A play about brain drain
THEATRE: The year was 1975. I had completed more than 25 years
of activity in the Theatre scene by then. To commemorate the Silver
Jubilee I wanted to bring out an original play of mine. It had better be
good, I told myself.
I did have a subject in mind and that was the âbrain drainâ that was
taking place at an alarming rate. At that time most of the men and women
who went in search of âricherâ pastures were our intellectuals -
doctors, engineers, scientists, technicians and such persons.
Ours was the only country, even at that time that provided free
education, free health care and various other welfare benefits to its
people. From the triple injection to the new born baby, education from
kindergarten to University and even past that - all were given free.
Health services were free. University students had all kinds of
benefits supplied to them. A six-year course for medical students was
given free. Similarly, an Engineering degree. Our men and women took all
those benefits and at the very first opportunity flew away to other
countries like birds running away from the winter!
Kinds of excuses
This trend had disturbed me very much. I thought it was unethical and
ungrateful of them to do so. Of course they had all kinds of excuses for
doing so. Low pay, lack of facilities, privileges, perks, lack of
appreciation and a hundred other excuses.
They even argued that it was to give their children a âbetterâ
education that they were compelled to leave and THAT after receiving ALL
the education free here and AFTER qualifying as doctors, engineers,
scientists and technicians!
At first the West, America and other countries too were glad to have
ready made doctors, engineers and other highly qualified men and women
at no cost to them at all. Of course they paid better salaries and our
men and women could work in posh circumstances.
Their training here as interns in practically every department,
whether it was medicine or engineering made them cleverer than the
Suddas with much less experience and perhaps with experience only in one
or two special fields of their profession. No wonder our men and women
succeeded like hell!
Anyway, this brain-drain thing had been bothering my mind quite a
bit. So I launched on a new play not only to celebrate my 25 years of
service to theatre, but also to make the professionals as well as the
public aware of the âresponsibilityâ of these professionals to serve
THEIR country, which provided them with their knowledge, first - and
âfly awayâ later - if they must.
I must say I worked hard on the play, as usual. I had a long title
for it - âSARANA SIYOTH SE PUTHUNI HAMBA YANAâ -loosely translated
âSons, who fly away like the birdsâ. It had an ageing father and a
mother played by Santin Gunawardhana and Chitra Warakagoda, and a son
who has just become a Doctor of Medicine and like most others, wants to
This role was played well by Somaratne Dissanayake. Manel and
Wijeratne Warakagoda played the role of a beggar couple who sing for a
living in front of a posh hotel, frequented by posh people - like the
men and women who have made good in foreign climes and have come back
for a brief holiday.
That couple was introduced rather like a catalyst to the main theme
of the play. I had a chorus of young men and women - all new comers. I
had employment agents, recruiting offices, âkolomba kaakkasâ and the
The father is vehemently against the decision of the Doctor son to
migrate. He reminds the son of his duty by the country - whatever the
other circumstances are. The young man leaves anyway. Much later the
parents receive a letter from the son. He is disillusioned and wants to
come back but he cannot do so because of the âeducation of his
This situation of course I have observed with a good many of our
migrant population, during my own visits to some of those countries. The
children soon adjust themselves to the new environment - they even enjoy
the new culture of freedom, dance floors, discotheques and other innate
attraction in any big city.
They even indulge in âliving togetherâ By this time, if the children
have gone âastrayâ - in our parlance - it is too late for the parents to
do anything about it.
I have met hundreds of parents, who flew away like the birds, but who
still long for the simple things back at home when they were children -
like a bath in the well, a river bath, a chat with the neighbour over
the fence, an unannounced visit to a friendâs or a relativeâs place and
a hundred other things.
In spite of all my philosophizing, my new play âSARANA SIYOTHâ was a
total failure. We did not have more than just a few shows and one show
at Peradeniya in front of that young crowd was hooted down mercilessly.
Structurally it must have been a bad play. I was so preoccupied with the
âmessageâ that I had totally neglected the essential âdramatic elementsâ
of the play.
There could have been another reason too for the resentment it
generated. It is of course just a guess. Young men - especially educated
young men and women, who were rearing to âgoâ at the very first
opportunity did not wish to be dissuaded. They did not want any âBanaâ
from a âpatriotic punditâ like me.
Anyway we wound up the play as gracefully as we could and that was
the end of my Silver Jubilee celebration! I was so shattered by the
experience, I never wrote an original play after that! Although âSarana
Siyothâ failed we had plenty of demand for our other plays such as
Hunuwataya, Diriya Mava, Makara and Manaranjana, etc.
