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20th December 1998

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Learning the alphabet in verse

Who will not like to learn the Sinhala alphabet in just a couple of verses? Professor Sunil Ariyaratne has done just that. In Kavi Hodiya he teaches the entire alphabet in eight verses. "Memorise the eight verses. Remember the first letters in each line. Then you know 32 letters in the alphabet," he tells the little ones.

Professor Ariyaratne believes it is easy to memorise anything in verse form. That's why our forefathers had preferred to put down in verse whenever they had to explain a more involved subject.

Kavi Hodiya gets the little reader to recite the simple poems and remember them. The lines are arranged in alphabetical order with the first letter in each line highlighted so that the reader can remember the letter.

Each verse is confined to one page and is illustrated beautifully by Sybil Wettasinghe. The four letters in each verse are printed at the bottom of the page.

It's indeed a novel and more interesting way to teach the alphabet to little ones. Designed by Prem Dissanayake, Kavi Hodiya is a Godage publication.

Lesson on environment for kiddies

Rosiyi Renui (Rosy and Renu) is a story written for children revolving round two butterfly friends.

In her maiden attempt at writing a children's book, Nimala Tiyambarawatta Abhayajeeva brings into focus issues like deforestation and environmental pollution making young readers aware of these problems.

The two butterflies in their search for flowers when the drought hits them, come across bare lands where the trees have been cut.

Flying farther they are struck by the sky covered with smoke due to pollution from factories. Trees have died with only dry barks remaining.

Vinnie Hettigoda's pleasing illustrations in sober colours helped the book to win the Best Design Award at this year's Sahitya Awards.

Sing your hearts out, children

Ten children's songs written by Suneeta Wickremage are presented in Watu Sudu Araliya, a Bhadraji Foundation publication.

Sybil Wettasinghe lends her clever fist to illustrate the songs, most of which have been broadcast over the SLBC's Education Service.

Almost all the songs have been sung by the well- known songstress Chandrani Gunawardena with talented musician Austin Munasinghe composing the tunes.

The simple words make it easy for the children to remember and memorise the songs which deal with a host of subjects close to their hearts.


Book Review

Towards a better understanding of the conflict

Scarred Minds by Dr. Daya Somasundaram Reviewed by K. Godage

Dr. Somasundaram, a consultant psychiatrist writes on the psychological impact of the war on Sri Lankan Tamils. He writes of the violence and destruction meted out to the Tamil people and the trauma experienced by them.

When I started reading the book I wondered whether it was a political statement and questioned the purpose of the book. But as it unfolded I realised here was a specialist doctor, who was also a humanist, sharing his experiences with his readers and making them aware of the sufferings of fellow human beings.

The doctor not being a student of conflict describes the conflict in Sri Lanka, like many others, as a 'civil war'. A civil war is the type of conflict that took place in the United States between the North and the South in the last century. Another civil war of our times was the conflict in Bosnia, where the Muslims, the Croats and the Serbs fought each other. The 'conflict' in Sri Lanka is the action of the legitimate Government to suppress an uprising or an insurgency against the state. It is certainly not a 'civil war'.

There are also times when one gets the impression that the doctor is not a dispassionate observer of the scenes and events he writes about. It is not an absolutely 'scientific' study in that sense. But in fairness to Dr. Somasundaram, it must be said that to expect a cold scientific study of a subject such as this, would be both unfair and too much to ask of any person whose own people are involved.

When one reads of the pathetic plight of the Tamil people and the blame heaped on the State, what comes to mind is this: is it not the LTTE that has brought this war and the consequent suffering upon the Tamil people- at least after 1987 and most certainly after January 1995?They did not accept the Agreement worked out for the Tamil people, which could have been improved upon with time, by the Indian Government. It was the same story with the present Government. Who was it then that did not give peace a chance, was it the successive governments of Sri Lanka or Prabhakaran and the LTTE?

The Tamil community in Colombo, has a duty to speak out and condemn the LTTE for mindlessly continuing the war and bringing about tremendous hardship on the Tamil people. Dr. Somasundaram himself deals with this (I shall quote from the book at the end of this review).

The book relates a dreadful tale of human tragedy, recorded by a humanist——a man deeply concerned about the suffering of people.

In the first chapter, Dr. Somasundram discusses the background to the conflict. He says that " the Tamil problem has now developed more than all into a psychological problem…….Everywhere there is fear, suspicion and distrust; and this has to be cleared before any solution of the Sinhala-Tamil problem is attempted. The fear and distrust has led to misunderstanding of the aims and actions of the Sinhalese. The Tamils see something ominous in every Sinhala move. This is not surprising, for what has taken place after 1956 has confirmed the fears of the Tamils."

In chapter 2 of his book Dr. Somasundaram traces the history of the conflict and its escalation. He states that the "calculated decision" to attack Sinhala civilians was taken and began in 1984 .

He says this was a 'response' to the repressive measures including the arbitrary arrests, torture and killings of innocent Tamil civilians by State functionaries. To quote: "Guerilla attacks on the armed forces had only limited success——only provoking reprisals. Furthermore, the militants did not have the strength to take on the security forces therefore, they went for soft targets. The anti- Sinhala violence escalated and took the brutal form of terrorist attacks on the heartland of the Sinhalese itself. Here also the main aim appeared to be calculated and tactical: the actions were also prompted by the Indian intelligence agency RAW".

Somasundaram goes on to state "Thus the violence of the Tamil militants differed from that of the State forces or the Sinhalese. It was cold-blooded, calculated, carried out with precision and cool efficiency of machine guns and time bombs. Quite unlike the reaction of the Sinhalese which was emotional (warm hearted) and soon dissipated itself". An extremely perceptive observation. Chapter 3 deals with the "Psychological Causes of the War".

The chapter is both interesting and enlightening for he discusses the psychological causes of the war, and relates his findings to accepted theoretical concepts. In the chapter following, he moves from 'causes' to 'effects' of the war. Once again we see a scholarly treatment of the subject. It is quite valuable in content. The next three chapters, five titled "Psychiatric Sequelae to a chronic Civil War", six, titled "Psychological impact of acute War" and seven, "Psychological after-effects of torture —a survey of Sri Lanka ex-detainees" are all 'specialist chapters' that make instructive reading. The final chapter titled 'Management', is especially useful reading. Dr. Somasundaram is committed to non- violence and after referring to that option, states (pages 327 and 328 of his book) "Instead we chose to follow the path of violence in the so-called 'liberation struggle for just rights of the Tamil people."

This is a serious work, which should be translated into Sinhala. It should be read by all citizens of this country and others who are interested in understanding the current problem or conflict.

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