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Sumitra by Sumitra

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By Uditha Devapriya

Sumitra Peries turns 87 next week. In a career spanning five decades – or six, if we are to take her stints as assistant director and editor – she made 10 films and four documentaries, overseeing work in numerous other feature and television films made by other directors. The most extraordinary woman of her generation here, Sumitra is also, perhaps, the world’s oldest living active woman director. It is a testament to her indomitable spirit that she hasn’t let go, yet: she remains very much committed to the medium, toying with new ideas, thinking, reflecting, pondering.

In the history of the Sinhala cinema I can think of one or two, maybe three other filmmakers who can stand beside her and with her, but none of them is a woman. Like every other field in this country, the movie industry remains dominated by men. Sumitra’s achievement isn’t just that, as a woman, she put the patriarchy of the field into question; her achievement has been, more importantly, that she has set aside that patriarchy, ignoring it and not letting it get in her way. As director, assistant, and editor, and in academia, she has refused to let gender enter the conversation and obstruct what she wanted to do. Indeed, far from viewing the fact of being a woman as an obstacle, she continues to see it as non-est, a point she highlighted for me in a conversation I had with her long before the pandemic hit: “That men dominated the field when I entered it,” she recalled, “never bothered me.”

A second viewing of her films bears out this curious, one could say even contradictory, attitude. In almost all of them there is an attempt made to emphasise the femininity of the protagonists – it goes without saying that they are all unequivocally and unquestionably women – without succumbing to stereotypes and popular clichés. This refusal to conform to stereotypes has earned Sumitra brickbats from both popular audiences and radical critics, the latter of whom tend to belabour their point that, regardless of them being women, the protagonists in her films embrace defeat too easily. While that allegation may be true of much of her work, it is considered particularly true of her first few efforts, noticeably Gehenu Lamayi and Ganga Addara, in which the woman hero, played in both by Vasanthi Chathurani, either accepts a defeatist attitude or sidesteps it by jumping to her death.

I’d like to point at another instance where this might be especially true. It crops up in a film not often brought up in discussions about her work. In Maya, the protagonist is a little girl who may or may not be a reincarnation of another girl murdered with her mother by an illicit love of the latter. Sumitra’s efforts at eliciting sympathy for the second girl and her mother – played by Swarna Mallawararachchi – come out remarkably as the story progresses. Though we are not made privy to the bickering and squabbling between her and her extended family in the village, we get it that this is a woman who has staked everything for her daughter, who loves her deeply and can only be helpless when she summons the spirit of her previous life. As far as her direction is concerned, Sumitra gives us one of her most remarkable depictions of a woman in her career, one which precedes the most remarkable portrait of a woman she ever drew, also with Swarna as the actress, in Sagara Jalaya.

And yet in contrast to Swarna Mallawarachchi’s contained performance, you have Geetha Kumarasinghe playing the role of the mother of the murdered girl. How Sumitra builds up to the romance between Mrs Kumarasinghe and the man she flirts with (Ravindra Randeniya) while her husband, a professor of sociology at the University of London (Tony Ranasinghe), is abroad, is interesting: the film begins with the daughter reading to the mother a letter she has written for the father, in a scene that highlights domestic felicity and closeness. Once the daughter is out of her way – that is, in school – however, the mother dabbles in her clandestine affair; here, in contrast to the gentle, unostentatious person she was in the earlier scene, she dabs on excessive makeup and is loud, shrill, and boisterous. In the sequence immediately leading to her murder by the other man, she is even more loud and shrill; her boisterous behaviour is what compels that man to deliver the fatal strike.

What are we to make of these contrasts? Writers and critics may argue that in depicting one woman as heroic, self-sacrificing, and ultimately triumphant, she chose to depict the other woman as befitting of sympathy, but also condemnation. Yet it is a testament to Sumitra’s agility that though she directs Mrs Kumarasinghe as John Ford would have directed Maureen O’Hara – carefully lighted, frequently and almost always in close-up, with an emphasis on her beauty – she does her best, and succeeds to a not unremarkable extent, to avoid being judgmental on her.

