Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wake up!

Wake up! You look so peaceful sleeping on my sister’s lap with the soft breeze playing with your hair. A soother has replaced my breast. Do you still search for my breasts? The warmth of my body? My smell? Do you still reach for my face? Death has not stopped the unbearable pain in my breasts full of milk for you. Did you feel the thud of the bullets hitting my body? Could you smell my blood? Did you scream at the unfairness of it all? Did you scream to try and tie down my spirit so that sheer guild would stop it leaving my body? I am sorry to leave you like this, unprotected, only four months into your life. I yearn to hold you close one time. I hope deep down in your heart you always remember how much I love you.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Why are they manufacturing this and that?

Why are they manufacturing this and that?

Why are they manufacturing buses?

To treat you as a citizen
And make you to travel easily.

Why are they manufacturing trains?

To treat you as a citizen
And make you travel easily too.

Why are they manufacturing cars?

To treat you as a citizen
And make you to travel comfortably.

Why are they manufacturing water cannons?

To treat you as a mob
And stops you democratically

Why are they manufacturing battle tanks?

To treat you as an enemy
And blast you into pieces

To treat you as a terrorist
And blast you into pieces


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Arundati...The Star!

Arundati...The Star!

You have no name, sister. I will name you, star, the star that burned bright until it exploded out of existence. Arundati – my star. The man who buried you in an unmarked grave said that you only had on a pair of silver anklets and a small silver ring. He buried you naked. What a way to die, sister? And what a way to be buried? No one to grieve for you, no one to pay their last respects, except a few of us unknown women, who came and lit some candles in the strong wind. We were too late to even give you some clothes, to be buried in.

We tried to piece together your past, what your bruised and broken body said. We tried to understand you behind the violence that exploded around you and took your life. There were many stories, sister, but none of them told by you. We are ashamed of the silence; we are ashamed that there was no public outcry. We are ashamed of our own inadequate rushed attempt to light a candle on your grave.

I will name you Arundati, my star. Hope you have some peace now, sister. Hope you can forgive us.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Review: A simple mind, using simplistic definitions to analyse a complex subject By: S. JeyasankarSource: Northeastern Monthly - September 1, 2005

Sri Lankan English Literature and the Sri Lankan People 1917-2003 by Professor D. C. R. A. Goonetilleke; pub Vijitha Yapa Publications; pp. 318; January 2005

“It is to the credit of Sri Lankan writers in English that they have confronted the so-called ‘ethnic’ crisis, the most difficult problem facing the country since independence, from its inception to date. The literature on the subject indicates that ex-President D. B. Wijetunga’s apparently simple statement goes to the heart of matter: ‘there is no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, there is only a terrorist problem.’ The literature captures or suggests the ramifications of this problem, both national and international, and its false as well as true face.” (P.128)
The above piece is the essence of Professor D. C. R. A. Goonetilleke’s book titled Sri Lankan English Literature and the Sri Lankan People 1917-2003. The selections, omissions and interpretations in his work are constructed according to the thesis mentioned above.

The publisher notes on the back cover of the book “… Goonetillke’s inquiry is informative and penetrating. It is meant for general readers who wish to be acquainted with the English literary scene in Sri Lanka as well as those who take a specialised interest in the field.

“The history of Sri Lankan English literature is viewed in the context of the history of the Sri Lankan people and such major events as independence, the social revolution of 1956, the insurgencies of 1971 and 1988-1989, and the ethnic conflict as recorded in literature, are comprehensively examined. Literature is considered here in its widest sense as it appears in newspapers and journals, as well as in books. While the central focus is on literature after independence, the literature from 1917 onwards is analysed to provide a complete understanding of the subject.”

The contents of the book clearly expose the biases of the writer, who he is and what is in his mind about Sri Lanka, ‘Sri Lankan-ness’ and Sri Lankan English literature. Even though Sri Lanka is a multiethnic and multicultural country, for the author it is not so. His opinion is different.

“Dionysius Sumanasekera’s ‘broken English’ is very much in evidence in Fifty-Fifty. In this play De Lanerolle treats pleasantly and humorously the ‘ethnic’ conflict (between the majority community, the Sinhalese, and the minority Tamils) which today has assumed acrimonious, even fearful and intractable proportions. To understand his satire on the (Ceylon) Tamil demand for as much representation as the Sinhalese in parliament, one needs to know the ethnic composition of the island’s population. It has remained more or less the same during the last fifty years, and the 1981 census, the last national census, had it as 73.98% Sinhalese, 12.6% Tamils, 7.12% Moors, 5.56% Indian Tamils, 0.29% Malays, 0.26% Burghers (descendants of the Portuguese and the Dutch), 0.20% others. Of the 12.6% Tamils, fewer than half live in the North of Sri Lanka; the majority live among the Sinhalese and usually at peace. It is in this context that De Lanerolle is able to advocate intermarriage as his solution to ethnic problems!” (Goonetillke p.159)The above paragraph captures the author’s socio-political perception of Sri Lanka and how he positions himself as an intellectual writing in English, especially writing on literature in English, or about English literature.
People who are committed to work for a peaceful and prosperous country have to think of the construction and reconstruction of the concept of Sri Lanka, ‘Sri Lankan-ness,’ Sri Lankan art and literature and English literature, against the background of the country’s multiethnic and multicultural character.

The idea that Sri Lanka is a multiethnic and multicultural country has to be infused into Sri Lankans. The functions of education and the media should be to achieve this end. But the tragedy of this country has been the intellectual blindness of its opinion-makers and thinkers. Sri Lankan English Literature and the Sri Lankan People 1917-2003 is a text, which is a simple and solid example of the importance of teaching this in the world of post-modern literature.
People concerned about the unity and integrity of the country talk of using English as a link language. They sometimes go beyond that and insist on bringing back English as the medium of instruction to bridge the gap between conflicting communities, believing that the conflict was created by the introduction of the mother tongue (swabasha) for administrative, legal and educational purposes in the country.

But a person who begins to read Goonetillke’s book with a commonsensical view of the Sri Lankan context would, unquestionably, be forced to freeze for a second and take a second look on the validity of the above school of thought.

It is very interesting to compare Goonetillke’s writing with that of another intellectual cum artist – Ranjini Obeyesekere – in her version of Sri Lanka. Her book on theatre, Sri Lankan Theatre in a Time of Terror: Political Satire in a Permitted Space also refers only marginally to Thamils.

“I wish to add that this book deals with the Sinhala theatre in Sri Lanka even though I refer to it in the title as Sri Lankan Theatre. I do so intentionally for name recognition. Sri Lanka is a very small country and though better known in the world today (sometime for unfortunate reasons) few outside the country know that Sinhala is the language of the majority population who live in Sri Lanka. Therefore although Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic society and there is a significant minority Tamil population in the island I make no reference in the book to Tamil theatre in Sri Lanka. I do so partly because it is extraneous to my central theme of Sinhala theatre and its ‘permitted space’ which I see as a feature strongly influenced by Sinhala Buddhist culture; but also because by the 1980s the civil war in the North and East and the tensions and disruptions it caused had made Tamil theatre almost non-existent other than in small pockets in the North and East.” (Obeyesekere, p.15)

This does not come as a shock for a reader who is from the minority community, or from an oppressed community, or for the people of the periphery who are excluded from the writings and conceptualisations of intellectuals of the majority group. But this must be contested if we are to establish a country where there is equality, and celebrate difference and diversity in our society.

Goonetilleke simply discards any space for Thamils in Sri Lanka with the support of the latest census and by highlighting De Lanerolle’s advocacy of intermarriage as the solution to the ethnic problem and Wijetunga’s apparently simple statement, “there is no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, there is only a terrorist problem.”

Obeyesekere goes a few steps further and is very patronising as in the above-quoted passage, where she concludes stating, “… by the 1980s the civil war in the North and East and the tensions and disruptions it caused had made Tamil theatre almost non-existent other than in small pockets in the North and East.” (p.15)

But to her, similar situations reflected differently in the South. “I happened to spend the summers of 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990 in Sri Lanka and was amazed to find that in spite of sudden curfews, days of panic and nights of terror, the Sinhala theatre was more active than I had ever known it to be.” (Obeyesekere, p.11)

Conceptually, bridging the gap between conflicting parties is not a matter of language, but of the mind. As a theatre activist, I have seen how people who are aware of the socio-political situation of the country, and activists from both sides who only have the help of their vernacular languages, cross barriers and raise their voices across borders in Sri Lanka.
But Goonetilleke fails this test. Where or why does an international language, or an international literature, fail to liberate Goonetilleke and his ilk?

Goonetilleke is not an ordinary person. The publisher’s note on the back cover of the book, which I quoted, reveals to the reader his high calibre academic achievements.“Professor Goonetilleke is the internationally recognized authority on Sri Lankan English literature. He was Foundation Visiting fellow at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, Henry Charles Chapman Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, and Guest Professor of English at the University of Tubingen, Germany. He was the International Chairperson of the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (ACLALS) and Vice-President of the Federation Internationale des Languages et Literature Moderners (FILLM).”

I am not pointing to Goonetillke as a single individual, but simply as a representative of an ideology. From his earlier publication Anthology of Sri Lankan English Literature (1993) to his latest publication Sri Lankan English Literature and the Sri Lankan People 1917-2003 (2005) Goonetillke portrays Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Thamils, to reinforce his supremacist ideology.

