Living in Harmony amidst Challenges after Easter Terrorist Attacks of 2019
by Prabhath de Silva
Sri Lanka has attracted the attention of ancient and modern colonial empires, foreign countries ,merchants, travelers and missionaries over the centuries owing to its strategic and prominent location at a crossroads of maritime routes traversing the Indian Ocean.
The Portuguese were the first European colonial power to arrive in Sri Lanka in 1505. Their presence in Sri Lanka’s maritime provinces between 1505 and 1656 CE, which began as an interaction of trade and commerce, later developed into a colonial rule in the maritime provinces from 1597. The maritime provinces were ruled by the Dutch East India Company from 1656 to 1796. The British captured the maritime provinces of the Island in 1796 . When native feudal Chiefs ceded the sovereignty of the interior native Kandyan Kingdom to the British Empire by the Kandyan Convention of 1815, the whole Island came under the British rule. Sri Lanka gained independence from the British in 1948.
The Buddhist missionaries from India during the reign of Emperor Asoka introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century BCE, and it soon became the established religion of the ancient Sinhalese monarchy and the majority Sinhalese people. The Sinhalese majority community is predominantly Theravada Buddhist [93% of the Sinhalese population] and only a 7% of the Sinhalese population is Christian. Hinduism has been in existence since at least the 2nd century BCE The Sri Lankan Tamils are predominantly Hindu [ 85% of the Sri Lankan Tamil population]. A 15% of the Sri Lankan Tamil population is Christian. The Muslim settlers who came from the Arabian Gulf and later from South India brought Islam to the Island beginning in the 8th Century CE , converting native women upon marriage. Sri Lankan Muslims constitute 9.3 % of Sri Lankan’s population
During the presence of Portuguese in the Island (1505 to 1658), Catholic missionaries actively engaged in evangelization of natives. Thousands of native Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus embraced the Christian Faith. The maritime provinces of Sri Lanka came under the rule of Dutch East India Company after its armies defeated the Portuguese in a series of battles between 1640 and 1658. The Dutch immediately banned Catholicism in Sri Lanka by laws. Through the brave and zealous endeavors of the Catholic missionaries from Goa, a territory of Portuguese in India, a territory of Portuguese in India, the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka which had become an outlawed underground church, survived and grew amidst persecution during the Dutch occupation. In last few decades of the Dutch rule in the maritime provinces, beginning from the 1750 s the Dutch granted religious freedom to Catholics.
From the beginning of their rule, the British granted religious freedom to all religions. The Catholic church emerged as the largest Christian church. The British permitted the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka to establish schools and charitable institutions. Catholic missionaries came from France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, and Goa. During the British colonial rule, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist and The Salvation Army missionaries from the British Isles introduced their respective forms of Christianity to the Island in the 19th century. They established schools and charitable institutions throughout the Island. During the early British period, the American missionaries from the Congregationalist churches arrived in Sri Lanka and established churches, schools , the Island’s first western medical school in 1851, and medical missions in the Northern Province. In the early 20th century, when Sri Lanka was still a colony of the British, missionaries from the American Pentecostal churches introduced their brand of Christianity to the Island. According to the Census of 2012, a 70.2% of Sri Lankans were Theravada Buddhists, 12.6% were Hindus, 9.7% were Muslims (mainly Sunni), 7.4 Christian [Catholic 6.1%, other Christians 1.3 %] and 0.05% others.
Christians in Today’s Sri Lankan Society
In order to present a kaleidoscopic picture of today’s Christian community in Sri Lanka and the issues and challenges they face, I interviewed three pastors and four lay persons of four different Christian denominations in Sri Lanka for this article.
Voices of Pastors
On one Sunday morning when the sun was shining bright, I stepped into the Methodist Chapel at Kalutara, a town (predominantly Buddhist) situated in the western coast of Sri Lanka 42 km south of Colombo. The Sunday worship service was in progress. Methodist Church of Sri Lanka was founded by the early British Methodist Missionaries who arrived in the Island in 1814. It was these first missionaries who had established the Methodist congregation at Kalutara through their zealous missionary endeavours in 1814. Methodist Church of Sri Lanka today has approximately 25,000 members throughout the Island. Methodist congregation of Kalutara currently has a membership of 90 people consisting of Sinhalese and a few Tamils.