I believe it was A. J. Gunawardena who observed that the movie’s style – which to me appears almost Brechtian in how it detaches us from the emotional undercurrents of the plot – reminded him a little of William Friedkin. Friedkin, in two films (The French Connection and The Exorcist), managed to keep us hooked on his characters without letting us completely bond with them. This is what Sumitra Peries achieves in Maya, and to her credit, in her portrayal of the two women – urban and rural, sensuous and self-sacrificing, with a husband abroad (and thus absent or metaphorically “dead”) in one case and a husband (actually) dead in the other – she refuses to yield to popular stereotypes.

But perhaps owing to the preferences of the producer or of the actress, such stereotypes come through somewhat, especially in Mrs Kumarasinghe’s performance. In her quest to balance the imperatives of her art with the demands of popular audiences, Sumitra has hence, as Maya shows, tried to realise her conception of the medium in relation to the women in her stories. This is as true of Maya as it was of Ganga Addara and Yahalu Yeheli, both of which had submissive young women contending with their rebellious instincts.

That rift is, I daresay, central to her work, and it is one she manages to shatter in Sagara Jalaya, hands down one of the three or four most perfect films I’ve encountered here.

When it first came out, Sagara Jalaya was instantly recognised for the painstakingly made masterpiece it was and continues to be. Regi Siriwardena’s review, succinct but uncharacteristically short, gushed out in full praise, while Ajith Samaranayake’s review, while questioning the emphasis on the conflict between the two main women in the story that the film gave, heralded it as a great work as well. That it missed the bus to Cannes is a point to be lamented, and regretted; coming in more than nearly three decades after her husband took Rekava there, it may well have brought home the plaudits that Lester’s debut did. That it was made at all, under extraordinary circumstances – the cast and crew had to brave the vagaries of the weather, including the monsoon – in a setting and milieu almost no Sinhala film, at least outside the popular cinema, had ventured into, was an achievement in itself.

To me the overarching achievement of Sagara Jalaya lies in how it signals a shift in Sumitra’s career. In its inimitable blend of emotional resonance and technical competence, the story plays out against a melange of convincing performances, arresting visuals, and breathtaking music. This was the kind of direction the Sinhala cinema had not seen for some time.

More importantly, insofar as her portrayal of the woman at the centre of the story is concerned, Sagara Jalaya symbolises a radical departure from the way Sumitra had seen, or chosen to see, the female in her previous films. This is the sort of woman protagonist the Sinhala cinema could not really conjure: self-sacrificing and brave, yet also assertive and suave. Of particular significance is the way Sumitra conceals the sexual subtext of the plot – which comes out more vividly in Simon Nawagattegama’s short story – beneath the veneer of childhood innocence: right till the end, a word here, a phrase there, gives us a clue to the affair between the woman and her brother-in-law, but like Bindu, the child at the heart of the story, audiences can easily miss it if they don’t strain their ears carefully.

Sumitra tried to regain, and she occasionally succeeded, in replicating the profound success of Sagara Jalaya in her later work. Though in terms of plot, character, and mood there’s nothing much it shares in common with that undisputed masterwork, Loku Duwa comes quite close to emulating it. Sumitra’s sixth film – released eight years after Sagara Jalaya – Loku Duwa epitomises for me a major strength of hers, one that has unfortunately been overlooked by most of her critics: her ability to transform the most mundane literary material into a superior cinematic work.

To be sure, Nawagattegama’s short story does not belong to the ranks of sentimental pot-boilers, but then much of Sumitra’s work has been based on stories which do. Her choice for Loku Duwa – a novel by Edward Mallawaarachchi, who bridges the gap between Karunasena Jayalath and Sujeewa Prasannaarachchi – may have raised eyebrows among certain critics, but the final product is far, far away from the crude sentimentalities of the original text. There are some rather interesting moments in the movie – like the sequence of Gamini Fonseka fingering his cigarette lighter near the Kalutara Bodhiya – which take on a life of their own. Unfortunately, in the annals of her career Loku Duwa has suffered the fate of Sagara Jalaya, in that few people have seen it; every other person I’ve come across prefers to talk about her first efforts, especially Gehenu Lamayi. Yet it stands among her finest work: it is moving, it teems with life, and it flows slowly, gently.

