4 April, 2020

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The Story Of Chasing & Running

By Mahesan Niranjan

Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

Serialization in the Colombo Telegraph of Rajan Hoole’s Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power is, of course a must read for any of us interested in understanding the way we transitioned from an immediate post-colonial period of much to be proud of, to one of extreme decadence in which we inflicted upon our fellow citizens immense sufferings. We are all guilty of lending active or passive support to particular lines of political thinking that shamed the value systems we were supposed to celebrate. The most recent segment, published yesterday (15 Nov 2016), covered happenings in one of the world’s most beautiful universities in May 1983, which we recognize as a practice run to the carnage that was to follow just a couple months later.

At our drinking session in the famous Bridgetown pub, I made the error of showing Hoole’s piece to my friend, the Sri Lankan Tamil fellow Sivapuranam Thevaram. After downing several pints to neutralize the immense stress induced by the memory I triggered in him, he told me a story that happened on that unfortunate day — the Eleventh of May.

As background, there are two basic things we should remember. The first is chasing as a mechanism of political problem solving. Majoritarian Sinhala chauvinistic thinking has it that if the minority Tamils can be chased away across the seas to ‘where they came from’, all problems in the island will be solved. That thinking was copied and implemented with spectacular efficiency by rebelling Tamils when they chased away the Muslim population from the North. Other small scale combinations of one group chasing the other away in villages in the East of the country have also been documented.

Secondly, we often fail to think through if a solution to the political problem we face, and the future we ought to build, should be based on celebrating our genetic commonality or emphasising our phonetic discrepancy.

“We just keep missing the point, and engage in time and life-wasting arguments about who came here first, who is cleverer, who can chase away who and who can get help from who to chase away who…

“What a sorry state, machan (buddy),” lamented Thevaram. He then told me a story that took place on the Eleventh of May when, as a Colombo bound train was about to pull out of the railway station in Peradeniya, he had seen a handsome young man running desperately along the railway tracks, along the platform and then next to the train, hopping onto it when he was certain his speed just about matched that of the accelerating train.

Rather hurt by the chasing he witnessed the night before, this young man had decided to practice its natural consequence. Run!

From the hostel he lived in, he ran along the long corridor of the faculty where he studied and had just started a job at. “Let’s get out of this miserable place, I am not going to come back here,” being the thought foremost in his mind. As he passed each of the wings that housed laboratories where he was educated – past the workshop in which he managed to make a nut and a bolt and make them fit; past the laboratory where he learnt to make precise measurements and to quantify uncertainty in measurements; past the impeccably kept laboratory of mechanics where he was once told “there is no substitute for hard work;” past the laboratory where he learnt how to survey the beautiful terrain around campus using the powerful telescope with which, standing on the peaceful mountain, he could see villages miles away, of streams and of Sigiriya paintings, but in flesh and blood — all those images that flashed in the young man’s mind for fractions of seconds were trumped by one dominant thought:

“Run, there is no turning back!”

“Let’s call the handsome young man Thyristor,” said Thevaram, not wanting to reveal the man’s identity. But from the context of the story I quickly guessed the chap in question was of Tamil ethnicity.

As Thyristor dashed into the Laboratory of Sparks at one corner of the Faculty where his office was, quickly grabbing some books and stuffing them into his rucksack and was just ready to accelerate back to the peak speed he had hit just five minutes ago, he heard a gentle, yet powerful, sound. It was someone – a young lady — crying from another corner of the laboratory.

“We’ll name her Capacita,” said Thevaram, again wanting to hide the true identity of the person concerned. Here, from the name he chose, I could not guess Capacita’s ethnicity. “Which tribe was Capacita from? I asked. “She is Sinhala, machan (buddy),” Thevaram said.

Capacita and Thyristor were good friends. Her personality, one with boundless capacity for love — in a broad sense of the word – would not have it any other way. Think of various relationships: mother and son, sister and brother, just friends, lovers, father and daughter – all the good you can identify in these relationships, you would have found in the friendship between Capacita and Thyristor. The ethnic divide upon which the politics of our country was being built around them was something they failed to notice.

Linguists might be intrigued here. Capacita discharged much of her love with a single powerful endearing word in her conversations: “aney!” Might roughly translate to “oh dear” if you want it straight out of a dictionary, but the word, when spoken with the correct intonation can go far beyond that.

Let me try with an example: If I said to you “It is raining,” I am passing you a piece of information about the state of the world which I have observed and you haven’t. It ends there. But when Capacita says “It is raining, aney,” she is not just giving you that piece of information. A common identity between you and her, recognising a common threat in the form of the rain, the need for urgent action of fetching an umbrella and the command that instructed you to do the fetching would all be beautifully captured in that word “aney” and how she said it. In the Laboratory of Sparks, men would tune her oscilloscope under such command!

Thyristor guessed that she had heard of the event of the previous night (the chasing) and what was to follow (the running) and was naturally upset about it. He could not stop to console her or say good bye because any delay might make him miss the train with a sharp increase in the probability of a decoupling between his body and soul, he feared. He touched her shoulder and they looked in each other’s eyes for a brief moment.