Why am I so concerned about writings in English? Because of the colonial construction that has transformed the English language to make it appear neutral. The authoritative power of colonisation and its extension – neo-colonisation – has made English an international language and portrayed it as neutral to sustain its authoritative position from being questioned.
It is an interesting and very important to initiate a dialogue on the process of decolonising the mind. I usually have interesting conversations with my students on ‘rumour’ and ‘news.’ When I ask them whether rumour is true or false, they come out in one voice and say, “False!” When I ask them whether news is true or false, in one voice they say “True!” To the question whether the news we listen or view via the electronic media is true or false, the responses change immediately and mostly results in an answer that contradicts the earlier one. And if I question whether information we get by word of mouth is true or false, the answer is false.

It is the same story with writings in English and those in the non-English mother languages. Writings in English are considered as neutral and objective but the writings in the mother languages are considered as biased. That means subjective and emotional. ‘Neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’ are the two elements that alienate ‘subjectivity’ which is essential for creativity. Subduing creativity is the basic requirement for colonialism and maintaining authority. In this regard we must thank Goonetilleke and his tribe for unknowingly helping us to question and deconstruct what they are celebrating as ‘neutral.’

“The International Federation of Journalists – the world’s largest journalist organisation – has made a serious indictment on the Sri Lankan press and mainly the Sinhala and Tamil newspapers, accusing them of carrying one-sided, inflammatory reports on the ethnic conflict and often quoting only one source… As a direct result of this reporting, the facts and situation were misrepresented and the conflict was inflamed rather than resolved.” (Daily Mirror 13 July 2005)

I’m not a defender of the one sidedness of the vast section of the vernacular media owned and controlled by the state, political parties and politicians, and business people who are connected with political parties. But I have certain reservations about defining writings in English as neutral and objective. The controlling nature of the English language and the democracy of the English speaking states have to be contested for the construction of another world not only for the human species, but also all the species on earth to live in harmony.

Terrorism, which Wijetunga refers to and Goonetilleke so heartily endorses, is not an inborn quality or feature in human beings. If it is inborn, then ‘war for democracy’ or ‘war for peace’ is meaningless. Genetic modification will be the only solution for the terrorist problems of the world.

Why does the unarmed democratic political leadership always fall prey to terrorism? Why are their leaders always surrounded by heavily armed bodyguards? Why are politics and diplomacy always connected with militarism and espionage? How can we define the politics connected with militarism and military intelligence as democracy? If it is democracy, whose democracy is it? Democracy is for whom?

It is simply democracy of the ruling class.

This is not the invention of the 21st century but we cannot go on with the age-old definitions and meanings of democracy. The definition of democracy must be liberated by deconstructing its function as the shield of the ruling class, namely the state. This will help us to liberate our perception of democracy and terrorism as being white and black.

Only the processes of dialogue on how this may be achieved will bring genuine peace to the entire world. Utilising the concept of democracy as a tool to disguise the power of the ruling class only brings chaos and more chaos. It never brings peace.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Creative activity with children

Its one of a photo of the Creative Activity with the Children's Group of Third Eye Local Knowledge and Skill Activists Group in Dutch Bar.

The Art activity was facilitated by young contemporary artist of the Third Eye S.Nirmalavasan with the support of affiliates of the Third Eye.

Its an exercise to innovte creativity and collectivity among the children and importantly to connect them with their own environment without depending on charity.

Text and photo S.Jeyasankar

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Research through imperial eyes

Research through imperial eyes
By: S. Jeyasankar - Focus
Northeastern Monthly November 2004

“Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits, which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the ‘banking’ concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, and have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is men themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system” (Paulo Freire 1973: 58).

The system of education in Sri Lanka today is mostly theory-oriented, didactic and problematic on several issues, namely gender, ethnicity, caste etc. and education is treated as ‘knowledge and information packages’ not as a process of identification of problems, search for solutions, or invention of solutions.

Education today could be described as a tutorial-loaded and competitive examination-oriented system, conducted in class or lecture rooms that are matchbox-like wall-bound spaces, where the teacher or lecturer stands on an elevated space in a position to ‘give’ and the students are in a position to ‘take.’ In brief, the current education system is a monologue of the teacher and not a dialogue with the students.

“In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as process of inquiry” (Paulo Freire 1973:58). The relevance of the subjects and information imparted in most formal curricula is remote from the practical life of students and to the day to day life of Sri Lankans especially the Tamils. This type of exclusion and alienation from the environment will not allow the teacher and the student to imagine, to think or to create. To make a success of the current system of education we harness ourselves like racehorses. The image of racehorses is well suited to our students who are in schools or in the universities. Preparing for the exam is a penance. Like a saint, a student must shed off all his or her connections with the outside world where he or she is living.

The purpose of the current system of education is to produce service personnel because it is not an organic system. It was a system designed and imposed directly by the colonial powers when they were ruling this country, and later by neocolonial powers indirectly through ‘loan schemes’ and ‘aid programs’ aimed at a developing country.

In Sri Lanka, though we have considerable experience in running a ‘modern’ education system and despite a number of reforms to it, acute and unresolved problems remain in every sphere of life in the country. Dependency on aid and expertise from overseas should spur us on to reflect on the crises in the system.

Most of the people in power often boast of the country’s high literacy rate but they do not connect it with the problems in this country. What do they mean by “literate?” A person who can write his or her name on a piece of paper is literate, while someone who has skill and knowledge but without letters is illiterate!

The important questions are: what are we learning? And what is happening around us? This will lead to another question - why are we learning or what is education?

“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (Paulo Freire 1973:58).

History and our experience with education systems and reactions to education reform in Sri Lanka will reveal to what extent we are genuinely liberated from colonial and neocolonial hegemony. The statement, “we will produce nurses and develop tourism and let them send satellites” made by a top person from the Education Reform Program, guided by the World Bank, at a meeting of the community of the Eastern University, Batticaloa, is a typical example of current thinking in the country. We are totally under the control of western and now American cultural imperialism.

If we scrutinize the writings, statements and the speeches of the people in power at present, we can realize to what extent we are part of a liberated education system or in the process of creating an organic education system.

A person with only a basic degree from a university can function as an adviser to people with a long experience in their profession or field. “We will teach them” is the motto of their mission. This motto informs academic forums so pervasively that there is no space for the motto “We will learn from them” or “We will learn from them also!” We academics listen to them only when they answering our questions. This is the irony of the modern education system.

Academics in universities doing research are mostly influenced by conventional ‘scientific research methodologies’ without questioning their validity and applicability to particular situations; they practice it as a mere intellectual exercise. The amount of unproductive research work in university libraries and the unresolved problems of the outside world clearly reveal the relationship between creative and productive academic work and society at large.

“Disciplines are based around a framework for understanding the subject matter of the field. Students are trained in the standard way of thinking. If researchers work in a university setting, they are influenced by colleagues. If they want to publish scholarly papers, they have to get referees, who are usually established members of the field, most of whom expect research to follow the standard patterns.

“Referees and editors expect authors to be familiar with standard ideas and publications in the field, which requires a considerable investment of effort to comprehend. All this prevents outsiders from waltzing in to make a contribution to the discipline. To use another metaphor, disciplinary expectations operate like strong tariff barriers against moving very far from one’s own training and previous research output” ( Martin Brian 1998).

For the intellectuals in our society, methodology is an unchangeable and eternal thing! They are bound and determined by ‘international research standards’ and ‘requirements.’ Their ultimate aim is to publish a research article in an internationally refereed journal in an international language that is, presumably, in Standard English. It’s very rare to hear a voice about the usefulness of such research to society.

“Social activists often express great frustration and annoyance with academics who are in such a good position to help a cause, but do so little. A tenured academic has job security, a good salary, flexible working hours and a great deal of control over areas to research, not to mention, in many cases, specialist knowledge and considerable skills in writing and speaking. Such a person could be a tremendous asset to a hard-pressed activist group dependent on volunteers and without the capacity to carry out in-depth investigations. While quite a few academics sympathize with environmental, peace, feminist, antiracist, and other social movements, very few become heavily involved. Hence the frustration” ( Martin Brian 1998).

In my considered view the faith in ‘scientific research methodologies’ is merely a barrier to look into matters around us in depth and to evolve solutions. This is due to the university system, the education system and research methodologies that are practiced by us being constructs of the colonial establishments; they are not organic forms or structures designed by the people who live and struggle for the betterment of their day-to-day life in their own spaces.

Colonial construction of the education system and neocolonial impositions and influences on educational reforms have led to the alienation of the people, especially the intellectual community, from their own environment. If we study the syllabuses of schools, teachers training colleges, colleges of education and the universities, we could verify the truth of this statement.

In the various aspects of research, intellectuals treat the local environment and local people merely as resource bases but not as problem-solving spaces or spaces for change. These resource bases are not the beneficiaries of conventional research or academic work and in most instances are not even aware of the final product of the research.

This is due to researchers being usually unwilling to take back the final outcome of their work to the people who are subjects of the research, or the final product is in a language that cannot be easily communicated to ordinary people. The language, the size and format of books, journals or academic papers, footnotes, references, academic jargon, quotations etc. are tedious and sometimes overwhelming for the ordinary reader to understand the work.

