‘Island to Island’ presents a study of Macintyre’s plays

During the infamous 1983 riots in Sri Lanka, Sinhalese mobs followed a peculiar test to identify the “other people” — Tamils. They would stop a person and ask him to pronounce the Sinhalese word Baldiya, which means bucket.

In playwright Ernest Thalayasingam Macintyre’s Rasanayagam’s Last Riot, the eponymous character used to narrate to his Sinhalese friend Philip and his Tamil wife Sita how he escaped the mob’s fury on many an occasion through his correct pronunciation. But he chose to reveal his identity during the ’83 riots at the cost of his life.

“Macintyre deplores the Sri Lankan English educated middle classes of both communities who insulated themselves from the ground reality and the build-up of tensions since independence,” says poet Tamizhachi Thangapandian in ‘Island to Island,’ a detailed study on the Sri Lankan playwright living in Australia for over four decades now. The book was released here on Saturday.

“He exposes the close affinity between the upper middle classes of both ethnic groups and observes how while earlier generation of leaders were all part of the elite, the newer generation of Tamil leadership came from grass roots,” she explains.

Mr. Macintyre, a Burgher by ethnicity and one of the pioneers of the English theatre movement in Sri Lanka, has been highly critical of the Sri Lankan Government, but was not fully recognised by the Tamils in India and overseas, since he happened to write in English. He has written over 30 plays.

“I am deeply impressed by his art form and how through wit and satire he exposed the stark and naked reality without being sentimental even when he describes the pain and anguish of the Tamils, who had no one to turn to at the time of persecution,” said Tamizhachi, who studied the author and his plays including unpublished ones as part of her Australian India Council (AIC) Fellow Award.

Tamizhachi explained that her sense of “belonging to nowhere in metropolitan Chennai” after being “uprooted from her village” drew her towards Macintyre, who migrated to Australia in 1983.

“While there was no compulsion on Macintyre to leave Sri Lanka, the forced migration of Tamils in the wake of communal riots affected him very much,” said Tamizhachi.

She said long before the United Nations came under attack for its “indifference” towards the killing of Tamils in the last phase of the war between the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE, Macintyre had ridiculed the UN in his play The UN Inspector General.

Similarly, Irangani poignantly captures the situation in which a rebel was denied an honourable burial, alluding to thousands of LTTE cadres killed and given a mass burial. “It has been written on the lines of Sophocles’ Antigone and Macintyre introduces a character resembling Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa,” she said.