pseudologia fantastica

pseudologia fantastica

daya dissanayake

Dr. Michael Glock uses the term 'Pseudologia fantastica' to mean 'Truer illusions, where stories are invented and tall tales are told. Such fictional narratives are also called 'Munchausen syndrome', after the fictional Baron and his stories.

Gilbert K. Chesterton, in his essay 'The Maniac' (Orthodoxy, 1908) said, "The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of to-day discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world." He continues, "Everywhere we see that men do not go mad by dreaming. Critics are much madder than poets. ...Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion. ...The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits".

Some would consider Chesterton to have been mad. Several other writers and artists were considered to have been mad or somewhat insane, not only in the West, but even in the East, and even in our own country. Yet Creativity always needs a fertile imagination and it is always difficult to draw the line between sanity and creativity.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, conducted two experiments to compare the creative thinking process of schizotypes, schizophrenics and normal control subjects. Schizotypes do not suffer many of the symptoms affecting schizophrenics, but exhibit their own eccentricities. Bradley Folley, lead author of the study says, Schizotypes "live normal lives but they often have idiosyncratic ways of thinking". Folley speculates the schizotypes may either have more access to the right hemisphere of the brain, or there may be more efficient communication between the two hemispheres.

Michael Roberts, health reporter on BBC said on 29th May, 2010, "Brain scans reveal striking similarities in the thought pathways of highly creative people and those with schizophrenia"

Psychologist Dary Fitzgibbon says that those who have the ability to 'suspend disbelief' are prepared to believe anything. Mark Millard says "Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most".

Sigmund Freud had considered daydreaming infantile and neurotic. Those who daydream are subject to fantasy-proneness.

Doctors and scientists have always tried to explain the unexplainable and in doing so, often displayed their own fertile imagination and creativity. It has been attempted by writers too. But if not for daydreamers, not only artistic creativity, but even scientific and technical progress would not have happened.

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in 'The Psychology of the Imagination', that "Imagination is the ability to think of what is not". Ediriwira Sarachchandra published "Kalpana Lokaya" (1958), which he called "The World of the Imagination".

"It is only in his work that an artist can find reality and satisfaction, for the actual world is less intense than the world of his invention and consequently his life, without resort to violent disorder, does not seem very substantial.", wrote Tennessee Williams in his introduction to The Glass Menagerie.

In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, on Imagination, there is a reference from Kendall Walton "what is fictional is what is "to be imagined" given the conventions governing the game of make-believe or the world of the story". But should there be conventions governing make-believe? Probably conventions are needed to avoid 'Imaginative resistance', "when a subject finds it difficult or problematic to engage in some sort of promoted imaginative activity", like when watching a play or reading a novel.

Thanissaro Bhikkho, has written, "All phenomena, the Buddha once said, are rooted in desire. Everything we think, say, or do - every experience - comes from desire. ...Desire is how we take our place in the causal matrix of space and time".

Desire is what ensures the continuity of the human race and 'development', and desire is what feeds our imagination and what makes us produce creative works of arts and literature. It is man's imagination which inspired him to paint the walls of his cave. It is imagination which made him sing his first song. It is imagination of the Sumerians that made them see a goddess in the moon, and it is Enheduanna's imagination which helped her write the first poems.

Closer home, it is Valmiki's imagination which helped him create the Ramayana, on seeing a hunter kill a 'koruncha' (dove) who was with its partner. It is also the imagination of Ravana, or Dathusena or Kassapa, who could create the wonder of Sihigiri, and the ancient poets who could use their own imagination to see into the hearts and minds of the lovely maidens on the rock wall.

The Jataka tales of Sinhabahu and Maname had been with us for over 2500 years, but it was Sarachchandra's imagination that enabled him to produce the greatest Sinhala plays of the 20th century.

David Keef, or 'Manuswara', as he calls himself, in his book 'Writing Your Way', says that writing might be much more than the production of a competent, publishable poem, story, play, or novel. He believes that human imagination contains a kind of wisdom, a vision of wholeness, which we ignore at our peril.

Peter Turchi, in 'Maps of the Imagination', compares the way a writer leads a reader through the imaginary world of a story, novel, or poem to the way a mapmaker charts the physical world.

Even if creativity is driven by imagination and imagination is driven by desire, we can still try to use our creativity to make this world more peaceful, by making ourselves more useful. Just because we have very vivid, unlimited powers of imagination, unless we are really mentally sick, whatever we create using that imagination should be with good intentions.

April 4, 2012, 12:27 a.m. » Tagged: imagination

woman and nature

woman is to nature what man is to culture

daya dissanayake

The thought that 'Women is to Nature what Man is to Culture', was mentioned by Vandana Shukla, writer, poet and journalist from Chandigarh, at the 2012 SAARC Literary Festival. She was participating in a panel discussion on Environment and Fine Arts.