For example the academic work on kooththu performances in Sri Lanka has a history of at least 50 years but the people who have been performing the dance for generations have very limited knowledge of it. Any person who works or at least speaks to kooththu artistes will acknowledge the truth of this reality.

Why is the relationship between academic work and the performers or practitioners so weak? It is because if the relationship between them was strong the authority of the academics to make pronouncements on kooththu would diminish to a position equal or inferior to that of the performers. They must share their authority with the performers. How could an ‘educated’ person share authority with the ‘uneducated’ one? How could a ‘literate’ individual share his authority with an ‘illiterate’ one? These are the politics of a colonial system of education. Segregating theory from practice is the consequence of introducing theories of the conquerors or the colonialists as ‘modern’ theories. The introduction and influence of colonial theories of imperialist conquerors, the segregation of theory from practice, treating theory with reverence and honoring research paper oriented academic works over all others will lead to a gradual death of practices of ordinary people and the vacuum filled by colonialist practices labeled as ‘modern.’

The other question is to what extent the academic works on kooththu genuinely represent or reflect the kooththu performances and the community that performs it. A person whose familiarity with kooththu is confined to merely reading about it faces strange and incomprehensible experiences at a kooththu performance set in a kooththu community theatre. It is like the depiction of traditional doctors as witches in colonial descriptions. The politics of this kind of depiction and description is obvious – it is another type of aggression or conquest.

Imperialism works by conquering or colonizing the land first and with help of the colonial establishment conquering or colonizing the mind. Conquering or colonizing the mind will pave the way for a long rule of the conqueror or the colonizer.

The regular arrival of experts from the outside world to solve domestic problems is a clear mark of our position in our own spaces. We were designed and are being designed by colonial and neocolonial powers as subjects and consumers. A clear proof of this argument is to look at contemporary development programs planned and implemented by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith identifies and critiques the intersections of imperialism, knowledge, and research. According to Tuhiwai Smith, dominant, mainstream, western cultures conceive of research as intellectual activities grounded in broader, popular and legal discourses that distort or silence other ways of knowing and being. One consequence of such research for indigenous peoples is what she calls “research through imperial eyes” – knowledge largely useless for native kinship communities and too often useful for further colonization.

In this background we have to raise questions regarding the purposes and functions of research: Why do we do research? Who benefits from it? Who uses the information we gather and what for?

Vadamody kooththu and reformulating Batticaloa’s community theatre

Vadamody kooththu and reformulating Batticaloa’s community theatre
Source: Northeastern Monthly - July 1, 2004
By: S. Jeyasankar

Kooththu is the traditional theatre of the Tamils of Sri Lanka and is currently practiced in different strata of the society. Though the war affected people much at the community level, which is the bastion of kooththu, the dance form survives with its traditions unharmed.

The modernization process has shifted the kooththu to be used for different social functions. At one level, kooththu is being used as a showpiece in cultural festivals (luckily it is not extended to shopping complexes and five star hotels and tourist resorts as in Sinhala culture). War in the northeast had functioned as a barrier for the commodification of cultures and cultural artifacts.

In another level, kooththu is being modified to fit it into a new context or framework, which is conditioned and constructed by modern political and artistic concepts like modernization, national identity and cultural identity etc.

In the background of the post-colonial concept of hybridization, the blending of the traditional and the modern elements to counter the colonial hegemony in the cultural and in the political spheres is regarded as a political act in national politics.

But the politics of hybridization has been criticized as an appropriation of the pre-colonial space to fit into the colonial space. Colonialism is not a “POST” or “PAST”, it’s continuous process in different ways in different times. At present it’s in the name of globalization of the market forces.

The concept of post-colonialism was replaced by the concepts of decolonization and reformulation. Instead of creating a hybridized world of ‘Thirisanku,’ re-inventing the pre-colonial space and reformulating it into a people-oriented space to counter the globalization process of the market forces are the politics of decolonization and reformulation.

The decolonization and the reformulation processes also have a global aspect. It is the globalization of integrated forces, which experienced colonialism and experience neo-colonialism that is the globalization of the market forces.

The inventions of modern technologies are the electrifying forces of imperialism and neo-imperialism. Industrialization paved the way for imperialism and information technologies paved the way for neo-imperialism. These two conquering ideologies have differences in a single aspect that is geography. Imperialism has geographical demarcation but not neo-imperialism. The protests against the globalization of the market forces in the countries, which function as the womb of the globalization of the market forces, are the clear evidences of the difference. Because of this difference the concept of decolonization has been surpassed by the concept of reformulation.

The modern concepts of development and technology are machine oriented and those who control the machines will rule the world. Invention of technologies shifted the power from the people to a group of people who control or who own the machine. And the concept of development was constructed according to that rule. Profit-making is the ultimate motto of this trend. People and the environment become the resources of this modern technology-oriented development process.

The popularization and implementation of new forms of development programs under the banners of “Development with a Human Face” and “Sustainable Development” are the proof of its limitations and disadvantages.

Re-inventing the people-centered functionalism from machine-centered industrialization and computerization is the politics of reformulation. Redefining or reinventing the concepts of development and technology is the pre-requisite for this process. It is basically liberating the human beings from machines and re-connects them with Nature.

Fundamentally human beings are also elements of nature but not the element of nature, with the power of modern technology to control nature or the whole universe for its own benefits. But modern man with his electrifying powers created the world for a few and gave destructions to the rest, even to the pest.

The concept of reformulation is a process to unbind the man from mechanization and make him a human being to live in a world of equality where differences are being celebrated. This will be achieved through different ways and means in different levels.

The process of kooththu could function as one of the means to formulate a people- oriented activity in the creation of a world of equality where the differences are celebrated.

Kooththu is not only the art of the individual artist in the modern sense, but also reflects processes within a community. The basic process in kooththu is learning by doing it collectively, and the primary source for the performance is in collective memory. These aspects make the kooththu process primarily a practice-oriented one.

Modernization and commercialisation of kooththu alienates the people who own it and have been practicing it for generations. Traditionally kooththu was considered crude, unsophisticated, primitive and the art of the illiterate and drunks. This was because those who were involved in the kooththu process in the community were not educated in colonial institutions nor did they consume imported spirits.

The politics and aesthetics of modernization played a vital role in the construction of kooththu in modern times. This construction made the ‘educated’ to think of kooththu as medai kooththu (kooththu on the proscenium arch stage). kooththu was dislocated from its original space and appropriated to a new space introduced by the colonial powers. A community-oriented performance art was reduced to performance-oriented art for an audience in a colonial building and made to appear modern.

In the initial stage of my career in theatre, I perceived kooththu as a modern art form. Theatre education at the advanced level and at the university, as well as knowledge and experience of modern kooththu gave me that perception. But my relationship with the kooththu community and the kooththu performances in traditional spaces made me think differently.

My story will reveal this clearly.

My interest and engagement in modern drama led to my contact with kooththu. The writings on the modernization of kooththu, the debate on the formation of a national theatre and incorporating elements of kooththu into modern drama are popular topics in modern Tamil theatre studies. My experience in modern Tamil theatre and the influence of the debate to which I was a contributor constructed my perception.

But the view of Sinnathamby Master alias Peking Sinnathamby was different. He believed that kooththu did not only involve dances and music set for performance, but that it was integrally connected to the performers and the community too. The dialogue with Sinnathamby Master opened up another door in my search.

I learnt the dances songs and techniques of Vadamody kooththu in detail from Professor S. Mounaguru and my relationship with the Vaddukoddai performers began under the guidance of Sinnathamby Master. This relationship spread gradually towards the kooththu performers in the north, east, up-country and now it extends towards southern Sri Lanka as well.

With this background, I began to involve myself very actively in the debates and work connected with the modernization of kooththu. It taught me two things: elements of kooththu are suitable for incorporation into modern drama (Tamil and English) for easy communication; sustainability of kooththu is only possible with changes in the community that had been performing it for generations.

The reformulation of kooththu becomes complete and whole through changes in the thinking of the community that practices and preserves the art. In my belief, the ideological and social change in the community that preserves and performs the art is very necessary in the reformulation process of kooththu.

Therefore, the duty of the theatre people does not end with the introduction of kooththu with its shortened version suited for urban elite audiences, or by bringing in new interpretations and new spaces. Their duty extends beyond these limits.

What is required at present is to struggle with traditional ideology, grapple with new situations and to make efforts to understand whether traditional theatre has the capacity to carry forward changes. It is also to think about the possibilities of expressing the present experience fully and in a practical manner in order to ensure this process continues. This process does not relate only to theatre but also involves the whole community against the background of contemporary global trends.

The ways to confront such situations also differ. We have to integrate closely with the community that performs kooththu, relate to the performers with friendship, share ideas and objectives with them and extend respect to each other as equal partners. This is vital to move forward towards the next phase in this effort.

These processes take place in the traditional kooththu environment and gradually expand to other areas. These experiences will provide a hitherto unknown dimension to the new or ‘modern’ drama too. They will enable us to firmly root ourselves in the past and aim at the future by bringing together our contemporary experiences and developing the concept of localization.

Up to now, whenever kooththu served as a source of research, kooththu performers were used only as providers of information – as informants. Further, the output of the research did not reach the performers. Dialogue with performers of kooththu will serve remedy this shortcoming.

