Arts

Exclusive:  Booker Prize Winner Robs My Manuscript – Rajpal

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“The recent Booker prize-winning book Seven Moons of Mali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilleke of Sri Lanka was blatantly plagiarized from a manuscript I sent the author in 2009. I sent it for review purposes only and I have the necessary documentation in this regard,” Rajpal Abeynayake, Attorney at Law, former Editor in Chief of Daily News and former Deputy Editor of Sunday Times, both are national newspapers in Colombo, told the Sri Lanka Guardian.

This is a very serious matter,” he pointed out. “Copyright law is in existence for a reason. Nobody can profit off the labours or the creativity of another person,” a lawyer by profession who is one of the most senior journalists in Sri Lanka, Mr Abeynayake added.

“In the West institutions such as the Booker Prize Committee would understand that rectitude and propriety in these matters are vital. Imagine if writers and other persons in the arts are given the lisence to crib from anyone as they please,” he observed.

“About this specific matter, yes, Shehan Karunatillaka stole my manuscript and based his novel on my work making cosmetic changes. It’s unconscionable. He should be held to account,” he demanded.

Rise and Rise of Telugu Cinema

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Following experts adapted from a recent essay written by the author to Frontline India, a fortnightly English magazine from the stable of The Hindu, has been a distinguished presence in the media world since 1984.

On the face of it, these are the best of times for Telugu cinema. A series of hits showcased the creative talent and economic muscle of the industry. International newspapers, which barely acknowledged the existence of Telugu cinema in the past, carried full-length stories on Telugu films. Videos of kids dancing to Telugu songs have gone viral. Both RRR and the Baahubali franchise had white, Anglo-Saxon fans promoting them. And no less a star than Kangana Ranaut went on record saying that Bollywood had much to learn from Telugu, “the number one film industry in India”. In the words of Ram Gopal Varma: “Telugu is the new Hindi.”

Telugu films, in their Hindi dubbed versions, have been circulating in increasing numbers for well over a decade now. However, for most viewers and commentators of Hindi cinema, they were indistinguishable from other “south films”.

The image makeover of Telugu cinema began with, and was facilitated by, the success of Baahubali: The Conclusion. Complementing the awe-inspiring Telugu blockbuster was a trickle of films made on modest budgets, like C/O Kancharapalem, which had a short theatrical run but a long afterlife on OTT platforms. During the nationwide lockdown, there were notable direct-to-OTT releases produced in Telugu, including the action thriller V. The post-lockdown successes are, of course, the stuff of legend.

Beyond the ballyhoo

Scratch the surface—or scroll down the results thrown up by Google on queries related to Telugu cinema—and a different picture emerges. While it is true that Telugu films, and those made by the three other southern industries, have done remarkably well in comparison with their Hindi counterparts in 2021 and 2022, there have been expensive failures like the Prabhas starrer Radhe Shyam and Acharya, the latter featuring both Chiranjeevi and Ram Charan. That is not all. Telugu and English language media reports indicate that theatrical viewing in the Telugu States too has not reached pre-pandemic levels. In fact, most Telugu films released in the past year have not done well. As one newspaper report put it: “Dwindling theatrical revenues has forced the Telugu film fraternity to rethink its business models.”

These are the very same business models that generated eye-popping revenues for the mega hits: high ticket prices during opening weeks, reduced gap between theatrical and other releases, and, of course, bets on blockbusters. Producers held exhibitors responsible for inflating ticket prices and thereby dampening viewer enthusiasm. They pointed fingers at stars and directors for charging exorbitant fees which, in turn, inflated budgets. They also felt that competition from OTT platforms was a threat to theatrical exhibition. In a rare move, Telugu film producers went on a strike in early August—not something one expects from a model industry.

At the same time, cinema in general is not what it was in the 20th century. Moments of crises threw up new opportunities. For Telugu cinema, this came in the form of dubbing and digital distribution and exhibition which opened new markets. From 2010, starting with the Rajinikanth starrer Enthiran/Robot, Tamil and Telugu blockbusters competed within India and beyond for Hindi cinema’s market. On occasion, dubbed versions of Tamil and Telugu productions bettered the collections of their Hindi counterparts.

Battle between ideologies

This business competition has now turned into a battle between ideologies. Sections of the media, celebrities, and social media influencers have made systematic attempts to use Telugu cinema as a resource in the ongoing campaign against Bollywood. It is another matter altogether that key players in the Mumbai film industry—including Karan Johar and distributor Anil Thadani—have partnered with their Telugu counterparts to co-produce, distribute, and publicise Hyderabad productions that went on to become hits in Hindi.

