A Crave for Nostalgia: “Music.Death.”.

by Eshani Seneviratne

bookGenerally, 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.

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Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan”: Of Resurrecting Identity Behind a Cordoned-Off Zone.

imagesThe 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.

f07b8161-4f88-4185-b6f0-1378adcebca1_714xWhen 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.

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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.

 

Attempting Political Theater; Engineering, Peradeniya and Their Theater (2011-2015): Some Observations.

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.

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Serpent in progress.

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.

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Stephan Dedalus

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.

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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.

ෆේස්බුක් සේකරවරුන් සහ විචාරකයින්.

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.

imagesමෙම 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)?.

F3-A_Lpoවිචාරකයා 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.

Seth-Kavi-fbනැවත 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.

The Collapse of Hope, Meaning, and Expectation: Vihanga Perera’s “Postcards to Bentham” (2013).

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.

example-postcards-coverIn 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.”

jeremy_bentham_from_gallery_of_portraits_postcard-re34669a8658243f2a400995b10e7c00c_vgbaq_8byvr_324

Jeremy Bentham

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 කුමාරසිංහ වසා සිටින රහස් ඡායාව, හා “මේ රහස් කවුළුවෙන් එබෙන්න” හි තවත් රහස් දෙකක්.

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.

me-rahas-kawuluwen-ebennaමුරකාමීගේ 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.

kawshalyaකෞෂල්‍ය 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.

Murakami

මුරකාමි

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”: Pierangeli Andrado’s Return to Hambantota.

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.

Of Salt and Sand Final CoverThe 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.

chitra

Chitra Fernando

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.

30985467An 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”.

“Holding Out”: Pulsara Liyanage’s Memoir of a Privileged Political Prisoner.

Pulsara Liyanage’s Holding Out (2017) is subtitled as the “Memoirs of a Political Prisoner in Sri Lanka 1986-1988”. The introduction to the book is by Dayan Jayatilleka, while Asoka Handagama has provided it a “Prologue” of sorts. We are already in a curious mix of a diverse company: Jayetilleka, a proven man of many forms where the wind blows – one-time EPRLF hardcore, Premadasa-loyalist of the late 80s, Rajapakshist and a vanguard in the defense of that regime in the post-war years and so on -, and Handagama, who has always been identified with the Left Wing of politics, ideology and art, as well as as a sympathizer of the JVP of the late 1980s, appearing in the same page no doubt arouses much reader interest.

HOLDING-OUT-Pulsara’s subtitle – loaded as it is with much marketability – however, falls short of its promise by a long way. For, as a “memoir” of a “political prisoner in Sri Lanka” during the run up to the abominable Reign of Terror (1987-90), her narrative is a story of a privileged upper middle class, well connected girl whose incarceration, if taken as an indicator, severally undermines the extent and brutality of the violence practiced by the state and its legal and illegal milita during the years with which the narrative is concerned. Hers is a “memoir” of a “Privileged Political Prisoner”, kept in detention under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act at the Slave Island Police. Yet, unlike a countless thousands of common cases, hers is relatively not a humiliating or a disgraceful detention. She is housed in a relative degree of comfort, her family being knowledgeable of her whereabouts, her family being able to visit and speak to her during her detention period, and with her being able to be in contact with political figures of eminence, such as Vivienne Goonewardena and Chandrika Kumaratunga, of whom the former is said to have visited her at her cell quite regularly.

The memoirs do little to question or to cast in a critical light the overwhelming grip of state terrorism, and its resultant structured violence of which ordinary men and women who do not have the “means” or the “ways” are more cruelly the victims. Routine harassment and violence within the Police premises are glossed over, without critical or reasonable assessment. Pulsara’s book is less about the victimization of political activists, but more about her triumph of being a privileged detainee, and how she manages to keep herself in tact through a two year period. She manages to be rational in a world that seems to crumble around her, and be of benevolent help to women like Sivamalar and Sarath: men and women in other custodian cells beside her, but who are seen helpless and hopeless than she is. She even writes a letter to Chandrika Kumaranatuna at the time of her husband Vijaya’s assassination, upholding her ideal in consoling another victimized woman at time of crisis, even while being behind bars herself.