I believe Sumitra Peries’s career has been one big striving towards that kind of cinema. Thus in stark contrast to the emotional histrionics of Duwata Mawaka Misa, which owe more to the cynicism of the original story (by G. B. Senanayake) than to her direction per se, her later works have all attempted to economise, to reduce the emotional undercurrents of the plot to their barest essentials.

There have been times when the original text has imposed certain limits on the final product – as with Yahaluwo, which won plaudits abroad but went by unnoticed in Sri Lanka – but there have been times when, despite the limitations of the source text, she has been able to realise her conception of the medium well. In that sense her greatest work from the recent past has to be Sakman Maluwa. A terse love story that plays off the naiveté of marriage life against the onset of suspicion and jealousy which animates most middle-class romances, it represents Sumitra, I daresay, at her best.

I have seen Sakman Maluwa twice, and the first time around I thought I had passed over an important plot point which could explain the tensions that erupt at the end. Resolving to follow every sequence, I waded through it a second time, eyebrows furrowed and pen and paper in hand. The second viewing was more harrowing than the first: you literally have to read between the shots to spot out the tension. It’s clearly the work of a master craftsman, not merely a competent technician, and it’s the sort which makes clear the boundless potential of a work of art to not only entertain, but also, as Lester Peries once told Philip Cooray, compel the dramatic from the otherwise banal and ordinary.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



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Sat Mag

Globalism and tribalism: The Barber polemic

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By Uditha Devapriya

Samir Amin, who passed away in 2017, wrote frequently on the dangers of fundamentalist nationalism in the Global South. As with Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao, his focus and interest remained in the periphery: The weakest links and the ‘storm centres’ of the world. Yet he did not see the growth of fundamentalism in these regions as a self-regulating trend: Rather, he viewed it as a consequence of their forced integration into the world economy by neoliberal globalisation. Far from considering them as separate processes, he considered nationalism and neoliberalism as one and the same, feeding into each other. For him, integration didn’t so much unite the periphery as promote its very antithesis, fragmentation.

The experience of Third World societies in the post-1975 conjuncture confirms this link. The radicalisation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the revival of Hindutva in India, and the resurgence of ethnic separatism in the former Soviet Union followed the neoliberalisation of these societies via the IMF prescription of tax reductions, welfare cuts, currency devaluation, and privatisation. Yet the course of history has not resolved the debate: Polemics continue to appear, even today, on the relationship between globalisation and development on the one hand, and globalisation and nationalism on the other. One such polemic, which appeared 30 years ago, continues to be of particular interest.

In 1992 Benjamin Barber authored an essay in The Atlantic that went on to animate scholarly discussions on the difference between globalisation, neoliberalism, and nationalism. Titled ‘Jihad vs McWorldism’, the article contended that while these two titular forces coexisted across nations and borders, and while both of them promoted fragmentation, even if not in equal measure, they pulled in different directions: “the one driven by parochial hatreds, the other by universalising markets.” Barber cheered neither of these forces (“both bleak, neither democratic”), yet he observed within the conflict between them a choice, a fundamental one, for humanity, between “the brutal realities” of Jihad and “the dull realities” of McWorld. This Manichean view continues to be promoted by mainstream scholarship today.

In its most essential sense, the essay delves into two forms of nationalism. In its first form, to be found in the metropolitan centre, it traces its origins to the French Revolution and speaks the voice of a unified civic consciousness; in its second form, more prevalent in the tropics, it speaks the voice of a hundred fragmented ethnicities.

The solutions policymakers tend to prescribe for the periphery, in which nationalism operates as a supposedly disuniting force, are always the same: Globalise, liberalise, open up markets, let in multinational capital, and conduct economic shock therapy. Mike Davis in ‘Planet of Slums’ calls this “adjustment from below”, whereby the markets of the Global South, through IMF reform packages, are forcibly freed with no consideration for its impact on the poorest of these societies. Fidelis Balogun’s summing up of the process hits the target: “privatising in full steam and getting hungrier by the day.”