If anything, we are witnessing an unprecedented degree of collaboration between Telugu and Hindi industries, and the consolidation of an entertainment industry that cuts across languages and formats.
None of this has come in the way of building up Telugu films, in particular their Hindi dubbed versions, as socially and politically desirable alternatives to Bollywood’s supposedly anti-Hindu and anti-national products. Among the films released this year, RRR and Karthikeya 2 stand out for the traction they gained on social media owing to the campaigns against Bollywood.

Click here to read the complete essay

The Role of Religion in Our Society

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We are agricultural societies that have industrialized within one or two generations…If you look at Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore – there’s been one remarkable phenomenon – the rise of religion…there is a quest for some higher explanations about man’s purpose. About why we are here. This is associated with periods of great stress in society. ~ Lee Kuan Yew

We live in the Anthropocene –  an era of profound social disturbance caused by man-made and natural disasters.  Both Mother Nature and Father Time are punishing us.  Never in the annals of human history have we given ourselves deadlines to avert disaster.  Yet, we believe that we’ll find some way to get out of the  mess. This could well be our natural inclination toward religion – in our faith and belief.

Religion is fundamentally a matter of faith and belief which, although not mutually exclusive, represent two different aspects of one’s religious persuasion. While faith represents trust or dependence in one sense, it also represents “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof”. Belief on the other hand is defined as  “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists – a religious conviction – trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something”. In other words, faith and belief supplement each other, often confusing the literati until explained with clarity by someone (other than the writer) who might be more erudite in the scriptures of the various religions that exist in the world today.

What is even more interesting is the definition of the word “religion”.  Yuval Noah Harari in his much acclaimed and celebrated historical work “Sapiens – a Brief History of Humankind” defines religion as “ a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order”.  Harari distinguishes his statement by saying that religion differs from a sport – say professional football – on the point that whereas human beings invented the structure, rules and conduct involving football, religion is not the product of human whims or agreements. He goes on to explain that “FIFA may any moment enlarge the size of the goal or suspend the offside rule”.

It is reported that approximately 85% of the world identifies with a religion. The most popular religion is Christianity, followed by an estimated 2.38 billion people worldwide. Islam, which is practiced by more than 1.91 billion people, is second. However, population researchers predict that Islam will have nearly caught up to Christianity by 2050.

So, what caused the popularity of religion in society?  Samuel Huntington, University Professor at Harvard University in his ground-breaking book “The Clash of Civilizations and  Remaking the World Order offers an explanation, “ The most obvious, most salient, and most powerful cause of the global resurgence is precisely what was supposed to cause the death of religion: the processes of social, economic, and cultural modernization that swept across the world in the second half of the twentieth century. Long-standing sources of identity and systems of authority are disrupted. People move from the countryside to the city, become separated from their roots, and take new jobs or no jobs. They interact with large numbers of strangers and are exposed to new sets of relationships.  They need new sources of identity, new forms of a stable community and new sets of moral precepts to provide them with a sense of meaning and purpose. Religion…meets these needs”.

In other words, religion gives us a sense of identity and direction in a world in which we are struggling to survive amidst the machinations of greed, ambition, self-interest, and downright evil.  The growing social dimension of religion may have emerged as a result of the transition of society from the agricultural revolution   (which was accompanied by a religious revolution) to the industrial revolution and onwards to the knowledge revolution, which could have prompted Jean Paul Sartre to say, “Hell is other people”.

Here’s my take.

Any religion or philosophy of life (such as Buddhism) must be based on the pursuit of a good life. Michael Sandel – also a Harvard professor – put it best when he said “the common good is about how we live together in community. It’s about the ethical ideals we strive for together, the benefits and burdens we share, and the sacrifices we make for one another. It’s about the lessons we learn from one another about how to live a good and decent life”.  Our lives must be shared with one another, and to successfully accomplish this goal, there must be a fusion or extension of the holy scriptures ( The Holy Bible; The Holy Quran; or The Bhagavat Geeta, to name a few) to the wisdom of our generations, while preserving our beliefs and faiths. As the father of existentialism – Soren Kierkegaard – a devout Christian of Danish origin said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”.  Kierkegaard brought a potent mixture of discourses to bear as social critique and for the purpose of renewing Christian faith within Christendom – what he called “the leap of faith”.

