Regulations to Bat Blades: More for the Game, More for Cricket.

To have a maximum upper-limit regarding the depth of a Cricket bat’s blade is commonsensical, though it has eluded the far-thinking Establishment of the game until the last year or two. The height and width of a Cricket bat, and the substance from which it can be made, are clearly set down in the rule book; so, why not the depth? The debate that has largely been happening on the sidelines and corridors of Cricket has now, once again, been refreshed by the recent MCC proposal that a comprehensive parameter should be set for the thickness of the blade of a bat.

The debate on bat “thickness” has finally been recognized as an issue, though, coincidentally it happens in an age where a non-Caucasian team such as India has grown a reputation for using “abnormal” bats, and in applying them to churn scorecards that look like pay cheques. Still, better late than never, I would say, since this — same as some of the other areas where Cricket needs revision — is a focus of paramount importance; except that the move comes a decade too late. The record books, milestones and careers made and unmade in that period of a decade would have been otherwise if this lapse was considered a shortcoming and treated accordingly.

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The bat used by Barry Richards to score 376, and the club used by David Warner

The use of thick blades has become a ridiculous tactical edge in global Cricket, and this is not to undermine the sterling quality in players like David Warner, Chris Gayle, M.S Dhoni, Virat Kohli and so on who depend on bats with extremely thick blades, but to say that, perhaps, some of their performances over the years would have been more “mortal” to fathom, and less abnormal to the eye, had there been a proper standard set for the upper limit to the depth. Growing up in the mid 1990s, an oft repeated fact, and with some admiration / amusement, too, was to do with the bat Sachin Tendulkar – then, an upcoming star in the Indian outfit – used: of its weight on the heavier side, and how it contrasted with the wafer-thin willow his Captain, the stylist Mohammed Azharuddin, used to carry.

Then, a decade later, the discussion on weight shifts into the blade’s thickness, and a whole generation of power-hitters with doctored bats – which look more like clubs from a war-epic than bats – enter the fray. Specially, with the rise of T-20 and the commercial and economic implications of that mode, a format where the bat-dominates-the-ball was conceived, and that conception worked well with all noble parties who were willing to make a monetary and material investment out of the game. The impact T-20 had had on almost every aspect of the game in the past decade is arguably more revolutionary and decisive than what the game had undergone in terms of change in all of post-world war years. Unfortunately, the game was allowed to be dented as a money-spinner with very little focus on quality or balance. The involvement of extremely successful and murderously ambitious businessmen in the game and its enclaves — a scenario where any aspect of the game could be bought, sold, promoted, condemned, cut off, or silenced — as well as its power epicenter moving from the traditional climate of England to an alliance maneuvered by Indian stakeholders were among the key changes global Cricket has been pushed through in this very decisive, yet unenlightened decade of ours.

Among other news sources, The Herald Sun, in a recent article carried on the subject, supposes the new proposals to reduce the thickness of a blade to 67 mm. This, in a context where the club carried by a player like David Warner of Australia – custom made for his liking – can have a blade thickness of 80 mm. Such gigantic arsenals have increasingly taken over from the natural stamina, strength and ability of players, and often carried a miss-hit over the wide-third man boundary, if not over the heads of the in-ring fielders to an open space in the outfield.

My own personal concern on the thickness of the bat-blades came with the abnormality with which the Indian Cricketers suddenly began to score at ease, four or five years back, amassing runs almost at will, with their edges carrying them over the ropes, and any deft touch resulting in a boundary. Some of these players were not athletically built or with muscle, but, they seemed to apply their clubs with a brutal finality — characteristic of players who flourished for India in the last half a decade or so, such as M.S Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina and so on. In the current set up, we have players like K.L Rahul who often edge his way to the boundary. These players are not stylists in the way a Sunil Gavaskar, Mohammad Azharuddin, a Saurav Ganguly or a Rahul Dravid were. None of them have the Vertical-elegance of the stroke, as what they apply is the weight of the bat on the ball, which, at the most, produce a crude half-way between a thrust and a Cricket shot. However, the piles of runs they score have made this obvious bluntness in style invisible, and no Cricket commentator or writer would dare call them club-wielders, lacking the style and elegance of a classical Cricketer.