We know privatising in full steam has exacerbated disparities, within the third world, and made hungrier. But how has its impact been on nationalism? Less than half a century since the first structural adjustment was forced on Mexico, it would seem that globalisation and liberalisation have failed to vanquish tribalism from the periphery: far from obliterating it, these “reforms” and processes have instead sharpened its contrasts, fuelling centripetalism and centrifugalism while perpetuating inequalities. “The market,” observed Andre Gunder Frank, “unifies but does not homogenise and instead simultaneously polarises and thereby fragmentises.” To put that pithily, the unifying-polarising tendencies of McWorldism have managed to feed into the unifying-polarising tendencies of Jihadism.

One should, of course, desist from viewing these issues along the lines of Cowboys versus Indians. Reducing them to a simple binary between neoliberalism/bad and nationalism/good, or vice-versa, gets us nowhere. Even Barber’s essay stops short of endorsing McWorldism as an objective necessity, or for that matter a necessary evil; it instead calls for a compromise between these two extremities, concurrently encouraging “indigenous democratic impulses” while envisioning a globalist social contract: What Barber calls a “confederal union of semi-autonomous communities smaller than nation-states.” One notices in this an approximation, albeit ever so slight, to a United States of the world: A political model which facilitates both regional autonomy and international cooperation.

Reading between the lines, it’s evident that Barber shares a concern, a liberal one, about the potential of free markets and ethnic fault-lines to rend entire societies asunder. His point isn’t so much choosing between these two, as coming up with a third option: What I see as a global federal government, divided along ethnic lines rather than into geographic entities. Barber not unfittingly quotes Tocqueville here: “The spirit of liberty is local.” Any deviation from this model is to be critiqued: Hence he considers it futile and untenable to try parcelling democracy over long distances, to “Fed Ex the Bill of Rights to Sri Lanka.” Penned a decade or so before George Bush the Second parcelled his version of American democracy to West Asia, these words sound extraordinarily prophetic.

Regardless of what one may think of it today, it’s easy to understand why confederalism felt relevant and timely back then: Coming right before the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the horrors of Sarajevo, the solution the essay proposed seemed apt for a post-Cold War order and conjuncture in which superpower tussles no longer shaped the trajectory or resolution of national/regional conflicts. However, one must not be hasty in endorsing Barber’s model and polemic. Instead one must ask two crucial questions: To what extent was Barber’s optimism about “strong democracy” buttressed by a world-government, as he saw it, justified, and to what extent was it, as it eventually turned out to be, misplaced? To restate this, to the extent that his critique of globalisation and tribalisation enabled him to come up with an alternative, how justified was he in his belief that devolution and integration along confederal lines could deliver to the periphery what neither globalisation nor tribalisation had?

Barber’s confederation-integration-devolution model can be criticised from three vantage points. The first is its assumption that globalisation, in modified form, can vanquish tribalism, and that it can deter the reassertion of ethno-nationalist fundamentalism. What the confederal model seeks to achieve is a framework within which globalisation can achieve this end more quickly and efficiently: With the world divided on federal lines, yet integrated into a wider body politic, it promotes representation at the local level, tackling ultra-nationalism and anti-nationalism. As Barber notes, there is “always a desire for self-government, always some expression of participation, accountability, consent, and representation, even in traditional hierarchical societies.” These “need to be identified, tapped, modified, and incorporated into new democratic practices with an indigenous flavour.”

Globalisation with an indigenous democratic impulse, however, is still globalisation, and as such suffers from globalisation’s fundamental malaise: The halving, if not quartering, of the world into enriched haves and dispossessed have-nots, a division which fits in neatly with the bifurcation into metropolitan centre and global periphery. Any model which seeks to remould and restructure globalisation without addressing the systemic divide between well off and worse off communities that it entrenches, within regions and between continents, runs the risk of exacerbating ethnic and religious polarities, thus fuelling the very forces of tribalism it set out to eradicate. At best then, such a model can only prolong, not resolve, the rift between world-affirming and world-denying impulses within the Third World.

