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Midweek Review

Horrific complexity:



The political economy of “Paangshu”

By Uditha Devapriya

For well over a month, Paangshu has been the talk of the town. Initially shown to a select audience during the yahapalana regime, then given a public release two months ago under the current government, it continues to win overwhelmingly positive reviews.

Meera Srinivasan of The Hindu correctly considers it as “perhaps the first mainstream Sinhala film to foreground the struggle of a missing person’s family.” Of course, the missing person happens to belong to the majority Sinhala community rather than the minority Northern Tamil community, since Paangshu isn’t about the war up there; it’s about the war down here, in the South, one that, over three years, killed as many people as, if not more people than, those killed over three decades in the conflict with the LTTE.

That reason alone makes Paangshu worthy of more than a cursory review, which is what I came up with last Saturday. I say that because of the muffled backlash it has received from those who object to its perception of the political history underlying it, which not many directors have forayed into. For Visakesa Chandrasekaram’s film delves into an experience most from my generation didn’t live through: while my contemporaries came face-to-face with the war against the LTTE, only their parents and grandparents encountered the war against the JVP, in all its horrific complexity.

And yet its relevance to the search for the missing from that other war – the 30 year one – can’t be denied. The missing then, as with the missing now, continues to be missed, and to be unaccounted for. As an elegy on reconciliation, Chandrasekam has made a great work, certainly a brave one. My problem, however, has nothing to do with what he’s made. Rather it has to do with the selectivity of some of those who praise it.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Wars don’t just arise. They may be rooted in ethnic, religious, even caste differences, but fundamentally, they reflect economic differences.

The second JVP insurrection (1987-1989) differed from the first (1971) owing to the wave of sympathy it created among the Southern youth for the JVP. The first insurrection had been carried out mostly by undergraduates, the sons of a petty bourgeoisie who later became ideological vessels for the establishment.

As Gamini Keerawella once observed in an essay on the JVP, by 1967 the party had begun to recruit vast sections of the petty bourgeoisie, distancing itself from the rural proletariat from whose ranks it had got in its membership until then. The insurrectionists thus couldn’t hold for long after their uprising. By the end of the 1970s, they had begun to transit to the establishment, reflecting if not betraying their class interests; one of these ex-JVPers now describes the insurrection, no doubt with the wisdom of hindsight, as “a stupid rebellion poorly executed.” What this means is that the class composition of the first insurrection was considerably different from the class composition of the second.

Rohan Gunaratna’s book on the 1987-1990 uprising, the most scholarly account of it written so far, relegates the economic roots of that conflict to the background. My chief complaint with an otherwise comprehensive study, its lack of a proper assessment of the economic backdrop against which the insurrection played out gives to that insurrection the character of a spontaneous uprising. Similar complaints can be made of studies of other conflicts from other regions, but in this instance, it has led to commentators to view the second insurgency in terms of the first, as a backlash against the Indo-Lanka Accord, and to draw parallels between it and the war against the LTTE.

To put it simply, what transpired from 1987 to 1990 cannot be explained without reference to the policies of the regime that crushed the insurrection. The uprising was the result of a multitude of factors: a ban on eco-friendly chena cultivation; the diversion of land to what one outfit today refers to as “Western boondoggles” (J. R Jayewardene’s “robber barons”); the devaluation of the rupee which deflated severely the value of food stamps (by as much as half from 1979 to 1981), thereby leading to the malnourishment and impoverishment of vast swathes of the working class; and the “Indianisation” of the civil war.

Added to that, the crushing of the Left, the crippling of trade unions, and the proscription of anti-government political groups all left behind a vacant space. These groups soon found themselves squeezed out of the democratic framework. It was against that backdrop that the Indo-Lanka Accord, despite the opposition of several government figures, was signed, immediately sparking off a wave of discontent across the South.

In class terms, the second insurrection thus came to differ from the first. Even in caste terms it was different: most of those arrested in the 1971 insurgency, as Gananath Obeyesekere documented at the time, hailed from higher castes (in fact 58.5% of them were Goyigama), whereas many of those who took part in the 1987-1990 uprising came from depressed communities. That is not to say caste factors always militated against those higher up in the hierarchy – indeed, there were cases of upper caste insurrectionists campaigning against lower caste officials – but all the same, it refracted class discrepancies. At any rate, class or caste, the war was protracted and fought over economic reasons.

