22 May, 2024


Embittered Tamilness On Display. The Case Of Robert Perinpanayagam

By Michael Roberts – [1]

Dr. Michael Roberts

Dr. Michael Roberts

Robert Sidharthan Perinbanayagam[2] was a senior at Ramanathan Hall when I walked through its portals at Peradeniya Campus in 1957. He pursued an Honours Degree in Sociology and went on to secure his Ph. D. in Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Minnesota. He taught at Hunter College in New York and has a clutch of books with respected publishers on symbolic interaction and the sociology of knowledge, with The Karmic Theater: Self, Society and Astrology in Jaffna, Sri Lanka (1982) serving as the principal work relating to his home ground.

Robert’s father was Handy Perinpanayagam, an erudite and respected teacher in Jaffna, who was a moving spirit behind the Jaffna Youth Congress in the 1930s (see Russell 1982 and Rajan Philips 2012). Perinpanayagam Senior was a Leftist whose activism placed him outside the reaches associated with GG Ponnambalam and the Tamil Congress and also at some distance from the Federal Freedom Party led by SJV Chelvanayakam.


Prof. Robert Sidharthan Perinbanayagam

Given this lineage one can safely say that Robert Perinbanayagam is not a Tamil chauvinist and that his affinities with Pirapāharan and the Tamil Tigers are nil or minimal. I recall, here, that on one occasion he expressed agreement with my sharp criticism[3] of another colleague, A. Jeyaratnam Wilson for blatant dissimulation in his review of the concept of “traditional homelands” within the seminal work on Tamil nationalism for Hurst & Company (2000).

Thus Robert and I share interests in the academic realm. When I visited New York way back in the 1990s, we met on at least two occasions to chew over common interests. In my mind he was “Sid” because that was the manner in which all his pals at Ramanathan Hall called him.

So, he is a professional colleague and a friend. In this capacity we have sometimes communicated with each other in recent times by email. Sid aka Robert is usually direct. When I circulated an extended memo by one Ken Dharmapala, who had responded to my essay “Secular Fundamentalism in Overkill” in Colombo Telegraph in February 2016, Robert sent a sharp criticism in an extended memo. This was for private circulation and sent, he stressed later, in “sadness not rancour.” However, the “Michael” disappeared from his opening address.

I have been thinking of addressing that particular response, placed under a pseudonym, in the public realm because it (a) raised important issues about specific tendencies within the forms of righteousness driving the humanist civil rights agenda in the West (selectively applied as it is) that I consider problematic and because it (b) intertwined with that thoughtful comment from Ken Dharmapala (whom I know not and whose location is also unknown to me). Other tasks intervened and delayed my planned exercise.

However, now, Robert S. Perinbanayagam’s sharp pen has ridden again – this time in public after I circulated the essay entitled “Where Ratwatte and CBK stood strong: Coping with the Elephant Pass Debacle in April-May 2000.” The item was chain-mailed to those from pu….07@yahoo.com.au to S…..gama at ed@….lk. Robert Perinbanayagam’s reaction (to the chain group) on 25th July runs thus:

It has been said that retired generals are always fighting the last war. It has also been said that history does not repeat itself, only historians do![4] In the case of the renowned historian Michael Roberts both these predicaments seem to be operation: he seems to be not only fighting the last war but is also repeating himself!! More power to him: there is no doubt a special joy in keeping the embers of the war glowing. RSP.

Yes, sharp writing. Punching. Clever denigration. With rancour. Clearly an instance of twisting the knife in the body after it has been thrust in. Perhaps deemed deadly knock-out blows?

But that verdict has to be tested has it not? That is what I am doing here. Presenting a response for the public to ponder over, join in and take sides.

My initial reaction was to think “how carping has Robert become”! That evaluation remains. Let me, now, undermine the carping cleverness and deflect the knock-out thrusts.

To assert that “history does not repeat itself, only historians do” is an aphorism of sorts.[5] To imply that generals do not profit from revisiting their last war is another clever stratagem within this riposte. It seems a matter of common-sense for military academies to study ancient and past battles in considerable detail. It is not that history repeats itself exactly, but that one has to train the mind to numerous possibilities and stratagems. It is the ability to think flexibly on one’s feet in new and different circumstances that can be inculcated in this manner.[6] Retd Major-General Lalin Fernando, however, tells me that British common sense did not adhere to this dictum. Though Stalingrad and Dien Bien Phu may have been mentioned in chats, those events were not deciphered. However, he delved into these struggles in his private time.[7]

Robert Perinbanayagam also seems to believe that the detailed history of the Elephant Pass episode in 2000 is irrelevant. The details, I stress, were new to me. These details

and the sum total of that episode in history also point to something else – thereby providing one raison d’etre for my attention to that episode. The episode displayed the importance of strength of character in dire politico-military circumstances. In this instance it was the strength of character revealed by General Ratwatte and Madame Chandrika that served as one of the central factors[8] in saving the day for the Sri Lankan Army and thus for the Government of Sri Lanka – just as Mahinda Rajapaksa showed strength of character in overturning the crass imperial bombast of the British Foreign Minister David Miliband in late April 2009.

