20 January, 2022

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Parliamentary Erudition, A Case Of Failed Guile?

By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –  

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

There has been much discussion on the need to have a more literate and well informed Membership in our Parliament. Yet, when a new entrant displays her erudition, there is much ungallant nit-picking and Mud-slinging. Maybe, Mark Antony was not the murderer of Julius Caesar. Even if he was charged, he may not be convicted, and even if he was sentenced to be hanged or sentenced to life imprisonment, he could always be granted a Presidential pardon. But he could not be denied entry into our August Assembly it not being “out of bounds” for convicted murderers. So, even if Mark Antony did actually stab Caesar, why all this fuss, here and now?

To me, the most memorable line was Caesar’s response to the messenger sent by the Senate to entice him to the Forum to face a planned murder. To quote him, “Cannot is false, dare not falser. Tell them that Caesar will not come”. This is admirable defiance. Whether Mark Antony was there or not matters little. When Caesar said to somebody, “Et tu, Brute”, he clearly meant, “You are a brute”.

Elder readers may recall that the fledgling SLFP government of 1956 included Mr Casila Abdul Samed Marikkar (not the brightest star in the firmament,) as Minister for Post, Broadcasting and Communication, who was seated next to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at a ceremonial dinner, hosted by SWRD Bandaranaike as PM. During a lull, Mr Marikkar turned towards the Guest and, by way of light conversation, asked, “Pandit Sir, what do you think of the works of William Shakespeare?” This was overheard by SWRD, who commented devastatingly, “Pandit, didn’t I tell you that some of my Cabinet are exceptionally well-read”. In a somewhat similar context, PM Margaret Thatcher when asked at a Press event, “Madam Prime Minister, are you a fancier of antiques”? This invited a classic reply, “Indeed I am, I have a cabinet full of them”.

During our school days, lying was near criminal. Not so now. A memorable statement (by a not so memorable) Prime Minister, was startling “Manifestos, he said are not to be believed. They are lies meant to just win votes.” A well put truth, by a person who at that time was also The Buddhasasana Minister. So much for Musāvāda. The last incumbent of the Presidency was full of contradictions. It is said that a successful liar must also have a good memory. Among his several mishaps was the “Six Feet underground” caper. He now seems to have no difficulty in cozying up to his would be murderer! “I will authorize the hanging” he roared “of at least four Drug Kingpins before I leave The Presidency”. This was merely a hollow threat, or did he actually?

The pious promises that he made at the funeral of the Venerable Sobitha Thero, went unfulfilled. I am reminded of an incident in Parliament at a time when honesty reigned, and when even insults, were elegant. Hon. Dudley Senanayake (PM) was on his feet, when an opposition MP pointed out that Minister Phllip Gunawardena seated at the front bench was asleep. He added “Let sleeping dogs lie”. The quick response was “No. let lying dogs sleep”. As a US candidate said of his electoral rival, “If he promises not to tell lies about me, I will promise not to tell the truth about him”.

We are now at a point where lies are so commonplace, that no one believes in particular, official statements. In such a situation, can one be blamed for relying more on the Social Media for the truth? The more the State tries to curb or muzzle these sources, the more credible would they become. Some lies border on the criminal. This is dangerously evident, when people suspect the official figures relating to the pandemic. As a nation, we take pride in thinking up complex “explanations” and motives for any matter. The more bizarre the theory, the more smart we seem to think we are.

In following the on-going PCOI into the disastrous Easter Bombings, one is astonished at the readiness with which high-ups in office (including the President at that time), can let down their colleagues or subordinates so shamelessly. Apart from the sense of betrayal of their one-time comrades, the greater damage is that it would compromise trust, confidence and simple decency. Outright lying – even about confidential matters, does not inspire confidence in official rectitude. This is made stronger by the common phenomenon of Gazette Notices issued today are cancelled tomorrow in “Domino Fashion”.   Until now, I believed that Constitutions are the only official periodicals. I am proved to be wrong again!

Among the pontifications about “Yuthukam saha Wagakeem”, uttered, whether relevant to the theme or not, the absence of the ex-President at voting time in the crucial matter of the 20th Amendment, is significant. Clearly, precept and practice are very different things. Selective action encourages feelings of triumph, at “beating the system” rather than the conviction that the inconvenience is for the common good (including that of oneself).

