Vishnu Vasu: In Conversation with Grief, Loss and the Remains of War.

Vishnu Vasu’s latest film is the 18 minute Untitled: a work which, at a glance, seems to take off from where his Butterfly  – a documentary on child soldiers during the Lankan Civil War – rounds up to a close. Untitled is a blending together of three women’s loss and pain, as they confess the breakdown of their lives, families, livelihoods, as well as the grief sustained through the loss of the near and dear – in a word, how perfectly ordinary lives lived in the North were, in the least imaginable way turned to dust over a two decade period – while being clawed and mauled by warmongers of both sides of the divide.

dks8kflaIn a recent screening and discussion at the Kandy ICES, Vishnu spoke in detail to a gathering of academics, researchers, students and so on about Butterfly, Untitled, and his chosen role as a film maker recording and reproducing tales of grief and trauma. As an artiste who is multidimensional and with a background in film, theater and music, Vishnu’s current fixation on recording narratives of loss from the subaltern terrain of the war-ravaged has much meaning and value. Vishnu admits that his work is done under much difficulty, with state surveillance being his most interested “audience”, right throughout the 2009-2015 period. All stages of the filming of Butterfly, says Vishnu was monitored by the Ministry of Defense and its proxies, which included suggestions on scene selection and documentation process. Vishnu’s anecdotes on the governmental breath hissing down his neck, indeed, added comic relief to the discussion in question, but also indicates the tragedy which faces the film maker, while endorsing the importance of projects such as the one Vishnu has undertaken.

Untitled is, in many ways, different from Butterfly, though, at a glance, it seems akin to an extension of the former. One felt that in this film Vishnu is more aware of the limitations of the genre he works with, and strives for a compromise – a balance between narratives that open up the most intimate wounds of the heart, and an artistically coherent modulation of the same. Butterfly, in that respect, is more a documentary, with the tabling of voices that have been denied a lobby easily taking over from any artistic preoccupations. As such, one might say that with Untitled Vishnu takes a step in a different direction, and is also in better control of his scope as an artiste. A comparison of the two films is counter-productive, as they represent two different objectives and purposes; and it suffices for it to be noted that of the two, Untitled is closer to Vishnu’s own chosen tag: “a poem in motion pictures”.

maxresdefaultVishnu’s words are not without a cutting edge. He notes with empathy the issues facing the Northern communities, as their lifestyles and livelihoods still remain unsettled 8 years since the termination of the war. Vishnu confirms the criticism against the earlier authorities that very little stability has reached the communities that live in the villages and into the deeper tracts, away from the regions bordering the town of Jaffna. Vishnu, as a film maker, is sensitive to the nuances in the crises arising out of unreturned land (to the peasants after the war) and the inability of the Southern politicians and the non-Northern bureaucrat to understand or touch the local ethos. As an example, the traditional social fabric and the cultural matrix has not been taken into the least account in the so-called rehabilitation of or the vocational development among ex-combatants, states Vishnu. He equally lays emphasis on the total disregard of the psychological implications in the re-socializing process of these young men and women. Vishnu’s attempt, therefore, is to make the grieved speak on his/her behalf: a communication that has been paralyzed or not provided by the heavy-footed agents of rehabilitation.

Vishnu often shoots with a hand-held camera. His budgets are enviable, and his energy seems tireless. Though not exactly Trotskyite, he is “internationalist” in his thinking and in his outlook on life, and as such his claim that he is “NOT Sri Lankan” makes a lot of sense, and gives light to his deeper search for “truth”; both, in and out of the former war zones. Part of this truth-finding mission is to view and identify grief and loss at the most personal of levels: the one dimension that is deselected and rarely tabulated by statistics and tables. Vishnu’s is a personal quest on behalf of the person – the individual – in the name of humanity in its absolute form. Yet, as he ventures on, Vishnu Vasu is bound to be badgered with decisions he will have to make, and choices he will have to justify. At one point Vishnu will have to make decisions tougher than what he has had to make in his career thus far. On such a day we may return to this essay, and pick things up from here.

“සැමට අධ්‍යාපනය ලැබීමේ අයිතිය”, සයිටම් තීන්දුව සහ අපි.

education-for-all-1-728“සැමට අධ්‍යාපනය ලැබීමේ අයිතිය” යන්න ඉතාම අපූරු සංකල්පයකි. මන්ද, පූර්ව-කන්නංගර යුගයේ තිබුණු අධ්‍යාපනය සහ උසස් අධ්‍යාපනය සදහා වූ සීමිත ප්‍රවේශය වෙනුවට වඩා පැතිරුණු නිදහස් අධ්‍යාපනය තුලින්ද ඒ කාලයේ බලාපොරොත්තු වන්නට ඇත්තේ “සැමට අධ්‍යාපනය ලැබීමේ අයිතිය” තහවුරු කිරීමක් විය යුතුය. මෙහිදී “සැම” ලෙස අර්ථ ගැන්වෙන්නට ඇත්තේ සමාජ-ප්‍රභූ හා වාණිජ-ප්‍රභූ නිර්වචනයෙන් පිට, අධ්‍යාපනයේ සීමාසහිත බව නිසා එය සාම්ප්‍රදායිකව අහිමි වූ හෝ සීමිතව පරිශීලනය කරන්නට යෙදුනු හෝ පිරිස් ඇතුළු සමාජයේ මැද හා ඉන් පහල ස්ථර මට්ටම්ය. ලංකාවේ අධ්‍යාපනයේ පරිණාමය හා ඉන් සිදුවූ සමාජ පෙරලිය වාක්‍ය රචනාවකින් උපුටා දැක්විය හැකි යයි සිතීම පෞද්ගලික වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාල පිහිටුවීම මගින් අධ්‍යාපනයේ පවතින සීමාසහිත වීම් වලට ප්‍රගතශීලී විසදුම් දෙන, කාලීන සමාජ මෙහෙවරක් වූවායැයි සිතනවා තරම්ම මායාවකි.

සයිටම් ආයතනය හා බැදුනු අභියායචන තීන්දුව සමග ඇති වී තිබෙන පසුබිම තුල “සැමට අධ්‍යාපනය ලැබීමේ අයිතිය” යන තේමාව නැවත ප්‍රතිනිර්වචනය වී ඇති බව කෙනෙකුට තර්ක කල හැකිය. මෙහිදී, ප්‍රායෝගික අර්ථයෙන් ගන්නේ නම් “සැම” බවට පත්වන්නේ පවතින කුසලතා පදනම මත සම්ප්‍රදායික ලෙස කෙරෙන රජයේ විශ්ව විද්‍යාල වලට බදවා ගැනීම් වලට හසු නොවන කොටස් ය. මොවුන් ලංකාවේ ජාතික අධ්‍යාපන විෂය නිර්දේශය යටතේ ද, 1980 සිට ක්‍රමිකව පැතීරී ගොස් ඇති ජාත්‍යන්තර පාසල් වල ලන්ඩන් / එඩ්-එක්සෙල් නිර්දේශ යටතේ වුවද අධ්‍යාපනය ලැබූවෝ විය හැක. පොදු කාරණය වන්නේ පවතින තරගකාරී ක්‍රමයෙන් පරිබාහිරව ගොස්, ක්‍රය ශක්තිය හෙවත් ගැනීමේ හැකියාව මත ඔවුන්ට මෙම උසස් අධ්‍යාපන අවස්ථා ලබා ගැනීමට හැකිවීමත්, වඩා විසුළුකාරී කාරණය වන්නේ එවන් පිටපාරෙන් යෑමේ ක්‍රමය “සැමට අධ්‍යාපනය ලැබීමේ අයිතිය” හා සමපාත වන බවට ඇතැම් අය විශ්වාස කිරීමත්ය.

“සැමට අධ්‍යාපනය” යන බෝඩ් ලෑල්ල හර පද්ධතියකින් තොරව භාවිතයේ යෙදුවහොත්, එම සැම දෙනා අතරට උසස් පෙල විභාගය අසමත් අයද, සාමාන්‍ය පෙල අසමත් අයද, ඉන් පහල ශ්‍රේණි අසමත් අයද යන සියළුදෙනා ද ඇතුලත් විය යුතු බවටද කෙනෙක්ට තර්ක කල හැකිය. අධ්‍යාපනය ඔවුන්ගේ ද අයිතියකි. විභාගයක් අසමත් වූ සැනින් එම අයිතිය උදුරා ගැනීමට කෙනෙක්ට පුළුවනිද? ශිෂ්‍යත්වයක් හෝ යම් ගෙවීමකට යටත්ව ඔවුන්ට ද උසස් අධ්‍යාපනයක් ලැබීමේ අවස්ථාව හිමි විය යුතු නොවේද? උසස් පෙල විභාගයෙන් වෛද්‍ය පීඨයට අවස්ථාව ලබන්නට තරම් ලකුණු තත්වයක් නොලබන සිසුවාට වෛද්‍ය අධ්‍යාපනයක් ලැබීමට ඇති අයිතිය සද්භාවයේ ප්‍රකාශයක් ලෙස සාමාන්‍ය පෙල අසමත් සිසුවාටද එසේම බලපෑ යුතු නොවේද? මෙහිදී මා මතු කරන්නට උත්සාහ කරන කාරණය වන්නේ ඕනෑම දාර්ශනීකරණයක් හා අර්ථ දීමක් යම් සන්දර්භයක පිහිටා කල යුතුය යන්නයි. අප උස්සන බෝඩ් ලෑල්ලක වන සටන් පාඨයත්, අපි පරමාදර්ශී අර්ථයෙන් ගන්නා වියුක්ත කියවීමත් අධ්‍යාපන ප්‍රතිපත්තීන් තුලට ගෙන ඒමේදී පවතින ක්‍රමයක් වේද, පවතින කුසලතා පිරික්සුමක් වේද, කුසලතාව මත කෙරෙන පිවිසුම් ක්‍රියාවලියක් වේද, ඉන් අතිරේකව කෙරෙන ආනයනය සැමට යන සද්භාවය හා ගැටෙන, එහි හරය නොඉවසන ප්‍රවේශයක් බවට පත්වේ. මෙම කාරණය හා සම්බන්ධ අදහස් කීපයක් මම වෙනත් අවකාශයකදී සටහන් කොට ඇත්තෙමි.

