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Saturday, 12 March 2011


If somebody wants to learn English or Mathematics for its own sake then it could be said that is his/her business, but then once again one could ask as to what made him/her learn English. Surely those lived in Sri Lanka before the nineteenth century would not have had an interest in learning English for its own sake as not many people would have heard of Shakespeare in the eighteenth century or before that. Even in the twenty first century how many Sri Lankans showed any interest in the Galle Literary Festival, though it was an occasion to be discussed in the English language newspapers with all the boycotts and statements against Sri Lanka by so called intellectuals such as Chomsky who could be misled easily as any publicity seeker could be, and Arundathi Roy who is only a lapdog (or lapbitch) of the western Christian modernity. Chomsky and Roy are both publicity seekers and the general public in USA and India, not to mention in Sri Lanka are not interested in their statements. At least Chomsky had been a distinguished linguist in the western Judaic Christian culture before he became a so called public figure but what about Roy who was pushed up by the western establishment as a goddess of big things with the publication of her novel.

There is no record of Ven. Thotagamuwe Shri Rahula Thera knowing any English though he has had a knowledge of six languages. It is very unlikely that Barana Ganithaya had any knowledge of western Mathematics, how important that subject would have been in the west at that time. There is no record of Euclid being translated into Sinhala, or anybody learning it in Greek before the Dutch established the schooling system, though books in Mathematics in Sanskrit such as Lilavathi had been translated into Sinhala. It has to be made clear that Bharath Mathematics is different from western Mathematics and did not have the concept of a so called proof following Aristotelian logic. Even Ramanujan who is easily the best, if not the only Tamil and Asian Mathematician of modern times did not have the concept of a proof and he was mainly a man of the Suthra tradition of Bharath Mathematics. Had he been in Chennai without going to Cambridge on Hardy’s initiation he could have given the world many more suthras on infinite series.

If I was living in Sri Lanka or Sinhale during the period Elara was reigning in Anuradhapura I would not have spent my time learning Mathematics (I did not learn English even in the second half of the twentieth century) , but would have learnt most probably Angam Pora in order to defeat Elara’s army. Whether one likes it or not we study something because it interests us or useful or important or whatever but all these have been decided for us by the society, unless of course we create our own knowledge, but even then creation is done based on a paradigm or more broadly a chinthanaya, and it is impossible to escape from the influence of these social factors. When the Bosathananvahanse did pas maha belum (five great surveys) from Thavthisa what essentially he did was to select the land and the culture (chinthanaya) that would help him to attain Buddhathva. If the Bosathananvahanse was born in what are now known as England or Wales or Iceland or even Japan he would not have attained Buddhathva in spite of the fact that he had the strength of the Parami Dharma he had perfected.

English and western Mathematics did not become important but have been made important by the society, meaning very often by those who take decisions on behalf of the society. Who are the people who take decisions in this society regarding Education? The decisions are made again by those who have been exposed to some kind of western education, and it is very rarely a person can break off from western Christian modernity once he/she is exposed to it. It is not because western Christian modernity is superior intrinsically but because it has been made superior through political power and manipulation. If one were to go to a person exposed to western Christian modernity and the corresponding education one would naturally get the impression that the western education is superior and that the three r’s representing abstract thinking are very important.

The Sinhala tradition in particular and the Bharath tradition in general refer to the Bahushruthas or those who have heard many things, and not literate, in spite of the fact that the Sinhala people had an alphabet and would have read at least some of the inscriptions that are found from Nagadeepa to Devundara in the island. As I have mentioned the level of abstraction among the Sinhalas is not up to that of the Jews and it is reflected in creating new knowledge in western disciplines. I have nothing against those Ph. D’s and first classes a reader had mentioned as creators of knowledge, but I am afraid none of them were creators of knowledge as such and were nowhere near the Nobel Prize winners and other award winners in science or even literature. (I mention these awards, not because I have any admiration for them but since they are the yardsticks of western knowledge) Even if some of the novels and poems by some of the “giants” in Sinhala literature are translated into English it is very unlikely that they would be awarded the Nobel Prize as they have not grasped the essence of the western culture. Neither have they portrayed the Sinhala culture for the westerners. Most of them have only written western novels and western poems in Sinhala. Sinhala poetry is not meant to be read (kiyaveema) but meant to be “sung” (keema) and the modern day Sinhala poets are only trying to generalize personal experiences and thus trying to abstract them without realizing that they are not good at abstracting. Dr. Gunadasa Amerasekera who tried recently to write personal stories and experiences without abstracting them very much, but sometimes taking credit for what others have done, has been criticized by the “establishment” for not generalizing and abstracting.

The pundits are lamenting that people are not reading books these days and that not many novels are sold. They claim that when it comes to poetry it is worse. Who are these pundits who express these views? They are invariably people who have been exposed to western Christian modernity either in English or Sinhala (Tamil) and what they do not realize is that even those days these novels and poems were not bought by the ordinary people. These books were prescribed for examinations and those who wanted to enter the university had to read them. The older generation could be brainwashed by lecturers on the importance of the western novel and the free verse but the younger generation who mainly came from the villages without much exposure to the western “values” could not be brainwashed that easily. Though the novels by the “giants” are not sold people buy books by late Mr. Jayasena Jayakody, even though they are not prescribed for public examinations. All that I am trying to say is that most of the so called bilingual giants were only trying to emulate western novelists, short story writers or poets without much success within the standards set up by of the west. Neither they went in search of a Sinhala tradition and finally it fell on the shoulders of people such as late Jayasena Jayakody to at least pave the way for the future generation to look for such tradition. (To be continued)

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva