Making Sense of ‘Literary Sensibility’
By Dr. Siri Galhenage
The exclusive role of literature is the transmission of complexities of human experience, calling into play our emotional and intellectual faculties. Literary analysts observe, that great works of art and literature have the capacity to ‘convey serious truths and significant ideals’, ‘broaden our understanding’, ‘kindle our imaginations’, ‘raise our spirits’ and ‘enhance our sensibility’. Seen from a psychological perspective, such therapeutic ingredients in Literature have the potential to assist us in elevating our lives to a higher plane of existence, bringing order and meaning to the seeming chaos of daily living.
At the heart of the above observation is the concept of literary ‘Sensibility’ – an idea that has shaped modern consciousness with regard to the evaluation and interpretation of literature. Variously interpreted, the concept has undergone transformation over time. The purpose of this essay is to explore the many nuances of its meaning and to underscore its worth.
Origin and Transformation
The term sensibility is an offshoot of the word ‘sense’ with its roots in Latin [‘sentire’: to feel]. Borrowed by neuroscience, ‘sense’ refers to the faculty of ‘perceiving’ by the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The term is broadly synonymous with the higher cerebral functions of cognition, judgement, discernment and intuition [‘the sixth sense’] governed by the ‘sensorium’ – the component of the brain that deals with receiving and interpreting external stimuli.
The word ‘sense’ has made a vast contribution to the English vocabulary by generating a range of derivatives with shades of meaning. It has given birth to such kindred words as ‘sensitive’ [being sympathetic when dealing with the needs or feelings of others]; ‘sensible’ [having good sense or judgement]; ‘sensuous’ [coined by Milton to suggest the idea of being alive to sensations], transcending the baser term ‘sensual’ with connotations of sexual arousal; and SENSIBILITY, amongst many others.
Geoffrey Chaucer, the legendary English poet of the middle Ages, widely considered to be the father of English poetry, is credited for having conceived the notion of sensibility. The idea was fostered in the 18th Century by a group of philosophers and writers who formed the so called ‘literary cult of sensibility’. Initially used to refer to individual response to physical and emotional stimuli [exaggerated and self-indulgent, implying individual susceptibility], the meaning of the word transformed into understanding and experiencing the feelings of others, akin to empathy.
The above themes were soon picked up by novelists, such as Jane Austen, who created her masterpiece, ‘Sense and Sensibility’ as a parody of emotional response, featuring two sisters who both seek love, endure loss and find happiness in their own way – Marianne: passionate and impulsive; Elinor: dignified and thoughtful, in their responses.
Sensibility, from a modern perspective, appears to cover the whole spectrum of literary activity, suggesting a highly developed emotional and intellectual capacity for both literary creativity as well as literary analysis.
The Deeper Realm in Literature
Every reader could be considered a latent literary analyst. But those with literary sensibility are regarded as having developed a more refined ability to elicit, discern, comprehend and respond to the deeper layers of meaning of a text [the subterranean realm], signifying a heightened level of consciousness.
What is the source of this subterranean realm of knowledge [wisdom] in great art and literature which the discerning mind could draw from? The legendary poet Milton believed that it is God given. But there is evidence to suggest that great literary figures drew heavily from mythological tales and folklore which the celebrated Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung asserted embodied ancient wisdom – ‘the storehouse of universally shared experience’ which he called our ‘collective unconscious’ – lying deeper than the ‘individual unconscious’.
Ancient wisdom regarded the universe as alive, and all its objects – humans, plants, animals, celestial bodies – and natural phenomena, in continuous interaction within it, bringing about both favourable as well as adverse outcomes. The preliterate humans were yet unaware of the biological and physical forces that controlled the ecosystems around them. Confined to their natural habitat, they were, by necessity, constantly in tune with their environment, inventing narratives loaded with myths, creating images on rocks, performing spiritual ceremonies with totems and taboos necessary to bring order and meaning to their lives. The experience of their daily life merged imperceptibly into mythological tales and folklore which has now gained the tag of ‘art’.
Jung hypothesised that the collective unconscious was a reservoir of ‘predispositions and potentialities’ to act or react in certain ways which have universal meaning. He called them ‘archetypes’. These predispositions which are inherited collectively compel us to experience life in a manner conditioned by the past history of mankind. By endless repetition such experiences have become engraved in our psychic constitution but with some modifications during psychological evolution. The archetypes generate an abundance of metaphors which make up the arts and are the building blocks of creative thought.