5සයිටම් ආයතනය හා බැදුනු අභියායචන තීන්දුව සමග ඇති වී තිබෙන කාරණය ඓතිහාසික හා ප්‍රගතිවාදී තීන්දුවක් ලෙස දකින මධ්‍යස්ථ ලිබරල් (වැනි) අදහසක එල්බ සිටින බොහෝ දෙනෙක්ද සයිබර් අවකාශයේ සැරිසරන ආකාරය අපි පසුගිය දින කීපය පුරාම දුටුවෙමු. තීන්දුවට කලිනුත්, තීන්දුවෙන් ලද පන්නරයෙන් ඉන් පසුවත් ඔවුන් පවසන්නේ ලංකාවට පෞද්ගලික වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාල අවශ්‍ය වන නමුත් ඒවා හි නියාමනය සදහා පිලිගත්, රජයේ මැදිහත් වීමක් ද සහිත ක්‍රමවේදයක් අවශ්‍ය බවයි. වෛද්‍ය ශිෂ්‍යයෙකුට පුහුණු කාලයක් අත්‍යාවශ්‍ය වන්නා සේම මෙම මතධාරීන්ට ද ලංකාවේ ආණ්ඩු කෙරෙන ආකාරය, 1978න් පසුව ජාතික සේවා සම්බන්ධව ලක් රජයන්ගේ ස්ථාවරයන් හා ප්‍රතිපත්ති, සේවාවන් නියාමනය කිරීම සදහා ඉන් කෙරෙන මැදිහත්වීම් ආදිය ගැන යම් හැදෑරීමක් තිබිය යුතුය. වෙනත් වචන වලින් කිවහොත්, රජය විසින් පසුගිය තිස් පස් වසර තුල පොදුවේත්, පසුගිය දශකය තුල විශේෂයෙනුත් කරගෙන යන ජාතික සේවාවන් වෙලදපොලකරණය කිරීම හා එම සේවාවන් සැපයීමෙන් ක්‍රමිකව ඉවත් වීමේ විෂම ක්‍රියාවලිය ගැන යම් අදහසක් ඇති අයෙකුට ඉහත වන් ප්‍රකාශ කල හැකි වන්නේ නැත. නොවන දෙයක් හෝ වීමට අවම සම්භාවීතාවයක් ඇති දෙයක් හෝ විය යුතුයි යන්න පවසනවාට වඩා එම අසීරු අඩියට යෑමෙන් තත්වය වලක්වා ගැනීම වඩා ප්‍රගතශීලී මාර්ගයයි. වෛද්‍ය අධ්‍යාපනයේ තත්ව පරීක්ෂක ලෙස ක්‍රියාකරන වෘත්තීය රාමුවෙන් ද ප්‍රතික්ෂේපිත ආයතනයක් වලංගු කරවා ගැනීමට උරදෙන පාලන පැලැන්තිය මෙතනින් එහාට වෙනත් ජනතාවාදී පිවිසුමකට යන්නට ඇති ඉඩකඩ කුමක්ද?

protest1තීන්දුවෙන් පසු ලක්ෂ්මන් කිරිඇල්ල ඇමතිතුමා කල මාධ්‍ය ප්‍රකාශයෙන් වෛද්‍ය අධ්‍යාපනය පිලිබදව රජයේ ස්ථාවරය ගැන යම් ඉගියක් ලැබුණා වැනිය. කිරිඇල්ල මහතා එහිදී ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ ඉදිරියේදී ලංකාවෙහි ආයෝජනය කරන්නට නියමිත මනිපාල් ඇතුළු පෞද්ගලික වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාල 5ක් ගැන පුවතකි. මනිපාල් වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාලයේ ශාඛාව කළුතර ආශ්‍රිතව ඉදිකිරීමට බිම්සැලසුම් පවා සකස් කොට ඇති බව ඔහු එහිදී පැවසීය. සයිටම් තීන්දුව ප්‍රසූත වී ඇත්තේ මෙවන් බළලුන් කීප දෙනෙක් ද රජයේ ගේ මුල්ලක ලූ ගෝනියක දමා තිබුණු වකවානුවකදීමය. ලිබරල් මතධාරීන් අපට පවසන රජයේ මැදිහත් වීමේ සභාවන්ද පනවනු ඇත්තේ මෙම ගෙදරම වෙනත් කාමරයකය. තීන්දුවෙන් කිරිඇල්ල මහතා කිසිදු කම්පනයකට පත්වී සිටින බවක් හෝ අපි නුදුටුවෙමි. පවතින සහ ඇති වීමට නියමිත වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාල නියාමනයට අවශ්‍ය ලේඛන, රෙගුලාසි හා ඒ මැදිහත්වීම් කරන්නට අවශ්‍ය ශ්‍රමය ගැන සිතන විට විෂය භාර ඇමතිවරයා මෙතරම් උපේක්ෂා සහගතව සිටීම ම ඉතාම සුභ ලකුණකි.

ඉතින් “අධ්‍යාපනය නිදහස් කරගැනීමේ” යැයි කියන පද පෙරලිය අද තිබෙන්නේ මෙතනය. ජාතික අධ්‍යාපනය පෝෂණය කිරීමට හෝ, එහි නඩත්තුව හා ගුණාත්මක කිරීමට හෝ ඕලාරිකව, අවමයෙන් මැදිහත් වන රජය තම ශීර්ෂය පියවා ගැනීමේ පහසු ක්‍රමයක් ලෙසත්, වක්‍ර ආදායම් මාර්ගයක් ලෙසත් වෛද්‍ය අධ්‍යාපනයේ පෞද්ගලීකරණය භාරගෙන ඇති බව පෙනේ. ලංකාවෙන් පිටට යන විනිමය රට තුල රදවා ගැනීමට යැයි ද, වැඩි අධ්‍යාපන අවස්ථා ඇතිකිරීම උදෙසා යැයි ද කියමින් මුහුකුරා නොගිය තර්ක ඉදිරිපත් කරමින් ඉදිරියට ගෙන යන්නේ “සැමට” ලැබිය යුතු සම ප්‍රවේශයෙන් යුතු උසස් ප්‍රමිතියේ අධ්‍යාපනය වැලලී යන, වෙලදපොලකරණයෙන් පන්නරය ලැබූ නව සමාජ හා වාණිජ-ප්‍රභූ පන්තියකට අණබෙර ගැසෙන වැඩසටහනකි.

Rajith Savanadasa’s “Ruins”: A Family at War; and a Nation Nearing a War’s End.

Rajith Savanadasa’s Ruins, unlike in the case of many writers writing of Lanka from destinations away from it,  was refreshing and less of a turn off, as he is mostly successful in his attempt at recovering the spirit, sentiment and the pulse of a nation, a historic climate and a social context through his debut. Weaved as a narrative that is located in the months that run up to the Sri Lankan government’s military crushing of the LTTE in May 2009, and the months that follow that euphoric climax of violent uncompromising nationalism, Rajith looks at an English speaking, western-exposed, just-off-Colombo middle class space, its ruptures, hiatuses, tensions and anxieties in trying to give shape to a complex family juxtaposed with a complex national space at logger-heads with itself. Overall, Rajith’s narrative of the Herath family — middle class working couple and their (what appears as) Ladies’ College and St. Thomas’ educated children — and its satellites and how they, as players of a domestic web come together and go apart, provides a very well thought out, well articulated storyline delivered through careful craftsmanship.

The novel unfolds as a sequence of personal accounts by each of the members of the Herath household, beginning and ending with accounts by Latha, the servant maid, who is perhaps Rajith’s least convincing character. In between we have two accounts by Mano, Lakshmi, daughter Anoushka and son, Niranjan. Up to Lakshmi’s second account the hold Rajith has on the reader is without dispute. However, a sense of tedium and the notion of things being a tad dragged seeps in in the last two sections of the story; but that, at its best, is a subjective reading of things.

9780733635052As a craftsman, Rajith shows much promise, and his toolkit in weaving a story that holds together while respecting continuity, with sufficient stuffing to keep the reader at her heels demands our applause. His sense of the idiom and the pulse of the street, though inconsistent and at times a tad over-trying, does justice to his efforts in drawing a Lankan ethos, as classed and regionalized that sense of Lanka may be. This is to say, one feels that Rajith is more at home with the middle and upper middle class spaces that he draws into his weave, making the narratives of Anoushka (largely set in her school space and friends’  zone) and Niranjan stand out as memorable. Mano Herath’s complexity as a character was well delivered, while Lakshmi, at one point, became too predictable and tedious with her aeminena kokka mode of operation. The reader was made to take relief in the fact that the book was merely 340 pages, while for Mano, it was 27  years of Lakshmi. The most problematic in representation, in terms of locating the pulse and the spirit, was the character of Latha: the servant, possibly, now in her 40s.

For one, I felt that Latha was inconsistently portrayed – a flux moving between infantalization and profound moments of deep, philosophical thinking. Arriving in the village for her nephew’s funeral, Latha sees half-built houses which makes her feel that “people building them must have run out of money before they could finish, their dreams going nowhere like the concrete staircases that didn’t have a second floor to reach”, while she remarks the mountains that “looked like elephants lying down, at temples, lime-washed and clean, standing like milk teeth against the earth and blue-green paddies” (185). This, from the same woman who, in other sections, is shown to be a simpleton with a very basic reference to the world around her. In one of the first sections, when her “aiya” asks her what Latha would do if she won a lottery, her answer is to divide the money among her master, mistress and their children and to purchase a small TV for herself (4), while she is also alienated from the class she works for by Rajith making her mispronounce words such as “lottery” and “computer”. Either this is an inconsistency in characterization, or Rajith’s own inadequate positioning of the psyche of the working class.

Anoushka, the fifteen year old daughter, too, betrays inconsistencies and unevenness at times, as she projects a split of maturity and steadiness, which is then offset by passages that make her look the antitheses of these same. Our initial meetings with her indicate a strong, alternative vibe in her, with her preoccupation with punk and alternative music being a reasonable measurement. She is located within the hinterland of the class extreme of her school community, and unlike her “Too Much Make Up (TMM)” colleagues Anoushka is seen to be perceptible and socially conscious, though she is passive and non-committed for change. However, and particularly in her second narrative, this steadiness of character is challenged by an undermining of personality channeled through a sequence of episodes that include the drama Anoushka causes over a dead fish. Even more, the perceptiveness she shows in identifying the position of the “godayas” in her Ladies’  College classroom is lost when she makes reference to her own servant Latha whom Anoushka often dehumanizes. The way she connives a connection between Latha and the Vaddas, and how she thus makes a link between Kuveni and Latha (210) does no justice to the Anoushka with an instinctive bent towards rock.

