Training actors through Angampora:
Guru Karunapala and his angampora team at Sri Jayawardhanapura University, Gangodavila, Nugedoda. Photo credits Saumya Liyanage 2020.
A project to seek alternative paradigm at UVPA Colombo
By Saumya Liyanage | Lyudmyla Honcharova | Banduka Premawardhana
The concept of ‘actor training’ or ‘performer training’ has developed through the modern era of theatre and dance pedagogies. Western actor training traditions started with the influence of master actor trainer and theoretician Konstantin Stanislavski. As early as the beginning of the 19th century, Stanislavski started his theatrical exploration at his main laboratory known as the Moscow Arts Theatre (MAT) in Russia. His lifelong quest for actors’ arts and his passion for finding a methodology to develop an actor training system continued at the MAT theatre. However, Stanislavski’s actor training system is the most misinterpreted performer training system used in Europe, America, and Asia. As Alison Hodge argues, Stanislavski’s exploration of actors’ arts was more into actors’ inner and outer faculties and further discusses how this interior and exterior interact with each other (Hodge, 2010). Although Stanislavski’s teaching has been variously interpreted and adapted for diverse purposes to train actors, his influence in the modern theatre is still influential in theatre and performance studies (Liyanage 2016).
As Sharon Carnicke believes that Stanislavski wanted his actors to train their ‘selves’ to develop the rounded and full-fledged characters they portray (Sharon Marie Carnicke, 2009). For instance, Stanislavski’s early psychological approaches were influenced by French psychology, and he was continuing his exploration to cater to the emergence of the symbolism and naturalism introduced by the theatre texts of Ibsen, Gorki, Chekov, and others. The need of developing systematic ways to train actors was not an abrupt action that emerged at the MAT Theatre but a purposeful intervention to absorb the modern theatre tradition and the naturalistic dramatic texts that were germinating in early 19th century Europe.
Intercultural performer training
It is inevitable that Western actor training has been heavily influenced by Eastern performance traditions. From the father of modern acting, Konstantin Stanislavski, to Bertolt Brecht in Germany, Jerzy Grotowski in Poland, and Antonin Artaud in France, Western actor training has been directly or indirectly influenced by one or more Asian performer training paradigms such as hatha yoga, Balinese dance, or Indian dance dramas such as kathakali and kuttiyattam. Theatre historians have observed that at the MAT, Stanislavski was preparing to produce a Sanskrit play and conducting hatha yoga practices through an Indian yoga master. Further, it is widely discussed that Bertolt Brecht encountered Peking Opera actor Mei Lanfang during his visit to Russia (Tian, 1997, Brecht & Bentley, 1961).
In the late 19th century, theatre practitioners such as Eugenio Barba, John Littlewood, Peter Brook, and Mnouchkine borrowed intercultural performance elements from Asian traditions. However, borrowing and assimilating cultural elements from an alien culture posed several problems. Some critics have questioned the ways that the European avant-garde were looking at cultural ‘others’ in the peripheral world. They argued that the modernist theatre directors’ ideology behind cultural appropriation was constructed within the binaries of ‘culture and savage’ (Gale et al., 2016). Alison Hodge also argues that ‘Asian actor training traditions run the risk of being exoticised or simplistically appropriated by practitioners in the West’ (Hodge, 2010, p. xxi). Jerzy Grotowski has argued that Asian performance traditions are not to be directly used to codify actors’ bodies (Jerzy Grotowski et al., 2015). Rustom Bharucha has extensively discussed the misappropriation, misinterpretations, and mythologisation of Indian dramatic heritage by Western theatre practitioners such as Brook, Schechner and others (Bharucha 1984, P. 2-3).
The project, which seeks to develop an actor training system through the Sri Lankan combative art, angampora, also bears such cultural complexities when adapting and assimilating a martial arts practice that has been passed down to generations of practitioners through guru-shishya-parampara model. There are many angampora groups and schools in the country and each group has its own ways of tracing their historical affiliations to myths and legends that explore various avenues and genealogies of angampora. Many believe that it was introduced by the Yakkha tribe. In more recent history, the ten warrior giants of King Dutugemunu were the first recorded practitioners of Illangam Satan (the use of weaponry in combat), each having specialised in a unique weapon, and technique.
