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Focus on books

An alternative preface to arts and culture

by Prof Sunanda Mahendra

Over a period of at least two decades Prmatilaka Perukanda, the journalist, poet, essayist and theatre man, has been engaged in various activities shifting himself from one area to another. Though Perukanda has published one collection of poems 'Hituvakkara Situvili', his mainstay seems to be the writing of literary essays and comments on poetry, theatre, novels and short stories, television, cinema and various other allied areas of arts and culture. Though quite short and innovatory in his expressions he has the skill to be highly individualistic in his approach.

Now he has collected most of these bits and pieces scattered in various literary periodicals and newspapers, in the form of an assorted collection, titled 'Chamatkarayen vicharayata' (from beauty to criticism) as an author publication, with a preface which visualizes his intention and the will to anthologize or tie together to give a coherence to the entire work.

He commences by stating that it is his duty to present these comments as there is an inner tendency that thrusts him to do so. According to Perukanda, a critic should elevate or make a new taste building climate in the mind of the rasika or the aesthete and in order to do so the critic concerned should be bold as well as duty minded in his function disregarding the parochial barriers.

He tries to make a plea for the local critic whom he believes is either a disregarded individual and/or an unborn creature.

He firmly believes that the absence of good and rather scientific and exploratory criticism has so far created the birth of detrimental creative works, which has done more harm than any decent entertainment or taste building. He goes on to the extent of giving several examples which you may agree or disagree or agree to disagree.

No harangues

Coming on to the anthology, the common reader is given the chance to feel that there are no harangues and dislocations on the part of the critic Perukanda. He is for the most part quite brief and sharp in his comments.

In the first section devoted to comments on poetry Perukanda selects such works as Parakrama Kodituwakku's 'Divaman Gajaman' a work based on the life and pains of the poet Gajaman Nona, Lal Hegoda's poetry collection 'Sandun Aratuva', Ratna Sri Wijesinha's 'Taru lakuna', a ballad and Manjula Wediwardhane's 'Pilihuduvi'. In each of these works he sees from his point to view the necessities, irrelevancies as well as moments of social and political impingements that go to mar the creativity over and above propagandism.

This is shown more in the last work cited, where he believes that good creative intentions could be coloured by over emphasis on pseudo politicisation, which was seen commonly in the seventies.

Then comes the second section with comments on aspects of theatrical works where six works by six writer producers are selected. I am not too sure whether one could agree with some of the comments made on the late Prof. Sarachchandra's play 'Bava Kadatura', based on a jataka source and a Japanese folktale.

What Perukanda seems to believe is the aspect of fantasy that one sees in that particular play that disturbs the social relevance of the theme.

But I am not too sure whether this is a sharp critical comment, basically when it comes to the understanding of the very function of 'fantasy'. The term 'maya lokaya' if taken away from creative flux could mean a fallacious approach, but I feel that fantasy is not mere 'maya'.

It is a form of willing suspension of disbelief, which is an age - old creative form of expression. Anyway one has the liberty to comment pre - supposing sufficient evidence to support or oppose the creative artiste's approach to his subject material.

Narratives

In the third section, his attention is drawn towards narratives, both original and translations, and also on one compilation of memoirs by a fellow journalist Gunasiri De Silva, who exposes some of his experiences in engaging himself a reporter, feature writer, film critic and a free lancer in a society of a galaxy of challenges.

Then the fourth and the fifth sections deal on a few television plays and films, which are already being widely discussed elsewhere by local critics. I felt that more could have been contributed into that section and there is a need to peep into the realm as a necessity.

Undoubtedly, this is a time consuming engagement and a devotion on the part of a critic is anticipated. The last section devoted to more common subjects also should have been developed, if not analysed. These common variety of subjects (vivida) include such aspects as the 'failure of the critic in his function to develop the aesthetic taste, and the tendency to over favour (vandibhatta) and eulogise creative works over constructive evaluation based on scientific methods.

These notes, comments and views of Prematilake Perukanda may stimulate a reader to take up the very subject of creative communication much more seriously than this taught and practised today at all levels.

