“The recent Booker prize-winning book Seven Moons of Mali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilleke of Sri Lanka was blatantly plagiarized from a manuscript I sent the author in 2009. I sent it forMore
The following article is based on ideas shared during the recent residential workshop jointly organized by the Sri Lanka College of Journalism, the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, and Civil Society organizations
Marginalized women such as sex workers, single parents, and widows are among the most vulnerable groups in society, often facing discrimination, social exclusion, and economic hardships. Their stories are essential for social revivification, as they highlight the structural inequalities that exist in society and expose the systemic issues that need to be addressed. Why the life stories of marginalized women are important, why the media needs to respond to their plight, and how the Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies’ responses show a lack of maturity and a disregard for fundamental human values.
The stories of marginalized women matter because they provide insight into the complex issues that these women face on a daily basis. These women often live on the fringes of society, facing multiple forms of discrimination and exclusion. By sharing their stories, we can better understand the root causes of their marginalization and work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society.
Moreover, marginalized women often have unique perspectives on social issues that are not represented in mainstream discourse. By giving these women a platform to share their experiences, we can broaden our understanding of social problems and generate new solutions that are more responsive to the needs of marginalized communities.
The media has a critical role to play in amplifying the voices of marginalized women and shedding light on the issues they face. It is essential for the press to report on these stories with sensitivity, respect, and accuracy, and to avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes and stigmatizing language. They must avoid sensationalizing these stories or perpetuating harmful stereotypes that further stigmatize marginalized women. Instead, the media must work towards amplifying the voices of these women and exposing the systemic issues that contribute to their marginalization.
Moreover, the media needs to take an active role in challenging the systems of power that contribute to the marginalization of these women. This includes holding those in positions of authority accountable for their actions and advocating for policies that promote social and economic justice.
The responses of the Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies along with selected “media outfits” in planting acts to raid certain places such as Spas demonstrate a lack of maturity and a disregard not only for professional integrity but fundamental human ethics. These actions not only violate the rights of sex workers but also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmatize marginalized women. The actions of those who are working in these agencies also highlight the need for greater accountability and transparency in law enforcement. It is essential for authorities to respect the rights of all individuals, regardless of their social or economic status, and to uphold the rule of law in a fair and just manner.
One of the cases discussed during the event is a stark example of the crisis that exists in our society, particularly in the behaviour of the judiciary towards marginalized women. The actions of the police, in this case, were not only unconstitutional but also violated the rights of the sex worker in question. Moreover, the judge’s response to her statement was insensitive and demonstrated a lack of understanding of the systemic issues that contribute to the marginalization of women in society.
A woman was apprehended by the police and brought to court on charges of engaging in “adulterous behaviours” in a Colombo suburb. However, she denied the accusation and boldly stated before the judge, “I am unaware that my private parts are state property and not my own.” Moved by her defence, the judge had no choice but to dismiss the case and clear the woman of all charges. It is in situations like these that real-life storytellers have a critical role to play. It is their responsibility to use their platform to raise awareness of the injustices faced by marginalized women and to advocate for their rights. By sharing their stories, these women can inspire others to take action and work towards creating a more just and equitable society.
The real-life stories of marginalized women are critical for social revivification. These stories help us to understand the structural inequalities that exist in society and expose the systemic issues that need to be addressed. It is the responsibility of real-life storytellers to use their platform to raise awareness of these issues and advocate for the rights of marginalized women. Moreover, it is our individual responsibility that plays a critical role in promoting social and economic justice for all individuals, regardless of their social or economic status. This involves building a constructive approach to discussing and sharing real-life stories with sensitivity and respect and advocating for policies that support marginalized communities. That is where the existence of the communal currency of humanity ensures. As Vera Nazarian, a known author, says, “the world is shaped by two things: stories told and the memories they leave behind.” Stories have a powerful impact on shaping our understanding of the world and can help to create a more just and equitable society. Therefore, it is crucial to use each of our platforms to amplify the voices of those who have been historically marginalized and promote narratives that uplift diverse perspectives.
THE LONG READ
by Our Cultural Affairs Editor
“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Native American Proverb
A residential workshop held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, brought together participants to explore the significance of real-life story writing in the local context, where the goals of reconciliation and economic growth are intertwined. Organized by the Sri Lanka College of Journalism and supported by civil society organizations, the workshop emphasized the power of storytelling in building social identity and empowering communities. Overall, the event served as a platform to highlight the importance of this creative medium for promoting positive change in Sri Lanka.
