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Do Astrology and Palmistry predictfuture whilst Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology explore past?

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

No surprise whatsoever, if the tongue- in-cheek question I posed, as the heading for this piece, would be answered in the affirmative by the majority of Sri Lankans. Perhaps, some may get that impression because the ‘hot-topic’ of cosmology, at the moment, is the origin of the universe. Maybe, I am cynical because I never had the reassurance of any astrologer or palmist predicting that I would become a doctor, leave alone being a Cardiologist who would practise in two countries. Nobody would have imagined I would do so, as there was no family precedence or pressure. In fact, the opposite was true. Though, from the time I heard stories about my unexpected survival following a premature birth, I wanted to be a doctor, my father objected and tried to persuade me to join the Ceylon Civil Service instead! If the astrologer who cast my horoscope at birth, or any others who looked at it afterwards, had predicted that I would take to medicine, perhaps, my father would not have raised any objections.

Memorable incident

In spite of the lack of such predictions, I have kept an open mind, may be at least in part due to the lingering memory of an incident that happened in June 1976, while I was working in the Cardiology Unit. I was contacted by the daughter of a general practitioner who worked in my hometown, Matara. She inquired whether I could drop in at her place in Nugegoda to have a look at her father and I readily agreed because I could return the favour, as he had treated me occasionally in my childhood. After seeing him and having had a long chat about ‘good old days’, as I was about to leave, she said “Upul, you did a big favour. Can I show my appreciation by reading your cards?” Although I was not aware that she was a well-known card-reader, much in demand in Colombo high-society, I agreed, more out of courtesy and curiosity. She looked at the cards I picked and said “A friend of yours is to have surgery and is in grave danger” and suggested he gets surgery done after a particular date.

It took me a little while to recollect that my good friend George Rajapaksa, Minister of Health, was in Glasgow awaiting Coronary by-pass surgery. The following day, with the help of his Permanent Secretary, Vincent Panditha, I was able to contact Lalitha, George’s wife and I related this episode. Although I requested her to get the surgery postponed, she was not keen as surgery had already been scheduled for the following day. George had successful surgery but died after a prolonged stay in the Intensive Care, due to lung complications, most likely precipitated by heavy smoking. Whether the outcome would have been different had surgery been postponed, I do not know.

Interest stirred

Perhaps, I was wise to keep an open mind, rather than declaring myself a rationalist, as recently, and unexpectedly, some of my esteemed colleagues have declared their belief in the supernatural. My interest was stirred by the interesting contributions on the supernatural and the paranormal by Prof S N Arsecularatne, Emeritus Professor of Microbiology of the Peradeniya University, made over a period of time. Prof Sanath Lamabadasuriya, Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics, in an interesting piece in The Island of 02 September titled ‘Palmistry, a personal experience’ described in detail how a palmist predicted, not only his becoming a professor before the age of 40 but also how his marriage would take place. This was repeated in ‘The Sunday Island’ of 12th September, provoking a response by Bodhi Dhanapala, retired head of the science department of the Quebec Ecole Polytechnic, titled “Palmistry – personal experiences and occult nonsense” (The Sunday Island, 26 September).

Interestingly, Bodhi did not comment on another article, “My personal experience and perspective of Astrology and Palmistry” by Dr Nihal D Amarasekara, Retired Consultant Radiologist in the UK (The Sunday Island, 19 September) who was stimulated to express his views after reading the experiences of his batchmate, Sanath. Interestingly, both of them had family connections to medicine. Maybe, Nihal escaped criticism from Bodhi Dhanapala because, while describing the interest generated and the correct predictions made by his maternal grandparents, Nihal ended his piece with a tinge of scepticism typical of a scientist.

In a well-reasoned piece, Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda Astrology, Astronomy and Reason: (The Sunday Island, 3rd October) argues against the possibility of astrological predictions. What struck me most were his concluding paragraph: “It is not my intention to stir discord but to stimulate discussion (or even demolition) by a reasoned debate, in addition to falsification or ignorance displayed by this plunge into an unfamiliar area. In any event, I stand to be corrected (hopefully) in civil language.” Is he referring to our excelling in argument and confrontation than discussion and deliberation, even amongst the intelligentsia?

