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18th Januar, 2004  Volume 10, Issue 27

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The range of passes at Elephant Pass

By Kumudu Amarasingham 

Over the past two decades we have been swamped with war stories, poems, quotes, anecdotes, novels, letters - everything in any form of writing that ever existed. Some might say this is the natural reaction to living in a war-torn environment for so long. Be that as it may, the effect is still claustrophobic. All the worthy literature, one cannot help feeling, added to the barrels and barricades that are - for the moment at least - a thing of the past- thank god! 

All this not withstanding, Nihal de Silva's The Road From Elephant Pass is a surprisingly well-written work. An army officer's assignment turns into a nightmare when the Tigers launch an attack on Elephant Pass on the same day he is to deliver a rebel. The two adversaries are forced to escape together through the rebel held Wanni and later cross the Wilpattu National Park on foot. Needless to say, the dangerous and adventurous journey result in some interesting consequences, both personally and professionally. Sounds a trifle clich‚? Definitely! That's where the book fails. It is in all honesty one of those 'read the first page and guess the end' pieces. The first half of the work is also a bit too dawdling.

It does however have some interesting tidbits for campers and wildlife enthusiasts and is highly recommended reading material for scouts. No seriously! It is unlikely, for instance the fact that water can be dug out of shallow holes in the sand is widely known and it is an interesting bit of information to store up. The book is a treasury of such knowledge.

It is also, if one is to be frank, a very pretty love story - of the bandits and heroes and not so innocent but helpless, victimised maids variety. A girl meets boy war tale. It is very very sad.

No, The Road From Elephant Pass is not a bad piece of work at all. It is not unique or original certainly. But it does explore age-old attitudes with eye-opening candour. And it successfully crushes most of them --through the protagonists. Definitely an effort worth commending.


Media Barbecue 2004 

Among other art forms like cinema, drama, music and painting, modern art is trying to wiggle its way through and make a mark.

A student of fine art, Sudath Abeysekara seeks to help this small nation produce and contribute to modern art of international stature. According to him, people have a misconception that contemporary art is an accidental occurrence. "I believe art should have a purpose, an objective created through knowledge and experience, and finally it should help the audience realise how they should face the world in this day and age."

In 'Media Barbecue' Sudath attempts to analyse and decode the current flux in media through contemporary art. In its previous avatar, Media Barbecue drew some mixed reactions. "Is it art?" some people asked. The event (held as a group event, within a smaller space) also spawned some good, constructive criticism. That's when Sudath decided to go for an elaborate display... to express the idea on a larger canvas, so to say. In his own words, "The first Media Barbecue was done on a small scale. It got diverse reactions from the audience, some of which were really encouraging. This spurred in me a desire to do things on my own."

This Media Barbecue at the Lionel Wendt centre is totally Sudath Abeysekara's. Through contemporary installations and paintings it makes people aware of modern art and more importantly does a reality check on the media scene today. It shows how the media has influenced the collective consciousness of every individual and of society at large. Sudath uses usual day to day items in the most unusual manner to recreate reality as seen, heard and felt by his own senses.

Original, introspective, provocative and revealing are some of the reactions he is completely prepared for. And as a critic-turned- sponsor, Edward Schwarz, head of corporate Communications, Holcim, will be sharing Sudath's belief, pride and talent with the entire world.


YA-TV takes the road less travelled 

When fluff has almost completely overshadowed meaningful dramas, content and quality are becoming mere words and not something one actually sees on our television sets, Young Asia Television has come up with a new tele-drama called Me Paren Enna (Ivvaliyil Vaarungal or Take This Road) which aims to put meaning back into the whole genre. This tele-drama directed by award winning director Asoka Handagama, will be telecast on Rupahvahini's Channel Eye at 8:30 pm from Saturday,  January 17 onwards. A repeat telecast of this tele-drama will take place on Ruphavahini Channel One at 3:00 pm from Sunday the 18th onwards.

Asoka Handagama has previously given the public much food for thought in such controversial tele-dramas as Dunhinda Addara, Diyakata Pahana and Synthetic Sihina as well as films such as Thani Thatuwen Piyambanna and Me Mage Sandai on the silver-screen. His new creation tackles the arduous task of discussing the sociopolitical events of our times. Take This Road takes us along the post-ceasefire A9 Road to Jaffna and through war, peace, life, love, hatred, death and makes us peer into ourselves, and make us peer within ourselves to see if we can stand the test of our times.

However interesting the story, however meaningful the theme, the constant advertisements that interrupt the tele-dramas of today tend to sap the joy the experience and makes us lose the thread of the story. In order to prevent this from happening, Take This Road is being telecast without any breaks. In addition to this, the tele-drama will feature both Sinhalese and Tamil sub-titles since it is meant for all the people of Sri Lanka.

Produced by Young Asia Television, which has been in the business of entertaining and educating the people of Sri Lanka for years, the tele-drama features a host of Sri Lankan acting talent including Grace Ariyawimal, Ranjith Amerasekera, Tharindi Fonseka, Raj Ganeshan, A. M. M. Mansoor, Sarath Kothalawela, Kamala Mohankumar, Nishantha Rajini, P. Jeewitha, L. Darshan, Sanjeewa Upendra, Dhananjaya Siriwardhane. Take This Road also features the music of Kapila Pugalaarachhi and the vocal talents of Nelu Adhikari, Kapila Pugalaarachchi and King Rathnam.