After the service, I spoke to the Methodist Minister in charge of this congregation, Rev. Sunil Weerasinghe (60). “Every Sunday we proclaim God’s Word and His love, and we encourage people to live in peace with their neighbors. Most people in our congregation are a low income earners. There are only a few middle class families. In the pastour church helped people find work or start their own small businesses. After all, it is better teach someone to fish than give him fish.” Rev.Weerasinghe laments: “Methodist Church of Sri Lanka nowadays have no funds for such self-employment projects.
In evening of that Sunday, I met Rev. Shirley Faber (61),President of the Christian Reformed Church of Sri Lanka (formerly known as the Dutch Reformed Church in Sri Lanka ) at his residence in Dehiwala, a suburb of Colombo. It is the oldest Protestant denomination in the Island founded by the Dutch East India Company in 1642. The Christian Reformed Church which had around 200,000 members by the end of the Dutch colonial rule in the maritime provinces of Sri Lanka in 1796, is today one of the tiniest Christian denominations today with a membership of approximately 6000 people. Speaking of ecological and social concerns, Rev. Faber said: “The mandate of the Christian Churches is not only to preach the Gospel but also to show Christian concern and love for people and the love for God’s creation. God created the world and handed over the control of His beautiful creation to the human beings. We ought to know that we are only the stewards of His creation. As stewards of His creation, we should display good stewardship. We are accountable to God as to how we utilize the resources in His creation. The Churches should show its concern for ecological and social issues. In our society, wealth and resources are unfairly distributed. During the Covid-19 crisis, our church helped both Christians and non-Christians. We should show our love for people regardless of their religion not with the motive of converting them to Christian faith’.
As for the theological challenges, Rev. Faber is of the view that some charismatic Pentecostal churches which promote and propagate the ‘new theology of prosperity’ (health and wealth), poses a challenge in that they entice the less informed members of mainline Christian churches to join them by their controversial teachings.
Easter Sunday Attacks : Seeking Justice
On 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, three churches (two Catholic and one Evangelical Pentecostal) and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, Colombo, were attacked in a series of terrorist suicide bombings launched by a local Islamic extremist terrorist group which had embraced the ideology of ISIS. A total of 267 people were killed including at least 45 foreign nationals and eight bombers, and at least 600 were injured. Among those who were killed and injured, there were many children and women. The church bombings were carried out during Easter worship services in St. Sebestian’s Church, Katuwapitiya in Negombo, St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo and Zion Pentecostal Church in Baticaloa.
Out of the 267 people killed and 600 injured, about 221 killed and an overwhelming majority of the injured were Christians attending Easter Services in the three churches. On April 21 last year, Easter Sunday, a series of suicide bomb attacks launched by a local extremist Islamic group which has embraced the ISIS ideology inside three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. Out of the 267 people killed and 600 injured, about 221 killed and an overwhelming majority of the injured were Christians attending Easter Services in the three churches. On April 21 last year, Easter Sunday, a series of suicide bomb attacks launched by a local extremist Islamic terrorist group which has embraced the ISIS ideology inside three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. “The impact of the attacks is still noticeable. Christians seek justice for the victims and their next of kin, “says Rev. Dr. Noel Dias, a Catholic priest, a former Senior Lecturer in Public International Law at the University of Colombo and an Attorney-at–Law, who resides at the Archbishops’ House of Colombo.
Rev. Dr. Noel Dias remarked: “The leadership of the Catholic Church played a decisive role in containing the probable escalation of retaliatory violence against the Muslim community by appealing to her faithful not to retaliate but to forgive the attackers in a true Christian spirit. The Easter terror attacks have left a lasting impact on Christians. They are still seeking justice for the victims and their families.” These concerns are echoed every day by the Christians and other people in Sri Lanka and abroad. Mr. Mike Pompeo, US State Sectary who was on an official visit to Sri Lanka on the 27th and 28th October, did not forget to place a wreath at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo on 28 th October 2020. In his Twitter, Pompeo said: “Today, I laid a wreath at the Shrine of St. Anthony, one of the sites of the 2019 #EasterAttacks which killed and injured hundreds of innocent people. We stand with the Sri Lankan people and the world to defeat violent extremism and bring perpetrators to justice.”