For me, the most difficult concept to grasp is how anyone could foretell the future; something that has not happened yet and the course of which could be changed by many unforeseen circumstances unless, of course, our future is already pre-determined. If so, at what stage was this future written? Was the future of the universe already decided at the time of the Big Bang? If so, who made that decision? Was it the Almighty? I doubt, as I do not believe in Him or Her!

Those who believe in astrology consider ‘Nadi Vakyam’ or Nadi Astrology to be the ultimate. According to this system, originating in South India, it is believed that one’s future is dictated by the Brahma using the Navagraha’s and the Siddars as channels. As the Brahma cannot do everything in this realm directly, 84,000 Siddars have been created to perform duties on his behalf. Siddars are public servants in the cosmos, who have the capabilities and energies many would consider supernatural. Nadi Vakyams written by them in ola leaves are read by a select group of astrologers who identify horoscopes by comparison with palm prints. Some, who have had readings done, have commented that the past detailed in these readings are more accurate than the predictions for the future! However, many questions arise. Have they written the horoscopes of all the inhabitants in the world and do they continue to do so? Or, are they meant for a select few? If so, how are they chosen?

Sky at Night

Being confined to home, thanks to the pandemic, has given me time for thought and research as well as learning through television documentaries. Couple of weeks ago, whilst channel-hopping I came across, on BBC4, an extremely interesting episode of “Sky at Night”, long-standing BBC monthly programme on Astronomy, broadcast since April 1957. This episode titled “Question Time” was a special programme celebrating British Science week with a question-and-answer session. When the compere introduced the first expert, Professor of Astrophysics in University College, London, Hiranya Peiris, my ageing heart swelled with pride as I knew she must be of Sri Lankan origin! A quick Google search, whilst watching the programme, confirmed that she was born in Sri Lanka in 1974, completed the Natural Sciences Tripos at University of Cambridge in 1998, and earned a PhD at Princeton University from the department of Astrophysical Sciences. The compere asked her whether the many ‘Medals of honour’ she has received are actual medals. When Hiranya replied that they are real and quite big, he commented that she is “The Four-star General of Cosmology”. What a wonderful achievement! The contrast cannot be starker; whilst the majority of Sri Lankans are steeped in superstition, one of our own is a shining star in the field of Cosmology, exploring the origin of the universe!

In the website of her former Cambridge College, New Hall, now called Murray Edwards College, Hiranya explains her main interests as follows:

“I am a cosmologist. In my research, I am contributing to an international effort to understand the origin and the evolution of the Universe. It is amazing that this is even possible, because it involves extreme physics that we cannot replicate in the laboratory. However, at the Big Bang, the Universe itself performed the ultimate physics experiment. The clues to this physics are imprinted upon the oldest light we can see in the Universe, the so-called cosmic microwave background, and the large-scale distribution of galaxies. Because the ultimate experiment was done once, and we can’t repeat it, cosmologists have to become detectives. Different theories of the universe produce different fingerprints in these data, and we sift through the fingerprints looking for which one matches what we observe. We are trying to piece together the clues to figure out the narrative about how our Universe began, and how it is evolving. In the past decade we have been able to precisely answer age-old questions such as how old is the Universe, what does it contain, and what is its destiny. Along with these answers have also come many exciting new questions.

A modern cosmological research is a very collaborative and international enterprise. My work involves a lot of mathematics and high-performance computing, the development of advanced algorithms and highly specialized databases to store and sift through the massive amounts data returned by cosmological sky surveys. Some of this work requires me to work in small groups with two or three other researchers, but I also contribute to large global projects with several hundred people in many countries. Since cosmology is very international, I travel extensively, discussing research findings, giving talks, and running workshops and seminars. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge and enthusiasm with my undergraduate and postgraduate students at the university.”

Hiranya and country of birth

Reading this, what passed through my mind is why Hiranya is not known in the country of her birth? Perhaps, unlike some others who do very little and advertise a lot, she shuns self-glorification. It is to reflect the work she does in understanding the origin of the universe that I referred to, in the title, Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology exploring the past. In addition to the Chair she holds in University College, London, she is also the Director of the Oskar Klein Centre for Cosmoparticle Physics in Stockholm.

