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The great man who turned the Kalutara bodhiya into a sacred place

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In commemoration of Sir Cyril de Zoysa on his 124th birthday

“My father was a Notary. He travelled almost daily from his home in Velitota to his office in Ambalangoda in a bullock cart that he hired for the purpose. My father never complained about having to hire his transport. But this was causing me grave concern. By this time, I had received my secondary education at Royal College, Colombo, and was conducting a series of extra classes for the children of affluent parents, in the vicinity. At this time such extra classes were not readily available. Drawing on my knowledge, my students had their own knowledge enhanced. It was in order to earn the money to buy my father a bullock and a brand new cart that I started on this programme of work. In a matter of about seven or eight months, I was able to find the money for this purpose.

At that time, I had to spend only three hundred rupees to buy a bullock and a brand new cart to facilitate my father’s travel. My father, who had so far travelled to his office in carts belonging to other people, was amazed at my gesture and with tears of joy in his eyes bestowed his blessings upon me. This in turn gave me a sense of joy that I had never before experienced. Today I think that in later life, all I touched turned to gold, because of the blessings I so received from my father…”

This was a declaration made in the year 1964. This was something addressed to me by none other than Sir Cyril de Zoysa himself, who at that time had earned accolades as a successful businessman and a Sinhala Buddhist leader of the land. I was then a very young monk whom Sir Cyril had very especially begun to associate and it was for my edification that he said this. He was at the time a chief dayakaya of the Kande Viharaya, in Alutgama where I had entered the folds of Buddhist monkhood when I was very small. It was in appreciation of the industriousness I displayed, even at that time, in carrying out any work entrusted to me and my pleasant manner too that he paid special attention to me. This is why he found me indispensable during the conduct of religious activities in the Vihara as well as when he wished to have Seth Kavi and Seth Pirith (recitation of blessings upon him) chanted. It was his pleasure to send his driver to fetch me from the Kande Viharaya or from my abode at Avondale Road in Maradana where I latterly took up residence. In response all religious activities were performed by me in the prescribed manner.

I clearly observed how everything Sir Cyril did, whether it be in the social or the religious sphere, was done in the prescribed, methodical and formal manner and I noticed that he was greatly pleased that I emulated him. For this very reason my great, god-like preceptor the Venerable Potuvila Sri Saranatissa Nayaka Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Alutgama Kande Viharaya fully approved of my being engaged in the religious activities of Sir Cyril. Whenever Sir Cyril felt the need for my services, he was in the habit of summoning his driver and saying, ‘Go Piyadasa, Go fetch Podi Hamuduruwo, (the Junior Monk)’, thus sending the car for me. He was fully confident that the Podi Hamuduruwo would fulfill his religious needs in the proper manner.

As such, I succeeded in performing Buddha Pooja, chanting Seth Kavi and attending to other minor religious needs, to his utmost satisfaction. As there was such a fund of trust between the two of us he even related to me, from time to time, the main and earliest events that affected his life, just as though I were among his nearest and dearest.

He related to me the story of the efforts he made in his adolescent days to find the means to buy the gift of a bullock and a brand new cart for his father. He wished to have this act stand out as an example to others as an act of gratitude and the discharge of a duty by a youth towards his parents. In this day and age when one often hears of how some children do not care for their fathers who provided them with an education from their young days and set them up in the higher echelons of society, Sir Cyril’s conduct stands out in contrast as the most valuable offering of his lifetime. Thus, by the power of the blessings of his father, as it were, he while ascending a flight of social steps to the top in society as a businessman, was also going up the political ladder first as the Chairman of an Urban Council and later as the President of the Senate.

He often repeated that the main reason for his progress, and his systematic life style which led to such progress, were the example his father set and the blessings he extended to him as his son; and this too he said was by way of setting an example to others.

Even some Heads of State respected Sir Cyril’s thoughts and many were the instances when they obtained his counsel and even assistance from him.

He was motivated into sharing with me interesting information about his social life and about certain personal triumphs he achieved. This was when his mind was free from the stress of business concerns and from such other pressures. What I realized later on was that he was personally enjoying relaxation by talking about such matters with a person whom he knew was most devoted to him. Although I was at that time a young novice I now feel that the extent of the knowledge I had of the Buddha Dhamma, even at that young age, together with my ability to chant stanzas and devotional songs impressed him so much that our relationship was one such as between a grandson and a grandfather where the elder of the two relieved his mind of both joys and sorrows and achieved some mental peace. Today when I reminisce about what he discussed with me, it seems to me that talking to a little monk like me suited him better than conducting discussions with a Maha Thera well versed in the Dhamma, highly disciplined by Vinaya rules and highly purified in mind.

When a man of his stature, who was sometimes worn out by continuously spending about 20 out of the 24 hours, clearing a mountain of work on behalf of society, was afflicted with even a minor ailment I blessed him and offered Buddha Pooja, and recited Seth Kavi with or without his knowledge. I later learnt that in my absence he was in the habit of telling his friends and well-wishers that all what Podi Hamuduruvo (the little monk) does conduce towards both my physical and my mental health. In order to bring about some relief in the case of minor ailments, I chanted Seth Kavi before the statue of God Vishnu at the Kande Vihara, conducted Bodhi Pooja before the Bo Tree at Bellanwila and performed various rituals at the Jayasekhara-aramaya at Kuppiyawatta. It was observed that these did have some good effects on his health.

He was so pleased with his association with me that occasionally he made me accompany him to participate in certain social events or travel long distances with him to faraway shrines. This he did as though he was accompanied by a child of a relative. During such travels I was able to understand and appreciate his personal qualities as well as the examples he set before society. On some days when he went to the Galle Face Green to take his exercises, he carried a small chair in the car, set it upon the green, made me sit upon it and then ventured out with the others on long walks by way of physical exercise.

