The Kandy Man, an autobiography by Sarath Amunugama
The candy man in The Kandy Man, Volume One, is the first of three designed to constitute the autobiography of Sarath Amunugama, scholar, distinguished public servant, aesthete, politician and minister of government. As expected, he brings us not only double boiled sweets that his ‘beloved nanny Roslin’ bought him on way home from Kandy Girls’ High School but also whole truckloads of current history, enormously helpful insights into the working of institutions with which he was associated and the roles he played often on the main stage and sometimes in the sidelines, both literally and metaphorically.
In this review I shall highlight the nature of institutions with which he was associated. Those who wish to trace his meteoric rise from Cadet in the Ceylon Civil Service to Permanent Secretary at age 38 can do so with enjoyment in the volume under review. I strongly recommend that they do so, because there is much to learn and instruction to follow. Not only did Amunugama make history himself, but he also was a witness to history in the making for most of the life of this young republic and his long eventful life.
Many in similar vantage points have tried to write to the same effect but few have succeeded in abstracting their experience into the context of the society they lived in so that in writing their biography they were also writing contemporary history, which purists might argue is a contradiction in terms. To annul their contention, one only has to read good history which has sumptuously fed on autobiographies and study the art of writing biography that Lytton Strachey introduced when he wrote Queen Victoria.
Roy Jenkins is an admirable successor, but I am running ahead of myself. Let us hurry slowly- festina lente. The first institution that Amunugama introduced us was his family. The Amunugama clan had had an illustrious history and some males were executed for their participation in the rebellion in Matale in 1818. Family properties were confiscated and families were thrown into poverty. ‘Poverty may have been one of the reasons why the Amunugama family had been strongly represented in monkhood of the Malwatte faction of the Siyam Nikaya,’ says the author.
Young men of the clan were much sought after for binna marriages and the families gradually re- built themselves. Sarath’s father was brought up by a relative in Panadure (as to why read the volume) and he attended St. John’s College there, which brought a new tinge to the life of his children. His father was unusually keen that his children should gain from education and Trinity College in Kandy was his choice for young Sarath.
Sarath’s father took a great interest and he derived much pleasure from the growth and development of his son. The account of the family is full of insights into the organization of Kandyan radala society and would be most helpful to scholars studying that aspect of life in Kandy in late 19th and first half of the 20th century . The second institution we are introduced to is Trinity College, Kandy. Trinity together with S.Thomas’, Mount Lavinia, and Richmond, Galle had been, established on the model of English Public Schools. In England they come from a long time back and have strong traditions.
The system of ‘courts’ in Public Schools were carried onto colleges in Oxford and Cambridge and Whewell Court in Trinity, the second court in St John’s and the Front Court in St. Catharine’s are much admired. Trinity, Kandy had only two of these ‘Houses’: one for the Upper School and the other for the Middle School. A marked feature of Public Schools was the effort of the Headmaster to lead his charges in religious life. Each College had a chapel where students prayed and were addressed usually by the Headmaster. Dr. Thomas Arnold, the most celebrated headmaster of Rugby spent n hours preparing addresses to the boys in chapel. The tradition of regular chapel was carried into Colleges in universities and the magnificent King’s chapel is one of them. We hear little about it from Sarath, a Buddhist. But he took part in every other activity in school: Cadeting, games and the lot. He was also a Prefect of the school. Again, the role of Prefects in Public Schools in England is very special. They almost ran the school, except for teaching. The Headmaster had great trust in them. This was a major part of training these young men had for leadership and it paid off well.
Sarath was really preparing to go to university. We meet him in Peradeniya in 1957. Together with the university park so lovingly cared for by Shirley d’Alwis and his workers, and ‘the small good university’ nurtured by Jennings, the Kandy Man blossomed brightly and fragrantly. The young man was all on his own and soon was elected President of the Students Union, a position that foretold leadership in adult life. He plunged himself into all activities at the university. He even wasted time in those classes in Marxism, taught outside the university by dons who took to Trotskyism. There were two passions to which he yielded himself without reserve: the new discipline of sociology and the newly vibrant creative activities of mostly young teachers in the Sinhala and related activities.
In his autobiography, his admiration of Siri Gunasinghe, a Samskrtic who later turned art historian, is almost sky high. Gunasinghe was that idol of smart young undergraduates: highly intelligent, friendly, creative and at points iconoclastic. He was more adventurous than Sarachchandra in innovation: costumes for plays, free verse and novels on subjects hitherto untouched by the literati. A number of younger scholars followed him with enthusiasm, among them Gunadasa Amarasekera (an undergraduate in the Dental School), Wimal Dissanayake (who from a poet grew to a film critic of international fame) and Amunugama himself who breathed the fine air that Gunasinghe caused to blow over the undergraduate population.
