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බූන්දියට එන පාර

වයර් දිගේ- boondionline@gmail.com | ගොළුඛෙලි තැපෑලෙන්- බූන්දියේ අපි, 190/3/A, කැන්දලියැද්දපාළුව, රාගම.

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Malaka Dewapriya’s latest creative intervention, Nihon Sepa Lebewa (May you attain comfort of worldly life in Japan), a collection of drama scripts meant for today’s rather a pervert media, Radio, depicts a potent and lively exposure of political and social crisis facing Sri Lankan society at present. Besides, the creative dynamism and analytic shrewdness of these texts has been able to earn for the author an immaculate place in contemporary Sinhalese literary scene. Positively, the powerful metaphorical representation of the text has already stirred parochial criticisms and attracted the ire of existing xenophobic culture.

Recently, a fallen Marxist who overnight embraced the nationalist faith had casually remarked that ‘Nihon Sepa Lebewa’ depicts just a cynicism (narumawadaya). Further, to our dismay, some members of the panel to certify books for the National Library Services Grant have intuitively commented, inter alia, that “these plays portray controversial ideas that falsely criticize the state mechanism and influence the society in negative ways”. These commentators who have been subservient to the ruling class ideology and bask under its protection have disdainfully attacked the work of a promising young artist pursuing arts not for egoistic survival, but for broadening the social and political imagination of the masses, and thus contributing for the revolutionary dream of progressive transformation of the society.

At the first glance, it seems that Malaka’s texts are apparently political, blatantly satirical and critical about the existing political and social ideology of capitalist system in Sri Lanka. For us, more than a Marxian political interpretation, these plays warrant a Baudrillardian structural perspective of contemporary consumerist culture and its phantasmagoric reality, and in dissecting which a counter ideological narrative is attempted by the author with the use of a satirical and absurdist genre.

In this short analysis, we have got to read the scripts of these plays as in the print text, Nihon Sepa Lebewa. The experience of reading a recorded version of these printed works would have been different though. The collection includes ten plays written on various experiences of individuals surviving in a consumerist society driven by parochial ideologies of race, ethnicity, caste, religion, sexuality, and exploitative politics and economics. The post-modern condition (a concept Lyotard develops in his seminal work, Post-modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge) with which the alienated individual grapples in societies of late capitalism basically sets the tone of these plays. The ten plays explore some agonistic dimensions capitalism, a system which perpetuates its existence on mythic social structures, ideology and coercive political power; also they testify to the idea that the grand narratives such as the freedom in market, democracy, free media and political liberalism have already collapsed, and, in turn, we experience a pervert culture of politics and social relations determined by market forces and unethical communication industry.

In “Tharuwan Saranaiy” (Taking refuge of stardom), the first play in the collection, Malaka deconstructs an established reality which is a construct of an unholy relationship among media ownership, marketeering of consumer goods and unscrupulous political power. All in all, this play is an attack on commoditization of culture, values and alienated humane relationships. Today, in both political propaganda and accumulation of capital, media plays an intervening and determining role. Media has transformed its role from that of watchdog to mere entertainment provider, purveyor of ideological cover-ups for corrupt capitalism and decadent democracy.

As Fredric Jameson theorized, the reality of the late capitalist societies is a construct of media ownership. Here, the Jamesonian concept of media reality is well adopted by Malaka in interpreting the ‘reality show culture’ which has plagued the entire electronic media industry today. Malaka visualizes the social costs of making the public into mere ‘sms’ voters for ‘Reality Stars’ and warns us that if this trend is to continue, the democratic public sphere would soon be gone and in place a consumerist ideology subservient to authoritarian politics will arise, thus marking the end of the ‘social’.

As Malaka satirically depicts, the reality shows have proliferated into every aspect in society. Everyone wants to be a star. Achieving stardom is the ultimate goal in an individual’s life. Even the people suffering from incurable diseases are participating in reality shows. Dengue patients and HIV patients are clamoring for ‘sms’ votes. The author visualizes that this entire society is full of patients, and the absurdity is that everything, even those patients are in competition. The media lively projects the private lives of individuals on TV screen, and even if they are on death bed media and market cannot but sell the last moment of a dying individual. This is a world full of deceit, corruption, unethical practices – a totally dehumanized society. The words that the author voices through the ‘dengue patient’ and ‘HIV patient’, who are the finalists of the competition, are a critical analysis of dehumanized development that capitalist economy undergoes in our society today. A rough idea of a song sung by the dengue patient cum singer is as follows;

“Flood of Highways covers up the land
Rising mansions nourishes the paddy-fields
Landing Sea-planes stir the lagoon water
Mushrooming play-grounds beautifies the meadows”

(-Nihon Sepa Lebewa p.8).

