23 September, 2018

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The Story Of Preserving Culture

By Mahesan Niranjan

Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

Last week started well for my friend Sivapuranam Thevaram, the Sri Lankan Tamil fellow who is my drinking partner in the Bridgetown pub that stretches my intellectual creativity. Earlier in the week, he spent several hours, checking exam scripts from UpNawth University in Sri Lanka, an institution to which he acts as an external moderator. He was pleased to see some of his suggestions from the previous year had been included in the teaching of the module he was helping with. He had also, with some difficulty, set up a post-graduate scholarship which his department had offered to a junior member of staff from UpNawth. Thevaram was pleased that in some small ways he could engage with that institution and wished he had the time and energy to do more.

Whistling his favourite tune from the beautiful film Vasantha Maaligai, Thevaram started a long drive to Wales to attend the wedding of a cousin. Manimekalai, his wife, and two of his children, Senguththu and Sarivakam, were in the car. Thevaram enjoys long drives with the family – an opportunity to tell the children about his culture, teach them a little Tamil and tell them wonderful stories about his great grandfather, back in the oor (Sinhala: gama, English: village).

The wedding, the Thevaram’s uncle had suggested, was to be held according to Hindu tradition and the guests were to dress accordingly. This meant Thevaram was to be in a verti (a wrap-round rectangular piece of cloth with patterns on the border, yet not really clear when the verti became Hindu), a shirt (even less clear when this became Hindu) and a salvai (another rectangular piece of cloth to put on your shoulder, which could also be folded neatly and wrapped as a turban on your head, should the priest be minded to instruct you to crack a coconut as part of the ceremony).

“Can you speak Sinhala, also?” Senguththu asked the father. “Is it a difficult language for you to learn, given that you are Tamil, and you said Tamil is a Dravidian language and Sinhala has Indo-European roots?”

“Quite easy, really,” said Thevaram, “I usually speak Sinhala to people who are already multi-lingual, i.e. they also have a reasonable English vocabulary, so there are some simple rules by which you can get by.” He went onto explain a rule he had learnt from his friend in BusyTown University, an expert in computational linguistics:

<noun> eka <verb> karnna.

For example, constructs like “car eka reverse karanna” and “chair eka lift karanna” are perfectly legitimate, and would pass as fluent Sinhala.

“So how many people have a reasonable English vocabulary, back in the gama?” challenged Senguththu, to clarify if this trick has effective.

“Quite a few, actually” Thevaram said with a sense of pride and went onto give a five-minute lecture on some key statistics about post-independence Sri Lanka, literacy rates boosted by free education, improvements in infant mortality rates due to free healthcare, the public health inspector (PHI) talking his grandfather into building water-sealed toilet, and so on. The narrative ended with the usual story of calibration, which the kids have heard mentioned on nearly every car journey in which they were captive audience: “You see, back in the late Fifties, when my mother went to University, three hundred miles from her home in the oor, lived in a hostel and made friends with people across the ethnic divide, women were still not allowed to some high table diners in Bridgetown, remember!”

“Oh, yeah, we remember, you have told us this before,” said Senguththu.

“Again, and again,” sighed Sarivakam.

“But it all ended in disaster,” Thevaram said, “because some people thought their culture was better than the other fellows’ culture.”

“It is the stupidity,” he went on to say, “of thinking we came here first, so ours should be the way of life in these parts.”

Several miles of silence followed.

To be suitably attired at the wedding, Thevaram and Manimekalai had gone to a suburb of Londinium the previous weekend verti-shopping and had made a fascinating purchase. Now, those who have tried it will know that a verti, particularly the silk one, is a difficult thing to wear. Friction is lower for silk than it is for cotton, and for a middle aged man with paayaasam belly, the knot giving way and the verti slipping off the waist is a real danger to be reckoned with.

The salesman showed them a new design. A verti with velcro, belt loops and pocket. Hooray!modernVerti

“The velcro is recommended if you use the verti for night-wear, Sir,” explained the salesman, “it gives you quick access. I also suggest you use a belt if you are wearing it at a formal occasion. You don’t want to take a risk, no? And see the pockets are large enough to hold your wallet, car keys and mobile phone.”

