Chandrasekaram released an album which consists of songs included in his novel ‘The King and the Assassin’ over two years ago. Although the album has been available on line for over two years, the general public was not aware of it. It took an alternate video made for one of its songs, which went viral on Facebook, to attract the general attention.
His mother being Sinhala, Buddhist and father Hindu, Tamil, Chandrasekaram is a man with multiple identities. According to him, apart from the fact that it is expected for a son to take on the ethnicity of the father, he does not see any reason he should be branded as either Tamil or Sinhala.
“Living in two countries Sri Lanka and Australia, while also being a global citizen in a western country with a multi cultural society, I began to see myself less and less as a person who belongs to one ethnic group,” Chandrasekaram explained. He does not believe that identifying himself as belonging to a certain ethnic group is relevant for his existence.
Even today he considers Sinhala as his first language and English as his second. He received education up to advanced level at Royal College, Colombo in the Sinhala medium.
He then completed his Law degree in the University of Colombo and Masters from University of Sri Jayewardenepura. Chandrasekaram completed his PhD from the Australian National University where he presented his thesis, ‘Do Tigers confess? An interdisciplinary study of confessionary evidence in counter-terrorism measures of Sri Lanka’.
As a human rights lawyer in Sri Lanka, Chandrasekaram represented many political prisoners who were indicted using their confessionary evidence, and thought it was important to explore the truth and evidential value of these confessions, not only within the legal context but also outside the law.
“I worked for years as a lawyer and had firsthand experience with a lot of people who had gone through the legal system under the counter-terrorism legislation. It was much easier to build trust with people who participated in the research. Most importantly, I had a different level of empathy which academics usually lack,” Chandrasekaram explained.
‘Tigers Don’t Confess’, his novel based on his thesis is a monograph designed to discuss the truthfulness of these confessions, which targeted the non-academic audience, in the hopes of evading censorship laws in Sri Lanka.
Fascinated by creative art and being a poet, a writer, a film director and a human rights lawyer all at the same time, Visakesa Chandrasekaram attempts to foretell the cultural, political and social trajectories of future Sri Lanka in his work of fiction, ‘The King and the Assassin’.
The King and the Assassin, Chandrasekaram’s second novel, confronts Sri Lanka’s future from 2019 to 2058. From the very first sentence of the prologue, the author indicates that what is about to happen in the future has an embedded significance in the present, and this method of foretelling ensures that events are carefully planned from the beginning.
In the words of Irina Dunn, Director of the Australian Writers Network, ‘The King and the Assassin is a great shambling futuristic novel that takes you through the intrigues of Sri Lankan politics over the next 40 years’. Dunn mentions that the characters are vivid as the situations dramatic. In addition, Dunn points out that Chandrasekaram’s portrayal of the abuse of power offers insights for readers everywhere.
“Add the elements of poetry, song, spiritual devotion and the occasional appearance of magic realism to the narrative and you get a very heady mix that will absorb your attention for hours,” said Dunn.
According to this futuristic novel, the President of Sri Lanka is the most powerful person in the country. He is so rich that with his wealth, he can even buy members of the opposition, if not silence them forever, so he can remain in power perpetually. He is the King.
‘Where there is a king there is an assassin.’ That is the warning of the President’s astrologer, Juwanis. Although Juwanis cannot make precise predictions such as when and where the assassin would strike, the astrologer’s son Danush invents a calendar that can accurately pinpoint dates, times and venues where the king would face dangers.
Juwanis forbids his son to reveal this ‘dangerous knowledge’ because ‘no one can handle the complete knowledge of the future’. But, he disobeys his father and writes the future of the island in his book titled The King and the Assassin. The King and the Assassin will be the least read but most enigmatic book in Lanka.
The handful of people who read the book would keep it a secret. Some would tear out the pages. All the copies would be destroyed, except for three.
Chandrasekaram uses larger than life characters, who are gifted with knowledge beyond human abilities. You would come across characters that you would not find in mainstream novels, such as the indigenous people of Sri Lanka and the gay community. At the same time there is a character that goes through a sex change and there are characters that appear to be asexual as well. All in all ‘The King and the Assassin’ is not your ordinary weekend read. But true to Dunn’s words, is sure to absorb your attention for hours.
All the songs in the album are organically linked to the story in the novel. One of the songs, ‘Numbe ammath itha kalui’, is a beautiful work of art, especially considering that it has been set to the tune of a lullaby, the lyrics of which is quite similar at the beginning. But as one listens to the song, the potency of its different layers of meaning becomes pronounced.
The song ‘Numbe ammath itha kalui’ speaks how we cannot have a single lineage of heritage. In fact, it is impossible for us humans to not have a mixed heritage since we have been moving from place to place since the time of ancient river valley civilizations.
