Today, we have a very special and dear guest, the one and only Mr. Mano Chanmugam, who will be 90 years old in November this year. I firmly believe that we should all respect and learn as much as we possibly can from our elders, while we still have the privilege of their company on earth, especially when they are as simultaneously ERUDITE AND ENDEARING as Mano is; a truly rare combination of qualities! Mano first met me back in 2010 when I portrayed the role of the villainous Count Almaviva in a production of Mozart's “The Marriage of Figaro”, which was produced by Menaka de Fonseka Sahabandu, who in turn had told me all about Mano's hospitality at his famous home (known as 'Hunter's End'). The next year, when Mano celebrated his 80th birthday, he invited me to perform excerpts from Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" at Hunter's End, which was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, descending his grand staircase (one of the grandest in South Asia), singing the iconic Figaro aria. Over the years, we have become very very close indeed, and it is truly an honour to record a conversation with him for posterity in this manner.
Mano of course is no stanger to Colombo’s Performing Arts Scene, but we wanted to capture a different side of him on my talk show today, because if ever there was a man of many facets, it would be him. Having qualified and worked in the Nuclear Engineering field in the UK, and elected a Fellow of the Institution of Nuclear Engineer (now called the Nuclear Institute), Mr. Chanmugam returned to Sri Lanka in the early 1980s and was soon recognized as a Patron and the Proverbial ‘God-Father’ of the Performing Arts in Sri Lanka. As a much sort after Pianist, Mano's musical expertise extends from Classical Music and Opera all the way to Jazz and Musical Theatre, which cemented our bond as kindred spirits. In January 2000, Mano took over as Sri Lanka’s Representative of the ASSOCIATED BOARD OF THE ROYAL SCHOOLS OF MUSIC, UK and holds this position to date. During this twenty-one plus years, he has nurtured many Musical Careers in both performing and teaching. He also setup the ‘MANO CHANMUGAM MUSIC FOUNDATION’ with its primary objective to showcase the musicianship of Artistes of International Fame to our own talented local musicians. Among these were Anthony Adkins and singing sensation Danielle De Niese.
In 2016, Mano was invited by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to establish the Colombo Cultural Hub to promote Colombo as a cultural centre of South Asia. However, what most people do not know about Mano, which we decided to focus on today, is the fact that he used to be IN THE SEMINARY as a youth, and was well on his way to becoming a Catholic Priest. While that did not ultimately materialize, his spirituality and his faith have always been defining and exemplary components of his life. We began our talk show today by dissecting the distinctions between PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY, which many people confuse. Buddhism of course was meant to be a Philosophy and a Way of Life, for instance, whereas the Judeo-Christian Faiths and Hinduism fall firmly in the realm of Theology, as they transcend the natural realm and explore the existence of Divine and Supernatural Beings. Personally, Mano felt that his own studies in the fields of Philosophy as well as Science and Cosmology led him to the inevitable conclusion there is a Higher Power who ordained and set up the marvellously intricate and tine-tuned workings of the cosmos and all things therein, including our solar system and the eco-system we enjoy on Planet Earth. He quoted the famous Catholic Theologian and Saint, Thomas Aquinas, who said "Ex nihilo nihil fit" - which is Latin for "Nothing comes from nothing".
At this point, I must confess that I couldn't help but burst into a snippet of a famous song from THE SOUND OF MUSIC which also references those immoral words. We talked about the many different forms of Theism, ranging from Monotheism (the belief in a singe God/Deity), which is what Judaism, Christianity and Islam uphold, through Polytheism (the belief in multiple gods/deities) which is what the Ancient Greco-Roman religious systems were based on, all the way to Pantheism (the belief that Divinity is present everywhere and in everything), which Mano believes is what Hinduism most closely conforms to. For the Hindus do believe that all their gods and Goddesses ultimately emanate from One Supreme Higher Power, unlike the Ancient Greeks and Romans who did not believe in an Ultimate and Transcendent God (rather, they believed in an elaborate genealogy of gods and goddesses, who were always wholly distinct from one another).
We also talked about Darwin and the fact that his THEORY OF EVOLUTION is ultimately just that, a Scientific Theory. We do not call it the FACT of Evolution for a reason, because it cannot be proven any more than the existence of God can be "proven", and in fact Mano chuckled at the fact that Darwin had to come up with the notion of a 'missing link' in order to fill the gaping gap(s) in his world famous theory. Of course some people try to hold onto Darwin's Evolution Theory as Fact, echoing the sarcastic lines of a poem by Hilaire Belloc, whom is a personal favourite of both mine and Mano’s: "Oh let us never never doubt, what NOBODY is sure about!" The way Darwin's theories are taught as the absolute Gospel Truth, as it were, strike me as no different from the Christians, Buddhists and Muslims who insist that their Texts and Scriptures are the ONLY Correct Source, and so I was very very happy to have Mano on my show today, to tap into some of the shortcomings and deficiencies even in the field of Science, which is far from infallible, to use another religious term. Certain people in the world today may claim to be agnostic or atheistic, and yet most of those people have made Charles Darwin the Jesus Christ or Buddha or Mohammed of their own lives, because I suppose at the end of the day, most people need something or someone to "believe in". Belief of course is ultimately a very subjective and personal thing, as Mano and I both agreed, and we concurred that no one has the right to impose their worldview on another - whether one is a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, or even a Darwinian I daresay.
Of course no conversation with Mano Chanmugam would be complete without touching on Music, and so towards the latter part of my program, I asked him what constitutes Great Singing in his mind. I was thrilled to hear him affirm that it is not only a matter of the correct Vocal Production, but also a matter of Correct DICTION. Whichever language a person sings it, be it English, Sinhala, French, German, or Latin, if the words are not properly articulated, then the performance of the song or the piece is FLAWED. For Singing is ultimately all about COMMUNICATION, as Mano pointed out. There are some singers who perform in foreign languages, without the slightest clue as to what the foreign words actually even mean, and so nothing is really COMMUNICATED to the audience or to the listeners, however technically sound the singer's vocal performance and modulation may be. Thus, the singer is reduced to merely generating sound, without any substance, and such people do not go far in their singing careers at all. Mano emphasized that being a Singer or a Musician requires a total dedication to PERFECTION. And whether it's Philosophy, Theology, Science, or Music, it is imperative that one STUDIES whatever one professes to believe in and practice.
For all this, and so much more, do tune into Episode Nine of GEHAN COORAY'S MEETING OF THE MINDS today on Daily Mirror Online's platforms (YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), and see you again next week with another distinguished and multifaceted guest.