By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
Several recent letters in the Opinion columns of your paper have dealt with “ragging“ at our Institutes of higher learning, including, of all betrayals, – the Bhikkhu University. That this perverse practice has caused distress, permanent injury and even death of some sensitive students due to so-called “ragging” is unacceptable. That this vulgarity is meant to “welcome” Freshers is utter hogwash or bullshit. That a huge investment in the Universities, stringent filtering of aspirants and the anguish of parents who have sacrificed much, to see their loved ones subjected to humiliation and perversity in order to satisfy the inferiority complexes of some brutes, is pitiable. That the Bhikkhu University and Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara – hallowed symbols of the Dhamma, were “elevated” to destruction by unthinking modernists, is deplorable. The inaction of the Staff is simply appalling. The ‘tradition’ of excluding the Police from entering University Campuses, unless invited to do so by the authorities, must be instantly removed. The Law of the land is supreme. In this context, the recent arrest of a group that has “rented” a private house, for the release of the frustrations of a few undeserving youth, is welcome.
When the Peradeniya campus was being built, the founders planned it on the lines of a modernized version of the hallowed “Oxfam” model. One feature was to allocate single rooms to entrants. This has proved to be unaffordable as numbers increased. It was simply wonderful that our Peradeniya Campus was chosen as one of the most scenic of World Universities. The well-planned location of flowering trees was one important criterion.
If only our youth possessed, more than a basic knowledge of English, they would appreciate the spirit that should guide the destinies of University products. A few random jottings illustrating what Universities should mean, are presented. It is left to readers to figure out this message, and judge whether or not, there are better ways to capture the spirit that our institutions of higher learning should represent, far more than the vulgarity and perversity of so-called “raggings”.
1. A young man of impressive bearing, shares a railway compartment, with an elderly lady. Our man engaged her with a polite and polished conversation, as befits a man of culture and breeding. As the train approaches a station, the gentleman dons his overcoat and gathers his stuff, set to alight at the next station. The captivated lady asks, “Are you at Cambridge by any chance?” Says the man “No madam, I am there on purpose.”
2. A wealthy American decides that he must have a lawn for his home along the lines of the hallowed precincts of Oxford. He gathered together his Head Gardener and his team. They arrive at one of the Colleges and are shown around by the College Gardener, who details all the steps – choice of position, types of grass to be used, fertilizer and irrigation, mowing, pest control and so on. The American team meticulously takes notes of all this. As the American millionaire went to offer his profuse thanks to the host for his refreshing candour and co-operation, The Gardener says “Arhrh, ! I forgot one thing. Having prepared your lawn as detailed and noted by your team, it is necessary that a hundred men of learning should walk across it for a hundred years.” (it being the tradition that only Fellows of a College are permitted to tread on the grass when walking across the lawn) .
3. An obviously American tourist, tired to near exhaustion, squeezes, himself into a crowded compartment. All seats are taken, one being occupied by a dog of a fashionable miniature breed sitting beside an equally fashionable lady. The man approaches the woman and politely asks whether she would mind, if her pet would leave the seat for him, and he would keep the pooch on his lap. “Definitely not” she snaps, “this doggie has paid for his ticket and will stay where he is” The tired man returns to his overhead strap. He waits in hope for the next stop – still no freed seat. He limps back to his strap. This is repeated at the next stop too. Finally, as a truly tired man would do, he walked up to the seat, flung the dog out of the window and planted himself on the now freed seat. A swarthy old gent, looks up from his newspaper to remark “I cannot understand the Americans. You go to their country, and find that they are driving their cars on the wrong side of the road. You go to one of their “Gas Stations” to find that they price petrol not in gallons but in Litres, and finally we get this miserable guy, who comes a long way, only to fling out the wrong Bitch!”
4. The customary Cambridge-Oxford debate was on. The speaker from Cambridge makes a devastatingly clever remark to which his opposite number counters “It is a pity that my friend was at not at my place, where he would certainly have won a half-blue for being a wit” to which the member across witheringly responds, “It is an even greater pity that my friend is not at my University. If he were, he sure would have got a full–blue for being a half-wit”.
It is plain to see the regular protest rallies – sometimes pertinent to University matters, but often not – and which are merely serving to foment agendas led by political interests.
It was recently reported that more than 300,000 students are sitting the five-year Scholarship Examination. “Policymakers” should wake up to the implications of this Statistic for the near future. The poor hopefuls, on whom the State invests hugely, and the parents sacrifice much for their child’s education are all in for abject disaster. But does anyone care? No, because we have far more important things to worry about – new Constitutions, or 20th Amendment, voting methods, Car Permits, preserving our Cultural Heritage and so many more – including COVID. We have implemented a “Sinhala Only and Tamil also” Policy which I reckon is one of the most idiotic, criminal, selfish and unpardonable crimes that our “Great Patriots” inflicted upon us. The great era of the “Common man” hoax of 1956. Of course, while sacrificing their own children to suffer the torment of learning English (the Language of our Pariah Colonizers), thus denying them their precious patrimony. This cuts them off from even seeking solace as ill-paid slaves in more sensible nations.