සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #95: ඩිජිටල් තාක්ෂණයෙන් ජන උරුමය රකින මෝජි රීබා

In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala), I write about an Indian friend of mine: Moji Riba, filmmaker and cultural anthropologist, who lives and works in India’s north-eastern Arunachal Pradesh.

It’s an isolated remote and sparsely populated part of the country that is home to 26 major tribal communities,. Each one has its own distinctive dialect, lifestyle, faith, traditional practices and social mores. They live side by side with about 30 smaller communities.

A combination of economic development, improved communications, the exodus of the young and the gradual renunciation of animist beliefs for mainstream religions threatens Arunachal’s colourful traditions. “It is not my place to denounce this change or to counter it,” says Moji. “But, as the older generation holds the last link to the storehouse of indigenous knowledge systems, we are at risk of losing out on an entire value system, and very soon.”

For the past 15 years, he has been documenting it on video and photos. Read my English blogposts about him in Nov 2008 and Jan 2009.

I caught up with him in Delhi last week, which inspired this column.

Moji Riba has been working since 1997 to document Arunachal Pradesh's rich cultural heritage. Image courtesy Rolex Awards

Moji Riba has been working since 1997 to document Arunachal Pradesh's rich cultural heritage. Image courtesy Rolex Awards

ගෝලීයකරණය නැතහොත් Globalization ගැන අපේ ඇතැම් දෙනකු කථා කරන්නේ සැකයෙන් හා බියෙන්. එසේ කලබල වන අය මේ සංසිද්ධිය හරිහැටි තේරුම් ගෙන නැහැ.

ගෝලීයකරණය යනු හැම සමාජයක් හා ආර්ථිකයක් ම එක අච්චුවේ පිටපත් බවට පත් කිරීම නොවෙයි. වෙළඳ සබඳතා, දේශ සංචාරයන්, කලාපීය සහයෝගිතාව හා තොරතුරු තාක්ෂණය ආදී ක්ෂෙත‍්‍රවලදී ස්වාධීන රටවල් තමන්ගේ අනන්‍යතාව රැක ගනිමින් යම් මට්ටමකින් ඒකාබද්ධ වීමයි.

ගෝලීයකරණයේ අංගයන් යොදා ගෙන අපේ සාංස්කෘතික උරුමයන් හා දායාදයන් රැක ගත හැකියි. අද මා කථා කරන්නේ එබඳු ප‍්‍රයත්නයක යෙදී සිටින ඉන්දියානු මිතුරකු ගැන.

ඔහුගේ නම මෝජි රීබා (Moji Riba). වයස 40යි. ඔහු උපන්නේ හා හැදුනේ වැඩුනේ ඉන්දියාවේ අරුණාචල් ප‍්‍රදේශ් ප‍්‍රාන්තයේ. එය මහා නගරයක් හෝ ප‍්‍රකට ප‍්‍රාන්තයක් නොවෙයි. තිබෙන්නේ ඉන්දියාවේ ඊසානදිග කෙළවරේ. චීනය, බුරුමය හා භූතානය සමඟ දේශසීමා තිබෙන මේ ප‍්‍රාන්තය භූමියෙන් ශ‍්‍රී ලංකාවටත් වඩා විශාලයි (වර්ග කිලෝ මීටර් 83,743). එහෙත් 2011දී ජනගහණය මිලියන් 1.4යි. ජන ඝනත්වය ඉතා අඩු, කඳුකර ප‍්‍රදේශවලින් බොහෝ විට සැදුණු අරුණාචල් ප‍්‍රාන්තයේ වැඩි කොටසක් හිමාල කඳුවැටියෙන් වැසී තිබෙනවා.

ජන සංඛ්‍යාව සාපේක්ෂව අඩු වූවත් ජන විවිධත්වය අතින් අරුණාචල් ප‍්‍රාන්තය ඉන්දියාවේ පමණක් නොව මුළු ආසියාවේ ම ඉහළින් සිටිනවා. එකිනෙකට වෙනස් භාෂා 30ක් හා උප භාෂා (dialects) දුසිම් ගණනක් එහි තිබෙනවා. මෙයට හේතුව තමන්ට ම ආවේණික සංස්කෘතීන් ඇති සුළු ජන කොටස් රැුසක් මේ ප‍්‍රදේශයේ සහස‍්‍ර ගණනක් තිස්සේ ජීවත් වීමයි.

අරුණාචල් ප‍්‍රාන්තයේ හමු වන්නේ ඉන්දියාවේ මහා හින්දු සංස්කෘතික ප‍්‍රවාහයට බෙහෙවින් වෙනස් වූ, වඩාත් බුරුම හා ටිබෙට් ආභාෂය ලද සංස්කෘතීන් ගොන්නක්. මේ සෑම එකකට ම ආවේණික ජන කලා ශිල්ප, සිරිත් විරිත්, ඇදහිලි හා ගති පැවතුම් තිබෙනවා. ඒකීය ඉන්දියානු ජනරජය තුළ මෙබඳු සංස්කෘතීන් අඛණ්ඩව පවත්වා ගෙන යාමට එරට ව්‍යවස්ථාවෙන් ම ඉඩ සලසා තිබෙනවා.

එසේ වූවත් නවීකරණය සමඟ මේ සමහර ජන කොටස්වල අළුත් පරම්පරා සාම්ප‍්‍රදායික උරුමයන් දිගට ම පවත්වා ගන්නට එතරම් උනන්දු නැහැ. මෙය ඉන්දියාවේ පමණක් නොව ලොව පුරා දැකිය හැකි ප‍්‍රවණතාවක්. පුද්ගල මට්ටමෙන් විග‍්‍රහ කරන විට පරම්පරා උරුමයන් ඉදිරියට ගෙන යාමට කිසිවකුට බල කළ නොහැකියි. එහෙත් අරුණාචල් ප‍්‍රාන්තයේ අතිශය විචිත‍්‍ර වූත්, ලොව කිසිදු තැනෙක හමු නොවන්නා වූත් ජන උරුමයන් රැක ගැනීමේ අවශ්‍යතාව මානව විද්‍යාඥයන් හඳුනාගෙන තිබෙනවා.

