Checkpoint – in its second or so run – is still the most relevant Sri Lankan play I’ve ever seen. It is, by turns, funny, thought-provoking and deeply disturbing. It’s running for one more night at the British School, I’d recommend seeing it if you can. I may be messing up the names, but the play was written by Ruwanthie de Chickera and it is very Sri Lankan – funny, miserable and startlingly brutal. It opens with a classic tale of a fateful bus-ride, narrated with apt face by Gihan de Chickera. It was hilarious and sad all at once, which is in many ways the Sri Lankan condition. The other plays were more war related and the new items were really on point. What they capture is not so much an answer as the mediarrhea that plagues the country and the division the conflict strikes through friends and families.
Saturation Media Bombing
The next scene honestly made me cover my head in discomfort at one point, but it was brilliantly done. They took one day – August 14th – and scripted three or four scenes directly out of quotes from the various news sources. What it captured for me is one of the greatest tragedies of the war – that no one knows what’s going on. Every media report is so unreliable and biased that things get polarized very fast. TamilNet and the Daily News cover the same ‘news’, but if you read just one you’d have an entirely opposed perceptions. And they’re both wrong. You have to read 17 biased sources to even come close to an accurate picture, and that’s like reconstructing the gospels of donkeys.
One scene consisted of S running an auction for news items with a mind-numbing litany of body-counts and government/LTTE statements. There were two sides each repeating their figures into a mind-numbing blur. Which is true. When there’s a bombing or something even the Colombo newspapers have different bodycounts, sometimes within the same article. That’s the problem with the truth. You bend it once to make yourself look good and pretty soon you have no idea what’s going on.
Another scene was Nimmi and Tracy playing macabre school children as varying reports of the orphanage/training-camp bombing were read. At the beginning I learned over and insisted that it wasn’t an orphanage, but by the end I felt so physically uncomfortable that the distinction didn’t matter. The two characters were dressing dolls in uniforms, coating them in syringes of blood and tearing them apart with corkscrews. Again, all the bodycounts blurred together and all you could hear were children/dead/children. As with all the news, the facts disappear into bias and posturing and all you’re left with is human misery.
I managed to naff up my participation by calling Sophist an ass and drawing an uncomfortable silence. Made me twitchy the rest of the night. I should apologize, it was a bad joke and he was one of the more charismatic performers.
The theme here was kinda weird cause I felt like I knew the characters. In fact, the two main have left comments here. This happy-go-lucky fellow Rajiv (Tamil, married to a Sinhala) had invited an old friend (Prakash) to stay at home. His brother-in-law recognized the fellow as an infamous doctor who’d once operated on LTTE Cadres before leaving the country. The brother-in-law wanted to report the fellow to the police, and hence the dillema the audience was to solve.
This dilemma was especially personal because it felt like I had the conversations before. My friend works for the TRO and is currently having some difficulty re-entering the country. I don’t agree with a lot of what he says or his organization so much, but I do realize that they are the only NGO that really serves those people. I just remember that during the tsunami the TRO ran all the camps up there. But anyways, I know this guy more as a guy that I’ve had drinks and hung out with. We’ve corresponded and we have huge differences, but I still think he’s a lovely bugger and consider him a friend. I leaned to the girlfriend and said I’d let him stay without hesitation, but she said that she would hesitate. For good reason, actually. The play made almost too much sense.
In the play Jagath was a self-righteous boor who was taking charge of a situation that the husband (Rajiv) and wife should have rightly settled. The audience’s solution was for the wife to talk to Prakash and then assert her authority to Jagath. Which did settle the matter. But makes you wonder. I don’t know if the matter is settled, as long as you have
Friends and Terrorists
A lot of moderate Tamils and Sinhalese I know will condemn the LTTE, but they’ll also say that the LTTE at least stood up for Tamils. With all the riots and bellicosity of various governments, there was definitely an ethnic problem before there was a terrorist problem. The failures of all the various (X)-Chelvanayakam pacts meant that Tamil concerns were unaddressed until the LTTE started ‘doing something’. I and even some of the people I was arguing with would say that the LTTE has just made the situation worse, but they did ‘do something’. Whatever it was, no one thinks Tamils are weak anymore. I know a lot of ‘moderate’ people who think this way.
Anyways, people roundly condemn the LTTE and say anything LTTE associated is bad, but I think that ignores the problem. I have very rational and intelligent friends that sympathize with the LTTE. I find this repugnant, but I am trying to understand. They are my friends and they’re not stupid. I mean, my own people call for killing NGO workers and outbreeding the Muslims, some on this very blog. As Blacker said, if the Sinhalese were a minority I’d probably be expressing tacit support for some vicious Sinhala Lions.
It seems to me that the LTTE has taken a very grey ethnic issue and drawn a bloody line down the middle. In many ways the cause is just, but they don’t have a Mandela or Martin Luther King type figure to lead them. Instead they have the bloodiest thug to rise out of a fucked up situation. But that doesn’t make the cause untrue. It just makes it whole lot harder to work things out without being beat over the head with ‘terrorist’ on one end and ‘sinhala chauvanist’ on the other. It’s like all the good ideas got bombed to shit and we’re stuck in these dyametrical refugee camps of words. And I just want to go out with my friend. Meh.
That’s why I say addressing the ethnic problem is vital to defeating the LTTE militarily. We yell terrorist all we want and eat righteousness for breakfast, but it won’t win the war. Until we make our Tamil friends and neighbors feel like they have something invested in the government, we’re just playing endless whack-a-mole.
Stages Theatre Group – stagestheatregroup.wordpress.com