7th October 2001
By Wathsala MendisSeptember 11, 2001 did not get off to an auspi- cious start. Recovering from a hot, muggy night, I arrived at the train station to find a 48-hour railway strike in effect. Ripping out invectives may be woefully inadequate to calm frayed tempers under such circumstances. After all, there's only so much you can take. But that was just the beginning of what turned out to be an abominable day.
The evening news had it that the authorities had decided to temporarily close down our university due to insufficient water supply. That meant putting everything on hold: studies, sports, the whole shebang.
Then came the kicker. The most powerful military nation in the world was under attack, sending alarm signals all over the world as to how safe we really are. Now as we all know, that day will go down in history as a black Tuesday, the blackest ever in American history.
No one could believe it. Not for a second. The US, of all the countries? The Pentagon, the symbol of America's military might, of all the places? Even as one switched to CNN, BBC, or Sky News, it looked and sounded like a bad dream.
The Big Apple, which seemed a picture of perfection against the morning sky, looked a gory sight just hours later. The image of the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers, that had taken six years to build, crashing to the ground in a huge mass of twisted steel, concrete, and broken glass in less than two hours, was too horrific to be true. To us Sri Lankans, it was a very French 'deja vuish' thing, blown into nightmarish proportions. Just plain insane.
Then came the reactions. "Serves them right," many people in this part of the world thought, if not aloud. Saddam Hussein was laconic: Reap what you sowed. But no one in his right mind could condone such monstrosities against innocent civilians. It's the very worst of human nature. Anybody who tries to justify that horrendous act in the name of religion is a travesty of a human being and should be brought to book.
Now, it is not my business to preach or to judge what America had done in the past as to nurture terrorists like bin Laden or Mujahideen guerrillas or what it'll do in terms of retaliation. The point I want to make is how the American people stood together as a nation in the face of a national crisis. Something we in this country can definitely do with.
America is the quintessential melting pot. Yet they all came together, pledging unstinting cooperation for their President, even as they struggled to come to grips with what happened.
Nothing about that whole ugly incident seemed real. It was, as someone rightly described, like a very bad horror movie. But what was real was the outpouring of love and sympathy across the US for their fellow countrymen in distress. In California, schoolchildren as young as fifth-graders, little though they may have understood about the enormity of the tragedy, were collecting money, in their own small way, to be sent to the victims. At a media briefing, New York Governor George Pataki's voice broke in spite of his proud smile as he cited the case of an injured firefighter he visited at hospital. "It was like a line out of a movie," Pataki said. "When I praised him for his bravery, he quipped, 'What did you expect? I'm a New Yorker'."
George W. Bush may not be the most diplomatic or likeable of leaders, but he had the unconditional support of the Congress and of the American people. "Terrorist attacks can touch the foundation of our tallest building, but they cannot touch the foundation of America," he said. The way I saw it, it was not so much the rhetoric of a politician who waxed indignant, but words of steel of a leader trying to calm the fears of a jittery nation. Right words at the right time. Sent reeling by the most hideous terrorist attack on their soil, the Americans were soon galvanized into action with a sense of duty and purpose.
New Yorkers had nothing but praise for their police officers and firefighters who put their lives on the line for them. They were described as "super" people and were seen practically force-fed through the rescue operation. They in turn vowed to keep the faith and never to give up until the last man was pulled out of the debris. Well, maybe CNN did a damned good job of projecting the American spirit. It was indeed heartening to see some good come out of that calamity.
In a rare moment of national unity, the majority of Americans acted with calm restraint. So did most politicians. The most exemplary message perhaps came from former President Clinton who said, "We should not be second-guessing. We should be supporting the President." Al Gore, Bush's arch rival in a closely contested presidential battle only a few months ago, asked the American public to rally behind the President. In an unprecedented show of unity, the Senate resolved to work together: "There's no difference in our aim. We will not act as Republicans or Democrats but as Americans. We will do whatever it takes to protect our country." Profound words indeed. Will we ever see that happening in our country?
That'll be the day!
Our politicos are an inimitable lot in that respect. No sooner they ask the people to remain calm and quiet and not play into the hands of "opportunistic elements" than they start pointing the accusing finger at their opponents. This was clearly manifest in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Katunayake. It was gross, to say the least. Most people, of course, do not take them seriously because they know only too well that their concern for the country is a charade.
The worst thing that could happen to a people is to become apathetic to the suffering of their fellow human beings. How could we expect to fight the common enemy when we ourselves are split sharply along ethnic lines? "As long as I'm safe, everything is all right. To hell with the rest," appears to be the attitude that prevails. Unfortunately, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see and none so deaf as those who refuse to hear.
There's no consensus whatsoever among our leaders as to how to solve the North-East conflict, the No. 1 priority in our country today. One faction is advocating war while others are desperately calling for negotiations. We, caught in the political crossfire, are the ultimate losers. The so-called leaders of this country are busy hanging on to power while the people are becoming more and more indifferent. To add to it, the bad habits of politicians seem to be rubbing off on our generation. When was the last time we were able to hold a Students Union election peacefully?
