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A report and some observations on SLACLLS

Last week in the hill capital, Mahanuwara, the Sri Lanka Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies held its fourth biennial conference (SLACLLS) at two venues: Swiss Residency Hotel and Emeritus Professor in English, Ashley Halpe's residence at a hilltop in an affluent area.

The programme included speeches, panel discussions, felicitations, readings, performances, reading of papers, and showing of a short digital film. And of course fabulous dinner and lunch were hosted by Ashley and Bridgette Halpe's.

There were four participants from neighbouring India: academics - C N Srinath, H.Kalpana and Debarati Bandyopadhyay. There was also Keki Daruwalla, a poet. Local participants included academics Ashley Halpe, Walter Perera, Carema Jayaweera and Sumathy Sivamohan and vanguard writers Tissa Abeysekera and Carl Muller. The Principal of St.Peter's College, Rev.Fr.Gaston Perera read his work. Besides him, there were women poets Jean Arasanayagam, Kamala Wijeratne, Premini Amarasinghe and Lakshmi Samarakoon. Apart from these there were a few academics, teachers, journalists and literary enthusiasts.

Titles of a few papers read: The Menace of Theory (Prof.C.N.Srinath), Text and the Polemics of Representation (Dr.Kalpana Rao), Shane Joseph's Redemption in Paradise: The many-faceted Aspects of Postcolonial Literatures (Carl Muller), Code Switching: A meaning Making Device (Careema Jayaweera), Margaret Atwood's World: Resistance, Reactionaries and the Complicity of History of History (Debarati Bandopadhyay) and Fundamentalism or Traditional Islam (Careema Jayaweera)

Here are some excerpts from the passages presented in the papers:

"How does the text become a representation? A review of select Sri Lankan Poetry: Identity has by and large been addressed in different ways within the preview of post colonial literature. Creative writing has also been seen in recent addresses of post colonialism as representations of culture.

In such a plethora of debatable issues with regard to the polemics of representation, my paper would like to review some of the post colonial assumptions with regard to colonized nations' literary representations.

Keeping in mind, factors such as the location of the seminar, and the tome duration, the present paper hopes to do a broad review of some of the post colonial issues mentioned above and then critically examine select Sri Lankan poetry with regard to the metaphors of representation. "(Dr. Kalpana Rao) "Margaret Atwoods's World: resistance, Reactionaries and the Complicity of History: In Margaret Atwood's fictional, at times dystopian world, protagonists are both powerful and vulnerable. One is vulnerable when, as in "Surfacing", a commercial, mechanized, superficial world, mostly called "Erica :, imposes its values on a person belonging to the apparently free, post-colonial society in Canada.

And a protagonist is powerful in Atwood's fiction when, again as, in " Surfacing" and also in the case of f Offered in " The Handmaid's Tale", the ending, " Historical Notes " proves to be a possible means of countering Offered's discourse of resistant existence and as such, becomes a manifestation of reactionary attitude and complicity of the future historians in the atrocities of a past regime.

"In each of these cases, the world-view gets distorted because of reactionaries who either do not have courage to support a resistance movement, or, are politically correct enough to seek to maintain status quo.

The history of political orientation, social and ideological indoctrination and manipulation of human emotions in both the colonized and postcolonial societies maybe interpreted either way - any act can become a crime to those who want stability and cannot tolerate any disturbance while, to a resistance movement, even an individual's awakening of awareness and consequent action are of vital importance in the process of rewriting history and constructing a better future. And as "The Handmaid's Tale, not even history is ever neutral.

It is precisely along these margins and borders of interpretations of human existence that Atwood moves, a movement I intend to map in my paper." (Dr. Debarati Bandyopadhyay)

"Fundamentalism or Traditional Islam?"

"Islam, I believe is a much misunderstood and much misrepresented religion. It is so not only because the western media chooses to misrepresent Islam but also because the followers of Islam have to a certain extent either deliberately or ignorantly disregarded the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.

" Most Muslims in the non-Arabic speaking part of the world read the Quaran in Arabic and since they do not understand the language, remain ignorant of its contents - their knowledge of Islam comes largely from what has been traditionally handed down from grandparents and parents. In today's context, the powerful Islamic nations also play a large role in interpreting Islam.

