Kala Korner by Dee Cee
'Funny Boy' to 'Amuthu Ilandariya'
Renowned dramatist Sugathapala de Silva always had the knack of coining catchy titles - whether it be for dramas or the books he wrote. He called his theatre group 'Ape Kattiya'. His first play was 'Ekawalle Pol'. That was way back in 1958. Following 'Boardingkarayo (1962) and 'Tattu Geval' (1964) came the one with the intriguing title ' 'Harima Badu Hayak(1965) which became the talk of the town. Then came 'Hele Negga Dong Putha' (1966). Many more followed right up to the award winning 'Marasad' (1986), acclaimed as his best production.

Having written several novels - both originals and translations - Sugath's latest effort reached the bookstands a fortnight ago. It's the Sinhala translation of Shyam Selvadurai's 'Funny Boy'. Sugath calls it 'Amuthu Ilandariya', a rather curious title. A Sarasavi publication, it took Sugath a few years to finish writing it. That's because he was seriously ill for sometime. By the time he fell ill, he had started translate but could only finish part of it. Having recovered, he had somehow completed it even though he was not one hundred percent fit.

It was a full house at the Public Library auditorium and the organisers had done a fine job more as a tribute to a man who had done so much for the Sinhala theatre than a mere book launch.

A huge book and an equally oversized pen set up at the centre of the stage symbolised the event. Sugath's contribution to theatre spanning over four decades was summed up through a street drama presented by the Colombo University Cultural Circle. It was quite entertaining.

Jackson Anthony then outlined how the 'Sugathapala de Silva Rekavarana Padanama' was formed to save Sugath and through the drama festival held sometime back, managed to raise sufficient funds to help him in his hour of need. Several drama producers had rallied round to make the project a success.

Introducing the book, versatile actor W. Jayasiri made a lengthy, somewhat provocative, speech making his observations on Shyam Selvadurai's theme.

Obliging Sugath
It was nice to see Sugath at the launch enjoying the proceedings. Though he looked tired, he didn't disappoint the many admirers who rushed to get the book autographed. He obliged everyone. Though it was a long wait to have a word with him, it was nice to see him remember old faces and recollect incidents from the past. In fact, I was quite moved reading the line he had added in the invitation in his handwriting 'kalak nudutu mava balannath ekka enna'. It was typical of Sugath.

My mind went back to the sixties when we all rushed to the Lumbini Theatre to see Sugath's creations. 'Ape Kattiya' was the rage of the day and through it, blossomed a host of superb actors and actresses. Tony Ranasinghe, G. W. Surendra, Wickrema Bogoda, Dharmasiri Wickremaratne, Prema Ganegoda - to name a few. It was superb theatre - something new and refreshing.

As Jayasiri reminded us at the launch, Sugath's was a silent revolution in theatre which many failed to appreciate.

Peter back to acting
Classy actor Peter de Almeida is all geared up to turn in another memorable performance in 'Ira Mediyama', Prasanna Vithanage's latest creation. Meeting quite by accident at the World Trade Centre the day before shooting began, Peter was looking forward to the company of a host of newcomers, most of them refugees picked by Prasanna from camps to act in the film. Apart from Peter, there are just three others from the stage.

For the past one and a half years Prasanna had been planning this. From the battlefront in 'Purahanda Kaluwara' he moves over to the problem of refugees in 'Ira Madiyama' .

He has chosen three locations - Talaimannar, Kalpitiya and Colombo - to develop the story.

Commenting on his new 'finds', Prasanna said "it will be an authentic cast, if you like to put it that way.

Magical memories
By Thiruni Kelegama
"My pictures are a result of my memories of Sri Lanka," said Neville Weereratne as his wife Sybil Keyt agreed.

With fifty years of painting and countless exhibitions behind them, Neville and Sybil are still enthusiastic about their work and passionate about their motherland. The husband and wife duo are preparing yet again to hold an exhibition from September 21 to October 6 at the Barefoot Gallery. On display will be the fruits of two years of painting of what they know and love both in Sri Lanka and abroad.

