26 June, 2019

Blog

Don’s Diary III: Kilinochchi

By Mahesan Niranjan

Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

Last week, I travelled to Sri Lanka on a very short trip. My task was to conduct a review of a degree programme in the recently established Faculty of Engineering at the University of Jaffna, as part of an accreditation exercise. It was a poorly planned trip on my part, too short to visit friends and family. Before travelling, I had to set aside my prejudices relating to quality assurance processes in higher education. These, pioneered in the UK and adopted elsewhere, add excessive bureaucracy to the job of scholarship the likes of me came to pursue. I have often stated that quality assurance processes are necessary but not sufficient indicators of quality, but never managed to wake my own University Senate from its deep slumber on the topic. But this week, I had a job to do. So I keep private views private. 

Monday:  Arrive in Colombo. Sri Lankan airlines makes welcome announcements in three languages. The Tamil she reads sounds funny, clearly not a speaker of the language but is making an effort by writing it out in Sinhala script and reading it: “ongo lukku nal vaa ravu kooru kiraar, ([the captain] welcomes you)” splitting the syllables in all the wrong places. Just as Hindu priests would do, writing out Sanskrit mantras in Tamil font and memorising them. Lucky for them, it is unlikely they will have a Sanskrit speaker in the congregation. And God has so far not commented on it either. 

I take an airport taxi to the hotel in Fort. As on previous occasions, I start a conversation with the driver who expresses delight that an expatriate, settled in London (for the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is referred to as London here) would come back to teach here (for that is what I told him I was here to do — translating “accreditation by professional body” into Sinhala was somewhat beyond me). He says Tamils and Sinhalese are very similar people. Our Gods are also the same, he claims. Kataragama is his example of our common God. For us, mortals, being the same, he picks as example some leader whose son is married to the daughter of another leader. He cannot recall who these leaders are and stammers, “Eh ara mahaththaya (that Sir)…” I help him with the polysyllabic names of Vigneswaran and Nanayakkaara. 

Then he makes his strongest argument towards the need for unity. His trump. His Conclusive Proof. “The real problem are the Muslims,” he claims. “Unless we Tamils and Sinhalese are united, we are in serious trouble,” he predicts. I felt uncomfortable nodding, the desire to reach my destination taking priority over making a political statement.

Interesting Monday night. The hotel puts on a Sri Lankan cultural event. A devil dancer who was chasing ghosts away and a young Chinese lady showing off a bit of martial arts movements. It was pretty basic stuff, lacking in skill, subtlety or even synchrony with the drummer. Perhaps having a Chinese national in the team was significant. She could take over a piece of the Hotel’s land, should they fail to pay her salary on time. The two for one beer deal was, however, a nice enough compensation to suffer the show.Tuesday: Train journey. I leave at 5.30 from Fort and reach Kilinochchi at 11.30. Early parts of the journey had the train showing off six degrees of freedom in its movements, far better than what the young lady managed the previous evening. From about Vavuniya and beyond, however, the tracks are on concrete sleepers and the ride was smooth.

At Kilinochchi is a new campus of the University of Jaffna, with the Faculties of Agriculture and Engineering. There is also a new addition – Faculty of Technology – of which I have not managed to learn much.  I think of the last time I visited here, back in 2014. Then, a temporary building had just been set up, a gravel access road cut through dense shrubs and the first batch of 35 students sent letters of admission. There now is a fully fledged campus with teaching laboratories, lecture halls, student accommodation, keen students and committed young staff. They have done an amazing job in just four years.

It is difficult not to reflect when you are here, for this place was the centre of attention during the long running dirty war in our country. Of blind carpet bombings. Of killings. Of conscriptions of children. Of rebels running their own government. Of callousness of a chauvinistic political class. Of warped logic of hope from nationalistic thought. There is only one conclusion you can reach. One theorem you can prove. 

In peace, our people will prosper. 

And most importantly, from a selfish point of view, there is a nice guest house on campus. There were two occupants when I arrived there. A mechanical engineer who collaborates intensely with the University who was visiting the past three weeks and about to travel back to the USA, and a professor specialising in the mechanics of soils who had just arrived. These are friends whom I have not met in years and it was a delight to see them there. We exchange notes and, most importantly, I inherit a mosquito net from the senior. Hooray! Safety assured now.  

