|Sunday, 18 December 2005|
Reviews Political profile of Sri Lanka Freedom Party
Warnapala laments that political parties have not maintained party archives. Despite this lapse he has fulfilled the formidable task of documenting the evolution of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which has been the governing party either by itself or as the major party in coalitions for well nigh 25 years since it was voted in overwhelmingly in 1956.
Warnapala's own association with the SLFP for over thirty years enables him to present inside information and enlighten the reader within his perspective of political analysis deviating from the already available biographies of the dominant personalities of the party - namely the founder S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, his successor Sirimavo R. D. Bandaranaike to whom the book is dedicated to and their daughter Chandrika of whose association with the SLFP and not her governance as the country's President is dealt with as the analysis terminates at the point when her ascendancy to power begins in 1994.
The first chapter 'Early beginnings and the Sinhala Maha Sabha' deals initially with the vision of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who saw the Swiss model of government, the canton system as best suited for Sri Lanka with complete autonomy for the provinces.
That was as way back as 1926 - thirty years before he was swept into power on the 'Sinhala Only' cry. 'Bandaranaike as a young ambitious politician' says Warnapala soon shifted ground when neither influential Sinhala nor Tamil political leaders showed interest in a federal structure. Within months S. W. R. D. was in the Ceylon National Congress and its candidate to oust the Labour Leader A. E. Goonesinhe. Success there and SWRD had arrived to enter the State Council unopposed a few years later with the inauguration of the Donoughmore Constitution in 1931.
Then onwards Warnapala analyses the impact of Bandaranaike's success in building up a power base through local government institutions as Chairman of a Village Council and then as President of the All Ceylon Village Committee Conference in 1928. By 1934 with the formation of the Sinhala Maha Sabha Bandaranaike steps into the vacuum in the arena of national awakening caused by the death of Anagarika Dharmapala in 1933.
Warnapala devotes 40 pages to analyse the growth of the Sinhala Maha Sabha a non elitist organisation providing a platform for the traditional village leadership and the emerging rural intelligentsia.
The seed is sown for the eventual formation of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party years later when the same social forces rally round SWRD to down the giant UNP and usher in the pro-people policies that the SLFP has always been associated with.
Details of Bandaranaike aligning himself with newspapers that adopted a nationalist line such as 'Swedesha Mitraya' 'Sinhala Balaya' and 'Sinhale' and the part played by political journalists such as Hemapala Munidasa are well documented here.
Chapter I - '1947 and After' deals with the emergence of the SLFP built on the strong mass base provided by the Sinhala Maha Sabha. By the time SWRD brought in the Sabha to strengthen the UNP in 1946 it had been politically active for 12 long years and although some commentators made out that the move to join the UNP was due to the decline of the political clout of the Sabha this was soon discounted when SWRD left the UNP and formed the SLFP in 1951.
Within months he was Opposition Leader in Parliament and in four years he was Prime Minister. There is reference to the observation of many that SWRD missed out on the opportunity to be the first Prime Minister of the country.
Details of what transpired at the residence of H. Sri Nissanka, SWRD's own position visa-vis the talks and the subsequent disillusionment of the man who sacrificed the opportunity of being Ceylon's first Prime Minister for the sake of stability in Government at Independence are interwoven with studied comments like "When there is a dominant mass party, factionalism and intra-party intrigue become the prevailing political style" which elevates this publication from being merely another recording of events to that of a political analysis by one who has delved deep into Sri Lanka's polity and its configuration.
There are seven chapters in all, annexures and a bibliography. Visuals of personages who influenced events within the party such as H. Sri Nissanka, Baduideen Mahmud, T. B. Illangaratna, Maithripala Senanayaka, D. A. Rajapaksa, Hector Kobbekaduwa along with those of SWRD, Mrs. Bandaranaike and Chandrika Bandaranaike adorn this very informative account of the SLFP which offered itself to the people as the alternative political party and ensured the working of democracy in Sri Lanka.
Although some research has been done on the left movement in Sri Lanka and there are publications on the Lanka Sama Samaja Party this is the first time that an extensive study has been made on the impact, fortunes and misfortunes of the SLFP filling a void and a much felt need.
A must in any collection of political commentaries, Prof Wiswa Warnapala has lived up to his reputation as being the leading political scientist in Sri Lanka in writing this incisive analysis. (LE)
Sri Lanka Freedom Party, A Political Profile, By W.A. Wiswa Warnapala
Godage International Publishers
Ginitatu, the biography of Dr. Abdul Kalam
Reviewed by Prof Sunanda Mahendra
A great man or a woman may not necessarily be a person, who wants to write about his or her greatness. But we like to know how the path was paved to become a genius. As such, we ask a simple question that goes as, "so would you please tell us all or something about it?".
