Archives For Literature

The Sword (කඩුව)

August 2, 2012 — 1 Comment

Sri Lanka has free tertiary education, but only two percent of students are accepted to university. As a generalization, those accepted to University have excellent English skills; those lacking proficiency in English can be held back and prevented from going abroad on scholarships and grants.

The history of English in Sri Lanka is long and complex. During my orientation I had the chance to meet the gentleman who is the Director of the U.S.-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission – Tissa. He is a gentle, soft-spoken, retired English literature professor. One day at lunch he told my fellow Fulbrighters and I, “We have destroyed the foundation of English teaching because of stupid political mistakes, because of nationalism and ‘equality’”.

He continued to tell us that the Sinhala word for English is a metaphor for the word ‘sword’ (කඩුව, Kaduwa). It is a weapon of those who speak it to repress those who do not. I recently read an op-ed in the Sri Lankan Sunday Times which stated:

The privileged classes will learn an international variety of English and will be able to maintain their higher position in society permanently. The underprivileged classes who are being taught a local variety of English will be further disadvantaged. Those who will stand to benefit, will be the elite.

As an English Teaching Assistant, I will be sharpening that sword, in a sense. While I’ll be working through an NGO, teaching English at a community center, I need to be cognizant of the political and social implications of English in Sri Lanka.

English is a powerful tool, and it enables developing countries to improve their relations with the global economy. There is a profound need for English teaching in Sri Lanka, but I need to be constantly aware of the way that I teach English – so I don’t inadvertently criticize Sinhala.

I’m not quite sure what I’ve gotten myself into, but I am excited for the challenges which lay ahead.

 

Kindle Previews

July 31, 2012 — Leave a comment

When I search for a new book to buy for my Kindle I always download a few books to preview.

It really frustrates me when an author or publisher only let’s you see the table of contents and the introduction.

Barnes and Noble lets customers sit all day and browse books, Seth Godin has given away several books, when you’re listing a book on Kindle why not let me read a few chapters?

If you’ve written a good book, why not let me read the first few chapters? Don’t you think I’ll be hooked enough to buy it?

I don’t read enough fiction, and my guess is that most people don’t either.

Fiction enables people to empathize with others, embrace new ideas, and envision the future. NASA credits science fiction as being the foundation for many of humanity’s biggest technological advances over the past several decades. The iPad seems to have been heavily influenced by Star Trek.

If enjoying fiction isn’t enough of a reason to pick up a good novel, reference Harvard Business Review or Berkeley Greater Good for more benefits of reading fiction.

Haruki Murakami is my favorite novelist at the moment, and I hope to read all of his books. I just finished The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and cannot give this work enough praise. Murakami has a way of weaving stories to bring you into his world.

In this novel he deals with Japan’s blackened image during World War II and the attempt of an elderly man to come to terms with the horrors of that War, love and its fleeting nature, a man’s solitude in Tokyo, and the attempt of a man to save his wife. Like many of his works they are hard to describe, they’re surreal and mysterious – something quite out of this world. Murakami fans will know what I mean.

To give you some insight into the works of Murakami, I have enclosed an excerpt from  The Wind Up Bird Chronicle which I found to be quite gripping. This takes place while the protagonist, Toru Okada, is in a strange town on business. It’s a dreary night, raining heavily, and he stops in a bar for a drink. The musician finishes his performance by shutting off the lights in the bar and lighting a single candle:

     “The reason that people sing songs for other people is because they want to have the power to arouse empathy, to break free of the narrow shell of the self and share their pain and joy with others. This is not an easy thing to do, of course. And so tonight, as a kind of experiment, I want you to experience a simpler, and more physical kind of empathy.”
     Everyone in the place was hushed now, all eyes fixed on the stage. Amid the silence, the man stared off into space, as if to insert a pause or to reach a state of mental concentration. Then, without a word, he held his left hand up over the lighted candle. Little by little, he brought the palm closer and closer to the flame. Someone in the audience made a sound like a sigh or a moan. You could see the tip of the flame burning the man’s palm. Someone in the audience made a sound like a sigh or a moan. You could almost hear the sizzle of the flesh. A woman released a hard little scream. Everyone else just watched in frozen horror. The man endured the pain. his face distorted in agony. What the hell was this? Why did he have to do such a stupid, senseless thing? I felt my mouth was going dry. After five or six seconds of this, he slowly removed his hand from the flame and set the dish with the candle in it on the floor. Then he clasped his hands together, the right and left palms pressed against each other.
     “As you have seen tonight, ladies and gentlemen, pain can actually burn a person’s flesh,” said the man. His voice sounded exactly as it had earlier: quiet, steady, cool. No trace of suffering remained on his face. Indeed, it had been replaced by a faint smile. “And the pain that must have been there, you have been able to feel as if it were your own. That is the power of empathy.”

Murakami, pg. 239

I hope this little taste of Murakami might encourage you to read one of his novels, and challenge your mind in new ways.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel