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Culture & Arts

Ninth Death Anniversary - August 16

 

Sarachchandra the diplomat - a few recollections



Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra

A great deal has already been written about Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, yet to my knowledge hardly anything has been written about the three years he spent in Paris (France) as the Ambassador of Sri Lanka. This note is meant to fill this gap.

It's well known that Prof. Sarachchandra played a key role in the election campaign against the UNP Government in 1970. Though generally apolitical, Prof. Sarachchandra was drawn into it by his staunch opposition to the draconian measures against university autonomy proposed by the regime.

As an independent thinker Prof. Sarachchandra was also opposed to certain measures taken by the coalition government, particularly after the 1971 insurgency. Sarachchandra had been unanimously nominated as the chairman of the Civil Rights Movement established on 18th Nov. 1971. This I guess would have been yet another reason why Prof. Sarachchandra was considered for a diplomatic appointment by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government.

In an interview in 1996, this is how the late professor described the dilemma he had to face: "I supported the coalition because I thought the politics of the left together with the left of centre politics of the SLFP will offer a good balance. But later on I was beginning to get critical of the government.

I headed the Civl Rights Movement which was formed to monitor violations of civil rights, specially after the 71 insurrection. When I was critical of the government, they probably wanted me out of the way - so they offered me this job, which was very difficult for me to refuse anyway as I was badly in need of the money."

By this time Prof. Sarchchandra was on the verge of retirement. He had devoted his entire life to creative and academic work within the university. Yet, it seemed that the truth of the age old Indian diction (Sarasaviya ha sirikatha eka thena nowasathi) Goddess Saraswathi and the Goddess of prosperity do not go together was beginning to dawn on him.

He never owned a house that he could call his own even at retirement. He never pocketed a cent of the charges that came from the performances of the plays he produced for the 'Sinhala natya sangamaya' of the university of Peradeniya.

When it came to the second production of 'Sinhabahu' in 1971, he had to turn to his friends for the required sum of rupees 7500. Part of that money was provided by me. (I must record here that this money was duly returned to me within one year - see Sinhabahu brochure 1972).

I went to Paris on an invitation by Prof. Sarachchandra in December 1976. It was the thick of winter in Europe. As I stepped into the official residence he welcomed me with a familiar smile and wittily quipped, 'Gala! What a great distance have you come to see for yourself a modicum of suffering and pain'.

The official residence of the Sri Lankan Ambassador was located at Neuilly Sur Saine, a picturesque suburb of Paris, surrounded by multi-storeyed apartments and dotted here and there by luxurious residences of multi million. It was really an ideal residential area.

I well remember hearing that one of the world's richest men Aristotal Onasis owned a mansion in that area. In this picturesque setting, I must say, the building of the Sri Lankan Ambassador's residence was probably the ugliest, gloomiest and dirtiest of the whole of Rue Perronet.

There was a dilapidated stable in that small compound of four to five perches. This box-shaped three storeyed building was surrounded by a high wall which seemed not to have seen any paint for an uncountable number of years. Hence it was dark in patches and covered with moss here and there. The carpets inside were not much better.

They were both old and worn out. The wall papers around had well forgotten their original colours. The electricity circuit within the house was dangerously fragile. When we think of Paris as a global trend-settler of fashions and elegant living the world over the Sri Lankan Ambassadors' residence would not have brought a respect for Sri Lanka, though it may well have degraded our image abroad.

Prof. Sarachchandra recorded his embarrassment thus "The residence of the Ambassador is in the fashionable Neuilly-Sur-Seine area, but it is one of the most disreputable looking buildings in that area.

Its roof is on the point of crumbling down, its outer walls are dirty and haven't been cleaned in the past 10 years since we began to rent out the house, its floors need carpeting and its inner walls and wood work need painting and redoing. I have felt ashamed to invite Ambassadors to my house because of its state of neglect. If felt ashamed of course, on behalf of the country I was representing. Actually, we have not had the means to maintain the house decently."

Further on the same subject he says; "It's not a question of poverty. Countries do not establish diplomatic missions in order to advertise their poverty. Vulgar ostentation is, of course, not appropriate, but certain standards have to be maintained. Poorer countries like Bangladesh keep up a more decent level and entertain better, and I'm sure that they find it more profitable in the long run.