Wednesday: Work. I hold lots of meetings with administrators, staff, students, a random sample of graduates from the Department (both of them), and some industrial contacts of the Department who hire graduates.  We end the day with a nice dinner and great conversations. A long session of great food and necessary lubrication. 

Thursday: Work. I go through lots of files relating to teaching in the Department, studying their course material and assessment. I calibrate the material against what is taught, at what level and in how much depth in my own university in the UK. A visiting team, also with the purpose of quality assurance, is on campus. I recognise a member of that panel – smart guy with goatee beard – who used to beat me a lot back in 1977 — in chess at the Jaffna Chess Club! We end this day, too, with a nice dinner and great conversations. A long session of great food and necessary lubrication. 

Friday: I take a day trip to Thirunelveli, the main base of the University where I have several friends. There is a corner of this campus which I call Krushestra, because my friend Aacharyya works there. Arriving without notice, I am taking a risk. He might have gone to teach (obviously) like last time. He was in. Buried behind big thick files. Aacharyya seems to be carrying out the second function described in the epic, Mahabharata. Of offering professional advice. You do need to study a lot of papers and stick post-it notes on them to offer advice. Of rules. Of regulations. Of previous attempts at solving the problem. I think he will have a lot of trouble with that. It says so in Mahabharata. Offering advice is hard to begin with. But in its reception one encounters frictional forces such as willingness to listen and capability to understand. The adorable young man will soon grow long grey beard, I predict. But I don’t tell him that. 

I then meet with several staff and students in Computer Science. Get treated to a fine lunch. My friend drives me back to Kilinochchi, after a quick stop at the ice cream joint. I consume a huge ice cream. Against doctor’s orders. It is OK to sin in that setting, for forgiveness could be sought from the occupant next door with an “arohara (doesn’t translate, reader, assume something similar to “amen”).”  

Past Nallur, we turn towards Chemmani, to get on the A9 highway. The site of mass graves. Of brutal rape and murder of a young girl and her family. Just one more of the many scars in the history of our country that do not feature in the culture shows at luxury hotels. Nor in the narrative of the long history we are proud of. No. We should only show off a Devil Dance and boast about the irrigation schemes of the dry zone, from the Anuradhapura period. Of the slopes of extremely small gradients. Of the ingenuity of the bisokotuwa, the little sluice going under an earth dam to maintain water levels and protect the dam from erosion. Recent history, we should bury. And ignore lessons from it.  

As I reflect, I see a man walking past. Who, who is it? A fraction of a second in poor light, but I think I recognize him. An Election Commissioner taking a stroll with a walking stick. Perhaps there will be elections round the corner, I tell myself. I want to stop, but my friend had to drop me in Kilinochchi and drive back all the way, so we didn’t. 

Saturday: The soil expert and I take a trip to Mannar. Neither of us has been there before. The west-most end of the country from where India can be seen, where Hanuman built a bridge to bring an army of monkeys for political problem solving in Sri Lanka. A touch of unexplained anti-Indianism in me I confess to when I stand there and stare in the direction of our “big brother.” Mannar had fine beauty of its own, but it was scorching hot to stand there. What if there was some shade, a little park near the sandy beach for kids to play and young lovers to hide, I wondered. We look around and find one. Declared open a few weeks ago by several dignitaries. All of them. Honourable Chief Minister. Honourable Ministers. Honourable Members of Parliament. Honourable Provincial Ministers. Honourable Members of Provincial Council. Honourable Members of Local Government. That is a lot of Honourable stuff. How many in all? Maybe the number of Honourable people who came to declare the hut officially open outnumber the builders who actually constructed it!

Sunday: I go on a trip to Karainagar with staff and students of the Department. After a swim in the beach, we visit Fort Hammenhiel and have lunch at the navy-run restaurant. This is a first for me. On previous trips I have consciously avoided boutiques, restaurants and hotels run by the armed forces. They should not be in this business, undercutting opportunities for civilians. The navy restaurant is superb. Great food and kept to high standards. Grass outside is green. The marble floor is polished. I reflect on the pavements in Colombo, the urban development attributed much to the then Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. The admiration my friend Polgahawela Aarachchige Don Solomon Rathmana Thanthiriya Bandarawela (just call him “Pol”) had developed for this bureaucrat because he had built pavements! Do we need military style governance to build simple things like restaurants and pavements? And maintain them to high standards?  

