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Caught between devil and troubled waters

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Bizarre story of fishers hit by X-Press Pearl disaster

MV X-Press Pearl, which sank in the western Sri Lankan coastal waters in late May, led to huge environmental destruction and losses of fishing livelihoods and incomes. The most directly affected party was the fishing community, from Kalutara to Chilaw, following the imposition of the fishing ban on May 21, 2021, which continues to date, keeping fishers away from their productive environment. An initial payment of Rs. 5,000 was paid to fishing-related stakeholder families, while a part-payment is now being made from indemnities paid for the initial claims. Yet, the human suffering is tremendous and this article attempts at highlighting some of these impacts on fishing livelihoods, which cannot be easily compensated by payments, calculated on the basis of lost incomes. “Things will have to be seen as ‘they are’, not as ‘we are’” (Anais Nin, French Writer).

A 186-metre-long container ship, called X-Press Pearl, registered in Singapore, arrived in Colombo on the night of May 19, 2021 carrying 1,486 containers. On May 20, it was reported that the ship caught fire, which was only 9.5 nautical miles (17.6 km; 10.9 miles) away, north-west of the Colombo Port. On May 25, a large explosion occurred inside the vessel, and by late afternoon containers were dropping from the vessel into the sea. The ship sank on June 2, while it was being towed to the deeper seas, after burning for 12 days. The incident was deemed the worst marine ecological disaster in Sri Lankan history. The ship’s cargo included, among others, 12,085 MT of plastics and polymers, 8,252 MT of chemicals and 3,081 MT of metals. Since the time the ship caught fire, ship debris, burnt goods and plastic pellets washed into the shore in large quantities. Dead fish, turtles, whales and dolphins were found along the western coast and plastic pellets were observed trapped in the gills of fish. While such debris was initially noticed in the Negombo coast, other areas from Kalpitiya up to Matara also reported ship debris, dead fish and turtles, indicating wider spread damage.

Impact of oceanic pollution on fisheries

When various kinds of debris washed up on the coastal areas of the Western Province and large numbers of dead fish were found, the Department of Fisheries decided to ban fishing in the coastal districts of Kalutara and Negombo on May 21, 2021, which continues to date. The major impact area was demarcated as the coastal strip between Wadduwa (FI division) of the Kalutara District to Kochchikade (FI division) of the Negombo coastal district.

Fishing community actors affected by disaster

The coastal fishing fleet of the three districts, that cover the impact area, consists of 51 multiday craft (IMUL), 204 day boats with inboard engines (IDAY), 2,504 FRP boats with outboard motor (OFRP), three Mechanised traditional boats (MTRB), 1,905 Non-mechanised traditional boats (NTRB) and 75 Non-Mechanised Beach Seine boats (NBSB), totalling 4,612 craft. Altogether 12,731 fishers were affected by the ship disaster (both skippers and crew). Apart from those who are directly involved in fishing, there are large numbers of diverse stakeholders, fish value chain actors, involved in ancillary services and other fishing related activities, who include fish vendors, sellers, dry fish vendors, dry fish producers, ice producers, ice distributors, fibreglass repairers, engine repairers, fuel distributors, net menders, bait producers, vessel cleaners, food suppliers, dry fish sellers on bicycle, beach seine helpers, landing site helpers, divers, women engaged in marketing and fish processing and more. Altogether 3,995 such actors were identified in the HIA, which added up to a total of 16.727 affected persons. Assuming a family size of 3.8 persons (in 2020), the total affected population is estimated as 63,563 (this study).

Shocks and threats

With the enforcement of the fishing ban on May 21, 2021, which prevented fishers from going to the sea, especially because of the mounds of ship debris scattered in the coastal waters posing threats of damage and loss of fishing equipment on the one hand, and the uncertainty of the impact of ship’s cargo on fish, on the other, the fishing community suffered several shocks overnight. These included, loss of income, loss of supplementary income (female employment), drop in demand (drop in consumption of fish for fear of contamination), loss of assets (gear), well-being loss and loss of traditional sources of insurance (because the fishing ban affected all [collective shock] no assistance was available within the community).

COVID-19 impact

The ship disaster hit the coastal fishing community of the western coast, at a time when they were suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first wave of the pandemic, all links in the fish value chain were seriously affected, dismantling almost all of them; fish landings, marketing, distribution and processing. Due to the imposition of curfews, low demand, low prices and disruption of the marketing system, fishing was seriously affected (45 to 65 percent less than normal). The second wave of the pandemic hit the country on October 4, 2020, when COVID-19 cases were reported from a private garment factory (Brandix) at Minuwangoda in the Gampaha District. Following this cluster, emerged another COVID-19 cluster at the Peliyagoda fish market when 19 cases were reported on October 21, 2020. Many people believed that fish was a Coronavirus carrier and stopped consuming fish for fear of COVID-19 infection. Consequently, prices came down drastically. Quite alarmingly, before the affected population started to recover, the third wave of COVID-19 hit the country, which rose to prohibitive levels after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, in late April, with deaths rising to 198 per day ( August 20, 2021). While the weak economy and stagnant incomes hit the poorer groups badly, fishing restrictions and poor demand for fish resulted in reduced fishing incomes and livelihood threats to fishers, especially the small-scale fishers who cater to the local market.