The second critique has to do with Barber’s conceptualisation of nationalism. Viewing it through a Eurocentric/West-centric prism, his essay frames it, specifically its ethno-tribalist manifestations, as a backward Third World phenomenon. A corollary of this is the belief that Europe is too civilised, too mired in a civic consciousness, to tolerate such primitive/barbaric sentiments. According to this view of things, the West stands for global cooperation because it has liberated itself from the confines of such ideologies; the East, on the other hand, needs to be incorporated into a globalist order by the West because it has not.

Even when confronted with the fact that peripheral Third World nationalism considerably borrowed from 18th century European nationalism, critics brush aside the past: Hence Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister, extols the virtues of a more perfect union in the EU while excoriating “the chronic condition of nationalism” and its founder, the 18th century German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder.

Historical reality does not bear out such jaundiced views of nationalism. As anyone who has read R.A.L.H. Gunawardana’s essay ‘The People of the Lion’ will know, many terms from the nationalist dictionary, such as race, have distinctly European origins. More insightful in this regard is James Petras’s 2008 Foreign Affairs essay ‘Us and Them’, which refutes the thesis that nationalism is backward, and Third Worldist, by showing that the First World has had its own share of tribalist ideologies: propelled not by a twist of history alien to the West, but, as Muller points out, “by some of the deepest currents of modernity.”

The third critique is essentially a rehash of the first and second. Barber’s solution suffers from the myopic worldview of reformists the world over: It assumes that systemic rifts can be eradicated through structural reforms. As the Third World experience will attest, though, no systemic rift was ever resolved through political structures.

Samir Amin classified the Global South into two distinct geographic entities: The Third World, or countries linked to the industrial West, as in East Asia, and the Fourth World, or the rest of humanity, which exports primary commodities for cheap and imports industrial goods from the West and East Asia for dear. To the extent that neoliberal globalisation has sped up the enrichment of Amin’s Third World at the expense of the Fourth – particularly in South Asia, whose share of the world’s poor rose from 27.3 percent in 1990 to 33.4 percent in 2013, and in Africa, whose share rose from under 20 percent to more than 25 percent – it goes without saying that cosmetic political reforms will not question, let alone modify, centre-peripheral relations in existence since the 15th century, “when Columbus globalised us all.” To modify them, not just a new model of globalisation, but a new conception of democracy (participatory rather than liberal), needs to be in place – and not just in the periphery.

Today, no one seriously advocates Barber’s model of confederalism. This has as much to do with the experience of the West as it does with that of the non-West: Deindustrialisation in the ex-factories of the West, plus capital flight into the non-industrialised East – from Detroit to Delhi – has generated a popular, populist backlash against further global integration. This in turn has legitimised nationalist tribalism, even in the First World: A deplorable state of affairs which has entrenched disparities and thwarted systemic reforms.

The assumptions on which Barber’s model rests appear to have facilitated a coming together of neoliberalism and nationalism. Twelve years after his essay appeared, it behoves us to ask how we can resolve the dialectic between these two forces. The world today seems to be falling apart and coming together: A unity of disunity, paraphrasing Perry Anderson, sucking us into a maelstrom of perpetual fragmentation and integration. We badly need a way out.

(The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com)

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Islam and meat eating

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Islam is not a primitive culture and spirituality. It is the culture of Islam that has led to many of the advancements in human knowledge, that are now synonymous with civilization itself. In India it is the Muslims that have kept the arts and crafts alive, and the language, Urdu, is the most gentle, mellifluous, cultured means of communication. But at the end of the day it is Eid, and the slaughter of animals that day, that popular opinion that Islam is a culture/religion of violence, a people who define themselves by the eating of other beings, impossible to communicate with, illiterate and permanently angry.

It is the largest religion in the world, with shades of complexity as in any other religion, but is still seen as a fringe element, a minority population, whose opinions are backward and aggressive.It is not for the rest of the world to change its opinion. It is for Muslims themselves to take the first step, and show that they respect the world and all beings in it. Only then will the world, which is eager and waiting, respond with mutual respect and cooperation.