Between sobs she muttered in a trembling voicer:“Api oyagollangwa elavanava kiyalanang hithanna epa…” approximately translate as /don’t think we are chasing away you people/.

But a second parse through her words might suggest there is more than what the literal translation would tell us. She did not say / […] kiyala hithanna epa/ to mean “don’t think so” she said / […] kiyalanang hithanna epa/. The little suffix /nang/ carries a lot of meaning here: /whatever you think of the happenings around you, this is not at all what I want you to think/, emphasising her disgust at the political act of chasing. That was the worst to which she could think her environment could descend to, in her name.

But then there was a pause just after her last word “epa…” during which Thyristor’s heart missed a couple of beats. Where did the words api (us) and oyagollang (you people) suddenly appear from? How had these words, which had no meaning in their relationship thus far, suddenly acquired semantics? Is this what was to going to define our future trajectory?

Thyristor was stunned. The torture he suffered that fraction of a second could not have been inflicted upon him by the armoury of techniques at the disposal of routine law enforcement, or seen exercised in the fighting of the “just wars” by the security establishment, of our country.

Capacita put Thyristor out of his misery. She knew he had to catch the train for his temporary safety. Controlling her sobs and wiping her tears, she collected herself and with a steady voice and gave him the energy boost he needed for the rest of the run and confidence for his future political thought: “aney!

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Latest comments

  • 14
    29

    Please try to write in Simple english. I read most of the articles from daily mail and BBC, which are written in Simple English format which are easy to understand. English is our second language, this is not a place to show our vocabulary, readers should be able to read and understand the articles without a dictionary. Please “Colombo telegraph” should keep an eye on this matter.

    • 9
      15

      seyon

      this is not an article to understand.if he writes in simple english it becomes a nothing.it is something to savour,not devour as you seem to do with articles.

      you should go to france where they savour small quantities of food.If you go to US you will get a hamburger and the first thing you will think is how the hell to eat it because it is so big.which side to first tackle.

      you might wonder what food has got to do with the article.If i tell in simple english then you won’t do some deep thinking and savour what i say.

      each has his or hers own taste.you might not like the article but others might.i especially like the one about api and ogollang going into the brain of thristan who was under the impression that there was no such thing between them.he had apparently passed that divide but she had not.savour it man.

    • 16
      19

      Dear Seyon,

      I’ve been a teacher of English, probably for a longer time than you’ve been living. So, I understand what you are saying. You know that Mahesan Niranjan (the Professor part of it is not important) is saying something worthwhile, but you feel that you are not understanding everything. However, I’m afraid that what “shankar” has said is exactly right.

      This is creative writing imbued with a great deal of wry humour. It just can’t be simplified. Seyon, keep at it, you will imperceptibly improve, and learn that there is more to communication than “Dictionary English”. Observe, how sensitive Niranjan himself (a Jaffna Tamil) is to the nuances of his THIRD language – Sinhalese.

      However, it does worry me, that ever fewer young people get to learn “proper” English. Even if they want to improve, there is no obvious way in which they can. On the other hand, YOU are an exception! At least I can see that you are making an effort. Today, very few even know that they ought to try.

      Just to say that I understand, (“neutralize the immense stress induced”, “genetic commonality”, “phonetic discrepancy”, “Capacita discharged much of her love with a single powerful endearing word”, “tune her oscilloscope”, “a decoupling between his body and soul”, “semantics”;) all of those are more difficult than they need be. But the humour lies in most of those.

      Also, consider this: Niranjan had seen the Hoole article just yesterday; “aney” must have come to mind after he saw that report of “aiyo” getting in to the Oxford Dictionary. Niranjan would have been struck by all that, and then feels “inspired” to write. He has to do it his way, and many of us love it. Also, his writing always incorporates an important message.

    • 14
      8

      Even Niranjan writes this article in colloquial Sinhalese (or English), how many would understand what Niranjan says here. To me he is telling very ugly truth about us through a soft and compassionate feminism , so the ugliness is covered with soft nature..

    • 5
      15

      Enjoy the content first in the literary sense and then in the deeper sense. If you are not capable of doing either, your “Capacita” is below the required level.

    • 8
      6

      Seyon,

      I feel your anguish. You probably learnt your English as a second language. Enough to get by in daily life; nothing wrong with that. Some of us learnt our English in parallel with our own vernacular mother tongue, and with bells and whistles added. In my case I attended a missionary school, and was taught English by native English teachers from the old country. Except for many of the current 38.605 Burghers who live amongst us, English will be a second language to everyone else, and will have learnt their English with varying degrees of success. And there lies the rub.

      Mahesan Niranjan has written rather well. Those with limited knowledge of English will sadly switch off. (No pun intented…well, alright.) But persevere, widen your reading, and listening, and you will surely discover another satisfying level of joy.