“Are you guys in regular navy?” I asked the chaps who took us on the boat ride. “The three of us working on the boat are regular sailors,” he explained, “but the restaurant is run by a civilian wing of the navy.” 

Fort Hammenhiel has a local name, I remember from childhood in Karainagar. “Poothath thambik kOddai (translates as fort of the brother of the pootham (ghost)). For that is what the locals thought of the Dutch invaders who built the fort there: pootham and siblings!

A famous detainee of the fort was Rohana Wijeweera, who led the leftist rebellion of 1971. I sit on the parapet and reflect. The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, its causes and the way it was put down cannot be understood without reference to why Wijeweera rebelled in 1971 and what techniques were deployed to quell his rebellion. I was a witness. The brutality unleashed on hamlets along the highway between Badulla and Moneragala, and elsewhere, was something the serene surroundings of the Bandarawela public library never prepared me for. We saw that pattern repeat in the Southern war of late eighties and over the thirty-year Northern war.

Genetics and phonetics do not explain our ethnic strife. Wijeweera does.

Back in the restaurant I see three sailors of the navy watching television. They are watching Shakthi TV. A Tamil soap opera is on. Melodrama at its best. They are glued to it. Why are these guys watching it? Has the navy started recruiting Tamils? I start a conversation with them. “Can you understand without Sinhala subtitles?” I ask. One of them shows off his Tamil skills. Bit broken, but comprehensible. 

Monday: I visit friends at the University of Colombo. I learn about their recent work on synthesising Tamil speech and analysing long biological sequences. Studying biology and language in the same lab is great from my point of view, for that then is the only lab I need to visit. The speech synthesiser gets most of the phonetics right, but is no better than the Sri Lankan airline announcer in its intonation: “ongo lukku nal vaa ravu kooru kiraar,” splitting the syllables in all the wrong places. 

Tuesday: I sit quietly in the departure lounge of Colombo airport and complete writing my diary. The cappuccino is Rs. 520. Exactly the same price as I would pay in Bridgetown. Why should it be so expensive when normalised against average local income levels? Material? Labour? Air conditioning? 

Or is it maintaining a social class, secluded from the masses, protecting its interests? 

To answer, we Sri Lankans may have to consult Rohana Wijeweera’s ghost!

[ Author’s note: Part II of Don’s Diary is archived here. ]

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Latest comments

  • 25
    1

    Very interesting read.
    Most likely the employer of Mahesan Niranjan granted him leave with pay for this task. If asked for a report, will Mahesan Niranjan (to save time) submit this article?

  • 1
    33

    Prof. Niranjan,

    Is there a “lover’s lane” in this campus?

  • 25
    0

    Dear Prof. Niranjan,
    .
    Many thanks. It is good to have this overview of the country from a man like you, who is living a full life as a citizen of another country, but who is so much at home wherever he goes in this country.
    .
    Your diary is re-assuring. So many of us are only conscious of all that seems to be not going well in the country. You have noted some of the quirks and anomalies, but over-all things don’t seem to be too bad.
    .
    Observations such as yours need clear and unprejudiced vision, but that is, without doubt mainly possible because of the trilingualism that that your parents ensured that you acquired. all credit to you for having nurtured it so well. I have by now heard much about your teacher-father, and I was so fortunate as to once meet your mother at Kahag olla. May they be blessed for having produced sons such as Nirmalan and you. Nirmalan I have met many times now; it’ll be a great pleasure to actually meet you some time.
    .
    Thanks for the diary; the next time you visit the country I hope that you will be able to visit the hill-country, and your old schools here. Yes, schools in the plural, because you spent a year in the State school that your mother taught in, didn’t you? Nirmalan never fails to visit both schools when he is up here. You’ve given us your friend, Pol’s, full name: never fails to amuse me.
    .
    Thanks; you constantly remind us how important it is to spontaneously respond to other human beings with a smile and an expression of goodwill, even when some of the things that you write about are only half understood by us. Please continue to be the wonderfully warm-hearted person who you obviously are.

