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23rd August 1998

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Book Review

Of structure and aesthetics

Eelaththuc Cirukathai Thohuppukal: Tiranaivu (Sri Lankan Tamil Short Story Collections: Critical Comments) and Anmaikala Eelaththuc Cirukathai Thohuppukal: Thiranaivu (Recent Sri Lankan Tamil Short Story Collections: Critical Comments)

By K. S. Sivakumaran -Reviewed by Prof. Karthigesu Sivathamby

K.S. Sivakumaran's ninth and tenth books are two collections of reviews and interesting critical notes he has written over the years on Sri Lankan Tamil short story collections.

Sivakumaran is fairly well known in the media and literary circles. His major contribution has been his writings in English which introduced and commented on the 'happenings' in the Tamil literary and arts fronts to the non-Tamil-speaking readers and listeners. He has also taken an abiding interest in serious cinema.

Within the field of Tamil writing itself, K. S. Sivakumaran's relevance has been that he had presented 'new writings' and the aesthetics' of the writings concerned to the Tamil reader. In doing so, he has been trying to keep himself out of the ideological controversies that used to rage in the Tamil literary arena. His writings are oriented towards "the non-committal and yet concerned reader".

Sivakumaran, in these two volumes under review, comments on 64 collections of Sri Lankan Tamil short stories published since the late 60s and provides an overall view of the development of local short story writing in Tamil.

The challenge that Tamil literature in Sri Lanka faces, when compared to those produced in India is that in Sri Lanka, the human experiences portrayed are much more heterogenous than in Tamilnadu.

In Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Tamils, and Muslims, two distinct communities, share the same linguistic and literary tradition. Even among the Tamils, there is a great unevenness. The hill-country Tamils have their own tradition. In such a situation, the diversities are naturally marked.

Sivakumaran's forte has been his comments on the structure of the narrative style and the aesthetic satisfaction.

After thought

Speak for me now

After thought

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

We shout about hu man rights and animal rights. But how many of us, during our daily battle for survival think twice about the little "servant" carrying a child bigger than she is, the waif exploited by the beggar mudalali, the refugee child deprived of home and education, the brutalised child-soldier, the sexually-abused beach boy or the adolescent forced into an incestuous relationship by her father.

The list goes on and on. These are the unheard voices of the exploited children of Sri Lanka.

For me, the myth about the value of children and the importance of the family was exploded way back in the sixties. I got an introduction to violence against children when I myself was a little girl of about six. We were living in a provincial town then, and my sister and I used to go for music lessons to a family friend. There, we saw for the first time, a "servant girl" not older than 12. She did everything in that household, but what did she get in return - slaps and cuts from a cane specially reserved for her, not only from the "nona" but also from the much-respected "mahattaya".

What were her crimes? They were as "major" as dropping a towel when taking it off the clothesline or trying to steal a few morsels of the tasty dishes prepared exclusively for the children of the household. She ate the "indul"(scraps) only after everyone else, including the pet dog had eaten. She was the last to go to sleep at night and the first to get up at the crack of dawn. She was just a child, but not in the eyes of those around her. To them she was a lower being, not even deserving what the pet dog got.

I was too young to question WHY? What was the difference between that girl and the pampered children of that household? What was the difference between me and that girl? Wasn't she too made of flesh and blood, with all the yearnings of childhood? Was she sub-human because she was born into poverty?

All the arguments in the world will never give back her childhood or wipe away the hot tears that would have flowed onto her mat at night.

This is just one example of what we see almost daily, even now, but do nothing about. We as a society seem to condone it. Child abuse is part of our lives. We keep silent or nod in agreement when the more vociferous among us claim that "such children will starve in their homes." We appease our consciences with the words that they will at least get three meals a day or that they have just been brought as playmates for the more affluent children.

We close our eyes and ears to the anguished cries of such children being harassed by our neighbours, exploited in boutiques and on the streets, raped by their own fathers :with the excuse: What can we do or it is not our business.

As Professor Harendra de Silva, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Child Reforms, referring to child abuse, says, "What right have you, to get work out of me? What right have you, to do this to me? What right have I, to complain about thee? My hands are tied; my mouth is bound. It is you - all out there, who should speak out for me. If not, a 'passive perpetrator' you may be".

Some of us, doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, academics, politicians, government officers, journalists and the so-called educated people are ourselves the perpetrators, the victimisers and the oppressors.

Whether we are the direct perpetrators or the "silent" majority _ think and allow our consciences the freedom to guide us. Many a time I ask myself how I would feel if I were compelled to send my five-year-old daughter as a "servant"_ how her eyes would mirror the pain of knowing she was different from other children, that she had to slave while others went to school or played, how the tears would well up in her eyes when she saw them eating chocolate without giving her even a tiny piece.

Though vast strides have been made by the government, with the support of non-governmental organisations in strengthening children's rights, we as a society should take on the challenge of eradicating or at least minimising as much as possible the menace of child abuse. We should not be complacent, just because our children are not victims.

The government can put laws into place, but implementation and enforcement would depend on us. Remember children do not have a voice of their own_their loves and hates, their joys and fears are all voiced by us, the adults.

Whenever I think of children, the apt words of Nobel Prize winner and poet Gabriela Mistral come to mind: "We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot wait. To him we cannot answer tomorrow. "His name is today".

What we can do

* Never employ or abuse a child
* If a neighbour or friend is employing a child under 12, which is illegal, advise them not to do so.
* If they persist, inform the police or the Department of Probation and Child Care
*If any kind of child abuse is spotted inform the police on 444444 (hotline) or 347300

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