Thus, the arts appear to have originated in antiquity, in the real world; it’s defining quality being the expression of human experience. The works of art that endure embody universal traits that are deeply humanistic and are faithful to nature. They are judged by their precision and their adherence to human nature. Over centuries such universal themes have strengthened the creative powers of the human mind and expressed in ‘original’ works of art.
Shakespeare and the Archetypal Legends
Shakespeare, unarguably the greatest dramatist and poet of all time in the English language, and perhaps in any language, drew heavily from archetypal legends and folklore. For example, Hamlet, widely regarded as his magnum opus, has its roots in the archetypal legend of Amleth, first recorded in the Gesta Danorum written by the 12th century Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus – a legend with parallel plots in the folklore of other cultures, embedded in the ‘psychological heritage of humanity’. Hamlet portrays a wide array of patterns of emotion, behaviour and relationships drawn from our deeply embedded storehouse of universally shared experience.
Shakespeare, by using this knowledge, exercised his creative genius to give dramatic expression not only to the concerns of his contemporary audiences of the Elizabethan era but also spoke to us in the modern world. Many literary analysts and others in recent history have exercised their sensibility in exploring the moral, socio-political and psychological depths in Hamlet while romancing his written word – Carl Marx and Sigmund Freud amongst them.
Possibly drawn in by Hamlet’s invitation to ‘pluck out the heart of my mystery’, Freud made psychoanalytic explorations into the psyche of the young prince and his relationship with his mother who in ‘indecent haste’ married the usurper who killed his father.
Many a psychiatrist would be in awe of Shakespeare’s descriptions of ‘Melancholia’ and ‘Mania’ in Hamlet and Ophelia, respectively, long before theoretical frameworks were developed in the diagnosis of such mental disorders. Modern day neurochemistry has established a biological predisposition to the above conditions bringing about a consilience of literary sensibility and science. Sensibility, thus, has the potential to act as a driving force in expanding knowledge.
In his monograph ‘What Is Art’, the celebrated Russian author Leo Tolstoy, renowned for his deep social conscience, asserted that a moral message should transcend aesthetic beauty in a piece of Art, including literary Art. His work is abounding in psychological insights too. All such ingredients are amply depicted in his literary artistry. If the young reader is unable to afford the much needed sustained attention in reading Tolstoy’s novels, ‘War and Peace’, ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘resurrection’, I suggest reading his popular novellas, ‘Cossacks’, ‘Death of Ivan Ilych’, ’Kreutzer Sonata’, Hadji Murad’ and ‘How Much Land Does a Man Need’, which provide a window to his literary landscape.
A good piece of literature provides a basis for the cultivation of social conscience, fostering of moral wisdom, development of psychological insights and the appreciation of beauty [aesthetics] in varying degree, elevating human existence to a higher plane. In my view, the word sensibility in modern terminology encompasses the ability to explore the above matters of considerable human interest, entombed in the deeper vaults of literary treasures.
Early Reading and Sensibility
There is a close association between brain development, reading ability and literary sensibility. We are not born with reading aptitude; the ability does not develop automatically. Reading has to be learned. Helping children learn to read early in their lives facilitates neuronal development by the integration of several systems of the brain enhancing its cognitive capacity – an important dynamic in developing literary sensibility in later life. Reading a story regularly to a child and engaging him or her in meaningful conversation that flows on from the stories, helping them to look beyond the narrative, is considered to be the best predictor of later reading interest and the accomplishment of literary sensibility.
In addition, research shows that early literacy in children plays a key role in academic achievement in later life by facilitating their cognitive skills such as attention, concentration, working memory and flexibility in thinking. It also places them on a trajectory of personality development helping them in enhancing their self-esteem, interpersonal skill, organisational skill and emotional stability, assisting them to comprehend and cope with the crises that we confront in daily living – thus strengthening the structure of individual personality and by extension the nature of society and civilisation.
Losing Our Romance with the Written Word
There is a growing perception that we are losing our romance with the printed word. We live in a hurried world, and most people, especially the young, are showing a decline in the amount of time spent on reading. Intellectual and emotional engagement with a text demands time, motivation and focussed concentration. The digital age we live in fosters ‘light reading’: entranced before the computer or phone screen we cruise websites for a quick pick up of information and entertainment, and to remain connected. The Net has come to stay and it plays a vital role in our modern day living. But it does not provide a platform for ‘deep reading’ [a notion advocated by Sven Berkerts] that fosters sensibility a good text of literature can offer.