Although in appearance he looked like the proverbial “great, black, Sinhalese” he was a majestic personality with a heart of gold. Only one who personally associated him closely would realise this. I am one of those who had the opportunity to savour of such sterling qualities owing to my long and close association with him.

He was one who was able to set up by dint of hard work, efficiency, honesty and commitment a vast business empire within which he generated employment for thousands of people. As if in response, day by day he was blessed with success in generating vast wealth. He was a living example to his employees, who in turn were required to serve, like he himself did, with efficiency and honesty. By his own example he illustrated that it was a duty of the owner of a business enterprise to teach his employees, more by example than by precept, as to how they should serve the workplace from where they draw their bread and butter. His friends as well as his foes in both the political and the business arenas equally well acknowledged this, also drawing upon him as an example.

In recognition of his services to country, nation and society, the British Government conferred a knighthood upon him. Although our own society too heaped upon him various types of honours, his view was that all these are empty gestures; that no honours are indicated where one serves the people genuinely, in accordance with one’s own conscience.

Sir Cyril expanded the services of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) founded by Sir DB Jayatilaka, of which the office is located in Borella. As the new Chairman of the YMBA he made it a place held in the highest esteem by all of Sri Lanka. He built its auditorium and gifted it to the Association in memory of both his mother and his father. Even today the building remains an income-generating asset to the Association. The services it provides to the people can barely be stated adequately in words

Although he was involved in the proverbial ‘thousand and one’ activities, yet on his visits to the South never did he fail to step out by the monuments set up at the spot where the ashes of his parents are interred, spare a moment in reflection with palms folded and pay homage to their memory.

 

It is well known that the great Bodhiya in Kalutara turned into a place held sacred by people in all of Sri Lanka, because of the services rendered by Sir Cyril. In the beginning of the era when the premises of the Kalutara Bodhiya belonged to the Residency, Buddhists who wended their way in for worship were chased away by the white Government Agent of the time. He even tried to build a tall structure to ward them off the premises. Our ‘Big Black Sinhalaya’ rose against this White Government Agent.

Sir Cyril commenced a transport business by releasing a single bus named “Swarnapali” on to the roads and soon turned this into a large Bus Company. He adopted the simple strategy of having the conductor collect coins from the passengers who willingly subscribed to have them cast into the tills placed to make collections to support the Kalutara Bodhi. This strategy was crowned with success. Soon after he enlarged the Transport Service and inaugurated the ‘South Western Bus Company’. Along with this he began the production of spareparts for motor vehicles, retreading tyres and other such. As a result, thousands of people in our land found employment which ensured them a daily livelihood.

Later on, in 1956, when the Bandaranaike Government came into power and nationalized transport services, some bus owners who were all opposed to this action, resorted to various insidious means to sabotage the nationalization programme. But Sir Cyril evaluated this decision positively. He provided a ‘spare parts kit’ for each of his 200 or so buses, topped up each bus with diesel and handed over his fleet to the Government. Even Prime Minister Bandaranaike was astounded by this action.

One of his qualities was to ensure that supplementary allocations would be available to keep sustained, without intervening breakdowns, any programme of work he initiated, be it in the social sphere or in relation to the Sasana.

When Sir Cyril invited the Engineering maestro Dr. ANS Kulasinghe to build a Chaitya in the Bodhi premises, the latter was pleased beyond measure and resolved to construct one the likes of which has never before been seen in Sri Lanka. It was built upon the very spot on which the Residency of the white Government Agent was constructed during the British period. When a request was made to transfer that part of the premises to the Kalutara Bodhi Trust, the Government Agent of the time did not comply.

When Mr. Leel Gunasekera, the litterateur, was the Government Agent, Sir Cyril made this request of him, and it was soon granted. Sir Cyril treated this as a case of the fruition of his past Karma (actions). Mr. Leel Gunasekera too, had occasion to tell us, on a later occasion, that through this decision he too performed an act of great merit.

Mr. Kulasinghe, the Engineer, built upon the very spot on which the Residency of the Government Agent had been constructed, a Chaitya, as stated before, “the likes of which has never before been seen in Sri Lanka”. Pilgrims could walk right into the middle of the Chaitya and engage in worship. Sir Cyril too was extremely pleased that he was at the helm of the programme of building such a wonderful Chaitya.

He was in the habit of telling me often, “Podi Hamuduruwane, I want to live until the work of this Chaitya is complete.”

One day, during this time, Sir Cyril took me to his huge factories which comprised a vast network of production points, which by that time had become foreign exchange generating units as well. It was only later on that I realized that he did so to prove a point to me.

“Podi Hamuduruwane”, he started. “There was a time when the Government Agent, Kalutara, a white man, placed obstacles in the way of Buddhists who came to worship the Bodhiya and prevented them from entering the premises. I stood up against him. Now you see, there are white men who know their jobs working under me in my factories.

Engineer, Dr. Kulasinghe, used the very spot upon which stood the Residency occupied by the Government Agent, to build a massive Chaitya of a very special type. This is but a travesty of destiny. In turn Dr. Kulasinghe believed that his plan for the Chaitya is but a tribute to his own creativity.

In his last days what Sir Cyril declared to a newspaper journalist whom he met was that he has performed a vast volume of work and services and the following is what he thinks:

“I am now a free man. However much wealth a person has it is of no use. They are all empty stuff. I was born without any wealth. I shall die too without any wealth. My joy, my relief, my strength are the Buddha Dhamma. As long as I live I shall receive the protection of the gods.”