Neville and Sybil belong to a generation of artists who have kept company with or been under the tutelage of the likes of Richard Gabriel, who was the art teacher at St. Joseph, Lionel Wendt and Ivan Pieris.Those famous names all belonged to the Group of '43 and the Ceylon Society of Arts.

Neville, has exhibited his work in London, an achievement for someone who used to be beaten on his knuckles by his teacher for wasting his time. Sybil studied art under the guidance of Cora Abraham.

"The discipline of painting is organisation," says Neville when asked about his views on art and originality. "You have to be able to organise and create the composition. That is where originality comes in."

As for their views on teaching art to children, both believe that straight lines, squares and coconut trees crossing each other on a sunset bathed beach are not what children should be drawing. They believe that children should be allowed to play around with paints and chalks and other materials, experiment with colours and get a feel for art.

The couple's work was first exhibited in 'house exhibitions' during the time of the Group of '43.

They also exhibited their work in Australia where they lived for more than 25 years. Apart from being an artist, Neville is a one-time journalist, having been the features editor of the Observer in the early 1960s and also having worked as a journalist in Australia.

Both feel that whether art is modern or conventional a relationship with nature is essential.

This is reflected in most of their work. Birds play an important role in their paintings. 'The Peace Doves' by Neville catches my eye. The doves are small but they are strikingly placed in the midst of a yellow and grey background. "This is a gouache painting," he explains. "The whole painting started with a doodle. I drew a doodle and it emerged as a dove. The second doodle also emerged as another dove. I chose colours which I felt would give the impression of peace and hence the 'Peace Doves' were born," he said.

"Most of my work this time is going to be gouache. The fine brush does wonders, I think," says Neville as he explains his painting- 'Raga for Flute'.

"The background of decorative architecture has been inspired by Moghul culture. Before doing the actual painting, I did a number of studies of each musician in the painting. The studies included an ink drawing and a study in watercolour. They will be exhibited alongside the 'Raga for Flute'," he says.

A smaller gouache also catches my eye. Titled 'Head in Blue Setting', the picture was of a head of a woman on blue paper. Eyes closed, the figure seemed to convey a message of tranquillity.

Sybil, meanwhile, has experimented with a new form of art. "I really don't know what you can call this type of art. Maybe a collage and mixed media," she says, showing me 'The Doorway' and 'Festive Bulls'.

"I take different kinds of coloured paper and cut through it and insert other kinds of paper. The final result consists of a number of different types of paper and I have drawn over some and managed to create a collage effect."

'The Doorway' has a number of arches which Sybil has cut into to create a never-ending effect. The gold and red hues contrast with the white arch. The figure of the crouching lady adds depth to the picture implying there is life in this lonely place. "That is a piece of paper," Sybil says. "I tore a piece of paper and pasted it there, thinking that it would be much better than painting a figure there."

"I have a passion for arches. There is something infinitely romantic and mysterious about them," she says when I ask why there are so many arches in her paintings.

Together the duo has produced some wonderful paintings which capture a magical side to Sri Lanka, and if you want to experience that magic don't miss the exhibition.

New edition of travel book of bygone age
The fifth edition of Bella Sidney Woolf's 'How to See Ceylon' published by Visidunu Prakahsakayo, Boralesgamuwa was launched at the Colombo International Book Fair which ends today at the BMICH.

Authored by Bella Sidney Woolf (sister of Leonard Woolf) How to See Ceylon, was first published in 1914 and considered by most as the first pocket guidebook to the island. It was intended to help travellers "to fuller enjoyment and understanding of the island and its inhabitants". Indeed it proved to be so, considering that three more editions followed in the years 1922, 1924 and 1929 respectively.

The author enthusiastically recommends the best ways of motoring the "Sunny Roads Of Ceylon"; she also does not miss describing the pleasures of the rail trips. Care has also been given to provide background/historical information of the places visited and also to provide general information on the island which "contains a wealth of interesting and mostly long forgotten details of a bygone age of travel" to today's reader.

