheepan, in a purely symbolic way, powerfully addresses the cynic and the alien, presenting a violent string of incredible possibilities a community that is the fugitive of basic human situations is capable of, in the name of survival. Audiard has dramatized these possibilities, condensing them in the built-in framework of an action-thriller blockbuster; but, as a showcasing of the plight that has been the burden of the Sri Lankan Northern and Eastern Tamil community for over two decades, and more so, in the immediate run up and aftermath of the war, the signal given by Audiard’s film cannot be ignored.
This signal, however, is one more empathically understood by those who have some interest in the war in question. For example, most reviewers who have analyzed the film for the Northern and Western mainstream have missed out on the subjectivities and semiotics of the film, when referred from a Sri Lankan point of entry. For instance, The Guardian, in one of its reviews of the film muses on how the film does not help the issue of immigration; which, I felt, was laughable, given so many other mitigating factors on which self-exile in places like Sri Lanka is hinged.
For me, Dheepan’s or Yali’s illicit board to France has a historical parallel with the lives of those who surrendered to the Sri Lankan military in the aftermath of the war. As this is written today, there are ongoing peaceful demonstrations in Sri Lanka by parents and families of those whose loved ones were surrendered (by themselves) to the Lankan military, heeding a request by the latter, in the second half of 2009. To this day, these families are to hear of their son, husband or their relative, who has, since then, simply “vanished” or been “vapourized”. In Dheepan we see families violently torn up, and others who are forced by circumstances to be families ad hoc, forging identities and faking loyalties for survival. The violent physical, cultural and psychological upheaval that follows conflict often manifests in the rude abnormality of the kind reflected in the lives of Dheepan and Yali. We hear narratives from refugee camps where girls as young as 13 or 14 are quickly forced into marriage, in the hope that they will be then spared by would-be sexual predation. We hear of families adopting children orphaned by the war, now with no direction to go; and of young widows and widowers foregoing considerations of region, religion and caste – variables that would have mattered to them in a different stage of their lives – to re-assume a degree of normality in the immediate post-war aftermath.
Dheepan’s critics often take a shot at Anthonythasan – or, Shobhasakthi – as he is seen as one who has marketed his ex-combatant, refugee status for a step in the ladder. Those who saw in him a powerful protestant in his writing theorize of a retrogressive sidestep in his advent into cinema, seeing it as a betrayal of a Struggle with which he, too, was identified at one point, by going “right” into action-thriller film unveiled on red-carpeted Cannes. This, of course, is a debate I wish not to engage in, as the circumstances from which artistes like Shobhasakthi have emerged and the kind of gauntlet they have had to run barely to survive and live another day cannot be encapsulated on the whole by simple formulas of cost-benefit, or armchair politics. But, in symbolic terms, the struggle continues with Dheepan – be it in Sri Lanka or in France, as the struggle continues in Sri Lanka; fresh as it began just the other day.
This essay is based on three articles I had earlier written in 2011, 2013 and 2014, in concurrence with the DRAMSOC plays, annually held by the Ceylon Dramatic Society: an exclusive theater group in Peradeniya. The original essays were respectively titled Near Waterloo for Arts. Judge gives Punchihewa Death Row (2011), Serpent of a Fallen Paradise – the Return to Political Theater by Engineering, Peradeniya (2013), and Engineering Saves DRAMSOC from the Noose (2014), and the titles speak very much for the drift of my stance in each of the essays. The three discussions I had, in those ways initiated, were based on the recognition of a politically-nuanced elementary the players of the Faculty of Engineering, Peradeniya had invested on to bring into their theater through their productions a political and social consciousness, in a context where very little impulse of the kind was tethered by the DRAMSOC discourse as a whole, in more recent years.
My first DRAMSOC experience was in 2004. Between then and 2011, DRAMSOC was single-handedly dominated by the Faculty of Arts. Other Faculties – mainly, Engineering, Science and Medicine – were distant runner ups. Arts had vigour, skill, intent and was ready to experiment and improvise. In 2006, they staged a somewhat amateurish but experimental revival of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, on a trilingual platform. The way the Tamil was brought in was contrived, but the effort and the thinking behind the play couldn’t be ignored. Between 2004 and 2010, Engineering was, though distant, the closest rival Arts had. But, Engineering was often bankrupt in being localized in theater as a practice or occupation, and they often showed the greenness would-be engineers cast for the season to play players would show. They, however, learnt to keep up, though the keeping up was not entirely to the mark. When Arts went bi and trilingual, Engineering was quick to absorb. They, I think, were the best to understand the shifting rubrics of the DRAMSOC stage which, from the 1990s and early 2000s, was now moving away from conventional themes rehashed, to being a platform that was opening space to cater to an expanding audience with “the need for newness” in mind.
Engineering’s investment in the political and the social comes against a backdrop as what I have outlined. It also comes from a need to take on Arts at its own game, and perhaps – to surpass them, and to turn tables. Whatever the reasons were, in 2011, the Faculty of Engineering gave the DRAMSOC audience something they were not prepared for: Welikada 71, the story of a man being sentenced to death row, as he awaits his last stretch. In all, the play, set around a character called Matthew Punchihewa, was a well-coordinated performance which came across as a strong critique of both the capital punishment and the impersonality of the judiciary. At one level, the play was a moralization, and the themes of politicization and the corruption of the judiciary system weren’t the freshest of themes. But, nor were Engineering students of theater as a discipline. Given the productions that were to follow in 2013 and 2014, Welikada 71 was a testing of the waters, of an intent to move away from the apolitical and the socially aloof. I personally felt that Welikada 71 was the better play of that night, though Arts won the day with a play titled Behind Closed Doors. My article was responded to with a labour of detail by Lohan Gunaweera, writing in his blog as Anandawardhana. He highlighted with graphics the technical flaws of Welikada 71. I responded to it with my own analysis of perceived drawbacks of Behind Closed Doors. Thankfully, the world didn’t end that night, nor did the world change.