There are some questions that remain to be answered. The most important of them all is: Why didn’t the Sri Lanka’s authorities in charge of security who had repeatedly received prior foreign intelligence reports about these terror attacks and the suicide bombers during the two weeks prior to the attacks, take appropriate action to arrest the suicide bombers and prevent them? The investigations including a concluded Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry and an on-going Presidential Commission Inquiry have not yet conclusively answered these questions even after one and a half years. Suspected perpetrators have so far been indicted in the High Court for trial in connection with the Easter attacks.
As for the spiritual challenges posed by the Easter Attacks, Rev. Dr. Noel Dias said: “The martyrdom is the seed of the Church. These challenges remind us of what C. S. Lewis once said: ’Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’
Speaking of the role of the Catholic Church in pastoral care, Rev. Dr. Dias opined: “Catholic Church is in the fore-front of organized pastoral activity, which performs very well in the educational and social service sectors. There is a great need for pastoral care in terms of building a rapport between the clergy and the laity. In terms of political involvement, Catholic Church in Sri Lanka does not get involved in party politics but raises her voice and concern when the occasion demands justice and reasonableness in the political and social context. In the perspective in theology, the church should refrain from being elitist. External pomp, over emphasis of material structures must be moderated. There is a greater need in this direction. In terms of fostering family relationships, Catholic Church is better organized than the other religious denominations. However, there is still an urgent need to address issues like pornography, drug and alcohol addiction etc.”
Voices of the Lay Christians:
Aruna Silva (50), a father of six children, who earns his livelihood as a three-wheeler taxi driver and a painter of motor vehicles said: ” I was born and bred as a Methodist. I moved to this area in 1995 and joined this congregation. There is religious freedom in the country. There were a few occasional isolated incidents of religious violence against Christian churches by a few extremist groups.” Aruna opined: “I believe that the persuasive and aggressive forms of evangelism used by some evangelical Pentecostal churches disregarding sensitivities of other religions, at times though not always, may have provoked the extremist elements to attack Christian places of worship in some rural areas”.
Naveen, a 20 year old young undergraduate student in Information Technology who is a member of this Methodist congregation at Kalutara said: “I am proud to be a Christian in Sri Lanka as it gives me a unique privilege to show my Christian testimony to non-Christian brothers and sisters by my words and deeds of love. Our good deeds would speak louder than our words. In order to help the poor people to improve their economic conditions, the church should first identify their skills and help them to earn an income in the areas they are so skilled”.
Janice Benjamin (32) is a young educated Catholic mother of five children, housewife and an active member of the Catholic movement known as “Neocatecumenal Way” founded by Kiko Argüello, a Spanish artist and Carmen Hernández in 1964. She lives in Colombo and is a member of St. Lawrence’s Church there. Janice strongly believes that “Satan is waging his final war against the family”. Says Janice, “I personally see how it is absolutely true in the context of the Church here. Many Catholics, I believe, are not given proper and adequate instructions on the Catholic Church and its history, its rich teachings, and as such it is very obvious to see the prevalence of many attacks on the family. The Neocatecumenal Way is a tiny minority within the Catholic Church. In the Neocatechumenal Way, we are given a lot of insight on the teachings of the church and the Bible particularly on marriage, family, children, contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. It is very sad to see only a minority in the church practice the official teaching of the Church on these issues. Many would go with the tide and agree with the modernist views of society. Sadly, many of my friends say that unless the Church adapts to the modern trends, it will lose its members.”