Assorted prose anthologies of this type are also required basically for historical reasons as well.

As such an another publication where a writer has to strive hard to promote his work, also becomes a added factor, where predominately to a writer can afford to be more independent in his views and comments.

***************

This marvellous business of a self-created world

Candle and Other Poems
Author: Sandra Fernando

Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo, 2004-pp.112

Someone recently told me that he thinks there are already enough books of poetry, and what's with all these new collections of poems anyway? I suppose in a way, this can be true, but I did tell this person that there will always be new poetic expressions so long as there are those sensitive ones who wish to gather together the things in their lives - things they love the most, things that impress, excite, things to rail at even; and, above all, things to which they can apply their own personal colour.

This personal colour is the really significant item in any poetic collection. Also, as far as I know, the majority of good anthologies ARE collections of poetry. Doubtless poetry is in general better adapted for this work than prose.

Sandra Fernando is a teacher. She is also a member of the English Writers' Workshop (better known as the Wadiya Group), and Francis Fort Coppola's internet writers' workshop.

She feels, I am sure, that unlike prose that takes longer to get its effect, poetry does and stands complete and perfect in a short breath of time. This is her first volume of poetry, and to take in the 76 pieces she offers is to realize that she has no hidebound prejudices.

She does not allow the reader to think that to her, poetry is a kind of delicate orchid house in which only the most precious and exotic plants are valued.

As she says in her introduction, "Some of the poems here are light fluff and operate on one level. But some of the others are not meant to be read so one-dimensionally."

Positive influence came to her from Fareeda Haq, a kohl-eyed bundle of brilliance who shone brightly in the Wadiya Group constellation, and that says a lot. Anyone who has shared poetic wonder and excitement with Fareeda cannot be but a maestro!

As is my way, I am not given to quoting whole poems or even, as Sandra calls them, bits of fluff.

This does spoil the experience of the reader. It's rather down-putting (that can't be put-downing, can it?) to hear someone say: "I read your review. Now I don't have to buy the book!" But I will throw in a few small morsels; small cheese-bits like:

*Yet somehow you knew

And drew from your sky

This frail cloud of thought (from "Gift")

*The years have turned to rice paper

The dressing of your heart,

I had not meant to dismember-

Just a blessing to impart (from "Coronet")

*The time of life with nowhere to go,

A roundabout melody noising for show,

For an arrow-straight journey is shorter by far

Than your to-ing and fro-ing repeatedly are (from "Birds")

 

Mysterious

I hope you will forgive me if I get rather personal. I am now pushing 70 and that seems rather preposterous. Fortunately, as we grow older, the intervening years telescope themselves until at last, I hope, I will be twenty again. Time, after all, is a mysterious business and I have been told that Science has proved that it really does not exist.

Does this mean that all those delicious moments of poetic discovery are locked in with the discovery of friends, books, pictures, landscapes and the truer landscape of other worlds I find in the poetry of others? Yes, they all live their own worlds - so welcome to Sandra's!

Thank God my sense of wonder does not grow less as I grow even older. In Sandra's poems, I see that mystery of beauty in life, and that is of lasting significance. Every new poetic voice tells me that through some divine seed, we are in possession of such a mystery. What if we were all to be Neanderthal dullards who are not impassioned by Beethoven's Fifth Symphony or Shakespeare's King Lear or Rembrandt's self-portraits; or even a starlit night or a morning mountain with its tiara of mist? Poetry continues to live. Listen to how Sandra lives it:

If now his eyes don't dance for you,

It's for a while. Still, in his soul

He hears your heart and knows it true.

He will dance again with you

So let his shattered being mend

When dark your days and deep your nights,

That's when the light goes deep within

Or flickers low or falters dim.

Gently blow upon it, coax

It patiently again to blaze,

And when it does, sit you by him -

Warm yourself upon his gaze. (from "Patient")

 

Marvellous

Sandra's poetry is truly a living thing. The freshness of many of her poems tells us that this business of a self-created world is truly marvellous.

