Friday, September 21, 2012

For Aung San Suu Kyi

Muhammad Samad 

 For Aung San Suu Kyi

Dear Aung San Suu Kyi,
it was a long time ago that, marking a radiant photograph of yours,
you in your full youth decorated with roses in your bun of hair
and jasmine flowers blooming in the garland on your neck,  
I made one unnoticed comment: Wow! the East Asian beauty has outmatched the matchless Aryan ladies.

Later on, ignoring the comforts of your dear husband and children,
and immersing yourself in the cordial love
of the speechless and oppressed Burmese people,
yearning for light, you have, like Nelson Mandela,
become a dear Nobel-laureate political prisoner.

Dear Suu Kyi, on the day of Victory,
you put on garland of Bakul flowers on the neck;
a bouquet of roses drenched in people’s love was in your hand;
Kyang, green hills, forests and crop-fields
were soothing our eyes with the rhythm of your laughter as full as
the flow of the full moon; new leaves of spring were dancing in joy.

The flag of NLD, for bearing which
simple and freedom-seeking people and innocent
Buddhist monks of Burma were thrown into prisons,
that flag studded with white stars between red ground
and golden peacock is now swinging to the rhythms of dance
by colorful adolescents on the streets from Yangon to Mandalay,
from Mandalay to Naypido, the new city of bunkers of the junta,
swinging in the enchanting manner of elated pop singer Shakira.
And the waves of long-awaited freedom
are spilling over the banks of Iravati
into the turbulent stream of the Naf.

Suu Kyii,
you are free today. Many paths are open to you.
Know you surely which one to take; yet,
at the sight of grit and stone under your feet,
and the frequent appearance of hawks in the sky of Yangon
I am frightened a little.
So, remembrance of the grief of Chandrani,
the heroine created by the Bengali poet Doulat Kazi at the royal
court of the Arakan King and those in that of Alaol’s Padmabati,
makes it a liability for this present-day poet of Bangladesh
to tell it in the Bakul-covered ears of yours:
`Though the speed of light is about two hundred thousand miles
per second, one cannot be sure as to how and when that light
will find an entry into a society of bare subsistence,
society seized by engulfing flames, bloodshed
and avaricious foes at home and abroad.’

May 2012, University of Dhaka

Translated by Kajal Bandyopadhyay
Muhammad Samad

Muhammad Samad was born in a remote village in 1956 in the Jamalpur District of Bangladesh. He earned his Bachelor of Social Science (BSS) with honors and master’s degrees in Social Welfare (mostly known as Social Work) from the Institute of Social Welfare and Research (ISWR), University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He completed his PhD on the participation of the rural poor in development programs of government and NGOs in Bangladesh. Dr. Muhammad Samad was the Director at the Institute of Social Work & Research, University of Dhaka. Dr. Samad has taught the course Globalization of Social Welfare as a visiting Professor at the Department of Social Work of Winona State University (WSU), Minnesota, USA twice in 2005 and 2009 respectively. He has worked as a Fellow of Katherine A. Kendall Institute of International Social Work Education, CSWE, Washington DC, USA in 2009. Currently he is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Information Technology and Sciences (UITS).

Dr. Muhammad Samad has done extensive research on the rural poor, indigenous peoples and the underprivileged classes in Bangladesh. He has more than 30 articles published in national and international journals.  A well-known social scientist Dr. Muhammad Samad has authored and edited more than 10 books in the field of social science and development. Highlights include The Invisible People: Poverty and Resiliency in the Dhaka Slums (2008; Jointly with Dr. Cathleen Jo Faruque), PublishAmerica, Baltimore, USA, Participation of the Rural Poor in Government and NGO Programs: A Comparative Study (2002), Awareness About the Role of UN in Bangladesh: An Opinion Survey (2000), The Santal Community in Bangladesh: Problems and Prospects (2003; Jointly), Human Rights: 50 Years of Advancement 1999, (Ed. in Bengali), The Fourth World Conference on Women: Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action (Ed. 1997 in Bengali), Role of NGOs in Rural Poverty Alleviation of Bangladesh (1984, in Bengali) and The Struggle of Poets and Poems (A collection essays ed. in Bengali, 1994). He is widely published in America, China, India, Japan, Indonesia and Korea.

