Connect with us

Features

BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT

Published

on

THE KILLING OF A PRIME MINISTER

by Sanjiva Senanayake

PART IV

(continued from last week)

SOMARAMA’S ‘CONFESSION’

In addition to the evidence of the three eye-witnesses, a statement made by Somarama to the Chief Magistrate of Colombo on November 14, 1959 was used by the prosecution to convince the jury that he was the assassin. Somarama retracted the statement long before the SC trial started, and its admissibility as evidence was contested in the SC.

Somarama had been moved to the prison hospital within a few days of the shooting and was then questioned in prison many times by police teams. The most senior police officer in the team was Superintendent of Police B.W. Perera.

Finally, on November 7, Somarama gave a statement to the police but it was short, vague and only mentioned Jayawardena. Then, a week later, he made the following statement to the Chief Magistrate of Colombo –

“One day in August 1959, when I was in the dispensary of the Ayurvedic Hospital in Borella, Reverend Buddharakkitha, the high priest of the Kelaniya temple, and H. P. Jayawardena came by car to see me. Inviting me into the car, Buddharakkitha began to complain bitterly about the general situation in the country. He said that vast sums of money were being lost at the port through strikes and mismanagement. He expressed grave fears that, if the current trends were not arrested, there would be no place for us in the land, nor would there be a future for the Sinhalese people, their religion or their language.

“He suggested that we take steps to do away with the Prime Minister, as we would then be free to fashion things as we wished. I asked him what would befall us if we were to do such a thing. “Nothing will happen to us”, he replied. ‘I have made all the arrangements with those whose assistance we need’. Jayawardena said, “If you should only do this job, we shall ensure that you are out of remand in two or three weeks’ time”.

“Buddharakkitha in turn reassured me that everything would be alright – that I had nothing to fear. I acceded to their request, explaining that I was consenting to do such a thing to one who had done me no wrong only for the sake of my country, my religion and my race. I told them that I had two pupils and also my temple to look after, but they promised to see to all that. They then said that in a day or two they would bring me a revolver, after which all details could be discussed.

“Two or three days later, Buddharakkitha brought me a revolver about a foot in length. It was a six-chambered one and was loaded. We then went to Ragama, met Dickie de Zoysa and proceeded along with him to Muthurajawela. There I fired several times at the fruits of a ‘kaduru’ tree. When I struck a fruit and felled it, someone in the party exclaimed, ‘Bravo, well done!’ After the firing we returned to my temple, having dropped Dickie de Zoysa at Ragama.

Thereafter Rev. Buddharakkitha and Jayawardena visited me often. One day, Amarasinghe, the Chairman of the Kolonnawa Urban Council, also came along with Buddharakkitha.

“Buddharakkitha, Jayawardena and I had agreed that the job be done on September 25. That morning, in order to pluck up courage, I drank a mixture which I had prepared myself and went to the Prime Minister’s residence at Rosmead Place. When the Prime Minister was talking to another monk on the verandah, I started trembling through fear. But the mixture I had taken sustained my courage. On the verandah I shot at the Prime Minister once. That shot struck him. While he was running into the house, I ran behind him and fired three more shots. Then I was overpowered. Someone shot me too and I was rendered unconscious. I do not know what happened next.”

There are several interesting features. There was no mention of visiting Amarasinghe’s house, just a discussion in a car in August, and no mention of Newton Perera either. Dickie de Zoysa had tagged along for the ride to Muthurajawela but, one month later, when hearings commenced at the magistrate’s court, the police withdrew the case against him for lack of evidence. There’s no mention of training but Somarama says he aimed at some fruits at Muthurajawela and succeeded in hitting them, establishing that he was somehow handy with a revolver. He states that he ran behind the PM and shot him but all the entry wounds on the PM were in the front or side of his body.

Somarama retracted this ‘confession’ at the end of the magisterial inquiry (on July 15, 1960), seven months before the SC trial began. In the retraction he stated –

“When I expressed reluctance to make a false statement as required by the police, I was shown a newspaper which said that the death penalty had been re-introduced and was told that, in view of this development, there could be no doubt that I would be sentenced to death and hanged. If, however, I were to make a statement to a magistrate professing that I was doing so voluntarily, the police promised to have me released and made a crown witness. To me, who now lived in the shadow of death, the offer of freedom was irresistible. Therefore, I made a statement to the Magistrate as required by the police, asserting that I was making it of my own free will. In it I implicated the persons whom the police wanted me to implicate. I now state that statement was absolutely untrue.”