According to Chitra Jayathilake, a professor at Department of English and Linguistics, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, storytelling is a natural human activity and a primary form of expression. “Storytelling is in our blood,” says Robert Atkinson. People live surrounded by their stories and the stories of others. They see everything that happens to them through these stories and try to live their lives as if they were recounting them. The essential understanding laying on every human action, be it internal or external, is dialogue.
In storytelling, the convincing power of a story is not from its verifiability but from its verisimilitude. Stories will be true enough if they ring true, as Amsterdam and Bruner noted in their work. Storytelling has become more popular and useful than quantitative academic researches because it allows people to engage and empower themselves in building social identity through narrative turns.
During the workshop, participants engaged with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s influential essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Using deconstructionist approaches, Spivak’s work examines how global capitalism and the international division of labour shape our understanding of the world. In her essay, she aims to disrupt binary distinctions between subject and object, self and other, and center and margin, particularly as they relate to the divisions between the West and the non-West. By illuminating the intersection of factors like class, caste, religion, and nationality, Spivak highlights the deep-seated polarization that characterizes many parts of the world today.
M J R David, a noted journalist, who is the director of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism, emphasized the value of storytelling as a means of gaining deeper insight into ourselves and the world around us. As he explained, our lives are a collection of stories that reveal hidden truths and complexities beneath the surface. By neglecting these narratives, we risk overlooking important social, cultural, and personal realities. Only by acknowledging and engaging with these stories can we hope to create a more just and equitable future for ourselves and others.
Storytelling is a powerful tool that has been used for centuries to communicate ideas, beliefs, and values. It allows people to connect with each other on a deeper level and share their experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Through storytelling, people can learn from each other, empathize with others, and gain a better understanding of different perspectives.
From the Ancient Greeks to Contemporary Society
Storytelling has played a pivotal role in shaping historical narratives and interpreting events. From the ancient Greeks to contemporary society, stories have been used to pass on knowledge, create a sense of identity, and provide a platform for debate and discussion. In the United States, the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement was told through the stories of people like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and others who fought for justice and equality. Their stories continue to inspire and educate people today.
Similarly, in South Africa, storytelling was an essential tool in overcoming apartheid and promoting reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 1995, used storytelling as a means of healing and rebuilding a fractured society. Victims and perpetrators alike were given the opportunity to share their stories in a public forum, allowing the truth to be exposed and the wounds of the past to begin to heal.
Ubuntu is a Zulu word that refers to the interconnectedness of all things and the idea that an individual’s well-being is tied to the well-being of the community. It emphasizes the importance of empathy, compassion, and forgiveness, and it was a guiding principle for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
During the Commission’s hearings, victims and perpetrators were given the opportunity to share their stories in a public forum. The process was designed not only to uncover the truth about past injustices but also to promote healing and reconciliation. By telling their stories, both victims and perpetrators were able to humanize each other and begin to understand the complexities of the conflict.
The power of storytelling and the principles of Ubuntu were evident in the case of former South African President Nelson Mandela. After serving 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activities, Mandela emerged as a symbol of hope and reconciliation. He was able to forgive his oppressors and work towards a peaceful and democratic South Africa, all while maintaining his dignity and integrity.
Mandela’s story is an example of the power of storytelling to inspire and create change. His life and legacy continue to be celebrated around the world, and his story serves as a reminder of the importance of empathy, forgiveness, and unity in the face of adversity.
In India, the story of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent struggle for independence has become a symbol of resistance and peaceful resistance around the world. His story has been told and retold in countless ways, inspiring generations of activists and leaders.
The power of storytelling in shaping historical narratives is not limited to the West. In China, for example, storytelling has played a central role in shaping the country’s cultural identity. Traditional stories and legends have been passed down through generations, helping to create a shared sense of history and values.
The importance of storytelling cannot be overstated. From the earliest human societies to the present day, stories have been a fundamental part of our lives. They have the power to inspire, educate, and heal, and they can be used to shape our understanding of the world and ourselves. Whether we are sharing personal experiences or interpreting historical events, storytelling has the power to connect us and help us make sense of the world around us.
Storytelling in Sri Lankan Context
In the Sri Lankan context, where the country has experienced decades of ethnic conflict, storytelling can play a crucial role in promoting reconciliation and building social cohesion. By sharing stories, people can learn about the experiences of others and gain a better understanding of the root causes of conflict. It can also help to break down stereotypes and biases that may exist between different communities.
Storytelling can also promote a more positive attitude towards diversity and multiculturalism. By sharing stories that celebrate diversity, people can develop a greater appreciation for the unique cultural traditions, customs, and practices of different communities. This, in turn, can lead to a more inclusive and tolerant society that is better equipped to address the challenges of social and economic development.
