Suzuki Method in Sri Lanka: Introducing an Actor Training System
By Saumya Liyanage Introduction
In 2019, the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Visual and Performing Arts initiated a project titled ‘Suzuki Actor Training Workshop’ with a performance maker and actor trainer Dr Deborah Leiser-Moore from Melbourne, Australia. The objective of this workshop was to introduce a novel approach to actor training through the least explored performer training system in Sri Lanka known as ‘Suzuki Method’ conceived and developed by a well-known Japanese theatre director Tadashi Suzuki. The Suzuki method has been used and taught in many Universities and theatre institutions in the world and this approach to actor training was first popularized in America, Australia, and Europe in the early 80s. However, this approach of actor training was not known to Sri Lankan academia or theatre schools. The dominant performer training paradigm has been the Stanislavski or Method, derived from Stanislavski’s system or later the version of Method acting derived through American actor training tradition. This domination has been a widespread phenomenon in major actor training schools in the world. Yet, in the early 80s and latter part of the decade, the Suzuki method has become one of their major disciplines in actor training curricula, especially in Australia and America. This Suzuki actor training workshop was the first attempt to introduce Tadashi Suzuki’s methodology to a Sri Lankan group of actors.
As a theatre student reading for Master’s degree at Flinders University South Australia in early 2002, I was first introduced to Suzuki’s approaches to actor training. My thesis supervisor Prof. Julie Holledge introduced Suzuki’s key texts as I was reading various actor-training methodologies and preparing for writing the thesis. At the time the Suzuki method was one of the popular approaches to actor training in many theatre schools and theatre ensembles in Australia. Suzuki had visited Australia several times and had worked with Australian actors to share his ac
tor training method and his philosophy of theatre. Further his writings and theoretical and methodological promises of actor training have been widely discussed in theatre forums and symposia in Australasia. I first read his key text The Way of Acting (1986) to learn this master’s approaches to theatre, body, and performance. In addition, several key journal papers written by eminent theatre scholars who had practical experience of his theatre making were also my starting point (Allain, 1998, Allain, 2003, Allain, 2019, Goto, 1989a, Kim, 2013). These writings which offered in depth descriptions and analyses of the efficacy of Suzuki method further opened up my horizon to think through Suzuki and his theatre works.
Tadashi Suzuki, an 81-year-old Japanese theatre director first started his theatre career in the 1950s during his undergraduate days at Waseda State University, Japan. As a student theatre activist, with his writing collaborator Betsuyaku Minoru and 12 amateur actors, he founded the Free Stage (Jiyu Butai) theatre group an
d produced theatre works that reflected the ‘turbulent era of his time’ (Goto, 1989, p. 103). As such, Suzuki’s ideas on theatre and the philosophy of actor’s role in theatre were somewhat reminiscent of European avant-gardes such as Antonin Artaud or Jerzy Grotowski. As Artaud and Grotowski rejected the text and its domination in the theatrical experience, Suzuki was also of the view that the centre of the theatrical experience should be the actor and the actor’s co-presence with the audience. His experimentations of theatre works since early 60s to date have emphasised the actor’s body and voice as the kernel of theatrical experience.
He had the conception of finding new ways of doing theatre when he first visited France to take part in an international theatre festival. After returning, Suzuki and his group had found a mountain farmhouse located hundreds of kilometers from Tokyo, and had converted it into a theatre house. Since then Suzuki has explored his actor training and theatre works in Toga Little Theatre in Japan. Toga is a remote village in Japan where Tadashi Suzuki started his theatre practice and still functions as the centre of his theatre and actor training explorations.
I thought of introducing the Suzuki method to Sri Lankan theatre actors for several reasons. I have observed that Sri Lankan theatre and especially its performance practice are diminishing with elaborate technology and stage craft. Further, the actor’s body and its capacity are also marginalized for the sake of proscenium dialogical dramatic acts that we experience in contemporary theatre. Older versions of psychological realism still dominate in theatre and the actor’s capacity, voice, and physical expressions have gradually been forgotten. As I have frequently argued, the ‘primal ritual’ of theatre and actor’s art need to be re-established in order to reinstate a sustainable theatre experience between theatergoers and actors. For theatre audiences in Sri Lanka, whether it is English, Tamil or Sinhala speaking theatres, theatre experience has become a mere proscenium arched framework where people watch daily popular political jargons and obscene jokes brought to entertain them. It is pity to see that the actor’s art has never been in such a poor state where actors on stage perform like marionettes in television soap operas.
The distinction between television screen and theatre is narrowed to a place where a nuclear family saga or political jokes are the core of experience.
In this sense, the Suzuki actor training method is a unique approach to actor training among other performer training pedagogies. It is unique because it focuses on the actor’s development of lower body, stillness, stamina and the presence of the body on stage. On the other hand, it is an innovative actor training method that emphasises the animal-energy in theatre. As Suzuki argues, pre-modern theatre in Japan and elsewhere employed animal-energy to create theatre and stagecraft, and theatre technologies were merely created through human engagement. Suzuki uses this term animal-energy to discuss how raw human engagement is used in traditional theatres such as Noh and Kabuki in Japan and also kuttiyattam and Kathakali dance drama in India or Balinese theatre in Bali, Lombok or in East Java. Talking about his actor training system Suzuki further explains:
As the theatre, either in Europe or in Japan, has kept up with the times and has come to use non-animal-energy in every facet of its activities, one of the resulting evils is that the faculties of the human body and physical sensibility have been overspecialized to the point of separation. Just as civilization has specialized the job of the eyes and created the microscope, modernization has “dismembered” our physical faculties from our essential selves (Suzuki, T., 2002, p. 3)
As this quotation depicts, Suzuki discusses his discontentment of the current practice of the human body on stage and further discusses how the human race has extended technological innovations to replace perceptual organs. For instance, he explains how the human eye is replaced with the microscopic apparatuses to see what the human eye cannot capture through its naked eye. However, Suzuki’s lament with the modern technology and its domination of human cognition is not a new conceptual position. Since the inception of the industrial revolution, many scholars and philosophers have addressed this issue and notably, the intervention of technology and its impact upon human life was a heated debate.
The invasion of intermedial applications in modern and contemporary theatre is something that we cannot ignore. This intermediality has replicated the natural human body and its performativity on stage by elevating digital and visual power over the human body and theatre at large.
However, the importance of Suzuki’s criticism is that he intends his actors to find true selves and the corporeal presence on stage. In line with this argument, Suzuki has invented a method which emphasizes the lower part of the human body—legs—and its connection to the floor. (This idea of focusing on the lower body and its connection to the earth was not new to Sri Lankan dance practice. However, with the advent of visual medium and digital technology the performer’s focus has been shifted from the floor to the upper body).
The basic activities that Suzuki has formulated to train actors is a series of various stomping methods and walking patterns that allow actors to work as individuals and in groups. In this stomping method, actors are intended to hit the floor vigorously and continue stomping for at least half an hour while keeping their upper bodies still. Therefore, the actor’s endurance and stamina are tested with these rigorous exercise routines. Stomping further allows the actor to see how his/her upper body reacts to the lower body when legs are hitting the ground. The challenge of maintaining the balance, the centre of gravity and energy flow through the pelvic area to the ground, and its equal force towards the upper body is constantly been measured and tested in this actor training method.
With the concept of eradicating daily routine and mundane habitual behaviors, I had several conversations with Australian actor/director Deborah Leiser-Moore, and finally decided to conduct a week-long Suzuki actor training for a group of selected Sri Lankan actors in mid-2019.
I first met Deborah during my stay at La Trobe University Melbourne while reading for my PhD. I was assigned to teach a few undergraduate classes Asian performance traditions and at the time Deborah was a hired lecturer at the Department of Theatre, La Trobe University Bundoora, Victoria. She wanted to take part in my workshops and later I found that she was going to conduct a series of workshops on Suzuki actor training for undergraduate theatre programme. Associate Prof. Rob Conkie introduced me to Deborah and she invited me to take part in her workshop on the Suzuki method. For the first time in my career as an actor, I was exposed to the Suzuki method which was physically challenging and psychologically draining when I underwent training.
Deborah has studied the Suzuki method and gained first-hand experience of working with the master actor trainer and theatre director Tadashi Suzuki and his actors in Waseda Little Theatre (Waseda Shogekijo) in Japan. In addition, she has studied the work of Ettiene Decroux, and his corporeal mime, and has worked with Richard Schechner’s Rasaboxes. Deborah is a performance maker and actor who has created many solo performances and has performed them in several theatre festivals around the world. She has worked as a sessional lecturer at many Australian Universities such as La Trobe, Wollongong, Sydney, Monash, and University of Western Sydney where she has taught and developed course contents, supervised theses, and theatre productions.
