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One day, soon after the trade union of Wellawatta Spinning and Weaving Mills, which broke the back of A. E. Goonesinghe’s trade union, was formed, Colvin was travelling in a bus. At the time his face was not well-known and he was merely a name. He found himself sandwiched between two rough looking men. “Ah bung…” said one of them speaking across Colvin. “Who is this Colvin R. De Silva and where does he live?” “I don’t know bung,” replied the other and went on to describe with lurid, blood curdling detail, the horrible things they would do to Colvin, if ever they found him! They happened to be very loyal to Goonesinghe.

***

The shooting of Govindan, a worker of the Wewassa Estate, set off a wave of strikes all over the hill country estates. The small police party that went to the estate to restore law and order were manhandled by the workers who later released them on the ground that both parties were wage-slaves. Later in the day, the enraged police were back, heavily reinforced and armed to the teeth and 208 estate workers were rounded up and arrested, Colvin appeared for all of them at the Badulla Courts and got them released on personal bail.

***

During World War II, Colvin and his friends knew that one day, before long, they would be arrested. But they did not want to give the impression that the leaders were hiding in safety and comfort while the innocent party men were harassed. One day Colvin appeared in a court case, when a man, placing a hand on his shoulder, in a grim and familiar voice said, “Colvin! You will have to come with me. You are under arrest!” It was Inspector of Police Poulier, a classmate of Colvin at Royal. “Just a minute Poulier,” Colvin said. “I can’t come just like that. I have a client to defend right now. But the moment that is done, I am all yours.” Once the case was over, Colvin left the courthouse with Inspector Poulier. Within days N.M. Perera, Philip Gunawardena and Edmund Samarakkody joined him in jail. And two years later they made their jailbreak and fled to India.

***

Colvin went to jail for the sake of the workers of his country and for the country’s freedom from the foreign yoke. He also made tremendous sacrifices, professionally and physically, for the cause he believed in. While in India, evading re-arrest, Colvin, then Govindan, grew a moustache. One day Bernard Soysa was ordered to contact him, at a specific spot in Madras and Bernard was looking all over for him when he heard Colvin’s famous drawl and found Colvin next to him sporting a walrus moustache. “Colvin!” Bernard had said, “I don’t mind a leader who looks like Karl Marx but not one looking like Groucho Marx.”

***

One day, Colvin said that when he was barely two years old his mother died. A few years later, his father married Colvin’s mother’s younger sister. “Those detestable words ‘step mother’ were never used in our home. And, had she lived, I wonder what form my political career would have taken. She loved us very much and wouldn’t bear to see any of us suffer the most minor injury, discomfort or face the slightest danger. Also, had she seen me dragged off to jail and the awful conditions there, and known when I escaped from jail, went underground and was carrying my life in my hands, she might very well have entreated me to give up politics!”

***

At the 1947 general elections, Colvin contested the Wellawatte-Galkissa seat from his Bolshevik Leninist Party of India (BLPI) of whose local faction, he was leader. In the course of canvassing, he went to an imposing Walawwa of a Gate Mudaliyar and knocked at the door. The laird himself opened the door. “Yes” he barked. Introducing himself, Colvin solicited his vote. “I’ll be damned if I vote for you!” “My dear sir, can I please canvass your wife’s and daughter’s votes?” So in soft measured tones he explained the policies of his party, with the mother and the daughter asking intelligent and penetrating questions from him, like the party’s attitude to Buddhism. All this time, the Gate Mudaliyar was seated in an armchair, within hearing distance, puffing a cigar. Tea was served and the candidate rose to leave. The Mudaliyar accompanied him to the gate and said, “I am going to vote for you.” Colvin bowed and said “Thank you sir!”

During one of those bouts for the Wellawatta-Galkissa seat in Parliament, between Colvin and S. de S. Jayasinghe, S. de S., speaking at one of his election meetings, said confidently “Nonawaruni! Mahathwaruni! I am winning this election, for my name begins with ‘Jaya’, Jaya for victory!” Speaking at one of his meetings a few days later, Colvin said “Come election day, I shall be the winner, for my name ends with ‘Win’, Col-Win!”

***

During the 1947 General Elections, a large number of independent candidates contested, whom Colvin labelled ‘three-headed donkeys’. Colvin was once asked what the best election poster he had ever seen was. He had said that it was the poster Dr. A.P. de Zoysa had published against his rival E.A. Cooray for the Colombo South seat in 1936. His one liner was ‘Eeye Cooray Ada Zoysa’ (punning on Cooray’s initials E.A.).

***

Once Manori de Silva presided over an election meeting in Galle. She announced the next speaker thus, “Meelangata mage piyawana Colvin sahodaraya katha karanawa etha: (The next speaker is my father, Comrade Colvin). This reminds me of a Communist MP from the South, who once addressed his father “sahodara piyathumani” (Comrade father).

The Sathasivam case had an impact on Colvin’s political fortunes, when some women voted against him, for defending the cricketer Sathasivam who was accused of murdering his wife.

***

It must be quite a record that a father-in-law, Colvin (Agalawatta), and his two sons-in-law, Sarath Muttetuwegama (Kalawana) and Weerasinghe de Silva (Balapitiya), were sitting together in the same Parliament, along with Colvin’s brother-in-law K. C. de Silva (Katana) in 1970.

