27 January, 2023

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A Review: The Jungle And The Sea

By Ana Pararajasingham

Ana Pararajasingham

The Jungle and the Sea has been playing to packed houses since its opening at the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney in November 2022. It is a worthy sequel to the multi-award-winning “Counting and Cracking”. The powerful play revolves around a Tamil family forced to separate and live in two countries: war-torn Sri Lanka and Australia.

Following the deliberate bombing of St Peter’s Church in the North by the Sri Lankan air force during which civilians are killed, the family separates. The father (Siva), blinded in the bombing and a daughter (Lakshmi) leave for Australia; the mother (Gowri) stays behind with two other daughters (Abi and Madhu); the son (Ahilan), joins the liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Tigers for short.

{ Siva appears to believe that the conflict should be resolved non-violently is a  Christian Tamil. could this be an oblique reference to  S J V Chelvanyakam, ,a Christian,  who led the Tamils for thirty years  unsuccessfully to resolve the conflict non-violently ?}

The play produced by S Shakthidharan and Eamon Flack is a powerful depiction of the travails of a Tamil family displaced, dispossessed and driven out.

This Tamil family is upper middle class, westernized and anglicized, conscious of its Tamil identity but not quite tuned to the nationalistic narrative of the masses. It is a family with connections to senior Sihala Sri Lankan government officials and the means to find sanctuary in a foreign land apparently with ease.

The revolving stage on which the play is acted out serves to accentuate the constant movement that multiple displacements entail. It adds extra dynamism to the play as characters travel in time and space. 

Gowri and her daughters are among the hundreds of thousands of Tamils displaced from the Jaffna Peninsula when it is occupied by the Sri Lankan army in 1995. The story then moves to    2009, with the family now in the ‘Vanni’ (the Northern mainland) amidst killings and bombing of civilians.

It then shifts to Sydney around the same time where the Tamil diaspora is out on the streets drawing attention to the massacres underway in Sri Lanka. In alerting her blind father to the noise emanating from the protest Lakshmi rather incongruously identifies it as protests by ‘Sri Lankans’. This is followed later on by her confession that she had contributed money to the Tigers. The dilemma of the Sri Lankan Tamil upper middle class to be ‘Sri Lankan” or “Tamil”, could not have been better captured.

The play draws from Eastern and Western classics. 

In Mahabharata, Princess Gandhari, blindfolds herself on realizing that her husband, Dhritarashtra is blind demonstrating her faithfulness and love. Similarly, Gowri, following Siva’s blinding in the bombing of the church blindfolds herself promising that she would remove it only when the family is reunited. During their multiple displacements as the war rages on, Abi describes to her ‘blind’ mother the happenings-bodies piled up, upturned vehicles and properties ablaze. Abi’s vivid descriptions bring to life scenes confronted by the Tamils caught up in the final months of the war. 

In the Greek tragedy, Antigone disobeys Creon by insisting on burying Polyneices, her dead brother. This play reaches its climax when Abi attempts to conduct the final rites for her dead brother in defiance of Sri Lankan government’s orders. 

{In depicting the violence by the oppressed and the oppressor, the former’s violence though limited is up close, whereas the latter’s violence on a much larger scale is impersonal -air raids, bombing and targeted strafing of the civilian population from a distance. This can result in a perception of being caught between two adversaries. While this may not be how it was perceived by the masses, it reflects the view of the privileged Tamil upper middle class. After all, was it not this particular class that was threatened by the actions of the Tigers to empower marginalized segments of the Tamil community? }

The government’s orders are implemented by, Kishan, a Sinhala friend of the Tamil family and more significantly, the father of Abi’s husband, Himal.  The orders are to prevent any commemoration of the dead Tigers. The government line is that such commemorations could well cause the Tamil liberation movement to be revived.  Order needs to be re-established argues the father. Himal, liberal and open-hearted disagrees, “Order, just violence done neatly”, he rebukes his father and calls for the truth about the massacres to be acknowledged before any reconciliation. “There are so many truths”, responds the father.

