Who is Karthigesu Sivathamby (1932)?
Lankan intellectuals writing in Sinhala, Thamil and Enlish know
him very well and respect him as an authority with multifaceted
disciplines and a scholar applying the multi-disciplinary
approach as originally proffered by the late K.Kailasapathy,
another towering figure in the local academic and literary
scene. It’s not an exaggeration that both together shaped to a
great extent the contemporary literary scene even at the expense
of accommodating non-Marxist writing, even though belatedly.
Kailasapathy and Sivathamby were
contemporaries in the University of Peradeniya in the mid 1950s.
They studied in the English medium. While Kailasapathy did a
special degree in Thamil, Sivathamby’s specialty was History.
But eventually became a Thamil scholar besides being an expert
on many other fields. Kailasapathy took to journalism and
literary criticism Sivathamby concentrated on the theatre and to
some extent on cinema, translation, communication and the like.
Both did their Ph.D from Birmingham University in the U.K. and
studied under the Marxist scholar George Thomson. Both have
written books and articles in English as well.
Last Sunday (Aug 28), a book was
launched at the Kolumbu Thamil Sangam in Wellawatta. This book
includes the series of interviews scholar Sivathamby had given
to a literary monthly in Thamil called "Gnanam". "Ilakkiyamun
Vaalkaiyum" (Literature and Life) was the title of the book. It
was published by Thamilni Pathipakam in U.K. and edited by "Gnanam"
editor T.Gnanasekeran. This 160 page book is priced at Rs 250/-
and available at Poobalasingham Book Depot at 202,340 Sea street
A.J.Canagaratna, Siddharthan Perinbanayagam were a few who knew
their world literature, particularly English and Greek
literature. Therefore their horizons were wide and rich. They
had the fortune of interacting with some Sinhala intellectuals
like the late Charles Abeysekera, A.J.Gunawardena, just to
mention a few.
The Interview gives valuable
information to the keen reader in understanding Thamil
Literature in a larger context of updated world knowledge.
In similar fashion there was an
earlier publication called "Sivathambiyin Naerkanalkal" (Sivathamby’s
Interviews) published in Thamilnadu. I have not read that book
Gnanam’s interviews were basically on
Sivathamby’s role as a Thamil literati and his life and
thoughts. But Sivathamby couldn’t be confined to Thamil
literature alone. Nevertheless, this book is a very valuable
source book not only to understand the subject, but also the
socio-cultural matrix within which he and Thamil literature
Sivathamby is both a Thamilian and Sri
Lankan - To understand Sivathamby at present we should read his
book in English, a volume of 326 pages, "Being a Tamil and Sri
Lankan", published by Aivaham at 2/7 Ram Gate Apartments, No
56,37th Lane, Colombo 06. This book is dedicated to the late
A.M.A.Azeez and the late Charles Abeysekare. Journalist
J.S.Tissanayagam has written a Preface.`A0 Besides the
Publisher’s Note and the acknowledgement, an Introduction by
Prof.N.Balakrishnan is also included. The author K.Sivathamby
has written ‘A Prolegomenon to these Introductory Essays"
The articles in the collection first
appeared in an English weekly "The Northeastern Herald" edited
by the late D.Sivaram and presently by J.S. Tissanayagam. The
contemporary political and social scene in Sri Lanka during the
period 2002 and maybe 2004 is focused in these essays. Before we
find out what the themes of these newspaper articles were, let
me copy from the blurb of the book to have a definite picture
and the career of Karthigesu Sivathamby, who hails from
Karaveddy in northern Sri Lanka.
>From the blurb
"K.Sivathamby -Professor Emeritus,
University of Jaffna (1978-1996), had taught at Vidoyadaya (Sri
Jayawardenapura) (1965 -1978), Eastern University of Sri Lanka
(1997-98) and had done visiting lectures at the university of
Colombo and Kelaniya.
He had been visiting Professor of
Tamil at the Universities of Madras (1998), Upsalu 1992) at
Institute of International Tamil Studies, Madras (1999).
He was Senior research Fellow/
visiting Fellow at the university of Cambridge (1983/84), Centre
for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (1982) and
at Tamil University, Thanjavoor (1982).
His main areas of specializations are
Social and literary History of the Tamils, Culture and
communication among the Tamils, Tamil drama and Literary
He is the author of 40 books and
monographs on Tamil Studies."
My comments on the ideas of the author
is not warranted, but I think Sinhala intellectuals and the
unenlightened’ extreme patriotic forces among the Sinhalas
should read this book if they could read in English. To
understand the dilemma of a Lankan Thamilian who wants to be a
Sri Lankan with his ethnic identity respected, the circumstances
in which he is confined to live amidst majority supremacist
hegemony should be understood.
Categories and Headings
I shall now give you the main
categories under which the articles have been grouped together.
It would fairly be a good indicator of what this book is all
Ethnic Divide, The Peace Process,
Tamil Theatre, Tamil Music and Tamil Cinema, writers, artistes
and Intellectuals, Political Culture, Education and Media.
The actual headings of the articles
Peace for the Tamils, Pro Peace Left:
Vasu & Bahu, Peace back to pieces, Jaffna Public Library -Its
resurrection, One`A0 year of Peace - a second look, Women
war-torn Environment, remembering the Bishop, Deadlock in peace
Talks, Interim Administration, Bhikkus for Peace, No war is No
Peace, Living in Two Worlds.
Sri Lankan`A0 Tamil identity,
Revisiting the Tracks of the Great Divide, Sinhala-Buddhist
understanding of Tamils: communication Barriers, Sinhala
Perceptions of South Indian Dravidian Movement, Questionable
Categorization in the Census, The Making of the Sri Lankan
Tamil, Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Tamilnadu, Politics and
Identity of Malayaga Tamils, Colonialist Legacy and Ethnic
Conflict, February 4: Its Meaning for Minorities, The Mahawamsa
Perception, Prof.Karunatilleke’s Tamil -Sinhala Dictionary- A
contribution to Sinhala -Tamil Understanding, Sinhala
Understanding of the Dravidian Movement, Sri Lankan Tamil
Literary Works,`A0 The term ‘unitary’: A Flawed Concept, Being a
Sri Lankan Tamil, Opinion: Tamil Regionalism: Historical Causes
and the Crocodile Tears, Remembering the Bandaranaike Legacy
-all of it.
Writers and Artistes Meet in Jaffna,
Place for Intellectuals, to Standup and be Counted, Sinhala and
Tamil Artistes in support of Peace.
Tamil Medium School Education, Jaffna
University, University reforms, education in War devastated
Tamil at SLBC, Sociology of
Communication, Need for a Non-Partisan Mainstream media.
K.Pathmanathan- the Great Exponent of
Nathaswaram in Jaffna Tradition, Annaviyar Chelliah - A veteran
of Traditional Theatre, Tamil theatre in Grassroots
Communication, Film Maker Mani Ratnam on Ethnic War, Street
Theatre and Peactime Communication, Carnatic Music Maestro:
Veeramani Iyer, Thai Pongal, Tamils and the DMK.
TNA and the Tamils, making a New
Political Culture, JVP and its Transformation, Articulating the
Tamil Point of View to the South and masking sense of the
Political Cross currents in Colombo.