This is a universal truth, which unfortunately had been hijacked, distorted and misinterpreted by the male dominated society. In the same manner that the women of the subcontinent confined themselves within their own boundary, the Lakshman Rekha, some women too accepted the male idea that woman is close to nature because of her secondary, subordinate role, in family, society and development.

Sherry B. Ortner in her article 'Is Female to Maleas Nature is to Culture', is trying to open "as much of the human range of potential to women as is open to men". But this potential has always been open to women, and all they have to do is recognize it. She too had fallen into the trap in trying to interpret primitive or early human society based on the present day tribal societies and the meagre archaeological evidence available.

We try to define 'culture' as a "product of human consciousness, by means of which humanity attempts to assert control over nature".

This is where man is responsible for all destruction of our environment, with every attempt at trying to control nature, in the name of culture and development. Men talk of "sustainable development", which is a contradiction of terms, which men are not prepared to accept, if we mean 'development' of material culture. Only sustainable development possible is in mental and social development, in the development of human values and loving kindness for all living things.

The concept that culture is superior to nature is a belief among mankind in the same manner as their belief that man is superior to woman. No human development, progress or technical achievement could ever surpass nature. Nature keeps on reminding mankind of this fact, throughout history. Nature and Mother Earth suffer all indignities and destruction in the same way most women suffer in silence, but when nature decides to hit back, it is to leave a lasting memory on man. It happened in Atlantis, Sodom and Gommorah, and more recently, the floods in China and Thailand, and hurricane Irene in Northeastern USA , just reminding us that all technology is at the mercy of natural forces.

The only acceptable reasoning is that woman is closer to nature because of her procreative and nursing powers, which are lacking in man. Thus man is the inferior animal, distant from nature.

It is a distortion of facts to say that woman is doomed to mere reproduction of life, while man has to assert his creativity externally. It is a misconception that "man creates relatively lasting, eternal transcendent objects, while the woman creates only perishables - human beings." Nothing man ever made is lasting or eternal. They are all perishable, while creation of human beings ensures the continuity of the human race. Man is also inferior because for everything he creates, he destroys some part of nature.

A woman feels motherly love which a man could not feel. Man is not as sensitive. he believes in aggression, always ready to use his hands and any weapons he can get hold of. He thinks it is too womanly to to be sensitive towards nature and all things beautiful. When he sees something beautiful he wants to possess it. And in possession, to destroy it. When he sees a beautiful flower or a beautiful woman he wants to pluck it. He wants to preserve the lovely butterfly, to spread the leopard skin in his sitting room.

Feminists talk of 'Man over Woman', and environmentalists of 'Culture over Nature', the result of which was Ecofeminism. All these isms and concepts only try to hide the true problem, 'Inequality'. Is not all men who dominate all women, or dominate and destroy nature. It is only a few men and a few women, who are 'more equal', who have the money and power, who exploit all other men who are less equal, and all women and all nature. It is the same 'more equal' men and women, who infect the minds of all others with the viruses named feminism, ecofeminism and all such isms, to draw their attention away from the real threat.

Murray Bookchin wrote in 'The Philosophy of Social Ecology', ".....the present ecological crisis has its roots in human social problems, and that the domination of human-over-nature stems from the domination of human-over-human". It is this human-over-human domination which has to be eliminated. Then the struggle should be for 'Humanism' and not feminism.

If we are to go all the way, to really save nature, then we should follow ecoanarchism, or ecoprimitivism. Then we should reread Henry David Thoreau's 'Walden', with an ecological view on anarchism. The Ecovillage is not a new concept. The small settlements dating back to about 3000 years, which have been discovered in the Haldummulla area were real ecovillages, within Robert Gilman's definition, "human-scale full-featured settlements in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development, and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future".

In such an ecovillage, living in perfect harmony with nature, there would not have been a duality of man-woman or nature-culture. The woman would have played the major role in food gathering and caring for the family. She would not have intentionally caused any harm to the eco-system. Even man would not have caused much harm because they lived in a culture where small was really beautiful and they would not have had any mega-visions.

These families would have been mostly vegetarian, and they could have lived happily even if man did not bring in an occasional carcass of an innocent animal for its decaying flesh. That would also have made the woman more independent in feeding her children. When such communities began to grow a few plants for food, it would have been real agri-culture, within their sustainable culture. It is only when man with his eternal greed, went into agri-business, that he began his war against nature.

If we are to have sustainable development, it could be possible to some extent in a modern day ecovillage, but never in a mega city. It can never be a part of an urban community, which cannot survive without asphalt, concrete, steel and plastic, and without burning fossil fuels. Such an eco-village would be like the myth of ecotourism, which is a more subtle and more expensive way of destroying nature. By trying to mimic nature we are only trying to fool ourselves, or fool the citizen and the consumer.