ජන සංස්කෘතියක් යනු සජීව හා ගතික දෙයක්. කෞතුකාගාර ගත කරන්නට බැහැ. එය යම් තරමකින්වත් හසු කර ගත හැක්කේ ශ‍්‍රව්‍ය-දෘශ්‍ය මාධ්‍ය හරහායි. මේ බව මනාව තේරුම් ගත් මෝජි, 1997දී සිය ප‍්‍රාන්තයේ ජන කලා, සිරිත් විරිත්, නැටුම් හා අනෙකුත් පැතිකඩ නවීන ඩිජිටල් ඡයාරූප හා වීඩියෝ හරහා වාර්තා කිරීමේ පෞද්ගලික මට්ටමේ ව්‍යාපෘතියක් ඇරඹුවා.

‘‘නවීකරණයත් සමඟ ආ ප‍්‍රවාහයන් නිසා මගේ පරම්පරාවේ බොහෝ දෙනා සාම්ප‍්‍රදායික උරුමයෙන් පිටතට පා වී යන හැටි මා දකිනවා. ඒ අය ගැන විනිශ්චයක් දීමට මට ඕනෑ නැහැ. නමුත් අපේ වැඩිහිටියන්ගේ පරම්පරාවේ හමු වන ස්පර්ශ කළ නොහැකි උරුමය (intangible heritage) අප ඩිජිටල් ක‍්‍රම මඟින්වත් ලේඛනගත නොකළොත් ඒවා සදහට නැසී යාමේ අවදානමක් තිබෙනවා’’ ඔහු කියනවා.

කලබලකාරී නවීකරණය වෙනුවට වඩාත් සියම් හා සුපරීක්ෂාකාරී ලෙසින් නවීන ලෝකයේ තමන්ට ගැලපෙන දේ පමණක් ළං කර ගැනීමට සංවේදී බව හා විචක්ෂණ ගුණය මෝජිට තිබෙනවා. ඔහු ඉන්දියාවේ අංක එකේ මාධ්‍ය සරසවිය ලෙස සැලකෙන නවදිල්ලියේ ජමීලා මිලියා ඉස්ලාමියා සරසවියෙන් ජන සන්නිවේදනය පිළිබඳ ශාස්ත‍්‍රපති උපාධියක් ලැබූ අයෙක්. මේ තරම් උගත්කමක් හා පුහුණුවක් ලබන බොහෝ ඉන්දියානුවන් ප‍්‍රධාන ප‍්‍රවාහයේ මාධ්‍ය ආයතනවල රැකියා ලබා ගෙන මහ නගරවල පදිංචි වනවා. එහෙත් මෝජි නගරයෙන් නවීන සන්නිවේදන තාක්ෂණය දැනුම හා කුසලතා ගෙන තම ගම් පළාතට ගියා.

Surrounded by young monks, Moji Riba films rituals celebrating Buddha's birth at Galden Namgyal Lhatse monastery. Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, India, 2008 (Photo courtesy Rolex Awards)

Surrounded by young monks, Moji Riba films rituals celebrating Buddha’s birth at Galden Namgyal Lhatse monastery. Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, India, 2008 (Photo courtesy Rolex Awards)

සංස්කෘතික පර්යේෂණ හා ලේඛනගත කිරීමේ කේන්ද්‍රය (Centre for Cultural Research and Documentation, CCRD) අරඹමින් තවත් ඔහු වැනි ම කිහිප දෙනෙකු සමඟ ප‍්‍රාන්තයේ ජන සංස්කෘතිය ගැන වීඩියෝ වාර්තා චිත‍්‍රපට නිපදවීම ඇරඹුවා.

‘‘මගේ ප‍්‍රාන්තයේ සංස්කෘතික උරුමය මා දකින්නේ ඉලාස්ටික් පටියක් හැටියටයි. අපට යම් සීමා තුළ මේ පටිය විස්තාරණය කළ හැකියි. කාලයේ හා නවීකරණයේ ප‍්‍රවාහයන් නිසා අතීතයේ සිට පැවත ආ උරුමයන් ඒ අයුරින් ඉදිරියට ගෙන යාමට අමාරුයි. එහෙත් අඩු තරමින් ඒ ගැන විස්තරාත්මක ලේඛනගත කිරීමක් අප කරනවා’’ යැයි ඔහු කියනවා.

මෝජි මට මුලින් හමු වූයේ 2003දී නේපාලයේ කත්මණ්ඩු නුවරදී. මා සංවිධානය කළ දකුණු ආසියාතික ටෙලිවිෂන් හා වීඩියෝ පුහුණු වැඩමුළුවකට ආ මේ නිහඬ තරුණයා හැම දෙනාගේ ප‍්‍රසාදය හා ගෞරවය දිනා ගත්තා. ඔහු නිපද වූ වාර්තා චිත‍්‍රපට කිහිපයක් මා දැක තිබෙනවා.

මේවා දුවන ගමන් කළ ටෙලිවිෂන් වාර්තා නොවෙයි. සති හෝ මාස ගණන් මහත් ඉවසීමෙන් හා කැපවීමෙන් කේෂත‍්‍රයේ රූපගත කොට සියුම් ලෙසත්, සෞන්දර්යාත්මක ලෙසත් සංස්කරණය කළ ඩිජිටල් කලා කෘති හැටියට මා දකිනවා. 1997-2008 කාලය තුළ එබඳු වාර්තා චිත‍්‍රපට 35ක් පමණ ඔහු අධ්‍යක්ෂණය කළා.