Their strength of character was allied with political acumen. The loss of the government’s footholds in the Jaffna Peninsula in mid-2000 would have been a catastrophic political disaster. That reading fortified their fortitude.

Needless to say, there were other elements in the story of debacle overturned: for instance, the rapid support coming from Pakistan and the logistical work of numerous personnel in ensuring that the MBRLs were delivered quickly to the Jaffna Peninsula. Here, too, history kicked in: as I indicated, the support given to Pakistan by Mrs. Sirmavo Bandaranaike’s government in 1971 – when Pakistan needed refueling rights for their military airplanes to and from what was then East Pakistan[9] – was probably one factor that encouraged Pakistan to render whole-hearted support towards the CBK government’s request for military aid. History can count.

Again, I cannot see how anyone today can tackle the issues of reconciliation without a historical excursus that deciphers the principal causes of the Sinhala-Tamil conflict. Few Tamils re-visiting such an issue would avoid mentioning the mini-pogroms of 1958 and 1977 and the major anti-Tamil pogrom of July 1983. Whether the latter in July 1983 was a case of history repeating itself (1958, 1977) is a moot point – perhaps leading to the answer “Yes, up to a point,” but “No; much worse and much more consequential in deepening the divide beyond redemption.”

The Robert Perinbanayagam

The carping note from pal Robert immediately raises the question: why such a tone? The answer must necessarily entail surmise, mind-reading in conjectural thrust.

It could be the presentist leanings of the sociologist in Perinbanayagam aiming his guns at the historical delving of the historian in Roberts. Maybe so. One possible answer, but one which I do not weight much. Rather I would place his reaction more fruitfully within the broader realm of the sentiments of Tamil migrants in the West as the LTTE slid to defeat in 2009 and, thereafter, within the ongoing aftermath of this momentous event.

We know only too well that pro-Tiger Tamils assembled en masse in histrionic mode in the early months of 2009 to agitate against the Sri Lankan government’s successful military campaign. Lies and exaggerations circulated by the efficient LTTE agit-prop activities were an integral part of this campaign. The term “genocide” which had cropped up in Jaffna Peninsula circles as early as 1995 was a central theme in this campaign.[10] It has been pursued to this day by Tamil activists of various shades and even by Western liberals mired in their net.[11]

Set thus in context, Eardley Lieversz’s summary exposition of the thinking of Sri Lankan Tamil migrants on the basis of his experiences in Sydney and elsewhere is pertinent:

“… they all attached themselves to the Tamil cause, because when your side goes to bat and creates havoc, it makes you feel strong. I heard stories of Tamil expatriates celebrating the anticipated fall of Jaffna in 2000. They didn’t seem to care for the suffering of Tamils caught in the conflict…. Prabakaran didn’t know when to stop. And Tamils supported him out of a false sense of invincibility…. If you go for broke and lose you cannot expect sympathy. Tamils are bitter because of the hubris generated by LTTE victories on the ground. That hubris made them blind to Sinhalese sentiments and the Sinhalese anger/fear at the possibility of a divided country” (email note, 1 August 2016).[12]

I would not extend this reading blindly to Robert Perinbanayagam. But it provides partial possibilities. Thus, I believe – in explicit conjecture — that there may be two factors generating Roberts’s ire.

ONE: It is probable that he has linked this particular essay from my pen to other articles and placed me in the box of Sri Lankans in triumphant mode celebrating the defeat of the LTTE.[13] This is rather a stretch for an article about the year 2000. However, I have certainly indicated elsewhere that, in 2008/09, faced with Pirapāharan’s single-minded goal of Eelam or death, Sri Lanka was faced with a Hobsons’ Choice and had no option but to defeat the LTTE militarily.[14]

TWO: I conjecture that, deep down, Perinpanayagam is driven by a Tamilness that cannot abide by the defeat of a force (however questionable in his assessment) representing his people – sentiments powered also by a profound bitterness about the conditions of his people back home in Sri Lanka (people he has not visited for decades perhaps?). Whatever distaste he had (has?) for the LTTE would seem to pale before the dislike of the Sinhala-dominated state … and thus the quiet satisfaction when the LTTE seemed invincible. When that bubble burst, then, it seems, the defeat underlined his Tamilness because tales of celebration in Sinhala-land added salt into the wounds of defeat. It was not just a ‘match’ lost by the Tigers, but a ‘match’ lost by the Tamils.