1469771309542Rajith’s normalization of the Lankan idiom and his effort to retrieve a Lankan echo through linguistic set pieces is commendatory. This, in fact, is a high point of his over all project,  which adds to the richness and the meaning of his text. Yet, at places, this attempt goes askew, resulting in abnormal and unlikely renditions. One such passage is where, finding that Latha has neglected tending the fish tank and that the goldfish had died, Anoushka accuses the former as “fish murderer!” (175). Assuming this exchange happened in Sinhala, what Anoushka’s accusatory charge is meant to resonate is not clear, as ‘fish murderer’ itself is an unlikely formation in Sinhala. Then again, these are exceptions to the more nuanced honing of the Lankan (Sinhala) resonance, which also includes creative plays on saivara shop names like where Heshan, the cousin, pronounces Hotel de Pilawoos as “Hotel de Pillows”. This is, perhaps, best enjoyed by someone with an exposure to the saivara culture and its nuances.

Rajith also playfully brings in passing references to a top politician’s son who drives a a Lamborghini down Bauddaloka Mawatha (51), a politician who uses the state airline to import a kitten (60) and to Lasantha Wickramatunga (81), whom Mano calls Lanka’s last investigative journalist. A Hector Pushpakumara, a minister known to smash his way into media houses and tie up public servants and flog them, does a Mervyn Silva while threatening Mano over a trifle (260-265). However, I felt that Rajith goes over the board in paining the cloud of uncertainty in the last sections, with the haunting fear of the Heraths’ phone lines being tapped, and the sense of being under  intense surveillance. Even Minister Pushpakumara’s rampage on Mano’s office is, perhaps, a little over-eager insert on the part of Rajith, in trying to echo the warped stat of affairs in the immediate post-war period, but without sufficient cause drawn out of the text to support the same.

mervin-gossip9The Herath household is, simultaneously sympathy-evoking, vicious, warm, cold, soppy, clumsy, alienated and alienating. It is the family that pushes us into the least expected anti-climaxes, and startle us with the most unexpected surprises. Latha, the servant, is ordered to wipe the telephone receiver with dettol every time she speaks, in order to discourage germs and contamination. The same Latha is sought to accompany Lakshmi into soothsayers’ dens, to confront suspicious white vans parked near the house and so on. The characters occupy complex networks, confounded and confused, seeking solutions for their problems — trivial and complex — mostly blundering, rarely finding a way. Parallel to these developments, the nation moves on, sometimes reflected through the inner mechanics of the Herath family, but surely as confused and confounded.

Rajith’s molding of Mano Herath very closely resonated the character of WG Karunasena in Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew. In fact, reading the character of Mano made me understand fully for the first time as to why Shehan’s WG Karunasena is so effective and memorable as a construction: so close was the characterization, and so revealing in the traits, trajectories and other ingredients the two characters had in common, one shed light in my reading of the other. But, all that I will reserve for a later essay.

Along with Nayomi Munaweera’s What Lies Between Us, Rajith’s Ruins is one of the better and recommendable reads dealing with Lankan soil, being written from a non-Lankan space. In fact, it is a refreshing addition to that spectrum of pade-s (as Niranjan would say) from the Ondaatjes to the Tearnes, who draw all kinds of romantic bali and packets them across the world under the unholy blessing of big publishing firms: representations that are dishonest, disfiguring and a disgrace to the respect one must have for culture and historical space.

කුහකයින් හා කුක්කන් අතර ලංකාවේ අධ්‍යාපනය: අරගලය ඉදිරියට ගෙනයාමේ ගැටළුව

රජය විසින් සිදුකරන අධ්‍යාපන පෞද්ගලීකරණයට විරුද්ධව පෙනී සිටින බලමුළු තුට්ටු දෙකට දමා ඔවුන්ගේ මතවාදී ප්‍රවාහයන් හා අදහස් අති-සරල කර, හාස්‍යය (වගේ එකකට) ලක් කරන සවිඥානික, කණ්ඩායම්ගත පලකිරීම් අද අපිට නිතරම ෆේස්බුක් හරහා දකින්නට ලැබෙන සාමාන්‍ය දෙයක් වී ඇත. “අධ්‍යාපනය නිදහස් කරගැනීමේ” මුවාවෙන් හෝ “සිරිපාල”ගේ වේෂයෙන් හෝ සමාජගත කෙරෙන මෙවන් අදහස් මූලිකවම “ශිෂ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරය” හෝ “අන්තරය” හෝ කියා අපට හදුන්වා දිය හැකි අක්ෂයට එදිරිව කෙරෙන තුලනාත්මක ශ්‍රම භාවිතයක් විදිහටත්, පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාල අවකාශය සයිබර් තලය හරහා සාධාරණීකරනය කරගැනීමේ සහ ඒ සම්බන්ධව ජන විඥානයට ඇමතීමේ බර  කරට ගත් භාවිතයක් විදිහටත් අපට තේරුම් ගන්න පුළුවන්. අධ්‍යාපනය සම්බන්ධයෙන් මෙම ප්‍රතිවිරුද්ධ අක්ෂ දෙක ගැටීමේදී අපි බොහෝ විට දකින්නේ රාජ්‍ය හෝ පෞද්ගලික හෝ වේවා, ලංකාවේ විශ්ව විද්‍යාලාශ්‍රිත තාරුණ්‍යයේ කොටසක බුද්ධිමය විචක්ෂණ මහිමයට වඩා කඨෝර වාචාල හුවමාරුවන් සහ කුලප්පු කරගැනීම් ය. එහි වරදක් ඇත්තේ යැයි පැවසියද නොහැකි වන්නේ ජාතික ප්‍රශ්ණයක් වන අධ්‍යාපනය සම්බන්ධව ඒ මට්ටමින් කෙරෙන අරගලයද ඉතා වැදගත් නිසායි. ඒ වුවත් වඩා ඛේදනීය කාරණය වන්නේ මෙම අවලාද කරගැනීම් හා කොටා ගැනීම් අතරමැද අධ්‍යාපනය සම්බන්ධව ප්‍රධාන හා එහි දැවෙන ගැටළු වෙනුවෙන් අපට කරගත හැකි මැදිහත්වීමේ අර්ථාන්විත බව කෙලෙසී යාමත්, බෙදා වෙන් කර පාලනය කිරීමේ න්‍යාය මොනවට භාවිත කරන අපේ පාලක පැලැන්තිය ඔලිම්පස් කන්ද මුදුනේ සිට පොඩි පොඩි මනුසත්තු අතරේ කෙරෙන පොඩි පොඩි හරඹ බලා විනෝද උන ග්‍රීක දෙවිවරු මෙන් තම තමන්ගේ ප්‍රහසනයන් වඩා විශිෂ්ට අන්දමින් වේදිකාගත කරගැනීමත් ය.

library3ඉතින්, අද අන්තර් විශ්ව විද්‍යාල ශිෂ්‍ය බලමණ්ඩලය හෝ ශිෂ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාර හෝ යයි හදුන්වාගන්නා ගාමක බලවේගයට විරුද්ධව, සවිඥානිකව පෙලගැසුනු ප්‍රතිහෙජමොනික බලයක් මෙම පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාල පාර්ශවයෙන් එල්ල වී තිබෙන බව දකින්නට ඇති කරුණකි. 1980 දශකය හරහා ජනතා විමුක්ති පෙරමුණුකරණය වුණු අන්තරේ ට එරෙහිව 1980 අග භාගයෙන් පසු දක්ෂිණාංශයෙන් එල්ල වන ප්‍රබලතම වෙඩිමුරය මෙම පෞද්ගලීකරණවාදී සිසු හඩයි. කොලඹ විශ්ව විද්‍යාලයේ ස්වාධීන ශිෂ්‍ය සංගමය හෝ ජාතික චින්තන කණ්ඩායම වන් මතවාදී නැංගුරුමක් නොමැති වුවත්, මෙම පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාල ප්‍රචාරණ කණ්ඩායම අන්තරේට වඩා දැනෙන ප්‍රහාරයක් එල්ල කරන බව මගේ මතයයි. මෙම ප්‍රහාරය වඩා තීරණාත්මක වන්නේ අද කාලයේ අපේ දේශපාලනය මතවාදයෙන් බැහැර වී තිබීමත්, මතවාදය කියන එක එදාත්, අදත්, තම කට්ටිය බෙදා වෙන්කර ගැනීමට කමිසයේ ගසන පලදනාවකට වඩා වැඩි දෙයක් නොවීමත්, අද එවැනි පලදනා බහුල වීම නිසා පලදනාව බොරුවක් බව වෙලදපොලකරණය හරහා අපට කාවද්දා ඇති නිසාත්ය. අන්තරය මෙම ප්‍රහාරයේ බරපතල කම තවම තේරුම් ගෙන ඇත්ද යන සැකය පැනිනගියි. තේරුම් ගත්තත් නැතත්, මෙවන් තීරණාත්මක සන්ධියකදී තම දේශපාලන භාවිතය ගැන තක්සේරුවක් හෝ යායුතු දිශාවක් ගැන ප්‍රගතිගාමී කියවීමක් අන්තරයට ඇත් ද යන්න ඊටත් වඩා අපට වදදෙන ප්‍රශ්ණයකි. යන මාර්ගයක් හෝ නිරවුල් පිවිසුමක් නැති තැන තේරුම් ගැනීමක් ඇතත් නැතත් එහි වැඩි වෙනසක් නැත්තේය.

පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාල ඇති කොට සෞභාග්‍යමත් මතු සිසු පරපුරක් ඇති කෙරුමට සයිබර් අවකාශයේ සැරිසරන බෝහෝ සංවිධාන හා පුද්ගලයින්ගේ සමාජය හා බද්ධ වුණු, ප්‍රතිපත්ති මත පිහිටවූ, ආචාර ධර්මීය කාරණා හා ගැටගැසුණු දේශපාලනයක් නැත. ඔවුන්ගේ සටන් පාඨ බොහෝ විට නිර්දේශපාලනිකය, ඉතිහාසමය ප්‍රඥාවකින් හීනය, අවස්ථානෝචිතය. අප ජීවත්වන පරිභෝජනවාදී සමාජයේ ඇති ක්ෂණික ඉල්ලුම හා ක්ෂණික සැපයුමක බලාපොරොත්තුවේ දිගුවක් ලෙස ඔවුන්ගේ අධ්‍යාපන අරගලය හදුනාගැනීමට හැක. “අපි කැමති නම් අපි වෛද්‍යවරුන් වීමට අවස්ථාවක් ලද යුතු වෙමු” යන්න නියමිත ක්‍රමයක් හෝ අධ්‍යයන ක්‍රියාවලියක ගුණාත්මක ඵලයකට වඩා ආශාව හා එහි සන්තර්පණය යන සෘජු සම්බන්ධය හරහා ඔවුන් හදුනාගන්නට යෙදෙයි. “මම මිලක් ගෙවන්නේ නම් මා එම පාඨමාලාව හැදෑරිමට සුදුස්සෙක්මි” යන්නෙන් අධ්‍යාපනය වටා ඇති  වරණය හා අවස්ථාව හා බැදුනු වඩා බරපතල අර්බුද රැසක් මග හරින්නට උත්සාහ කරයි. යම් පාඨමාලාවකට රජය ලබාදෙන ප්‍රතිපාදනය සෑහෙන්නේ 100 දෙනෙක්ට නම්, 101 වෙනියා හා 102 වෙනියා පසු කොට 900 වෙනියා තම අවශ්‍යතාව සන්තර්පණය කරගැනීමේ ක්‍රමවේදයේ සම-අවස්ථා අර්ථයෙන් ගත්තත්, ආචාර ධර්මීය පදනමෙන් ගත්තත් නොදැක සිටිය නොහැකි හිඩැසක් ඇත. පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාල ගැත්තා මෙම වඩා ප්‍රබල සමාජ ගැටළුවට ඉගි මරා තම පෞද්ගලික ප්‍රශ්ණය විසදගැනීමේ විෂම අඩියට ප්‍රවේශ වීමත්, එම ප්‍රවේශයට උල් පන්දම් දීමත් මෙහිදී සිදුවේ. 1980 දශකයේ ඇරඹි, 90 දශකය හරහා වර්ධනය වූ, සහ රාජපක්ෂ රෙජීමයේ එස්.බී දිසානායක ඇමතිවරයා කාලයේ වඩා තීරණාත්මකව එලඹුනු රජය රටේ අධ්‍යාපනය ගැන සිය වගකීම් හා යුතුකම් පැහැර හැරීමේ දී තම ශීර්ෂය තුලනය කරගැනීමට යොදාගන්නේ මෙම පෞද්ගලික ආයතන වල ඔඩු දිවීමයි. ප්‍රතිපත්තිමය වශයෙන් ගත්තොත් මෙය ඉතාම දුක්ඛිත තත්වයකි.

මෙහිදී පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාලකාමී පිරිසට අවලාද නැගීමෙහි තේරුමක් ද නැත. අර්නස්ට් මැකෙන්ටයර්ගේ නාට්‍යයක එන වැකියක් මෙහිදී මට සිහි වෙයි: “අවස්ථාවාදියා යනු අවස්ථාවෙන් ප්‍රයෝජනයක් ගන්නා වන අතර අවස්ථාවක් එන්නේ ප්‍රයෝජනයක් ගන්න නොවේ නම්?”. වල ඉහ ගැනීමේ හා පවතින තත්වයෙන් උපරිම වාසියක් ලබාගැනීමේ තැන සිට බලද්දී පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාල සංසිද්ධියේ වඩා දරුණු තැන් ගැන ඔවුන් නොදැකීම හෝ නොදැක සිටීමට තීරණය කිරීම වරදක්ම නොවේ. නමුත්, තම අරමුණු පටුවෙන් සාක්ෂාත් කරගත්තත් අන්තරේ හෝ ශිෂ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරය හෝ බලගන්වන්නට යෙදෙන අරගලයේ වඩා සියුම් කරුණු ගැන තම අවධානය නොදීම මුග්ධ, ප්‍රතිගාමී, අශිෂ්ට පිවිසුමකි.

Sri Lanka University Students Protest Rajarata Campus IUSFප්‍රතිහෙජමොනික ආරෝපණයක් ද ඇති පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාලකාමී පිරිසෙහි ෆේස්බුක් පාඨයන් කීපයක් විමසා බලමු. එක වැකියක කියවෙන්නේ “මෙඩ්ඩන් වෙනුවෙන් කඩේ යන ආර්ටන් පව්” වැනි කියවුමකි. කලා උපාධි අපේක්ෂකයා සරසවි සමයේ ද, ඉන් පසුවද, රැකියාවකට ගිය පසුවද කහින සත්ව කොට්ඨාශයක් ලෙසත්, ආණ්ඩුවෙන් හිගන, ආණ්ඩුව දෙනකම්ම බලා හිටින, “ලොස්” කුලකයක් ලෙසත් මෙහිදී දක්වා ඇත. මේ අර්ථගැන්වීම සිද්ධ වෙන්නේ පවතින අරගලකාරී සන්දර්භයේ කලා පීඨ ශිෂ්‍යයා ජවය දෙන තරමක් දැනෙන භූමිකාව ද ඇතුලත් වපසරිය තුලයි. තවත් පෙලගැස්වීමක දැක්වෙන්නේ පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාල අධ්‍යාපනයට එරෙහි වන බලවේග “කුහක” බවත්, 20%කට පමණක් සීමා වූ විශ්ව විද්‍යාල අධ්‍යාපනය අන් අය ලබනවාට ඔවුන් වැටකඩොලු බදින බවත් ය. “සැමට අධ්‍යාපනය ලැබීමේ අයිතිය ඇතැ”යි අපිට මතක් කර දෙන ඔවුන් එම හඩින්ම කියන්නේ “ගෙවන්න පුළුවන් නම් ගෙවලා ඉගෙන ගත්තම කුහකයින්ට අජීර්ණයි” වගේ පැසසුමකි. ඒ අතරම, විශ්ව විද්‍යාල ප්‍රවේශයට සුදුසුකම් අඩු 80%ට කුමක් වන්නේදැයි අසන ඔවුන් එම 80%ට යා හැකි විකල්පයක් ලෙස පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාල අවකාශය දක්වයි. ලංකාවේ එම විශ්ව විද්‍යාල ප්‍රචලිත කිරීමෙන් රටෙන් පිටට ගලා යන විනිමය පවා ඉතිරි වෙයි. එම විනිමය ඉතිරිකර ගැනීමෙන් රටේ ආර්ථිකයට පවා යහපතක් සිදුවන බව මතක් කරදෙයි.

මෙම තර්ක ඉතා ලාමකය. නමුත් මෙම තර්ක දැනෙන ලෙස ඛණ්ඩනයට හෝ ඒවා උපුටා බිදහෙලීමට හෝ ශිෂ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරය සමත් වී නැත. එම ව්‍යාපාරය ඒ තරමට නිස්සාරව ඇත. තම පල්ලියේ සභාවටම නරකාදිය ගැන උගන්නන පාදිලි උන්නාන්සේ සේ, අන්තරයද තම ශ්‍රාවක ශ්‍රාවිකාවන්ටම බණදෙසන මැෂිමකට එහා ගිය බවක් අපට පෙනෙන්නේ නැත. ඉතාම පටු තීරයක, පරිකල්පනය හීන නායකත්වයක් හා බද්ධව, සමාජ විපර්යාස හා සමාජ ප්‍රමුඛතාවයන් ගේ පර්ණාමයන් නොතකා රැළ ශක්තිමත් කරගැනීමට 1980 දශකයේ යොදාගත් බිලී කොකු පාස්ස පාස්ස පාවිච්චි කරමින් යන පැරෝඩික ගමන ඉතාම අවප්‍රමාණිකව දක්ෂිණාංශය හා ගැටෙයි.

පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාල සංසිද්ධිය හරහා එලොව යන්න කකියන පිරිසට මතක් කල යුතු කාරණා දෙකක් ඇත. එකක් නම් සමාජය යන පද්ධතියත්, අධ්‍යාපනය යන එහි එක් වැදගත් රචකයත් එම සමාජයේ ආර්ථිකය හා කාලාන්තරයක් තිස්සේ එහි වන හා වුණු හැඩගැසීම් හා සමපාත වියයුතු බවත් ය. ස්කැන්ඩිනේවියාව හෝ බටහිර යුරෝපීය රටක හෝ පාඨමාලා වරණය හා සැකසුම දක්වනනෙක් එම රටවල අධ්‍යාපනයේ ඉතිහාසය ඔස්සේ සිදුවුනු ක්‍රමික පරිණාමයද සැලකිය යුතුය. ෆින්ලන්තය වැනි රටවල එයටම ආවේණික අධ්‍යාපන රටාවන් පවතින අතර පාඨමාලා වරණයන් හා ප්‍රවේශ අවස්ථා විවිධාකාර වේ. නමුත් ඒ එම රටේ ආර්ථිකයට හා සමාජ සැකැස්මට සාපේක්ෂවයි. දෙවැනි කරුණ වන්නේ, ඕනෑම පද්ධතියක සාමාන්‍යයෙන් ගුණාත්මක බව මත රැදුනු “අවම අවස්ථාවක්” පවතින බවයි. උදහරණ ලෙස, ඇමරිකාවේ විශ්ව විද්‍යාලයක ඉගෙනුම ලබන්න නම් අවම එස්.ඒ.ටී ලකුණක්, ටෝෆල් ලකුණක් හා වෙනත් කරුණු සම්පූර්ණ කල යුතුයි. ලබන ලකුණු අනුව ඇතැම් විශ්ව විද්‍යාලයකට ඇතුල් විය හැකි වුවත් තවකකට ඇතුල් වීමට එම ලකුණ මදි අගයක් විය හැකිය. මෙම ගුණාත්මක තක්සේරුව කුමන පද්ධතියකට ගියත් පවතින අතර අපගේ සටන විය යුත්තේ එහි පරාසය පලල් කරගැනීමත්, එම ප්‍රසාරණ ක්‍රියාවලියට අධ්‍යාපනය ගැන පිඹුරුපත් සකස්කරන්නන් යොමුකරවා ගැනීමත් ය. පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාල අවස්ථානෝචිතව ඇටවීමේ තත්වය තුල මෙම පරාසය පලල් වීම සිදුවන්නේ නැත.

crgjixkweaaq2_cපෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාල පවතී නම් සැමට පිලිගත හැකි පොදු ක්‍රමයක් තුල පැවතීම අත්‍යාවශ්‍ය වේ. යම් මධ්‍ය සභාවක් හරහා කෙරෙන බදවාගැනීම් හා රාජ්‍ය විශ්ව විද්‍යාලවලටද පොදු ජාතික ලකුණු ලයිස්තුවක් ආශ්‍රිතව බදවා ගැනීම් කිරීම වැනි සම ප්‍රවේශ ප්‍රවණතා ඇති තැනකට පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාලය ගෙන යා යුතුය. රාජ්‍ය විශ්ව විද්‍යාල වලට පොදු පටිපාටියක් එතැනට ද ආදේශ කල යුතුය. මීට සමාන්තරව රාජ්‍ය විශ්ව විද්‍යාල වැඩි දියුණු කිරීම, ඒවා හි භෞතික මෙන්ම අධ්‍යාත්මික දියුණුවකට මං කැපීම මෙන්ම පුස්තකාල, දේශන පහසුකම් සහ යටිතල දියුණුව ඉලක්ක කරගත් ක්‍රමවත් ආයේජනයකට යෑම ඉතා වැදගත් වේ. මෘදු කුසලතා හා අයි.ටී වලින් එහා ගිය ආයෝජනයක් තුලින් වඩා ප්‍රගතිශීලී අධ්‍යාපන මෙවලම් පාඨමාලා තුලට ගෙන ඒම, පාඨමාලා යාවත්කාලීන කිරීම හා අවස්ථා වැඩිකිරීම අනිවාර්යය.

