16 April, 2024

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The Rajakulendran Academy Of Western Music, Speech & Drama: Reviving English In Jaffna

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

My wife and I were privileged to be invited to attend on 25.02.2023 the Rajakulendran Academy’s cumulative Prize Giving for the years 2019, 2020, and 2021, cumulative on account of Covid. The Chief Guests were Prof. S. Srisatkunarajah, Vice Chancellor of University of Jaffna, and his wife Sivaranee Srisatkunarajah who appropriately is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Linguistics and English at Jaffna University. 

The Guest of Honour was the Rev. Fr. Rex Constantine of the Claretians, who are dedicated to the mission of living and spreading the Word, setting everyone on fire with God’s love.

Jaffna was once at the pinnacle of education in Sri Lanka. However, at an Akaram Foundation
Workshop in Jaffna on 15.10.2016, my student Prof. Roshan Ragel of Peradeniya produced statistics to show that Jaffna District had slipped from first place in 1980 to the ninth (last) by 2016. In the same period, the Western Province held on to its second place while the Southern Province moved up from third to first. In engineering and Medicine alone, the Northern Province did not see the same loss, from first to third, and from first to fifth, respectively.

This loss of academic strength, I believe based on my personal observations of university minutes, Vice Chancellors’ letters, reference letters from school principals and lecturers etc., corresponds to a loss of English fluency.

A reversal of this decline in English competency may only be achieved by reviving English teaching from a very young age. Very early as English fluency declined, Swendrini Kadirgamar in 1973, founded The Rajakulendran Academy of Western Music, Speech and Drama. It was named after her father who nurtured her in the English language at home and instilled in her a love for the language and its literature. The Academy was strengthened when her sister, Vimala Jebanesan of some 50 years’ experience in the field, joined her after a career in teaching the subject locally and abroad. With her came Bishop Jebanesan with his degree in English, besides theology and history, making him, in my view, one of Jaffna’s most superior scholars.

It turned out that VC Srisatkunarajahs’ son, Srishankarshan,  got 1st prizes in flute and vocal. The second prize was for Yuthishthran Peranandarajah. Swasthi Gobyshangar of CMS Chundikuli Girls’ College got first prizes for Effective English, Spoken English and Written English. Coincidently, her father Gobyshangar, presently an orthopaedic surgeon at Jaffna’s teaching hospital, as a student at St. John’s learnt at the academy and was determined to give his daughter what he had himself received. Vernila Kumaravel in three consecutive years, as she progressed from Grade 5 to Grade 6 to Grade 7, got prizes in Effective English, Effective Speaking, and Piano, Violin and Vocal. 

No wonder that Dr. Kumithini (presently in Australia) remarked that the cream of Jaffna have their children at the Academy.

Far sightedly, to keep standards in line with worldwide norms, the two sisters’ students were presented to exams by the similarly named Institute in Colombo whose representative for Jaffna Swendrini is. Likewise, the academy’s students were also prepared for exams conducted by the Royal Schools Board of Music London in whose examinations their student  Poopalan Lakshman garnered the all-island prize for speech and drama reserved only for one person. 

Varajith Umashankar  came first in Sri Lanka for Piano Grade 5 Royal Schools of Music London. While 10 from the academy obtained distinctions, I am proud to say that my niece, Nirupini Hoole, secured the second prize and now teaches at the academy until Ruhuna University starts her classes in “Mathematics and Industrial Statistics.”

The programme was fun and recalled to my mind poetry and nursery rhymes my wife and I were familiar with. There was a choral recitation by primary children. The Juniors acted out Five Little Pussycats, etc. The Intermediate children put on the Secret Garden, Black Beauty, Daddy’s Making Dinner and the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. Fun for us indeed, but as I could see from the young and happy faces, a lot more fun for the children who will treasure their memories of that evening for long.

There were over 50 children getting their prizes. I am proud of all of them although space does not let me name all of them. No offence is intended. I have chosen to highlight names I remember. Would that I have space and the memory to name all the greats, some of whom have been faithfully studying for 6 years and growing in the field with high honours.

At the university in my time those who spoke English were bullied into silence. The Sinhalese shouted kaduwa (sword) as if speaking English is cutting others down. The Tamils shouted that our teeth are going to burst. So many of us stuck to mother tongue and did not go very far in English, nor in life. 