The Neocatecumenal Way of which Janice is a member, promotes the idea of having children as many as possible. Says Janice: As a young mother of five children, I would say that it is definitely a challenge for me to raise my five kids in a society which considers having more than one or two children is old fashioned and stupid. There are struggles economically, and physically and it is draining our energy and resources. But in the midst of all these I see the love of God resonates in my family of five children who are a blessing from God.”
Speaking of the most important reform needed in the Catholic Church, Janice opined: “In my opinion, the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has to be more vocal in its teachings. The Church should do more to inculcate the rich traditions and values in her faithful, younger generations and children. The teachings of the church and the Bible should be slowly introduced to the children not in a moralistic and legalistic sense but in a way of showing them that this is how the Love of God is reflected.”
Professor Rathnajeevan Hoole (68) is a member of the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka. He belongs to the congregation of St. James’ Church in Nallur, Jaffna, his native place in the Northern province of Sri Lanka chiefly inhabited by Sri Lankan Tamils. Professor Hoole, is a former Senior Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Peradeniya and State University of Michigan. He is well known for his role as one of the three members of Sri Lanka’s Election Commission. Professor Hoole’s father was an Anglican clergyman. Professor Hoole has served as a member of the Diocesan Council of the Colombo Diocese of the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka for several years. A When interviewed by me, Professor Hoole expressed his concerns about the general level of education prevalent among the pastors in the Anglican Church of Sri Lanka and in other non-Catholic churches. Said Professor Hoole: “The educational standards of our protestant pastors have deteriorated over the last few decades. Pastors of non-Catholic mainline churches (except the pastors of Christian Reformed Church) are trained at Pilimatalawa Theological College where liberal theology is taught, while the pastors of evangelical free churches and Christian Reformed Church receive their theological education from evangelical/Pentecostal seminaries. The most important reform required is to groom educated Protestant pastors. Many Anglicans and other non-Catholic Christians seem against or ignorant of the creeds and Catholic side of our faith. The free churches even think the Lord’s Prayer is Roman Catholic. So unsatisfactory is our theological education. They think transference from Roman Catholicism is conversion. Most of the educated Jaffna Tamil Christians left Sri Lanka and settled down in the western countries during last six decades due to the ethnic tensions and a 30 year Civil War that ended in 2009”.
The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka and worldwide maintains very high and uniform educational standards for its clergy. In order to become a Catholic priest, a seminarian should first read for a Bachelor of Philosophy degree awarded by Gregorian University or Urban University of Rome in English medium after his General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level)-Sri Lanka’s matriculation examination. In addition to this a seminarian is required to read for a second degree of Bachelor of Theology awarded by one of these two universities. These degree are recognized by the university grants Commission of Sri Lanka and universities throughout the world.
Amidst all the challenges, the significant contributions of Christianity to the social and moral development of Sri Lankan society in some aspects remain highly significant. The most significant and prominent among such legacies is the formal educational system of primary and secondary schools in Sri Lanka. It is a lasting legacy of Christian missionaries. The missionaries of mainline Christian denominations (Catholic and non-Catholic) were responsible for introducing a formal modern educational system by establishing their respective networks of schools throughout the iIsland increasing the literacy of the people. The non-Christians were the largest beneficiaries of the Christian missionary school system. The leaders of Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim communities who had received their education from the Christian missionary schools later established Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim school networks on the lines of the Christian missionary school model in the last quarter of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century. The British colonial government provided financial aid to both Christian and non-Christian school networks. The Christian missionary school networks served as the models for both State and non-Christian schools. The Catholic and Protestant Churches were the pioneers in establishing Reformatories for juvenile offenders, Schools for the Blind and Deaf, children’s homes, elders’ s homes, hospitals and industrial schools for young persons etc. The concept of monogamous marriage was introduced to Sri Lanka by Christian colonial rulers and missionaries. It is now a well accepted and entrenched concept among the Buddhists and Hindus. Christian influence can also be seen in wedding ceremonies and funerals and in other moral and social aspects too.