One morning, in the evening of his life, he took me to his home in the Apartment Complex at Park Street, Colombo. I felt that he was in an unusual mood. As he reached home, he summoned his servant and said, “Today we have to provide the forenoon meal to this monk. So please add an extra cup of rice to the pot.” Then he had a small chair placed in the patch of garden within the quadrangular area in the middle of the house and made me sit there. He sat upon the step. “Podi Hamuduruwane” he continued. “Now, please would you chant the Karaneeya Metta Sutra and the Ratana Sutra. Thereafter please explain to me the meaning of each of them”. While I was chanting, it is with his hands folded together and placed on his forehead that he gave ear. I still remember how Mr. VT de Zoysa, his younger brother together with his nephew, Shelley Wickremasinghe too, gave ear to the chant and to my subsequent explanation of their meanings.

One day, I arrived at his home in Park Street when, as was his practice, he sent his car and driver to fetch me. He welcomed me and ushered me into the house. I then saw two youngsters leave the house. “Do you know the two who just left the house?” he queried. “They are my younger brother’s sons: Ajita de Zoysa and Tilak de Zoysa. He thus introduced them to me by name.

After the demise of Sir Cyril de Zoysa, I learnt and I saw these two youngsters playing a leadership role at various religious and other ceremonies.

Today Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa serves as the Chairman of the Kalutara Bodhi Trust and Deshabandu Tilak de Zoysa as its Secretary. This is as if in very special honour of Sir Cyril, their esteemed paternal Uncle and man of the era, who in his own time served the interests of the nation and religion – the Sasana.

It was only the other day that Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa who holds the Chair of the Amarapura Nikaya-arakshaka Sabha donated Rupees Sixty-Five Million and built a headquarters for the Amarapura Sanga Sabha in Wellawatte. This offering to the Sasana too may be cited as another instance of following upon the footsteps of an exemplary Uncle.

With the passage of time, Sir Cyril fell seriously ill and was lying at the MaCarthy Private Hospital when I visited him on many a day, morning and evening, to chant seth pirith wishing him recovery and prime health. This I did out of a sense of duty, as well, towards him. A few days later, on 2nd January 1978, he breathed his last.

This great national leader who made a name for himself even beyond the shores of Sri Lanka as the legendary Anepidu-sitana in Buddhist history passed away after repaying the debt he owed to the nation by being born into it and conversely making the nation indebted, as it were, to him. Soon it will be the 42nd Anniversary of his demise and the 124th of his birth.

For many, Nirvana is far far away. But for Sir Cyril, owing to his many acts of merit and charity, it is but a mere arm’s length away. It is our prime duty to wish him the peace of Nirvana very soon in the round of births and deaths.

 

Venerable Pandita Arama Sri Dhammatilaka Nayaka Thera M.A.

Justice of the Peace Reg. No.99/08/WP AI 10/078

Sanghanayaka of the District of Colombo,

Chairman/ Western Region- Kolonnawa Sasana-arakshaka Mandalaya

Paaramita Sri Maha Bodhimalu Vihara, Gothatuwa

011 253 4005, 011 268 5054



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‘Is India going to steal land, water and air?’

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by Neville Ladduwahetty

The question cited above was the title of an article published in Ceylon Today by N. Sathya Moorthy (SM), who identifies himself as a Chennai based Policy Analyst/Political Commentator (Friday 10, 2024).The answer to his question is – NOT YET. For the present, stealing is limited to marine assets and the destruction of its habitat in the process by Indian fishermen. These practices have been going on for decades. By resorting to bottom trawling not only is the habitat destroyed for decades, but also the infrastructure of the Sri Lankan fishermen thus affecting their livelihoods. However, going by past and ongoing practices notwithstanding all the protests, expanding the scope of stealing to other fields of activity cannot be ruled out from opportunities arising from increased Connectivity.

STEALING MARINE RESOURCES

In a United Nations-Nippon Foundation of Japan Fellowship Programme of 2016, Aruna Maheepala claims: “There are over 5,000 mechanised trawlers in Tamil Nadu and nearly 2,500 of them enter Sri Lankan waters on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and often coming at 500 m of the shoreline (emphasis added) …. More than 50,000 marine fishers live in the northern fisheries districts of Sri Lanka (Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitive), and they account for about one-fourth of the marine fishers of the country”.

“Before the commencement of the war (1982) around 40% of the fish production of the country came from Northern fishery districts (except Kilinochchi). However, contribution of the fish production in the northern fishery district drastically dropped to 5% in the peak period of the war (2008) and gradually increased after 2009. Livelihoods of Sri Lankan fishers’ have been drastically affected as a result of the Indian poaching” (Ibid).

Judging from the map of Sri Lanka’s EEC and its proximity to India’s coastline, to claim that Indian trawlers “drift” into Sri Lankan waters is unacceptable. On the contrary, the India trawlers “drift” into Sri Lankan waters because they have exhausted resources within India’s EEC.

In the context of the ground situation cited above, for Dr. Jaishankar’s claim that ‘India is committed to the wellbeing and progress of nations of the Indian Ocean is based on our Neighbourhood First’ is far from the truth. Instead, it sounds more like India First in the neighbourhood. To expect India to address this issue despite Dr. Jaishankar’s commitment to “a multilateral rules-based international order along with sincere respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity” are only words in the wind because it is alleged that the majority of Indian fishing boats entering Sri Lanka waters are connected to Indian politicians who are Members of the Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu.