If valid, this set of conjectures is of some consequence. There are many Sri Lankan Tamils in the diaspora who were not, and are not, Tiger supporters, but who are nevertheless totally disenchanted with the various Sri Lankan governments and with the situation of their people today in Lanka. This is a factor – a powerful animating force in fact – that we must heed and must attend to. Now, today.

Robert Perinbanayagam is not a Tiger activist like Victor Rajakulendran (Roberts 2012). For precisely that reason his depth of anger and sadness in combination is of great significance. When Tamils of his philosophy are so embittered, that means that reconciliation is a task that is that much more difficult and daunting. Ulimately, however, reconciliation has to reach to ground level among the peoples in Sri Lankan –not those abroad.

So this conjectural exploration here is linking history – the history of sentiments – to the tasks of reconciliation and political adjustments we face today.[15] History is not necessarily farce, though it can certainly be tragic …. .as the people residing in Sri Lanka know only too well.

Finally, let me note that Perinbanayagam is an octogenarian. As I am nearly one myself I can understand his impatient, irascible response to my article – given his political standpoint and his Tamilness. Aging embitters perspective. I perceive it in myself. Coupled with the bellicose spirit of Australian lifeways, aging leads me too into sharp writing. Bugger friendship. The empirical facts and analytical concerns of topic studied must trump that sort of benign relationship.

So, now, new battle lines are hereby drawn.

Robert S. Perinbanayagam BOOKS

  • The Karmic Theater: Self, Society and Astrology in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, University of Massachusetts Press
  • Discursive Acts, John Wiley and Sons, 2011
  • The Presence of Self, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000
  • Games and Sport in Everyday Life: Dialogues and Narratives of the Self, Routledge, 2007


Amarasinghe, Y. Ranjith 2000 Revolutionary Idealism and Parliamentary Politics: A Study of Trotskyism in Sri Lanka, Colombo, SSA.

Bavinck, Ben 2014 Of Tamils and Tigers. Volume II. A Journey through Sri Lanka’s War Years, Colombo, Vijtha Yapa Publications.

Bavinck, Ben 2016 “II–Ben Bavinck’s Personal Stance: Extracts from his Diaries,” 5 May 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/05/05/ii-ben-bavincks-personal-stance-extracts-from-his-diaries/#more-20847

Bavinck, Ben 2016 “IV. Bavinck on Life in Jaffna, 1994-2004: People Caught in the Middle of Two Awesome Forces,” 2 June 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/bavinck-on-life-in-jaffna-1994-2004-people-caught-in-the-middle-of-two-awesome-forces/

Grant, Trevor 2014 Sri Lanka’s SecretsHow the Rajapaksa Regime Gets Away with Murder, Melbourne: Monash University Publishing.

Handy Perinbanayagm Memorial Volume and the Jaffna Youth Congress, 2012, 2nd edn following that ed. by Silan Kadirgamar in 1980

Hoole, Rajan 2016 “Federal Party: Gain and Loss of the Moral High Ground,” 20 April 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/an-exemplary-man-mangala-moonesinghe-appreciated-in-two-essays/

Nessman, Ravi 2009b “Satellite shows Sri Lanka shelling says rights group,” 13 May 2009, http://mg.co.za/article/2009-05-13-satellite-shows-srilanka-shelling-says-rights-group

Philips, Rajan 2012 “Handy Perinpanayagam and the Jaffna Youth Congress,” 26 February 2012, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/handy-perinpanayagam-and-the-jaffna-youth-congress/

Roberts, Michael 1977 Elites, Nationalisms and the Nationalist Movement in British Ceylon,” in Documents of the Ceylon National Congress, within Volume One of Documents of the Ceylon National Congress, Colombo: Department of National Archives,

Roberts, Michael 2005 Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities & Issues, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, which appeared earlier in a journal.

Roberts, Michael 2012 “Victor Rajakulendran’s Tirade at the Exposure of Pirapaharan’s Admiration for Hitler,” 20 February 2012, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/victor-rajakulendrans-tirade-at-the-exposure-of-pirapaharans-admiration-for-hitler/

Roberts, Michael 2013 BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” 8 December 2013, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/bbc-blind-misreading-the-tamil-tiger-strategy-of-international-blackmail-2008-13/#more-11221

Roberts, Michael 2013 “Towards Citizenship in Thāmilīlam: The Tamil People of the North, 1983-2010,” South Asia Research, 33: 57-75.

