Jaffna and Colombo

A century of relationships in three plays

Reviewed by: Bhagavadas Sriskanthadas
There’s no great tradition in Sri Lanka of plays having scripts in English, reflecting local society, passed to posterity in printed form. In most instances even getting hold of typescript pages of those old plays proves to be an inconceivable task. This is where Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo, deserves a word of praise for undertaking the task of offering the readers “Jaffna and Colombo” – a collection of three plays by two persons who enriched Sri Lankan English theatre. These are, “HE COMES FROM JAFFNA” by E.F.C. Ludowyk, the first Sri Lankan Professor of English, and two other plays, “RASANAYAGAM’S LAST RIOT” and “HE STILL COMES FROM JAFFNA”, written by Ernest Macintyre, whose name has become synonymous with the Sri Lankan English theatre for the last fifty years.
The subtitle, “A century of relationships in three plays”, suggests how the friendly relationship that existed between Sinhalese and Tamils deteriorated steadily between 1934, when Ludowyk wrote the play, and the turn of this century. These three plays trace the kaleidoscopic evolution of breakdown in race relations.
Ludowyk, endowed with intelligence and great aesthetic sense in his dealings with humanity, rose above artificial frontiers. This explains how a person born in Galle, had his early education at Richmond College and in the twilight of his life wrote “THOSE LONG AFTERNOONS” – an autobiographical account of childhood in this town – should write a play where the man from the other end of the island, Jaffna, turned out to be the title character.
Ludowyk never claimed “He comes from Jaffna” to be an original work, as he based it on an English script “A pair of spectacles” written by Sydney Grundy, which in turn was adapted from the French play Le Petit Oiseaux, by Eugene Labiche. A comparative study of “A pair of spectacles” with “He comes from Jaffna” would lead one to believe Ludowyk kept tinkering with Grundy’s script. However, it should be remembered that Ludowyk, just before his return from England in early 1930s, saw the performance of “A pair of spectacles” and on arrival cobbled together, “He comes from Jaffna”, an adaptation of that.
This play should be seen as an adaptation written and directed by him merely to entertain the local audience. In his play all characters were locals saving for Marion, the second wife of Cleveland Rajaratnam.
Ludowyk belonged to the Burgher community. The Burghers are said to be the descendants of inter-marriages between the Portuguese and Dutch and the locals. Through the character Isaacsz, the shoemaker, Ludowyk gives the audience a lesson in how the illiterate section of this community gave expression to their thoughts in English, without letting rules of grammar act as impediments.
“He comes from Jaffna” is a farce with a straight forward story meant for entertainment. Duraiswamipillai, the title character, is introduced as a parsimonious country bumpkin who proffered nothing free, except advice, who metamorphoses into a benevolent person just before the final fall of the curtain.
The original script of this play has remained untouched since 1991. The reason for this may be as Shelagh Goonewardene in the introduction to “Jaffna and Colombo” puts it: “After the regrettable changes in the relationship between Tamils and Sinhalese from the early 1980s onwards the play was judged only from the jaundiced and misleading view that it reproduced derogatory stereotypes.”
Ernest Macintyre, in an effort to prevent the play from going into oblivion, stepped in to revive it and in the process perpetuated the memory of Ludowyk for his invaluable contribution to the Sri Lankan theatre. Ernest Macintyre revived it in 2005 in Sydney, Australia. In directing the revived play Macintyre had to make certain changes to the original script in order to make it acceptable to the wider section of the Sri Lankan audience, a group he targeted. All interpolations and the other changes to the original script have been highlighted, in the book, in bold letters.
In Ludowyk’s production of the play, it’s interesting to note that all the main characters remained Tamils while the cast were drawn from different communities. During the early days the role of the title character was played by P.C.Thambugalla and, following his death, by E.C.B. Wijesinghe. However, in the revived play Macintyre presents Ludowyk’s characters, Thambipillai and his daughter, under the surname Fernando. This alteration makes all previous changes pale into insignificance and the director of the revised production may have felt it was imperative to take the play before an audience living in a milieu different from where Ludowyk lived. Only time can tell whether the director of the latest production has read the minds of the audience correctly!