I may have drifted far from my initial intent – which was to soothe the unfortunate transgressor who, in trying to impress erudition, merely prompted scorn.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    0

    I will READ this over and over
    “Apolitical Intellectuals
    One day
    the apolitical
    intellectuals
    of my country
    will be interrogated
    by the simplest
    of our people.
    They will be asked
    what they did
    when their nation died out
    slowly,
    like a sweet fire
    small and alone.
    No one will ask them
    about their dress,
    their long siestas
    after lunch,
    no one will want to know
    about their sterile combats
    with “the idea
    of the nothing”
    no one will care about
    their higher financial learning.
    They won’t be questioned
    on Greek mythology,
    or regarding their self-disgust
    when someone within them
    begins to die
    the coward’s death.
    They’ll be asked nothing
    about their absurd
    justifications,
    born in the shadow
    of the total lie.
    On that day
    the simple men will come.
    Those who had no place
    in the books and poems
    of the apolitical intellectuals,
    but daily delivered
    their bread and milk,
    their tortillas and eggs,
    those who drove their cars,
    who cared for their dogs and gardens
    and worked for them,
    and they’ll ask:
    “What did you do when the poor
    suffered, when tenderness
    and life
    burned out of them?”
    Apolitical intellectuals
    of my sweet country,
    you will not be able to answer.
    A vulture of silence
    will eat your gut.
    Your own misery
    will pick at your soul.
    And you will be mute in your shame.”
    Otto Rene Castillo

    • 5
      0

      Sisira,

      Quite marvelous bringing the ringing words of that courageous poet – who sacrificed his life, so young, on behalf of the Guatemalan people, just months before Guevara died in Bolivia – to hold a mirror up to the apolitical intellectuals of this country.

      Reading them brought back another ‘homage’ to Rene Castillio when a dear friend wrote this in the late ‘70s:

      ‘To a world tired of the smoke & dust of cities, the concrete & macadam of the highways & the highly mechanized & polluted environment of uncontrolled industry, Sri Lanka’s twelve thousand villages must certainly seem like ‘forty miles from Paradise’ [& here he describes ‘rural scene’]. ‘But for the people who live in them & enjoy, often unconsciously, their “serenity & charm”, there are also other realities: poverty, landlessness, unemployment & conditions of life which have scarcely changed for hundreds & perhaps thousands of years.’

      He continues:
      ‘To a visiting artist who painted what she saw as the simplicity, well-being & contentment of rural life, an angry Sri Lankan poet replies:

      • 5
        0

        ‘Senora!
        Was it you
        who tinted
        the dark valley of our lives
        in the lurid greens
        of your imagination?

        Was it you
        who said
        we were calm, content?
        Was it you
        who confused
        hunger with continence
        deprivation with simplicity
        destitution
        with the economy of line?

        Was it you?
        Answer that!’

        (an echo for Otto Rene Castillo)

        • 1
          0

          Oh dear, I forgot to break up the ‘verses’.

          • 2
            0

            Manel for you
            Satisfaction: (Not in Sri Lanka)

            The most beautiful thing
            for those who have fought a whole life
            is to come to the end and say;
            we believed in people and life,
            and life and the people
            never let us down.
            Only in this way do men become men,
            women become women,
            fighting day and night
            for people and for life.
            And when these lives come to an end
            the people open their deepest rivers
            and they enter those waters forever.
            And so they become, distant fires, living,
            creating the heart of example
            The most beautiful thing
            for those who have fought a whole life
            is to come to the end and say;
            we believed in people and life,
            and life and the people
            never let us down.

            Before the Scales, Tomorrow:
            And when the enthusiastic
            story of our time
            is told,
            who are yet to be born
            but announce themselves
            with more generous face,
            we will come out ahead
            –those who have suffered most from it.
            And that
            being ahead of your time
            means much suffering from it.
            But it’s beautiful to love the world
            with eyes
            that have not yet
            been born.
            And splendid
            to know yourself victorious
            when all around you
            it’s all still so cold,
            so dark.
            Otto Rene Castillo

            • 2
              0

              Thank you, Sisira. I loved this. M

          • 6
            0

            I had a good laugh yesterday listening to our less-than-brilliant President claim that he hasn’t taken a single foreign loan in two years. So then, what were those deals with Bangladesh, China, India, etc? Either he doesn’t know what a loan is, or he’s lying, and then he has the nerve to claim that his organic message didn’t reach the farmers. Does he think he knows more about farming than the farmers?