There is no need to mimic nature, if we can learn to accept and appreciate nature as it is. This is where the woman could play a major role, because she has always remained closer to nature. She could begin with going for the natural look, instead of giving into the cosmetics manufacturers and clothes designers, mud therapy and silicone implants. By trying to be more 'feminine' woman is allowing man to dominate her, place her in a subordinate role. Woman is the only female animal who tries to impress the male of the species, while with almost all other animals, it is the male who has to impress and attract the female.

Not only in an ecovillage, but even in a megacity a woman can be really independent, she could live and take care of the children without any dependence on a male. She can step out of the Lakshman Rekha. She does not need a feminist movement for that. Then she can get mankind to live closer and in harmony with nature, without any conflict of nature and culture.

April 3, 2012, 9:09 a.m.

SAARC Lit. Fest. 2012



Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL), the Apex body of SAARC, held the annual SAARC Festival of Literature in Lucknow, India, from March 16th to 19th.

FOSWAL, the brain-child of Ajeet Cour, continues to be nursed by her and her daughter Arpana Cour. It was during the turbulent times of 1986, just one year after the formation of SAARC, that Ajeet Cour had launched the idea of Cultural Connectivity for Peace in the SAARC region.

Ajeet Cour is a well known Panjabi writer of novels, short stories and drama who is also a translator. Arpana Cour, a co-sponsor of the Literary Festival, is a highly acclaimed painter, a true artist, who could empathize with her surroundings and the culture, and her paintings support many cultural projects.

This year too, writers and scholars, artists and intellectuals, academicians and media persons, performing and visual artists, folklorists and historians of the unique civilization of the region, theatre artists and cultural activists, peace and gender activists, and the creative-intellectual fraternity in general from nine countries : Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka gathered in Lucknow as one family.

The theme was 'Environment : Our Earth : Our Only Home', while the sub-themes included 'Environment and Women' and 'Environment in Literature'.

It was in 1987 that a Conference of Indian and Pakistani writers was held, and the first SAARC Writers conference was held in April 2000, and FOSWAL was made a SAARC Apex Body.

Ajeet Cour had written, "Thus I launched my mad dream of catching that elusive golden sparrow called Peace through cultural and literary exchanges in the region".

26 years later, in Lucknow, it was no longer a mad dream and the golden sparrow did not appear to be so elusive. Here we were able to breakdown most of the barriers we had erected by ourselves. The physical and geographical barriers cannot keep writers and poets apart and the modern day transport and communication facilities have helped immensely in this regard. It is only the human barriers we have to breakdown now.

One of the major barriers has been language, even though most delegates at the conference were able to communicate in Hindi, it was still not common enough to unite everyone. Once again it was English that has to be used as the link language, as the bridge across all language barriers. Fortunately almost all delegates were able to communicate in English.

As U.R. Ananthmurthy had written in the SAARC journal 'Beyond Borders', "Plurality of languages, cultures and religions has not in the past threatened the unity of our country. ...the literature in our bhashas, with their history as well as their potential, has contributed to our sense of a Nation with a difference." This statement could apply not only to India, but to all SAARC countries, and we should consider all of us as One Nation.

The poets who recited their poetry rendered them in English translations too. It was a great experience to see young poets reciting their work in their own language, and sometimes their professors, who had translated the poems into English, would come up to read the poems themselves. The relationship between these young poets and their Gurus was so naturally close, and the respect the students had for the teachers, was also heartening, because today this culture is seen only among musicians and dancers.

The cultural events never had any barriers, even the one act play by the Punjabi performing artiste Neeta Mahendra. The Maldivian delegate, Ibrahim Waheed, who could speak not only Dhivehi, but also Sinhala, English, Tamil and Hindi, had commented after the show that for the first time he could understand Punjabi. Neeta showed how a good theatrical performance could breakdown barriers of language.

Parvathy Baul from West Bengal, managed to bring all of us closer to each other, closer to the culture, art and music in our countries, by her one-girl dance and orchestra, using just the single string 'Ektar' and the little drum 'Drugger', while her voice enraptured all.

The 'Whirling dervishes' or the 'Malangs' of Shah Hussain's Mazzar from Pakistan, kept us glued to our seats, with their whirling and swirling and their movements of their heads with their long hair, and the drummer whirling round and round with two drums around his neck. Prof. Tissa Kariyawasam, our scholar on traditional dance forms found similarities with some of our own folk dances.

We had our own poet, Samantha Herath, who sang a few of our own verses in Sinhala, which even if he had not translated into English the audience really appreciated.

Another golden voice was that of Mustafa Zaman Abbasi, from Bangladesh, who is a popular singer, in addition to being a writer and poet. He has published 50 research papers on traditional music and culture.

