Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yes, I am Tamil! [Mahesh Munasinghe: “මම දෙමළ”]

Yes, I am Tamil!

When Weerasena was interdicted
And the sun was on fire
Above the textile factory
Shouting slogans
Screaming hoarsely
Brother Nadesan
At the flaming pickets
I was a Tamil

When Weere got the job back
Riding on the shoulders
“Long live brother Nade….!”
The victorious king
In the victory parade
I was a Tamil

When Siripala was shot
By the squad breaking the strike
Took him in my own hands
And flew to the hospital
I was a Tamil

Both hands punctured
With saline tubes
“Nade, you are my savior”
Sira, you embraced me sobbing
I was a Tamil.

When Kusum was pregnant
And dying on a hospital bed
They never demanded
Sinhalese blood
But just “O” negative
Only I happened to have
I was a Tamil.
“Son, you belong to uncle Nade”
the newborn
Was put in my hands
With tears flowing
Yet, I was a Tamil.

Weere, I hear your slogan
Suppressing the shouting
At the picket line
“Slay the Tamils! Give us the peace!”
“Give us the peace! Slay the Tamils!”

Sira, there’s no hospital here
Only a collapsed heap of bricks
Crushed into pieces
With heartless shelling

Oh! dear Kusum,
If you can see the flow of 'O' negative today
How I am being drenched myself in it
Too much to get absorbed
in to this parched earth...

In the graveyard of my race
Where, all our sons
And grandsons were slaughtered
Here I’m struggling all alone
to gasp at my last breath
I AM Tamil!

*Weerasena, Siripala and Kusum are Sinhalese names.
**Weere is the short form of Weerasena and Sira is the short form of Siripala.
***Nade is a short form of a Tamil name(Nadesan).

-Mahesh Munasinghe: “මම දෙමළ”
[Translated By: Ransirimal Fernando/Malathie Kalpana Ambrose]

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Till, January 26th [Malathie Kalpana Ambrose]

Till, January 26th

Flags, hoisted
Victory, revived
Epics, chanted
History re-written
Wild roars, screamed
Tears, renowned

Those heart beats,
Whose voices were robbed?
Suppressed, buried
Concealed, denied.

Malathie Kalpana Ambrose

What is life....? [The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam]

What is life?
[The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam]

There was a water-drop, it joined the sea,
A speck of dust, it was fused with earth;
What of your entering and leaving this world?
A fly appeared, and disappeared.

Of all who went on this long road,
Where is the one who has returned to tell us the secret?
Take care of leave nothing for your needs on the two-ended way,
You will not be coming back.

I saw an old man in the wine-shop,
I said, “Have you any news of those who have gone”?
He replied, “Take some wine, because like us many
Have gone, none has come back.”

A religious man said to a whore, “You are drunk,
Caught every moment in a different snare.”
She replied, “Oh Shaikh, I am what you say,
Are you what you seem?”

I need a jug of wine and a book of poetry,
Half a loaf for a bite to eat,
Then you and I, seated in a deserted spot,
Will have more wealth than a Sultan’s realm.

You have seen the world and all you have seen was nothing,
All you have said and heard, that too is nothing:
Running from pole to pole, there was nothing,
And when you lurked at home, there was also nothing.

Suppose the world went as you wanted, then what?
And suppose this book of life were read through, then what?
Let me suppose a century of self-gratification left,
Even supposing we had a century more, then what?

See what I’ve got from the world nothing;
The fruit of my life’s work? Nothing:
I am the light of the party, but when sit down, I am nothing;
I am a wine-pot, but when I’m broken, nothing.

Every now and then someone comes saying, “It is I.”
He arrives with favors, silver and Gold saying, “It is I.”
When his little affair is sorted out for a day,
Death suddenly jump out of ambush saying, “It is I.”

[Selected Poems of The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam
-From the Translated version by Peter Avery and John Health Stubbs]

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Their Own Worlds – A. Santhan

He caught sight of it as he was closing the compound gate. An earth worm. Well-fed during the last month’s rain and fat, it had managed to come to the surface somehow or other. Now wriggling… If it had encountered any ants or birds…? Ravi shuddered and felt sorry for the worm.

As he bent to toss it away with a stick to a safer place, the idea struck him suddenly. It would make a wonderful plaything for his nephew.

Ravi went again in to the house and returned with a sheet of paper. He took the worm, carefully placed it on the paper, folded it gently and put it in to the bicycle basket.

