Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Comics in Sinhala

First of all, let it be understood that the 'comic' in Sri Lanka, in the Sinhala language, dealt with serious themes, as opposed to, say, American comics which dealt with fantasy, be it Caspar, the Fantastic Four or Batman. The Sinhala comic in its heyday from the 1960s to the 80s dealt mainly with two themes -- love, and adventure, including historical adventure stories.

The above picture shows the front and back covers from an early Sinhala comic by G. S. Fernando. A pioneer of the Sinhala comic, G. S. was a superb illustrator and artist with a fluid, even minimalist style. He is credited with the first ever Sinhala comic to be published as a book -- Neela, which unfortunately I do not have. The book shown here contains nine short illustrated stories, all of which were carried in the popular monthly Rasavahini magazine prior to being published as a book. The stories were written by others. One of them, Dharma Sri Kaldera, went on to become a scrpt writer and film maker.

Unfortunately, the year of publication is not given in the book. I think this one dates back to the sixties.

Women authors

“Serenissima’ by Erica Jong was first published in 1987. Anyway, this Bantam edition which I bought second-hand recently was published in 1988. Eric Jong was already famous in the 1970s as a feminist author. I read her novel ‘Fear of Flying’ in the 1980s, and it didn’t make much of an impression on me, except maybe the graphic descriptions of sex (thirty years ago, sex obviously occupied a different place in my list of priorities). It’s hard to see an Eric Jong book in a bookshop nowadays, so I bought this one. I enjoyed reading it, more for her prose than the story, and more for vivid chracterisations and settings than for the sex (writers should admit that, after a deluge of DVD porn, the print stuff has lost its luster. Or  maybe it’s my age).

The book’s heroine, or spokesperson, is Jesicca Pruitt, an ageing Holywood actress who is in Venice to be a judge at the Venice Film Festival. She’s a great fan of William Shakespeare, and hopes that a planned film loosely based on the Merchant of Venice will revive her flagging career.

Among the many characters who fill the pages are an eccentric and amoral Soviet poet, and Shakespeare himself. Jessica escapes from the pressures of the paparazzi-dictated festival world, finally resulting in serious illness, by escaping into the 16th century. Was Shakespeare actually here in Venice with the Earl of Southampton? It’s an intriguing possibility to her, and she ends up living that past.

It’s a good book to read even if you are not into Shakespeare, and especially so if you are. The book can be read simply for the quality of its prose. She describes the world of glamour but her attitudes, observations and remarks are a world apart from other ‘glamour writers’ of the era such as Harold Robbins.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Children's stories written by me Title: Chitti's Car

One day, Chitti the car decided to go on a drive on his own.

This may sound unusual, since cars normally don’t go for drives by themselves.

But Chitti was a toy car and, like the children who own them, they sometimes decide to do things on their own, in their own way.

So, Chitti decided to go for a drive by himself. Therefore, Chitti the car, sleeping under Shan’s bed while Shan (the car’s owner) was sleeping on it, crept out quietly and went out of the room with a whirring noise.

You should know now that Chitti is a battery-operated toy car, with a flashing light on the hood and blinking tail lights. He can make beeping  noises and will turn 180 degrees when stopped by any obstacle.

Since Chitti didn’t want to wake up the sleeping Shan, he went out without the beeping noises and the lights.

It was five thirty in the morning. The front door was open since Shan’s mother wakes up at five a.m. during weekdays to cook. Bindu the dog was half-asleep on the living room floor when Chitti went whirring past it. Bindu half-opened its eyes and pricked its ears. But then, since it had been dreaming, the dog closed its eyes again, thinking that this was part of the dream.

Chitti bumped over the pebbles in the garden, and stopped near the bright red gate. The little car’s eyes, those doe-shaped headlights, widened in wonder; he had never been taken out of the house.

Chitti didn’t hesitate for one moment. With siren flashing and tail lights blinking, he passed under the gate, and began racing along the street.
The street was nicely lit with orange lights. It was empty. A sleeping dog raised its head and barked as Chitti passed. Lights were lit in some of the houses. Suddenly, a big lorry came roaring down the street.