Hiranya was a member of the 27-person team awarded the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. This US$3 million award was given for the detailed maps of the early universe generated from Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, a NASA explorer mission launched in 2001, which has transformed modern cosmology. Other awards include Kavli Frontiers Fellow (National Academy of Sciences) 2007, Halliday Prize (Science and Technology Facilities Council) 2007, Philip Leverhulme Prize (Leverhulme Trust) 2009, Fowler Prize (Royal Astronomical Society) 2012, Gruber Prize for Cosmology (Gruber Foundation) 2012, Buchalter Cosmology Prize 2014, Fred Hoyle Medal and Prize (Institute of Physics) 2018, Göran Gustafsson Prize in Physics (Göran Gustafsson Foundation and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences) 2020, – Max Born Medal and Prize (The Institute of Physics and the German Physical Society) 2021 and Eddington Medal (Royal Astronomical Society) 2021. The only thing missing seems to be the Nobel Prize!

Hiranya’s lecture “Cosmology: Galileo to Gravitational Waves”, delivered at the Royal Institution in London, explains in simple terms complex issues of the cosmos and can be watched on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HXOfIwl9Jo)

Apparently, Hiranya migrated to the UK with her parents when she was 16 years old. Therefore, she ought to be conversant with our practices of astrology, horoscopes and palmistry. If ever I have the fortune of meeting her, the first question I would ask her is whether any astrologer or palmist predicted that one day she would become an authority on the origin of the universe. Whether I meet her or not, my fervent hope and wish is that she will be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics and it would be an added bonus if I live to see it. She is our best hope!



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A legend who rewrote Sri Lankan history: Eulogy for Dr. Deraniyagala

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By Tharindu Muthukumarana

(Tharindu Muthukumarana Author of the award-winning book “The Life of Last Proboscideans: Elephants” tharinduele@gmail.com)

On Tuesday, 05 October, 2021, as the sun rose above the horizon it may have felt like a usual day in Sri Lanka. But the morning broke a tragic news as it gloomed the nation and it left a deep void in the field of archeology. It was for none other than to the demise of Dr. Siran Upendra Deraniyagala.Anyone who has an interest in the history of Sri Lanka doesn’t need an introduction to Deraniyagala and his service. I find him, that rather than investing his energy on archaeology he invested his soul. This set an example for every human to work hard with integrity on what you had embarked on.

Budding of an archaeologist along with his father

When thinking about Paleoanthropology in Africa the renowned Leakey family comes to our head where the parents and their children had done remarkable research in that criterion. If that so, in Asia it would be the Deraniyagala lineage that had the astounding research on Paleoanthropology.

On 1st March,1942, Siran Deraniyagala was born in Ratnapura as the third son of parents, Dr. P.E.P Deraniyagala and Prini Molamure. His grandfather was Sir Paul Edward Pieris Deraniyagala alias, Sir Paul E. Pieris who served as a District Judge in Matara, Kegalle, Kandy and Kalutara. Though Sir Pieris was professionally linked to the legal field, he had a passion on doing research on 16th -19th century history in Sri Lanka and made notable publications related to those. His work was well reputed that he received various awards and honours from western countries including the Knight Bachelor on Queen’s Birthday Honours 1952.

Siran’s father, Dr. P.E.P Deraniyagala was a zoologist who also specialied in paleontology. After the brief discoveries in 19th -20th century on paleolithic remains by Paul Sarasin, Fritz Sarasin, Charles Hartley and Edward James Wayland, it was Dr. P.E.P Deraniyagala that did intense research on the paleontology of Sri Lanka. It was his research that opened the door to the prehistoric chapter in Sri Lanka. Young Siran used to accommodate on his father’s research expeditions which inspired the youngster to follow his father’s footsteps.

As a passionate youth after completing his education at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, he was admitted to the University of Cambridge, where he obtained a BA and MA in Architecture and Sanskrit. He completed a postgraduate diploma at the Institute of Archaeology, University of London. He passed with distinction and was awarded the Gordon Childe Prize.

Sri Lankan statesman the late. Lakshman Kadirgamar once said in his speech at the Oxford Union, describing himself, that “Oxford was the icing on the cake… but the cake was backed at home”- referring to Sri Lanka. I think this quote also applies to Deraniyagala as well, since his first experience with archeology is linked with his father’s expeditions prior to university education.