Storytelling has the potential to reconstruct the deteriorated social structure by providing a platform for underrepresented communities to express themselves. Vaclav Havel’s words, “The rescue of this world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility,” highlight the significance of storytelling. By enabling individuals and communities to share their experiences and shape their own stories, storytelling has the power to instill confidence and influence positive change. Through the medium of storytelling, marginalized groups can establish their identity and demand acknowledgement and reverence from the broader society.
Storytelling can play a vital role in overhauling the attitude of society and re-engineering the deteriorated social structure in Sri Lanka. By promoting reconciliation, building social cohesion, celebrating diversity, and giving voice to marginalized groups, storytelling can help to create a more inclusive, tolerant, and just society. The residential workshop organized by the Sri Lanka College of Journalism on the importance of real-life story writing is a significant step towards achieving this goal.
In her session at the residential workshop, Hansamala Ritigahapola, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sinhala and Mass Communication at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, delved deeper into the classifications of storytelling. She explained the various types of stories, including myths, legends, fables, and fairy tales, and how they are used to convey moral and ethical values. Dr. Ritigahapola also emphasized the importance of storytelling in preserving cultural heritage and passing down traditional knowledge from one generation to the next.
During the workshop, a new publication on female biographies in Sri Lankan history was also launched. The book highlighted the importance of storytelling with references to the many notable stories in the cultural history of Sri Lanka. It showcased the remarkable achievements of Sri Lankan women who have made significant contributions to society, but whose stories may have been overlooked or forgotten. The publication served as a reminder of the power of storytelling to elevate marginalized voices and empower underrepresented groups.
Power of Counseling
The day concluded with an inspiring session by H.M.C.J. Herath, the Head of the Department of Physiology and Counseling, the Open University of Sri Lanka. She described the basic principles and behavioural attitudes of counselling and victim narrations. Dr. Herath emphasized the importance of empathy, active listening, and trust-building in the counselling process. She also highlighted the critical role that storytelling can play in the healing process of victims of trauma and violence. Through the power of narrative, victims can reclaim their agency and gain a sense of empowerment over their own lives.
Counselling is a vibrant process that aims to help people overcome their emotional and psychological challenges. It involves a one-on-one conversation between the counsellor and the client, where the client can share their feelings, thoughts, and concerns in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Through active listening, empathy, and trust-building, the counsellor can help the client gain insights into their problems, develop coping strategies, and explore new ways of thinking and behaving.
However, counselling is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each client is unique, and their needs and challenges must be approached with sensitivity, respect, and cultural awareness. Counsellors must adhere to certain ethical guidelines to ensure that they provide effective and ethical counselling services. These guidelines are established by professional associations such as the American Counselling Association (ACA) and the International Association of Counselling (IAC).
One of the fundamental ethical principles in counselling is confidentiality. Clients must feel safe and secure in sharing their thoughts and feelings, knowing that their information will be kept confidential. Counsellors must maintain strict confidentiality unless there is a risk of harm to the client or others. In such cases, the counsellor must inform the client of their intention to break confidentiality and seek their consent before doing so.
Another essential principle in counselling is informed consent. Counsellors must obtain the client’s consent before starting the counselling process, explaining the goals, procedures, and risks involved. The client must also be informed of their right to terminate the counselling process at any time and for any reason.
Counsellors must also be aware of cultural and diversity issues when working with clients from different backgrounds. They must respect the client’s cultural values, beliefs, and practices and avoid imposing their own cultural biases. Counsellors must also be aware of the potential power dynamics that can exist between the client and themselves and strive to create an equal and collaborative relationship. Counselling is an inseparable part of the process where the true stories of marginalized communities shall play a crucial role in social justice.
Lessons to be Learnt
Sri Lanka can learn a lot from other countries in terms of storytelling and its potential for promoting reconciliation, empathy, and understanding. For example, in Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided a forum for survivors of the residential school system to share their stories and promote healing. The Commission’s final report emphasized the importance of storytelling in advancing reconciliation and recommended that the education system include indigenous history, culture, and perspectives.
Similarly, in Rwanda, the Gacaca courts provided a space for victims and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide to share their stories and promote reconciliation. The courts were designed to be community-led and focused on restorative justice rather than punishment. Through the process of storytelling and dialogue, many individuals were able to reconcile and move forward.