When he reached his sister’s place, he called out his nephew.

“Come and see what I have for you…”

Kunchu came running on his small feet and couldn’t control his amusement when he looked in to the parcel.

“Amma, uncle has brought a small snake.. .” he shouted excitedly to his mother and repeated it to his grandmother, too.

“No, dear, it is not a small snake.. it is and earth worm..” said Ravi.

Granny came there and looked in to the parcel. “Your uncle is such a care-free man that he has time to play with worms”.. she told Kunchu, blaming her son. Sunchu’s mother came there and told her brother:

“Thambi your brother-in-law, who left for Vavuniya last Monday, promised to return yesterday and hasn’t come yet…Could you please go to his mother’s house and find out if there is any news?” her eyes brimmed with tears.

“He will be back today, don’t worry…”he tried to console her.

“…Yesterday paper spoke of some trouble in Vavuniya, the day before………..”

“Uncle, uncle, the earthworm is going to fall….”

“Wait here and have a look…” Ravi told his nephew and went to the store room. Fetching an empty jam jar, he washed and filled it with earth from the backyard.
“What is it for, uncle?”… Kunchu asked when he returned with the bottle.

“For the earth worm to live…”

“Where does it live?”

“In the earth…..”

“Then how did you catch this?”

“When it came out…”

“Why did it come out?”

“May be because of the rains…..” Ravi said and put the worm in to the bottle.

“Look, it will bore its way in…”

“How? Has it got any legs or hands?”

“It will bore with its head…”

“Wouldn’t the earth get in to its eyes, then?”

“It doesn’t have any eyes…”

Kunchu, unable to believe the things his uncle told him, kept the bottle and squatted by its side. Sister came again.

“In case you are going, better start before the sun is up…. ” she said.


“If he hasn’t returned yet, ask if they had received any message from him…”

“Uncle, it is boring….”

“Wait, have a cup of tea and go…”

“Hurrah, it is going uncle…”

“Don’t disturb the bottle….”

While drinking the tea, Kunchu asked him:

“Uncle how does it cry?”

“It doesn’t cry…..”

“What does it eat?”

“The earth…”

“Look, how deep it has gone…more than half its length.”

Ravi told them he was off and started towards his brother-in-laws mother’s place. When pushing the bicycle out, the thud-thud of a motor bicycle was heard at the gate.

It was the brother-in-law himself,

Sister too much have heard the noise and came out running.

“Why? Was there any trouble? Why were you late?...” she poured out the questions, her face gleaming.

“Appa…” Kunchu, too shouted at his father who was getting down from his motor bike:

“….the earthworm has got in completely.”

- A. Santhan -

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Living City

The city is dancing
A devil’s dance
Its flickering lights
Shake you
Throw you up

Blocks are transparent
With methane
Air is heavy, smelly as nudity
Every obsolete brand is
Beaming on signboards

Talking boxes
Govern the city
Marketing hypos
Inject needs
Into people in comatose

Sriya Kumarasinghe

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"I Have a Dream" - Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I Have a Dream"
 Martin Luther King, Jr.
[Delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.]

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."¹

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                       Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

[Listen to the speech]

The Anonymous People

Are the anonymous people
No photographs
No paintings
To record our past
Our fore fathers
Collected no stamps

No public wall
Bears our Name
No awards to us
In public games

Are the anonymous people
Our fathers were the same

Ages of suffering
Connect us to the past
No memories of us
But our world is vast

Are the anonymous people
Silence in our mask.

- Basil Fernando -
Sri Lankan Literature in English (1948 -1998) published by the Department of Cultural Affairs

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Boris Pasternak -the Man who saw the other side of the Bolshevik Revolution

Boris Pasternak -the Man who saw the other side of the Bolshevik Revolution

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge

In every generation there has to be some fool who will speak the truth as he sees it.
-Boris Pasternak

The Nobel Prize-winning Russian poet and writer Boris Pasternak became world famous for his controversial novel Doctor Zhivago which underscores the plight of the Russian upper middle class during the Bolshevik Revolution. Pasternak was a great composer of images. His grand novel is full of humanism and Pasternak presents the character formation in a poetic vision. He saw the gigantic social changes of 1917 in a human kaleidoscope.

Although the novel was written during the years surrounding the revolution (1910-1920), it was published several decades later. Pasternak’s vision of cosmology, and passion for the individual as well as for life splendidly written in this great novel. It is a snapshot into Russian life Russian Revolution and the early Soviet era of life.