This being the case, stealing marine resources and destroying their habitats is bound to continue without a word of ‘Thank you’ from Sathiya Moorthy or any others in India. In contrast, he expects Sri Lanka and its People to say ‘Thank you’ for the ‘ship-to-mouth assistance granted by India and Indians to the ‘People of Sri Lanka’, repeatedly referred to by External Affairs Minister, Jaishankar, not realising that the monetary value of what was and is being stolen and what is wantonly destroyed in the process, not to mention livelihoods of thousands, far outweighs the value of the assistance given. Therefore, there is no cause whatsoever to say ‘Thank you’.

IMPACT of CONNECTIVITY

With increased Connectivity through a Land Bridge, there is a strong possibility that Indians may Steal Sri Lankan jobs judging from the job situation in India, presented by Mr. Dharmawardana in “System Change: Is Sri Lanka to become an Indian Pradesh”? (The Island May 8, 2024). The article states that “some 93,000 candidates applied for 62 ‘peon’ posts in Uttar Pradesh police department which required a minimum eligibility of grade 5; However, there were 3,700 PhD holders and 28,000 post graduate and many graduates”. In such a background, there is a strong possibility for Indian applicants to offer their services at considerably reduced rates for employment in Sri Lanka, thus depriving Sri Lankans from gaining employment in their own country.

Commenting on the proposed “Massive Investments” in Sri Lanka by India, Sathiya Moorthy is of the view that there is a limit to what he calls a “good compromise in the name of environmental protection”, if “Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans should decide whether they want to live in stone-age caves or live in the times and with the times”.

If he thinks that these unsolicited Investments are being undertaken by India to ensure that Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans live with the times, he is being pedestrian in his thinking. Instead, it is all part of a fall-out arising from geopolitical rivalry by the QUAD to counter China’s influence in Sri Lanka; a fact evident when the US International Development Financial Corporation (DFC) agreed to fund the West Coast container terminal with a contribution of $533 to the Adani Group to build, as a Joint Venture with the Adani Group holding 51% of the shares and the rest, only 49% held by John Keels Holdings and Sri Lanka Ports Authority.

According to a Bloomburg report the Adani Group, the Indian ports-to-power conglomerate, is considering a $750 million investment in Sri Lanka to set up two wind projects that will generate 500 megawatts on the island as another component of extending Connectivity.

Continuing according to the report, Modi is seeking to tilt the balance in a strategic tussle with China on Sri Lanka, a pivotal battleground because it lies on key global shipping lanes and plays into India’s concern of encirclement from Beijing. New Delhi plans to boost air connectivity and also speed work on linking electricity grids with Sri Lanka. The two nations will also conduct a feasibility study for a petroleum pipeline as well as for a land bridge and passenger ferry service.

It is therefore, crystal clear that these Massive Investments are undertaken in the pursuit of the individual and collective national and geopolitical interests of the US and India and not for the benefit of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans per se as Sathiya Moorthy contends, but only because Sri Lanka’s strategic location has imposed a degree of importance that needs to be controlled by the QUAD. In the light of these external compulsions Governments representing Sri Lanka’s interests have hard and limited choices.

Furthermore, since these are unsolicited Investments, relationships between and within governments factor in and invariably influence the negotiating processes involving costs and leniency towards environmental and other contractual obligations, etc. Consequently, client States such as Sri Lanka invariably end up with the short end of the stick. What is more surprising and disappointing is for a US Government Agency such as DFC to fund an unsolicited investment to the tune of US $533, thus violating good practices such as transparency associated with open bids.

SENSE of VULNERABILITY

The report cited above conveys the sense of vulnerability that has influenced India’s relationship with Sri Lanka. The need for Modi to tilt the balance in a strategic tussle with China on Sri Lanka, a pivotal battleground because it lies on key global shipping lanes and plays into India’s concern of encirclement from Beijing says it all. The sense of vulnerability felt by India regarding its security and territorial integrity is not new.

India’s leadership has repeated often enough, that the ‘security of India depends on the security of Sri Lanka’: a concern that causes India to seek regular assurances from Sri Lankan leaders and even prospective ones, that they would not undertake any ventures that have the potential to threaten India’s security. Such a perception has compelled India to adopt proactive measures to “tilt the balance in a strategic tussle with China on Sri Lanka”.

STRATEGIES to CONTROL DIRECTION of SRI LANKA

The way India is planning to “tilt the balance” in India’s favour is by adopting policies and strategies to CONTROL Sri Lanka’s political, financial and economic determinations in a direction that ensures India’s security and does not hinder India’s national and global aspirations.

POLITICAL CONTROL

For instance, control over internal political arrangement is through the repeated insistence of the full implementation of the 13th Amendment crafted and imposed by India. This entrapment is a serious fetter to the introduction of system changes at the Provincial level where powers Constitutionally devolved to Provinces are further devolved to Districts and Local Governments in a manner that enables development in the peripheries based on their respective determinations and capabilities. The strait jacket imposed by the 13th Amendment seriously restricts autochthonous development in the peripheries, thus affecting the livelihood of the majority in Sri Lanka.

FINANCIAL CONTROL

Financial control is through the use of the Indian Rupees in acquiring Assets, Trade through lines of credit and other transactions. For instance, the recent launch of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) mechanism claims to reduce the cost of financial transactions between India and Sri Lanka. It is reported that Indian Government is actively exploring the possibility of facilitating Indian Rupee investments for Indian Companies in Sri Lanka.

“In the fiscal year 2023, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)granted permission for international trade for invoicing and payments to be conducted in Indian Rupees. This move allowed for exports and imports to be denominated and invoiced in Rupees, with trade transactions settled in the currency. The RBI’s decision aims to stimulate global trade growth, particularly Indian exports, while also working towards the internationalisation of the Indian Rupee” (Ceylon Today, February 28, 2024).