The respect so far has been forced: the Muslim countries own the oil so everyone pays homage. But we are rapidly moving to a post oil world. Then what? The Muslim theocracy need to address the issue that bothers most of the world — the ritual slaughter of animals.Sacrifice is not a pillar of Islam. Nor is it obligatory during Hajj, its accompanying ‘Id or the ‘Id al-Fitr.Instead of me talking about Bakr Eid – a massacre that gives me such pain that I find it impossible to believe that humans exist who do not feel the same – let the Islamic scholar Shahid Ali Muttaqi,  writing in islamicconcern.com, put the sacrifice into context –

1. The Qur’an did not get “sent down” as a blueprint for human society, with a list of do’s and don’ts that were to be magically implemented overnight to form a utopian world. It came over a period of 22 years, sometimes in answer to the prayers of the Prophet, other times in relation to a circumstance within the community, to questions that the faithful had regarding a particular practice, etc., and always with the goal of helping the faithful strive to further know Allah and to live in harmony with both the Heavens and the Earth. The Qur’an itself refers to those verses as having allegorical meanings behind the apparent literal ones.

2. In pre-Islamic Arabia the pagan Arabs sacrificed to a variety of Gods. So, too, did the Jews of that day seek to appease the One True God by blood sacrifice and burnt offerings. Even the Christian community felt Jesus to be the last sacrifice, the final lamb, so to speak, in a valid tradition of animal sacrifice (where one’s sins are absolved by the blood of another).

3. Islam, however, broke away from this longstanding tradition of appeasing an “angry God” and, instead, demanded personal sacrifice and submission as the only way to die before death, and reach “Fana” or “extinction in Allah.” The notion of “vicarious atonement of sin” (absolving one’s sins through the blood of another) is nowhere to be found in the Qur’an. Neither is the idea of gaining favour by offering the life of another to God. In Islam, all that is demanded as a sacrifice is one’s personal willingness to submit one’s ego and individual will to Allah.One only has to look at how the Qur’an treats one of the most famous stories in the Judeo-Christian world: the sacrifice of Isaac (here, in the Islamic world seen as the sacrifice of Isma’il) to see a marked difference regarding sacrifice, and whether or not Allah is appeased by blood. The Qur’anic account of the sacrifice of Isma’il ultimately speaks against blood atonement.37:102-107

Then when (the son) Reached (the age of) (Serious) work with him He said: “Oh my son! I see in vision That I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is Thy view!” (The son) said: “Oh my father! Do As thou art commanded: Thou wilt find me, If Allah so wills one Practicing patience and constancy!”So when they had both Submitted their wills (to Allah), And he had laid him Prostrate on his forehead (For sacrifice),We called out to him, “Oh Abraham!” “Thou hast already fulfilled. The vision!” thus indeed Do We reward Those who do right. For this was obviously A trial

And We ransomed him With a momentous sacrifice.Notice that the Qur’an never says that God told Abraham to kill (sacrifice) his son. Though subtle, this is very important. For the moral lesson is very different from that which appears in the Bible. Here, it teaches us that Abraham had a dream in which he saw himself slaughtering his son. Abraham believed the dream and thought that the dream was from God, but the Qur’an never says that the dream was from God. However, in Abraham and Isma’il’s willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice — Abraham of his son, Isma’il of his own life — they are able to transcend notions of self and false attachment to the material realm, thus removing a veil between themselves and Allah, enabling Allah’s mercy to descend upon them as the Spirit of Truth, and illuminate them with divine wisdom (thus preventing a miscarriage of justice, and once and for all correcting the false notion of vicarious atonement of sin).

For, certainly, the Ever Merciful, Most Compassionate — would never ask a father to go against His command of “thou shall not kill” and kill his own son in order to be accepted by Him. For the Qur’an teaches us that God never advocates evil (see 7:28 and 16:90) and that only Satan advocates evil and vice (24:21). The notion, that Allah would want us to do an immoral act, runs counter to Allah’s justice.