Suzuki Method in Sri Lanka
The Suzuki actor training workshop, conceived and developed by Dr Saumya Liyanage and Dr Deborah Leiser-Moore, was mainly focused on the actor’s ‘Present’ in the given moment, developing stamina and deconstructing daily habit body and cultivating a sense of presence and focus on the body and text. The participants were selected through an application process and the workshop was limited to twenty-five actors of both genders. The week-long workshop was designed to work with actors throughout. Deborah conducted her actor training workshop quite similar to what she has learnt during her Apprenticeship in Toga, Japan.
Young and enthusiastic actors and a few dancers were selected to take part in this unique performer training workshop and every moment of working with Deborah was a joyful experience for Sri Lankan actors. These selected actors were either graduates or had professionally worked in the Sinhala or English theatre. Among these actors, there were a few dance graduates who were keen to explore performance genres. However, the Suzuki method is a rigorous and a physically demanding actor training system. Many of the actors were physically and psychologically drained during workshop hours. Sri Lankan actor training taking place in a few university theatre departments and ad-hoc theatre workshops conducted by individuals mainly focuses on theatre exercises derived from European or American teaching and are also very much confined to theatre games. The Suzuki method however, which is fully focused on the actor’s body and the culture of training and its impact upon the actor’s body, is completely different from what Sri Lankan actors have experienced. I believe that the actors who worked with Deborah have questioned themselves, the capacities of their bodies, the connection between the body and their cognitive operations, and interrelation between actors, which would have been a novel eye opener for them.
Deborah wanted to conclude the Suzuki actor training week with a performance demonstration. The actors enthusiastically worked with Deborah to compile what they had learnt throughout the week-long session and later integrated a text written by Prof. Peta Tait with whom they discussed practice-based research and its contemporary development in postgraduate studies in Australia and other countries. Prof. Tait and Dr Deborah also conducted several postgraduate seminars focusing on how performance practice could be a research insight for students who wish to pursue research degrees in theatre and performing arts. I would like to conclude this piece of writing with Prof. Tait’s poem that we used in the final performance demonstration.
I watch the sea below.
I fly further and further – between sky and sea.
The flight takes over my soul.
I can’t feel my body
The island appears beneath as if by magic.
An island silenced by war.
I could never dream up this brilliance.
How could I imagine this richness that leaps at the senses?
War moves people across impossible distances
With a spin of fate, it makes us someone else
Fighting off a force waiting to steal away our lives.
But my war is a strange one.
Where’s the enemy?
Then all goes still and silent
Peta Tait @ Longing
The Author of this paper wishes to thank Dr Deborah Leiser-Moore, Emeritus Prof. Peta Tait, La Trobe University Australia, and Associate Prof. Rob Conkie, Dept. of Theatre, La Trobe University, Australia for supporting this actor training project. Further, the author’s gratitude goes to the following people: Natasha Hilary, Samal Hemachandra, and the staff of the FGS, UVPA Colombo who managed the project. Himansi Dehigama and Sachini Senevirathne helped copy editing this paper.
Allain, P. (1998). Suzuki Training. TDR/The Drama Review, 42(1), pp.66–89.
Allain, P. (2003). The art of stillness : the theatre practice of Tadashi Suzuki. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Allain, P. (2019). Physical actor training 2.0: new digital horizons. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10(2), pp.169–186.
Goto, Y. (1989a). The Theatrical Fusion of Suzuki Tadashi. Asian Theatre Journal, 6(2), p.103.
Kim, J.K. (2013). Suzuki Tadashi’s Intercultural Progress in South Korea. Asian Theatre Journal, 30(1), pp.207–222.
Tadashi Suzuki and Steele, K.H. (2015). Culture is the body : the theatre writings of Tadashi Suzuki. New York: Theatre Communications Group.
Growing foreign dependency and India’s USD 4 bn lifeline
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Japanese embassy and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund, previously known as United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), on 16 March, 2023, issued a joint statement that dealt with the impact the developing political-economic-social crisis is having on the poor in Sri Lanka.
The statement focused on the suffering of the children and measures taken by UNICEF, in consultation with the Governments of Japan and Sri Lanka, to provide relief to the needy.
However, what really captured public attention was the declaration made by the Japanese Ambassador, in Colombo, Mizukoshi Hideak, that with the latest contribution, amounting to USD 1.8 mn, the total Japanese financial assistance, provided through UNICEF alone, exceeded USD 3.8 mn, since the beginning of last year. That is definitely a significant package provided through a single UN agency, particularly against the backdrop of the unceremonious cancellation of the Japan- funded Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, in late Sept., 2020, by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government.
