Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Wiseacres with Snobismus Syndrome
If there is one variety that is in oversupply these days, I’d mention wiseacres.
We live at a time, bombarded with much information, that anyone can be a
wiseacre, irrespective of whether one lives in Chennai, London, Toronto or
Geneva. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines a wiseacre as follows:
“n. a person with an affectation of wisdom or knowledge, regarded with scorn
or irritation by others; a know-it-all. Origin: late 16th cent. –
from Middle Dutch wijsseggher ‘sooth sayer’.”
The Vermont-born poet
John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887), had anticipated the proliferation of these
wiseacres among his descendants, with his witty poem ‘Six Blind Men of
Indostan’. To quote,
It was six men of Indostan to learning much inclined
Who went to see the elephant though all of them were blind,
That each by observation might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the elephant, and happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl:
'God bless me! But the elephant is very like a wall!'
The Second, feeling of the tusk, cried, 'Ho! What have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an elephant is very like a spear!'
The Third approached the animal, and happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, thus blodly up and spake:
'I see,' quoth he, 'the Elephant is very like a snake!'
The Fourth reached out an eager hand, and felt about the knee,
'What most this wondrous beast is like is mighty plain,' quoth he;
' 'Tis clear enough the Elephant is very like a tree!'
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: 'E'en the blindest man
can tell what this resembles most; deny the fact who can
This marvel of an elephant is very like a fan!'
The Sixth no sooner had begun about the beast to grope,
than, seizing on the swinging tail that fell within his scope,
'I see,' quoth he, 'the Elephant is very like a rope!'
And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long,
each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,
though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”
Pretending to be a wiseacre is one thing. But, if the same individual is
suffering from snobismus syndrome, the outcome is rather dangerous. What is this
Peter Medawar (1915-1987), the 1960 co-Nobelist in Medicine and a talented
20th century scientists and essayists, had introduced this snobismus
syndrome in his autobiography,
‘Memoir of a Thinking Radish
(1988)’. To quote,
“the generally destructive effect upon English social life and our position
in the world caused by the infirmity of manner I call ‘snobismus’ – a
syndrome that more aptly than any other deserves to be called the ‘English
disease’. Snobismus is the irresistibly exigent impulsion to appear before
the world as someone grander and more important in point of family,
schooling, wealth, friends and worldly distinction than one really is – and
with this syndrome goes a somewhat debilitating conception of manners and
address that are or are not compatible with gentility.” (Introduction, pp.
The wiseacre, suffering from snobismus syndrome, if infected with crypto-racism,
is a pathetic case. Such pathetic cases are notable among the journalists. I’d
consider the opinionated anonymous scribes who work for the weekly Economist
magazine (London) are a special breed of this category. An opinion that had
appeared in the Economist magazine of Nov.27 issue, had the following
statements, under the caption ‘The illusion of victory’:
“Little is known for certain about the fighting under way in northern Sri
Lanka. The belligerents – the Sri Lankan army and the rebel Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam – issue contradictory claims, and the area is closed
to independent observers….
Few neutrals could regret the defeat of the Tigers and their brutal leader,
Velupillai Prabhakaran. Pioneers of suicide-bombings, they have an appalling
record of terrorism, assassination, extortion, kidnapping and the
conscription of children as soldiers…."
Leave alone the half-baked comments about the LTTE leader, that attests to a
crypto-racist wiseacre suffering from snobbish syndrome, who seems to have never
visited the northern Sri Lanka, as he (she) has naively acknowledged in the
first sentence, “Little is known for certain about the fighting under way in
northern Sri Lanka.” But what seems perverted is the naivete wish of this
“The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has hinted it is prepared to
go beyond the bounds of the constitution to offer Tamils the hope of a
workable deal. It is time for more than hints. What are needed are clear
signs that its aim is not victory, but peace.”
the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is nothing but an opportunist bumpkin
pol who never places the welfare of Sri Lankan citizens in front of his family
and his bucket carriers is proved, from a few lines from his election manifesto,
as per his interests in constitutional reforms. I quote,
“I propose to change the Parliamentary Election System to ensure that public
opinion will be represented and stable Governments will be elected. With the
consensus of all, I expect to present a Constitution that will propose the
abolition of the Executive Presidency and to provide solutions to other
issues confronting the country.” [vide, Manifesto; Victory for Sri
Lanka – Presidential Election 2005, p. 97]
Three years have passed since 2005. Not even a whisper from his lips, about his
proposal and pledge to abolish the executive presidency! And before the hints of
this bumpkin pol “offer[ing] Tamils the hope of a workable deal” to realize, we
may first satiate ourselves of the miracle of Sun circling the Earth.
I reproduce below an e-mail I sent to one of the wiseacres (Dr. Dayan
Jayatilleka) currently serving President Mahinda Rajapakse from Geneva on Nov.29th.
This e-mail was a response to
his commentary on LTTE leader Pirabhakaran’s recent Maveerar’s Speech.
Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka:
This refers to your recent "personal views" on Prabhakaran's Mahaveerar 2008
address. No doubt, that you are one of the best wordsmiths, El Presidente
Mahinda have in his side. I also remember the times when you were with
another UNP President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
You can be one of the best wordsmiths - but you don't have to gulp chunks of
history, to portray Prabhakaran as your paymaster's enemy. I refer to your
comment, "He opened fire on the IPKF by October 10th of that year(1987)."
Are you sure about it? For your information, I have been compiling an
anthology of Indo-LTTE war in two of the Tamil websites (
), from contemporary sources. In
part.1 of my anthology,
I have included
magazine's feature (probably contributed by your father Mervyn de
Silva, of Oct.10, 1987. I welcome you to read that commentary, to check for
yourself, who "opened fire". You also have conveniently omitted the
villainous role of Lalith Athulathmudali, which set off the crisis between
Indians and LTTE.
Oh! you gloat yourself about
Shall I make a list of Sinhalese politicians, and arm chair generals who
went to meet their Maker because of their Hubris, beginning with SWRD.
Bandaranaike in 1959. Bandaranaike was followed by Rohana Wijeweera (1989),
Ranjan Wijeratne (1991), Lalith Athulathmudali (1993), your former paymaster
R.Premadasa (1993) and Gamini Dissanayake (1994). You want me to believe
that all these souls were devoid of Hubris (that's with large case H). The
hubris competition for the Presidency between Ranjan-Lalith-Prema and Gamini
speak wonders that deserve a Sinhalese opera. All four of them took their
turns to the grave.
Thanks for your entertaining history lessons.”
As of now, I have yet to hear from wiseacre Dayan Jayatilleka.