Roberts, Michael 2014 “The War in Sri Lanka: Ravi Nessman’s Slanted Story for USA on the Tavis Smiley Show, 18 February 2009,” 31 January 2014,   https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/the-war-in-sri-lanka-ravi-nessmans-slanted-story-for-usa-on-the-tavis-smiley-show-18-february-200/

Roberts, Michael 2014, “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Ideological Cancers in the Sinhala Universe: Roadblocks in the Path of Reconciliation,” 10 May 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/05/10/ideological-cancers-within-the-sinhala-universe-roadblocks-in-the-path-of-reconciliation/

Roberts, Michael 2014 Truth Journalism? Marie Colvin hoist on her own Petard,” 5 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/triuth-journalism-marie-colvin-hoist-on-her-own-petard/

Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014

Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014

Roberts, Michael 2015 “A Drama in Four Acts: A Drama in Four Acts: Dishonest Reportage by Amnesty International and Aussie Journalists remains Unmasked,” 2 September 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=17560&action=edit&postpost=v2

Roberts, Michael 2015One-Eyed Zealousness: Extremist Australians For and Against the Tamil Cause in Lanka,” 1 October 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/one-eyed-zealousness-extremist-australians-for-and-against-the-tamil-cause-in-lanka/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “Where Majoritarian Part subsumes the Whole: The Ideological Foundation of Sinhala Extremism,” 28 July 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/where-majoritarian-part-subsumes-the-whole-the-ideological-foundation-of-sinhala-extremism/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “A Puzzle: When Weiss, Amnesty International and Aussie Greens LIE,” 16 June 2016 , https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/a-puzzle-when-weiss-amnesty-international-and-aussie-greens-lie/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “David Miliband’s Imperious Intervention in Lanka left in Tatters,”5 July 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/david-milibands-imperious-intervention-in-lanka-left-in-tatters/

Russell, Jane 1982 Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931-1947, Colombo, Tisara Prakasakayo.

SMH 2009 “Tamils protest outside Kiribilli House,” 27 April 2009, http://www.smh.com.au//breaking-news-national/tamils-protest-outside-kirribilli-house-20090427-aknf.html

Tamil Guardian 2009 “Diaspora Tamils protest, fast in increasing numbers; call for ceasefire,” 15 April 2009, http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=2281.

 Tamil Guardian 2012 “Hundreds of Australians protest against Sri Lankan Cricket Tour,” http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=6665.

Wilson, A. Jeyaratnam 2000 Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its Origins and Development in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, London, Hurst & Co.


[1] I thank Godfrey Gunatilleka (in Colombo) and Eardley Lieversz (in Sydney) for comments on the first draft of this article. They are not responsible for its contents of course.

[2] The Tamil rendering of the b and the p overlap.

[3] See Roberts, Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities & Issues, 2005.

[4] The original adage from Karl Marx in his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon runs thus: ‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.

[5] An aphorism …. is a terse saying, expressing a general truth, principle, or astute observation, and spoken or written in a laconic and memorable form. Aphorism literally means a “distinction” or “definition”. The term was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates.

[6] This summary is based on a priori assumptions on my part without any experience in Defence Academies.

[7] Telephone chat 2 August 2016.

[8] This determined strength, I am now told by Red Major General Lalin Fernando (personal communication), was also displayed by numerous soldiers and sailors in Jaffna who expressed disagreement with the decisions taken by Generals Perera and Fonseka.

[9] Pakistan was trying – unsuccessfully in the end – to suppress a separatist insurgency in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

[10] Note one of Ben Bavinck’s diary entries at PutturJ “It is very striking that in conversations with people here more than once I heard people say that they would be exterminated as Tamils” (13th July 1995) and a subsequent note when the SL Army and LTTE were battling it out at Elephant Pass: “Today I read in a paper the pronouncement by one of the Tamil MPs: “If you want to see Hiroshima, please go to Chavakachcheri!” This forms a good example of the complete lack of proportions in some of the Tamil statements. Earlier I was offended more than once by the use of the word “holocaust” to describe what is happening in Sri Lanka to the Tamils. Having a vivid memory of the Second World War and the fate of the Jews in my native Holland I can only feel disgusted by these immoderate and totally inappropriate comparisons(17th April 2002, Maruthanarmadam) … See Bavinck 2014…

[11] See Nessman 2009; Roberts, “BBC Blind,” 2013; Roberts, “Nessman’s Slanted Story…,” 2014 and “A Puzzle: When Weiss, Amnesty International and Aussie Greens LIE,” 16 June 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/a-puzzle-when-weiss-amnesty-international-and-aussie-greens-lie/

[12] For illustrations of what Lieversz is talking about, see SMH 2009, Tamil Guardian, 2012, Grant 2014 and Roberts, “One-eyed Zealousness,” 2015.