Something that did change, however, was Engineering’s level of confidence in going political. They built on the platform laid with Welikada 71 with Serpent: a historically-sensitive, politically-committed re-reading of the Bandaranaike assassination of 1959. It was, in my reading, doubly significant as (against the turbulent times of post-Aluthgama and ongoing Bodhu Bala Sena intrigues) it tabled a bold critique of xenophobic nationalism bordering on racism and its manipulations as a political weapon. In part, what drew my attention was how the xenophobic rhetoric was set in play with obvious echoes of the ‘Sinhala chauvinistic’ demagoguery of our times. Serpent, in that way, chips into the grand narrative of mainstream history, subverting it to improvisation. The phone call which draws the late Bandaranaike from his security into isolation, too, is a creative adaptation of the mainstream narrative. This enables a further twist in the plot at the very end. However, the DRAMSOC committee that year had invited three judges who, at one level, were, perhaps, not in their best to judge a competition of this kind; or, at least, so it was felt by their verdict, for they chose a jolly skit parodying Shakespeare by Science as the winner.
Writing of the competition to a national newspaper, a Stephan Dedalus caricatured the event’s failure in a piece titled “Sorry DRAMSOC”. For Stephan Dedalus, Serpent had been both monotonous and polarized in characterization, though I found this observation without basis as the characters of Reverends Buddharakkhitha, Somarama and Lal (a fictitious insertion which, I felt, was partly intrigued by the alleged connection of P. Malalgoda with the assassination of the Premier) show complexity in their representation of the tension and anxiety of being caught between paradoxical choices and decisions. My essay Serpent of a Fallen Paradise – the Return to Political Theater by Engineering, Peradeniya was partly a response to Dedalus, while attempting a comparative analysis of the play. Almost half a decade later, I still maintain that the panel of judges caused the bigger burlesque that evening, and that theater was at the receiving end.
Perhaps, the best achievement of the Engineering theater group was The Noose, staged in 2014. This was a shrewdly thought out production, partly in recognition of the saleable formula of melodrama as it was accepted by the DRAMSOC stage, and partly in recognition for the need of antidotes for gullible judges who may be misdirected to take a “skit” for a play. The Noose was also a careful negotiation of the bilingual theme, and Engineering was now willing to try out players (with raw skill in acting) who were linguistically more monolingual, in a play that was meant to cater to an English theater discourse. Engineering would try this ploy with one of their leading actors for the next two years as well – i.e, 2015 and 2016 – culminating with their DRAMSOC triumph in 2016, with a play called The Lullaby, but, perhaps, that set-piece was best used in The Noose. The “trick” was more visible in 2015, in their rehashing of the Aladdin story, and the near-operatic melodrama, The Lullaby, last year.
In a way, The Noose had little competition on stage. Arts had decided to stage their worst production in all my viewing years, and Science was still milking their canisters of superficial humour. The Noose was psychologically-thrilling and socially-conscious as a theatrical venture, covering the story of a young man, who, in order to save the life of his terminally ill sister, goes into bankruptcy, finally, having his own daughter sacrificed in a desperate “dark bid” to save his sister (which, however, doesn’t cure the ailing woman). The play which strings the wide ends of melancholia with depression ends with suicide, where the protagonist hangs himself. The climactic final stunt leaves the audience gaping at a body that swings from a beam, mid stage. Engineering had certainly done their homework, but the play (unlike their subsequent attempts in 2015 and 2016) was not more to do with visual arrests and stunts, but an enterprise with well-coordinated theater, plot and presentation.
The importance I give this politically and socially localizable theater by Engineering is mainly because of their recognition of the social space and the climate in which they, as dramatists, are investing their time and creativity. While doing so, they are also experimenting with avenues to negotiate with the politics, the preoccupations and limitations of DRAMSOC as a discourse. Interestingly, parallel to this trajectory, the Faculty I consider is the more stronger contender – both in terms of concept, discipline and the proximity to theater as a practice – Arts, has, with the exception of Anna, Alone (2016) been less progressive in their commitments, even resorting to alienated / alienating themes and mechanics. Anna, Alone (2016), deeply psychological and relevant, was the better play of the tournament last year, but was judged against The Lullaby by Engineering. A short commentary I had written had caused offence to those close to The Lullaby, but hopefully, their dramatic impetus and commitment was not put to sleep.
