Thursday, May 11, 2017

Reviews in Progress: Ginisiluwaka Sandaeliyak – Ranjith Dharmakirtirogress

     Ranjith Dharmakirti’s Ginisiluwaka Sanda Eliya is narrated by a third person omniscient narrator who moves between Sinhalese and Tamil milieus. The protagonists are Nandani, the eldest daughter of an impoverished rural upper-caste Sinhalese Buddhist family, and Anandan, the elder son of a middleclass upper-caste Hindu family. Anandan sees the caste as a factor that unifies Nandani and him despite the difference in their ethnicity. Yet, initially Nandani refuses to work with Anandan for “[f]rom her childhood she had the idea that Tamils were rough people” (26). When he offers to visit her at her home she tells him not to, for she is afraid that “the villagers might consider her as traitor if she invited a Tamil to her home” (32). The socialist director of the hospital where Nandani worked is critical of her “ethnophobia” . The narrator says that the kind of socialization the Sinhalese undergo, lack of respect for Tamils - “treating all Tamils, even the upper class educated Tamils who live in Jaffna as beneath the Sinhalese”, “lack of recognition for Tamil as an ancient language with a Great Canon, lack of facilities to study the language and literature, and the non-availability of Sinhala translations of Tamil literary work” are the reasons for the ethnic divide (53).
In Ginisiluwaka Sandaeliyak, written by Ranjith Dharmakeerthi, a dramatist and a writer, the West is the place of great philosophers, rule of law, cleanliness, order, rationality, etc. while the East is a place of irrational racial conflicts. The Sinhalese are depicted as engaged in practicing repressive socio-political policies that trigger “a civil war”. Hence, the Sinhalese heroin and some of the important Sinhalese characters are repeatedly engaged in extensive cultural self-criticism (155-56). They apologize repeatedly to Dr. Ananadan on behalf of their race. Similarly, according to the Tamil characters in the novel “the majority of the Sinhalese are ethno-nationalist, uneducated, rural farmers and industrial workers” (97). 

     Both Nandani’s and Dr. Anandan’s points of view are given equal space and weight. The ethnicity of the protagonists and their two families could be interchanged without causing any great change to the plot. However, as Hemarathne Liyanaarchchi in “Ranjith’s Rich Structure and Characterization” (Daily News 13/3/2012) points out, the author does not focus on the escalating terrorist activities as an important factor in his novel. The novel ends in a positive note with the couple flying to a new country in search of a new life.

     Anandan, Shivalingam -his father, and Indrakumar - his university educated brother, engage in extensive criticism of both the Sinhalese and Tamils. However, the brunt of their arguments is that the Sinhalese “ethno-nationalism” pushes Tamils towards an armed struggle for a separate state or into fleeing the country as refugees . According to Anandan: “If all those parties in the South had got together and supported Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Agreement, this problem could have been solved at that time” (93). The reason for not supporting such a resolution, according to Indrakumar, is that “[t]he majority of the Sinhalese are racist uneducated rural peasants and factory workers” (97). He concludes that, “[i]f Tamils cannot live freely, then our people are pushed towards a position where we have to obtain a fair solution through an armed struggle as the Boys say” (95) . In reply to Indrakumar’s view on the emerging Tamil national pride due to the activities of the “Boys”, Anandan states, “We must stop talking about both Tamil pride and Sinhalese pride and build a common patriotism” (199). Interestingly, none of the Sinhalese characters engage substantially in a socio-political analysis of the current situation. Nandani’s family is portrayed as besieged by socioeconomic problems to the point that the members are beyond the kind of intellectual engagements frequent among Shivalingams.

     There are references to Sinhalese people acting generously towards Tamils who have become victims of the Sinhalese “ethno-nationalism” and vice versa. The novel also refers to LTTE practices such as kidnapping, death-threats, confiscation of property, and demanding of ‘dues’. In fact, mulling over his family’s situation, Shivalingam laments, “The way things are going on we cannot live either in the South or in the North” (202). 

     In the novel, the West is depicted as a rational, rule governed place devoid of corruption, conflicts, and inequity. Indrakumar says, “European intellectuals and artists stood up against Hitler and the war with one voice … The only country with artists saying that war is good is Sri Lanka” (152). Upon immigrating, Anandappa, a permanent resident of Australia, tells Anandan, “You would experience a great change after living in Sri Lanka. People respect the law, here. Law is common to everybody. People are well-behaved. Civilized” (206). In the end, “Anandan gives up the idea of going back to Sri Lanka due to the situation back there and the peaceful and comfortable life he has made for himself in Australia” (220). Still, Anandan is aware that his problem would not end with migration to another country. So he warns his bride: “When we go to Sydney, the Sinhala organizations will approach you. The Tamil organizations will approach me. Those two organizations may even brand us as traitors for marrying outside the ethnicity. We have to build a life amidst these problems” (239). 

     The third person narrator and some of the characters of Ginisiluwaka Sanda Eliya practice “cultural criticism” extensively. Yet, much of the criticism is done by the Tamil characters or the narrator on behalf of the Tamil characters in mono-ethnic milieus. Thus, in addition to a marked one-sidedness of the criticism, there is no space for an exchange of ideas between ethnicities. In addition, throughout the narrative Sinhalese characters all too readily accept a sense of racialized guilt. Interestingly, Ginisiluwaka Sanda Eliya, written immediately after the Final War, does not make any references to it. Also, as Hemaratne Liyanarachchi in his web article “Ranjith’s rich structure and characterization” states, in the novel, “the imminent threat of terrorism whose flames have already begun to lick the social web of the country has been viewed from the far end of the telescope”. Moreover, though the novel makes passing references to the issue of caste discrimination that had led to youth unrest in the North and the South, this is not explored as an essential cause of the rise of armed insurgencies. Yet, when the writers’ own ethnicity as a Sinhalese is taken into account, this study of how the Self is seen by the Other is clearly an example of an attempt at a “cultural self-criticism”.     

     In contrast, in Ginisiluwaka Sanda Eliya, Dharmakirti makes use of the voice of the Other to criticise the discriminatory activities of the Sinhalese as well as the violence practiced by the LTTE. The Road, too, despite the limitedness of its viewpoint, conducts a cultural criticism of the Other as well as the Self. Also, with its stories of victims and victimizers on both sides of the ethnic divide, Island is indubitably a cultural self-criticism.

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