Jaffna and Colombo
A century of relationships in three plays
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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.
slide down sand-pits
Among the islands
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.
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 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
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
I don’t come out
of collected works,
have not eaten poems--
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
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.