Views of the community of kooththu performers – especially the annaaviar and others associated with the staging of performances – were not taken into account in the debate on the modernization of kooththu. The academic work available in the past 50 years on kooththu and the modification of kooththu serves to underscore my argument.

The authority of academic institutions such as universities, which are functioning as colonial agencies, has played an important role in formulating systems of modern knowledge, especially through commissioning and sustaining research. Research is a ‘scientific academic exercise’ that is usually conducted by specially trained people in an academic institution. The knowledge manufactured is authorized due to the scientific component in the research exercises. This is the basis for manufacturing modern knowledge.

Designing systems, methodologies, formulas etc. and imposing them on other territories through power derived from imperial rule and making those rules ‘standard and international’ is the politics of the imperialism.

The colonial system of knowledge treats traditional knowledge systems as ‘unscientific’ and claims that only through modern research methodologies could traditional knowledge systems be appropriated and authorized as knowledge.

As I mentioned earlier, the authority of modern academic institutions and research methodology reduces people who possess traditional or pre-colonial knowledge into mere informants. Further, modern knowledge serves to dislocate people from their sources of traditional knowledge and forces them to perceive such knowledge as unscientific and the product of uneducated or illiterate peoples.

It is the same story with the modernization and research on kooththu. Because of this, kooththu earned the epithet naaddu kooththu (country theatre) from the intellectual community.

Deconstruction of modern knowledge and my relationship with kooththu performers and their community made me search for new ways and means to study and understand this art form. It led me to select this area of study for my MA despite being aware of the impediments of doing so within a conventional university system. It was important for me to work in the selected area of study while it was equally important to work within an authorized academic structure and institution.

I thought this would provide me with first hand experience of how individual intellectuals the intellectual community and the institutions and community ‘outside’ would react to the project. This was the other side of the coin of my work. It would help to initiate the reformulation process at another level of the community.

With this in mind I started to think about making the performers as partners for my research. My reading on educational and community theatres and the writings by Paulo Freire, Augusto Boal and the application of their techniques of theatre and close acquaintance with kooththu performers and the community, gave me the confidence and opportunity to take forward participatory theatre action research.

I felt strongly that conventional research methodologies were not suitable for this kind of work and searched for alternative methodologies. The internet search opened up a new path with information of the Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s ‘Indigenous research methodologies’ and through an Australian scholar, Ian Hugues’s website on ‘Participatory action research” and other approaches and theories. However, they all united in decolonising and democratising modern knowledge and research methodologies to dismantle the authority of neo-imperialism.

In this background, the Tharmapuththiran kooththu (Son of tharmam) was reformulated into Simmaasana por (War for the throne) with the participation of the community of kooththu performers at Seelamunai, Batticaloa. The transformation of the traditional prologue reveals the character of the reformulation process.

Traditional Prologue
Oh, Elephant- faced god,
Your protection we implore
To sing the story of Bharatha,
The fearful war of destruction
How it was wagered and fought
How it was lost and won
With the grace of God
By the princes five thus:
Sahuni, the King’s counselor,
Deceitful, treacherous and full of vice,
Invited the princes five
To play a game of dice
Defeating them by sleight of hand
And disrobing the damsel in public
Banished them to jungle life
For two and ten long years
Incognito and in disguise

Reformulated prologue
A story depicting Pandavas as the sons of dharma
And demeaning Gauravas as sons of adharma.
A story dharma and adharma told for many, many years
But one of unjust war fought for rule over others.
Those that are great failed to extirpate enmity in the hearts of youth
Boasting the valour of the five and portraying the others as knaves.
The nobles and the great ones, why did they remain speechless
When the damsel stood helpless crying for justice.
Kannan the embodiment of good, born to destroy destroyers
How many ruses he resorted to in the name of dharma?
It was people who became dice, people who died in the war
Fought brutally and vainly in the name of dharma.
We the players have come before you to sing the story
New-created raising several thought-provoking questions.
Protection to human beings, protection to all living things
Protection to live on this earth in happiness, affluence and peace.

When the process began, I was concentrating only on the performance. But as the process went on, I became conscious that kooththu in practice was evolving into a place of meeting of the community, a place to relax, a place to recreate, a place to remember and recall, a place for playing games and learning, a place for dialogue and a place for sleep.

Kooththu is a process that integrates many disciplines that are put forward in modern knowledge as separate entities. It is an annual event connected with the seasonal order of nature, and the livelihood of people; it is connected with the ritual ceremony of the gods and goddesses of the community.

During the three to four months it took to be put the performance together, I was able to observe and realize that the practices in the kooththu process were part of an organic community theatre of the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

The reformulation of kooththu and changes in the community are intertwined dialectical processes. Changes in people’s lives influence change in kooththu and changes in kooththu change people. The handling of the issues such as caste, gender and other oppressive socio-cultural values is evidence for this statement. The reformulated performance at Seelamunai in Batticaloa, the innovative performances of individuals and the community of Seelamunai are evidence of the process.

Kooththu: more than merely a mirror unto nature

Cover story
Kooththu: more than merely a mirror unto nature
Source: Northeastern Monthly
By: J. S. Tissainayagam

“Usually, neither the players nor the audience understand why something is happening when kooththu performances are staged. If you ask a spectator why such-and-such a thing was going on, he would say, ‘ask the annaviyar;’ the annaviyar, stuck for an explanation, would maintain dogmatically, ‘that was how things are traditionally done,’” said S. Sivanayagam.

A more enterprising annavyiar would however interpret the text in an entirely subjective manner leading to further confusion due to multiple, and sometimes absurd, explanations put forward. “The basic point is: if the annaviyar finds it difficult to make sense of the script, how the audience can be expected to do so,” said Sivanayagam.

Sivanayagam is an edttu annaviyar, or a script writer-director, from Seelamunai, an eastern village traditionally renowned for kooththu. He is among those who are passionately involved in efforts to reformulate kooththu to make it more relevant to contemporary times and avoid situations where the director blindly appeals to tradition as his guide for structuring a kooththu performance in a certain way.

Sivanyagam says however that it was not only ignorance that dictates the rigidity of the script; it is also the power relationships theatrical performances such as kooththu sought to reinforce through captive audiences. He says that though the annaviyar might understand what was taking place, he was powerless to do anything about it because there were strong social sanctions against changing the script. All the annaviyar could do was to change the rhythms or the beat of the music, but not the lines, making even an independent-minded annaviyar think twice before tinkering with the script.

Kooththu, is community theatre, not folk art. “Folk theatre is, ritually, intimately linked with the environment from which it springs. Kooththu is different. Its origins are in seasonal rituals in temples. I believe koothtus deliberately used the Ramayana and Mahabaratha for the project of Sanskritising Tamil society,” said S. Jeyasankar, a theatre activist and lecturer in drama and theatre, at the Eastern University, Batticaloa.

Jeysankar says that traditional kooththu, which might have had folk origins, was quietly displaced when the poets (pulavar) used the kooththu form but foisted on it stories from the Sanskrit epics.

Though projecting a value system and worldview of the upper castes, kooththu was degraded as uncivilised by that section of society that considered itself as refined and economically affluent. Therefore kooththu became identified as an entertainment of the lower orders and associated with drunkenness and general disorderly behaviour.

“The traditional kooththu reflected Brahminic values and referred to women and the lower castes in derogatory terms,” said T. Gowriswaran, a final year student in fine arts at the Eastern University and a kooththu artiste.

Such portrayal of women, promoting caste differences and using obscenities in the script, when played before contemporary audiences that were changing from the experiences of war, exposure to the media, and general education, led to disenchantment with the content of kooththu performances.

Realising that blind repetition of the lines in a script and watching performances portraying archaic values were leading to audience disenchantment, a movement began to gather momentum that tried to look anew at performances, scripts and the impact of social experience on kooththu.

The way forward therefore was not conserving the traditional kooththu, but reformulating it in a way that it reflected the concerns, aspirations and suffering of contemporary audiences, and thereby engaging their attention.

“Kooththu is community theatre. Therefore it is intimately linked to society. I realised that any meaningful research for reformulating kooththu had to be community based and participatory,” says Jeyasankar, pivot of the movement for reformulation.

“Therefore if kooththu was to be reformulated, there had to be extensive participation in the process by the community. There had to be a symbiotic relationship between research in drama done through an academic institution like a university and the practitioners of the art,” Jeyasankar continues.

As in many parts of Sri Lanka, in fact in the subcontinent, traditional arts and craft are associated with geographical locations and social formations within them. Kooththu is no different. In Batticaloa among the villages celebrated for kooththu performances are Seelamunai and Kannankudah. And it is to Seelamunai that our focus now turns.

“In the past, there were people who came to Seelamunai saying they were doing research on kooththu, but they never consulted the annaviyar. And neither the village nor the community benefited from the research,” said Sivanayagam.

But with the objective of reformulation capturing the imagination of artistes and audiences, a series of discussions began in Seelamunai that not only involved those traditionally connected with koothtu such as performers and/or the annaviyar, but also the general public and the researchers. The idea was to find out what lay behind formulating an art form to be performed in a particular way.