The difference between the JVP uprising and the war against the LTTE – which many critics, in their reviews of Paangshu, seem to be comparing to each another – comes out here. While the State, as Susantha Goonetilake notes in Recolonisation, engaged in a “class war on the poor” in the South, in the North it was pitted against a separatist movement led by a community that, in economic terms, had suffered much less under successive regimes than the two most discriminated groups in 20th century Sri Lanka: estate Tamils and Sinhala peasants. By disenfranchising them and stripping them of citizenship, the UNP had robbed the former of an opportunity to take up arms. The latter, on the other hand, grabbed that opportunity the moment the political crisis reached its peak.

There were two ideological routes you could take at this juncture: you could either support the Accord or oppose it. By supporting it you took the side of the UNP, or a considerable section of the party which accepted it, and of the Old Left, which endorsed it because it saw India as a countervailing influence against the State. On the other hand, by opposing it you took the side of the Sinhala nationalists, or of the JVP.

It was simply difficult not to choose. The closest historical analogy I can think of would be the case of an ex-Jacobin living under Napoleon in France: he couldn’t have supported the Bonapartists, but then he couldn’t have supported the Holy Alliance either. And yet he had to take a side. Gambling on anti-government sentiment, the Old Left thus chose to support the Accord, severely underestimating the extent of anti-Accord sentiment.

In my essay on the Jathika Chintanaya written to the Midweek Review months ago, I pointed out that as much as their support for the Accord brought the UNP and the Old Left together against the JVP in the insurrection, no such intersection of interests brought the JVP and the Sinhala nationalist groups to a common platform. The result was that, with the proscription of anti-UNP student groups, the JVP, lacking an ally, took the fight to the streets alone.

The South soon turned into a violent battleground; it wasn’t because of the war in the North, after all, that The Economist called Sri Lanka “the bloodiest place on earth.”

Given the Old Left’s endorsement of the Accord and, later, the 13th Amendment, it was only to be expected that it would not only help form anti-JVP hit squads, but also affirm the NGO sector’s demonization of the JVP. Since Susantha Goonatilake has recorded this in his study Recolonisation, all I will say here is that much of the NGO intelligentsia, which purports to stand up for the radical youth today, branded the JVP then as not just chauvinist, but also anti-Tamil. It took Mahinda Rajapaksa and Mangala Samaraweera – both from the South, occupying diametrically opposed political positions today – to take the names, the details, of those made to disappear by paramilitary squads to Western capitals.

This remains, then as now, a blot on the conscience of NGO intellectuals; their failure to give equal coverage to the Northern war and the Southern insurgency (Witharanage 1994) led to a distorted view of what was happening on the ground. Meanwhile, right until their separation from Mahinda Rajapaksa’s coalition in 2006, even the most liberal commentators here went on labelling the JVP as Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist. Only when the JVP broke away from Rajapaksa’s coalition and began to endorse what is, for me at least, a pseudo-Marxist-lumpen ideology did these commentators abandon that stereotype.

The failure of the NGO-cracy to identify the root causes of the insurrection is symptomatic of its inability to view that uprising in class rather than ethnic terms: a failure that explains why it could, while opposing a neo-fascist regime, interpret the JVP’s opposition to Indian intervention as chauvinist, and worse, anti-Tamil. Those who write on Paangshu without recalling the callous lack of sympathy towards the insurrectionists, displayed by what the late Prins Gunasekara described as “local human rights magnates”, should thus bear in mind the political economy, the horrific complexity, of the period depicted in the film. For history, as we all ought to know, is too precious to be forgotten.

The writer can be reached at

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Midweek Review

‘Professor of English Language Teaching’



It is a pleasure to be here today, when the University resumes postgraduate work in English and Education which we first embarked on over 20 years ago. The presence of a Professor on English Language Teaching from Kelaniya makes clear that the concept has now been mainstreamed, which is a cause for great satisfaction.