Gunasinghe cultivated the best traditions of university teachers for which Jennings had designed Perademiya and students were in and out of his home. At university one learnt not only in lecture theatres and libraries but also from incessant jabber with fellow students and informal and casual conversations with teachers. The other major figure, the one who loomed large in the public eye was Sarachchandra. He was short, simple and casual in appearance but deadly serious in his intention to invent a tradition of the theatre that would appeal to both the literati and the woman in the marketplace. He was successful even beyond his expectations when he presented a series of plays that began with Maname. (My own reactions to the first staging of the play I wrote up in the novel Alut Matanga.)
Sarachchandra exploited the fondness for Jataka Stories that rested in the minds of the average Sinhala and used them as plot for his plays. One favourite story was that of the bodhisatva who was named Kachchaputa, an honest trader of fancy bangles and Sarachchandra staged it as Kada Valalu and Amunugama was cast as Kachchaputa. Many of the actors and singers in Sarachchandra plays had been from schools other than from Colombo but Amunugama played the part to perfection. He breached the large gap even without a leap.
Sarath’s other passion was sociology. A department for the study of sociology was set up with the hard work of Ralph Peiris who had studied the discipline in London University. He had two brilliant, young and enthusiastic teachers in S.J.Tambiah and Gananath Obeysekera, both of whom rose to world leadership for their work in anthropology. There were others including D.L. Jaysuriya. Peiris sought the help of the Departments of Economics, History and Sinhala to fill in gaps in teaching. The students who chose to study Sociology had a commitment to the discipline and they had young and ambitious teachers committed to teaching. The results were inevitable. Several outstanding students emerged, Amunugama first among them. Scholarship never left him and there has been a constant output of high quality work.
Tissa Balasuriya wrote a brilliant study of the life and work of Sarananakara. H.L. Seneviratne was Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia teaching and researching with substantial publications to his credit. Namel Weeramuni became a creative artist and directed a new play, that was popular. Both Tambiyah and Obeyesekere took to the new techniques of field studies to formulate hypotheses and test them. I together with some others took part in the Pata Dumbra Survey, the results of which were partly published in The Disintegrating Village. The full report of the Survey could not be published. But the Disintegrating Village had its effect on the discipline as Amunugama records in this volume.
Sarath collaborated closely with Obeysekere in the latter’s field work that went into the Pattini Cult, which brought much credit to Obeysekere. In an assessment of scholarship in social anthropology in South Asia, P.T. Madan observed ‘the work of two distinguished Sri Lankan anthropologist Gananath Obeysekere and Stanley Tambiah….’. Sarath Amunugama was part of all this. He had an enormously successful university life and walked into the Ceylon Civil Service . So began the introduction to the fourth institution which comes in Volume One.
He liked provincial administration very much, that was mostly land administration. He traveled to villages, talked to villagers, solved problems that could be solved on the spot and took down notes in continuation of studies in the university. The outcome was a collection of essays that was published a few years back. After serving in Ratnapura and Galle, Sarath moved as AGA to Kandy, partly to be near his father who had fallen ill and had received excellent medical attention, on the intervention of the son.
Ever the keen student, Sarath cultivated his interest in local artist including dancers and drummers. Back in Colombo in the Ministry of Finance together with another brilliant Civil Servant he produced the Establishments Code, that to date guides public servants. Later he became a head of a department as Director of Information and brought him in touch with artists including singers. This was an opportunity to exercise his creative talents and he did so to the fullest. The Government Film Unit found a new and better home. He traveled widely.
I am running short of words and must stop, as Wittgenstein might have said. As you can see there is much to talk about, to think about and argue about in this volume and what would you do except read it. There are numerous niggles that must be removed in a future print, Besides, there is one annoying confusion about Polgasduva, in the shadow of which I grew up. It is not an island on Madu Ganga that flows to the sea at Ahungalle but on the small Ratgama Lagoon, connected to the sea at Morakola. The lagoon fills up a sudden depression in the land as it slopes down East West to the Indian Ocean, into which drain the runoff from villages Ratgama, Karudampe, Pinkande, Sudumetiya, Beratuduva, Hennatota and Patuvata.
