Midweek Review

As I Like It
Karthigesu Sivathamby: Lankan scholar with International recognition
by K.S.Sivakumaran

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 Colombo 11.

Kailaspathy, Sivathamby, 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 as yet.

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 ‘progressed’.

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 Criticism.

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 about:

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 were:

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 Areas.

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.


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