    • 16
      0

      Prof.Niranjan,
      “Then he makes his strongest argument towards the need for unity. His trump. His Conclusive Proof. “The real problem are the Muslims,” he claims. “Unless we Tamils and Sinhalese are united, we are in serious trouble,” he …”
      So you have encountered “3 wheeler wisdom”, which is the pre-eminent form of philosophy in these parts. Of course it depends on who you are. If you said you were a Muslim, you would have got the standard spiel about those evil Tamils. Do try it next time.

    • 2
      0

      This guy Niranjan has amazing creativity with language.
      .
      Polgahawela Aarachchige Don Solomon Rathmana Thanthiriya Bandarawela
      .
      That name he’s given ‘the Sinalese fellow “Pol” ‘ – Thanthiriya is the place, at the bottom of Bandarawela town (on Badulla Road), where the Mahesan family lived “by a river”. Or so they had thought as little kids. I remember Nirmalan seeing it as an adult had found it just a streamlet, augmented though it now is by the waste water of what has become an ugly town. The fact has to be faced, although it’s home to me. All tourists now go to Ella:
      .
      https://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g616035-Ella_Uva_Province-Vacations.html
      .

  • 23
    0

    Its a wonderful true story about someone’s own experience.

  • 11
    0

    Dear Prof
    I have read all three parts of your Diary and very thoughtful of you to share Thank you.
    In fact it is this part of your work and type of work we all need to pay the upmost attention where we can assist the public and private educational institutions alike in regulating as follows.
    I really hope a strong SL panel of expats and experts can work together with our Ministry of Education from around the world in shaping a great science and technoloigical oriented future to achieve (1) self sufficiency in respective professions needed for nation building exercise and her critical path to recovery (2) cost effective education where as the young man pointed out is cheaper for them to study locally than overseas.
    In fact we should focus on subsidising this cost for the locals such poor families are not made poorer through the activity such as loosing whatever little that they own to inspire their children to study could be avoided.
    It is also paramount not only we control quality of the study but also the type of education that is not catered for in the public sector could be encouraged to be complemented by the private sector will be a great service to our nation at this juncture until the time we develop the public sector to higher level?
    My question for educational purposes is what are your observation with regard to what I have written above please? Is it being done already or our children are wasting time on private sector which may not so regulated for quality and quantity and further not preparing youngsters fit for purpose to meet the immediate need of the country please? Is our Education Ministries thoughts are inline with other ministries thoughts as to what are the speciality we need over and above what is in the public sector? Is the public education sector itself is orienting itself to face the challenges for the future?

  • 2
    1

    Poothaththamby koddai (Kottai?)

    Are you telling us a spooky halloween story now that it is October? Ha Ha and Ha!

    Poothaththamby is a Tamil orthodox Hindu name.- like “Pootham choola poliya varuvar…” The famous Murugaiyah master of Mahajana College had that as his first name. that he was from Tellippalai with some relationship or sambandham to Mudaliyar Pillai and Kodimara Sangarar, shows that Poothaththammby is an orthodox Hindu name among the Hindu high castes..

    Pootham- meaning the “black faced” giant people from the country Siva’s original was imported from. Pootham, Rakshasa are the names given to the dark skinned proto Dravidians by the small light skinned Brahmins. We Tamils adoringly and blindly sing the Ramayana where Ravana the dark skinned giant or pootham is being vanquished by the aryan Rama and his sister is being de-breasted and nose-sliced by his brother because Seetha crossed the boundary of the wife, as taught by the clever conquering Brahmins to those whom they gained power over. Why the Dravidian gene is less in Brahmin males but not females is a question to ponder about. Like Ghengis Khan did, they killed the males and raped the females and had first night rights to virgin female children.

    Then they roll and roll round Nallur Temple on whose walls the so called “brainy” Dravidian Jaffna Tamils have portrayed for all to see, their earliest ancestors as ugly uncouth demons with beastly teeth and also keep the the enslaving Brahmin inside to continue to teach them and their children the story of their vanquisher.

    Such a pathetic race as the Tamils, no man has ever seen on this planet!

    Maapana Mudaliyar should be hanged as they say, for profiting from degrading the image of a once proud civilization ! Alas! He is aiming to to be the next Changiliyan!