The first visit to Somarama in prison by the police team was on October 2, the date on which the government had issued an extraordinary Gazette repealing the suspension of capital punishment. Somarama in a statement from the Dock, made on April 6, 1961, went further and said that B.W. Perera showed him the front page of the newspaper, explained that the death penalty had been reintroduced and he would certainly be hanged. Perera had then asked him to give a statement that he had shot the PM on the instructions of Buddharakkitha and Jayawardena and in exchange he would be made a Crown Witness and escape death. Somarama also said that Perera had mentioned the pardon given to Rupananda, one of the accused in the Turf Club robbery and murder case, as an example. Perera had been on the police team that handled that famous case ten years earlier. It should be noted that Amarasinghe had already been made a Crown Witness six months before Somarama’s retraction. Somarama also said that he had developed an addiction to opium after being medically treated earlier for haemorrhoids, and that he was offered some opium by Perera.

Incidentally, B.W. Perera subsequently committed suicide, in early 1960, when it came to light that he had provided some ammunition to an intermediary, ostensibly acting on behalf of Buddharakkitha. There was no evidence of those bullets being used to assassinate the PM.

Visiting prisoners in remand to question them regarding cases in which they themselves were involved was considered irregular. During the SC trial, the Chief Magistrate of Colombo and some senior Prisons officers stated that it had never happened before in their experience. However, despite objections by Somarama’s counsel, the Judge ruled that it was acceptable since Somarama had been jailed before the police had an opportunity to question him adequately.

Somarama’s counsel also argued that, according to the law, the retracted ‘confession’ should not be admissible as evidence since there were circumstances that showed that it had been made as a result of inducement, threat or promise. He emphasized that in accordance with the prevailing Evidence Ordinance, even the ‘appearance’ of such influence would render it inadmissible, but Justice T.S. Fernando ruled that there should be clear evidence of influence.

The judgement of the Court of Criminal Appeal (https://www.lawnet.gov.lk/the-queen-v-mapitigama-buddharakkita-thera-and-2-others/) contains a rather ambiguous comment on this matter. It states –

Held, (i) that the admission in evidence of a confession made by the 4th accused to the Magistrate, even assuming that the confession was not voluntary and was obnoxious to section 24 of the Evidence Ordinance or was otherwise inadmissible, could not vitiate the conviction of the 4th accused, because the fact that the 4th accused killed the deceased was established beyond any manner of doubt by the direct evidence of some of those present at the deceased’s house at the time when he was shot there.”

Interestingly, that court had a different view on the value of the ‘confession’ as well. Another passage in the judgement reads –

“Even if any or all of these submissions are entitled to succeed, that would make no difference in the instant case, because the fact that the 4th accused killed the deceased was established beyond any manner of doubt by the direct evidence. Indeed, it is surprising that with that evidence available the prosecution thought it necessary to lengthen the proceedings so much by seeking to prove the confession.”

The prosecution appears to have had a different assessment of the adequacy of the ‘direct evidence’ at their disposal.

MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

The PM knew Somarama well and had interacted with him on matters relating to the College of Indigenous Medicine even a few weeks before the shooting. Somarama had been involved in campaigning for the MEP and had chaired meetings where Bandaranaike had spoken. Yet, in his ‘Address to the Nation’ written for broadcast by radio, he did not say the assailant was Somarama. He didn’t even say it was a genuine monk – just “a foolish man” wearing robes. The PM was known to be very precise in his use of words, especially in English. He had been joking with doctors and nurses at the hospital despite his injuries, fully expecting to survive, so he was in control of his mental faculties. It’s hard to believe that the PM could not recognize Somarama at such close quarters.

Somarama’s behaviour that fateful morning also raises doubts about his guilt. When he set out that morning in a taxi, which is easily traceable, he offered a lift to two people for part of the way – hardly the behaviour of an assassin primed for action within a couple of hours. Then, while sitting on the verandah of the PM’s house, he had quite normal conversations with others minutes before he allegedly became homicidal. Ananda even asked Somarama for an appointment for a friend with an eye ailment, and was requested to send him the following Thursday.

