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Meaning of Openness in Education in Sri Lanka

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by Liyanage Amarakeerthi
(Speech, delivered via Zoom at the Convocation of the Open University,
Sri Lanka, on 15th of December, 2020)

Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Registrars, Deans, Directors, librarian, professors, lecturers, other dignitaries , graduating students, ladies and gentlemen,

It is with a sense of pride and gratitude that I deliver the convocation address of this year at the Open University. We are in the middle of a pandemic. In addition to taking and harming many lives all over, the pandemic has robbed me of the opportunity of standing in front of you in a grand convocation hall looking at your faces lighted with happiness. But today, we are celebrating the occasion, in a historic manner. Let us collectively show that human spirit will cope with and survive any pandemic.

The epidemic has been destructive indeed. Some scholars argue that access to education will fall back to the level in 1980s, and, in some countries, 9 out of 10 children will fall out of schools. In our country, too, the long–term impact of the epidemic on education is likely to be much worse than we think. Perhaps, the need for the kind of education provided by the Open University will be greater in Sri Lanka after Covid-19.

The Open University has a special place in my heart for several reasons. For one, I have some of my close friends at the Open University, and they are among the most renowned literary writers, scholars and intellectuals in the country. Secondly, perhaps more importantly, the concept of education at the Open University is also dear to my heart. Teaching at a conventional university, I have had the luxury of meeting and teaching a group of brightest young men and women in our country. But all of them come into the university through a single, narrow opening called GCE (A/L). I wish I had students entering my own university through other legitimate doors making our student population even more diverse.

At crucial points in our lives, we all sit down to reflect on the way things have been, and at those times, we often look for the help of new sources of wisdom in order to reorganize ourselves. At such moments, if someone wants to return to formal education that person should be able to find her way there. The Open University has been a haven for those who rethink, reconsider, reevaluate, and reorganize their lives. A society is truly free, truly just, truly democratic, when people have a second chance – another opportunity of taking a shot at a better life, a qualitatively different life. The Open University has provided many of you that chance. A great Sinhala poet, Ariyawansha Ranavira said in a short poem,

බොහෝ විට
බොහෝ දෙන
යළි එති කවිය වෙත
මහළු හිස් නමමින

Often times
many people
return to poetry
bending their
aging heads down.

 

Not just to poetry, people do return to many good things later in their lives. As poetry, all areas of life should be beautifully prepared to welcome those who return. Not just bending their heads over but the heads held high, people should be able to return to formal education.

Other meanings of openness

Let me now introduce a few other meanings of ‘openness’ I like to see in education. For us in Sri Lanka, education is not just a mode of acquiring knowledge and wisdom. It is the greatest social equalizer in modern Sri Lanka. Ours is an extremely unequal society. We are unequal in ethnicity, religion, gender, class, caste, region and so on. Education was the most important mechanism that has brought about at least some sense of equality in our society. Let me give you a quick example. In 1881, female literacy in Ceylon was 3%; By 1921, it had increased up to 21%. When the University College of Ceylon was established in 1921, there were only four female students in the first intake. Just four!

Nearly hundred years later, at the faculty of arts, the University of Peradeniya, 85% or more are female students. Still in many areas, women are underrepresented and underemployed. But if it wasn’t for free education the inequality between men and women could have been so much worse. Graduating ladies today, imagine living in a country where female literacy rate is just 3 %. Graduating gentlemen, I hope you also don’t want to live in such a country.

All of us––teachers, students and administrators––must remember that free education has been the greatest social leveller in our country. So, we must not forget the significance of leaving it open to people from diverse backgrounds.

 

Openness of other kinds

Let me touch on another aspect of being open in education. Human beings struggle with natural and social conditions everywhere in order to create a life with justice, equality and freedom; in order to create a finer co-existence with the natural world. In the process, human beings create knowledge everywhere and at different circumstances. Being open to such knowledge, without being parochial, is one key aspect of being open in education.

In a time of celebration of cultural difference, one of our challenges is to recognize the shared history of humanity. What we have in common is often overlooked, in celebration of uniqueness and singularity. Throughout human history human communities have had numerous connections with each other. In terms of sharing knowledge and culture, globalization is much older than we think it is. A goal of our education should be to see why and how those connections are made.