[13] My thanks to Godfrey Gunatilleke for pointing me in this direction.

[14] See Roberts “Towards Citizenship in Thāmilīlam,” 2013 and TPS. Essays, 2014. Note that Lieversz makes the same point independently.

[15] I have ventured on some suggestions in this regard aimed at the ideological foundations of Sinhalaness in its Lanka-threatening form: see Roberts, “Where Majoritarian Part subsumes the Whole,” 2016. This memo reiterates a position stressed earlier in 2014 and 1978—see “Ideological Cancers in the Sinhala Universe,” 2014.

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Latest comments

  • 12

    Perhaps,Michael Roberts is embittered that he is neither of Sinhala stock nor Tamil stock!
    His passion and Loyalty towards Mahinda Rajapakse is so entrenched in his psyche,he will go to any length to cast aspersions on fellow academics and friends if they happen to be Tamils.
    This time it is respected Prof:Robert Perinbanayagam; Who will be next?
    Surely,Rajapakse is not going to read these innuendos and besides will he fathom the contents,apart from the fact that there is reference to his telling off David Milliband?

    • 4

      Tamils are just different dravidean tribes talking the same modern language of Tamil.

      Sinhlese are, except for the christians and catholics who are new, any one living in sinhale, are related to sinhala- buddhist civilization and speak sinhala.

    • 4

      Roberts, the Barbad(r)ian, has found affinity with Rajapaksa, the Barbarian, who said he was from the jungles of the South and wanted to see if VP, the jungle man from the North, would be a match for him.
      The innocent victims–the thousands of dead, the maimed, raped and mutilated, and their lives are of no consequence to Roberts. He sees nothing of the gravity of the crimes perpetrated on the Tamil people by the State, and sees only Rajapaksa’s ‘victory’ over the LTTE.

    • 5

      Michael Roberts writes of the Tamilness of a reputed professor. What about his Sinhalaness and his connections with that chauvinist organisation called SPUR operating from Melbourne?
      Sengodan. M

  • 9

    > from pu….07@yahoo.com.au to S…..gama at ed@….lk

    Presumably there is a small number of people on a mailing list. I don’t think of it as “in public.” Why not respond there directly than quoting him here? It is you who is making Perinbanagayam’s comments public. Plato’s comment is spot on!

    • 8

      Well said Sigma.

  • 10

    Bitterness on full display here!

  • 10

    This joker is burning inside. He doesn’t like anyone to challenge him or to contradict him. A typical Rajapaksa arselicker and anti-Tamil racist. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his rant. The man will explode soon if he doesn’t cool down a little.

  • 12

    Lankan minorities are embittered alright but this man Michael Roberts is blaming them – says much about his analytical ability. As a so-called Sociologist has he ever analysed why Tamil liberation movements ever came into being? Never did because a prerequisite is an unprejudiced mind.

    “Given this lineage one can safely say that Robert Perinbanayagam is not a Tamil chauvinist and………………… “
    Michael’s Chauvinism Index is based via lineage – pathetic.

    Perinbanayagam has expressed disagreement with Michael. Instead of an academic rebuttal Michael says:
    “Finally, let me note that Perinbanayagam is an octogenarian. As I am nearly one myself I can understand his impatient, irascible response to my article – given his political standpoint and his Tamilness. Aging embitters perspective………..”
    All because of Perinbanayagam’s age and this “Tamilness”? How the hell does Michael survive in the academic circles?

    The budding octogenarian Michael is clearly betting on a GoSL change.

  • 6

    Some academics when they think they believe they have all the knowledge on a particular subject are prone to get puffed with pride and strut about pretending to be learned.Their jaundiced mindset cannot accept that there may be some other way of approaching a problem to understand it correctly. They only see yellow every where they glance.
    Their ego is so bloated that they begin to think that the are always correct and refuse to consider another point of view. Their hubris and prejudice is the cause for their mind to be tarnished and beclouded by dross which they mistake for knowledge.

  • 5

    Plato says “Perhaps,Michael Roberts is embittered that he is neither of Sinhala stock nor Tamil stock!”

    But his father was a Caribbean Negro from Dominica and his mother an Upcountry Tamil (although many take Roberts to be a Burgher because of his name and features).

  • 2

    All these tamils scolding here are from LTTE rump who still mourning the loss of LTTE and the fake struggle. They are the people who wants to forget the so called war crimes if the federal solution is given.