As far as the yearly ritual of the sacrificing of an animal, that has followed this event, we must understand it in the context that people making a personal sacrifice by sharing their limited means of survival with the poorer members of their community.That is to say, the underlying implication of Islam’s attitude toward ritual slaughter is not that of blood atonement, or seeking favour with God through another’s death, but, rather, the act of thanking God for one’s sustenance and the personal sacrifice of sharing one’s possessions and valuable food with one’s fellow humans.So, let us examine some of the appropriate verses in the Qur’an to see what it has to say about sacrifice, and how it related to life in 500 C.E. Arabia.

*”This is the true end of sacrifice, not propitiation of higher powers, for Allah is One, and He does not delight in flesh and blood, but a symbol of thanksgiving to Allah by sharing meat with fellow humans. The solemn pronouncement of Allah’s name over the sacrifice is an essential part of the rite” (Yusuf Ali commentary)22:37

It is not their meat Nor their blood, that reaches Allah: it is your piety That reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that ye may glorify Allah for His guidance to you:* And proclaim the Good News to all who do right.It is quite clear from the Qur’anic passages above that humans are commanded to praise Allah for the sustenance He has given them, and that they should sacrifice something of value to themselves to demonstrate their appreciation for what they have been given, and share it with the community.

Animals are mentioned in the Qur’an in relation to sacrifice only because, in that time, place, and circumstance, animals were the means of survival. But let us not assume for a minute that we are forever stuck in those circumstances, or that the act of eating meat, or killing an animal is what makes one a Muslim.To utter “Ashhadu an la ilaha illa-Llah, wa ashhadhu anna Muhammadan rasulu-Llah” is what makes one a Muslim. The understanding that there is “No God, but Allah.” This is the heart of Islam. Animal sacrifice, or meat eating, does not make you a Muslim.

Meat-eating (and in relation to it, animal sacrifice) is not intrinsic to who the Prophet (sal) was, or to what he preached. The time has come for all true Muslims, be they Sunni or Shi’a, Sufi or otherwise, to stand up for the universal standards of justice and compassion that the Prophet (sal) not only spoke of (both through Hadith and, more importantly, as the receiver of the Qur’anic revelation), but actually put into practice. However, for those of us who no longer need to kill in order to survive, then let us cease to do so merely for the satisfaction of ravenous cravings which are produced by nothing more than our Nafs (or lower self). That would truly be the Sunnah of the Prophet (sal).

(To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)

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Sat Mag

When a wonderful human being crosses the great divide

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Sarasaviya took this picture of Punya and Milroy at their home after the “Abhimani” Legendary Award was conferred on Punya, during their last visit to Sri Lanka to attend the Sarasaviya Festival in 2016.

“There are friends,
There is family,
And then there are friends
That become family”

Such a friend was Milroy, whose passing away a few days ago, we learnt with heavy hearts and deep sorrow.

To those who didn’t know him, he was the husband of Punya Heendeniya, the actress who captivated the hearts and minds of a nation by her portrayal of Nanda in the film classic “Gamperaliya”; Nanda was the quintessential Sinhala upper class village maiden who valued tradition over love.

To MBS (Siri) he was a lifelong friend “who stayed forever, beyond word, beyond distance, beyond time”.

To me (Kumar Gunawardane) who came to know him through Siri and also through his brothers, he was a pleasant companion, and good friend.

PUNYA:

“He loved music, sing songs and kalawaa (art) in all its forms. That is why he married me. He went out of his way to help the needy in whatever way he could. He did everything for me and the children.

“In the last year or two he took to understanding what real Buddha Dharma was.

“May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!”