Some of those similarities come into being because we humans are similar to one another in our biological hardwiring. Roughly at the same time in history, human beings everywhere have decided to put an end to, their hunter-gathering lives and remain at one place farming a garden and raising a family. This similarity occurs because we human animals are alike in our basic nature. Interestingly, in nearly all those places women were the ones to domesticate plants and animals. Perhaps, they might have told themselves, ‘now it is enough of wandering dragging these children around. Now, we want to stay foot and make home.

That thought, womanly thought, motherly thought, if you will, might have been a key thought that led to the creation of present civilizations. That thought may have unwittingly end up domesticating women themselves.

We may have discovered farming at different places unknown to each other. But our connections have developed to such a degree that manioc/cassava, potato, sweet potato domesticated in South America, are our own now, several centuries later. Though we have borrowed potato from South America, we have more than four hundred ways of cooking it in South Asia.

In our higher education, there should be an openness of another kind. Let me briefly touch on it and it will be the last point I will be making my speech. In our education system, different fields of studies need to be open to each other and to develop conversations on key concepts in those specific fields. Working in the field of literary and cultural studies, I should be able to engage in serious discussions with scholars in natural sciences, for example. Our education needs to foster such conversations.

 

Rational Thought and Emotion

Descartes made an error in over emphasizing rational mind and considering other sensory experience to be secondary in cognition. Perhaps, it is the case in cognition; but cognition, acquiring rational knowledge, is only a part of human existence. We are human beings not only because we think, we are human beings because we feel – emotionally feel. Recent studies in neuroscience have shown that emotions, our feelings, are important even for our rational thinking. American neuroscientist Antonio Damascio’s research on brain-damaged patients has demonstrated that patients with injuries in areas in their brains that deal with emotions are not capable of making, rational decisions about appropriate behavior and so on. In our brain, the areas that deal with emotions are physically separated from the areas that deal with reason and logic. Though physically located in separate domains, the emotion-compartment of the brain is required for the reason-compartment in making sound decisions. Damascio’s eye-opening book, Descartes’ Error, can be an invaluable guide in rethinking our education and in opening the doors of our specific fields to other fields.

Moreover, Descartes’ error has led to a kind of anthropocentricism where human beings are made supreme on the ground that they alone have rational consciousness. Recent studies have shown that even trees have their own collective consciousness, and they ‘consciously’ act for survival. For example, when one tree is attacked by a swarm of locusts, that tree emits a hormone-like compound so that wind can take the news of attack to other trees. And those trees now have time to emit another chemical compound, that might repel the locusts. As long as we are closed in our educational habits and habitats, we cannot know that trees do communicate with one another, perhaps even with us. This is another reason for me to argue for more openness in education.

Such openness is not possible, if scholars are like the lion of Sinhabahu, the play, who practically imprison their intellectual progeny in the caves of narrowly specialized knowledge. We need a generation of Sinhabahus who are capable of holistic thinking not just of breaking the rock door of the cave, the compartmentalized knowledge.

In our times, specially learned person is able to put his specialized knowledge in meaningful conversations with other areas of human knowledge. Respected professors in natural sciences, attending this convocation, please pardon me if I am stepping into your own areas of specialty. And I am making a case of such trespassing, anyway. Biologists talk about a part of our brain called “amygdala”. When we accidentally chew on, rotten food or something, a chemical reaction occurs in that part of the brain and we instantly throw up that food even before conscious thought occurs.

Here is what fascinates me: the same part of human brain gets chemically activated, when we see something morally disgusting, such as an old woman is being physically attacked. Now, see brain chemistry of the faculty of science, and the ethics of the faculty of arts, are much more connected than we have made them look. I learned these connections from a stunning book by Robert Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are graduating from the Open University today. I wanted to stir your mind a bit about possible meanings of ‘openness’ in education. I hope you will be able to strive for more open conversations at your world of work and the world of leisure. After all, the idea of openness is in the name of your own university. You are graduating today taking that name with you. That alone makes you special.

From Peradeniya, I send you all, all the good wishes!

Thank you.

(Liyanage Amarakeerthi is a professor at University of Peradeniya)

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THE SECOND IMPEACHMENT OF DONALD J. TRUMP

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

The deadly storming of the Capitol grounds and buildings in Washington DC, on January 6, by white, terrorist supporters of President Trump, while Congress was in session, was the worst day in the history of the greatest democracy in the world. Ongoing FBI investigations reveal that the insurrection has been months in the planning. In fact, there is convincing evidence that most of the terrorists were acting on the direct instructions, they were heeding a call to patriotism, by the Commander-in-Chief.

