සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #112: අදීන හා අභීත පුවත්පත් කතුවරයා – ටාසි විට්ටච්චි

My weekend column in Ravaya newspaper (in Sinhala) is devoted this week to remember the illustrious Lankan journalist, editor and development communicator, Tarzie Vitachi (1921 – 1993).

See also: සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #114: ටාසිගේ ලෝකය හා මගේ ලෝකය

Varindra Tarzie Vittachi (1921 - 1993)

Varindra Tarzie Vittachi (1921 – 1993)

නිව්ස්වීක් සඟරාව මුඵමනින් ඩිජිටල්කරණය වීම ගැන 2013 ජනවාරි 27දා කොලමින් කථා කරද්දී කලක් එයට කොලම් ලියූ කීර්තිමත් ලාංකික පත‍්‍ර කලාවේදී ටාසි විට්ටච්චිගේ (Tarzie Vittachi) හපන්කම් ගැන මා සඳහන් කළා.

කවුද මේ ටාසි විට්ටච්චි?

1921-1993 කාල වකවානුවේ ජීවත් වූ ඔහු 1959දී විදේශ ගත වීම නිසා පරම්පරා කිහිපයක මෙරට පාඨකයන් ඔහු හදුනන්නේ නැහැ. විශෙෂයෙන් ම සිංහල පාඨකයන් අතර ඔහුගේ නම පවා ආගන්තුකයි.

සමහරුන්ට ටාසි ගැන ඇත්තේ වැරදි වැටහීමක්. 1956 සමාජ පෙරලියට අනුගත වන්නට නොහැකි හෝ නොකැමති හෝ වූවකු හැටියට. මා දන්නා තරමට නම් ටාසිට පක්‍ෂ දේශපාලනයක් තිබුණේ නැහැ. එහෙත් අදීන පුවත්පත් කතුවරයකු හා මාධ්‍ය ලේඛකයකු හැටියට දශකයකට වැඩි කාලයක් ශී‍්‍ර ලංකාවේත්, ඉනික්බිති දශක තුනකට වඩා ජාත්‍යන්තර තලයේත් කි‍්‍රයා කළ ඔහු, මගේ වීරයෙක්.

එසේ කියන්නේ ඇයි?

මා ඔහු මුණ ගැසී ඇත්තේ ඔහුගේ ජීවිතයේ අවසාන කාලයේ කිහිප වතාවක් පමණයි. එහෙත් ඔහු සමඟ එකට වැඩ කළ හා ඔහුගෙන් පුහුණුව හා ප‍්‍රබෝධක ආවේගය (inspiration) ලද බොහෝ දෙනකු ලොව පුරා මට හමු වී තිබෙනවා. ඔවුන් ඔහු ගැන තවමත් කථා කරන්නේ ගුරු දෙවියකු බදු ගෞරවාදරයෙන්.

ව්‍යක්ත ලෙස ඉංගී‍්‍රසි බස හැසිරවීමේ හැකියාව නිසා අපේ දුපතෙන් ඔබ්බට වෘත්තීය නිම්වළලූ පුඵල් කරගත් ලාංකික පුවත්පත් කලාවේදීන් ගණනාවක් විසිවන සියවසේ සිටියා. ඔවුන් සමහරෙක් සිංගප්පුරුව, තායිලන්තය, හොංකොං හා මැදපෙරදිග රටවල ඉංගී‍්‍රසි පුවත්පත්වල කර්තෘ මණ්ඩල තනතුරු දැරුවා. තවත් සමහරුන් ජාත්‍යන්තර පුවත් සේවාවල හෝ පුවත් සඟරාවල ලාංකික වාර්තාකරුවන් ලෙස හපන්කම් කළා. මේ අය අතර ප‍්‍රමුඛ චරිත දෙකක් නම් ඩෙන්සිල් පීරිස් (1917 – 1985) හා ටාසි විට්ටච්චි.

අභය ගාමිණී පෙරේරා ‘ටාසි’ විට්ටච්චි 1921දී කොළඹ උපත ලැබුවා. ගුරුවරුන් වූ ඔහුගේ දෙමවුපියෝ කුඩා වියේ පටන් හැම දෙයක් ගැන ම ප‍්‍රශ්න කරන්නට හා ස්වාධීනව සිතන්නට අනුබල දුන්නා. කොළඹ ආනන්ද විද්‍යාලයෙන් ප‍්‍රාථමික හා ද්වීතියික අධ්‍යාපනය ලැබු ඔහු 1944දී ලංකා විශ්ව විද්‍යාලයෙන් ආර්ථීක විද්‍යාව හා දේශපාලන විද්‍යාව ගැන උපාධියක් ලබා ගත්තා.

ගුරු වෘත්තියේ හා බැංකු ක්‍ෂෙත‍්‍රයේ වසර කිහිපයක් රැකියාව කිරීමෙන් පසු 1950දී ඔහු (පෞද්ගලික සමාගමක්ව පැවති) ලේක්හවුසියේ සේවයට ගියේ ඬේලි නිවුස් පත‍්‍රයේ සහකාර කතුවරයකු හැටියට. කෙටි කලකින් පාඨකයන් අතර ජනාදරයට පත් කොලම් (තීරු ලිපි) දෙකක් ඔහු ඇරඹූවා. Cursory Glances නම් එකකින් ඔහු රජයේ දුෂණ හා පරිපාලන අක‍්‍රමිකතා හෙළි කළා. Bouquets & Brickbats නම් අනෙක, උපහාසාත්මකව ලක් සමාජයේ පැතිකඩ විග‍්‍රහ කළා.