Scared by this apparition with its fierce lights and loud noise, Chitti hid behind a lamp post. The earth shook as the lorry roared past.

Suddenly, Chitti wondered if exploring this unfamiliar world was such a good idea. Chitti was used to seeing cars. Shan’s father had a car. It didn’t make a big noise when it was started and it stayed quiet under the porch at night. But the lorry with its noise and lights was a monster. Chitti knew he would get crushed like an egg if he was unfortunate enough to get in the way.

But the street was quiet again, and curiosity got the better of Chitti, who decided to keep going.

The city was coming alive now. There were people walking about, hurrying to catch a bus or train. More vehicles roared along. Radios blared from roadside tea shops. The street lights went out. But no one seemed to notice the little toy car creeping along on his own. People either didn’t notice or they thought this was quite normal.

It was becoming harder to move without bumping into something – somebody’s foot, some rubbish, a stone. Each time this happened, Chitti did a 180 degree turn, which was very annoying. And now, people were beginning to notice the little toy car with the siren and flashing lights which was moving on its own.

“It must be by remote-control,” someone shouted.

There was a pause; and then, another voice said: “It might be a bomb!”

Chitti began hurrying away. Somebody was hurrying after. Chitti began racing along as fast as he could, which wasn’t very fast. The person chasing Chitti was now very close.

At that moment, Chitti bumped against something, and did the usual 180 degreee turn. This sent the little car hurrying across a street with busy traffic. A car screeched to a stop. Chitti was lucky not to get run over. By the time Chitti’s pursuer managed to cross the street, Chitti was racing down the pavement.

But the worst was yet to come. A schoolboy saw Chitti. He was right in front. The boy stopped and the little car stopped. They looked at each other. The boy’s eyes began to shine, and he leaped forward.

Chitti has one problem. He can’t turn quickly. He was still turning slowly when the schoolboy grabbed him with both hands.

Chitti began protesting. All his lights glared and the beep beep noise became shrill. But there was nothing Chitti could do as the boy opened his school bag and stuffed the little car in.

Eventually, Chitti began to tire of protesting and became quiet.

The schoolboy proudly displayed Chitti to his friends. He put the little car on the classroom floor. Chitti saw a chance to escape and began rushing away.

The schoolboy ran after him, and caught him easily after Chitti bumped against a desk leg and did his usual 180 degree turn. After that, Chitti was thrown again into the school bag.

Chitti spent an unhappy time in the school bag until the boy went home and showed the little car excitedly to his mother.

“You picked it in the street?” the boy’s mother asked. “It’s a piece of junk. Throw it away!”

But the boy would have none of it. He kept the little car on the dining table while he had his lunch. After lunch, he began playing with Chitti.

Chitti was scared. This boy wasn’t gentle like Shan. He had knitted brows and looked fierce. Chitti decided to stay quiet.

The boy switched the power on, but nothing happened. The lights didn’t blink and the siren didn’t blare.

Angry, the boy pushed the little car hard along the floor. The wheels turned, but the motor remained silent.

The boy got very angry. He turned the little car over and examined its underside. He removed the battery cover and took out the batteries. Throwing the car on a chair, the boy ran to his mother, demanding a pair of new batteries.

“Throw that thing away,” the mother shouted at him.

But this was a stubborn little boy and he began badgering his mother, following her like a shadow and giving her no peace. In the end, she gave him the money to buy a pair of batteries from the shop next door.

The boy rushed back home with a pair of new batteries. He stuffed them impatiently into the battery chamber, closed it, and switched on the little car.

Chitti remained determinedly silent.

The boy re-opened the battery chamber and looked at the batteries. He put them back in, changing the negative positive positions.

Chitti remained grimly silent.

Taking out the two batteries, the boy ran to his mother, and complained that the shop had given him a pair of old batteries.

“Let’s see,” the mother said patiently. She removed the two old batteries from the clock, and inserted the new ones into it. The clock ticked on as usual.

“There were two batteries in that toy, right?” she asked her son. “Let’s try those.” The boy gave them to her. The clock ticked on with those batteries, too.

