27th May 2001

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  • A true picture
  • Sensitive and dynamic
  • Kuda Hora reaching 'kuda' hearts
  • Everyday miracles for the millennium
  • Exhilarating entertainment
  • A true picture

    "Jesus of Nazareth" by Rev. Fr. Hilarian Dissanayaka, OMI Reviewed by Lalin Fernandopulle

    Rev. Fr. Hilarian Dissanayaka is a priest, of the Order of Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who has served in Sri Lanka for 25 years and also worked as a missionary in India. During his life as a priest Imagehe has been a preacher, teacher and pastor.

    Having made valuable contributions to the Church in Sri Lanka through seminars, retreats, workshops and writings on theology, Fr. Hilarian has now authored this little book entitled "Jesus of Nazareth".

    Hilarian has done justice to God and man, not in exaggerated terms but true to his conscience, experience and reflection, and has brought out the true picture of Jesus of Nazareth who lived 2000 years ago in Palestine - as a man like anyone of us - except for sin.

    What struck me most is that we have lost sight of the wood for the trees in emphasising the Divinity of Jesus of Nazareth and underestimating the human Jesus who lived among us.

    It is this Jesus whom God chose to take the form of a man and be born of a woman and live as a man of flesh and blood.

    It is this Jesus who liberated mankind from the clutches of the world by accepting death on a cross.

    It is this same Jesus of Nazareth who rose from the dead to proclaim God's kingdom on earth. It is this message that Fr. Hilarian's book brings out.

    Sensitive and dynamic

    Eranda Jayawickreme reviews Mark Amarasinghe's performance of Tolstoy's "The Kreutzer Sonata".

    The small crowd that filled the Alliance Francaise de Kandy auditorium on the evening of April 27th to witness Mark Amarasinghe's dramatic adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novella "The Kreutzer Sonata" was treated to an experience unfortunately too rarely offered to serious theatre-goers. Amarasinghe enraptured the audience for a full hour with an intellectually stimulating, beautifully paced and sensitively acted monologue centred around the most basic of human emotions; lust, revenge and regret.

    Tolstoy's work, first published in 1889, recounts the story of Pozdnyshev, a 'Marshal of Nobility' and privileged member of the upper echelons of society who killed his wife in a fit of sexual jealousy. He recounts his story to a nameless narrator whom he has met on a train travelling across Russia. The novella, which belongs to Tolstoy's later, more controversie period, contains an astonishingly frank description (for its time) and condemnation of the sexual mores prevalent at that period and portrays vividly the madness that can be induced by the base emotions of love, lust and jealousy.

    The nobleman portrays himself (perhaps conveniently) as a man trapped within a moral framework which encourages profligacy as a virtue, yet accepts marriage as a desirable and necessary institution. He is disgusted by the manner in which women 'tart themselves up' (to use a British phrase that Pozdnyshev would have undoubtedly approved of) for men and consciously use their single hold over them -sex- to gain control. This anger, a creation of his failed marriage to Liza, leads him to suspect that his wife is having a relationship with Trukhachevsky, a violinist. Returning home one evening on a hunch, he finds them dining together and mortally wounds Liza in a fit of rage.

    The text was subjected to considerable revision by Amarasinghe, who excised much of Pozdnyshev's philosophical ramblings and focused instead on the dramatically charged sequence of events that led up to the murder. The monologue is preceded by the opening minuet of the Presto of Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata. Amarasinghe then briefly assumes the role of the narrator to recount how he came about to meet and engage in conversation with Pozdnyshev, who had by this time achieved a degree of notoriety for his crime. He then adopts the persona of the wife murderer for the remainder of the monologue.

    One would have expected that a single actor would find holding an audience for more that 20 minutes impossible, yet Amarasinghe caught his audience almost immediately and held them spellbound with hardly a single lapse through to the end with an assured and moving performance His measured voice, imbued with just the right amount of emotion and anguish, suited his role ideally. His movements were limited, yet they were made at opportune moments for maximum effect. His character's musings on how music can excite the emotions to no purpose (one of the few philosophical meditations that Amarasinghe left in the script) and, in particular, how the sonata - which Liza and Trukhachevsky had played at his residence, aroused the strong emotion within him that contributed to the fatal rush of rage murder - was a highlight of the performance, as was the conclusion, where Pozdnyshev expresses contrition for his deed and cries for forgiveness to the sound- once again- of the sonata.

    The success of the monologue was due in part to the highly dramatic nature of the material, and Amarasinghe- a retired orthopaedic surgeon- should be commended for his skill in adapting the novella, despite the considerable amount of material omitted. In this respect, the "Kreutzer" was more successful than his adaptation of Albert Camus' "The Fall" (presented at the Kandy Alliance last year and to be presented at the British Council, Colombo, in June) which, despite its strong material, felt too much like a dramatised reading. Care should be taken when adapting a novel for the stage, especially in the form of a monologue; too much detail and reflection can lose the interest of the audience.