All communities should be treated equally without distinction
by Jehan Perera
The government was elected on a platform that stressed national security and unity. The elections took place in the aftermath of the Easter suicide bomb attacks of 2019 that caused the highest numbers of casualties in Christian churches. As the bombers were all Muslim, the Muslim population in the country came under public suspicion which was spontaneous and widespread. There was also equally widespread fear and anxiety about follow on attacks that could target Christians in particular and also the population in general. The cause of the attacks and the master minds behind them were a mystery then as they are now.
Due to the timely intervention of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, in whose diocese the two most serious attacks took place, there was no retaliation against the Muslim population by those who had lost their kith and kin. However, in the weeks that followed, there were mob attacks against the Muslim community in parts of the country that were distant from the bomb attacks. These attacks were not spontaneous but organised and intended to loot Muslim property and cause fear in them. The government, which was under political siege for having failed to prevent the suicide bomb attacks, failed once again to adequately protect the Muslim community.
It is in this context that Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s statement on the occasion of the second anniversary of the Easter bombings takes on significance. About two months ago he gave a deadline by which he asked the government to identify who was behind the Easter attacks and the cause for them. The Cardinal has consistently spoken up on the issue of the Easter bombing, first to ask for restraint on the part of the victims, then to ask the government to identify the perpetrators and prior to the elections to take the position that the people needed a government that could protect them. Now he has said that “Our brethren were attacked not by religious extremism, but by a group that exploited it to use the attackers as pawns in order to strengthen their political power.”
Two years after the Easter bombings in which they were branded as supporters of religious extremism, the Muslim community seeks in many different ways to overcome the suspicion that once engulfed them and which they fear can do so again. The use of the black Islamic dress that was an increasing trend among Muslim women has been much reduced. Muslim organisations are making energetic efforts to network with other religious organisations, join inter-religious groups and to liaise with civil society. They make available to them the Islamic teachings on peace and coexistence. This weekend I was invited to the opening of a community centre in the Kurunegala District by a Muslim organization.
On the walls of the community centre there were panels put up with sayings from the different religions on a number of important matters, such as how to treat others, and the role of spiritual values in everyday life. The foremost place at the opening ceremony was given to Buddhist monks who had come to attend the ceremony along with government officials and police officers. The monks who spoke said that the Muslim community living in the village had good relations with the Sinhalese living in the neighbouring villages, and this had continued for generations. Another monk said that after the Easter bombings they had heard there were violent gangs heading in the direction of the Muslim village, they had come there to ensure no harm would befall those people.
In this context, the announcement that the government will ban 11 Muslim organisations sends a negative message to the country at large about the Muslim community. It creates an impression that Muslims organisations are under suspicion and possibly even close to performing acts of violence which necessitates them being banned. Of the 11 banned organisations, two are foreign ones, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda which have been reported internationally as engaging in violence. However, the other nine are Sri Lankan organisations which do not have a track record of violence or illegality. Four of them have the name “Thowheed” in them, which in the Arabic language means “faith.”
The ban on these Thowheed organisations may be due to the fact that the leader of the suicide squad, Zahran, was part of an organisation that had the name “Thowheed” in it. The ban on them may also be due to the fact that the Commission of Inquiry into the Easter bombings recommended such action against them. However, the Commission also recommended that other non-Muslim organisations be banned which has not happened. This suggests that the Muslim organisations are being treated differently. The danger is that when it treats organisations differently, the government may be generating resentment in the Muslim community, especially the youth. If the words of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith are correct, the problem lies not in Muslim extremism but in partisan power politics.
Sri Lanka has experienced Sinhalese youth insurrections twice and even the Tamil militant movement was started by youth, who were once called “the boys.” Perhaps in anticipation of such a radicalisation phenomenon, the government has recently passed an add-on called the “De-radicalisation from holding violent extremist religious ideology” to the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This will permit people who fall into its ambit to be send to rehabilitation centres for up to two years without trial. This may provide the government with an opportunity to release up to 250 Muslim citizens currently under detention on suspicion of being involved in the Easter bombings and send them for rehabilitation. On the other hand, this regulation may be used in the future in regard to other persons and other groups. The better way to prevent radicalization is to make people feel that the law is even-handed to all, and also to encourage engagement between communities.
