Sunday, April 14, 2013

A need of time: Magazine for Theatre By Dr. Ajay Joshi


Three youngsters stepped into my office, bubbling with zest and a hope in their eyes, inviting me to write for their newly launched e-journal, dedicated entirely to theatre. And adding on their plans to bring some of the issues in print. Had I heard right? A magazine dedicated to theatre? Did this not ring bells of similar sentiments voiced over the years and aborted attempts of this genre of journalism. Not being sceptical but definitely wary, I didn’t intend to dampen their enthusiasm, but surely sat back to contemplate on the plight and the unsuccessful run of many such ‘Exclusive for theatre Magazines and Journals’. I started by asking few questions but ended up with tsunami of unanswered issues and hiccups in this endeavour. In these musings I don’t intent to encompass similar exercise across India, but restrict to the ones carried out in Maharashtra or the ones I have  personally being associated with. With a touch of caution, I admit that I have no scholarly research to back my observations- something that is the dire need of the time- but definitely have been witness to many such botched attempts.

At one end this trepidation, but at the other I am tempted to look back and trace the contribution of such writings to the theatre movement. Has it really been contributing or just a fancy of some scholars and publishers, to the theatre movement? An enormous quantum of work has been penned, both through journalistic writings in Newspapers and Magazines and scholarly expression through books. This reference material has been useful in laying the foundation for a comprehensible understanding of a period in theatre that is now the past. These have been in terms of reviews, critical writings, interviews, books etc, by scholars and thinkers in the earlier times like Madhav Manohar, Dyaneshwar Nadkarni, V.Y Gadgil, Pushpa Bhave,  Kamlakar Nadkarni, Raja Karle, Madhav Kulkarni, Padmakar Kulkarni, R.G Sardesai, V.B Deshpande and others. There writings were valued by both the theatre fraternity and the casual readers. The torch bearers of the next generation that kept the flame alive were noted writers like Mangesh Tendulkar, Madhav Vaze, Sureshchandra Padhye, Prasannakumar Aklujkar etc. They contributed primarily to Newspapers, magazines and specialised journals. A host of other litterateurs like R.S Walimbe, K.Narayan Kale, V.D Kulkarni, G.K Bhatt and many others pitched in through their writings on theatre in books.

This was a time when there was a reader for such inputs. Also theatre was a main source of entertainment. With passing times and the advent of cinema and television the equations changed. Compounding this was the changing socio-political, economic and cultural changes that the country went through. With liberalisation and globalization the scenario changed drastically. Policy matters of media, dwindling space for theatre writings, dearth of scholarship in the arts, a fast-track and techno savvy generation and a poor reader to this form of writing sealed the fate of any attempts at revival. Currently writings related to theatre are confined to newspapers and few periodicals. However they don’t do much justice as they are limited to the form of reviews touching upon appraisal. Yet critics like Jayant Pawar, Ravindra Pathare, Shanta Gokhale and a few others try to cover theatre activities to best of their capacity. These are primarily restricted to the theatre activities in the urban cities and a large body of work, especially in the rural belts and small towns goes unnoticed.

In the past couple of years there have been stray exceptions of well researched and authentic writing on theatre. All these factors have a direct impact on the sustenance of magazines or any such outlets catering to theatre. Important contributors such as ‘Samvedana Pariwar’,’Natak’,’Seagull Theatre Quarterly’,’Natyarang’etc had to shut shop and wind up for lack of funds ,a dedicated reader and off course a guaranteed buyer.  Some attempts, like the one recently made by the Achrekar Prathisthan in Kankawli, to start a theatre magazine, was nipped in the bud, much before it could take off.

One thing is indisputable. No matter how much they are shunned, these writings are an important link of the past to the present and a guideline to the future. Their presence bridges gaps. Presently there are some newspapers which give some space for reviews, primarily in the vernacular, some sporadic autobiographical books written by artistes, few e-magazines and surprisingly considerable amount of documentaries on theatre artistes, which is welcome. But these are not necessarily scholarly writings or ones with archival values. A large amount of work is not taken cognisance of, not because of any bias, but just that there is no guaranteed outlet for documenting it all. There is a dire shortage of writers who take interest in this type of writing, let alone their personal knowledge and interest in the art of theatre.