Somarama’s movements on the eve of the shooting (September 24, 1959) were quite normal too. In fact, when Buddharakkitha and Jayawardena visited Somarama’s temple that evening (for last minute consultations and instructions, according to the prosecution), they found him missing. Somarama was relaxing at a temple in Kotahena, having a chat with his friend, Colamba Saranankara. Is it likely that the master-mind and his chosen instrument of death didn’t know each other’s whereabouts, or even that they were due to meet, on the day before the long-planned assassination of the Prime Minister?

The police recovered three outer robes and an inner jacket worn by Buddhist monks lying discarded in the premises after the shooting. Somarama’s outer robe and inner jacket were pulled off in the struggle and that accounted for one robe. Even if Somarama wore two robes that day, as the prosecution argued, one more robe remained a mystery. The prosecution suggested, rather facetiously, that they had probably been kept in the house to be gifted to monks.

A woman who was cooking in a house across the road had come out on hearing the shots and saw a man vault over the perimeter wall of the PM’s house. He shouted “Hari machang” to someone in one of two cars parked on the road outside, jumped into the other one and both cars sped off towards Borella. The prosecution did not call her to give evidence, but Weeramantry did. When the prosecution could not shake her evidence, they suggested that the escapee was probably a ‘look-out’ working in league with the conspirators, and even argued that it bolstered the ‘fact’ that there was a conspiracy. It seems far-fetched that a ‘look-out’ would have had two private cars at his disposal whereas the alleged assassin, Somarama, arrived alone in a taxi that could be easily traced.

Several other common-sense questions come to mind re Buddharakkitha’s motivations and actions.

= why would a young, powerful and street-smart monk like Buddharakkitha, with his life before him, risk losing everything by killing the PM, without even having a replacement ‘sponsor’ in place?

= was he the type to wait for over one year, as the indictment indicated, before taking his revenge?

= why did he not use his close links with underworld characters to kill the PM in some remote location, perhaps as he campaigned?

= why would he draw attention to himself by sending another Buddhist monk to murder the PM in public and in broad daylight?

= why would the ‘plan’ be for Somarama to go into the house after the shooting, where he was sure to be captured, rather than escape in the ensuing chaos?

In addition to the bullet-points above, is it conceivable that Somarama could have expected to be believed when he pleaded innocence, after shooting the PM in front of so many people? On the day, he did not proudly exult that he did it for country, religion and race, as he did in his ‘confession’.

CONCLUSION

As stated earlier, the jury operated in a politically charged, pressure-cooker atmosphere, with limited technical facilities and under tremendous time pressure. On top of that, there was quite a lot of evidence presented that appeared to have little relevance to the assassination per se, which they still had to take note of and assess. The judge’s summing up alone was spread over six days. They didn’t have the luxury, that we now do, of being able to refer to documents and contemplate at leisure.

In the end, the members of the Special Jury were convinced that the prosecution’s case was proved beyond reasonable doubt, and that is what finally mattered. As Justice Fernando mentioned in his charge to the Jury, they were the sole judges of fact and therefore the real judges in the case. Besides, their opinion was in consonance with that of the experienced judges of the Court of Criminal Appeal.

In that Court, the focus was mainly on legalistic aspects, such as whether the Judge misinterpreted or misguided the jury in matters of law. It was not a full re-assessment of the evidence, but specific submissions made by the defence counsel were considered and addressed. Deliberations were concluded on January 15, 1962.

The main focus of this series of articles is on the testimony in the SC of the witnesses, especially the ‘eye-witnesses’, and the forensic evidence as they relate very specifically to the case against Somarama. His culpability is at the core of the case.

Obviously, there are many other aspects of the alleged conspiracy – in and out of court, legal and political – that could not be covered in an article of this length. There were also many colourful characters who played their parts in this long drama that held the entire nation spellbound all those years ago. Adding even some of them on, would have diverted attention from the main actor – Talduwe Somarama.

It all boils down to a key question.

Can we be reasonably sure of anything beyond the fact that the assassin was a man – foolish or fiendish – “dressed in the robes of a monk”? That is all we know for certain from the only 100% reliable eye-witness …. the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike himself.

And, if the murderer was not Somarama, who was it, and why did he come dressed as a Buddhist monk?

