Sunday, September 7, 2014

Uncle Pathi Taught English Differently.

Aditha Dissanayake
3rd September 2014… beloved niece Aditha Dissanayake messages me that the English translation of Marin Wickranasinghe’s “Kaliyugaya” which she co-authored with Dr Ranga Wickramasinghe has won the best English translation at the State Literary Awards for 2014.  It’s a memorable day in her life no doubt; I’m a happy man as well on her achievement, for it was she who encouraged me into this habit of writing and blogging.

I remember once when she wrote to me of her disappointment when the editor rejected her article commenting of her writing style when she was a young scribe.

I wrote to her that day; trying to lift her spirits by narrating of how Mr. Pathiratne (Uncle Pathi) our English teacher at S Thomas’ Collage Gurutalawa taught us English his way.  

Dear Adi….

All of us had our education at school in our mother tongue (Sinhala in our case) and English was learned as a second language. Our school atmosphere made us like the second language as it was the link medium with our Tamil colleagues

It brings in sweet memories of my school days in our standard eight class. Our English master was Mr. Pathiratne. He joined school just after his retirement from his government central school English teaching appointment. The selected school reader that year for standard eight was Robert Louis Stevenson's “Treasure Island” . This book he finished reading to us in just one month.

From then on he started teaching his way the rest of the year. He would walk in to the class with torn off articles from old Reader’s Digest Books and Life Magazines and read out from them on various topics. It was to be so interesting, and we were so free in the class with uncle Pathi, everybody liked his English class and everyone learned English. He used to quote bits of world and home politics which we never understood then. I wonder if we understand now?

Winston Churchill was a famous example in handling wit he would say. We all had his sayings written down in our small note book (a 40 page exercise book cut in two - we never had this practice of cutting a exercise book in two before). I wonder if we really understood Churchill’s wit then, but we all liked to see uncle Pathi's, expressions and how much he enjoyed reading to us.

It was he who explained to us the importance of writing our essays short and to the point; rather than long harangues. This he explained by quoting SWRD having said that a good speech is like a pretty girls dress, "it should be short enough to be interesting' and long enough to cover the subject." We did not know whether to smile or laugh then, for none of us caught the wit but we wondered about the short dress. He taught us to be vigilant of what we read, to take note of spelling, using synonyms and acronyms instead of using the same word repeatedly.

I still remember him reading to us how salmon bred in fresh water from a Readers Digest and wanted Saman Gunawardane (the 2nd of the three Boothaya’s) now domiciled in NZ to write the word salmon on the black board. He ended up writing his name. We all laughed at Saman that day, but I’m sure many of us including me learned how, only that day. And we will not make the mistake again as there was reason for Pathi in selecting Saman Gunawardane that day.

Uncle Pathi too met his Waterloo when all other English teachers had their reservations on how he conducted himself in the standard eight classroom. He did not survive long at college as he did not believe in the book “Longman’s Brighter Grammar.”

But all of us got in the habit of reading and many applied for the discounted membership for the Readers Digest. I still have a collection of three years books at my ancestral home in Pinkanda. This was how most of us who went to school after 1956 gained our English knowledge and what’s wrong in it? 
We read 'Hadley Chase' with the covers removed; while at the same time we borrowed R L Spittle’s “Savage Sanctuary” from the senior library.

Today we read Michele Ondaatje with respect and Christopher Ondaatje with interest. Both have been to Guru for a short spell.

The rejection of your article is not to be considered seriously……in which case Tissa Devendra one of the best English Academics of the Ceylon University and his “Tales from the Provinces” and the “Horse Shoe Street” will fall under the bad books category.

If the Indian writers were to be stuck with aristocratic English, Kushwant Singh would be in the wilderness for his saucy writing.

I will refrain from commenting Carl Muller and Arundhati Roy for having won the Gratian Prize.

Sunday is Sabbath and a leisure day. The Sunday papers are generally read while still in pajamas or sarong. Free style reading is what we need for a free mind. My feeling is that a Sunday Paper should cater for all categories of reading. If all reading is to be of the classical type very soon there will be a dress code for Sunday reading.

Never mind the refusal.... keep writing for there are thousands waiting  to read what you write.

Good luck……

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