meena_colombo1Interestingly, for a writer who seems to be quite aware of and sensitive to the subjection of the person in custody – specially, in questionable circumstances under which many men and women have been detained under the PTA – and, then again, the treatment of the female prisoner in Police or military custody, Pulsara Liyanage’s narrative doesn’t reach beyond her singular experience. Perhaps, she was lucky, or else, her background and class served as immunity, but narratives exist that document and suggest deplorable conditions in which women suspects were held; and of the harrowing experiences they have had to go through as a result of such captivity. For me, the most compelling narrative comes from Rohitha Munasinghe, who relates to sexual slavery to which women in military captivity were subjected to, as witnessed by him as an inmate of the infamous Eliyakandha torture camp, in Brown’s Hill (Eliyakandha), in Matara. In his Eliyakandha Wadha Kandhawura Munasinghe outlines how women are herded into a part of the encampment and are exclusively kept for the sexual urges of the soldiers. After a time, fresh batches are brought in; the used ones either being bumped off, bearing “traitor” labels, or, in rare cases, being set free. Munasinghe bases the same experience in the composition of a short story titled “Kanyaaviya” (The Virgin) in his collection Raaga Sutra (Discourses on Passion). In this latter, a university girl is randomly abducted and taken to a torture camp and forced into sexual play, while being kept among a group of other women, detained for similar purposes. However, owing to shock and terror the girl gives no response, except to defecate under duress. After repeated attempts, she is finally taken to a bridge and shot to death, and then discarded.

In Victor Gunathilake’s 71, 89 Mathakayan (Memories of 71, 89) reference is made to a killing of two young school girls – hinted to be taken into custody by the Mahagama Police – on top of the Kalawellawa bridge. The bridge had been known to be a spot where the military would bring young men and women (some, suspects of being JVP-ers, others not) to be shot. An eerie reference is made to a pack of pariah dogs who were said to idle by the bridge, who were heftier and bigger than the rest, who feed on the remains of the shot. They are said to come running at the bridge at the sound of gun fire – Ivan Pavlov all over again. What follows is my rough translation of Gunathilake, as he relates to the witnessing of the killings of the two young girls mentioned earlier:

“We could hear the ordinary sobbing of a few female voices. Just then, continuous rounds of gun fire came out, like crackers being lit. Then, all we heard was the sound of something being tipped over into the river… With the break of dawn everything became gradually clear. Two bodies were stuck among some cut bamboo which had earlier been stuck in a part of the river… The bodies were of two girls, possibly aged seventeen to nineteen. They were both clad in uniforms of some school. They weren’t in brassier or panties, and in one girl, the frock had been wrapped around her body, while she was stripped topless. The eyes were not blindfolded. As they were shot on the chest, there was a large wound in their backs… The second girl had been shot on the head and a prominent part of her face was disfigured. She wore no brassier or panties either. It was clear that they had been arrested from some other area, had been kept in the camp for a while, and had now been finally shot and dumped in the river” (Gunathilake, 147-148).

The time period covered by Victor Gunathilake’s narrative is the same as the years Pulsara is concerned with; and Victor’s is a chosen excerpt from among many documented such instances, in order to develop the current discussion.

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North and South: title of a Gaskell novel

Pulsara’s focus is also heavily set on a number of female detainees, and as such, several key chapters deal with a range of women who are in the Police premises at varying capacities. The suspected LTTE activist Sivamalar, the girl whom Pulsara meets at the Sri Jayewardenapura Hospital who is recovering from an attempted suicide – Kanchana –, the unnamed “girl from Negombo”, the prostitutes of Slave Island etc are among the various females Pulsara factors in to the narrative. The three matrons of the Police Prison – Carolinahamy, Sallynona and Annamma – too receive a chapter of their own. But, Pulsara fails to go beyond the anecdote and establish the complexity of these different players, locating them in the overall corrupt and violent system. Partly, her superiority implied through her classed, educated and connected background makes her role play the “liberal-minded benefactor” to even these other women who have been cast to play the thoroughfare rabble to milady. The narrative of the girl from Negombo and the prostitutes – pathetically euphemized as “the twilight ladies” – are anecdotal and anecdotal alone. They, at one level, provide Pulsara the exhibition a caged animal or an alien species would, though Pulsara herself is caged: a lesser cage, if at all. The questionable way these other women are perceived and localized by the Police in the process of “meting justice”, or the legal and structural restrictions that undermine their condition as humans do not come within Pulsara the anecdote-teller’s range.

