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Out Now!

Unmaking the Nation: The Politics of Identity and History in Modern Sri Lanka (1995 | 2009).

Pradeep Jeganathan & Qadri Ismail (eds.)

Now in a 2nd Edition, with a new preface, and a comprehensive index.

"Stimulating... Excellent..." -- Journal of Asian Studies. 

"Will be of great value to all those concerned with... nationalism [and] violence..." -- Arjun Appadurai.

"...[F]orces us to think about Sri Lankan symbolic and social formations in an entirely novel fashion." -- Gananath Obeyesekere

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Tuesday
Feb212012

Forgive, but do not Forget

What about the beginning and middle, is my question, though simple in construction, grave and serious in its import. Surely, from the burning of the public library in Jaffna, to the massacre of pilgrims at the sacred Bo tree in Anuradhapura, to the massacre of women and children in Sathurukondan, to the killing of worshippers in the mosques in Kattankudy, there are the most inhuman and vicious atrocities that punctuate the unremitting brutality of our civil war. No list would be complete, my four events are simply, and obviously, a sampler. As far as I know, three of these events have not been investigated at all, but a Presidential Commission investigated the massacre at Sathurukondan. The Commission’s account is very detailed because an anthropologist doing field work in the area, assisted them greatly. As I have argued in my paper, in the ‘Ruins of Truth: the work Melancholia and Act of Memory,” one of the central outcomes of the investigation is the number of those killed. A Number like 173. I call that the ruins of truth.

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Tuesday
Feb212012

Well Spoken, Sir!

Sanath Jayasuriya, then, began to feature on this team, after he, with some reluctance, retired from the other team. It is not his enunciation, articulation, or use of the definite article that draws my ear to his voice when he speaks, but the deep, careful, and concisely put meta descriptions that add value to the images we see. No doubt he was a far better batsman, but as a commentator, he is quite good. Suddenly, the voices in the box, in their slow, subtle way, are turning their attention to this man’s English and beginning to make fun of it. Since we are all so very well colonised, still, even though we may have read C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary, watched Ranatunge point his index finger at Umpire Emerson, and heard Sangakkara’s Cowdrey lecture, many have begun to follow this finger pointing at the so called ‘bad English’ of a good commentator, just like some prefects in my old school used to look down their noses at what we called ‘broken English.’

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Tuesday
Feb212012

Social Science and Public Policy at Peradeniya 

For example MIT poverty lab experiments have included asking questions as useful and yet unasked as, how absenteeism among school teachers could be reduced. It turns out that a controlled study proved that having a student photograph the teacher, with a time/date stamped digital camera, at the beginning and end of the school day, with a small financial incentive to reward increased attendance, to be hugely successful; much more so than the old idea of signing the attendance register!

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Sunday
Dec252011

Facebook at Peradeniya

Last weekend I spent a most stimulating day at a great institution, the University of Peradeniya. The occasion was an international conference on the social sciences and the humanities, and I was, to my great good fortune, invited to speak. There were many papers in parallel sessions throughout the second day (also the first, but I arrived only in time for dinner the previous day), and so I thought to share some insights I obtained from one very good paper in this week’s Southpaw, and add to it from yet another set of comments I heard at the final roundtable panel at the conference which was a discussion between humanists and scientists.

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Sunday
Dec042011

A Hundred years before 1956

The government has announced that 2012 will be the year of trilinguality; a key plank of the platform of Mano Ganeshan who placed third in the preference vote tally in the recent Colombo Municipal council elections, was equality of language. It is rare for a government and opposition to agree on anything, but in relation to the this vexed question that has fissured and broken apart this country for so long, there seems to be agreement. But still, even though the equality of Sinhala and Tamil has been constitutional since the 13th amendment of 1987, the reports of the Official Language Commission tell us, we have not made much progress in this regard. Why? Will we ever? What really at bottom holds back language equality?

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Saturday
Dec032011

A Road and a Fort

On Thursday, my friend Ashan Abeyesundere, suggested that we go to Galle, have lunch and return. Such an idea would have been considered almost impossible until recently, but now the gleaming new expressway, E01, enabled it. It was forty minutes to the Kottawa interchange from Elibank Road, and from there only fifty minutes to the Pinnaduwa interchange, which allows an exit from the expressway to the Galle – Akuressa road. In another ten minutes, we were in Galle fort.

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Sunday
Nov272011

Statues of the Norwegians?

“The Europeans wanted gold and slaves, like everybody else,” V. S. Naipaul’s narrator muses in A Bend in the River, his classic, subtle rewriting of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, “but at the same time, they wanted statues put up to themselves as people who had done good things for the slaves.” And so it is with Pawns of Peace, the supposedly self critical analysis of the failed Norwegian peace process, published recently.

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Friday
Nov252011

Pawns in Balance

The Norwegian assessment of their own failed peace process, one of 21 failures or so, they’ve been involved in, or led, called Pawns of Peace, just doesn’t say very much, I’m afraid. It’s really hard point, is a frightening one: Norway is a soft power, and so couldn’t enforce its will. Hard power -- I think this used to be called gun boat diplomacy in the bad old days, when people actually said what they meant – might have worked better they say. Well, let’s leave that there, thankfully and hopefully. Its other central point, is now an academic cliché; I’d like to take it apart, and try to put it back together, as I worry about Ceylon and Ceylonese.

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Tuesday
Nov222011

Ceylon and the Ceylonese

Minnesota, which is a Sioux word meaning ‘sky water,’ became the 32nd state of the United States of America, in the mid nineteenth century. The Mississippi river was central to commerce and transportation in those early days of European settlement; it was decades later that railways bisected the state. In 1899, as the railway extended south, a small new settlement began to grow near the tracks. It was yet unnamed. “At that time, legend has it,” Wikipedia tells us, “there was a gathering in a local general store, where they were trying to pick out a name for their new settlement. Someone saw a box of tea that was from "Ceylon", and suggested that as a name.”

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Sunday
Nov202011

A Book Written Backwards

Did you know that “[people live in Sri Lanka today in the same way that they have for about eighteen hundred years…, water is pulled from wells, coconuts knocked down from trees, fish dragged from the sea…. eat[ing] more or less the same food, they’ve been eating for the last millennia (curries)… in little houses that are built of coconut fronds”? There have been some changes though. It’s confusing to figure out if changes matter though: “Schooners and brigs in the sixteenth century used to stop here often to take on water, food and wood before moving on….As a result of this traffic, the island attracted the notice of the Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese, who each took turns chasing out their predecessors.” Okay, big pause here. We are learning lots and lots of new things!

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