The directive, in this regard, was issued on 21 Sept., 2020, by Dr. P. B. Jayasundera, in his capacity as Secretary to the President, to the then Transport Secretary, Monti Ranatunga. That move ruined Sri Lanka’s relations with Japan.
Whoever advised the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to terminate the project, without consulting Japan, as head of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, he couldn’t absolve himself of the responsibility for the ruination of vital relationship with Tokyo. Had it not been the case, Japan, most probably, would have delivered a substantial assistance to Sri Lanka, at the onset of the ongoing unprecedented crisis.
Sri Lanka made a failed bid to secure as much as USD 3.5 bn loan from Japan, during the tenure of Sanjiv Gunasekara as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Tokyo. Gunasekara, a close associate of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, resigned in the wake of the 09 May, 2022, violence, that gave a turbo boost to the campaign against his government.
Unlike Japan, India provided direct aid in various forms to Sri Lanka, struggling to cope up with what became an insurmountable crisis to overcome on our own. India has repeatedly declared that the continuing assistance is in line with Premier Narendra Modi’s much touted ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Sri Lanka received concessional credit facility, amounting to USD 1 bn, in March last year. In addition to that, by the second week of March this year, Sri Lanka received other lines of credit, worth over USD 3 bn. Therefore, the total Indian assistance is worth over USD 4 bn, a staggering amount as Sri Lanka’s debt before the Japanese and Indian interventions stood at over USD 53 bn. Indian intervention cannot be compared, under any circumstances, with assistance provided by any other country.
The Indian assistance is of immense importance as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), after much deliberation, promised USD 2.9 bn over a period of four years. The delay on the part of China to provide an assurance as regards debt-restructuring support, hindered the finalization of the tripartite agreement involving Sri Lanka, creditors and IMF. Finally, China gave that assurance, in writing, early this month.
The situation was so precarious, Sri Lanka couldn’t have even provided the free text books that have been given, annually, to the student population ,from the time of the JRJ regime. Those who had been at the helm of political power, over the past three decades, to varying degrees, ruined the economy, and, by 2021/2022, Sri Lanka was unable to provide even the basic requirements, like cooking gas, kerosene, petrol, etc., as even remittances from our expatriate workers, which in the past amounted to about seven billion dollars per year, dropped drastically due to the illegal underground banking system, hawala/undiyal, hijacking much of it from the normal banks. The government didn’t have the means to provide school text books for the 2023 academic year. In consultation with India, of the USD 1 bn concessional credit facility, over USD 10 mn was utilized by the State Printing Corporation, and private importers, to procure printing paper and other material from India. India met 45% (four mn students) of the total requirement. Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay visited the SPC, on 09 March, 2023, to dispatch a consignment of textbooks to schools. Education Minister Dr. Susil Premjayantha joined Baglay. The Indian High Commission statement, issued two days later,, was aptly titled ‘India’s support for text books investment in Sri Lanka’s future.’
The government and the Opposition should be ashamed of their failure to provide for the children’s need.
Perhaps, a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to examine the circumstances leading to Sri Lanka’s bankruptcy status. Decades of utterly irresponsible management of the economy, coupled with an explosive mixture of causes – waste, corruption and irregularities – caused the current crisis.
Political parties, represented in Parliament, are responsible for the continuing crisis, to varying degrees.
Controversy over ISBs
The Island discussed some of the issues at hand in last week’s midweek piece, headlined ‘All praise for Lanka’s saviours!
What Dr. Coomaraswamy didn’t say was that as the CB Governor, he was also directly responsible for the Yahapalana government borrowing a record USD 12.5 bn from the international bond market, at high interest rates, from private lenders, primarily in the West. So what did that government achieve with such huge borrowings? All that the Yahapalana regime achieved, with all that money, we cannot see, except to lay the foundation for the current debt crisis?
Our comment on the basis of recent claims that the Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Coomaraswamy (2016-2019), only told one side of the truth, attracted responses from several parties, including the Central Bank.
Consequently, the writer discussed the borrowing of USD 12.5 bn, and related matters, and was told the following: First, it is important to point out that the Governor, Central Bank, has no authority to approve or undertake any borrowing on behalf of the government. The borrowing limit, in any given year, is set by Parliament. Therefore, the government cannot borrow beyond the limit set by Parliament. In addition, all external borrowing has to be approved by the Finance Minister, and the Cabinet of Ministers. The Governor and the CBSL only have an advisory role. On ISBs, they have marketing and issuance as additional responsibilities once the Cabinet approved the transaction.