කල්ලි ගැසී තම-තමන්ගේ හා තම කල්ලියේ සාහිත්ය භාවිතය සුජාත කරගැනීම සාමාන්ය දෙයකි. බූජුවා සංස්කෘතික භාවිතයක්ද ලෙස ඇතැම් අය දකින මෙහි එක් අවස්ථාවක් ලෙස 20 වන සියවස මුල පැරිසිය හා කේන්ද්රව බිහිවූ නව්යවාදී ප්රවණතාවය යම් උදාහරණයක් සපයයි. අපගේ ආනුභූතිය ආශ්රිතව පේරාදෙණිය, කැලණිය විශ්ව විද්යාල ආශ්රිතව 1950-1980 කාලයේ බිහිවූ සාහිත්යයේ හා විචාරයේ ද මෙම කල්ලිවාදී ලක්ෂණ අඩු වැඩි වශයෙන් දැකිය හැක. සංසන්දනය කල නොහැකි තත්වයක් තුල කරන සාමාන්යකරණය ඵලදායී නොවුනත්, වර්තමානයේ සමාජ මාධ්ය ආශ්රිතව බිහි වී ඇති සාහිත්ය කල්ලියන් හා අර මුලින් කී වඩා ඇනලොග් ගණයේ සාහිත්ය-විචාර කුටීර අතර වෙනසක් වේ ද යන්න බොහෝ අවස්ථාවල සිතට නැගුන කාරනයකි. සංසන්දනය කල නොහැකි ඓතිහාසික පදාසයන් දෙකක් බැවින් මේවා සංසන්දනය නොකල යුතු නමුත්, අද සාහිත්යයේ පවතින විපරිතතාවයන් රැසකට මෙම ෆේස්බුක් කල්ලි හරහා ඇතිවන විවිධ ගැඹුරු හා අඩු ගැඹුරු තැන් ද මිනිසුන් ද වඩා ගැඹුරු ලෙස දායක වී ඇති බවට යෝජනාවක් ගෙන ඒමට හැකි ය.
මෙම යෝජනාව අවස්ථා කීපයකදීම, වේදිකා දෙක තුනකදීම මතු කර ඇති අයෙක් ලෙස එරික් ඉලෙයප්ආරච්චි උපුටා දැක්විය හැක. නිර්මාණ කාර්යයටත් වඩා එරික් අවස්ථා කීපයකදීම දක්වා තිබුණේ, මට තේරුන ආකාරයට, සාහිත්යය මැනීමේ දී එම භාවිත මිනුම් දණ්ඩ සමාජ මාධ්ය යුගයේ දී අඩි භාගෙ කෝදුවක් දක්වා සංකෝචනය වී ඇති ආකාරයයි. නැතිනම්, හීන විචාර දෘෂ්ටියකින් කෙරෙන අනුමත කිරීම් හරහා වඩා නොවැදගත් සාහිත්ය කෘතියක් වුවද වඩා ඉහලින් සැලකෙන තැනකට පත් වී ඇත යන්නයි. මෙම යෝජනාවට විරුද්ධවද තර්ක කල හැකි වුවත්, වඩා සම්භාව්ය තැනක සිට සාහිත්යයේ මිම්ම දෙස බලන මට ඉහත තර්කයෙන් ඉවත දැමිය නොහැකි සත්යතාවයක් ගම්ය වේ.
තම කල්ලියේ අන්යෝන්ය පිට කසා ගැනීම් හරහා බිහිවන සාහිත්යයේ ප්රගමණශීලී බව රදා පවතින්නේ පිට කසා ගන්නන්ගේ නිර්මාණශීලී ශක්යතාවය මතයි. අහම්භයක් ලෙස වඩා පර්යේෂනාත්මක හා විභවයකින් යුතු කාණ්ඩයක් එකිනෙකාගේ පිට කසා ගනිමින් නිර්මාණකරණයේ යෙදීම හරහා වන සේවය විපරිතයක්ම වන්නේ නැත. උදාහරණ ලෙස ෆ්රෑන්ක්ෆර්ට් ගුරුකුලය වැනි සංචිතයක දැනුම භාවිතය තුල එක් අතකට, එක් මට්ටමකට වූවේ ද ප්රගමණශීලීත්වයට දායක වුනු අන්යෝන්ය රැදියාවකි. නමුත්, හීන විභවයකින් යුතු, නිර්මාණ කාර්යයේ වඩා අඩු තැනක සිටින, එනමුත් ධෛර්යසම්පන්න, ධාවනකාරී කල්ලියක් අතින් සුජාතවන සාහිත්යය සම්ප්රදාය බවට පත්වන අවස්ථාවක විචාරකයා සිටිය යුත්තේ කොතැනද (මෙහිදී “හීන සාහිත්යය” කියන්නේ මොකක්ද? ඒ කොහොමද? “සාහිත්යය ප්රජාතන්ත්රවාදී විය යුතුය – ප්රභූ දෘෂ්ටීන් බැහැර කල යුතුය”, “සාහිත්යය සාපේක්ෂය” වැනි තැන් වලින් මා වියුක්ත ව, වඩා ප්රායෝගික තැනක සිටිමි. වඩා ප්රබුද්ධ සාහිත්යයක් සහ එය සරි කෙරෙන විචාර ප්රවේශයක් පවතී ද, නිර්මාණ ක්රියාවලිය හරහා හදුනාගත හැකි වඩා හීන සාහිත්යයක් ඇතැයි ද වැනි වූ උපන්යාස ගුරු කොටගෙන සිටිමි)?.
