Friday, June 20, 2014

A historian in focus- The Dark Side of S Pathmanathan

Published in my column in The Nation on Sunday, 08 September 2013 and in Colombo Telegraph on the same date.

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Cognitive problems and knowledge deficiencies of S. Pathmanathan, Professor Emeritus of History? Yes. First, a caveat. Although there is a school of thought that Sri Lanka shows a lack of discernment in the making of her professors emeritus (“X was made a professor emeritus after just one publication” remarked a senior academic grimly), they clearly do not mean S. Pathmanathan. In his chosen area (the middle or the medieval period of SL history), Professor Pathmanathan has enough publications (most of them downloadable here) and his peers mention him respectfully enough. “I stress that Pathmanathan, in his Kingdom Of Jaffna, does not indulge in such outrageous statements. In fact, note the paraphrase of his carefully circumscribed statements in fn.59 above”- (Michael Roberts: 2004).

There is an Other Side though. I first learnt of it from K.S. Sivakumaran in “History of Lankan Thamilians revisited”. It contains a translation of statements from a Tamil newspaper article by Pathmanathan on Brahmi lithic inscriptions of Sri Lanka. Although the translator’s language does not inspire confidence, I will assume that it’s a faithful translation because the statements are bald, simple, without nuance and the least likely to have suffered in translation unless the translator made them up from scratch (unlikely).

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