      • 3
        0

        “I feel your anguish. You probably learnt your English as a second language”
        shy baby shy,

        He teaches psycho at Manchester- looking for a black cat in the dark. The French are the masters of surreal. An Ayn Rand would stun a socialist newspaper boy’s son too where folk are fed with bath gulli, as much as it does to good old blighty folk.
        Keep writing chums we enjoy the mood because it ‘all in the mind with 2 dimensional literature.
        “And may we be damned if greatness must reach us through fraud!” ….. Ayn Rand
        I am sufficient as I am.

    • 8
      1

      Seyon a belated response.

      ` written in Simple English format`
      from what you have said- I don’t believe you understand `Plain English` of BBC fully because you think in SinGayLish.

      `this is not a place to show our vocabulary, readers should be able to read and understand the articles without a dictionary.`

      Having a virtuous verbosity is an asset which we learnt as kids while playing games with language. So it was pertinent for us to keep a dictionary and encyclopedia by our side and refer all the time than memorize. Pity your pop did not have books and make you clean them when you were a child so that you knew the importance of reading. (though we had many servants my pop made me do it ∴ I understand many languages and know the importance of light vinegar)

      Finally your cry is more audacious that comes only from a majority community.
      My Sinhala is better than yours because I took the trouble to study Sanskrit.
      Bum chicki bum, bum bum bum run robin run. 🏃

      A wise man makes his own decisions,
      an ignorant man follows public opinion.

  • 11
    16

    Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

    Majoritarian Sinhala chauvinistic thinking has it that if the minority Tamils can be chased away across the seas to ‘where they came from’, all problems in the island will be solved.

    Even with the prof title at front, I think it is dumb to address Sinhala people as majority.

    If you can influence people in the island as far as from Britain, how do you think 65 million Tamils do not have any influece over the so-called “island Maority” – 17 million Sinhala people.

    Since the day that British said that they were leaving, Tamils never acted like a minority. Only problem was they did not have the numbers to be majority. That is why pabakaran became a ruthless terrorist organization while youguys were watching, laughing, ridiculing Island majority and also asking political solution when pabakaran was losing.

    There is no political problem solving. Tamils have their state just 16 KM away. Sinhala people never boasted about their race superiority. Only thing they say is they have established civilization and ask Tamils to go and improve their grand civilization. Instead, Tamils want expansion at the expense of Sinhala people. Besides, Tamilnadu is the best example, that political problems would solve the problems of Tamils or it is just asking another ethnic enclave so that so-called high castes establish their authority over the low castes.

    It is Tamil superiority complex and inability of Tamils to accept their minority status and accept Sinhala people as the majority is the problem. Tamils themselves accept that most sinhala people are former Tamils.

  • 2
    14

    Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

    RE: The Story Of Chasing & Running

    “Majoritarian Sinhala chauvinistic thinking has it that if the minority Tamils can be chased away across the seas to ‘where they came from’, all problems in the island will be solved. “

    “That thinking was copied and implemented with spectacular efficiency by rebelling Tamils when they chased away the Muslim population from the North. Other small scale combinations of one group chasing the other away in villages in the East of the country have also been documented.”

    “Where did the words api (us) and oyagollang (you people) suddenly appear from? How had these words, which had no meaning in their relationship thus far, suddenly acquired semantics? Is this what was to going to define our future trajectory?”

    Thanks for the write up.

    This, “Api”, us, Para-Sinhala, has been brainwashed into the Para-Sinhala Buddhists, as exemplified by The Monk Mahanama in Mahawamsa, and the Para-Sinhala Buddhist Idiots believe that the Sinhala came from the Lion.They are no different from the other idiotic myth holders, but in Lanka,the Land of Native Veddah Aethho, these myths are the problem.

    So, the Para-Tamils are no different.They chased away the Tamil Speaking Para-Muslims.

    It is api (us) and oyagollang (you people) for the Para-Sinhala when chasing Para-Tamils, and Naanagal (us) and Neengal (you people) for the Para-Tamils when chasing Para-Muslims and Para-Sinhala.

    Welcome to the Land of Native Veddah Aethho, occupied by the Paras.

    Is it possible to send All the Paras back to their original homeland, India, Bharat, Damba-Diva where they belong?

    Reference:

    Mitochondrial DNA history of Sri Lankan ethnic people: their relations within the island and with the Indian subcontinental populations

    Journal of Human Genetics (2014) 59, 28–36; doi:10.1038/jhg.2013.112; published online 7 November 2013

    Through a comparison with the mtDNA HVS-1 and part of HVS-2 of Indian database, both Tamils and Sinhalese clusters were affiliated with Indian subcontinent populations than Vedda people who are believed to be the native population of the island of Sri Lanka.

    http://www.nature.com/jhg/journal/v59/n1/full/jhg2013112a.html

  • 12
    7

    Beautiful! A master-piece! Summed up the – awakening, enlightenment, nirvana, serene or a perfect expression that has not entered into oxford dictionary yet’ prevailing mindset of not to look back and to run with all our might in many Tamil minds. I wish I could be as creative and as linquistic as you are!
    I am certain that Chintaka will be reading this article to understand this is what intellect is all about. Mind blowing in its simplicity but enthralling in its concept.

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