Somewhere in 1976, Hunuwataye Kathawa was made a text for the Degree
course in Fine Arts in the universities and there was a big demand for
it. Instead of the 2.30 and 6.30 shows there were more demands for two
matinees -at 10.30 a.m. and at 2.30 p.m.
Secret of success
I had the extra task of explaining the play after each show, which
was rather exhausting - while also playing the role of Azdak I sat on
the stage with a couple of helpers such as P.L.D. Perera, Nimal
Jayasinghe and Chula Kariyawasam and the students sent their questions
in little bits of paper. âIs Hunuwataya a translation or an
adaptation?â, âWhat is the secret of its success ?â, âWhat are the
dramatic points in the play?â
âHunuwatayaâs characters are either black or white. The good are
totally good, the bad are totally badâ, âDo you agree with the judgement
to give the child to the mother who brought him up? If so why?â âTell us
something about Bertolt Brechtâ, âPlease explain alienationâ Similar
questions came up for answers and discussion.
Very soon I realized one thing. Only a faction of the students who
came to see the play had ACTUALLY read the book! They depended on
various booklets that tried to analyze and âexplainâ the play and not on
the text itself. When I asked for a show of hands it was clear that less
than one fourth of the audience had actually READ the play!
That IS a trend in our country - especially among the Arts students.
They are either too lazy or too busy to read the book itself. Of course
when a book becomes a âtextâ hundreds of âcritiquesâ of the book flood
the market with answers for likely questions.
So no wonder the students are misled. Hunuwataya remained a text for
the Arts Degree course for nearly twenty years from 1976 onwards. Those
were busy days for us. We had to perform in every nook and corner of the
country and I had to answer questions after each show.
Our hero in âSarana Siyothâ - Somaratne Dissanayake too eventually
migrated to Australia. I am not sure if it was a scholarship or a
regular migration. Anyway he too decided to stay out, I believe, for the
âeducationâ of his children. About ten years later I received a very
strange letter from him.
It was more or less the same letter that the parents in Sarana Siyoth
receive from their son. Somaratne had written that he is very unhappy in
Australia and wants to come back very much, but that he could not do so
because of the âeducationâ of his children!
Anyway he managed to come back from time to time to do a play, a film
or a teledrama and get back again. His children are grown up now and
employed and at least one of his sons is married. He must have given up
his job in Australia and is now a permanent resident here together with
his partner, Renuka Balasuriya.
I must say they have done some excellent work here, including their
award winning films SAROJA and SOORIYA ARANA and they have brought much
credit and honour to our country.
Most often they are abroad, screening one of their films for a
festival, a competition or screening special shows for the Sri Lankan
crowd in places like Australia, France, England etc.
They seem to be dabbling in politics too - the two of them. Whether
that is a wise move, I donât know. I am ever grateful to them for
helping me to bring out a C.D. and cassette containing the songs of all
my plays - âSath Siyakâ. The Peoples Bank and the National Savings Bank
also helped me immensely in the venture.
We did it just in time, in 2002, just two years before its main
singer, Manel, passed away. Thanks to them we have Manelâs voice
preserved for posterity. They played those songs at the Art Gallery
where her body was kept for public view and I donât think there was a
single dry eye in the crowd!
Thought of the week
Yesterday, the 12th of June was the birthday of one of our most
multi-talented men - Jayalath Manoratne. He is a playwright, actor,
director, TV script writer, novelist and poet.
I believe he has won more awards for acting than any other actor that
I know of - especially for his performances on stage. Mano has produced
some memorable teledramas too and won many awards in that field.
I have a special corner in my mind for Mano for more than one reason.
He comes from the village of Denike in the Padiyapelella district. One
of my earliest jobs was as an English Assistant Teacher in the Dehipe
Primary School - the very next village to Denike.
This was in 1950 and 51. Manoâs sister Indra Kumari Wijeratne was in
grade four in my school at that time. I have seen Mano as a toddler
accompanying his sister to school on many occasions.
From Dehipe he moved to Poramadulla Central College and there he
appeared on stage for the first time in a school play - Assa Gudung -
for which he won an award in Colombo.
He must be one of the very first students to have entered Peradeniya
University from Poramadulla Central. He was fortunate to have come under
the tutelage of Dr. Ediriweera Sarachchandra. He had the fortune of
acting in many of Dr. Sarachchandraâs plays such as Mahasara, Vessantara,
Pemato Jayati Soko etc.
most significant factor of his life is that he keeps doing new things
year after year, on the stage, cinema and on television. It has been a
long journey for Mano from Mahagiri Damba to Lokaya Thani Yayak. He has
not fallen by the way like most others do.
I wish you more strength and even more wisdom on your birthday, Mano.
You wanted to revive âMakaraâ in a new production. I wish you all the
luck and you have my blessings, as always.