“Rasanayagam’s Last Riot”, the second play in the book, deals with a period relatively different from the first half of last century, noted for the cordial relationships that existed between the Sinhalese and Tamils, in Sri Lanka. Rasanaygam, a Tamil from Jaffna, and Philip, his Sinhalese room-mate during the undergraduate days at Peradeniya, saw the frequent ethnic riots during the second half of the 20th century as a blessing in disguise. Every riot provided an opportunity to these old friends to socialise and go on a drinking spree during the curfew hours. Between 1956 and 1983 there were at least six major race riots and Philip gave refuge to Rasanaygam on all these occasions, shielding him from mobs hell bent on violence. Strangely, during these ‘get-togethers’ both of them discussed every topic under the sun except the reasons underlying the conflict, a sensitive issue they discreetly avoided.
Curiously, a similar relationship – not discussing this sensitive subject, prevailed between Phillip and Sita, a westernized Tamil woman who is married to him. Shelagh Goonewardene, explains the enigmatic relationship that existed between Sita and Phillip thus: “ In the working of the play, Macintyre also uses marriage as an analogy to describe the relationship between Sinhalese and Tamils who have lived in one country, Sri Lanka, which both have inherited over the centuries - two peoples who despite complex differences have subsisted together just as two different individuals of equal complexity transcend characteristics unique to each in the bond of marriage.”
“Rasanayagam’s Last Riot” is a skillfully crafted black comedy, encompassing a three decade history, recounted by three characters. In 1990 when the play was staged at the Belvoir Theatre, Sydney, the role of Rasanayagam was played by Gandhi Macintyre, a well known Sri Lankan professional actor, who had cut his teeth at the Drama Studio London.
The final play in the book is “He Still Comes From Jaffna” and anyone reading it cannot escape a strong sense of déjà vu. This play was first performed in 2000, almost a decade after the staging of “Rasanayagam’s Last Riot” and 65 years after Ludowyk wrote the script for “He Comes From Jaffna”. Relying on imagery and sardonic humour, Macintyre has strained every sinew to transform Ludowyk’s man from Jaffna, every inch a zany conservative, “wearing a white turban….and carrying a bundle of drumsticks, a chembu, a bottle of gingilly oil and a tiffin carrier.....” into a person who would fit the stereotype of a ‘Tamil terrorist.’
Macintyre introduces his title character to the audience only in act two. In so doing he uses powerful visual images and has buttressed them with verbal images, as if to lift the sagging interest the audience might have experienced hitherto. The title character in “He Still Comes From Jaffna,” Pathmanathan, is a young man in his late twenties, clad in jeans and shirt, clinging to a traveling bag, arriving from Toronto for the ostensible purpose of getting married to Maya, a sophisticated girl from Colombo.
Though Maya disapproved of arranged marriages, she reluctantly acquiesced to her parent’s plans but only with the intention of using this lad from Toronto as ‘raw material’ for a novel she was writing.
Pathmanathan’s words and deeds betrayed the fact that he was there to execute a sinister plan. The play also touches a myriad of affairs which mattered to the local elite - like old school networks and getting illegal things done through highly influential friends thus transcending ethnic boundaries. In the play’s unexpected denouement the Director lets Maya, who symbolizes a wider section of humanity unfettered by parochial ties, to resurrect from the dead, Pathmanathan, who had succumbed to an injury caused by a bullet when the house was under siege by sharpshooters. “He Still Comes from Jaffna” is seen as an ideal vehicle to unfurl serious messages in a lighter vein, while leaving the grey area between fact and fiction in tact.
The three plays contained in “Jaffna and Colombo” are going to benefit students of English theatre in Sri Lanka enormously. The two men who wrote the plays contributed enormously to keep English theatre alive in this tiny island. Ludowyk, who died in 1985, while remaining a full time academic, kept his interest in theatre alive.
Where as Ernest Macintyre, whose theatre involvement exceeds half a century in Sri Lanka, was associated with the Colombo based theatre company ‘Stage and Set’ and subsequently with the ‘Lionel Wendt Theatre.’ In ENGLISH LITERATURE FROM THE THIRD WORLD, a book written two decades ago, Trevor James, in discussing the history of theatre in Sri Lanka, refers to Ernest Macintyre as “The most successful dramatist…However, since then he has written and directed more than half a dozen plays, touching issues related to his country of birth.


