In May 2009, Tamil protestors closed down the Gardiner Expressway for the first time when thousands turned out for a mass demonstration to call attention to civilian deaths. Some protestors at the Gardiner had lost relatives to government shelling in Sri Lanka. Others had lost touch with their loved ones, and believed the Canadian government’s reaction was lukewarm at best.
The Sri Lankan civil war, arising out of ethnic tensions between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority, began in 1983. In May 2009, the government took over the last area controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels. As of October, Amnesty International estimates 250,000 displaced civilians are living in government-run camps. The stories of people caught up in the civil war are told in Not By Our Tears, a play produced by the Asylum Theatre Group, shown Saturday, Nov. 14, at U of T’s Robert Gill Theatre.
Hosted by the Centre for South Asian Studies and the Canadian Tamil Congress, the play was part of a book release for Wilting Laughter, a collection of Tamil poetry by R. Cheran, V.I.S. Jayapalan, and Puthuvai Ratnathurai. Chelva Kanaganayakam, an English professor at U of T, translated the volume. On Saturday, he spoke of the difficulty of transferring the rhythms of Tamil into readable English.
Not By Our Tears belongs to a genre in Tamil drama called verse play, which involves a “visual and oral representation of poetry” on stage, according to the program.
Performed on a practically bare stage with few props, the play drew its power from projected images, Tamil songs, and dance. One particularly intriguing piece was “The Story of a Severed Leg,” in which the leg hung from the ceiling centre-stage as performers dramatized the poem around it, before cutting it down and laying it to rest.
After the play, a former member of the Sri Lankan parliament shared his thoughts on how the play comments on multiculturalism in Canada. “The federal constitution of Canada was a lovely constitution because it incorporated both the English and French languages,” said M.K. Eelaventhan, 77 years old and new to Canada. Eelaventhan said that he had only one message for the Canadian government: “Please do something to exert moral and political pressure to make Sri Lanka see reason.”