Polgasduva was the hard rock with a thin topsoil that did not drop down with the rest of the basin. Consequently, there are only a few stunted coconut trees and brush land in which grow occasionally, a himbutu, bovitiya or dan plant. The isolation of the small island made it ideal for bhikkhus who wanted to live quietly to develop their minds, as most samana had done several centuries back. It is far removed from the romance of Madu Ganga.
But why am I agitated about it? Because I lived my first 12 years of life in Katudampe, which then I left more than physically. This book, although about kings, princes and aristocrats, the author himself one, wears unusually simple though elegant garb. It is written in language that you and I use every day, so that the book is an easy read. The easy read deceives the reader into a feeling that he glides over easy problems. Maynard Keynes’ General Theory is a pleasant read, in fact, a great polemic. Almost a hundred years after it was first read, we still ague about its import.
Sinharaja world heritage
Conservation Outlook Assessment: Significant Concern
By Professor Emeritus Nimal Gunatilleke
Continued from Yesterday
Water diverted from Ampanagala reservoir to Muruthawela will be used to meet the irrigation deficit of Muruthawela and Kirama Oya systems and the balance will be transferred to Chandrika Wewa, through existing LB canal of Muruthawela scheme up to 13.8 km and a new canal of 17.0 km. After that, the water requirement of Hambantota harbour is to be transferred to Ridiyagama tank through the Walawe river and Liyangasthota anicuit. However, due to the extreme length of the diversion through the three-river basins of Nilwala, Kirama Ara and Urubokka Oya, it will lead to a massive conveyance losses of the diverted water while on the way to the Walawe basin. Furthermore, enormous costs associated with its construction, a failure to fully realise the intended outcomes due to a shortage of water budget will simply be a burden that Sri Lanka cannot afford with her current economic condition, according to Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi. It may be worth recording that the water ingress into the grouted tunnel of the Uma Oya near Ella has still not been fully repaired, even though the Uma Oya project is nearing completion. An expensive lesson to be learnt on the nature of the weathered geological structure, lineaments and implementing its unexpected and costly mitigatory measures which will eventually to be paid back by this and future generations of tax payers of this country.
According to the Irrigation Department web site postings, Mahaweli Consultancy Bureau has initiated the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), but due to the unavailability of concurrence of the Forest Department, revised TOR has not been issued by the CEA. Therefore, due to the unavailability of updated TOR, the EIA study has been delayed.
Environmentally, the most contentious issue highlighted in the news media is the proposed construction of a RCC dam at Madugeta to build a reservoir for which around 79 ha of forested (and some agricultural) lands in Sinharaja and a portion of prisine riverine forest in Dellawa would be inundated. On the Sinharaja side of the proposed Madugeta reservoir (right abutment) at present there are home gardens and small-scale tea plantations in addition to good riverine forests. In contrast however, proportionately a larger area of luxuriant forest of Dellawa, which is a part of the new ‘Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex’ would go under the chain saw for this reservoir construction (left abutment). The Geo-engineering report of May 2019 on GNDP has revised the siting of the dam to a more favourable location with supposedly reduced impacts but they forewarn that the three core-drilling along the proposed dam axis that had to be temporarily abandoned due to protests made by the villagers, need to be completed to confirm the geological suitability for the dam site.
Are there any Environment-Friendly Alternative Options?
As an alternative site for a dam on Gin Ganga, Eng. Nandasoma Atukorale (Specialist Engineer [Hydropower]) has proposed a location at the confluence of Mahadola with Gin Ganga at the village of Mederipitiya, way back in 2006. According to him, the riverbed at this site is 261 masl and have a catchment area of 132 km2. He proposes the construction of a 35 m high concrete gravity type dam that would form a reservoir with a storage capacity of 65 million cu.m and a potential discharge of 320 million cu.m of water annually which could divert 293 million cu. m of water to the SE Dry Zone. Most importantly, this region passes through a relatively narrow section of the river which is ideally suited for a dam according to him. However, geological suitability and socio-economic impacts of local communities need to be investigated, beforehand.
Quite interestingly, Eng. Athukorale claims that ‘although it is not economically very attractive, another 200 million cu.m of water could be diverted to the Nilwala basin by constructing a dam across Gin Ganga at the downstream of the confluence with Dellawa Dola at the village of Madugeta, with an 8000 m long tunnel which could be considered at a later stage provided further water shortages are experienced in the area’.
