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Corporations, Boards and Foundations



By Leelananda De Silva

One of the occupational hazards of the Planning Ministry was that one is obliged to serve on boards of corporations as a member. By statute and by practice, the Planning Ministry was represented on many governing boards. I represented the Ministry on several of them, and serving on these boards was interesting and instructive. Whether I contributed to the work of these organizations is something I cannot say.

I had a busy schedule of my own, and the time I could spare to the work of these boards was not much. My policy was to attend board meetings whenever I could and keep myself informed of the board agendas whenever I could not attend, so that I could inform the chairmen of my views on any relevant item. I made it a policy to be engaged at the board level only on key policy and other substantive issues. I did not want to be involved in the administrative items which were a major part of board agendas. I left it to the chairmen to handle that kind of subject.

In this way, I could focus on the issues that interested the Planning Ministry. Throughout my service on these boards, I had a cordial relationship with all the chairmen. I had a free hand in my decisions at these board meetings and it was rarely that I kept (Gunasekera, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs) or the Prime Minister informed. The fact that I was representing the Planning Ministry and the minister who was Prime Minister gave me considerable influence whenever I was intervening on an issue of interest to me. Whenever I was out of the country, the chairmen always kept me informed and adjusted agendas on any important item which they thought the Planning Ministry would be interested in. It is in these ways that I could be an effective representative on these boards.

I was a member of the Tea Board from its inception in 1974 until 1977. The Tea Board brought together the separate entities of the Tea Controller, Tea Research Institute and the Tea Promotion Board, and it functioned under the Ministry of Plantation Industries. There were three chairmen in my time. The two most notable of them were Doric de Souza and Bertie Warusawitharane, and I was to travel with them to Rome for FAO meetings.

One board member was G.V.S. de Silva, who had been a brilliant economist, university lecturer and the man behind the Paddy Lands Act, advising Philip Gunawardana in the 1950s. Another was Hector Divitotawela, a well known planter, who happened to be the Prime Minister’s sister’s husband. The chief executive was Mahinda Dunuwille, highly competent and very knowledgeable on all aspect of the tea industry. So was T. Sambasivam who was the deputy.

I do not want to describe in any detail the work of the Tea Board and I shall confine myself to one or two snapshots of my experience there. I have already dealt with elsewhere the paper I presented to the Tea Board on the London Tea auctions. Another paper I presented to the Tea Board was on the subject of a tea museum. The sterling and rupee company estates were being taken over and there were many artefacts on these estates, which would be valuable in relating the story of tea in Sri Lanka. With the transfer of ownership, there was a danger that they would be lost, and I know that such losses took place.

My proposal was to establish a tea museum somewhere in the upcountry, preferably on a tea estate which would relate the history of Ceylon tea over a period of 75 years. While the proposal was adopted, nothing came of it, as the climate of opinion at the time was to forget about colonial experiences. A tea museum was later established and that was after many of the artifacts that would have been of interest had been lost.

There is another little nugget of a story. I was visiting London on official business and happened to visit the London Tea Centre which is run by the Tea Board. Attached to the Centre was a Sri Lankan restaurant which was very popular. The main purpose of the Tea Centre was to promote Sri Lankan tea with appropriate displays of various types of tea, and the restaurant was an ancillary business. What I found when I went there one day for lunch was that the Centre was closed during the lunch hours of 11.30 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. and the reason for this was that some of the staff were engaged at the restaurant and the others were out for lunch.

This was a ridiculous practice, as those were the hours when there were visitors and opportunities for tea sales. I explained this to the Tea Centre people and when I came back to Colombo, I told the Tea Board about it. This practice was changed, and the Tea Centre remained open during the lunch intervals subsequently. What I was amazed was that the Tea Centre people had so misplaced their priorities that running a restaurant became more important than running the Tea Centre.

I was a member of most of the boards dealing with ports and shipping between 1972 and 1977. I was a member of the board of the Port Cargo Corporation, Ceylon Shipping Corporation, Colombo Dockyards Limited and the Central Freight Bureau. All these boards had one thing in common. The chairman was PB Karandawela (Karande). He was one of the most efficient public servants I have ever met. He was master of the organizations he ran, apart from being Secretary of the Ministry of Shipping and Tourism.