ලොකු පොඩි කාහටත් සරදම් කිරීමට සහජ හැකියාවක් ටාසිට තිබුණා. ඔහු ලීවේ Fly by Night යන ආරූඪ නමින් වුවත් එය පිටුපස සිටින ලේඛකයා කවුද යන්න බොහෝ දෙනා දැන සිටියා. ඔහුගේ කුසලතා නිසා 1953දී Ceylon Observer පත‍්‍රයේ ප‍්‍රධාන කතුවරයා ලෙස පත් කරනු ලැබුවා. ආසියාවේ පැරණිතම ඉංගී‍්‍රසි පත‍්‍රයේ ලාබාල ම කතුවරයා වන විට ඔහුගේ වයස 32යි.

බි‍්‍රතාන්‍ය පාලකයන්ගෙන් මෙරට රාජ්‍යකරණය භාර ගත් දේශීය පාලකයන්, සිය ඡන්දදායකයන්ට හා සමස්ත පුරවැසියන්ට මුඵමනින් වගකිව යුතු බවත්, ඒ සඳහා මාධ්‍ය විසින් පාලකයන්ට දිනපතා බලපෑම් කළ යුතු බවත් ටාසිගේ මාධ්‍ය කලාවේ මුලික සාරධර්මය වුණා. මෑතදී නිදහස ලැබූ රටෙහි සුවහසක් පැතුම් දේශපාලන මඩ ගොහොරුවේ ගිලී යා නොදී බේරා ගත යුතු බව ඔහු විශ්වාස කළා.

1950 දශකය පුරා අගමැතිවරුන් සිවු දෙනකුගේ පාලන යුගයන් තුළ ඔහු පවතින රජයන් දැඩි විමර්ශනයට හා විවේචනයට ලක් කළා. ලේක්හවුසියේ හිමිකරුවන්ගේ දේශපාලන නැඹුරුව හා මෙරට වරප‍්‍රසාද ලත් ‘බමුණු කුලයේ’ අවශ්‍යතා නියෝජනය කළා යයි ඇතැම් දෙනා ටාසිට චෝදනා කළත් ඔහුගේ ලාංකික මාධ්‍ය කාර්ය භාරය තුලනාත්මක ඇගැයීමකට ලක් වී නැති බව මගේ හැගීමයි.

Emergency '58 book cover1958 මැයි මාසයේ ඇති වූ සිංහල-දෙමළ වාර්ගික ගැටුම් ගැන පත‍්‍ර කලාවේදියකුගේ වාර්තාකරණය ඇතුළත් කොට ටාසි Emergency ’58: The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots නම් ඉංගී‍්‍රසි පොත රචනා කළා. සිදුවීම්වලින් මාස කිහිපයක් ඇතුළත එළි දුටු මේ පොත මහත් ආන්දෝලනයක් ඇති කළා. පක්‍ෂ දේශපාලනයෙන් තොරව ජාතික මට්ටමින් සිදුවීම් හා එයට තුඩු දුන් ඓතිහාසික, සමාජයීය හා දේශපාලනික සාධක විග‍්‍රහ කළ ටාසි යළි යළිත් කියා සිටියේ ගෝති‍්‍රක බෙදීම් හා කුලල් කා ගැනීම් ඉක්මනින් පාලනය කර නොගතහොත් ලංකාව ප‍්‍රචණ්ඩත්වයේ හා අස්ථාවර බවෙහි ගිලී යනු ඇති බවයි.

වාර්ගික බෙදීම් ඇති රටක ඇති-නැති පරතරය දැඩි ලෙස පැවතීම ගැටුම් ඇති කිරීමේ හැකියාව වඩාත් තීව‍්‍ර කරන බවත්, දුගී බව හා විරැකියාව සැළකිය යුතු අන්දමින් අඩු කිරීමේ ප‍්‍රබල අභියෝගයට ලක් රජයන් මුහුණ දිය යුතු බවත් ඔහු අවධාරණය කළා.

සමාජයීය විපර්යාසයන් සීඝ‍්‍රගාමීව සිදු වන කාලයක නීතියේ ආධිපත්‍යය (Rule of Law) නොකෙලෙසී පවත්වා ගැනීම අත්‍යවශ්‍ය බවත්, ගැටුම් හා හදිසි අවස්ථාවල පවා පාලකයන්ට පැවරෙන බලය පාර්ලිමේන්තු හා අධිකරණ අධීක්‍ෂණයට නතු විය යුතු බවත් මේ පොතෙන් හා සිය මාධ්‍යකරණයෙන් ටාසි තර්ක කළා.

පුවත්පත් කතුවරයකු මෙලෙස ස්වාධීනව හා නිර්භයව අදහස් පළ කිරීම එවක රජයන්ට අභියෝගයක් වුණා. අද මෙන් එදාත් පණිවුඩයේ වැදගත්කමට වඩා පක්‍ෂ දේශපාලනය ඉස්මතු කරනු ලැබුවා. මහජන ඡුන්දයෙන් පත් වූ ජනතා රජයකට මෙසේ අභියෝග කරන්නට පත්තරකාරයකුට අයිතියක් නැතැයි රජයේ වන්දිභට්ටයෝ කියා සිටියා!

ජනතාවාදී යයි කියා ගන්න රජයක අඩුපාඩුකම්, ප‍්‍රතිපත්තිමය දුර්වලතා සහ පරිපාලන අක‍්‍රමිකතා පෙන්වාදීමට මාධ්‍යවේදීන්ට අයිතියක් මෙන් ම වගකීමක් ද තිබෙනවා. ටාසි හා ඔහුගේ සමකාලීන ස්වාධීන චින්තකයන් මීට අඩසියවසකට පෙර කළ අනතුරු ඇඟවීම් ගැන ලක් සමාජය මීට වැඩි අවධානයක් යොමු කළා නම් අපේ මෑත ඉතිහාසය බෙහෙවින් වෙනස් වන්නට ඉඩ තිබුණා.

1959 අගෝස්තු මාසයේ පිලිපීනයේ මැනිලා නුවරදී පත‍්‍රකලාව හා සාහිත්‍යය සඳහා වන රේමන් මැග්සායිසායි ත්‍යාගය (ආසියාවේ නොබෙල් ත්‍යාගය) ටාසිට පිරිනමනු ලැබුවා. ඒ වසරේ ත්‍යාගය බුරුමයේ ‘ද නේෂන්’ පුවත්පත ආරම්භක කර්තෘ එඞ්වඞ් මයිකල් ලෝ යෝන් (Edward Michael Law Yone) හා ටාසි විට්ටච්චි අතර සමසේ බෙදුණා.

හේතු පාඨයෙන් කියැවුණේ මෑතදී නිදහස ලැබු මේ දෙරටේ ප‍්‍රජාතන්ත‍්‍රවාදය හා යහපාලනය සවිමත් කරන්නට තර්ජන ගර්ජන නොතකා අදීනව හා අභීතව කි‍්‍රයා කිරීම නිමිත්තෙන් ත්‍යාගය පිරිනමන බවයි. (මැග්සායිසායි සම්මානය ලැබූ දෙවැනි ලාංකිකයා වූයේ ටාසියි. ගෙවී ගිය 54 වසර තුළ එය ලාංකිකයන් 9 දෙනෙකුට හිමි වී තිබෙනවා.)

ස්වාධීන මතධාරීවීම හා අදීනව වෘත්තිමය කටයුතු කිරීම නිසා ඇති වූ දැඩි බලපෑම් හමුවේ රට හැර ගිය මුල් ම ලාංකික පත‍්‍රකලාවේදියා ටාසි ද? මෙයට නිශ්චිත පිළිතුරක් මට නැතත්, 1959දී ටාසි හදිසියේ ම විදේශගත වුණා.

1960-65 කාලයේ මැලේසියාවේ ක්වාලා ලම්පුර් නුවර ජාත්‍යන්තර පුවත්පත් ආයතනයේ (International Press Institute)ආසියානු අධ්‍යක්‍ෂවරයා ලෙසත්, ඉනික්බිති පිලිපීනයේ මැනිලා නුවර පිහිටි ආසියානු පුවත්පත් පදනමේ (Press Foundation of Asia) සමාරම්භක අධ්‍යක්‍ෂවරයා ලෙසත් කි‍්‍රයා කළා. ඔහු නිත්‍ය පදිංචියට බි‍්‍රතාන්‍යයට ගියේ 1970 දශකයේයි. 1971-72 කාලයේ ලන්ඩනයෙන් පළ කළ The Asian ප‍්‍රකාශනයේ ප‍්‍රධාන කතුවරයා වුණා.

මීට අමතරව ලන්ඩනයේ Sunday Times පත‍්‍රයට හා The Economist පුවත් සඟරාවටත්, BBC රේඩියෝවටත් විශේෂ වාර්තාකරුවකු ලෙස 1965-1972 කාලයේ ඔහු දායකත්වය දුන්නා. මෙකී නොකී සැම තැනකදී ම ඔහු උත්සාහ කළේ (එවකට බහුලව තුන්වන ලෝකය යයි හදුන්වනු ලැබූ) ආසියාවේ, අපි‍්‍රකාවේ හා ලතින් අමෙරිකාවේ දියුණු වන රටවල ජනයාගේ සිතුම් පැතුම්, ආකල්ප හා ප‍්‍රශ්න බටහිර දියුණු රටවල පාඨකයන්ගේ හා පාලකයන්ගේ අවධානයට ලක් කරන්නයි.

අමෙරිකාව හා සෝවියට් දේශය අතර සීතල යුද්ධයේ උච්චතම අවධියේ ලොව හැම ප‍්‍රශ්නයක් ම ධනවාදය හා සමාජවාදය/කොමියුනිස්ට් චින්තනය අතර අරගලයක් බවට ලඝු කරන්නට බොහෝ චින්තකයන් හා මාධ්‍යවේදීන් උත්සාහ කළා. ටාසි වැනි කිහිප දෙනෙක් කියා සිටියේ මේ න්‍යායාත්මක් විග‍්‍රහයෙන් ඔබ්බට යන, සමාජ සාධාරණත්වය හා ආචාරධර්ම මත පදනම් වූ දැක්මක් අවශ්‍ය බවයි.

1970-1980 දශකයන්ගේ බොහෝ බටහිර මාධ්‍ය ආයතන සමස්ත තුන්වන ලෝකය ම මතුපිටින් හා සරලව වාර්තා කළේ අන්ත දිළිදු බව, සමාජ විසමතා, දේශපාලන අස්ථාවර බව හා ගැටුම්වලින් පිරි මහා කාලකන්නි ලෝකයක් හැටියටයි. අපට බරපතල ප‍්‍රශ්න ඇතත්, ඒවාට විසදුම් ද තිබෙන බවත්, රටවල් අතර මෙන් ම රටවල් තුළත් අති විශාල විවිධත්වයක් පවතින බවත්, සියඵ තෙවන ලොව රටවල් එක අච්චුවකට දමා විග‍්‍රහ කිරීම මුඵමනින් ම වැරදි බවත් ඔහු පෙන්වා දුන්නා.

ටාසි මේ සන්නිවේදනය කළේ ආවේගශීලිව, උද්‍යොග පාඨ සහිතව ලිවීමෙන් නොවෙයි. ඉතා සංවරව, සංවාදශීලිව හා බොහෝ විට හාස්‍යය හා උපහාසය මුසුකර ගනිමින්. ඔහු මුල් යුගයේ ජාත්‍යන්තර ප‍්‍රකාශනවලට ලියූ ලිපි දැන් සොයා ගැනීම අපහසු වුවත් 1980 දශකය පුරාම Newsweek සඟරාවට ලියූ තීරු ලිපි මෙකී සරල, සුගම හා රසබර ශෛලියෙන් නිමැවුණු බව මට මතකයි.