Study.Com carries an interesting piece about the leap of faith: “the definition of a leap of faith is a person having trust in something despite the lack of logic, reason, and rationality. They leap, figuratively, to interact or explore this thing. The phrase is significant to understanding the stages of human existence, which comprise a transition from one stage to another through this leap.

When someone believes in God, this would require a leap of faith for Kierkegaard. It disregards any logic and reason because there is no proof that this exists. In moments of despair, confusion, or other feelings of uncertainty and doubt, faith in God is done out of volition. When a person has faith in God, there is nothing that can measure it. It is an intangible phenomenon. For example, there are no predictable stages in life, changes, or movements and actions that a person must go through to garner this conclusion that they have faith”.

There is no scientific evidence that God exists. But we humans believe and indeed know of the existence of things that are scientifically inexplicable.  Take consciousness for example. Each of us knows we have consciousness or awareness, but we cannot scientifically prove it, nor can we ascribe a reason for its existence.  It is this consciousness that enables us to gain knowledge and wisdom through communal endeavours.  We advance our global communities through our consciousness.  At the same time, we also destroy ourselves through our consciousness.

As Deepak Chopra says: “Consciousness is that thing in you that is reading and understanding these words right now. It is the awareness that has made you sentient to every thought, sensation, and feeling your entire life. It is the continuity of your life that has stayed the same while all of the details of your life change. Consciousness is your essential nature, your true self that is the silent basis of all your thoughts and actions”

Consciousness, when blended with the communal nature that religion infuses in us will ultimately help us in conquering natural and man-made disasters while humanism (belief in oneself and no other) alone will not take us through the serious business of existing on this planet.  One may well argue that if we are impelled to act in consonance with our consciousness, we may hear God speak. 

International Literacy Day – 8 September 2022

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Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. ~ Frederick Douglass

The Sri Lanka Guardian was founded as an online web portal in August 2007 “by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. This portal is currently a platform for over a hundred regular writers from around the world”.  In other words, it accommodates writers to express their ideas and views and comment on what’s going on in the world, to be shared with the literati who, it is hoped,  benefit from the intellectual exertions of the writers. In that context, it is ineluctable that the most important date of the year for both the Sri Lanka Guardian and its readership is 8 September.

International Literacy Day falls on 8 September each year and seemingly passes with the unobtrusive dignity of the message it usually carries – that books enlarge a child’s world and enrich an adult’s vision, knowledge, and wisdom.  As the saying goes, reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

Founded in 1966 and designated as International Literacy Day by the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)  the day is meant “to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights. International Literacy Day brings ownership of the challenges of illiteracy back home to local communities where literacy begins, one person at a time”.

UNESCO, which has adopted the theme “Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces” for this year’s celebrations, says it will be an opportunity to rethink the fundamental importance of literacy learning spaces to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable, and inclusive education for all, while going on to say: “In the aftermath of the pandemic, nearly 24 million learners might never return to formal education, out of which, 11 million are projected to be girls and young women. To ensure no one is left behind, we need to enrich and transform the existing learning spaces through an integrated approach and enable literacy learning in the perspective of lifelong learning”.

One of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations is “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”.  Of these words, arguably the most important words are “promote lifelong learning”. Now, most of the world receives basic education in school and those of us who are more receptive and persevering receive university education. But only some of us pursue “lifelong learning”.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman once said he writes his books and columns to learn about things as, in the process of writing he educates himself.  In other words, he acquires knowledge while dispensing wisdom to the world. 

Simplistically put, “literacy” means “the ability to read and write”.  However, this definitive should not be inhibitive to just reading and writing but expansive to be stretched to all the various stages and processes of our education.  Literacy should encompass the five stages of our justification for existence, particularly as literati.  They are, reading; understanding; analyzing; creating and innovating.  Creating and innovating from a literacy sense is achieved through writing, whether it involves writing books, articles, poems, short stories, novels, columns, screenplays, or theatrical plays. The ability to write is innate in all of us but we can bring it to fruition if only we try. The basic tool for writing is reading, which helps us in applying the range of our knowledge to the depths of our curiosity. It makes us realize that we can rejoice in the richness of common academic heritage and believe that imitation is suicide and creativity is the essence of wisdom. At a time when profound and powerful forces are shaking and remaking the world, and information technology brings knowledge to our doorstep, we are in a world which knows no limits to show us that, in a fast-changing world, our challenges are fearsome, but so are our strengths. The fruits of our own literacy give us the certainty of our judgments and the boldness of our convictions to serve the world and help others who might need our guidance.