Sri Lanka was represented by our well known diplomat, Nihal Rodrigo who was also the Secretary General of SAARC at one time. The others were, Jayasumana Dissanayake, Kanthi Wijetunge and self.

The symbol on the festival logo was of a leaf and a pen. It was the leaf of our sacred Bo tree. The Peepal. The sacred Ashvattha, worshiped for the past 5000 years, from the time of the Indus civilization as we see in the clay tablet found at Harappa. Ficus religiosa has been worshiped by all communities, in every country the tree is found.

This logo tells us that the pen too is sacred, that the use of the pen is a sacred act, and brings us the message that what we write should be sacred too.

This is an opportunity for writers of the world to unite, and united we could change the world to be a better place, not only for humanity, but for all life forms.

March 28, 2012, 12:28 a.m. » Tagged: SAARC


Ravana Revisited

Ravana has come back to life. Just as he had been claimed to have ten heads, he has been re-created in as many forms. The latest reincarnation in the 'Ravana Meheyuma' (Ravana Mission) is by Susitha Ruwan, a doctor at Sri Jayawardenapura Hospital. It is a futuristic thriller with a historical background. In this novel he takes us back a few thousand years to the time of Ravana and Kuvera and a cave complex on Mahaeliya.

Though this is a work of fiction, but fiction using a lot of historical data, there are also several studies published recently, based on the recent archaeological discoveries, on ancient ola books and in folklore in relation to Ravana. "Yakshagothrika Bhashava saha Ravi Shailasha Vansha Kathava" by Ven Manave Vimalarathna himi, is a translation of an ancient manuscript written in the language of the Yaksha race. Ravana is said to be the founder of the Ravi Shailasha clan of the Yakshas. They were well versed in seafaring, navigation, astronomy, aeronautics and irrigation technology.

In the earlier book published by Vimalarathne himi, "Yaksha Gothriakayange Aprakata Thorathuru", he has given us more information about the Yaksha race. Ravana was also known as king Yagu Kauranamantaka. His son was Upendraminika.

Nagoda Ariyadasa Senevirathne, in his book "Sri Lanka Ravana Rajadaniya saha Sigiri Puranaya" , claims that Sigiriya was Ravana's Lankapura. He believes that the Sigiri Frescos had been painted during the time of Ravana, and that some of them may have been restored or painted over during the time of Kassapa. He identifies the lady in cave 13B to be Mandodari, Ravana's consort, and the lady with the deformed features is Shurpanaka, Ravana's sister after her face was mutilated by Rama.

Ravana's mother was Pushpotkata or Mahabiya, who was the daughter of king Sumali. Ravana was a scientist, a physician, and a writer. Among the books he had written are Udis Tantra, Shivathandava Sthothra, and on Ayurveda including Arkaprakashaya, Nadivignanaya and Kumarathanthraya.

One more idea presented by Senevirathne is that there could have been several princes and kings with the name Ravana, which has created confusion in our minds. Senevirathne argues that the name Ravana had continued even up to the 9th century. The pillar inscription found at Viyaulpota near Sigiriya mentions an official named Ravana (mekappar Kannami Ravanami).

Ravana belonged to the Yaksha. Kuveni was also a Yaksha princess. A. Suddhahami, in 'Kuveni nam vu Yak Landa' traces the ancestry of Dissanayake Herath Mudiyanselage Punchi Banda of the village Ranorava in Ambanpola. Punchi Banda claims to be a descendant of a Yakhsa named Mailavalana, who had escaped during the massacre of the Yaksha race by Vijaya. Suddhahami draws our attention to the Seruvila cave inscription, "Parumaka Yakadataha". Paranavitana refers to him as Yagadatta, but says that it may also stand for Yakhadatta. A Yaksha as a Parumaka could not have been a cannibal!

Ravana name is continued by a family in a remote village named Ravanagama off Balangoda. They still use their family name 'Ravana-ge'. The pebbles containing iron ore found in this region are known by the village folk as 'Ravana Guli'. There is evidence today that people who lived in this region had used iron implements more than 3000 years ago. Then, according to Prof. Raj Somadeva, we have been using iron tools much earlier than the Indians.

There are other families in Sri Lanka, who do not wish to admit their ancestry. Vimal Ranatunge in his book 'Polonnaruwe Pas Vasak' mentions a person, who reminded him of his ancestral likeness to the Yaksha. But it is time for such families to come out. It is time that they realized they are the true Bhumiputra of this country, as Dr. Harischandra Wijayatunga believes, the true Adivasai. Adivasi means the original inhabitants. Ravana was a great Sinhala king and a true Sri Lankan. We should be proud of such a long ancestry.

When we start our search for Ravana, we have to be careful not to confuse our great ancestor with the character shown in the Ramayana. Ramayana and Mahabharata are the two great epics of India. Rama and Hanuman are worshiped as deities. In their story they have to show Rama as the maryada purushottam, the Ideal Person. Then it is inevitable that Ravana has to be the opposite, the personification of evil.