ලිබරල් ප‍්‍රජාතන්ත‍්‍රවාදී ක‍්‍රමයට නැඹුරු වූ බටහිර රටවල, නිල රාජ්‍ය ප‍්‍රතිපත්තියට කිසිසේත් අනුගත නොවූ ස්වාධීන මතධාරී විද්වතුන්, පර්යේෂකයන් හා සමාජ කි‍්‍රයාකාරිකයන් සිටිනවා. ජනමතයට බලපෑම් කිරීමේ හා ජනමාධ්‍ය හරහා ප‍්‍රතිපත්තිවලට පවා දායකවීමේ හැකියාව මේ පිරිසට තිබෙනවා. (අමෙරිකා එක්සත් ජනපදය යනු අමෙරිකානු රජය හෝ එරට සමාගම් නොවේ!)

ටාසි සිය ලිපි හරහා ඇමතුවේ මෙකී සංවේදී, බුද්ධිමත් පිරිසටයි. ඒ අයට තර්කානුකූලව, නිර්ව්‍යාජව හා ලිහිල්ව ඕනෑ ම සංකීර්ණ ප‍්‍රශ්නයක් සන්නිවේදන කිරීමේ හැකියාව ටාසිට තිබුණා. උතුරු-දකුණු සබඳතාවල විසමතා සහ ගෝලීය මට්ටමේ අසාධාරණකම්වලට එරෙහිව කථා කරන අතර, අපේ වැනි රටවල පවතින කැකෑරෙන ප‍්‍රශ්න (කුලවාදය, පවුල්වාදය, වංචාව හා දුෂණය) ගැන කථා කිරීමට ඔහු පැකිඵණේ නැහැ.

කිසිදු රටක් හෝ සමාජයක් ගැන ඒකාකෘතික (stereotyped) ලෙස කථා නොකළ ඔහු ඒ වෙනුවට කියැවීමෙන්, දේශ සංචාරයෙන් හා ජාත්‍යන්තර සබදතා හරහා ලබා ගත් අවබෝධය කැටි කොට ගෙන රසබර, හරබර කථා ඉදිරිපත් කළා.

මාධ්‍ය ක්‍ෂෙත‍්‍රයෙන් සංවර්ධන ක්‍ෂෙත‍්‍රයට ටාසි සංක‍්‍රමණය වූයේ 1970 දශකයේ මැදදී. ජනගහනය, ළමා අයිතිවාසිකම්, පරිසරය හා කාන්තා අයිතිවාසිකම් ආදිය ගැන මාධ්‍යවේදියකු ලෙස ඔහු ලබා තිබූ අත්දැකීම් හා අවබෝධය හරහා ඔහු එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ විශේෂිත ආයතනවල සන්නිවේදන කටයුතු වඩාත් හෘදයාංගම හා සාර්ථක කිරීමට කි‍්‍රයා කළා. ටාසිගේ ජීවිතයේ මේ අවධිය ගැන තවත් දවසක කථා කරමු.

එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ සංවිධානයේ ඉහළ තනතුරක් හෙබවීමෙන් පසු විශ‍්‍රාම ගිය ටාසිට කොළඹ සරසවියේ සංවර්ධන මාධ්‍යවේදය (Development Journalism) ගැන මහාචාර්ය පදවියක් පිරිනැමීමේ යෝජනාවක් 1980 දශකයෙදී මතු වුණා. ලොව වටා මාධ්‍යවේදීන් දහස් ගණනක් පුහුණු කොට සිටි මේ දැවැන්තයාගෙන් අපේ රටට වැඩක් ගත හැකි වනු ඇතැයි එවකට මේ ක්‍ෂෙත‍්‍රයට අඵතින් පිවිසි අප බලාපොරොත්තු වුණා. එහෙත් ටාසිට ආචාර්ය උපාධියක් නොතිබූ නිසා එබදු තනතුරක් දීමට නොහැකි යයි සරසවි තන්ත‍්‍රය තීරණය කළා. සමහර විට මෙබදු ගලිවරයකුගේ ආගමනය ගැන එහි ලිලිපුට්ටන් බිය වන්නට ඇති!

ටාසි ජීවිතයේ අවසන් කාලය ගත කළේ ඔහුගේ දියණිය අනුරාධා විට්ටච්චි සමඟ එංගලන්තයේ ඔක්ස්ෆර්ඞ්හි නිස්කලංක ගැමි පරිසරයක. 1993 සැප්තැම්බරයේ ටාසි මිය ගිය විට ඔහු ගැන ප‍්‍රශංසාත්මක ස්මරණයන් ලොව ප‍්‍රධාන පෙළේ පුවත්පත් ගණනාවක පළ වුණා. ටාසි විට්ටච්චි අද බොහෝ දෙනකුට අමතක වුණත්, අපේ ලෝකය ගැන අභීතව, සත්‍යවාදීව හා රසබර ලෙස කථා කළ අපේ කාලයේ කථා කාරයකු ලෙස ලොව පුරා තවමත් ඔහු සිහි කරනු ලබනවා.

What a Bureaucrat does, by Tarzie Vittachi

When the Twerms Came: The PLAYBOY Comic Strip is found!

Skip Williamson's Facebook profile photo

Wow, isn’t the Facebook a great place to connect people, ideas and creativity? I never thought much about it, but maybe I ought to spend more time there…

Yesterday, I published a semi-serious essay called WikiLeaks, Swiss Banks and Alien invasions, which was about an obscure short story by Arthur C Clarke describing an unlikely alien invasion of the Earth. For once, the invaders used brain and cunning rather than fire power, and against this onslaught, our planet’s rulers had no defence…

I mentioned how PLAYBOY Magazine had used that story as the basis for a psychedelic comic strip illustrated by the American underground cartoonist Skip Williamson. At the time of writing, I had not been able to locate the comic strip that was published in their issue of May 1972. I wondered: “…it’s either behind a pay-wall, or lies somewhere with little or no indexing by search engines.”