We have an ancient literary tradition, the custodian of our values – the very foundation of our civilisation. People of my generation will well remember the following verse from Vadan Kavi Potha: ‘Allata singawath rasa nethi kevili kaka/ Walkola bima athuta nidhi noleba duk thaka/ Kalgiya redhi verali henda deli kunen waka/ Elmen akuru uganivu idiri weda thaka’ – a crude translation being, ‘Learn your letters with love, for future benefit, despite having to face hardship and impoverishment’. The word ‘akuru’, here, connotes a broader education.
The decline of the printed word, and hence the decline of sensibility, and the rise of much less civilising forms of communication and entertainment, has led to the poverty and emptiness of our popular culture. The decline in morality, intimately linked to the decline of sensibility, is more degrading than the economic woes that we are afflicted with today. At the root of so much social disorder we witness around us, such as the wanton destruction of nature, our lack of understanding of our common humanity, our greed and self-indulgence and the heinous crimes that we often hear of, are but the outward manifestations of a collective soul deprived of sensibility.
David Mikics:  Slow Reading in a Hurried Age. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Edward O. Wilson  Consilience – The Unity of Knowledge Vintage Books, A Division of Random House. Inc.
J.A.C. Brown: [1961, 1964] Freud and the Post-Freudians, Penguin Books.
Growing foreign dependency and India’s USD 4 bn lifeline
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Japanese embassy and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund, previously known as United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), on 16 March, 2023, issued a joint statement that dealt with the impact the developing political-economic-social crisis is having on the poor in Sri Lanka.
The statement focused on the suffering of the children and measures taken by UNICEF, in consultation with the Governments of Japan and Sri Lanka, to provide relief to the needy.
However, what really captured public attention was the declaration made by the Japanese Ambassador, in Colombo, Mizukoshi Hideak, that with the latest contribution, amounting to USD 1.8 mn, the total Japanese financial assistance, provided through UNICEF alone, exceeded USD 3.8 mn, since the beginning of last year. That is definitely a significant package provided through a single UN agency, particularly against the backdrop of the unceremonious cancellation of the Japan- funded Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, in late Sept., 2020, by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government.
The directive, in this regard, was issued on 21 Sept., 2020, by Dr. P. B. Jayasundera, in his capacity as Secretary to the President, to the then Transport Secretary, Monti Ranatunga. That move ruined Sri Lanka’s relations with Japan.
Whoever advised the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to terminate the project, without consulting Japan, as head of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, he couldn’t absolve himself of the responsibility for the ruination of vital relationship with Tokyo. Had it not been the case, Japan, most probably, would have delivered a substantial assistance to Sri Lanka, at the onset of the ongoing unprecedented crisis.
Sri Lanka made a failed bid to secure as much as USD 3.5 bn loan from Japan, during the tenure of Sanjiv Gunasekara as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Tokyo. Gunasekara, a close associate of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, resigned in the wake of the 09 May, 2022, violence, that gave a turbo boost to the campaign against his government.
Unlike Japan, India provided direct aid in various forms to Sri Lanka, struggling to cope up with what became an insurmountable crisis to overcome on our own. India has repeatedly declared that the continuing assistance is in line with Premier Narendra Modi’s much touted ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Sri Lanka received concessional credit facility, amounting to USD 1 bn, in March last year. In addition to that, by the second week of March this year, Sri Lanka received other lines of credit, worth over USD 3 bn. Therefore, the total Indian assistance is worth over USD 4 bn, a staggering amount as Sri Lanka’s debt before the Japanese and Indian interventions stood at over USD 53 bn. Indian intervention cannot be compared, under any circumstances, with assistance provided by any other country.
The Indian assistance is of immense importance as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), after much deliberation, promised USD 2.9 bn over a period of four years. The delay on the part of China to provide an assurance as regards debt-restructuring support, hindered the finalization of the tripartite agreement involving Sri Lanka, creditors and IMF. Finally, China gave that assurance, in writing, early this month.
