AN INTERVIEW WITH VINEETHE THAMBUGALA
by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando reporting from Colombo
There are perhaps only a handful of persons right throughout the world, who have a multidisciplinary background and international exposure, who also could express views from which the entire mankind could benefit. Vineeethe Thambugala is such a global citizen, yet maintains a very low profile. Being an intellectual, scholar, travel consultant and an authority in a wide range of foreign languages he portrays as a global citizen fluent in multitude of languages yet well established in Sri Lanka. He is also an author of several books on language studies including 'Multilingual phrase book' with pronunciation in Sinhalese and explanations in basic useful phrases in German, French, Japanese, Italian and Spanish.
Q. I understand that your reputation mainly as an excellent Tour-Leader in the field of academic study tours, around the world is legendary, and your capabilities as a foreign language instructor making the grade spans far beyond the shores of this island. How on earth did you mange all this? Can you give me a few tips for the benefit of those who read this interview?
A. Most certainly. The ' Modus Operandi' is to transcend oneself. In simple terms the individual known as Vineethe Thambugala, has already ceased to exist. What do exist are only the processes and phenomena, which operate virtually through him. This approach to life is not strange to Buddhist psychology or German philosophy. " It is not the individual that matters, but what he has done or what he has got to say. " Hermann Hesse extrapolated this phenomenon in his book Siddhartha. After many years of arduous travel, through the length and breadth of India, 'Siddhartha' had the final opportunity to confront the Buddha. In a hypothetical statement Sidhartha is quoted as saying, " I did not come all the way here to pay homage or worship you! Please let me know, how you attained Buddha hood, as I also wish to become Buddha". This struck a chord in my mind as never before. I realized that the, " be all and end all" of it is not the person but the Method, which is the basis of one of the finest disciplines created by man, namely Science.
Q. This sounds highly philosophical. Can you break this into a simpler form?
A. What I mean is - to be successful in life, one has to be multi-disciplinary, and perhaps that was what was envisaged in the formulation of Taxila and Nalanda. But unfortunately the Universities of Northern Italy, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany and England which arose perhaps due to the 'chain reaction thus initiated' became institutions specializing in ' tunnel thinking' or even better illustrated by the German word " Fachidiotie" which has been taken up by English as a loan from German.
Q. You seem to harbour quite a different view from the general consensus about education and so forth. How would you define an educated person in your assessment?
A. According to the concept I mentioned above, every so called ' educated man' in the present world, is a Superman in his own field of speciality, while just being a child or for that matter an idiot, practically in all other fields. Education in the present world is confused by multitudes of such morons, who in fact can be dangerous to the progress of knowledge and its advancement.
Q. Being a man of many talents and languages what are your views about the English language, which has been recognized as a universal language.
A. All over the world people keep-on repeating, that one should learn English. I do agree without any reservation. But in order to have a sound knowledge of English, which is a West-Germanic language one should have a basic knowledge of the Romanic languages Latin and French, which have played a maternal role in its development and a basic knowledge of German, which has played a paternal role in the creation of the wonderful, practical and universal language known as English. Please do not forget, that if you are a globe- trotter and you have a basic knowledge of English, German and French, the whole world will be at your doorstep.
Q. How would you reflect that on our Sinhala society in particular on Sinhala orientated children for that matter?
A. Due to the heterogeneous origin of Sinhala, our children are highly talented in picking up the above-mentioned three languages, with a high degree of accuracy in pronunciation. We should go all out to teach these three languages to our children at a very young age and thereby exploit the latent potential, in order to 'export' them as language teachers, professors, interpreters and tour-guides etc. But we do have to take care, to inculcate in them correct and positive attitudes towards these languages in order to avoid "allergies" created in the minds of some !
Q. As an experienced highly qualified foreign language lecturer, how do you assess the present general trend and comment on the existing system(s)?
A. Generally speaking, most highly recognized foreign language institutes the world over, make a drastic mistake in enrolling the majority of their students for initiation into the foreign language, at an age just best or few years after attaining puberty, when their minds are most unstable and the ground under their feet has become shaky. My advice would be to enroll our students in our foreign language institutes very early in their lives, when they are still enjoying the love and warmth of their parents and are physiologically stable, so that the temporary instability created by strange linguistic and cultural patterns could be surmounted easily. For skeptics I would cite Belgium as a natural example !
Q. If you were to comment on a wider angle, say for example looking at developing the country as a whole, how would you be looking at the issue?
A. If we are seriously interested in developing the country, mathematics should be taught in a palatable form to every child in the country. It should be introduced in the form of a story telling fashion thus diminishing its acrobatic and shocking effects. The teacher should always commence with the " History of Mathematics". We should make our students aware of the very significant role played by our immediate neighbor India in inventing the zero and place value system etc. One should not forget that, Mathematics is the language of science. In Germany a knowledge of higher mathematics is a 'sine qua non' for admission to any faculty of a University, whether arts or science.
Q. With your background on organic-chemistry and as a scientist, how do you look at the present day environment protection methods and techniques?
A. First and foremost let us cultivate a basic elementary knowledge about the Flora and Fauna. Everyone is speaking of environment now days, which is a very good thing. The gene pool of the tropical vegetation of this country is so vast, that one cannot learn all the names of all the plants - even in a lifetime. But how many of us know the names of the botanical families, to which the herbs, shrubs or trees of our home or school gardens do belong? It is very necessary to have a basic scientific approach in this matter. In this part of the world, the exact definition of science has unfortunately not percolated into our genes. This false terminology like " Western -medicine" for " Scientific medicine" are rampant.
Q. How would you reminisce your achievements in guided German study tours to Sri Lanka?
A. Among many achievements I had the record of planning and conducting the longest guided study tour in Sri Lanka. A 30-day non-stop tour covering the entire island before the outbreak of violence in the North and the East. Out of my research I identified that a hotel could be built in the village of Kandalama (not in the catchment area) for the first time; I found that there were no spice-gardens along the Colombo-Kandy highway, and it was my idea that prompted one of my students to open the first spice-garden. I have thirty-five years experience in the Travel Trade as a Tour Leader since 1970 and 60 % of my students now occupy top-level positions in the Travel Trade.
Q. What is so special about German?
A. Languages are the most sophisticated mental tools invented by man, and German is unquestionably the pinnacle of this series of achievements. A fairly good grasp of the German language, facilitates the development of the mind; apart from being the most effective medium for imbibing knowledge contrived by man. Giants like Leibnita, Goethe, Kant, Humboldt, Einstein, Mhos, Roentgen, Hesse, Heine, Heidigger, Hegel, Nietsche, Schopenhauer, Brecht, Mueller, Marx, Geiger, Benz, Weber and Lilienthal have not ' fallen from the sky' !