Analysis of The Drummer by Gamini Akmeemana

Gamini Akmeemana is a Journalist by profession who won the Gratian award for his first novel in 1996, and subsequently wrote five more while undertaking a self- imposed documentary photography project of the city of Colombo. His short story The Drummer chillingly evokes the atmosphere of the late eighties when death approached from several directions. The story is sandwiched between the background allusion; therefore, for a reader without the knowledge the socio – political background in 1980s, will find it quite difficult to get the complete meaning. 

You might have heard about the Black July in 1989 which is the climax of the ethnic riots which too occurred during this era. You can read about it here. The story is not about that but it is hinted in the first part of the story. This is about the second JVP insurrection which is also known as 1989 Revolt conducted by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to topple down the government of Sri Lanka under president J.R. Jayawardana. This details are extracted from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia to explain the story better. 

After the 1971 insurrection, the JVP was banned and the leaders were imprisoned. They were all released in 1977 under the president J.R. Jayawardan’s government. Their party, with Rohana Wijeweera came third in the following election with rising Marxist orientation. The Jayawardana government did not like this and banned JVP once again. Therefore, they organized and planned to topple down the government by means of armed force. They abducted weapons in several ways. 

It is recorded that the JVP murdered probably thousands of people and crippled the country with violently-enforced hartals (general strikes) for two years. Individuals or organizations were warned or intimidated with messages dropped in the night to homes or posters or graffiti that appeared over night. Those that did not cooperate were brutally killed, with the repercussions extended to their family members. This is the period under the scope of Gamini Akmeemana’s short story The Drummer.

Who is a Drummer?

Drummer is a symbolic character in the story who announces the message of insurrection. According to the records, during that era the organization recruited and trained capable orators to spread the message throughout the country. They conducted meetings and recruited the youth in the area for the organization. This anonymous character may be that representative who spreads the message and fear throughout the community.

The Characters

The story is in third person’s point of view and through that distant view point speaker introduces characters. The story is woven around Daniel and his neighborhood: Mr. and Mrs. Silva who has rented their annex to the Drummer, Raja – Daniel’s immediate neighbor and a notorious character who does not tolerate intimidations and Mr. Schokman who dares to complain the Drummer. Apart from the OIC of the police, other characters are submerged in the background.

The Summary

A drummer lodged in the annex of Mr. Silva whose drumming shatters the peace and order of the entire area. Danial, who studies until late night gets disturbed by that as all the people in the area. However, nobody complains the drummer except Mr. Schokman whose resistance was was shiftily disregarded. The drumming haunts the minds of the people in the area and they get conditioned to it. Mrs. Silva complained it to the police and is immediately disappeared; only the painting and the label ‘traitor’ is found on their wall. The air is filled with the sense of fear. The drumming continues soaking the inhabitants with fear and uncertainty. Raja who does not tolerate this turbulence, disappears the drummer. Danial, who could not bear the silence considering the incident as an injustice, complains police about Raja. The police turn him down. On his return he finds out that Raja is also missing. Only thing hear again in a distance was drumming.  

The Analysis

Now you have an understanding about the background, it will now be easier to analyze the story better. Therefore, we will go through the key points with qoutations.
All the houses had their radios, stereos and television, etc. And the lane had never been as quiet as Danial would have liked it to be.
The emerging of the drummer upsides down the local which had been peaceful and ordinary. People in the area suddenly turns into silent as drumming spreads. That suggests that the people have understood the situation and the message behind drumming. They fear to resist the force created by the drummer and have to be silent. (It was heard that, in that period of time people had to turn off lights and stay inside the houses without making any noise as JVP enforced curfew using chits, a message written in a piece of paper) 

the drummer was a men ace.
Although, the drummer has been introduced as an ordinary fellow, his appearance and the conduct seems to be very powerful. His drumming is symbolic to his fluent speech. His mastery of Western and Eastern drumming may suggest that the person is an educated and well versed about his field of work. 

…Mr. Schokman,… did complain to the fellow… the fellow smiled nodded his head, and went on with drumming as if nothing had happened.
The resistance of Mr. Schokman shows that there were people who were critical about the things going on and criticized them publicly. However, they were disregarded or considered as traitors according to the records of history. This shows that the ordinary people could not resist the action of the drummer. 

They muttered and grumble in under tones, and feel completely silent when they occasionally saw him.
This shows that although they disliked the drummer and his drumming, they do not dare to complain him openly because of fear. This evidently shows that: although the drummer is anonymous, the people recognize the real face behind him. 

The silence got on people’s nerves, as much as the noise of drumming did.
That shows the turbulence created by drumming. People have been conditioned to drumming and when it is silent they fear that something is not right, the air fills with uncertainty. As much as drumming, the silence troubles the mind of the people in the area.

It was said the people who had complained to the drummer about the noise had received letters which said, simply; “pay attention”.
This shows that the people who resist the action the drummer is warned by anonymous threats. The records of the news show that the people who resisted were tortured and killed and disposed in public places as examples to others. 

“This is the fate of traitors”
This is the message written on the graffiti. What is the fate is not openly mentioned in the story but it is clearly visible that the fate is death. If you search on the internet regarding this era, you may find that the photos of people tied and killed, on their necks the message is hung in a board: ‘this is the fate of traitors’. This must be the incident which Akmeemana dramatically brings into the story. 
And the drummer went on as if nothing had happened. People began to avoid each other, In their dinning rooms, they discussed “certain horrible things” in the lowest tones, and only with those they could trust their lives with.
This shows the uncertainty created by the drummer. People do not trust anybody in their surroundings. They even fear to speak about the acts behind drumming suspecting that somebody might hear that. These incidents clearly link to the background details about the the atmosphere of the late eighties when death approached from several directions. 

The drummer had been a nuisance, but was it necessary to “get rid” of him? … Now that it wasn’t there, they were beginning to miss it. The silence was terrible.
Danial does not believe that the drummer has a connection to the disappearances. His mind is conditioned by the drumming and he rationalizes the actions of the drummer. That again shows the sympathetic characteristic of Danial who dislikes violence at any rate. That shows the true nature of most common people in any society.   

“We are here to take care of law and order. But when someone has the common sense to help us a little, do you really have to complain?”
This statement of the OIC of police ironically place the role of the law and order in the country. As visible, hence they cannot contain the actions by means of the capacities of law, they rationalize the illegal action done by some others. If you read Wiki, you can find that there were organizations backed by certain political leaders who captured the JVP activists and murdered them. Akmeemana, through this incident shows the lawless state of the country during that period of time.

Gamini Akmeemana uses his journalist experiences to relate the story of a grim period in Sri Lanka which created tremendous fear and uncertainty in the life of citizens. He uses a symbolic language and only shows the tip of the ice burg and lets reader to find what is hidden underneath. 
This short story needs more interpretations and citations; hope you have more ideas to add to. Share your insights regarding the story in comments below. Share this among your friends to enhance their knowledge about the history of Sri Lanka.

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