Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Poem of T. Kirupacaran

To Earthquake!

Hey! Earthquake!
You ten-lettered monster!
I hate you.

I hate you because
You empty the earth
People, animals and
Peaceful dwellings,
And devour them up all
With your cracky mouth.

First you start
With a tremor,
Like a whisper In the ear
So mild to hear And then
You end with a roar
So hard to bear
And brings the earth
To the edge of despair.

If you strike again
Do so in some planets far away,
But never again
In this earth so lovely and gay.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Kooththu is a art of community, not merely performance source

Arts: Kooththu is art of a community, not merely performance Source:
The Northeastern Monthly - February 1, 2006
By: S. Jeysankar

The struggle against colonial aggression and the emergence of nationalism emphasises the urgent need for the formation of a national culture as opposed to colonialism or colonial culture.
Anti-colonial struggles were the prominent socio-political activity in many colonised countries around the time of the Second World War. Countries newly liberated from direct colonial rule waged a struggle on cultural platforms for a total liberation from colonialism. But economic dependency and the colonial orientation of the education system, the media and the social construction of colonial rule restricted the establishment of a society that was totally free from colonial moorings.
This leads to a strange phase in societies where there is a clash of different oppressive worldviews – the ‘traditional’ and the ‘western construct’ – in the formation of societies. That is the revival of tradition through the western eye or a western or modern worldview.

The theatrical works of Professor E. R. Sarachchandra, especially Maname and Sinhabhahu are considered as national theatre of Sri Lanka. Politically and culturally it means the national theatre of the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. The work of Sarachchandra represents only Sinhala identity. To what extent it represents the differences within the Sinhala communities and cultures, is another question.
These artistic works and the political and cultural implications of such activity inspired the Tamils, especially Tamil intellectuals in Sri Lankan universities. Their response was the production of Ravanesan, Karnan Por, Vaaly Vathay and Nondy Nadaham in the 1960s, the process which they named as working for the creation of a national theatre for the Tamils of Sri Lanka.
Cultural activity coming from Sinhala and Tamil intellectuals, artists and intellectual-artists are clear examples of how they perceived the concept of a modern nation and its identity. We can observe the lack of perception in their activities. The perceptions are ethnic bounded and elite-oriented. The artistic and aesthetic theories they incorporated, the works they produced and the target audience of their works, help to establish this argument.
Professor S. Viththiananthan modified kooththu to fit the picture frame stage as Sarachchandra had done with Sinhala theatre. He shifted kooththu from an open space –vadda kalari (round stage) – to a controlled-space auditorium, constructed by the culture of the colonial power.
“Both the missionaries and the colonial administration used the school system to destroy the concept of the ‘empty space’ among the people by trying to capture and confine it in government-supervised urban community halls, school halls, church buildings and in actual theatre buildings with proscenium stage.” (Thiongo 1986: 37-38)
Viththiananthan’s university-based revival through modification of the kooththu program created a generation of modem theatre practitioners to associate themselves with kooththu for their own purposes. They used the elements of kooththu but worked mostly within the picture frame stage.
It is paradoxical that in a theatrical tradition which provides a variety of spaces – temple precincts, fields, streets and market squares – modern theatre, which arose during the mid-19th century in India, chose for itself the proscenium theatre. The first proscenium theatres in the region were built in Bombay and Calcutta in the 1860s, nearly 300 years after England’s first proscenium theatre (1576).
It took three centuries and colonialism for the proscenium to find a place in India. But when it came, it totally changed the traditional concept and character of theatrical space, from the point of view of both actor and spectator. It brought about separation between the two, critically affecting their traditional intimate relationship.
It also forced spectators to view performances frontally from a fixed seat and a fixed angle. Traditionally, audiences have watched performances from different angles, having a constantly changing perception of the performance. They fully realize the importance of space in shaping a performance, and the role the spectators play in such neutral and informal spaces.
But the lack of understanding the importance of space in the socio-political context made the producers of kooththu to choose such art forms only for modification or revival programs. The influence of the colonially imposed modern thinking played an important role in this selection.
Modem thinking and modem theories played a major role in the process of forming a modern nation and a national culture for its identification. ‘Modern,’ ‘modernity’ and ‘modernisation’ are the words and concepts, which built the thought processes of the ‘educated’ elite.
Traditional theatre is considered as an element in the formation of a national culture and it is so in the revival and modification of kooththu. Those in search of elements for the formation of a national culture identified kooththu as one, but did not take into consideration the connection between the people and the art form, which they seek for the formation of national culture.
Why did they consider kooththu as a strong element in building a national theatre, in the formation of national culture and the national identity? And why did they forget the people who perform it?
The approach of university-educated intellectuals alienates the art form from the people who have been performing it for generations. This is the result of modernist thinking of colonially designed intellectuals. Artistic norms, the values of aesthetics, and most importantly, the selection of the segment of society, which is the middle class spectator, leads to this shift in cultural formation.
Maybe the slogan of the program was called Return to the roots, but it was generally a program for disconnecting from the roots. Maname and Sinhabhahu are now the possessions of Sarachchandra’s family or his troupe; nobody is concerned about the community who performed it for generations or the traditional performance which was the source of the new creations.
Even in modern academic and in artistic practices, culture means the culture of the ruling class that is ‘high culture,’ while others are considered ‘folk art’ meaning ‘low culture.’ They take peoples’ art, but not the people, and make it the art of high culture. This is the politics of national culture in the modem political context.
A question raised by a colleague on this matter one day clearly reveals the dangers of one-sided intellectual exercises and insists on the importance of detailed argument and the necessity of the reformulation programs on kooththu with the participation of the kooththu community.
She asked me, “Why are you, an outsider with limited experience in kooththu, working on kooththu in the villages, when well experienced people who are insiders to the art form alienate themselves from the art in the villages and are working on it from within middle class-centred spaces with modern concepts?”
I replied to her “This is the essence of my work.” Kooththu is an art of a community and not only a performance; it is a process of the people. I am concentrating on this aspect to formulate an organic form of community theatre based on kooththu. Basically, creating our own spaces by ourselves for the betterment of the society is the essence of my work.
Quotations from the works of Ngugi Wa Thiongo and Peixoto Fernando capture the essence of the relationship between national culture and cultures of people in other parts of the world.
“It was imperialism that had stopped the free development of the national traditions of theatre rooted in the ritual and ceremonial practices of the peasantry. The real language of African theatre could only be found among the people – the peasantry in particular – in their life, history and struggles.
“Kamiriithu then was not an aberration but an attempt at reconnection with the broken roots of African civilization and its traditions of theatre. In its very location in a village within the kind of social classes described above, Kamiriithu was the answer to the question of the real substance of a national theatre. Theatre is not buildings. People make theatre. Their life is the very stuff of drama. Indeed Kamiriithu reconnected itself to the national tradition of the empty space, of language, of content and of form.” (Thiongo 1986: 41-42)
“National characteristics are not abstract in theatre because a theatre is in dialog with the social changes it continuously modifies. To keep theatre forms from the past may be useful as a way of preserving a cultural heritage, but a theatre that limits itself to preservation misses participating in the dynamic transformation of society.” (Fernando 1989: 60)
Works cited:Thiongo, Ngugi Wa. (1986), Decolonizing the Mind: the Language of African Theatre, James Currey, London Fernando, Peixoto. (1989), ‘Brazilian theatre and national identity,’ in Theatre and Drama Review, Vol.120, No.2