2nd September 2001
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Amaradeva to be feted in grand style

A grand ceremony titled 'Amara Guru Harasara' is being planned for Wednesday September 5 p.m. at the BMICH to felicitate Pandit W.D. Amaradeva when he returns from Manila after receiving this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts. 

The committee, headed by Professor Sunil Ariyaratne, is making elaborate plans to make it an unforgettable evening with hundreds of artistes participating to pay homage to Pandit Amaradeva who receives the Magsaysay Award to recognize "his life of dazzling creativity in expression of the rich heritage and protean vitality of Sri Lankan music".

An elaborate procession with elephants, drummers and dancers will conduct Pandit Amaradeva from the gates of the BMICH up to the steps where he will be received by renowned artistes from various fields led by the doyen of Sinhala cinema, Dr. Lester James Peries. 

Delight and wisdom

"In the Land of Nowhere" (Modern parables in English and Sinhala)-

By R. S. Karunaratne.

Reviewed by Prof. Sunanda Mahendra

Over the years, scholars of most countries have understood the literary genre called the parable as a vibrant creative communication component. The Aesopean fable is taken as its best example. But the pre-Aesopean tale has also remained as a special literary genre.

Great religious leaders like Buddha and Jesus Christ made use of the existing or contemporary folklore patterns to give their sermons creative force. Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in fact twisted some of the extant folk tales to suit the intended message. In Japanese literature we come across a great reteller of parables and folk tales-Lafcadio Hearne who not only introduced Japanese folklore to the English reader but also made use of the narrative pattern to retell in modern forms, complex religious thought in the simplest form possible. Great American writer James Thurber used parables for his creative columns in the print medium. 

In this manner, we encounter various facets of the use of parables down the ages. Today it remains as a creative form of communication which should be taken note of by serious writers.

Veteran journalist and teacher of mass communication R. S. Karunaratne too takes this as one of his best forms of expressing contemporary themes far more seriously as creative features. The present collection which contains 24 parables for modern times is significant as it is a bilingual reader. The present day Sinhala reader is not only helped with a creative English narrative but he is also given a chance to read it in his own language.

In the visionary style of the author, the age-old folk tale takes a new dimension. One fine example is the parable titled "Dawn in the shadow of Death". Here the reader sees the two characters Dawn and Death being allegorically presented to express the two sides of life: the birth and the death.

In most parables the literary attitude of the author is the silent man's weapon of humour. He seems to laugh behind the scenes and say: "This is your life style, isn't it?" I think the author has written the short parable to express his complex experiences philosophically. This is a good exercise in modern day writing.

The effect of the parables can only be gauged in the actual use of them, possibly in the classroom. This is an ideal supplementary reader that should be introduced to the present day subject curriculum.

The illustrations by the well-known newspaper illustrator and cartoonist Jagath Punchihewa have added colour to the parables.

R. S. Karunaratne should be commended for the painstaking compilation of this original array of parables which not only give us delight but also wisdom. 

The final trumpet heralds death and change

By Ruhanie Perera 
"I am possessed by the elephant," emphasizes Michael de Soyza, writer and director of the play 'The Last Elephant', when I comment that it's obvious he's passionate about his cause: the conservation of the Sri Lankan elephant. 

Watching scene after scene unfold,there's no better word to describe the inspiration for this powerful work other than 'possessed'.

"I've been exposed to the theatre, but I've not been as exposed to conservation," says Michael, thus this project is in a sense the marriage of two of his greatest passions. The play has been in the making for a long time, he says. It's based upon a lot of situations that have had quite an influence on him and is tied up with his firm belief that, "ultimately all things are connected and with the extinction of the elephant starts a fatal domino effect that will take place in our biodiversity cycle."

Drawing from ancient beliefs that tell of the capture of an elephant to be used as a sacrificial offering to appease a demon, 'The Last Elephant' presents a Sri Lanka, 50 years on, completely devoid of the ever familiar gentle giant save one, who is ultimately hunted as an offering to man; he being the demon. It is a play that, although based on conservation, is not confined to conservation in the same sense that most of society understands it - "car stickers and logos". " It delves deeper; in fact into the very core of the human-elephant conflict, tearing out issue after issue that burns everyone involved in the conflict; the elephant, the villagers, the trackers and then there's 'us'. It is a play that while dealing with the problems that humans have caused for themselves, provides us with a very real insight into ourselves."

'The Last Elephant' is also an attempt at bringing in facets of ritualistic theatre, which the writer is fascinated by, and blending them with theatre traditions of the West. The chorus primarily signifies the fusion through its chants, dances and music. The incorporation of such interludes breaks the intensity of the dialogue which is didactic, almost accusative in tone. 

The characters themselves are not just restricted to individuals, but each represents a different culture, a way of life that influences and sometimes serves to complicate the human-elephant conflict. Even the dialogue switches from English to Sinhala, the reason for this being, as the director puts it, "a sincere effort at depicting rural life".

"We drove to extinction a slice of our country," says Jude, the principal character in 'The Last Elephant' played by Prasad Pereira. Integral in the structure of the play, the character Jude fleshes out the part of the narrator, or storyteller and so brings to life a 'pothe gura' type character inspired by traditional theatre. His mind is the medium through which the story is conveyed to the audience, for the plot is embroiled in a series of events in his life; through him the flashback technique is incorporated in the play.

"This is a play that makes you think and that is what makes it so refreshingly different," says Kevin, who plays Jude as a young man, in the process of understanding the realities of the human-elephant conflict and yet not quite grasping the depth or gravity of it. "I think it's going to be just as much a challenge to the audience as it was to us."

"There are two realities in life. Change and death. Extinction is both. 'When death visits your home, life can never be the same again,' runs a particularly haunting line in the play. Yet, however fatalistic the play may seem in content, the theme of the play is very much an optimistic one that serves as a reminder that all is not completely lost.

The cast comprises Prasad Pereira, Kevin Franke, Yohan Kumarapperuma, Keshan Thalgahagoda, Kavan Rodrigo, Thushara Hettihamu, Rasan Amintha, Lara Baptist, Amintha Paiva, Dakshini de Alwis, Timothy Seneviratne, Shenoj de Alwis, Murtaza Tajbhoy, Ranga Sovis and Shezan Rali. Yoshita Abaysekara and Mohan Sudusinghe handle the choreography for the play and the soundtrack has been engineered by Tareeq Musafer.

The Last Elephant, which aims to raise funds for the Bio Diversity and Elephant Conservation Trust, will be on at the Lionel Wendt from September 6 -9.

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