Against this realisation, newer strategies will have to be devised and put into place, along with a committed team to see it through. Mere passion and a fervent appeal to float another such venture will not work. We have to learn from past mistakes and design the future. And this doesn’t refer to the mere task of the physically bringing out a magazine or journal dedicated exclusively to theatre, but stringing in all the contributing elements, to weave a firm pattern, which will sustain. It is not an impossible task, but needs solid ground work and a firm belief in its success!

Dr. Ajay Joshi is a practicing dentist, with a PhD in theatre criticism and an MA in Journalism and Mass Communication. He has freelanced as a theatre journalist for publications like Times of India, Indian Express, Saakal, PtNotes, Himal etc. He is involved in theatre as a media person, organiser, coordinator, judge and teacher.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Humanizing, De-colonizing and De-politicizing Archaeology & Heritage Management

Humanizing, De-colonizing and De-politicizing Archaeology & Heritage Management
President Bartman, members and professionals of the AIA, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Dr. Sudharshan Seneviratne addressing Archaeological Institute of America Awards Ceremony, Jan 4, 2013
I was honored to receive a communication from President Bartman stating my name as recipient of the 2013 Award for Best Practice in Conservation and Heritage Management. It also gratified me to note that heritage initiatives carried out in Sri Lanka during the past few decades have been recognized by one of the oldest standing professional bodies of heritage in the world and by the community of global heritage professionals at large.

Our commitment towards professional excellence was seen as an investment for the future protecting the tangible, intangible and mixed heritage of humanity. By doing so, we placed a high premium bench-marking best practice for the next generation of archaeologists and heritage managers. Among a wide range of initiatives undertaken I wish to make special reference to: surface, sub-surface and maritime heritage excavation and conservation achievements at World Heritage sites; establishment of state of the art museums unfolding the inclusiveness and diversity of an island society; multiple programs on heritage empowerment, capacity-building and revitalization; sustainable heritage tourism; heritage as an outreach program for conflict resolution and reconciliation and peace.
Heritage practice as a team effort
While thanking you most sincerely for this recognition conferred upon me, I do not stand here today to be honored as an individual. We archaeologists and heritage managers are team players. It is with a solemn sense of gratitude that I note the professional investment made by my predecessors in the fields of archaeology and heritage management in Sri Lanka. Our present achievements are “constructed” upon their vision, experience and dedication. I also accept this honor on behalf of the University of Peradeniya; Archaeology, Conservation and Administrative Directors, young archaeologists, architects, engineers, site managers, research officers and especially on behalf of thousands of nameless site workers of the Central Cultural Fund (the Custodian Organization for UNESCO Declared world Heritage Sites) in Sri Lanka. They stood by me as we placed our vision plan for heritage initiatives on track and carried them out to a logical conclusion. It is due to the concerted and dedicated engagement by all of them, as a team, that enabled the launching of ambitious and impressive projects showcasing Sri Lanka’s heritage to the world.
Heritage initiatives
Our tasks were undertaken and implemented while Sri Lanka was reeling under the bloody carnage of a 30 year old civil war. Under such negative conditions we needed to work with a positively pro active mind set. We mobilized professional, intellectual, material and financial support from the public sector in Sri Lanka, UNESCO, ICCROM, ICOMOS, and foreign missions, especially the Netherlands and Japan. Public – private sector partnership participation through Corporate Social Responsibility was initiated and awareness programs were carried out beyond the metropolitan areas through stake holder UNESCO school-clubs and people to people connectivity. In addition, out-reach overseas heritage exhibitions were launched while artifact replica reproduction was fine tuned and trilingual heritage publications revitalized. Such multiple activities ensured that our UNESCO declared World Heritage sites do not have a stand-alone policy but also incorporate all stake-holders and maintain a ripple and counter-ripple momentum.
Sri Lanka is now reaping the benefits of such heritage initiatives during the post war period. In just four years after the conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is recognized as one of the ten most sought-after destinations for eco and heritage tourism in the world. Today the 4th Century AC World Heritage site of the Sigiriya rock palace alone nets US$ 10 to 15,000 per day during the high season. Similarly, the 17th Century AC World Heritage Site of Galle Dutch Fort is not only a vibrant multi cultural hub blending tradition and modernity but also a high-end tourist destination and a portal of convergence for international art and literary activities.
Heritage, identity and contested spaces
There are however short and long term ground realities, concerns and implications on the qualitative sustenance and application of the science of archaeology and heritage management. In my part of the world an archaeologist and heritage manager plays multiple roles. He or she is a professional field practitioner, teacher, mentor and social activist – all blended into a single personality. This is inevitable. Heritage practitioners of today are faced with critical challenges over their intellectual and professional space as reading the past itself is under siege in a global context.