It is also important to recognize that ISBs are only one channel for external commercial borrowings. Others include short-term SWAPs, foreign term loans/syndicated loans and external flows into government rupee securities. The article dealt with only one instrument, having ignored the switching that was undertaken during 2015-19 to increase the maturity and reduce the cost of foreign borrowing.
As regards the USD 10 bn increase in ISBs outstanding during 2015-19, USD 5 bn of this increase can be attributed to switching away from shorter term (one year or less) and more expensive SWAPs and highly volatile foreign portfolio investment (hot money) in Government rupee securities to longer term (5 and 10 years) and less costly ISBs. SWAPs were reduced from approximately USD 2.5 bn to USD 500 mn.
Volatile and foreign investment in government rupee securities was reduced from USD 3.5 bn to USD 600 mn. In addition, during the course of 2019, a second ISB of USD 2 bn was issued to create a stronger buffer of external reserves to address the inevitable increase in uncertainty going into elections due shortly thereafter. (The money required for 2019 had been raised through an ISB, issued in March 2019.)
So about USD 7 bn of the USD 10 bn increase in the stock of ISBs outstanding, during 2015-19 may be attributed to increasing the stability and reducing the cost of the ISBs outstanding by switching instruments and raising the buffer provided by external reserves prior to a period of uncertainty, associated with elections.
The remaining increase of USD 3 bn may be partly attributed to the fact that borrowing incurred earlier had not resulted in a sufficient increase and/or saving of foreign exchange. Hence money had to be borrowed to repay debt incurred earlier. In fact, Verite Research found that 89 percent of external debt, repaid during 2015-19, could be accounted for by liabilities incurred prior to 2015.
The adverse debt dynamics were recognized and the Medium Term Debt Management Strategy was published in April 2019 to chart the way to sustainability. In addition, the Active Liability Management Act (2018) was introduced to expand the tools available to the CBSL for managing external debt sustainably. The CBSL, as the economic adviser to the Government, also advocated that there should be a primary surplus in the budget and that non-debt creating inflows (such as exports, remittances, tourism proceeds, FDI, inflows into the CSE and government securities) should be increased to enhance the capacity to service debt while supporting the level of imports necessary to achieve the growth potential of the economy.
They also pointed out that only one of the ISBs, issued during 2015-19, has been settled to date. This amounted to USD 500mn. They expressed the view that it is not possible to sustain the argument that servicing ISBs, incurred during 2015-19 ,led to the standstill in debt repayments in April 2023.
Treasury bond scams and tax cuts
Sweeping tax concessions to the rich and reduction of VAT, that had been introduced by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government to encourage business in 2019/2020, escalated the financial crisis, leading to the declaration of the state of bankruptcy, two years later. No one in the Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s cabinet dared to challenge such far reaching tax concessions and VAT reduction.
How the loss of as much as Rs 600 bn in revenue, as alleged by the Opposition ,due to tax concessions and reduction of VAT, contributed to the current crisis, should be examined, also taking into consideration (1) Treasury bond scams perpetrated in Feb, 2015 and March 2016 at a time the CBSL has been under the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs (2) Enactment of new Foreign Exchange Act in 2017 in the wake of Treasury bond scams. Critics say the repealing of time-tested exchange control law that has been in place for decades paved the way for exporters to ‘park’ export proceeds overseas. Of the 225 MPs, 94 voted for the new law whereas 18 voted against. In spite of Justice Minister, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, taking up this issue, both in and outside Parliament, remedial measures hasn’t been taken, to date. The Finance Ministry owed an explanation as to how it intended to compel the exporters to bring back export proceeds (3) Continuing public-private sector partnership in corrupt practices, particularly mis-invoicing (under invoicing and over invoicing of imports/exports) (4) Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, has moved the Supreme Court against the Central Bank Bill. The Attorney-at-Law alleged that the new law violated Article 3 and 4 of the Constitution hence needing the approval of the people at a referendum. In addition to Gammanpila, Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera and Jathika Nidahas Peramuna leader Wimal Weerawansa, too, moved the Supreme Court in terms of the Article 121 against the Bill titled ‘Central Bank of Sri Lanka.’ Former JVP MP Wasantha Samarasinghe, on behalf of the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB), too, moved the Supreme Court in this regard.
A warning from Hanke
The country is in a bind. In spite of the execution of the agreement with the IMF later this month, the situation remains dicey. The absence of economic recovery plan continues to cause further instability.
Therefore, the government and the Opposition should seek a consensus on a national action plan, even if Local Government polls cannot be conducted in late April, regardless of the Supreme Court intervention.
