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Sinhala educated parliamentarians
The great Sinhala scholar Ediriweera Saratchandra used to say that those who knew only Sinhala did not know even Sinhala. Hence the verse "Demala Saku Magadha Nohasala Sathata Dhadha/Sihala basin sekevin Kiyami padhabendha" or to those who are uneducated in Tamil, Sanskrit, Pali, I shall in brief, versify in Sinhala.

But when in 1956 we had the Sinhala only policy the boys and girls in our schools began to think of Sinhala only and nothing else. Though our Marxists like NM at first opposed the Sinhala only idea they themselves had no alternative but to accept it in order to prevent themselves from being carried away by the language tsunami of the pancha maha balavegaya, the monks, vedamahattayas, Iskola Mahattayas, Kamkaru Sahodarayas and goviralas. Today, to use the words of another great scholar, Ivor Jennings, we are in a ‘cultural desert’.

To know what ignoramuses were born after the Sinhala only policy switch on to Swarnavahini on a Sunday at 7.30 p.m. and watch a man in tie and coat trying to educate a set of mutton-heads to speak English!

A Sri Lankan friend of mine, an old Royalist of the good old days when the medium of instruction was the Queen’s English, who is now educating his children in England, asked me why Sri Lankan parliamentarians lacked intelligent humour.

He mentioned how speakers in English possessed that quality in old Ceylon when schoolchildren were compulsorily taken to the supreme legislature as a part of their education. In the Indian parliament too, one qualification for an MP, was his ability to use language to create laughter in the House. That was when English was still the language of choice.

He said how on 20 September, 1980, the well known Piloo Mody was then in the Opposition presenting his critical views on a government proposal. The ruling party was the Congress (I) and they wondered how long they would have to listen to his caustic words. Sitaram Kesari from the government benches who had a reputation for boldness, asked Mody to refrain from ‘hooting.’ Mody retorted, "It is better than barking."

Sitaram Kesari sensed that he had received more than he could swallow. Yet, he realised that he could gain a point over Mody by seeking the intervention of the Speaker as the use of the word ‘barking’ was unparliamentary. The Speaker agreed to give his ruling after referring to his dictionary. Mody, who was still on his feet, saw an opening for yet another barb. He added, "Mr. Speaker, while you are at it, please also pronounce whether ‘braying’ is allowed."

Whenever I watch parliamentary debates telecast in Sri Lanka, I feel sad for our MPs who, as Ediriweera Saratchandra remarked, speak only Sinhalese and that too without any intelligent humour at all, because they don’t seem to know even Sinhala.

Jayatissa Perera,
Bambalapitiya.

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