My point is that it would be more in keeping with our national self-respect to close down missions that can't be maintained at decent levels and to put such resources to improve the missions that are left and which we feel are useful to maintain". (The Sunday Observer, November 13-1977).

Once I remember how a member of our diplomatic mission was hotly contradicted when he introduced a brass lamp with an engraved figure on top, as an authentic Sri Lankan creation. The knowledgeable foreigner traced its Indian origin. This simple incident exposes the ignorance of our officials who are attached to our missions abroad.

I would now like to illustrate how Sarachchandra the artist live inside Sarachchandra the diplomat in Paris. Sarachchandra did not forget to take his sitar when he went to Paris. Whenever he had some free time he would play the sitar in trance-like meditation.

He even hired a music teacher to improve his Kills. This person happened to be a Nepalese and was totally blind. He lived in Paris giving brief recitals on TV and visited us each Wednesday.

It was quite touching to see how Prof. Sarachchandra welcomed his teacher at the door-step and then offer him a warm cup of tea by his own hands. He would practise what he has learned until late into the night.

Sarachchandra used to get down publications of creative literature from home and read them very carefully, keeping abreast of every development in Sri Lanka. It was during the same period that he edited a translation of 'Pematho Jayathi Soko' rendered in to English by Derik de Silva who happened to be attached to Oxford University at that time.

This text was included in series of play scripts representing contemporary world theatre published by Salsburg University, Austria. His English novel titled "With the begging bowl" was based on his experience as the ambassador, and was later published in India. Inthe same period I could also see how happy he was to train a group of Sri Lankans in Paris to sing Bhakthi Gee at Vesak. He probably felt the need to create a Sri Lankan cultural environment around himself.

I feel it would be inappropriate to end this note without reference to the memories of our long walks on the bank of the river Seine. Most often, we set out from Rue perronat where the Ambassador's residence was located, along narrow paths leading to Sein, crossing Boulevard de Chateau.

We walked up to the Boulevard de General lecturer. Here one could see a few small islands (Il Dela Gon Jeane) in the middle of the river Seine, and the water of the river divide into two steams. As the evening deepened we would see holiday makers pass by in their boats studded with lights, playing sweet melodies as they melted into the distant mist.

The highrise buildings on the Courbevie area on the other side of the bank would light up plunging the reflected light deep into the water of the calm river giving it another worldly charm. This is said to be an industrial area, well described in Gue de Maupassants' stories.

As we walk along we would meet retired French couples arm in arm walk along with their extravagantly attired pet dogs. Our conversation would drift from talk about old age life-family bonds-cultural values, East and West ..... and so on. In one of these walks, professor told me how he got the title for his novel based on the 1971 insurgency (Heta Ehchara Kaluwara Ne) from a Parisian advertisement which read 'Il ne par is noir demain".

With the defeat of the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government in 1977, Prof. Sarachchandra promptly returned to Sri Lanka and once again left the island on an appointment as a research professor at the East-West Centre, Hawaii.

There was hardly anything Prof. Sarachchandra earn from his post as Ambassador in Paris. Part of his personnel salary too was sometimes channelled to safeguard the image of our country. Unlike many diplomats who return home with a plethora of foreign gadgets, foreign furniture, cars, washing machines and what not and anxiously wait for the next posting abroad, Sarachchandra returned to his old residence at Epitamulle, Pitakotte. Since he had no vehicle of his own to get about I had to lend my old 4 Sri Volkswagen until the day he left for Hawaii (USA).

(The writer is former Deputy Principal of St. Anthony's College, Kandy and author of several publications both Sinhala and English).


New Dance Vocabulary

According to Natyashastra, a "dancer should be slender bodied, with large eyes, a good sense of rhythm, splendid dresses and ornaments". Smt. Ranjana Gauhar is all this and more. To her dance is an irresistible call. She responds like a gentle breeze.

Intense experience speaks in her eyes. Rhythm murmurs through her body. "Ever since I can remember I have been in love with dancing. It is something inborn. I have been dancing from a young age and was sometimes serious and sometimes not so serious about it in my school days.

But after college I became very focused on dancing, practising, learning and teaching...and since then I have never looked back", says Ranjana, who is on her first visit to Sri Lanka with her troupe to present a dance drama titled 'Geet Govindam', in celebration of the 58th Anniversary of India's Independence.