The FBI also predicts that extremists “have been emboldened to carry out more attacks” after the siege on the Capitol. One message has been heard loud and clear during the Trump presidency: White Supremacists today constitute the most significant threat of domestic terror in the United States.

With the Vice President refusing to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove a dangerous president, the House impeached Trump for the second time with the largest bipartisan majority in history, on Wednesday January 13, on the single Article of “Incitement of Insurrection” for his role in the assault on the Capitol last week.

The Article of Impeachment will be presented to the Senate for trial after Trump’s term has ended. A conviction by the Senate when Trump will no longer be president is unlikely, as the evidence stands today. However, by the time the Senate trial gets under way, the FBI may uncover conclusive evidence about Trump’s complicity in the insurrection; also Trump may face criminal charges in federal courts on incitement to an insurrection. These investigations and new evidence may change the course of the Senate’s impeachment trial.

A conviction will bar Trump from holding office ever again, and will also deprive him of all post-presidential perks, a $200,000 per year pension, a $1 million per year travel allowance and personal security for life. All on the taxpayer’s dime.

Trump’s impeachment defence team argues that his incendiary pre-insurrection speeches are protected by the First Amendment (freedom of speech); while the impeachment process is itself unconstitutional, as it involves an attempt to get rid of a president who no longer holds that office. Both arguments are, according to common law and constitutional precedent, full of holes.

The primary motive of this terrorist act was not only to violently undermine democracy by overturning a fair and secure election; it was not only to establish an authoritarian dictatorship; it was not to stave off the imminent threat of socialism, an ideology feared by some Americans with no understanding that most of them are enjoying its benefits in their everyday lives; it was also not only a futile attempt of a criminal president to remain in an office which provides him with immunity from prosecutions of a plethora of sordid crimes committed during his term of office and before.

The primary motive of this violent insurrection was another desperate effort to stem the inevitable decline of white supremacy the United States has enjoyed since the Europeans invaded the New World 400 years ago. An insurrection with the probable operational motivation and coordination by the sitting president of the United States and his white supremacist cult.

After the violence, President-elect Biden made a statement: “Let me be very clear. The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are”.

The New York Times responded to the President-elect’s speech of unity and reconciliation:

“Are you sure about that, Joe? This is exactly who we are. An armed standoff, white male entitlement, conspiracy theories. Sounds very American to me. We should not be surprised because we have always been like this…. Racial violence is in our national DNA.

“America is a stolen land built by stolen people.”

A land born of genocide, made prosperous by the free labor of slavery, thriving as the richest and most powerful nation in the world on the back of awesome, self-serving military might. A country with a record of genocide of millions of native Americans, 200+ years of slavery, softened in brutality by a further 200 years of Jim Crow laws – an “equal but separate” doctrine of apartheid that trampled on the rights of black people until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – right up to the blatant, quasi-legal racial discrimination and violence rampant today.

“All men are created equal” said the 1776 Declaration of Independence, and “We the People of the United States” of the 1789 Constitution referred only to the white men of the United States. Black slaves were not considered to be human by the framers of these revered Documents. They did not form a part of the “perfect union”. They existed only to faithfully fulfill those “certain inalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” demanded by the white man, but never to enjoy them.

And when the insurrectionists were screaming “We want our country back” during the assault on the Capitol, the country they wanted back was the white paradise of the good old Confederate days. Slavery, Jim Crow, the Klan, Proud Boys and all.

Each successive generation of Americans has tried to mitigate the barbarous practices of white supremacy. They no longer live in a society where human beings are hunted and killed for sport, where human beings are boiled in oil for slacking or striving for freedom, where a black male was lynched for looking, with imagined lust, at a white woman.

Unfortunately, Americans still live in a society in which racial discrimination exists in every aspect of human life; where illegal, racist acts of violence and murder are committed, not only by law enforcement, with a depressingly regular frequency.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, followed by the Equal Rights movement spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jnr., saw the United States moving towards a more equitable and racially just social environment. Of course there were incidents of racial tension, violence and discrimination from 1964 to the present day. But they seemed to be decreasing in ferocity and regularity, until the 2016 election of Donald Trump lit a slow burning fuse that exploded on January 6, 2020 and will keep on exploding as long as Trump and his white supremacist cult are allowed to hold sway. And as long as Trump continues to diminish democracy by propagating the Big Lie that the 2020 election, the cornerstone of government of the people, by the people, for the people, has been subverted.

