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A poem for the dancers

THEATRE: The last page of the Sangabo souvenir contains some very interesting information. Let me reproduce the page. It says 'DONORS TO TOWER HALL FUND'.

Thus :- President J.R. Jayewardene - Rs.1000, Prime Minister, R.Premadasa M.P.- Rs.1000, M.H. Mohamed, M.P. - Rs.1000, Mr. H.M.L. Yasaratne - Rs.2000, Mr. S.M.A. Alooysious - Rs.10,000, Ceylon Theatres Ltd. - Rs.10,000, Lanka Optical Industries Ltd. - Rs.1,000, Mudaliyar N.W.J. Mudalige - Rs.100,000, Mr. D.H.D. Wijayagunaratne - Rs.100,000, Mr. P.S. Wijeyanayake - Rs.100,000, Mr. A.Y.S. Gnnanam - Rs.50,000, Mr. K.A. Munidasa - Rs.25,000, Mr. Nimal Pathirana - Rs.25,000, Mr. M.H.M. Farouk - Rs.20,000, Mr. A.L.M. Thair- Rs.20,000, Mr. M.A. Mahindapala - Rs.10,000, Phoenix Advertising Services - Rs.500-

'Donors in kind' - D.B. Wettasinghe - Wiring and Electrical Fittings, Chemical Industries [Colombo] Ltd.- Paint, Siedles Cineradio - Electronic Equipment, Muni Kundanmal - Stage Curtains, Ceylon Tobacco Co. Ltd. - Pre-release Press Advertising, Maurice Roche Ltd. - Intercom System, Mukthar & Co., - Three Main Clocks.

The total of the above mentioned main Donors, comes to Rs.476,500. There would have been other donors too, who contributed smaller sums. So there could have been a total over Rs.500,000. This was 1978. It was with that kind of total that the New Tower Hall was built in 1978. Thirty years later, now, one can imagine how the cost of construction has gone up!

Another significant feature to my mind is that ALL communities have contributed more than generously to the rebuilding of the Tower Hall. After all, the Tower Hall WAS a very Sinhala, almost Buddhist bastion of that era.

Even establishments like Ceylon Theatres who dealt with Cinema and Cinema only, have contributed generously. Men like A.Y.S. Gnanam, M.H. Mohamed, Farouk and Thahir have contributed. Perhaps they were friends of Prime Minister Premadasa. But the fact that they contributed to a cause like the revival of a Sinhala bastion speaks volumes for the inter communal harmony that prevailed at that time.

Roll call

After President Jayewardene opened the twenty-day run of Siri Sangabo, Prime Minister Premadasa invited other ministers to be chief guests every evening. They came almost on a roll call. I cannot remember how many minsters we had at that time. But each minister, I am sure would have had a chance of being the chief guest or at least one of them, each evening. I am sure they all enjoyed the play.

Each evening A.J. Ranasinghe made a small speech before the curtain opened. He loved doing that kind of thing. Once my job as the Director was over, I did not hang around on the stage.

Everything was now in the hands of the Stage Manager and his assistants. I just sat somewhere in the audience and 'enjoyed' the performance. Often Manel and Sudaraka also joined me. It was great to see the fruit of my labour unfold on the stage.

A scene that I particularly liked was the coronation scene of Sangabo. I loved to see the immaculately trained set of dancers provided by Vajira, come dancing in from the front of the curtain and stand still like statues with bowed heads, while the coronation takes place. That scene inspired a little poem in my mind and later I put it down on paper.

I would like to reproduce it :-

Like a leaf in the wind
Your limbs undulate
The drum beats rise and fall
And your swirling feet
Capture the rhythm
What joy -
Joy of sheer youth....
I look at you
Alone in my lonely corner
From the auditorium....

The drums erupt their patterns
You obey -
Your feet, your hands
Your entire body....

We in the auditorium
Are breathless....

And then you cease
Stand proud and erect
The pose of a Goddess!

Then, only then
Do I look at your face
I see the tiny pin-heads of sweat
On you brow
I see the slightest heave
Of your agitated breast
Ever so faintly faster...

I am saddned

Do you hear
Do you hear my young ones
Do you hear
The message in your breath....?

I do....
The fool that I am!

It seems to say...

I am in haste
I must leave
And take on another
I have an urgent call
From the next one....!
I have to go
I am eternally on call....

You can compete with me
Only for so long.....
And then I have to go
The next ones
Call me -
They are impatient!

In my nostrils
I will have
Your sweet breath
Of Youth
To be bestowed upon

Did n't you know
I am the fickle one....!

[Dedicated to the youthful dancers of Siri Sangabo]
December, 1978.

Thought of the week

I have got a present of two books of poems - ''Tewa' and 'Butterfly Poems' - from and old schoolmate of mine from Nalanda Vidyalaya - Asoka Weerasinghe. Asoka was one of those early birds who migrated to other climes - in search of something more than a mundane clerk's life here.

He lived in England for 12 years before coming to Canada in 1968. His poems have been published in Wales, Sri Lanka, US, Sweden, Germany and Canada. Among several poetry awards he won the Welsh University Eisteddfod Poetry Award, Sri Lanka State Literary Award, Govt. of Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Poetry, and the Gloucester Arts Board's Arts Award 2000.

His poem Trail of Mankind was adapted as the story line for Canada's National Museum of Man's Orientation Hall in Ottawa. 1n 1972.

Asoka is now a 'retired' man like most of us but has held many jobs abroad including that of Curator in the Ottawa Museum and Deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in our High Commission in Canada.

Nalandians are very proud of his achievements. His elder sister, Sylvia, was my classmate who still keeps in touch with me through thick and thin. Here is an example of one of Asoka's 'erotic' poems :-
"My mouth brushes hers/ at 3 o'clock in the morning/ and her tongue between sleepy lips/ dance like a sockeye salmon/ swimming against the current/ and jumping over the waterfall/ having starved for three days/ wanting to be kissed.

I let her feast on the layer/ of strawberries and cream/ still crusted on my lips since dinner/ and curl my fingers in her hair/ while she strokes and nudges her dream/ as if to control an impetuous kite/ not letting it to get away./ In her dream she finds me weightless/ and my whispers of Calypso drum calls/ would move her body/ to the beat of rhythms/ while my mouth brushes hers/ again and find her strawberry tongue/ sweet from feasting."

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