විචාරකයා සිටිය යුතු තැන ගැන ප්රශ්ණයට කලින් වැදගත් වන තවත් එක් නිරීක්ෂණයක් වන්නේ පසුගිය දශක එක හමාරක වැනි කාලය ආශ්රිතව බිහිවී ඇති විකල්ප දැනුම් මූලාශ්රයන් හා ඒවා හා සමාජයෙහි වන වඩා සෘජු සබැඳියාවයි. අප සම්භාව්යයේ දී දකින විචාරක භූමිකාව විනිවිද යන, සංයමය පසෙකලන වඩා වේගවත් හා ක්ෂණික වූ කරුණු පරිභෝජනයකට සමාජය තල්ලු වී තිබේ. විදිමත්භාවයට ඉහලින් වේගයත්, ක්රමවත් හැසිරවීමට ඉහලින් තාක්ෂණික සැරසිල්ලත් විසින් ප්රවෘත්ති වල සිට සාහිත්ය දෘෂ්ටියද වෙලාගෙන ඇත. ගොසිප් සයිට් වලින් හා ෆේස්බුක් බෙදාගැනීම් ඔස්සේ දැනුම පරිශීලනය කරන තරමක දෙගිඩියාවකින් පෙලිය යුතු තැනක අප අන් කවරදාකටත් වඩා සැහැල්ලුවෙන් හා ප්රතාපවත්ව සිටින්නෙමු. අද පවතින තාක්ෂණ-පරිභෝජන රාමුව තුල අවශ්යතාවය හා සන්තර්පණය අතර වඩා කෙටි හා සෘජු ෆැන්ටසියක් මැවී ඇති අතර, එනයින්ම කෙනෙක්ට ඡායාරූප ශිල්පියෙක් වීමට අවශ්ය වන්නේ කැමරාවක් හා ෆේස්බුක් ගිණුමක් පමණක් වන අතර නිරූපිකාවක් වීමට සිහින දකින්නෙකුට අවශ්ය වන්නේ මේකප් කට්ටලයක් හා අර මුලින් කී ඡායාරූකරුවා (හා ෆේස්බුක් ගිණුමක්) පමණි. සාහිත්යය තුලද තෘණ ගස් උණ ගස් සේ උස යන්නට මෙම ක්රියාවලියම දායක වේ.
නැවත අපි විචාරකයා ගැන සාකච්ඡාවට සම්බන්ධ වන්නේ නම්, අද පවතින මෙම තත්වයන් තුල විචාරක භූමිකාව වඩාත්ම වැදගත් වන අතර, එනමුත් අපේ ඇතැම් විදග්ධ යැයි නම් කියවෙන විචාරකයින් සිටින්නේද ඇතැම් කල්ලි වලය, නැතිනම් යම් ෆේස්බුක් කිවිඳියක හෝ කවියෙකුගේ හෝ සාක්කුවේ ය. කාටවත් නොරිදවීමේ බෞද්ධ චේතනාවෙන් මෙම සටහන තබන නිසා වඩා විශ්ලේෂී සාක්ෂි මෙහි සටහන් නොකලත්, වඩා ප්රගතිගාමී සාහිත්යයකට උරදිය හැකි ඇතැම් පොත් පත් පසෙක ලා සූකිරි, බොලඳ බස් ඉතාම අනර්ඝ මහා කෘති ලෙස කිසිදු හිරිකිතියකින් තොරව සමාජය ඉදිරියේ පාරම්බාන විචාර ක්ෂේත්රයේ පෝර්ට් සිටී පවා ගසා ඇති උදවිය ගැන මට ඇතිවන්නේ කම්පනයකි. එවැනි ක්රමවත් හැදෑරීමක් හෝ විචාරය ගැන දැනුමක් හෝ නැති අයගේ සමාජ අඩවි කන්කරච්චල් ඉවසිය හැකි වුවත්, තටු හැලී ගිය, මහළු හිටපු දේශකවරු තම කිවිඳි සුරතලියන් හා කවි අංකුරයින්ට දෙන චරිත සහතික නොසලකා හැරිය හැකි වුවත් හැදෑරීමක් ඇත්තා වඩාත්ම තුලනාත්මක විය යුතු අවස්ථාවක් ලෙස වර්තමානය දකිමි.
අද සමාජ අඩවි සංස්කෘතිය තුල සාහිත්යවේදියාගේ පැවැත්ම රදා පවතින්නේ එකිනෙකාට කරනා සේවය මත පදනම්ව ය. මෙය එක් අතකින් ගතහොත් පඩුරු කාසි හා දෙකට තුනට නැමීම් හරහා දේවල් කරගැනීමේ සමාජ අඩවි නොවන සම්ප්රදායේ සමාජ අඩවිමය දිගුව වන අතර, වෙනසක් ලෙස දැකිය හැක්කේ මෙම වර්චුවල් අවකාශය තුල වඩා තීව්ර වූ සම්බන්ධතාවයකට ඉඩකඩ සකස් වී තිබීමයි. හුවමාරු කිරීම් ඉන්බොක්ස් වන, භාවයන් හා ලීලාවන් පොපියන ත්රී-ඩී ස්මයිලියකින් හෝ ස්ටිකරයකින් එහා මෙහා යන, තම ෆේස්බුක් සගයා ස්වර්ණ පුස්තකයේ සිට ගොඩගේ සම්මානය දක්වා මුල්වටය විනිශ්චය කරන, හා අවසන් තරගයේ විනිශ්චයකරුවාට සුභ රාත්රියක් ද පතා, වඩාත්ම ගැලපෙන ස්මයිලිය ද එවා චැට් අවකාශය වසා දමන ගතිකයක අප සිටිමු. ලිඟුවේ බර දරන අතින් පෑන ද ඇල්ලිය හැකි වුවත් මනස තැති ගෙන ඇති කම්පිත අවස්ථා වලිදී මම වුවත් විචාර ලිවීමෙන් වැලකී සිටිමි.
by Carla N. Merinnage
As a reader and critic, I am new to the work of the poet, short story and fiction writer Vihanga Perera, and my reflections on the corpus of literature written by him does not incorporate the development and changes of his style of writing throughout the course of the years. However, out of academic interest, I wish to reflect on his short story collection Postcards to Bentham (2013) which incorporates a corpus of seven “odd” short stories woven together, bringing to light the writer’s fantasies, ramblings, political views, his avid love for cricket as well as confusing, ambiguous and vague plot bunnies.