The aforementioned instances provide empirical evidence on the potency of storytelling to foster comprehension and reconciliation, hence serving as a paradigm for Sri Lanka’s own efforts towards reconciliation. Sri Lanka could implement storytelling and dialogue programs in schools and communities, emphasizing the promotion of empathy, comprehension, and reconciliation amongst diverse ethnic and religious groups. Such an initiative could dismantle prejudiced beliefs and encourage better comprehension among different communities.
Moreover, Sri Lanka can exploit its rich cultural heritage of storytelling and assimilate it into its reconciliation endeavours. The country has a longstanding oral storytelling tradition, which could be leveraged to cultivate understanding and dialogue between different groups. By accentuating shared values and common themes, such as community, empathy, and compassion, Sri Lanka could work towards fostering a more cohesive and comprehensive society.
Quoting the insightful words of Steve Jobs, we are reminded that the storyteller wields tremendous power. “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” As Jobs observed, the storyteller has the ability to shape the vision, values, and agenda of entire generations to come. This underscores the importance of storytelling as a means of creating positive change and promoting shared understanding.
Undoubtedly, storytelling is of paramount significance in advancing reconciliation and comprehension. Sri Lanka can capitalize on both international and domestic examples, including its own cultural traditions, to harness the potential of storytelling in promoting healing, empathy, and a peaceful future.
“The recent Booker prize-winning book Seven Moons of Mali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilleke of Sri Lanka was blatantly plagiarized from a manuscript I sent the author in 2009. I sent it for review purposes only and I have the necessary documentation in this regard,” Rajpal Abeynayake, Attorney at Law, former Editor in Chief of Daily News and former Deputy Editor of Sunday Times, both are national newspapers in Colombo, told the Sri Lanka Guardian.
“This is a very serious matter,” he pointed out. “Copyright law is in existence for a reason. Nobody can profit off the labours or the creativity of another person,” a lawyer by profession who is one of the most senior journalists in Sri Lanka, Mr Abeynayake added.
“In the West institutions such as the Booker Prize Committee would understand that rectitude and propriety in these matters are vital. Imagine if writers and other persons in the arts are given the lisence to crib from anyone as they please,” he observed.
“About this specific matter, yes, Shehan Karunatillaka stole my manuscript and based his novel on my work making cosmetic changes. It’s unconscionable. He should be held to account,” he demanded.
Following experts adapted from a recent essay written by the author to Frontline India, a fortnightly English magazine from the stable of The Hindu, has been a distinguished presence in the media world since 1984.
On the face of it, these are the best of times for Telugu cinema. A series of hits showcased the creative talent and economic muscle of the industry. International newspapers, which barely acknowledged the existence of Telugu cinema in the past, carried full-length stories on Telugu films. Videos of kids dancing to Telugu songs have gone viral. Both RRR and the Baahubali franchise had white, Anglo-Saxon fans promoting them. And no less a star than Kangana Ranaut went on record saying that Bollywood had much to learn from Telugu, “the number one film industry in India”. In the words of Ram Gopal Varma: “Telugu is the new Hindi.”
Telugu films, in their Hindi dubbed versions, have been circulating in increasing numbers for well over a decade now. However, for most viewers and commentators of Hindi cinema, they were indistinguishable from other “south films”.
The image makeover of Telugu cinema began with, and was facilitated by, the success of Baahubali: The Conclusion. Complementing the awe-inspiring Telugu blockbuster was a trickle of films made on modest budgets, like C/O Kancharapalem, which had a short theatrical run but a long afterlife on OTT platforms. During the nationwide lockdown, there were notable direct-to-OTT releases produced in Telugu, including the action thriller V. The post-lockdown successes are, of course, the stuff of legend.
Beyond the ballyhoo
Scratch the surface—or scroll down the results thrown up by Google on queries related to Telugu cinema—and a different picture emerges. While it is true that Telugu films, and those made by the three other southern industries, have done remarkably well in comparison with their Hindi counterparts in 2021 and 2022, there have been expensive failures like the Prabhas starrer Radhe Shyam and Acharya, the latter featuring both Chiranjeevi and Ram Charan. That is not all. Telugu and English language media reports indicate that theatrical viewing in the Telugu States too has not reached pre-pandemic levels. In fact, most Telugu films released in the past year have not done well. As one newspaper report put it: “Dwindling theatrical revenues has forced the Telugu film fraternity to rethink its business models.”
These are the very same business models that generated eye-popping revenues for the mega hits: high ticket prices during opening weeks, reduced gap between theatrical and other releases, and, of course, bets on blockbusters. Producers held exhibitors responsible for inflating ticket prices and thereby dampening viewer enthusiasm. They pointed fingers at stars and directors for charging exorbitant fees which, in turn, inflated budgets. They also felt that competition from OTT platforms was a threat to theatrical exhibition. In a rare move, Telugu film producers went on a strike in early August—not something one expects from a model industry.