As the uneven development of capitalism grows in leaps and bounds in the manner described above, it happens not only by denying the poor the right in participation in economy other than labourers, but also by shrinking the political space of the state. The following lines of the song sung by the ‘dengue star’ witnesses to that;

“Posters that colour the environment red are not pasted,
For those who create dissent, tasty food in prisons will be offered
White clothes dress up the nakedness of corruption, as
The Judges feel the comfort of sound sleep”

(-Nihon Sepa Lebewa p. 8).

I admit that my English translation cannot do the justice to the creative use of Sinhalese language by the author, but still the message should be clear enough that this is not a depiction of the glory of the past, but the very moment that we all witness before our own eyes. The role of the artist is not to anesthetize the social consciousness of the public over what happens really in their environment but to widen it by all means, for the art of the epoch will become revolutionary, as Lyon Trotsky had believed it always.

The theme of the second play in the collection, “Nihon Sepa Lebewa” deals with the problem of those who leave this country in seeking greener pastures in countries like Japan (Nihon). Those youth who migrate illegally, attempt to get married to Japanese women, to obtain spouse visa, but those women often do not want to have permanent relationships with the intruders. The dream of building a luxurious life with the money they would find by toiling in foreign countries is part of the distant possibilities that capitalist globalization has created for the cheap labour force in the developing countries. Economies of developing countries like Sri Lanka mostly survive on foreign exchange earned by migrant workers. A different dimension of this political economic relationship between the developed and the developing world is explored in this play by the author. The drive for consumerist dreams by the youth, risking their lives to work in alien and inhuman environments partly fulfils their repressed desires to enter an imagined world ‘liberal sexual’ relations a well. The signifier ‘Nihon’ conveys the significations of luxurious of material life, aspirations of the individual in a consumerist society. Listen to the following lines from the dialogue between two youths who have illegally migrated to Japan in search of Nihon Sepa.

“We will have to soon stop wondering without visa. We have to get visa somehow, the only way is to marry a Japanese woman”.
“I have spent fifteen lakhs to come to Japan”
“My family is struggling to pay the loan back which I spent for this journey. If our mortgaged land will be lost, my family will be on the road”
“Who else would do the odd jobs like snow clearing, sweeping, scavenging…, countries like Japan thrive on our cheap labour”


These lines uttered by of two youth who have escaped to Japan reveal that they pursue their dreams taking high risks of their lives and families. They all are involved in gambling in this capitalist economy which has created a huge gulf between the rich and the poor sections.

The play titled “Rangadena Kapuwo” is very much a humorous story about match-making. The institution called marriage today is a business; and men and women enter into that institution only with the guarantee of material benefits, property etc. But there are some lumpen elements who make their living by matchmaking and entering into fake marriages. In this play two groups of such fake marriage brokering confront each other and reveal their true selves at the end. Today marriage is a drama and the following lines portray this reality very well.

“Remember that you are the bridegroom, Rakumra Gammuduwaththa. You are the mother of this groom, Ranethana Gammuduwaththa. I’m the matchmaker, Justin Kamburugoda. We have to do our acting very well”.

In rest of the plays, “Bashmanthara”, “Suwadena Agni”, “Alayaka damanaya”, “Mana Vidamana”, “Navanalu Dhahama”, “Nirabhishekana” and “Roma Roopana”, the author creates very exciting experiences for the readers and always surfaces humour by making us laugh at our own weaknesses and the very social and political system in which we are just alienated beings.