    They all live overseas. but, they don’t have their own country. They can not go to Tamilnad because they become Dalits.

    So, they bully Sri lanka.

    Tamil struggle is dishonest at every point.

    “Robert” should be another Tamil who was hating Jaffna tobacco farmer high caste.

    • 0

      Niyamai putha. Excellent thinking!
      Oh ma yang

  • 7

    I think many get it wrong with Roberts: he is too old to hope for reward and position from Mahinda Rajapakse, family and supporters.

    No, he is just unable to leave the stage, to accept that he has made his contribution, and has nothing more that is new and important to say.

    So he produces these pieces, and is no doubt gratified by both the praise and the attacks he excites. Even negative attention is preferable to him than being forgotten. It’s pathetic but not an uncommon phenomenon. My advice: ignore him.

    He has studied Buddhism but has nothing of Buddhist values and attitudes. In him, Buddhism has remained an academic subject pursued in the building of a career.



    • 2

      Universal Ahimsa Says:
      “So he produces these pieces, and is no doubt gratified by both the praise and the attacks he excites. Even negative attention is preferable to him than being forgotten. It’s pathetic but not an uncommon phenomenon. My advice: ignore him”.

      I am inclined to agree with you. I shall follow this sage advice in the future.
      I want however want to take a parting shot to Ratnawalli:
      a)You repeat here what you wrote elsewhere in an earlier comment. What is this about Sinhala nationalist that they compulsively repeat themselves? Octogenarians,I am told, do this but Ratnawalli is not there yet,I believe.There must be some other reason…Poverty of thought,perhaps…
      b)Why is it that fanatics can’t understand irony?

  • 4

    Two bald men fighting over a comb.

  • 1

    Thank you Anton. I have seen Michael Roberts at Peradeniya,when I was a student.
    What struck me was his Negroid hair.But,I was not aware that he had an upcountry Tamil mother!
    Like Alice in Wonderland things are getting curiouser and curiouser!

  • 1

    First Michael Robert’s mother was a Miss Perera from Matara. His father was a negro (terribly politically incorrect according to current terminology. But since that term was politically correct at one time, we must consider political correctness as ephemeral, changeable, a mere fad) from Barbados whose skin was café au lait (light brown) rather than black, according to Michael lighter than his own skin. When Michael’s father came to Ceylon as an officer of the British Colonial Service, he was already married to a white English woman whom he had met while at Oxford. They (michael’s father and his first wife) already had a large brood of Negro-Caucasian children by the time Michael and his two full sisters made their appearance after the second marriage (made after the first English wife died. In fact there is this joke Michael likes to make. He would announce all deadpan that his father killed his first wife. When one has gasped in response, he explains that it was by putting her through too many pregnancies that he killed her).

    It was this large number of Anglo-Carrebean half brothers and sisters whom all the Galle people took to be Burghers, which gave rise to the belief that Michael was a Burgher. Not that he looks Burgher. He has very negroid lips if you look at his photograph especially in his website. (Which comment again some may take to be politically incorrect. But who can be true to some thing as ephemeral as political correctness? )

    However Michael thinks his mother may have some Burgher connections.

    Coming back to Robert Perinbanayagam, I’d say that what makes him bitter in his twilight years is a national aspiration, which has resisted realization for all these decades. I first realized this through the following incident.

    Last year, Dr. David Miller was invited from Oxford to give the Neelan Tiruchelvam memorial lecture. I interviewed him for Sunday Island. I wrote the following intro to the interview.

    “Dr. David Miller, Professor of Political Theory, Nuffield College Oxford gave the 16th Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial lecture this year titled “Democracy in plural societies. Problems and Solutions”. Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam was gunned down by the LTTE on 29th July, 1999. He was co-architect of the GL-Neelan devolution Package under the aegis of the then Executive President Chandrika Bandaranaike, which sought to replace the unitary state of Sri Lanka with a union of regions. It enshrined the post-colonial claim that the Sri Lankan Tamil community was a distinct and separate Nation. It came into conflict with the overriding claim that although centuries of historical processes had placed concentrations of Tamil speaking peoples in the eastern littoral, Jaffna Peninsula and the Northern Wanni, they were minority communities settling in the inalienable and sovereign habitats of Lanka and did not constitute a separate Nation. Predictably the Package was abandoned. But the issues still remain in the Lankan ideologisphere, an ideal playing field for a political theorist like Professor Miller”

    Michael Roberts put up this interview on his website (https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/07/27/remembering-neelan-via-david-miller-in-q-and-a-on-pluralism-and-devolution-issues/) and sent the link to a host of his contacts. When Robert Perinbanayagam got it, he responded:

    “Thanks Michael, particularly for the essay by Ratnavallie. I missed it in when it first appeared. Every time my conviction that the Tamils need a separate political space begins to weaken I have only to read Ratnavallie to have it strengthened!!”