The election of African American Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008, was heralded, with unfortunately false optimism, as the end to racial discrimination in the United States. President Obama’s blackness was paraded and highlighted as evidence of the end of racial discrimination; his brilliant academic record, his exemplary community service, his voting record in the Senate and his unparalleled oratory took second place to his skin color as the primary reason for his election. Americans used the blackness of President Obama to announce to the world that they are, at last, who they said they were, that the American Dream was still very much alive. And inclusive.

Inheriting an economy approaching a depression, President Obama ended two terms of extraordinarily successful administration in 2016 with 72 months of continuous economic growth and a booming economy, capped by the enactment of his signature Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which gave health insurance to over 40 million additional Americans. All this, without fanfare, without a trace of scandal, political or personal. A president and an administration still admired throughout the world.

But Obama’s presidency did not win the approval of a large section of the American people. Inherent racism, exacerbated by resentment at the successful, scandal-free administration of a black president, had been seething under the surface of White America, ripe to be ruthlessly exploited by the manic racism of Donald Trump in 2016.

Trump used his consummate talent for lying to deceive his people that he had inherited a disastrous economy from the previous administration. He propagated and repeated his first Big Lie, that he alone created the booming economy, when he was merely hanging on Obama’s coattails. His deregulation of environmental safeguards made his corporate friends rich, while polluting the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we love and strive to protect. His tax policies enriched his billionaire friends while the middle and poorer classes struggled for existence, many remaining mired in poverty and debt. In the richest country of the world.

There is little doubt that Trump would have coasted to a second term in 2020 if a pandemic of disastrous proportions did not expose his colossal ignorance and homicidal incompetence. Sadly, it took the preventable deaths of 350,000+ Covid victims, followed by an economic collapse, to underscore the enormity of Trump’s self-serving dereliction of duty, which caused a landslide majority of 81 million Americans to vote him out in the most secure election in the nation’s history.

Unfortunately, Trump’s abysmal record has not changed the opinion of 74 million Americans who worship Trump, and voted for him two months ago, in spite of four years of a criminal presidency which has brought America down to its political, economic and virus-ridden knees. And made the most powerful nation the laughing stock of the world.

The recent violence wrought by domestic white terrorists on the Capitol was treated with velvet gloves covering a gentle law enforcement fist. Consideration not shown to Black Lives Matter and other minority protests, which are invariably punished to the fullest, most brutal extent of the law.

White supremacy is pervasive, with complicity in all sections of American society. In fact, three Republican Congressmen, seven law enforcement officers and even one Olympic multiple Gold Medal winner are currently facing charges for their role in the January 6 insurrection.

The FBI reports that Trump supporters are planning insurrections in every one of the 50 states from January 16, culminating in a Million Militia March in Washington DC on Inauguration Day. Their investigations indicate that these nationwide insurrections are carefully planned events, with complicity of the presidency, Congress, rogue members of law enforcement and the myriad white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations that have crawled out of the woodwork during the Trump administration.

20,000 members of the National Guard have been assigned to secure President Biden’s inauguration, more soldiers than deployed in the war zones of the Middle East. 20,000 troops to protect Americans from Americans, and to ensure the continuation of one of America’s great traditions, the peaceful transfer of power.

The defeat of Donald Trump is like chopping off one head of the multi-headed monster, Hydra that is today’s Republican Party; each time one head is chopped, two more emerge, each more virulent and deadlier than the last.

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T. S. Eliot: A response to Kumar David’s “dislike”

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by H. L. D. Mahindapala

I like reading Prof. Kumar David’s (KD) column in the Sunday Island, even though the contents lean heavily towards Marxist mantras which have passed its use-by-date long before the fall of the Berlin Wall. What grabbed my  attention was the Jan. 3 column which was a foray into English literature. As a bibliophile I agree wholeheartedly with his love of  classics and even with some of his likes and dislikes. For instance, one can’t expect everyone  to enjoy James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, let alone  read it. If I remember correct, Regi Siriwardena took great pride in reading it though Prof. E. F. C. Ludowyk, the Grand Master of English Lit at Peradeniya, did not like the text.

 KD’s column indicates that he has very strong  likes and dislikes, vibrating sometimes with visceral hate. He says he “loathes” the Bagavad Gita. A modest word like “dislike”, “disagree”, I can understand. But “loathe”? Isn’t that a bit too harsh a word for someone like KD? In any case, how can one “loathe” the  Gita – one of the  world’s greatest spiritual songs that debates the profound moral issue faced by man in the battlefield: to kill or not to kill. I can understand Prabhakaran loathing it. But KD???  Incredible!