Pasternak highlights the problem of modern sociopolitical existence through his masterpiece Dr Zivago. It is a panoramic social and political chronicle, which describes the social turmoil during and after the Russian Revolution and how the Russian upper middle class was despondently affected by it. Pasternak’s revelation highlights a dramatic question. Is it fare to sacrifice personal freedom and personal life for a social ideology?

The concept of ideology is most generally associated with power relations and often has no regard to human feelings. The ideology can be interpreted as the way in which people think about the world and their ideal concept of how to live in the world. It is a shared belief of a group of people, groups deliberately planning to oppress people or alter their 'consciousness. In this process violence, torture and terror are used and people are judged by their ideological views.

The Bolshevik Revolution had brought about a fundamental change in the organization of Russian society. The Bolshevik idea of "building a new man via social construction was an indigestible paragon for people like Uri Zhivago. Such people should adopt, perish or leave the system. When there is a dynamic social, change it, gives no place for personal feelings and everybody should get used to a collective life. Ideology and slogans become the center of life. People are judged politically. In such an environment, individuals are given less choices. Dr Yury Zhivago was one of the countless victims of such a system.

The romance between Yuri Zhivago and Larissa Antipova was a personnel issue and it had no place in the Bolshevik concepts although Lenin enjoyed his private married life with Krupskaya and Stalin with Nadia Alliluyeva. Even though the Red hardliner Strelnikove states that, the personal life is dead in Russia it was not applicable for everyone.

Uri Zhivago a doctor and a sensitive man dramatically torn apart by forces beyond his control. Dr Zhivago became a victim of a personal tragedy as well as a collective tragedy. Yuri's mother died when he was a child, leaving him only a balalaika. Young Uri was adopted by his uncle. While living in Moscow he had a passionate interest in poetry. Doctor Uri Zhivago was recognized as a professional as well as a poet in the Russian society. But his life was torn between his two loves Tonia Gromyko his wife and Lara Antipova the beautiful nurse.

When the Civil War erupted, Doctor Zhivago was forcibly removed from his wife and family by the Red Partisans and eventually his wife Tonia escapes to Paris with the children. When Strelnikove was arrested, Lara’s life was in danger and she was compelled to go with Victor
Komarovsky -the immoral man and an opportunist. Thus, Dr Uri Zhivago lost Lara as well and becomes a fragile man. Lara disappeared off the street during Stalin's Great Purge. "Perhaps in a labor camp," narrated General Yevgraf, "A nameless number, on a nameless list which was later mislaid." Love and innocence lost he was aimless. Dr Zhivago dies of a heart attack while pursuing a woman he believes to be Lara down a Moscow street.

The collective tragedy fell upon on him with the Revolution. The bourgeois Moscovites grand lifestyle of enjoying champagne, caviar and vodka came to a hold with the Revolution. Their lives became topsy-turvy. Doctor Zhivago’s family wealth was confiscated and their house had been divided into tenements by the new Soviet Government. Zhivago’s family was confined to a small room. Dr Uri Zhivago was hated by the Bolsheviks because of his middle class bourgeois roots. His poetry was considered as lines of petty indulging verses.

The revolution brought them misery and disappointments. Thousands were shot dead. The Revolutionary Committee could arrest or execute anyone labeling a counter revolutionary. Wealthy landowners were exterminated classifying them as Kulaks. There was no clear definition or a demarcation of a Kulak. A person owned thousand hectares of land was considered a Kulak. At the height of the state terror under Joseph Stalin, a farmer owned two pounds of grain also labeled as a Kulak and executed.

Bolsheviks believed that they had found the pathway to Utopia. They rationalized the devastation followed by the Revolution stating that if you want to make an omelet, you've got to break some eggs.' Boris Pasternak indirectly puts the question to Bolsheviks through his book Dr Zhivago. Pasternak is questioning -`I see the broken eggs, but Where's the omelet?'

Pasternak passionately renounced the Bolshevik idea of "building a new man" according to the Revolutionary measurements. Pasternak knew it was against nature. He argued that you could cut the tumors of injustice, which is a painful operation, provided that the patient should be kept alive.