The Epilogue of the book makes several bold statements – some of them not original, but confrontational none the less. There are several references to the smashing up of suspects and of them being humiliated and reduced by the Police while being taken into custody under abusive emergency regulations. There are also accusations leveled at the JVP/DJV for attacks on moderate and alternative commentators and activists. In a selective tabulation of human rights violations, Pulsara quotes from the report later submitted by the commission appointed by President Kumaratunga to inquire into state violence during 1987-90, where Pulsara highlights the involvement of Premier Ranil Wickramasinghe in overseeing a Housing Scheme in Batalanda that was used as a torture encampment. Written in 2017, this timely re-reminder of Wickramasinghe’s alleged involvement in incarceration and murder is less obvious, but what is intriguing is her de-selection of other similar Princes of the State – among them, kingmakers and regime-changers of later times – whose hands are soaked with the blood of extra-judicial murder. The names of individuals such as Rajitha Senaratne, Gamini Lokuge, the late Ossie Abeygunasekara – some of them loyal to UNP stalwarts like Premadasa with whom Pulsara’s own friends such as Dayan Jayatilleke have broken bread with – are often heard in alternative lobbies as being directly or indirectly connected with the supervision of state-sponsored murder (one such detailed entry, for example, is found in Rajan Hoole’s The Arrogance of Power). However, for Pulsara, Ranil Wickramasinghe’s name is the one name that is politically significant to earn a mention in his memoir.

Dilantha, Jayathissa and Vivimarie: a Few Observations and Marginal Notes Related to Their Recent Work.

This is written as a silence-breaker, as I have in a while not contributed to this space I have been maintaining. These are a few observations on three collections of poetry I have had the opportunity of reading in the past few months: Dilantha Gunawardana’s Kite Dreams (2016), Vivimarie Vanderpoorten’s Borrowed Dust (2017) and Jayatissa K. Liyanage’s Shadows (2017).

z_p35-kitingDilantha Gunawardana’s collection of about 50 poems, Kite Dreams, represents less than the tip of the iceberg Dilantha is as a person and as a tireless writer. Of his wider corpus, what he publishes in his poetry blog testifies to a rigorous poetic mind at work, with a turn out rate which, to be put mildly, is feverish. In fact, Dilantha’s better work are found in the blog; and that may purely be a case of selection, as the act of anthologizing does not necessarily let you shortlist the best. He writes with flair and energy, and he seems to be in love with the very idea of lyrical richness and the aesthetic of the articulated word. Kite Dreams has its chief weakness in its selection; and this is best gauged when you compare the line up with some of the poems that come in Dilantha’s blogs. This, too, is a shortage that can be fixed when he publishes again. In any case, the best strength of Sarasavi, Dilantha’s publisher, is not its imagination.

Dilantha seems to write partly as an exercise in the light of sublimation: a necessary transformation of force and energy. In this way, his writing seems to connect intimately with his day-to-day volition, and this is easily perceived through his corpus which, in its diversity, range and scope, is akin to a mini log of Dilantha, the person. His updated work can be found here, and I share this link as I encourage the reader to juxtapose this with his published work before forming any judgment: Dilantha’s Poetry Blog

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Dilantha G.

Interestingly, Dilantha comes with a training as a Botanist; and for him, poetry is an adventure on which he embarked much later is life. As hinted earlier, partly, for him the poetic exercise is a therapy, while it is also a means of creatively transforming energy through meaningful communication. His is not an ambitious or contrived effort to make political statements or politically correct measurements that will eventually win you a seat in a panel discussing gender or violence in prudish, pretentious tones; but, an expression for the sake of articulation.

In that way, Jayathissa Liyanage’s Shadows – a collection Jayathissa has put together, collecting from his work over the past twelve years or so – forms a close link with Dilantha’s work. Jayathissa himself ventured into composition in English later in his life, and by admission, “not even dreamed of composing in English” until he had stumbled on it by chance. Jayathissa – again – comes from a Science / agriculture studies background; and writes in his retirement as a means of seeking contentment. He is also a prolific composer in Sinhala, and recently launched a series of work which he claims will be of benefit “for [his] grand children” if they so wonder about the feats of their grand father, as a child and youth. Jayathissa’s writing has the unmistakable stamp of biography, and is often marked by a psychological investigation of one’s self and one’s past from the vantage point of a mature present.