Turns out to be the latter. In less than 24 hours, there was a response from Skip Williamson himself saying the artwork is on his Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/skip.williamson.

Many thanks to Skip Williamson for posting the link…and while at it, for all his brilliantly cheeky and subversive creations over the years! I hope he doesn’t mind my reproducing the comic strip (all of 2 pages) below:

When the Twerms Came - Comic Strip - Page 1 of 2

When the Twerms Came - Comic Strip page 2 of 2

When the Twerms Came: Arthur C Clarke’s easy guide for aliens to invade Earth?

Why waste all that energy when there are smarter ways? Image courtesy movie 'Independence Day'

It’s time to come clean: I have a fascination with alien invasions of our planet.

As a kid, I was an avid listener of radio (my only electronic medium, as I grew up in a land without television, and in a time before the Internet) — and expected the regular transmissions to be interrupted any moment to break the news of an alien invasion underway. The spoilsports shattered my childhood dreams everyday.

Now slightly older, I keep looking for the perfect moments for that history-shattering event. A widely reproduced op ed essay I wrote in July 2010 opened with these words:

“If you’re an alien planning to invade the Earth, choose July 11. Chances are that our planet will offer little or no resistance. Today, most members of the Earth’s dominant species – the nearly 7 billion humans – will be preoccupied with 22 able-bodied men chasing a little hollow sphere. It’s only a game, really, but what a game: the whole world holds its breath as the ‘titans of kick’ clash in the FIFA World Cup Final…”

The careless aliens didn’t heed my advice, but I live in hope. I keep looking for the strategic moments and smart ways to take over the planet — with as little violence as possible. After all, I’m a peace-loving person (even if I’m unhappy with the planet’s current management).

I’m not alone in this noble quest. Science fiction writers have been at it for decades, and future Earth invaders are well advised to first study these useful instructions masquerading as popular literature. In an op ed essay published today, I highlight one such story by Sir Arthur C Clarke.

Click on this ONLY if you're a prude...

I wrote WikiLeaks, Swiss Banks and Alien invasions with my tongue in my cheek about half the time (go figure!). I’ve been following the WikiLeaks cablegate saga for several weeks, and was intrigued to read that other critically sensitive secrets — that have nothing to do with garrulous American diplomats — were also reaching this online platform for assorted whistle-blowers.

One such story, appearing in the London Observer on 16 January 2011, reported how the Swiss whistleblower Rudolf Elmer plans to hand over offshore banking secrets of the rich and famous to WikiLeaks. That reminded me of an obscure short story that Arthur C Clarke had written more than 40 years ago, which is not as widely known as it should be. This short essay is an attempt to revive interest in it.

I describe how PLAYBOY Magazine used the story as a basis for a psychedelic comic strip illustrated by the American underground cartoonist Skip Williamson. That appeared in their issue for May 1972 — and I’m still trying to locate that story. All in the interests of pop culture, of course.

Read WikiLeaks, Swiss Banks and Alien invasions on Groundviews.org

Rap News on WikiLeaks: The truth is out there, huh?

Sounds funny, but these guys are spot on...and deadly serious!

On this blog, we take political satire very seriously and talk about it every now and then. It started with a blog post I wrote in July 2009 titled News wrapped up in laughter: Is this the future of current affairs journalism?

I’m delighted to highlight another commendable effort, this time on the web. It’s a website called The Juice Media, which presents news reports in, believe it or not, rap music! It has been online for a while, drawing rave reviews. One of them: “Like a mix of Eminem and Jon Stewart”.

TheJuiceMedia: Rap News is written and created by Hugo Farrant and Giordano Nanni in a home-studio/suburban backyard in Melbourne, Australia. In fact, Hugo appears as the amiable Rap News anchorman, Robert Foster.

Here are their latest three releases, which are hilariously serious.

Rap News 6 – Wikileaks’ Cablegate: the truth is out there

Rap News 5: Wikileaks & the war on journalism (ft. Julian Assange)

RAP NEWS 4: Wikileaks vs The Pentagon – the WWWAR on the Internet



Watch more videos at the Juice Media YouTube channel

Political Satire: When making fun is no laughing matter

Paper paper shining bright...but for how long? Cartoon by Mike Luckovich

My regular readers know my deep interest in political satire, and fascination with cartoons of all kinds including those political. On this blog, we’ve also discussed the worldwide decline in mainstream journalism.

I’ve just blended my thoughts in these strands in my latest op ed essay, ostensibly a book review. It has just been published by Groundviews.org as Political Satire in Sri Lanka: When Making Fun is No Laughing Matter

Here are the opening paras:

Political satire is nothing new: it has been around for as long as organised government, trying to keep the wielders of power in check. Over the centuries, it has manifested in many oral, literary or theatrical traditions, some of it more enduring — such as Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm. And for over a century, political cartoonists have also been doing it with such brilliant economy of words. Together, these two groups probably inspire more nightmares in tyrants than anyone or anything else.

“Today, political satire has also emerged as a genre on the airwaves and in cyberspace, and partly compensates for the worldwide decline in serious and investigative journalism. Many mainstream media outlets have become too submissive and subservient to political and corporate powers. Those who still have the guts often lack the resources and staff to pursue good journalism.

“If Nature abhors a vacuum, so does human society — and both conjure ways of quickly filling it up. Into this ‘journalism void’ have stepped two very different groups of people: citizen journalists, who take advantage of the new information and communications technologies (ICTs), and political satirists who revive the ancient arts of caricaturisation and ego-blasting…”

In this essay, I revisit a question I first posed in my July 2009 blog post: News wrapped in laughter: Is this the future of current affairs journalism?