Dr.Sudharshan Seneviratne Archaeological Institute of America, Recipient of the 2013 Award for Best Practice in Conservation and Heritage Management
Contemporary heritage practitioner has therefore to resolve his or her professional status with ‘competing interest’. The professional is challenged by individuals, groups and even by regimes in power that have appropriated the task of retrieving, interpreting and reinventing the past. Such individuals and organizations are increasingly realizing the functional value of subverting the past sustaining ideologies of legitimation and domination negating diversity and plurality. As a consequence, this process quite definitely does marginalize, hegemonize and even expunge the memory and histories of the “Other”. In the long run, it imposes from above, an “imagined” racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious homogeneity over contested spaces. Conversely, the reactive response to this is a surge of embedded reverse racism and ultra nationalism represented by various shades of fundamentalist and social fascist ideologies of centrifugal forces that invent their own versions of “reconstructed” pasts and “imagined communities”. Add to this, there is an unabated displacement and looting of heritage and cultural property perpetrated by in-country socially affluent as well as other rapacious interest groups aided and abetted by global museums and collectors. These three dynamics ultimately undermine, in an irreparable manner, the scientific and humane application of archeology and heritage initiatives investigating and presenting the past. This abysmal situation is now a shared tragedy by many developing countries.
Professional purview
In view of this, the professionals reading the past are now required to redefine their intellectual space and are forced towards a paradigm shift in their craft safeguarding scientific skills and the enterprise of knowledge harvesting the past. As such, the contemporary discourse needs to hinge on the intervention and claims of defining, owning, protecting, managing, interpreting and experiencing the archaeological heritage.
Today, we need to resort to the dual strategy of humanizing, decolonizing and de-politicizing archaeology and heritage management on the one hand and advancing country and culture specific applications in historically evolved multi cultural societies on the other.
Implementing such strategies must essentially be the purview of independent professional bodies of scientific archaeologists and conservators. There must be less or non involvement of amateur archaeologists who are in most instances the ideologues of fundamentalist “tribal” organizations; the regimes in power that often subvert the past and also predatory sections of the private sector seeking purely an investment venture. Our pledge must be to excavate and present truth for a futuristic vision plan beyond boundaries of parochialism and contours of inverted political and financial agendas. If properly applied, the “archaeology of heritage” is perhaps the most sensitive and enlightened medium to reach out and foster greater understanding and appreciation among diverse communities of their cultural pasts and shared heritage of human achievements and thereby rectify misunderstood histories. It is critical that we cross this chasm for the profession to survive in a meaningful and productive manner. I note with humility my own contribution as an engaged professional, humanist and social activist to contest negative ends and to promote positive initiatives of archaeology and heritage management.
Conclusion and mission statement
In conclusion, the Mission Statement I inscribed in 1996, for the next generation of archaeologists is noted here. The next generation essentially needs to grasp the dialectics of “present in the past and past in the present” as the very foundation of the humanistic heritage professional.
“The science of archaeology is problem-oriented and issue-related. It is essentially a multi disciplinary study investigating, documenting, interpreting and presenting human expressions, experiences and behaviour patterns of the past to its rightful inheritors – the next generation. The archaeologist investigating the past is a scientist who is objective, unbiased and unprejudiced. Above all, an archaeologist is a humanist and social activist who does not fear the past or compromises the future”.
President Bartman, I wish to convey my appreciative sentiments to the AIA and good wishes for its future endeavors sustaining, both, the scientific application and aesthetic appreciation of archaeology and heritage initiatives.
(Dr.Sudharshan Seneviratne is Professor of Archaeology. University of Peradeniya. Sri Lanka and Edward F Arnold Professor of Archaeology. Whitman College. WA. USA (2012-2013).)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Irangani Serasinghe Pioneer of Ruk Rakaganno by Ayoma Wijesundara