Twenty years ago, this was not the case. Our initiative was looked at askance, as indeed was the initiative which Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare engaged in as UGC Chairman to make degrees in English more widely available. Those were the days in which the three established Departments of English in the University system, at Peradeniya and Kelaniya and Colombo, were unbelievably conservative. Their contempt for his efforts made him turn to Sri Jayewardenepura, which did not even have a Department of English then and only offered it as one amongst three subjects for a General Degree.

Ironically, the most dogmatic defence of this exclusivity came from Colombo, where the pioneer in English teaching had been Prof. Chitra Wickramasuriya, whose expertise was, in fact, in English teaching. But her successor, when I tried to suggest reforms, told me proudly that their graduates could go on to do postgraduate degrees at Cambridge. I suppose that, for generations brought up on idolization of E. F. C. Ludowyke, that was the acme of intellectual achievement.

I should note that the sort of idealization of Ludowyke, the then academic establishment engaged in was unfair to a very broadminded man. It was the Kelaniya establishment that claimed that he ‘maintained high standards, but was rarefied and Eurocentric and had an inhibiting effect on creative writing’. This was quite preposterous coming from someone who removed all Sri Lankan and other post-colonial writing from an Advanced Level English syllabus. That syllabus, I should mention, began with Jacobean poetry about the cherry-cheeked charms of Englishwomen. And such a characterization of Ludowyke totally ignored his roots in Sri Lanka, his work in drama which helped Sarachchandra so much, and his writing including ‘Those Long Afternoons’, which I am delighted that a former Sabaragamuwa student, C K Jayanetti, hopes to resurrect.

I have gone at some length into the situation in the nineties because I notice that your syllabus includes in the very first semester study of ‘Paradigms in Sri Lankan English Education’. This is an excellent idea, something which we did not have in our long-ago syllabus. But that was perhaps understandable since there was little to study then except a history of increasing exclusivity, and a betrayal of the excuse for getting the additional funding those English Departments received. They claimed to be developing teachers of English for the nation; complete nonsense, since those who were knowledgeable about cherries ripening in a face were not likely to move to rural areas in Sri Lanka to teach English. It was left to the products of Aluwihare’s initiative to undertake that task.

Another absurdity of that period, which seems so far away now, was resistance to training for teaching within the university system. When I restarted English medium education in the state system in Sri Lanka, in 2001, and realized what an uphill struggle it was to find competent teachers, I wrote to all the universities asking that they introduce modules in teacher training. I met condign refusal from all except, I should note with continuing gratitude, from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, where Paru Nagasunderam introduced it for the external degree. When I started that degree, I had taken a leaf out of Kelaniya’s book and, in addition to English Literature and English Language, taught as two separate subjects given the language development needs of students, made the third subject Classics. But in time I realized that was not at all useful. Thankfully, that left a hole which ELT filled admirably at the turn of the century.

The title of your keynote speaker today, Professor of English Language Teaching, is clear evidence of how far we have come from those distant days, and how thankful we should be that a new generation of practical academics such as her and Dinali Fernando at Kelaniya, Chitra Jayatilleke and Madhubhashini Ratnayake at USJP and the lively lot at the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University are now making the running. I hope Sabaragamuwa under its current team will once again take its former place at the forefront of innovation.

To get back to your curriculum, I have been asked to teach for the paper on Advanced Reading and Writing in English. I worried about this at first since it is a very long time since I have taught, and I feel the old energy and enthusiasm are rapidly fading. But having seen the care with which the syllabus has been designed, I thought I should try to revive my flagging capabilities.

However, I have suggested that the university prescribe a textbook for this course since I think it is essential, if the rounded reading prescribed is to be done, that students should have ready access to a range of material. One of the reasons I began while at the British Council an intensive programme of publications was that students did not read round their texts. If a novel was prescribed, they read that novel and nothing more. If particular poems were prescribed, they read those poems and nothing more. This was especially damaging in the latter case since the more one read of any poet the more one understood what he was expressing.

Though given the short notice I could not prepare anything, I remembered a series of school textbooks I had been asked to prepare about 15 years ago by International Book House for what were termed international schools offering the local syllabus in the English medium. Obviously, the appalling textbooks produced by the Ministry of Education in those days for the rather primitive English syllabus were unsuitable for students with more advanced English. So, I put together more sophisticated readers which proved popular. I was heartened too by a very positive review of these by Dinali Fernando, now at Kelaniya, whose approach to students has always been both sympathetic and practical.

