by Thilak S. Fernando

No historical period has been free of violence; it seems to have struck a new pitch of both in extent and intensity in our day in Sri Lanka. No Sri Lankan would have even remotely dreamt two to three decades ago of the continuing violence in the north and east prevalent today in our Motherland.

The ‘song’ that lies silent in the heart of Mother Lanka sang upon the lips of her children, in a full-length dance drama on May 2, 4 and 5 at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, West London, to a full house audience that mainly consisted of non-Sri Lankans.

Flowers will Always Bloom’ presented by 45 strong company, made up performers aged 14+ including 15 refugees, eight wheel chair bound and professional artists from different communities in Sri Lanka touched every heart who sat watching them silently, many constantly drying their wet eyes with genuine feelings of humankind. Obviously, the language of Sinhala was not a barrier to a foreign audience as the actions as much as the theme touched every heart. This was more so evident from the standing ovation those ‘unsophisticated, simple, deformed performers’ received to their astonishment - an experience which they may never have seen or dreamt of in their own society!

The appreciation of the audience lasted continuously for over twenty minutes followed by viewers going on stage and greeting the performers with flowers, talking to the disabled, kissing them and even taking photographs posing with them, which in no uncertain terms gave those souls a sense of belonging and confidence in the human society. Butterflies Theatre Group along with Sunera Foundation founded by Sunethra Bandaranaike very successfully and effectively projected the reality of the present situation in Sri Lanka, through ‘Flower will Always bloom’ drama, with the professional assistance of Wolfgang Stange, of AMICI Dance Theatre Company, and Rohana Perera, of the Butterflies Theatre Group, who choreographed and directed the play.

The theme of the production was to highlight that unity is divinity, whereby a mixed society of people in a socially damaged situation could come together, pick up their pieces and live collectively once more in harmony with each other.

As the curtain went up a scene depicting, Sri Lanka’s different ethnic communities were seen in their religious worship while a blind man walked across. He was the only one who cold see the reality of the present situation. Tamil and Sinalese sharing the New Year celebrations highlighted a typical village scene in an unspoilt ‘Boarder Village’ of Sri Lanka. Soon the celebrations turned into shooting and bombings. It heralded the beginning of a traumatised nation. The gripping effect of the story started from the time two little boys innocently went after a butterfly while their mother attempted to stop them walking towards the danger zone. It was too late; a mine blast threw the bodies of their two sons towards her. She collapsed in distress and further gunfire killed her husband.

The blind man found the two injured children and prayed for their survival. Three sprits of hope saved the children and placed their injured bodies near the home of a childless Tamil couple. Thinking their prayers for a child had been answered the couple adopted the children.

The young mother who lost her children and husband confronted the villagers from the top of a mountain. Being hysterical she tried to kill her self and warned the people that there was nowhere for them to go! Only the blind man was able to convince her that she had no right to kill herself as the Gods had gifted her with a beautiful voice and she had to use it to bring light where there was darkness. She reluctantly came down and lamented her situation.

The two children had grown up with their Tamil mother and living in the refugee camp for 14 years. Through the mine explosion they had lost their legs and the power of speech but were accepted as full members of this little community. The refugee camp was raided by terrorists and all the young men were taken away. In their attempts to escape, some were gunned down in front of their family. More shots confirmed the execution of the other young men! The area became unsafe and they left once again.

In a dream the three spirits of hope appeared, dancing and flirting with the two limbless young men to let them realise that they would be able to form relationships like any other human being. The blind man recognised the young men and told the mother to take them to Roshani (real mother’s) concert in a refugee camp. During the concert some mysteries were revealed and as the refugees gate-crashed and sang along with their idol, the real mother, Roshani, tearfully announced that her next song would be in memory of her two dead sons. The crowed settled down and at the end of the song, two sons recognised the voice and the sound of their mother’s voice jolted in their memory. They regained the power of speech and told their perplexed mother that the singer was the mother who brought them into the world. The villagers joined the two mothers and their sons, but a bomb blast shattered their moment of happiness. It left a question mark. What does the future hold for them ?

The drama projected a moving portray of stories from the present ethnic conflict highlighting the plight of thousands of refugees, Sinhala soldiers who have lost their limbs or sight, together with Tamil, Moslem and Sinhala refugees who have lost members of their families and their homes. It also highlighted how they have been brought together with people, who were both with either a physical or mental disability, thus creating a fascinating and thought provoking piece of theatre

Using vibrant colours, this exceedingly refined production intensely established the real influence of arts on people with a magical mix of traditional Sri Lankan music and dance performed by disadvantaged youth from Sri Lanka, illustrating as a bridge to reconnect people with humanity – a bridge to connect people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Up to the beginning of British Colonial rule, the Sinhala and Tamil peoples lived as juxta-posed but intermingling groups in conditions of relative peace with occasional episodes of war. The partiality of British rule to both Tamils and Christians (minorities) gave rise to a strong assertion, understandably, of Sinhala-Buddhist consciousness after Independence, which swiped at both Tamils and Christians. Apart from the Christian question, the policies adopted by successive Governments, especially with regard to language and land, consolidated fears of the insecurity in the Tamil community as a minority ethnic group in the national polity. Naturally, these fears led to tendencies of separation, which came to a head in the mid-seventies which a section of the younger Tamil generation taking to arms for the cause of a separate state. On the other hand the Tamil separatist cry and its violent militancy evoked strong fears of insecurity in the Sinhala people vis-à-vis the combined Tamil population of the north and east and of Tamilnadu, in South India, especially in the eighties when India was openly supportive of the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka’.

Both communities are now gripped by fears of loss identity and of human space for racial/cultural survival and well being. .From this point of view it is clear that both the Sinhala and Tamil peoples are being challenged to ‘die’ to their present confrontational and ‘separatist’ modes of being to rise to a higher level of unity which will paradoxically enhance the specificity of each’.

The Sunera Foundation, founded by Sunethra Bandaranaike, is unique in working with socially, physically, and mentally disadvantaged people in the field of the arts in Sri Lanka. Its aim is to encourage and extend this to people of all communities who are most damaged by the war at a time when political and military polarization is at its height.

A very talented actress, Roshani Ramani Damayanthi’s effectual role as the mother of the two lost children was highly commendable. She has been a very popular drama actress and has won the Presidential Award for drama twice. Equally Upeka and Khema's professional dancing, especially as the two spirits flirting with the limbless sons, was a rare but a novel creation which added more lustre to the theme. The drama role efficiently played by two ex- deformed soldiers, ( L/cpl. H.D.G.Tillekeratne and Pvt. Upul Samantilleke) as the two limbless grown up children was admirable.

It is sad but true that the large majority of us ( Sri Lankans) appreciate very little of our Motherland, her cultural richness, and spiritual heritage, and what is more alarming, has little love for our country! We cannot really love what we do not know. So an essential pre-requisite for true patriotic love is an adequate knowledge and appreciation of one’s Motherland’. The Sunera Foundation Group has shown to the world at large, from the hub of Europe, that ‘Sri Lanka has all the potential to become one of the finest countries of the world, a small but beautiful country, if only we, her citizens, her children, are imbued with a deep sense of love and dedication to her upliftment’..

Flowers will Always Bloom will herald the National Refugee Week in June 2001