පෞද්ගලික විශ්ව විද්‍යාලකාමීන් අධ්‍යාපනයේ පලල්වී යනු කුමක්ද යන්නත්, අධ්‍යාපනයේ සමාජ ගැටළුව කුමක්ද යන්නත් වඩා විශ්වීය අර්ථයෙන් තේරුම් ගැනීම කල යුතුය. ලද අවස්ථාවෙන් තම අධ්‍යාපන අරමුණු ඉටු කරගත්තත් යථා තත්වය ගැන සැකයක් හෝ විචිකිච්ඡාවක් ඉතිරි කරගත යුතු නොවන අතර, මෙම කතිකාවේ “කුහකයින්” කවුදැයි  සෙවීමට වඩා විචක්ෂණ දර්පණයක් තමා වෙතටම අල්වා ගැනීම කල යුතුය. නමුත් මෙහි බරපතලම කාර්යය ඇත්තේ ශිෂ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරයටයි. තම අඩුපාඩු සකසා ගැනීම, තම අරගලකාරී මාවත සහ අරගලයන් ගැන අළුතින් සිතීම මෙන්ම තමා කරන්නේ කුමක්ද? එය සද්භාවයෙන් කරන හඩනැගීමක්ද යන්න ප්‍රති-ආවර්ජනය කිරීමේ ඉතා කාලෝචිත ලකෂ්‍යයට ඔවුන් දැන් ඉතිහාසය විසින් පමුනුවා තිබේ. පෙර නොවූ විරූ පරිදි බිදවැටීමකටත්, ප්‍රතිරූපය හා වේගය දියාරුවීමකටත් ඔවුන් ලක් වී ඇත. මහජනයා ඉදිරියේ එම සටන් පාඨ ලොතරැයි ටිකට් විකුණන හඩක් මෙන් සාමාන්‍යකරණය වී, දියාරු වී ගොස් ඇත. ලංකා සමාජයේ, අන්තර් විශ්ව විද්‍යාල ශිෂ්‍ය බලමණ්ඩලයේ ප්‍රදර්ශන ආයිත්තම් හැර අන් සියළු දේම 1980 ගණන් වලින් මෙපිටට පැමිණ ඇත.

 

 

Revising the Scope of Sri Lankan Literature: the Experiment with Representational Texts of 1987-90.

ja-vi-pe-sangauna-ithihasayen-bindak_backThe paradox of our English Literature classroom, both at high school and university level, is the under-representation of Sri Lankan Literature, even though, in their “peddling” of ideology, the majority of Education’s string-pullers are committed to a location of our reality within the rubrics of a postcolonial politic and so forth. None of the national universities, save one, is yet to offer a degree course in Sri Lankan Writing in English, and where that component is offered as a smaller part of Postcolonial Literature, the study scope is often limited to expatriates or dual citizens such as Michael Ondaatje, Shyam Selvadurai and Romesh Gunasekera; with the dynamics, and complexities of resident writers, along with their representations of the anxieties, tensions and frictions that is Lanka not even being considered worthy of exploration or discussion. The resultant misrepresentation of what is representative of Sri Lanka both locally and abroad has since become a “big issue” which the better academics in literature repetitively (and with the right jargon) lambaste at conferences and such, like a garment they dip in the mud, and then wash, so as to keep the discourse and pay cheque alive. In these circles, studies into Sri Lankan Literature cannot go too far, as they operate within the imposed confines of a narrow and vicious facade of representation that makes no sense, and because these precious souls are, in any case, not honest in their trade as writers, or, alternatively, as scholars.

In spite of several key areas where it can improve as an academic entity,  the University of Sri Jayewardenepura is singular in its offering both the General Degree and Special Degree a full course in Sri Lankan Writing in English. The Department of English which offers these courses has also provided the groundwork for the course(s) to be flexible and dynamic, so as to accommodate both the “classical” study areas locatable within the subject, as well as a degree of the more contemporary and current tendencies. Naturally, with a course unto its own, the way in which even an Ondaatje or a Selvadurai can be contextualized within the frame of a “Literature that relates to Sri Lanka” can be more meaningfully and more imaginatively explored: an approach to Literature which makes more sense, when those texts are comparatively placed within a larger corpus of writers who are “closer to home”, and who seem to represent the “dynamics of culture, space and politics”. As the syllabus is taught and discussed at Sri Jayewardenepura at present, classroom experiments are carried out at a further level, to meaningfully and strategically place narratives of representation written in English, juxtaposed with similar narratives in Sinhala / Tamil. In recent years, the English Literature classroom has shared thought and opinion on works such as Keerthi Welisarage’s Kaala Sarpa (trans. Time Rebounds), K. Jayathilake’s Charitha Thunak (trans. Grain and the Chaff) and S. Ponnadurai’s Sadangu (trans. Ritual). Literature of a more unconventional and – at times – even controversial nature to make the list includes Shobhasakthi’s Gorilla and Traitor, Visakesa Chandrasekaram’s Tigers Don’t Confess and Rohitha Munasinghe’s Eliyakandha Wadha Kandhawura (trans. Eliyakandha Torture Camp).

eliyakanda-torture-camp_frontThe reading of Rohitha Munasinghe, in particular, was a challenge and an important challenge at that, as his is one of the most comprehensive witness records of being extra-judicially detained, tortured, harassed and treated with gross impunity by the Sri Lanka army, at a torture camp in Brown’s Hill, Matara in 1989. Munasinghe has a JVP connection between the party’s resumption of democratic politics in 1977, and 1982. In the early 1980s Munasinghe has been a frontline leader of the party within his hometown, Matara, but has later cut ties with party activism. When he was extra-judicially rounded up and taken into custody in 1989 he had had no connection whatsoever with the JVP or with its militant thrust at the time. Eliyakandha Wadha Kandhawura was written in self-imposed exile in France, which Munasinghe reaches as a refugee, after smuggling himself out of the country in 1991. The book is a compelling and harrowing document of impunity and degrading treatment of the worst imaginable kind, by (a microcosmic, and representational) group of Sri Lankan military personnel on a camp full of detainees picked up on “suspicion of being” JVP sympathizers.

41xqz076qrl-_sx318_bo1204203200_Munasinghe is perhaps one of the most important writers whose workbench has since the late 1990s produced a consistent body of literature that help us view the historical narrative of the Bheeshana Samaya comparatively, with emphasis on a subalternized, or de-selected perspective of the same which the mainstream narrator does not sanction. Mainstream sources (available in English) documenting the debacles of 1987-90 such as C.A. Chandraprema, A.C. Alles and Rohan Gunarathna present a blatantly pro-establishment view of things which they don’t even attempt to temper down. Alles’ The JVP 1969-1989 is in fact a dishonest document: an extension of his treatise of the 1971 insurrection, hurriedly extended with a glossing over of the worst human tragedy the island’s South has known in a few additional chapters. Chandraprema’s is a very disturbing book, as he seems to hint to know the finer details and aspects of a series of deaths that fall into the “extra-judicial” category, the ways in which they were carried out, who the authors of these were, who the ultimate authorities involved were and so on. Munasinghe’s narrative, in a way, counterbalances the drift created by establishment voices that often downplay the humanitarian tragedy caused by military violence. Other influential work that complement Munasinghe’s subaltern narrative includes his Rangala Preme (2002; supposedly a fictionalized portrayal of JVP frontliner a military wing leader Ragama Somey), Ja.Vi.Pe Sangavunu Ithihasayen Bindhak – I&II and Upanayaka Upatissa Gamanayake (2016; on the life and death of the JVP’s second in command Upatissa Gamanayake).

rangala-premey_frontOne of the earliest documents to challenge the mainstream records of the Bheeshana Samaya is Prins Gunasekera’s Lost Generation (1998), again, written in exile. The book locates the history of the JVP from the late 1970s, in the context of anti-democratic maneuvers by the state that pushes the proletariat party out of the political mainstream, forcing it to go underground. Gunasekara, with roots in the traditional Left-Center writes with evident empathy for the JVP, and with apprehension of the UNP governments of JR Jayawardene and R. Premadasa. In more recent years, writers like Prasanna Sanjeewa Tennakoon, Ruwan Jayathunga, Ravindra Fernando and Udeni Saman Kumara have contributed to an extending corpus of literature re-probing the extra-judicial violence of 1987-90 as championed by the country’s legit military and the assortment of military top brass and politicians who were the authors of a death toll that is variously pronounced to be between  50000 and 110000.

Writers such as Shobhasakthi, Malaravan (the author of War Journey) and Rohitha Munasinghe are equally important in our English Literature classroom for a reason that goes beyond the ideological dictates of representation, as well. As an educator, the Literature classroom can benefit itself and society by sharpening the ways in which society, history and politics can be read through the means of textual intervention. As such, literature that relates to the very climates, outcroppings, foundations and roots of the socio-political and cultural nexuses of which we are a part should receive rigorous scrutiny in the hands of the literature student. What we are missing right now, in the class room, too, is that; where we often read texts based on the pleasure principle, without political or historical awareness. I am told that one must read a text for pleasure, to enjoy, and to feel good about what you read. For me, there is only one way to read a text: and that will excavate the document for political, social, historical nuance and resonance; or the lack of them.

This would be the more impactful validity of Literature studies: its sharpness as a tool of political and historical engagement. This is also the reason why our Literature classroom has to look beyond Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family, Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy and Romesh Gunasekera’s Reef; as the larger function of literature and the way in which it can be localized within the classroom space runs outside the family, is definitely not funny, and is a sharp tool of intervention (as opposed to being a fender, a reef). Most unfortunately, persons with dubious qualification and empty heads that lack imagination are among the key players who decide our national literature at high school level. At the university level, very few academics go outside their little fiefdom of influence; and to vye for the recovery of a more meaningful literature seems to be too much of a bother for a six digit pay pack.

 

 

Silence in the Court Room: Raviraj’s Suspected Murderers Freed

Raviraj’s fluency in Sinhala was an ace up his sleeve in presenting matters with clarity and with conviction before Southern politicians and the Southern community, and through him, the South had the opportunity of hearing the grievances of the North. In symbolic terms, Raviraj was a bridge that could have connected the two valleys, but, perhaps, what was detrimental to Raviraj was also the fact that he was being heard and understood: for, being represented and with clarity is too troublesome for demagogues and people who would rather keep the populace under their thumbs through false impressions.