    However, the "Kreutzer" was well-scripted, and one can only be grateful that thespians such as Amarasinghe- in his 76th year- still take pride in making a serious contribution to the English-language theatre. Writing of a performance of the same monologue last October, Gamini Akmeemana mourned the absence of its original and intellectually stimulating expressiveness in the mainstream English language cultural scene. This writer can only agree with such sentiments; in a sense, the "Kreutzer" served to remind those present that such sensitive theatre is, unfortunately, the exception rather the rule.

    Kuda Hora reaching 'kuda' hearts

    For a children's book in Sinhala it is a unique distinction to be translated into 12 foreign languages, to win a prize in competition against other international books, to be featured on a calendar outside this country, and - most significantly of all - to have given so much pleasure to thousands of children that they voted it the most popular book of the year. Yet all these achievements lie to the credit of Sybil Wettasinghe's Kuda Hora (The Umbrella Thief), whose publication in Sinhala 45 years ago launched it on its career of international recognition.

    When Kuda Hora first appeared in 1956, children's literature was still in its formative stages in Sri Lanka. The Sinhala book- buying public in Sinhala was yet small, far from affluent, and unused to the very idea of giving children books other than their school texts. Kuda Hora was originally published at 50 cts. in late H.D. Sugathapala's Nava Maga series, to be within the reach of as many purchasers as possible, and the economics of publication determined that except for its bright, bold cover, it should be black and white.

    To the superficial eye it may have seemed an unlikely rival to the wealth of many-coloured children's books from abroad which were displayed so plentifully in our bookshops. But Kuda Hora was in fact a new beginning for children's literature in Sinhala.

    Sybil Wettasinghe had begun her career as a young artist for the children's page of a newspaper, and had developed a highly individual style of drawing for this purpose - a style which made the most of her gift for lively and expressive line, for comic exaggeration and caricature, for the delineation of a whole personality in a few telling strokes. Kuda Hora was actually her first attempt at writing a story, and she produced the first version for the Children's page of the Lake House evening newspaper, the Janata, spurred on by the encouragement of her husband, who was working for the same newspaper, and of Denzil Peiris, who was the editor then. This newspaper publication became the germ of what was to later develop into book and then into an international success.

    Kuda Hora is an ingenious and imaginative story about Kiri Mama who comes to Colombo from a remote village where the umbrella is unknown, takes back an umbrella on the way home but loses it when he leaves it outside the boutique where he stops for a cup of coffee. This happens to him each time he takes an umbrella home, but the identity of the umbrella thief remains undiscovered till the last page of the book. The story avoided didacticism (in the past the bane of much writing for children in Sinhala), even though it indirectly conveyed a sense of social change transmitted from city to village.

    But what was most notable in Kuda Hora was its form of story telling, which made it the beginning of a new era in children's Sinhala literature. I recall with some pleasure that I recognised the significance of the book on its first appearance and emphasised this in a review written for the Daily News in 1956.

    Before Kuda Hora, writing in Sinhala for children had consisted of a mass of text with a scattering of illustrations. Kuda Hora was the first Sinhala children's book wholly to marry text and picture. In fact, it was impossible to speak of the drawings in Kuda Hora as illustrations - a term that would imply the pictures were simply an accessory to the words. Instead, on every page of the book the story progressed simultaneously through text and drawing, in which one element supported the other. The child's delight in the unfolding of the story step by step was sustained throughout by this perfect mutual accompaniment of the verbal and the visual. In a children's book the writer and the artist aren't always the same person. Sybil's possession of creative talent with both words and pictures made it possible for her to conceive both these elements together in a narrative whole.

    This was no doubt the secret of the book's perfection which prompted its enthusiastic reception by foreign publishers with a wealth of the whole world's children's books to choose from. They would have found in the book a theme and story that were distinctively of our country but presented in a form and style that satisfied the criteria of the best international children's publishers.

    In 1982 the book won a prize in a competition held every two years in Japan to promote the quality of book illustrations. This led to a Japanese publisher, Fukutake Publishing, bringing out an edition in Japanese in 1986. For this edition Sybil was able for the first time to enliven the pictures further by presenting them in colour, something that had not been possible with the economics of the original Sinhala version.

    The Japanese version was a great success: it won a special prize for the best foreign children's book to be published that year in Japan, and it topped a pool for the most popular children's book conducted by the Japanese Library Association - voters being the children themselves. One of the pictures from the book was put on the cover of a calendar produced by the Asian Cultural Centre.