Among the debates that figured during these discussions was a reappraisal of the Sanskrit epic Mahabaratha, which is the source of well-known kooththu performances such as Tharmapuththiran. Among the questions asked was on stereotyping the Pandavas as noble and the Kurus as evil, while others brought up the question of the moral depravity of Yudhistra for losing Drupathi for a wager.

These questions led the way to deepen the discussions. “Yudhistra gambling away Drupathi was a wonderful opportunity to begin a discussion on gender,” said Gowriswaran.

“It is only when you get involved in such projects you realise the depth of knowledge possessed by people who are not conventionally well-educated,” said Jeyasankar.The reformulation and its product – a script incorporating amendments the community wanted – brought into the process strong female participation in the performances. Traditionally, men played the role of women on the pretext that they (women) did not have energy to dance throughout the night. However, the actual reason was ritual un-cleanliness associated with menstruation since the kooththu was performed in the precincts of the temple. But this has begun to change and the reformulation movement used women and girls as much as possible to increase participation.

At the end of the reformulation exercise, Tharmapuththiran kooththu, based on the Mahabaratha, was transformed by the collective wisdom from the discussions at Seelamunai and renamed Simmasana por (Battle for the throne). This kooththu is known as the ‘fount of Vadamodi kooththu’ (thai kooththu) because it encompasses all aspects of a kooththu performance.

A significant aspect of the kooththu debate was the appropriate venue of its performance. In the 1950s, important kooththu performances were played before urban audiences, when it was for the first time trans-located from its traditional roots in the village to the metropolis. It was a time of cultural revival, which saw the birth of Sinhala national theatre, alongside which kooththu was performed as Tamil traditional theatre.

During the reformulation however, the appropriateness of performing kooththu on the proscenium arch stage, where it is now usually performed, was raised. To some critics the fullest theatrical experience of a kooththu performance could be got only in the vattakalari, or theatre-in-the-round on which kooththu was, and is, traditionally performed in villages like Seelamuniai and others in the northeast.

“Kooththu performances reflect the motion of the earth revolving of itself and at the same time rotating around the sun. This concept is brought out best when staged in the vattakalari,” said Gowriswaran.

He says when kooththu is staged in the conventional proscenium arch theatre there is a feeling of confinement and restriction, both for audiences and performers, which is not there in the vattakalari, which is usually set up in the village square. “In a conventional performance the interaction is only between the performers and the group of theatre goers who have come to see the play. In the vattakalari you involve the whole community,” Gowriswaran said.

Kooththu artistes are also concerned that the proscenium arch stage ignores the centrality of the annaviyar to the performance. As the director or stage manager in a conventional western play is away from the footlights, kooththu performances in a proscenium arch theatre attempts to ‘hide’ the annaviyar.

“In a traditional performance the annaviyar is absolutely central. He monitors the performance all the time. If the footwork of the dancer goes awry for some reason, the annaviyar can do a subtle change of the beat to accommodate it. Or if the performer misses a line the annaviyar can prompt him unobtrusively,” Gowriswaran said.But kooththu artistes emphasise this does not mean they devalue the performances of kooththu on the proscenium arch stage. They say such theatre has come to stay and undermining it is not their project.

“All we are saying is that performances in the vattakalari should go side by side with those on the proscenium arch stage. It is just that the performances in the vattakalari are a different experience and will take kooththu to a new stage in its development as community theatre,” said Gowriswaran.

“Performances in the proscenium arch theatre and at the vattakalai could learn from each other: they could complement each other,” says James Thompson, director, Centre for Applied Drama Research, University of Manchester.

Though controversial and potentially dangerous, contemporary politics found its way both into the discussions during the reformulation, as well as in the casual conversations about the performances. Tharmapuththiran or Simmasana por, based on the epic Mahabaratha, which is set against background of the contest of two royal houses for supremacy – the Kurus and the Pandavas – set the stage.

Tharmapuththiran or Simmasana por is about power and sovereignty, which is what the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, is all about. It also demonstrates the futility of war because of the suffering it brings about. But its greatest contemporary relevance perhaps is astute manipulation by Krishna, who is essentially an outsider to the conflict between the Kurus and the Pandavas, to fulfil his own agenda.

The performers and audiences give positive accounts of how the revival of kooththu through the reformulation project has impacted on their daily lives. For one, its revival has given greater exposure to kooththu artistes and accorded honour due to a skilled performer.

“In the old days, though there were many people who performed the kooththu some found social recognition because of their skills in performance. So much so they came to be known as penn pillai Sinniah or mirthangam Sellathurai,” said T. Muththulingam, an edttu annaviyar.

Both Muthulingam’s father and grandfather were well-known kooththu artistes in their time. His father Sinniah, became known as penn pillai Sinniah because of skill in taking women’s roles or penn kooththu, in the performances. “Penn kooththu is the real test for an artiste and if you are famous for playing such roles you have to be really very skilled,” said Muthulingam.

Kooththu, its admirers say, is an education by itself. For one, the performer has to be absolutely physically fit. But this is not all. Kooththu is a good way of banishing stage fright among the young and due to having to commit large chunks of material to memory, a sound way of activating the mind.

The discussion and community involvement in the reformulation exercise infused the desire for community participation in other aspects of existence as well. “I remember during our kooththu discussions someone asked, ‘If you can discuss kooththu why can’t we discuss our economic problems?’” said Gowriswaran.

Kooththu’s immense contribution in relieving mental anxiety, especially in a population as in the east that was caught up in cycles of violence is also acknowledged. Not only could watching a performance be a cathartic experience for troubled souls, but also the collective, participatory effort allows the community to share the individual’s trauma, anxiety and loss.

“Watching and participating in theatre and ritual helps in restoring mental well-being,” says Thompson, who is a participant, observer and commentator on the reformulation of kooththu going on in Seelamunai.

To the artistes, the academics and annaviyars the sustainability of the reformulated art form is very important. Fortunately, a group of young people seem to be interested. “Like in the case of cinema, continuous exposure has kindled in them an interest. As in any craft, one or two of them who were helping around, but have now begun taking on minor roles,” said Sivanayagam.

Another test of sustainability is whether performable scripts are generated from the community. Here again the response appears positive. “We performed Simmasana Por. We are now in reformulating a new one – Avimanju Illakanan vathai,” said Sivanyagam. “Kooththu is a participatory exercise and touches the life of the entire community. I am hopeful its multifarious aspects will help the development of the community in Seelamunai and other adjacent villages to live a community-oriented spirit,” said Jeyasankar.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Unidentified Homeless People

Unidentified Homeless People

People were talking about us
When we were displaced
Because of War
And to a certain extent
We were relieved

People were talking about us
When we were displaced
Because of Tsunami
And to a certain extent
We were relieved

Nobody is talking about us
When we are being displaced
Not because of War or Tsunami
But because of rehabilitators
And we weren’t relieved

We lost our houses
Without differences
Or discriminations
To the power of war

We lost our houses
Without differences
Or discriminations
To the power of water

When our owners of the houses
Have decided to shift
From their storied mansions
To their miniatures
We lost our rented houses
To the power of dollars and pounds

We are the displaced
And homeless people
No one will call us refugees

We are the displaced
And homeless people
No one will call us displaced
Or internally displaced

We are the displaced
And homeless people
No one will call us street people
Or people in the street

We are the unidentified
Homeless people
Or people without homes


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Why are they manufacturing this and that?

Why are they manufacturing buses?

To treat you as a citizen
And make you to travel easily.

Why are they manufacturing trains?

To treat you as a citizen
And make you travel easily too.

Why are they manufacturing cars?

To treat you as a citizen
And make you to travel comfortably.

Why are they manufacturing water cannons?

To treat you as a mob
And stops you democratically

Why are they manufacturing battle tanks?

To treat you as an enemy
And blast you into pieces


Has Civilisation Died?

Dear All,

The Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management, Batticaloa has written a statement against the rape and murder of a woman in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka last week. Please circulate widely and raise this issue in different forums. WCDM is distributing a Tamil statement in Batticaloa on Friday (12.08.2005) morning. All organisations of the women coalition have taken the responsibility to distribute it.

Has Civilisation Died?

Stop Violence against Women

Last Wednesday, 3-8-2005, the body of a woman who was raped and murdered was found at the Batticaloa Methodist Central College Hall.

This brutal incident of gendered violence is part of the continuum of broader violence in our society today.

This incident raises many important questions beyond those of who perpetrated this violence and what the identity of the victim of this violation was.
Is there no protection for women in this 21st century, when it is claimed that humans have achieved large scale development and progress?

Is there no end to brutal acts like this, which violate women’s rights?
Why do these violent acts happen again and again?

Our society raises questions and takes action when injustices are carried out in the name of ethnicity and religion, but why is it silent when this violence happens against women?

Social and political violence and rights violations specifically against women are continuing. It is usually the case that when an incident takes place it will be given attention and publicity for a while – but this it will diminish over time, until another brutal incident takes place.

All individuals, groups and organizations working for the welfare of the society, for peace and for human rights, should condemn this incident. They should take action to stop these incidents from happening again.

All parties who are negotiating for peace should pay full attention to bringing justice to this incident. There should be a complete investigation and the perpetrators should be brought in front of the law. There is no peace without justice.

All people who want a society free from violence should make it clear to their children, families and neighbours that incidents like this are unacceptable. Such violence cannot be allowed to be quietly forgotten.