Make no mistake. I'm not trying to whitewash or glorify America. I only hope and pray that our people will learn a lesson from what happened in there and come together for the sake of this country. Don't we owe that much to our motherland?
When divided we stand, united we fall. How many more human tragedies
will it take before we realize that simple truth?
"In the 13 years I've been married, I've discovered there's no substitude for that," says Hanks, 45, who's married to actress Rita Wilson. "There's such an advantage to being involved in the day to day details of each other's lives. I have a woman who teaches me what love is every day." After his parents divorced when he was 5, Hanks went to live with his father. But his dad was always moving and Hanks attended 10 different schools before he was 10 years old. Now, the actor is trying to make things as traditional as he can for his kids.
"There are principles they have to adhere to that are normal," he says,
"like choosing between right and wrong."
The National Alliance For The Elderly Re- spectable Professionals And Intellectuals of Sri Lanka would accuse the creators of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) of insensitivity to the Educated and the Literate in general for their portrayal of classic Shakespearan characters in absolute loonyville mode. But the actor-director here is Feroze Kamardeen -of Julius Caesar and Widows notoriety- pulling the strings along with the terrific Ifaz Bin Jameel and Anuruddha Fernando.
If he had any sensitivity he wouldn't be at the top of his job in post modernist theatrical entertainment.
So the above mentioned Alliance, if such an Alliance existed, in these politically correct times would have to get in line behind Liberated Working Women, Minority Ethnic Groups, Snobbish Royalty, Straying Spirits, Dead Cows, Live Chickens and anyone possessing that vestigial appendage known as taste.
If you are none of the above, you are hereby absolved of all guilt when you laugh your bottom off through three hours of hilariously raucous humour that will tickle your funnybone till you are left gobsmacked and nursing a splitting headache caused by it.
Feroze, Ifaz and Anuruddha know just when to turn on the laughs as they ham, swashbuckle, strut and barf their way through the Bard's thorny turf, cracking-up a packed house of a majority teeny-bopper audience for four consecutive nights. Yes, we all do love our Willy, but if the Bard of Avon did somersault in his grave last month, we'll excuse him.
Inspired and influenced wholeheartedly by the original Reduced Shakespeare Company, this extremely talented trio dare to go all out against the expected avalanche of negative criticism that awaits them in our fastidiously pompous Colombo. What is great about these guys is that they don't give a damn and so, their daring endeavour to rib-tickle a cosmopolitan public awake from an anarchic slumber deserves kudos.
And what a tickle it is. This hyperbolically zany production by Stage Light and Magic has Feroze, Ifaz and Anuruddha 'play' -or play with- every important character Shakespeare ever wrote in his entire volume of work. To squeeze all of that into a gooey three hour fondue of explicitly adulterated juicy slapstick, made even more memorable via a unique and unorthodox presentation (a devious audience-interaction skit takes the cake), would prepare you for just what to expect. And most of this set to an award-winning heavenly gargantuan movie score -courtesy of Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerard- make it even easier to laugh.
Our funnymen take us directly into Mel Brooks territory, where they exploit their gift for tossing soliloquizing airheads into wildly frustrating and heroic situations at the same time, making tragicomic martyrs out of them in the rush. However, "there's method in the madness" as Feroze's hammy Polonius aptly states as he stares into a Playboy centrespread (Don't ask. Just don't ask).
Comedy, like any other drama, needs not just a great beginning (in this case Romeo and Juliet) and a great ending (Hamlet: Prince of Denmark) but also a palpable middle. Which is where this neo-revisionist Shakespearan roller-coaster ride goes slack and slightly desperate.
Titus Andronicus played to the tune of a Chef's bloody cleaver or a Gourmet Fad's surreal appetite can be a bit disturbing (if not revolting) and a game of Rugby to cover a few plays too many can be a wee bit tedious for an audience held over for this long.
The Players however, are an amazingly delightful threesome. It's not that they'll do anything to get a laugh. It's that they have the timing and the gall to earn it. Ifaz is all manic ingenuity, causing an outrageously effeminate tempest on stage. His eyebrows tango. He coos and boohs and dances a merry cross-dressed jig whilst Feroze matches him gesture for canny gesture, word for witty word. Anuruddha is the quartermaster here, pretending to have a profound knowledge of the subject at hand. He caricatures a steamroller of ticks, tricks and deliveries that, having saved the best (and most original) for last, climaxes with a beguiling Hamlet, out for revenge.
Our strait-jacketed society needs a swell comedy like this once in a while to chill us out from our clinical routines.
Perhaps local theatergoers need a lobbying group too: a society to maintain the propogation of promising comedies that deliver on their promises. Care to join?
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