Grease devils VS Joe Abeywickrema’s Baddegama

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(September 25, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) That veteran actor Joe Abeywickrema , our national treasure, passed away leaving an indelible mark and a gaping void on the silver screen and stage. His stellar performance as Silindu can hardly be matched by any standards of the present day actors.

But Baddegama and grease devils live on in the 21st century which Leonard Woolf, the colonial British government agent, brought to life in his immortal novel The Village in the Jungle. The Law of the jungle prevails and we have many Babuns languishing in jails all because they do not have justice on their side be it their illiteracy or their poverty which deny them access to lawyers who could plead their cases.

Village in the Jungle is a classic which should have won Booker Prize. The novel should be up there with John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby. But better still is the film Baddegama which brings the book to life. The story transcends age, time and place. Both John Steinbeck and Charles Dickens were perturbed by the injustices of the class system which rendered the lowest strata of society powerless and impecunious all through the moral uprightness of the land-owning class who while professing Christian beliefs failed to comprehend the needs of the oppressed, down-trodden and socially ostracised.

Lester James Peiries immortalised the novel by producing it in the silver screen and exposed the the hamlet’s pagan beliefs which lent kudos to the exploiters who came in from the suburbs. The novel weaves around Babun, the virile farmer and hunter who raped her in the jungle before marrying Silindu’s daughter , Fernando, the money lender, who charges exorbitant interest rates from impoverished farmers, the Musilm trader who would take away their produce for a pittance and the ripe old witch doctor who set his eyes on Hiniappuhamy, the nubile daughter of Silindu and who threatened to cast his magic spell to bring misfortune and misery to Silindu’s family unless he let him take her for his wife.

Babun is sentenced to jail for life due to the conniving tricks of Fernando who made him his overseer away from the hamlet so that he could consort with his wife.

Silindu, on the other hand, took revenge on the witch doctor who not only set off his minions to kill his daughter’s rescued pet deer but enticed her into yielding to his ageing sexual proclivity by virtually raping her and in the process ending her life in the prime. In revenge he killed both the witch doctor and Fernando who was an accomplice in plotting to procure by shooting them point-blank.

Now in this highly techno-savvy 21st century we see our President still clutching at a charm ball to ward off the UN and the international community from casting their evil spell by bringing him before the international war tribunal for crimes committed against an indigenous minority Tamils from 2008 to 2009. Auspicious time for venturing out, be it abroad or simply visiting the loo, there is an auspicious time.

A theory I want to float is that devils and superstitious beliefs did not die with the passage of time. Rather, they flourished despite science and despite new religions, and the world shrinking into a global village thus enabling communications almost instant and thus avoiding the coconut wireless transmissions which transform and give wings and legs to non-existent truths to rumours.

Heaven, hell, purgatory and damnation for cardinal sins in Christianity, curses and doom in Hinduism and various other supernatural acts believed be the vengeance of Gods enabled the rulers and spiritual leaders to control ignorant masses stepping out of line centuries ago.

Later laws were made in the name of democracy but rulers managed to manipulate them through various Acts in the constitution which rendered them null and void and only supported their whims and fancies as we witness today in the present Government.

Did Joe Abeywickrema ever ponder that Baddegama’s devils and superstitions would still live on in the hearts and minds of 21st century Sri Lankans? Leonard Woolf must be doing a somersault in his grave that the devils of Baddegama are still thriving in the urban areas never mind villages.