When a war ends, it is a time for rebuilding, and a time for reflection, both for the victorious and the defeated. A time to take stock of what has been won and lost in terms of economy, life, opportunity, and even culture. The effect of the 25-year war on the psyche of the population is obviously noticeable; a general aversion towards long-term plans, a breakdown of respect for law and order, and lately, refuge in a newfound nationalism.
Is this also apparent among Sri Lanka’s creative thinkers — the writers, film makers, and artists? Wars often spark a surge in creativity, a catharsis that often invades popular culture and occasionally reaches an audience untouched by the original war and its passions. The films, books, and music that retold the Vietnam War created emotions for a global generation that hadn’t even been born in the ’60s. Sri Lankan culture certainly hasn’t a comparable reach, but what is interesting is that such an influence is hardly noticeable even within the country.
There have only been two mainstream Sinhalese “war” films on the subject — both directed by, and starring, the late Gamini Fonseka. Both depicted a popularized (if naive) view of the war, and were extremely successful locally. The nineties saw some Sinhalese movies dealing with the war; art house productions that received mixed reactions from Sri Lankan audiences. Some, by directors such as Prasanna Vithanage and Cannes Film Festival winner Vimukthi Jayasundara, have been banned for content that was seen as either culturally objectionable, critical of the armed forces, or just generally unpatriotic. Continue reading
I can still remember the first piece of real science fiction writing I ever read. It was an excerpt that appeared in a Christian mag called Campus Life, and it was nothing like the usual stuff that appeared in the mag, and was about the discovery of a dead star by the members of a space mission from Earth. What struck me to the core of my nine-year-old being at the time wasn’t the ruins of civilizations that the astronauts discovered on a burned out rock orbiting the dead star, and it wasn’t their realization that millions — possibly billions — of intelligent creatures had perished by fire, and it wasn’t even their discovery that such beings had existed. What rocked my young mind was the astronauts’ calculation of when the star had gone super nova, and when exactly the light of the explosion had reached earth, many light years away. They deduced that the super nova would have been visible as a bright star on Earth
two-thousand and thirty-four years previously, on the day of the birth of the Christian Messiah. It completely dumbfounded me that a supreme and loving being could have destroyed an entire world to mark the birth of his Son. It was the first time I ever questioned the beliefs that my upbringing was steeped in, the first time I realized that all was not perfect in God’s world, and that the long walk out of Eden had made the road back unclear.
That was also the first time I heard that there were people known as atheists, and that the author of that excerpt proclaimed himself to be one. My father also told me, to my astonishment, that the man who’d written it lived right here in Sri Lanka. The excerpt had been taken from
2001: A Space Odyssey The Star, and the author was Arthur C. Clarke. The work was, of course, fiction, but it left a lasting impression on me. So much so, that I still remember the picture that illustrated the excerpt — a spectacular spacescape of drifting gases and burned rocks, all drifting towards the black hole of the dead star, while in the foreground hovered the clumsy but gigantic craft that the humans had used to travel across the galaxy. Continue reading