Remembering the Past!
Academics Gerard Robuchon, Asoka de Zoysa and Samantha de Alwis and the director at the Alliance Francaise in Colombo gave us valuable information and a video presentation on Jean Paul Sartre, the French writer and philosopher last week. Although the number of people present on the occasion was few, there was a stimulating discussion on Sartre and related subjects prompted by earnest inquiries from the few present. As a schoolboy in the late 1950s, I had read a collection of short stories translated into English titled "Intimacy". The author was Sartre. I had also seen the film version of his creative writing "The Respectable prostitute" and "Condemned in Altona". As a teenager I was thrilled to read sensual depiction of intimate life of intellectuals. Later in the 1960s, I was introduced to a term "Existentialism" by my friend the late Sillayoor Selvarajan - a poet, writer, critic actor, radio playwright, journalist, singer, dancer, broadcaster and the like. He was known as "Pal Kalai Venthar", meaning a King of the Arts"
I began to understand this
philosophy by reading existentialist writers as recommended by Colin Wilson,
who wrote a capsule classic on contemporary writing and philosophy. I wouldn't
say that I have understood this thought full well, but I became familiar
with writers whose writing reflected some of the thoughts or essence of
However, at the meeting last week at the AF, I gathered a lot of information from the speakers. Thank you, particularly Gerard for a profitable evening. Incidentally, Gerard Robuchon teaches French at the Kelaniya University and is a frequent visitor to Yaalpaanam where he is assisting the branch of Alliance Francaise there.
Thamil Progressive Writers
Deceased three Lankan writers in Thamil - Ilankeeran a.k.a. Subair/Mohammed Kaleel, H.M.P.Mohideen a.k.a. Abhiyukthan and Sillayoor Selvarajan a.k.a. Thaan Thontri Kavirayar were remembered last Sunday (June 12, 2005) at the Ramakrishna Mini Hall. Educationist Mohamed Sameem chaired. The meeting was organized by ' Mutpoakku Kalai Ilakkiya Peatavai ' (Progressive Arts and Literature Forum), a newly formed organization of Marxist/progressive writers. There is also another organization, also Marxist oriented in existence. It's called 'Deshiya Ilkkiya Petavai' (National Literary Forum).
The idea was to inform readers and other uninitiated members of the audience of information and other details of the writers concerned and the milieu in which they write plus the personal reminiscences of the writers. I gathered a lot of information of the writers concerned. It was very interesting to listen to the speakers as they spoke in a casual manner.
The speakers were A.Iqbal- a retired teacher, poet, critic and writer hailing from the east but now settled in Beruwela, Neervai Ponnian - a fine short story writer, critic and former journalist working for the now defunct "Deshapimani" and "Tholilali" and Siva Sivasubramaniam -editor of the "Thinakaran" newspaper, short story writer, translator and critic. They are all Marxist-oriented writers in Thamil.
Marx and Literature
In one of the issues of 'Lanka Guardian'- an illuminating intellectual journal in English edited by the doyen of English journalism in this country, Mervyn de Silva, now defunct, the late Regi Siriwardena wrote an article in which he says that " n spite of his active literary interests, Marx left no explicit theory of literature, nor any extended work of literary criticism...What he bequeathed to later Marxist critics of literature was a general model of the relations between mode of production and ideological 'superstructure', which was adopted by them as a framework for the construction of a Marxist critical practice."
David Craig in his compilation
of a Penguin edition on Marxists and Literature also writes in the similar
fashion. In the west there are a number of Marxist literary critics whose
interpretation of literature is totally different from the conventional
literary critics. One may not agree with all the points they raise - as
for instance the view points of Christopher Caldwell- yet some critics
like Raymond Williams, Philip Rahv, Arnold Kettle, Terry Eagleton, to mention
a few, have helped me to
understand some of the creative works in English better.
I have to learn about contemporary Marxist critics and I seem to be out of tune since the beginning of the current century.
Since I spoke of Regi and Mervyn above, it would be interesting and informative to know that when Mervyn de Silva was the editor in chief of the then Ceylon Daily News, he wrote a few articles on Ezra Pound. Regi Siriwardena in turn disputed the stance of the former as far as literary criticism was concerned. Both were engaged in fruitful dialogue through the columns of the newspaper and made a pedestrian reader like me to learn many things out of them. I ventured to translate or rather summarize the fundamental arguments of both of them into Thamil and published it in a now defunct literary journal called "Poorani"
Ilayarajah and his Symphony
From Remembrance of the Past (remember Proust's title?), let's return to the contemporary scene. Have you heard of Ilayarajah? Well, he is a film music director in Chennai. He introduced folk tunes into film music composition and attuned Carnatic music ragas in such a way one couldn't say listening to some fine Thamil film music that they were really based on classical music in Thamil. Before the advent of the current rage from Thamilnadu, A.R.Rahman, another film music composer who is now widely known all over the world, it was Ilayarajah who held sway for more than two decades in tuning film music to suit contemporary ears. Ilayarajah had conducted the London Philharmonic orchestra in fusion music some years back.
The news now is that he has composed symphony music for a late 7th century Thamil saint's- Manickavasagar's - "Thiruvachagam". The cassette and the CD will be formally launched in Chennai on the 30th of this month. He has selected six hymns from this work and composed fusion music incorporating the western and Thamil (Theavara Pannisai) music. 250 musicians have participated in this symphony. 120 have joined in the singing... he symphony recording was done in Budapest. The mixing was done in a Sony studio in the U.S... Ilayarajah himself has sung five of the six songs. His daughter Bhavathaarni has sung one song an English singer has accompanied Ilayarajah in one of the songs.
L.Subramaniam and Yehudi Menuhin
Talking of music both from the east and the west, it is interesting to note that Lankan born L.Subramaniam who had to leave the country after the infamous July 1983, is a celebrated violinist and a music teacher in the U.S. L.S,. and the Austrian, world famous Yehudi Menuhin jointly presented a concert in the U.S. This was in the late 1980s. I listened to an audio cassette recording where LS and YM played a tribute to Bach and a fascinating number titled "Moonlight" and two part presentations titled "Journey". Indeed Music is a Universal Language.