The book also contains her own hints to travellers such as "Do not sleep under a fan unless a blanket is wrapped around your body", "...... kurumbas and plantains are the only safe things to buy" and appeals such as "As you traverse this beautiful island, consider the life and limb of the villager".

Bella came to Ceylon in 1907 to visit her brother, Leonard Woolf - who was stationed in Kandy at that time. In 1910 she married Robert Lock, the Assistant Director of the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.

This book contains a number of black-and-white photographs and a colour map of Ceylon. The new edition also contains an introduction titled "Bella Woolf: Seeing The Exotic Other" by Richard Boyle.

Throw out sterile methods, bring in innovation
Shanthi Dias shares some thoughts on the 2nd International
Conference of the Sri Lanka English Language Teachers Association,
held at the Galadari Hotel from August 30 to September 1

The 2nd International Conference of the Sri Lanka English Language Teachers Association (SLELTA) was organized with amazing competence and co-ordination. There were more than 400 participants from all over Sri Lanka, as well as some international delegates from around South Asia and presenters from as far as Mexico and Holland.

The opening address was given by Prof. Thiru Kandiah, the Chair of SLELTA. In a profound speech, Prof. Kandiah enumerated the various practices in English Language Teaching, and called for all methodology and 'techniques' currently canonized to be thrown out so that real 'innovation' could take place in each learning environment. (The theme of the Conference was 'Innovation in English Language Teaching').

It is sadly true that all teaching practices, once they have evolved, are then held up as models to be revered, even when they become outdated and sterile in different environments. Each technique or practice has to be examined for its merits, and adopted only if suitable to the particular learning environment. Forster's cliche 'only connect', which was quoted by the speaker, is a good phrase to keep in mind when evaluating teaching methods.

A talk on 'Education Through the Medium of English as an Additional Language' (English Medium Education or EME in short) by John Clegg was followed by a workshop by him on 'Teaching Subjects Through the Medium of English as a Second Language' (currently of great relevance to our country). Clegg, a free-lance Education Consultant who has worked in a number of countries where EME was introduced, raised some pertinent issues. He stressed that a child's cognitive ability would be greatly impaired if he were taught in the Second Language straight away (i.e. English) and that learning one's First Language was very essential. He also mentioned that teachers of each subject should have 'adequate' competence in the language, and that supervision of teaching through this medium be done by English teachers.

Although we talk of English being essential for social mobility, the thrust for English Medium Education comes from 'middle-class' parents who have the dominant voice in our urban societies (and perhaps at policy-making levels) who want their children educated in English because they are unable to (or choose not to?) communicate in their First Language. Thus, schools that have started this programme at various grade levels have a selection process on the basis of fluency in English. John Clegg suggested that we would then be marginalizing children who are already socially deprived, thereby maintaining the status quo of the 'class' divide. (i.e. urban/rural and English speaking/non-English speaking divides). He felt that either all who wish should be allowed to follow EME, or that some consideration be given to the subject competency of the student, irrespective of the medium. That is indeed food for thought, especially for school administrators who battle with time-table/classroom logistics. The eagerness and the enthusiasm shown by the local participants were very encouraging. As Tony O'Brien, Director, British Council, observed, it was the only conference he had attended where the participants were punctual for every session.

I would like to end my ruminations with the passage quoted in the final plenary by Prof. Ryhana Raheem, who was elected the new Chair of SLELTA at the AGM held on the last day of the conference: The ambitious curriculum designs of state policies often give lip service to the realities and histories that different schooling contexts have to cope with: underdeveloped human and physical resources, the entrenchment of ritualised practices of teaching and learning, the poor administration and management of the curriculum renewal process, the inability of teacher educators to reconceptualise their role as promoters of alternative visions of teaching and learning, the arrogance of teacher educators who value theoretical knowledge above the practical knowledge of teachers and the unreflective teachers who dismiss the value of theory. Renewal of the system entails conversion at the lowest and most important level: the way teachers think about addressing the specific realities within their own schools using the resources at hand. (Baker 1998)

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