'Dear Children, Sincerely', a favourite at the International Theatre
Festival in Trivandrum:
18th Bharat Rang Mahotsav, International Theatre Festival held in
Trivandrum, Kerala from February 9-14 2016 became a paradise for theatre
goers for a week to appreciate plays from different parts of the world.
Participating in the Theatre Festival from Sri Lanka was the play 'Dear
Children, Sincerely' presented by Stages Theatre Group, and directed by
the famous playwright Ruwanthie de Chickera.
After three successful days of performance in Colombo end of March,
Ruwanthie and team headed out to India to participate in Kashmir, New
Delhi and Trivandrum. The play, a Sri Lanka- Rwanda collaboration became
an instant favourite among the art loving people in Trivandrum.
Ruwanthie's team went on stage on the second day of the festival,
which lasted a week. The most outstanding feature of the play was its
international nature. The dramatist was able to juxtapose the history of
two countries from two different continents, Asia and Africa, through
the memories of a generation born in the 1930s. This is different from
how we have known history, which is usually through the eyes of a
historian. The play is a dramatic presentation of memories of thirty
elders interviewed both in Sri Lanka and Rwanda, and their
interpretation of incidents, conflicts and way of life. Presented in
three parts, the play is a collection of personal journeys and, hence, a
subjective elucidation of memoirs of a generation, which is in their 80s
Ruwanthie de Chickera
The audience is able to take a journey back through decades as the
play unfolds; it is a journey that displays the richness of a
generation; their pain, their regrets about what they did and did not do
right; it is also about their innocence and simplicity that prevailed in
a society that valued extended families and the related customs. By
subtly portraying the nuances of seven decades, the play poignantly
tries to connect with the new generation to convey a very strong
message; that is to avoid the mistakes an older generation says, they
did. This is the most important lesson one takes away from this play; it
is a reminder not to repeat history. It is also a reminder to preserve
what has been fought for and won, and not to re-ignite parochialism.
Rwanda and Sri Lanka strike a similar chord in recollecting memories
of a bloodied past. The elders who were interviewed in two different
times and space also convey similar pain and loss.
The play powerfully portrays how the colonial rulers sowed the seeds
of ethnic divide among innocent Rwandans in 1930s by their divide and
rule policy. Although the world silently watched the bloodied genocide
in Rwandain the 1990s, it is still debated and researched on, in most
post-conflict situations. Needless to mention, the audience watched the
manipulations of the 'white man' with awe, as it struck a chord with
their own colonial times, as recorded in history. The play was packed
with subtle humour and symbolism, which enthralled the satire-loving
Keralites. When the Sri Lankan independence was referred to as a 'gift'
in comparison to the prolonged independence struggle that India went
through, the applause became deafening. So was when the play employed
humour in portraying, how, a 'Sinhala only' language policy excluded the
Tamils over time and denied Tamil to enjoy equal status as an official
language. By symbolically placing a bus with drivers who chanted the
Sinhala only mantra, the play highlighted one of the most sensitive
issues in Sri Lanka's protracted conflict; how language divided two
ethnic communities and relegated one to be dominated by the other. One
of the quotes by the elders alluded to the fact, how post-independent
Sri Lanka could not continue what the British united, in terms of ethnic
The two youth insurrections in Sri Lanka were witnessed by the
audience with utmost silence. The violent portrayal of the
disillusionment of a young generation would resonate with any audience,
especially Keralites. The burning issue of unemployment is not new to
Keralites, where left wing student movements had always been strong and
still remain an inevitable element during university days, although
Keralahas not had bloodied insurrections like its island neighbour. The
second part of the play provided immense opportunities for loud applause
and hearty laughter. This part dealt with how the generation in the
1930s viewed love, marriage and sex. Marriage happened between two
families and remained a strong social institution, where the parents
decided and the young followed. Privacy was unheard of; but the
institution never really collapsed due to the large support of the
families involved and the society. Dowry was common; but it never
bordered being a social evil.
The third part essentially summed up the blood bath both countries
witnessed; how gradually, but surely a generation and the society it
represented lost its human touch. Violent scenes of truth and haunted
memories dominated this concluding section, which offered a rare visual
treat to all art lovers.
Ruwanthi, whose writing has always remained socially significant, has
once again displayed her acumen. As the saying in Sanskrit goes,
Nadakantham Kavithwam, the craft of a dramatist is revealed at the end
of a play. 'Dear Children, Sincerely', pays testimony to this.
Flaunting the flexibility
A play comes live through its actors and the ensemble. The unique
international nature of actors made all the difference in the play. Art
has no barriers; no language; only a common thread of artistry and the
ability to evoke emotions. This was well spelt out in this play, loud
and clear. The actors conquered the stage and the audience by flaunting
the flexibility of their bodies and their measured, energetic movements.
They became symbols of history, of a generation, whose value is often
forgotten; whose memories are not well documented or archived. This
play, now adopted in seven other countries, has attempted to fill this
gap, which is to be applauded. Themise-en-scene well fitted the mood and
message of the play.
During the question and answer session a few questions became
relevant - why weren't the good developments during the seven decades
find a place in the play? Why does Sri Lanka, being a Buddhist country
witness so much of bloodshed and violence? "Memories are subjective, we
remember what we choose to; and these are recollections of the elders
interviewed; this is their memory and hence very subjective" answered
Ruwanthie for the first question.
One of her team members tried to address the second question;
"Buddhism is not understood in its true spirit by its followers, and
that probably justifies." As a fellow spectator, I could feel this was
discussed by people, while leaving the theatre, still relishing the
outstanding performance of the evening .
My experience and feelings were unique that evening. Born and bred in
Trivandrum, I am a naturalised citizen of Sri Lanka due to personal
reasons. After living almost two decades in Colombo, witnessing massive
socio-political changes and working in related fields, it was a rare
opportunity to watch the dramatic representation of history of a
country, of which I have intrinsically become a part.
- Anila S.K