SIRI:

“We met on the very first day in the “Block”; alphabetically we were next to each other, Milroy de Silva and MBS de Silva. That day, wearing our white jackets and ties back to front, we had to march to the Anatomy laboratory, jeered by serried ranks of haughty seniors. The naked bodies lying on marble slabs was nauseating. I was directed to the appropriate cadaver by a tutor and paired with a brilliant student JBC De Silva, to dissect the upper limb. Confused and bewildered I could only gaze at the colleague carving the other arm. He looked equally nonplussed wielding a scalpel nonchalantly, while another student recited the instructions from Cunningham’s manual of Anatomy. Our eyes met and that was the start of a beautiful friendship; a coming together of the high-spirited and full of joie de vivre. We immediately downed tools and scampered to the canteen to revive ourselves with a cup of tea, laced with condensed milk, and the cheapest available cigarette ‘Peacock’. Our interests were similar; studies took a back seat, larking around taking precedence. The friendship was sealed further when we joined Bloemfontein the formidable male medical student hostel alternatively feared and lauded.

“I remember our first Block dance at the King George’s hall. He was smartly dressed in black tuxedo pants and a cream jacket; only missing element was a lady companion. I, who wore a black shirt and a white tie, had a beautiful girl on my arm. I asked Milroy where he came by his tuxedo and he disdainfully replied I have two brothers who are doctors and one tuxedo for the whole family and now it is my turn to have it!!

“Our bonds strengthened during our intern year. Milroy returned to his roots in Galle and I joined him a few months later at Mahamodara, the hospital by the sea. It was a year of back breaking work, but also a year of fun and frolic.

“Milroy was then posted as chief (District Medical Officer) of the Moneragala hospital. But “I was left high and dry, Milroy, thoughtful as ever arranged for me to work with his brother Dr A.S.H De Silva, who had a thriving general practice just down the road from the hospital. Three months later, I got a posting to Buttala, which was then a mostly elephant and serpent infested jungle. It was classed as a ‘punishment’ station by the Health Department. The attractions however were the proximity to Milroy, and also the predecessors who included medical giants such as Professor Rajasooriya and the distinguished surgeons Dr Bartholomeuz, and R. L. Spittel the Surgeon of the Wilderness. In this pastoral outpost Milroy was bowled over by the image of Punya. He was at a loss to reach her. I advised him to write and he did so with panache. She invited him to visit them at Mirigama, her hometown to meet her folk. They teamed up in Punya’s own words for 52 years seven months and 22 days; a match made in heaven.

“As a dutiful father, he wanted to give his son and daughter the best education available and so it was that he and Punya migrated to Zambia. It was here that they demonstrated hidden strengths of character which helped them overcome adversities and even threats to their lives and move over to England. Milroy re-invented himself and rose to top of the ladder to become a consultant psychiatrist. His two children also became consultants in the NHS, the son a gastroenterologist and daughter an endocrinologist. He acknowledged freely Punya’s role not only in all his triumphs, but also in the hazards and misfortunes in their paths.

“Yet, more than all this was his humanity and humility, generosity to those less well endowed especially relatives and also to those medical graduates at the threshold of their careers. They were gracious hosts; Punya was an accomplished cook and less well known, a euphonious singer. I and my good friend Karu had the good fortune to enjoy their hospitality on many occasions in London.

“Milroy my friend, “To live in the hearts of those we love is never to die”

“May your journey in Samsara be short and my you attain the Supreme bliss of Nibbana!”

 

KUMAR:

I first got to know Milroy at Bloemfontein, the medical student’s hostel adjoining Carey College. He was a dapper figure, stylishly dressed with an unceasing gentle smile on his face. His chums, Siri, Gerry, Wicky and others were always friendly with us juniors and never intimidating. Their banter and capers in the dining room and the spacious portico were invariably hilarious.

My friendship with Siri was cemented in the hurly-burly of the Galle hospital, where I too did my internship. When I was unemployed after its completion it was Siri who arranged for me to work with Dr ASH, Milroy’s brother. ASH and Kingsley, another brother became my friends and mentors.

“Punya was a heartthrob of many young bucks of our era. But only one, Milroy, could win her hand and her heart. What a splendid partnership it was.

The Buddha Dhamma teaches that death is natural and inevitable. Yet it is sorrowful and we pray for you and your family’s peace and comfort. Their sadness is soothed by the beauty of your life, a life well lived. As the Buddha said death has no fear to those who fashioned life as a garland of beautiful deeds.

May you attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!

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