Now that the proposed Madugeta reservoir is receiving heavy criticisms from the environmental front, wonder whether Mederipitiya option proposed by Eng. Athukorale could be revisited for the diversion of Gin-Nilwala river water to the SE Dry Zone.
In a research paper titled ‘Comparison of Alternative Proposals for Domestic and Industrial Water Supply for Hambantota Industrial Development Zone’ Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi makes a comparison among three irrigation projects Kukule Ganga, Gin-Nilwala and Wey Ganga to convey water from the SW wet zone to SE dry zone.
She proposes yet another option that is probably still on the drawing boards to be considered which is the Wey Ganga diversion in Ratnapura District. According to her, this could meet the industrial and drinking water requirement (154 MCM + drinking water) of Hambantota metropolitan area at a significantly lower cost and with less damage to the environment. Further, there is a possibility of augmenting this scheme by diverting a part of Kalu Ganga catchment at a later stage.
Eng. Hettiarachchi further states that ‘by comparing the workload, it could be estimated to be nearly one third that of the Gin-Nilwala diversion. The Wey Ganga diversion can be carried out at a significantly lower cost by local agencies. That can also address the water scarcity of Hambantota metropolitan area including the requirements of international harbour and proposed industrial development zone with the relatively less environmental damage which is a major issue with respect to large scale projects. Construction period will also be less since the workload is less and can be carried out by the local agencies’.
What I have strived to show with this detailed irrigation engineering information available on public domain in the form of research publications, is that the Madugeta reservoir option is not the only one available for taking water from the wet zone rivers to the SE Dry Zone which is indeed a legitimate requirement for agricultural and industrial development of that region.
Pre-feasibility studies have been conducted on these options since 1968 and a considerable wealth of technical information is already available with the Irrigation Department. Apparently, according to knowledgeable irrigation engineers, there are more environmentally friendly, and cost-effective options with greater assurance of water conveyance to the SE Dry Zone available for consideration. It is often the case that during pre-feasibility studies of these large engineering projects, environmental concerns are given the least priority. Steady supply of water during extreme drought events which are becoming more frequent depends very much on the nature of the vegetation cover of the watershed area. These environmental aspects need to be critically evaluated before such costly projects are designed. As an example, although, the major engineering work of the Uma Oya project has been almost completed, its cost-effectiveness is yet to be seen with a denuded watershed, a potential of heavy soil erosion on top of the unexpected heavy expenditure on tunnel boring and other engineering works.
Biologically speaking, the Dellawa Forest Reserve is an integral part of Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex representing the pristine climax forest vegetation of SE wet lowlands and provide a vital connectivity link to adjoining Diyadawa forest of equal significance via the remains of Dombagoda forest. Therefore, clearing a riverine strip of this forest for the construction of Madugeta Reservoir would lead to an irreparable and irreplaceable damage to its characteristic riverine/flood plain forest vegetation.
On the other hand, pledging a reforestation initiative of a much larger area with Hevea rubber as a compensatory measure proposed by the political administration is totally unacceptable. Preserving intact forests in protected areas has no substitutes or replacements. Furthermore, the Natural Heritage Wilderness Area act and the binding articles of the UNESCO Convention on Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, clearly state that causing direct or indirect damage to a natural heritage is legally not permissible.
In summary, the Sinharaja World Heritage Site is already in a state whose biological values are threatened and/or are showing signs of deterioration and significant additional conservation measures have been recommended to restore these values over the medium and long term. Adding more threats like the construction of reservoirs inside protected areas at this stage would inevitably downgrade the values further to a ‘critical conservation outlook’ which is not what the citizenry of Sri Lanka and the world at large would acknowledge as ‘sustainable development’.
The author of this article is a member of the National Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka and he thanks Dr Jagath Gunathilaka of Peradeniya University for providing the geotechnical information described herein. The author can be contacted at .)
US seeking way out of Afghan killing field
As the Biden administration makes its initial moves to extricate the US’ remaining security forces personnel from Afghanistan, it would do well to ponder on former US President John F. Kennedy’s insightful comment on foreign policy: ‘Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.’ This is a rare nugget on the nature of foreign policy.
Considering the high costs, human and economic, a country could incur as a result of blundering on its foreign policy front, Kennedy could be said to have spoken for all countries. However, there is no denying that the comment is particularly applicable to expansionist powers or ‘hegemonic’ states.