During the discussion that took place at the opening of the community centre in Kurunegala, it was noted that the younger generation had fewer inter-community linkages than those of older generations. This may be due to the changing nature of society and the economy where people spend less time with other people and more time with machines or doing narrow and specialised jobs. In multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies in which there is conflictual relations, the tendency on the part of those from different communities will be to live in their own silos rather than interact with those of other communities. Living in peace in plural societies requires purposeful and energetic interaction which is organised. Where there has been ethnic and religious strife the world over, the better answer has been to provide people with encouragement and incentives to mix together, which is what the Muslim organization in Kurunegala was trying to do.
TNGlive…a boon to artistes affected by the pandemic
No doubt, Covid-19 has ruined the entertainment industry, throughout the world.
Entertainment venues have been shut down, concerts cancelled…and musicians are finding the going pretty tough.
However, it’s heartening to know that there are performers who find solace in keeping the public entertained, via online performances.
In this instance, those responsible for TNGlive must be congratulated for creating this platform, on social media, in order to give lots of folks, from around the globe, the opportunity to showcase their talent, on a regular basis.
Quite a few Sri Lankans have been featured on TNGlive, including Melantha Perera, Suzi Croner (Fluckiger), Sureshni Wanigasuriya, Yasmin de Silva, and Kay Jay Gunesekere,
Suzi did this scene twice, and on both occasions her performance was highly rated, with bouquets galore coming her way…on social media.
On Saturday, April 10th, she was featured (8.00 pm Sri Lankan time) doing songs from the country and western catalogue.
It was a very entertaining programme, which also contained some dance scenes (line dancing) from the audience present, in her living room – her friends.
Her repertoire included ‘Joline, ‘Me And Bobby McGee, “Johnny B. Goode,’ ‘Blue By You,’ ‘Okie From Muskogee,’ ‘Tennessee Waltz,’ ‘Rose Garden,’ ‘Mississippi’ and ‘Cotton Eyed Joe.’
Suzi is to make her third appearance, on TNGlive, shortly, but this time it won’t be a solo effort, she says.
“For variety, I would be having a guy from the Philippines, and he sings the hit songs of Tom Jones and Engelbert.”
So get ready for another special from Suzi, who now resides in Switzerland.
Suzi was the frontline vocalist for the group Friends who were, at that point in time, top of the pops!
Another artiste who impressed viewers, performing on TNGlive, with his daughter, was Nigel Gerrard John Galway.
Nigel is from India, and has been a Chef for the last 23 years, with 12 years spent at the Oberoi hotels. He was also an executive Sous Chef at Taj, in Coimbatore.
In fact, Allwyn Stephen, TNGlive chief, referred to Nigel as…probably the first Singing/Dancing Chef in the world!
He, and his 18-year-old daughter, Lean Pamela Mary, did get the attention of many, with their unique style of presentation; while Nigel handled the vocals, Lean, using only gestures, expression, and movements, brought out the meaning of the lyrics in most of the songs her dad did. And, she did it beautifully.
Yes, she also did exercise her vocal cords, on this particular programme
Says Nigel: “We come from a family of musicians, but we attempted singing, only during the pandemic, on various social media groups, and we did so only because we were all stuck at home.
“We joined TNGlive, through a friend, and have been performing ever since. The love and support we received from people around only encouraged us to keep growing and now we have a page of our own called THE SINGING CHEF.”
Heard at the club
A member reminisced an incident that happened long years ago, during those peaceful times when terrorism was unheard of. He had been driving his car, on the Deniyaya Road, when about six miles from Galle, he saw a village in a state of panic. So he stopped his car near the village boutique and asked the mudalali what was happening? The mudalali had said that the self-opinionated ‘mudliyar’ of the village (a court interpreter) had organised a ‘dane’ (an alms giving) and was awaiting the procession of monks, complete with drummers, from the temple. And, seeing it coming over the paddy fields which was a short cut, instead of the village road as show off, put him in a paddy, and he had chased the monks away. So the monks had gone back to the temple. As the meal time deadline for monks was fast approaching, the villagers brought the meals they had cooked in their homes, to serve the monks! That was the panic.