Embarking on great expeditions

Deraniyagala joined the Archaeological Department in 1968 as Assistant Commissioner in charge of excavations. His functioning in the latter capacity was primarily research-oriented with emphasis on Sri Lanka’s prehistoric period (beyond 1000 BC) while pioneering in its protohistoric (1000-500 BC) and early historic (500 BC-300 AD) archaeology as well. The substance of his contribution to knowledge is set out in the abstract to his PhD at Harvard University in 1988. Doctoral dissertation was based on his research excavation in ancient shore dunes at Iranamadu Formation which trace back to more than 130,000 years ago. The thesis has been hailed as a landmark in the archeology of South Asia, and it has transformed Sri Lankan prehistoric studies. In later time he was awarded with honoris causa doctorates from Sabaragamuwa and Peradeniya Universities.

He was well known for research on Anuradhapura citadel and at Fa Hien cave. Deraniyagala’s work continued as Adviser in Research Excavtions (1983-92) and as Deputy Director-General and the Director-General (1992-2001) to Archaeological Department. Deraniyagala’s position as the Director General marked a milestone in the Archeology Department, which it was the only time where father and son had served that position. Even after retirement Deraniyagala never gave up his work-related to archeology; instead, he did continue and at most time he had a busy schedule.

Over his lifetime, he had been awarded with many local and international awards. On 7th September 2020 the Department of Archaeology opened its research and teaching museum named after Siran Deraniyagala.

Transparency on research

Research involves molding facts out of observations. It is a common thing that some facts that are composed get subjected to criticism. This could be due to various reasons. In 1988 Deraniyagala found potsherds belonging to 600-500 BC with Brahmi inscriptions. Many foreign experts did not believe it because it was known at that time Brahmi inscriptions were absent before the Asokan period (268-232 BC). Deraniyagala invited experts from Cambridge University to come and study the excavation site to check whether he was wrong. As those foreign experts came and researched on that site, even they later agreed on Deraniyagala’s theory. Similar incident happened at Kuruwita Batatotalena Cave excavation by Deraniyagala.

These events signify Lord Buddha’s quote: “Be your own lamp, seek no other refuge but yourself, let truth be your light”.

Farewell of the legend

It is eye-opening to notice that just one day after the 49th death anniversary (October 4th) of Prof. Senarath Paranavithana, Dr. Siran Deraniyagala passed away. He was 79 years old at the time. His funeral was held at his residence “Ekneligoda Walauwwa” on 10/6/2021. The President’s condolence message was read by the Governor of Sabaragamuwa Province Tikiri Kobbekaduwa.

Initially Sri Lankans were mostly proud of their 2,500 years old history but thanks to Siran Deraniyagala and his father a 38,000 years old history got unveiled.

Dr. Siran Deraniyagala, Sir may you attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!

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Hope that lies in the Pandora Box

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The Pandora Papers have moved away from the focus of politics and the fight against corruption.

We can await the report of the Bribery and Corruption Commission, which has its own way of giving innocence to the guilty; much more than the fighters against corruption ever expect. But that is the stuff of Saubhagya.

The Pandora Papers (PP) have also shown the great delight of Nirupama Rajapaksa – Nadesan, in settling down with her children in London. That is just one big success story of the PP. There will be much more success to follow from the PP, with the Rajapaksa politics moving on to bigger dominance in this Siri Lankava, running in circles of disaster to find foreign exchange, despite the big promises of the Central Bank’s Nivard Cabraal.

It was far away from the PP that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa admitted with courage, of his and the government’s failure to keep up with the promises given to the people and the country. His words at an important military ceremony, where he was proudly draped in a civilian suit, and played some cricket, too, were rich with reality. It was not only him, but all Ministers and Members of Parliament that should accept this failure, he said.

Those words were the stuff of a President, who after nearly two years in office and power, decided to tell the people of the realities of governance.

What these words revealed were not the stuff of the PP. but the very stuff of the Pandora Box. It was the box from which all the evil flew out, when opened by Pandora herself. The President and the Government are certainly the victims today of the Pandora Evil, which is far beyond the great expectations of the Saubhagye Dekma.

The government is just now in a great Pandora Dance. With the removal of all gazette notifications on the price of essentials, it is certainly free of the burdens of price control and support for the people. This began with the new prices of rice. It is not a Gotabaya achievement, but an achievement of Dudley Sirisena and the Rice Mafia.

The Pandora Box has much more to follow. It is the box of business, merchants and dealers – who may be the mafia, too.  Surely, what government would raise the price of gas used in domestic cooking by more than a thousand rupees? It is the stuff of the Pandora Mafia. Just watch out, it can even rise by another thousand rupees very soon — could this be the Gammanpila Pandora Player?

