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University Education in the 21st Century

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The basic principles that we should work on include –

a)  Breadth of knowledge in context, not depth that is

essential only for those going on to do research

b) Better communication skills including teaching

skills that will facilitate the sharing of knowledge

c)  Thinking skills that promote innovation and

analysis of different perspectives

d) Social awareness and sensitivity that contributes to

coherent and productive planning and action in the

world of work

———————-

Text of keynote address on ‘The Future of University Education’ delivered by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha at the Sabaragamuwa Student Symposium, yesterday.

 

It is a pleasure to come back to Sabaragamuwa, and the more so this time as it is after several years. And though I am now old and lazy, and was a bit put out when I was told the text of my presentation was needed in advance, the topic given me, ‘University Education in the 21st Century’ was convenient. For I had been in fact reflecting on the subject, for the posts I now put up daily on what I term my political Facebook Account, that of the Council for Liberal Democracy.

The series that I called ‘Productive Initiatives’, as a contrast to the depressing series I am also writing, about the destruction wrought by J R Jayewardene and his political heirs, also however turned out depressing. For unfortunately most positive initiatives in education in the 20th century were promptly subverted, beginning with Kannangara’s Central Schools which J R Jayewardene soon straitjacketed in monolingualism.

It was the second great educational innovator of the last century, Prof Arjuna Aluwihare, who conceived the idea of Affiliated University Colleges, from which this University springs. He engaged in such innovation because by the eighties it had become clear to many youngsters that the education system was a mess. Though we prided ourselves on our literacy rates, and on providing free education up to university level, it was clear that the quality of the education provided was abysmal as far as many students were concerned and did not help them to gain decent employment.

There were of course many other causes for the radicalization of the young, and the insurgency that burst out at the end of the eighties. But the Youth Commission report that President Premadasa commissioned noted clearly the need to expand opportunities for rural youth. And though the school education system continued a mess, Arjuna Aluwihare as Chairman of the UGC proposed a radical new approach to tertiary education, and set up what were called Affiliated University Colleges, intended to provide a broad education to youngsters, including compulsory English and wider general awareness, instead of concentration on one or more subjects with no effort to relate them to the world of work.

His ideas were not supported by the majority of universities which were happy to continue doing the same thing for a few more decades. The only university which embraced the idea enthusiastically was Sri Jayawardenepura, which had a very dynamic Vice-Chancellor, Prof S B Hettiarachchi. So USJP conducted programmes in five AUCs, including the flagship programme of the AUCs, the English Diploma course.

This was open to students who had not done English at the Advanced Level. Very few schools in fact offered English at that level, so the intake at the three universities which offered English as a Special Subject was largely confined to students from Colombo and Kandy. This meant that only a few students offered English each year at these universities, but the Departments got vast amounts of funding on the grounds that they were producing English teachers for the nation. Given their exclusivity, hardly any of their products went into teaching except at a few elite schools.

I had long complained about restrictions on the study of English at tertiary level, and when I mentioned this to Arjuna he promptly got me involved in his new programme, which I had not known about before. And I believe I have every reason to be proud of what I achieved. One of my brightest colleagues at USJP, where I first returned to the University system, once told me that there was no point in being a teacher unless one’s pupils turned out better than one was oneself. When I look at my students who excel here, and at the Uva Wellassa University, and in the Department of Technical Education and Training, I feel that at least the English programmes I began in the early nineties have succeeded. Those I started later have done less well, but that is another story, once again to do with Ranil Wickremesinghe’s wickedness.

However, while the Science courses that Aluwihare initiated also I believe did well – and full marks again to this university in particular for that – the AUCs and their successors failed in other respects to live up to his vision. For instance the general courses he had thought of, essentially to increase the general knowledge of youngsters woefuly deprived of this in schools, fell into the trap that affected general courses elsewhere. They were stuffed full of specialist knowledge, and did not engage students to think of the realities of the world they lived in. Sri Lankan studies for instance regurgitated what students had learnt in school, without helping students to position Sri Lanka in the modern world. Unfortunately there was no clear understanding of soft skills, which we are now told at every turn is what the Sri Lankan education system fails to inculcate. And no one thought in those distant days of studying what happened elsewhere, of looking for instance at the development of what are called Core courses in American universities.

So where students should have been given first and foremost better communications skills, and the ability to work in teams, they were instead given detailed knowledge of science and history, formulas about systems for the former, catalogues for the latter.

Later, when I joined Sabaragamuwa University, having already been involved in developing curricula for the degree courses it was developing, both for new students and for those who had completed AUC Diplomas, I decided I should study Core courses as they were being developed in the United States where they had first started.

They had developed initially because American schools were not like British ones from which students could proceed to specialize because they had been provided there with soft skills and wider knowledge. American High Schools as they were called provided more basic education and those going on to university needed catch up teaching as to the knowledge and skills better schools provide.

But in the early 19th century there was not too much of this. Later, by the end of the 20th century, the few core subjects introduced a century earlier had to be expanded as the range of skills needed for productive employment in a changing world also expanded. Derek Bok, President of Harvard for many years, led seminal changes to the system, which I was able to study. And though we did not do as well as Harvard, I think the Core courses we started here back in 1997 equipped our students well for the world of work. And I was able to introduce something similar at the Military Academy when we looked after their degree course.