“Last year, Sri Lanka officially recognised the Indian Rupee as a designated currency, ending trade settlements between the two countries to be conducted in Rupees” (Ibid).

“Currently, Indian Investors typically engage in investments in Sri Lanka using international currencies like the US Dollar, which involves additional complexities and conversion costs. The transition to Rupee investments is expected to streamline market entry for Indian companies, with the Ministry of External Affairs reportedly advocating for this transition” (Ibid).

The report finally states: “The push for Rupee investments aligns with India’s broader vision to elevate its currency to the status of hard currency in the future, potentially leading to inclusion in the IMF’s SDR basket and bolstering its foreign exchange reserves. This move is anticipated to benefit Indian firms with significant investments in Sri Lanka, such as the Adani Group’s development projects in the country’s port and power sector” (Ibid).

ECONOMIC CONTROL

Economic control is through unsolicited “Massive Investments”, that Sathiya Moorthy refers to in ports, renewable energy and other infrastructure projects to consolidate connectivity on lines cited above. Other actively pursued projects are the under-sea pipeline for petroleum products and for electricity grid connections together with the Land Bridge cited above. The collective impact of all this is not only to control the future direction of Sri Lanka but also constrain future choices open to Sri Lanka, in order to ensure a dependence that guarantees the security of India without depending on verbal assurances of Sri Lankan political leaders whatever their hue.

CONCLUSION

The answer to Sathiya Moorthy’s question “Is India Going to Steal Land, Water and Air?” is: NOT YET. For the present, stealing is limited to marine resources and the wanton destruction of its habitat within Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone; a practice that has been going on for decades without acknowledgment of any kind – not even a Thank You. The stealing that is yet to come would be later, and would be through unsolicited projects judiciously selected and proposed by India in the name of Connectivity in order to control determinations of Sri Lanka in a manner that guarantees the security of India without depending on verbal assurances by Sri Lanka’s political leaders.

The reason for the obsession with security is because of a notion of vulnerability that India and its leadership has experienced for decades and repeated often, that the ‘security of India depends on the Security of Sri Lanka’. Although the sense of vulnerability brought about by a perception of encirclement had affected India for decades, the growing economic clout that India is experiencing in the background of geopolitical rivalries has emboldened India to adopt more proactive strategies to “tilt the balance in a strategic tussle with China on Sri Lanka”.

The strategy adopted guarantees security as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, is by being in a position to CONTROL determinations of Sri Lanka through Internal Political arrangements (13th Amendment), Financial through UPI and the role of the Indian Rupee in Trade and other transactions and Connectivity through Massive Investments in unsolicited infrastructure projects, investing in existing projects, resources and assets in order to colonize Sri Lanka and make it DEPENDENT on India. The policies currently being adopted by Sri Lanka are facilitating this process.

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Diana’s noisy exit; super women brings credit to Lanka and unwanted experts

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Finally, the case pertaining to State Minister Diana Gamage’s position as a British citizen has been brought to a close by a judgment of the Supreme Court. She has been dislodged from her National List post. Even her very continuance of living in Sri Lanka is unlawful, Cass surmises, for she does not even hold a visitor’s visa.

As an illegal resident of this country did Diana Gamage live mouse-like? No, not Defiant Diana! She roared like a lioness and even bared her claws like an enraged tigress in an argument with two co-MPs in the House of Reps on the Diyawanne.

Much was written about this anti-heroine in the Sunday newspapers of May 12. I quote from the Sunday Times: “After the highest court in the land gave its verdict, you were unrepentant and defiant. It was a bit puzzling when you said you ‘respected’ the judgment but saw there was a political conspiracy behind it. … Talking of conspiracies, the court did ask why the CID didn’t investigate your alleged offences for three years; and why you were so privileged. There seemed to be evidence of your obtaining several passports from the Paradise.”

That quote from a columnist who writes letters in a tongue in cheek manner but hits severely on truths of how Sri Lankan politicians and services function, opens up some issues. The judgment said that all must be treated equally before the law. It also focused the spotlight on persons obtaining several passports, DPL included. There is another flashy dame by the name of Sashi, who assumed more than one date of birth and hey presto, was the possessor of a diplomatic passport too!

What stuck in Cassandra’s throat chokingly over the defeated yet defiant Diana centered hoo-ha is her remark at a press briefing quoted by another columnist of the Sunday Times: “Why should I go from this country? I am a full-blooded Sri Lankan, with generations of Sinhala blood in me …” For that remark alone, Cass pronounces Diana Gamage with her British passport, not even having sought dual citizenship, should be banished from this land for ever. Cassandra googled entering her name. Many references but all the same and not one reveals her parentage.

Diana tried to rouse women to her cause and defence. Cassandra declares vehemently, echoed by most women of this country: “No woman who calls herself a Sri Lankan woman will rally round you. You are not one of us, Diana.”

Woman to be admired

In sharp contrast to Diana of the many deceptions, a sportswoman, activist and supreme achiever is featured in the news on Monday May 13. Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala was presented the IOC 2023 Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Champions Award for Asia at the 43rd OCA General Assembly in Bangkok on May 11. (IOC is the International Olympic Committee and OCA stands for  Olympic Council of Asia). We heartily congratulate Jayanthi and thank her for bringing honour to Sri Lanka when our beloved country was declared bankrupt and so high on the list of countries with rampant corruption.

