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Should Sri Lanka engage LNG floating regassification vessel for electric power?

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by Nalin Gunasekera

In many countries, an LNG project is the largest investment ever undertaken, and a country’s future creditworthiness may hang in the balance. Unfulfilled commitments for any reason can lead to millions of dollars of losses.

LNG – A Non-Technical Guide by Michael Tusiani, 2011

The writer Nalin Gunasekera (nalin.gunasekera@hotmail.com) has spent 40 years in the oil and gas industry and many years in leasing and operating floating LNG regassification vessels in more than 10 countries, representing Royal Dutch/Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi, the largest LNG vessel owner/operators and LNG traders in the world. Shell is the licensee for the largest gas reserves in the world and the custodian of gas and floating systems technology. Nalin received the Anniversary Technical Excellence Award from Shell for a floating system regarded as a ‘market trend setter’. He trained as an engineer in the University of Ceylon and at University College London as a government post-graduate scholar. He lives in Australia, the largest global LNG producer in 2021 and host to the highest density of floating production vessels in the world, and the technically most advanced ever built, Prelude, by Shell, costing US$ 12 billion. Nalin has participated in the roles of client, consultant and contractor, representing the largest institutions in the industry.

Part 1

(Part 2 to follow will cover FSRU technology, commercial transactions, LNG procurement, LNG suppliers, HSSE (health, safety, security, and environment), insurance, jurisdictions, future challenges to LNG, and regional energy policy changes.)

Where are these FSRUs today and where are they planned in the region?

Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) seeks to join the region consisting of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia, in turning to regassified LNG as an energy source to supplement others by installing an FSRU. South and South-East Asia are becoming the epicentre in LNG regassification, with these countries turning to a gas-based-economy to benefit from increasing LNG supply globally with lower harmful emissions compared with coal and oil.These countries have recognised that LNG although not ‘green’ will nevertheless be needed to assist the economy to transition to net zero carbon emissions (NZE), even if the immediate outcome is not NZE. Some countries in the region have more than one FSRU in operation or planned since India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh already have their LNG regassification initiatives proven to be wise decisions.According to Natural Gas World, in 2020, eight new FSRU terminals were installed/commissioned in Bahrain, Croatia, Brazil (two), India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Puerto Rico (out of a total of about 50). Vietnam with its long shoreline is planning for 130 GW of power generation with LNG, supported by four FSRUs, with Exxon-Mobil investing in their transition to gas. Cambodia is planning to have 3,600 MW of LNG powered power generation by 2030 with Japanese and Chinese assistance and have FSRUs planned.Countries such as India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Indonesia with two FSRUs, have their own natural gas domestic reserves currently in production; they are however supplementing with regassified LNG from an FSRU. Their LNG may be sourced overseas rather than locally.

The current self-funded proposal by NFE for Sri Lanka (SL) is with payment guarantees by the US Government. This is most welcome at a time when SL is desperate to attract foreign direct investment to provide confidence and credibility to the global investor community.

Would Mannar Basin reserves development be threatened by the FSRU?

The Mannar reserves if developed will supplement natural gas from the FSRU, it will not be a threat.

Australia and Qatar are the largest LNG suppliers worldwide supplying about 75mtpa (million tons per annum) each out of a global total of about 350 mtpa. Despite this LNG trade dominance, Australia is planning to have at least three FSRUs: one by Vopak, in Port Philip Bay Victoria, the second by Viva Energy, in Geelong, Victoria for delivery in 2024, and the third in Port Kembla NSW. This is because LNG shipped to FSRUs is more cost-effective than installing long pipelines from remotely located natural gas production plants. Australia may not be regassing their own LNG (locked up in long term contracts) but will be regassing LNG from the open market on possibly long-term-take-or-pay contracts. They have sought two guaranteed gas buyers on take-or-pay terms to finance the project who possess AAA high investment-grade-credit-ratings to minimise risk to the investor.

Indonesia, a major exporter of LNG of about 25 mtpa with their own natural gas production network is turning to FSRUs.

What are the prospects for the Mannar development?

Deep water reservoirs for development are for those with very deep pockets. Their risks are severe and the outcomes uncertain.

An overhead slide from a deep-water presentation

The Mannar field is a deep-water development with two wells drilled 30 to 60 km from shore in 1,350m to 1,500m water-depth. If this field had been appraised to be feasible, its development would have competed with the FSRU.In countries such as in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Brazil and in many others, domestic natural gas production supplements the FSRU. The two complement each other. However, the prospects of the Mannar basin must be reviewed in the current context.