A short cut to English through Sinhala

By W.Henry

Reviewed by Carol Aloysius
In recent years there has been a renewed interest on the part of English language experts, to provide supplementary material that would facilitate the learning of English grammar to beginners as well as those with a limited knowledge of the language.
These teaching aides, which have made use of a variety of techniques, have however, failed to produce the desired results- judging from the low standard of English among students studying it as a second and even first language. The poor results obtained by students sitting the English language papers at the GCE O.L and GCE A.L examinations in recent years are adequate proof of this fact.
The ability to read, write and understand a global language like English easily is a must for any aspiring student in search of a suitable job anywhere in the world today. It is thus not surprising that the vast majority of students, leaving our schools today, where English is still a second language, invariably find that their hopes of obtaining suitable jobs to match their academic qualifications are frustrated simply because of their limited knowledge of the English language.
To help such students, a few concerned educationists are now drawing on their long years of experience as teachers of English, to facilitate the learning of English in the shortest possible time.
W. Henry, a former English teacher at Ananda College, belongs to this small breed of innovative language teachers.
His attempt at teaching English to Sinhala students is by using Sinhala translations of English grammar. The purpose of resorting to the vernacular to teach English he says in the introduction to his book titled ` Short cut to English through Sinhala’ is because it will be easier for students to learn a new language by teaching it via a medium that the students were already familiar with, namely, their mother tongue.
He points out “The main difficulty of many students who study English today is the medium in which they have to learn its grammar. All the text books of English grammar written by well known authors are in English. But the present day students of the GCE O.L standard cannot read and understand them”. His solution to this problem is thus to give these students, who have studied the Sinhala language and grammar over the years, the option of learning a new language through the medium of their mother tongue. “They will then be in a better position to understand the explanation of English grammar”, he says confidently.
Beginning with the parts of speech, learners are put through 16 carefully structured and graded lessons, followed by exercises at the end of each lesson for self evaluation. All the lessons and exercises have been painstakingly translated down, even references being made to Sinhala slang words with their English equivalent, for which incidentally he devotes 12 whole pages.
The book concludes with answers to each of the exercises given in the book.
Using idioms and phrases which students are familiar with , the course material is both lively and interesting and serves as self access material and independent study.
Although intended for GCE O.L and A.L .students, it can benefit untrained English Assistant teachers as well, says the author who adds that he has consulted several eminent writers of English before publishing his book.
A commendable effort, this book should be an asset to any Sinhala student looking for short cuts to learning English grammar. Hopefully, Tamil English teachers will take a leaf from W. Hen ry’s example, if his experiment brings the desired results.


Ode to the Book

When I close a book
I open life.
I hear
faltering cries
among harbours.
Copper ignots
slide down sand-pits
to Tocopilla.
Night time.
Among the islands
our ocean
throbs with fish,
touches the feet, the thighs,
the chalk ribs
of my country.
The whole of night
clings to its shores, by dawn
it wakes up singing
as if it had excited a guitar.

The ocean’s surge is calling.
The wind
calls me
and Rodriguez calls,
and Jose Antonio--
I got a telegram
from the “Mine” Union
and the one I love
(whose name I won’t let out)
expects me in Bucalemu.

No book has been able
to wrap me in paper,
to fill me up
with typography,
with heavenly imprints
or was ever able
to bind my eyes,
I come out of books to people orchards
with the hoarse family of my song,
to work the burning metals
or to eat smoked beef
by mountain firesides.
I love adventurous
books of forest or snow,
depth or sky
but hate
the spider book
in which thought
has laid poisonous wires
to trap the juvenile
and circling fly.
Book, let me go.
I won’t go clothed
in volumes,
I don’t come out
of collected works,
my poems
have not eaten poems--
they devour
exciting happenings,
feed on rough weather,
and dig their food
out of earth and men.
I’m on my way
with dust in my shoes
free of mythology:
send books back to their shelves,
I’m going down into the streets.
I learned about life
from life itself,
love I learned in a single kiss
and could teach no one anything
except that I have lived
with something in common among men,
when fighting with them,
when saying all their say in my song.


Neruda — an influential poet

Pablo Neruda (July 12, 1904 – September 23, 1973) was the penname of the Chilean writer and communist politician Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto.
Having his works translated into dozens of languages, Pablo Neruda is considered one of the greatest and most influential poets of the 20th century..
Neruda was accomplished in a wide variety of styles, ranging from erotically charged love poems (such as “White Hills”), surrealist poems, historical epics, and overtly political manifestos. Some of Neruda’s most beloved poems are his “Odes to Common Things,” collected in several volumes. In 1971, Neruda was awarded with the Nobel Prize for Literature after several years of being overlooked for his political activism.
Neruda gave readings to the two largest audiences of any poet in history. During his lifetime, Neruda occupied many diplomatic posts and served a stint as senator for the Chilean Communist Party. He died of heart failure. Neruda’s funeral became the first public protest against the Chilean military dictatorship.
Neruda’s pen name was derived from Czech writer and poet Jan Neruda; it later became his legal name.










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