In this collection, the short story “Julia’s Friend”, albeit rather ambiguous and confusing, explores the narrator’s involvement with a number of women. The different parts of this story are somehow all connected together in some loose logical way, but still, they are horribly out of place when you try to connect the dots at first glance. The author is very elaborate and descriptive, and the evocative scenes described in the story are well-written as you can vividly imagine a mental picture of the events in sequence. However, the story continues to progress till it stops at a seemingly abrupt juncture where you are rudely left pondering as to what exactly just happened.
Of the line up, the story I least enjoyed was “Sacred Avenues”, and I found it a very long and monotonous read. I would not recommend it to anyone who has no passion for cricket (like me). However, I also believe that those who can truly connect with the soul of sports, the concept of team loyalty and of course those who have an avid love for cricket and so forth will find it a good read. But, this story – perhaps, also different in style and temperament to the rest of the collection – was an odd ball for my reader sensibility.
My personal favourite in Postcards to Bentham is without a doubt the opening story of the collection, “Teacher of Baffo.” This story, perhaps, can give you a small inkling to the reason as to why a Gratiaen prize judge in 2011 dissed Perera’s writing. Quoting from the somewhat amusing description from the author’s own Facebook page, “a Gratiaen Prize Judge, in 2011, has dissed Vihanga Perara’s writing as being stories of himself. Vihanga Perera’s writing has been blacklisted from his own sensitive cousins’ children’s bookshelves.”
Yes, Perera’s stories might possibly be “stories of himself”, however arguing as to what extent the writer’s stories incorporate his own personal stories and depraved fantasies would be a waste of time. I personally found “Teacher of Baffo” was like the free psychological reign of the ferocious and foul beast of carnal desires which, for instance, characters like the protagonist Nayonangshu from Buddhadeva Bose’s it rained all night tightly controls and represses his whole life. “Teacher of Baffo” is also a good and interesting start to Perera’s collection, highlighting a central theme which is explored in a number of his short stories: the collapse of hope, meaning, expectation and excitement. It is the kind of story which would invite you to the dark side of literature with the promise of delicious cookies, only to let you down with a batch of burnt and bitter ones.
“Cleona’s Dreams” was another ambiguous short story for me and I profoundly felt the sense of something amiss after finishing the story. Maybe the story offers possibilities of a different read which I am unable to perceive. However it is not a story which I will go back and attempt to re-interpret and re-analyze.
Altogether I would recommend Perera’s Postcards of Bentham to a reader who is interested in exploring a different side to the mainstream of Sri Lankan literature. Maybe some stories will let you down, will be ambiguous and monotonous, but still I believe it will offer you fresh bouts of amusement, excitement and kudos for your imagination.
කෞෂල්ය කුමාරසිංහගේ “මේ රහස් කවුළුවෙන් එබෙන්න” කෘතිය මා කියවන්නේ යම් ආඛ්යාන රටාවක් අනුකරණය සහ එවැනි රටාවකින් අයෙකුගේ නිර්මාණ පෞරුෂය පෝෂණය වීම යන කාරණා දෙක අතර වෙනස වටහා ගැනීමටයි. කෞෂල්ය සිටින්නේ මෙම අවස්ථා දෙකෙන් මුල් අඩවියේයි. “මේ රහස් කවුළුවෙන් එබෙන්න” කෘතිය ලාංකික සාහිත්යයේ මෑත යුගයේ යම් ජනප්රියතාවයක් හිමි කරගෙන තිබූ අතර, අඛ්යාන මට්ටමින් ගත්තත්, සම්ප්රදායානුබර සම්භාව්ය අඛ්යානයට පිවිසුමෙන් එපිට සිට කෙරෙන මැදිහත් වීමක් ලෙස මුල් අවස්ථාවේදී පෙනී යයි. කතාව ඇරඹෙන්නේ පැනොරාමා දෘෂ්ඨියකින් කෙරෙන රාමු දාමයක් හරහා යි. මෙම දෘෂ්ඨිය විටෙක ජංගම වූත්, පරාසයන් අතර සීරු මාරු වන්නාවූත් කැමරාවක් වැනි ය. මෙම තාක්ෂණික පිවිසුම විසි වන සියවසේ නව්යවාදී සාහිත්යයේ අයිකනයන් වන ජේම්ස් ජොයිස්, අර්නස්ට් හෙමින්ග්වේ වැන්නන් අතරින් දහ නව වන සියවසේ රුසියන් සාහිත්යයේ දොස්තෙයෙව්ස්කි වැන්නන් දක්වා ද ඇතැම් අවස්ථා වලදී යා කල හැක්කකි. “මේ රහස් කවුළුවෙන් එබෙන්න” කෘතිය තරම්ම අළුත් නැතත්, මෙම වියුක්ත, ඈතින් සිට සීරු මාරු කෙරෙන දර්ශන පථයක සිට අප අමතන ආගන්තුක, අදෘෂ්යමාන කථකයා ලංකාවේ නිර්මාණ අවකාශට යම් තරමක් ආගන්තුක යැයි තර්ක කරන්නට හැක.