Did Saubhagya Governance ever want to raise the price of bread? What nonsense. The government – ministers and MPs want to keep it down. But the evil that flowed from the Pandora Box made it rise. Who was the Pandora Bread/Flour minister?

Not only bread, milk powder, too. Would any MP, Minister or even a President, want to raise the price of powdered milk, which is part of a child’s daily diet? Never. This price increase is also the work of the Pandora Box – Kiri Piti – Mafia, which is much more powerful than the mafia of political corruption.

All this is certainly far away from the promises that candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the other Rajapaksas, too, gave to the people before the presidential and general elections. They never thought that the evil of the Pandora Box would hunt them so well.

To go back to the Pandora story of Greek legend, there is still hope for us. While all the evil from the Pandora Box had escaped before it was closed, Hope still remained trapped in the box. That is the Hope that is left for the Sri Lanka people.

Let us not allow this Hope to be trapped in a box at the Rajavasala. We can be glad about Gotabaya’s admission of failure. But our larger Hope will be in a political escape from the wider Rajapaksa governance —  moving next from Basil to Namal. Let’s keep praying for the escape of Pandora Hope for us. Even a little hope can help us a long way!

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Cops, criminals, and cultural contours

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By Uditha Devapriya

In Michael Mann’s Heat, one of the best heist thrillers ever made, the protagonist is a cop called Hanna, played by Al Pacino. The other character, a thief called McCauley, is played by Robert de Niro. Hanna and McCauley meet for the first time at the end of the first half of the movie. Hanna, who works for the LAPD, has been investigating a series of high-profile crimes for days. He guesses McCauley is the culprit, but has no real proof.

Convinced that he is the man they are looking for, Hanna tails him one night and gets him to pull over. Instead of arresting him, though, he offers to buy McCauley coffee. They then go over to a diner, where the two of them sit in front of each other.

What unfolds thereafter is not a conversation, but a charade. The detective and the thief start talking at cross-purposes. Weary, numbed, and tempered by the weight of their work, they engage in casual banter. Like countless conversations from a Jean-Luc Godard film, this doesn’t make sense; they ramble on and on, and then suddenly stop.

It is when we step back and reflect on these two that we realise what the scene is trying to tell us: the detective has come to a point in his career where he depends on the thieves he tails. It’s the same story with the other guy: he’s been involved in so many crimes that he’s almost relieved to talk to a man of the law. Their meeting is thus marked out less by hostility than by empathy. It’s a meeting of the minds.

The face-off is intriguing to me because it reminds me of a similar conversation from a film made 25 years earlier, in Sri Lanka. D. B. Nihalsinghe’s Welikathara also pits a police-officer against a criminal, this time a drug kingpin. In the scene I am talking about, that officer, like Al Pacino’s detective, encounters the kingpin in full form at his office. By this point each of them has realised what the other wants: like the lawyer and his ex-client in Cape Fear, each knows only too well that the other is seeking the upper hand.

The sequence at the police station establishes this relationship. As one salty witticism gives way to another, we sense the revulsion underlying the conversation; the two are talking at cross-purposes, only barely concealing their contempt for each other.

Yet while the scene serves a different function from the diner episode in Heat – whereas the latter sequence shows how dependent the cop has become on the thief, here it reveals the hostility between the two men – it stands out almost like the other does. That has much to do, I think, with the acting: neither Al Pacino nor Robert de Niro had made much of a name for themselves when Welikathara came out, but seeing Gamini Fonseka play the cop and Joe Abeywickrama the criminal, you do tend to compare. To make such a comparison is to acknowledge that Welikathara represented a high point for our cinema.

Welikathara

may well be the most Americanised Sinhala film ever made. Whereas most Sinhala films had been distinctly continental until then, hardly any director had ventured into Hollywood territory. What makes Nihalsinghe’s film fascinating, in that sense, is how far he conceived its story along the lines of a typical American thriller.

My interest in the movie as a critic, however, has less to do with its cinematic merit than the spotlight it throws on an era when such cosmopolitan objets d’art were more the norm than the exception. Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of Nihalsinghe’s film, I felt it apt to ponder why, from achieving such heights then, we have slid down so badly now.

