'Simple Tamil' launched in simple, unique style

Kala Korner - By Dee Cee

A unique book. A unique presentation. A unique launch. A unique gesture. Everything turned out to be so unique at the launch of Ambassador and Professor Emeritus J B Disanayaka's 'Simple Tamil' at the SLFI a few days back.

The book is unique in that it's a Tamil 'hodi potha' (primer) meant not only for Tamil children but anyone interested in learning spoken Tamil. With the help of the book, Tamil children can learn to write Tamil. It also teaches the Sinhalese and foreigners to speak, read and write Tamil. Each letter is printed on a double ruled page making it so convenient for anyone to learn to write. It helps Tamil children to learn to speak, read and write Sinhala and English as well.

At the book launch: Dr. Ariyaratne, Prof. Disanayaka and Prof. Fonseka

The presentation is unique because it does not follow the traditional pattern of a first reader. The 35 Tamil letters are introduced in an unconventional manner by introducing the simple letters first followed by the more difficult ones. Each lesson introduces one letter at a time.

The launch was unique with speeches being made using a mix of Sinhala, Tamil and English. In between were some beautiful dances based on Tamil dance forms ranging from 'bharatha natyam' to vibrant folk dances presented by the Mudiyanse Disanayake dance school. The unique gesture was that everyone who attended the launch got the well produced book in colour, free. "No strings attached," J.B. insisted. "I wrote it primarily for the benefit of those who cannot afford it - the Tamil children in the North and East who deserve to be educated but whose parents find it difficult to find the money to buy a book." The financial institution CDB had printed 10,000 books to be distributed free to Tamil speaking children.

How did J.B. undertake this task of writing a book on learning Tamil? "Being a linguist, I knew how to understand and decode Tamil," he explained. He recollected how he did the same in the Maldives some years back when he, along with another linguist, Professor Wijewardena went through and deciphered a set of 12th century copper plates written in 'divehi', the Maldivian language. J.B. is convinced that the book will be helpful in building understanding among the Sinhalese and the Tamils. "Language plays a vital role in building communal harmony. This is only the first step - there is a long way to go," he said.

Professor S. Thilainathan cited the lack of understanding and lack of concern for others as the main causes of the problem between the two communities. Although translators and interpreters can help in communicating among people speaking different languages, in Sri Lanka there is a problem with most people not being multi-lingual. As for 'Simple Tamil', he found the book elegantly produced to attract the learners. Even adults who are not acquainted with the Tamil alphabet could make use of the book.

Presenter Hasantha Hettiarachchi made the event very lively, particularly when introducing the speakers. Prior to introducing Professor Carlo Fonseka, he had a lot to say not only about him but about other Fonsekas - Gamini, Malani & Sarath in particular, so much so that he (Carlo) began his speech by remarking that he wondered whether he was listening to a funeral oration!

Commending J.B., Professor Fonseka spoke of the need for everyone to learn languages. "Don't worry about the correct pronunciation or the grammar. Just learn to talk. Make mistakes, don't worry," was his advice. Sarvodaya chief Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne described the book as a trilingual exercise which is of immense use to many. He wanted the book distributed in the North even in small numbers because they are used to community learning and would make full use of it.He recalled the shramadana projects he organised to build friendship with the people in the North and stressed on the need for the intelligentsia to make use of the present opportunity when the war had ended, to strengthen peace. "The President, the politicians and the bureaucracy will have their own responsibilities. But as individuals we can be of great service," he said.

Latest from Sybil

Veteran artist cum author Sybil Wettasinghe continues to write and draw. This time she gives children a treat with 'Monster in the Well' done both in English and Sinhala ('Lindç yakâ') - the touching story of how a small boy makes friends with a monster whom he sees in a well and brings him out into the community.

Sybil breaks new ground with this publication. On the suggestion of her printer Tharanjee, she had convinced her publisher Visidunu to present the book in a handy size printed on board. The colourful book will be available at the Visidunu stall (C 173-176) at the Book Festival now on at the BMICH.

Sybil is a firm believer on the need to send out a positive message when someone writes for children. 'Monster in the Well' is no different. "To make a cruel heart soft and tender - Kindness and love are magic wonders" is her message through her latest creation.

Visidunu has also released reprints of three of Sybil's earlier books. Among them is 'Magul gedera bath netho' - the 1972 State Literary Award winner. The story is presented in the form of a drama in verse which children can easily present. The other two books are 'Râvanâ revula' and 'Nomiyena kalu doo'.

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