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C A Chandraprema’s book on the war against the LTTE is an immensely interesting read. I had wondered how effective he would be as a writer of a sustained narrative, for his columns, though informative, can sometimes be turgid and repetitive. But his book combines a racy narrative with convincing detail, and I think makes clear the immense achievement of the government in dealing with the LTTE.
He also makes clear the reason for his title, and the importance of Gota, as he calls him, being in the right place at the right time. There were several innovations Gota introduced, which proved crucial, such as
- Ensuring the forces were well manned and well equipped
- Providing leadership that developed and maintained confidence
- Introducing innovative strategies and encouraging flexible tactics in the field
- Establishing mechanisms for cooperation and the sharing of information
- Streamlining procurement and preventing wastage and corruption
The last of these was particularly important, because the forces had been demoralized previously by the corruption that had become endemic, with officials responsible for procurement using companies run by their families. This had begun with Mr Menikdiwela, Secretary to President Jayewardene, whose son dealt in arms, but succeeding governments were no better. Unfortunately Chandraprema does not always name names, but I believe a schedule of arms dealers with relationships to government officials, should be made public. The way in which Gota changed the system was impressive, and I recall the tremendous surge of confidence which officers at Diyatalawa, generally amongst the brightest in the army, evinced when it became clear that arms were being bought for the soldiery, not the dealers and their chums in the forces.
Remarks by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha at the launch, August 26th 2011
I am honoured to have been asked to speak today at the launch of this book written by a colleague at Sabaragamuwa University. It is an inadequacy in our university system that few academics feel the need to write and share their knowledge with the world. In the Faculty of Social Sciences at Sabaragamuwa we did quite well on this, and I am happy to see here Manoj Ariyaratne and Saman Handaragama and Sunil Senevi who have written so well, in addition to Mahinda Pathirana, whose fourth book this is.
I should note however that I have some points of disagreement with Mahinda as to the content. In the first place I object to his dismissive use of the term Neo-Liberalism – just as I was disappointed when Sunil Senevi spoke of the dichotomy between Liberal Capitalism and Marxism, as though these were the only two political philosophies that obtained. This is to ignore the importance of Liberalism, the most apt philosophy for today’ world but one which is sadly ignored in Sri Lanka – perhaps in part because the Liberal Party is not very effective in propagating its philosophy. Even His Excellency referred in Parliament yesterday to the gamut of political ideas represented in Parliament, ranging from Liberal to Progressive, whereas Liberalism – as opposed to what is termed Neo-Liberalism – is the most progressive doctrine there is, since it promotes development as well as equity. Read the rest of this entry »
In February last year I had to resign from my jobs, and I found myself with little to do. I was a candidate for Parliament, but it was on the National List and, being from the Liberal Party, I was obviously not seen as especially useful for the hustings.
I did do a number of interviews for television, and a few for radio and the press. I had also begun to write several articles, including a series on the Presidential Election and another on the Reconciliation process. But print is an ephemeral media and, given the selectivity with which people purchased or read newspapers, I knew that much of what I wrote would reach only a limited audience.
What I lacked was a website, which I had got used to when I headed the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (www.peaceinsrilanka.org in its continuing manifestation). SCOPP had closed down however, in July 2009. The Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights did have a website, which I had resuscitated, but that had to deal with a range of issues. It was not appropriate for the discursive and analytical pieces that had helped with putting across information to correct attempts to derail the Peace Process, nor could it cover descriptions of efforts to promote reconciliation.
On the occasion of the DSC South Asia Literature Festival, London – October 2010
I must thank the organizers of DSC South Asian Literature Festival for giving me this opportunity to introduce from Bridging Connections, the first anthology of short stories to showcase writing from all three Sri Lankan languages. It was published by the National Book Trust of India, and has now been translated into several Indian languages, including Tamil which is of course one of the Sri Lankan languages too.
Regrettably the Sri Lankan education system until recently ensured that most Sri Lankans were stuck in reading knowledge of one language only. Students were compulsorily educated in their mother tongue, and in most parts of the country schools were segregated, not only as Sinhala and Tamil schools, but also as separate Muslim schools. Though English was in theory a compulsory second language, it was not necessary to pass any exams in it, so it was usually neglected. The other language, Sinhalese for Tamils and Tamil for Sinhalese, was rarely taught.
Fortunately that situation has changed in the last decade, with the second national language being made compulsory in schools, though as yet with no compulsion to pass in it. However knowledge of this is now compulsory for new recruits into government service. In addition, English medium education is now permitted, which will once more enable people of different ethnic groups to study together.
For the older generation however the problem continues. Though this volume will at least enable some Sri Lankans to read stories written originally in the other national language, we must remember that this will be confined to a small elite, namely those who read readily in English. We have yet to develop better policies and abilities in translation, though I should note that steps in the right direction are at long last being taken.
Introductory remarks by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha to a discussion after the presentation of the docu-drama on the occasion of the DSC South Asian Literature Festival, London – October 2010
In the run up to this festival, I was struck by an article that related Richard de Zoysa’s murder, way back in 1990, to recent attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka, and in particular to the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of ‘The Sunday Leader’. In one sense this is understandable, because both cases involved murder, and murder clearly for political reasons. Strengthening condemnation in such cases by drawing attention to previous such occurrences obviously makes sense.