In my opinion, other things that have to go out of the game includes the DRS system, the avalanche of T-20 fixtures, and at least one of the mandatory power plays in limited overs games. DRS should be a definite exclusion, as it compromises the level of “human engagement” in the sport. The LBW is not to be treated as a case of accuracy in decision, against inaccuracy; but, as a “human judgment” (that of the umpire standing 20 yards off) of the possibility of a ball hitting a wicket or not, if not obstructed by the batsman’s pad. To translate that into an impossible scientific-mathematical problem is to take away from the natural human instinct. The accuracy of an LBW decision given by the Umpire, as well as its inaccuracy, are both part of the game.

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The Use and Abuse of Classical Motifs: The “Mahabharatha” in Shankari Chandran’s “Song of the Sun God”.

In her Song of the Sun God, Shankari Chandran uses many references to canonical classical texts, among which, the Mahabharatha is the most frequently used interjection; which is used almost as a motif that detains our attention for its frequency and purpose of use. This series of references are very carefully thought out, and done as a part of a conscious project which maps symbolic resonances between the two warring factions of cousins, and the Tamil and Sinhala nations of post-independence. One might even say that the kind of allusion Shankari makes to the Mahabharatha is predictable and not too unobvious a reference; except that, in a text that strives to narrate the deep sense of dislocation of the Tamil community within the modern Sri Lankan nation, the borrowing of a classical Indian epic as a set-piece doesn’t render a strong anchor for that community under threat. One may ask, why, at all, an Indian epic? Why, the Mahabharatha? What added impetus can one derive from such a scaffolding of an iconic text around the weave that deals with the rupture and schisms of the modern nation? Personally, I felt that Shankari’s stubborn leeching on to the Mahabharatha as a motif was, after a point, a tad contrived, and that it took away from the strength of her delivery.

SONG-OF-THE-SUN-GOD-FINAL-COVERShankari’s appropriation of the Mahabharatha is not as ambitious as Manuka Wijesinghe’s creative re-weaving of the Ramayana myth, in her Monsoons and Potholes, which is a second novel from more recent literature that uses a scaffolding of myth to give the text overall direction. In Shankari, the Mahbharatha motif, as overused and exhausted as it is, is referenced at least in seven instances out of at least twelve interweaves with iconic oriental classical texts (that in no other way impact the development of the storyline). Out of these, the Ramayana and Mahawansa are referenced at least twice, while the Thirukkural – a text that is more centrally locatable in the Tamil community of Lanka – is marginally referenced in one of the early chapters.

The more obvious usage of the Mahabharatha is as an association for the disintegration of order, where two warring factions that share (in some way) a common ancestry, wage a destructive, epic battle bathing both houses with blood and agony. The filming of Karnan, a film where Karna (of the Mahabharatha) is the hero, is screened against the larger national bedrock where the infamous Sinhala Only debates are taking place. Karnan is played by Sivaji Ganeshan, and on the eve of the fatal final battle, Karnan is deprived of his magical breastplate – the one call that will make him immune to all adversary. “The armour was fused to Karna’s body and he bled as he cut it from his flesh, knowing that his death in the war was now inevitable”. Parallel to this, protests against the Language Bill was being neutralized with violence and the one “power” that will place the Tamil community on par with the other linguistic majority was being pulled away. Shankari’s supplement reads: “The Tamils no longer had a language with which to communicate with the State – and the State would no longer listen to them… In the North, Tamil people refused to comply. They did business in Tamil, they stuck Tamil number plates on their cars over the Sinhalese ones, and they issued their own Tamil postal stamps… As Arjuna shot the final arrow into a dying Sivaji, Rajan’s heart broke and Nala cried openly, clutching her husband’s hand” (102-103).

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The Mahabharatha – Bhishma and Krishna. 