As individual women, and organisations working for women’s rights,
We strongly condemn this incident.

We also pay our respect to this sister who was buried anonymously
without any ritual, respect or tears.

Create a society where violence against women is not tolerated.


Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.

Stop Violence Against Women

Stop Violence Against Women

Last Wednesday, 3-8-2005, the body of a woman who was raped and murdered was found at the Batticaloa Methodist Central College Hall.

This brutal incident of gendered violence is part of the continuum of broader violence in our society today.

This incident raises many important questions beyond those of who perpetrated this violence and what the identify of the victim of this violation was.

Is there no protection for women in this 21st century, when it is claimed that humans have achieved large scale development and progress?
Is there no end to brutal acts like this, which violate women’s rights?
Why do these violent acts happen again and again?
Our society raises questions and takes action when injustices are carried out in the name of ethnicity and religion, but why is it silent when this violence happens against women?
Social and political violence and rights violations specifically against women are continuing. It is usually the case that when an incident takes place it will be given attention and publicity for a while – but this it will diminish over time, until another brutal incident takes place.

All individuals, groups and organisations working for the welfare of the society, for peace and for human rights, should condemn this incident. They should take action to stop these incidents from happening again.

All parties who are negotiating for peace should pay full attention to bringing justice to this incident. There should be a complete investigation and the perpetrators should be brought in front of the law. There is no peace without justice.

All people who want a society free from violence, should make it clear to their children, families and neighbours that incidents like this are unacceptable. Such violence cannot be allowed to be quietly forgotten.

As individual women, and organisations working for women’s rights,

we strongly condemn this incident.

We also pay our respect to this sister who was buried anonymously

without any ritual, respect or tears.
Create a society where violence against women is not tolerated.


Monday, August 08, 2005

The Mobile People

The Mobile People

I’m not talking of people
Who are not talking among themselves
While walking in pair

I’m not talking of people
Who are not talking among themselves
While staying together

I’m thinking of the dangers
This engulfs the communities
In a different form of epidemic
May I call it an e. epidemic?

This will alienates the human species
Not only from the environment
But also from themselves too

But here
I’m talking of a different kind
A different kind of mobile people

As a Thamil in Sri Lanka
With a readily packed hand baggage
I had the experience of mobile life
Because of Army
Because of differently barking dogs
Because of unidentified gunmen
Because of rumors
Because of dreams
As a Thamil in Sri Lanka
With a readily packed hand baggage
I had the experience of mobile life

But this is entirely a different story
There are no differently barking dogs
Even though haunted by dreams and rumors
But this is entirely a different story

Like a darkness moves in the night
Without making signals of warning
Dogs are vanishing from the scenes

Oh! What a great tragedy!
The experienced mobile people
Are in turmoil now
Not because of the helplessness
In the hands of nature
But because of the restlessness
In the hands of neo invaders
Who came with their own prescriptions
And pills to relief us
And with differently designed
Dissection tool kit and microscope
And surely with pots of gold
In order to reconstruct us again
According to them in this neo global order


Sunday, July 10, 2005

Peaceful Times

When war crumbles the Earth, Peace rebuilds it.

And when corrupts our minds,

Peace restores it.

By: Thomas Ramanan Paul

Thursday, July 07, 2005














(Ambi is on the Bound. In the background is heard tank–related sounds: sounds of breaking waves on the bound: sound of a cool breeze: the “tuk, tuk” noise of woodpecker pecking a tree, etc, this goes on for a while. It is followed by a rendering of the verses from the stone inscription of the tank)
(The voice is heard from the behind the scene.)

A hoe of eight fold directions
To cut down a tree of seven span
Tapping with a foot to topple,
Yet, before it fell
A tank he built on earth,
And therein filled roaring waters,
Oh, virtuous king.

Ambi: Marvelous, Oh, the King Kulakottan, marvelous. Cutting the earth on eight directions: cutting down the trees of seven spans, tapping with a foot to topple: and yet, before it fell, you built a tank on the earth: filled, full with water. Oh, Your Majesty, how could I praise your patience?

(tuk, tuk: the sound of the woodpecker pecking the tree: sound of the horses’ hoofs in the background.)

Mullai rides the Royal Chariot – passes Ambi. Ambi, startled, turns his head towards
the chariot and cries aloud.

Ambi: Stop, stop the chariot. Mullai stop I’m Mulivannan, your husband. Stop the Chariot. (runs behind it.)

Chariot stops. Mullai alights from it, waves her hand at Ambi.

Ambi: Ah ha! this indeed is the greatness of a wife. May you be glorified – you who in my absence is the charioteer of the King.

Mullai moves on. Ambi gives chase. Mullai runs Ambi runs behind.

Ambi: Oh, Mullai the Princess of the Forest. Where do you run? Stay, ahead is the forest. Stop don’t run. (Mullai leaves the stage.)

Soliders: Stop, stop, Don’t run Duwanda eppa. You’ll be shot.
(Ambi runs. Soliders give chase – catch Ambi. They struggle.)

An officer (enters): What’s happening? Who’s he?

A solider: Sir, he’s come to blast the tank with bombs. He tried to run away when he saw us. We had to give a chase before we apprehended him.

Officer: Put him in the bunkers. We’ll see later.
All exit.

Ambi’s house: Amma is ironing Ambi’s shirt. Father is painting Ambi’s bookshelf.
Ambi: Amma shall I iron my shirt?
Amma: What? How many times I’ve told you not to talk such nonsense. Do you want to burn your fingers? Do your studies, instead.
Father: Has Ambi started minding other’s business? ( to mother) First he asked me whether he could paint his bookshelf. I warned him to mind his own business, He doesn’t learn,(to Ambi) Why don’t you do your home work? Or revise your lessons?
Ambi (reads); The King Kulakotan lived during the 14th century. History records that King Kulakotan built the famous Koneswara Kovil and the tank which is presently known as the Kantale tank.
Ambi: Amma, my Sigiriya Trip? Tomorrow the last day for giving names. All my classmates are going.
Amma: That subject’s closed.
Father: What’s it?
Amma: Ambi’s class’s going on a trip to Sigiriya.
Father: Sigiriya? You’re only in year ten. You ‘re too young to go there.
Ambi: But….. Amma all my classmates are going.
Father: I don’t care about your classmates. You’re not going.
Ambi (reads): King Kulakottan had a trusted charioteer by the name of Muhilvannan. Muhilvannan and his beautiful wife Mullai occupy a special place in history as loyal servants of the King Kulakottan.
Ambi: ( to himself): How lucky, my friends, they must be getting ready now.

Chorus in the backstage.
Where’re you going my friends
Where’re you going?
We’re going to Sigiriya, Ambi,
We’re going to Sigiriya.
Why go there my friends,
Why go there?
To see the majestic rock in its splendor, Ambi,
Majestic rock in its splendor.
What else you see there my friends,
What else you see?
Damsels painted on walls, Ambi,
Damsels painted on the walls.
Have a good trip, my friends,
Have a good trip.
We pity you Ambi,
We pity you.
Mother and Father talking to each other.
Father: These days it’s not safe to send children anywhere. I don’t understand why schools organize such trips. Who‘ll guarantee the safety of our children? I must talk to the principal.
Mother: Talk to Ambi’s class teacher too. Even sending the children to school is a risk, leave alone the trips. I’m on pins until Ambi returns home from school - explosions of bombs, round – ups….
Father: Identification parades in front of hooded men …… what and what responsibilities we parents have. ( after a short pause) We’re giving Ambi the best we can. It’s been the same always. Do you remember (Ambi listens) when Ambi was seven years old?
Mother: Yes, yes. He wanted to go to the “ther” festival with the children of the neighborhood. Those young boys wanted to go all by themselves. I clearly remember you refused to allow him. How he cried the whole evening! He even refused to take dinner.
Father: But, then I took him myself. I’m sure he enjoyed it. I even bought him an ice-cream and a toy gun, AK 47.
Ambi (to himself): Enjoyed? Holding my father’s hand, being dragged behind.
Who goes with you, Ambi
Who goes with you?
That’s his father.
That’s his father.
Why hold his hand, Ambi,
Why hold his hand?
For his safety, of course,
For his safety.
What see you there, Ambi
What see you there?
What shows his father
What shows his father.
You see ther, Ambi
You see ther?
(Ambi): Father in between
Ther and me, ther and me
Father: (turning towards Ambi): Ambi run up to the corner shop and get me two panadol and a ginger beer. The smell of his paint causes me migraine. Take this twenty rupee note. Two panadol - three rupees, ginger beer thirteen fifty. That’s sixteen fifty, the balance is (Ambi’s getting ready to leave) three fifty.
Wait Ambi change your black shirt. There’re army men all over the place.
Mother: Go along the side of the road. Look on both sides before you cross Don’t stand on the road, talking to your friends.
Father: Don’t go in your jeans, wear shorts. You look small in that.
Mother: Ambi looks too big for his age.
Father: He can get his I.C. only next year.
(Ambi is about to leave with an empty ginger beer bottle).
Father: You wait. The army convoy usually passes at this time. You better do your studies.
(Father leaves with the empty bottle)
End – Scene
1 “Ther” – A chariot on which images of Hindu gods are placed and drawn by bullocks along streets during Kovil Festivals.