In 2016, Jayanthi scaled the summit of Everest on a Vesak full moon day. Cassandra interviewed her sometime after all the kudos offered to her – overseas mostly. She detailed the absolutely strength-draining feat however much training had been undergone. Remembered are what she said. Queues just below the summit were large and time short. Jayanthi was almost beyond endurance and will to continue, when her Sherpa guide started verbally abusing her. Luckily, she realised why his change of demeanour. He was urging her on by rousing her anger, knowing she was capable of the final mighty effort. She publicly expressed her debt to him for his guidance, protection and last-minute tactic of annoying her. She is admirable in her career as an activist, trainer, researcher and programme manager. She holds a Masters in Gender Studies from the University of Sussex among other educational qualifications. Most of all, she is a true Sri Lankan woman with no crowing over it or her many achievements.

Our women have shone in other areas of the sports field. Our Women’s Cricket Eleven have brought pride to us, beating many a team to be selected to play in the T20 World Cricket Cup matches. Here’s a blurb for you: “The ICC Women’s T 20 World Cup 2024 is set to ignite the cricketing world from October 3rd to 20th in Bangladesh. With ten teams, twenty-three matches and the promise of high-octane cricket, the tournament is a must watch for fans around the globe.” Our young women cricketers led by dynamic Chamari Athapathu are among that ten.

Plenty local experts

Cassandra makes bold to say that Sri Lanka has plenty of experts doing very well overseas, but plenty have stayed back and are available, in any field including medicine and IT. So, why hire experts from overseas at horrendous cost when ours can serve the purpose well and at such a saving of forex.  Dr Upul Wijayawardhana asks the question in The Island – May 13 – that we have asked before and of course got no reply to it. Why Solheim?

Solheim was totally non grata during and soon after the LTTE created civil war, since the perception was that he was biased towards Prabhakaran and the LTTE. Then we heard he had been severely rapped on the knuckles as Exec Director of UNEP (Environment Programme) for massive spending on air travel and high living. UN SG asked him to resign.

Cass echoes a million voices surely, when she questions why the need of an environmental advisor was met by hiring Solheim when there are educated Sri Lankan experts in the country itself or overseas, who score further by knowing full well the prevalent conditions of the country. Things are done in SL like in no other country! No explanations either. Cass applauds Shamindra Ferdinando and Dr Upul Wijayawardhana for turning the spotlight on this further expense to the country which is unnecessary.

Taxes

When Cass complained that interest earned on deposits was taxed, which is the sole means of income to many a retiree, a woman banker told her that even interest earned on savings in children’s names is taxed. Interest rates have plummeted and the meager amount earned from hard earned money deposited is now taxed. And where does that money go? For health, education, prevention of malnutrition in children? Dr Nishan de Mel, Verité Research, is heard in a video clip saying that 40% of increased taxed money – 75 billion – went to one line item in the military: diet and uniforms, whose costs have increased fourfold within the last two years.

Put your thinking caps on!

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The Opposable Thumb and the Big Toe: Of The Thinker In Auguste Rodin and Sarath Chandrajeewa

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Thinker in front of the empty doorway (2023), Sarath Chandrajeewa

by Laleen Jayamanne

What do the prehensile hand and the big toe have to do with the unique and exalted human ability to think? These two vital anatomical features of our body, the thumb and the big toe, don’t draw attention that much (we take them for granted), but a canonical French sculpture and a small Lankan painting have brought them to my attention recently.

I was predisposed to notice the function of the big toe in Rodin’s modern sculpture, The Thinker (1904) and in Sarath Chandrajeewa’s painting, Thinker in front of the empty doorway (2023), because of a photo of a big toe in the book, Gesture and Speech by the palaeo-anthropologist Andre Leroi-Gourhan. In extreme close-up, it is not a pretty picture, though what Leroi-Gourhan has to say about its function in human evolution is startling, certainly food for thought. He says that the evolution of the human foot with its big toe created the bipedal ability to stand up firmly, and walk upright, without losing balance.

Try walking with the big toe lifted up! Similarly, without the freed prehensile hand, humans could not have evolved to create tools and language, with a big, highly differentiated brain and nervous system of precise sensitivity. He demonstrates the unique refinement of the human hand and foot by providing diagrams of the gradual differentiation of these two drivers of evolution in contrast with some primates. Here’s Leroi-Gourhan:

“The human hand is not fundamentally different from that of other primates. Its ability to grasp, like theirs, is due to an opposable thumb. The foot, however, is radically different from a monkey’s. A primary stage with an opposable big toe is conceivable, but the two paths must have diverged very early, before the earliest known anthropoid stage”.

The Thinker as Archetypal MAN Just imagine placing a woman in the posture of The Thinker. Would it be credible? Sumathy Sivmohan asked this rhetorical question in our recent piece on ‘Abstraction & Empathy’ (Island 19/4/24):

“We already have the figure of the Thinker in Rodin. Do we immediately know to make those connections, and therefore think of the Thinker? Or is it a MAN holding himself in a ‘thoughtful’ pose which kindles the idea?”

So, I did a search and found that there is at least one such example, but its parodic register makes the point. In singer Ariana Grande’s “God Is a Woman” music video, she sits in The Thinker pose while being attacked by small angry men. Rodin’s thinker, though celebrated as a rare modern bronze sculpture, has been parodied in mass culture from as early as 1940. Charly Chaplin parodied The Thinker by placing multiple plaster copies of the statue to decorate the road on which Hinkel’s motorcade travelled in The Great Dictator. He adjusted a detail by making The Thinker stretch out one arm in a ‘Heil Hitler’ salute. Jean Luc Godard parodied The Thinker in his 1968 anti-Vietnam war essay-film, A Letter to Jane. It seemed that the solemnity of this perennial European male posture was unsalvageable.