He was an unpopular villager who rose to a high position in the public service with political influence. Cussed by nature, he used his official position to harass villagers. When he met with an untimely death and, right at the moment the coffin was taken to the hearse, the whole village reverberated with the sound of fire crackers, organised by the irate villagers.
Once a terrible post office blunder very nearly wrecked a marriage. A certain sales rep sometimes sold his wares on credit. One such creditor was the owner of a shop named ‘Chandra Cafe’ who was slack in his payments. So the sales rep sent him a telegram that he would be coming to collect his dues, next Monday. On receipt, the owner of Chandra Cafe telegraphed the rep asking him not to come on Monday and the telegram received by him read, ‘Do not come on Monday – Chandra K.P.’ And when the rep’s wife read the telegram there was some misunderstanding at home which nearly rocked his marriage.
This reminded us of another telegram. An army officer was to go back to camp by the night mail. When he arrived at the railway station, he found a lady in an advanced state of pregnancy, almost in tears, because no berths were available. Gallantly the officer offered her his berth and, at the nearest post office, sent a telegram to his commanding officer saying ‘Unable to return tomorrow as ordered. Gave berth to lady. Arriving tomorrow evening.’
Obviously, the vital word ‘berth’ had been misspelt as ‘birth’, for the gallant officer received this reply from his commanding officer, ‘Your next confinement will be to barracks’.
A philanthropist donated a building to his old school. An opening ceremony was held with a VVIP as the chief guest. A group photograph was also taken. As the donor was keen to get this photograph published in the newspapers without delay, he sent the local correspondent in his limousine to Colombo. He met the editor who happened to be an old boy of the same school. After a look at the photograph, he folded it in such away to eliminate the principal and sent it for publication. The editor seemed to have an axe to grind with the principal!
It was in the early 60s and I was on my way to the club in the evening, when I met a friend near the club. With him was another, I invited them both to the club and after a few drinks we were headed out of the club, when near the gate, my friend pulled me aside and said that his friend was going for some trade union work to Hambantota and was short of funds. I told him that he should have told me that before I paid the club bill and also told him I had only Rs.18.00 which I gave. This trade union leader was non other than Rohana Wijeweera, who was to become JVP leader.
It was towards the end of the 1980s and a club member, a tea factory owner was on his way home all alone in his car, at the break of down, after finishing his factory work. He had to travel 12 miles. After about five miles, he saw a youth profusely bleeding with injuries, coming down a hill. The good Samaritan that he was, he took him in his car to the hospital. On the way, the police took him and the injured youth into custody for terrorist activities. Fortunately for him, Major-General Lucky Wijeratna, who was a classmate of his at school, was there to save him.
This happened several decades ago. There was a certain popular elderly club member, who was a wealthy businessman and drank nothing but whisky. That day when he came to the club, he seemed to have lost his bearings. He told his friends that he was going to donate all his wealth to the Home for Disabled Children which was close to his house, because his only child, a daughter, had eloped. His friends prevailed on him to defer his decision for a few months. About a year or so later, he came to the club one evening carrying a big flask in his hand. He said that it was for his errant daughter who has now reconciled, adding that he was a grandfather now!
A busy garage was located in a residential area and it was open day and night. To highlight their services, they put up an impressive signboard, ‘We never sleep’. The following day a prankster had written below it ‘and neither do the neighbours’.
During the day of insanity – 29th July 1987, the Open University at Matara was burnt down and the Ruhunu University remained closed. A wall poster came up. It read: ‘Close the Open University’ and ‘Open the closed University’.
A young teacher, met a young man at the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens. Although their native villages were far apart, they
became close friends and planned to get married in the near future. He posed as a private bus owner. One day on a visit to his fiancée, he stayed the night over and muttered in his sleep, “Borella – Battaramulla! Borella – Battaramulla!” This aroused serious suspicions about his identity. So a few days later, her parents came to the Borella junction, to see him in a sarong loading passengers to private buses as a ‘bus crier’. And the love story ended right there.
