by Dr.Sunil Wijesiriwardena
I was puzzled and shocked by the extremely hostile review written by Mr. Jayasankar of the Tamil production of the Mirchakadikam,
I am forwarding here a quick and short response on one or two important issues rose in this article.
i) Main attack on this production by Mr. Jayasankar is based on a certain construction of the concept of Tradition. Let us look briefly at this issue. The popular perception of the arts (or language/ or behavior) tradition to which Mr. Jayasankar also seemed is sticking on, is based on the assumption that it’s a sum of knowledge and skills which travel exclusively through the axis of time, started at some point of origin in past and reaching us in present and going toward future. It’s sometimes perceived through the image of a water flow, a river, but again a flow strictly marked with closed banks
These banks supposed to separate and insulate the referred tradition from others. Thus this particular model of tradition is linked to the idea of purity, where other traditions, mostly are seen as possible polluters. Speaking in anthropological terms what we see here is an extremist position of Cultural Relativism (against Universalism), as we have been observing again and again, is capable to support the vicious kinds of racism. (It has been observed by progressive social anthropologists that both these positions- Universalism and Cultural Relativism- taken to extreme, on their own way become anti-humanist ideologies; Humanist position has to be derived by transcending the extremes.) Sinhala extremists in recent years have produced a huge amount of literature arguing for ‘purity’ of all types of ‘Sinhala Traditions’.
Even in sixties there has been a discourse on Prof. Sarachchcandra’s work , that his work represent the ultimate embodiment of the pure Sinhala Folk theatre tradition. Of course Prof. Sarachchandra never went along with these ideas. He was talking about a Sri Lankan theatre capable of tapping rich regional resources.
In fact his important works such as Maname and Sinhabahu , have strong inter-textual connections with not only some of the South Asian theatre traditions ( including certain Sri Lankan Tamil Folk traditions) but also East Asian ( Beijing Opera, No and Kabuki of Japan etc.) and, yes, even with some stage music traditions of the West Europe (Passion plays of the Christian church) which travelled with Christian missionaries probably from Italy through Goa to South Indian and Sri Lankan coastal areas. So this is a classical example of ‘invention of tradition’ in modern Sri Lanka , if to use the term coined by Eric Hobsbawm.
The model of tradition imagined as one dimensional flow in time axis with closed banks is erroneous and ideologically dangerous ,and is supportive of racism and cultural fundamentalism.
Even if we still stick to the model of a river to illustrate a tradition, we should be able to see this river as a much more complex flow with not just one origin , but with origins, and with banks opened at many places to receive ‘minor/earlier traditions’, which transforms itself into the River.
However even this open river is a too poor model to understand the complex dynamics of a real tradition, because in reality tradition is not one-dimensional flow running through time, as it has a space dimension as well; It is ridiculous to imagine a tradition outside its bearers.
Traditions essentially flow through its bearers, while their lives have both time and space dimensions. This makes the possibility for bearers of traditions, especially for the best of them, to make deep encounters with the bearers of other traditions, which pave way for sharing and enriching their own traditions. Philosophically speaking there are no separate (insulated) traditions in reality, we should see them as inter-traditions in the same way, and we humans are inter-beings who live in an interconnected universe.
ii) It is very clear that Mr. Jayasankar once again is happily ignorant about the real ideological roots of his own attack on the depiction of open-end love relationships between Charudatta, his wife and Vasanthasena.
Although he seems to believe, that he is giving a voice to feminism in his attack, unfortunately it is the historical model of the patriarchal/capitalist nuclear family speaking through him. I don’t think he will be able to find any feminist who would support his ideas of ‘nuclear family fundamentalism’.
Feminists were the first thinkers to offer a methodical criticism on the modern nuclear family and by their comparative study of various historical manifestations of the institution of marriage through history and in culturally diverse locations , paved way for enlightened people to accept an array of diverse types love relationships (including lesbian and gay) in their quest for a more humane, just and contented society.
We know by feminist studies that feelings of sexual jealousy among lovers also are not a ‘natural thing’ but have historical (structural and cultural) reasons behind it. We should understand that feelings, as against emotions, represent very complex socio-spiritual phenomena.
Mr. Jayasankar being trapped in his small idea of ‘love and marriage’ cannot appreciate the relationship of sisterhood being developed between Vasanthasena and Charudatta’s wife. Vasanthasena is a member of a prestigious ancient institution ‘Vaishya’ (like Hetaera in ancient Greece and Gesha of Japan) which at its inception was related to religion and spirituality.
By the way great Kannada playwright and theatre/film director Girish Karnad in his famous film ‘Utsav’, devotes a full episode to show the admirable sisterly relationship between the two characters, devoid of any jealousy.
iii) Unfortunately I haven’t seen the Tamil stage version yet, but I have seen the Sinhala stage production brought out by Jana Karaliya in Colombo . I enjoyed the work and was pleased to find that it was fine both in its artistic construction and in humanist discourse; I am sure Jana Karaliya was tapping the rich dramatic and theatre resources of the modern Brechtian tradition of epic theatre.
Jana Karaliya has carefully selected a limited amount of episodic material from the huge bag of this ancient drama to construct a tightly and harmoniously woven dramatic text which is capable of shedding modern /humanist light on the themes of social justice and rebellion, love, lust and friendship. It was not only an entertaining spectacle in many sense, but challenging too, in its radical discourse on love and marriage.