The Archaic Thinker

But the prototype for the Thinker goes back to ancient times with clay figurines striking the same pose of a seated male figure holding his head in his hand. This iconic gesture (gestus in Brecht, Abhinaya in Mirror of Gesture (Abihnaya Darpan), of resting or holding the weight of the head in his hand with down cast eyes is what makes it an archetypal image of introspective, thinking man, self-aware man. The organ of thought, the brain appears to be weary and heavy, needing support of its ally, the hand. Wikipedia says the following about The Thinker’s archaic lineage:

“The Thinker from Yehud, also known as the Thinker of Palestine,[1] is an archaeological figurine discovered during salvage excavations in the Israeli city of Yehud. The figurine, which sits atop a ceramic jug in a posture resembling Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Thinker,” dates back to the Middle Bronze Age II Palestine (c. 1800–1600 B.C.E.). It was found in a tomb accompanied by various items, including daggers, spearheads, an axe head, a knife, two male sheep, and a donkey, all likely buried as offerings. After its discovery, the broken jug had to be stabilised and restored before being displayed in the Canaanite Galleries of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.”

“The “Thinker of Cernavodă”, Romania, a terracotta sculpture, and its female counterpart, “The Sitting Woman”, are works of art from the Chalcolithic era. The Hamangia culture produced these remarkable sculptures, with The Thinker believed to be the earliest prehistoric sculpture that conveys human self-reflection instead of the more common artistic themes of hunting or fertility. About 5,000 BC.”

And then Sarath Chandrajeewa does a small painting in 2023 and gives it a discursive title; Thinker in front of the empty doorway, which recollects Rodin’s work respectfully, in that it is not an ‘appropriation,’ neither a copy nor a pastiche of an old master, both tired gestures. But here, the exchange is between two bronze sculptors, one of whom also paints and makes pottery. There is a complex exchange of thought encoded in craft praxis (a theory-practice exchange) going on here, in this act of naming. A rare Lankan practitioner of bronze casting of monumental statues, (trained in the European tradition in Britain and post-Soviet Russia), and of abstract work in bronze, from the global South, salutes a modern European master in an oblique manner, fully cognisant of the vast aesthetic, historical and political differences that separate them. The gesture is quiet, measured, very modest indeed.

The sheer monumental form of Rodin’s Thinker (6 feet), is emphasised by the fact of its placement at a height emphasising the weight of thought bearing down. Besides, seated on a rocky surface he leans forward, twisting his body by placing his right elbow on his left knee, with his hand supporting his head lost in thought. Thinking appears to strain the body to an extreme. The feet rest on an uneven slope creating a sense of a somewhat precarious balance, emphasised by the big toe of his right leg which grips the rocky ground as though to steady himself from slipping.

The Asian Squatting Posture

In contrast, Sarath’s thinker is squatting on the ground and therefore has a stable stance working comfortably with gravity, as all Asian dancers and martial artists also do in their bent-knee stance, while standing. However, the thinker’s right big toe is separated from the little toes and appears to have a life of its own. which is why it stuck out like a sore thumb, as we say in English. The mimetic correspondence between the two thinkers helps to differentiate them on the basis of this similarity. Their big toes sharpen our perception and readies the mind to perceive differences and diverge. This power of divergence, while working within a tradition, is what the late Kumar Shahani called creativity, within Indian Modernism. A contribution to the richness of Indian Modernism which engaged with tradition without reproducing clones and neo-traditionalist kitsch.

‘All that is Solid Melts into Air’ Marx

The high seriousness of Rodin’s The Thinker easily lent itself to parody partly because it is a highly abstract work, free of context, universal. It is in the great lineage of nude sculpture from classical Greece of idealised male figures such as Apollo, to the perfect anatomy of David by Michelangelo. These lessons have been internalised by Rodin who comes at the tail end of this European tradition, after the famous Laocoon of the twisted bodies entangled in a serpentine struggle with a large snake. Rodin’s The Thinker appears belated, an anachronism in the midst of the dematerialisation of space and time in impressionism and other Modernist work of the late 19th Century capitalist, industrial modernity.

Rodin’s model for his The Thinker, ironically, was a boxer who often suffers from brain damage as an occupational hazard! But by then the division between the body (manual labour with the hand) and mind (intellectual labour with the brain) had had a long history in Europe from the Florentine Renaissance on, where the abstract brain work produced Linear Perspective and mapped the globe, as well as the factory system with its division of labour, to produce wool for the market, which required workers with manual skills.

The European Thinker as a Melancholic

It was in this 16th Century tradition that the pathology of Melancholia was written about in Italy, as the signature malady of men who lived by exercising their intellect, that is men of genius, artists, poets and philosophers. In contrast, in classical Greece the thinker was a man who walked and talked, a peripatetic figure as in Plato’s Academy, seen in paintings. Socrates and his students appear to have had a wide repertoire of gestures for picturing thinking as a collective, active process. But it is in the Renaissance that the iconography of the head resting on a hand was revived from prehistoric times to represent a unique male individual as the thinker. Is this because of the immense archive of Classical Greek knowledge that opened up to be mastered, creating the Italian Renaissance?

Thereby in the Renaissance, the thinker as a sedentary, isolated figure of genius became a well-recognised archetype in both the philosophical and medical discourse on Melancholia and also in painting. The German Albrecht Durer, who is the major figure of the Northern Renaissance made the most iconic image of the pathology in his copper engraving, Melancholia 1, (1514). Here the allegorical figure of melancholy is an angel with wings, but in the form of a large woman sitting with her head resting on her hand, in a workshop with craft tools and a geometric form all scattered on the floor unused. His St Jerome in his Study shows the scholar alone in his study at his desk, with a dog, associated with the ‘black dog’ of melancholia. This tradition presents male artists and scholars as being prone to melancholia. They are thought to suffer from a manic-depressive polarity, where creativity of genius flowers when experiencing inspiration or enthusiasm (meaning possessed by divinity), and that very exertion creates the depressive melancholia as well.