At the same time this should not detract from the differences. Richard’s murder took place in the context of pervasive violence against the southern youth insurrection of the time, the thousands of disappearances that are still on record as unsolved at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. In those days Human Rights was not fashionable in Colombo, because the insurrection was against a government that represented Colombo’s elite. Richard was seen in some quarters as a traitor to his class – the government indeed read out in Parliament extracts from what was claimed to be his diary, in an attempt to suggest that this had something to do with his sexuality – and it took much effort to draw attention to the murder elsewhere in the world. I still remember a piece a friend of mine, Sandra Barwick, wrote in the Telegraph at the time, drawing attention to the silence in Britain then about abuses in Sri Lanka – but we have to remember that in those days we were considered a useful ally of the West, and strong and decisive leaders were generally considered desirable, through old Cold War habits, without any consideration of their moral status.
All that thankfully has changed now. In Sri Lanka the chattering classes woke up to at least some sense of principle, and I believe that in fact Richard’s death contributed to the end of the total violation of all norms in the decade that ended with that death. In my novel, The Limits of Love, I put it as follows – ‘The outcry has been so tremendous, both within Sri Lanka as well as abroad, that it is clear that any repetition of such activities will be disastrous for the government. The message evidently has gone out therefore, that restraint will have to be exercised in the future, and that the open season in which the security forces would not be held accountable for counter-subversive activities is now over. Diana says too that the Death Squads have been dissolved, not officially of course, for officially they never existed, but with a certain degree of pomp and circumstance including a party at which Ranjan made an appearance. In that respect, it would seem, Richard did not die in vain. Because of him, the reign of terror has ended.’
Speech on the occasion of the DSC South Asian Literature Festival, London – October 2010
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, I wrote an essay called ‘Salman Rushdie and the fictions of Third World Politics’, in which I argued that Magic Realism was the best way of dealing with South Asian politics since they were truly stranger than fiction. Those, if you remember, were days in which two generals ruled with rods of iron in Pakistan and Bangladesh, when the Americans were encouraging Al Qaeda to topple the godless Communists in Afghanistan, when the monarchy in Nepal introduced and withdrew democracy at will, when Sri Lanka had postponed elections through a brutal referendum in between attacks on Tamils that were encouraged if not perpetrated by elements in government. Bhutan was an absolute monarchy, the President of the Maldives had been going strong for a decade and a half and was to continue in power for as long again afterwards. Only India, after its brief flirtation with authoritarianism in the seventies, seemed safely democratic, but there Mrs Gandhi had just been assassinated by her own bodyguards.
Ironically enough, the only government – apart from the admittedly unsavoury Afghan communist regime – of which the West disapproved in those distant days was the Indian one, the only one that had in fact been selected by the people. In the dying days of the Cold War, when South Asia was – trust our luck – worse affected than ever before, we had to cope with the Reagan/Thatcher doctrine of Our Bastards, which Lyndon Johnson and Henry Kissinger had used to pervert South East Asia and Africa – and indeed South America too – in earlier decades.
Much of this is forgotten now, in the new found zeal the West displays for democracy, and perhaps we should not be too harsh on those monsters of yesteryear. After all, as I was recently told, in criticism of a piece on my blog that drew attention to the disastrous carving up of the Middle East after the First World War, ‘The defeat of the Soviet Union was one of the great victories of the 20th century on a par with the defeat of Nazism and the Kaiser – nay greater if on a kill-ratio basis. It was worth the temporary alliance with the fundamentalists in Afghanistan, as the alliance was with Stalin to defeat Hitler. The unprecedented flourishing of democracy and liberalism that followed the fall of the Berlin wall would not have otherwise happened’. The monsters too had their own ideals, and given the Euro-centric mindsets of those days, we should not be too indignant that they did not really look on people elsewhere as human in the same sense as themselves.
This is an extract from Acts of Faith, the novel about July 1983 that was published in 1985 by Navrang in New Delhi. It was reissued recently, along with Days of Despair (1989, about the Indo-Lankan Accord of 187 and its aftermath) and The Limits of Love (2005, about the life and killing of Richard de Zoysa) in The Terrorist Trilogy. This was published by International Book House, and is available from email@example.com or 151A Dharmapala Mawata, Colombo 7.
CHAPTER 2 – Action Stations
What Tom our President was doing when fires began blazing out over the city is not something that can dogmatically be declared. It depends after all to some extent on what sort of a President we want; though we must course also present reasons for the fires being allowed to flourish, for no action being taken so that the mob is permitted to cavort unrestrained through the streets until it reaches Shiva’s place and rushes in, and indeed out again and on and on and on. Let us now therefore picture the President in full control himself of a situation with which he finds nothing amiss, striding in full dress uniform up and down his operation room, leaping at intervals to various multi-coloured telephones to assert his sovereign will. At moments of great intensity he slaps his thigh with his swagger stick, barking into the instrument at anxious army and police officers who ring up for orders, ‘Do not sh-sh-sh-shoot. Everything is safely in my hands. Do not worry, gentlemen. I am in full command of the situation.’