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Glorious Jaffna: Review of a coffee table pictorial volume

Jan 4, 2011 11:07:34 PM- transcurrents.com

by Gaston de Rosayro

Reviewed By Gaston de Rosayro

Publisher: Asia Capital PLC
Authors: Tharindu Amunugama
Sunela Samaranayake

Among our tropical island’s localities which have been suffused for centuries by calm and contentment, Jaffna had been the beau ideal. Time was when its old-world charm and equally enchanting cultural traditions could seldom have been encountered anywhere on earth.

The peninsula, with its quaint cadjan-thatched fences, picture-book villages and placid inlets and lagoons, was decidedly a composed macrocosm within our own delightful little universe. It was also a thriving commercial port where barges once plied the shallow Palk Strait between Jaffna and South India, ferrying tourists and tradesmen in addition to a variety of consumer goods.

From Jaffna they took tobacco, soap, betel-leaf, betel-nut, onions, potatoes, chillies and spices to supply a massive demand in the neighbouring Indian marketplace. Jaffna was also the nation’s largest single grower of tobacco supplying more than 40 per cent of the country’s total output of the cured addictive leaf. But years of civil conflict had illuminated quite another side of its existence. The locale unexpectedly attained a larger than life role and was thrust into becoming a stage for much of the nation’s turbulent struggles for the last three decades or so. For Yarlpaanam - in the recent past the fateful ring of its name had resounded with a discordant clash of cymbals. Nearly three decades of war had reduced the once-bustling northern trading post to virtual debris

Glorious Jaffna is a captivating coffee-table pictorial that depicts a once tranquil district which became a springboard for a senseless secessionist conflict. It is also a tribute to a resilient people and picturesque milieu that had been transformed into a war-ravaged landscape of rebellion, rubble and ruin now ready to rise from the ashes.

The quality tome has been commissioned and published by Asia Capital PLC, a financial services company quoted on the Colombo Stock Exchange. It is designed with the aim of funding both nutritional and educational children’s charities in the northern peninsula. Its humanitarian quest is decidedly a stirring trend-setting demonstration to remind and appeal to its corporate peers that the success of running their organisations comes not only by raking in the shekels into their business coffers but in shelling out from their hearts.

Astonishingly, the production is entirely an in-house work of talent. Its contents in both text and photography are not the creation of professional essayists in either genre of the art but are the conception of two of the publishing conglomerate’s financial analysts Tharindu Amunugama and Sunela Samaranayake who are both skilful communicators.

The text and captions by Sunela in keeping with the tenor of the publication are candidly uncomplicated with no room for misunderstanding. Her style is lucid and unpretentious as she adds flavour to the publication by providing a sprinkling of traditional Jaffna recipes that have for centuries tickled the taste-buds of residents and visitors alike.

Clearly, this magnum opus has propelled debutant lensman Tharindu Amunugama to leap-frog into the constellation of elite professionals. The notion of hope and human enterprise flows through the pages, forging several images and events with enlightening discernment. Readers will not fail to perceive his ‘seeing eye’ that has in each photograph captured his every medium with the most brilliant expression. He has handled his subjects with an incisiveness and intellect indicative of the highly-tuned instincts of an extraordinarily talented photo-journalist. Tharindu’s work conveys the eclectic breadth and humanity of his photographic mind, combining an intricate mix of sensitivity and an almost imperceptible propensity for idyllic innovation.

The collection offers a veritable assortment of topics ranging from personality portraits to landscapes, devotees, places of religious worship, spices and its colourful culture and traditions. The combination of elements here is powerfully expressive as his camera appears to pan into idyllic reverie, deftly embellishing those special elements of atmosphere and mood.

The publication is certain to be well-received by all communities, particularly Tamils who have always had an emotional, almost sentimental attachment to their motherland. The book’s creators hold out the hope that first-generation Tamils at least are likely to return now that a tangible peace has returned to Jaffna and capitalize on its traditional trade and cultural links with south India, which has immense possibilities for expansion.

The compilation swivels with images from the heart-warmingly happy to the starkly melancholy with a moving candour. Here the photographer as artist conjures up a cluster of personality portraits of ordinary yet dignified personages including the venerable profiles of the ruggedly grizzled patriarchs and stately grande dames of Jaffna society. One cannot but fail to be transfixed by the eloquent intensity of hope in their expressions instilled by their robust faith in simple religious values. The children are featured in harmonised composition that portrays them in fascinating allegories of laughter, high-spiritedness and blissful innocence that conveys a kind of seraphic sweetness. They are images that tug at the heartstrings and herein lie their appeal.

In many others he captures the dynamics of the resourceful Jaffna work ethic, the hopes and expectations of a peninsula that stands to profit now that a lasting peace has returned to the northern district. The pictures tell it all from Jaffna’s main township avenues, to its provincial village bazaars and byways that for decades have lost the benefit of the open economy. That is sadly because when the economy opened Jaffna closed.

The illustrations weave a captivating mélange of enthralment, simplicity and timelessness into the pleasing tapestry of this pictorial mosaic. There are echoes in both text and picture everywhere of a hopeful ebullience of the rebirth of this cultural and commercial urban giant. The images unravel the story that the task of reconstruction will not be easy, but that the people do not seem dismayed. They have already set about the rebuilding process with rarely witnessed enthusiasm. The place is leaping back to life with an astonishing vitality.

Despite the years of death, devastation and decay it is poised for a blast-off along a capitalist trajectory, with the aim of hauling the great eastern and southern heartland along with it