The Melancholy Prince of Denmark; ‘To be or not to be …’

With Hamlet as the melancholy prince, the iconography gets theatricalised and dramatic in the sense of being subject to conflicting emotions and moods which give rise to the soring poetry of existential agony and incomparable scenes such as his address to the skull of ‘poor Yorick’ (the Court Jester), at his grave site. The young prince thinks on his feet unlike the older men weighed down by abstract thought.

There is a vast European archive devoted to the pathology of Melancholia. In entering it one risks never returning from it intact. Such are its seductions. So, it’s best to have a brief peek into it and salvage Freud’s essay on ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ which is a very accessible text worth reading. He makes a distinction between mourning and melancholia by saying we mourn the death of a beloved person but the sadness of melancholy is a more generalised, defused feeling of profound emptiness and we are unaware of what it is that we have lost; its unconscious.

Feminists have done some very important work on this pathology of depression (an epidemic in the global North), and have asked why the category of genius has been coded as male. One of the reasons being that gifted women have only rarely had access to the symbolic means to express their profound experiences of loss, sadness and melancholy, unlike men who have had the full range of cultural expression at hand through access to deep education and training.

Ophelia or Portia?

In this force field of Male Melancholia and attendant exceptional classical erudition and creativity of highly gifted men of genius, the figure of Ophelia cuts a sorry picture, no doubt a depressive, given how she is treated by Hamlet, but without the corresponding eloquence of speech, she simply drowns herself in her sadness. In contrast, the clever Portia was a favourite among school girls of my era when there were inter-school Shakespearean competitions where her verbal eloquence, quick wittedness and stirring speech were always on display; ‘The quality of mercy is not strained…’.

Melancholia (Kalpanacari-Thanikam dose hewath Kalakireema?)

Sarath’s ‘Thinker in front of the empty doorway’ is one of the few paintings I was drawn to in his Visual Paraphrases exhibition of 2023 at Barefoot Gallery. And that it was placed next to The Ascetic, (in the catalogue), created a montage, where one noticed the counter-intuitive vibrancy of colour of the Ascetic with primary colours and the disturbingly unruly manner in which the mostly light colours and lines formed the semi-abstract Thinker.

The Ascetic was inviting while the Thinker was sort of disturbing to look at, though I found both compelling in their own way. While the brush strokes abstract the body of the thinker, he is very firmly situated in front of ‘the empty doorway’, a void. The figure is also firmly grounded in his striking squatting position. It’s a class specific posture, though not gender specific, and perhaps it’s also very South Asian, which is easily performed by manual workers, both urban and rural. People of upper classes who do not sit on the ground do not have the muscle strength and flexibility to sit in this manner.

A Void

It’s the incongruity between the title, Thinker…, with its European art history lineage, and the Asiatic squatting posture which struck me at first. The empty doorway is haunting with its yawning void, marked in black, fading to a grey white background with a barely delineated doorpost with the missing door, recalling ‘The’ looted doors and windows of Jaffna during the civil war. Here’s how Sumathy Sivamohan formulates Sarath’s mode of abstraction:

“Sarath’s art is abstract – but they build on the ideas of palpable forms of the real – images of the war that have come to be both tactile and material, like the wood, and have come to stand for the dislocation of war”.

Unlike Rodin’s context free thinker, the melancholy thoughtfulness (kalpanakari-thanikam-dose?) has a social/historical referent presented as a fragment, ‘…the empty doorway’, but abstracted from realist coordinates of place and time. Sumathy identifies a similar dynamic in the abstraction in Fallen Monument where she recognised immediately the scattered fragments of the Jaffna peninsula as her home.

But it’s the rough brush strokes, scrapings and scratching perhaps and the variety of patches of pastel shades of colour mixed with patches of black that emit energy which makes Thinker in front of the empty doorway as alive as The Ascetic but in a more troubling, agitated way, which I guess is what thinking feels like when it does not repeat the same thing over and over, but plunges into a void to find a foot hold, to grip onto something or hang onto something to orient oneself.

The Limits of Realism & Empathy

Had this figure been painted in a realist more empathetic mode, with a sad facial expression say and solid anatomy, its power to create meaning would have been quite different, more limited, I think. What is definitely solid in the painting, though lightly sketched, is ‘The empty doorway’, a fading trace of a violent civil war history, marked with the definite article for emphasis.

In the absence of a realist anatomy to identify with empathetically, one feels a pulsing of the nervous system, suggested by the jostling markings, scribbles, incisions even and colours that don’t ‘complement’ each other. The texture is imperceptible on paper and barely registered on the computer screen, my only forms of access to this painting. The thinker’s bowed, slightly turned head with downcast eyes, rests lightly on his hands with clasped fingers held in front symmetrically, as in a gesture of prayer, elbows resting on the knees, a figure of introspection.

Celestial Blue

A light, radiant, soft, celestial blue patch of colour on the thinker’s head echoes the same colour at the top left-hand corner of the frame and elsewhere on the body including the right big toe, suggesting an outside, out of frame. These qualities of blue appear to lighten the existential gravity of the ‘Thinker in front of the empty doorway’. Here, there is no weighty realist musculature of Rodin’s Thinker to weigh us down with sorrow.

Instead, one feels an energetic, intensive body (expressed with movement-colour somewhat muddied and a variety of markings, abrasions), that makes the beholders minds’ eye restless; perhaps an image of thought under duress. The blue big toe fires a neural connection in the brain of a thinker (an old woman) who thereby dodges the blues.

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