All these students at the Rajakulendran academy overcame shackles of being shy, some studying with much younger children than themselves and have been amply recognized at the prize giving. To such belongs the future, who recognize their failings and work to address their shortcomings. The trail-blazing efforts of the academy are now followed by others. To be sure, as a parent told me, this academy is the only one with special  focus on one-to-one teaching.

To use a Biblical allegory, those unable to speak have their tongues loosened when the Angel Gabriel touches their tongue with hot coal. The academy has touched their tongues with hot coal and made them commanders of the future – theirs and ours, and Jaffna’s.

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    The title, The Rajakulendran Academy Of Western Music, Speech & Drama: Reviving English In Jaffna, sounds surreal.
    If Western Music, Speech & Drama define the scope of The Academy, English must be already on a sound footing!
    .
    The Academy was established in 1973, a good half-a-century ago. Has it achieved its objective? If not, it must be for the children of the elites of Jaffna.

    • 3
      1

      Dear Nathan,
      .
      I’m glad that somebody is learning something; let us not discourage that little bit that is getting done.
      .
      However, the reservations expressed by you are valid. Yes, throughout the country, there is this great desire to learn English, but it is only those with some money to throw who are getting it. I would hesitate even to call these people “elite”. How then, should we characterise this class of people? As ostentatious users things foreign? What conventional bilge? The Pied Piper of Hamelin; but wait! We all know the poem, but remember that for all of us, there was a first time when we heard it. Let’s be glad that the kids are getting at least this.
      .
      I have read this article, and I shall come back to it. Whatever our reservations about the values propagated by all this, I would like to thank Professor Hoole for at least enabling the subject to be discussed.
      .
      This phenomenon is not peculiar to Jaffna.

      • 2
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        Dear Sinhala_Man,
        Let us look at,
        ‘No wonder … remarked that the cream of Jaffna have their children at the Academy’.
        ‘If not, it must be for the children of the elites of Jaffna’.
        Any difference!
        .
        Jeevan Hoole slants. I find that distasteful.

        • 3
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          Nathan,
          I suppose it would be mean-spirited to comment on a grandfather being proud of his grandchild’s achievments.

        • 2
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          Yes, Nathan, I agree with your reasoning.
          .
          This happens in the case of all of us and our progeny – first and foremost we are concerned with our children, and the with all the others. In this article that has got exacerbated by the emphasis being on prizes.
          .
          The point that I tried to make, as a teacher of English, is that Browning’s poem represents not only a valuable aesthetic experience, but also teaches a valuable lesson on morality. Apart from that, there are insights into the dishonourable traits of politicians.
          .
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fQ9cIaw7Zk
          .
          That’s the original poem in its entirety; I find that there are over a hundred recordings if you take into account simplified versions, and the retellings in other languages including Sinhala and Tamil. I think, Nathan, that you also have been a teacher, for part of your life.
          .
          You will agree that it is good to enrich the educational experiences of all students, but in practice many get neglected.

          .

          .

    • 0
      1

      N
      Has it achieved its objective?
      Has it not awarded prizes to the children of the right people?

    • 3
      1

      1/3
      .

      It is true that many of Jeevan’s articles get criticised because he too often reveals his own background, praises his relatives, etc. His inability to dissemble reflects his being too honest for his own good.
      .
      I have got to know him quite well during the past eight years or so; that became possible because I have known his brother, “Ratnarajan H.” for sixty years. I have noticed that the elder brother has begun signing his comments in this new way. That must be to avoid confusion with Jeevan. They both want to be honest, and take responsibility for what they write.
      .
      Both brothers have made immense contributions to our society. However, it is a truism that none of us is perfect. It would be difficult to find fault with the elder brother, except to say that he’s overly serious.
      .
      Jeevan’s faults are more talked abou
      t, but I admire his sincerity and personal generosity, not to speak of the courage that he displayed as an Elections Commissioner.

    • 2
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      2/3
      .

      However, don’t forget that when he moves around, he does so with simplicity and frugality; however, there are a villager couple, Nanadpala and Nandawathi, whom I meet regularly at the Sunday Fair in Bandarawela, who speak of him with affection. He bought a lot of avocados from them on the 2nd of August 2020. No, I’d better not write 500 words about that encounter. Or of my experience in hosting him in my humble home on three occasions.
      .
      But yes, he does hold some strange views for the 21st Century! Who is to say that they are wrong?
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/women-careers-in-local-government/
      .
      I remember reading that article. I now see that I have chickened out of making a comment.