  • 0
    0

    According to the story of the “purest” Dutch Burghers who held an annual candle vigil there on the Full moon day in May, the Fort was haunted by the spirit of the then Dutch Governer’s beautiful daughter who was built in the Fort walls to death because she wanted to marry a handsome dark skinned local Tamil boy. She would not give him up till death did them part. This is first hand account from a very sweet Dutch Burgher lady always in saree who went to the vigil faithfully each year.

    There must have been a post of a chieftain, king or Mudaliyar there before it was built over into the massive Fort for it to be called so.

    Many Dutch Burgher’s have forgotten the place, not all, but they having married into lansi Sinhalese, and after swabhasa being more fluent in Sinhala than English or Dutch. They are shy to reveal their Jaffna connections. The Scharnivals, Shockmans and Brecht for Albrecht or Brecht for short Piraat in Tamil like Arumuga Navalar’s Christian name. These Dutch Burghers would be embarrassed of their Jaffna connections now.

    Why would a Tamil cry for them now? One day soon, not on a bright full moon night but the darkest amavasai night in November, the progeny of the half-baked remnants of the Tamils may be holding decennial vigil there for us if the army which intends to occupy the Jaffna Fort would allow them inside!

  • 8
    0

    Prof. Mahesan Naranjan,

    Thanks for your narrative and efforts to truly help. Hopefully, they will take your well-intentioned advice. This also brings home the piont that this should be scale up so that every govt. instituting or department should have a Sri Lankan expatriate professional who is credible who truly wants yo help. Despite all the crooks in politics, still there are many who want to help.

    From one of you last posts, your drinking buddy was asked “Do you have a better solution” before LTTE rose up. JVP probably asked the same question in 1971, and we all know, the rest of the story.

    • 4
      18

      How could an evaluation by a friend/known person considered impartial and meet the said purpose? Why not ask unconnected academics from abroad instead, with no connections to the lecturers at K’nochchi to come and evaluate at least to appear impartial? Surprised there is a committe at Jaffna University with Prof. Sivasegaram not in it.

      I have seen so much match fixing at promotions at the Peradeniya Eng. Faculty. Now bringing this outside Tamil person however nice he is, is very very suspect, given Eng. Atputharajah’s record in honesty. Eng. Atputharajah’s appointment to Jaffna Engineering Faculty was by cheating and he dragged it till he was made head of EE at Pera was over. His hands are not clean on the Tree cutting issue either. Why are excellent academics being kept out? Would these too be looked at at the evaluation under quality of leadership in the Faculty?

      The material covered at Jaffna Eng. especially EE is still at a very low level.

      This evaluation obviously would appear to be a cover up operation given the history, and at Niranjan’s cost.

      Our once famous Jaffna’s education enterprise, a once shining example in Asia, is tottering on its last legs with low quality folks keeping out real quality and quality folks retiring.

      “In peace our people will prosper!”

      Obviously words pronounced by a pundit who is not at all in touch with post-conflict Jaffna.

      • 19
        1

        Academic: “Our once famous Jaffna’s education enterprise, a once shining example in Asia,” It would help to list some examples of high quality education / scholarship achieved in Jaffna. Is it just large scale exam-passing by rote learning at tuition centres — some of them calling themselves Oxford and Cambridge? Or do you have in mind a mathematical theorem a Jaffna man had proved, a scientific law he had discovered, an invention of industrial impact he had engineered, an award-winning book he had written, or a thought provoking poem that sits on our tongues he had composed — while serving in Jaffna? Even the high profile scholars of Jaffna, for whom I have great respect, –Kailasapathy and Thurairajah — did their best work from outside Jaffna — from Birmingham, Cambridge and a bit from Peradeniya. But back in the environment of Jaffna, they could achieve very little by way of education and scholarship — Kailasapathy writing short columns in newspapers under pseudonyms (very sharp, I grant) and Thurairajah serving as a (well-respected, I grant) administrator. The claims about golden days of Jaffna scholarship is not supported by concrete evidence, I fear. The challenge ahead, if you care for the place and its people, is massive and misplaced nostalgia is not particularly helpful.
        I would, of course, love to be proved wrong.