Even then, Ramayana writers failed to hide the power, the technology and the intelligence of Ravana and the Yaksha race. That is why Rama had to seek the support of Hanuman and his monkey army to fight against Ravana and his Yaksha forces. They could not hide that Ravana had a flying machine, or some form of machine that could enable him to fly across the ocean and across land to distant regions. They could not hide the majesty of Ravana's Lankapura. They could not hide that they succeeded in defeating Ravana only through the treachery of his own brother.

Ramayana could be a work of fiction, or a story based on a religious legend. It is up to Indian scholars to search for the real Rama who had lived in India. But today we have sufficient evidence to believe that Ravana did exist. We could believe that a powerful Yaksha race lived in Sri Lanka alongside a Naga race, going back into deep history, at least 1.5 million years, since the finding of the Acheulean stone axe at Mayakkai, near Point Pedro.

We need to learn about our historic roots, because we can learn from them how to live in harmony with nature. We can learn how to prolong the lifespan of Mother Earth, which in turn would help us too to live longer and happier.

March 21, 2012, 1:22 p.m.

Nature's miracles

Nature as Vishvakarma

daya dissanayake

As I was seated on the beach at Unawatuna on the South Coast, my mind went back to an evening many years ago, on the beach near the border of the Yala sanctuary. I recalled seeing before me a true work of art. Today it reminded me that nature is the greatest creator of artistic works, which no man could ever beat. A sadness came over me, with the realization that in the name of progress and development we are destroying most of nature's works of art all over the world.

Around me at Yala was not just a painting, but there was music and dance. The painting was the multicoloured clouds spread across the blue sky over a darker hued ocean. The music was of the birds, soaring over the ocean before me, and behind me on the trees, singing to the background music of the slowly beating waves. The dance was also by the sea birds with the slowly floating clouds as the backdrop.

I could enjoy this serenity, undisturbed, surrounded only by nature. It was so unlike sitting inside a theatre, however luxurious it could be, but with artificially controlled temperature and humidity, surrounded by other human beings, disturbed by their movements, their whispering, breathing air contaminated by the breath and body ordours of several hundred people.

On the beach at Unawatuna, crowded today with foreign and local tourists, I tried to recall other great natural wonders, which I had the good fortune to enjoy.

Kudiramalai point in Wilpattu used to be another of nature's wonderful locations, disturbed occasionally by wildlife enthusiasts in the bygone days. There were no buildings, and anyone who wanted to camp had to take their own tents. In the night, I felt I was alone in the universe, if I tried to ignore the lights from the few fishing boats far away on the horizon, but I preferred to think of them as a few more stars. Down below me, the waves crashed against the shore and the salt laden cold wind blew towards me.

Forty years ago the Casuarina beach in Jaffna was another wonderful, peaceful place to be on a moon-lit night. On a weekend now, it is like a beach in Goa. Only Dambakolapatuna remains almost untouched and unspoiled because it is under the control of the navy.

Professor Bawa succeeded to some extent when he created the Kandalama hotel, but still the concrete jumps out of it jarring our admiration. The little natural pond and the small tank beyond it near the Neeraviya temple off Galkulama was a setting that a commercial venture could never achieve. Probably this rock was where the Buddhist monks in ancient days sat down to contemplate. Buddhist monks, and the lay followers realized the need of calm and serene places, as we find in the names of the caves which were gifted to the Samgha "from the four directions, present and absent". Some of the names were, 'Manapadasane' (Pleasing View) a name given to over twenty eight caves, 'Supaditite' (Well-Sited), 'Manorame' (Delighting the Mind).

Other than the beaches I tried to recall any other sites where nature's creativity still remained. One such place was the 'Fishing Hut' tucked away inside a tea estate. It was a log cabin, by a stream, at the edge of the tea estate. On the other side was the virgin forest. This was before the place became popular and began to attract all the urban elite.

We had the stream all to ourselves. We did not feel the cold, as we sat in the small pools, with the soothing water flowing over us, surrounded by the bird song, green vegetation, blue sky and the silence amidst all this because of the absence of man-made noise of vehicles, and machinery and most of all the idle chatter of man himself. Even the most luxurious bath or a jacuzzi could never match these pools. The night was so silent, we could hear the water flowing across the rocks in the stream.

Today we can only shut our eyes and try to imagine what it would have been like, before our virgin forests had been destroyed to make way for coffee and tea. Almost all tourist attractions in Sri Lanka or abroad, may have been really beautiful in ages past, but have been desecrated by man.