එනමුත්, කෞෂල්යගේ කෘතියට හේතු වන මෙම කථක හඬ (මෙන්ම ඇතැම් අනෙක් රටාවන් හා රිද්මයන් ද) යම් වෙනත් ලේඛකයෙකුගේ ආඛ්යාන රටාවකින් අනුකරණයක් ලෙස කුලියට ගත්තාක් යැයි මට බොහෝ විට සිතුනි. ඒ අනෙක් ලේඛකයා කෞෂල්යගේ නිර්මාණශීලී විභවයට දැඩි ලෙස බලපාන බවද මට දිගින් දිගටම සිතුනි. ආඛ්යානය ගැලපීමේ දී පමණක් නොව, කෞෂල්ය තම කෘතිය තුලට ගෙන එන ඇතැම් නිරීක්ෂණයන්, භවගැන්වීම් ආදිය හරහා ද මෙම ලේඛකයාගේ යැයි මට සාධාරණ සැකයකට ඔබ්බෙන් සිතිය හැකි මට්ටමේ ඡායාව දකින්නට ඇත්තේය. මෙම ලේඛකයා හරුකි මුරකාමී ය.
මුරකාමීගේ බොහෝ කෘතිවල වර්තමානයේ දී අපගේ අවධානයට ලක් ව ඇති යථෝක්ත ආඛ්යාන රටාව මෙන්ම එම වියුක්ත කථක හඬ ද අපි අත්විඳිමු. මීට හොදම උදාහරණ සපයන්නන් අතර මුරකාමිගේ “ආෆ්ටර් ඩාර්ක්” (2004) හා “ස්පට්නික් ස්වීට්හාර්ට්” (1999) වැනි ග්රන්ථ වේ. කෞෂල්ය කෙරෙහි මුරකාමිගේ බලපෑම ඉතා තීව්ර බව යෝජනා කෙරෙන වෙනත් සාධක ද ඇත. ඉන් එකක් වන්නේ කාලය – නැතහොත් වෙලාව ගතවීම – ගැන මුකාමී මෙන්ම කෞෂල්ය ද දක්වන අවධානයයි. මෙය ඔරලෝසු මුහුණතක සටහන් වේලාවක් හෝ සෙල්ෆෝනයක දැක්වෙන වේලාවක් හෝ විය හැක. මෙය අප සම්භාව්යයේ දකින හෝරා භාගෙන් භාගෙට හෝ මිනිත්තු දහයෙන් දහයට හෝ ගැණෙන වේලාවන් ද නොවේ. මුරකාමි මෙන්ම කෞෂල්ය ද ආඛ්යානගත කරන්නේ බොහෝ විට අධි-නාටකීය හෝරා කියවීම් ය. යහනේ වැතිර ඉන්න කේෂානි ගේ සෙල්ෆෝනයේ සටහන් වේලාව රාත්රී 12.37 යි. පන්නිපිටිය දෙස වාහනය ධාවනය කරන තිවංක නුගේගොඩ පසුකරද්දි ප.ව 1.07 යි. නැවත විජේරාම හන්දිය අසලදී එය 1.27 යි (1.27 දී විජේරාම හන්දියේ වාහන තදබදය අසල සිර වී සිටිය ද තිවංක, අඩුම තරමින් ප.ව 1.58ට මිනිත්තු 8ක් හෝ 10ක් වත් තියෙන්නට පන්නිපිටියේ හයිලෙවල් පාරටම වන්නට පිහිටවා ඇති පාසලක් අද්දරට රිය පැදවීමට සමත් වෙයි).
නමුත් කෞෂල්ය මුරකාමීගෙන් පෝෂණය ලැබුවාට වඩා ඔහු ව යම් ආකාරයකින් කරඬුවක් ලෙස තම කෘතිය හරහා ප්රදර්ශනය කරමින් යන බව මට කීපවරක් සිතුනි. එම හැඟීමට සමාන අවස්ථාවක් මා ලැබුවේ මොහාන් රාජ් මඩවල ගේ (මෙම අවස්ථාවේ මට නම මතක නැති) කෙටි කතාවක් කියවීමේදීය. මඩවල ගේ මුල්ම අවධියේ කෘතියක් වන මෙය රූපාන්තරණයකට ලක්වන පුද්ගලයෙකු පිලිබඳවයි. නමුත් මා මුලින් ද සටහන් කල පරිදි කෞෂල්ය මුරකාමි ව කුලී පදනම මත පමණක් යොදාගනී. කතාව මැදදී, එක් අවස්ථාවක් පසුකිරීමේදී මුරකාමිමය ආඛ්යානය මග හැරී / හැලී සම්ප්රදායානුකූල සම්භාව්ය හඬකට කථකයා මාරු වෙයි. තම බිරිඳ වන කේෂානි ගේ විවාහයට පිට පෙම්වතා වන අසිත ගේ බිරිඳ වන උවනි ද සිල්වා ව බස් හෝල්ට් එකකදී හමු වී, තමා චිත්රපට අධ්යක්ෂක කෙනෙක් බවත් උවනි ව චිත්රපටයේ චරිතයකට ගන්නා බවත් පවසා, උවනි සහ ඇගේ මිත්ර නේත්රාව පන්නිපිටියේ සිට පිටකොටුවට ද, පිටකොටුවේදී කකුල උලුක්කු වන උවනිව එහි සිට ඇතුල් කෝට්ටේ පිහිටි නිවසට ද ඇරලා, ඊට පසුදිනම උවනිව තම දෙහිවල පිහිටි ෆ්ලැට් එකට ගෙන්වා තම බිරිඳ අසිත් සමඟ ලිංගිකව එක්වුනු ඇදෙහිම උවනි සමඟ ද ලිංගිකව එක්වීමේ ඉතාම අධි-නාටකීය, අභව්ය හා කෞෂල්ය එතෙක් ගොඩනගාගෙන ආ ආඛ්යානය කැති ගෑවී යන සිද්ධි පෙලකින් පසුව ඒ මුරකාමීමය දෝංකාරය නැවත කතා රාමුව තුලට විටෙන් විට පිවිසෙයි.