This play is about one of the many truths about the war that had torn Sri Lanka apart. The play makes the powerful point that truth can liberate and reconcile when acknowledged.  In its absence, the peace that ensues is just a ‘Victor’s Peace’. 

Carnatic music by Indu Balachandran and Arjunan Puvendran, vocals accompanied by veena and mirathangam adds to the profound loss experienced by the displaced Tamils. Towards the end of the play Gowri  dances sorrowfully. Her pain is revealed in every movement. The gestures and facial expressions convey emotion and mood are expressed in the tradition of Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance. This is not surprising as   Gowri is played by Anandavalli, a renowned exponent of this dance.

The other actors. Prakash Belawadi (Siva) Kalieswary Srinivasan (Abi), Rajan Velu (Himal), Jacob Rajan (Kishan) , Emma Harvie (Lakshmi), Nadie Kammallaweera (Madhu) and Biman Wimalaratne (Ahilan) performed skilfully in demanding roles. 

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Latest comments

  • 4
    4

    OK but There seems to be a lot of nostalgia for “Ethnic Violence” -judging from all the award winning Bookers and plays coming out these days — from those at a safe distance in the Diaspora.
    Meanwhile people in Sri Lanka have other concerns and are coping with the US dollar Debt trap and IMF and Paris Club Debt colonialism operation while trying to making ends meet rather than obsessing about past violence, except of course for paid-for civil society and the NED funded Human Rights industry who are paid to keep the ‘Beggars Wound of ethnic conflict’ and its memory going..
    IT is time to De-Colonize History as strategically located Sri Lanka approaches 75 years of Lost Independence, and see the Cold War Weaponization of ethnic and religious identity politics in the past 75 years by external actors and networks.. who are now trying to set up military bases using the IMF US-EU ISB Debt trap with Debt for Nature Swaps (Green Bonds) to land grab and Ocean grab…

    ethno-religious violence certain

    • 6
      0

      Dinuk,

      What you cavalierly dismiss as “ethnic violence” was at the root of the crisis leading the country to its current malaise. Had the Sinhalese Buddhist hardliners been more willing to share power with the Tamils and Muslims, an integrated country wouldn’t have seen the 30-year war, which not only resulted in the massive debt for a bloated military but also the election of the dastardly Rajapakses to power, who then squandered whatever little resources the country had in unproductive vanity projects funded by the Chinese, while also borrowing freely from the West?

      If the country is to turn around and find a better future, it has to first find a modus vivendi for the Sinhalese to coexist with the Tamils and Muslims in peace. Don’t blame outside forces all the time for the idiotic decisions made by the public and the successive elected leaders.

  • 2
    1

    Shakthidharan’s “Counting and Cracking” played to rave reviews in Australia, at the Edinburgh Festival and elsewhere in Britain. I must say, on reading the script, I didnt anticipate such a fantastic piece of theatre.

    I wish Shakthidharan could bring it here, along with the sequel, & stage them with actors both from the original production as well as SLs in situ.

    I would love to see these plays. Perhaps we should be as proud of “Counting and Cracking” as we are of “The Seven Moons”.

    Which reminds me, I recently came across a fascinating piece of advice Ernest Hemingway gave to an aspiring writer nearly a century ago. I sent it to the Island in a letter. If they dont publish it, perhaps I’ll send it to CT & see how readers react to it. Certainly Rajpal Abey wont be thrilled.

  • 1
    0

    Shakthidharan’s “Counting and Cracking” played to rave reviews in Australia, at the Edinburgh Festival and elsewhere in Britain. I must say, on reading the script, I didnt anticipate such a fantastic piece of theatre.

    I wish Shakthidharan could bring it here, along with the sequel, & stage them with actors both from the original production as well as SLs in situ.

    I would love to see these plays. Perhaps we should be as proud of “Counting and Cracking” as we are of “The Seven Moons”.

    Which reminds me, I recently came across a fascinating piece of advice Ernest Hemingway gave to an aspiring writer nearly a century ago. I sent it to the Island in a letter. If they dont publish it, perhaps I’ll send it to CT & see how readers react to it. Certainly Rajpal Abey wont be thrilled.

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