The situation was so precarious, Sri Lanka couldn’t have even provided the free text books that have been given, annually, to the student population ,from the time of the JRJ regime. Those who had been at the helm of political power, over the past three decades, to varying degrees, ruined the economy, and, by 2021/2022, Sri Lanka was unable to provide even the basic requirements, like cooking gas, kerosene, petrol, etc., as even remittances from our expatriate workers, which in the past amounted to about seven billion dollars per year, dropped drastically due to the illegal underground banking system, hawala/undiyal, hijacking much of it from the normal banks. The government didn’t have the means to provide school text books for the 2023 academic year. In consultation with India, of the USD 1 bn concessional credit facility, over USD 10 mn was utilized by the State Printing Corporation, and private importers, to procure printing paper and other material from India. India met 45% (four mn students) of the total requirement. Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay visited the SPC, on 09 March, 2023, to dispatch a consignment of textbooks to schools. Education Minister Dr. Susil Premjayantha joined Baglay. The Indian High Commission statement, issued two days later,, was aptly titled ‘India’s support for text books investment in Sri Lanka’s future.’
The government and the Opposition should be ashamed of their failure to provide for the children’s need.
Perhaps, a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to examine the circumstances leading to Sri Lanka’s bankruptcy status. Decades of utterly irresponsible management of the economy, coupled with an explosive mixture of causes – waste, corruption and irregularities – caused the current crisis.
Political parties, represented in Parliament, are responsible for the continuing crisis, to varying degrees.
Controversy over ISBs
The Island discussed some of the issues at hand in last week’s midweek piece, headlined ‘All praise for Lanka’s saviours!
What Dr. Coomaraswamy didn’t say was that as the CB Governor, he was also directly responsible for the Yahapalana government borrowing a record USD 12.5 bn from the international bond market, at high interest rates, from private lenders, primarily in the West. So what did that government achieve with such huge borrowings? All that the Yahapalana regime achieved, with all that money, we cannot see, except to lay the foundation for the current debt crisis?
Our comment on the basis of recent claims that the Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Coomaraswamy (2016-2019), only told one side of the truth, attracted responses from several parties, including the Central Bank.
Consequently, the writer discussed the borrowing of USD 12.5 bn, and related matters, and was told the following: First, it is important to point out that the Governor, Central Bank, has no authority to approve or undertake any borrowing on behalf of the government. The borrowing limit, in any given year, is set by Parliament. Therefore, the government cannot borrow beyond the limit set by Parliament. In addition, all external borrowing has to be approved by the Finance Minister, and the Cabinet of Ministers. The Governor and the CBSL only have an advisory role. On ISBs, they have marketing and issuance as additional responsibilities once the Cabinet approved the transaction.
It is also important to recognize that ISBs are only one channel for external commercial borrowings. Others include short-term SWAPs, foreign term loans/syndicated loans and external flows into government rupee securities. The article dealt with only one instrument, having ignored the switching that was undertaken during 2015-19 to increase the maturity and reduce the cost of foreign borrowing.
As regards the USD 10 bn increase in ISBs outstanding during 2015-19, USD 5 bn of this increase can be attributed to switching away from shorter term (one year or less) and more expensive SWAPs and highly volatile foreign portfolio investment (hot money) in Government rupee securities to longer term (5 and 10 years) and less costly ISBs. SWAPs were reduced from approximately USD 2.5 bn to USD 500 mn.
Volatile and foreign investment in government rupee securities was reduced from USD 3.5 bn to USD 600 mn. In addition, during the course of 2019, a second ISB of USD 2 bn was issued to create a stronger buffer of external reserves to address the inevitable increase in uncertainty going into elections due shortly thereafter. (The money required for 2019 had been raised through an ISB, issued in March 2019.)
So about USD 7 bn of the USD 10 bn increase in the stock of ISBs outstanding, during 2015-19 may be attributed to increasing the stability and reducing the cost of the ISBs outstanding by switching instruments and raising the buffer provided by external reserves prior to a period of uncertainty, associated with elections.
The remaining increase of USD 3 bn may be partly attributed to the fact that borrowing incurred earlier had not resulted in a sufficient increase and/or saving of foreign exchange. Hence money had to be borrowed to repay debt incurred earlier. In fact, Verite Research found that 89 percent of external debt, repaid during 2015-19, could be accounted for by liabilities incurred prior to 2015.