While the Mahabharatha is shown to be the “story” through which young Priya (the second generation of the novel) comes to awareness of life and the world, in a different continent – in Australia’s Sydney – the Mahabharatha continues to be the parable being fed to the third generation of children, such as Smrithi (193). Here, through the story of Draupadi and her five Pandava husbands, Dhara teaches the virtues of sharing and obedience to young Smrithi. Interestingly, Dhara’s own copy of the Mahabharatha is a 1977 version of the original English translation: the year Smrithi was born. As such, in addition to the Mahabharatha being used as a mirror of the larger politicial and historical dislocation of the Tamil community, it is also located in a pedantic and instructive light; though, quite frustratingly, this seems to be the only text that is used at that capacity, which rings hollow for a family belonging to the Lankan Tamil culture which is rich and well grounded in its written and oral literatures.

The Mahabharatha motif is evoked once again where Shankari refers to the State’s violent crushing of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, in the Years of Terror, between 1987 and 1990. This intra-state conflict between two factions which was largely of the same ethnic group makes Dhara see the epic in a different light: “No-one knew exactly how many Sinhalese died because so many bodies were never found, but an estimated seventy-thousand of its own people were killed so that the JVP understood the message… The Pandavas and the Kauravas: cousins who should have loved each other like brothers. Instead, both sides of the family were destroyed and all that was left were mothers and widows. There was nothing, no glorious kingdom to rule over for the Pandavas. They won the war, but every single one of their sons was killed. A whole generation of their young lost to them… The Mahabharatha had helped [Dhara] understand. Any human endeavor, whether it be a civil war or a fight for freedom would be flawed” (269-270).

In the above passage, the effort with which Shankari must parallel the more nuanced political and social friction between the government of Sri Lanka and the J.V.P-led “patriotic forces” with the Kaurava and Pandava war is palpably seen. The wishful thought of apolitical musing, as to how the J.V.P and the government ranks should have (my emphasis) “loved each other like brothers” – and as being mused on by the political-minded Dhara, too – takes away from the weave the sense of history and political friction among historical power groups, which is necessary to see the depth of friction. I suggest that Shankari’s need to use the Mahabharatha motif flexibly wherever there is conflict even in places where it renders an abnormal reading, has caused this “misfit”, as it happens where you try to fit a foot into a shoe of the wrong size.

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Shankari Chandran

Two other places of interest to which I would like to draw our attention includes Shankari’s use of the Ramayanaya. The brute force of Ravana is powerfully incorporated as a metaphor of state and ethnic violence. The Ramayanaya is memorably referenced where growing tensions in the North with the coming of trained militant groups is alluded to (140); but, more powerfully, the state blessing of the Pogrom of July 1983 is described with an unmistakable reference to Hanuman, who sets the nation ablaze (148). In the internalized version of the myth, Ravana is evoked as a “demon” (140), and that demonic force haunts the childhood dreams of Dhara. Intriguingly, Dhara’s mother Vani is brutally gang-raped during the 1958 riots, and the collective of her violators are referred to as a multi-limbed demon (145). Dhara, herself, is raped at an army camp as a young 28 year old, and the brutal association the writer makes between the two incidents is obvious.

Returning to my departure point, are such mythological / classical supports necessary for a novel such as Shankari’s debut? Is there a strength such agents can bring into the weave, which makes an impact the text otherwise cannot create? In my view, the classical motif is abused and overused, leaving behind a sense of “forced labour” from which the text, in the end analysis, suffers as a whole. In the end, the Mahabharatha motif deteriorates to the level of a redundant accessory in the absence of which, perhaps, the text would have earned spontaneity and enhanced originality.

 

Destruction is Never Random: Shankari Chandran’s “Song of the Sun God”.

Shankari Chandran’s Song of the Sun God threads together memory, legacy and struggle, as it locates the Rajan family – an upper middle class, metropolitan, Colombo-based family of a well established surgeon – and its offshoots, in their dogged, yet frail and human negotiation against the violent political tides of post-independence Ceylon. In no way is Shankari’s theme a fresh one, but it is a documentation which she enters with much understanding and empathy. She runs the risk of reproducing a cliché, which she intelligently avoids by making her novel a close reflection of complex emotions and sentiments of a ruptured people, as well as the hard choices they are bound to by war; as well as their dogged spirit, often driven by necessity and compulsion, that fights to survive, to recuperate and re-grow.

SONG-OF-THE-SUN-GOD-FINAL-COVERThe novel can be segmented and discussed at multiple levels, and as a whole, the novel takes note of the gradual sidelining of Sri Lanka’s largest ethnic majority from the social and political map by the pro-Sinhala regimes of post-independence; but, this is not new in literature. To me, the strongest asset in Shankari’s commentary is her confrontation of the Lankan state in relation to its much disputed conduct in the so-called Final Stages of the war. This comes as a culminating thread to a discourse anchored in history which includes constitutional and extra-constitutional violations of the Tamil community, its dignity, its rights and its culture.

Working for Doctors-without-Borders, Dhara is caught in (what is probably the first of) the “No Fire Zones” in 2009. Dhara is later seen to “vapourize”, in the hands of the state paramilitary, who keeps watch over her movements in Colombo.

“No. Fire. Zone. Three inaccurate words… They used the church as a hospital. It was large… On the battered and scabbed roof of the church, they painted a blood red cross. It drew the sick and the dying, and they prayed it would deter the army. The drones could see it and it was all they could do to protect themselves. The steady beat of shelling was getting louder… They had advised the Red Cross of their new location two days ago and again yesterday when they realized the shelling was coming closer. The Red Cross assured them each time that they had informed the army… She looked up and saw raindrops of fire fall from the sky. Droplets burrowed through the clothes and skin of people it touched” (325-326)

Shankari relates to the people trapped in the ever-narrowing zone of mock safety, now “trapped on a narrow strip of beach in the far north-east of the island. For four months, as fighting intensified, a mass of battered people moved as one, eastward, seekingsafety. They picked up their remaining children and ran towards the coast, towards the rising sun. This was President Rajapaksa’s ‘Zero Civilian Casualty Policy’… The Tigers fell back… The army killed and stepped over the morass of bodies without a second thought” (333).

Shankari’s charges complement with observations made by agents such as Gorden Weiss who, as early as 2011, submitted a charge-sheet of systematic shelling against the Lankan state through his The Cage. Both Weiss and Frances Harrison – author of Still Counting the Dead (2012) – as well as Cullum McRae’s Channel 4 team have been brusquely sidelined by hardline Sinhala chauvinist forces and pro-Rajapaksa elements as “foreign conspirators”, hot after the good name of the “Lankan patriots”. These have, in short, been scoffed at as literature of a pro-LTTE / pro-Tamil Diaspora (a problematic term) sort. Such denial and non-acceptance has been the foundation of the Lankan state’s response to the carnage caused between late 2008 and May 2009 throughout the 8 years that post-dates the military crushing of the Tigers, and the current regime – considered more moderate and accommodating in many ways –, too, is ambiguous (if not amphibian) in its response to the same. Some of the bitter-to-digest charges referred to above, have since been reaffirmed by sources like Rajan Hoole (whom one can by no means suggest is pro-LTTE) in Palmyrah Fallen (2015), and independent journalists such as Rohini Mohan (The Seasons of Trouble, 2014) and Samanth Subramaniam (This Divided Island, 2014).

srilankaAs mentioned above, in the post-war situation, Dhara – who had her father killed by the riots of 1956 at Gal Oya, who had her mother gang-raped during the same, who herself was raped by the military in 1976 as a 28 year old doctor, who chose to stay behind when everyone fled the island, and who used her energy to peripherally support the Tigers – is “vapourized” (or, “white-vanned”, as that singular act of state-sponsored black magic has entered the vocabulary), in a Colombo filled with “a jubilation not seen since independence. There were fireworks and parades, parties in houses and hotels. President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa were hailed as heroes… Sri Lanka had won its war on terror. Gotabhaya… was preparing to teach governments and armies of other nations, how to defeat terrorism” (337).