Steve Hanke, Professor of Applied Economics, at Johns Hopkins University, in the USA, recently issued a dire warning to Sri Lanka. Appearing on CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box Asia,’ Prof. Hanke declared Sri Lanka needs institutional reforms in order to achieve long-term debt sustainability.
Referring to Sri Lanka and what was described as emerging markets (Argentina and Montenegro), where he played a key role in establishing new currency regime, former economic advisor to US President Ronald Reagan warned “Unless you change the institutions and the rules of the game, governing these countries, they’re always going to remain in the same … situation that they’ve been in for a long time.”
Prof. Hanke added: “In fact, most of the personalities, involved in Sri Lanka ,at the high level, are exactly the same as they’ve been for years. So nothing has changed.”
In other words, those who have ruined Sri Lanka are spearheading the economic recovery process. The American is spot on. Sri Lanka is in a pathetic situation. Those who had systematically brought Sri Lanka to its knees, by pursuing ill-fated policies, emerged as its saviours. That is the bitter truth. The role of the executive, legislature, and judiciary, needs to be examined. Those who have moved the Supreme Court against the Bill, titled ‘Central Bank of Sri Lanka,’ have quite conveniently forgotten how the Yahapalana government, and Central Bank, twice perpetrated Treasury bond scams. What would have Prof. Hanke said if CNBC raised Treasury bonds scams during ‘Squawk Box Asia.’
If not for Deepa Seneviratne, the then head of Public Debt Department, Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s role couldn’t have been proved. Former Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe said so at an event organized by the Colombo Municipal Council years ago.
Sri Lanka cannot forget Prof. Hanke’s remark in the CNBC programme. “You have to remember that we have a country that since 1965 has had 16 IMF programmes and they’ve all failed. You get temporary relief in anticipation of a bailout. But in the long run … none of these IMF programmes work.”
It would be pertinent to briefly examine how interested parties brazenly protected perpetrators of the Treasury bond scams.
Having named Mahendran as the Governor, regardless of the opposition from President Maithripala Sirisena, those planning to commit the first daylight robbery of the Central Bank moved Deepa Seneviratne to the Public Debt Department as its head, in spite of her not having had any previous experience in the particular division. It seems they had obviously felt comfortable in having a lady officer there they thought they could manipulate her to suit their need. But Seneviratne turned tables on the bond thieves by putting up a note to register her strong opposition to Mahendran’s move. She should have been rewarded for her fearless stand with at least a national honour if not an international one, even from bodies like the UN, the Transparency International, Amnesty International, etc. But it seems that even these international busy bodies have their own political angles.
It would be of pivotal importance to keep in mind that President Sirisena appointed a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) in January 2017, about 10 months after the second robbery, and two years after the first.
The Commission comprised Justice K.T. Chitrasiri, the late Justice P S Jayawardena and retired Deputy Auditor General V. Kandasamy. Sumathipala Udugamsuriya functioned as its Secretary. CoI issued a devastating report that implicated Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in the Treasury bond scams.
President Sirisena went to the extent of dissolving Parliament, in June 2015, to prevent the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) tabling its report on the first bond scam. SLFP leader Sirisena owes an explanation. Justice Chitrasiri’s CoI didn’t inquire into that aspect. Sri Lanka’s response to waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement is baffling. Let me end this piece reminding how the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) secured a substantial sponsorship from Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) deeply mired in a bond scam, in 2016, for the Law Asia Conference during the tenure of its then President Geoffrey Alagaratnam, PC. The BASL never explained why it obtained PTL sponsorship even after the exposure of Treasury bond scams. That partnership also escaped the CoI. The rest is history.
Knowing what is now happening to the US economy with a string of bank failures and unprecedented bailouts, especially due to hoodoo economics it introduced in recent decades, like repeated quantitative easing (blindly printing trillions of dollars leading many to say the dollar is now only good as toilet paper) that has been practiced to ensure its world hegemony, the whole world might be hit with bank failures and even by a depression worse than the one that befell with the stock market crash of 1929. Already the contagion has spread to Europe with some leading banks there also requiring help.
Washington’s debt now stands at USD 31 trillion and climbing, but our own debt burden is still under USD 55 billion. So if we can get our exporters, who have stashed export earnings abroad, to bring them back, the picture here will not be as scary as it is made out to be. Even Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse has said that our export proceeds that have been parked overseas is in the region of USD 55 billion.
Soonwe will start receiving the IMF bailout, but our economic whiz kids have not done anything to plug the massive foreign exchange leak that has been freely draining foreign currency from the country, since the nineties, by way of private foreign exchange dealers who have been allowed to sell foreign exchange to any Tom, Dick and Harry, including drug dealers, to take their sales proceeds out of the country!