Irangani Serasinghe Pioneer of Ruk Rakaganno
by Ayoma Wijesundara
When the name of Irangani Serasinghe is mentioned one instantly associates her with the Art Circle of the Cinema and Theatre. She is one of Sri Lanka’s most talented veteran actresses, her talent being discovered by none other than Lester James Peries who watched her acting in the Colombo University’s King Georges Hall many decades ago and offered her a small part in a film he did for the Traffic Police called "Be Safe or Sorry." Seeing her potential he thereafter gave her a major role in REKHAWA which was a huge success. She has acted in more than 25 major films and many more teledramas.
What most of her fans would not know about her is her absolute dedication and love for the environment which has been no secret yet not publicized as much as her film career.
Her days are filled with a busy schedule with shooting of teledramas demanding most of her time, but she allocates time for her environmental work. She identifies herself with the serenity and the calmness that the trees around her affords. Her love for unspoilt nature she nurtured in Balangoda and Ruwanwella in her ancestral homes lives on as nostalgic memories. She has not abandoned them, yet working diligently in her spare time planting indigenous trees such as Sandalwood, Bulu, Nelli, Kahata, Kudu Dawula in her tiny estate in Belihuloya Pambahinna, not deterred by the forest fires and the deadly Kachan winds that rage every year destroying most of the endemic and indigenous trees and plants of the region.
In 1972 she embarked on her crusade to safeguard our National Forests which were being destroyed by various acts of vandalism by the government and the people. She formed a small society, named it "Ruk Rakaganno" (Protectors of the Trees) with a handful of dedicated members and worked zealously towards the salvation of our forest land.
She was a Member of the Wild life and Nature Protection Society, but she soon discovered that it was difficult for her to reach the ear of the villager and win their confidence when she identified herself with the wild life organization, as some of them had a certain animosity towards wild life, due to the fact their cultivations being destroyed by elephants and pigs. They would not spare time to listen to her talk on promoting the planting of trees and sparing trees, when she introduced herself as a team member of the Wild Life Organization, hence she embarked on her own path, by forming her own "Tree Protection Society." She spearheaded various programmes in villages and city schools educating school children about the treasures of our national heritage, our endemic plants and trees, their preservation and use, the medicinal values of our herbal plants much ignored in the past but now awakened with the growing interest of Ayurveda.
She encouraged so many to grow plants and trees in their compound not only for their aesathetic value. Ruk Rakaganno also supported other environmental organizations when it came to the issue of Sinharaja Forest, where a part of it was earmarked to be felled for a Plywood Project.
They actively lodged various protests to Mr. J. R. Jayewardene when he was the Prime Minister against potatoe cultivation in the Horton Plains, whereby the farmers were destroying the most treasured species of river fish and polluting the rivers with insecticide used for these projects. The springs were drying up, which caused alarm to most environmentalists as Horton Plains was the source of many rivers and water falls, not to mention the breathtaking Bakers Fall found and named after Samuel Baker.
Currently, Irangani is busy helping plant trees in the tsunami devastated areas of Galle, with the help of a British NGO which is supporting the work of Ruk Rakaganno in their endeavour to replace the plants, trees and shrubs that were washed away by the tide. They are busy planting pandanus, (Wetakeiya) Barringtonia (Mudilla) a lovely fruit and flowering plant that comes in two varieties, one by the sea and the other that grows by rivers. The Anglican Church has allocated land to help Ruk Rakaganno to maintain a nursery in Galle, whereby they could grow their plants and sell them to tourists who would buy a plant and plant them in places where they had been destroyed. Leading hotels of the area are also very thankful for the Project and have been helpful. The Light House Hotel is one such institution
Irangani says her burdens are lighter now and her work load is not heavy, and she wishes to devote more of her time to spread her message throughout our little island for the people to understand and appreciate the lush greenness of our country, to protect it and grow more trees than the ones being felled.
She has left a legacy to us all even by getting her organization to print and publish books that would help the novice to recognize these valuable endemic and indigenous trees. It is now a challenge for all of us to promote this venture for a "Greener Sri Lanka."
Courtesy: The Island

Art should never be about competition : Irangani Serasinghe

It is quite ironic that people today always talk about the teledramas and films of the past Too much nationalism is bad. Nationalism tends to create divides between people and that is no way to develop a country—we must portray unity and universal values I think women should get involved in politics and public life and introduce a softer note to politics and ensure, in the very least, the well being of their own kind
Veteran theater, cinema and television actress Irangani Serasinghe is a Lankan legend, with her grace, poise and warm smile she is the epitome of an ethereal “movie star”.