In spite of these sections that deal with the military crushing of the LTTE, its aftermath and the writer’s contest of the state, Song of the Sun God is much more. It is at the same time, a powerful novel reflecting on the dogged spirit of the Lankan Tamil community, enduring in its hardships, while battling (enforced) change, constitutionally and extra-constitutionally maneuvered by successive governments since 1956, and its struggle to sustain itself. It is also the saga of a family, emerging from hard-invested toil, rising to the top of fashionable Colombo society, and having to relocate and resettle after being forced into exile; and its efforts to carry on to its best ability. Though I do not plan to elaborate in this space, I found the novel intriguing for Shankari’s nuanced capture of the many complexities and paradoxes within the migrant Tamil community she portrays, as well as for her skill in giving shape to the emotional and personal depth in her showcase of conflict.

However, Song of the Sun God is not the story of the “common” or “ordinary” Tamil family. The Rajans, as a family, is classed and is “luckier” than many faceless citizens who were set upon and murdered without a second thought owing to her/his ethnic Tamilness. The closest Rajan, Nala and Smrithi comes to their lives being threatened is when a mob rounds them up in Negombo, in 1983. But, even here, their lives are saved when someone points Rajan out as the “President’s doctor”. A glimpse of the ordinary, relatively voiceless subaltern Tamil’s plight is marginally seen in the case of Thiru, who sells meat in the Colpetty market, and is displaced after the ’83 riots. A son, a daughter-in-law and grand-children are flayed by the riotous mob at Dematagoda, and he is forced to return to the remote East to cultivate land and to pick up life afresh in his old age. One may draw a parallel between Thiru and Dr. Rajan who is forced into exile to Australia; except that the latter, a skilled laborour and a man of standing, finds himself “on his feet” and with a palpable security and social safety net under him. However, even as I make this observation I understand that Shankari does not intend an across-the-board discussion of plight across classes.

Shankari’s is an ambitious project, for, to maintain a momentum in a story that stretches across eight decades and three generations is a challenging task. On the whole, Shankari reasonably succeeds at this, though, I felt that the first section (titled Attrition) and the opening chapters of the second thread (Dispersion) were better harmonized, and written at an even pace. There is an even rhythm to and a smooth unhurried flow in these sections, to which is infused a disciplined eye for detail. This, however, is offset in some of the later sections – specially, passages dealing with the Australian experience – which come across as pushed through, or as hurriedly fit in.

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Shankari Chandran

The motif of ethnic violence and the resultant dislocation of the middle-upper middle class Colombo Tamil space is not new to Sri Lankan Literature in English. In that capacity, Shankari treads the road “oft taken” through the foot prints of writers like Jean Arasanayagam, Shyam Selvadurai, Karen Roberts, Roma Tearne, V.V. Ganeshananthan, Nihal de Silva, Nayomi Munaweera and – more recently – Ayathurai Santhan. At one point, Shankari’s efforts to enmesh the political threads of post-independence nationalism into the weave runs the reasonable risk of looking a tad too contrived, as almost all “milestones” of that uneasy pre-war path from 1956 to 1983 are strategically pushed into the storyline, making things seem a tad too predictable at times. For instance, the birth of Priya (born in 1948), Nandan (1956) and Smrithi (1977) coincide, in that order, with the year of Independence – granted with a rejection of demands for equal representation –, the year of the National Languages Act, and the year of the J.R Jayewardene election victory and subsequent riots. The Gal Oya massacre (1956), the riots of 1958, and the riots of 1983 are equally factored in, while Radha and Anand are seen in the forefront of TULF rallies.

