02 July 2013

Jagath Chamila accepts an award and teaches an invaluable lesson

Jagath Chamila with his first drama teacher, Tissa Gunawardena [Pic courtesy gossiplanka.com]
Jagath Chamila won an award. An international award. A prestigious award. Not a ‘certificate of merit’ or a ‘shortlisting’, but a top prize, ‘Best Actor’ at the New York City International Film Festival for his performance as ‘Sam’ in ‘Samge Kathawa’ (‘Sam’s Story’, based on the Gratiaen Award winning novel by Elmo Jayawardena of the same title).  Not quite the film equivalent of an Olympic Gold but a truly commendable achievement nevertheless.  Something all Sri Lankans can feel proud of.

In his acceptance speech at the awards ceremony Jagath Chamila spoke in Sinhala.  That was not the first time that someone whose mother tongue is not English spoke in a language other than English when accepting an award.  And yet, it was significant, because it is not the norm.  It is considered a come down of sorts not to speak in English. Even broken English is considered preferable to Sinhala or Tamil for reasons that need no elaboration.  Such choices are justified in the name of audience-convenience and the ‘courtesy’ serves to brush aside the preference-devils that dwell in minds and makes people slaves to agendas by and large external to themselves, their communities and nations. 
Jagath Chamila was courteous.  He spoke in Sinhala and also in English.  Courtesy, though, is not what this is about.  This is about something more profound.

Jagath Chamila took the award in the name of his country.  He went further.  He said ‘This belongs to my country, Sri Lanka’.  The pride in eyes and voice was unmistakable.  These are time when it is fashionable to humiliate one’s country and one’s people, focus on the bad and pretend that there’s nothing positive to talk about.  These are times when in these and other ways invite the most despicable international operators to poke dirty fingers into the country’s affairs, a time when such behavior is a non-negotiable in order to obtain membership in boorish, self-congratulatory and supercilious elite clubs including those with ‘civil society’ tags.  It is therefore ‘different’ when someone, anyone, utters the name ‘Sri Lanka’ with the kind of warmth and affection that Jagath Chamila did. 
That’s not the story either.  He expressed gratitude to his parents. That’s not out of the ordinary either.  What makes his speech special is the fact that he remembered with unmistakable gratitude his first drama teacher, Tissa Gunawardena.  ‘I thank my high school drama teacher, Tissa Gunawardena….this belongs to my country…Sri Lanka’. 

It reminded me of something Arjuna Parakrama told me in 1987.  He was at the time a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburg.  He had just submitted his Masters thesis. 
‘I dedicated it to my teachers.  We convince ourselves that our achievements are obtained through our own hard work and nothing else.  We forget how much our teachers contribute.’ 

Most teachers are not unaware of this reluctance to acknowledge contribution, and the wiser among them don’t take offense.  They don’t demand expression of gratitude but would be happy if their students at least recognize and greet them if they were to meet them somewhere randomly. 
The Ascetic Siddartha, in his pursuit of ‘truth’ spent long hours at the feet of teachers.  Upon attaining Enlightenment, the first act was the symbolic expression of gratitude to the Esatu Bo Tree that had offered shelter from sun and rain, the animisa locana pooja, where it is said that Siddhartha Gauthama, the Enlightened One spent an entire week gazing upon the tree without blinking. 

At the end of the seventh day of the seventh week, it is said that the Enlightened One reflected on who he should impart the knowledge he had obtained.  The first thoughts were of his teachers.  When he cast his all-seeing ‘eyes’ he realized that they had all passed on. 
Jagath Chamila was not sharing anything close to what was the Thathagatha’s to give.  And yet, he thought of his teachers.  Those are easy words, true, but words that rarely make it to the tongue of those who get to deliver acceptance speeches at awards ceremonies. 

If anyone had doubts about how genuine those words were, they would have been divested of them when Jagath Chamila returned to garlands, applause and welcome.  Among friends, family and well-wishers was a man called Tissa Gunawardena. Old. Infirm.  In a wheel-chair. That embrace was tear-made and made for tears.  An authentication, if you will, of ‘easy’ sentiments  expressed to a waiting-to-applaud audience. 
The award was accepted in the name of Sri Lanka.  The recipient demonstrated, in a few words and in a simple matter of expressing gratitude, that he belongs to all of humanity.



Anonymous said...

Good topic to show how people remember their past. because Malind I see that some of our gentlemen in the 83 Group just look the other side and pretend not to know us the very peope who played to gether 30 years ago.

Ranjith Asoka said...

I was in tears all the way through this wonderfully written. Praise the humanity.

Anonymous said...

A very good article with lots of values highlighted.I could say this is beyond a reporting of an event,which enlighten the reader. Thank you ,Malinda