Read the full essay:
Political Satire in Sri Lanka: When Making Fun is No Laughing Matter

You might also like to look at these other related blog posts:

August 2009: The XYZ Show: New horizon in political satire on African TV, but room to grow?

Sep 2009: XYZ Show controversy: Kenyan politicians forgetting ‘Hakuna matata’?

No Pressure, Just Plain Stupidity: UK climate film scores ‘own goal’ for campaigners

Still from No Pressure film: We do live in The Age of Stupid!

Shock therapy is known to work, when handled carefully. We can sometimes shock people out of apathy or indifference, for sure — but the same shock, if overdone, can also numb people or turn them off completely.

That’s certainly the case with a new climate advocacy video film called No Pressure, released on 1 October 2010 by the by the climate mitigation campaign named 10:10.

Written by Richard Curtis and Franny Armstrong (who made the acclaimed 2009 climate documentary, The Age of Stupid) and directed by Dougal Wilson, the film is a tragi-comic attempt to ridicule those who don’t share the same level of concern on global climate change as the climate activists do.

The four-minute film consists of a series of short scenes in which groups of people are asked if they are interested in participating in the 10:10 project to reduce carbon emissions. Those failing to show sufficient enthusiasm for the cause, including two schoolchildren, are gruesomely executed by being blown to pieces.

Well, see for yourself. Caution: this video contains violent scenes that can be offensive to most sensible people:

The normally balanced UK’s Guardian newspaper, which got the online exclusive, introduced the video on 30 September 2010 calling it “attention grabbing” and “pretty edgy.” There were a few others who found artistic or creative merit in the film, which has got high production values — no basement production, this.

But where it fails miserably is in winning any new friends for the climate cause, or at lease to influence people to change their high carbon lifestyles.

Amdrew Revkin

As Andrew Revkin, who writes the Dot Earth blog for the New York Times, wrote on 1 October: “If the goal had been to convince people that environmental campaigners have lost their minds and to provide red meat (literally) to shock radio hosts and pundits fighting curbs on greenhouse gases, it worked like a charm.”

He isn’t alone. Bill McKibben, author, educator and environmentalist — who founded the serious climate group 350.org — wrote on the same day: “The climate skeptics can crow. It’s the kind of stupidity that hurts our side, reinforcing in people’s minds a series of preconceived notions, not the least of which is that we’re out-of-control and out of touch — not to mention off the wall, and also with completely misplaced sense of humor.”

His group, 350.org, issued a statement that emphatically said they had nothing to do with this misplaced British climate extremism. McKibben added, more reflectively: “What makes it so depressing is that it’s the precise opposite of what the people organizing around the world for October 10 are all about. In the first place, they’re as responsible as it’s possible to be: They’ll spend the day putting up windmills and solar panels, laying out bike paths and digging community gardens. And in the second place, they’re doing it because they realize kids are already dying from climate change, and that many many more are at risk as the century winds on. Killing people is, literally, the last thing we want.”

Bill McKibben

Now contrast such concern with the initial reaction from British film maker Franny Armstrong, who wrote a half-hearted, almost defiant apology on the 10:10 UK website, saying: “With climate change becoming increasingly threatening, and decreasingly talked about in the media, we wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue back into the headlines whilst making people laugh. We were therefore delighted when Britain’s leading comedy writer, Richard Curtis – writer of Blackadder, Four Weddings, Notting Hill and many others – agreed to write a short film for the 10:10 campaign. Many people found the resulting film extremely funny, but unfortunately some didn’t and we sincerely apologise to anybody we have offended.”

Adding gross insult to injury, Armstrong signed off saying: “As a result of these concerns we’ve taken it off our website. We won’t be making any attempt to censor or remove other versions currently in circulation on the internet.”

Both the 10:10 UK campaign and its sponsors Sony have been more unequivocal in their apologies in the days that followed. But that’s too little, too late. Enough damage done — climate activists and campaigners worldwide will take months, if not years, to live down this one.

And nothing really goes away on the web — this video will be lurking somewhere for a long time. YouTube currently carries the video in several places, with the warning: “This video or group may contain content that is inappropriate for some users, as flagged by YouTube’s user community.”

Andrew Revkins has posted comments from those who condemned as well as those who found some merit in the offensive climate video. Some of these comments take a dispassionate view, which is to be welcomed.

This incident teaches all of us engaged in environmental communication some important lessons. Environmentalists have over-stated their case before, and every time, that did them (and their causes) far more harm than good. Crying wolf, and ridiculing the non-believers, are never good tactics in winning friends or influencing people.

As Bill McKibben noted: “There’s no question that crap like this (video) will cast a shadow, for a time, over our efforts and everyone else who’s working on global warming. We’re hard at work, as always, but we’re doing it today with a sunk and sad feeling.”

One more thing: even in this age of globalised media, humour doesn’t travel well across cultures and borders. As mainstream corporate media companies have often found out, British humour sometimes doesn’t even cross the Atlantic very well — let alone to other parts of the world. Perhaps this is a key point that this all-British team of film makers and campaigners simply missed.

The world is a bit bigger — and more diverse — than your little island, Ms. Armstrong. By failing to grasp that, and with your crude display of insensitivity, you have really proved the premise of your good climate film.

We do live in the Age of Stupid.

PS: Marc Roberts says it all in this cartoon:

Et tu, Armstrong?

Where are all the women cartoonists hiding?

Shamanthi Rajasingham receiving her first prize in climate cartoon contest Sri Lanka


“So how many women cartoonists are working in our newspapers?”