170509SRILANKAWAR432Several “abnormalities” and “incongruities” (that can be considered marginal to any critique of the work) punctuate the text in terms of historical consistency, as well. While these “irregularities” are often negligible in the holier realm of creative writing, for me, the “representation of history” has to be fact-fully and tact-fully handled. Unlike the cockroach stuck in Prime Minister Kotalawala’s ear, some of these representations take away from the discipline of the narrative, which Shankari often upholds as a merit. A few such instances that comes to mind includes Rita’s cautioning of Nala regarding Anand’s involvement in Chelvanayagam’s politics. Here, in a section dated as 1971, an imminent clash is forecasted between Chelvanayagam and “that thug in the jungle, Prabhakaran” (130). In 1971, Prabhakaran would be 16 years old, and four years yet from making his debut in militancy. In a section dated 1974, Anand is remanded for protesting at a Cricket Match at Lord’s (135-136). The corresponding protest happens in 1975, at the Kensington Oval during the World Cup series. In a further section, dated as 1980, Prabhakaran is seen making a speech condemning rival military groups in the North, justifying their annihilation (183). This, in a context where the LTTE’s hunting down of rival PLOTE, TELO and EROS members was yet to shock the Northern world. 1980, however, tallies with the breakaway of Uma Maheshwaran from the LTTE: a split that moves Prabhakaran to the top position of the party hierarchy.

Shankari Chandran operates at multiple levels, and The Song of the Sun God offers much threading that must be carefully considered, and should not be rushed or packed into one straitjacketing essay. Perhaps, I may continue on the same subject in a future entry. For now, I sum up with what is for me the most memorable passage of the novel, where an aged Dr. Rajan says: “People died in our homeland for the protection of our mother tongue. It seems nothing less than ungrateful that since escaping the war, Tamils here (in Australia) think it’s fashionable to be sanctified and cremated in Sanskrit, a language that is also dead. At my funeral the priest must speak in a living, breathing language. And he must wear a shirt – none of this ‘sarong only’ business” (382).

The phrase “living, breathing language”, after all that carnage, suffering and destruction, is like a beacon that stands up for the struggle to continue – for the struggle that must go on.

 

“Upanayaka Upatissa Gamanayake”: An Important Addition from the Expatriate Literary Desk.

upanayake-upathissa-gamanayake_frontOf the Sri Lankan Literature of diasporic and expatriate spaces, the work of Rohitha Munasinghe, to me, is of crucial significance. This is a fact that I have iterated frequently through this space and other arenas where I have had reason to evaluate the Lankan Literature of expatriation. For one, Rohitha, since his self-imposed exile in 1991 – and more particularly in the last decade or so – has been producing at a rate which, at its best, can be said to be enviable: in the past 3 years alone he has managed to make available through his Sri Lankan publisher 5 works of fiction and biography. Secondly, Rohitha’s contribution through literature is significant for many contemporary readers – specially, those born / raised in the post-1987 period – as they table, at varying degrees, “witness observations” of the brutal Reign of Terror (1987-1990), which saw the extra-judicial murder of at least 60,000 Sri Lankans in the South alone. Rohitha himself was a victim of the state violence of this period, from which he barely saved his life, and which became the immediate cause of his exile to France in 1991.

Among Munasinghe’s more noted biographical work are Eliyakandha Vadha Kandawura (translated into English by Bhadraji Mahinda Jayathilake as Eliyakandha Torture Camp),  Sisira Mudalali, Rangala Preme (a biography on the last days of J.V.P frontliner Ragama Somey), Adaraneeya Gabba and two volumes on the “less known facts” of the J.V.P; particularly following its extra-judicial expulsion by the state military and paramilitary. In more recent years, Rohitha has branched off into fiction: work that often anchor on the lives of ordinary and common folk in the South of Sri Lanka, in which he focuses on the day-to-day struggles of communities straitjacketed by culture and various clamps of social stratification. However, among these diverse growing interests, Munasinghe’s Upanayaka, Upatissa Gamanayake (2016) detains the reader’s imagination for two main reasons.

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Gamanayake and other J.V.P frontliners in a May Day rally prior proscription.

