05 March 2015

Devindu Senal Herath the next Sanath Jayasuriya?

This is World Cup time and being a cricket lover I can’t get enough of the action, at least outside the venues and the television.  I am tension-averse so I wimp my way through matches courtesy cricinfo.  I read the write-ups, the pre-game comments, overall predictions, stats, who is in form and who is not, strengths and weaknesses of each time and the key factors that might decide outcomes. It’s 50-over stuff and so we get to hear about all-rounders, i.e. batting all-rounders and bowling all-rounders.

In the ODI format Sanath Jayasuriya leads the rest far behind at least among Sri Lankans. Chaminda Vaas was a bowling all-rounder and didn’t get much crease-time but was still an excellent role player. Aravinda De Silva didn’t bowl enough one feels.  This team has Angelo Matthews, Thissara Perera and the irrepressible Tillekeratne Dilshan with Nuwan Kulasekera fitting easily into the role that Vaas used to play.  A team of 11 all-rounders would not work for obvious reasons and so wouldn’t one without any.  We are not lacking, shall we say? 

I am thinking of a different kind of all-rounder this morning, in particular a little boy called Devindu Senal Herath, just 7 years old.  I first saw him about a year ago at the Jana Kala Kendraya, Battaramulla.  He was attending (along with his older brother and my two daughters) a workshop devoted to folk song and dance as well as other things  traditional including customs and values, conducted by the immensely energetic Sahan Ranwala under the aegis of the foundation carrying his father’s name, ‘Lionel Ranwala Padanama’. 

All children are ‘naturals’, unless their natural inclinations towards song and dance are dented by overanxious, overambitious and overbearing parents.  A few are of course more natural than others or, let’s say, endowed with above-average talent.  This is reflected in things like voice projection, voice control, modulation, speed of picking up a tune, gesture, facial expression and rhythm, as far as the activities relevant to the workshop are concerned.  Devindu is as big or small as the next child but in general more self-effacing than his peers, until called upon to deliver.  He grows taller on such occasions. 

Devindu is only one of the children who show greater talent than the rest of the class.  What separates him, makes him an all-rounder and made me write about him is the fact that he is more than music, dance and drama.   
He was recently awarded 1st Prize in his age category at the 11th International Environmental Children’s Drawing Contest, organized by the Japan Quality Assurance Organization and UNICEF.  This followed a Silver Medal for his submission to the Shankar International Art Competition 2010 in his age category.  Young Devindu has won numerous prizes for his drawings at Art Competitions and Exhibitions organized by his school, Royal College
All this is achievement enough for someone as young as he, but Devindu seems to have the time, energy, discipline and enthusiasm to engage in other things as well.  At the recently concluded All Island Shotokan Karate National Championship, he was the Gold in the Kata discipline for his age group.  Earlier he was adjudged the Under 7 Champion of the Western Province in Kumite at the National Karate Do Championship.  He’s also an up and coming exponent gymnastics I later found out, which might explain his considerable dancing skills.  Or vice versa, as the case may be.  Time will tell what else he’ll take on or if he will pick one and pursue excellence in that particular field.  He’s an all-rounder and a remarkable talent, this much is clear. 
He’s not an exception though. A few months ago I was privileged to be one of two who judged the Musaeus College Inter House Drama Competition.  The other was Rajitha Dissanayake, one of the most accomplished dramatists of our time.  I was struck by the wealth of acting talent at Musaeus.  I still remember Rajitha pointing out that this was not peculiar to that school. He has judged other such contests in other schools and conducted drama workshops all over the country and knew enough about the talent available. He told me that those who were good at acting, typically, were good at a lot of other things too; they excelled in their studies as well as extra curricular activities including sports.  Naturally they had a wide range of career options to choose from. It was the rare individual who would stick to drama, he said. 

It brought to mind something that the former principal of D.S. Senanayake College and current Director General, National Library and Documentation Services Board, Asoka Hewage told me about twenty five years ago.  Back then he was a final year student at Peradeniya University, President of the Arts Students Union, an enthusiastic sportsman who spent a lot of time in the gymnasium and an invariable and thoughtful contributor to political debates in the Arts Theatre.  He told a bunch of us freshers how a professor had once observed that while it is good to be engaged in extra-curricular activities including politics, if the primary purpose of being in the university – the pursuit of knowledge – is abandoned then the overall achievement is minimal.  Twenty five years later I would add that it would also amount to unpardonable irresponsibility to the general citizenry who pay for undergraduate education. 

Whether students in general take heed of such words of wisdom I am not sure, but there is a discernable tendency for someone who excels in one discipline to be reasonably good in others as well.  It would be enough I feel to excel in one thing and yet it seems advisable to explore many fields if the opportunity is there because it makes for a more wholesome upbringing and makes an individual better equipped to face with equanimity life’s vicissitudes.

Hewage, given 25 years of experience as an educationist said that an all-rounder is more than likely to do reasonably well in his/her studies but adds that ‘getting by’ is not enough.  Endowed with average intelligence and an above average ability to multi-task, a sportsman would not find it difficult to pass an exam, but might nevertheless lose out on the benefits of structured instruction. 

What is lacking is guidance, I feel.  Not all parents are equipped to advise their children or offer informed guidance when the time comes to make difficult choices.  Such expertise is absent in the school system as well.

I think we have enough all-rounders. What we don’t have is a structure that help them make the best out of their talent and thereby serve nation and fellow-citizen in more productive ways.  Perhaps, by the time young Devindu gets to the ‘difficult age’ these flaws would have been corrected.  For now, I feel proud that we have children like him in our country.  I am not sure if he’ll be another Sanath Jayasuriya but what he does do indicates that we must have many Sanaths around.  They might end up as doctors who are exceptional vocalists or civil servants who are outstanding sculptors of course.  I would not complain.


Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor, ‘The Nation’ and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com  This piece was first published in the Daily News, March 3, 2011
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