The adverse debt dynamics were recognized and the Medium Term Debt Management Strategy was published in April 2019 to chart the way to sustainability. In addition, the Active Liability Management Act (2018) was introduced to expand the tools available to the CBSL for managing external debt sustainably. The CBSL, as the economic adviser to the Government, also advocated that there should be a primary surplus in the budget and that non-debt creating inflows (such as exports, remittances, tourism proceeds, FDI, inflows into the CSE and government securities) should be increased to enhance the capacity to service debt while supporting the level of imports necessary to achieve the growth potential of the economy.
They also pointed out that only one of the ISBs, issued during 2015-19, has been settled to date. This amounted to USD 500mn. They expressed the view that it is not possible to sustain the argument that servicing ISBs, incurred during 2015-19 ,led to the standstill in debt repayments in April 2023.
Treasury bond scams and tax cuts
Sweeping tax concessions to the rich and reduction of VAT, that had been introduced by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government to encourage business in 2019/2020, escalated the financial crisis, leading to the declaration of the state of bankruptcy, two years later. No one in the Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s cabinet dared to challenge such far reaching tax concessions and VAT reduction.
How the loss of as much as Rs 600 bn in revenue, as alleged by the Opposition ,due to tax concessions and reduction of VAT, contributed to the current crisis, should be examined, also taking into consideration (1) Treasury bond scams perpetrated in Feb, 2015 and March 2016 at a time the CBSL has been under the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs (2) Enactment of new Foreign Exchange Act in 2017 in the wake of Treasury bond scams. Critics say the repealing of time-tested exchange control law that has been in place for decades paved the way for exporters to ‘park’ export proceeds overseas. Of the 225 MPs, 94 voted for the new law whereas 18 voted against. In spite of Justice Minister, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, taking up this issue, both in and outside Parliament, remedial measures hasn’t been taken, to date. The Finance Ministry owed an explanation as to how it intended to compel the exporters to bring back export proceeds (3) Continuing public-private sector partnership in corrupt practices, particularly mis-invoicing (under invoicing and over invoicing of imports/exports) (4) Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, has moved the Supreme Court against the Central Bank Bill. The Attorney-at-Law alleged that the new law violated Article 3 and 4 of the Constitution hence needing the approval of the people at a referendum. In addition to Gammanpila, Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera and Jathika Nidahas Peramuna leader Wimal Weerawansa, too, moved the Supreme Court in terms of the Article 121 against the Bill titled ‘Central Bank of Sri Lanka.’ Former JVP MP Wasantha Samarasinghe, on behalf of the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB), too, moved the Supreme Court in this regard.
A warning from Hanke
The country is in a bind. In spite of the execution of the agreement with the IMF later this month, the situation remains dicey. The absence of economic recovery plan continues to cause further instability.
Therefore, the government and the Opposition should seek a consensus on a national action plan, even if Local Government polls cannot be conducted in late April, regardless of the Supreme Court intervention.
Steve Hanke, Professor of Applied Economics, at Johns Hopkins University, in the USA, recently issued a dire warning to Sri Lanka. Appearing on CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box Asia,’ Prof. Hanke declared Sri Lanka needs institutional reforms in order to achieve long-term debt sustainability.
Referring to Sri Lanka and what was described as emerging markets (Argentina and Montenegro), where he played a key role in establishing new currency regime, former economic advisor to US President Ronald Reagan warned “Unless you change the institutions and the rules of the game, governing these countries, they’re always going to remain in the same … situation that they’ve been in for a long time.”
Prof. Hanke added: “In fact, most of the personalities, involved in Sri Lanka ,at the high level, are exactly the same as they’ve been for years. So nothing has changed.”
In other words, those who have ruined Sri Lanka are spearheading the economic recovery process. The American is spot on. Sri Lanka is in a pathetic situation. Those who had systematically brought Sri Lanka to its knees, by pursuing ill-fated policies, emerged as its saviours. That is the bitter truth. The role of the executive, legislature, and judiciary, needs to be examined. Those who have moved the Supreme Court against the Bill, titled ‘Central Bank of Sri Lanka,’ have quite conveniently forgotten how the Yahapalana government, and Central Bank, twice perpetrated Treasury bond scams. What would have Prof. Hanke said if CNBC raised Treasury bonds scams during ‘Squawk Box Asia.’
If not for Deepa Seneviratne, the then head of Public Debt Department, Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s role couldn’t have been proved. Former Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe said so at an event organized by the Colombo Municipal Council years ago.
Sri Lanka cannot forget Prof. Hanke’s remark in the CNBC programme. “You have to remember that we have a country that since 1965 has had 16 IMF programmes and they’ve all failed. You get temporary relief in anticipation of a bailout. But in the long run … none of these IMF programmes work.”
It would be pertinent to briefly examine how interested parties brazenly protected perpetrators of the Treasury bond scams.
Having named Mahendran as the Governor, regardless of the opposition from President Maithripala Sirisena, those planning to commit the first daylight robbery of the Central Bank moved Deepa Seneviratne to the Public Debt Department as its head, in spite of her not having had any previous experience in the particular division. It seems they had obviously felt comfortable in having a lady officer there they thought they could manipulate her to suit their need. But Seneviratne turned tables on the bond thieves by putting up a note to register her strong opposition to Mahendran’s move. She should have been rewarded for her fearless stand with at least a national honour if not an international one, even from bodies like the UN, the Transparency International, Amnesty International, etc. But it seems that even these international busy bodies have their own political angles.
It would be of pivotal importance to keep in mind that President Sirisena appointed a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) in January 2017, about 10 months after the second robbery, and two years after the first.
The Commission comprised Justice K.T. Chitrasiri, the late Justice P S Jayawardena and retired Deputy Auditor General V. Kandasamy. Sumathipala Udugamsuriya functioned as its Secretary. CoI issued a devastating report that implicated Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in the Treasury bond scams.
President Sirisena went to the extent of dissolving Parliament, in June 2015, to prevent the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) tabling its report on the first bond scam. SLFP leader Sirisena owes an explanation. Justice Chitrasiri’s CoI didn’t inquire into that aspect. Sri Lanka’s response to waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement is baffling. Let me end this piece reminding how the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) secured a substantial sponsorship from Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) deeply mired in a bond scam, in 2016, for the Law Asia Conference during the tenure of its then President Geoffrey Alagaratnam, PC. The BASL never explained why it obtained PTL sponsorship even after the exposure of Treasury bond scams. That partnership also escaped the CoI. The rest is history.
Knowing what is now happening to the US economy with a string of bank failures and unprecedented bailouts, especially due to hoodoo economics it introduced in recent decades, like repeated quantitative easing (blindly printing trillions of dollars leading many to say the dollar is now only good as toilet paper) that has been practiced to ensure its world hegemony, the whole world might be hit with bank failures and even by a depression worse than the one that befell with the stock market crash of 1929. Already the contagion has spread to Europe with some leading banks there also requiring help.
Washington’s debt now stands at USD 31 trillion and climbing, but our own debt burden is still under USD 55 billion. So if we can get our exporters, who have stashed export earnings abroad, to bring them back, the picture here will not be as scary as it is made out to be. Even Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse has said that our export proceeds that have been parked overseas is in the region of USD 55 billion.
Soonwe will start receiving the IMF bailout, but our economic whiz kids have not done anything to plug the massive foreign exchange leak that has been freely draining foreign currency from the country, since the nineties, by way of private foreign exchange dealers who have been allowed to sell foreign exchange to any Tom, Dick and Harry, including drug dealers, to take their sales proceeds out of the country!
We would also like to ask the relevant authorities what they have done to recover monies stashed abroad by Lankans illegally that were exposed in great detail by the likes of Panama Papers and Pandora Papers.
A Miscellany of Thought
N. A. de S. Amaratunga (2022)
A Review by G. H. Peiris
I cannot claim to have the scholarly competence to place under critical scrutiny all items in this collection of writings authored by Professor N. A. de S. Amaratunga, and published in The Island from time to time since the early years of the present century. Accordingly, this ‘review’ is no more than an attempt to convey to a wide readership my gratitude for what I have learnt from Professor Amaratunga’s insights on a series of metaphysical and secular issues that have figured prominently during the recent past in the arena of debate and discussion among our intellectual elite, my appreciation of his rational perceptions and his subtle banter in responding to bizarre elements in our public affairs.
As a brief introduction to the author I should state that Professor Amaratunga’s career record is featured by several decades of distinguished and dedicated service to the University of Peradeniya in teaching, research and clinical work. Acquiring advanced skills in the field of ‘Maxillofacial Surgery’, he has provided physical and psychological relief of life-long impact to thousands of patients. He is also credited to have trained several of his junior colleagues in the Faculty of Dental Science, had has served as its Dean. The offer he received from the Peradeniya University of the Prestigious Award of the ‘Degree of Doctor of Science’ is testimony to his eminence in Sri Lanka’s community of scholars and professionals.
