20 July 2016

Jayasena Jayakoday: an architect of our today

Six years ago, Prasanna Jayakody, film-maker, came to see me.  This was a couple of months after his father, the renowned writer Jayasena Jayakody had passed away.  He spoke of his father and about the the difficult times.  He told me that his father had broken both legs in an accident and once broken his arm as well. Accidents. He was arrested in 1971, he said.  

‘Arrested?’ I asked.  ‘Was he involved with the JVP?’  

‘Yes he was.  I remember the day the Police came to take him away.  He was on top of a tree, trying to pluck a Jak fruit.  He asked the Police whether it was to obtain a statement from him or something else.  He was smiling from the corner of his mouth.  My mother was upset, but I remember him brushing her away, saying something to us (my older brother and I), changing into a shirt and trousers and getting into the vehicle.  He was in jail for a year and a half.’

At the time I wrote a daily column for the Daily News titled 'The Morning Inspection'.  The conversation as well as other conversations that had taken place earlier in the day prompted me to write a piece titled 'Some days are not made for writing'.  

The following is a tribute of a kind for Jayasena Jayakody that I wrote around that time. 

  Last evening (Friday, July 16, 2010), I was toying with three possible subjects to write on.  First there is the long overdue note on the website run by the International Crisis Group.  I promised the ICG’s Communications Director, one Andrew Stroehlein, that I would visit this site. I asked him to send me official ICG media releases pertaining to demands for investigations into US/UK actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and instance of clearly evident systemic torture regimes in places like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. He was silent.  The website itself was thin on the above and indicated that the ICG is quite comfortable with what the USA/UK rogue states are perpetrating in these territories and is at best quibbling about modalities on marginal matters and even then placing the blame squarely on ‘rebels’ for creating conditions warranting military action. A predictable European Conquistador narrative, I felt.  A full review was an option.

A second option was a note to the following British MPs who said a lot of things about Sri Lanka and alleged war crimes (key-word being ‘alleged’):  Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab), Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab), Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op), Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con), Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op), Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con), Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab), Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op) and Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op).  The ‘debate’ was punctuated by the usual nauseating British parliamentary etiquette of ‘right-honourbling’ and ‘my friending’ before and after each sentence, but what was utterly insufferable was the ignorance, the double-standards and the sanctimonious posturing by these representatives of a nation that’s right up there among the worst perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity (and I am not talking of the past only).  

Ban Ki-moon to me is like Richard Nixon to Art Buchwald; he’s a perennial subject for comment and a funny one too.   So ‘common’ that I am not counting him here.  The third, then, is a man called Edward Mortimer who has written in the web version of the Guardian about ‘Sri Lanka’s (alleged) descent into dictatorship’, with the loud ‘aside’ about media freedom.  He’s been talking to and/or reading the wrong people, I believe and would do well to investigate where their loyalties lie, whose bucks put words into their mouths and take into cognizance the fact that many if not all so-called journalists whining about media freedom in Sri Lanka have been found guilty of fraud.   He could also read up Eva Golinger’s piece on how the USA goes about purchasing journalists to undermine Governments that are ‘uncontrollable’.  That’s about Venezuela.  He would find that similar thrusts are evident in Sri Lanka as well, not necessarily from the same sources of course. 

Sometimes, however, I think we worry about these puny and ignorant noise-makers far too much.  It is better to focus on what we have, build on it, stand firm against storms that come our way, retreat when we are forced to, but resolve never to panic.  That was not, however, what made me opt to pass the opportunity to tell the above mentioned ladies and gentlemen some home truths.  Sometime late on Friday afternoon I was informed of a death.  Jayasena Jayakody’s.  The man’s death, consequent to his life, reduced Stroehlein, the British MPs, Ban Ki-moon and Mortimer into ant-size.  