Muhammad Samad is a genius and popular poet of Bengali language. He has been writing poems since his school days. The first book of his verses Ekjan Rajnaitik Netar Menifesto (Manifesto of a Political Leader) was published in 1983 and won the Trivuj Literary Award in the same year from among the young poets aged 25 years in Bangladesh. His other published books of verses are Selected Poems (bi-lingual), Premer Kabita (Love Poems) Kabitasangraha (Selected Collection of Poems), Aaj Sharater Akashe Purnima  (The Full Moon in the Autumn Sky) Cholo, Tumi Bristite Bhiji (Let Us Be Drenched in Torrential Rain), Podabe Chandan Kaath (Will Burn Sandal Wood) Ami Noi Indrajit Megher Adale (I am not Indrajit Behind the Clouds) and  Utsaber Kabita (Poems From Festival ed. Bengali poems rendered in the National Poetry Festival). Dr. Samad has been serving as the President of Bangladesh Council for Social Work Education (BCSWE) since 2007. He has visited China, India, Nepal, Japan, Indonesia, Korea, United Kingdom and United States of America on invitation as academic and poet.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ini Avan Review

Ini Avan Review

By: Sivahami Vijenthira
The title of Asoka Handagama’s beautiful film Ini Avan is a play on words. The phrase “ini avan” means “him hereafter”, while the single word “iniavan” means “sweet, good-natured man”.
In the aftermath/hereafter of the war, the titular “Avan” (“Him”), an unnamed LTTE soldier, comes home from a government rehabilitation camp hoping to find meaningful work, reconnect with his lost love, and create a new life as an “iniavan” in his old village. But the village has turned against Avan and the separatist cause he fought for. From the first moments in the film, his old neighbours, all believably portrayed by amateur actors, stare at him in disapproving silence, and a child runs away from him. An old man comes to shout that Avan “killed” the man’s sons by luring them into the LTTE; we learn that he recruited everyone in the village who supported the cause, and they all died in the war. It was only Avan who survived to return and face those who were left behind to mourn their relatives while living in fear of LTTE extortion and government violence. He doesn’t want to face them, though. When anyone tries to talk to him, he replies, “piraiyosanam illai”: “no point”.
The film is slow, quiet, and elegantly framed, with long tracking shots of Avan riding his bicycle along dirt roads lined with palmyra trees, or through arid, windswept fields. People say little, and when they speak they use simple language that floats on the surface of their meaning. At the end of the TIFF premiere on September 7, a young audience member asked Handagama why the Sri Lankan military didn’t have a role in the film. They may not be there in uniform, Handagama replied cryptically, but their presence is felt. This is true: a woman in the film is described as unafraid, with “nothing left to save”, because she lived through war and refugee camps—a reference to rape and torture by military soldiers. While riding home in the dark, a sudden paranoid fear that he’s being followed makes Avan hide, shaking, behind a rock.
Handagama’s responses to audience questions were generally as inscrutable and seemingly simple as his characters’ dialogue. You would understand if you were close to the situation, he told a white woman who asked about the Canadian character in the film. “I don’t think you answered my question!” she called back. Maybe Handagama, like his film, had to be indirect because of the context in which he works. He was facing, that night, an audience full of emotional, politically-minded Tamils who may have done what the Canadian character is accused by Avan of doing (giving guns to the soldiers and getting visas for themselves), and he will soon fly home to a country where art and journalism are still tightly controlled. His work has been banned in the past, but he continues to produce it, because he sees its importance in times of oppression. “Why did you make this film?” asked one man. “I am a filmmaker,” Handagama replied, to laughter from people who saw this as a joke.
The brilliance of Ini Avan, which the TIFF audience repeatedly praised for its realism, is that its quiet simplicity allows us to find our own perspectives within the wide swath of characters and experiences it portrays: the widow who married while underage in order to avoid LTTE conscription; the impoverished father who loses his livelihood to
Avan; his wife, who survived refugee camps and giggles at her domestic abuse; Avan himself, now sapped of the charisma that was apparently so appealing to the soldiers he recruited; and the villagers around him, who have seen too much and buried too many to still believe that the war had any purpose.
Only the refugee camp survivor seems to have hope, and it is truly positive even though it is the hope of someone at the very nadir of her existence, someone looking up because she can no longer look down. If there is a message in Ini Avan, it is that it is possible to look up and try to “just live”, but it must still be acknowledged that the scars of war—physical, geographical, emotional, mental—will remain hereafter.
About the author: Sivahami Vijenthira was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Toronto when she was four years old. She graduated from McMaster University, and a frequent contributor to the Toronto Star.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dhawala Bheeshana breaks the silence