            • 0
              0

              Here is what the truth is: “True virginity may really be a lack of opportunity.” Pls don’t kill the messenger. It is not Hitler King, it is Hero Dutugemunus who wiped out Tamils borrowed it, from Don’s time for that holy job which Lord Buddha entrusted with them. The loans Lankawe owes is more $50B. One year servicing fee alone $7B. What is that $500M is in that?
              Do you know how many days I forgot my wallet back at home and walked on the roads to spend lunch time, honorably? He asked Bangladesh for some change for a coffee while he was going home & promised to return it when come back to the office with the wallet, the next day! Is that Borrowing? compared with what we spent $400B on digging a mass graveyard hole for Tamils? Of course, he could not borrow from anybody, so he did not borrow from anybody.

            • 0
              0

              Many shuttles Mr. 40% has flown to India. Ganapathi Pillai may give his favorite daughter (if one is there) for marriage for a thief but wouldn’t let Trinco Oil Tank field go to India. Sad, it Happened. But the Parai Demolu Dr. Jaishankar (FAM) still has not released a penny though as much as $10B is in talks.
              We paraded 65 decorated boats in front of Colombo Pong Ching to celebrate China-Langkang’s 65 years old long love affair. Old King Modaya praised China – Langkang has never stained friendship for 65 years. We threw the pawn of $7M to China for the undelivered Hunu, in the hope of getting $1.5B. Two planes remained parked in Katunayake Airport. IMF Officials worked in Lankawe for a week. Lankawe signed a deed with them, with the condition that nobody release the contents to the public. But what happened?
              Whatever came up to hand has not reached the mouth. Mr. Pethiyagoda can write anything but Hitler has not borrowed anything from anybody and has not lied to anybody about it. There is a good chance, there it seems like, that the Royal government may spend the rest of its remaining life days with that remarkable record. “True virginity may really be a lack of opportunity.” Really sad!

    • 4
      0

      Dear Upatissa, Panini, Manel and others
      Just looking through the magnifieing glass.
      “A High Level Of Cunning Is Not A High Level Of Intelligence” of Suranomala has 97 comments!
      “Parliamentary Erudition, A Case Of Failed Guile?” has ???? comments?
      We redicule 6.9 (+5.4?) million voters.
      Whatabout the CT readers, is it worth writing to CT?

  • 4
    3

    Classic wordplay, thoroughly enjoyed.

    • 3
      0

      Dr Pethiyagoda,
      .
      Your articles on Agriculture (and even on Polipto, where you exposed Patali Ranawaka) were good.
      .
      But this? Why not read the Shakespeare play for a start.
      .
      There’s much more to it since Shakespeare lived more than 1,600 years after Julius Caesar.
      .
      I had the same problem with your article on ragging. I’m sure that you’re an honourable man, but owing to your high standing in society, immense harm could get done unless you ensure accuracy.
      .
      Only two comments yet and the electricity is wonky, so this is from my mobile phone.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe

    • 0
      0

      chiv,
      .
      Fellows like me have identified you as a committed medical man who talks sense.
      .
      This has been an unnecessary and superficial article. If at a quick reading you were taken in by the “wordplay” and see the content to be rubbish, why not tell us what you now think of the content.
      .
      There are too many people saying too many things carelessly. Best to distance yourself from the empty “wordplay”, don’t you think. It’ll help others!

  • 4
    0

    I am not a literary oriented but I get the point Mr Pethiyagoda is making.

    The calibre of current politicians is obvious but sadly, many ardent supporters, whether they have a vested interest or not, still make excuses & blind, not only to the lies & failed promises, but to blatant corruption & mismanagement as well. Slimy Sirisena is a good example of a yob who is happy to stab in the back & then shamelessly suck up to anyone when the wind changes for a seat in Parliament. The list goes on with punks like Weerawansa & thugs like Johnston Fdo living the good life with the perks of Parliament while many are destitute & starving. We tolerate these yobs & pay for their comfortable lifestyles, even with a generous pension upon retirement. Is it the voters or the party leaders who give nomination to punks & thugs are to blame?

    Parliamentary Erudition? Certainly not with the current bunch. Guile? Certainly. The result? We are f****d

    • 0
      0

      Dear Raj_UK,
      .
      I think that your “over-all” assessment is correct – it usually is from you.
      .
      The problem is that it has been written carelessly by a man who doesn’t have sufficient respect for current Lankans.
      .
      Current Lankans are driven off their nuts by the chaos – which they themselves brought on the country by voting carelessly.
      .
      Sad to see no response even now from Upathissa Pethiyagoda.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe on Sunday afternoon.

