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What is the language of cricket?

C. Wijeyawickrema, USA

Bandula Abeyewardene's (BA) much hesitant response (Island, 7/23/2008) to Daya Ranasinghe's (DR) reaction to BA's view on the need to teach English to cricketers, provided more evidence on the colonial mentality of BA. English like any other language is a tool like a computer or a type-writer and nothing more.

Who is a black-white?

The black-white phenomenon is found in former colonies, which is a state of mind. This was why Carlo Fonseka had to engage in a series of debates in the recent past in trying to define who is a black-white. Whether one knows English (in the former French or Spanish colonies those two languages) or whether one lives abroad has no direct connection with it. Recently, I saw a poem written by DR on a female soldier on guard duty and the reading of it gives one goose bumps of pride and patriotism. A black-white cannot pen such poems. We know the poems by the Tibetan monk S. Mahinda who was more Sinhala than the native Sinhalese.

In Mexico, a black-white is called a coconut-brown outside, white inside. One of the tests one can use in this regard, if he or she is visiting Anuradhapura from Colombo, is whether he or she gets goose bumps or a chill running through the spinal code (the awesome feeling) at the first sight of the Ruwanvali Maha Saaya or standing on the bund of the Tissa Vawa. Just think of the mental framework of some Marxists who called the King Dutugamunu, a fool of bricks (for erecting the Ruwanvali), but took trips to see the pyramids in Egypt!

Embarrassment of not knowing English

As a tuition master in English BA has every tight to promote English classes. But his mental status is summarized by his own word "embarrassment." Princes Diana had to get tuition to learn how to talk in English. The current U.S. President has trouble in talking in English despite a Yale education. SWRD had a silver tongue but could not write or read in Sinhala. In USA 40% of college students need remedial education in reading and writing. Humans have to communicate and unlike animals they have developed languages. Why is it that in Sri Lanka not knowing English an embarrassment?

English, power, privileges and poverty

In British colonies English was the language of the ruler and those acted as translators became powerful and privileged. The colonial master needed more people able to work in English and a class of people evolved who learned English and who embraced Christianity, the religion of the master. Lord MaCaualay, in the 1840s in India formulated an education policy to create a class of Indians who were brown in color but English in thinking and behavior. More than Lord Nelson or Cecil Rhodes, it was McCaulay who helped the continuation of colonialism after giving the former colonies "independence." We have a class in Colombo who are remotely controlled from London or Paris.

When language is power it is more than a communication tool. At the time of independence only 5% of people in Ceylon knew English. This group mostly living in Colombo or in big cities continued the white rule with minimum of changes spatially or structurally in the colonial open economy-exporting rubber and graphite and importing pencils and erasers. The attempt to change this began only after 1956 which BA brands as a mess and a sin. Poor people hand no way of learning English.

Language and Economics

Only rarely people learn languages for the fun of it. They learn it if it benefits them. Taxi drivers and Colombo aayas or lads at tourist sites use it. Thus, those days' people learned how to put their signature in English because otherwise there had to be a witness to his or her non-English signature. Today people learn Japanese or Hindi for the market value of it. In USA parents force their children to learn Chinese, Russian, Hindi or Japanese and not German or French as was done in the past. Nurses going to USA needs English as patients they meet cannot speak Sinhala. This is why Tamil doctors in Colombo should know Sinhala not because of discrimination but to earn money. If Jayantha Mendis wants to learn English or Hindi, it will be his decision and not others. Here in lies the mental status problem of BA. He should not be the person to decide or suggest it. I have no doubt that Mendis tried to learn English at school but could not due to lack of competent teachers or not having money to get private tuition.

Hitler and Monkeys

In the 1936 Olympics when several black Americans won gold medals Hitler said they ran fast because unlike the white athletes blacks were closer to monkeys. The ability to become a good cricket player or a good dancer-drummer or a musician has nothing to do with ones language skills. Some people learn so many languages effortlessly.

If the fans of Mendis want to communicate with him and Mendis also wants to communicate with them in return they will find a solution of their own. I knew a commissioner of marketing who did not know English but used his deputy as the English link. To expect to start English classes as part of training in cricket is to devalue the skills of them as cricketers and to try to inject one's inferiority or superiority complex on to innocent village-born poor youth by a Colombo black-white. Even in the legal field we find attempts to convert into English medium as if that will help the legal empowerment of the poor!

Jinadasa in Gamperaliya

Just like learning a language is a matter of economics, leaving Sri Lanka for alternative life in another country is a matter of economics. Most people who live abroad did so due to economic reasons or due to corrupt political system in Sri Lanka. They did not have pastures in Sri Lanka in the first place to look for greener pastures! They were like Jinadasa in Gamperaliya who went to Sinhale looking for work. Those who live outside Sri Lanka are in a better position to help Sri Lanka to help change it from a corruption and crime paradise to a land where peace and prosperity is possible so that those who went abroad can return with a pension because they are not under the control of corrupt politicians or officers.

Access without support

Providing equal opportunity without the necessary support is meaningless as we see in Sri Lanka today. People like AB can talk but even within a radius of 20 miles from Colombo there are few schools that have teachers qualified to teach English as a second language. With a colonial drawback of laughing at a person who makes a mistake in talking in English (this does not happen in making mistakes in learning Hindi or French) it is much better that Mendis speaks about his cricket skills in his mother tongue than in broken English without making his cricket skills secondary to his newly acquired "talent" in English. Intentionally or unknowingly AB has done a disservice to village boys who have talent not blunted by an English barrier. Village boys play cricket with kaduru balls found at the edge of paddy fields with polpithi bats. They will never go to Royal, St. Thomas or to an international school to learn cricket, because Lord McCaualay did not play cricket. They say the language of science is mathematics but the language is cricket is not English. Fluency in English does not make one a world-class cricketer but talent and skill one is born with and sharpened.

C. Wijeyawickrema, USA
[email protected]

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