By Radhieka Peeris
Pix by Manjula Dayawansha
Why are we so hesitant to educate our own children? Are we embarrassed? afraid? too controlling to let our child be informed and knowledgeable about the real facts of life? Who is responsible for making the topic of sex education taboo in Sri Lankan society? Shunning your child from getting to know the most natural phenomenon known to all beings? Is it not your responsibility to educate your child about the realities of sexual intercourse in order to protect them? Is it not the mere fact of misguided information that makes many girls and women end up visiting illegal abortion clinics, and sometimes even taking their own lives being unable to face society?
Why do we as a society look down upon ones who speak of the beautiful act of creation by which you and I were both born into this world?
Veteran Actor, Producer, Director and Playwright Sriyantha Mendis of “put put” fame [an unforgettable character he portayed in the 1985 Sinhala Teledrama Palingu Menike] has evolved as a producer and director of theatre productions over the years, passing through various stages like epic theatre, political drama, and situation comedy. In doing so he has succeeded in immortalizing everyday characters and creating poignant situations to be etched in the minds of his audience. He has also produced theatre plays such as Paadhada Asapuwa, Sudu Kalu hewath Varna, and Pansa Dekay Hansaya.
“GabbaraMinisa” – A Pregnant Man is Sriyantha’s latest theatrical production. It was enacteted at the Tower Hall, on the 5 February at 3:30 and 6:30pm. An adaptation of Italian playwright and Nobel Prize winning Dario Fo’s creation, it is a satirical take on abortion, questioning societies veiled in hypocrisy and denial.
The play featured a seven member talented cast of actors including –Sriyantha Mendis, Kusum Renu, Sarath Kothalawela, Wasantha Vittachchi, Malkanthi Jayasinghe, Sujeewa Priyalal, and Mihiri Priyangani.
An 18 year old girl - a typical latch-key kid is in a constant struggle to live a “normal” life facing harsh realities of living in an apartment complex with shallow, nosey neighbours peering in through binoculars to look at what goes on in other people’s private spaces. Her parents do not have the luxury of spending time with their only child because they have to keep pace with the rat race in order to survive in an ever changing world –automatically and understandably driving the adolescent in search of love, care, and understanding from any source willing to give it to her. Due to the absence of a visible parent – child bond, she gets pregnant by her boyfriend and struggles to not just explain to her parents but also to come to terms herself, with the bodily changes that take place.
In the meantime her mother gets pregnant by the father, and is ashamed of her condition, due to self imposed societal taboos, while the father philanders with all and sundry. Both the mother and the daughter struggle at the thought of abortion, and co-incidentally meet at an illegal abortion clinic forcing both to confide in each other – a beautiful scene portraying a gamut of human emotions ranging from anger, to shame, to denial ending with love, care and understanding – the original missing equations to the formulae in the bond between a mother and her daughter.
It is pertinent at this juncture to mention that the father is the President of “National Campaign Against Abortion” – but the climax of the play is reached when the father discovers something about his disposition [which I will allow you to find out when you watch the play] – a poignant discovery that slaps the entire family right in the face resulting in a complete standstill of life as they knew it.
Sriyantha Mendis speaking to Ceylon Today stated that “the main theme of this play is something we as ‘Asians’ shy away from”. Quoting the reason for choosing this particular plot he said “I was reading the news papers one day when I stumbled upon a tragic article on abortion that immediately arrested my attention, which is when I decided to do a play in response to abortion. I wanted to produce a play with a strong social message – something that would seize anyone’s attention and prod them to ponder and hopefully spread the message”.
Kusum Renu speaking about the ending said “we wanted to jolt the audience off their seats and force them to think of the realities of such pertinent issues.”
With 80 shows running since the first show, this play has proved to be a success in many parts of Sri Lanka, making the play nine months old – “the perfect time to deliver the baby” according to Sriyantha. A man in an audience in Nikaveratiya once approached Sriyantha to tell him that watching this play made him cry for the first time in his life. The play also received an appreciative response from audiences ranging from students of the Peradeniya University, the First Lady Mrs. Sriyanthi Rajapakse, and academics like Professor Carlo Fonseka. The play, as mentioned has been travelling extensively to spread its social message, and the audiences of Wellawaya, Moneragala, Buttala, Kandy, Galle, Matara, Giriwella, and Nikeweratiya are some of the few places which have already experienced it. The play is set to go on 11 February at the Dehiwala S.D.S. Jayasinghe Hall, 24 February in Anuradhapura, 24 March at the Colombo New Town Hall, 12 May in Ja-ela, 27 May at the Bishops’ College Auditorium in Colombo, and 23 June in Embilipitiya.
Sriyantha speaking of the feelings he would like to conjure in the minds of his audience said “use your index finger not to rebuke but to reach out in love and understanding linking your child to you, creating a human bond that warms each other’s hearts.”
No woman would want an abortion. She would either want a child or wish to avoid pregnancy. How does a woman end up wanting an abortion? Is it not due to her lack of knowledge on protective sex? [I am not talking about the many innocent women and girls who are survivors of rape]
This play made me re-visit the weird hesitation of Sri Lankan society when it comes to talking about the most natural phenomenon ever. It makes me want to scream out loud asking from each and every one of you “WHY DON’T YOU SEE THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?”
A witty - satirical play, Gebbara Minisa is an adaptation from a foreign source, and works perfectly in harmony within our cultural context, thus reminding us of common bonds we share in humanity. It echoes throughout the human species and cannot be isolated as a Sri Lankan condition. This is art, it has many messages, and meanings to each person, but people should watch it because it is simple and comic, and if you get the message and it sparks discussion and further thought, well good for you. Watch it – and if you are brave enough, let your children see it.
(Ceylon Today Online)