In “Suwadena Agni” we find some names of historical importance – Mahasena and Sugala – but in a different context. These characters could resemble the politicians in today’s context who deceived people caught in miseries and natural calamities. I feel that Malaka has very subtly explored the recent history of natural calamities in Sri Lanka and how the politicos exploited the innocence of people in such situations to perpetuate their political power. “Alayaka damanaya” attacks the very core of the capitalist patriarchal society in which women become the ultimate victim subjected to endless suspicions of men. Here, one man, Ahinsaka who marries Sujatha suspects over her character at their honeymoon. Malaka has carefully read the minds of men who commit all the sins in the world, but want their women to possess something called “purity”. “Mana Vidamana” also deals with the dream of youth generation to migrate to European countries but who suffers without visa. More than the issue of unemployment the play has successfully dealt with the issue of colonial identity, the subject of the subaltern. “Navanalu Dahama” explores another aspect of capitalist exploitation. The traditional knowledge that our societies inherited from generation to generation has confronted the issue of obtaining patents, hence forcing them to lose the rights to reproduce the cultural artifacts. This issue is explored by the author through a story in which traditional a puppet maker is exploited by a company owner who has got hold of the patents to produce a product which he really has no knowledge of producing. This is mainly a study of less explored dimension of the exploitative process of economic globalization and has many lessons for political activism. “Nirabhishekana” explodes mythic structures of social status and deals a huge blow on the so-called elite who thrive in power and status on the ignorance of the ordinary people.

Thematically, Malaka’s plays are very rich and he has used his creative faculty to make an exciting experience for the reader. The reality that we talk about could always be ‘out there’, but still the ‘unconscious’ that we can never get explored totally is only an area to be explored by arts. Malaka has brilliantly examined the unconscious dimension of contemporary consumerist society, its human subjectivity and political economy in many ways shedding lights on some chosen characters from our own environment.

Language

I have not read any another young writer in Sinhala, may be Nissanka Wijemanna is an exception, who has creatively used the Sinhalese language with the same competence shown by Malaka. Malaka’s whole enterprise is, in a way, a linguistic exploration into reality. Malaka has twisted some traditional, mythic, folklore, and religious terms and incidents found in the Sinhala language and Buddhist culture and re-contextualized them in order to bring totally different meanings; “Tharuwan Saranaiy” (taking refuge in stardom), “Nihon Sepa” (Luxurious life in Japan), “Suwadena Agni” (Comfort of fire), “Mana Vidamana (taming a mind) etc.. are hitherto unknown terms for the Sinhalese language. And Malaka’s contribution for enriching the Sinhalese language could be another area of research for linguists in future. And satire is inherent in the texts and he has used it wittily.

Ideology

A work of art could certainly permeate ideologies contingent upon the artist’s world view. Artists cannot be neutral beings, and their interventions always can serve more than aesthetic representations. In this text, Malaka’s creative enterprise amounts to a conscious exploration of social and political ideology that the media culture and political elite have exploited for profit and political power. As consumerist citizenry is led astray by an unethical media culture, it makes things easy for the existing political hegemony of decadent capitalism to survive unscathed.

Theoretically, Malaka’s work can more closely be scrutinized with Marxian concepts; but, since Malaka’s works very closely become a critique upon the ideologies permeated by the institutions of capitalist media, market, religion, marriage, politics etc., they become a Baudrillardian ideological analysis more than producing a Marxian revolutionary urge. As Baudrillard states “We are here at the heart of consumption as total organization of everyday life, total homogenization, where everything is taken over and superseded in the ease and translucidity of an abstract `happiness', defined solely by the resolution of tensions” ((The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures, [by] Jean Baudrillard, Sage, London, England, 1998.p.30). The text of Malaka’s plays has succinctly captured this empirical reality of “consumption as total organization of everyday life” and adopted that in the contemporary Sri Lankan society, culture and politics.

Malaka’s attempt in a way fills the vacuum created by artists in the caliber of Sugathapala de Silva and Henry Jayasena who consciously used their creations to expose the ideology and politics underpinning the social and economic system forced on our lives by history’s circumstances. So, the art of the epoch have to be conscious of such circumstances and the dialectical forces of the history and thereby work for liberating the human beings from the agonizing political, social, cultural and economic circumstances enforced on their lives. And Malaka Dewapriya belongs to that rare caliber of artists who have identified the human potential of making history of their choice and also the need for conscious effort towards such transformations. To end this incomplete introduction to Malaka’s artistic labour, I translate the following two short lines from the song sung by the character, ‘Dengue Patient’ in the play, “Tharuwan Saranaiy”; “Come, serve yourself, to the best of your satisfaction”.

අතුලසිරි කුමාර සමරකෝන්



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