16 November, 2018

Blog

The Story Of A Sri Lankan Man’s Lawn

By Mahesan Niranjan

Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

Yesterday, after a long break, three of us met in the famous pub in Bridgetown, UK. My companions were Sivapuranam Thevaram, who is my regular drinking partner and Polgahawela Aarachchige Don Soloman Rathmana Thanthiriya Bandarawela, our occasional company. You will know from the structure of their names that the former, Thevaram, is from the Tamil tribe and the latter, whose name we shall shorten to Pol for convenience, is Sinhalese. Phonetic convenience is just one reason for shortening the name to Pol. There is semantics, too. Pol in Sinhala means coconut which is white on the inside and brown externally. This fact may be more important than the tribal identities of my friends for the story today.

Now you might assume the long gap in our drinking session is because we have stopped drinking. Not at all. 

Let me digress a bit and tell you about another friend of mine who had indeed given up drinking. He was a Sikh chap whom I met when I worked as barman in the very same Bridgetown pub during a summer vacation. He was the only Sikh friend I ever had.

His name is Justone Singh.

He came into the pub one Friday afternoon and bought three glasses of Peroni, sat in a corner and drank them all in a rather strange way, taking a sip from each glass in turn. When he came in and did the same next week, I introduced myself and said to him “you know, if you bought your three pints one at a time, each glass will be fresh and cold, no!” 

“You know, machan (buddy),” Justone explained, “I am from a family of three very close brothers. We used to drink every Friday. Two weeks ago, both my brothers got jobs in Dubai and have left, so in order to keep our drinking tradition going I do this, so their memory of drinking with me stays fresh in my mind.” I took this to be a reasonable explanation. So did my regular customers in the famous Bridgetown pub. Maintaining stiff upper lips being the custom in England, everyone accepted this peculiar behaviour and explanation. Or perhaps diversity training at their workplaces was having an effect on my customers. 

On week eight something changed. Justone bought just two beers. Went to his corner and drank from the two glasses, taking sips in turn. There was pin-drop silence in the pub. We all knew what had happened. I walked up to him and said very gently “I am very sorry to see one of your brother has passed away, please accept our condolences.”

“Oh, no, not to worry,” he said cheerfully “both my brothers are fine in Dubai, working hard and sending money.” And figuring out it was the missing third glass that made me think the worst, he said: 

“Just me, I have stopped drinking.”

pastedGraphic.png

Back to my drinking session with Thevaram and Pol, our conversation drifted into the topic of the state of Sri Lankan universities. We talked about nepotism in appointments, political interferences and student unrest. Pol had strong views on the subject. “Staff there don’t do any research, machan,” he said, “what have professors there published in international journals in recent years?”

He also had his solution to the problems we discussed: “We should just close down the University of Jaffna, machan. The buggers there don’t do any research. We should reset the place and start from scratch.”

[ In standard English, the term “bugger” is somewhat vulgar. In Sri Lankan English its use signifies social class. The more frequent you use it, the higher is the chance you were educated in one of the leading private schools. ] 

I was rather angry about this particular suggestion from Pol. I have friends employed in SL universities. Five of them took their postgraduate research training in my group and in two subjects I have been serving as an external moderator reviewing their exam papers, scripts and making suggestions on maintaining standards appropriate for the degrees. Most graduates from there are able to fit into demanding jobs and manage to do well in post-graduate work. And on every visit to Sri Lankan universities, I meet amazing people, like the chap in Buzytown who has built an entire morphological analyser for Sinhala language, the chap Upnawth who does difficult measurements on solar cells, the civil engineering chap at HillTop who consults on complex soil foundations, the enjoyable lunch with an award winning poet and the long conversation with a lawyer about human rights and other political issues. On one of these visits, I shared an office with a chap and observed how he interacted with his project students. “Focus on the question,” he encourages them, “recognising the question is what is important when defining your project. Solution comes next.” I plagiarize it instantly. 

How can Pol suggest we close the place down as a solution? I was utterly miffed.

Thevaram, however, maintained his cool. After taking another sip of his Peroni, he said, “that is just like the suggestion Manimehalai (Thevaram’s wife) made about my lawn.” 

“You see, over the years, I have been trying to grow a lawn at my home in Bridgetown,” he went on to explain. “When I started, the whole garden was overgrown with bits of nettles and weeds and not much turf in it.” 

Manimehalai’s suggestion was to get a man in, kill it all and concrete it up.