Taking up poetry late, perhaps, has left what may be called “certain restrictions” in Jayathissa’s style and craft. For example, his over-dependence on conventional, classical structure, and the frequenting of heavy phraseology at times makes his poetry stiff in sections. Yet, his ambitionlessness, and the lack of pretense as a writer – teamed with the joy and happiness he (claims to) seek(s) through composition – are refreshing and rewarding in an age where writers often write with awards and cash prizes in mind.

sdrVivimarie Vanderpoorten’s Borrowed Dust is the third of the collections I wish to draw briefly on; and, too, with the mind that that collection should be spoken of at length in a separate essay. If her three collections since 2007 – nothing prepares you, Stitch your Eyelids Shut and Borrowed Dust – are an indicator, Vivimarie is one of those writers who begins with a climax and slides down, earth-bound. nothing prepares you, to date, remains her best achievement; and in many ways, Borrowed Dust constitutes a distant echo of the same. The style and temperament Vivimarie showcased with her debut are palpable in sudden revelations in some of the poems cast in this, her “return” to the literary mainstream. However, the back blurb, with various lines of praise of Vivimarie based on her past work, is in bad taste for a writer of her stature. Once again, her publisher – Sarasavi – the same as Dilantha’s ought to rethink these citations, as they, at some level, reflect on the writer’s temperament.

After certain criticisms that were meted out at her Stitch Your Eyelids Shut (2012), Vivimarie is said to have taken time off to “rework” her style, and the intermittent five years, at a glance, have brought her closer to her nothing prepares you days. Disconnection and dislocation in experience heavily feature in the corpus, with memorable passages from family violence to scars from school life. The poem she wrote in the height of the FUTA strike in 2012, dedicated to the memory of two student leaders whose deaths are wrapped with the suspicion of having been carried out by the state militia, too, is featured in this collection. In thematic terms, this singular poem stands apart from the rest, and somewhat naked too. However, from the perspective of Sri Lankan poetry, a third volume by a student of the craft is a welcome moment. More of these, in another substantive entry.

Niromi de Soyza’s “Tamil Tigress”: a Few Marginal Additions to the “Fake v. Fact” Debate.

The more skeptical camp of Niromi de Soyza’s supposed-autobiography in general agree that it is possible that Subothini Anandaraja had a peripheral involvement with the Tamil Tigers, but that the book is an embellishment of that involvement, and that, as such, the “autobiography” is in large a weave based on fiction, other available sources and hearsay. One such external source that is cited by de Soyza’s dissenters is that of M.R Narayana Swami’s writings on the LTTE. In other spaces, mainly the Australian media and literary platforms, the book has gone unquestioned and thereby, considered a work of integrity and authenticity. Youtube footage of Niromi de Soyza at the Adelaide Film Festival of that year, among other platforms where she had been emotionally distressed while speaking of the book, were all experiences that post-date my initial essay on Tamil Tigress which was written soon after my first reading of the supposed-autobiography in 2012. Parallel to my first reading, I had already had a rudimentary glance at the already growing criticism aimed at the work’s authenticity and – more so – of its sincerity.

In a more exhaustive reading of Niromi de Soyza, I would more strongly reaffirm my earlier feelings that the book is most likely a carefully crafted semi-fiction: the kind of book that we anchor on facts to give a supportive historical vibe, but one that still leaves a hollowness and lack of credibility, owing to the many disagreements between fact and representation, the incongruity of detail, and the mistakes and misdirections that, at one level, are inevitable when you are writing out of second-hand knowledge. With a view not to repeat or overlap what many readers / critics (including myself) have earlier pointed out, in this essay, I wish to highlight a few further instances that render Tamil Tigress as suspect.

For a writer who often keeps close track of time and duration while making frequent notes of dates, months and the time lapse between incidents, minor, almost negligible details that are unconvincingly presented often push the narrative towards incredibility and towards credulity. For Niromi, in 1979, the Yal Devi offers A/C carriages, and the burning of the Jaffna Library – generally accepted to have been carried out on the night of June 1st 1981 – happens in a morning. In the Third Chapter, set in 1983, Niromi claims to be a child of 12, though earlier, it is tabled that she was born in 1969 (she is 8 years old when, in 1977, she is relocated to Jaffna), which would make her 13+ in that year of the 83 Pogrom. The train journey from Norton Bridge to Jaffna, which Niromi undertakes with her father, takes 18 hours.