—————————————————

The writer can be contacted on this subject at skgsenanayake@gmail.com



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

Beyond the fiction of Alborada

Published

on

By Sarath Chandrajeewa

“No matter how much a work of art is sweet, if it hides the truth and disregards humanity it can only be equalled to a beautiful but empty shell that attracts us.” (L.E. Kerbel – Russian Sculptor)

‘Alborada’ is the Spanish word for ‘the dawn’. In 1984, a music group was born in Peru, South America by the same name and they gained immense popularity. Their music mainly spread among people in North and South America. Their music’s foundation was the traditional music of Native Americans who lived in the Andes mountain range (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTD2VDcxvNc). Likewise, in 2005 a soap opera by the same name was broadcast in Mexico, North America, which became very popular. This story was based on a series of events that took place during the historical period when Panama and Mexico were on the verge of gaining freedom from Spain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iM5s_d1vls).

In 2021 Asoka Handagama made a film in Sri Lanka by the same name, Alborada. The protagonist of this film is Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973), the Chilean Consul in Ceylon for two years, from 1929 to 1931. He was very young, only 25, when he was appointed to this post. Ceylon was a colony at the time and he was lodged at No. 56, 42nd street, Wellawatte, Colombo 6, a place close to the sea. He had written down his reminiscences, in his own language, in book form. Later it was translated into English and published under the title ‘Memoirs’. According to this book, he had referred to his house as ‘My solitary bungalow’. It is said that the name Alborada was proposed by Pablo Neruda for the house of his friend, Lionel Wendt (1900 – 1944), who had lived at Guildford Crescent, Colombo 7.

Wendt too was fluent in several languages including English, Spanish and some other European languages. It is apparent, from documents and events that took place at that time, that his house, Alborada, had not been a lonely or tranquil place. It is clear that house Alborada was always full of people, such as painters, dancers, actors, photographers as well as pianists and those who enjoyed music. It was more like a cultural centre where discussions, art critiques and debates took place. (L.C. Van Geyzel, et al. [2000]. ‘Lionel Wendt: A Centennial tribute’. Lionel Wendt memorial fund; Sampath Bandara. [2017]. Lionel Wendt Kalava Saha Jeevithaya, Sarasavi Publication. [Sinhala]).

Though Handagama’s film was titled Alborada, the actual location, where incidents mentioned took place, was the Solitary Bungalow, the Chilean Consul’s official residence (Jamie James. [2019]. ‘Pablo Neruda’s life as a struggling Poet in Sri Lanka: A young poet’s Adventures in the Foreign Service’. Retrieved from https://lithub.com/pablo-nerudas-life-as-a-struggling-poet-in-sri-lanka/). In the 20th Century Sri Lankan context, Alborada was a distinguished active cultural centre. As a Sri Lankan cultural symbol, it directly connects with the character of Lionel Wendt. The creator of a work of art has the total freedom to create his work as he pleases and also to choose whatever name for the particular work. Handagama’s Alborada is similar to a poem, set to inspiring music. It includes a series of artistic figure compositions and features a number of skilled performing artistes. The trailer of Handagama’s film gave me some ideas.

When creating a work of art based on historical events, rather than myth and imaginary incidents, its trustworthiness depends on the people who faced the incident, the actual incidents, exact places, time period and the political and cultural background. Consequently, thorough research is necessary to identify accurate works based on historical incidents. It is difficult to rectify myths or false assumptions ingrained in society by unreliable books, documents, magazines or films. People will always embrace falsity, deception and myth, over the truth. Our culture as well as other cultures are replete with many such examples.

Alborada

‘Alborada’ is the name of Lionel Wendt’s house. It is important as it is the house of a great Sri Lankan cultural icon of the last century. It is also important as Alborada was the name given to the renowned cultural centre of modern history, in Sri Lanka. It is from this place that art activities in our country were taken to the international arena. Alborada was situated at No. 18 old Guildford Crescent. Today this street is called Premasiri Kemadasa Mawatha. Six years after his demise, in 1950 his friend Harold Peiris (1905-1981) demolished his old house, Alborada, and built a gallery and a performing arts centre (Lionel Wendt Art Gallery and Theatre) to commemorate him. It was designed by painter Geoffrey Beling (1907 – 1992), Principal Art Inspector, Department of Education, and Bernard G. Thornley (Manel Fonseka. [1994]. ‘Rediscovering Lionel Wendt, Lionel Wendt Photographs’. Deutsche Bank Colombo and Lionel Wendt Memorial Fund).

