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Instinct defies definition

Iva
Author: Dr. Mrs Neelakanthi Ekanayake Gunewardena
Published by S. Godage International

IVA

! A short title indeed and 96 pages only. Yet, it encapsulates a vast gamut of information on a hitherto “unexplored and unexcavated “knowledge by our local scientists cum writers. Iva was just taken for granted and so it remained virgin ground...

It is indeed an elusive topic, the author herself rather blundering on the topic when she gives the definition of Iva as a mystical disposition that no one is able to describe correctly.

From time immemorial up to now, no scientist, psychologist or any other person has been able to coin a clear single definition for instinct. It is indeed a paradoxical situation when you begin to write a book, for the title of which you cannot give a clear definition. To circumvent the problem of defining Iva the author presents certain situations where Iva plays its part.

When a mother jumps into the river into which the child has fallen (maternal instinct).

When salmon fish, swim back to the shores they were born in, to deposit their eggs.

When the Teak Moth goes in search of Teak trees to deposit their eggs on the teak leaves

When ants line up in a single row to their ant holes.

There are many more wonders pertaining to Iva given in the intriguing illustrations at the end of the little book. A remarkable fact about the book is that it is written in Sinhala, when everybody is paying pooja to the international language. In this aspect I could not help remembering a conversation I had with a well-known writer some years back.

He had put out his most recent book in English and the contents were fascinating and very informative. Somehow, I felt sorry for those unable to understand the Bard of Avon’s language and hence will miss all that.

So I suggested to him to translate the book into Sinhala. Unexpectedly, he being known as an epitome of patriotism almost scoffed at the idea as though I had said something naïve. Or I should have never mouthed it in these Global Village days. Here is how he went on. “Who reads this type of book in Sinhala now?: The educated has come to mean the English educated in the country. The book in Sinhala will never have a market and even if it does it will catch the meagre market of the island cooped within the ocean.”

The mighty ocean and poor little Lanka!

I was amazed at his arguments. He was thinking of the commercial aspect of the book, whether it will sell or not. Gone seem to be the days when writing is launched into with noble and sacrosanct motives. Priority is given to the commercial aspect or it seems to be, though one bad egg does not mean that all the eggs in the basket are rotten.

Dr. Neelakanthi stands out as a very good egg. To extend the metaphor in another way she has laid the egg in a selfless way by writing in Sinhala. Her bio-data shows how she has traversed the globe collecting data for it, had discussions with the best brains in the world and after collecting all the material packeted them all here, so that the local readers including the young crowd starved of such knowledge could take it all in. This way she looms as an example for she has chosen not to ruminate on the issue whether the book will be a commercial success and add to her coffers.

Instinct or Iva, according to the author, is instilled for the survival of a species, and here by the very nature of humans versus animals, the latter get more attention since humans have other means to ensure their survival, than instincts as the maternal instinct. Here one comes almost into the mystical arena when the writer focuses on the “chemical signalling system” a discovery made in 1959. A web of signals results. Those signals peculiar to one species is termed Pheremones. A bitch in heat is recognised by these pheromones, as an important segment of Iva.

The author, however, has not left out the occurrence of human signals which occur more unconsciously than consciously. But the animal signals stand out unique. They functioned at the time of the tsunami when animals left the coastal habitats much before the human inhabitants. In Yala, I'm sorry to say, those who died were the two-footed, for the Iva of the four-footed lured them to higher areas. Iva seems to be a Wonder Mechanism that may have the potentiality for many changes in the animal population as contributing to human welfare.

Chapter 5 gives instances of attempts in this area as insect pest control, and the increase of domestic animals.The list of references is vast and is ample testimony to the vast gamut of background work undertaken. Of much relevance to the contents are the visuals that come at the end which include the following – a shoal of salmon fish swimming against the current; a fantastic procession of African zebras on their annual trek to Serengiti in Tanzania in search of food; the Monach butterfly migrating 2000 km plus to avoid the incoming cold; the Bombyx Mori, the moth reacting to the Pheremone glands in action in the female species; a snake putting out its tongue to gauge the environs.

The author has served as Professor in the Chemistry Faculty of the Kelaniya University.

 

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