    Now what is in that intro to strengthen anybody’s separatist convictions? I think it’s just that, that intro by simply placing the two opposing national aspirations of SL vis a vis, makes things clearer than they have any business being. Sometimes clarity is an enemy, intellectual fogs are friends.

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      Having ‘separate political space’ is not advocating separatism, except in the minds of ultra-nationalistic Sinhalese.

      “…they were minority communities settling in the inalienable and sovereign habitats of Lanka and did not constitute a separate Nation.” This is an incendiary claim; even non-nationalistic Tamils have a sense of their long history in Sri Lanka and they won’t take kindly to puerile attempts to deny this. Perhaps that is why RSP reacted the way he did. Since your articles have championed politics of the JHU kind, perhaps RSP was reacting more to that memory and not specifically to your interview.

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      Response from Michael to me:

      “It was this large number of Anglo-Carrebean half brothers and sisters whom all the Galle people took to be Burghers, which gave rise to the belief that Michael was a Burgher.”…




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    Disgusting to find Michael’s pedigree mentioned by some commenters. This is irrelevant and only shows moral bankruptcy.

    It is the song and not the singer.

    • 0

      If you are referring to me, I was only trying some quick word play, Barbadian vs Barbarian, and not trying to attack his pedigree.

  • 2

    It is the song and not the singer would be applicable to Michael Roberts in a big way.

    He had traced the lineage of Gordon Weiss-author of The Cage and dismissed him as a Jew.
    Same story with David Milliband.He was also branded as a Jew.
    These references to their pedigree by Michael Roberts were in his other essays.

  • 1

    In what appears to be support for my article on Embittered Tamilness, Ratnawalli presents an interpretation that confuses the concept of “nation” with “nation state” at the same time that she provides a distilled historical interpretation that I would contest strongly. Let me first present her claims within their full context
    Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam was gunned down by the LTTE on 29th July, 1999. He was co-architect of the GL-Neelan devolution Package under the aegis of the then Executive President Chandrika Bandaranaike, which sought to replace the unitary state of Sri Lanka with a union of regions. It enshrined the post-colonial claim that the Sri Lankan Tamil community was a distinct and separate Nation. It came into conflict with the overriding claim that although centuries of historical processes had placed concentrations of Tamil speaking peoples in the eastern littoral, Jaffna Peninsula and the Northern Wanni, they were minority communities settling in the inalienable and sovereign habitats of Lanka and did not constitute a separate Nation. Predictably the Package was abandoned. But the issues still remain in the Lankan ideologisphere, an ideal playing field for a political theorist like Professor Miller”
    I leave it to others to review her assessment of the Tiruchelvam package and its outcomes. I focus on the part underlined in red. It is misleading and dangerous on two counts
    ONE: it is grounded on the false assumption that the concept “nation” is equivalent to a “nation state.” Within the English world the term “nation” was synonymous with “tribe,” “kin,” “clan” and “folk’ in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was not till the French Revolution and the Enlightenment that it assumed a superior position via its association with the concept of self-determination.
    This enabled states with considerable internal differentiation – for instance England, Spain and France – to become “nations” in the new modern sense by a process that saw “states” becoming “nation-states” (understood in shorthand as “nations.” This process then encouraged peoples with ‘nation-ness’ (e. g, Germans, Italians, Poles etc) to reach for the peak of nation-statehood in the 19th century and after. The main point here is that there were two pathways to ‘nation-ness’ in European history
    Once this process gained primacy in the new world order dominated by various strands of Western imperial power, the concept “nation” and its sister concept “nationality,” received weightage and primacy. Within this conceptual order, therefore, I have always followed Hugh Seton-Watson’s dictum in giving primacy to self-conception in understanding when a nation exists: namely, when an articulate and powerful segment of a ‘people’ claim that they are a “nation’ in the modern sense of the world.
    On this reasoning I held that the SL Tamil were a nation from the moment leading activists in the Ceylon Communist Party and then in the Federal Party proclaimed the applicability of the concept “nationality” to the Tamils of sri Lanka. That is why my edited book on Collective Identities (1979) –drafted in Peradeniya in the mid-1970s uses the plural in its title and it internal presentations
    This recognition does not mean that one can necessarily support the creation of a separate nation-state for the SL Tamils in the island. For one, (A) they are a majority in areas of the country that once held Sinhala speakers as resident and dominant.…..and to which Sinhala-speakers in the contemporary order also lay claim.
    For another, (B), such a step would generate an irredentist situation within the roader arena of the Indian subcontinent and possibly serve as the springboard for the annexation of the island by India in order to prevent the emergence of a Dravidistan.
    Ratnawalli’s assertion that “[the Tamils] were minority communities settling in the inalienable and sovereign habitats of Lanka and did not constitute a separate Nation” is a Sinhala-extremist way of denying the Tamils their sense of communitarian oneness.
    Such collective self-consciousness in today’s world, however, does not always bestow fullness as nation state. The Kurds are undoubtedly a nation but have no f..**…g hope of securing such a status because it means defeating Turkey, Iraq and Iran in a series of wars.
    Legitimacy of claim can therefore be blocked out and. or challenged, by power………or by other competing claims with some measure of legitimacy. The latter situation arises when two peoples or nations can claim the same territorial space with some measure of authority.
    This is a short [and hurried] comment from Galle where other events dominate my attention. Documentation is not possible in this space and readers are referred to http://www.thuppahi.wordpress.com in the near future for a repetition of this Memo with bibliography and footnotes.
    PS: the errors in Ratnawalli’s biographical data on michael roberts are of minor import compared to the conceptual failure on nationhood but let me put the record straight
    1. Our birth certificates indicate that our mother was a Ratnayakage Perera.
    2. Our maternal grandmother was a Bastianz from Matara. Since she separated from our father and left from England when I was about six years old the Bastianz connection played less of a role in my upbringing that I might otherwise have.
    3. Since my Bajan father was a retired District Judge living in the Fort of Galle [in rented property alas!] we had respected middle class status. I doubt if any one referred to us as “Kaaberi.” but cannot vouch for that of course.
    4. Ratnawalli errs in her assertion that “It was this large number of Anglo-Carrebean [sic]half brothers and sisters whom all the Galle people took to be Burghers, which gave rise to the belief that Michael was a Burgher.” The people of all classes in the Fort –and possibly elsewhere in the town – were fully cognizant of my pater’s West Indian background.
    5. While I was aware of the West Indian roots there were not enough lineages of Caribbean descent in the island to make up any sense of community (unlike say the Colombo Chetties).
    6. In my schooldays I suspect that I would have said “Aloysian” if any one inquired after my collective identity.
    7. It was at Peradeniya Campus and elsewhere that people probably thought I was “Burgher” — because of my surname and my limited competence then in Sinhala argot. To the degree that they treated me as such, sociologically speaking I was demi-Burgher.
    8. Nowadays I consider myself to be a Thuppahi Lankan, that is a Mishra or Mixed Lankan – an identity that I reached after composing the work PEOPLE INBETWEEN (1989)