“What sort of lawn do you have there,” she had challenged Thevaram, “in the world ranking of lawns, you won’t even be within the top 1000,” she teased, showing him a picture of a Bridgetown campus lawn.

Three hundred years of loving tender care and regular supply of water and fertilizer.  And strict instructions to anyone who steps on it, too: “Please, Sir, keep off the lawn.”

“You see machan,” Thevaram said to Pol, “ the first thing I recognized was that in my lawn, there were good bits and there were parts with overgrown weeds.

“I gave fertilizer and water to the parts that were good and slowly weeded out the weeds.

“I created conditions under which the good grass grew faster than the weeds, consuming more of the water and fertilizer, and, over time, weeds were only appearing sporadically and could be easily weeded out.

“Now, nine years later, I have very few weeds, and though I need another 291 years to catch up with the Bridgetown lawns, mine, too, is a decent piece of turf.”

“Cheers,” I said, raising my glass of Peroni, as a toast to the observation that, unlike my Sikh friend Justone Singh, we had not stopped drinking.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 14
    2

    Brilliant my dear Niranjan, there are many good bits all around us, just like in the Thevaram’s lawn of 2009, we just need to fertilize and water those good bits and slowly but surely weed out the rest, and wait 200 years, and, voila! we have a perfectly democratic, perfectly uncorrupt, perfectly whatever else, island. The additional moral is not to let those Roman emissaries walk all over us!

    • 5
      1

      It is good to see Niranjan’s loving and courageous wish to put growth of weeds under control… But continuation of different kinds of external heinous acts, like the very recent one of releasing wild pets (Leopards) in your loans, may create new types weeds you haven’t seen before.. … This never going to get easier mate…

  • 9
    2

    Great to see that Pol and Sivapuranam Thevaram are back to tease us in to working out the meanting of all this prognosis.
    .
    Well it’s not the lawns of the University Upnawth that concerns us now as the school where “late-developers” from all over the country had to go to catch up on their flirtations with Academe.
    .
    Rains today have also freshened the lawns in the school here; but a wait of 291 years, says you. That’s tough, man. But then, you guys never set us easy tasks, did you?

  • 1
    2

    PReparing nice Grass – LAwn is the british habit. but in North America tghis is outdated. Some people plant vegetables instead. The reason is maintaining the Grass – LAwn is very expensive and time consuming. Instead, if you grow vegetables you save something.

  • 3
    5

    Keep on drinking until your liver stops functioning and you end up with a liver transplant. End of story?

  • 15
    0

    Though the Jaffna University dons suffer from academic malfunction, life is far better for them. They don’t have to work part time in a pub or cut grass.

    • 4
      0

      When will Thevaram Sivapuranam contemplate what will happen to Bridgetown’s University Lawn if some of Jaffna’s University Dons happen to get themselves transplanted there?

  • 3
    3

    I agree with the thrust of your story. Jaffna university can get better and better in the years ahead.
    But people can still expose shenanigans.

    By the way, via the picture, you have now shown that “Bridgetown” is indeed Cambridge. But isn’t Cambridge more than 800 ( not just 300) years old?

    • 2
      0

      It still clings on to several of its archaic practices.

  • 8
    0

    Weeding in Sri Lankan Turfs are very troublesome . Specialy Tamil and Sinhala WEEDS

  • 2
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 3
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 5
    1

    Has Thevaram given much thought to the possibility that trying to imitate our former colonial masters (who still dominate the thinking of our elite) in nearly every important matter has been our problem.
    The de facto masters of our elitist minds continue to have a hearty laugh at our stupidity.

    • 1
      0

      https://www.facebook.com/146933645364857/videos/1915119471879590/UzpfSTEwMDAwNDIxODYzMjgzODoxMDQzNTU0MjU1Nzk1MTg2/
      Comments by Kambavarithi Jeyaraj- a man who dedicated his life for Thamil and Thamil culture, regarding some issues relevant to contemporary Jaffna.

