Shadow puppetry

Wednesday, 13 September 2023 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


By Sarath Sithija

The purpose of language is to inform, clarify and explain. Impacting public perception is the purpose of a media release. 

Laborious language is used to obfuscate and mislead. None knew this better than George Orwell – the genius who invented those classic expressions – ‘newspeak’, ‘doublespeak’ and ‘Ministry of Truth’. 

Before he wrote his famed “Nineteen Eighty-Four” he published a brilliant essay – “Politics and the English Language”.

In that essay he traced how warped minds of the power elite resort to bloated and vacuous language to serve their own purposes.  

This brief essay is about my effort to reach a comprehensive understanding of a rebuttal of reprehensible allegations. In the process, I am desperate to avoid going bonkers. 

On Saturday 9 September the Ministry of Defence issued a media release captioned “Official rebuttal to Chanel 4’s reprehensible allegations regarding the Easter Sunday attack” ( 

The next day Sunday 10 September the Presidential Media Division issued a press release “President to conduct a comprehensive analysis of all open information correlated to the Easter attack” ( 

The Ministry of Defence press release is bluntly decisive and stubbornly conclusive. 

“On behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka, the Ministry of Defence hereby categorically refutes these false allegations and reiterates the government’s unwavering commitment to the truth, justice and the well-being of the Nation.” 

The Presidential Media Division release offers an assurance, a pledge and infuses a sense of gravitas. It undertakes or commits to a “comprehensive approach aimed at providing lawmakers with a comprehensive understanding of the situation, paving the way for well-informed and decisive action.” 

We are in truly troubling times. The process of recovery from going broke, has taught us the terms debt optimisation, governance audit and asset quality review. 

The language relied on by the Defence Ministry and the Presidential Media Division recalls the superlatively astute essay by George Orwell.  

Post ‘Chanel 4 dispatches’ has taken us to another highpoint. Now we must undertake a comprehensive understanding of a rebuttal of a reprehensible allegation. 

Orwell told us that insincerity is the greatest enemy of clear lucid language. 

“When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” 

Some years back, while on holiday in Indonesia, I watched Indonesia’s famed shadow puppetry which is called ‘Wayang Kulit’.  

It is a mesmeric experience. A single person holds your attention. He is called the ‘Dhalang’ which means master puppeteer. 

The master puppeteer is both narrator and manipulator. The puppets are made of buffalo hide. You don’t watch the puppets. You watch their shadows. 

All puppets are on strings held by the master puppeteer. His right-hand counters his left hand. The story is about good and evil. The shadows of souls perform on the illuminated screen which is supposed to be ‘heaven’.  

The puppet master manipulates the puppets to dance, walk, laugh, and cry with his deft finger movements. 

The Master Puppeteer bellows out loud and angry sounding words and soft soothing words. Most stories are either from Maha Bharatha or the Ramayana. 

This ancient art form is an integral part of Indonesian culture and is traced to its Hindu-Buddhist period. UNESCO in 2003 declared this art of Wayang Kulit as a masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. 

It is all about manipulating light against darkness.


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