The development of petroleum resources requires the government to enter into a partnership with oil companies. It is the oil companies that have the financial strength, expertise, and capacity/capability to explore the resources. They possess the requisite technology and skills to develop the resources and are willing to assume the financial risk.

The parties have different goals and agenda. The government’s primary focus is the benefit of the country, while the oil companies’ goal is maximising shareholder returns. There is tension in reconciling the value‐laden goals of governments with profit-oriented goals of the companies. Yet there is also some synergy for the two parties, government and oil company, in trying to maximise returns to their respective stakeholders.

The oil industry has already lost its appeal to investors. Any financing from capital markets will face challenges given the need to be transparent in disregarding policies of monetary authorities and investor banks concerning divestment and avoidance of fossil fuel investments. The banks would face a backlash from the public who would be concerned about their shareholder returns, in the context of today’s focus on COP 26 goals. Fossil fuel projects will therefore largely require self-funding, for which the oil companies have no appetite today. Having made losses in the past years, oil companies are selling off their assets to pay dividends, and do not see a future. They are cutting staff regularly.

Deep water developments are costly requiring much larger reservoir sizes to justify investment. Since the Indian exploration company Cairn left SL in Jan 2007 due to the discovery of low reserves, there has not been any noteworthy investment in appraising the Mannar field. Further, the field is not close to landfall and may require subsea infrastructure and high pressure boosting of the reservoir. The writer is able, from his own experience, to confirm that these sub-sea facilities are prone to failure. These marginal fields for development require a recognised, credible, independent-third-party-verification for investment. This has not been done.The expectation today is that several viable fields ready for development will not be monetised, being unable to access finance. The projection is that 30% to 40% of viable fields may never be monetised. This is given the ‘perfect storm’ created by the recent crash in oil and gas prices (now rising suddenly, which may be temporary with future trajectory unknown) as well as Covid-19 and UNFCCC COP 26 potential mandates against fossil fuel. However, this may change if the 2050 NZE targets are unviable.

Deep water technology is largely with the majors such as Shell, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, TOTAL, etc. They have made significant losses in recent years and are unable to self-fund having no access to finance.

Complex subsea architecture in deep-water Mannar is remotely located and in the event of failure require subsea intervention. Physical diver intervention is not possible due to the depth of water in excess of 1.3 km. The intervention facilities, DP DSV ROV (dynamically positioned diving support vessels with remote operated vessels) are extremely expensive to mobilise/demobilise, costing USD 10 mil or more when remote. (The writer was involved in remote deep-water interventions where fields have been abandoned due to intervention costs being unjustifiable and the outcomes uncertain).

SL’s investment grade is so low that for any field development the financing costs above LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) will be extraordinarily high. This is reflected in the country’s status of ‘default category with no prospect of recovery’ by rating agencies such as S&P.

These marginal investments are considered high risk being still at the pre-development exploratory stage and since Jan 2007 have not been able to attract an oil company for exploratory wells.

Given their marginal nature, oil companies expect a disproportionately high return with minimal or no taxation/royalties for their investment as they have significant outgoings. It is not unusual for governments who are new to the industry to end up with minimal or no revenue; ultimately left with facilities with a significant negative value to be removed at the taxpayer expense.A typical project to be executed may take several years as seen above with many uncertain outgoings. Australia’s major gas field Browse which commenced exploration in 1967, and has already been appraised to be viable for investment with 12 TCF (Trillion cubic feet) of recoverable gas, is continuously postponed given the global uncertainties.However, when the future of the industry was certain, there have been oil fields that were delivered in 14 months after appraisal, unlike today when the future is uncertain.

The Mannar field, at best, may have to wait to be developed until the investment climate improves and the uncertainties are minimised.

Is there a risk to SL if the FSRU is not installed by NFE?

The past three/four GoSL FSRU tender invitation attempts, were only meaningless academic exercises with no guarantee of payment by an investment grade credible entity. The GoSL is akin to someone seeking to purchase a new Rolls Royce with insufficient money to buy an old Morris Minor, and then engaging highly paid consultants who see ‘cash in chaos’, and take the GoSL for a ride. The last invitation to tender proposed under Swiss Challenge process against SKE&S’s unsolicited proposal did not attract a single prospective bid after more than four or five extensions to the closing date of tender over about eight months.