By Randima Attygalle

"Everything has been figured out, except how to live"- Jean-Paul Satre

Jean-Paul Satre’s globally acclaimed play, Men without Shadows is set in the backdrop of German-occupied France in 1944 and concerns the capture of five French resistors after a failed action against the Vichy-occupying forces. Interrogated and tortured, the capture also tests the morals and validates the meanings each rebel gives to his/her respective life whilst awaiting a cruel ending to it. Sixteen-year-old Francois, the youngest captive yearns to liberate himself and live life again. So does his sister Lucie despite hearing bugle calls of death. No sooner Lucie and Henri, the other captive fantasize a life amidst flowing brooks, buzzing of bees and laughing children, three bullets annihilate them (together with Canoris), denying them of life and Satre’s play is conceived in that shock, sharing the same with the audience. Through out the play Satre’s philosophic musing- "the meaning of man’s life is not established before his existence. Once the terrible freedom is acknowledged, man has to make the meaning himself, has to commit himself to a role in this world, has to commit his freedom," is reverberated.

An acclaimed production

"Jean-Paul Satre wrote Men without Shadows in the aftermath of the victorious Resistance Movement in France, yet he didn’t write about the victory, but about his philosophy of-existentialism," says veteran dramatist Dharmasiri Bandaranayake whose adaptation of Men Without Shadows- Dhawala Bheeshana, first staged in 1988, came among the local audience once more at the Lionel Wendt last week, breaking a silence of 12 years since its last production in 2000. First staged in a socio-political set up ridden in violence and terror in the country, Dhawala Bheeshana was nevertheless highly acclaimed, securing nine coveted awards at the State Drama Festival of 1990, including the Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Lighting.

With the exception of the senior artiste W. Jayasiri who has been portraying the role of Landrieu since the play’s maiden performance, this year’s new production of Dhawala Bheeshana launched several new artistes, including Jehan Sri Kantha (Henri), Oshadie Gunasekera (Lucie), Ishara Wickramasinghe (Francois), Susanga Kahandawalaarachchi (Sorbier), Jagath Chandralal (Canoris) Nigel Raymond (Jean) Arunod Wijesinghe (Pellerin), Charith Senanayake (Clochet) Sunimal Perera, Samitha Amarasinghe and Kosala Lakshitha as soldiers who did justice to the play. It once more enticed the audience to engage in a stimulating theatrical dialogue.

How challenging was it to the dramatist to inculcate the ‘experience of a time gone by’ in a new generation? "I never expected the new cast to ape the artistes of the original production including Jackson Anthony, Kaushalya Fernando and Daya Alwis who played the roles of Henri, Lucie and Clochet respectively. However, I strongly advocated the importance of respecting the experience of history. Although Satre’s social fabric was different to the trials of Lankan society, we can certainly find common grounds in the philosophy in which the play was conceived. We cannot close chapters of history as easily as closing files. If one is pro-war, one cannot validate Trojan Women, similarly Men without Shadows cannot be justified if you cannot identify with the concept," replies Bandaranayake.

As the dramatist recalls, the encounter with the LTTE troupes in Mankulam in 1987, first sowed the seeds of the theatrical effort of Dhawala Bheeshana. Bandaranayake and his group traveling to Jaffna for a documentary film, were stranded in Mankulam, their vehicle robbed by the LTTE. "The mortal fear which engulfed all of us and myriad human emotions experienced, brought the reality of Satre’s play closer than ever before," recalls the dramatist whose request for a translation was fulfilled by Cyril C. Perera. Bandaranayake shedding light upon the aborted first attempt of a translation by the celebrated dramatist Namel Weeramuni said, "in 1972, Namel Weeramuni’s first translation of Men without Shadows could not be produced since it was banned by the then SLFP regime. I remember reading the script as the young actor chosen by Namel to play the role of Francois, the youngest captive!"