Speaking of the Sinhala Only Act (1956) and the Standardization of University entrance (1972), the writer refers to both these implements in the space of the same paragraph, as if they are in consequence of each other. In reality, the two enactments are a decade and a half apart from each other, while many other developments which the writer leaves out of the narrative (such as, for example, the failed pacts between Chelvanayakam and two successive regimes) had widened the ethnic gulf in the interim. She makes a passing reference to anti-Tamil agitations of 1956 and 1977, though there is no reference made to 1958, 1979 or 1981. These de-selections are intriguing; specially, in the case of the violence of 1981, when the writer is said to have lived in close quarters to the town.

The writer refers to a Tamil call for a Sovereign state in 1978. Assuming that this is a reference to the Vaddukottai Resolution, the year of that confederation is generally agreed on as being in 1976. Yet, for a sheltered, convent-educated girl of conventional surroundings, Niromi is, nonetheless, very political. At 14, she is already anxious of a possible state-engineered Tamil genocide. At 16, and having had lived the last 8 years of her formative years in Jaffna, she is perceptive enough to ponder on how politicians create polarization among the people in the South and the North for their own petty gains. There is a schizophrenic disparity in personality between this “perceptive Niromi”, and the “uncritical, single-minded Niromi” who gets drawn to militarism in spite of faint misgivings of the LTTE. She is either blind or insensitive to instances of LTTE ruthlessness, in spite of several incidents that stir doubt within her. The killing of an EPRLF carder, “Benjamin”, by the LTTE, the killing of Principal C.E Anandarajah, the brutal killing of Vellai – a fellow carder – and the story of an LTTEr being ordered to kill his own father suspected of espionage are instances that waver Niromi; but, she, in spite of her otherwise critical-minded energy, always reasons in favour of the Movement. This leaves a palpable inconsistency of character.

From the beginning, Niromi’s home is defined as a conventional, strict household that monitors the children’s movements and pastimes. Even though one may overlook shampoo, a rare and luxurious item in 1985, being routinely used by her upper-middle class family, the casual, offhand references to pickets and demonstrations in which Niromi is said to have taken part in her pre-LTTE days come across as being incongruous with the iron hand of her parentage. These pickets are casually referred to as an aside, while describing something else: more like “fillers”, or “additional” information. How did Niromi participate in these pickets? When did she do so? Where were those pickets held? Why weren’t they referred to in the order of sequence as they happened? How did she go unnoticed in these demonstrations?

In April 1986, due to the rise of militancy in the North, the G.C.E O/L exam is said to be already postponed indefinitely. Why would anyone call off an exam set for December as early as April? The EPRLF ideologue Benjamin is said to have had a Tamil accent of Indian origin, and not one of the Hill Country. What this means, only the writer can elaborate.

On July 1st 1987, Niromi and her fellow female combatants begin military training. However, there is very little detail regarding the specificities of the training. Descriptions given are often banal, and too general in character. In short, there is not enough evidence to convince the reader that Niromi had necessarily undergone weapon training. Details of camp-life is often expressed without character. Even more interesting is how Niromi and Ajanthi – both frequently marked apart from the “general female carder” for their more “affluent” backgrounds – and the combatants from remote and impoverished socio-economic circumstances get along with no tension or friction. Class or its implications or complications do not hinder camp life, except in the case of the senior, male leadership, who treat Niromi differently from the rest, being considerate of her softer upbringing. The female carder are also seen playing a game called “Guessing the Laugh”. This choice of name came across as classed, and improbable.

Book_Tamil_TigressThe generally elusive LTTE leader Prabhakaran is omnipresent in Niromi de Soyza’s Tamil Tigress. He is seen coming and going to the “Freedom Birds Headquarters” at all hours, freely mingling with the carder. He even explains step by step of his political programme (such as the laying down of arms in 1987 etc) to the female carder. Though this is not improbable, there is still an air of fiction and embellishment about these passages. Prabhakaran is seen engaged in weapon training in a part of the Jaffna University, even though the campus is said to be within the range of IPKF missiles. A large quantity of intercepted letters, photo albums and documents of importance are seen to idly lie in the Freedom Birds Headquarters, which includes correspondences from moderate Tamil politicians in exile, writing home. In one of his meetings with Niromi, Prabhakaran hands over Rs. 20000 for purposes of clothing the female wing. In 1986, that amount for that specific purpose is somewhat overwhelming. Other leading figures whom Niromi gets a chance to interact at close quarters include Mahatthaya, Kittu, Yogi Master and Karikalan.

