24th September 2000
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Book Review

Words of love,loss and outrage

Wet Paint by Sharmini Jayawardena .
Reviewed by Alfreda de Silva

Poetry has been many things to many people. The poet Robert Lynd proclaimed it was "born under a dancing star". A later wit declared that "a lyric and a limerick were both poems." He obviously meant their musicality and movement and who can deny that? 

Defying them both, the American poet Archibald Macleish asserted, quite controversially: 

".... A poem should not mean but be." 

Someone went a step further: ".......... poetry is a hard diet, fit only for the athletic among readers." This puts the onus of readership for poetry (a comparatively small one already) squarely on the poet. 

Sharmini Jayawardena's book of poems 'Wet Paint' dwells on themes as varied as love and passion (fulfilled and lost), alienation, protest, violence, disillusionment, despair and other dissonances including the cold world of machines. All these are viewed critically in a contemporary setting, and present a kaleidoscope of images, many of which await redress and relate to women's issues. 

Database opens the book with: 

"What is your alphabet-soup name 
(not your Christian name) 
is what you'll be asked 
at the turn of the century
in an abbreviated world
of the hi-tech age..." 

Down to earth and symptomatic of the times in which we live, and its 'sci-fi' pace, this is one of her concerns. 

Getting away from the cold of machines to a love poem, we have: 

"You my love
are so much 
like me.... 
I like the world 
you create 
where we become 
nothing like you and me
but we..." 

In sharp contrast to this is an entrance into the real world of an unbearably painful relationship - The Enigma: 

"I loved you strong enough 
with battered back 
and aching feet
doing chores on chores 
around sparse walls 
wailing kids were tended 
birth to infancy thru..... 
even when birth was
plucked away from my abdomen
in shrieking crescendo..... 

Mirage is a poem of protest against an unfeeling mother. The last lines encapsulate the magnitude of the cruelty. 

"But mother... 
oh mother.... 
Mother how can you shut
the door behind us!" 

The Quasi-Corporate Player's hypocrisy and immorality are brought out in the poem by its name. 

"He called me up
this 'quaintance from the past 
wanted to get 
to know me better he said
Took me out for a bit of lunch
no, he didn't want me
to get to know his wife 
too well he said. Indiscretion was out of 'the question..." 

The subject of child abuse is poeticized in Struggle, which takes up the socially sensitive issue as seen in a bus. The Boy Man doles out money to a boy, for buns and sweets: 

"to his charge. 
who hung to him 
like son to father..." 
Imbroglio, a war poem brings a threatening darkness and reality to the reader. 

Sharmini's well-crafted Symphony in staccato (a prose poem) speaks out daringly about a woman's personal predicament in marriage. 

Here and there the bold, harsh lexicon proclaims her sense of outrage on behalf of all women: 

"tonight we speak out 
where we have been silent
for too long 
and spell out 
what has held us back 
for eons of time
women have remained silent.... 

On the way to Ahungalle is a fresh cooling draft of wind on my face: 

"barrels of ra
some on carts
some propped up
on the wayside... 
some rolled out
for you and me
to bask in... 
A sudden expanse
of sparse land across
water, then water again
The sea
a roaring Tritonic blast..." 

Kala kornerSinhala drama: Magak Nethe?

It's so sad to see the rather lukewarm reception to good Sinhala theatre. Often just a handful turns up for a good drama, as it happened on the opening night of Henry Jayasena's 'Apata Puthe Magak Nethe'. The Lumbini Theatre was more than half-empty. Before that, only a couple of rows in the Navarangahala were occupied when one of the better dramas of the year, 'Arundathie' was staged. As Henry Jayasena said on the first night of 'Apata Puthe', "Sinhala plays today are like polythene bags - used and thrown away." He was obviously referring to the crowds who rush to see the dramas meant to raise a laugh and tickle the audiences with double-edged words. "Ask them whether they enjoyed the play. They will say 'yes'." Ask them what it was all about. They will just smile. Ask them what message they got. They will throw a blank," Henry said. Why is it that theatregoers are fighting shy of seeing a good play? Are the tickets priced too high? It cannot be, because the tickets for plays, which draw crowds, are equally or more expensive. Is it then that there is no interest in serious theatre? Sinhala theatre has grown over the years and although many of the top dramatists are either not among the living or are taking a back seat, a new generation has stepped in to fill the vacuum. Yet if they do not get the backing of the theatregoers, they are bound to lose interest. Here, the Drama Panel of the Arts Council has a big role to play. True the Panel encourages the better dramatists through the annual drama festival. But that's just not enough. The process must go on. What happens to the award-winning plays after a festival? How many producers can afford to stage them? The costs are so high. The prize money is only a drop in the ocean. It's time that the Panel put their heads together and work out a plan for sponsoring the better plays and more important, attracting the audiences.
Talent aplenty
The new production of 'Apata Puthe' proved there is enough and more talent around. The undergrads from the Kelaniya University did a fine job as amateurs. Knowing Henry Jayasena as a tough task-master, a disciplined dramatist, they had responded extremely well. For a few of us who had seen the original production over three decades ago, it's natural to go back to Iranganie Serasinghe as the mother and Douglas Ranasinghe as the undergraduate. But this is an unfair comparison. Both of them were seasoned players. Here were players who were getting on to the stage for the first time. They did well. The musicians, also from the Sri Jayawar-denapura University, too performed well. Although the central theme in 'Apata Puthe' - the problems of the undergraduates - remain unchanged (in fact, they are more acute today than in the Sixties), a few sequences like the long queues appeared irrelevant. Jayasena obviously wanted to keep the original script intact and let the audience get an idea of the conditions which prevailed then. Even if he adjusted them to suit the present day, it wouldn't harm the essence of the drama.
More books
Being the Sahitya Month, more and more books are being launched. Popular publisher Dayawansa Jayakody brought out new titles every Tuesday this month to mark the literary month. Lined up for release next Tuesday are two new books, one by that prolific translator Dr. K. G. Karunatilleka. His latest work is a full translation of H. Rider Haggard's 'The Return of She:Ayesha'. It's titled 'Ayesha Apasu Eyi'. The other book is by popular writer Jayasena Jayakody who has written the fifth in the series 'Pichchamal Katha', titled 'Pinketha'.

Speech of ,many colours - Taste of Sinhala

By Prof. J.B. Disanayaka
We live in a world of colours and the scientist will analyse the spectrum of colours into various segments such as red, blue, green, black and so on. The Sinhala world for colour is 'paata' and compound nouns denote different colours: 

sudu paata (white) kalu paata (black)

ratu paata (red) nil paata (blue)

kaha paata (yellow) kola paata (green)

An object that has a particular colour will be designated by phrases such as: sudu paata saariyak (a white-colour sari);

kalu paata kalisamak (a black-colour trouser)

ratu paata mal (red-colour flowers)

nil paata kodi (blue-colour flags)

kaha paata sivurak (a yellow-colour robe)

kola paata toppi (green colour caps)

It is also possible to drop the word 'paata' and simply say, sudu saariyak (a white sari) nil kodi (blue flags).

The Sinhalese also have a habit of saying 'paata paata' to denote things that are of diverse colours: 

paata paata sari (saris of diverse colours)

paata paata kodi (flags of different colours)

paata paata toppi (caps of diverse colours).

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