13th February 2000
Editorial/Opinion| Business| Sports|
Sports Plus| Mirror Magazine
It was Andhra Tamil to me
By J. B. DisanayakaIt is true that language is a medium of communication but sometimes one fails to understand another, thus leading to a breakdown in communication. When an Englishman fails to understand another, he says that it was "all Greek" to him.
The Sinhalese too sometimes find other's speech beyond comprehension. Then what does a Sinhalese say to express his disgust or frustration? He says it was all "andara demala" to him. What does andara demala mean? It refers to a variety of 'demala', by which is meant the language of the Tamils. The Sinhalese, in the past, did understand the Tamil language because the two peoples were living together and some of their kings spoke Tamil.
Tamil is the oldest of the four major languages of the Dravidian family, used mainly in Southern India. The other three Dravidian languages are Telugu, spoken in Andhra Pradesh, Kannada, spoken in Karnataka, and Malayalam, spoken in Kerala.
Being members of the same family of languages, Tamil and Telugu share
many features of grammatical and semantic structure. For the Sinhalese,
the language that comes closest to Demala is Telugu, which they called
'andara demala', that is, Tamil used in Andhra..
When learning is a pleasureGrammar, whether it be Sinhala or English was something most of us did not fancy in our student days. I wish we had someone like Professor J. B. Disanayaka to teach us. He has the knack of making anyone interested and involved in a subject however boring it may sound.
J.B. wrote 'Let's Read and Write Sinhala' a few years back while in London (he was attached to the School of Oriental and African Studies in the London University for a while) for the benefit of the children of the Sri Lankan expatriate community in the UK and USA. Now he has revised the book expanding on what he first wrote and added two more chapters.
Glancing through the new edition which has just come out as a Sarasavi publication, I found it extremely interesting for even a mature person like me who is well past the age of learning "to read and write". J.B. starts by explaining the vowel-letters and vowel-sounds using simple English words to illustrate how they are pronounced. He moves over to 'vowel-strokes' which are used to represent vowel sounds that occur after consonant sounds, again using foreign names and Sinhala words as illustrations. In a chapter titled 'Other letters', he presents seven sets of letters which represent sounds in words derived from Sanskrit and Pali or sounds that have lost their distinct identity.
After presenting 'Consonant-strokes', he moves on to discuss words of western origin with the vowel sound 'ur' as in English 'urn' which have posed some problems for contemporary Sinhala writers. I found the last chapter on 'Common errors in spelling' interesting too.
Dedication and commitmentWhat an absorbing evening it was at the Elphinstone Theatre! First, it was a fine lesson on how a seminar held impromptu, can be a total success. And then came a two-hour disciplined performance by well-trained artistes illustrating maestro Premasiri Khemadasa's efforts over the years to create something new in our music scene.
It was a full house as Lucien Bulathsinhala's book on maestro Khemadasa titled 'Khemadasa Nyaya, Bhavitaya Saha Aragalaya' was launched.
We heard the strumming of numerous musical instruments behind the closed curtain. A bare table covered with a white cloth and two chairs were in front and then well-known actor Jackson Anthony appeared at the lectern to outline the evening's significance. A third chair was brought out as Bulathsinhala briefly explained how the book came to be written.
"It's an attempt to record the Master's eternal struggle,his approach to music and his vain attempts to change the music syllabus in order to make it more meaningful," he said. Next, Lalanath de Silva recalled how Khemadasa had been fighting a lone battle in Sri Lanka's musical circles for a few decades and had been an outspoken critic of the purists and the traditionalists.
Next Jackson invited Dr. Premadasa Udagama to chair the discussion. He announced a few more names, inviting them to come up and join the discussion.
Among them was academic Dr. Ariyaratne Athugala who described how Khemadasa was not afraid to experiment, breaking down traditional barriers. "He has made folk music more meaningful and adapted it to suit modern times. He has an open mind and makes the best of music throughout the universe. Khemadasa is an unique musician," Athugala said.
Class by itselfAnd then came the concert. Khemadasa, in a blue long sleeved shirt and trousers, walked casually to the stage and had a few words with veteran tabla player Wijeratne Ranatunga, who was leading the 15 member orchestra and knew exactly what to do.
Starting with his experiment in 'Senasuma Kothanada' 33 years ago, Khemadasa got relatively new singers to present a few selected film songs to show his effort to change the course of music in Sinhala films and move it away from copying Indian music. In-between Khemadasa explained how these came to be created - how he had to get lyric writers to change the words, sometimes even seven or eight times, and how he had to guide the singers to 'perform' and not-merely deliver the words with no feelings. Some were hard hitting comments, some light- hearted anectodes like the one he related on how, after spending nearly ten hours recording music for a film, he had to go to the Russian Ambassador's residence for a dinner hosted in his honour and fell asleep right through the proceedings for one and a half hours!
The concert was a fine record of the milestones in Khemadasa's career - examples of a musician in search of a new dimension to our music. Amarasiri Peiris's rendering of 'Landune', Ranbana Seneviratne's ode to a woman on the street, Lucien Bulathsinhala's creation for Niriella's film, 'Sri Medura', 'Doovili' composed for Jayantha Chandrasiri's teledrama 'Veda Hamine' - these were among the many highlights of the programme. And there were new compositions too including a fine rendition by Ivor Dennis based on the Sigiri verses.
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