Sensible opinion is likely to be of the view that the US decision on quitting Afghanistan should have come very much earlier; may be a couple of years after its bloody misadventure in the conflict and war-ridden country. Considering the terribly high human costs in particular the US’ 20 long years in Afghanistan have incurred, the US could be said to have committed one of its worst foreign policy blunders, overshadowing in severity the blood-letting incurred by the super power in Vietnam. However, in both theatres, the consequences for the US have been of unbearable magnitude.
The US death toll speaks for itself. At the time of writing more than 2,300 US security forces personnel have been killed and over 20,000 injured in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that over 450 Britons have died in the same quagmire along with hundreds of similar personnel from numerous other nationalities. Apparently, it took an exceptionally long period of time for the US to realize that Afghanistan for it was a lost cause.
The lesson that the US and other expansionist powers ought to come to grips with is that it would not be an ‘easy ride’ for them in the complex conflict and war zones of the South. The ground realities in these theatres are of mind-boggling complexity and Afghanistan drives this point home with notable harshness. Power projection in South-west Asia and persistence with its ‘war on terror’ were among the apparent prime objectives of the US in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq but what the US did not evidently take into consideration before these military involvements were the internal political realities of these countries that are not at all amenable to simplistic analyses and policy prescriptions.
The Soviets ought to have come to grips with some features of the treacherous political terrain presented by Afghanistan in the late eighties but their principal preoccupations were related more to the compulsions of the Cold War. Simply put, the Soviets were bent on preserving the ‘satellite’ status of Afghanistan and their war effort was aimed at this in the main. Preparing Afghanistan for democracy was not even least among the Soviet Union’s concerns, of course.
However, the same does not apply to the US. The latter helped the Mujaheddin in the task of getting rid of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan but its aim was also to have a US-friendly regime in Kabul that would be a veritable bridgehead of US power and influence in the region on a continuous basis. In other words, the US expected the regime which replaced the Soviets to be pro-Western and essentially democracy-friendly. The US did not in any way bargain to have in Afghanistan Islamic fundamentalist regimes whose political philosophies were the anti-thesis of democracy as perceived in the US and practised by it.
However, the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime which eventually came to power in the mid-nineties in Afghanistan, once the Soviets withdrew, defied all Western expectations. As is known, the Taliban was not only repressive and undemocratic but was staunchly opposed to everything Western. There were no hopes of the Taliban working towards Western interests. Besides, the US did not expect to see in Afghanistan a country dangerously divided on ethnic, tribal and religious lines. The problems of Afghanistan have been compounded over the years by the coming together of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda and these groups have world wide Islamic fundamentalist links.
It has been the aim of the US to have in Kabul religiously moderate, pro-democratic regimes but as developments have proved over the past few decades these administrations have not been in a position to hold out against the Taliban. In fact, it is the Taliban that is veritably at the helm of power in Afghanistan currently and years of futile attempts at trying to contain the Taliban have brought home to the US and its allies that they have no choice but to talk to the Taliban in order to secure some respite to effect ‘an honourable exit’ from the bloodied land. This is where matters stand at present.
However, as pointed out by commentators, it is the Afghan civilian population that has suffered most in the decades-long blood-letting in the country. Conservative estimates put the number of Afghan security forces personnel killed in Afghanistan at around 60,000 to date and the number of civilians killed at double that figure.
Accordingly, the Afghan people would be left to face an uncertain and highly risk-riddled future when the last of the US security forces personnel and their allies leave Afghanistan in September this year. The country would be left to its own devices and considering that the Taliban will likely be the dominant formation in the country and not its legitimate government, the lot of Afghan civilians is bound to be heart-rending.
There is plenty to ponder on for the US and other democratic countries in the agonies of Afghanistan. One lesson that offers itself is that not all countries of the South are ‘ready for democracy’. This applies to very many countries of the South that already claim to be democracies in the Western sense. Southern ‘democratic’ polities defy easy analysis and categorization in consideration of the multitude of identity markers they present along with the legitimacy that they have achieved in the eyes of their states and populations. What we have are dangerously volatile states riddled with contradictions. Relating to them will prove to be highly problematic for the rest of the world.
The Soul (also known as Ji hun) is based on the sci-fi novel ‘Soul Transfer’, written by Jiang Bo in 2012. The novel was widely popular and inspired director Cheng Wei-Hao to adapt the tale into a movie. The story is about a married couple who are determined to uncover the truth behind strange activities in their community. According to the official synopsis for the film from Netflix, while investigating the death of a businessman, a prosecutor and his wife uncover occult secrets as they face their own life-and-death dilemma. The film stars Chang Chen, Janine Chang and Christopher Lee among others.
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