As the much acclaimed and Man Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy once said: “the place for literature is built by writers and readers. It’s a fragile place in some ways, but an indestructible one. When its broken, we rebuild it. Because we need shelter. I very much like the idea of literature that is needed. Literature that provides shelter. Shelter of all kinds”.

Another distinct benefit of lifelong learning is that it helps us manage ourselves and shows us the path to leadership in our own professions. Leaders who are moral and ethical would know the Greek proverb “Know thyself” and watch out for their mistakes and improve on areas where they are weak in if they continue to pursue learning. They will be able to fix their weakest parts whether they are in regulation, standardization or harmonization. Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, in their book The Mind of the Leader, cite four critical factors sought by today’s workforce: meaning; human connectedness; true happiness; and a desire to contribute positively to the world. Today’s leader has to be connected to herself and to those around her and have a sense of purpose. The teleological significance of life and its meaning and purpose comes from learning. A leader should lead the people towards that sense of purpose. Peter Drucker famously said: “[Y]ou cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first”.

Literacy, if used wisely makes us antifragile, non-traditional, lateral thinkers who take existing usage and change the way things are. The mind of the true literati is not of a one-time solution provider.  It is constantly active and therefore introduces a dimension that goes beyond adaptability.  Nassim Nicholas Taleb,  the author who introduced the concept of anti-fragility says: “ Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”.

The literati also think laterally. Wikipedia sums up lateral thinking as “a manner of solving problems using an indirect and creative approach via reasoning that is not immediately obvious. It involves ideas that may not be obtainable using only traditional step-by-step logic”. Lateral thinking goes against the usual “vertical logic”.  Edward de Bono, widely acclaimed as the father and guru of lateral thinking, explains clearly with what he calls “the intelligence trap”: “a highly intelligent person can construct a rational and well-argued case for virtually any point of view. The more coherent this support for a particular point of view the less the thinker sees any need actually to explore the situation.  Such a person may then become trapped into a particular view simply because he can support it”.

Literacy makes us escape from this trap.

She was a Miracle: Arundhati Roy remembers her mother

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For Arundhati Roy, her mother Mary Roy, who passed Thursday, was a miracle. But the celebrated author was also generous enough to share the goodness of her mother — to whom she offered the last kiss Friday afternoon — with everyone that mattered.

Mary Roy, the renowned educationalist was cremated on the premises of ‘Pallikoodam’, the school that she founded.

Arundhati had dedicated her debut novel, ‘The God of Small Things’ to her mother: For Mary Roy, who grew me up. Who taught me to say ‘excuse me’ before interrupting her in Public. Who loved me enough to let me go.

A copy of the book that fetched her the Man Booker Prize for fiction had been placed by the side of Mary before she was cremated.

“All people have spoken about my mother, what an extraordinary person she is and I don’t need to explain that to anyone because all of us know what a miracle she was,” Arundhati told a small gathering of friends and family that grieved the death of Mary Roy.

“She was one of the fiercest, most fabulous person that ever walked this earth. But the reason I wanted to speak now was to say that she didn’t do it alone.

“All of you, all of you, your faith and your love in her, especially at a time she was a single, divorced woman with two little children, with no backing.”

Mary Roy’s Pallikoodam had a humble beginning before it revolutionalised the education system in Kerala. It is known how Arundhati had suggested that name to her mother, who had been the institution’s head for 42 years.

She was 89 and is survived by two children, daughter Arundhati Roy, renowned writer and activist who won the 1997 Man Booker prize and son Lalit Roy. [ Photo ©  maktoobmedia]

“We remember we were five and six years old. We used to arrive at the rotary club. We were little, we had ‘choolu’, we used to come in the morning, we used to sweep up the cigarette stubs.

“We used to clean up the place, we used to put up tables and stools and it used to be the school. That is how this school started,” she remembered. “It started with the faith from a very few people, who believed in Mary Roy,” she added.

Arundhati Roy thanked everyone that shared the ‘extraordinary journey’ of her mother. “Without you, we will not be we, my brother will not be who he is, I will not be who I am. This town made us, sometimes by being cruel but that’s good too, you know. We didn’t turn out to be people who expect the world to just open up for us. It’s been such an extraordinary journey.”

This story is a part of SLG Syndication. Click here to read the original article published in On Manorama.