Myriad interpretations

The first staging of Dhawala Bheeshana took place in 1988, the timing of which was ‘alarmingly coincidental’ with the insurgency as Bandaranayake points out. "The objective of my effort was not to localize the French experience but unfortunately it was applied to various political and social agendas of several agents," he adds. This application went to the extreme of Bandaranayake receiving numerous death threats, halting not only the staging of Dhawala Bheeshana by mid 1989 but compelling him to flee the country. "The expression in the play inspired by the French experience in Nazi-occupied France was given multi-faceted interpretations by various agents applying it to the contemporary violent Sri Lankan society. Lucie in the play laments witnessing exposed bodies deprived of a honourable death. This was a common experience by Lankans for whom floating bodies in waterways was an everyday sight in the late 80s. Thus, the play became highly controversial. Nevertheless, crowds flocked to see it," recalls Bandaranayake.

Universal and timeless

In 2000, Dhawala Bheeshana was once again reproduced in a social milieu different to that of the late 80s. After a lapse of 12 years, the play once more pulled crowds to the Lionel Wendt last week, holding testimony to the truth that great theatrical labours are universal and timeless. For Bandaranayake, preserving the original flavour of a play is vital. "Works of globally acclaimed playwrights are produced all over the world. For example, Men without Shadows has been produced in India with completely an Indian flavour. I personally believe that localizing such a play largely diminished the dialogue it seeks to create," opines the dramatist. Answering the often posed question, ‘what about the possibility of an original play?’ Bandaranayake replies, "after Ekadhipathi I have not done an original play. It is not that I fail to write a good script, but the fact that I’m more inspired by great dramatists," adding that he doesn’t subscribe to the notion that the local drama idiom is nourished only by original work. "For me, Brecht is dearer than a play of my own," he adds an after thought.

Bandaranayake who was privy to the rich theatre culture championed by Prof. Sarachchandra and Sugathapala de Silva, shares his concerns over the absence of a ‘disciplined theatre’. "There is tremendous potential in the new generation and the mastery of the veteran lies in his ability to reap that potential, adhering to the highest theatrical standards," concludes the dramatist.


Stella Maris College (Autonomous), Chennai
Namma Theatre
(Silenced Prophecies)
13 Septmeber 2012: 7 p.m.
14 & 15 September 2012: 3 p.m. & 7 p.m.
Venue: M 0-1
The play was produced in 1994 through the efforts of Maunak Kural (Voicing Silence), a project of M.S. Swaminathan Research Institute. It is being staged again after a gap of 18 years. The protagonist of this play is a gypsy woman, a Kurathi, who lives a life which is in consonance with nature and is self-sufficient. She enjoys a love-life which is egalitarian. From her perspective, the epic and Puranic heroines Chandramati, Draupadi and Seetha are women who have lost their sense of identity and have been devalued. The play is staged in the Indian theatrical tradition – an amalgam of song, dance and acting – and comes to you with the vigour and energy of Tamil folk forms. A. Mangai has revived the play which was first directed by Prof Ramanujam.
·         The chorus explores the context in which male/female and masculine/feminine are always seen as binaries.
·         The chorus announces that this is not a rhetorical debate but the story of a Kurathi from the hills.
·         The Kuravan enters looking for the Kurathi. He looks for her in the city at the ration shop, the railway station and the cinema theatre. On his way back to the forest, he laments about the Kurathi to the grass, rocks, the koel, the monkey and the river.
·         The two meet. They get over their lovers’ tiff and are reconciled.
·         The Kuravan asks her about the new ornaments she is wearing. The Kurathi visualizes the life of the women whose future she had prophesied – to be sold like Chandramati was, to be humiliated like Draupadi was, to be pushed into the fire out of suspicion as Seetha was – such is the terrible life awaiting women!
·         As the Kurathi and the Kuravan return to the hills, they affirm that, fortunately, such a tendency to demean women is not found amongst them.

Direction: A Mangai                                                      Assistant Direction: Nayantara Nayar