12 June 2014

More cuts on the 'sudda within'*

My article, 'On the "sudda" resident within us' generated a lot of comments. Among them was one from a retired senior Police Officer (of a different generation and most definitely a different calibre), Gamini Gunawardena, a Sanskrit scholar and a batch-mate of my parents at Peradeniya.

Gamini Maama shared some thoughts with me. He observed that most of our conversations on the ‘sudda problem’ were in the sudda language, English.

He wrote, wittily, ‘incidentally, why do we write the address on the envelopes always in English? Because our postal peon is a sudda? Or are we testing his English knowledge?’ More pertinently, he asked why the work of the private sector is conducted in English and not in Sinhala/Tamil.

He remembered Anagarika Dharmapala: ‘In order to kill this sudda, Anagarika Dharmapala Thuma advised us to make a dummy of the sudda and spit at him every day. I think it should be done as a national exercise every morning like singing the national anthem. And particularly at the commencement of every English class!’

He also opined, ruefully, that when he left the University he had thought the next generation of undergraduates with a completely Sinhala education would be able to be rid of the inferiority complex that his, the last generation of the Ivor Jennings model, suffered from. He observed: they turned out to be worse.

The issue I think is not so much that we use English (I see nothing wrong in using the enemy’s weapons against him/her, especially if it is done effectively). It all depends on what we do with English. The Kaduwa (sword) can be used to keep at bay the enemy or it can be used to castrate ourselves. It can be used, as it is, to demarcate social status and acquire a superiority that is not in tune with intellect or skill. This can be done, let me hasten to add, only to the extent that we have allowed the sudda to inhabit our minds, our sensibilities.

I am not sure of the efficacy of the Anagarika’s proposal. It cannot be a matter of spitting on the sudda (literally and/or metaphorically) or else giving the sudda permanent residency in our minds and thereby submitting to ideological servility. Not choosing the former is not necessarily an embrace of the latter.

That would be a dialectic way of approaching issues and quite un-Buddhist. The alternative way is to engage the sudda without fear and without hatred (both of which inhibit fruitful exchange) with full awareness. Gamini Maama himself offers a possible ‘location’ of English by referring to a Raj Kapoor song in the 1951 classic movie, ‘Shree 420’:

Mera joota hai japani
Yeh patloon inglisthani
Sar pe laal topi roosi
Phir bhi dil hai hindustani

My shoes may be from Japan. My clothes may be from England and my hat may be from Russia but my heart remains Indian!

It is not in the trappings, then. I had heard this song quoted before and it always reminds me of a conversation that took place in Peradeniya about 17 years ago.

This was when I was called a jathika chinthana kaaraya by my political opponents. Someone had made this comment: ‘Malinda Aiya kathakaranne jathika chinthanaya, e unata yaaluwela inne lansi kellek ekka’ (Malinda talks jathika chinthanaya but is going out with a Burgher girl). My response: ‘honda sinhala bauddha kollo, honda Sinhala bauddha kello ekka yaalu wela innava, e unata eyalage chinthana lansi’. (There are good Sinhala Buddhist boys going out with good Sinhala Buddhist girls but their ideology is ‘Burgher’; ‘lansi’ being used as proxy for what I have been referring to as ‘sudda’ in the cultural colonization context).

The way out is not cultural isolation but active and informed inter-cultural association without operating from the extreme that vilifies the sudda or that which worships the sudda. To put it in a different way, we need to be proud of who we are, where we came from etc., celebrate that which is and which was good in our history, heritage and culture without falling into the trap of romanticizing the past.

The Buddha advocated the employment of reason. Makes a lot of sense.

A nation must cultivate its collective intellect so that it can separate grain from chaff, the inconsequential from the abiding, that which is worthy of acquiring and that which should be dismissed.

We have shown a marked inability to be selective and this flows from a wishy-washy approach to the task of self-exploration.

Since cricket is in the news and since Sri Lanka is to play England in the Champions Trophy before this piece gets published, let me use a cricketing example.
What is cricket? It is not home-grown. It is a sudda game. Does it not belong to us, though? A simple illustration would suffice to answer this question: the ‘Dil-scoop’, Tilakaratne Dilshan’s innovation, the audacious lifting of a delivery over the keeper’s head and to the boundary.

I like to think that in that stroke, in that innovation, there is ‘Sri Lankan heart’, even though the helmet is not Sri Lankan the game is not Sri Lankan.

As for the sudda within us, that creature is not un-tamable.

And there is nothing to stop us from visiting and taking up residence in the sudda’s head either. We need to be alert though. And we are not alert enough. 

*This was first published in the 'Daily News' in September 2009.  A Facebook status update posted by Pubudu Shiran