Kala Korner - by Dee Cee

Eighty books - a feat to be proud of
Professor Emeritus J. B. Disanayaka launched his 80th book the other day. A proud record indeed! His first book in 1969 was titled 'Bhashaawaka Rataa Samudaaya' dealing with the variety of patterns in language. The 80th book also deals with language. He calls it 'Maanava Bhashaa Praveshaya' (Human Language - an introduction). In between he has written on varied topics from Sinhala folklore, heritage and culture to children's stories.

Language is JB's forte. This is the first book he wrote after his official retirement (he continues to be a busy academic anyway) and it gives us an insight into the fascinating subject of language. He identifies two main tasks of a university don. One is to try and add on something new to his field, the second is to present that new knowledge both to academics as well as the masses. He should be a researcher because it is through research that he could bring in added knowledge, JB insists.

JB has certainly done his bit not only through books but also through the media, particularly radio and TV, and regular talks at seminars. His research into Sinhala folklore produced interesting and valuable material.

In a lengthy foreword in the new book, JB pays tribute to several university professors who took the initiative in the field of linguistics. He identifies the late Professor M.W. Sugathapala de Silva as the pioneer in the field when he introduced the subject in 1959 at the Peradeniya campus. He was a scholar in Pali and Sanskrit. He made linguistics a most interesting subject, which JB followed with relish as an undergrad.

JB remembers Professor D.E. Hettiarachchi (not many of us knew that his initials stood for Dayananda Ekanatha) for encouraging him to do his post-graduate work in linguistics. On a Fulbright scholarship, JB joined the faculty of linguistics at California University in Berkeley. On his return, he moved from Peradeniya to the Colombo University on the invitation of Professor M.B. Ariyapala who initiated a separate linguistics department at the Colombo University in the late sixties. Lectures were conducted in both Sinhala and Tamil.

Under the university restructuring programme, it was later shifted to the Kelaniya University. The present professor, Dr. Ashoka Premaratne (a student of JB's) speaking at the book launch, referred to JB's substantial contribution in the field of linguistics. To see Professor Ariyapala at the launch was a pleasant surprise to us who were his students Peradeniya. A pleasing personality, he was always in his immaculate white national dress except when he joined us for a game of tennis in white shirt and shorts. So was Professor Hettiarachchi.

Amidst three professors, Tissa Abeysekera spoke as "a user of the language" stressing on the need to be cautious when one uses the language. He referred to the callous attitude of many present day users who just do not care about what they say or write. He gave several instances of how certain words accepted universally as sacred to a religion are used loosely today. He quoted the classic case of how the word 'asamasama' (incomparable - used only to refer to the Buddha) is used to advertise a toothbrush! The word 'dharmishta' has now been politicized, he said.

Professor Emeritus K. N.O. Dharmadasa lamented on the pathetic state of the Sinhala language today. "The swabasha policy eliminated English and the Sinhala language suffered. Pali and Sanskrit were totally ignored. This too affected Sinhala. And now there is an attempt to bring back English at the expense of Sinhala. This is equally disastrous," he pointed out.

The new book is the eighth on language and linguistics JB has written in Sinhala. He has written seven in English as well. Language is not merely a collection of sounds, letters or words. It is a variety of patterns with coherence and consistency, JB says. It was to illustrate this that he wrote his first book on language. The next discussed the use and analysis of a language. The third was on phonology. All three books won State literary awards.

Two awards within a week
Getting out of his sick bed, maestro Premasiri Khemadasa came down from Kandy to Colombo twice within a week to be at two awards ceremonies where his contribution to the performing arts was recognized. One was the Presidential Film Awards which was revived after a lapse of four years where he collected the Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement. The others to receive this prestigious award were veteran actor Tony Ranasinghe, actress Iranganie Serasinghe and cinematographer D. B. Nihalsinghe.

The other award was the Eagle Award for Excellence from Eagle Insurance. The Company selects two personalities each year and recognizes them at their annual 'big do' - the Eagle Convention where around 700 members of the field force gather. This time the winners were Khemadasa and Henry Jayasena both of whom have done immeasurable service towards the progress of music and drama respectively. Dancing duo Chitrasena and Vajira were honoured last year.

Incidentally, Khemadasa who underwent a kidney transplant at the Kandy general hospital a few weeks back is recovering steadily. "The doctors did a wonderful job and in spite of three surgeries I feel good," he told me when he came down to collect his Eagle Award last Tuesday. He is taking it easy staying at a circuit bungalow at Gannoruwa.

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