Leisure

Martin Wickramasinghe mulls over criticisms of "Ape Gama" in this section of Upan Da Sita
The "Scientificity" of science and territoriality of academe

A professor who taught Greek literature in the university, upon reading my "Ape Gama" (Our Village), had made the following comment to a university friend of mine:

"Wickramasinghe has written that a dog turning round with its tail between its legs prior to laying down is but a recollection of an inborn trait handed down from its ancestors who lived in the wilds. It is taught in biology that habits are not handed down genetically."

The knowledge of someone who writes in Sinhala but has not studied in a university is gathered from books. I believe that it is because I was not a graduate that the professor did not recall that he was conversant with an ancient literature and not that he had studied science.

"Ape Gama" is a literary work and not a book about anthropology or biology. However, it was an appreciation that was written after about thirty years of reading biology and anthropology books with great enthusiasm.

"A dog is but a wolf who has been tamed by man and domesticated. Today’s domesticated dog, when it lays down on the cement floor, turns around, just as its wild ancestors turned around to flatten the dried leaves before laying down. What the dog, which, with its tail between its legs, turns around several times before laying down on the floor recalls, is the habit it has acquired from its ancestors. The woman who dips her fountain pen in the inkwell shakes it by force of habit, having got used to shaking the quill after dipping it in ink."

Given below is a quote from a book on the science pertaining to instinct written by E.B. Ford, a biology professor at Oxford University and published two years before I wrote "Ape Gama".

What I had written in "Ape Gama" was not about what an animal having been born as one got used to. The wolf that settles down on the foliage in the jungle floor, puts its tail between its legs and turns around. It is not something it learns after being born. It is a product of something inborn and common to the fellow creatures of its breed.

Ananda Kumara came to take up residence in Galkissa. He, who had read with great interest my "Satva Santhathiya", related the following story one day:

"The teacher `85`85`85 argued with me that ‘Satva Santhathiya' is a book written by ickrasinghe’s son. ‘Wickramasinghe knows nothing of science. His older son is good at science. Wickramasinghe has got his son to write the book, altered the language and published it under his own name.’ I am surprised that teachers who say such stupid things exist."

Ananda Kumara laughed. I think the teacher said this not out of stupidity but of malice. "Satva Santhathiya" is a book that won commendation from everyone. Kumaranatunga also, in a review in the "Pahana", praised "Satva Santhathiya". This teacher could not have obtained any satisfaction from praising the book. He found some other way of being happy.

"I wrote ‘Satva Santhathiya’ a long time before I got married," I said. "I wrote and re-wrote it four or five times and finally published it only in 1934. My eldest son was born in 1928. He has written ‘Satva Santhathiya’ when six years old! You understand that even if wrote a book at the age of six, he still wouldn’t have had enough time to learn about science, don’t you?"

"I didn’t know when the book was written. I do know it was published in 1934," said Ananda Kumara laughing uncontrollably.

I know that it was not only me, but that there was another Sinhala author who was criticized in this manner. When Kumaranatunga published his "Kumara Gee", some people said that it was a translation of English verses. Certain people said that it was based on English verse. There were criticisms of "Kumara Gee" published in the "Sinhala Bauddhaya" newspaper. Karunaratne, who was its editor - the husband of Malini, who was editor of "Lanka Matha" - invited me to critique it, showing the similarities of English verse and "Kumara Gee"; he even told me that I would be paid seventy-five rupees per article.

He was a friend who worked with me for some time at the Dinamina. This invitation, I believe, was made because he thought it was I that wrote the first critique in the Svadesha Mithraya. That three column critique was the first published appreciation of Kumara Gee. Before that, a letter was published in the Dinamina authored by someone who called himself Piyadasa Ramachandra, where some grammatical error was pointed out.

S.P. Samarasinghe, who is a good friend of mine, writing about Satva Santhathiya, recently said that some of the analogies in it were not appropriate to a scientific book.

"The organs and parts of the anatomy of an animal bears witness to the fact that it has evolved from species that lived in ancient times. In contemporary animals one finds remnant organs and other marks that are akin to the buttons that one finds in inappropriate places on the coats of lords. Such buttons do not serve any useful purpose. Earlier they were used to hang the sword. Or to fasten the belt to which the sword was tied."

It is such analogies that were considered to be inappropriate to a scientific work. The above I wrote following the works of Darwin, Huxley and Richard

Lull. There books contain such analogies. The analogy of clothing, if I remember right, is something Darwin employed in his "Descent of Man". In his "Origin of Species," he likens the residual parts of animals to English words where certain letters are silent. Professor Henry Dumand, who identified around seventy such worthless organs and parts and likened them to a scaffolding or frame within the human body. It was a professor from Yale University,

R.S. Lull who equated these to the artifacts resident in the museum called the human body.

P.E. Fernando, a lecturer in the university, a fearless critic and my friend, was the editor of the Sinhala magazine in the university when he was an undergraduate. I vaguely remember him commenting in the editorial that it is not proper for someone who hasn’t studied the sciences in a university to write a book on science. I thought that this was a comment aimed at condemning Satva Santhathiya.

The theory of evolution was not a science but a scientific philosophy. Until recently those who wrote on this subject in English were not educated in universities. It was recently that degreed professors began writing books on evolution. Among those who delineated the fundamentals of genetic science before that discipline was formally established, were Catholic priests and gardeners. Professor E.B. Tyler, who is considered as the founding father of English anthropology had never studied in a university. Richard Carrington, who a few years ago wrote about geology, archaeology and evolution in "Earth Beneath Us" had not studied in any university.
(translated by Malinda Seneviratne)


NEWS | POLITICS | DEFENCE | FEATURES | OPINION | BUSINESS | EDITORIAL | CARTOON | SPORTS