Childhood, disability and the social responsibility of storytelling: Reading Lal Medawattegedara’s Playing Pillow Politics at MGK

Shravika D. Amarasekara



Contemporary theorists in the field of childhood studies have highlighted the functions of children and childhood in cultural productions, emphasising how, rather than being an essentialist idea with an underlying ‘reality,’ childhood is differently constructed within various cultures, historical periods, and political ideologies. Analysing how concepts of childhood operate within literary and cultural productions is significant to an understanding of the specific investments made in children within that particular sociohistorical context. Examples can be drawn from the field of postcolonial writing where the child is often seen functioning as a national allegory or a trope for the postcolonial condition. From a disability studies perspective, the focus on the function of the ‘disabled child’ within literature is even more recent. Recent interdisciplinary research drawing on disability studies and postcolonial literary studies establishes that the nexus between disability and childhood in literary productions can produce a powerful aesthetic impact. Within the above theoretical framework, this paper seeks to examine the textual investment in the role of the disabled child in Lal Medawattegedara’s novel Playing Pillow Politics at MGK (2013). The narrative is unravelled by Deshan, the child narrator who is marked by his disability even before birth, as a “defect embryo.” Despite his inability to “utter meaningful words,” the child narrator is textually framed as a ‘gifted child’/storyteller who has the uncanny ability to read the minds of the people around him and recount the stories of the community inhabiting ‘MahaGeeni Kanda.’ This paper examines the representation of the social responsibility of the artist through the lens of disability and childhood and argues that Medawattegedara’s novel draws on the notion of the “exceptional child” in mapping out the social responsibility of the storyteller within a contemporary Sri Lankan setting.

Keywords: childhood, disability, postcolonial studies, storytelling