A long time ago a wealthy industrialist, a popular member of the club, was having his drink in a secluded corner of the club, most unlike him. He appeared to be quite agitated. Some concerned friends asked him what happened. He said that his only daughter (he also had a son) had married a man of her choice adding that his wife was in favour of the marriage. The daughter he said, was 22 years old. His friends told him that at that age, she was entitled to choose her partner in life and appealed to him to take things easy as his wife too approved of the marriage. After about a year or so, a friend visited him. Proudly pointing out a large multiple storey house in his sprawling garden, he had said that it was built by his son-in-law.
A certain member served abroad for many years. One morning he come back to his native Galle in a hired helicopter. That evening he came to the club and ordered a case of beer for his friends!
Several years ago, a member had gone to the Galle Post Office to send a telegram to a close relative. He was informed by the postal authorities that there was a breakdown in the telegraphic services and that it was unlikely that his message, about a bereavement in the friend’s family, would reach his relative in time. They advised our friend to telephone someone in the area where his relative lived and to get the message delivered orally. Those were the days when only a few had telephones. As the member did not know anyone in that area with a telephone, he thought of S. Jayasinghe, known as Mr. S, who was not know to him personally and who was a Junior Minister residing in the area where our friend’s relative lived.
When our friend telephoned him from the post office, he had just got into his car to go somewhere. Soon after he was speaking to our friend over the phone as if he was talking to an old friend. He also told our friend that he was about to go to the site where he was building a new house. Our friend then gave him the message and appealed to him to get it delivered. The rest of the story was told to our friend by his relative who had said that during a heavy shower of rain, he found a car near his gate and that when he went up to the car he recognized him to be the Junior Minister. Like my friend, he did not personally know the Junior Minister. Instead of giving the message then and there, he had got off the car and had gone to our friend’s house and not only given the message but also consoled him by talking to him for a few minutes.
It was in the late 1980s, at the height of the insurrection, that this member was travelling all alone to Galle in his jeep. He was going through the Kottawa Forest which was famous at the time for tyre pyres. The Navy had stopped his vehicle and asked him to take a young man who was injured in a motorcycle accident, to the Galle Hospital, about eight miles away. The young man was bleeding profusely. He got him admitted to the hospital but our friend was forced to stay there for a long length of time, culminating in his having to give his consent for a surgical operation on the injured, whom he had never seen before. Alas! The purpose of his visit to Galle was lost.
A member had two sons, twins aged three years. As they fell ill, he channelled a specialist doctor who examined one twin and refused to examine the other, as an appointment was not made for him. So our friend had the other twin channelled as well. Certainly, it was no personification of Hippocrates!
A popular elderly member used to come to the club only on his pay day to keep himself warm. He worked at ‘Sathosa’ (C.W.E). The younger members would then tell him that he is very fortunate to work in a historic establishment like ‘Sathosa’ which is also referred to in Guttila Kavya (an epic) thus:
‘Sara Salelu Jana Sathose.’
Highly elated he would order a round of drinks, adding ‘Surapana karathi mese’.
This happened many decades ago. A member who was an inveterate gambler once lost heavily at the card table and mortgaged his expensive wrist watch. A member who was not well disposed towards him had sent a post card to his wife informing her that her husband sold his watch to gamble. He also had a 15-acre well-maintained tea estate which he had to sell when his gambles failed.
This story was related by a member and is about the ‘kings’ in the planting circles. A planter in the coconut belt of the North Western Province who owned acres of coconut, once named himself ‘King Coconut’. He argued that if a planter in the Kalutara District who owned vast acres of rubber could be referred to as a ‘Rubber King’ why shouldn’t he be called ‘King Coconut’.
One day a member related a story, which is hard to believe. A teacher who served in an uncongenial station, in his quest for higher knowledge, had studied for an external degree at a university. And he passed the examination with flying colours, obtaining first class honours and was highly commended by the university authorities for his brilliance, while serving in a different area. He had confided to his friends that his success at the exam was due to the gift of seeing all the question papers in a dream, before the examination!
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