We receive not only her created world but we hear and perceive in response the created world of the reader, the onlooker, the participator.

As Sandra herself says: "When you, the reader, approach this collection, three texts will be created: the one I wrote; the one you read with all your experiences and predilections; and the one that we will create together as essentially we come to terms between us on the words, lines and phrases that follow." So you see, she has opened her created world to the created worlds of the others around her - and if any other of these self-created worlds are too small, or too mean, or too self-satisfied or too jealous or critical, why, that is not her world's fault, is it?

Read "Setting the Table for Dinner." There is an echo of "Minnie Maylow's Story" by Masefield. It is superbly crafted. "Waiting Up" is a study in secret heart-feeling and fear that is quickly elbowed away when relief is suppressed into a studied matter-of-factness. See how Adam Eves himself while all Nature holds its breath; bask in the intimacy of "a gentle coconut tree" with "a beard of coconuts" that is "more faithful than a husband." Candle and Other Poems is a treat. The variety of theme is quite remarkable. Read "Box" and "Meditation on a Birthday", then ask what part of the writer generated them.

Was it heart or brain or that space between bosom or where the spine curves midway. The end-rhyme adds to the effect and suddenly you wonder whether what wraps around you is tinsel or ribbon, strong leather, sellotape or pliant steel. The book begs reading and interpreting in any number of ways. Let me leave you with these lines from Line":

Submerged I stand

benumbed beneath the dross of life

the empty routine, the vacant ritual

the hopelessness of "Good morning"

the helplessness of "I'm fine"

the blindness of "Get you act together"

the cruelty of "It'll work out"

the vindictiveness of "you'll be fine, don't worry - tomorrow's another day."

Will the real Sandra, who is now breaking out, stepping out of line, please stand up! Thank you. Please say 'Hi!' to the lady who is colouring our own created worlds with her personal colour.

- Carl Muller

***************

Methodical analysis of a serious problem

Stress Management Through Meditation
Author: Ven. Olande Ananda Thera (of Holland)
"Printed and Published by Devasiri Wittachy
For free distribution

Stress Management Through Meditation is a very slim booklet authored by the well-known exponent of Buddhism, Ven. Olande Ananda Thera of Holland.

Compared to other writings on the subject of stress management through meditation this booklet is very small but in this slim booklet Ven. Olande Ananda Thera has explained lucidly, using a very simple and effective language, how stress could be satisfactorily managed through a wisely programmed way of meditation.

He begins this exemplary essay by thoughtfully analysing what this much discussed word 'stress' means. He says: "Stress is a kind of conflict which is caused by factors both from the outside world and from the inside of our own minds.

When we look at the world outside things seem to be speeding up, life is becoming faster and faster, while more demands are being made of people in society in their positions with the industrialization and the increase of communication, and all the news items that are bombarding us from the media through our senses. These are some of the factors from the outside which can lead to stress.

The demands that are being made on us nowadays in the industrialized and commercialized societies are greater than when people were living peacefully in small villages and agricultural situations."

In tracing the history of stress he emphasises the fact that the inner causes of stress is nothing new to the human society and mentions: "The inner causes of stress were there even in the times of the agricultural societies, in fact as long as human beings have been living on this earth."

Methodically analysing the inner causes of stress he mentions: "Very often stress comes from being in a hurry, thinking that things have to be done fast; not taking things one by one but taking them all together into one's mind and looking at things in a distorted fashion. Not being able to handle things one by one but being overwhelmed by tasks that are before us; that is one inner cause of stress.

So that is, not to really handle situations from moment to moment but to be a little bit ahead of time, to sort of live in hope and fear of the future of what one has to do."

Another important cause of stress is attributed to the various lofty and unrealizable goals and expectations we human beings so often harbour in our malleable minds. Ven. Olande Ananda Thera clearly mentions that an important cause for stress is that we expect things as how they should be rather than accepting things as they really are.

Thus the mental conflict between what actually is and what we think that should be caused stress.

The mental conflict between what we expect something to be and what it really is, causes so much tension and stress in our minds.