The advances of the Portuguese were resisted by fighters such as King Rajasinghe, the Battle of Mulleriyawa being one such instance. The Kandyan Kingdom resisted the colonizers with the use of angam fighting strategies and techniques. Eventually, the combative art form that received royal patronage through time became the first martial art in the world to be prohibited; the British banned it in 1818 under the governance of Robert Brownrigg.
Suspect practitioners were shot below the knee, while confirmed angampora martial artistes were put to death. angampora was hidden away in various dance forms such as the koti netuma, and more popular styles such as udarata and pahatharata schools of dance. Following Independence, angampora has resurfaced and is becoming popular in Sri Lanka.
Actor Training and Martial Arts
It might seem that actor training and martial arts are disciplines that have nothing in common. However, this assumption is wrong. Obviously, both are forms of art which share similar approaches. In many martial arts performances, one can observe that performing elements such as fighters’ presentations and demonstrations of fighting skills is accompanied with music. In line with this, theatre performance can also be considered the demonstration of an actor’s skills since the actor shows his/her body-mind integration during performance which are gained in a process of training. It is observed that body-mind integration is a common feature in both arts. Therefore, it is clear that martial arts practitioners and actors are experts of the body. ‘In most drama schools of European traditions, actors are trained to use their bodies (Barrault cited in Bloch, p. 220).
It should be noted that martial arts methodologies are comparatively older and have more defined training structure than actor training. Since first actor training systems evolved in the end of the 19th century in the West, it is not surprising that theatre practitioners were using martial art principles during the creation of their actor training methodologies. Such practitioners were Scott, Copeau, Zarilli, Suzuki, and others. For instance, ‘Scott used tai ji quan as an actor training discipline, was not only a rejection of American actors’ exclusive attention to a psychologically/behaviorally based paradigm of acting, but also an attempt to actualize an alternative paradigm’ (Zarrilli 1995, p. 185). They were paying attention to techniques that strive to develop presence, awareness, and a holistic approach to body-mind work in acting. Many of these actor trainers have referred to Asian martial arts styles.
AHEAD Project 2019-2021
In 2019, Prof. Saumya Liyanage and research assistant to the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) University of Visual and Performing Arts (UVPA) Mr Samal Vimukthi Hemachandra submitted a research proposal titled, ‘Lamp in a windless place: developing an actor training methodology through Sri Lankan martial art’. This research proposal won a competitive grant of Rs. 10 million from the Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development (AHEAD) project to pursue a three-year-long actor training exploration. The project was initially influenced by the works of the late Phillip B. Zarrilli, Professor of performance practice and well-known theatre scholar at Exeter University, UK. His research on kalaripayattu martial arts in Kerala India and his years of first-hand experience with kalaripayattu martial arts, kathakali and kuttiyattam dance dramas in India had allowed him to formulate an intercultural actor training system derived mainly from kalaripayattu martial arts in Kerala.
Project Team at UVPA Colombo
Prof. Paul Bowman and Prof. Jonathan Pitches are authorities on martial arts studies and performer training in the world and both professors work as foreign consultants to this actor training project. Prof. Bowman is working at Cardiff University, UK and he has written much about martial arts practice. His latest book is Deconstructing Martial Arts published by Cardiff University Press in 2019. Prof. Jonathan Pitches is a professor of theatre and performance at the University of Leeds and has published many leading academic texts on theatre and actor training. His latest publication is Performing Mountains published by Palgrave McMillan in 2020.
Prof. Saumya Liyanage works as the coordinator of the project and its chief investigator. Dr Samith Herath from the Faculty of Visual Arts is the deputy coordinator of the project. His expertise in virtual reality applications and biofeedback technology also help project researchers to capture and monitor actors’ movement works and their biofeedback impulses through cutting edge technology. Natasha Hillary and Sachini Athapaththu work as admin assistants of the project.
