|Appreciation - Rev. Fr. George Quintus
A genuine patriot and nationalist
By A. G. S.
Prompt came the reply wherein amidst the cordial words of friendship based mainly on our common cause of svabhasha medium, were the following words (I quote) "My lifes purpose is to see that the svabhasa language (Sinhala and Tamil) is made the medium of instruction in all schools. I elaborated this policy so far back as 1937 long before Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara worked that concept. Anyhow, it was he who got it implemented as government policy in 1943-1944. When the svabhasha medium was to be jettisoned at the beginning of 1953, I came forward to defend the svabhasha medium in defiance of the authorities of my Church. I am sending you the historic and epoch-making article I published in the Sunday Lankadeepa of 30.11.1952 which is of much importance that it skyrocketed me into fame (for which I did not care a damn) and made me launch what was called the "Svabhasha satana" which gave me also the bouquet of "Svabhasha veeraya" as I carried it forward to victory."
In the Lankadeepa article of 1952 he makes a very strong case for the Svabhasha medium, boldly criticising the so-called "elite" school principals who opposed the move. His feeling for the Sinhala language, which happens to be his own mother tongue as well, is evident from his observation that in 1815 when Sinhala became replaced with English, the degree of sadness in the minds of the Sinhala people, whose language had been used without any let or hindrance from anywhere in all their writings, should have been very high.
He validly argues that education should be universalised through the mother tongue without confining it to the "elite" schools through English, because then only that the true sons of the soil would have the opportunity of asserting themselves as independent and powerful personalities, able to think creatively and with originality. It is a nation-building process from the colonial past. With all this he always maintained that English, being an international language, should be retained as the second language.
In a subsequent letter he says: "What I want the people to realize is that however important the study of English is, the medium of instruction in all schools in Sri Lanka be Sinhala/Tamil should be pursued with vigour for the blossoming of the innate talents of students."
On his 88th birthday on Feb. 2nd 2002 when I greeted him saying "Vive la Father" on the phone, I remember well how he suddenly became emotional and responded with profuse thanks. His academic qualifications speak for his erudition which, along with his overflowing kindness and saintly qualities, vouchsafed by his juniors in the Church as well, make him a shinning example for this very rare combination of erudition and kindness. He has double BAs in Eastern and Western classics from the London University, while being a qualified attorney-at-law as well, in addition to the academic ornaments received from the Vatican.
He had enough ammunition to shatter any argument in defence of English as the medium of instruction in Sri Lanka. When the problem surfaced recently also he boldly spoke against it accusing the proponents as suffering from "anglophaebia". In his letter of February 2nd he says: "I am getting too old for the fray. I rely on you to excert all your influence to see that the svabhasha medium of education is not dropped." His Sinhala writing is quite chaste as proved by a few sentences he wrote to me as Sinhala New Year greetings.
In a letter dated 06-06-02 he says: "My excessive love for Sri Lanka and for the Sinhala people forced me to go hammer and tongs to defend them againstÉ Will the noble Sinhala people have a country to live and a language to boast of ....?" and says that he stopped writing a strongly - worded article to the Press as he felt mentally exhausted in the process and the doctors had advised him to give up all intellectual work and to take rest for three months. Now, Fate seems to have so decreed that he could just survive this period only by a few weeks before breathing his last. All the letters he wrote to me he had signed in Sinhala.
In the last letter he was able to write to me on 16-07-02 he becomes quite critical of the new political culture developing in the country and mourns the loss of the traditional moral system of the people.
Let us gratefully mourn his death for his sincerity of views on nationalism and patriotism and wind up this brief tribute to him by quoting Sir Walter Scott, who seems to have had this type of patriot in mind when he sang,
"Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said
This is my own my native land".