|Notes on country's indiscipline
by Prof. Sunanda Mahendra
When the late great monk scholar Ven. Yakkaduve Pragnarama was honoured by a university, with an honorary doctorate (D. Litt) he did not take it seriously. He was not bothered about it to the point that he never used it as an additional tag to illuminate his name.
Instead he had handed over the certificate awarded to him at convocation to a professor, who had paid a courtesy call saying that 'keep this as a memento to remember me'. The good professor had taken it home and it is to be seen even today.
This is a true story retold by Sarath Wijesuriya, the senior lecturer in Sinhala studies attached to the University of Colombo in his latest collection of essays titled 'Vinayak neti rataka' (In an ill disciplined country). He makes use of this actual event to illustrate how bogus doctorates can be either obtained or awarded by certain pseudo academic organisations that brand themselves as international foundations, with the sole intention of earning money. According to Wijesuriya those people so award and receive the same should be punished, for they use these tags abroad for monetary gains.
Wijesuriya, the essayist takes the reader a long journey around such areas as mass media units, educational institutes, cultural units with special emphasis on the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. One of the most interesting elements in the various events are packed with human interest he had observed.
When one of the well-known translators Chinta Sinharachchi passed away, her funeral was made to be known to the (then) secretary of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
That administrator according to Wijesuriya had not even taken any interest in the matter to the extent that even a note of condolences was not sent. Meanwhile a messenger had gone to the house and requested the husband of the late translator to send a letter of request in order to obtain a certain sum of money to meet funeral expenses, which is given as an honorarium to any artist. This Wijesuriya deems as a kind of unsympathetic gesture on the part of the Cultural Ministry.
There is one more event that I read with interest, when the late president Ranasinghe Premadasa had not given any responsible portfolio to Minister Gamini Disanayaka, he is said to have kept silent in the first instance. Then he had asked Mr. Premadasa, Portfolio
'Sir, why don't you at least make me the Minister of Cultural Affairs?' Most of these essays have appeared in Sinhala Sunday newspapers and a few have been newly added, for this anthology.
There are quite a lot of tirades on the lethargic drawbacks on the activities of literary panels, drama panels and the festivals connected with them. He observes that mere administrative structures linked with financial regulations have warped the spirit of action needed for the contemporary literary and cultural activities.
In all, there are thirty eight long and short essays, which centre round various aspects linked to Media, Education and Culture. Perhaps much more than the general reading value, I feel that some of the socio-historical facts embedded are of significance. In a fearless mood and without defamation he takes people into account citing their names.
At times he is sympathetic towards them and at times he is ironic. For example, he says that in a country where there is a severe scarcity of literary critics, a certain magistrate had to shoulder it, writing regular reviews. He lays bare one good example on the efficiency of administration as follows.
Once the Minister of Cultural Affairs had told the President:
'My officers are quite efficient, for I got a file with a note 'I saw' (mama ditimi) signed by eight officers'
'So what did you do to the file?' asked the President.
'I jotted down the words 'I also saw' and passed on to my secretary. This according to Wijesuriya, though is a laughable matter, but in reality it is a serious drawback.
Similarly in the absence of a good poetry critic for the modern times, a certain dentist had to undertake the task of fulfilling the function. But the end product that came as a collection of a essays on modern Sinhala poetry was rejected by a certain university don, saying that the collection should be rejected as it does not carry footnotes as in the case of the conventional research works.
I see a tinge of wit and humour flowing beneath these essays. Wijesuriya shows a sense of independence where he states that he had attempted to fulfil a long desired necessity. Though he has written quite a number of articles to Sinhala newspapers, he now wants to keep himself silent by presenting these pieces.
In his long preface to the book he shows the challenges of a rationalist and seems to take the stance of the teacher at all levels as independent as possible as a great humanistic function in moulding a better society.
Taking a synoptic view of his essays in the collection, Vinayak neti rataka, I felt that he has the strong tendency to express his displeasure as a university don, toward the entire gamut of things happening around him.
Perhaps as a creative writer he would have utilised most of these material to write short stories and novels.
But it looks as if he has abandoned giving preference to the latter over and above the former. But one sees the traces of creativity in some of these essays, gripping the reader as a page mover.
Source: Daily News