In the initial stages of this project, the research team explored the traditional practice of angampora of Guru Karunapala, an 80-year-old angampora master, at his angampora maduwa located in Mirihana, Nugegoda. The field research and embodied practice of angampora are conducted and his legacy of angampora martial arts and indigenous corporeal practices are further explored. Research assistant Lyudmyla Honcharowa explores angampora martial arts with Guru Karunapala while investigating indigenous healing practices of body and mind. Lyudmyla Honcharowa is an actor from Ukraine reading for her MPhil research degree under Prof. Saumya Liyanage’s supervision to explore the connections of actor training methodologies in Europe and Asia. Banduka Premawardhana. also a research assistant of this project, is also reading for his MPhil degree under Prof. Liyanage. He explores how a traditional martial art like angampora could facilitate the training of actors for film and digital medium.
The second phase of the project will start with establishing an actor training laboratory at the Faculty of Dance and Drama, UVPA Colombo. The AHEAD grant supported in renovating an existing rehearsal room into a fully equipped studio space. At the first stage, a group of actors will go through angampora training under supervision of Guru Karunapala to understand and embody angampora principles. During the second phase of laboratory work, actors will be introduced to methods that will be an amalgamation of acting methodologies and angampora martial arts. All stages of actors’ laboratory work are going to be video recorded. Further, actors will be writing personal journals with reflection on the training process which will serve as a source of material for developing a new actor training methodology. In the last stage of the project, a workshop demonstration will be created and performed in front of a selected audience to evaluate the impact of actors and their engagement with the audience. As a part of the project, several angampora groups are chosen for field visits around the country. Project members will also be presenting papers and sharing their findings at international conferences during the project.
The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected the activities designed for this actor training project in 2020. The project team was planning to conduct a six-month-long actor training laboratory at the newly renovated studio located at the Faculty of Dance and Drama. However, due to the pandemic situation, these actor training activities have not been able to proceed. In 2021, and with institutional support, the project team is looking forward to launch their laboratory actor training sessions.
UVPA Vice Chancellor Senior Professor Rohana Mahaliyanaarachchi and his office, the Dean of the Faculty of Dance and Drama, Dr Indika Ferdinando and the OTS office director Dr Anusha Jayasiri and her team have extended their fullest support for the project, which is the first actor training project initiated in a State University in Sri Lanka. This project further intends to work with the University Business Linkage (UBL) office and the Director of UBL, Dr Priyeshni Peiris to seek a business model to use this methodology in the creative industry in Sri Lanka and beyond.
Authors of this paper wish to thank Himansi Dehigama and Sachini Senevirathne for proof-reading this paper.
About authors: Prof. Saumya Liyanage is a well-known actor and an academic currently working at the Faculty of Dance and Drama, University of the Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo. Lyudmyla Honcharova and Banduka Premawardhana are both working as research assistants to AHEAD DOR HEMS actor training project and they are reading two MPhil degrees exploring martial arts and actor training under the AHEAD grant scheme.
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Brecht, B., & Bentley, E. (1961). On Chinese Acting. The Tulane Drama Review, 6(1), 130. https://doi.org/10.2307/1125011
Gale, M. B., Deeney, J. F., Rebellato, D., & Lavery, C. (2016). The Routledge drama anthology and sourcebook : from modernism to contemporary performance. Routledge.
Hodge, A. (2010). Actor training. Routledge.
Jerzy Grotowski, Barba, E., & Brook, P. (2015). Towards a poor theatre. Bloomsbury Methuen Drama.
Ministry of Higher Education, A. O. (2020). Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development (AHEAD). https://ahead.lk/
Saumya Liyanage. (2016). Meditations on acting : essays on theory, practice and performance. Dev Publishing.
Sharon Marie Carnicke. (2009). Stanislavsky in focus : an acting master for the 21st century. Routledge.
Tian, M. (1997). “Alienation-Effect” for Whom? Brecht’s (Mis)interpretation of the Classical Chinese Theatre. Asian Theatre Journal, 14(2), 200. https://doi.org/10.2307/1124277
Zarrilli, P. B. (2002). Acting (re)considered : a theoretical and practical guide. Routledge.
Zarrilli, P. B., T Sasitharan, & Anuradha Kapur. (2019). Intercultural acting and performer training. Routledge.
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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