all towns are one, all men our kin.
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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
George Bernard Shaw & Tamils
15 August 1991
What is common with the names Dr.Blenkinsop, Sir Bemrose Hotspot, Sir Dexter Rightside, Eliza Doolittle, Epiphaniz Fitzfassen, Prof. Henry Higgins, Mrs.Kitty Warren and Sir Jafna Pandranath? All these are fictional characters created by that inimitable wit, iconoclast and distinguished dramatist George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950).
While Eliza Doolittle and Prof.Henry Higgins have become popular world wide due to the 1964 movie My Fair Lady, not many know that Shaw also immortalised the name of Jaffna by using it to name one of his characters in the political comedy, 'On the Rocks', written in 1933. It is thought that Shaw framed the character of Sir Jafna Pandranath after the 19th century Tamil intellectual Sir Muthucoomaraswamy (1834-1879), who was the father of reputed orientalist Dr.Ananda K.Coomaraswamy (1877-1947).
Sir Muthucoomaraswamy moved among the elite circles of Victorian England and counted Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) as one of his friends. When Shaw arrived in London from Dublin in 1876, Disraeli was the prime minister of Britain. In that year, Disraeli also conferred on Queen Victoria, the new title of Empress of India. In the play 'On the Rocks', the character of the prime minister, Sir Arthur Chavender, seems modelled on prime minister Disraeli.
The plot of �On the Rocks� is set in two acts at the Cabinet room in No.10, Downing Street. The Act l takes place in mid July. The prime minister Sir Arthur Chavender is worried about the increasing rowdyism of street demonstrations by the unemployed and wants the Chief Commissioner of Police to use stern methods. The Police Commissioner suggests that the best way to keep the unemployed occupied is with terrific speeches. Then one member of a delegation from the Isle of Cats which visited the Cabinet room advises the prime minister to read Karl Marx. This he does and later delivers a fiery 'socialistic' speech.
Act 2 of the play takes place in November at the Cabinet room again. Five Britons engaged in a discussion were, Sir Arthur Chavender, Sir Dexter Rightside (Foreign Secretary), Sir Broadfoot Sashay (chief Commissioner of Police), Sir Bemrose Hotspot (First Lord of the Admiralty) and Mr.Glenmorison(President of the Board of Trade).
Sir Jafna Pandranath comes to congratulate the prime minister on his new program of reform, about the nationalisation of land. I will allow Shaw to introduce his Tamil character Sir Jafna.
Sir Dexter Rightside becomes enraged by the prime minister Sir Arthur Chavender's radical reform proposals and the support given by Sir Jafna Pandranath.
He loses his temper and calls Sir Jafna, "a silly nigger pretending to be an English gentleman". This derisive comment makes Sir Jafna to explode with indignation and Shaw put in Sir Jafna's mouth what Tamils pride about themselves. Let me quote Shaw, in the words of Sir Jafna:
After the exit of Sir Jafna, the other British characters continue the conversation in which Shaw brings forth the snobbery of colonial rulers.
Shaw ends the play with Sir Arthur Chavender deciding to give up politics, after discovering that Britain needs a revolution, but he is not the man to lead one. An excited unemployed mob breaks into Downing Street and windows of the Colonial Office are being stoned. Then police, mounted in horses arrive at the scene and disperse the crowd.