 The central issue in the Gita is to define the moral duty of man. Finding that, particularly in times of crises, causes mind-bending agonies. It is the same question posed by Shakespeare in Hamlet : to  be or not to be. Arjuna and Hamlet are both morally disturbed individuals standing confused in the middle of a rotten state, not knowing what form their action should take to meet the challenges facing them. Arjuna agonizing over the duty facing him – the duty of  killing – asks Krishna how can he kill his kith and kin. Hamlet too is agonizing over a similar issue. He has to clean  up the rotten, the incestuous, the chaotic state which means eliminating  his kith and  kin in power, with killing  if necessary. It is a duty cast upon him by his father’s ghost who seeks revenge. He is tortured and paralyzed by his own doubts and questions. Should he allow the rotten status quo to continue, or should he take up the sword and go into action wherever it may lead? What is his moral duty? That is the question.  

 KD, however, does not give any reason for loathing the Gita. It sounded somewhat like a personal reaction as if he was  a Jew reacting  to the sight of a Muslim, or vice versa in the Middle East. If he doesn’t like the text, may I request him to read the introduction to  the version edited by the Indian philosopher S. Radhakrishna, who was also the President of India later. He illuminates it  with his brilliant intellect so lucidly that in the end you will remember his introduction better  than the Gita. His thought-provoking insights are memorable. For instance, he surveys the religious field broadly and points  out  that neither Jesus nor Buddha gave answers to questions  about some of the core issues that had baffled philosophers, religious leaders, scientists etc., down the ages. Buddha discouraged those who went  in search of the origins and the ends of  the universe  or life. He dismissed them as irrelevant to the existential crises faced by man in  his cycle in samsara. Jesus too, he points  out, was silent when Pontius Pilate asked: What is truth? If KD doesn’t want to read the text I am sure he would enjoy Radhakrishna’s introduction. 

 Now I come to his literary criticism of T. S. Eliot. I concede that he is entitled to his tastes and I must respect his choices. But when he came to Eliot he went beyond expressing  his “dislike.” He accused Eliot of being “pretentious”.  It amounts to a literary criticism which means it is open for criticism. Here KD steps into an area which, I think, is not his domain. Neither in his personal life nor in writing the poetic masterpieces of the 20th century did Eliot show any signs of “pretentiousness.” He became a very fastidious Englishman, with a bowler hat and umbrella, after he abandoned the  loud  and brash  American culture into which he was born. He was very Catholic in his literary tastes, though he  did not go that far in his religion. He ended up in the Anglican High Church which was the nearest to the Catholic church.

 I value Eliot as the most intellectual of all English poets. No other poet has gone down the path of giving the emotional equivalent of thought, of deep philosophical thought, as Eliot. He could fill hard, recondite thoughts with feelings and lead you to meaning  and understanding  his vision and his meditations. But I am getting  far ahead of the issue at hand. I have to first deal with KD dismissing entire body of Eliot’s work as  “pretentious”. He  does  this  by taking the last words in Eliot’s Naming of  a Cat, a poem that plays with words which eventually became a musical sensation  after Andrew Lloyd Webber took those words and gave it a lyrical lift that entertained millions. But KD dismisses it somewhat superciliously in one line which goes like this : “I also dislike Eliot, who  is pretentious: his “ineffable, effable, effanineffable, deep and inscrutable singular” game. Period.

 Here Eliot is deliberately playing with words. There is no pretentiousness here. Besides, what was the necessity for a Nobel Laureate to be pretentious? Whom was he going to impress? He wrote like all great writers to give meaning to lives. Eliot was not the kind  of poet who would use words to be  “pretentious”.  Eliot played with these words as if he was playing with a kitten: lightly, gently, fondly and delicately. To get a feel of the words let’s view the full poem before going any further. Here it is: 

The Naming Of Cats by T. S. Eliot

 The Naming of Cats is difficult matter,It isn’t just one of your holiday games;You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatterWhen I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey–All of them sensible everyday names.There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–But all of them sensible everyday names.But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-Names that never belong to more than one cat.But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,And that is the name that you never will guess;The name that no human research can discover–But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.When you notice a cat in profound meditation,The reason, I tell you, is always the same:His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplationOf the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:His ineffable effableEffanineffableDeep and inscrutable singular Name.