During these years, he crafted a comprehensive policy for the development of the shipping industry in Sri Lanka and built up the Ceylon Shipping Corporation as a profitable enterprise. He stood up to the strong vested interests, specially the British shippers who dominated the carrying of cargo in and out of Sri Lanka. There was a gentleman by the name of P.J Hudson, representing the Conference Lines of the time, coming annually to Sri Lanka always with bad news for Sri Lanka’s freight rates. The Conference Lines had an iron grip on Sri Lanka’s trade. Karande broke that monopoly.

He developed a farseeing training policy for Shipping Corporation staff, equipping them with all the range of skills that a shipping firm requires. He left a highly skilled and very competent staff. I have not seen that kind of commitment to training in any other Sri Lankan institution. Karande died young after joining the UN in Geneva as Registrar of Shipping and serving for 10 years. We saw a lot of him and his wife, Geetha during his time in Geneva. He left for Tasmania as his wife was teaching maritime law there. A few months before his death in Tasmania, he visited us in England, and came for our daughter’s wedding in 1992. He was a great friend and it is sad that his life ended so prematurely. His services to the Sri Lanka shipping industry has never been adequately recognized.

There was a dedicated team of officers at the Shipping Corporation. I came to know many of them. David Soysa, was an old hand from the Commerce Department, and now a close colleague of Karande in both the Ministry and the Shipping Corporation. There was Ranjith de Silva, general manager of the Corporation and Mahinda Katugaha, the legal officer, who later joined the World Food Programme in Rome. These were all highly competent officers. The Minister whom I met many times was P.B.G Kalugalle, and his private secretary Wilbert Perera, a charming Mr. Fixit if ever there was one.

A major concern of the Minister was to get employment for as many constituents from Kegalle (he was MP there) in the various corporations under his ministry. He left Karande to get on with his job. I must record that although I was on their boards, the Freight Bureau and Colombo Dockyards were of marginal interest to me. There is one person I cannot forget who was involved in many of these things and that was Harold Speldewinde, who was a real authority on every aspect of ports and shipping. He had long experience with the private sector and Karande brought him in to the ministry. I enjoyed talking with him and if I have any knowledge of shipping and ports, I owe a lot to Harold.

There was also Tommy Ellawala, whom I got to know well who was an advisor to Karande on various matters although he was in the private sector. Michael Mack also served in a similar capacity. At that time, there was a very friendly atmosphere among Karande’s extended shipping circles. On the board of the corporation I was privileged to work with Chandra Cooray of the Treasury, Dr. S.T.G. Fernando from the Ministry of Trade, and Charlie Amarasekara.

Before I leave shipping, there is one little contribution of my own. I prepared a brief paper and got the approval of the board for Shipping Corporation vessels to carry cargo destined for charitable organizations in Sri Lanka free of charge. This could be done without any costs to the Corporation as there was much free space in most vessels.

I must mention one foreign trip which I made with Karande and David Soysa. We went to New Delhi in 1974 to negotiate an agreement with the Indian Shipping Corporation, whose chairman was C.P. Srivastava, who was later to become the head of the UN International Maritime Organization in London. It was a friendly discussion over three or four days and we enjoyed our stay at the Ashok Hotel in New Delhi. I did not have the time to travel on Shipping Corporation business on any other occasion.

I was fascinated by the ports and shipping industry. There were many colourful characters I came across. At the Port Cargo Corporation, the Chairman was Hubert A. de Silva and later Babu Dolapihille. Hubert left early to join the private sector, and I worked with Babu who knew everything about the port. The Colombo port ran smoothly during those days, and that period saw the start of containerization. On the Board of the Port Cargo Corporation were D.B.I.P.S Siriwardhana, then Principal Collector of Customs, whom I got to know well over a period of five years.

Then there was K. Sittampalam, Director of Finance at the Treasury and very knowledgeable about the intricacies of government finance. Among the officials, the one I came to know well was Dayasiri Muthumala, the chief accountant, with an extensive knowledge of port operations. He was later to have a long career in London with the International Maritime Organization.