ඒවායින් සමහරක් මානව විද්‍යා හා සංස්කෘතික උරුමය ගැන තේමාගත වූ චිත‍්‍රපට උළෙලවලත්, ඉන්දියාවේ දුර්දර්ශන් ජාතික ටෙලිවිෂන් නාලිකාවේත් තිරගත වී තිබෙනවා. විශාල පේ‍්‍රක්ෂක සමූහයකට ඉලක්ක කරනවා වෙනුවට මේ නිර්මාණ වඩාත් ගැලපෙන්නේ කුඩා කණ්ඩායම් වශයෙන් දේශනාගාර, විද්වත් රැස්වීම් ආදියේ පෙන්වන්නටයි.

‘‘අප මේ චිත‍්‍රපට හරහා උත්සාහ කරන්නේ සංක‍්‍රාන්ති කාලයක සිටින අපේ ප‍්‍රාන්තයේ විවිධ ජන කොටස් තමන්ගේ සංස්කෘතික උරුමය, ස්වභාවික පරිසරය හා සමාජ-ආර්ථික සංවර්ධනය යන සාධක තුන තුලනය කර ගන්නා හැටි වාර්තාගත කරන්නයි. එහිදී අපේ මතවාදයන් ඒ වාර්තාකරණයට අප එකතු කරන්නේ නැහැ,’’ මෝජි කියනවා.

වාර්තා චිත‍්‍රපටයක් නිපදවීමට පැය ගණනක් පටිගත කළ රූප රාමුවලින් අවශ්‍ය කොටස උකහා ගත් පසු ඉතිරිය බොහෝ විට සංරක්ෂණය වන්නේ නැහැ. එහෙත් මෝජි වසර 15ක් පුරා පටිගත කළ හැම පටයක් ම ප‍්‍රවේශමින් සංරක්ෂණය කරනවා.

මේ ගැන වඩාත් ගැඹුරින් පර්යේෂණ කරන්නට 2004දී අරුණාචල් ප‍්‍රාන්ත අගනගරය වන ඉතානගර්හි රාජීව් ගාන්ධි සරසවියේ ජන සන්නිවේදන අංශයත් සමඟ එක් වී ඩිප්ලෝමා පාඨාමාලාවක් ද ඔහු ආරම්භ කළා. ඔහුගේ කාලය ඉගැන්වීමට, පර්යේෂණවලට හා කේෂත‍්‍ර මට්ටමේ රූපගත කිරීම්වලට බෙදී යනවා.

Riba teaches Hage Komo the basic camera skills that will allow the young Apatani to film an interview with his father and an animist priest, thus recording his tribe's oral history (Photo courtesy Rolex Awards)

Riba teaches Hage Komo the basic camera skills that will allow the young Apatani to film an interview with his father and an animist priest, thus recording his tribe's oral history (Photo courtesy Rolex Awards)

මෑතක් වන තුරු අරුණාචල් ප‍්‍රාන්තය විදේශික සංචාරකයන්ට අවසර නැතිව ඇතුළු විය නොහැකි, සීමා වූ ප‍්‍රදේශයක් ලෙස පැවතියා. එහෙත් දැන් චන්ද්‍රිකා ටෙලිවිෂන් විකාශයන්, ජංගම දුරකථන සේවාවන් හා ගමනාගමන පහසුකම් ආදිය පුළුල් වීමත් සමඟ සමාජ නවීකරණය වේගවත් වෙලා.

මේ නිසා ජන කලා හා සංස්කෘතික ලේඛනගත කිරීමේ අමුතු ආකාරයේ ව්‍යාපෘතියක් මෝජි 2009දී යෝජනා කළා. තෝරා ගත් ගම්මාන 15ක දක්ෂ ගැමි තරුණ තරුණියන් 15 දෙනකුට ඩිජිටල් වීඩියෝ තාක්ෂණය භාවිතය පුහුණු කරනවා. (අද කාලේ මේවා මැජික් නොවේ. ලෙහෙසියෙන් උගත හැකියි).

ඉන්පසුව ඔවුන්ට ඩිජිටල් වීඩියෝ කැමරා දී වසරක් පුරා තම ගම්මානයේ චාරිත‍්‍ර වාරිත‍්‍ර, උත්සව, වැඩිහිටියන්ගේ මතකයන් හා ආවේණික දෑ පටිගත කරන්නට සලස්වනවා. හැම ගමකින් දළ වශයෙන් වීඩියෝ පැය 300ක් පමණ එකතු වනු ඇතැයි ගණන් බලා තිබෙනවා. අවසානයේ මේ සියල්ල ප‍්‍රාන්ත කෞතුකාගාරයේ හා සරසවියේ ද අනුදැනුම ඇතිව පොදු තැනෙක සංරක්ෂණය කොට පර්යේෂකයන්ට අධ්‍යයනය කරන්නට ලබා දෙනවා.

එකිනෙකට වෙනස් භාෂා කථා කරනා ජන කොටස් සැමගේ විශ්වාසය දිනා ගෙන ඔවුන්ගේ සහයෝගයෙන් කරන මේ ව්‍යාපෘතියෙන් වසර කිහිපයක ඇවෑමෙන් වීඩියෝ පැය 4,000ක් පමණ එකතු වීමට නියමිතයි. මෙය කාල කැප්සියුලයක් (time capsule) ලෙස මෝජි හඳුන්වනවා. ජන සංස්කෘතිය නිතිපතා පරිණාමය වන නිසා අපට කළ හැක්කේ අද දවසේ එහි ගති සොබා හසු කර ගැනීම පමණක් බව ඔහු දන්නවා.