The writer claims that LTTE frontliner Kittu’s leg was critically injured and amputated about “18 months prior to” July 1987: the month of Niromi’s commencing her weapon training. By this admission, Kittu’s injury would have been received in January 1986. Historically, the injury is understood to have occurred in March 1987. Going by Niromi’s timeline, the ceremonial handing over of arms by the LTTE to the IPKF happens in mid-August 1987, a few weeks past its possible historical date. Niromi’s weapon training ends in the end of August: a course of 2 months. Later, she is sent to set up claymore mines, though there was never references to her being educated in mine-setting during her basic 2 month training.

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Subothini Anandaraja alias Niromi de Soyza with Frances Harrison  

According to Niromi, a Government Agent is shot to death a few months after Thileepan’s death in September 1987. The said official’s daughter, by the writer’s admission, was her classmate. Who this government official is a bit unclear. Jaffna’s Government Agent from 1984 to 1989, Panchalingam, was shot to death by the LTTE in 1989. Still, in 1987, a group of Jaffna university students, on their way to the computer lab, is stopped by Niromi and her fellow cadres who are on sentry duty at the campus gates, making the studentship disgruntled. Indeed, it is worth to verify the existence of such a facility – and, in spite of my ignorance, there may have been such a center – even though according to the University of Jaffna website, the Faculty of Science, along with a Computer Science Department, was only set up in 1991.

In the first instance of being unexpectedly called upon to halt the progress of an encroaching enemy battalion, Niromi rushes in, while eating biscuits. She has a brief Wordworthian moment when, 100 meters ahead of her, she spots a “thousand” IPKF soldiers waiting in ambush. Niromi’s sentry duty falls almost always at either 1.00 AM or 2.00 AM. There is something uncannily repetitive about that roster. She is both witty and quick in responses with even the senior-most carders: this, in spite of the LTTE being introduced as a strict, hierarchical institute. At one point, Niromi has senior male carders such as Roshan tightly wrapped around her finger, while carders like Razzak, Thileepan and Muralie are different to her. Even Prabhakaran speaks to her with visible difference.

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Niromi de Soyza (Image c/o her website)

Most unconvincing are the two battle scenes which Niromi minutely outlines for us. The first battle scene – the unexpected confrontation with the IPKF and the retreat – is quite unconvincing. The mode of the LTTE’s operation, if indeed it happened the way it did, betrays an amateurish rag-tag quality. The Second Battle is a disaster, especially if the writer uses it to evoke pathos and tragedy. The second battle triggers as the contingent led by Muralie and Sudarshan try to cross a road, and is set upon by the enemy from all sides. This scene, I feel, is heavy in melodrama and echoes a badly choreographed Bollywood script. Bullets are seen whizzing by, while bombs thrown are seen to cinematically cut across the air towards you, giving you just enough time to duck, and to call out a warming to the carder next to you (Gandhi Aiya); and for it to hit the fellow carder, his brains to spill all over you, and for his headless torso to fall on the ground. Bullets are seen to graze you by, hitting all in the vicinity, but you. Even as carder after carder fall attempting to scamper across the road, the rest still follow through. Banana fronds, water tanks and roofs are readily available for carders to retreat to. The 2000-strong enemy misses his target within touching distance.

Michael Roberts and DBS Jayraj were two writers whose commentary of the book in those initial stages came across as engaging, and since then, there have been others who have contributed to the discourse sparked by Tamil Tigress. Roberts, writing from Adelaide, has made several submissions and collated others’ views in his blog space, assessing the text as questionable, and dishonest, to say the least. Jeyaraj, on the other hand, has made sustained efforts to defend the text, even while going to the extent of supplementing the reader with personal anecdotes and chunks of background information that would make the reader rethink the work as fact. In fact, one of Jeyaraj’s entries, written in his engaging hand, is more fulfilling than Niromi de Soyza’s rendition. Jeyaraj comes across as having all the right information that will fit all the questions people have to ask of the book. No wonder Niromi de Soyza is yet to answer her critics.