“There’s nothing wrong with the batteries,” said the mother. “The toy isn’t working. That’s why somebody threw it away. You should throw it away. As if you don’t have enough toys at home.”

But the sulking boy took Chitti back in to his room and tried the controls again. When nothing worked, he pushed Chitti again along the floor, scratching the wheels. When Chitti remained stubbornly silent, the boy grew very angry.

Furious, he threw the little car against a wall. Chitti crashed with a loud noise and fell to the floor. The flashing light on top of the hood broke and fell off.

Chitt’s first thought was to flee. But he knew he would be caught and abused until he broke into little pieces. Wisely, Chitti decided to do nothing. He shuddered at the thought of being thrown against the wall again, but steeled himself to remain quiet and immobile.
Chitti had the fright of his life when the boy picked him up again. Before he could react, the boy ran to the window and threw him out.

Luckily, Chitti landed on a hedge which broke his fall. He slipped down the hedge on to the grass, and began thanking his lucky stars. Worried that the nasty little boy would come looking for him, he crept away quietly and hid behind a pile of bricks.

But there was no sign of the little boy. Chitti kept hiding until dark. When night fell and everything was quiet, he crept out of his hiding place and slipped quietly under the gate.

The street was dark, with just one street light at the far end. A van was parked outside a gate but there were no vehicles running along and no pedestrians. Chitti crept along the pavement as quietly as he could. He now regretted having left the safety of Shan’s home, where he was loved and cared for. The world outside was far too dangerous for a little toy car to be out wandering about on his own.

Then there was the problem of finding his way back home. Chitti had no idea where he was. Quite frightened, he kept moving from street to street. In some streets, there were people about. There were vehicles, too. Chitti darted quickly from one dark place to another. Once, a dog began chasing him. Chitti stopped and waited. The dog came over, sniffed, and went away.

But where was Shan’s house? Chitti still had no idea. The city now looked very big and Chitti became frightened. What if he could not find the house? He would have to keep wandering about till next morning, when some schoolboy would spot him and pick him up again. Or he might get crushed under some racing vehicle.

Chitti stopped suddenly. This house looked familiar. He remembered slipping under a bright red gate that morning. This gate was bright red. Then there was that big bougainvillea plant behind the garden wall. Chitti crept under the gate excitedly. The little car was bruised, shaken and tired after all the adventures of the day.

Chitti banged against the front door, and did his usual turn. He turned around and waited. The dog began barking. Chitti banged against the door again. The dog began barking louder.

The porch light came on and Shan’s father opened the door. Seeing no one, he was about to close it when he saw Chitti waiting outside.

He picked up Chitti and closed the door. Then he called Shan and said: “Here, you’ve left your car outside and forgotten about it. Now take it and stop crying.”

Shan protested that he had not taken his toy car out of the house. But he was overjoyed to get Chitti back. He took Chitti to his room, cleaned the dust and dirt with a wet cloth, kept the little car next to his pillow and went to sleep happily.

Chitti, too, slept happily, knowing he would never leave Shan again.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Listening to Hindustani Music

Listening to Hindustani Music

This is an excellent introduction to the subject of Indian music. One of my favourite books, picked up from the pavement (from bookseller Balasundaram who died in 2005, who gave me so many of the books in my collection and featured in this blog). Published by ‘Priya Adarkar, Orient Longman Ltd., Kamani Marg, Ballard Estate, Bombay 400038 in 1976, and by Sangam Books, a division of Orient Longman Ltd as a Sangam Original).

It has short but detailed chapters on topics such as Indian and Western music, Hindustani and Karnatak Music, Ragamalika paintings, Aesthetics, emotion and Rasa, Music criticism in India, Ravi Shankar and the West, and critical appraisals of musicians such as Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pannalal Ghosh and Kumar Gandharva.

The author (b. 1936) taught English literature at the University of Rajasthan, and clearly understands Western music as well as Indian, which is why this book is such a delight to read. I don’t know if there have been any reprints. I think it deserves to be read today and in future.