At the same time, cinema in general is not what it was in the 20th century. Moments of crises threw up new opportunities. For Telugu cinema, this came in the form of dubbing and digital distribution and exhibition which opened new markets. From 2010, starting with the Rajinikanth starrer Enthiran/Robot, Tamil and Telugu blockbusters competed within India and beyond for Hindi cinema’s market. On occasion, dubbed versions of Tamil and Telugu productions bettered the collections of their Hindi counterparts.
Battle between ideologies
This business competition has now turned into a battle between ideologies. Sections of the media, celebrities, and social media influencers have made systematic attempts to use Telugu cinema as a resource in the ongoing campaign against Bollywood. It is another matter altogether that key players in the Mumbai film industry—including Karan Johar and distributor Anil Thadani—have partnered with their Telugu counterparts to co-produce, distribute, and publicise Hyderabad productions that went on to become hits in Hindi.
If anything, we are witnessing an unprecedented degree of collaboration between Telugu and Hindi industries, and the consolidation of an entertainment industry that cuts across languages and formats.
None of this has come in the way of building up Telugu films, in particular their Hindi dubbed versions, as socially and politically desirable alternatives to Bollywood’s supposedly anti-Hindu and anti-national products. Among the films released this year, RRR and Karthikeya 2 stand out for the traction they gained on social media owing to the campaigns against Bollywood.
We are agricultural societies that have industrialized within one or two generations…If you look at Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore – there’s been one remarkable phenomenon – the rise of religion…there is a quest for some higher explanations about man’s purpose. About why we are here. This is associated with periods of great stress in society. ~ Lee Kuan Yew
We live in the Anthropocene – an era of profound social disturbance caused by man-made and natural disasters. Both Mother Nature and Father Time are punishing us. Never in the annals of human history have we given ourselves deadlines to avert disaster. Yet, we believe that we’ll find some way to get out of the mess. This could well be our natural inclination toward religion – in our faith and belief.
Religion is fundamentally a matter of faith and belief which, although not mutually exclusive, represent two different aspects of one’s religious persuasion. While faith represents trust or dependence in one sense, it also represents “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof”. Belief on the other hand is defined as “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists – a religious conviction – trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something”. In other words, faith and belief supplement each other, often confusing the literati until explained with clarity by someone (other than the writer) who might be more erudite in the scriptures of the various religions that exist in the world today.
What is even more interesting is the definition of the word “religion”. Yuval Noah Harari in his much acclaimed and celebrated historical work “Sapiens – a Brief History of Humankind” defines religion as “ a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order”. Harari distinguishes his statement by saying that religion differs from a sport – say professional football – on the point that whereas human beings invented the structure, rules and conduct involving football, religion is not the product of human whims or agreements. He goes on to explain that “FIFA may any moment enlarge the size of the goal or suspend the offside rule”.
It is reported that approximately 85% of the world identifies with a religion. The most popular religion is Christianity, followed by an estimated 2.38 billion people worldwide. Islam, which is practiced by more than 1.91 billion people, is second. However, population researchers predict that Islam will have nearly caught up to Christianity by 2050.
So, what caused the popularity of religion in society? Samuel Huntington, University Professor at Harvard University in his ground-breaking book “The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking the World Order offers an explanation, “ The most obvious, most salient, and most powerful cause of the global resurgence is precisely what was supposed to cause the death of religion: the processes of social, economic, and cultural modernization that swept across the world in the second half of the twentieth century. Long-standing sources of identity and systems of authority are disrupted. People move from the countryside to the city, become separated from their roots, and take new jobs or no jobs. They interact with large numbers of strangers and are exposed to new sets of relationships. They need new sources of identity, new forms of a stable community and new sets of moral precepts to provide them with a sense of meaning and purpose. Religion…meets these needs”.
In other words, religion gives us a sense of identity and direction in a world in which we are struggling to survive amidst the machinations of greed, ambition, self-interest, and downright evil. The growing social dimension of religion may have emerged as a result of the transition of society from the agricultural revolution (which was accompanied by a religious revolution) to the industrial revolution and onwards to the knowledge revolution, which could have prompted Jean Paul Sartre to say, “Hell is other people”.
Here’s my take.