Well known in the world of Indian classical art and one of the leading exponents of the 'Odissi' style, Ranjana believes she was destined to be an Odissi dancer from birth. "Even though I did not know it at the time, I realize today that the emotional content of the dance, the beautiful cultural poses and the devotion.. are just right for me".

It is natural therefore, that her performances should appeal to the audience at different levels and that watching the gaiety, grace and strength of her movements dance critics would hail her as an artist who has perfected her skills in Odissi to establish her own distinctive style and signature on this dance form.

Through the combination of 'Odissi', one of the classical dance forms of India which originated in the state of Orissa in eastern India, and which is said to be characterized by the 'Triple Bend' pose called 'Tribhangi' as it requires three bends at the neck, waist and the knee, and the majestic and powerful martial art of 'Chhau' Ranjana brings to life Jayadeva's lyric poem, 'Geet Govindam' recreating on stage the intense and passionate love of lord 'Krishna' and 'Radha'.

A more apt theme there would never be for Ranjana who believes nothing else unites human beings as emphatically as love. "There is so much love within us, I do not know why we are not generous enough to share it, says Ranjana. "We must give love. Spread love because life is too precious and too short for anything else".

Moving back to the topic of dancing she says her life is an extension of her dance. From the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep my whole life is centered round dancing. There are no lines to divide my professional and my personal lives. I'd like to die dancing".


Helen (from Troilus and Cressida)

Pandarus 'Fair be to you, my lord, and to all this fair company; fair distress, in all fair measure, fair guide them; especially to you, fair queen; fair thoughts be your fair pillow.

Helen 'Dear Lord, you are full of sweet words.

Pandarus 'You speak your fair pleasure, sweet queen. Fair prince, here is good broken music. Paris 'You have broken it, cousin; and by my life you shall make it whole again; you shall piece it out with a piece of your performance, Nell, he is full of harmony.

Pandarus. 'Truly, lady no.

Helen. 'O sir;

Pandarus 'Rude, in sooth, in good sooth, very rude

Paris 'Well said my lord; Well, you say so in fits

Pandarus. 'I have business to my lord, dear queen, my lord will you vouchsafe me a word.

Helen 'Nay, this shall not hedge us out, we'll hear you sing, certainly.

Act. III Scene.1.

Helen who is an imposing character in the make-up of Troilus and Cressida, plays but an insignificant character more ornamental and less prudent like the great Caesar who lent his name as a redundant character to one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies. That's how this literary genius coped with his plays in the most unlikely manner.

Written in 1601-2, it deals with a plot seven years after the Greek army landed in search of Helen, the Spartan queen who was carried off by Trojan prince while Troy was in turmoil,still beleaguered. The daughter of a Trojan priest, Cressida is passionately loved by young Troilus.

Cressida also happens to be the niece of Pandarius who had earlier defected from Greece. In the meantime, Hector, Priam's son send a challenge for a single combat but Achilles is sulking in his tent.

Therefor, Ulysses that if the chance is offered Ajax, Ulysses will return to reason. Again the Greeks offer to abandon the seige if Helen is returned. Cassandra the prophetess, tells them if the offer is turned down it will be woe for the Trojans. They are adamant not to return the queen and continue to fight.

The Greeks offer to exchange a Trojan prisnor with Cressida and despatch Diomedes 'the sweet guardian of Cressida' to bring her from the city. On account of this offer, Troilus and Cressida have to part with sadness.

While in the Greek camp, Cressida is forced to respond all desires of Achilles who calls her' the daughter of the game'. During a brief meet, Troilus learns that Diomedes has wooed Cressida. The following day at battle, Troilus fails to avenge the unkindness done to Cressida by Diomedes. Achilles treacherously kills the unarmed Hector. In disgust, and wearily, the Trojan retire.

Troilus' Cressida comes forth to him

Diomedes 'How, now my charge ?

Cressida 'Now, my sweet guardian. Hark' a word with you

Tro. 'Yes, so familiar

Ulysses 'She will sing any man at first sight

Thersites 'Any man may sing her, if he can take her cliff. She's noted

Dio. 'Will you remember

Cres. 'Remember, Yes

Act. V Scene II

There is no doubt that Troilus and Cressida is an outright adaption of Homer's Iliad, translated by Chapman. This magnificent play had to wait over three centuries before it hit the boards. Its quality in the theatre as in the text had to be maintained.