Dudley’s Resignation and Return to the Throne

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The following excerpt was adapted from the official biography of late Prime Minister Dudley Senanayaka, published by the Senanayake Foundation and Sarasavi Publishers.  Dudley Senanayake was known as “the reluctant politician.” It was never his intention to pursue public office immense pressure brought on him by friends and relatives forced him to enter public life. He entered into politics at the age of 24 years and became four times prime minister of Ceylon (Sir Lanka) during the 37 years of his political career. He is perhaps the only leader in recent history who voluntarily gave up power when one was at one’s peak, and perhaps the only ex-leader to be persuaded back to revive the flagging fortunes of one’s party.

Dudley Senanayake, the second Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, the man who led his party to a resounding victory at the 1952 General Election, for the first time obtaining a two-thirds majority in Parliament, resigned from the post of Prime Minister on 12th October 1953 and handed the reins to Sir John Kotelawala. This was the first and the only time a head of State has renounced power in Independent Sri Lanka. The only other parallel in our long recorded history is the renunciation of the kingdom by King Siri-Sangabo whose name transpires at the commencement of this book. Just one and half years after being elected as the head of the Government, Dudley resigned as Prime Minister and chose to remain as a backbencher until the Parliament was dissolved in 1956. Citing ill-health, he issued a statement pleading with the Nation to release him from his responsibilities. In his statement he stated,

Dudley attending a function with his mother after becoming a member of parliament for Dedigama in 1936 [Photo: Special arrangement]

“I have endeavoured to fulfil the heavy responsibilities of the important charge entrusted to my care with all the conscientiousness that is possible to a human being and it is the same spirit of conscientiousness which makes me feel now that at a trying time like the present there should be at the helm of affairs a person unhampered by any ailment such as has dogged me in recent months.

It is exactly 18 months since having scarcely recovered from the shock of the sudden loss of my father, I yielded not without hesitation to the persuasion of my colleagues in the Cabinet in the Parliamentary Party to undertake to carry on the work from where my father left it. Almost immediately thereafter I decided to dissolve Parliament and go to the country for a clear mandate. Though the result was most gratifying, the effort which I had to put into it left little room for any recovery from the earlier strain.”

He went on to say,

“The ‘unexpected misfortune of my not being able to continue to share in the service of my Motherland in an important capacity I must bear as best as I can. But I take my leave of you with firm faith that our Party and our new Government will work in unison for the welfare and happiness of Sri Lanka”

Plagued with illness and intrigue all Dudley wished was to lead a quiet life. There were also rumours that Dudley was going to become a Buddhist monk, but it was never to be. Even though he wanted to give up politics permanently, little did he realize that in a few years’ time he would lead his party once again like a colossus dominating the entire political arena.

RE-ENTRY TO POLITICS

The General Election of 1956 witnessed the debacle of the United National Party. The Party that held a two-thirds majority in Parliament was reduced to a mere 8 seats. Sir John’s leadership was clearly rejected by the masses and the U.N.P. was beaten to a pulp. Unable to fathom this pathetic performance, the elders of the U.N.P. were looking for ways and means to repair the damage done to the Party. J.R.Jayawardene who was considered the deputy lost his own seat. He was contested by R.G.Senanayake, one of his erstwhile colleagues, who left the U.N.P. to contest as an independent and was successful in winning not only his own seat in Dambadeniya but also defeating J.R.Jayawardene in Kelaniya and in both instances by huge majorities. The United National Party could not even become the largest party in Opposition. Dr. N.M.Perera, the leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, became the Leader of the Opposition.

Most people began to say and the U.N.P. itself began to think that the Party was finished politically. In sheer desperation, the elders of the U.N.P. decided to ask Dudley Senanayake to lead the Party again. After much persuasion, Dudley consented to lead the Party on condition that Sir John resigns from all positions held by him. Although many compromises were forwarded, Dudley rejected them all. Finally, Sir John stepped down and Dudley Senanayake found himself leading the U.N.P. once again.

S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, who won the general election of 1956 and became Prime Minister, was assassinated in 1959 and one of his Ministers W.Dahanayake succeeded him.

However, after numerous cabinet reshuffles and being unable to command the majority in Parliament, the Prime Minister dissolved Parliament and held a general election in March 1960.

The United National Party was led by Dudley Senanayake and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was led by C.P.De Silva, the deputy of late Mr. Bandaranaike. The incumbent Prime Minister W.Dahanayake contested from his own party, the Lanka Prajatantravadi Pakshaya and not only did he lose the election but also lost his own seat — Galle. The U.N.P. became the largest Party in Parliament winning 50 out of 151 seats in Parliament. Dudley in the absence of an overall majority formed a caretaker government in March 1960 and became Prime Minister for the third time.

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