කෞෂල්ය කුමාරසිංහ “අහම්භය” යන සාධකය මත තම නිර්මාණ ව්යාපෘතිය ඉතා විශ්වාසයෙන් තුලනය කරන්නෙකි. මෙම සංරචකය ද අප මුල කී හරුකි මුරකාමිගේ ආයුධ පෙට්ටියේ නිතරම හමුවන කාරකයකි. අහම්භය හා එකිනෙක හරහා යන සමාන්තර අවස්ථා පාඨක අවධානය හා සමපාත කරවීම ඇතැම් අවස්ථාවන් හි දි වේදනාකාරී වන තරමට ආයාසකාරී වේ. තිවංක හා කේෂානි ගේ කුටුම්භය කේන්ද්රකොට ගොඩනැගෙන පථය හා සමාන්තරව යන පද්මි නම් විශ්ව විද්යාල ශිෂ්යාව ද ඇතුළු නිදහස් අධ්යාපනය හා සම්බන්ද තලය මෙම නිරීක්ෂණය හා බැඳේ. පද්මිගේ පෙම්වතා ලෙස ඇය පිලිගන්නා කමල් ව එදින රාත්රියේදී ම සුදුවෑන් එකකින් බොරැල්ලේදී පැහැරගනු ලැබේ. ඊට මොහොතකට පෙර තිවංක ඔහු සමඟ ගංජා සුරුට්ටුවක් උරමින් සිටි අතර, කතාවේ පසු අවස්ථා වලදී කෞෂල්ය උපායශීලීව කමල් පිලිබඳ කාරණය නැවත නැවත තිවංකගේ එදිනෙදා ජීවිතය හා අමුණන්නට උත්සාහ කරයි. ඔහු උවනිව සොයාගෙන වාහනය පදවන්නේ අතුරුදහන් කල කමල් සොයා ශිෂ්යයින් පවත්වන පෙලපාලියක් අතරිනි. කමල්ගේ සෞදි අරාබියේ දී මිය ගිය ගෘහ සේවිකා සොයුරියගේ මිනිය ගුවන් තොටුපොලට එන්නේ තිවංකගේ විවාහයෙන් පිට පෙම්වතෙකු සිටින බිරිඳ කේෂානි භාරයටය. කමල්ගේ පෙම්වතිය පද්මිගේ අක්කා කැරෝකි ශාලාවක සේවය කරන අතර තිවංක ඇය හා රාත්රියක් ගතකරයි. කමල් ගැන සදහන් හෑන්ඩ් බිල් එකක් තිවංකගේ සාක්කුවේ තිබී එය රෙදි සෝදන යන්ත්රයේදී පෙඟී, අනිත් ඇදුම් වලද කුඩු ලෙස දැවටෙයි. පන්නිපිටිය ධර්මාශෝක යැයි කෞෂල්ය පවසන විදුහල අසල තාප්පයේ කමල් ගැන පෝස්ටර් ගසා ඇත. තිවංක එතන සිටගෙන උවනි එන තෙක් බලා සිටියි. මෙම හරහා යෑම් වල සීඝ්රතාවය එක් අවස්ථාවකින් පසුව වෙහෙසකර වන අතර එය නිර්මාණයේ ප්රබලබව අභියෝගයට ලක්කරයි.
කෞෂල්යගේ කෘතිය උවනිගේ හා තිවංකගේ ලිංගිකව එක්වීමේ දර්ශන හරහා යම් නාගරික ඉහල මධ්යම පාන්තික විඥානයේ ලිංගික පලිගැනීම හා බද්ධ වූ ෆැන්ටසියක් නිරූපණය කරයි. මෙවැනි ලිංගික ෆැන්ටසියක දෙවන අවස්ථාවක් කෘතිය අවසානයට එයි. ඒ කේෂානි, තිවංක, අසිත් හා උවනි එකම අවකාශයක හමුවන දර්ශන අවස්ථා සමගිනි. මගේ යෝජනාවට අනුව කෞෂල්ය නවකතාවේ මුල සිට ගොඩනගා එන රිද්මය හා බැදුනු ප්රකාශනයේ ශක්තිය තිවංක උවනිව හමුවන තැන සිට හීන වී යයි. ෆැන්ටසියේ නාමයෙන් කෞෂල්ය තම ආඛ්යානයේ විශ්වාසනීයත්වය නැතිකර ගනියි. මෙම තත්වය චින්තන ධර්මදාස වැන්නෙකුගේ “තිත්ත තොල්” වැනි කෘතියක තත්වය හා බැලීමේදීද වෙනස් වේ. ධර්මදාස ගේ කෘතිය නාගරික ලිංගික ෆැන්ටසියන් පොකුරක් නගරය හා ම ප්රක්ෂේපනය කිරීමක් වැනි ය. එය අරාජිකවාදී වන අතර පන්තිය, කුලය, වර්ගය, වාදය වැනි එදිනෙදා පැවැත්මේ සමාජමය ෆැන්ටසියන් හරහා යෑමේ විභවයක් ලිංගිකත්වයේ ෆැන්ටසියට ආරෝපණය කර ඇත. කාලය, අවකාශය වැනි කාරණා ගත්තත් ඒ අතර සමපාතයද බොඳ වූ එකකි. ධර්මදාස ඒ ආකාරයෙන් තම සීමා මායිම් තමා විසින්ම පනවාගෙන තමා හා තම වර්ගයා අතර සම්මුතියෙන් ගොඩනැගුනු තාර්කික අවකාශයක් තුල ඒ ෆැන්ටසි ප්රක්ෂේපණයේ යෙදෙන බව මට සිතුනි. ඒ නිසාවෙන්ම “තිත්ත තොල්” සුදු පිරුවටයක් වන්නේ නැති අතර මා මෙතෙන දී එම කෘතිය ගැන සදහනක් කරන්නේ කෞෂල්ය ගැන මා ගෙනයන අදහස් විමසුමට ආධාරකයක් ලෙස පමණි. “මේ රහස් කවුළුවෙන් එබෙන්න” කෘතිය එවැනි පටු ලිංගික උත්තේජනයකට එහා යන පොරොන්දුවක් මත දිගහැරෙන්නකි. උවනි හා තිවංක ගේ හමුවීම යම් ආකාරයක ගුරුත්ව කේන්ද්රයක් වීම හා එතනින් එහාට කතාව ෆැන්ටසිමය ලිංගිකත්ව කතිකාවක් (වැන්නක්) හරහා අධ්යක්ෂනය වීම අනපේක්ෂිත වූ තත්වයකි.