I hope then that, in addition to the texts from the book that I will discuss, students will read other texts in the book. In addition to poetry and fiction the book has texts on politics and history and law and international relations, about which one would hope postgraduate students would want some basic understanding.

Similarly, I do hope whoever teaches about Paradigms in English Education will prescribe a textbook so that students will understand more about what has been going on. Unfortunately, there has been little published about this but at least some students will I think benefit from my book on English and Education: In Search of Equity and Excellence? which Godage & Bros brought out in 2016. And then there was Lakmahal Justified: Taking English to the People, which came out in 2018, though that covers other topics too and only particular chapters will be relevant.

The former book is bulky but I believe it is entertaining as well. So, to conclude I will quote from it, to show what should not be done in Education and English. For instance, it is heartening that you are concerned with ‘social integration, co-existence and intercultural harmony’ and that you want to encourage ‘sensitivity towards different cultural and linguistic identities’. But for heaven’s sake do not do it as the NIE did several years ago in exaggerating differences. In those dark days, they produced textbooks which declared that ‘Muslims are better known as heavy eaters and have introduced many tasty dishes to the country. Watalappam and Buriani are some of these dishes. A distinguished feature of the Muslims is that they sit on the floor and eat food from a single plate to show their brotherhood. They eat string hoppers and hoppers for breakfast. They have rice and curry for lunch and dinner.’ The Sinhalese have ‘three hearty meals a day’ and ‘The ladies wear the saree with a difference and it is called the Kandyan saree’. Conversely, the Tamils ‘who live mainly in the northern and eastern provinces … speak the Tamil language with a heavy accent’ and ‘are a close-knit group with a heavy cultural background’’.

And for heaven’s sake do not train teachers by telling them that ‘Still the traditional ‘Transmission’ and the ‘Transaction’ roles are prevalent in the classroom. Due to the adverse standard of the school leavers, it has become necessary to develop the learning-teaching process. In the ‘Transmission’ role, the student is considered as someone who does not know anything and the teacher transmits knowledge to him or her. This inhibits the development of the student.

In the ‘Transaction’ role, the dialogue that the teacher starts with the students is the initial stage of this (whatever this might be). Thereafter, from the teacher to the class and from the class to the teacher, ideas flow and interaction between student-student too starts afterwards and turns into a dialogue. From known to unknown, simple to complex are initiated and for this to happen, the teacher starts questioning.

And while avoiding such tedious jargon, please make sure their command of the language is better than to produce sentences such as these, or what was seen in an English text, again thankfully several years ago:

Read the story …

Hello! We are going to the zoo. “Do you like to join us” asked Sylvia. “Sorry, I can’t I’m going to the library now. Anyway, have a nice time” bye.

So Syliva went to the zoo with her parents. At the entrance her father bought tickets. First, they went to see the monkeys

She looked at a monkey. It made a funny face and started swinging Sylvia shouted: “He is swinging look now it is hanging from its tail its marvellous”

“Monkey usually do that’

I do hope your students will not hang from their tails as these monkeys do.

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Midweek Review

Little known composers of classical super-hits



By Satyajith Andradi


Quite understandably, the world of classical music is dominated by the brand images of great composers. It is their compositions that we very often hear. Further, it is their life histories that we get to know. In fact, loads of information associated with great names starting with Beethoven, Bach and Mozart has become second nature to classical music aficionados. The classical music industry, comprising impresarios, music publishers, record companies, broadcasters, critics, and scholars, not to mention composers and performers, is largely responsible for this. However, it so happens that classical music lovers are from time to time pleasantly struck by the irresistible charm and beauty of classical pieces, the origins of which are little known, if not through and through obscure. Intriguingly, most of these musical gems happen to be classical super – hits. This article attempts to present some of these famous pieces and their little-known composers.