        • 4
          1

          Tee Twenty,

          You have a point in that Jaffna’s “education enterprise” was more about “preparing” students for tertiary education at universities in Sri Lanka and abroad. Some of those who were thus prepared have indeed had great accomplishments abroad. Jaffna university had to face turbulence in its infancy, with the political struggles, LTTE violence, etc. And the engineering faculty was opened only recently. It will take time–probably a couple of decades at least–for the university to reach the stage where it can produce great work of its own.

          But you should keep in mind the situation is not all that different in the rest of the country, which didn’t have the same problems with the military and LTTE. Peradeniya and Moratuwa are known for producing good graduates but not for research. For that to change, the country itself will have to change a lot in the political, constitutional and policy spheres. It will have to first reach a stage where a critical mass of people are invested in making it better. That is how India and China became better.

        • 2
          0

          Tee twenty,
          “Or do you have in mind a mathematical theorem a Jaffna man had proved, a scientific law he had discovered, an invention of industrial impact he had engineered,”
          I don’t know about great discoveries, but Tamil skills in the form of effective locally made weapons like submarines , torpedoes, gunboats, etc. were on display at “Deyata Kirula” until the embarrassed authorities removed them.

  • 19
    0

    Prof: Niranjan.
    a] The Taxi Driver who took you to the hotel has hit the nail on its head .This is the precise scenario in the country. It seems that his trump is the same as that of Donald Trump!
    b] Notwithstanding that terrible war fought in the lands of Kilinochchi and Mullativu the fact that Bird life has survived, as per your photo, adds elegance to your most readable piece.

    • 2
      2

      Plato
      Knowing that Mr Niranjan is Tamil & he is his customer, driver won’t talk about what LTTE did to the country. If the passenger was an Indian & started a conversation he will talk about how he likes Hindi/Tamil films & actors.

      • 3
        1

        Latha,
        .
        I have the feeling that these Mahesan brothers have mastered Sinhala so well that they could suppress their Tamil identity. Niranjan’s writing shows a detailed knowledge of phonology – unfortunately I have no memory of his father, who would have been an English teacher, senior to me, in my town. And I haven’t met Niranjan.
        .
        I’ve spoken to “little brother” Nirmalan (Medical Professor in Manchester University) mainly in English, but his Sinhala is excellent. The parents, from Karainagar, organised tuition for the sons in only one subject, I’ve been told – Sinhalese. Amazing it seems to me today, in this day and age, when few speak Sinhala without interlacing their speech with English words. As I’ve said before, they must have been amazing parents.
        .
        Nirmalan has written for the magazine published by his second school, S. Thomas’, Bandarawela, that they were among the poorest and least fashionable in a school where the boarders formed an elite. Classmates, but not teachers, remember them as brilliant. Today, they are distinguished Professors in England.
        .
        What neither of us says contradicts Plato’s perceptive comment.

        • 3
          0

          SM: Please comment on the article. The author’s background should not be of interest.

          • 5
            1

            No, what SM says is most interesting as it gives the background of the author and enables the reader to understand the impressions formed by the writer. SM is always interesting to read.

            • 1
              0

              MS: How has knowledge about the author helped in reading this article? Please explain.

              • 3
                1

                I do not want to get into a spat over that Chandra. Knowing the background of the author may be relevant in understanding the attitude a person takes to the ethnic war, for example. A Tamil person who grew up among the Sinhalese and understanding them will possible have a different view from those who did not have such an experience. In literature, it is not unknown to study the background of an author as it explains his character and other portrayals better. Besides, Sinhala Man has always been forgiving of the racist views I have taken. I do not like seeing him attacked even mildly. He is a good man.

  • 0
    1

    Naming boards. It seems the only work the chief minister of Northern Province did was renaming the name boards & writing them in filth. He says there is no place called Nagadeepa in North but Sinhalese know that there was & still there is a place in North called Nagadeepa for more than 2500 years. They can,t do a simple work like that correctly, only benefits the privileges of the post.
    Sinhala Man
    You assume Mr Niranjan can speak Sinhala as a native speaker even without met him. Soma- Palan assumes 9000 years ago Sri Lanka & India were one country, so early inhabitants of SL were Tamils. He has no idea how old Tamil language is.

    • 2
      0

      Latha

      “Soma- Palan assumes 9000 years ago Sri Lanka & India were one country, so early inhabitants of SL were Tamils.”

      No one claims to know as to whether there were countries as early as 9000 years ago however there are scientific evidence available which confirms this piece of land became and island only about 7000 years ago.

      What are you doubting about?

  • 7
    1

    Chandra,
    .
    I do not know much about the North of Sri Lanka, but I do try to write in such a way as to promote reconcilliation. When I give any facts, they are always correct facts. If what I have written is irrelevant, please start ignoring my writing. I don’t think that what I write is harmful. And when I comment on things that I really know, I’m not vague. Mama Sinhalam has spoken of his sufferings, especially in 1983 – had his views been really racist I wouldn’t have “been forgiving”. That name he’s given himself, is what he had cried out (vainly) when he was set upon by racist thugs.
    .
    Latha. I have met most of Niranjan’s family. The little Sinhala that I heard them speak was good. I accompanied Nirmalan to another school, where he conducted a “workshop” to which he didn’t admit me – but we discussed what he was going to do. He was going to elicit from the students what their most pressing teen-age problems were. The presence of “authority” would inhibit. The students had expected the workshop to be in English. When they emerged, I asked a few of them about the language used by this Northern Man. They said that the flow language was Sinhalese, but some Tamil students contributed in Tamil, and this Medical Professor translated that in to Sinhalese. The Tamil students could understand Sinhalese; few of us understand any Tamil at all.
    .
    Do you know how to navigate within Colombo Telegraph? You will find many “Stories” written by Niranjan. There is internal evidence there of his fluency in Sinhalese. Try this:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-story-of-chasing-running/
    .
    There was an even better story which I can’t now find – about how a Tamil who had learnt Sinhalese got thrown out of an eating house for requesting “umbalage kade sambola” when he wanted “Maldive fish sambol”.

  • 2
    0

    Sinhala Man.

    Prof: Sriweera of the Dept: of History Peradeniya wrote a superb piece on the Dutugemunu-Elara episode which appeared in one of the journals of the Social Scientists many years ago. The Historian that he was, quoted another famous historian [cant remember the name now], who had opined that one needs to examine the background of a writer to judge the contents of his writing; Prof: Siriweera was of-course referring to the Monk Mahanama author of the Mahawamsa. So you are perfectly right in referring to the background of Prof: Niranjan. I of-course could judge your background: After all you are the winner of the Leigh-Smith Prize.

    • 1
      0

      Part 3
      .
      How did this meeting become so brief? It was after lunch. In the morning there had been a symposium organised by SLAAED dealing with the effect of examinations on education. Dr Upali Sedera made an outstanding contribution which left us all mulling on how we were going to save education from the politicians. He was brilliant. The Royal College Principal just didn’t turn up, and his Deputy didn’t say anything of real interest, but we were shell-shocked by the honesty of the Visakha Vidyalaya Principal, Mrs Aviruppola. She was honest, but also pathetic. “Without exams students wouldn’t study, teachers wouldn’t teach at all in class; as it is now, they all give of their best at tuition classes. No solution to the problem that anyone could envisage since educationists no longer call the shots.”
      .
      One of the key SLAAED persons, Mr R.S. Medagama, who was my Principal in the Maldives, has subsequently written this article:
      .
      http://island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=193009
      .
      All those who spoke in the morning (I just listened, agreeing with most of what was said) lambasted the exam system. All in the Education Ministry know that the Grade Five scholarship exam is a total disaster. Foundations of that sort ensure that kids are destroyed for life. Little can be done in Universities with those blasted at a much earlier stage.
      .
      I’ve been writing a lot these last few days. Please see what I have commented here, keeping in mind that I’m a guy who has been a village teacher most of my life; and I remain a villager:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/journey-to-peradeniya-life-on-campus-personal-reflections/
      .
      Also there are relevant facts that I’ve put in here:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/mr-abruptly-ends-press-conference-when-questioned-about-shirani-bandaranayakes-hastened-impeachment/
      .
      Yes, things are that bad. We have to throw these politicians out. They pollute all aspects of life.

