23 September 2011

Those who die and those who are to die

Death is the great leveler, they say.  Just yesterday, by way of jest, I asked a colleague a question:  ‘when people die, the sages say, they don’t take anything…is this true?’  Shelly looked at me half-amused and answered in the affirmative.  ‘Not even their clothes?’ I asked.  ‘I knew something like that was coming,’ she responded with a laugh.  Then I went on and on about tattoos, body odours and other add-ons, designed and natural.  I also asked whether the thousands who died at 1.09 pm (the question was asked at 1.10 pm) were all moving around in the hereafter together, the old, the still-born, tyrants, prostitutes, petty thieves, the saintly, accident victims, the murdered and executed, the dismembered and congenitally deformed, all naked regardless of nationality, religious faith, political affiliation and such.  That was a time to laugh.  This is not.
Joe, as 'Vannihami' in Prasanna Vithanage's 'Pura Handa Kaluwara' (The Darkness of the Full Moon)
‘Death’ arrived in two ways.  It had two names.  Joe and Troy. From 1957 to 2006, from Saradama to Dheewari, Joe Abeywickrama entertained audiences in innumerable ways on the silver screen.  He gave life to screenplay, fleshed out characters and made characters inhabit our thoughts and inform our own life-engagements in ways that few actors did or can.  Many are the accolades and awards he won over his acting career.  Others can enumerate. I just can’t forget him in Daesa Nisa (Nirudka), Siribo Aiya, Soldaadu Unnahe (Soldier), Baddegama (Silindu), Kolamba Sanniya (Andare), Bambaru Avith (Anton Aiya), Madol Duwa (Loku Iskola Mahaththaya), Maldeniye Simiyon, Pooja (Jamis the Executioner), Purahanda Kaluwara (Vannihami), and Malata No-ena Bambaru (Sunny). 
My friend Anasuya Subasinghe describes him thus: ‘Joe Abeywickrama passed away last night. An actor of phenomenal capacity. One of the best I’ve seen in my lifetime. No method acting schools. No affected superstar bullshit. Just a simple man who was put on this planet to perform with his instinct and never failed to entertain! If only there were more like him…’  He, perhaps more than any other actor of his generation, could with utmost ease call upon the widest range of emotions to settle on countenance.  In his eyes were resident hundreds of characters and character traits.  He was that versatile.  He not only had control over each and every facial muscle but could order each and every one of them to play to multiple scripts.  He passed.  And that’s era-end, for me. 
Troy is still with us.  Marked for death, not dead.  Troy Davis can be executed by lethal injection any minute now. Originally scheduled to be murdered (yes, that’s the word) at 7:00 pm Eastern Standard Time, USA, on September 21, 2011, the ‘moment’ had been delayed since judges were deliberating on a stay-execution plea.
What’s his story?
He has been wrongly convicted over the killing of a police officer in 1989. Absolutely no physical evidence has been found that implicates him in the killing. No murder weapon has ever been found.  Seven of the nine witnesses whose evidence helped the prosecution secure a guilty verdict have since recanted or altered their version of the relevant incident and related events. Five have signed statements saying they were coerced by police to testify against Davis, a common element of many racist “legal lynchings” targeting Black people.   
The real killer has been named by three people.  Troy is black. That counts, it seems.  In the negative.  Robert O. Blake, like Barack Obama might say ‘We stand by our actions’, but this means that ‘due process’ is observed in the breach when it comes to justice in the United States of America.  Good America (yes, there is also ‘Bad’, ‘Ugly’, ‘Racist’ etc versions) has objected in Troy Davis was executed many forms and with the strength of numbers.  People have stood up across that country and all over the world. 
I wrote the title before I wrote this article. It is wrong.  Troy Davis would not know or care but I feel bad.  I leave it because that is how things were when I wrote it.   It is 10.56 am, September 22, 2011 here in Colombo Sri Lanka.  It is 1.26 am in New York.  Troy Davis would not know.  two minutes ago. Death maybe a leveler, but life is wobbly and wobble-life does not level out.  There is nothing to laugh about. 



sandika said...

Two different characters from two different corners of this world teach us the realities of life in two different ways. These two characters may have gone to two different places of this universe by now I believe. Who knows we may see him /Mr. Joe Abeywickrama again on the big screen through another film or a character possibly directed by someone else.
The award winning film called ‘the death’ is directed by a true character and is based on true stories. And I believe each one of us have our own ways of directing and editing our own film call ‘death’ the success of this film depends on the scripts that we write some times.

Your article led me to think many different things about life and death in a few different ways.

I like to say that you have simply written this in a very understandable way I like to thank you for that. I like to say that this is one of the good articles you have written about the realities of life.