The X-Press Pearl ship disaster hit the fishing community at a time when they were confronted with the vagaries and threats of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Market impact

Analysis of price behaviour, which took into account average weekly prices in May and beginning of June 2021, revealed a drop in the wholesale prices in the fourth week of May when the impact of the X-Press Pearl disaster was felt. Dead fish and other marine animals washed up on the shore, along with tons of debris, which contained, among other things, huge amounts of plastic pellets. Later, it was made known that the ship’s cargo contained certain hazardous chemicals, which caused a significant drop in fish consumption, which further reduced wholesale prices. Low demand is also a result of loss of employment and income by those self-employed groups. In respect of the retail trade, many retail outlets remained closed and normal distribution (by motorcycle traders, bicycle traders) was also disrupted. Only a few retailers were present to distribute fish. This led to increases in consumer prices of fish. At a time when wholesalers were complaining of low fish prices, consumers were complaining that the price of fish was too high. Communication with officials of the Fish Wholesalers Association at Peliyagoda fish market revealed that nearly 60 percent of the fish, such as skipjack, were sold for dry fish making, due to lack of demand for fresh fish.

Fishing community’s response to ship disaster

The fishing ban which was imposed on May 21, 2021 posed severe livelihood threats to the affected families. Nevertheless, a payment of Rs. 5,000 was made, by the government, to affected families, which was the payment made to all those self-employed families hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This amount was equal to 10 percent of the mean monthly expenditure of an average Sri Lankan household in 2016 (which was Rs. 54,999). Since then a payment has been channelled to fishing communities only once (recently), from monies received from the ships insurance companies (an interim payment of Rs. 720 million), of which about Rs. 400 million has been allocated to fisheries. Yet, the process has not been completed. The long payment intervals and the smaller size of the payment would have caused mammoth adversities for households striving hard to make the ends meet.

Of course the immediate response of the fishing community was to reduce consumption, tightening the belt, which often puts more weight on women fisher folk, who have been traditionally accustomed to shouldering the burden of consumption shortfalls in ensuring that men are kept physically fit to carry out fishing operations. Nevertheless, food insecurity could be only one of the immediate impacts of the ship disaster, which often leads to nutritional insecurity, which has more injurious impacts on the nutrition of children. A quite painful impact would have been the inability of affected households to pay regular bills (house rent, electricity, water and goods taken on installments). In a study carried out in 2020 by the author, it was revealed that debt repayment obligations of an average fishing household to be around Rs. 20,000 per month (Samudra Report, No. 85). Of course, such debts will accumulate if a fishing household has no other source of income, which is usually the case. Parental care too is an issue because parents usually live with children in their old age, a practice that is quite characteristic of Sri Lankan society. Expenses related to such care-giving could be excessively high. Cries of children to have a bite of sweets or a lick of ice cream would remain ‘unheard’. The whole family will be cut off from involvement in leisure activities, films, pleasure trips and social and religious obligations. All this could mean colossal psychological stress on all members of the family, which cannot be expressed in value terms.

In the absence of insurance markets for fishing related risks, people resort to credit. In fishing societies, exchange of small loans is very common. Because of high catch variability, incomes of all fishers do not correlate. One who is lucky will offer part of his earnings to an unlucky one, knowing that one is not lucky or unlucky every day. However, the ship disaster hit everyone equally and the fishing community’s insurance function was lost. In such a context people tend to mortgage jewellery, sell assets or borrow from outside money lenders, who sometimes charge exorbitant rates of interest, which could be as high as 180 percent per year. Since the day the fishing ban was imposed (May 21, 2021), debt repayments (interest and principal on loans) of fishing households would have accumulated adding to the existing pressure on household chores, leading to great human suffering.

Contextual issues: Blue justice

In analysing the impact of the ship disaster on the fishing community, one cannot refrain from underlining the context in which small-scale fisheries take place. Some of the most notable impacts observed recently have been the injustices caused by the process of Blue Economic Growth. Complaints of exclusion of communities from development related decision making, absence of any community consultation in implementing development projects, coastal land grabbing by tourism interests (land tenure issues) and marginalization of small scale fishers, were heard from all around the country. Conflicts among fisheries and tourism stakeholders have risen to prohibitive levels. Many fishers have lost their beach seining sites, craft anchorage sites and fish drying sites, first, as a result of climate-induced sea erosion and second, as a result of land grabbing by tourism interests. While coastal waters traditionally provided livelihoods to thousands of small-scale fishers who had customary rights to fish resources in such waters, today the ‘small fry’ has been chased away and the coastal waters have become the arena of sea sports and leisure. The public beaches have become private and some beach access roads have become private property of tourism stakeholders. These are all injustices emerging from the unregulated growth of the blue economy which have pushed the small scale fishers to the margins.

Evidently, there is tremendous suffering among diverse fishing related households. Livelihoods and incomes are lost, ill-being is quite pervasive, food insecurity and nutritional insecurity is on the rise, drops in consumption and expenditure is causing misery, households are unable to attend to parental and child care and debts have accumulated. The government has tried to redress the situation by providing the affected households with Rs. 5,000 initially and now by making an interim payment. Unfortunately, there have been huge delays in making these payments due to delays in making claims and payment of indemnities by the ship’s insurance agents. The longer the delays in payment, the higher would be the human suffering. The fishing ban will continue until the debris is cleared from the bottom of the sea by the responsible party, and thus the agony and misery will continue to grow. Two things are worthy of mention at this juncture. First, what has been paid so far has been hardly sufficient to meet the family subsistence needs. Apart from making a payment equal to lost daily wages, a premium that covers the various costs incurred by the affected parties in resorting to borrowing, in mortgaging assets and psychological stress, will have to be paid. Second, it is of paramount importance in developing strategies to improve the resilient capacity of fishers to external shocks, which would involve, among other things, strengthening community sources of insurance (fisheries cooperatives, coop savings), promoting self-insurance strategies (savings, alternative livelihoods, women employment), and addressing social injustices caused by the process of Blue Economic Growth.



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Beyond the fiction of Alborada

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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

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Politics at its most primitive

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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

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

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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.

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