A few ancient poets scribbled on the mirror-like wall of Sihigiri, not about the paintings or the man-made wonders, but about the natural beauty of the place. Vira Vidur Bati, towards the late 9th century, wrote on the Katbitha,

"Sihil pini-bindin ad savand pavan gena mand hamule

Kond kumund vasat-avhi mal susadi vi hebi mulule" (249)

The gentle breeze blew - (the breeze) which is wet with cool dew drops - taking (with it) fragrant perfume; in the spring sunshine, the jasmine and the water-lily, being adorned with flowers, shone all over. (Sigiri Graffiti)

Masaru Emoto, is the man who discovered and shared the beauty of water, the different forms of water crystals as it freezes, which he managed to photograph. He believes, "the original idea of creation by the creator of this universe was 'the pursuit of beauty'....when some vibration and the other resonate each other, it always creates beautiful designs. Thus most of the Earth is covered with beautiful nature." Emoto found that water from rivers and lakes where water is kept pristine from development, he could observe beautiful crystals with each one having its own uniqueness.

It simply establishes that natural beauty, is created, persists, and is created anew, only when everything is in harmony with our universe. Such beauty is distorted, and often destroyed, when man interferes with nature, disturbs the rhythm and breaks up the harmony.

March 14, 2012, 12:27 p.m.

translating translations

Translating Translations

daya dissanayake

In 1865 Mark Twain wrote the 'Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County'. A few years later he wrote another story with a longer title, 'The Jumping Frog in English, Then in French, and then Clawed Back Into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil'. He says he found someone had translated the story into French, and thus decided to back-translate it. But Mark Twain admitted, "I cannot speak the French Language, but I can translate very well, though not fast, I being self-educated."

That was Mark Twain at his best. The title was back-translated as 'The Frog Jumping of the County of Calaveras'. I pulled out just one sentence out of the story, "If there was a horse race, you'd find him flush or you would find him busted at the end of it; if there was a dog-fight, he'd bet on it; if there was a cat-fight he would bet on it..."

The back-translation said "If there was of races, you him find rich or ruined at the end; if it, here is a combat of dogs, he bring his bet; he himself laid always for a combat of cats..."

We could try this on some of our modern translations that flood our bookshops today. Most of them are translations of translations, and if we try to back-translate them into the original language it would be very difficult to predict what comes out. In reality some of the Sinhala translations have to be back-translated by the reader in his mind, to really understand a phrase or even a sentence.

It is all because we are on turbo-drive when it comes to translations into Sinhala. It is a rat race. Everyone is trying to beat the others, racing to get a translation out before another translator, or before another publisher. In the end it is the Sinhala reader who pays for it, with his money, with his time and worst of all, ending up with misinformation, or reading a novel which is nowhere near the original. Translations have become a category of FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods), a process which would not be easy to reverse.

Translations are not something new to us. The first translations in our country could have been the Buddhist scriptures, translated from Sinhala to Pali by Buddhaghosa Maha Thera. We have been reading translations ever since.

The history of the Sinhala people had been recorded in the Pali language, instead of Sinhala. It was George Turnour in 1826 who first attempted to translate the Mahavamsa into English. His English translation was published in 1837. Wilhelm Geiger translated it into German in 1912. The first Sinhala translation of the Mahavamsa was in 1883 by Hikkaduwe Sumangala Himi and Don Andiris Silva Batuwantudawe, directly from Pali, and not from the English translation.

Translations are necessary, specially today, when the world is becoming smaller, when we are getting closer to all the people around the globe, and that includes the writers. When we get to know the writers, and their works, when we have some idea of what they write about and their society and culture we like to read their work. But our language ability is limited. It limits our reading to books written in the only languages we know. The books written in other languages could be read only in translation.

Like music and painting, novels, short stories and poetry should also become universal, the writers should be able to share their creative work with all humanity, because they belong to all humanity, not just to one race or nation.

In our country, the urgency is to share all creative writing within our nation. There is vast progress in Tamil writing in Sri Lanka, which the Sinhala readers never get to read. All such writings have to be translated into Sinhala, and the best works coming out in Sinhala should also be translated into Tamil. It opens the door to reach 77 million Tamil language users. It would not be difficult. There are many Sri Lankans who are fluent in both languages.

Then we should also translate the Sinhala and Tamil writings into English, to introduce them to the rest of the world, to enable the 500 million English speaking people on earth to read them.

We should go on translating books from other languages into Sinhala and Tamil. In the past books were translated, considering the need, religious or literary. They were carried out without any financial gains in mind. Today financial remunerations for all creative work have become a part of life. We cannot avoid it. But we can still be selective in the translations and translate directly from the original language. As just one example, we do not need a Sinhala translation of the life of the Buddha written in English for the American reader, or a biography of a modern day Western politician who had not done anything for his country or for mankind, or translate an English translation of a Tamil book.

When we translate all the children's books into Sinhala we discourage the children from reading the original English books, which would have improved their language ability. But when we translate Tamil into Sinhala we can expect more children to learn Tamil too, which could improve the present Tamil literacy among the Sinhala community from ten percent to at least twenty or thirty percent.

The future of translations would belong to intelligent machines. Already we have instant translations of web pages by Google and Yahoo and other search engines. Babylon software offers translations between about thirty languages. Statistical Machine Translation systems for Sinhala and Tamil is been developed at the University of Colombo and at Sri Jayawardenapura there is a project on English to Sinhala Machine translation.

What ever we do in the name of Arts and Culture should be for the benefit of all mankind, and all our future generations. We have a civic and a moral duty. Our pen, our paint brush, our violin should only create something useful, while providing entertainment.

March 6, 2012, 11:21 p.m.

father of the eBook

A Man with a Heart

daya dissanayake

Michael Stern Hart was born in Tacoma, Washington, on March 8th 1947. Tomorrow is his 65th birth anniversary.

On July 4th, 1971, he had typed the text of the U.S. Declaration of Independence into his computer and transmitted it to about 100 other users on the University of Illinois computer network. That was his first step towards developing the on-line library 'Project Gutenberg' which today has over 38,000 books in 61 languages available for free reading, on any desktop or laptop computer, on iPad, Kindle, ePub and even on a mobile phone. They are all books on the public domain, or copyrighted works for which he got permission to reproduce. Today the project also provides audio books and music.

Some called him the father of the E-book, and Hart is known more as the founder of Project Gutenberg, He had used the name Gutenberg after the man who created the first practical printing press. In a way the name is ironic, because till Gutenberg showed the way for commercial scale publishing of books. All written material, from the first clay tablets, ola leaves and parchment were distributed free, even though the books were available only for the few fortunate priests and the elite. It is the printing press which made the book a commodity, to be sold at a price, a Fast Moving Consumer Product, for businessmen to market and make a profit. After the arrival of the printing press, it was in 1971 that Hart gives readers the opportunity to access books free of charge. In 1971 he personally typed in the first eBooks, the Bible, works of Homer, Shakespeare and Mark Twain. During the 16 years up to 1987 he had keyed in 313 books, and with the help of many volunteers through the University of Illinois PC User Group, by 1998 he had 1,600 eBooks online. Still he was just dismissed by many people as "that crazy guy who wants to put Shakespeare in a computer". But the 'Crazy guy' soon had 17,000 eBooks on Project Gutenberg.

However, in 1998, people who wanted to keep knowledge and books away from the general public managed to take over one million books out of the public domain, with the Copyright Extension Act, extending copyright up to 95 years.

Richard Poynder who interviewed Hart on March 9th, 2006, had this to say after he finished the interview, "What it reveals is a man whose whole life has clearly been dedicated to defending the public domain, but who is sometimes a little hard to fathom". A little hard to fathom, probably because he was ahead of his time.

His mission statement was "Encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks, Help break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy, Give as many eBooks to as many people as possible". His mission is to receive a lot of help with the coming of e-book readers, and the facility offered in android phones to read eBooks. According the International Data Corporation there were 12.8 million eBook readers by 2010. One more facility available is 'Calibre', (, which can convert many eBook formats to many other eBook formats, manage our eLibrary, and Syncing support for eBook readers.

On July 16, 2011, at 04.38 hrs, Michael S. Hart had written to Brewster Kahle, about "A Graceful Exit", that he had accomplished all his goals, his career chosen in eBooks has been a success in terms of what he has been trying to accomplish for the last four decades. Then he goes on to say that he has set one more impossible goal, as he is faced with limited time, limited resources and declining energy levels. His goals were "1. A Billion eBook Library, 2. Spending more time in Hawai, 3. Working to create a graceful exit".

The Billion eBook library was based on the premise there are 25 million books in the public domain, converting 40% would give 10 million eBooks. There are 250 languages with over one million speakers, 40% will be 100 languages. 10 million eBooks translated into 100 languages yields ONE BILLION eBOOKS!

In this message Hart also lamented that he did not personally believe the world at large really, sincerely wants to provide literacy and an education to anyone in the Third World, in spite of all the lip service to the contrary.

Michael S. Hart died on September 6, 2011. Two months before his death, in July 2011, he had written, "One thing about eBooks that most people haven't thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we're all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job".

"...Hart's house in Urbana was stacked, floor to eye-height, with pillars of books. The man who spent a lifetime digitizing literature lived amidst the hard copies, which he often sent home with visitors. It was one more way for him to share his books", wrote Emily Langer, in the Washington Post.

In the document prepared by his family after his death, there was an image of Michael S. Hart "breaking down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy".

Our tribute to Michael S. Hart should be our own contribution to break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy. We can contribute in many ways, by volunteering to add more books to the Gutenberg Project, by sharing our books with everyone, by encouraging more writers to add their works to the public domain, to reach Hart's one billion eBook target.