  • 1
    0

    Dear Plato,
    .
    Part 1/3
    .
    It is interesting that you mention Prof. Siriweera who now heads the National Education Commission.
    .
    http://nec.gov.lk/category/present-commission/
    .
    I think that it was on the 27th September 2018 (four weeks ago) that he was the Chief Guest at the AGM of the the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Education, at the Open University. He had a real problem with his throat; he started by telling us that it had been operated on thirteen days previously. After a rather rambling speech, there was a twenty minute slot for questions; in the event, we had only five minutes of it.
    .
    I said that I recollected him at Peradeniya in 1983, when I interacted a good deal with Prof. Leslie Gunawardana [we played tennis together], although I was reading English. I said that the little History that we’d been formally taught was in the primary classes when we were firmly told that we as Sinhalese were Aryans, while Tamils (at that point we were in separate classes in the school for Arts subjects) were Dravidians. In the late 1950s and early 1960s these things didn’t matter at all – we were all good friends. [And our school was “different”, shall I say?] Now, after years of teaching I was becoming ever more conscious of the need to pass on to the next generations something more meaningful than the Mahavamsa History; and I’d been intrigued by what Prof. K. Indrapala has been saying.
    .
    Prof. Siriweera said that Indrapala had been a good scholar until he wrote that last book of his, and that now Tamils are saying all sorts of strange things; some even claiming that Vijaya was a Tamil.

  • 1
    0

    Part 2 -addressed to Plato

    I persisted. That was all very well for University level debate, but very few of the growing generations were going to get any notion of history from those hallowed and authoritative sources known as text books, except what they were taught pre-O. Level; and are we still going to solve the problems of the country by dishing out such simplified notions to racially segregated classes, with these kids later getting exposed to all sorts of myths which came from scheming politicians, and later being circulated by Facebook and the like?
    .
    Prof. Siriweera did say that there was a need to build a Sri Lankan identity, but then OUSL Professor of Education, Mrs Lekamge, who was in the Chair said that Siriweera wouldn’t know all that was in the text books, and besides he was sick, and therefore the session was over,and the meeting was brought to a close.
    .
    Plato, I didn’t really get to know Prof. Siriweera at Peradeniya. Now I’ve been told that he is a really nice and warm-hearted man, but that persons like him will never totally abandon the Mahavamsa. What I know is inadequate, but Indrapala makes more sense than Mahanama (who wrote the Mahavamsa). In the light of what you say, I have misjudged Prof. Siriweera.
    .
    I can’t help feeling that Historians must be in special danger of falling prey to various theories and enrolling in certain schools of thought. When Prof. Siriweera said that some were claiming that Vijaya was a Tamil, he was adopting a reductio ad absurdum approach, choosing to comment on the lunatic fringe. This happens all too often – even with the nicest of people, with disastrous effects. You are better equipped to handle all this than I.

  • 1
    0

    Part 3
    .
    How did this meeting become so brief? It was after lunch. In the morning there had been a symposium organised by SLAAED dealing with the effect of examinations on education. Dr Upali Sedera made an outstanding contribution which left us all mulling on how we were going to save education from the politicians. He was brilliant. The Royal College Principal just didn’t turn up, and his Deputy didn’t say anything of real interest, but we were shell-shocked by the honesty of the Visakha Vidyalaya Principal, Mrs Aviruppola. She was honest, but also pathetic. “Without exams students wouldn’t study, teachers wouldn’t teach at all in class; as it is now, they all give of their best at tuition classes. No solution to the problem that anyone could envisage since educationists no longer call the shots.”
    .
    One of the key SLAAED persons, Mr R.S. Medagama, who was my Principal in the Maldives, has subsequently written this article:
    .
    http://island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=193009
    .
    All those who spoke in the morning (I just listened, agreeing with most of what was said) lambasted the exam system. All in the Education Ministry know that the Grade Five scholarship exam is a total disaster. Foundations of that sort ensure that kids are destroyed for life. Little can be done in Universities with those blasted at a much earlier stage.
    .
    I’ve been writing a lot these last few days. Please see what I have commented here, keeping in mind that I’m a guy who has been a village teacher most of my life; and I remain a villager:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/journey-to-peradeniya-life-on-campus-personal-reflections/
    .
    Also there are relevant facts that I’ve put in here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/mr-abruptly-ends-press-conference-when-questioned-about-shirani-bandaranayakes-hastened-impeachment/
    .
    Yes, things are that bad. We have to throw these politicians out. They pollute all aspects of life.

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