Any religion or philosophy of life (such as Buddhism) must be based on the pursuit of a good life. Michael Sandel – also a Harvard professor – put it best when he said “the common good is about how we live together in community. It’s about the ethical ideals we strive for together, the benefits and burdens we share, and the sacrifices we make for one another. It’s about the lessons we learn from one another about how to live a good and decent life”. Our lives must be shared with one another, and to successfully accomplish this goal, there must be a fusion or extension of the holy scriptures ( The Holy Bible; The Holy Quran; or The Bhagavat Geeta, to name a few) to the wisdom of our generations, while preserving our beliefs and faiths. As the father of existentialism – Soren Kierkegaard – a devout Christian of Danish origin said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”. Kierkegaard brought a potent mixture of discourses to bear as social critique and for the purpose of renewing Christian faith within Christendom – what he called “the leap of faith”.
Study.Com carries an interesting piece about the leap of faith: “the definition of a leap of faith is a person having trust in something despite the lack of logic, reason, and rationality. They leap, figuratively, to interact or explore this thing. The phrase is significant to understanding the stages of human existence, which comprise a transition from one stage to another through this leap.
When someone believes in God, this would require a leap of faith for Kierkegaard. It disregards any logic and reason because there is no proof that this exists. In moments of despair, confusion, or other feelings of uncertainty and doubt, faith in God is done out of volition. When a person has faith in God, there is nothing that can measure it. It is an intangible phenomenon. For example, there are no predictable stages in life, changes, or movements and actions that a person must go through to garner this conclusion that they have faith”.
There is no scientific evidence that God exists. But we humans believe and indeed know of the existence of things that are scientifically inexplicable. Take consciousness for example. Each of us knows we have consciousness or awareness, but we cannot scientifically prove it, nor can we ascribe a reason for its existence. It is this consciousness that enables us to gain knowledge and wisdom through communal endeavours. We advance our global communities through our consciousness. At the same time, we also destroy ourselves through our consciousness.
As Deepak Chopra says: “Consciousness is that thing in you that is reading and understanding these words right now. It is the awareness that has made you sentient to every thought, sensation, and feeling your entire life. It is the continuity of your life that has stayed the same while all of the details of your life change. Consciousness is your essential nature, your true self that is the silent basis of all your thoughts and actions”
Consciousness, when blended with the communal nature that religion infuses in us will ultimately help us in conquering natural and man-made disasters while humanism (belief in oneself and no other) alone will not take us through the serious business of existing on this planet. One may well argue that if we are impelled to act in consonance with our consciousness, we may hear God speak.
Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. ~ Frederick Douglass
The Sri Lanka Guardian was founded as an online web portal in August 2007 “by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. This portal is currently a platform for over a hundred regular writers from around the world”. In other words, it accommodates writers to express their ideas and views and comment on what’s going on in the world, to be shared with the literati who, it is hoped, benefit from the intellectual exertions of the writers. In that context, it is ineluctable that the most important date of the year for both the Sri Lanka Guardian and its readership is 8 September.
International Literacy Day falls on 8 September each year and seemingly passes with the unobtrusive dignity of the message it usually carries – that books enlarge a child’s world and enrich an adult’s vision, knowledge, and wisdom. As the saying goes, reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
Founded in 1966 and designated as International Literacy Day by the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) the day is meant “to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights. International Literacy Day brings ownership of the challenges of illiteracy back home to local communities where literacy begins, one person at a time”.
UNESCO, which has adopted the theme “Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces” for this year’s celebrations, says it will be an opportunity to rethink the fundamental importance of literacy learning spaces to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable, and inclusive education for all, while going on to say: “In the aftermath of the pandemic, nearly 24 million learners might never return to formal education, out of which, 11 million are projected to be girls and young women. To ensure no one is left behind, we need to enrich and transform the existing learning spaces through an integrated approach and enable literacy learning in the perspective of lifelong learning”.
One of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations is “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”. Of these words, arguably the most important words are “promote lifelong learning”. Now, most of the world receives basic education in school and those of us who are more receptive and persevering receive university education. But only some of us pursue “lifelong learning”. The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman once said he writes his books and columns to learn about things as, in the process of writing he educates himself. In other words, he acquires knowledge while dispensing wisdom to the world.