He was a very good salesman, who struck a nice balance between modern convenience and cultural symbolisms.

“And the material is flexible, you see,” he continued, you can lift it and fold it half way above the knees to express anger and battle readiness!”

During the wedding party, Thevaram read his email and was informed of the recent violence on UpNawth University campus. Students have clashed across ethnic lines over whose cultural symbols were to be displayed at an event to welcome the new intake. Stones have been pelted, sticks and rods had been used in attacks and a dozen students have been treated for injury.

“Thugs!” Thevaram said to himself. “These thugs do not deserve university education. And for free!

Please, let us not explain away thuggery by trying to theorize on the context and say “post-war reconciliation has not progressed because there is still a lot of military presence in those areas.”

Please, let is not analyse the microscopic details of how the University’s rules are set up regarding cultural events on campus.

Please, let us not compare similar incidents elsewhere and say, “these things happen, no?”

Please, let us call a spade a spade!

There is only one word that explains the events, and let us use that word: “Thuggery!” Jaffna students' clash picture via https-::twitter.com:uthayashalin

Thugs defending culture /Photo via twitter.com/uthayashalin

And there is only one lesson to take from it when we move forward: “Thugs should have no place on campus.”

On their return journey from Wales, Thevaram family continued to discuss linguistics. Sarivakam had quickly learnt the Sinhala grammatical trick the father had explained earlier and showed he can generalize it to Tamil.

Historians and archaeologists who have influenced the thinking of the political class in Sri Lanka — theorizing on which tribe came to the island first and which one the kallathoni (illegal immigrant) is — would readily agree that learning something from Sinhala and adapting it to Tamil is the right sequence to be practiced.

On a roundabout where the signs weren’t clear and Thevaram was a little confused as to which turn to take, Sarivakam, spotting the correct direction said:

Appa, tak endu oru left adiyungo!

(Approximate English translation: “Dad, take a quick left.” More expressive Sinhala translation: thaaththaa takgaala left ekak gahanna.)

tak,” in the above constructs is a unit of time, common in Sinhala and Tamil, the duration of which has to be understood in context. It is possible that “tuk tuk,” the three-wheeler, is derived from this measure of time. Similarly, “adi” in Tamil and “gahanna” in Sinhala are multi-purpose words, which also have to be understood in this particular context to indicate an action the driver was being instructed to take.

The dictionary meaning of these words (assault, hit) is precisely what was practiced by the idiotic students of UpNawth University last Saturday evening.

“Cheers.”

Back in the Bridgetown pub, when we raised our glasses and drank to the preservation of our cultures, with his thoughts firmly fixated “back in the oor,” Thevaram concluded as follows:

“If you have to resort to thuggery to preserve your culture, machan (buddy), that culture is not worth preserving.”

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Latest comments

  • 12
    5

    “If you have to resort to thuggery to preserve your culture, machan (buddy), that culture is not worth preserving.”

    Very true! Culture is refinement of mind, morals and taste and everything transcendent. Decadence in any form is not culture nor education. How can violence in society be described as a ‘Culture of violence’ as we tend to say? How can a Universisity be decadent , if it is ‘Educating’ it’s students through ‘Educated’ persons?

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 9
      5

      I did not see many Sinhalese condemning the BBS attacks in Aluthgama a couple of years ago? What about all the Sinhala racism being spread on facebook these days to incite people against Muslims?

      “If you have to resort to thuggery to preserve your culture, machan (buddy), that culture is not worth preserving.”

      Sure, but this cannot be applied selectively to Tamils and Muslims, and be conveniently forgotten whenever there is a Sinhalese involvement. Make sure there is equality in your Socratic statements.

      • 8
        2

        What make you thing above Socratic statement applying only to Thamils and Muslims?

      • 6
        1

        You did not see many Sinhalese condemning the Aluthgama violence? That really depends on where you were looking. Perhaps if you read some of the posts on this very page…

        Yet I have to agree with you. To date no one has been charged or convicted of that violence. Not the Rajapakse govt. and not the current govt. This alone demonstrates that there is no justice in today’s Sri Lanka. The powerful and vulgar can act with impunity and no one including the Police and the Judiciary has the courage to take them on.