 

Cat lovers (I’m one of them) can relate to the “cat in profound meditation”  and that

“His mind is engaged in rapt contemplation

Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:

His ineffable effable

Effanineffable

Deep and inscrutable  singular Name.”

 In all seriousness, I tried my best to understand how KD could view Eliot as being “pretentious” purely on his aversion  to the last lines. I was eager to understand  his thinking, First thing  that struck me was that it is unfair to judge anyone on a few lines excluding the corpus of Eliot’s writings. Perhaps, he could explain it in his response. Though I tried from various angles I failed to see any “pretentiousness” in these playful lines.  “The staccato beat of the names – e.g., Plato, Admetus, Electra – alone suggests the whimsicality of the poem. The musicality in the syllabic rhythms was captured in several dramatic and cinematic versions, starting from Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1981. It was not meant to be serious poem like The Waste Land where he took the stentorian tone. In  it he was looking  down  upon humanity and asking:

 What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow  out of this stony rubbish?

 What he saw from his Olympian heights was

 “A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And dry stone no sound of water.”

He was the Dante of the 20th century guiding humanity through the modern purgatory. He was dissecting their souls and exposing the diseased, worm-eaten core. To him the 20th century was the arid waste land. Even the grim scene he paints of the modern metropolis is awesome.

 Unreal City,

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many

 A version of these lines is found in Dante’s text. Eliot borrowed  it and made it is his own.

It is clear that in this  poem he is using words playfully, as if he  was playing with a cat. Those who saw the adaptation in the movie CATS will realize  how the rhythmic words  tripped off the tongues fluidly. The words were chosen to play around with sound. Eliot was toying with each word and name of cats. Eliot touched a chord in me when he spoke of the “cat’s meditative” thoughts. I have been fascinated by the mysterious, meditative moods of cats. They are such soothing, calming, relaxing pets to have around. When they leap like a feather into bed and sleep, snoring, next to you the whole world seems to be at rest. The soothing sound of peace comes down with each gentle snore. My wife and I still cry for “Bubby” (I wonder what Eliot would think of that name?) we lost in Melbourne a few years ago. Parting was so unbearable that I am determined never to adopt a cat ever.

 I think I’ve said enough about Eliot and cats. I shall now await KD’s response to understand why Eliot is “pretentious” according to him.

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James Anderson – Great Bowler And Consummate Professional

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by Sanjeewa Jayaweera

James Michael Anderson, aged 38 reached a significant milestone on August 25, 2020 when playing in his 156th test match he took his 600th test wicket. He dismissed Azhar Ali, the captain of Pakistan with a perfect outswinger, the trademark delivery with which he has taken most of his wickets. He is the first fast bowler to have taken 600 test wickets as the other three are all spinners – Murali, Warne and Kumble.

In addition, Anderson has taken 269 wickets in 194 One day internationals. An economy of 4.92 runs per over is superior to that of Lasith Malinga, considered one of the best limited over bowlers.

 He first played for England on December 15, 2002 in a one day international against Australia at the MCG and in May 2003 made his test debut against Zimbabwe at Lords. In the first five years after his debut, he was not a regular in the team and played in only 20 tests and took 62 wickets. He was a regular thereafter playing on average 12 to 14 test matches every year other than in 2019 and 2020.

In the decade ending 2020, he took 395 wickets in 100 test matches. His tally would have been higher had he played in more than just 11 test matches in the last two years. These statistics prove his consistency both in terms of form and importantly, his physical fitness. As the saying goes like fine wine, he got better with age. He was never an express fast bowler but more of fast-medium. His greatest asset was his ability to consistently swing the ball along with command over line and length. He always exploited the “corridor of uncertainty” a weakness among even the best of batsmen regularly.

His record against some of the top batsmen like Michael Clark, Warner, Tendulkar, Pujara, Kallis and Sangakkara is exemplary and a testament to his outstanding skill. Generally, the number of wickets taken by a bowler is the yardstick by which a bowler is judged. However, there is no doubt that the dismissal of the top batsmen of the opposition is the criteria that ultimately determines the great from the good.

Anderson’s performance at home is significantly better. In 89 test matches, he took 384 (64%) wickets. In 67 test matches played overseas, he took 216 wickets. The superior home record is primarily due to English conditions being conducive to swing bowling. Incidentally, Murali took 61% of his wickets at home. He took over 100 wickets against Australia (104) and India (110) the two top teams in the last decade and a half. He also took 93 wickets against South Africa. He has taken only 20 wickets against the minnows: Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, which amplifies his excellent record against stronger teams.