Of Salt and Sand: Tales of Old Hambantota (2017) is a series of sketches by Pierangeli Andrado, framing the life, mood and rhythm of that eponymous town of the deep South, stenciling moments, memories and anecdote from a range of sources: family tales, historical collections, cupboards of one’s memory and so on. As I understood, Pierangeli has migrated to Australia in the 1970s, and is since domiciled there, and her project, therefore, is a retrospective re-turn to “once home”; the land of her childhood and ancestry.
The narrative weaves itself as a series of portraits, interspersed by stand alone renditions of verse: this latter aspect, I would comment on separately. Portraits that relate to a range of diverse persons that are connected with the narrator’s young life – from Aunt Brenda, the maid Menika / Piyaseeli, the mischievous Lantis, Mr. Butler the butterfly collector, Maxi of the Hemingway spirit and so on – producing stills of a varied path of life in Hambantota in the immediate pre and post independence eras. As a whole, the narrative comes together as a resurrection of a lost age, both in a historical sense, and in the sense it seems to releate to an individual chronicler, stirred of memory by a return after a long absence.
Pierangeli’s type of narrative is not entirely original. Musings and retrospections that delve into detail that you try to retrieve through recollection and anecdote, as well as the near-romantic nostalgia with which you synthesize that past have been the bread and butter of academic and critical discussions that inspect narratives of the present kind; and I am not ready to enter that track in the present time. Perhaps, such an entry is also unfair, as Pierangeli’s comes across as a project of coming to terms with one’s self – a kind of harmony the writer seeks by bridging her own past with present – than in making her writing a money-making modality, feeding on one’s own romanticized notions of the past.
However, one key aspect of the narrative that gives it punch and purchase is the strategic insertions of verse and poetry, which synthesizes with the anecdotal, recollective and photographic aspects of the larger thread. There are five poems that thread through the ten chapters / portraits as such, introducing to the casual story-telling rhythm of the narrative a contrapuntal effect. Even the five poems represent five moods, and tones – playing with the overall tempo of the narrative as and when they appear. I hope that I am not reading too much into these juxtapositions.
In terms of locating Pierangeli, and in contextualizing her subject position in narrativizing Lanka, she can, at one level, be read side by side with writers such as Chitra Fernando and Yasmine Gooneratne. Same as these other two more formidable pillars of the trade, Pierangeli, too, has migrated to Australia in the 1970s, settling down with a family and a sense of permanency. Gooneratne, whose satiric prose (arguably inferior to her satiric and not-so-satiric verse) became global commodities through the 1990s, had also earlier migrated to the same country and settled down as an academic. In the case of Chitra Fernando, her short stories as well as her only novel Cousins (1998) often tend to snap back in search of familiar sights, smells and colours from a childhood spent in the neighbouhoods of Payagala in the South West of the island. Her short stories written in the early and mid-1980s urgently seek this connection – though, unlike Pierangeli, Chitra Fernando’s is presented as “fiction” (as opposed to “memoir”) that is sufficiently informed by history and culture.
An aspect that struck me as significant is Pierangeli’s (not so) unconsciously subtle evocation of cultural plurality in the region: a measure that she, at times, even extends in a way that ethnic and cultural categories are diffused, if not dulled. Being a writer of Burgher origins, one obvious representation is the Burgher identity and culture, projected through both her family and the cousins she portrays. However, more intriguingly we have almost innocuously stenciled details of persons like Piyaseeli (a.k.a Menika), said to be born to a Tamil mother, and a father of African origin (and baptized “Piyaseeli”), who falls in love with the boy Jamis. Elsewhere, a chapter is dedicated to Muhsin and represents the Muslim and Malay thread of the Hambantota community. All this, in a post-2009 context where Hambantota had actually become a headline maker, albeit the state-sponsorship and partiality it received during the Rajapaksha regime of 2005-2015, and as an outpost of “unadulterated Sinhala Buddhist heroism”.