    • 3
      2

      SJ, here are five cases in which imitating our former colonial masters is a good idea:
      .
      (a) Building public toilets: have you travelled by overnight bus to Jaffna and stopped at Murikandi? You can buy fresh coconuts and break them to get the blessings of God, but you cannot find a clean toilet to pee in. There is a five story building in a university department I know with two toilets marked staff-only. Neither has a working flush. Most public places and university departments in FCM’s place have functioning toilets.
      .
      (b) Internal combustion engines: these things make moving from one place to another convenient. We learnt that from our colonial masters. Should we stop using them and revert back to bullock carts?
      .
      (c) A tradition of research: curiosity driven inquiry and archiving knowledge developed by the pursuit of that inquiry. Should we go back to resident sishyas in guru’s house, doing his laundry and washing his feet?
      .
      (d) Orderly queues: In FCM’s, even if one person is waiting for a bus, that person will stand in an orderly queue of one. Have you seen the 103 but stop at Maradana?
      .
      (e) Universities: FCM’s seem to run universities where junior people can put forward ideas, discuss, debate and disagree with senior staff. Asking a question in those settings is not seen as challenging authority. Here is an incident at one of our faculties. A junior lecturer had just returned from postgraduate work, full of energy and new ideas. At the Faculty Board meeting he spoke up and disagreed with the chair. The response: “you are talking too much — remember just five years ago, I was your teacher!”
      .
      Let’s imitate. The stupidity you refer to is in not doing it well.

      • 1
        0

        Did you know that in Tamilakam the Toilets are maintained and kept clean by a particular caste? All the Periya Dorei went to Colombo and then to UK, USA etc., leaving the lower castes to fight a war, and now there are not enough people to clean the toilets, or carry away the night soil.
        So, we just have enough of the toilet caste people to keep the two Staff Toilets clean.

        In Murikandi you can go behind the Kandi and do the job.

      • 1
        0

        Sorry, I was travelling and could not respond promptly.
        My comments concerned values mainly.
        Opposing colonial values is not endorsing feudal values. In fact, colonialism coexisted well with feudalism, and the transfer of power was to loyalists with semi-feudal backgrounds.
        *
        Our tragedy is that we inherited a system from the Colonial rulers, but have not adapted it to our needs.
        The country is operating on a neo-colonial agenda.
        There are others who have done far better than us by not imitating. Let us learn from them, not imitate them either.
        Opposing colonial values is not endorsing fe=udal values.

        • 0
          0

          SJ: “comments concerned values”
          Examples please.
          .
          “we inherited a system from the Colonial rulers, but have not adapted it”
          In fact the exact opposite is true. Here are two examples: (a) we inherited representative democracy (FPTP), we built on it and designed an even fairer system (PR), but then we (JRJ) adapted it to suit our local taste (or values) by demanding every member of his party signed an undated letter of resignation! (b) we inherited a university system from the colonial masters. we established governance structures within the universities following their model; but in practice, we adapted them to suite our taste (or values) by injecting into them a strongly hierarchical setting which encouraged mediocrity. In such hierarchical setting there is no space for critical thought or new ideas. The sickening anecdote I quote about the dean and the recent returnee is an example of this.
          .
          “There are others who have done far better than us by not imitating.”
          Example please?

          • 1
            0

            S.T.
            What we choose to imitate is a matter of values, much of which have been conditioned by a long colonial rule followed by seven decades of neo-colonial domination.
            *
            Sorry to say that representative democracy as known in the West is not democracy at all in the Third World context. (It is not democracy even in the biggest Western ‘democracy’.)
            The PR system was designed by JRJ, not because it was fair but in order to prevent another government that succeeds his will be denied a steamroller majority that could undo his work.
            We developed an unsustainable elitist university system that was not meant to address our issues. Elitism was there under colonial rule. It exists even in the most liberal academic institutions of the West. A university cannot avoid reflecting the society that it belongs to.
            If at all, my university experience over a long time was one where I got away with a lot as a student and as a junior academic. Most of my colleagues have been open to correction and even criticism by others.
            If there is much critical thought in the West, how do you explain the intellectuals there being taken for a ride by the mainstream media, far more than they did in late-mid 20th Century?
            *
            The Soviet Union and China had to improvise and they did very well.
            Several small countries did well amid imperialist bullying.
            *
            The ailment of some of our intelligentsia is that they suffer the serious illusion that science and scientific thinking are European inventions.

            • 0
              0

              SJ:
              It would help to hear examples of “our values” and “our issues that could not be addressed by the inherited university system”.
              .
              USSR and China are not good examples of those that did well to compare against Sri Lanka, simply because of their size. Europe might have copied scientific thinking from the Arabs, but in the present time, we Sri Lankans have much to learn from Europe (and the West). The Chinese government sends large numbers of students to study in Europe and offer huge incentives to expatriate Chinese academics in European and US universities to return to work in China. They are very explicit about learning the culture (and training the next generation in such culture) than just return and do some work (teach to fish than just give a fish).

  • 4
    2

    Julampitiye Amaraya: Why you forgot to name another “WEED” to that list viz. the MUSLIMS?