Scene – Three
(A/L class settings)
Teacher: Our next topic is the life cycle of the butterfly. We’ve already dealt with the classification. You should be through in that section.
Five marks are awarded for classification and ten marks for the life cycle. You can’t afford to lose any marks on this. Now the life cycle of the butterfly. There are foyr stages; the egg the caterpillar or the larva the chrysalis or the pupa, and the adult, that is the butterfly.
If you have any questions you may ask me. Only up to this point.
Student 1: Miss do all insects have this type of life cycle?
Teacher: No, not all. This is not a characteristic of the class insecta.
Ambi: Miss, swarms of butterflies fly towards Kathirgamam in January every year. Is it part of their life cycle?
Student 3: They go on a pilgrimage, if you like you too can join them. (All students laugh)
Teacher: Silence. That”s out of point. Nobody is going to ask this question on the exam. I have studied the question papers of of the past five years. And I’m sure there ‘ll be a question on butterflies this year.
Student 2: Ambi’s always like that Miss, asking questions out of the syllabous.
Teacher: Your time is short, but the syllabus is wide. You must pick and choose what’s necessary for your exam.
Student 3: (to Ambi): ask that question again. (to teacher) Miss, Ambi wants to ask a question.
Ambi: Miss, what I want to say is …. Butterflies are beautiful…..
Student 1 (to Ambi): Shut up don’t start your T.V. serial again. You should have studied in the Arts stream.
Student2: Ambi wanted to join the Arts stream Miss. His father only put him here.
Teacher: That’s immaterial. Now you’re here, you must work hard. (to all students) Your parents want you to become doctors. It’s your duty to fulfill their ambitions. How many of you will enter the university, that I have my doubts.
Student 3 : (quietly) Archimedes is going to ask an important question.
( to Ambi): Miss has not answered your Kathirgamam question, ask her. (To teacher Miss Ambi wants to ask a question.
Teacher (to student 3): Ramesh, you’re spoling Ambi. Are you his mouthpiece.?
Ambi: But, miss, butterflies…
Teacher: I’ve told you a number of times, passing the A/L is not enough.
It’s the aggregate marks that counts. Whatever you study, you must memorise. If you don’t memorise, then don’t expect to enter the University.
Student 1 : (to Ambi): You and your butterflies.
(to teacher) Ignore Ambi, Miss he lives in fantasy land. (to Ambi) Because of you.
A lot of time has been wasted.
Teacher: All right. One of you read these notesw aloud, others take down, Do it quietly. (teacher hands over the note book to Ramesh and leaves)
Ramesh; Ambi, read these notes aloud. Come to the front. (Ambi comes to the front)
Ambi, butterflies, beautiful,
Very beautiful, aren’t they?

Ambi; yea Ramesh, they’re beautiful,
The petal like wings, Lovely hues of different shades,
So soft and smooth,
Aon each of which a pattern stands.
With lovely pink and purple spots,
See how thy glide,
Flapping their winfgs
So gently,
Like a ballet dancer.
(Ambi is absorbed in his thoughts. Students mime the actions.)
Students: Wa, wonderful, your’re a philosopher, Ambi.
Student 3: Ambi, once more.
Ambi: (Continues)
Hundreds and hundreds of butterflies
On their way to Kathirgamam.
Their shadows like clouds
Covering the green fgrass below
Like the souls of the departed
Flying in the clear sky.
Oh, how I wish
I were there.
All studrnts: Eureka, eureka, our Archimedes has done it again (all laugh).
Student 3: At this rtate, Archemedis’ll become Mendel.
Student 1: Mendel or Mental.
Student2: Not only Ambi, all of us will be flying like butterflies. ( mine the action)
Student 3: Who knows? Ambi’ll become a mental doctor, one day.
Stuent 2: To treat us. (all laugh)
Ambi: Mahes….
Mahes: Oh, leave us Ambi. We’ve better things to do than listen to your Mini Ramayana.
(They take the note book from Ambi and leave)
Ambi: (to himself): How happy you must be
Oh, butterfly.
How I remain,
So lonely, dejected,
No pme tp sjare
My feelings with…
Voice: how he remains,
So lonely, dejected,
No one to share
His feelings with….
Chorus: But thje water of the lovely tank
The gently breeze.
The butterflies
In their thousands
Drifting over the woods
So dark and deep,
The call of the birs,
The far horizon.

Are all yours, Ambi.
Your world
Is your Own Ambi.
Scene – Four.
(Ambi’s house. “Ambi is seated, lost in his thoughts. A knock on the door is heard)
Ambi’s mother (from another room): Ambi, see who’s knocking on the door. I don’t know what you’ve been doing from morning. Sitting there and just brooding. You’ve been doing this for the last four years, since you failed you’re a/L.
(Ambi rather reluctantly walks to the door and opens it. Rasathi comes in, holding a weekly in her hand.)
Ambi: (forgetting himself): A….i, Mulla….i.
Rasathi: Stop this madness. Call me
Rasathi. Here read this “Thinamurasu” without idling all the time.
Ambi: (takes it, then after a second thought – what’s the usee? Everything is over for me.
Rasathi: You’re in a dull mood, Ambni. Are youbnstill worryi8ng about….. about that proposal? Forget that. Why do you want to take it so seriously?
Ambi: (getting lost in his thoughts)
She was so beautifuyl.
Smiled at me so lovingly.
Moved like a swan,
Clad in rainbow colours.
Mullai waiating ready to embrace Mu;hilvannan,
Bsedie the “Ther” on the banks of the tank.
Butterflies in their thousands.
Heralding the good news.
Of like …. So sweet.
Rasathi: Bniut, uyoiur mother didn’t like her.
Ambi: Oh, how she longed to talk to me.
Frasathi: You talked to her Ambi?
(Mother overhears the conversation as she enters)
Motherm (angrily): Talk toher, Ambi didn’t d\go there to talk to her. We went there to see dthe girl. …. Whether she would be a good daughter - in –law for me. But she wanted to talk to Ambi. What a disgrace?
We, the elders were seated talking about dowry and donation…. She wanted to take Ambi to aside and talk. Shame. Decent girls don’t do that.
Rasaathi: What did Amni do? Aunty?
Mother: What’s there for him to do? Ambi’s not brought up in that manner. I told him then and there, in the presence ofll: “Ambi is is not the girl for lyou. Let’s get out from her.” I left the place immediately talking Anbi with me.
Rasathi: Ambi’s very much worried aunty.
Mother: Worreid? (noticing the weekly in Ambi’s hand) You gave him that? (getting angry) How dare you give hin this and that do entice my son? I don’t like the way you talk to him. Why do you want to talk to hium about his marrige? You have no business with him. Girls of lyour age shoul lhave modesty, trying ot hang on to my son.
Rasathi (getting anghry): Oh, your son is Salmon Khan, for me to go behind him. Everybody knows about your son, he cazy he is, uyou thik he’s still ababy. He’s twenty five years. You still tell him what to do, what to eat, how to dress and to walk. You’ve never given him a chance to decide on anything. It’s because ofyou, he’s like this. You compelled him to do Science subjects in A/L, how much he wanted to do Arts subjects. When he failed the exam, you put the blame on him. Aunty, now the world’s different. Ambi belongs to this words, our worlde, and not your world. Remember that , oh , how I pity khim.
Mother: you needn’t tell me about my son. And we don’t need your pity, either (grabs the weekly from Ambi’s hands and throws it at Rasathi.)
Let this be youyr last visit to this house. Never step into this house againg, never.
Rasathi: (gathers the Weekly) (to herself) These people never change. Poor Ambi. (She leaves)
(Ambi turns the pages of a book aimlessly.)
1 – Thinamurasu – Weekly magazine.
Scene – Five
Ambi is on the Chariot, waiting for the king.
Mullai appears on the balcony, Ambi is excited, He waves his hand at Mullai. She waves at him back. Ambi jumps down from the chariot.
Ambi: Oh my princess,there on the balcony,
(tries to climb up the balcony,but his feet slip. Ambi tries again searches for Mullai up in the balcony)
Ambi: Mullai, Mullai, where did you go? My angel, my princess, my goddess.
Ambi searches for Mullai, running here and there, excited. Policemen enter, catch Ambi, hold him tight and take him away. Ambi murmurs: Mullai, Mulla…I
End Scene five

Court Scene
Lawyers, Ambi’s father, mother and others rise when judge enters Ambi is in the box.
Judge sits and others follow suit.
Court Mudaliyar : Case No: PC 1316 Kantale.
The accused is Nathan Vadivel alias Ambi.
Arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
(to Ambi)
Repeat what I say:
I say the truth ….., and nothing but the truth.
Ambi: Your Majesty, I know nothing, but Mullai.
Mudaliyar: (getting angry) Repeat only what I say.
Your majesty, sh….. no, no….., my Lord,
What I say is the truth ……
(grabs Ambi’s hand, forces him to take oath)

State council : My lord, the accused is charged under the Prevention of terrorism Act, with
An attempt to poison the water in the reservoir. Which serves hundreds and hundreds of villagers.
Judge: Are you guilty or not guilty.
Ambi: Your Majesty, I was searching for Mullai in the balcony, when the guards brought
me here.
Judge (to the lawyer) : What does he say?
State council : My Lord, the behaviour of the accused has been found abnormal, this
Medical report (submits) supports my statements, Under these circumstances,
The state wishes to withdraw the case against the accused.
Judge (after reading the medical report): According to this report, the accused suffers from mental imbalance, he needs psychiatric treatment. I dismiss this case and order the accused to be released to the custody of his parents.
The court is adjourned. (Judge leaves.)
End Scene Six

Scene Seven

(Temple setting)
Voice : Konesweram Kovil
On the hill top
The sky above
And the sea below,
Serene atmosphere.
Images of gods
Showering Blessings
On crowds of devotees,
Chanting prayers.

