Sacrifice For Art:
The Life Of A Sri Lankan Poet
It is never easy making money from the arts, especially in northern Sri Lanka. The Catamaran talked to Krishnapillai Arulampalam about his life as traditional playwright and poet.
“Whenever I bought a new pen I wrote until the ink dried out. I wrote during the day as well as at night. While at work, when something strikes my imagination, I note it down on a piece of paper and keep it. Because of this, I lost the job that was supporting me financially.”
Sometimes I came to know that one of my poems appeared in the newspaper. But I did not even have enough money to buy the paper to see them. Some of my friends bought the newspapers for me. Some readers used to praise me and give the papers to me.
Writing is not easy. Writing cannot be instant. You must think. You must imagine.
I write Koothu, a traditional Tamil kind of stage play, which were performed in Batticaloa. I learned the finer points of staging plays from my father. I also learned from the songs sung at work places to dispel weariness. For example, while harvesting in the field everyone joins in the chorus and sings. I came to understand the rhythms and wrote my plays according to them. I still continue to write this way.
It takes me from ten days to one month, or many months, or even one year, to write a play. To stage the play, Thuronar Modcham, I needed a month to write the script. After the rehearsals with only a few days to perform on the stage, there was a quarrel between the actors, the singers and onlookers. Due to this quarrel, someone burned the manuscript. The play had to be staged as scheduled. But they could not do it without the manuscript. They wanted me to re-write it. I did not know what to do. But I worked continuously for three days and gave them the script. At that time I was working as a mason. A day’s wage was SLR 100. With this I was able to solve the food problem at home. But due to the continuous absence from work for three days, I lost my job.
Writing is not easy. Writing cannot be instant. You must think. You must imagine. In the middle of the night or at about one o’clock in the morning I have gotten up and written a few lines and there are many instances when I have walked round and round the house to formulate a sentence. My wife sometimes scolds me for this.
At home, I was writing by bottle lamp and only recently have I started writing by electric light. Whenever the situation at home was not favourable for writing, I went to the temple or the nursery school, sat there and wrote.
I cannot afford to make any copies. I send the originals or give them to those who need them. I had collected some that had been published, but they were destroyed during the war.
When historical events are written as dramas I encounter no problems. But when contemporary issues are written, those involved do not oppose directly. They show their opposition in some indirect manner. I have experienced opposition in many such occasions.
Amongst the educated class, I have a standing. Nowadays many educated people visit my house to meet me. Also from the university campus, they come to meet me.”