ජීවිතයේ උපතේ සිට මරණය දක්වා හැම අවස්ථාවකට ම ආවේණික සිරිත් විරිත් ඔවුන්ට තිබෙනවා. දරුවකුගේ උපත, අස්වනු නෙළීම, විවාහ මංගල්‍යයන්, මළවුන් සිහි කිරීම ආදිය ඒ අතර සුවිශේෂයි. මේ සිද්ධීන් හැම ජන කොටසකට ම පොදු වූවත් ඔවුන් ඒවා සමරන ආකාරය එකිනෙකට වෙනස්. එක් මහ ජාතියක් සංඛ්‍යාත්මකව හමු නොවන අරුණාචල් ප‍්‍රාන්තයේ හැම දෙනා ම සුළු ජාතියක්.

මේ අසාමාන්‍ය සංස්කෘතික ව්‍යායාමය ඔහු නම් කරන්නේ කඳුකරයේ ඇස (Mountain Eye) ව්‍යාපෘතිය ලෙසයි. ශාස්ත‍්‍රීය වටිනාකමක් ඇති මෙබඳු කටයුතුවලට බොලිවුඞ් ආකර්ෂණය හෝ වෙළඳපොළ විභවයක් නැති නිසා අවශ්‍ය වියදම ඉන්දියාව තුළින් සොයා ගැනීම ලොකු අභියෝගයක්.

ස්විට්සර්ලන්තයේ රෝලෙක්ස් ඔරලෝසු සමාගම සුවිශේෂි පර්යේෂණ හා ගවේෂණවලට අනුග‍්‍රහය දක්වන්නට තරගකාරී මට්ටමින් තෝරා ගන්නා රෝලෙක්ස් ත්‍යාගයක් (Rolex Award for Enterprise) 2008දී මෝජි රීබාට ප‍්‍රදානය කළා. එයින් ලැබුණු ත්‍යාග මුදලත්, ලෝක මට්ටමේ ප‍්‍රසිද්ධියක් යොදා ගෙන සුපුරුදු නිහඬ රටාවට මෝජි තමන්ගේ ව්‍යාපෘතිය පෙරට ගෙන යනවා.

ජන සංස්කෘතිය කෞතුකාගාර හෝ සරසවිවලට කොටු වන්නට ඉඩ නොතබා ඔහු එය තරුණයින් වඩාත් ගැවසෙන කැෆේ, සිනමා ශාලා හා සාප්පු සංකීර්ණවලට චිත‍්‍රපට ගෙන යනවා. පාසල් දර්ශන සංවිධානය කරනවා. අරුණාචල් භාෂා 9කින් ගැයෙන් ගීත ඇතුළත් CD තැටියක් නිපදවා බෙදා හරිනවා.

අරුණාචල් ප‍්‍රාන්තයේ ආවේණික ජන සංස්කෘතිය අද මුහුණ පා සිටින්නේ හුදෙක් ඉන්දියාවට පිටතින් සිට ගලා එන ප‍්‍රවාහයන්ට පමණක් නොවෙයි. රට තුළම සංඛ්‍යාත්මකව බහුතරයක් වූ හින්දි බස කථා කරන මහා සංස්කෘතියේ ප‍්‍රබල බලපෑමත්, ආර්ථික ප‍්‍රතිසංස්කරණ හරහා එන වෙළඳ පොළ හා ජනප‍්‍රිය සංස්කෘතියේ බලපෑමත් ඔවුන්ට ඍජුව ම එල්ල වී තිබෙනවා.

මෙවැනි ප‍්‍රවාහයන් හමුවේ ඇතැම් දෙනා හූල්ලමින් හා දෙස් තබමින් කල් ගත කළත් මෝජිගේ ප‍්‍රතිචාරය බෙහෙවින් වෙනස්. ළිඳට වැටුණු මිනිසකු ළිං කටින් ම ගොඩ ආ යුතු සේ ඔහු කරන්නේ නව සන්නිවේදන තාක්ෂණයන් යොදා ගෙන තම ජනයාගේ උරුමය රැක ගන්නට තැත් කිරීමයි. ඔහු මෙය පෞද්ගලික ජීවිතයේදීත් ක‍්‍රියාත්මක කරනවා. හින්දි හා ඉංග‍්‍රීසි භාෂා ව්‍යක්ත ලෙස හසුරුවන්නට උගත් ඔහු වයස විසි ගණන්වල සිය මවුබස වන ගැලෝ භාෂාව (Galo) උගත්තා. දැන් ඔහු එය සිය ලාබාල පුතුන් දෙදෙනාට කුඩා වයසේ සිට උගන් වනවා.

‘‘අපේ දරුවන්ට ගීයක් ගයන්න කී විට ඔවුන් ගයන්නේ හින්දි නැතහොත් ඉංග‍්‍රීසි ගීත. අප දැන් තැත් කරන්නේ තමන්ගේ ම බසින් සින්දු කීමේ අමතර හැකියාව අළුත් පරම්පරාවේ හැමට ලබා දෙන්නයි,’’ මෝජි කියනවා.

‘‘විසි එක් වන සියවසේ සුළු ජන කොටස්, ගෝත‍්‍රික හා ආදිවාසී පිරිස් පසුගාමීව හෝ මුළුගැන් වී සිටිය යුතු යැයි මා විශ්වාස කරන්නේ නැහැ. එහෙත් ප‍්‍රධාන ප‍්‍රවාහයට නතු නොවී අපේ සුවිශේෂි අනන්‍යතාව රැක ගනිමින් නවීකරණය වන්නට හැකියි,’’ මෝජී රීබාගේ දර්ශනය එයයි.
http://tiny.cc/MojiR1

Hage Komo gets video instructions from Moji Riba, who is enlisting local young people to capture the oral histories, languages and rituals of their tribes for his project. Komo films his father gathering bamboo in a grove outside Hari Village. (Photo courtesy Rolex Awards)

Hage Komo gets video instructions from Moji Riba, who is enlisting local young people to capture the oral histories, languages and rituals of their tribes for his project. Komo films his father gathering bamboo in a grove outside Hari Village. (Photo courtesy Rolex Awards)

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Palitha Lakshman de Silva (1959 – 2010): Animator, stilled.