Ambi : Ah, ha.
Oh, King Kullakottan
Your service is noble.
How this enchanting atmosphere
Mesmerises me.
My cuckoo bird of the garden of flowers.
Where have you gone?
Konesha Kovil
Festivity at its peak,
Where have you elude me,
My Mullai?
(V0ices of women are heard)
ah,that’s the voice
Of the angel of my heart
It’s the melody that lingers
Long after the cuckoo bird
And the mynah bird have sung.
(A group of women go past Ambi)
Woman 1 : hey,come quickly,the pooja’s about to begin.
Ambi; aai, MULLAI.
I’ m here. Where do you go ?
( Ambi pulls the hand of a woman. She slaps him.)
Woman 1 : He’s mad. Why did you slap him?
Woman 2 : Nonsense.
Ambi: Ai,Mullai.
You slapped me?
( Ambi tries to go near the woman. Guards of the temple assault Ambi.)
Ambi : (loud) Oh,King
Is this your royal justice?
You removed my Mullai from me.
And allowed your guards to assault me.
Is this your justice?

End Scene.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

‘Annaviyar’ Palahappodiyar of Kannankudah, Batticaloa is one of the prominent Masters of the art of Kooththu, the traditional Theatre of the Thamils of Sri Lanka. He is skillful in both styles of Kooththu, the ‘Thenmody’ and the ‘Vadamody.’ These two styles of the traditional theatres of the Thamils are prominent in the Eastern part of Sri Lanka and popular among the Thamils of Sri Lanka.

‘Annaviyar’ Palahappodiyar’s knowledge and skill in Kooththu is tremendous and he is one of the living resource bases of the indigenous knowledge and skills of the Thamils of Sri Lanka. His support to the Kooththu Reformulation program of the Seelamunai, Batticaloa is commendable.

‘Annaviyar’ Palahappodiyar is one of the energy bases of the art of Kooththu as a living art in the Eastern Part of Sri Lanka in the contemporary world. His consciousness and contribution to the future of Kooththu is also appreciable.


Friday, July 01, 2005

Politics of Reformulations.
Reformulation of Community Theatre based on Kooththu*.
(*Traditional Theatre of the Thamils of Sri Lanka)
The politics of Reformulation is a shift in the paradigm from machine-centered Industrialization & Computerization to one that people-centered. Redefining or reinventing the concepts of development and technology is the pre-requisite for this process.
It is basically liberating the human beings from machines and re-connects them with the nature.

Fundamentally human beings are also elements of nature but with the power of modern technology to control the nature or the whole Universe for its own benefits. But the “Modern Man” with his powers created the world for a few and brought destructions to the rest.

The concept of Reformulation involves a process of unbinding Man from Mechanization and make him a human being to live in a world of equality where difference is celebrated. This will be achieved through different kinds of ways and means at different levels.

The process of Kooththu could function as one of the means to formulate a people oriented activity in the creation of a world of equality where the difference is celebrated.

Kooththu is not only an art of the artist in the modern sense, but it’s mainly a process of a community. The basic process of the Kooththu system is learning it; by doing it collectively and the primary source of it is Memory. These aspects made the Kooththu process primarily a practice oriented one.

Modernization and Commercialization of Kooththu alienate the people who own it and practicing it for generations. The pre colonial nature of Kooththu is considered as crude, unsophisticated, primitive and the art of the illiterate and the uneducated because those who involved in the Kooththu at the community level are not educated in the Colonial Education Institutions and are not the consumers of imported spirits.

The influence of the politics and aesthetics of Modernization played a vital role in the perception of Kooththu in modern times. This perception made the “educated” to think that Kooththu as Medai Kooththu (Kooththu in the Picture Frame Stage). Kooththu was dislocated from its origin and appropriated to a new space introduced by colonial power. A community oriented performance art was minimized to performance oriented art for the audience in a colonial building and the audience was made to think, it’s modern.

Sivagnanam Jeyasankar
Department of Fine Arts,
Faculty of Arts &Culture,
Eastern University Sri Lanka,
Sri Lanka.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

'Annaviyar' Sinnaiah Gnanaseharam of Seelamunai, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka played an important role in the Reformulation of Kooththu(Traditional Theatre of the Thamils of Sri Lanka)
process as an organic form of Community Theatre , which was initiated by S.Jeyasankar in year 2002 for his Masters program in Seelamunai and later developed into a continuous program by the THIRE EYE Local Knowledge and Skill Activists Group in Seelamunai and extended to other villages to counter Global Culture.

In every sky there’s full moon reign
To hide in fear there’s no country foreign

The millennium and the New Year
Ushered in, rejoiced and did not yet wear
The prophecy of Nostradamus did ghost like appear
The major powers attempts to make it truer.

For the people, in the name of people
Under the names of states and institutions
Attempts of power of freakish men-.
Of swollen nerves and numbed muscles.

What name bear will the wisdom and prowess?
That fails to make untrue the prophecy
That revives shape and grimly shines
By sending chill through people’s spines

Will the wisdom of thousand years
Perish in the face of this utter nonsense?
If it does perish are we all still
People primitive and inhumane

Let swollen nerves their swelling dispel
Numbed muscles their numbness dispel
The angry passion its arrogance dispels.

In the heart, let kindness blossom
In the head, let wisdom glow
And with the lives on the earth let human live too.

By: S.Jeyasankar
Translated into English by: T.Kirupakaran
From THIRD EYE Little Magazine.*

*THIRD EYE Little magazine is the publication of the THIRD EYE English Forum.
Annual Temple Rituals and Cultural Programs of the Third Eye

Third Eye Local Knowledge and Skill Activists Group in collaboration with her affiliate groups, “Seelamunai Kalai Kalaham” and “Karunepamkeny Paadum Nila Kali Kalaham”
performed songs and dances (90min.) on 20th June and Kooththu (180min.) on 22nd June respectively at the “Vyravar” Temple, Batticaloa at 9.00 pm (near the Railway Station of Batticaloa) connected with its annual ritual ceremony 2005.

The performance of Songs and Dances with the accompaniment of indigenous instrumentals is the compositions of the affiliates of the Third Eye on different issues ranging from displacement to oppressions and resistance to celebrations!

The performance of third successive Reformulated Kooththu (Traditional Theatre of the Thamils of Sri Lanka) “Seethai Surpanahai Vathai” (“The Torture of Seetahi and Surpanahai”) is totally a rewritten version of the Kooththu Community of Seelamunai Batticaloa. The Kooththu portrays the sufferings and the voiceless ness of women in the epic Ramayanam.

Third Eye
Local Knowledge and Skill Activists Group

Friday, June 03, 2005

Treasure Island

Treasure Island

Forests of materials
Opened to anyone
With dollars in hands
Wealth of resources
Make dollars by the handful

Disaster made avenues
For research and experiments
An open field for practices
Country becomes
An Open University
But not for the natives
Who were caged into a
Disney world of
Academic Institutions
Making people suitable for
World Bank demanded
Wonder land of
Blue colored neo slaves

How to live as subjects
And to be specimens
Under the microscope
Forever in different forms

At least for a change
Shall we resist?
Or be happy
With eternal slavery


(Republished from OPTIONS volume: 36, 1st Issue 2005.
OPTIONS is published by Women and Media Collective, Colombo, Sri Lanka.)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Children’s festival at Seelamunai-Some Thoughts

Who said flying kites is an easy task? Certainly not, in my humble opinion.
To fly a kite you need to have patience ;
To fly a kite you need to have a stable mind;
To fly a kite you need to have friends;
To fly a kite you need to have strategies,
That’s why children are good at it!

These were the thoughts that wandered in my lonely mind when I was at Seelamunai witnessing the happy children from Seelmunai, Kumarapuram Karuvepamkerny and Navatkudah celebrating the Children’s festival organized by the Third Eye Local Knowledge and Skill Activists group.

In the days old, children were treated as children in our society and there
was a space for them to explore and experience the real world full of
richness and variety. Due to globalization and its shadows on our culture and
society our children are being treated as robots and rote- learning remote
controlled devices .Their daily mechanical duty includes going to school and
tuition, doing home work and attend computer classes ,and doing well in
exams to please their parents no matter whether they are school-going
children or undergraduates.

Children who experience post tsunami trauma have had a space to vomit
their bitter past and rebuild their inner strength through festivals like this.
I was thrilled and indeed surprised to see the enormous talent exhibited by
the children through their own songs and games .

The festival also brought the traditional games which nurtured the children
and used as a tool to develop their personality and perception to the surface
once again.

Flying kites is all about making social relationships and boosting the morals
of children to be self- reliant and sustainable .

Congratulations to the winds behind the wings (kites).

S.Sasitharan, Eastern University, Srilanka