I feel proud that Michael and I were born on the same year, same day, but when I think of what he had achieved and his contribution to mankind in his short life of 55 years, I also feel ashamed of myself and guilty, about my failure to contribute anything worthwhile .

March 6, 2012, 11:20 p.m.

music, yesterday, today and tomorrow

A musical night in silence

I had the good fortune to enjoy a musical night in silence, in a calm and serene corner of Battaramulla. For a tone deaf person like me to enjoy a musical night, it has to be something out of the ordinary. At least it was, to me, even though for music lovers in our country it could be a familiar event happening regularly.

This was the 24th consecutive year of a 'Night of Music', from dusk to dawn, at the residence of Pandit Somasiri Illesinghe. There is a Zen koan about the 'sound of one hand clapping', and another of 'listening to a stone growing'. Listening to music in silence is something close to that. Watching little children and youngsters, seated cross-legged, listening to fellow students playing a violin, singing the various raga, is an enjoyment by itself. Watching the face of a young engineer keeping time to the solo player on the stage could be a moment of pure delight to their teacher. Listening to the master and student playing together, I tried to imagine the story of Guttila and Musila. I wondered if it was based on a true incident and what would have really happened so long ago. Did the Sakra come down to help Guttila, or was it the master's own self-confidence, that enabled him to beat Musila?

It is an age old custom for masters to arrange an annual event where their students could display their skills acquired through the year, the master would always be happy and proud when his student out-performs him.

There are many eminent disciples of Pandit Illesinghe carrying on the tradition of developing their own disciples. Pandith Illesinghe had himself being a disciple of Prof. G. N. Goswamy at the Bhatkande University, Lucknow. He has served at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation for 16 years, and then at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation for another 17 years, till he retired as the Director of Music in 1999.

On November 19th, 2010, the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation "trilingual newscast opened to a recomposition of the age old theme music composed by Somasiri Illesinghe", (CDN 2010/11/24)

The violin has been traced back 600 years to Italy, but musical instruments have been used in Sri Lanka for several thousand years. Among the Yaksha race musical instruments known as 'Anthara, Kopotha and Utumbava' are mentioned by Rev. Manave Wimalarathne himi. We are bound to find such ancients instruments some day among the human settlements discovered in Ranchamadama and Haldummulla, and other settlements in our country,

We can try to picture a scene 3500 years ago, musicians and singers, playing on the front porch of the house discovered at Uda Ranchamadama. A leading musician with his or her pupils, pleasing the audience of the elite family who lived in this house, and the other village folk. Among the gathering would have been the parents, grandparents and siblings of the young musicians. If it had been after the harvest, when most families enjoyed a respite from work, on a full moon day, the music would have continued till morning.

In 'The Reed Cutter', Junichiro Tanizaki describes a night of music, 'Tsukimi' (post-harvest moon-viewing festival), where the string instrument 'kokyu' was played.

To imagine the future of music and the teaching of music is somewhat difficult, due to the very rapid development of technology, the very rapid phase of cultural changes and the commercialization of all art forms.

The gloomier view could be if electronic technology takes over the synthesis and performance of all types of music. The electronic organ is already with us. Playing pre-recorded music even at "live" musical performances is becoming a common phenomenon. It could spread till the complete take over by synthetic music, both because of man's greed for filthy lucre, and because of man's laziness.

Sometimes mechanization develops out of necessity, as one kovil in Jaffna is using a motor driven mechanical contraption, with mechanical hands beating the drums to provide the music during the puja ceremonies, because during the recent dark age, it was not easy to gather musicians for every puja.

Man's laziness will continue to deter him from going to attend a musical evening, when he can relax in the comfort of his home and listen to whatever music he wants to, either on mp3, using his earphones, or surrounded by the latest and highest quality sound systems.

Music education is also changing, not gradually, but very fast. On-line learning could be the future for music too, and then the teacher becomes a remote idea, a non-person, and someday could be replaced totally by a machine. With the changing social and cultural styles, may be it is better, because the respect that pupils had for teachers has been fast eroding, and would soon disappear totally. Then, rather than treating a human being, a teacher and a fatherly figure with disregard, sometimes with disrespect, it would be better to transfer such emotions to a non-feeling machine.

The brighter view is that because of all new technology man will have more time for leisure, to enjoy aesthetic pleasures. The re-discovery by the West of the physiological and psychological effects of music on our body and our mind, that music is a healing force would also benefit mankind. Though it was known for a very long time that music has an incredible power for healing, it was not made use of in the modern health care practices till recently. Today it is claimed that music provides calmer and safer surgery, requiring less anesthesia and pain medication.

Most important, let us use music to calm our nerves, to ease present day conflicts among us, to be more peaceful and more humane.

Feb. 21, 2012, 11:32 p.m. » Tagged: music