Was it comedy, history or tragedy ? Many will argue according to their analysis of the text revolving around the play. I would class it as a mixture of all three. One cannot separate comedy, tragedy and history from its ingredients.

They are all rolled into one. Comedy removed, it will hold good alongside of Julius Caesar. According to First Quarteredition, it had been acted at the Globe in 1609 but as far as I can trace, I have my doubts about it. This is based on the fact that the Second Edition published in the same year states in a preface that it was a new play not mounted on any stage.

So, I can only surmise that it may have been performed at one of the Innes of Court in front of a distinguished audience, after many an argument, the First Folio edition published in 1623, had it between tragedies and histories. Thus, it was established.

In this magnificent play, Shakespeare became a traitor hiding within the walls and portals of Troy to ridicule the heroes of the Iliad. The thorny mazes of debate which boiled down to the great contention over Argive Helen that turned to war. However, even under these circumstances the play moved miraculously into the passionate love scenes of Troilus and Cressida. It also highlighted the Ice-Flowers of Ulysses to the speeches on Degree:

Pandarus 'An hair was not somewhat darker the Helen's. There were no more comparison between the women - but for my part, she is my kins-woman. I would not as they term it, praise her; but I would somebody had heard her talk yesterday- as I did. I will dispraise your sister, Cassendra's wit.

Troilus 'O' Pandarus; I tell thee, Pandarus. When I do tell thee, there my hopes lie drown'd. Reply not in how many fathoms deep. They lie indrench'd. I tell thee I am mad in Cressida's love Thou answer'st, she's fair. Pour'st in the open ulcer of my heart. Her eyes, her hair, her cheek, her gait; her voice; Handiest in thy discourage. O' that her hand in whose comparison all whites are ink. Writing their own reproach; in whose soft, seizure'....

Act. 1 Scene. I

The dark mockings of love as compared to its splendour is a stage marvel and Shakespeare spared no mercy even at the confession on dying day. It was the Royal Shakespeare Centre that gave life to this spectacular play with its robust dialogue.

However, theatre history until the 20th century remained brief. The play was performed at the Smock Alley theatre in Dublin during the Restoration. Dryden cut and expanded the text under the title of Truth Found Too Late at Dorset Gardens in 1679. This version had many debuts until 1734 and after that, a gap up to the insignificant production at the Great Queen Street Theatre in 1907.

This was followed by a celebrated version at the King's Hall, Covent Garden in 1912 which found an amature 24-year old Edith Evans as Cresida. Her eloquent delivery of dialogue and perfect hand gestures, gave momentum to this character.

This gave precedence for others to follow and pushed Troilus and Cressida to upper, high profile theatre. Prompted by its magnificence, The Marlowe Society of Cambridge staged several marlowe revivals. With many versions but all abiding by the play's forceful dialogue, were staged in the following years not only in London but also around the world.

The celebrated Old Vic Production was mounted in 1956. While the London and especially Royal Shakespeare Centre productions were all unique, the Stratford production in 1960 was outstanding.

However, American attempts were total failures, lacking fire and passion. They were dismal, unable to understand Shakespearean English. A new twist was given to this play in 1949 by Lucieno Visconti when he directed his version at Bobli Gardens at Florence with half the characters on horseback. Defying all literary ethics, Sir William Walton mounted his opera, Troilus and Cressida in 1954 after Chaucer's poem, snubbing the Shakespeare play.

The queen who launched a thousand ships, play a small role in the Bard's play. He has heaped emphisis more on the Greek commanders as well as on the infidelity of Cressida. Shakespeare who starts his play with a prologue, has thrown in multi-characters on whom he has placed more importance than on Helen who creates the situation in the play.

He has singled out Achilles as the despicable and arrogant Greek who torments Troilus with Cressida's involvement with other men. However, the 22 year old Troilus plays the longest role in the play.

In ACT. 11 of the play, Shakespeare offers no reason why the Tojan war should have been fought for such length of time. But Marlowe comes to his rescue when he says she is 'a pearl whose price hath launch'd above a thousand ships'.

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