This biographical sketch is anchored on the life and death of the Secretary of the J.V.P from 1984 to 1989: the man often hailed as the “second in command” of the uprising of 1987. and the second in the “wanted” list by the government during that anarchic phase. Rohitha Munasinghe presents us through his biography an illustration of Gamanayake, tracing his life from his younger years to the time he was a diehard revolutionary, as has rarely been done in Literature in any of the Sri Lankan languages. Even in political science and sociological texts available in the mainstream, very little reference is made to Gamanayake, even though Rohana Wijeweera is abundantly represented (and, one may add, misrepresented). One reason could be the actual absence of detail regarding Gamanayake who, even if we go by Rohitha’s  own hint, has lived a relatively obscure life for the greater part of his activist years. In fact, when we read the biography, we are challenged by sections where we feel a dearth of detail and a frugality of record. But, then, again, Rohitha has tried to work around these loopholes and provide the lay-reader a side to the J.V.P top layer as not available in the mainstream.

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One of the few available iconic images of Gamanayake

One of Rohitha’s key analysis has to do with the nature in which both Wijeweera and Gamanayake were rounded up by the state military almost within a day of each other. While Wijeweera was apprehended while living in cognito at an estate in Ulapane, Gamanayake was “picked up” from Bandaragama, where he had been posing as a small time merchant, “Dias Mudalali”. The ever-vigilant Gamanayake, along with his onetime cadre spouse Karunawathie, have been moving from location to location at the merest suspicion of having “created a suspicion”, ever since the J.V.P’s proscription. By 1989, Karuna had set up  a prospering sewing business with several machines and workers employed at a domestic level. One observation Munasinghe makes is of this growing sense of “domestication” of the Gamanayake household which may have, at some level, come into friction with the “guerilla knack” of quick movement and vigilance. He extends the same hypothesis in his reference to Wijeweera, who, on the eve his capture had been warned to remove from Ulapane, but is said to have delayed his withdrawal on account of one of his children.

Literature that refers to the 1987-90 period has been shy and slow in entering the mainstream until very recent publications which gradually seem to open out that dark phase for wider consumption. In English, such literature is most minimal, with writers like A.C. Alles, C.A. Chandraprema and Rohan Gunarathna writing in the immediate aftermath of the crushing of the J.V.P; and with a vigour and slant to match the state’s battle cry and often even justifying the extreme means through which the counter-offensive was carried out. At least one of these writers is widely acknowledged to have had close links with the very paramilitary that was known for the running of torture and slaughter houses in the very heart of the metropolis. Whatever non-state narratives of the 1987-90 period exists in a slim body, as found in the writings of Prins Gunasekara, who writes A Lost Generation (1998) from exile.

In Sinhala, literature of a non-establishment line on 1987-90 is more promising, but is, again, of more recent growth. Of more recent authority, Dharman Wickramaratne’s Ja.Vi.Pe Dhevana Karella (“The Second Rebellion of the J.V.P” – supposedly the first of a two-part edition) has courted the popular reader as a revelation of many “inside aspects” of the uprising, its trajectory and its subsequent quelling. In fact, Wickramaratne makes reference in detail to the complex political web at the time, offering snippets as well as annotated commentary that help “fill the spaces” of a jigsaw puzzle which is otherwise under-represented in the mainstream. As such, Wickramaratne adds to the work of writers such as, among others, Prasanna Sanjeewa Tennakoon, Udeni Saman Kumara and Ruwan Jayathunga, whose efforts at permeating the mainstream with dislocated narratives of conflict I have acknowledged through this space in earlier instances as well.

One may, indeed, identify in Rohitha’s writing a persistent thread of nostalgia. This, in fact, is a palpable trait of his biographical work and intersects his writing exercise even in his non-political prose. The more complex political circumstances of the day do not get voiced with their nuances and ambiguities in his book on Gamanayake (much like the book on Ragama Somey written in 2002), and that absence of depth in capturing the political mire of the age is laid bare if Upanayake Upatissa Gamanayake is juxtaposed with Wickramaratne’s recent text. Yet, it is also to be understood that the ambitiousness of Wickramaratne’s project goes far beyond what Rohitha Munasinghe seems to aim at as a writer. And for Rohitha, his illustration of Gamanayake is one stop of an ongoing journey in providing missing slates to revisit and reread a phase of history disfigured with much blood, death, denial, erasure and imposed-amnesia.

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.