What probably enhances Professor Amaratunga’s status among the intellectual elite of Sri Lanka is the fact that his talents, interests, and concerns have not been confined to professional expertise. He has authored several creative writings in Sinhala which the cognoscenti place at par with the best works of that genre. More relevant than all else to the present ‘commentary’ is his capacity for elucidating the essence of certain complex metaphysical issues – especially those of Buddhist philosophy ‒ with the same clarity of thought seen in his contributions to media forums on current affairs.
In his ‘Introduction’ to the volume Professor Amaratunga makes a categorical statement regarding the paradigmatic guidelines of his ‘thoughts’. They are rendered below in abridged form as follows:
(a) The distinctive elements of our island civilisation are derived from Theravada Buddhism and the Sinhala language.
(b) The leadership of Sri Lanka’s mainstream politics since the termination of British rule in the mid-20th century has continued to be impaired by a cultural duality – on one side of the divide, the ‘alienated’ whose behavioural values and norms bear the imprint of subservience to values prescribed by the ‘West’, and, on the other side, those who treasure our civilisational heritage and understand the needs and aspirations of the majority of our people.
(c) His standpoint is that of an ardent ‘nationalist’, in the sense that he is unequivocally committed to safeguarding and promoting Sri Lanka’s national interests.
On literature, Professor Amaratunga adds that he is inclined towards the need for ‘social relevance’ of the fine arts, and believes that the paradigm of ars gratia artis (‘art for art’s sake’) is inappropriate for Sri Lanka, especially in creative writing.
The ‘miscellany’ of this volume is structured to constitute four ‘Sections’ – titled as: 1. ‘Literature and Culture’; 2. ‘Religion’; 3. ‘Economy’; and 4. ‘Health’. The first two of these ‘Sections’, consist respectively of 25 and 19 essays of unequal length. In these ‘Sections’ the reader could pick out from different points of the temporal sequence in which they are arranged items that constitute a mutually cohesive group from the viewpoint of content. For example, in the first ‘Section’, there are six such items, each serving as a contribution to an ongoing media debate, but when considered as a group would be seen as an invaluable enrichment of understanding on a significant feature of the educational system of the country – such as, say, the impact of the nation-wide ‘Fifth-standard Scholarship Examination’ or ‘The general decline of standards in higher education’. Likewise, in the total of 18 articles in ‘Section’ 2, thirteen items could be considered as a mutually cohesive group of thoughts that illuminates certain vitally significant aspect of Buddha Dhamma and Buddhism as practiced in Sri Lanka.
The forgoing observations do not detract from the intrinsic value of the short contributions referred to. Indeed, in my amateur assessment, in Section 1, the items titled ‘Quality of University Education’, ‘Purpose of the Novel and its Appraisal’, and the twin items titled ‘Darwinian Evolution vs. Intelligent Design’; and in Section 2, ‘Truth in Buddhism and Realism in Literature’, and ‘Mind, Matter and Nirvana in Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism’, are examples of the author’s extraordinary depth of understanding and his skill of disseminating that knowledge in a lucid form.
It is in the 3rd Section of the volume titled ‘Politics’ that the real ‘miscellany’ of Thought is found, consisting of 78 items, and accounting for well over half the total page-length of the volume. Since they have been presented in a chronological order ‒ with the first item published in 2001, and the last in 2021‒ the list of items, at first glance, looks like a total mess which, indeed, is how our politics look. But a closer scrutiny show that all items in this list could be placed in one or another of 6 ‘Sub-Sections’ titled as ‘Ethnic Relations’, ‘Foreign Affairs’, ‘Electoral Politics’, ‘Development Plans and Projects’, and ‘Constitutional Issues’, with the chronology of the list providing the vicissitudinous background of each contribution which Professor Amaratunga has made, and each discussion or debate in which he has participated.