It is hard to assess the impact of an author.  We can use number of books, sale-volume, number of literary awards and even a content analysis, but it will be necessarily inconclusive and subjective.  Jayakody wrote.  His novels explored various aspects of our nation’s social, economic and political processes, all foregrounded to a sense of history and heritage.  He won three State Literary Awards in th Best Sinhala Novel category ('Aswenna' or 'Harvest' in 1971, 'Parasathuro' or 'The Invaders' in 1977 and 'Raigam Puththu' or 'The Sons of Raigama' in 1989).  He has also authored several novels based on Buddhist philosophical themes and historical personalities.  

He was self-effacing.  Many of his lines have become regularly quoted ‘self-evident’ type truisms.  He is rarely mentioned by way of acknowledgment.  This never bothered the man, I learnt last night at his house in Kananwila, Horana.  His son, reputed film-maker, Prasanna Jayakody said that he had once pointed out that the old man’s books contain a wealth of quotable quotes which are duly quoted but source never cited.  He had pointed out, also, that some of these quotes are attributed to others, more colourful personalities.  He had, Prasanna said, shrugged it off thus: ‘That’s how it should be.  What is important is the message and if another name or body carries it more effectively, all the better’. 

Jayasena Jayakody was not a politician.  He was not an author who was also street-fighter, one who was thick in the debates of his times.  He had his political views, convictions and preferred outcomes of course but was more interested in writing a story.  The politics, invariably, got woven in, but unlike others who write novels with the intention of promoting political position, Jayakody’s work is not ‘sloganish’ and therefore far more effective. 

The decade of the 1990s was clearly the worst as far as nationalists and nationalism are concerned.  In a scandalous rush to write a more ‘inclusive’ history, a lot of Sinhala and Buddhist ‘history’ was deliberately erased which myth and legend with a lot of frill were inserted to narratives in an anti-intellectual and misguided need to correct perceived narrative-anomalies.  Now there are those who attribute Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE as either the political genius of Mahinda Rajapaksa or the military acumen of Sarath Fonseka (and the other service commanders) or both, with a few others added in.  Victory, having many fathers, we had many paternity claimants after May 18, 2009.  No one mentioned Jayasena Jayakody.  He didn’t complain.  That was not his intention anyway. 

He focused within.  He talked about who we were, who we are and who we ought to become.  He gave us pride.  Dignity.  Self-worth.  He gently reminded a generation about their parents, their ancestors, who they were, what they did, how they suffered and for what purpose.  All that ‘fed’ the nationalist discourse that took place outside the tv debates and exchanges in newspapers.  He was not a monsoonal shower that took away the top soil; no, he was a poda wessa, a gentle and at times imperceptible drizzle of knowledge and reflection that seeped deep into the bowels of our sensibilities.  He didn’t point fingers.  He mentioned personalities.  He spoke of Keppetipola, Bootewe Rate Rala, Kivule Gedara Mohottala and others who sacrificed their lives for the nation. He spoke also about the traitors and the many facets of treachery.  The extrapolations he left to the readers.  That was the magic, the unguent, the empowerment.

And it was not just about politics. I just received a note from a friend, who commented on a facebook post about the man: "His book, ‘Portrait of the Buddha’ had significant positive impact on my life! One should be lucky to read it either in Sinhala (Ama Wessa) or English!"  There will be appreciations.  History may or may not mention the man or what he did in shaping the destiny of this country.  I don’t think he would have cared, either way, but it is incumbent, I believe, on those who now inhabit the landscape he made more livable to acknowledge. Here’s my thanks:

For Jayasena Jayakody (1936-2010)

All the fathers
the father-claimants
and other
had to be spawned themselves,
there was another father,
one of many, yes,
but one who never raised hand
never claimed paternity,
but nurtured nevertheless
the sons and daughters
who would make the stand
and win back the earth,
the land made 'ours'
by all our fathers.

 Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: malindasene@gmail.com.  Twitter: malindasene


Anonymous said...

I have read Jayasena Jayakody's "PICHCHAMALA" and its unsophisticated, unrefined rubbish.