***

One day Colvin was making a speech in the House, when a fledgling MP kept on interrupting him. At last, his patience exhausted Colvin paused, gazed at the young MP in a most thoughtful manner, and said in that devastating drawl of his, “You know Mr. Speaker, in our village a creature with one ‘Molliya’ (hump) is called a buffalo. But I do not know what to call one with many ‘Molliyas’. The heckler was Stanley Molligoda, then MP for Nivitigala.

During the 1977 General election, JR was keen to have two of his friends, Colvin and N.M. in Parliament. So, he fielded two weak candidates for Agalawatta and Yatiyantota electorates. But the two UNP candidates rode on the tidal wave and both were elected with convincing majorities. One day Dr. Arnolis de Silva, father of Colvin, went to meet the Registrar of the Land Registry, Galle, to find that he was on leave. He visited the Registrar again and told him that he came there on Wednesday too. “Yes!” the Registrar said, “I took leave to go to court to watch the famous advocate Dr. Colin R. de Silva defend an accused in a murder case. And, what an experience it was!” The doctor smiled and said “I am Colvin’s father.” The Registrar was delighted to hear it.

***

One day Colvin argued an appeal in a case of profiteering in sugar, and for some inexplicable reason, he kept using the term ‘red sugar’ when ‘brown sugar’ was the more popular one.

When he continued to use this term, the Supreme Court Judge, who hailed from Colvin’s own village, commented drily “Dr. Silva, there is too much red in this court.” And gazing pointedly at the Judge’s red robe, Colvin cracked back: “Yes my lord, and that’s the colour that gives much grace and dignity to your lordship.”

***

Colvin was defending an accused in a murder trial and had addressed the court for three consecutive days. As he concluded his address on the third day, Colvin said, “My lord, I hope to finish my address tomorrow.” “You are hoping, Dr. Silva” said the presiding judge E.H.T. Gunasekera, “I am praying.”

***

Colvin had a flair for Johnsonian English of learned length and thunderous in sound. He would use the word ‘pagination’ for a page in a book or the word ‘testification’ for the evidence of a witness. One day Colvin was making submissions in a case at the Nuwara-Eliya magistrate’s court, defending some estate workers of Agarapathana who were indicted, when the trial judge who was an Englishman found it difficult to understand him. So the judge politely told him to use simpler language. “Your honour! I am speaking in your mother tongue and not mine.” “That is so, but please use simple language. Colvin then proceeded to use simpler language but in long sentences, when a red-faced judge postponed the case and adjourned court. At the next trial date, Colvin used simpler language and won the case.

***

I. W. Panditha who was a leading lawyer in Galle, was once the private secretary of P.H. William Silva, the first MP for the Ambalangoda-Balapitiya seat in 1947. At the elections held that year, several persons, including Panditha, were charged with damaging the motorcar of a rival candidate. And they were all found guilty in the magistrate’s court. They appealed against the verdict and Colvin, a comrade-in-arms of the BLPI and also a fellow MP of William Silva, was retained to appear in the appellate court. On the morning of the date of appeal William Silva and Panditha went to Colvin’s house. He was getting ready to go to court. He asked them whether they had had their breakfast, but did not discuss any matter pertaining to the case. Colvin got the conviction of the accused quashed in the appellate court, as not all persons mentioned in the complaint to the police had been charged in the magistrate’s court.

***

In another case, Colvin admitted that his clients sold sprats at the price stated in the plaint, but certainly not ‘sparts’, whatever it may be, as referred to in the Gazette notification.

***

Colvin once said that H.V. Perera K.C. was one of the best lawyers he had known. One day he had been at the Law Library when H.V. had come up to him and said “Colvin! I have just been having a very heated argument with (mentioning the name of a leading member of the Bar at the time) over the interpretation of a certain law. And he said, ‘H.V., your view may be correct, but so is mine!’ Surely Colvin, there are not several correct views of the law? There is only one correct view, and that is the view that fits into the general fabric of the law!” Colvin then could not but think of a more brilliant definition than that of what the law is all about? And that it is the genius of H.V. Perera, that gives him the ability to express the most profound thoughts with utmost clarity.

***

Here are some more H.V. stories. H.V. was one of the most brilliant students to pass through the portals of Royal College, and at the London Inter Arts Exam he won a scholarship to Cambridge. H.V.’s father was a surveyor, who had done a lot of survey work for Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike. Meeting him one day, H.V.’s father had told Sir Solomon this good news. “Cambridge? Your son is going to Cambridge? I say Perera don’t be damned silly, ask your son to do what he can over here in Ceylon. Oxford and Cambridge are for the Bandaranaikes and the Obeysekeras!” said an arrogant Sir Solomon.

***

As mentioned above H.V.’s father was a surveyor. One day, when in court, he saw some of his father’s surveyor friends. He then walked up to them and asked why they were in court. They had then said that they were there on a charge of contempt of court over some court commissioned surveys. After getting the facts of the case, H.V. appeared for them and got them out. H.V. once appeared before Justices Garvin and Akbar and had come to the appellate court fully prepared for a case which, if taken up, would last a few days. However, this case was allowed to stand down and another case of his was taken up. It was a case which he had not studied. Undaunted, he then summarised the plaint to the Bench and read the defendant’s answer and the issues involved. When one of the judges asked him what the trial judge held on issue 4, he proceeded to read the entire judgement, saying that it would be best to do so. Thereafter, he put his brief aside and argued a matter of law and won his case.



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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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