From hidden frog to dreamer 

It was Shakespeare who asked: "Tell me where is fancy bred, in the heart or in the head?" This is the question that B.D.K. Saldin also seems to pose in his book, Portrait Of A Sri Lankan Malay. I have to be pleased with the title. 'Sri Lankan' is what I have long pitched for in relation to my own community. Sri Lankan Burghers --that is what we are - just as the Sri Lankan Malays do not insist that he is a Sarawak Malay or a Sabah Malay or a Johore Malay.

Saldin's preface also deals with this seeming confusion between 'Malays' and 'Moors,' and he tells us that "the only similarity between a Malay and a Moor is their religion, which is Islam."

As I dipped into the book at first, I was struck by the manner in which the older generations of Malays in this island (and that could include the author too) had to relate to politics, economics and to the Malay mind. An on-going process of change for better or worse has baffled the mind - any mind - born into and brought up in steeped traditions and a restrictive environment. We see how well the author tries to understand and readjust to these new boundaries and possibly opportunities.

How can I put it? It is the shift from kampung to condominium that can destabilise the traditional sense of both space and time.

It is relevant at this point to also try, in my own way, to answer the question: Who are the Malays? Actually, this can be a most complex question that has received some most curious answers - for in different contexts, the term 'Malay' has multiple meanings. The average Sri Lankan will say that the Malays captured Sardiel and just imagine Prince Moggallana brought in a strong force from Malays for his showdown with Kassapa (so Paranavitana tells us). But taking a wide social and cultural definition, 'Malay' refers to an extremely large ethnic stock over a wide area of the Earth's surface - from the Malay Archipelago and moving westward to South Africa.

In Malaya today, a good Malay friend tells me, a Malay is a person who (a) professes the Muslim religion: (b) habitually speaks Malay; (c) conforms to Malay customs. This can be most flexible. It could mean that any non-Malay who converts to Islam and speaks Malay and observes Malay customs, can be a Malay. Yet, this is the definition of Malay's Federal Constitution although there is no such flexibility in Sarawak where a Malay is only a Malay if he or she is born in Sarawak.

All this is putting me in a stew, so let me simply add that what we see of the Malays, the whole Malay race from as far away as the Philippines to Malaya, Sri Lanka and South Africa, is the form of their language.

Another warm-hearted poet from Sarawak, Abang Yusef Puteh, once told me of the progression of the Malay from an inward-looking, highly traditional way of life. He gave me four typical Malay images:

Katak dibawah tempurung - A frog beneath a coconut shell. It is the tiny world of the kampung. The perception of life was inward-looking. A world of their own, so to say.

Rusa masuk kampung - Deer entering the village. New experiences and ideas. Contact between village and urban centres. It causes some chaos in the conservative mind, but change has to come.

Katak naik gangsa - Frog on a brass tray. The Malay mind becomes a newcomer to power and wealth.

May janin - In Malayan folklore, this is the dreamer. It tells of fantasies of glory and prosperity.

But as Abang Yusef told me, the imagery can also demonstrate, in order, the old contented Malay; the bewildered Malay as change sweeps around him; the new Malay who wishes to forget his humble beginnings; and the long wait for the dreamer to awake, find the world he has dreamed of.

Saldin has not tried to analyse or give us an in-depth treatise on the Malay mind but he has given us extremely valuable information in telling of the origins of the Sri Lankan Malay. For instance, the Dutch exiled many troublemakers from Java. Also into this island came Indonesians from Sumatra, the Mollucas, Madura and Tidore. These people all spoke Malay but, as the author says, they were "ja minissu" -not Malays.

However, the British found here a Malay speaking community and dubbed them Malays. Later the British did bring in true Malays to their Malay Regiment but the terminological error has stayed. Everyone considered only Java when thinking of the old Dutch East Indies - and the author insists that it is also most reprehensible to keep grouping Moors and Malays as Muslims in Sri Lanka. The correct method, ethnically and not according to religious groups, would be to recognise Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, Malays and Burghers.

- Carl Muller


Baratha Natya Arangetram 

The Baratha Natya Arangetram of Devika Ganeshamoorthy is to be staged on January 24, at 5.30 p.m. at Ramakrishna Mission Hall, Colombo.

Devika is a versatile dancer and the disciple of Senior Baratha Natya Teacher, Directress and Guru, Baratha Natya Dance School, Kalabooshanam Shrimathi Leelambikai Selvarajah.

Devika is the daughter of Ganeshamoorthy and an old student of  Ramanathan Hindu Ladies College, Colombo. She will be leaving to Australia soon for higher studies.

Trustee, Sri Ponnambalavaneswaram Temple Colombo, D.M Swaminathan will be the chief guest at the function and Kamba Varithi Shri E. Jeyaraj (Kamban Kazhagam) and Roopawathi Sivagurnathan (retired principal, Rmanathan Hindu Ladies College Colombo) will be present as guests of honour. 


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