He mentions that if we can change our attitude to see things as they really are rather than expecting what they should be, stress could be appreciably reduced.

According to Ven. Olande Ananda Thera another cause for stress is worry. Today we continue to worry about our past activities, particularly our failings, and live in the present harbouring an undue fear in our future activities.

This mental attitude too causes stress of which the writer of this booklet says: "Another cause of stress is the kind of worry that we have by thinking about things that were left undone or the things that we have done them thinking we have done them in a wrong way; that is, worrying about the past, about things done in a wrong way or left undone and worrying about how we are going to handle the future, how we are going to act in a certain situation, which is not yet there, but we project our mind and live in a kind of hope and fear and worry about the future."

He mentions that by practising the Buddha Dhamma and meditating properly "We can live more peacefully and more harmoniously, with less conflict, with less worry and with less stress."

- Andrew Scott

***************

Memorable literary discourses

Sahitha Samaja Prathiroopa
Author: Sashi Prabhath Ranasinghe
S. Godage Publishers, Colombo 10.
148 pp. Rs. 200

Sashi Prabhath Ranasinghe is young. Young, when compared with the many mature critics who wield their prowess in the contemporary literary field. Though, Sashi's literary maturity is on par with many of his senior counterparts; the best proof of this is his latest work Sahitha Samaja Prathiroopa.

This is a kind of exercise that can be expected only from a seasonal personality in the field of literary criticism. The book is a compilation of dialogues the writer had with twenty prominent literary figures of the day, which were first published as newspaper articles in the literary section of the Sinhala Daily 'Dinamina'. Sashi's book comes out at a time when a common boredom has set in the contemporary literary field where literary conversations or dialogues either in print or electronic media are concerned, many of these dialogues/ interviews are hollow but flamboyant outpourings of ideas which have become lukewarm or stale by overuse.

There is a common, yet justifiable complaint against the young media people of the day; that they are not familiar with the subject on which they ask questions, or they do not have the appropriate wherewithal of words to express themselves.

This writer of 'Sahitha Samaja Prathiroopa' is somewhat free from this common blame. He knows what to ask, because he is very much cognizant of the literary and intellectual background of the persons he deals with.

And, he seems to be in constant touch with the literary moods of the times and the people. Hence, he seems to be at ease with the themes he is faced with at these literary discourses.

This is evident in the questions he directs, in order to get an answer which serves his purpose - presenting the focal theme in detail and drawing a portrait of the literary figure being interviewed.

There are twenty figures thus portrayed-a cross section of the prominent literary personalities of the day. All these figures have put their indelible literary seal with their contributions to the Sinhala literature.

They are Prof. Sucharitha Gamlath, Prof. Somarathna Balasooriya, Prof. J. B. Disanayaka, Gunadasa Amarasekera, Simon Navagattegama, Ariyawansa Ranaweera, Monika Ruwanpathirana, Eric Ilayapparachchi, Keerthi Welisarage, Sumithra Rahubaddha, Dr. Nalin Suwaris, Sarath Wijesooriya, Cyril C. Perera, Demon Ananda, Upul Shantha Sannasgala, Parakrama Kodituwakku, Prof. Sunanda Mahendra, Prof. Nalin de Silva and Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardene.

The book is a worthwhile reader to get a glimpse of the present trends and frictions in the Sinhala literature. At times the writer gets carried away by the high-flown literary jargon which tends to thwart the interest of the reader. A careful reading of the script would have made much to the neatness of the text.

- Malini Govinnage

***************

Cascades of inner longing

Coffee Stains in a Camel's Teacup
Author: Deepak Unnikrishnan
Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo, 2004 - pp. 40

Deepak Unnikrishnan is just 23. That says nothing, does it? But how many 23-year olds possess a heart that swells into a stunning glory-hued flower, bursting into voice that makes of life's way a sheer lyric of sliding, gliding words? Deepak's first collection of short stories is surely but an aperitif. Someday, I hope, a feat awaits us.