Simplistically put, “literacy” means “the ability to read and write”. However, this definitive should not be inhibitive to just reading and writing but expansive to be stretched to all the various stages and processes of our education. Literacy should encompass the five stages of our justification for existence, particularly as literati. They are, reading; understanding; analyzing; creating and innovating. Creating and innovating from a literacy sense is achieved through writing, whether it involves writing books, articles, poems, short stories, novels, columns, screenplays, or theatrical plays. The ability to write is innate in all of us but we can bring it to fruition if only we try. The basic tool for writing is reading, which helps us in applying the range of our knowledge to the depths of our curiosity. It makes us realize that we can rejoice in the richness of common academic heritage and believe that imitation is suicide and creativity is the essence of wisdom. At a time when profound and powerful forces are shaking and remaking the world, and information technology brings knowledge to our doorstep, we are in a world which knows no limits to show us that, in a fast-changing world, our challenges are fearsome, but so are our strengths. The fruits of our own literacy give us the certainty of our judgments and the boldness of our convictions to serve the world and help others who might need our guidance.
As the much acclaimed and Man Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy once said: “the place for literature is built by writers and readers. It’s a fragile place in some ways, but an indestructible one. When its broken, we rebuild it. Because we need shelter. I very much like the idea of literature that is needed. Literature that provides shelter. Shelter of all kinds”.
Another distinct benefit of lifelong learning is that it helps us manage ourselves and shows us the path to leadership in our own professions. Leaders who are moral and ethical would know the Greek proverb “Know thyself” and watch out for their mistakes and improve on areas where they are weak in if they continue to pursue learning. They will be able to fix their weakest parts whether they are in regulation, standardization or harmonization. Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, in their book The Mind of the Leader, cite four critical factors sought by today’s workforce: meaning; human connectedness; true happiness; and a desire to contribute positively to the world. Today’s leader has to be connected to herself and to those around her and have a sense of purpose. The teleological significance of life and its meaning and purpose comes from learning. A leader should lead the people towards that sense of purpose. Peter Drucker famously said: “[Y]ou cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first”.
Literacy, if used wisely makes us antifragile, non-traditional, lateral thinkers who take existing usage and change the way things are. The mind of the true literati is not of a one-time solution provider. It is constantly active and therefore introduces a dimension that goes beyond adaptability. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author who introduced the concept of anti-fragility says: “ Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”.
The literati also think laterally. Wikipedia sums up lateral thinking as “a manner of solving problems using an indirect and creative approach via reasoning that is not immediately obvious. It involves ideas that may not be obtainable using only traditional step-by-step logic”. Lateral thinking goes against the usual “vertical logic”. Edward de Bono, widely acclaimed as the father and guru of lateral thinking, explains clearly with what he calls “the intelligence trap”: “a highly intelligent person can construct a rational and well-argued case for virtually any point of view. The more coherent this support for a particular point of view the less the thinker sees any need actually to explore the situation. Such a person may then become trapped into a particular view simply because he can support it”.
Literacy makes us escape from this trap.
For Arundhati Roy, her mother Mary Roy, who passed Thursday, was a miracle. But the celebrated author was also generous enough to share the goodness of her mother — to whom she offered the last kiss Friday afternoon — with everyone that mattered.
Mary Roy, the renowned educationalist was cremated on the premises of ‘Pallikoodam’, the school that she founded.
Arundhati had dedicated her debut novel, ‘The God of Small Things’ to her mother: For Mary Roy, who grew me up. Who taught me to say ‘excuse me’ before interrupting her in Public. Who loved me enough to let me go.
A copy of the book that fetched her the Man Booker Prize for fiction had been placed by the side of Mary before she was cremated.
“All people have spoken about my mother, what an extraordinary person she is and I don’t need to explain that to anyone because all of us know what a miracle she was,” Arundhati told a small gathering of friends and family that grieved the death of Mary Roy.
“She was one of the fiercest, most fabulous person that ever walked this earth. But the reason I wanted to speak now was to say that she didn’t do it alone.
“All of you, all of you, your faith and your love in her, especially at a time she was a single, divorced woman with two little children, with no backing.”
Mary Roy’s Pallikoodam had a humble beginning before it revolutionalised the education system in Kerala. It is known how Arundhati had suggested that name to her mother, who had been the institution’s head for 42 years.
“We remember we were five and six years old. We used to arrive at the rotary club. We were little, we had ‘choolu’, we used to come in the morning, we used to sweep up the cigarette stubs.
“We used to clean up the place, we used to put up tables and stools and it used to be the school. That is how this school started,” she remembered. “It started with the faith from a very few people, who believed in Mary Roy,” she added.
Arundhati Roy thanked everyone that shared the ‘extraordinary journey’ of her mother. “Without you, we will not be we, my brother will not be who he is, I will not be who I am. This town made us, sometimes by being cruel but that’s good too, you know. We didn’t turn out to be people who expect the world to just open up for us. It’s been such an extraordinary journey.”
This story is a part of SLG Syndication. Click here to read the original article published in On Manorama.