Perhaps it’s best that we restate the problem: how could the kind of acting exemplified in a movie like Heat become the norm there today, whereas the sort exemplified in Welikathara has turned out to be the dismal exception here? I am not just suggesting that our art forms have deteriorated in quality – though this is exactly what has happened – but that there are many reasons that can explain such a decline. Where have our arts gone? Why hasn’t it still realised its potential? What can revive it? Who can revive it?

The importance of these questions cannot be emphasised enough. A society’s popular culture is a fairly accurate gauge of its intellectual achievements. It is true that this remains a function of economic position; hence rich countries have more potential for high cultural achievements, whereas poorer countries do not. Yet that is not necessarily the case all the time: the Indian film industry, to give one example, is considerably more diverse, and much richer, than its counterparts in countries like Singapore.

India is a case in point for the view that the greater the size of the population, the more sophisticated a country’s popular culture will be. But that also is not always the case: as the recent resurgence in African cinema shows, a big population does not in itself contribute to the upliftment of a culture to the exclusion of more pertinent factors.

This is not to say that issues of economic development or population are secondary to those other factors. Affluent countries can afford superior works of art, while poorer countries (of which India is a prime example) are able to do so with a public that patronises commercial works of art, which helps subsidise more serious ventures. In that sense, the US enjoys the twin advantage of a powerful economy and a large audience.

But to acknowledge these points is not to deny the relevance of other reasons for the growth or decline of artistic standards. In Sri Lanka’s case, any attempt at diagnosing the problems of its culture must hence start from an appraisal of the post-1980 decline in the arts: a phenomenon reducible to neither economics nor demographics.

Three schools of thought have attempted to explain this decline. The first school views 1956 as the reason: by empowering everyone to enter our schools and universities, so their logic goes, cultural and artistic standards were compromised. That is another way of saying that if schools and universities remained shut to poorer classes, those standards would have been protected and fostered by an elite minority.

The second school argues that with the advent of economic liberalisation in 1978, the government’s hold over artistic quality was loosened, thereby debasing cultural yardsticks, transforming lowbrow into middlebrow art, and raising the latter to the status of highbrow art. To invert Marx’s dictum, what was once profane now became sacred.

I personally think this argument holds more water than the first – not least because the first school tries to frame 1956 as avoidable, which it was not, and fails to distinguish between its progressive and regressive aspects, which should not be done – but it does not explain a point the third school dwells on: the debasement of our education system because of, and paradoxically in spite of, various reforms enacted after 1956.

This is where the line between the progressive and regressive aspects of what transpired that year must be drawn: though there was a need to democratise schools and universities and they were democratised, barring crucial reforms in the second Sirimavo Bandaranaike government (pioneered by a set of brilliant educationists and scholars like Neil Kuruppu and Douglas Walatara) no attempts were made to maintain quality in them.

The results are there for all to see today: while certain schools and universities produce better thinkers than others, one does not come across such thinkers as often as one would want. That these trends have spilled over to the performing arts is a no-brainer: we don’t produce original artists too often either. “Manike Mage Hithe” offers the promise of what Sri Lanka’s popular culture should be, but such ventures are rare.

The third school consolidates the arguments of the first and the second: it acknowledges concerns over the negative aftershocks of 1956, as the first school does, while tracing the trajectory of cultural decline to the period after 1980, when the abandonment of the United Front education reforms multiplied those aftershocks, as the second school does.

Any critique of the country’s less than brilliant cultural scene today should take into account these factors when proposing viable solutions. In particular, it should identify exactly quality has come down and how best we can go about improving it.

It is fashionable to say that Sri Lanka’s cultural standards remained high until 1956. To me though, this is a deeply fallacious argument: a comprador society, which is what prevailed before 1956, does not produce a genuine culture. A culture must dig deep in search of roots. The problem is not that such a search stunted artistic development in the country, as those who idealise the pre-1956 status quo think, but rather that it did not go deep enough. That paved way for a massive flaw in our education system: the delinking of the performing arts from their literary roots, slowly since 1956 and more rapidly since 1980.

What I am arguing here is that as actors, directors, and even scriptwriters, we don’t read as much as we used to. In saying that, I am not denying there are other problems we have to look into with respect to Sri Lanka’s popular culture. But as the central issue, this problem requires immediate resolution. The sooner we realise our priorities there, the sooner we will be able to address a deplorable, though no less reversible, decline in artistic standards. All it takes to confirm the reality of such a decline, of course, is to see Welikathara, see Heat, and then ask why we used to have it so good, and how far back we have fallen today.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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