He asks us to sip lovingly and not consider the small measures of the glass. Just seven stories told with such uncontrolled power. One gets that champagne taste, turning to a rare Medoc, then to ambrosia. It simply has to be like that - and then there is that scent of a burning rose that, long ago, George MacDonald told us of in his enchanting children's classic, "The Princess and the Goblin."

One cannot help but revel in the way each story in this slim book conveys the author's deepest emotions. He is in them all - both male and female - and with the sort of prestidigious ease that only rare artists can embody on canvas. He allows his mind to speak, as through his tongue, deadened by the mystery, the grandeur of it all, has no need for words.

The writing flows, gathering colours, sights, sounds, winding with the wind and city din, living room windows, urban conscience riding the subway. Be it the waters of Lethe or the waters of Avalon matters little. It flows, even remorselessly, and in its gathering detritus there is spilled orange juice, stray dogs like Bombay prostitutes, an ugly West 19 street pigeon, lottery tickets that tantalize.

It is the first person writing that compels and, with ease, he also becomes the female giver and lover and non-lover in a sacrificial dance of longing.

What makes this little book a joy to read is the deep humanity that undercurrents it. Life to Deepak is not lived enough, yet he has reached inward for depths and the thoughts cascade. Sexual frustration squrred by desire clashes cymbals. In "Travelogue" he is turning to Nabokov's "Lolita"; then to "Perfume"; and in the Joyce Theatre he sees a beautiful girl and, as he says, "couldn't conceal my appetite for her bum as she hurriedly changed seats." In "The Silence is a Shout" he is the grandfather, watching a lovely girl buying brinjals in a supermarket.

Torment

Her soft and touchable fingers played the purple vegetables like men, and they almost juiced with desire under her torment.

"Need help?" I questioned.

"I am not sure, grandpa," came the answer in a playful, lilty voice that made my body ache with grandfatherless venom ..... Never before had I crept into a woman's skirt so seamlessly as she spoke. He tells of the day he had been to the Met, seen a painting by Balthus: Oh, I almost came when I saw this sensuously vibrant painting of a little girl, her legs apart and her sumptuously white panties soiled, as her arms, parallel yet independent of each other, flew above her head as she stretched in a sigh so exquisite that her eyes pretended to wink at each other because of the careless display of passion the girl was breeding within her soul .....

Everyone in that room that day, every single lover of art, stared at that painting in silence and in awe - for her parted limbs, I assure you, were like a tunnel of immense vacuum, sucking all that looked into her being, impregnating her with a lustful sexual alloy, gathered from a mixture of silence.

What is the author really telling us? He invites us, actually: Read - read my soul. This is me in the growing-up time, the now-time and the time to come. I will keep my senses alight and even as age steals everything else, the Roman Candles with their craving light will keep me ever needing, never satisfied.

Marvellous

Above all this are the word pictures he weaves. They are absolutely marvellous. Walk the streets of Bombay within him ("Laugh Lines Hidden in a Lamp Post") and listen to what he says: ..... the colour, vibrant spider webs of colour gushing in and out like spasmodic cannonballs of life ..... wandering second-hand colours, flirty bright hues, and even old shrivelled rainbows ..... Trousers and jeans pass in some sort of pre-calculated, confused sequence ..... some sort of synchronized bedlam in a conductorless land.

Strangely personal, intimate, broken-egg-raw in spots, impressions that come from the stench of torn-up carpets; experiences that buzz-saw their way into the crevices of awareness, then settle like mining dust to taint or taunt.

It's hard to put Deepak's seven torrid tales into a canister and say: "There, I've got it all pegged down."

He comes through like a new wave, overwhelming the turgidity of the commonplace, breaks on some sun-dazed shore, scattering word-pearls that startle the very air into a wondering, receptive breathlessness.

This is the first offering of a true, gifted literary artist. There is precision of thought behind the seeming ramble that turns into the many molehills of the senses. It is not that the author cares whether we squirm or not for blatant or otherwise, he writes from an innermost part of his own questing self. If that is not Truth, what is?