According to Chandrasekaram, when this song comes in the novel, the issue of mixed heritage begins to make a huge impact in the mind of a young computer geek prodigy. This results in him hacking into a DNA data base and linking it with the personal data of all citizens, questioning their ancestry.
“Living in a country like Australia I am exposed to a lot of scientific information and documentaries on how to identify the ancestry of a person. Those documentaries were very helpful in understanding how the whole process of colonisation has contributed to the mixed heritage of a person,” Chandrasekaram said.
Although very little scientific research is undertaken in Sri Lanka Chandrasekaram could not ignore the fact that Sri Lanka is located in the middle of the Trade Route, so close to the Indian sub continent. “We simply cannot have a single linage of heritage. So I thought the best way to deal with this issue of mixed heritage is with this song.”
In a way his song ‘Numbe ammath itha kalui’ questions the hypocrisy of Sri Lankans. “This hypocrisy of Sri Lankans is mainly due to ignorance,” says Chandrasekaram. He pointed out that people were forced to believe in legends they were told about during their childhood. “Sri Lankans strongly believe that their ancestors were lions. Even educated people continue to be hypocritical due to their unwillingness to accept the fact that they have mixed heritages,” says Chandrasekaram. “If research was done on the so many Sinhala and Tamil people who consider themselves pure in lineage, it would prove otherwise,” he added.
Upon first hearing it, it is as if the poem-song ‘Veethi Sara Anduru’ is written in the perspective of an expatriate. In fact, Chandrasekaram reveals that it is something partially based on his perspective of the Western world. “Due to development in modern society people are becoming more and more individualistic,” Chandrasekaram said, explaining the basic idea behind the song.
In the novel Chandrasekaram talks about the rapid growth of technology in the future that will make the majority of human beings less productive. It is this idea which is presented musically through the song ‘Veethi Sara Anduru’.
It is set in a world where people do not have much social contact; live in their own isolated worlds in high rise apartments where their sole companions are lifeless robots. Though they may be surrounded by thousands of people, they will continue to feel isolated as they chose to ignore each other with their dark sun glasses and head phones.
The album also boasts of the first and only lesbian love song in Sinhala literature. ‘Mulu Lowe Kuda’, is about the plight of a woman who is caught in a dilemma between loving another woman and accepting a marriage arranged for her by her parents.
“Here she counter narrates the concept of coming out in the western and asks the audience to come in through the door she opened to her world, to find out about her,” Chandrasekaram explained.
He admits that the love between two women is less spoken about. “In a society like Sri Lanka, where even a single mother cannot live her life the way she wants, it is harder for a lesbian to get on with her life,” said Chandrasekaram, pointing out the importance of bringing such subject matter into open discussion.
“Sri Lanka is very poor in the human rights front as well as the economic front and we have a long way to go, especially when considering the hypocrisy of the people and the very old value system,” Chandrasekaram commented.
He pointed out that the value systems that we tend to interpret as Sinhala Buddhist or Tamil Hindu were, in fact, imposed on us by British colonizers. “Sri Lanka has been a much more liberal society which even recognized polyandry back in the day, but those values were lost due to European influence and now we value those old European values, mistakenly recognizing them as our own,” Chandrasekaram pointed out.
Chandrasekaram mentioned that even young couples of opposite sexes do not have freedom in Sri Lanka. “Their rights to express love in public are dominated by authorities, yet nobody challenges their actions. In fact, even an elderly couple holding hands in public will get insulted in society.
“It is the hypocrisy of people and this is not an issue restricted to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people but an issue everybody who wants to enjoy their human right to love has to deal with,” he added.
His 2013 film Frangipani which is about a gay love triangle among two men and a woman is the first film in Sri Lanka that talks about emotions of the homosexual since his play, ‘Katu Yahana’, which also speaks of homosexuality, was staged in 2003.
“Since 2003 till Frangipani was made in 2013 there has not been a single work of art that discussed the feelings of same sex attraction and transgender people. Though there are hundreds of songs, films and fiction out there, not a single word has been dedicated to such subjects,” Chandrasekaram said.
He mentioned that legalizing (LGBT) people’s rights would be the last thing in any Asian country’s agenda. “They are a minority and a government doesn’t need the votes of such a minority to win an election. So, they are hardly bothered about granting this marginalized community their rights,” he elaborated.
Chandrasekaram revealed that the case in western countries is much different. He pointed out that governments of developed countries are concerned about human rights of LGBT people, because by marginalizing such communities they would have to incur huge economic losses. “They have gone so far as to come up with figures to prove that not having LGBT friendly education systems and workplaces will result in losses worth millions of dollars, as governments are unable to get the full potential of LGBT people.