We would also like to ask the relevant authorities what they have done to recover monies stashed abroad by Lankans illegally that were exposed in great detail by the likes of Panama Papers and Pandora Papers.
A Miscellany of Thought
N. A. de S. Amaratunga (2022)
A Review by G. H. Peiris
I cannot claim to have the scholarly competence to place under critical scrutiny all items in this collection of writings authored by Professor N. A. de S. Amaratunga, and published in The Island from time to time since the early years of the present century. Accordingly, this ‘review’ is no more than an attempt to convey to a wide readership my gratitude for what I have learnt from Professor Amaratunga’s insights on a series of metaphysical and secular issues that have figured prominently during the recent past in the arena of debate and discussion among our intellectual elite, my appreciation of his rational perceptions and his subtle banter in responding to bizarre elements in our public affairs.
As a brief introduction to the author I should state that Professor Amaratunga’s career record is featured by several decades of distinguished and dedicated service to the University of Peradeniya in teaching, research and clinical work. Acquiring advanced skills in the field of ‘Maxillofacial Surgery’, he has provided physical and psychological relief of life-long impact to thousands of patients. He is also credited to have trained several of his junior colleagues in the Faculty of Dental Science, had has served as its Dean. The offer he received from the Peradeniya University of the Prestigious Award of the ‘Degree of Doctor of Science’ is testimony to his eminence in Sri Lanka’s community of scholars and professionals.
What probably enhances Professor Amaratunga’s status among the intellectual elite of Sri Lanka is the fact that his talents, interests, and concerns have not been confined to professional expertise. He has authored several creative writings in Sinhala which the cognoscenti place at par with the best works of that genre. More relevant than all else to the present ‘commentary’ is his capacity for elucidating the essence of certain complex metaphysical issues – especially those of Buddhist philosophy ‒ with the same clarity of thought seen in his contributions to media forums on current affairs.
In his ‘Introduction’ to the volume Professor Amaratunga makes a categorical statement regarding the paradigmatic guidelines of his ‘thoughts’. They are rendered below in abridged form as follows:
(a) The distinctive elements of our island civilisation are derived from Theravada Buddhism and the Sinhala language.
(b) The leadership of Sri Lanka’s mainstream politics since the termination of British rule in the mid-20th century has continued to be impaired by a cultural duality – on one side of the divide, the ‘alienated’ whose behavioural values and norms bear the imprint of subservience to values prescribed by the ‘West’, and, on the other side, those who treasure our civilisational heritage and understand the needs and aspirations of the majority of our people.
(c) His standpoint is that of an ardent ‘nationalist’, in the sense that he is unequivocally committed to safeguarding and promoting Sri Lanka’s national interests.
On literature, Professor Amaratunga adds that he is inclined towards the need for ‘social relevance’ of the fine arts, and believes that the paradigm of ars gratia artis (‘art for art’s sake’) is inappropriate for Sri Lanka, especially in creative writing.
The ‘miscellany’ of this volume is structured to constitute four ‘Sections’ – titled as: 1. ‘Literature and Culture’; 2. ‘Religion’; 3. ‘Economy’; and 4. ‘Health’. The first two of these ‘Sections’, consist respectively of 25 and 19 essays of unequal length. In these ‘Sections’ the reader could pick out from different points of the temporal sequence in which they are arranged items that constitute a mutually cohesive group from the viewpoint of content. For example, in the first ‘Section’, there are six such items, each serving as a contribution to an ongoing media debate, but when considered as a group would be seen as an invaluable enrichment of understanding on a significant feature of the educational system of the country – such as, say, the impact of the nation-wide ‘Fifth-standard Scholarship Examination’ or ‘The general decline of standards in higher education’. Likewise, in the total of 18 articles in ‘Section’ 2, thirteen items could be considered as a mutually cohesive group of thoughts that illuminates certain vitally significant aspect of Buddha Dhamma and Buddhism as practiced in Sri Lanka.
The forgoing observations do not detract from the intrinsic value of the short contributions referred to. Indeed, in my amateur assessment, in Section 1, the items titled ‘Quality of University Education’, ‘Purpose of the Novel and its Appraisal’, and the twin items titled ‘Darwinian Evolution vs. Intelligent Design’; and in Section 2, ‘Truth in Buddhism and Realism in Literature’, and ‘Mind, Matter and Nirvana in Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism’, are examples of the author’s extraordinary depth of understanding and his skill of disseminating that knowledge in a lucid form.