  • 4
    4

    Lovely work of fiction…That Sikh drinking 3 beers has been written about an Irishman and so many others in other places. Plagiarism must be admitted for you to make a work of fiction like this by borrowing other people’s work.

  • 8
    6

    PLAGIARISM : the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.

    Not only did you practice it with the “Sikh and 3 Peronis” but it is widely prevalent in Academia in a lot of countries including Motheerrr Yindia Hindustan and Siri Langaa and amongst your Eelam bois in Jaffna Uni too. Why Peronis? Is it it to show you know your Italian beers? if you are in London in a Pub you will probably be gulping a Guiness or Stella Artois. Cheerio Plagiarist.

    • 5
      0

      Ancient Tamil saying: Man plucking hair from egg shell, miss out on omelette!

      • 0
        0

        TT,
        Did ancient Tamils make omelettes?

        • 0
          0

          Yes, they did — from the time stones existed and sand didn’t!

        • 0
          0

          Ha Ha!

        • 0
          0

          TT
          Thanks for that.
          The line cited by you goes further to say that Tamils appeared with a sword at the time.
          Sad that there was no mention of a fork or a frying pan.

  • 5
    6

    What a load of Bologne. You never address a Sinhalese man with his ancestral name. Most Sinhalese nowadays even omit their ancestral names from their full name.

    In this case, the part “Polgahawela Aarachchige” is his ancestral name (different from his surname). Surnames came to SL from the suddhas. In the good old days Sinhalese never used surnames. Always the ancestral name would indicate who and where they are from followed by the given name.

    The given name is what you address a Sinhalese with. In this case, if you addressed him as “Pol” he would have immediately corrected you. But the bottom line is, this is a Fake story. You have also made your Sinhalese “friend” appear as the misfit in your friends circle. Providing his full name you have portrayed him for the whole world to see. What a good friend you are.

    • 5
      2

      Retarded.Shamalee
      Mass Graves unearthed in mannar.
      5 children included.

      • 0
        0

        Condom, the crimes of the Tigers are found everywhere.

  • 3
    0

    Niranjan:
    Justone Singh addressed you “Machaan”. Is this word used in Punjab? Proves the theory that Sinhalese and Tamil had origin in India.

  • 4
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 3
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 0
    3

    Sivapuranam and Thevaram are two highly venerated books of hindus / Saivaites, as how Christians and Muslims venerate Bible and Quaran respectively. Niranjan denigrates Hindus by having these assumed names instead of giving some other names to his drinking partner. He should stop hurting others including other religious followers, a basic behaviour his teachers or parents would have taught him when he was a child.

    • 1
      0

      I think any religious book does not need veneration instead these bòoks/hymns need to investigated for their authencity, for their relavance in the current political, social and moral conflicts.
      Blind following may lead to serious repecursions. In addition, I always fondly look for these stories to reflect on our society’s ills.
      I thank Prof Mahesan for providing the link for Kambavaarithi’s speech.

  • 3
    0

    Why are people going ballistic about a fictitious but pertinent story? I hope the tourist facilities in Jaffna are improved. I went to Casuarina beach(beautiful beach with Casuarina trees lining the beach). Roads leading to it were all done by the MR regime. So this was in 2010 I think. But there were no developed toilet facilities. There was one dilapidated squatting toilet with a plastic bucket. While squatting pans are good, it should have been improved. And if they are to attract emigrant/expatriate well of Tamil people to return and enjoy life, they need to have real toilets. Now I am told there are superb hotels coming up but this was a tiny observation. Being fat arse, i almost fell into it even though I was so used to using squatting pans in India before I moved to Scarborough and became westernized and sophisticated like white man; so many great things about western culture we can all learn. Cleaning up your own garbage. not leaving trash. Singalams, Mussalamans and Dhamilas are all unclean and their hygiene standards at roadside cafes etc are non-existent. They also need to start using deodorant. I learnt a lot in Canada.

  • 1
    0

    My objection is not to learning from anyone. It is about aping the West and applying solutions to one set of problems to those belonging to another category.
    *
    The trouble with some of the training that we are offered in fishing is that it is in ocean fishery to help us to fish in coastal (or even inland) waters.
    If the purpose is for one to escape from this well to another that is far away, perhaps, there is a point in imitating the West.
    What matters about learning and research is contextual relevance.
    Our problem is that we are a neocolony, and neocolonialism has no answers.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 300 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically shut off on articles after 10 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.