The most recent reading I had is an effort pertaining to one such matter, the reading of the Indian President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam's autobiography Ginitatu as translated from English to Sinhala by Jayatilleke de Silva (Mahajana Prakasshakayo, Colombo 2005). 'Wings of Fire' is co-authored by Arun Tiwari.
Though nominally observed as a politician in virtue of the fact that he is the President of India, Dr. Kalam is a scientist, who had been engaged in the field of aero-technology and aero-dynamics from his childhood, culminating in the innovation of some of the brightest and resourceful scientific researches in the field, dedicating his whole time and energy surpassing all the barriers of negativity one encounters in such ventures.
On reading this life story of the genius who had humble means as a student, belonging to a middle class family, in a remote part of an Indian village is the true story of a man, who had been energetic from his student days, rooted down to the soil.
Kalam's story cannot be separated from the story of the development of Indian technology, for they are interlinked. Taking a synoptic view, the book, I suppose is the foremost revelation of the story of the development of space travel and interconnected fields to the world at large, through the eyes of the person behind the scene, gradually unfolding the making of a world of science gathering experience and qualifications from all possible units around the world. This is also the first of a trilogy and de Silva mentions that he hopes to bring out the two remaining volumes in due course.
This readable page moving narrative commences from the descriptions of his birthplace, picturing the ideal family pattern in which he emerged and had the possibility of being a well groomed scholar from the schooling days, inspired by the family members like the parents and grandparents more moulded in a religious atmosphere akin to thinking.
Unimaginably he had the persuasive guidance of positive thinking, presumably as he states which he gained via the religious ideology held by his father, who had the habit of being philosophical in all his day-to-day activities, then comes some of his good friends of his father who were also instrumental in grooming the young Kalam to be a scholar par excellence.
Then comes his life at Rameshvaram primary school, where he is shown as to how he finds the ethnic issues basically consisting of Hindu and Muslim differences to which he becomes immune through the association of a particular teacher, who thinks beyond the common plane of thinking where he is acquainted with not only science, but also literature, which offers him impetus to further clarification of social confusions.
Changing of schools also mean the changing aspects of education from the general to higher levels, meeting better teachers and educationists, who become beacon lights in his journey, giving way to aspects like becoming a vegetarian, an avid reader of authors like Tolstoi, Scott, Milton and Hardy, and thence entering into the world of science where his special forte becomes physics.
One of the striking features about this stream of thoughts is the way he lays bare the calibre of teachers, subjects and classics he associated with until he became a full fetched graduate suitable to take up higher studies in Physics and Mathematics with special reference to the subject of aero-sciences. His preparation as a scientist embarking on several science projects is analytically and inspiringly presented, perhaps making a young science student to get him down.
One of the most significant subtexts in the biography is the way he mixes the scientific thinking with the religious inspiration. Dr. Kalam exposes and outlines how he overcame obtaining the necessary qualifications abroad in places like MIT and NASA and changing constantly the positions, winning the goodwill of others and helping them to innovate more and more science projects.
The strenuous learning and experiments had gone into the programme analysis, control and evaluation of aero and rocket projects culminating in the launching of the first Indian satellite named SL V-3.
Kalam's interference had brought about a new period of aero nuclear and satellite technology in the history of India. As he states emphatically, while he is honoured and held responsible for many an innovation in the subject area with special emphasis on the 1998 nuclear experiments in India, he cannot undermine the fearless and bold attempts on the part of his founders and contemporary groups of researchers, and moreover what he had learned from his life.
According to his conscience the success of a scientist or may be any other person depends on the continuous, indefatigable dedication to a cause. In this direction he had drafted a cooperate plan up to the year 2020, which he believes will be a dream come true.
Inclusive of the highest honour of Padmabhushan, the scientist Kalam had also won several other awards for his dedicated work at home and abroad.
He mentions them as something that had happened due to his own merits, humble enough, which he in turn does not regard as 'too great' for his mission.
For the first time in my readings, I came across a scientist who has the knack to write or get his thoughts written down by others (with the exception of Aldous Huxley), who intermixes common details with scientific meanings, dragging areas of atomic energy research, nuclear physics aero dynamics, science administration, training in laboratory work the right leadership, gauging the pitfalls and learning by trail and error methods.
I felt that this translation Ginitatu ought to prove to our young scientists, at the school and university level, the way they should detour from their normal conventional pattern of thinking in order to make a better nation of scientific research. The book is brightly illustrated with sketches and photos. Hand in hand with the life narratives of a humanist, lies the layer of scientific expositions.
Which are by no means dull, the translator Jayatilleke de Silva uses with confidence a readable and stimulating style of writing.
Knox's work in a different light
Reviewed by Kamalika Pieris
Sarojini Jayawickrema's "Writing that Conquers" takes a fresh look at Robert Knox's wellknown work 'Historical relation on the island of Ceylon'. This is the first time that a whole book has been devoted to the subject of Robert Knox. Up to now, we only had Knox's own text, issued by at least three publishers, in various editions, embellished with flattering introductions. We have also had a bibliography on Knox and a book on the words used by Knox.
In Jayawickrema's book 'Writing that conquers', Robert Knox is critically examined, for the first time, in a publicly available work. Jayawickrema is a specialist in English literature, not history. She has looked at the work as a literary text, using the style now in vogue of examining the social context in which a literary work emerges. In the process, she has touched on many aspects that are not usually discussed in assessments of Robert Knox.
Jayawickrema begins her narrative by looking at the European colonisation of South America. She brings before the reader the writing of Oviedo, Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci. We see how Europe looked at its colonial ventures.
This is something new for the reading public in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, we tend to look only at the colonial experience in Asia, leaving out the parallel activity in South America. She examines European travel writings of the time as well and comments on the values depicted in such writings. Travel writing was expected to include sections on the fauna and flora of the country, its customs and people.
Jayawickrema says that it is unlikely that Knox crafted the text presently attributed to him. The letters and writings of Knox showed that the text could not have been Knox's 'own unaided work'. His manuscript was an unwieldy mass of material.
The text was knocked in to shape by Robert Hooke, the Secretary of the Royal Society. He had put it under chapter headings and improved the grammar and spelling. The East India Company and the Royal Society were interested in the manuscript because the information it contained was useful for colonial expansion. They saw to its speedy publication.
Jayawickrema draws attention to the personality of Knox. She does not see Knox as a hero. she wonders whether he came to Sri Lanka as a spy. Knox had a long association with the East India Company. They sent him on two voyages to Madagascar to obtain slaves. Jayawickrema records his unfeeling comments on slaves.
After that, the Company sent him to the Indonesian islands, with 33 sailors, 30 soldiers, and 24 guns to subdue its ruler. Knox, by his own admission, and quoted by Jayawickrema, did a little piracy on the way. His relations with the East India Company, however, were not smooth, and he was very disappointed with the Company by the time he retired.
Jayawickrema objects to Knox's questionable presentation of Sinhala woman and his utterances about King Rajasinghe II. She tries to provide a corrective to this and in doing so goes well beyond the subject of Knox.
She describes the status of women in Canteen Society and the privileges and freedom these women possessed. She gives us her own account of the Kingdom of Rajasinghe II, using historical sources such as Rajasinghe's communications with the Dutch. She provides us with a very interesting description of his court, and the manner in which he dealt with the Dutch Ambassadors.
This is supplemented with three illustrations of the audience given to the Dutch ambassador. She also points out that some of the foreigners captured by the King decided to stay on in the Kingdom. They held positions under the King.
In the last section of the book, Jayawickrema examines the connection between Knox and Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. She focuses on Defoe's modification of the ideas taken from Knox.
This work is Jayawickrema's doctoral thesis and carries references to a wide range of documents. It is written in a flowing, readable style. The carefully selected illustrations, facsimiles and maps help to enhance the text.
I recommend Sarojini Jayawickrema's "Writing that Conquers" as a good read for the intelligentia and a welcome gift for Christmas.
Cheqpoint in heaven
Reviewed by Thava Sajitharan
'Our independence is in/dependence' - I recall what the poet earlier said to me about Sri Lanka. It is unfortunate and disheartening that the statement is in many ways undeniable. But then how many of us bother to contemplate about such things, having so much other 'business' to indulge in?' I thought to myself.
Such questions engrossed my mind after listening to a few vibrant poetic lines in a mesmerising voice that haunted me
"First the waves, then the tears pouring from the headlines You'd never believe, it's been 500 years of looting, banking and now overwhelming concern for 'HEAVEN UNDER WATER', with never a thought for what they'd already owed you before the ocean imitated what they'd already started'.
These lines, from the song/poem "Heaven ain't up there," apparently referring to the present 'dependencies' of ours while reminding us of the weight of history and unawareness we are immersed in, were written by Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta, whose new book and CD of poems and songs 'Cheqpoint in heaven' will be launched at the Sapumal Foundation, Colombo 7, on December 21 (Wednesday) at 6.30pm.
Seldom do we come across people with such deep eyes reflecting thoughtfulness and passion for humanity. Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta, a writer and a poet, is one such person. Anyone who is prepared to share a few minutes with him could sight glimpses of his versatility.
This no longer so-young man (despite a few silvery lines running through his long hair betraying the claim, he still looks young) articulates that, until 5 centuries of European invasions, Sri Lanka had always remained a united island, and that we are a people that have great potential to come together, if we do not allow ourselves to be divided (and ruled by outside forces, from the Portuguese to the British, and now to the WTO).
Produced by Lake House