Sunday, January 27, 2013

Who is Chandre Dharmawardana?

A response to ‘What to do with Dharshanie Ratnawalli?

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

I view with extreme concern Dr. Dharmawardana’s efforts to extricate himself from a past indiscretion. This was committed when he confided to Dr. Michael Roberts in an email note that the inscriptions of Lanka in the second century B.C. are really not Sinhala or Tamil and that the utmost that can be claimed was that a betting man would be justified in placing the odds on Sinhala because the Prakrit is close to Pali. This was the gist of the part of his email note, which by reason of its extraordinary asininity impressed me. It goes;
“I personally think there were no Damila or Sinhala in the 2nd century BC. The inscriptions are really not Sinhala or Tamil. The Sinhala has an advantage because the Prakrit is close to Pali, but I personally think the ethnic distinctions came up probably after wars of Dutugamunu…”

The lexical definition of asinine is ‘failing to exercise intelligence or judgment; ridiculously below average rationality’. A more asinine statement than the above cannot be imagined, unless it’s the following written by Chandre to excuse the above.
“This is not a statement of linguistic history, but a judgment about the onset of ethnic consciousness.”
It is indeed a statement on linguistic history. ‘The inscriptions are really not Sinhala or Tamil. The Sinhala has an advantage because the Prakrit is close to Pali…’ brings it firmly into the ambit of linguistic history. The primary purpose of the statement is to declare a personal belief that in the second century B.C. there were no ethnic distinctions, no ethnic labels. While this personal belief represents a new height of asininity, it was not (and is not, even now) my intention to deal with it (It demands its own separate space). My intention was to pass lightly over it and batten down on the real treasure; which is the appalling gap in Chandre’s knowledge about the language of the 2nd century B.C. inscriptions. ‘The Inscriptions are really not Sinhala or Tamil. The Sinhala has an advantage because the Prakrit is close to Pali....’ represents the attempts of a man to fill this knowledge gap with speculation arising from the said personal belief.

Would a man who had heard at least through hearsay, of a Geiger identifying the language of the stone Brahmi inscriptions of Lanka as the oldest form of the Sinhalese language, of a Senarat Paranavithana describing the same inscriptions as being in old Sinhala, of a James W. Gair talking about inscriptions in old Sinhala dating from the early second or late third centuries B.C. of an Iravatham Mahadevan declaring that among the inscribed potsherds found in Tamil Nadu, a small but significant group is in the Sinhala-Prakrit language written in the Early Sinhala-Brahmi script, have written that the inscriptions are really not Sinhala or Tamil? More critically, having said that and upon being exposed, what kind of a man continues to insist that what he said is consistent with what Geiger said? An asinine man. Chandre’s 'The inscriptions are really not Sinhala or Tamil’ is light years from being consistent with Geiger’s ‘The inscriptions are in the oldest form of Sinhalese called Sinhalese Prakrit’. They clash horribly.

I had just remarked in my 9th December 2012 column ‘Language Problem of Speaking Stones’;
“The number of academics in history and related disciplines together with those in unrelated disciplines but dabbling in history out of keen interest, who do not know what language the cave inscriptions of Lanka are written in, would fill a good sized tourist bus. This is a bold surmise based on three clues uncovered during my personal investigations.”
The third clue was none other than this email note from Chandre to Michael. To get permission to use it, I wrote to Michael Roberts first;
“Dear Dr. Roberts following is a note from Chandre D that you sent to me some time ago. In my last article, I talked of 3 clues that led me to believe that people are clueless about the Brahmi inscriptions. This is the third clue. Could you possibly write to Chandre D and get his permission for me to quote the red text as coming from him to illustrate the state of knowledge that exists in the public realm on the language of the Brahmi scripts?”
Here I appended the entire e mail note with the relevant portion marked in red. The whole was then forwarded by Roberts to Dharmawardana with this explanatory note (Cc to me);
“Chandre, I received this note from Darshanie Ratnawalli. Do please respond to her request. I believe both of you will benefit from exchanges of views and research findings. Michael”
The crux of this note, which was the request for the permission was somehow missed by Chandre so I tried again (Cc Roberts);
“Dear Dr. Dharmawardena. I understand that you are busy right now. At this stage, the only assistance I want from you is permission to use the first part of your email note to Dr. Roberts (which he sent to me some time ago) attributing it to you by name, in my next article as an illustrative example of the current state of public awareness on the language of the Brahmi scripts of Lanka. The part of your note I am interested in goes;…I want to clinically dissect the forces that may have resulted in the state of knowledge revealed in the above excerpt from you. May I assume I have your permission to refer to this as a communiqué from you?”

This time I seemed to get through and the rest is history. But after all these explanations, what sort of a man writes; “I was not aware of what Ratnawalli wanted, she gave no clues to it and did not ask for any clarifications… So I was surprised to see a newspaper article!”? An asinine man. .