The novel Dr Zhivago is a saga, spanning Zhivago's life depicting several authentic characters. Boris Pasternak adored the poet Alexander Block Dr. Zhivago may have been based in part on the real life Russian poet Alexander Blok who was the most famous and influential in Russia. Alexander Block was a symbolist poet who sought to convey individual emotional experience through the subtle, suggestive use of highly metaphorical language. In the years after the revolution, Blok was very involved in social and political journalism and in criticism. Blok's disillusionment with the Soviet bureaucracy and censorship is suggested in his fierce and eloquent essay in 1921 "On the Poet's Calling" Blok died in Petrograd on Aug. 7, 1921 at the age of thirty-seven. Like the fictitious character, Dr Uri Zhivago Block died under physical and emotional exhaustion and with a great disillusionment.

The second character Pavel Antipov or Strelnikov’s personality is much similar to Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronshtein). Pavel Antipov was a son of a railway worker. He marred Lara and moved to the Urals. He joined the army as a volunteer during the World War One and fought in the German lines. Wounded in the battle Pavel Antipov was presumed dead but later returns, using the pseudonym Strelnikov with a total personality change. He was not a warm caring man anymore, turned in to a bloodthirsty military commissar.

Like Pavel Antipov, Trotsky was against the Bolsheviks in the early stages but later deeply embraced the Bolshevism. Leon Trotsky formed the Red Army that fought with the White Guard in the Civil War. Leon Trotsky spent his time during the civil war in a train traveling widely across the young Soviet Union. According to the novel Pavel Antipov alias Strelnikov was a ruthless character who travels by a special guarded train destroying villages and eliminating people who help the Whites.

When Dr Zhivago accidentally encountered Strelnikov’s well-protected locomotive he was arrested and taken before Strelnikov. When Strelnikov sees Dr Zhivago he immediately recognizes the famous Russian Poet. These were the words of Strelnikov when he denounced
Zhivago ’s poetry.

I used to admire your poems. I shouldn't admire it now. I should find it absurdly personal. Don't you agree? Feelings, insights, affections... it's suddenly trivial now. You don't agree; you're wrong. The personal life is dead in Russia. History has killed it. I can see why you might hate me.

Leon Trotsky and Strelnikov shred a common fate. Both of them fell from grace. The Bolsheviks relinquished both. Strelnikov committed suicide while he was taken to a firing squad and Trotsky was murdered in Mexico.

Yevgraf Zhivago is another Character Pasternak introduced in this novel. According to the book Yevgraf was Dr Uri Zhivago 's younger illegitimate half-brother who was working for the Cheka. Cheka was a secret police force that was founded soon after the Revolution. Cheka had power to arrest people. No judicial process was involved in assessing the guilt or innocence of any of its prisoners. Punishments, including the death penalty, were arbitrarily applied. The Cheka was granted the power of summary trials and execution of death sentence.
There are much resemblance between Yevgraf Zhivago and Felix Dzerzhinsky – the founder of Bolshevik secret police the Cheka. Dzerzhinsky was not a Russian, he was a Polish. In Pasternak’s book Yevgraf Zhivago was illegitimate (non Russian ?). Like Dzerzhinsky, Yevgraf Zhivago combats internal political threats executing suspects.

Dzerzhinsky once publicly stated that "We represent in ourselves organized terror -- this must be said very clearly and the terrorization, arrests and extermination of enemies of the revolution on the basis of their class affiliation or of their pre-revolutionary roles.”

Yevgraf Zhivago 's words correspond to the power that Cheka members had. Indeed as a policeman I would say, get hold of a man's brother and you're halfway home. Nor was it admiration for a better man than me. I did admire him, but I didn't think he was the better man. Besides, I've executed better men than me with a small pistol.

Cheka became ill famous for large-scale human rights abuses, including torture and mass summary executions, carried out especially during the Russian Civil War.

Another relatively small but rousing character was introduced in the novel whose name is Lieutenant Razin. He was categorically against demobilizing Dr Zhivago from the Red Army Partisan unit. In a public debate, he expresses his opinion thus …

As the military struggle draws to a close, the political struggle intensifies. In the hour of victory, the military will have served its purpose - and all men will be judged politically regardless of their military record. (Please compare this with the present power struggle in Sri Lanka between President Rajapaksha and General Sarath Fonseka. Was Pasternak a genius?)

Lieutenant Razin could be Kliment Voroshilov who was the commissar of the 1st Cavalry Army and later became the People’s Commissioner for Military and Navy Affairs and Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the USSR. Voroshilov gave his full support to Joseph Stalin’s 1930 Great Purge, denouncing a large number of his colleagues who served in the Army.