Palitha Lakshman de Silva, 1959-2010

For the second time in just over three months, I went to the Colombo general cemetery to bid farewell to a fellow traveller. This is becoming a worrying habit.

Those of us who’ve opted for the path less travelled don’t expect crowds or accolades. At least we have each other for company and inspiration. Suddenly it’s getting a bit lonely: long-standing friends and colleagues are dropping dead in the prime of their lives.

First, it was environmentalist, journalist and public intellectual Piyal Parakrama who left in early March. Now, it’s Palitha Lakshman de Silva — journalist, photographer, cartoonist, puppet animator and television professional among other pursuits and talents.

Uncannily, what I wrote upon hearing Piyal’s death applies – word by word – to Palitha too. I just have to change the name and date: Palitha died so suddenly and unexpectedly on the evening of June 11 that it’s hard to believe that he is no longer among us. Another public-spirited individual has left the public space all too soon…

Both men had just passed 50, and were leading active, productive and busy lives. They had no known ailments, and were in apparent good health. Yet in the end, it was the unseen, gradual clogging of the heart’s arteries that struck them both down: the first heart attack was swift and fatal. Neither man reached the nearest hospital alive.

I had known Palitha for twice as long as I worked with him (in the past decade). Although we weren’t close friends, we shared a passionate, life-long interest in using broadcast television and narrowcast video to communicate public interest messages. Some call it non-formal education, but we avoided the e-word for it reminds some people of school that they didn’t enjoy. We believed – and demonstrated too – that the audio-visual medium can blend information with entertainment in ways that make learning effortless and painless.

Having started his career as a reporter and photojournalist at a leading newspaper, Palitha later moved on to TV, where he blazed new trails in cartoon animation, puppetry and documentary making. He was part of Sri Lanka’s first generation of television and video professionals who experimented with the medium, and found new ways of combining education, information and entertainment.

All this made Palitha a natural ally and partner in my work at TVE Asia Pacific. I just wrote a more official tribute tracing our collaborations over a decade, which the TVEAP website published: Tribute to Palitha Lakshman de Silva (1959 – 2010): Photojournalist and cartoon animator

I’ll write more reflectively once I recover from the shock of another colleague signing off for good. For now, I can only echo the lyrical sentiments in this leaflet distributed at Palitha’s funeral by his artistically-inclined friends. The English approximation (below) is mine, and not particularly good (though bilingual, I’m a lousy translator). I’m glad, however, that the original verse captures one intrinsic quality of Palitha: his gentle, soft-spoken nature which often concealed the creative genius inside him.

Goodbye, Palitha Lakshman de Silva

The day has arrived
Suddenly and shockingly
When you’ve gone away
Leaving us alone
All by ourselves
To write a verse
And choose an image
In your fond memory.

Flowers bloom and wither
Lakes flourish and drain
Such is the Circle of Life
Which your hasty exit
Once again reminds us
With a soft, little whisper.

We’ll travel to the end of time
If can we see, just once more,
Your gentle and soothing smile,
And listen to your stories
That you told us so gently.

Just once more…

Go ahead, just say the word: Condom! Now say it again…

not an easy task...

Acting out condoms in broad daylight in India: not an easy task...

Condom!

No one is certain how or where the word originated, but it has become one of those ubiquitous items in modern society.

It’s a two syllable word, fairly easy to pronounce. Then how come so many people – at least in South Asia, home to a fifth of humanity – get their tongues tied or twisted in saying it?

That’s because it’s to do with sex! That’s not a subject that many South Asians still feel comfortable in talking about, in public or even private.

Sex may be a very private matter, but individuals’ sexual behaviour has direct and serious public health implications. Especially today when the world is still struggling to contain and overcome the spread of HIV that causes AIDS.

Condoms originally came into wide use to help prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In the past quarter century, condoms have become a major weapon against HIV.

Despite this, condoms still remain a hush-hush topic among many grown ups, even as the younger generation warms up to them. Across South Asia, we still have some hurdles to clear in normalising condoms – or making it socially and culturally acceptable for people to talk about condom use, and to go out and buy them without fear or shame.

They come in all colours and shapes!

They come in all colours and shapes!


This is the challenge that various communication groups have taken up, especially in India. According to a 2007 survey by UNAIDS and India’s National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), at least 2.5 million people live with the HIV virus in India, placing the country third in the world after South Africa and Nigeria. However, AIDS prevention in the country is not an easy job. Many people, especially in rural areas, cling on to preconceived taboos about sex — and are often hesitant to use condoms.

In recent weeks, I’ve heard from two campaigns that are trying to change this. One is the BBC World Service Trust working with Indian broadcasters and other partners to normalise condom use through a campaign. I’ll be writing a separate blog post on that effort.

Last month, I received en email from someone called ‘Spread Word for a Better World’, who shared with me web links on a socio-cultural group based in Hyderabad, who are using the performing arts to promote condom awareness.

For over a decade, the Nrityanjali Academy has been singing and dancing their way to the glorification of condom use. They see it as a crucial fight in their central region, where 2 per cent of the population is HIV positive.

P Narsingh Rao, director of Nrityanjali, recently told France 24 online: “Our main target groups are people vulnerable to the HIV virus like sex workers, transsexuals or truck drivers. We tour villages in mobile video vans to show the film. The screening is followed by a question and answer session about condom use and sexually transmitted diseases.”

He added: “We also encourage the use of female condoms, a relatively new concept. We tell the women to negotiate the use of female condoms with their male partners: for men with little sex education, the insertion of the female condom in the vagina can in itself be an erotic act.”

