9th July 2000
Editorial/Opinion| Business| Sports|
Sports Plus| Mirror Magazine
By Wathsala MendisHuddled in a chair in the dimly-lit Lumbini theatre, she talks passionately about women's issues while instructing the apparently excited cast. Ironically, her gestures and expressions and the hardened look in her eyes speak more eloquently than her words.
Hailing from a talented, artistic family and having both directed and acted in quite a few plays, Sivamohan Sumathy is no stranger to the Tamil theatre.
An English major from the Peradeniya and Washington State Universities, she seems to have a soft spot for the question of gender. She feels strongly about how women are abused, exploited, taken for granted and regarded as "passive" beings, how their independence and rights are hardly recognized within marriage and domesticity and how they struggle for some space. Battling with the idea of how well she could explore the problem, she took on Indian playwright Girish Karnad's 'Nagamandalam' which deals with the issue.
Here two local folk-tales are woven together, bringing forth the frustrations and desires of women and their strategies for survival.
"In this production I tried to play down the Indian perspective and broaden the issue so that it is framed within a South Asian context. Otherwise, the play becomes insular," Sumathy says.
What took her fancy was the finely crafted expression of the story-telling tradition depicted in the work in which the fantasies and desires of ordinary people reach epic proportions.
The woman matures in the course of the play. She goes from being a victim to a victor. Conceived through the eyes of a woman, the play reveals how the yearnings and fantasies blended together in a love potion, turn one woman's story of imprisonment into a magical moment of empowerment.
Significantly, the play has three endings.
"There are so many possibilities. It's not just how I see it or how you see it. Making it open-ended means there's more interaction with the audience. The actor and the spectator both have to take turns in their respective roles," says Sumathy who insists on the importance of developing a theatrical culture of thought-provoking complexity.
'Nagamandalam', produced and presented by Arangadigal/Vibhavi-Centre
for Alternative Culture and sponsored by SIDA, will be staged at the Lumbini
theatre on July 12 at 6.30 p.m.
Traditional life buried under development
With the gigantic Mahaweli development project, their entire lifestyles were transformed. But not always for the better.
K.P. Kandappu, the village hunter could not bear the pain of leaving his old homestead for the new allocated plot elsewhere. With his ancient shotgun, he threatened the government officials and project managers. He also threatened that he would commit suicide if forcibly evicted from the home he built with his own hands. But in the end, development won.
Kandappu and a whole host of other villagers left their traditional village and its self-sufficiency and joined in the huge scheme that swept through their lands.
In a few years, the village that was once ancient Hebarawa, changed beyond recognition. Large numbers of settlers from all over southern Sri Lanka were brought to share the bounty of the newly irrigated lands. The thick dark jungle that surrounded the village on all sides was razed to the ground for settlements and by timber merchants who had at last found access to the once impenetrable village.
With development came schools, the post office, bus service, vehicles and new influences. The village lost its self-sufficiency and its character. Earlier systems of production, traditional crops, chenas, community participation in important functions, cohesion within the small group of villagers and the simple lifestyle that was satisfied with very little information and trading from outside disappeared with the thick jungle.
Money, which never played an important role in the traditional village, became the mode of exchange, of customs and the measure of success. Dr. Rohana Luxman Piyadasa analyses the impact of modernisation via the Mahaweli Scheme on the traditional villages of Yakkure and Hebarawa, two ancient settlements that are now part of the Mahaweli C Zone.
He looks sympathetically at the simple unassuming lifestyles of the ancient villagers and their communication systems vis-a-vis the coming of 'development' and the introduction of modern media.
He points to an incident where in their drive to 'develop' the villagers, project officials had tried to make them watch slide shows and projector documentaries, which were created for similar projects abroad.
Even the Mahaweli Scheme oriented 'Girandurukotte Puwath' magazine did not impress the villagers, especially after it went glossy to attract more patronage. Many people got their news through informal channels and meetings. Even at meetings, officials who were insensitive to village viewpoints rarely managed to get the message across effectively.
In retrospect, Dr. Piyadasa laments the total disregard for traditional communication methods used and respected in the village. These included poems, Sokari dances, bali thovil, religious customs, nadagam and rituals that surround the farming community.
Analysing the use of media, Dr. Piyadasa concludes that villagers preferred the use of these traditional methods of exchanging ideas to the modern methods of radio, newspapers or posters.
Use of newspapers and radio was indeed rare in the old village. Even among the new settlers, the lack of higher education restricted the use of newspapers and the lack of money and electricity, the use of radio.
The transformation into the Mahaweli ideal created communication barriers because of the top-down approach adopted by officials who forced development news to the villagers through modern media.
The book is based on interviews done on the site with a cross-section of villagers. It gives details of the traditional village lifestyle and how it persisted even up to two decades ago until modernisation caught up. - Tharuka
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