More cuts on the ‘sudda within’
A piece I wrote about a week ago on the idea that we all nurture a
‘sudda’ (in other words ‘a colonial mentality’) resulted in me receiving
several emails on the subject. Among them was one from a retired senior
Police Officer (of a different generation and most definitely a
different calibre), Gamini Gunawardena, a Sanskrit scholar and a
batch-mate of my parents at Peradeniya.
Gamini Maama shared some thoughts with me. He observed that most of
our conversations on the ‘sudda problem’ were in the sudda language,
He wrote, wittily, ‘incidentally, why do we write the address on the
envelopes always in English? Because our postal peon is a sudda? Or are
we testing his English knowledge?’ More pertinently, he asked why the
work of the private sector is conducted in English and not in Sinhala/Tamil.
He remembered Anagarika Dharmapala: ‘In order to kill this sudda,
Anagarika Dharmapala Thuma advised us to make a dummy of the sudda and
spit at him every day. I think it should be done as a national exercise
every morning like singing the national anthem. And particularly at the
commencement of every English class!’
He also opined, ruefully, that when he left the University he had
thought the next generation of undergraduates with a completely Sinhala
education would be able to be rid of the inferiority complex that his,
the last generation of the Ivor Jennings model, suffered from. He
observed: they turned out to be worse.
The issue I think is not so much that we use English (I see nothing
wrong in using the enemy’s weapons against him/her, especially if it is
done effectively). It all depends on what we do with English. The Kaduwa
(sword) can be used to keep at bay the enemy or it can be used to
castrate ourselves. It can be used, as it is, to demarcate social status
and acquire a superiority that is not in tune with intellect or skill.
This can be done, let me hasten to add, only to the extent that we have
allowed the sudda to inhabit our minds, our sensibilities.
I am not sure of the efficacy of the Anagarika’s proposal. It cannot
be a matter of spitting on the sudda (literally and/or metaphorically)
or else giving the sudda permanent residency in our minds and thereby
submitting to ideological servility. Not choosing the former is not
necessarily an embrace of the latter.
That would be a dialectic way of approaching issues and quite
un-Buddhist. The alternative way is to engage the sudda without fear and
without hatred (both of which inhibit fruitful exchange) with full
awareness. Gamini Maama himself offers a possible ‘location’ of English
by referring to a Raj Kapoor song in the 1951 classic movie, ‘Shree
Mera joota hai japani
Yeh patloon inglisthani
Sar pe laal topi roosi
Phir bhi dil hai hindustani
My shoes may be from Japan. My clothes may be from England and my hat
may be from Russia but my heart remains Indian!
It is not in the trappings, then. I had heard this song quoted before
and it always reminds me of a conversation that took place in Peradeniya
about 17 years ago.
This was when I was called a jathika chinthana kaaraya by my
political opponents. Someone had made this comment: ‘Malinda Aiya
kathakaranne jathika chinthanaya, e unata yaaluwela inne lansi kellek
ekka’ (Malinda talks jathika chinthanaya but is going out with a Burgher
girl). My response: ‘honda sinhala bauddha kollo, honda Sinhala bauddha
kello ekka yaalu wela innava, e unata eyalage chinthana lansi’. (There
are good Sinhala Buddhist boys going out with good Sinhala Buddhist
girls but their ideology is ‘Burgher’; ‘lansi’ being used as proxy for
what I have been referring to as ‘sudda’ in the cultural colonization
The way out is not cultural isolation but active and informed
inter-cultural association without operating from the extreme that
vilifies the sudda or that which worships the sudda. To put it in a
different way, we need to be proud of who we are, where we came from
etc., celebrate that which is and which was good in our history,
heritage and culture without falling into the trap of romanticizing the
The Buddha advocated the employment of reason. Makes a lot of sense.
A nation must cultivate its collective intellect so that it can
separate grain from chaff, the inconsequential from the abiding, that
which is worthy of acquiring and that which should be dismissed.
We have shown a marked inability to be selective and this flows from
a wishy-washy approach to the task of self-exploration.
Since cricket is in the news and since Sri Lanka is to play England
in the Champions Trophy before this piece gets published, let me use a
What is cricket? It is not home-grown. It is a sudda game. Does it
not belong to us, though? A simple illustration would suffice to answer
this question: the ‘Dil-scoop’, Tilakaratne Dilshan’s innovation, the
audacious lifting of a delivery over the keeper’s head and to the
I like to think that in that stroke, in that innovation, there is
‘Sri Lankan heart’, even though the helmet is not Sri Lankan the game is
not Sri Lankan.
As for the sudda within us, that creature is not un-tamable.
And there is nothing to stop us from visiting and taking up residence
in the sudda’s head either. We need to be alert though. And we are not
alert enough. firstname.lastname@example.org