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The Sunday TimesPlus

6th April 1997



Maname: plenty that appeals to the mind

By Uswatte-Aratchi

I think Douglas Amarasekara and Hemantha Warnakulasuriya are completely misguided when they call their readers to "rise above Maname" presumably because it is of a low cultural level.

They had come independently to the conclusions that Maname had nothing of value to say and that "most of us had failed to see through its platitudes".

Since the duo attribute Trelicia Gunawardene's partiality to Maname to her alleged "filial psychological complex" (whatever that means) let me say I was never more than a member of the audience in Saratchandra's plays; that I did not have the good fortune to read for a degree in Sinhala at Peradeniya; that I have spent most of my adult life out of this country; that I have seen hundreds of plays on stage in New York, London, Paris, Moscow and Colombo, the same play (Hamlet, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, Richard III, Henry V, Othello, Three Sisters, Cherry Orchard, The Inspector-General, Phaedra, Maname, Sinhabahu, Hunuvataye Katava and many others) in several productions including Cherry Orchard in Russian at the Magyar Theatre in Moscow!

No other play or musical performance (I have seen most modern great masters play baroque, classical, romantic, modern, jazz or Indian music) tingled my spine, as Bernard Levin of The London Times used to say when he enjoyed a performance thoroughly, as did Maname and especially Sinhabahu.

The plays, mostly in translation, which were put on stage in the 1960's, I did enjoy seeing but remember very little of, in contrast to Maname and Sinhabahu.

I have often asked myself why it gives me greater pleasure to see Maname than say Beethoven's ninth.

The reason, I surmise, subject to some pathological condition which the two learned men might diagnose in me, is that no matter what languages I learn, no matter where I live, no matter what profession I practise, I am culturally Sinhalese.

Maname comes from the Jataka Pota, Sinhabahu from our common folk memory and Hunuvataye Katava reminds me of the parallel story in Umangdava.

The Maname nadagama conveys messages very different from those in Kavusilumina or in the original Maname kavi nadagama.

Maname takes for spouse a woman who has a world view very different from his, both of them drunk with the pleasures of their youth.

That has happened to other princes and princesses. They meet a stranger of low "cultural value", if Amarasekara and Warnakulasuriya would permit me, but with nobility of mind and the princess turns ambivalent in her affections towards the two of them and that is not an unheard of feature either.

The vedda, whose pride is hurt, abandons the princess to a pitiless death, all too common a feature of the human condition.

The dramatic presentation of this simple story is undeniably superb. One is reminded of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon in the way Sarachchandra leaves the spectator looking at an event from the points of view of several protaganists.

Yet what is most enjoyed in the play is its poetry. There is much that "appeals to the mind" both in Maname and more so in Sinhabahu, which is much more complex in structure.

In Sinhabahu, there is first the exploration of relations between a wife and a husband in contrast to that between an ambitious young son and his father.

There is the mother's conflict between her love for her husband and her desire to help her son achieve his ambitions. There is the son's perception of his own identity and his ambition cleverly clothed in his "responsibilities towards people of vanga [vanga dese vasana janata kerehi ve ma yutukama!]".

Then there is the advantage which the satrap (yuva raja) seeks by taking Suppadevi, who happens to be the daughter of his king, to be his spouse.

Finally, there is a father's love for his child and the desire for self preservation, the latter taking control and a son's affection for his father (adara vadanin amatana mapiya, kelesakodo rudu sitini maranne) and his own ambitions.

Contrary to what Amarasekara and Warnakulasuriya say , there is plenty to appeal to the mind. The two writers identify middle classes which "hailed Maname as a piece of theatre which could give them a new cultural identity".

Sarachchandra records a different story on pages 205 to 208 of "Pin eti sarasavi varamak denne":

"Members of the middle classes denied interest in Sinhala plays and at least one of them would permit her servant to see it although she herself would never do so.

"Those who were avidly fond of this theatre were a small group of bilingually educated persons and a large number of Sinhalese who had been starved of any worthwhile entertainment".

Whether the latter belonged in the middle class, I do not know.

Whether the language and the dramatic form Sarachchandra used set limits on what experiences could be explored is a question on which there can be much debate.

Since the mid-fifties, Mahanama Dissanayake, Chandraratne Manavasinghe and later Dalton de Alvis and Mahagama Sekera had been writing lyrics in a language which departed markedly from that which was used by lyric writers like Karunaratne Abeyasekera or the Colombo poets.

Sunil Ariyaratne has more recently carried that task further.

Sarachandra's lyrics in his plays used a language even more refined than that used by the first four writers.

One misses completely the beauty of those lyrics unless one were familiar with Sinhala writing going back to Amavatura and Muva dev da vata.

Another writer of genius would probably come on scene and find that language inadequate and coin new words and phrases to convey her/his messages.

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