The current CEB tender is no different with no guaranteed payment security package by a credible investment grade party offered to the bidders. This will eventually be required. A toxic combination of misinformation in the public domain and unregulated malfunctioning of the electricity sector by the Ministry of Power and CEB has crippled SL’s economy perhaps beyond repair. Understandably they will attempt to wrest control over this project from any other competing ministry.India faced many challenges similar to SL in these projects in countering misinformation in the public domain by self-appointed experts, who had no exposure to industry norms, complex technology, or any understanding or experience in the highly specialised nature of offshore oil and gas business and their complex commercial transactions. SL is not any different with misinformation from (a) ideologues who see energy transition to NZE without intermediate steps such as LNG or other realistic options, (b) those with vested interests in importing coal and diesel, (c) ignorance of the complexity of industry norms, and (d) complete ignorance and disregard of the industry state of play. These cannot be understood overnight by those with vested interests, and others in isolation who are making outlandish demands. They create confusion amongst themselves, with the public at large, policy formulators and decision makers.If this FSRU is not installed, there is a likelihood that the power generation with diesel will continue and expand with increasing unbearable losses and environmental damage, which has been the past record in power generation. Under the new international consensus that may develop following UNFCCC COP26, countries continuing with heavy reliance on coal and oil may face punitive measures such as carbon tariffs on exports and other trade and commerce.

What is an FSRU? How does an FSRU work?

A Floating Storage and Re-gasification Unit (FSRU) is a floating vessel that is permanently moored at a site where it can receive LNG from tankers/carriers, store and regasify the LNG and send it as natural gas to shore via a subsea pipeline at a rate required by the natural gas users. The natural gas upon receipt at landfall from the FSRU would be transferred via pipelines on land to the end user power generators such as at Kerawalapitiya.

NFE will be supplying an FSRU and the associated pipelines. The project components are leased being supplied under EPCIC (Engineering, Procurement, Construction, Installation and Commissioning) and O&M (Operation and Maintenance) terms of responsibility for a specified period called the ‘fixed term’ with a period of optional extensions at predetermined commercial terms.

The figure above shows Moheshkhali FSRU Bangladesh with its submerged turret loading mooring and dynamic riser which is exposed to monsoons, operating since 2018. The vessel has a disconnectable mooring which disconnects from the vessel by lowering the swivel during high storm surges (such as monsoons as experienced in SL) and reconnects when the weather is benign. The vessel ‘weathervanes’ (rotates) about the single-point-mooring with the meteorological oceanographic variations in wind, wave and current. The vessel motions are determined analytically and verified by model tests to meet Classification Society requirements. There are other forms of shallow water moorings.

The mooring and riser technology is proprietary and technically complex in which the writer has specialized along with their commercial transactions in vessel leasing and operations.

A dis-connectable mooring system is where the floating installation has a propulsion system and a means of disengaging the installation from its mooring and riser systems to allow the installation to ride out severe weather or seek refuge under its own power for a specified design environmental condition.

A disconnectable moored vessel requires a full marine crew, must be flagged as required by IMO (International Maritime Organisation) with the vessel likely being in transit during its tenure. The writer has supplied many of these complex mooring systems which remain proprietary technology.This is completely new technology to SL, lacking any exposure to offshore oil and gas industry standards, codes, practices, industry norms, risks, analytical methods, Classification Society Rules under which they are designed and constructed, their insurance requirements, health safety and security and environmental practices, and complex multiple jurisdictions. Their commercial transactions are notoriously complex.NFE would remain as the single point responsible for all components up to the end user of the gas. The removal of the installation or transfer to the GoSL at the end of the lease is an option. In the case of SL, the vessel will be handed over to GoSL for continued operation after 10 years. In some countries the vessel when handed over has been a liability being a ‘rust bucket’ having a considerable negative value requiring the taxpayer to fund its removal, costing more than USD 50 mil. The ability of GoSL to undertake the operation and maintenance at hand over may raise questions (as in securing insurance such as P&I insurance, to be explained in Part 2), when the operator’s competency will be questioned by the insurer. This is a form of due diligence in determining GoSL’s capability to operate the facility by an independent third party. These are lessons to be learnt from cases in South East Asia, when vessels were handed over with unintended consequences.



Features

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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