But none of this had a wider provenance. So that is why, a quarter of a century after Prof Aluwihare showed the way, we have the Prime Minister in his budget speech highlighting ‘the need to build a knowledge-based economy, and the need to promote sport, particularly among the young generation. The Prime Minister also points out that education reforms are important to tackle issues especially among unemployed young generation’.

 

I would find this funny, if it were not so tragic. Six years ago, when I wrote to him to say the country needed reforms instead of the elections that had turned into his substitute for action, I drew attention to the need of the following –

a)      A new Universities Act that provides meaningful training that promotes employability free to those who need it, whilst facilitating the establishment of other centres of excellence through private/ public partnerships

b)      A new Education Act that ensures holistic education, with greater stress on skills and competencies that are developed through extra-curricular activities such as Sports and Social Service and Cultural Activities

But of course nothing happened. And if the inaction of the last year is anything to go by, nothing more will happen and instead we will simply hear more and more platitudes about the need for reform.

This is the sadder in that reform would be so easy. I have no regrets personally about having resigned from the post of State Minister of Higher Education five years ago, in time to avoid all taint of Yahapalanaya crookedness and incompetence. But it was sad for the country since those who took over – and indeed had been put on top of me – had no idea about what was required. The last Chairman of the UGC did try, and I am sure the present one will also try. But what the country needs is thoroughgoing reform that is based on general social needs, and that is inconceivable to those stuck in the ivory tower concept which we still cling to, in terms of not 20th century but rather 19th century British models.

The basic principles that we should work on include –

a) Breadth of knowledge in context, not depth that is essential only for those going on to do research

b) Better communication skills including teaching skills that will facilitate the sharing of knowledge

c) Thinking skills that promote innovation and analysis of different perspectives

d) Social awareness and sensitivity that contributes to coherent and productive planning and action in the world of work

Together with these let me draw attention to something that is particularly relevant to what we are concerned with, the research that students have engaged in. I should note though that when I was responsible for preparing a new curriculum for what was a new university, way back in 1997, I was not keen on what was described as a thesis. Not only did I feel that our undergraduates would simply reproduce material culled from others, I also thought that they would not be properly supervised. And though I agreed in the end to what we called a dissertation, I insisted on an oral viva because it was vital to check that students understood what they were presenting.

This may seem excessively cautious, but those were days in which plagiarization was rife in the universities. I recall interviewing someone for a senior position who had no idea of what anything in his master’s thesis meant. His response was that some authority had said this – which the thesis itself had not acknowledged – and I sent a rocket to the Colombo university Vice-Chancellor who was gracious enough to admit their error. He promised that in the future they would insist on an oral test to check on the understanding of the candidate as to what was in the thesis. But whether this happened I do not know, and of course nothing could be done about those masquerading as scholars on the basis of what they had copied.

The oral test was essential, but I am glad Sabaragamuwa has moved further on this and makes students present their research and respond to questions. But I believe too that we should go further, and ensure that research is practical and at undergraduate level oriented towards community development.

This was one of my last proposals when I was Minister, when I suggested to Vice-Chancellors that they should focus all research at undergraduate level on the area in which they were situated. So political science students could for instance look at the work of Grama Niladhari Divisions and Divisional Secretariats, economists could look at enterprises and employment opportunities in the area, sociologists at family structures and welfare statistics, English students at English education, Sinhala students at writing skills amongst students, geography students at water problems – which six years ago I told the then President was one of the greatest problems we had to face, something that thankfully, if six years too late, the current President has acknowledge.

I suggested then to the Vice-Chancellors, who seemed to think this a good idea though they promptly forgot about it after I resigned, that the students of each final year should focus on one administrative division, so that the university could then prepare a comprehensive development plan for that division based on the research of its students. That research would of course have included consultation of the people of the division, consultation that now rarely occurs when development plans are made.

Politicians will of course think this unwarranted interference, but in a context where many politicians can neither think nor plan, there has to be some sensible input. Of course I may be being unfair to politicians in this area, for I had thought of the need for such interventions after much work in the North and East. In those areas what were termed District and Divisional Development Committees had in the period between 2010 and 2014 been entrusted to scoundrels such as Bathiudeen and Hisbullah and Piyasena – and two of them, enthroned then, went on to engage in even greater destruction over the next five years too.

Such individuals would resent academic involvement but I have no doubt sensible politicians would welcome this. Of course the plans prepared by universities would be subject to further discussion, but they would provide a better basis, with greater factual input, and greater input as to what the people want, than any plans prepared by politicians or even any central government agency could have.

So let me leave you with this suggestion, which I hope the Dean and the Faculty will take up, with the support of your new Vice-Chancellor. Focus on a socially productive outcome in your next cycle of research, one that will allow staff and students of the Faculty who are concerned citizens to work together coherently to make things better for the community in which you are situated. That is what the university of the 21st century should make a priority, development with precise knowledge, deeper understanding, and social sensitivity.

 

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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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