    The Japanese publishers took the book to the Bologna Book Fair, where it was picked up by an American firm, Kane Miller Book Publishers of California, who brought out an English-language version in 1987. Danish, Norwegian and Swedish editions by the publishers Forlaget Hjulet followed in 1990, and then in 1993 came a Chinese version by Formosan Magazine Press. Subsequently, it was published in Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, Guam and Hongkong. All these foreign editions have preserved the format of text and pictures as well as Sybil's original drawings, now enriched by her in glowing colour.

    Kuda Hora has brought Sybil Wettasinghe the satisfaction not only of becoming one of that small group of Sri Lankan creative people who have won international recognition in their own fields but also - what will perhaps be even more precious to her as a writer and artist - of giving joy to many thousands of children not only within but outside her country as well.

    Everyday miracles for the millennium

    Thusitha P Thanthirige's exhibition "Miracles for Millennium" is now on at the Public Library hall. This is his first solo exhibition of Photography, Inventions, Computer aids etc. An old boy of Ananda College, Colombo, Thusitha has won awards for his inventions.

    Exhilarating entertainment

    By Ruhanie Perera

    Close your eyes and picture an orchestra. Imagine the beautiful music emanating from the range of instruments, maybe a piece from Verdi or a more upbeat medley of music. Now open your eyes and see, instead of the orchestra, 20 organs taking their place. Sit back and listen to the music. Not possible, you think? But that's exactly what Shyama Perera intends to do at her upcoming concert. Marking 20 years of teaching, Shyama of the Academy of Organ Music celebrates this milestone in this most unique way.

    "Not only is the number of organs significant of my years of teaching, it's also a way of getting more of my students involved. If I tried to give every one of my 170 students who are performing a solo, duet or even a trio a chance to perform, the show would have taken till morning," says Shyama explaining the idea behind her very original concept.

    'Guiding young talent on the path to musical proficiency', reads the introduction to the prospectus of her school and, according to Shyama, it is that which she is best at. Blessed with an endless fund of patience she says, "I was made for teaching. That is my talent." Watching children develop their talent is one of her greatest pleasures. More so the satisfaction that comes from seeing a child who is not so talented excel.

    A satisfaction that has seen her through the 20 year growth of her school from just herself as the teacher, 14 students and one room to the Academy with eight teachers, 300 students, six studios and 18 organs.

    When Shyama first took on a job as an organ instructress, it was a posting to Brunei, which saw her growth as an organist as it was there that she conducted her first concerts. On her return in 1980 she first worked at the Kawai Organ School and then at Technics Keyboards before she opened her own Academy in 1989.

    At the time she started out Sri Lanka had just received its first shipment of organs, thus she was walking into a relatively new field. But Shyama had no apprehensions whatsoever: "I knew it was just a matter of time before the organ would pick up in Sri Lanka. The instrument itself with its inbuilt rhythms and new technique of playing was sure to grab people's attention. And it did."

    Scores of children come to her with entreaties to teach them the very latest of music. 'Backstreet Boys, Westlife' they plead on entering the class, which means that Shyama has to listen to tape after tape of pop songs and compose music for students. Born with the gift of perfect pitch, this is no difficult task for her. "But once I give them a pop song I insist that they learn oldies as well, so that they can play those for their parents," says Shyama who conducts classes both individually and in a group (comprising four students), teaching both theory and practicals in a relaxed atmosphere which she feels is more conducive to creativity.

    Shyama, the world's first Fellow of the Trinity College of Music, London for skills on the organ, had her performance at the exam described by her examiner Brian Davey thus: "The sheer variety of sounds and effects that can be obtained from one instrument is astonishing in itself but in the hands of a skilled performer, able to exploit the instrument's fullest potential, the result is both exhilarating and entertaining."

    "It's the instrument," says Shyama explaining her fascination for organ music. The technique of playing with both hands while actively using both feet, especially the left foot which provides the bass line, is both challenging and exhilarating, she says. And when you've mastered the art, which wasn't difficult for her, you've got a "one-man orchestra".

    The programme for 'Celebrations' opens with the Grand March from Verdi's Aida and includes organ and guitar combinations, medleys from movie themes, Abba and Webber favourites, a special item from Shyama herself and an act from seven of her very first students namely Michael Wijesuriya, Dharshika Perera, Deshika Rodrigo, Eraj Jayawardene, Karin Hatch, Arundani Galagoda and Priyanthi de Silva

    This 'celebration' produced by Graham Hatch will be held at the Bishop's College Auditorium on June 2 and 3. The proceeds of the show will be utilized for an ongoing project of Zonta which is the refurbishing of the Lady Ridgeway Hospital.

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