When Lionel Wendt was alive, renowned upcountry master dancers, Amunugama Suramba and Nittawela Ukkuwa used to lodge at Alborada with their troupes, when they visited Colombo (Dancer Dr. Vaidyavathi Rajapakse, daughter of Master Dancer Suramba, Personal communication, 2017).

A documentary movie ‘Song of Ceylon’, directed by Basil Wright in 1934, was placed first at the Brussels International film festival in 1935. The creative segments of the movie were organized at Alborada. Manel Fonseka reported in an article, ‘Rediscovering Lionel Wendt’ in 1994, that in an interview with Julia Margaret Cameron, Basil Wright had said this about Lionel Wendt; “I think he was one of the greatest still photographers that ever lived. I should place him among the six best I’ve come across”.

As a result of discussions held at Alborada, master dancers Nittawela Ukkuwa and Amunugama Suramba were taken to England for a recording of drum beats, for the movie ‘Song of Ceylon’. This trip was sponsored by painter Harry Peiris (1904-1988). A dance school was established to develop up-country dance, in Gunnepana, Sirimalwatte, Kandy in the 1920s for Master Suramba, as a result of discussions held among a group led by Wendt and George Keyt (1901-1993). This troupe, which included the group of up-country dancers, Ukkuwa, Nittawela Gunaya, Punchi Gura and Sri Jayana Rajapakse, was later upgraded as the ‘Dance Ensemble of Central Lanka’. Jayana’s coming of age ceremony, inclusive of his ‘Ves ceremony’, held at the Degaldoruwa Rajamaha Viharaya, Kandy, in 1939, and Jayana’s dance training in India later, were all sponsored by Wendt (Dr. Vaidyavathi Rajapakse, Personal communication, 2017).

The first art inspector appointed to Sri Lanka, during the colonial era, was Charles Freegrove Winzer (1886-1940), an Englishman. He became close friends with Wendt, during his tenure in Sri Lanka. In the early years, Winzer and Wendt both wrote reviews on exhibitions of George Keyt, Justin Peiris Deraniyagala (1903-1967) and Geoffrey Beling. Wendt also translated Neruda’s art reviews from Spanish to English and published them (Manel Fonseka.

[1994]. ‘Rediscovering Lionel Wendt, Lionel Wendt Photographs’. Deutsche Bank Colombo and Lionel Wendt Memorial Fund).

The first avant-garde art movement in Sri Lanka, the ’43 Group’, was born under the leadership of Winzer and Wendt. The 43 Group consisted of Wendt (Chief Organizer), painters Harry Peiris (Chief Secretary), George Keyt, J.W.G Beling, Richard Gabriel (1924-2016), Ivan Peiris (1921-1988), Justin Pieris Deraniyagala, George Claessen (1909-1999), Aubrey Collette (1920-1992) and L.T.P Manjusri (1902-1982). The meetings of the 43 group were held at Alborada until Wendt’s death.

Afterwards the meetings were held at the house of Harry Peiris, Sapumal Foundation, Barnes Place (Sarath Chandrajeewa. [2010]. ‘Modern Art in Sri Lanka and its socio-political environment’, Artful resistance: contemporary Art from Sri Lanka, ZKF publishers. Germany).

As mentioned above, Pablo Neruda was only 25 when he was in Sri Lanka as the Chilean Ambassador (1929-1931). At 29, Wendt was four years older. In his book ‘Memoirs’, translated from Spanish into English by Hardie St. Martin, published by Penguin, Neruda had written thus about Wendt, on page 93.

“Little by little the impenetrable crust began to crack open and I struck up a few good friendships. At the same time, I discovered the younger generation, steeped in colonialist culture, who talked only about books just out in England. I found out that the pianist, photographer, critic and cinematographer Lionel Wendt was the central figure of a cultural life torn between the death rattles of the Empire and a human appraisal of the untapped values of Ceylon.

Lionel Wendt, who owned an extensive library and received all the latest books from England, got into the extravagant and generous habit of every week sending to my house, which was a good distance from the city, a cyclist loaded down with a sack of books. Thus, for some time, I read kilometers of English novels, among them the first edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, published privately in Florence” (Memoirs by Pablo Neruda, translated from Spanish by Hardie St. Martin [1997]. Penguin Books).