Here are some YouTube videos showcasing their work:

This is an entertaining and educational video in Telugu language on Condom usage, to prevent from sexually transmitted infections and HIV:

A more instructional video on how to use condoms properly:

And finally, an HIV/AIDS song in Telugu – with all the fast-beat music, gyrating and riot of colours we typically associate Bollywood movies and songs with:

The videos speak for themselves. They are matter of fact, engaging and presented by ordinary people (trained entertainers) rather than by jargon-totting medical doctors or health workers. There is none of the awkwardness typically associated with conversations of this subject. No one is tip-toeing around perceived or real cultural taboos. They just get on with it.

Importantly, they involve both men and women, both in performances and in their audiences.

Training young men on just how to do it right...

Training young men on just how to do it right...

Related blog posts:

July 2007: The Three Amigos: Funny condoms with a serious mission

April 2007: Beware of Vatican Condoms – and global warming!

Images courtesy France 24’s The Observers.

UNEP’s search for God: Here’s the way forward to save the planet!

Satinder Bindra

Satinder Bindra: Voice of the Planet?

“Content is king — but distribution is God!”

With these words, UNEP’s newly appointed Director of Communications and Public Information, Satinder Bindra (photo, above), engaged my attention at a meeting in Paris earlier this week.

I almost jumped up in total agreement — this is just what we’ve been saying for years, especially to those who support information, education and communication activities in UN agencies.

Unlike many career UN officials, Satinder knows what he’s talking about. He comes to UNEP with over two decades of wide and varied experience in journalism and broadcasting – the last 10 years spent as a Senior International Correspondent/South Asia Bureau Chief for CNN based in New Delhi, India.

In the hard headed and hard nosed world of international news and current affairs television, distribution and outreach can make or break any content provider. This is something that the two leading news channels BBC World and CNN International know very well — and the more recent entrant Al Jazeera English is still finding out.

Satinder’s remark, in this instance, was more to do with how to get information and analysis on sustainable development out to as many people as possible in all corners of the planet. This is part of UNEP’s core mission since its founding in 1972 — and as chief of communication and public information, Satinder now takes on this formidable challenge.

In Paris, he was listening, taking notes and talking to everyone in the small group who’d come together for the annual partner meeting of the Com Plus Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development.

Com+ is a “partnership of international organizations and communications professionals from diverse sectors committed to using communications to advance a vision of sustainable development that integrates its three pillars: economic, social and environmental”. TVE Asia Pacific was admitted to the partnership a few months ago.

As I’m sure Satinder realises, at stake in his new assignment is a lot more than audience ratings, market share or revenue stream of a single broadcaster. Those are important too, but not in the same league as ensuring life on Earth – in all its diversity and complexity – continues and thrives.

Satinder struck me as a practical and pragmatic journalist who wants to get the job done efficiently. We can only hope the rest of UNEP will keep up with him — or at least they don’t get too much in his way!

As he finds his way around the globally spread, multidisciplinary and sometimes heavily bureaucratic UN organisation, Satinder will come across some incongruities, cynicism and institutional inertia all of which have held UNEP back from being the dynamic global leader in our pursuit of elusive sustainable development.

At the big picture level, communication at UNEP has often been defined narrowly as institutional promotion – delivering UNEP logo to the news media of the world, or boosting the image of its executive director and other senior officials. We don’t grudge anyone enjoying their 15 minutes of fame, but a technical agency like UNEP has so much more to offer — in terms of rigorous science, multiple perspectives, wide ranging consultation and bringing diverse players to a common platform.

The Nobel Peace Prize winning Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), co-supported by UNEP and World Meteorological Organisation, is a good recent example of how solid science, communicated through the media, can inspire governments, industry and rest of society to find solutions to a major global challenge.

The 20-year success of the Montreal Protocol to save the ozone layer is another example. Again, UNEP was a key player in this accomplishment, and is still engaged in the race to phase out the use of a basket of chemicals that damage the protecting ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.

There’s a lot more good science and tons of good stories lurking inside UNEP — if only its experts know how to get these out, and if only its bean-counters won’t stand in the way.

Ironically, elsewhere in the same UNEP Paris building that we were having the Com Plus meeting, the adorable cartoon character Ozzy Ozone (below) was being holed up by excessive rules and regulations. He is one of the best known public communication products to come out of the organisation. Yet, as I wrote earlier this year, he is bottled up and kept captive by an unimaginative UN system.

Then there is the whole scandalous situation where UNEP-funded environmental films are released with needlessly excessive copyright restrictions. As I have been saying, this is the big mismatch in environment and development film-making: many films are made using donor (i.e. public or tax payer) funds, but due to the ignorance or indifference of funders, the copyrights are retained by private individuals or companies involved in the production.

In UNEP’s case, for years it has been commissioning (and sometimes funding) a London-based production company, with a charitable arm, to produce environmental films. That’s certainly a choice for UNEP if the agency feels it continues to get value for its money. But tragically, the producers jealously guard all the copyrights, releasing these only under rigid conditions to a select few.

Whatever outreach figures they might claim, these cannot match what the same films would achieve if the copyrights were not so restrictive. Freed from crushing rights, such environmental films – made with UNEP funding or blessings or both – could benefit thousands of groups engaged in awareness, advocacy, activism, education and training.

For sure, we’ve heard the arguments in favour of tight copyright regimes. Film-makers have every right to be acknowledged for their creative efforts, but public funded products must not be locked up by greedy lawyers and accountants — or even by selfish film-making charities. And millions of users around the world should be able to access such products without having to get through the eye of the copyright needle first.
July 2007 blog post: Lawyers who locked up the butterfly tree

Can Satinder Bindra overcome these hurdles that have for so long inhibited UNEP from reaching its potential? We just have to wait and see.

When he talks about distribution being God, we have to readily agree. But he will soon find some elements within UNEP – or in crony partnerships with UNEP – that stand between him and this God.

To be fair, there’s only so much that an inter-governmental agency like UNEP – beholden to its member governments – can really accomplish. That’s why it needs partners from corporate, civil society, activist and academic spheres. Some of us can easily say and do things that UNEP would, in all sincerity, like to — but cannot.