    • 2
      2

      Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

      RE: The Story Of Preserving Culture

      //“But it all ended in disaster,” Thevaram said, “because some people thought their culture was better than the other fellows’ culture.”//

      //“It is the stupidity,” he went on to say, “of thinking we came here first, so ours should be the way of life in these parts.”//

      //”UpNawth University campus Students have clashed across ethnic lines over whose cultural symbols were to be displayed at an event to welcome the new intake.” //

      //“Thugs!” Thevaram said to himself. “These thugs do not deserve university education. And for free!”//

      //”Please, let us call a spade a spade!”//

      Yes, yes, yes. Please, let us call a spade a spade! Call Idiots, Idiots.

      Please, let us call a Para-Sinhala and Para-Tamil a Para in the Land of Native Veddad Aethho.

      // “Thugs should have no place on campus.”// Yes. Para-Thugs should have no place on Campus.

      //“If you have to resort to thuggery to preserve your culture, machan (buddy), that culture is not worth preserving.”//

      The Para-Sinhala and Para-Cultures are not worth preserving.

      Prof. Mahesan Niranjan. hsas there been any change in the bi-modal IQ distribution of those living in Jaffna Now?

      The Story Of Two Graphs drawn by A Tamil Man: By Mahesan Niranjan

      Onion Prices and Tamil IQ Distributions

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-story-of-two-graphs-drawn-by-a-tamil-man/onioniqdistributions/

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-story-of-two-graphs-drawn-by-a-tamil-man/

  • 6
    3

    “If you have to resort to thuggery to preserve your culture, machan (buddy), that culture is not worth preserving.”
    Niranjan,
    I believe you said above with good intentions but I can’t agree with you there. Even in very recent history people used thuggery or force to preserve their cultures and we all, the world, benefitting from those aggressive actions.
    Small story.. A harbour town near Nagasaki (Hiroshima?) in Japan, has all sort beautiful Dutch buildings and churches . The history says that emperor and Shoguns allowed Dutch to do trade for some time and after 40~50 years, they found people in the town becoming Christians and forgetting their cultural heritages. Then two Shoguns (war loads) went there with their soldiers and killed all Dutch and also all the Japanese people lived there. It sounds horrible, but we still have very unique culture preserved in that country.
    There are similar stories about China too.
    SL is war tone country. Even in year 2016, can we confidently say one tribe or one nation could preserve their traditional values in peaceful way…
    I also don’t like to put all the blame to those young, 20 years old, Tamil and Sinhalese young adults and calling them idiots. Isn’t it more logical to call ourselves, Mahesahan’s & Alahakoon’s and our fathers, are idiots for not been brave enough or not interested enough to put an effort to stop these ugliness in our time?

    • 2
      2

      Alahakoon,

      Please listen to the following YouTube clip:

      https://youtu.be/chb6F9Q7CWU

      It will find the meaning to what you have quoted from this article.

      Dr.RN

  • 4
    3

    According to my sources the well famous photo that is showing one student group with sticks are in fact Sinhalese students.

    People are thinking the students in this photo are Tamils. You can tell with phony tails and funky shirts the group is not native Tamil students.

    What a irony. We can not even distinguish Tamils and Sinhalese students. That is a good start to sort out our issues!

    I wounder why the photos of the group that threw the stones weren’t released. May be the photographer was far away from the trouble makers?

    My guess is these Sinhalese students were targeted after the government started to backtrack all the promises given at UN for war victims and army to move out from private lands in North.

    • 1
      2

      Guess

      “What a irony. We can not even distinguish Tamils and Sinhalese students. That is a good start to sort out our issues!”

      Because they are Para from India. You can perhaps change their ethnicity, Para-Sinhala or Para-Tamils by dressing them up differently.

      Check their DNA, They are Paras and not much different.

  • 6
    2

    I am learning Tamil and discovering how similar Sinhala and Tamil are to each other.