My daughter Dhara, 13, asked me this simple question earlier this month when I was involved in judging Sri Lanka’s first contest of cartoons on climate change, organised by the British Council and the Ken Sprague Fund of UK.

I tried to come up with an answer, and couldn’t think of a single woman cartoonist who works for a print or online media outlet in Sri Lanka. That, despite my long association with the media and also being a great admirer (and collector) of good cartoons.

Later that day, at the awards ceremony for winning and commended climate cartoonists, I posed the same question to leading Lankan cartoonists Wasantha Siriwardena, Winnie Hettigoda and Dharshana Karunatilleke. They too couldn’t name one immediately; later, a single name was mentioned but it’s not one I recognised.

Clearly, cartooning is still a very male dominated profession — but that might soon change, going by the active participation of young women in the climate change cartoon contest.

Shamanthi Rajasingham

In fact, the first and third prize winners were both women — respectively Shamanthi Rajasingham and W M D Nishani. They beat close to 200 other contestants to get there.

Additionally, there were 6 women among the 22 commended cartoonists, and one woman among those 11 who were highly commended — judged on four criteria. See all winning and commended entries.

W M D Nishani

Okay, the four judges were all male (among us, two professional cartoonists). But during this entire judging process, the identity of artists was withheld and we only knew each entry by a number. In fact, we discovered the names (and gender) of artists only at the awards ceremony.

This would be encouraging news to Dhara and all other aspiring young girls and women who want to pursue careers in media. Let’s hope at least some of the women contestants in the climate cartoons contest would end up being more than just hobby cartoonists…

Meanwhile, it’s not just Sri Lanka that has a shortage of women engaged in cartooning, and awareness of their contribution is lacking. A quick Google search brought up a book titled “The Great Women Cartoonists” by Trina Robbins (Watson-Guptill Publications, 2001). Reviewing it in TIME, Andrew D Arnold wrote: “Name three women cartoonists who worked from 1900 to 1950. Okay, just name one. Couldn’t do it? Neither could I until reading a new, invaluable book…”

Cartooning on climate change: Young artists rise to the challenge

Cartoon contest top prize winners with British Council director and chief guest (all front row) and four judges (all back row) at awards ceremony, Colombo 6 March 2010

Man-made climate change is a complex planetary phenomenon. It has multiple causes and effects – not all of it immediately evident. Different areas of the world are going to be impacted differently and unevenly. Human response to the climate challenge has been patchy, and is mired in so much denial, rhetoric and political posturing.

So how do we capture this multiplicity in visual forms? Photographers go for the evidence and authenticity. Film makers work on both current impacts and future scenarios. What about cartoonists – who have to do their visual metaphors in a limited space that is static and two-dimensional? How much of climate change’s nuance and complexity can they really grasp and convey?

The short answer is: a great deal. On this blog, I’ve written that when it comes to cartoons, less is definitely more. Take, for example, many millions of printed words and probably thousands of minutes of airtime generated around the (over-hyped and under-performing) Copenhagen climate conference in Dec 2009. As I noted in blog posts on 17 Dec, 18 Dec and 21 Dec 2009, it was assorted cartoonists from around the world who summed it all up in a few perceptive strokes. This is why I keep saying that when it comes to commenting on our topsy-turvy times, no one can beat cartoonists for their economy of words.

In late 2009, the British Council and the Ken Sprague Fund of UK organised a cartoon contest on climate change which was open to all Lankan citizens from 18 to 35 years. They offered attractive prizes for anyone who could be ‘seriously funny’ about this global crisis. The participants could submit entries under 6 themes: drought and water shortage; deforestation and rain forest destruction; melting of the ice caps; role of industry in polluting the atmosphere; devastation of our seas and disappearance of marine life; and climate change in an urban environment.

Some 400 entries were received from 175 contestants (each person could submit up to 5 entries) – which surprised and delighted the organisers. During the past few weeks, I have been involved in judging these cartoons to select the top winners and commended entries. Joining me in this enjoyable task were nationally recognised professional cartoonist Wasantha Siriwardena and environmentalist Nimal Perera. We worked with a British counterpart, top cartoonist Michal Boncza Ozdowski.

Michal Boncza Ozdowski (L) and Wasantha Siriwardena conducting cartoon workshop

The winners were announced, with awards and certificates, on 6 March 2010. It coincided with a half-day workshop on cartooning conducted by Michal and Wasantha. The chief guest at the ceremony was Camillus Perera, the seniormost Lankan cartoonist still professionally active.

As national judges, we looked at close to 200 cartoon entries that conformed with the contest’s published rules for eligibility. Since comparative ranking of creative works is never easy, we first agreed on four criteria for assessing the very diverse entries: cartoon value and humour; subject relevance to climate change (defined broadly); how effectively the climate related message was being communicated; and clarity and artistic merit of the entry.

Our initial judging coincided with the climate circus in Copenhagen, when we narrowed it down to a shortlist of 40 entries. We then individually scored these cartoons for each of our four criteria. We sometimes had to discuss and demarcate how far the scope of the contest could stretch. For example, when is an entry a good work of art but not a cartoon (more like a poster)? And what are the acceptable limits in the thematic or subject coverage of a vast topic like climate change?

The British Council later shared the full shortlist with Michal Ozdowski, who provided his own rankings and comments. We met again in February 2010 to discuss and reconcile our rankings — and found that our separately done rankings broadly agreed! (Note: During this entire judging process, the identity of artists was withheld and we only knew each entry by a number. In fact, we judges discovered the names only on the day of the awards ceremony, to which all shortlisted contestants were invited.)

Additionally, Michal kindly offered crisp comments about the top three winners, which became citations at the awards ceremony. So here are the winners of climate change cartoon contest 2009:

First prize: Welcome to the North Pole! By by Shamanthi Rajasingham

First prize winning climate cartoon - by Shamanthi Rajasingham

Citation for first prize: It is uncomplicated – a great advantage when satirising. Its composition is strong and imaginative, the draughtsmanship confident.