John Locke and Jeremy Bentham described society as comprising individuals interacting through market relations. However, Bolsheviks went further and wanted to create a socialist Utopia through revolution and subsequently via Stalinism. Nonetheless, Pasternak viewed it as a colossal social upheaval caused millions of human lives in Gulags or slave labor concentration camps that became a symbol of tyranny and oppression.

Pasternak’s novel Dr Zhivago was banned in Russia for 30 years when he attempted to publish in 1957. As the protagonist of the novel, Uri Zhivago Pasternak was once considered by the system as a misfit. He was persecuted by the Soviet authorities as a traitor. Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, but he was compelled to deny it following the pressure put by the Soviet regime. In 1987, the Union of Soviet Writers posthumously reinstated Pasternak. Doctor Zhivago was finally published in Russia in 1988 after the collapse of the
Soviet Union. Pasternak left us with moral questions that are convoluted to find answers. But words of Alexander Berkman coincide Pasternak’s inner thought about the revolution.

"No revolution has yet tried the true way of liberty. None has had sufficient faith in it. Force and suppression, persecution, revenge, and terror have characterized all revolutions in the past and have thereby defeated their original aims. The time has come to try new methods, new ways. The social revolution is to achieve the emancipation of man through liberty, but if we have no faith in the latter, revolution becomes a denial and betrayal of itself."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Lunatic in Town

I am the champion
Who narrates in public
All the nasty dreams
You see
During the night
But, do not disclose

I am the companion
Of dogs and crows
Who prowl about
And feed on
The left –overs of the city

I am the poet
Who views the rainbows
Painted in the sky
And count the lightnings
Flashing in the sky

I am the hermit
Who barges in to your midst
Throwing the empty hand about
In fun and frolic
When you tread
With heavy steps
And heavier heads

I am the lunatic
Who combs the city
With sleepless eyes
When you all are
Cuddle at home
In deep slumber

Impedes (1999) – By Ariyawansa Ranaweera
Extracted from “Echoing Ethos” by E.M.G. Edirisinghe

Struggle with a Serpent - [K.K. Saman Kumara]

Struggle with a Serpent

The serpent slithered away, frightened by the sound of the trembling earth. But from that day onwards, it would come on and off pester me. When it arrived, I distracted myself by picturing how, like any affectionate farther, I would one day, pet her little ones. The poison coursing through my body was neutralized by these thoughts. But I couldn’t control its recurrence for good.

-By. K.K. Saman Kumara

From the labour room came the strident cry of a newcomer stepping out onto the threshold of this world. Suddenly the door burst open, a loud wail coming from within.

The body of my dead wife lay inside a coffin. An oil lamp burned silently at the head of the casket. Lumps of earth falling continuously down into the pit, covered the coffin. I hugged the newborn infant to my bosom and sobbed in total anguish, unable to control my self. There appeared a few wreaths on top of the fresh earth. In no time, the mound of earth began sinking down and grass grew around it. Before long, it was covered in wild plants and shrubs, unrecognizable.

It was not long before my baby daughter began to roll over, crawl and to get up. One by one, her teeth appeared almost overnight. She started uttering baby talk, world by world. I showered her with overflowing affection and commenced marking a crown for her working day and night, with great effort.

One day she went to the School for the very first time, with a bag flung over her shoulder.

When shadows lengthened towards the eastern mountains of the sun, a fully blossomed young maiden came into the house, uttering something in her own cute childish way, I did not know her. Neither did I understand anything she said.

Her thighs were white solidified moonbeams. The pointed nipples of her breasts pressed against the dress, the attractive eyes were restless, like those of a nymph.

Instantly that serpent burst out of the earth, reaching up to the surface. I crushed it with my feet so that she would not see.

“I am so hungry, farther.”

At once, the earth began to tremble. “Farther.” Those were the same six letters she always uttered when stepping into the house. Is this my daughter?

Eyes, nose, mouth, the talk, the walk, all these are the same. The birth mark on the chin is there too. Truly, is this my cute little daughter, born out of my own flesh and blood?
The serpent slithered away, frightened by the sound of the trembling earth. But from that day onwards, it would come on and off pester me. When it arrived, I distracted myself by picturing how, like any affectionate farther, I would one day, pet her little ones. The poison coursing through my body was neutralized by these thoughts. But I couldn’t control its recurrence for good.