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N. Raviraj

The sign of a saviour seems very far away from the shores of Sri Lanka, where justice and the people’s confidence in the justice-meting mechanism seem to be on holiday, even in the time of a government that checked into the sites of power using those very two words as their gate pass. Sri Lanka and the world alike seem to look on with skeptical eyes as the five suspects, including three Navy personnel, who had earlier been charged with the murder of Nadarajah Raviraj – the vocal ITAK parliamentarian – which happened in the vicinity of a highly secured zone under around-the-clock military surveillance in the heart of Colombo in 2006. Raviraj was a tireless speaker on issues that were immediate to the Northern community from which he was elected, and was no beater around the bush in his attacks on the state and its players. Raviraj’s murder was one of the earliest murders attempted on “out of the establishment-line” voices during the time coinciding with the Rajapakshe government. Even the booking of suspects who may have committed homicide was delayed almost by a decade, and a reasonable breakthrough happened only within the last year – what, at that time, was felt as a reversing of the order of disorder, and a fair attempt at bringing out truth and justice.

The news of the acquittal of suspects, even in the face of witness accounts, comes as a shock to many close observers, and the news has already gained wide international attention. Both the Daily Mail and the Indian Express, in their reports of the development do little to disguise their bitter amusement, and seem to hint that they have better apprehensions of who the responsible parties are of Raviraj’s killing. Both sources make sustained references to President Rajapakshe’s regime and the questionable circumstances under which the parliamentarian was gunned, along with his security officer. Yaltribune.com, in its report of the acquittal, hints at indirect pressure created by the President Maithreepala Sirisena who has, over the past 2-3 months or so, made comments that may easily be seen as defensive of what might be constituted as crime charges against the state military. Yaltribune.com reports: “In a highly unusual move, the jury’s verdict was delivered at midnight following a unanimous decision in the month-long trial… Earlier this year, Sri Lankan President Maithreepala Sirisena who has previously ruled out allowing any political leader to be prosecuted for alleged war crimes, said he was concerned that naval and military commanders had been summoned before the courts”. The verdict had been delivered by an all-Sinhala jury in a case that involved a Tamil parliamentarian being gunned down by a group of suspects who were, again, Sinhala; which includes three militants (in the popular psyche, the “vanguard” of the Sinhala nation) who are identified as acting under the orders of a pro-Sinhala nationalist regime.

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The site of Raviraj’s murder

My memories of Nadarajah Raviraj are very vivid. His entry into parliament happens in 2001, at the young age of 39. He was a trilingual, energetic lawyer-activist cum politician, who emerged from a community that was linguistically and culturally distanced from the majoritarian Sinhala South. Raviraj’s fluency in Sinhala was an ace up his sleeve in presenting matters with clarity and with conviction before Southern politicians and the Southern community, and through him, the South had the opportunity of hearing the grievances of the North. In symbolic terms, Raviraj was a bridge that could have connected the two valleys, but, perhaps, what was detrimental to Raviraj was also the fact that he was being heard and understood: for, being represented and with clarity is too troublesome for demagogues and people who would rather keep the populace under their thumbs through false impressions.

Raviraj’s inspirational political trek arrives at a crucial landmark when, in 1998, the LTTE kills within a few months the mayor of Jaffna, Sarojini Yogeswaran, and her to-be successor, Pon Sivapalan, both of the TULF. The second killing also wipes out the top  military command of the Jaffna area including Brig. Susantha Mendis, creating a vacuum and a dubious atmosphere. The terrorist climate thus encouraged made representative politics  be held under the gun. Raviraj’s stepping up to take the role of Acting Mayor and, then, Mayor was therefore a courageous and challenging move in the immediate context of things. Later, when nominated to parliament, Raviraj was a vocal opponent of the abusive state of human rights, specially as they affected the day-to-day culture of the Tamil community. He was a regularly sought after representative in media political debates, and was charismatic and intelligent in his deliveries and tabling of issues. On the eve of his murder, Raviraj had demonstrated against a military shelling that killed 40-odd persons in  Vaharei. His death happened close to his Narahenpita house, when his self-driven vehicle was obstructed by a motorcycle and was repeatedly fired at by the assailant at close range.

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And, how? asks the skeptic.

Nine years after Raviraj’s death, the Rajapakshe government was toppled by the loose alliance of a merged UNP and SLFP gene, whose election platforms boomed with rhetoric of justice for all. A strong dictation was made against corruption and malpractice, which, after a brief hope-awakening (false) start of sorts seems to have reclined to a back seat of the government’s agenda. In any case, the search for justice seemed to be more focused on the corrupt smaller pawns of Rajapakshe’s second and third tiers  (as it is, as it should be in a system where one statesman is as corrupt as the other), while strategic “sins of omission” have left the bigger and better fish untouched and unharmed. The enthusiasm and zest with which crackdowns were being made on the alleged killers of Lasantha Wickramatunge, Prageeth Ekneligoda, Waseem Thajudeen and others such as Nadarajah Raviraj seemed to suddenly fizz away, as if hitting headlong a giant stumbling block. The FCID activism in probing into ministerial accounts and activities of the former government has, to date, achieved very little in terms of a “search for justice”, than feeding the roadshow of politics. If the world is a stage, then surely President Sirisena is cast to play an ambiguous role. Throughout 2015, he was a silent and detached viewer from the gallery, his position and voice often unheard and made to look uncertain. When he did begin to speak, in the wake of startling revelations in the Thajudeen and Wickramatunge cases, his voice seemed to be very different to what the people had heard (or thought they had heard, or – alternatively, were made to hear) the previous year. Ventriloquism is a complex art, and we are but a humble people.

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A share from Lanka-e-News (L.E.N)

As recent as October, President Sirisena made a statement that was given much circulation, where he expressed his concern over members of the military (ex-militants included) being summoned and tried before courts of law. This was a major setback to what was earlier generally seen as a facilitating environment for the execution of the law’s due process and was alarmingly viewed by activists both here and abroad as well as by diplomatic missions that show concern of Lanka’s reconciliation path (See, the Sunday Observer and the Colombo Gazette among other sources that reported on this, in the week of October 16th).   What were seen as “major breakthroughs” were being achieved in the murder cases alluded to above, and coincidentally (or not) the trails of blood were being tracked back to some of the highest in the military and in politics. President Sirisena had the difficult task of choosing between the nationalistic heartbeat of the Sinhala masses, and the line of justice. His vote was admirable, and revealing, under the circumstances.

Now, notwithstanding the developments of the past year or so, the five suspects of Raviraj’s killing have been acquitted. As a Facebook post shared by Lanka-E-News on the matter sardonically observed: “So, now did no one kill Raviraj, then?”. The Sri Lankan government has taken the curve. It has now, over the past 4-5 months taken the anti-climactic dip towards the very pit of vice they lobbied against in December 2014 and January 2015. The budget proposals recently tabled revealed the pus and blood with which its economic and social programmes are written. This silence in the courtroom, one may argue, is one of the first of a possible string to follow, where that quest for justice and truth will be further pushed away into the distant horizon, as (the Tamil community of) Sri Lanka moves on in search of that ever-illusive palm tree in the oasis.

The Death of Anne Ranasinghe and the Life of Literature Studies in Sri Lanka.

05Anne Ranasinghe, poet and holocaust survivor, passed away last week and was buried three days later in Colombo, two continents away from her native Essen, where she relaunched her life as a poet and cultural icon, after a ruptured youth affected by Nazi rule in Germany in the 1930s, and world war II. Personally, Anne Ranasinghe’s poetry was never among my favourite, nor was her writing progressive in my eye; but, notwithstanding, Ranasinghe is arguably one of the two best known and most widely read Lankan poets of post-independence: the other being, Jean Arasanayagam. From syllabuses to anthologies, and from academic papers to newspaper articles, Anne Ranasinghe’s work is widely represented for the right and wrong reasons. Her death brings down the lid on another of the generation of Lankan writers who have steadily contributed to the national literature corpus from the 1970s, through the 80s and 1990s.

Upon close analysis, Ranasinghe’s literary corpus is, in a word, somewhat repetitive in theme and scope, while her range is limited. Her social consciousness is, again, restricted by her classed, elite location as a member of the upper end of Colombo 7’s Rosmead Place, while her empathy with and reception of the culture and pulse of the soil appears to be superficial at best, and minimal otherwise. Her poetry is a reflection of these rubrics that give shape to her voice and delivery, and have been placed in perspective by writers such as Dhanuka Bandara who, in 2015, wrote a provocative – if cheeky – essay on Ranasinghe’s work, range and her call to fame (See link here ) .

How, then does a writer, who is largely monotonous and repetitive, comparatively lacking in social and cultural insight, politically disconnected with Lanka and its social, economic and political fates, and who is not necessarily a progressive experimenter in structure, style or craft end her career at 91 or so, as one of the most widely read Lankan poets? Partly, this is an indirect outcome of the good work by education policy-makers and syllabus-setters of the Lankan school, diploma and university systems who, by perpetuating Ranasinghe within the corpuses read and studied at these levels, has inject to her work a fetish value, endorsing it as a selection undiscardable from the classroom. It is evident that the various literature syllabi have a key role in the value addition to some writers, and the doing away with of others, thereby setting the measurements of canonization and legitimization of “literature” from the “not-so-literary”. The role of the syllabus-setter and her aptitude as a designer of literary value and cultivator of literary taste has to be therefore briefly examined.

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Tarzie Vitachchi

If one is to consider the GCE Ordinary and Advance Level syllabuses for English Literature as (convenient) examples, the confusion and chaos in the syllabus design, as well as the directionlessness of the planning reveals to us the grim reality that faces literature studies at the national level. One of the prominent cogs of the GCE Ordinary Level syllabus-designer machine has had no substantial exposure to literature in a B.A classroom beyond the one fourth of a dozen texts offered in the heavily Language Studies-oriented Distance Learning first degree through which he has qualified into the Academy. To my knowledge, he is yet to complete his postgraduate requirements, but is since long being used as a vital resource in national syllabus design at the highest level by bodies such as the NIE. The GCE A/L syllabus is an even sadder tragedy of errors, where a strange mixture of incompetence, greed for recognition, lack of awareness of the ground conditions and lack of insight into the student sample have produced two farcical syllabuses (including the syllabus set to be introduced in 2017) in the past decade or so. The syllabus designers and (so-called) coursebook-writers at the GCE A/L  Literature include (at least more than) one person who often show(s) abysmal spoken and written competency, while the team also includes persons who have no in depth exposure to Literature in graduate environments. It is deductive that none of these syllabus-designers have any knowledge of the classroom conditions or of the student samples they are assigned to accommodate by the syllabus they are meant to design. The 2011-2017 teachers’ guide is a shocking document, cheap and erratic, while displaying an amateurish  and straight-laced approach to literature that is alarming and – to say the least – hazardous to the growth of scholarship. It is one of the most scandalous documents I have encountered in my life, and this is not entirely owing to its free and liberal use of Wikipedia and Spark Notes-type material.

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Vihanga Perera

The composition of the recent GCE syllabus-setter was used here to illustrate the creative and imaginative inadequacy of the steering force in literature education in as seen in recent years. The GCE A/L syllabuses from 1974 to the present will most certainly keep the doctor away (but the mental health inspector at close quarters), with its repetitive recycling and rehashing of a series of texts and writers, set within a rigid, firmly-set rubric. The syllabus policy, I am told, is for a syllabus to be exhausted after an eight year run. As such, we have between 1986 and 2017 three syllabuses, each one having a set structure that has gone unchanged and unaltered for 30 years. The same goes for the bulk of the syllabuses’ core content and selections. Of the three syllabuses of the defined frame, perhaps, the syllabus in use from 1997 to 2010 is the better and more progressive one. The syllabus currently in use, as well as the proposed syllabus set to be initiated in 2017 are both the work of a collective Frankenstein.

The cult status of Anne Ranasinghe’s poetry is partly the by product of imbecility at work. Perhaps, at one point, in a given moment, at particular juncture of Lankan literature’s evolutionary growth, Anne Ranasinghe may have produced a certain meaningfully locatable body of verse. But, clearly, the Academy has failed to receive her work critically, or to place her comparatively in the pantheon of our rhyming bards. One example is the increasingly diminished position a writer like Lakdas Wikkramasinha receives in university as well as GCE classrooms. Wikkramasinha, even in our time and age, is a unique and powerful voice, though he died as far back as 1978. Arguably, Peradeniya is the only university that still teaches a palpable corpus of Wikkramasinha’s writing; and that, too, might change with senior scholars such as Nihal Fernando and Arjuna Parakrama being led away from chalk and Chaucer by their ultimate retirements. Sri Jayewardenepura has its own full course of Sri Lankan Literature that enables a more detailed and focused study, but in heavily gendered English departments and with some deplorably theory-laden teachers, Lakdas Wikkramasinha has shrunk to an under-represented, innoucuously read fossil, referred to in a line or two which does no justice to his nuance and often multi-faceted and vibrant delivery. The disfigurement of Lakdas is so acute that even his name has, over the years, changed in its vowels: from Lakdas, to Lakdasa (refer to his Luster Poems for Wikkramasinha’s preferred spelling of his name).

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The result of having the wrong people in the wrong places

I also suggest that a second – if at all a more forceful – factor that dictates Ranasinghe’s regal presence as an icon of Lankan English poetry is her non-Lankan origin. In his scathing poem Talking of Michelangelo Richard de Zoysa scoffs at the English literary hood of Lanka (himself included) as a double-faced, hypocritical entity that has its windows tight against social reality. The English literary sphere is often equally the bearer of colonial hang ups, and one that assigns fetish price tags to Caucasian expatriates. The adoration of average white-skinned B.A (General degree) holders by upper middle class, new capitalist parents in choice international schools in Greater Colombo often collapses the compartments of time, stringing in one extending chain of events the coffee and tea-cultivating Brit, the long migrated writer whom we still like to call “ours”, and the white-skinned educator we  hunger after to make the Principal of our otherwise half brown-skinned school. Ranasinghe’s work, I suggest, has been more readily accepted owing to her “past” and the survivor tale with which she arrives. While Ranasinghe has been a readily included choice across syllabuses, it is intriguing how writers such as Gamini Seneviratne, Rienzie Cruze, Asoka Weerasinghe, Regi Siriwardena (from the 70s and 80s), or (for instance) a more versatile, perceptive and hard-hitting expressionist such as Tarzie Vitachchi have been grossly under-represented or never featured in the national curricula.

Anne Ranasinghe, to her merit, is evocative of powerful graphics and vivid images. Often, her writing transports us to a realm deeply resonant and “alive” with the confusion, chaos, blood and cold-blooded violence she frequently illustrates through her work. But, that alone is no arsenal for greatness, or for progressive representation. Anne Ranasinghe has now crossed the proverbial river. Who, now, will take her place?

South of Kandy, North of Complacency: the South of Kandy Literary Forum, 2016

South of Kandy Literary Forum 2016 (SKLIF 016), an independently organized mini literary forum, was held on the 10th of December at the Hindu Cultural Association, (500 meters south of) Kandy, to which I was able to contribute as a writer and in a minor organizational capacity. The platform was set up by a group of literature enthusiasts, as a way of breaking the shackles of tedium and inaction that often accompany the progressive approach to art. When first approached, I was told by the organizers that the platform would be a “non-politically correct, non-decorous” deal, where progressive opinions and ideas, no matter how ugly or bitter, will be given the pulpit. My commitment to the event went well rewarded, as a full fledged eight panel assortment of creative artists and critical commentators from a wide cross-section of the arts and humanities left all ends covered and all stones turned.

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Free of the best medicine, from Vishnu Vasu and Bevis Manathunga (not in pic) at SKLIF 016

SKLIF 016 featured four panels of creative writers, who read from their established and upcoming work, and four further panels on issues current to literature and the arts.The vocal Jean Arasanayagam and the wisely perched Kamala Wijeratne – easily, 60 publications among them – were the tone setters to the creative quarter, which also featured Krishanthi Anandawansa, Kevin Perera, Amaresh Pereira, Marlon Ariyasinghe, Anupama Godakandha and Katt Stanblazer. Kevin and Katt had braved the extended long weekend to come down from Colombo in public transport, and Krishanthi, from Horana. Amaresh read a sincere and moving tribute, hailing the memory of his mentor and  idol, the late Professor Ashley Halpe. Marlon read from poetry brewing for upcoming publication, while Katt’s reading (on later inquiry) seemed to have left a bitter-sweet imprint in different sections of the audience. Anupama’s delivery, again, was said to be from a forthcoming collection, quite enigmatically titled, “I am a Racist”. In all, SKLIF 016 seemed to hint at 2017 going to be a particularly good year to look out for, where poetry publications are at stake.

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Bevis, Vishnu and Chrishain

Of the critical forums, the highlight was Bevis Manathunga and Vishnu Vasu discoursing on “Kandy’s arts scene in the 70s and 80s”, in a panel chaired by Chrishain Jayalath. Both products of Kandy’s flourishing literary and arts scene of that era, Bevis and Vishnu blended anecdote with recollection, and opinion with banter. Bevis, the proverbial “Maara Man”, who until 2013 used to be a city sight under the tree near the Bake House, along the main pavement, had come from Dambulla, where he is now into eco culture. Vishnu was returning to Kandy after a longer absence, and had coincided his “homecoming” with a screening of his acclaimed short film “Butterfly” at the Jana Medura, the day before. That, however, is a thread for a different essay.

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Jean, Kamala, Marlon and Stephen 

Praveena Bandara chaired a panel on “Literature in Education: where it is, and where it should head”, in which I spoke along with the lit veteran Liyanage Amarakeerthi. Amarakeerthi, quite admirably, had brought in much theoretical input, and quoted from decades of meticulous study on the subject, including from his translation of Martha Nassbaum. Quite irritatingly, this panel was hijacked by two vocal members from the audience, who, like two Elizabethan dramatists, crossed the line between the stage and the audience with the ease of moving from the pantry to the dining room. A second panel chaired by Manikya Kodithuwakku, featuring Thyagarajah Arasanayagam and Ayathurai Santhan on “Mapping Conflict and the Role of English Literature in Reconciliation” was taken for a walk by Arasanayagam, who, in passionate outbursts, out-voiced his more soft-spoken, mild-mannered counterpart. Santhan, in fact, seemed to have a few important points to make, had he more space and time. Santhan was also felicitated by his publisher (and mine) PawPrint, for a fruitful partnership over the past year and half. He had earlier bagged the coveted double of a Fairway Literary Prize and a Godage Awards for Rails Run Parallel under the PawPrint label. PawPrint was represented at the event by its co-founder and former senior editor, Manikya Kodithuwakku.

The forum also featured internationally acknowledged photographer Stephen Champion, whom I had the good fortune of chairing, as he discoursed along with Danesh Karunanayake on “Art and Technology: from pre-digital times to the present”. Both panelists came across as persons with a knack for conversation, and good conversation too, which made the chairman’s job quite a treat. The duo synchronized well, Stephen going into technical detail, and Danesh resorting to practical wisdom, courtesy of a prolong involvement in trade union and left of center politics.

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Perera And Hussein. Pensively. 

In all, SKLIF 016 housed 16 writers, artistes and critics, in 6 hours worth of pow-wow on matters literary and social. A welcome presence were Ameena Hussein and Sam Perera, who drove down from Colombo, giving the audience a sneak peek into Ameena’s forthcoming work. It was a very warm gesture on a very warm day, further warmed by lack of A/C in the Hindu Cultural Association’s somewhat stuffy conference room.

The central nerve of the organizational body were a small group of young men and women who are brought together by a thirst for literature. When I was contacted, all they wanted me to do was to help draft a plan and to get the chosen artistes on board. It was a clinically executed programme without finesse or filigree, and was carried out without pomp, and with the stern focus on art and art alone. The organizational set up taught some of us artistes (myself included) the ground you can cover by having a clear, central agenda, where your funny egos don’t get involved. The talent spread about Kandy, largely in small pockets and clusters, reminiscent of small formations of fat, is Gulliverian. The tragedy is that these energies cannot be meaningfully pooled together to synthesize a progressive vision for Sri Lanka’s literature and the arts. In that way, Kandy’s artists and the pocket groups that represent Lanka’s Left have that much in common.

 

 

“What Lies Between Us”: The Gaps in Nayomi Munaweera’s Second Novel.

img_7083-edit-200x200Nayomi Munaweera’s What Lies Between Us records a young girl’s disrupted childhood spent in Sri Lanka of the late 1970s and early 1980s, her being removed to an alien United States, where she strives to attain location, and her subsequent marriage to an up and coming artiste, Daniel, and its subsequent falling apart. Compared to Munaweera’s Island of a Thousand Mirrors, this second novel offers the reader a compelling and engaging read, which often shocks and takes the audience along a maze of twists and turns. But, as a work, altogether, What Lies Between Us leaves us with many abnormalities and incongruities, that caution our overall judgment of it.In a word, the novel disintegrates as a project that opens with promise, but which loses its potential in the process of things.

Foremost among Munaweera’s “shortcomings”, is the lack of smooth synchronization among the three main time threads she deals with, in recording the protagonist Ganga’s experiences from childhood to her life as an adult. The three main threads of childhood in Kandy, in Central Sri Lanka, the crossover to migrant United States, and the life of the protagonist as a nurse and mother are very loose in their binding, to say the least. Very often, one gets the feeling that these three sections were written independently and later patched up together,. leaving behind a sense of dissonance which discomforts the reader. Of the three segments, the best written, in my opinion, is the section dealing with childhood: this, in spite of Munaweera’s unbearably orientalist preoccupations in setting out the landscape and culture that surround young Ganga in the outskirts of Kandy. The often romanticized and exoticized layout of the family home, the idyllic atmosphere penetrated by Eden-like descriptions and definitions are often underlined by a sense of danger and threat, giving Ganga’s childhood an ambiguous, treachery-lurking, pastoral backdrop. Interestingly, the descriptions of the United States lack the same exotic punch, which Munaweera saves exclusively for her mapping of the non-urban, Lankan terrain.

The Kandyan setting, in spite of Munaweera’s best intentions, is a tad unrealistic for the mid 1980s. Ganga is educated in a leading girls’ school in Kandy, and is brought up according to the best interests of the walauvva tradition, but is seen to be let loose after school to wander the streets buying cheap ice palams and thoroughfare merchandise. Munaweera also refers to threewheelers in which children are being transported, which, for Ganga’s class in the mid 1980s, can be argued to be quite unrealistic. The home and the culture from which Ganga springs is marked as traditional Sinhala at an overwhelming level. Yet, we have a case where her father (later, reconfigured for us as a molester of his own child) baptizes his fellow playmate cum servant as “Samson”; and indeed, where the same Samson ponders on his isolation, claiming that he has no Delilah to couple him. The inclusion of the biblical motif is both abrupt and unrealistic, given the closed Sinhala and Buddhist ethos in which the childhood story is grounded.

nayomi_munaweera_what_lies_between_usThis very Samson is the “demon” that haunts Ganga’s life, even as she crosses continents. Her impressions of having being molested and violated by Samson leave an imprint on her which she struggles with even in her older years. Samson’s grabbing her, his hands on her person and her inability to resist his touch are graphically described through extensive paragraphs. Yet, in the concluding chapters, Ganga’s mother, through one single long distance phone call, and a decade and a half later, too, undoes all that by telling the daughter (over the phone, long distance) that her real violator was her own father, and not Samson, the servant. This, after graphic revelations of paragraphs and paragraphs of Samson hounding young Ganga. Could a girl, in her adolescence mistake one perpetrator for another: her own father, for Samson? When being “approached”, Ganga is into her early adolescence, between the ages 11 and 14. Besides, why does the mother take almost 15 years to reveal this disturbing truth to the daughter? And, how realistic or plausible is it for her to go into this detailed confession over a single phone call, when the daughter calls her to inform that Daniel, her husband, has left her? This becomes even more baffling as Ganga’s mother is often presented to us as a pragmatic “traditional-minded” woman, who operates within set boundaries. I suggest that Munaweera’s revelation of Ganga’s perpetrator to be her father, and not Samson, is a twist in the plot that undermines the quality of her narrative. It is a twist that is not supported by the build up of the narrative, nor by the logic and evidence the narrative offers us. It is a singular revelation that is meant to shock, but is ungrounded and unsupported by preceding events.

In America, the country to which Ganga migrates as an early teen, she gradually manages to find her own feet, metamorphosing into an agent who is both independent and able. Her constant childhood “demon” of Samson lurking around to grab her from behind doesn’t feature in her transitional phase, though it makes a dramatic comeback in the years after her childbirth. Where was Samson’s demon between the years 14 and 29-30, when Ganga seems to have settled down to a stride of uneasy transmission from one culture to another; one continent to a new, alien land? What makes the Samsonian demon return, abruptly, in the first year after her child birth? Ganga’s husband, Daniel, is initially presented to us as a responsible and loving individual. When Ganga is perturbed and withdrawn after their initial physical interaction, it is Daniel who sets the pace to the relationship, giving the would-be partner room and space with mature understanding. His behaviour in the aftermath of childbirth, is, therefore, all the more baffling and inconsistent, as he walks away from Ganga, asking her to “sort her issues out”, on her own, while deeming her too dangerous to live with or to have around their child. If inconsistencies infiltrate Munaweera’s script in the migrant setting, the most notable is the turnaround seen in Ganga’s mother’s. Her migraines and aloof spells, which dominate her Kandyan days, are never seen to bother her in  the US, where she invests long hours at work and is seen to be perfectly functional and efficient. This transformation is both inconsistent as much as it is intriguing.

Munaweera, in the novel, has reinforced a series of hacked stereotypes that are often located within “traditional Lankan” culture, when it is accessed from an outsider’s periscope. This alone is one of Munaweera’s achievements in representing a Sri Lanka through her trans-continental stance. The stereotypes and traditional readings of customs, rituals and cultural figures, as Munaweera presents them, are valid and present, but are showcased as trivializations and without a depth that may assist in the representation of the complexity of cultural practice. Stained clothes sought by mother-in-laws after wedding nights, puberty rituals, taboos and prohibitions, as well as the in group gossip among women at a friend’s party are presented merely to chastise those acts; and are not seen within a  context that is culturally meaningful. Neither education, exposure nor westernization seem to affect the “traditional-minded” in Munaweera’s text, such as Ganga’s mother, who resort to the “heirloom of culture” as a fossil to carry and maintain. The sections set in the United States are also hampered by a sense of hurried urgency and awkwardness in movement, which set them apart from the carefully meditated prose of the Kandyan chapters.

Munaweera has several memorable moments, too, which have to be acknowledged as part of high points in her delivery. Ridden of the gross exoticization and embellishment, the Kandyan chapters come across as engaging reading: specially, as records of a collation in retrospection. The re-visit to childhood and the detail of recollection are triumphs that satisfy the reader, keeping her engaged and inquisitive. In the same way, Munaweera has also evolved as a writer from her Island of a Thousand Mirrors, daring to be defying and uncompromising in her delivery. The earlier novel, in spite of international awards and such, was a disaster and a let down: a laboriously strung story, all undone within the last quarter of the narrative. Similarly, What Lies Between Us ends weakly, and imploding the groundwork of the early sections of the novel. Ganga’s “metamorphosis” to being a shade of her mother in her post-natal years is sudden and contrived. The sudden withdrawal of the otherwise supportive Daniel is equally unexplained. Moreover, the decision to kill Bodhi, the daughter, a decision taken in a hazy state of mind, is as much a shock tactic as a pair of boots bought at a garage sale. Outside the courthouse where Ganga is put on trial, there is a placard being held by a protester equating Ganga to a modern day Medea. The crucial difference here is that Medea’s killing of her children are logically explained and grounded in Euripedes’ text, while the impetus behind Ganga’s actions do not come out satisfactorily.

What Lies Between Us is a novel that opens promisingly, but freckles up and snaps off at the half way point. The childhood story of Ganga has in it the grip to hold the audience, but Munaweera fails to convert this impetus to a meaningful end.

 

 

Sriyani Hulugalle’s “Cherry Blossoms”: Movements Between the Past and the Present.

untitled-449Sriyani Hulugalle’s Cherry Blossoms: A Collection of Short Stories and Poems collates 25 short stories and verses on a range of themes and preoccupations. The bulwark of her writing deals with personal issues set in a restricted, private domain, and often draw nostalgic, yet sensitively human moments while scissoring through a range of intense sentiments from longing to losing, from desiring to letting go, in a rendition that is rich with memory and sincere feeling for “almost moments” in a  past the narrators are nostalgic of. While it cannot be clearly stated as to whether the memories Hulugalle looks back on are actual biographical sketches, the sense of time, space and feeling are palpable and vibrantly felt.

In terms of Hulugalle’s craft, she follows the tradition set down by the realist writer, with close attention paid to verisimilitude, logical progression and so on, with a patient hand for detail and deliberation. The realist approach, as Hulugalle uses it, leaves very little room for the narrative to break free from a spatially linear pattern which, by the by, reads as a tad monotonous and tiring. But, that is not necessarily  a weakness of the work, as much as it is a personal response in my reading of Cherry Blossoms.

The collection has a balance in its location of society closer to the present time, as well as its nostalgic search for a time now lost. For instance, stories such as “Grass is Greener”, “Beyond my Reach” and “Farewell” attempt at framing in experiences closer to contemporary time, while the title story “Cherry Blossoms” and “A Request” are earnestly meditated returns to a time, space and experience from a past the writer / narrator strives to nostalgically retrieve in memory. “No Heart is Free”, though hurried and failing to capture the depth of character, is a take on the unexpected change of heart in an LTTE cadre, Raju, who, unexpectedly, befriends and feels for the child of a military officer on whom he is assigned to spy. The story in itself is loose and incredible at times, but shows an attempt in Hulugalle to offset set stereotypes which are often assigned to militancy, in a search for the human and the fallible in the often impersonal game of war.

“A Request” – made reference to earlier – is said to have been written in 1987, in Netherlands, in response to a poem by the Canadian resident poet R. Cheran. Voicing thoughts which Hulugalle ameliorates with Cheran’s own sentiments, she prays for a secession of hostility and an end to militancy:

I still walk barefoot
On the sandy temple grounds,
Holding a lotus, praying for peace.
Though my brothers of Yalpanam
Gunned down innocent people
Praying for peace
Years ago…

… You and I both love
Our sweet home, Mother Lanka!
Let us all throw our guns aside
And walk on the sandy, golden beaches
Under the palm trees once again”.

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at FT quote of “Cherry Blossoms”

Underneath, Hulugalle adds in parentheses that, in 2016, she is “happy that her wishes have come true”. Clearly, Hulugalle has not taken into account the great humanitarian tragedy that the Northern Tamil community had to undergo to in a prolonged war of two decades and a half, and its genocidal endgame in 2009, in which the lives of an estimated 350000 citizens were exposed to brazen heavy-armed attack by the state military and – to a much lesser extent – by the LTTE. The lives lost in the final months alone are variously estimated to be between 50000 and 90000, and whether the “sandy golden beaches” could have seen lesser blood and human remains has fed the post-2009 political discourses with much controversy that left the Lankan government in the state of the proverbial ostrich in the face of the global floor. This, in a context where writers / activists such as Cheran have evolved in their own political opinion in the last 25 years or so, to represent the Left-oriented ideological nuance of the national struggle.

Hulugalle’s is an unambitious work, and one that seamlessly moves from snapshot to snapshot, from past to present; from the personal to the national. Her strength, however, in my opinion, lies in the recapturing of the past and in retrieving memory and the pulse of personal (or, personalized) history. Her collection is a pleasant, easy read, much like cherry blossoms in a calm, tranquil eve.