Once again I should emphasise that foregoing observation does not imply that the ‘Thoughts’ in this section, read individually, are either uninteresting or irrelevant to our present concerns. On the contrary they offer ideal readings both as reminders of the volatile scenarios we have passed though during the past two decades as well as the unshakable faith our politicians appear to have on the widespread dementia among the voter-population and on their own ability to hoodwink the electorate. Professor Amaratunga’s thoughts could re-kindle fading memories, especially on repeated failures to fulfil campaign pledges, the large-scale losses due to financial malpractices, the allegations of ‘war-crimes’ and of ‘violation of human rights’ in the counter-attack by the major powers of the North Atlantic alliance in retaliation to Sri Lanka’s close relations with the People’s Republic of China, the ingredients of success in the US-sponsored ‘regime change’ effort culminating in the establishment in 2015 of a puppet government in Colombo, the betrayal of our national interests by our own self-seeking representatives at the protracted Geneva inquisitions, the constitutional fiasco of August 2018, the euphoric Gotabhaya victory about a year thereafter, and then, the stunning exposure by the pandemic of the fundamental weakness of our dependent economy.
In the 4th Section of the volume titled ‘Health’, most of the items are devoted to diverse experiences witnessed globally and in Sri Lanka during the Covid-19 pandemic, but in an unconventional manner in the sense that they emphasise significant aspects that have not received adequate attention in the analytical writings on the pandemic. In my view the most significant issue highlighted in this section is the need for Sri Lanka to adopt development strategies towards self-reliance, especially in the availability of medicinal drugs and on food-security. Implicit in several items of this section is a forewarning of the risks entailed in the pursuit of development policies that enhance Sri Lanka’s macroeconomic dependence on the major global and regional powers.
Many items in this miscellany of thoughts contain a prominent element of dissent and disagreement with other participants in the media debates and discussion for which The Island has served as a major forum. But that dissent has all along been featured by a laudable sense of “civilised intelligence”. As a professional whose skills have an intense demand, his interests and concerns have not remained confined to his professional expertise – a feature often seen among other ‘specialists’ including those of the university community.
This volume is, first of all, a demonstration of intense and well-informed concern on a wide range of issues of vital importance to Sri Lanka. Had that quality been more widespread it is unlikely that those earning six-figure incomes would threaten collective action to bring the economy to a standstill to express their dissatisfaction on a relatively marginal erosion of monthly emoluments at a time of unprecedented national crisis, attempting to conceal their avarice with a façade of safeguarding democracy, or eliminating public corruption, or on grounds of their capacity to earn higher incomes outside Sri Lanka.
Yet another exemplary feature I discern in this ‘Miscellany of Thoughts’ is that its contents are not angry knee-jerk reactions when provoked by thoughts different to his own. Professor Amaratunga’s dissent is entirely free of the crude clashes often seen in the so-called social media. Nor are his thoughts based on a hurried consumption of internet ‘short-eats’. In his thoughts that extend beyond brief corrective interjections of ‘common sense’, what we see is an extraordinary depth of knowledge acquired through serious reading and a thorough understanding of the issues on which he had focused.
Loneliness of the Bottom Half
By Lynn Ockersz
There you crouch by your hearth,
Seeing your fires sputtering out;
Your hopes of a bubbly pot of rice,
Ending in inflationary smoke spirals,
Leaving you with the painful thought,
That your dignity as mother and wife,
Is gravely harmed and beyond repair,
For, a turn of events not of your making,
Has reduced you and yours to penury,
So much for that Trickle-down Theory,
That Pundits say will end your misery,
But they tell you not to stop dreaming,
Because soon you will be bailed out,
Of your State of longsuffering;
Thanks to Princely tips from ancient Italy.
Cabinet gives green light to develop Sigiriya as a sustainable tourism destination
Cabinet approves incorporation of the Sri Lanka Institute of Agriculture
Vesak week from 2nd to 8th May 2023
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
U.S. Congress to probe assets fleecing by US citizens of Sri Lankan origin
Features5 days ago
Happy Birthday dearest Mrs. Peries !
News4 days ago
Mano says LG and PC elections equally important
News6 days ago
Decorated gunship pilot blacklisted for appearing on political stage
Midweek Review7 days ago
Growing foreign dependency and India’s USD 4 bn lifeline
News6 days ago
No more selling of Hajj visas, assures Minister
Breaking News7 days ago
Property tax to be replaced with Wealth Tax, Gift Tax and Estate Tax – President
Editorial7 days ago
Celebration of debt
Sports6 days ago
Sri Lanka’s flawed ODI strategies