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Prof. J.B. Dissanayaka: an understated academic

Prof. Noam Chomsky
 " The reason why I focus on Prof. J.B Dissanayaka is that recently I read a news story that someone else is credited with adding chapters to the Sinhala Dictionary and I found it a little disturbing why JB’s name has been left out when he clearly has contributed immensely towards its compilation. As in any other professions it is the one who makes the most noise that wins recognition."

by Pearl Thevanayagam

(November 21, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) My sceptism towards academics and professionals who cannot communicate to the masses but who choose to use their specialist lingo throwing in excerpts from sophisticated writers in patronising and high-faluting language meant to throw ordinary readers into confusion, dissipated when I read an article by Prof. J.B. Dissanayaka in Sri Lanka Guardian two days ago.

As I was busy enjoying the commentaries on our President’s second term inauguration (commentaries mind you; not the inauguration) I postponed reading his article, ‘To tell you the truth and nothing but the truth.’ I went back to it today and what an eye-opener it was.

Prof. Dissanayaka was the one who created the Diploma in Journalism at Colombo University in its Post-Graduate Department in the late eighties for journalists to obtain a professional qualification. For a modest fee many journalists including this writer were able to obtain a diploma despite our busy working schedule and it still stands us in good stead.

Journalists have a much inflated ego in that they feel that since their stories are read by millions and they are courted by politicians, professionals and other VIPs to get their names in the media they are a cut above the rest. Ergo they feel they do not need further education or training. The training offered by the University of Colombo awakened our ignorant minds to a world of intrigue in Television, Radio, dubbing, mixing and editing, producing documentaries, linguistics and of course mainstream journalism through guest lectures by veteran journalists. And we went on to become better journalists.

At the time he told us that the Sinhala Dictionary was still incomplete and that he was in the process of adding chapters to complete it. It would be no exaggeration to say that JB is Lanka’s equivalent to Samuel Johnson. He is equally at ease with English as he is in Sinhala and I hope readers would forgive me for not knowing his other academic credentials which I am sure are many.

The way he defines truth and its many interpretations, the feeling of emotions and the germination of ideas which are different from each other, the co-relation between our ideas and subsequent actions, it takes a very lucid and enlightened individual to shine the torch within to obtain a clear understanding of the world in which wars first began as ideas and emotions.

JB cites Noam Chomsky as his guru and he is a privileged man. I just missed Chomsky during a lecture at Berkeley but I never fail to be impressed by his observations on wars all over the world.

The reason why I focus on Prof. J.B Dissanayaka is that recently I read a news story that someone else is credited with adding chapters to the Sinhala Dictionary and I found it a little disturbing why JB’s name has been left out when he clearly has contributed immensely towards its compilation. As in any other professions it is the one who makes the most noise that wins recognition. JB is so unassuming and a down to earth individual he himself did not notice the omission. As Saatchi, the advertising magnate, would say, ‘The turtle lays thousand eggs but you do not see them on supermarket shelves. But the hen lays just one a day and because it cackles chicken eggs are popular.’

I only hope that politics in the academia do not go the way our island is governed. Tell a Friend

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