To be continued

Continue Reading

Features

Politics at its most primitive

Published

on

By Uditha Devapriya

Review of Shaveen Bandaranayake’s Groundswell

Sarasavi Publications, 2021, 118 pages, Rs. 300

Half-way into Shaveen Bandaranayake’s novel, the Minister at the heart of the story tells us that the wealth he earned was people, not money. This is what politicians usually say. In the very least, it is what people who dislike politicians imagine they say.

Come to think of it, both amount to the same thing: we’ve turned politicians into objects of hate so much that we’ve come to love them for being who we think they are. Since we can’t control them in real life, we want to dominate them in popular fiction. The number of plays and films that poke fun at Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Ministers testify to how badly we want to be, not like them, but above them.

I am deeply suspicious of satire of that sort. In his excellent review of Pusswedilla, Hafeel Farisz tells us why political parody ends up serving the people and objects being parodied. This is not rocket science. At its best, political satire can move us to anger, disenchantment, and rebellion. At its worst, it can lull us into a sense of complacency with things as they are and as they seem. Farisz seemed to think that Pusswedilla epitomised the latter, reinforcing cultural stereotypes while offering no proper critique of the political establishment and the ruling class. I suppose you can say the same thing of Vijaya Nandasiri’s comedies: at his best, he makes us aware of the corruption of the political class; at his worst, he turns the corrupt into objects of love-hate, full of tropes and clichés but nothing substantive.

Shaveen Bandaranayake’s Groundswell reads as a political satire, though I have my doubts. Interweaving different stories and unfolding like a film, it goes back and forth. I won’t call its ending funny, but then how can any novel involving politics end on a funny note?

What Bandaranayake does in his story, short as it is, is to tell us that nothing good can come out of a system mired as much in corruption as in patronage. Since these people are tied to each other through politics, politics can prove to be their undoing. The way he forays into this theme and explores it, without regurgitating the usual political clichés, puts the novel at a notch or two above what you come across at, say, the Lionel Wendt. Without conforming to crude stereotypes, he attempts to humanise his characters, showing us why connections matter in politics, and why they don’t always work out.

The plot is simple enough. A woman comes across a corpse of a man at the foot of a hill one fine morning. She informs the police. By the looks of it, he seems to have lost his grip and fallen to his death. The story then rewinds to a political rally at that most obtrusive site of political rallies, a temple, where we are introduced to Sarath Aluwihare, a Minister trying to win his next election. We are also introduced to Sunil, a young man endeavouring to land a job. Events will unfold in a way that will bring the two of them together.

We are told that Sarath hails from a family of politicians, and that this family has been in politics for over two generations. The surname tells us as much. Sunil, on the other hand, is so unobtrusive that Shaveen doesn’t grant him the privilege of a surname, which, after all, is the preserve of those who matter. Like other village youths lacking employment and in dire search of a patron from the ruling class, Sunil clearly is not important; even when he finds a job as Aluwihare’s driver, his status rises, but not so much as to protect him from the novel’s ending. He is as destined to his place in life as Aluwihare is to his.

There are other characters though, and they have surnames. There is the head priest of the temple, for instance, an unabashed admirer of Aluwihare who uses him to achieve his not so religious purposes. Then there is Dileepa Jayanetti, who rises “from rags to riches” and ends up becoming the owner of the country’s biggest media house. Dileepa finds his way up by befriending the daughter of another prominent politician, who introduces him to Aluwihare, who in turn becomes his biggest benefactor. You sense the pattern here.

Halfway through the story, Dileepa hires Lasantha Muthukumarana, a journalist who tries to stick to the tenets of his trade. Dileepa does this because he thinks that by hiring the honest, he can keep them from being honest. For someone who is so bright and manipulative, this is far from the most brilliant decision he could have taken: a few pages later, Muthukumarana is investigating a hit-and-run incident which may be connected to Aluwihare.

In Bandaranayake’s world, everyone seems to know everyone else. That is why it comes to no surprise that the man run down by a vehicle in the middle of the night should have been married to a woman Aluwihare just happened to hire at his Ministry, and that she should be rumoured to have formed the object of Aluwihare’s affections. That Lasantha thought for a moment that a news report linking all this to a prominent Minister would make it in a paper linked to and blessed by that Minister is, of course, intriguing. But he tries to get it published it anyway. When the predictable opprobrium follows and he finds he can’t get it in, the story moves to its inevitable and in many ways unsurprising conclusion.

In saying all this, I am by no means revealing the plot. In fact, surprising as it may seem, the plot is what least interests me about Bandaranayake’s novel. This is a narrative I have come across many times, in many forms. Bandaranayake takes great pains to make it all relevant to the immediate political situation, i.e. the one we are in, now. Those who manage to draw links between his characters and their “real-life counterparts” should, therefore, be forgiven for thinking that he has attempted political critique masquerading as satire. My interest in it, then, has less to do with the novel than the genre it belongs to.

If Groundswell can be called a satire, it is satirical only to the extent that his characters are caricatures. Yet, as I implied earlier, it is not a satire in the way that a work like Pusswedilla is. The characters fit into preconceived and familiar patterns, but that doesn’t make them the clichéd tropes they turn into elsewhere. These characters are more rounded, certainly more complex. Sarath Aluwihare, for instance, does not possess the overstuffed tummy his counterparts from countless parodies do, while Sunil doesn’t become a Renfield type figure hell bent on catering to his “Master.” Even though Bandaranayake can be facetious, and is pugnacious, he refuses to dabble in the kind of satirical humour which could have turned his story into a Vijaya Nandasiri style parody of politics in Sri Lanka.

Depending on how you view it, this may be the strongest point or the biggest weakness in Bandaranayake’s novel. Groundswell makes several important points, and they should be considered pertinent whether they be couched the language of satire or of serious political critique. The medium is hardly the message, contrary to what people might say, and the way you communicate your ideas should not really impact the importance of those ideas.

And yet, there are one or two episodes which reveal Bandaranayake’s funny side. It is here that the disjuncture between the satirical undertones and the ponderous overtones of the narrative, and the author’s voice, proves fatal to the development of the story.

Bandaranayake is at his best when he is setting up situations, and these situations are, all things considered, effective in setting up the plot. He tries to create atmosphere, and does a good job of laying the context. But when each and every point is prefaced by laboriously long explanations of social phenomena, such as the separation between temple and State in Sri Lanka, or the wretched fate encountered by a million or so menial workers in West Asia, you struggle to distinguish between the narrative and the commentary.

For local readers, these explanations will at best be passé. I suspect they will be for foreign readers as well. Groundswell is a novel, or more correctly a novella, which could have been shorter, tighter, and more effective without them. Not surprisingly, the story gains strength when Bandaranayake cuts to the chase, and loses track when he does not.

I have read this kind of story many times before. What makes this one interesting is that it is Bandaranayake’s first attempt at fiction, and that, for a first attempt, it’s damn good. Even within its limits, he has come up with something enjoyable. That I enjoyed the book, and of course the brilliant illustrations that more than just decorate it*, is why I wish it were leaner, shorter, and tighter. Less can be more. More often than not, it is.

* With one exception: the eighth drawing depicts a scene that, if you think about it carefully, is at odds with the text on the opposite page.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

Continue Reading

Features

Thirty two little ballerinas win awards at TBSC’s 2021 prize giving

Published

on

Text and pictures by
PRIYAN DE SILVA

Thirty two little ballerinas were presented with certificates of achievements and awards at the 2021 prize giving of The Ballet school of Colombo (TBSC) held recently.

Directors of TBSC Tara Cooke and Romina Gyi said that they were extremely proud of the achievements of their charges and thanked the students and parents for their dedication in attending classes diligently despite the trying conditions.

Certificates of achievement were awarded in the baby ballet, junior ballet and intermediate ballet categories to students who excelled in pre-classical and pre-jazz ballet.

Debbie McRitchie, International Director of the Commonwealth Society of Teachers of Dancing (to which TBSC is affiliated), in her congratulatory message thanked the parents for investing in their childrens dance education and the teachers of TBSC for preparing the candidates. She said that dance is like life and is a journey but not a destination and encouraged all stakeholders to work harder.

The prize giving was a proud moment for both students and parents as it was a parent who presented the certificates of achievement to their child. Five-year-old Shenaya de Alwis Samarasinghe was the youngest candidate at the prize giving, passing with honours in pre-classical ballet.

The Ballet School of Colombo was the former ‘Oosha Garten Sschool of Ballet’ pioneered by the late Kalasuri Oosha Saravanamuttu-Wijesinghe and was instituted as the ‘The Ballet School of Colombo’ in 2016.

Continue Reading

Trending