Pachelbel’s Canon in D

The highly popular piece known as Pachelbel’s Canon in D constitutes the first part of Johann Pachelbel’s ‘Canon and Gigue in D major for three violins and basso continuo’. The second part of the work, namely the gigue, is rarely performed. Pachelbel was a German organist and composer. He was born in Nuremburg in 1653, and was held in high esteem during his life time. He held many important musical posts including that of organist of the famed St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. He was the teacher of Bach’s elder brother Johann Christoph. Bach held Pachelbel in high regard, and used his compositions as models during his formative years as a composer. Pachelbel died in Nuremburg in 1706.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D is an intricate piece of contrapuntal music. The melodic phrases played by one voice are strictly imitated by the other voices. Whilst the basso continuo constitutes a basso ostinato, the other three voices subject the original tune to tasteful variation. Although the canon was written for three violins and continuo, its immense popularity has resulted in the adoption of the piece to numerous other combinations of instruments. The music is intensely soothing and uplifting. Understandingly, it is widely played at joyous functions such as weddings.


Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary

The hugely popular piece known as ‘Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary’ appeared originally as ‘ The Prince of Denmark’s March’ in Jeremiah Clarke’s book ‘ Choice lessons for the Harpsichord and Spinet’, which was published in 1700 ( Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music ). Sometimes, it has also been erroneously attributed to England’s greatest composer Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695 ) and called ‘Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary (Percy A. Scholes ; Oxford Companion to Music). This brilliant composition is often played at joyous occasions such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. Needless to say, it is a piece of processional music, par excellence. As its name suggests, it is probably best suited for solo trumpet and organ. However, it is often played for different combinations of instruments, with or without solo trumpet. It was composed by the English composer and organist Jeremiah Clarke.

Jeremiah Clarke was born in London in 1670. He was, like his elder contemporary Pachelbel, a musician of great repute during his time, and held important musical posts. He was the organist of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the composer of the Theatre Royal. He died in London in 1707 due to self – inflicted gun – shot injuries, supposedly resulting from a failed love affair.


Albinoni’s Adagio

The full title of the hugely famous piece known as ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’ is ‘Adagio for organ and strings in G minor’. However, due to its enormous popularity, the piece has been arranged for numerous combinations of instruments. It is also rendered as an organ solo. The composition, which epitomizes pathos, is structured as a chaconne with a brooding bass, which reminds of the inevitability and ever presence of death. Nonetheless, there is no trace of despondency in this ethereal music. On the contrary, its intense euphony transcends the feeling of death and calms the soul. The composition has been attributed to the Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671 – 1750), who was a contemporary of Bach and Handel. However, the authorship of the work is shrouded in mystery. Michael Kennedy notes: “The popular Adagio for organ and strings in G minor owes very little to Albinoni, having been constructed from a MS fragment by the twentieth century Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto, whose copyright it is” (Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music).


Boccherini’s Minuet

The classical super-hit known as ‘Boccherini’s Minuet’ is quite different from ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’. It is a short piece of absolutely delightful music. It was composed by the Italian cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini. It belongs to his string quintet in E major, Op. 13, No. 5. However, due to its immense popularity, the minuet is performed on different combinations of instruments.

Boccherini was born in Lucca in 1743. He was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, and an elder contemporary of Beethoven. He was a prolific composer. His music shows considerable affinity to that of Haydn. He lived in Madrid for a considerable part of his life, and was attached to the royal court of Spain as a chamber composer. Boccherini died in poverty in Madrid in 1805.

Like numerous other souls, I have found immense joy by listening to popular classical pieces like Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio and Boccherini’s Minuet. They have often helped me to unwind and get over the stresses of daily life. Intriguingly, such music has also made me wonder how our world would have been if the likes of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert had never lived. Surely, the world would have been immeasurably poorer without them. However, in all probability, we would have still had Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio, and Boccherini’s Minuet, to cheer us up and uplift our spirits.

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Midweek Review

The Tax Payer and the Tough



By Lynn Ockersz

The tax owed by him to Caesar,

Leaves our retiree aghast…

How is he to foot this bill,

With the few rupees,

He has scraped together over the months,

In a shrinking savings account,

While the fires in his crumbling hearth,

Come to a sputtering halt?

But in the suave villa next door,

Stands a hulk in shiny black and white,

Over a Member of the August House,

Keeping an eagle eye,

Lest the Rep of great renown,

Be besieged by petitioners,

Crying out for respite,

From worries in a hand-to-mouth life,

But this thought our retiree horrifies:

Aren’t his hard-earned rupees,

Merely fattening Caesar and his cohorts?

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