Satinder sounds like he can forge broad alliances that go beyond monopolist partnerships. Here’s wishing him every success….for everyone’s sake!

Photo courtesy UNEP Climate Neutral Network

Taking it personally: Anita Roddick’s Arabian Nights

“I am overwhelmed by the potential of the web to link like-minded people and move them to mass-action,” the late Anita Roddick once wrote. “We are excited to experiment in other media too — perhaps subversive billboards, or a television program, or other print projects. As someone once said, we are only limited by our imaginations.”

In my personal tribute to Anita, written shortly after her untimely death on 10 September 2007, I touched on her extraordinary skills as an activist-communicator. It was in connection with a global television series that I last met Anita in person.

In the summer of 2003, I was invited to join a small group of people at Anita’s country home, Highfield House, in Arundel, Somerset, England. It was a one-day brainstorming on the future of Hands On, a global TV series that she’d been hosting for three years.

Hands On stood out as a beacon of hope amidst so much doom and gloom on television -– it featured environmentally-friendly technologies, business ideas and processes that have been tried out by someone, somewhere on the planet.

It covered a broad range of topics, from renewable energies, waste management and information technology to food processing and transport. The aim was to showcase good news and best practices so they could inspire others — entrepreneurs, communities or even governments — to try these out.

The series was first broadcast on BBC World and was redistributed to dozens of TV channels worldwide through my own organisation, TVE Asia Pacific, and others. It was backed by the reputed development agency Intermediate Technology (now called Practical Action).

Watch a typical Anita introduction of Hands On and a sample story in capsule form:

Anita brought her usual passion and dynamism to our discussion, energising the development and communications professionals enjoying her hospitality. Covering good news was already going against the media’s grain, but it was harder to keep at it year after year, especially when the media landscape was changing rapidly. It was a challenge to stay engaged and relevant to viewers across Africa, Asia Pacific, Latin America and Europe.

During the meeting, Anita asked me to sum up the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) which was coming up in a few months. Putting aside all the ‘developmentspeak’ of UN agencies, I described it as an attempt to put new information and communication technologies (ICTs) to work for the poor and disadvantaged of our world. Or get the geek tools to work for the meek. (I still think my phrase ‘Geek2Meek’ sounds better than the official ICT4D, where D stands for development.)

We agreed that civil society had to seize the opportunities offered by these new media tools. (A few months later, Anita presented two Hands On editions called ‘Communicating for Change’ on BBC World that profiled some initiatives doing just this.)

Always fond of analogies, I likened Hands On to Arabian Nights, which, according to legend, a young woman had spun from her rich imagination for 1,001 nights to save her life from an evil king. In Hands On, I suggested, we are telling stories to save not one life, but all life on Earth.

Read my July 2007 post: Telling stories to save ourselves…and the planet

Anita quite liked my analogy. She was always a good story teller, and had so many good stories to tell (A favourite opening line from her biography, Body and Soul: “There I was, with my panty down to my knees.” You’ll never guess why until you read that story…)

She challenged everyone at that meeting to make Hands On more interesting to younger viewers in different cultures. We recognised that offering one media product to a global audience was a tough sell: most people prefer a home-made, local story.

But then, she’d built the entire Body Shop chain with a largely common product offering, even if raw materials were sourced from different parts of the globe. She never imposed the Body Shop experience on our meeting, but it was sometimes instructive to look at how a globally available product could still be localised.

hands-on-in-asia.jpg hands-on-in-asia.jpg

This is just what we did in the months and years following the Arundel brainstorming. We rolled out the ‘Localising Hands On in Asia’ project, which saw several dozen Hands On stories being versioned into local languages and distributed through broadcast and narrowcast means in Cambodia, India, Laos and Nepal. The two-year project, generously supported by Toyota, was hugely successful in delivering the Hands On stories to millions of people who would never have been exposed to it in original English.

We were thrilled when our localising work inspired similar local TV shows in three countries (Cambodia, Nepal and Laos). Yet it was the narrowcast outreach that was more rewarding.

Read about one narrowcast experience in my April 2007 blog post: Anita Roddick, Angkor Wat and the development pill

Coming soon: Who killed Hands On, one of the most successful multimedia initiatives in recent years to communicate development?

Making fun of HIV: Welcome to the Scenarios from Africa

General Assembly of Diseases: In the city of Contaminobo, assorted germs in an emergency session. Tuberculosis, Polio, Hepatitis and others are all angry and afraid because their favourite target – humans – are fighting back. Enter ‘His Royal Heinous, Overlord AIDS’. Hope at last! When he attacks the immune system of humans, other germs can still have a chance…The humans are so careless, that it’s easy for AIDS to quickly spread from one to many. But wait a minute – somebody has been listening into all their talk. Which means the secret of defending humans from HIV and his cronies is out.

Iron Will: Moussah is a young man with a healthy, or bubbling, interest in girls. His male friends advise him to be play it safe — carefree sex can easily expose him to HIV, for which there is no cure. They talk about condoms, and another strategy that is an alternative to using the rubber latex. But Moussah doesn’t quite understand the expression ‘iron will’. He interprets it differently, and gets custom made iron underpants made — much to the amusement of his friends, who remind him the most important sex organ is…the brain!

Just Once: A man returns from the field and feels like making love to his wife. She is living with HIV and insists that he uses a condom — but they’ve run out of stocks. So he cycles far and wide in search of condoms – where is a rubber when you need one? Finally he succeeds and rushes home, only to find that his wife did have one last, unused condom with her. So why didn’t you tell me, he asks in exasperation. Her answer is revealing….

Intrigued? There’s a lot more where they came from.

These three stories are part of Scenarios from Africa — a highly successful and popular pan-African initiative to use moving images to get young people talking and acting on HIV/AIDS. The decade-long project has been carried out with and for young people, with community mobilisation, education and media elements.