The following excerpt was adapted from the official biography of late Prime Minister Dudley Senanayaka, published by the Senanayake Foundation and Sarasavi Publishers. Dudley Senanayake was known as “the reluctant politician.” It was never his intention to pursue public office immense pressure brought on him by friends and relatives forced him to enter public life. He entered into politics at the age of 24 years and became four times prime minister of Ceylon (Sir Lanka) during the 37 years of his political career. He is perhaps the only leader in recent history who voluntarily gave up power when one was at one’s peak, and perhaps the only ex-leader to be persuaded back to revive the flagging fortunes of one’s party.
Dudley Senanayake, the second Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, the man who led his party to a resounding victory at the 1952 General Election, for the first time obtaining a two-thirds majority in Parliament, resigned from the post of Prime Minister on 12th October 1953 and handed the reins to Sir John Kotelawala. This was the first and the only time a head of State has renounced power in Independent Sri Lanka. The only other parallel in our long recorded history is the renunciation of the kingdom by King Siri-Sangabo whose name transpires at the commencement of this book. Just one and half years after being elected as the head of the Government, Dudley resigned as Prime Minister and chose to remain as a backbencher until the Parliament was dissolved in 1956. Citing ill-health, he issued a statement pleading with the Nation to release him from his responsibilities. In his statement he stated,
“I have endeavoured to fulfil the heavy responsibilities of the important charge entrusted to my care with all the conscientiousness that is possible to a human being and it is the same spirit of conscientiousness which makes me feel now that at a trying time like the present there should be at the helm of affairs a person unhampered by any ailment such as has dogged me in recent months.
It is exactly 18 months since having scarcely recovered from the shock of the sudden loss of my father, I yielded not without hesitation to the persuasion of my colleagues in the Cabinet in the Parliamentary Party to undertake to carry on the work from where my father left it. Almost immediately thereafter I decided to dissolve Parliament and go to the country for a clear mandate. Though the result was most gratifying, the effort which I had to put into it left little room for any recovery from the earlier strain.”
He went on to say,
“The ‘unexpected misfortune of my not being able to continue to share in the service of my Motherland in an important capacity I must bear as best as I can. But I take my leave of you with firm faith that our Party and our new Government will work in unison for the welfare and happiness of Sri Lanka”
Plagued with illness and intrigue all Dudley wished was to lead a quiet life. There were also rumours that Dudley was going to become a Buddhist monk, but it was never to be. Even though he wanted to give up politics permanently, little did he realize that in a few years’ time he would lead his party once again like a colossus dominating the entire political arena.
RE-ENTRY TO POLITICS
The General Election of 1956 witnessed the debacle of the United National Party. The Party that held a two-thirds majority in Parliament was reduced to a mere 8 seats. Sir John’s leadership was clearly rejected by the masses and the U.N.P. was beaten to a pulp. Unable to fathom this pathetic performance, the elders of the U.N.P. were looking for ways and means to repair the damage done to the Party. J.R.Jayawardene who was considered the deputy lost his own seat. He was contested by R.G.Senanayake, one of his erstwhile colleagues, who left the U.N.P. to contest as an independent and was successful in winning not only his own seat in Dambadeniya but also defeating J.R.Jayawardene in Kelaniya and in both instances by huge majorities. The United National Party could not even become the largest party in Opposition. Dr. N.M.Perera, the leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, became the Leader of the Opposition.
Most people began to say and the U.N.P. itself began to think that the Party was finished politically. In sheer desperation, the elders of the U.N.P. decided to ask Dudley Senanayake to lead the Party again. After much persuasion, Dudley consented to lead the Party on condition that Sir John resigns from all positions held by him. Although many compromises were forwarded, Dudley rejected them all. Finally, Sir John stepped down and Dudley Senanayake found himself leading the U.N.P. once again.
S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, who won the general election of 1956 and became Prime Minister, was assassinated in 1959 and one of his Ministers W.Dahanayake succeeded him.
However, after numerous cabinet reshuffles and being unable to command the majority in Parliament, the Prime Minister dissolved Parliament and held a general election in March 1960.
The United National Party was led by Dudley Senanayake and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was led by C.P.De Silva, the deputy of late Mr. Bandaranaike. The incumbent Prime Minister W.Dahanayake contested from his own party, the Lanka Prajatantravadi Pakshaya and not only did he lose the election but also lost his own seat — Galle. The U.N.P. became the largest Party in Parliament winning 50 out of 151 seats in Parliament. Dudley in the absence of an overall majority formed a caretaker government in March 1960 and became Prime Minister for the third time.
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