It is in the 3rd Section of the volume titled ‘Politics’ that the real ‘miscellany’ of Thought is found, consisting of 78 items, and accounting for well over half the total page-length of the volume. Since they have been presented in a chronological order ‒ with the first item published in 2001, and the last in 2021‒ the list of items, at first glance, looks like a total mess which, indeed, is how our politics look. But a closer scrutiny show that all items in this list could be placed in one or another of 6 ‘Sub-Sections’ titled as ‘Ethnic Relations’, ‘Foreign Affairs’, ‘Electoral Politics’, ‘Development Plans and Projects’, and ‘Constitutional Issues’, with the chronology of the list providing the vicissitudinous background of each contribution which Professor Amaratunga has made, and each discussion or debate in which he has participated.
Once again I should emphasise that foregoing observation does not imply that the ‘Thoughts’ in this section, read individually, are either uninteresting or irrelevant to our present concerns. On the contrary they offer ideal readings both as reminders of the volatile scenarios we have passed though during the past two decades as well as the unshakable faith our politicians appear to have on the widespread dementia among the voter-population and on their own ability to hoodwink the electorate. Professor Amaratunga’s thoughts could re-kindle fading memories, especially on repeated failures to fulfil campaign pledges, the large-scale losses due to financial malpractices, the allegations of ‘war-crimes’ and of ‘violation of human rights’ in the counter-attack by the major powers of the North Atlantic alliance in retaliation to Sri Lanka’s close relations with the People’s Republic of China, the ingredients of success in the US-sponsored ‘regime change’ effort culminating in the establishment in 2015 of a puppet government in Colombo, the betrayal of our national interests by our own self-seeking representatives at the protracted Geneva inquisitions, the constitutional fiasco of August 2018, the euphoric Gotabhaya victory about a year thereafter, and then, the stunning exposure by the pandemic of the fundamental weakness of our dependent economy.
In the 4th Section of the volume titled ‘Health’, most of the items are devoted to diverse experiences witnessed globally and in Sri Lanka during the Covid-19 pandemic, but in an unconventional manner in the sense that they emphasise significant aspects that have not received adequate attention in the analytical writings on the pandemic. In my view the most significant issue highlighted in this section is the need for Sri Lanka to adopt development strategies towards self-reliance, especially in the availability of medicinal drugs and on food-security. Implicit in several items of this section is a forewarning of the risks entailed in the pursuit of development policies that enhance Sri Lanka’s macroeconomic dependence on the major global and regional powers.
Many items in this miscellany of thoughts contain a prominent element of dissent and disagreement with other participants in the media debates and discussion for which The Island has served as a major forum. But that dissent has all along been featured by a laudable sense of “civilised intelligence”. As a professional whose skills have an intense demand, his interests and concerns have not remained confined to his professional expertise – a feature often seen among other ‘specialists’ including those of the university community.
This volume is, first of all, a demonstration of intense and well-informed concern on a wide range of issues of vital importance to Sri Lanka. Had that quality been more widespread it is unlikely that those earning six-figure incomes would threaten collective action to bring the economy to a standstill to express their dissatisfaction on a relatively marginal erosion of monthly emoluments at a time of unprecedented national crisis, attempting to conceal their avarice with a façade of safeguarding democracy, or eliminating public corruption, or on grounds of their capacity to earn higher incomes outside Sri Lanka.
Yet another exemplary feature I discern in this ‘Miscellany of Thoughts’ is that its contents are not angry knee-jerk reactions when provoked by thoughts different to his own. Professor Amaratunga’s dissent is entirely free of the crude clashes often seen in the so-called social media. Nor are his thoughts based on a hurried consumption of internet ‘short-eats’. In his thoughts that extend beyond brief corrective interjections of ‘common sense’, what we see is an extraordinary depth of knowledge acquired through serious reading and a thorough understanding of the issues on which he had focused.
Loneliness of the Bottom Half
By Lynn Ockersz
There you crouch by your hearth,
Seeing your fires sputtering out;
Your hopes of a bubbly pot of rice,
Ending in inflationary smoke spirals,
Leaving you with the painful thought,
That your dignity as mother and wife,
Is gravely harmed and beyond repair,
For, a turn of events not of your making,
Has reduced you and yours to penury,
So much for that Trickle-down Theory,
That Pundits say will end your misery,
But they tell you not to stop dreaming,
Because soon you will be bailed out,
Of your State of longsuffering;
Thanks to Princely tips from ancient Italy.
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