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    //On this reasoning I held that the SL Tamil were a nation//

    That is most intriguing, I say. Your logic acknowledges Tamils as a “nation” but deny them the right to “nation-state-hood” purely on the pragmatic grounds of (a) there being counter-claims to occupancy of the land, and (b) there is chance India might walk in if we allow this. Suppose the former is discredited and the latter dismissed as baseless scare-mongering? Then, Eelaam becomes your solution, right?

    Methinks your LTTE sympathies are coming out slowly as you approach eighty :-)


    • 3

      Some nice Socratic footwork there by Topla. I give you a thumbs up.

  • 0

    i wish Michael Roberts told us when and under what conditions he supported the Rajapakse family?
    Is it because they massacred the Tamils, on the pretext they were LTTE?

    Michael Roberts has been calling others Jews etc!
    If they knew his paternal pedigree,I ONLY WISH,they will not call him this and that!

  • 4

    Michael Roberts is a classic case of embittered Sinhalaness on display.

    When Mahinda Rajapaksa won the war, the smug satisfaction on his face could be seen miles away.

    However, he realised his premature ejaculation when the UN Panel of Experts Report arrived with accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    Then came Mahinda’s loss at the elections in 2015. Since then, he has been working himself to a frenzy to prove that he is capable of sexual continence.

    All this reminds me of the Venus Butterfly episode of L.A. Law in which an ugly man claims to have a special sexual technique. Mr. Roberts should stop boasting of his prowess.

  • 1

    Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha……Michael Roberts makes a valid point about reconciliation, more precisely barriers to reconciliation via a very personal interaction / personal interaction become universal detractions. And there goes the usual parade of characters with their regurgitating monotone of Rajapaksa sympathiser ect. WILL THIS NATION EVER MOVE FORWARD OR DEVELOP?

  • 0

    My considered questioning of DARSHANIE RATNAWALLI’S brief historical overview in her comment on my article and its respondents is now available at https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/challenging-ratnawallis-imperial-sinhala-position/

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