- Carl Muller

***************

Daughter's tribute to her father

The Love of My Life
Published by Roli Books, Lustre Press, New Delhi, India.'

The Love of My Life is a successful attempt by a doting daughter to capture the life and the working of her extraordinary (Bapi) Pandit Ravi Shankar. Such a biography can only emanate from a kind heart that mirrors the fine and caring side of life, from a daughter who too walks in the footsteps of her father in the field of music.

The daughter finds, genius, creator, pioneer, humanitarian, instrumentalist, orator, messiah and humorist too in her father. Ravi Shankar's commitment to work and healthy approach to life speak volumes. Swami Mitranandan in his foreword to Self - realization Fellowship in America says "If one is judged by the company one keeps, few have a network of so many and such loving friends. The Shankar family is a unique magnet."

The chronicle of Ravi Shankar's works is a revelation in reality, though his associations, awards and performance and his contribution to present India is legendary. Ravi never sanctified the mix of yoga, ear-bursting cacophonous music, spirituality, Kama Sutra, mind boggling contusions of half-naked singers on public stages as music proper or music at all. "Our music is pure, almost religious," Ravi says, "To link it with drugs, drink or sex is impure".

This is a message that should be driven home to Sri Lankan singers and dancers of the so-called musical shows and TV musical concerts. He hated the expressive individual members, smoking, shouting, dancing and amorous embraces in his audiences. On a few occasions at such ordeals he even walked away with his instruments and returned only, when sanity returned to the audience.

However, Anoushka's insight in print of the personality of the father is very close to being flawless.

Ravi Shankar was born in the holiest of holy cities for Jains, Hindus and Buddhist, the land between the two rivers Vara and Asi, Varanasi in 1920. He spent the major part of his life with his mother Hemangini Devi alone as his father Pandit Shayam had settled abroad.

This fact facilitated Ravi Shankar in his growing up years to have a close rapport with visits to the fulcrums of culture in the west, both Paris and London, to cross fertilize his musical talents. He began his career as a dancer and played myriad of instruments such as the Sitar, Sarod, Esraj, Sarangi and various types of drums.

His decision to come under the tutelage of Baba Allaudin Khan magnetized him to the Sitar which brought about a paradigm shift in life that could be equated with another association he had in later years with Beatles' George Harrison. In the words of Anoushka, "Uncle George and Bapi (father) forged a quick and deep bonding.

A combination of Guru and disciple, father and sons and friends." An interesting outcome of Shankar's performances with George Harrison and other 'pop' idols at one stage catapulted more Sitar sales in the United States than in India, bringing huge slices of foreign exchange to India and the Sitar becoming the icon of Indian music around the world.

With the passage of the Indian summers Ravi Shankar rolled out from his mind mill memorable 'ragas'. He scored music for many local and English movies too. Some of this benchmarks in musical inputs include Pather Panchali, Gandhi and Alice in Wonderland.

His many other musical extravaganzas highly acclaimed included 40 ragas and complicated rhythmic cycles such as, six-and-a-half and the thirteen-and-a-half. He named it Raga Mala. Shankar christened, 'Melody and Rhythm' as his first 'magnum opus' in 1958. His concentrative efforts popularized Indian music in the West and East, in East Meets West and West Greets East.

In his professional career he had to countenance green-eyed monsters accusing him of commercializing and Americanizing Indian music and downgraded its immense sanctity. Newspaper critics went to town with such unfounded accusations. However, later, these very foot-draggers whom marginalized and humiliated him performed with him in foreign land concerts of Indian music.

Anoushka says, "On a personal front though there were many women in the life of Ravi, but he never deceived them with false promises. Bapi never deceived women or gave the impression that he was something that he wasn't. And whoever he was, he gave himself totally to at the time and from what I can tell he was so wonderful to these women that they chose to be in the situation of being one of the many women in his life."

The 140 page book gives an insight to the life and times of the Sitar Maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, not from an outsider or a bystander but his daughter Anoushka Shankar, another maestro with the Sitar.

- Rohan Jayetilleke

 **** Back ****

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