    • 1
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      3/3
      .
      And
      there are his views on homosexuality. He has a deep-seated disgust of it. I have on occasion suggested that he shouldn’t comment on the subject. But he won’t listen to such advice. I’m by no means gay, or even an advocate for gay rights. But Jeevan will charge in with comments on all subjects under the sun. I don’t approve, but I respect Jeevan’s truthfulness. He’s just different from us; on some issues I also would be critical of his views, as here.
      .
      But is it wrong for him to affirm his old fashioned views? I refuse to take too strong a line on this.

  • 5
    2

    The Rajakulendran Academy is indeed a competent business in the field of “Western Music, Speech & Drama.” They seem to know how to work Prof. Hoole. This alone shows they know what they’re doing. A rare piece of writing by the media influencer Hoole where he is out of character and doesn’t sound picky, bitter and miserable. Also rival religious zealots Jaffna VC and Hoole seem to be warming up to each other. These two are just like the decadent Sri Lankan politicians making deals on the strength of their “religious” constituencies.

    • 1
      0

      I suppose it would be mean-spirited to comment on a grandfather being proud of his grandchild’s achievments.

  • 1
    0

    1/3
    .
    My father and I
    were both teachers of English; he was more versatile than me. Music? Not much in my family, but my children and grandchildren are showing more aptitude for it. However, I’ve been listening to lots of it, and now YouTube brings us feasts.
    .
    I’m sure that there must have been much more music in the Hoole family; the author’s elder brother, Ratnarajan, plays the piano regularly just for personal enjoyment. Essentially this is how music ought to be treated. And since the piano is the most ubiquitous of musical instruments for which serious music has been written, may I suggest that readers sample not just these two renditions of the same sonata, but also that you look at the YouTube comments on them both:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lncNcNtGkJY&t=1783s
    .
    That’s Sviatoslav Richter, about whose sexual orientation there was some speculation. And below is the same sonata played by Mitsuko Uchida.
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUCR2xiHiHQ

    • 0
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      2/3
      .

      It’s fascinating to hear the differences in their interpretations. And see how the comments focus on the music, and certainly not on prizes! Obsession with prizes and examinations is the bane of Education in Lanka! We’re all affecred. So, let’s not blame only Jeevan for it! That said, it is true that Jeevan is overly moralistic. I wonder what his attitude is to the poor composer, Franz Schubert, whose death at the tragically young age of 31 was almost definitely owing to syphilis. The poor man was too poor to get married, I guess.
      .
      All those attendant facts are sad, but almost all comments on classical music performances focus on the music, and the interpretations. Never would Beethoven and Schubert have experienced such wonderful performances of such quality as is brought into our homes. Beethoven lived for fifty six years, but he HEARD music only for the same period as Schubert. He began to go deaf by age thirty. Many readers will know that, but some, perchance, may not. And as for the filming: never before have performances been brought alive with close ups of the hands moving over the keyboard.

    • 0
      1

      3/3
      .
      This keen appreciation
      of the music is what Jeevan has not been able to weave into the article. However, he has given us the chance to comment, as I do now. Hopefully a few others will follow suit, I’m grateful that these CT articles can be used to present something more than “just politics”. Let’s see if anybody follows up on these observations on the service provided by this Colombo Telegraph.
      .
      We have been cursed with rule by a Tyrant; so long as we are allowed to listen to this music, for such period we have support to can defy the fates ourselves.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V)

  • 3
    1

    Very informative piece. Many thanks for this. Makes one realise that there is (ought to be) a difference between recognising the importance of English as a medium for accessing advanced knowledge (which Sri Lanka has ignored since 1956 with disastrous consequence) and the formation of an elite social class that only knows to look inwards at itself with a superiority complex. I have seen many examples of the revulsion induced by the latter dismissing any attempts at addressing the former. But more seriously though, Jaffna might need a good fire brigade of sorts, going by “setting everyone on fire with God’s love”.

    • 1
      1

      Dear Singar A. Velan,
      .
      Thanks for succeeding with one comment to get across the message that I have striven for in eight – with more to come!.
      .
      I hope that the details that I have given add some weight to what you have said. And the point made by you must be understood by all, including Professor Jeevan Hoole, for whom I have immense respect.

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