  • 0
    0

    Dear Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda,
    .
    PART ONE of FOUR
    .
    I must confess
    that I read your first paragraph rather carelessly, and thought that, like Diana Gamage, you also thought that Marc Antony was one of those who stabbed Caesar. Even now I haven’t gone back to looking at the play, but I know it well. You seem to use “erudition” with some sarcasm, and disapprove of the Ratnapura District convicted murderer being in Parliament. Fine.
    .
    From the second paragraph I conclude that you may have taught this play by a good teacher for O. Level Literature in a prestigious school. You’ve now come out with some distorted notions picked up as a teenager, and not revised as a mature man. So, you identified with old Julius, and admired what you saw as heroic defiance of destiny. No warrant for that. The tragic hero of the play is Brutus, misled by the “envious” Cassius. He’s a sort of forerunner of the indecisive Hamlet.

  • 0
    0

    Why was the play named JC? He was the most famous of the characters; naming thus helped get the audience in. A flawed character who deserves his fate. After your quote, remember he says “Cowards die ,many times . , ” etc. When he says “Hence, wilt thou lift Olympus”, he is unaware of Casca with raised dagger behind him. The height of blasphemy! Most seriously, what you have quoted are not his last words. They were followed by, “then fall Caesar”. Your etymology for “Brutus” is all mixed up! Julius had immense respect for Brutus, and when stabbed by him, realised just how wicked himself had grown to be.
    .
    Sorry, you suffer from similar hubris. I can afford to comment somewhat carelessly, but there was no excuse for you to inflict all this on poor “godayas” like me. I don’t know how much you know about me, but I comment often, and declare my name, location and background. I’m not famous.
    .
    Even after that, what was the point of relating your anecdotes, from our parents, or even grandparents time? You and I must be of like age – I’m 73 – SWRDB is a rather vague memory.

  • 0
    0

    PART THREE of FOUR
    .
    It is quite common for “upper class” people to talk as you do. Well, it is people of our generation who have messed up this country, and are now in the departure lounge. I’m surprised that that you have not responded to criticisms from me and from Sisira Weragoda, who impresses me. He’d written this long ago:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-exposure-of-disgusting-abuses-the-justice-system-of-sri-lanka/
    .
    And other articles more recently. He’s a scholar. Manel Fonseka is to me, is the ultimate “blue stocking” pretending to be a non-entity. I wonder if you realise how sharp their criticisms of you are. I’m disappointed that you haven’t responded.
    .
    Your big problem is with your attitude towards English. You appear to think that those who use it well are superior to others. That was very evident here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-pathology-of-ragging/
    .
    I’ve taken a quick look at almost all your many articles (I’ve learnt how to navigate within CT.)

  • 0
    0

    PART FOUR of FOUR
    .
    Three requests
    I make of you: First, please write more scientific stuff, especially on Agriculture. Second, your forays into sociology end up as unintended tragedies. Please spare us those; they actually cause harm.
    .
    Third: I’m surprised that you never descend from your Olympian abode to defend your poses from the ravages wrought on them by your more sophisticated readers. I’ve not amounted to much more than being a Maha Vidyalaya teacher of English, but I know that I (and the others who have commented here) can make minced meat out of your efforts to entertain us using social issues.
    .
    Mauling other participants in a discussion is not what we should be doing, but it becomes inevitable when I think of how there are implicit attacks by you on disadvantaged sections of society.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (NIC 48 3111444V)

  • 0
    0

    Dear old codger,
    .
    With time for comments running out, and Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda probably oblivious of my pleas, can I have your reactions to my final observations?
    .
    Do you fault me for this? Many a time I have observed this distinguished author professing a desire to bring back standards of conduct and awareness that prevailed in days of yore. I can’t help fearing that he himself tries to “impress us with his erudition, but prompts our scorn”. I have almost paraphrased his ending of this article!
    .
    You once inveighed against our Lankan habit of taking things for free. Do you think it reprehensible for me to provide a link not just to the entire text of this play,
    .
    http://shakespeare.mit.edu/julius_caesar/full.html
    .
    but also to a good performance of it,
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxBOyoW2_I4
    .
    both of them available for free on the Internet? I can’t help feeling that Dr Pethiyagoda ends up insulting most readers who may be innocent of all knowledge of Shakespeare by presenting them with some aspects of the play which he hasn’t thought about since he was a teenager.
    .
    When Upatissa writes about his specialist subjects, he greatly impresses me.

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