Integral to this communication effort are television drama vignettes about different scenarios involving HIV in everyday life.

Some are very funny while others are very moving. They cover many dimensions of the HIV epidemic, from preventing the virus spreading to taking care of persons living with HIV. Underlying themes include safe sex, removing social stigma from the epidemic and dispelling misconceptions about how HIV spreads or does not spread.

The project was started in 1997 and is coordinated by the non-profit Global Dialogues Trust. It gave African children and young adults an exciting opportunity to educate themselves and others about HIV/AIDS by inviting them to participate with internationally acclaimed directors in the production of these short films.

The films are based on ideas thought up by young people in a series of contests. So far, over 105,000 young people from 37 African countries have taken part in these contests. Over 1,000 local and international partner organisations have been involved in organising the contests and selecting the winning ideas.

The films range in duration from just under 2 minutes to almost 15 minutes. They were produced by top fiction film-makers and animation specialists in Africa.

All stories use African actors, locations and situations – and employ different story telling tactics.

Scenarios from Africa is a multi-media communication project that has been widely acclaimed by practitioners, activists and scholars worldwide. The films are supported by a user’s guide and online discussion points that help teachers, trainers and activists to make the best use of these stories in their work.

The films are all distributed on a non-commercial basis across Africa and beyond, for broadcast and narrowcast use. The Scenarios films have been broadcast on locally-based television stations in almost every country in sub-Saharan Africa. The films are also collected on compilation DVDs and video cassettes for use by organisations and schools. Some 60,000 copies of the films (DVDs and video cassettes) of the films have been distributed to date.

The films are now available in a wide and growing range of African and European languages, and are reaching tens of millions of people.

Says Daniel Enger of the Global Dialogues Trust: “Although the films were originally produced for the sub-Saharan African cultural context, we have been pleased to learn over the years that the films have proven useful as awareness-raising tools in many countries of the Asia Pacific area. Indeed, most of the HIV-related topics raised in the Scenarios from Africa collections have universal relevance, making the films useful discussion starters across the globe.”

TVE Asia Pacific has recently taken on the task of distributing all Scenarios films across the Asia Pacific region. As with all other films in its catalogue, TVEAP will distribute Scenarios on a non-exclusive, non-commercial basis to broadcast, civil society and educational. We have been promoting the Scenarios films since we screened them to packed houses during the 2004 AIDS Film Festival in Bangkok

Meanwhile, the 5th Scenarios contest will be held from 1 December 2007 to 15 March 2008. Please contact for more information.

Watch Scenarios films on the official website (RealPlayer required)

Scenarios from Africa now available from TVE Asia Pacific

All images used in this post are courtesy Global Dialogues Trust.

Read my other blog posts on HIV:
HIV: Stigma a bigger killer than the virus?
Three Amigos: Funny condoms with a serious mission
Beware of Vatican condoms!
50? In South African terms, you’re probably dead!
Ratomate’s best cup of tea
A girl named Nan-nan

Earthcare Outreach: taking moving images to the grassroots

On 19 July 2007, I wrote about the need for natural history and environment film-makers to take their films back to the locations and communities where they filmed.

I cited the specific example of the Brock Initiative, started by ex BBC Natural History producer Richard Brock, which is supporting projects in several countries in Africa and Asia.

In today’s mail, I received the DVD of Tiger – the death chronicles, the latest documentary by the award-winning Indian film-maker Krishnendu Bose. I’m going to watch and write about it separately, but this reminded me of the outreach work he and his company, Earthcare Films, have been doing for years.

After working for a dozen years with factual film-makers from across Asia, my experience is that not many are really interested in any outreach besides a high profile broadcast. For sure, broadcasts help draw attention to a film and its creator/s. But as we have discussed in recent blog posts, broadcast television is not an ideal platform to get a discussion going on issues and concerns. In fact, many film makers are finding it harder to get their serious films broadcast at times with better audience ratings.

Still, surprisingly few film-makers have time or patience for serious narrowcast outreach. Yes, it is a time consuming, tedious process. The logistics can be demanding and expensive. And there is not much glamour (or ‘arty and intellectual feel’) in going to a small town or remote village and playing back your film to a few dozen people living on the edge of survival.

Image courtesy Earthcare Films website

But as exceptional film-makers like Krishnendu (in photo above, taken from Earthcare Films website) know well, it can be an enormously enriching and satisfying experience for a film-maker. People like him watch the audience while they watch the film.

Films are a greatly underused communication form. Serious communication usually is at most limited to awareness building,” says Earthcare Films website in its section on outreach.

That’s why EarthCare Outreach wants to explore beyond. “Films could be tools for social change and empowerment. Participatory film-making by sharing skills and capacities could take the ‘use’ of films to a different level. Not that it has not been tried and practised, but we want to take it forward and try and push the boundaries.

Krishnendu and colleagues have set up the EarthCare Outreach Trust specifically for this purpose. The objective is “to create ownership and stake in the process and the product of a documentary film of the people whose lives we document. In the process we strive to empower young people and rural communities to make them stakeholders in decision-making and in planning for natural resource management.”

For the past several years, Earthcare Outreach has been active on these fronts, organising mobile film screenings or traveling film festivals in rural and urban areas in different parts of India. The website talks about how they have held community and citizenry exchanges between selected locations, evolving film-making skill-share across these groups.

Read more about Earthcare Outreach activities.

Contact Earthcare Films for more information and involvement

On a personal note, I’m trying to recall when I first met Krishnendu. It must be at least a decade ago — I had seen some of his work before I met the man behind them. We were together as guests of the Earth Vision Tokyo Global Environmental Film Festival in 2001 — where his film, Harvesting Hunger, (image below shows it being filmed) won a special jury award.

Image courtesy Earthcare Films