Finally, one day, she took someone’s hand and went away. I cried unbearably. The serpent never appeared then.

But that night, just before dawn, it lifted its head looking around, slithering if from somewhere towards me.

It called out to me, trying to show how my own cute little daughter, my own flesh and blood, was lying in sexual embrace with another. It was the devil incarnate. I took club and beat it down mercilessly. It crawled away with difficulty, blood flowing from its mouth and nose, as if never to come back again.

All traces of the serpent’s arrival were gradually erased under the sands of time.

One day, my daughter came home, howling and crying like a demented she-bear. He had thrown her out. I kissed her on the forehead and gently consoled her, stroking her head, pacifying her.

She did not go back. I gradually became like a colossus, a giant, protecting her. Embracing her with paternal love overflowing. But one day the serpent reared its ugly head once again, telling me how she had gone with several men, my own sweet little daughter. Everyday, I would pelt it with the club, hoping and praying it was dead and would come back no more. Inspite of this, it would rear its ugly head, suddenly wriggling up from the dead. It the end, I was exhausted and discourage, trying to keep it at bay.

Suddenly, the serpent came alive and slithered towards me. It jumped up, stinging me with its venom.

I felt the poison coursing throughout my body. And, taking her in my arms, I gazed longingly at her well shaped buxom torso.

She fell on the ground, slipping from my grasp, I. who was her protective giant awhile ago, slowly began to shrink. She noticed the strange metamorphosis in me and burst out howling in fear.

I gently embraced her. She implored helplessly and in the end, blamed and cursed me vehemently.

By midnight, the poison had gradually left me; I fell down weeping, my head repeatedly pounding the floor. I simply could not look up into her face anymore.

She was holding a bowl of poison in her hands. I took it away from her and threw it. Falling at her feet, I begged for her forgiveness, crying my heart out. We help each other, crying together in deep emotion.

In absolute fury, I attacked the serpent, smashing it with the club, crushing it and throwing the limp body into a fire. Watching its twisting form turning to embers in the flames, a triumphant laugh finally escaped me.

From that day onwards, even a leaf falling from a tree started us. The tiniest sound felt as it a rock was hitting the roof. The trail made by the serpent on the sand, was gradually obliterated and vanished with time.

But one night, feeling a cold dampness on my foot, I looked down. It was there, head posed in victory, creeping up slowly along the sole of my foot.

It began to pester mo over and over again, then, it bit her too.

Though it came again and again, we made no conscious effort to get rid of it. When at arrived, we gave into everything it wanted and when it finally departed, we ended up sighing and weeping.

Never did we ever look at one another in face, except when it visited us.

Yesterday, we heard a loud noise outside. Looking through the window, we saw piles of rocks all around the house, walling us in. She cried non-stop, cursing me and blaming me for all this misfortune. I too cried along with her.

Together, we tried to crush the serpent and destroyed it once and for all. But it didn’t even our blows. It had grown. A huge monstrous creature coiled around us.

Couldn’t we kill it; destroy it? We trashed it with all our collective might, with clubs in both hands. It must die today or maybe tomorrow. Or else, it must die alongside us, all together, in a hail of stones.

About Writer: K.K. Saman Kumara is well known as a short story writer and a novelist. Saman Kumar’s first collection “Sarpayaku Ha Satanveda” (Struggle with a Serpent) was published in 1984. He has written two novels, three collections of short stories and several stories for youth. The short story in this volume titled “Struggle with a Serpent” is from his collection of the same name.

[In Sinhala-
සර්පයකු හා සටන් වැද... කේ කේ සමන් කුමාර]

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Psychological Reflections of Vincent Van Gogh’s Art

Psychological Reflections of Vincent Van Gogh’s Art

I know for sure that I have an instinct for colour, and that it will come to me more and more, that painting is in the very marrow of my bones."
- Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent William van Gough a famous Dutch artist whose work often associated with Post-Impressionism and later transformed in to Expressionism. Vincent Van Gogh, was one of the most important predecessors of modern painting. He was an outstanding mostly self taught artist who used color for its “symbolic and expressive values” rather than to reproduce light and literal surroundings. Vincent van Gogh’s artistic work deeply analyses his unconscious mind. The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud viewed art as a privileged form of neurosis where the analyst-critic explores the artwork in order to understand and unearth the vicissitudes of the creator's psychological motivations. In this context van Gough’s art represent a profound psychological sketch.

Vincent van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Netherlands. Since his childhood Van Gogh had an immense passion for art. Van Gogh’s emotional state highly affected his artistic work. Van Gogh’s most famous works include: Starry Night, Cafe Terrace at Night, Terrasse, Houses At Auvers, Restaurant De La Sirene At Asnieres, Sunflowers, Irises, and several self-portraits, amongst others. Most of his best-known work was created in the last two years of his life.

Though Van Gogh had little financial success as an artist during his lifetime and often lived in poverty, his fame grew dramatically after his death. Today van Gough’s name is considered to be one of the world’s most renowned, respected, and influential artists. But he could not live long enough to see his fame. His life was filled with misery and desolation and this suffering was painted in an artistic way.

Van Gogh suffered from complex psychiatric ailments. Apart from the illness excessive use of tobacco and alcohol made a negative impact on his mental health. The mental illness that plagued him affected his art immensely. Van Gough painted his anguish and despair on canvas. His brushwork became increasingly agitated. The striking colors, crude brush strokes, and distorted shapes and contours, express his disturbed mind. He suffered two distinct episodes of reactive depression, and there are clearly bipolar aspects to his history. Both episodes of depression were followed by sustained periods of increasingly high energy and enthusiasm.

Van Gogh's inimitable art was defined by its powerful, dramatic and emotional style. The artist’s concern for human suffering is in somber, melancholy study of art. Maybe he tried to explain the struggle between the man and the human nature, the reality and his unconscious mental conflicts. Van Gogh once said: "We spend our whole lives in unconscious exercise of the art of expressing our thoughts with the help of words." His life was full of mental conflicts. He fought with his inner mind. This dual nature was observable. He had attacks of melancholy and of atrocious remorse. His colors lost the intensity His lines became restless. He applied the paint more violently with thicker layers. Van Gogh was drawn to objects in nature under stress: whirling suns, twisted cypress trees, and surging mountains. Although van Gogh’s illness emerged more violently he produced brilliant works as The Reaper, Cypresses ,The Red Vineyard, and his famed Starry Night.

In Starry Night (1889) the whole world seems engulfed by circular movements. The Starry Night is undoubtedly van Gogh’s most mysterious picture. The Starry Night which resides as his most popular work and one of the most influence pieces in history. The swirling lines of the sky are a possible representation of his mental state. The Starry Night embodies an inner, subjective expression of van Gogh's response to nature. Vincent van Gogh once said "Looking at the stars always makes me dream. We take death to reach a star."

From the beginning of Van Gogh's artistic career he had the ambition to draw and paint figures. For Vincent van Gogh color was the chief symbol of expression. Contemporary artists admired van Gogh’s passionate approach to art. But he viewed his life as horribly wasted, personally failed and impossible. On the contrary he was able to produce deeply moving images while living a life of ultimate desperation in an increasing state of mental imbalance.

Suicidal gestures by Vincent depicted in his last paintings. He painted immense fields of wheat under dark and stormy skies, commenting, "It is not difficult to express here my entire sadness and extreme loneliness" . In one of his last paintings, Wheat Field With Crows, the black birds fly in a starless sky, and three paths lead nowhere.

In 1888 Vincent’s mental health was very unstable. His state of mind was very weak and during a breakdown, he mutilated his ear. After a few weeks he was able to paint Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear and Pipe, which shows him in serene composure. Vincent van Gogh had an unconventional personality and unstable moods, suffered from recurrent psychotic episodes during the last 2 years of his life, and committed suicide in 1890 at the age of 37. Despite the mental illness he suffered Vincent remained marvelously creative until his death. Although he lived a relatively short period he left behind an astonishing body of work which included several hundred paintings.

The lyrics of Don McLean’s hit song Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) describes a comparison to Van Gogh's Actual Life and references to Van Gogh’s paintings.

Starry, starry night.

Paint your palette blue and grey,

Look out on a summer's day,

With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.

Shadows on the hills,

Sketch the trees and the daffodils,

Catch the breeze and the winter chills,

In colors on the snowy linen land.

Don McLean articulates Vincent van Gogh's tragic death and points out that even though he loved painting, his paintings could never love him back.

For they could not love you,

But still your love was true.

And when no hope was left in sight

On that starry, starry night,

You took your life, as lovers often do.

But I could have told you, Vincent,

This world was never meant for one

As beautiful as you.

-Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge