08 October 2011

A story of three characters: Arjuna, Muditha and Pulasthi

No one ever got paid to coach chess in my school.  It was always old boys who coached the team.  The seniors coached the juniors, the juniors helped with the newcomers.  The coach handled the seniors.  No payment.  There was something about repaying debts owed to the alma mater.  There was also the joy of teaching, seeing players improve and securing trophies. 
Arjuna Parakrama

Each coach left a mark and speaking strictly for myself, Arjuna Parakrama, one of the strongest players in the country in the seventies, was the greatest influence when it came to chess, both in playing and coaching.  It was not just about chess with him.  It was how to approach a particular game and most importantly about what was important, over the board and outside it, particularly the latter.  Chess was a small part of a larger universe and what he taught about chess and in those long hours of having to suffer his sarcasm and caustic remarks was eminently applicable to life in general. 
We teach the way our favourite teachers taught or like to think we do.  I know I tried.  So did my successors, but no one I can think of matched the standards set up Arjuna as Muditha Hettigama, the most successful coach of this school and himself a National Champion. 
Muditha Hettigama
I recently heard that there are chess ‘coaches’  who earn around Rs.300,000 a month.  I know for a fact that most of them are unqualified to coach. Forget values and attitudes, their knowledge of the game is at best basic and are not equipped to push talent even half way towards potential.  When I heard this, I thought of both Arjuna and Muditha, especially the latter because Arjuna coached in different times where values were different, economic and social pressures different and therefore the idea of ‘remuneration’ was marginal.
Muditha has coached his old school for more than a decade now.  Given his success rate (his teams have won more national championships than any other boys’ school in the country), if he were to translate coaching time into opportunity cost, he would earn at least as much as a full time coach.  I did a small calculation, assuming he’s been coaching since 1998.  That’s 13x12x300,000, making Rs. 46.8 million.  I am trying to think of a single coach who has said ‘no’ to that kind of money.  The only person I can think of is Sarath Eriyagama, a man who has an equally or even more celebratory record as coach (Girls High School, Kandy) and who was instrumental in popularizing the game both in Kandy and in other districts of the country. 
There are people like that.   Pulasthi Ediriweera (I just heard that this colleague of mine actually is titled, ‘Kalapathi’; he is modest and it shows) is one of them.  Pulasthi has designed more than 150 stamps and that’s a fact that few would know; stamps don’t carry name and signature of artist.  Only philatelists would know.  More importantly, Pulasthi is the present President of the Society of Arts and has been so since 2008.  He’s also been the Principal of the School of Art run by the Society of Arts for more than 5 years. 
Pulasthi Ediriweera
The School of Art, founded way back in 1887, has been running this programme for many years now. Pulasthi, along with 7 other teachers, give all their Saturdays to this school, voluntarily.  It is a programme for those left behind and those who for whatever reason don’t have access to the mainstream art schools.  There are toddlers and there are retired persons who have the time and the inclination to pick up and explore something they loved but never had the opportunity to indulge in. 
Among the students are those taking ‘Art’ as an O/L or A/L subject, those who are in different streams but are interested in entering higher educational institutions offering visual arts degrees, and undergraduates, teachers and even principals who want to further develop their skills.  The Society organizes exhibitions every month to showcase the best works of the students.  They organize workships as well as educational trips.  They spend the occasional Sunday visiting schools where there are no art teachers or where the  art teachers are interested in exposing their charges to informed and more competent instruction. 
Pulasthi has been doing this for 6 years.  That’s over 300 days and close to 3000 hours.  I don’t know how much that would be in terms of rupees.  He doesn’t count, of this I am certain.  I know that there are times when he helps out a colleague who is crunched for time, copying the style and completing the relevant illustration, sacrificing his own work and time. All for free.  Few return the favour.  He would say, I am sure, ‘me mage vidiha, e eyaalage vidiha’ (this is my way, that’s theirs). 
I don’t know anything about art, but I do know this: we are not thankful enough to the Arjunas, Mudithas and Pulasthis of this country.    



margarat said...

Dear Mr. Seneviratne

‘Stamps do not carry name and signature of artist only philatelists would know ”

True, but it carries the name of our country and ‘art and creativity’ or the talents of our people that definitely touches the hearts of many around the globe and the hearts of beautiful kids who like to collect stamps as a hobby. These artists to me i think like to stamp their signature in the hearts of people.

This is my personal opinion and I like the article and things you try to reveal here.