    Apart from both sharing a significant number of words derived from Sanskrit, phrases, pronunciation and even grammar seems to have been mutually influenced to the extent that Sri Lankan Tamil dialects (there are multiple within Sri Lanka) are so distinct from Tamil Nadu Tamil, that some there cannot understand some Sri Lankan Tamils’ speech!

    We are both from India. after all. We are brothers.

    Never forget that.

    • 1
      2

      No we are not brothers with these language fanatics

  • 1
    0

    Dear Prof, I don’t know whether the culture thug (in leopard skin brandishing his polla / pollu) in the photo is a Tamil or Sinhala moron. But he looks authentic and impressive. You too Prof have done a good job. I really winced (and half smiled) while reading your barbed comments. Good work!

  • 0
    2

    ‘OOR’ is not gama (kamama) in sinhala, but “(p)ura” in sinhala, and “poor” in Sanskrit, as in “Nak-poor–>Nak-oor–>Nal-oor –> nallur.
    Tamil also re-borrows it as puram.
    “Oor” goes back to ancient west-asian languages like Sumerian 9from where it came to tamil), and it is referred to even in the Bible (less ancient than early Dumarian culture).
    Of course, there are Tamil Nationalist who think that Tamil predates Sumarian, and such individuals may well be found in the Jaffna University and they are sure that force must be used to establish that the first man (a-thamiza–> Adam ) spoke Tamil, while the Indian Prime Minister Moodi says the first man spoke his language – a form of prakrit?. May be since the Sinhalese are mostly Buddhists, they can’t talk of a first man as there is no creation within their tradition? Also, a lion cannot speak sinhala!!!

    Verti is an Anglicization and not found in that form in proper Tamil.
    The correct word is வேட்டி vēṭṭi
    This is also related to the word “vest” (and perhaps to “vasthara” in Sanskrit, “vasthram” in Tamil), which now applies only to the upper part of the old . In the
    hot regions south of the Vindhya mountains ( the “Thechchina Thesam), people did not wear the upper part of the man’s dress, and the word applied to the lower part of the dress only. வேட்டி also means to go out on a road, and that is when you wear the வேட்டி

  • 3
    3

    I found that “tuk tuk” is the term for 3-wheeler in Thai, perhaps based on sound rather than time.
    Many Tamil amateur linguists like to prove beyond reasonable doubt (at least in their minds) that all words in all languages came from Tamil.

    Now Thai poses a challenge.
    Did by any chance both Tamil and Sinhala come from Thai?
    That may be why their speakers are at each others throat!

    • 2
      1

      No. Both came from Fartland.

  • 2
    2

    Niranjan became Kalu Suddha fellow and yuppie because the British Colonial master used thuggery to establish their culture.

    Now, you want to go the pub with your friend. going to the pub is not tamil. that is british too.

  • 2
    0

    //“Thugs!” Thevaram said to himself. “These thugs do not deserve university education. And for free!”//

    //“If you have to resort to thuggery to preserve your culture, machan (buddy), that culture is not worth preserving.”//

    Sri Lanka may be the only country in the world where thugs are given university education free of charge to preserve cultures. Not only at UpNawth University, it happened at HillSide University a few days ago and there the thugs were saffron clad shaven headed culture-wallahs.

    The issue of concern is whether our Vice-Chancellors are wise?

  • 1
    0

    Dear Prof. Niranjan,

    Wenkatti Wattam

    Janakaraliya Production

    Bertolt Brecht’s “Caucasian Chalk Circle”
    in Tamil

    Translated by
    Dr.Kulanthai M.Shanmugalingam

    Directed by
    Parakrama Niriella & K.Rathidharan

    JAFFNA – 22nd Friday 5.30 pm at Weerrasingham Hall – Premier Show
    23rd Saturday 6.30 pm at Kalaiyadi Pandatharippu Marumalarchy Manram

    COLOMBO – 25th Monday 3.00 and 7.00 pm at University of the Visual and Performing Arts

    MATHARA – 27th Wednesday 2.00 pm at University of Ruhuna

    With the support of the International Fund for the Promotion of Culture of UNESCO

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