When England won (70 matches) with Anderson being part of the team, his contribution was significant. He took 323 wickets of which 256 were taken at home in 53 matches at an average of only 18.87 runs per wicket. As is the case for batsmen, even for bowlers, personal achievement is much sweeter and satisfying when it results in a team’s victory.

Anderson’s partnership with Stuart Broad, the other fast bowler in the team who has also taken over 500 test wickets, is as legendary a combination of Trueman and Statham, Lille and Thompson, Roberts and Holding, Walsh and Ambrose and a few others. They have complemented each other with Anderson being the swing bowler enticing edges from batsmen whilst Broad has been the battering ram bowling short most of the time trying to intimidate the batsmen. Quite a contrast!

Anderson has now been playing for 19 years which for a fast bowler is quite long. There is no doubt that fast bowling is a physically demanding task, and most careers don’t last as long as those of spin bowlers. Therefore, at the age of 38 to be still bowling fast-medium and being dead keen to continue his playing days for England is a testament to his absolute professionalism.

The fact that he has a perfect bowling action may have contributed to his longevity. However, I believe his dedication to maintaining his physical fitness has been the main contributing factor in keeping away injuries that seem to affect several Sri Lankan cricketers regularly. Anderson’s physique appears to be slim or maybe even thinner than when he made his debut as a 19-year-old. As most of us know, this takes a lot of effort in the gym and great discipline in one’s diet as we get older. Anderson has not let himself or his teammates or the country down in this regard.

Rex Clemantine, the sports editor of the Island in an article penned recently, has referred to the Sri Lanka team touring South Africa as “Unfit, unprofessional fat Sri Lankans.”. The context is totally understandable as five of our players broke down either when bowling or running between the wickets or even possibly moving within the dressing room! It was both embarrassing and maddening to watch player after player breaking down. When in a team of 11, five breakdowns, you are basically conceding the game to the opposition. In addition, there were two others in the squad already injured. As to why they were taken on tour when injured is a mystery.

Angelo Matthews, the most experienced of our players, did not even tour as he was injured during the LPL. We are used to seeing Matthews injured. Every time he steps on to the field of play, the odds are that he will not last the game. Despite that, it looks as if Angelo is always carrying a few kilograms in excess weight. It was expected that after Mahela, Sanga, and Dilshan’s retirements, Angelo would be the torchbearer of Sri Lankan batting. Nothing of that sort has happened as he has been more injured than playing.

Lasitha Malinga has been universally hailed for his brilliant performance as a limited-overs bowler in both the 50 overs and the 20 overs format. He has won several matches for Sri Lanka and is much a legend as Aravinda, Sanath, Murali, Vass, Mahela and Sanga. He will forever be remembered for his toe crushing yorkers that were more often than not unplayable. His ability to bowl yorkers at will and with unwavering accuracy is no doubt due to constant practice. That is what professionalism is all about. However, in the last few years, his midriff has resembled that of a five-month pregnant lady! In the 2018 world cup in England, Malinga won a couple of matches for Sri Lanka. However, his fitness was not that expected of a professional cricketer representing his country in a prestigious tournament. I say this based on several clips of him shared in social media bare-chested with a protruding stomach. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan cricket board and the selectors have been too accommodative of Malinga. This should not have happened.

When our players were going down like ninepins in South Africa, the New Zealand fast bowler Neil Wagner played the last three days of the match against Pakistan with two broken toes. A Shaheen Afridi yorker had hit him when batting in New Zealand’s first innings. The left-arm quick battled through the pain and bowled in all 49 overs with two broken toes, as New Zealand prevailed with 4.3 overs remaining on the final day. He had said “On the last day I couldn’t walk getting out of bed, I sort of fell to the ground quite frustrated and quite angry, and just wanted to get out there and play. He had taken 12 injections on the last day to ease the pain.

I am not aware of the extent of our players’ injuries, and it is difficult to be hypercritical, but at the back of my mind, I just get the feeling that the commitment, bravery and the attitude of “over my dead body” of Neil Wagner may be lacking in some or most of our players.

I hope our players will look at James Anderson and take a cue from him and strive to achieve his professionalism. They will no do doubt be better cricketers.

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