However, even those who read it in Arabic or in translation do so with awe, respect and fear and these factors prevent them from venturing into an analysis of its contents. These are some of the reasons why today Islam has come to be associated purely with war and terrorism. Islam means peace; the Prophet liberated slaves, paved the way for women's liberation and brought unity among warring tribes.

"The Quran is not a reproduction of the Old testament as many believe it to be but its contents reveal a moving away from Old Testament laws of revenge to those of forgiveness and mercy.

"Rushdie's novel is not an attack on traditional Islam but it is a criticism of fundamentalist representation of Islam." (Careema Jayaweera)

"The Many- Faceted Aspect of Post Colonial Literature (Shane Joseph's " Redemption in Paradise"): "The Post Colonial has been a time of testing the waters...but in most colonial literature, there is also an unconscious cry for stability... Shane Joseph a new Sri Lankan writer from Canada, has given us his first novel, " Redemption in Paradise"...How much of the early postcolonial writing that emerged came put of a complicated network of inherited and acquired physical and mental characteristics, notions, superstitions and prejudices that had already been soaked up in homes, schools and societies under colonial rule.

What follows then is that post colonial literature blossomed because of this thing called literary ability - the ability to handle hopes and fears of the writer's own experiences and weave them into a story that can be properly handled and understood. What we have had is a rapid succession of literary forms with so many expressed or implied standards, all coalescing with the writer's relations to a fast changing world.

George Orwell told of the break-down of the English language, but he did not live to see how well the post colonial writers redeemed it. English accepted and absorbed the great battalions of words that moved across the West-literary works that carried an Indian-ness, a Sri Lankan-ness, sopping the sorry air with phrases and new approaches: no dead or dying metaphors, no verbal wooden legs, no pretentious diction, no meaningless words.

India now speaks in a strong Indian voice. Here is new refreshment and a refreshing vulgarity as well that has rocked the staid British cradle!" (Carl Muller)

The three-day conference gave me an opportunity to mix and shoulder myself with academics and great writers both from our country and the giant India and discuss, argue and learn from them.

There were not only academics, but famous people - for instance, writers (Tissa Abeysekera, Carl Muller), poets (Jean Arasanayagam, Kamala Wijeratne, Premini Amarasinghe, teachers (Ranjit Wijekoon, Sandra Fernando), Writers (Nimal Sanderatne, Jagath Kumarasinghe) silent observers (Mrs.Senaka Bibile, Latif Allen), and journalist (Frances Bulathsinhala).


A well-made short film made in the digital format in Thamil with English subtitles was shown at the conference. The film titled "Piralyam" (Upheaval) was appreciated by all. The visual and cinematic impact with silences, pauses and metaphors, 'naturalistic' acting by common people who suffered not only during the ethnic war but also during the recent havoc agent the tsunami in the eastern part of the country and the appropriate background music were all aesthetically presented. The film is a symbolic comment on our times in the war-torn regions. I liked the presentation.

The filmmaker, Sumathy Sivamohan is an academic, actress and producer of plays. Good show Sumathy.

"Fifty- Fifty"

I also liked very much the dramatic presentation of H.C.N. de Lanerolle's memorable play of some six decades age, "Fifty -Fifty", a political comedy depicting the State Council era. The play was succinctly produced and directed by Lakshmi Samarakoon for the Trinity College Dramatic Society. Congratulations. Jaliya Wijewardne, Barana Waidyathilake, Heshika Deegla- wathura, Sumedha Kelegama,Heshan Pethiyagoda, Sasjid Nasim and Jeevaka Somaratne - all boys spoke their lines very well in consonance with the respective accents of the characters concerned. Every one of them played his part well.

At the same time I was particularly enthused with the acting by Barana Waidyathiake, who played the role of charlotte Sumanasekera. Congratulations to the producer and the players.

Young talent from the hill capital

The Young Writers Association in Mahanuwara showed immense talent and versatility as they presented a music-cum-poetry and prose writing. They need a little notice and direction. About 10 of them read before an attentive audience their creative work. Since Colombo does not have much of the provincial artistic activities, it is nothing but fair to introduce them to a wider reading public.


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