Second Prize: “I pray for water, not nectar” by Dileepa Dolawatte

Second prize winning climate cartoon by Dileepa Dolawatte

Citation for second prize: Apart from the vibrant and highly accomplished draughtsmanship, it lampoons brilliantly the fairy’s naivety – a funny eye-opener. Incorporates very cleverly traditional beliefs and myths. Here we are truly past the dodgy miracles stage in the climate change battles…

Third Prize: Theme – Drought and water shortage, by W M D Nishani

Third prize winning climate cartoon by W M D Nishani

Citation for third prize: An eloquent, if over-didactic, strip cartoon – could be quite effective in women’s publications. Coherent draughtsmanship catalogues effectively the woes of a ‘get-rich-quick’ development.

See all the highly commended and commended entries on the British Council website.

Long Live Siribiris – and his creator Camillus Perera!

Nalaka Gunawardene (L) with cartoonist Camillus Perera - photo by Malaka Rodrigo

In January 2009, writing a tearful farewell to the slain newspaper editor and investigative journalist Lasantha Wickrematunga, I invoked the memory of Siribiris. I wrote: Goodbye, Lasantha – and long live Siribiris!

Last weekend, I finally met the ‘father of Siribiris’ and was delighted to salute him in public.

Let me explain. Siribiris is an iconic cartoon character well known to two generations of Lankan newspaper readers. He is a creation of Camillus Perera, a veteran Lankan political cartoonist who has been in this uncommon profession for nearly 45 years.

Camillus started drawing cartoons in newspapers in 1966 with the Observer newspaper and the film magazine of the same publishing group, Lake House (then privately owned and under state control since 1973). He draws pocket cartoons, political cartoons as well as satirical comic strips. His most enduring accomplishment has been the creation of a set of regular characters who have developed a loyal following over the years. Among them are the wily Siribiris, prankster Gajaman, fashionable young lady Dekkoth Pathmawathie, smart alec kid Tikka and sporty Sellan Sena.

These and other characters are very ordinary and very real, and they inhabit an undefined yet familiar place in the cartoon universe that most Lankan newspaper readers can easily relate to — it’s a bit like R K Narayan’s fictitious village of Malgudi.

puncturing egos for 40 years

Siribiris (left): puncturing egos for 40 years

My own favourite, Siribiris, is really Everyman personified: long-suffering, taken for granted by politicians, exploited by businessmen, hoodwinked by corrupt officials, and always struggling to simply stay alive. He is down but not yet out. The only way that poor, unempowered Siribiris can get back at all those who take advantage of him is to puncture their inflated egos and ridicule them at every turn. And boy, does he excel in that!

I grew up enjoying Camillus cartoons in various newspapers meant for children, youth and general readers. I had occasionally seen him being interviewed on TV. But I’d never seen or met him in person — until now. It happened when the British Council Sri Lanka invited Camillus as chief guest at their awards ceremony in the climate change cartoon contest they organised, which I helped judge with three others.

As the master of ceremonies, I announced: “It’s a great pleasure and honour for me to introduce Camillus Perera, the senior-most cartoonist in Sri Lanka who is still professionally active. Indeed, he has been drawing cartoons for as long as I have been alive — for he started his long innings in the same year I was born!”

Cartoon universe of Camillus Perera

Camillus, a small made and pleasant man, spoke briefly and thoughtfully. (As I keep saying, we writers just can’t beat cartoonists in the economy of words!). He recalled how he’d used the British Council Library for visual references for years before the web made it much easier to search. He congratulated all those who won prizes or commendations in the contest.

Many years ago, I privileged to count senior cartoonist W R Wijesoma as a senior colleague when we both worked for The Island newspaper. Now I have finally met Camillus Perera, another hero of mine still practising his craft and drawing regularly for Rivira Sunday newspaper, as well as The Catholic Messenger and Gnanartha Pradeepaya. My only regret is that I don’t follow any of these newspapers on a regular basis, even though I try hard to keep up with Siribiris on the web…

There is a bit more than childhood idol worship involved here. Satire is one of the last domains we are left with when freedom of expression comes under siege.

As I wrote in July 2009in a blog post on news wrapped up in laughter: “There is another dimension to satirising the news in immature democracies as well as in outright autocracies where media freedoms are suppressed or denied. When open dissent is akin to signing your own death warrant, and investigative journalists risk their lives on a daily basis, satire and comedy becomes an important, creative – and often the only – way to comment on matters of public interest. It’s how public-spirited journalists and their courageous publishers get around draconian laws, stifling regulations and trigger-happy goon squads. This is precisely what is happening right now in countries like Kenya and Sri Lanka, and it’s certainly no laughing matter.“

Taken in that light, Camillus Perera is not just a popular and entertaining cartoonist adorning Sri Lanka’s newspaper industry. He is a gentle giant in the world of journalism — a man of few words whose sharp wit and keystrokes are more piercing than any number of words that we writers and journalists can churn out. He is a living cultural treasure.

So long live both Siribiris — and Camillus Perera!

Seasoned words from another century to herald a New Year…

“Another year grew old and weary
And gave way to one new and young.
Another orbit we’ve completed
Around our local star, the Sun.

We’ve been here before,
And return here we shall.
Dare I say it, among celebrations:
This too shall pass…”

That was part of my own verse with which I wrote the first blog post of 2009. And do it did, just as I predicted — what powers of prescience I possess!

This time around, I stuck to prose writing that I’m slightly better at, and took a wistful and opinionated look back at the year that was.

And I was inspired by these witty and perceptive words from two of the finest wordsmiths of yesteryear, which a dear friend circulated hours before the old year ran out.

After clocking dozens of orbits, these words haven't worn out...