The Shipping Corporation nominated me to be on the board of Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co. Ltd, when it bought 40 percent of that company. That was a mandatory purchase by legislation. I looked upon this assignment as a fascinating experiment in public-private partnerships. The management was with the private sector, as they controlled 60 percent of the company. I hardly ever missed attending their board meetings, and they were good enough to schedule these meetings to suit me. They were anxious to have a good working relationship with the Shipping Corporation and the government.

My policy once again was to allow them to manage the company and for me to be kept informed on key issues. I had a very happy time with Mackinnons. When I first joined the board, the chairman was Adrian Wijemanne whom I had known from my days in the Land Commissioner’s department, where he was deputy. He had left the public service and joined the private sector. The next chairman was F.G.N (Ricky) Mendis, who owned Mackinnons. Ricky and his wife Charmaine were to be good friends of ours from that time (much later, Charmaine and Ricky visited us in Geneva and we drove to Leichtenstein for a holiday). Ricky sold his shareholding to John Keells a little while later. With the sale to John Keells, D.P.D.M de Silva, a charming gentleman became chairman and we worked very well together. Mark Bostock, a legendary British businessman who had a major say at John Keells also came on to the board.

The board during this time was a very enterprising one and the experience in working with the private sector was illuminating. Two of the chief executives of Mackinnon’s, D.S.P.S. de Silva and Cyril Lawrence were outstanding business executives. Much later on a history of John Keells has been written and I am pleased to see an extensive reference to me, and to my contribution in making this private public partnership work. I learned a lot about business and the private sector from my experience at Mackinnon’s.

I was a director of the National Savings Bank, which came under the Ministry of Finance. M.Sanmuganathan (Sam), its chairman was a friend of mine and be persuaded me to come on to the Board to fill the Planning Ministry slot. There was little room for any initiatives in running this bank, as its investments were mainly in treasury assets. It was also funding the government’s financial demands. I remember one incident which is instructive.

The Minister, Dr N.M Perera had told the chairman to recruit a clerk, who was a niece of the jailor who had assisted Dr N.M to escape from jail during the war years. I told Sam that this is not right and if the minister wished to have her recruited, he should give a direction to that effect, which he was entitled to do under the legislation establishing the bank. With difficulty I persuaded him to go to the Minister with me and others and to explain our difficulty. Initially the Minister was angry but he calmed down and said he would issue a directive.

I mention this incident to illustrate the independence we as public officials had to conduct official business fairly, without being frightened of politicians. Dr. N.M never held that against me and he was always friendly and had a cordial relationship even after he left office. We had a common interest in cricket and also the London School of Economics (LSE). A few years after, he came to Geneva and visited us. He was on his way to London and he told me that he would like to go to the LSE where he was a well-known figure in the late 1920s and got his DSc. He studied under Harold Laski. By the time he came to Geneva, he had no contacts with LSE. So I contacted Peter Dawson at the LSE and he met NM and showed him round. Peter told me that N.M’s thesis on the Weimar constitution was one of the well thumbed documents in the library.

In the 1970s, we still had the University of Ceylon. The Permanent Secretary of Planning was on the board of the University board of governors. nominated me to be the representative on his behalf. I attended board meetings from time to time. Once there was a most distressing episode. The vice chancellor had presented a paper to the senate to appoint a particular gentleman to be the professor of international relations. This was a newly created chair. Regrettably, the vice chancellor after a hurried advertisement and superficial interviews had recommended the appointment of a gentleman who was a lecturer in political theory and without any background in international relations, to be the new professor.

There was a highly suitable candidate in Shelton Kodikara, who was in the department of political science and who has written on international relations. He was on leave from the university and was Sri Lanka’s deputy high commissioner in Madras. He got to know about the chair after the applications had closed. When this came up to the Senate, I made a strong protest to the vice chancellor and suggested that he should advertise the post again so that Shelton Kodikara could apply. There was much recrimination at this senate meeting. The vice chancellor advertised the post again and appointed Shelton Kodikara as the first professor of international relations. Regrettably, the vice chancellor and I ceased to be friends.

Let me now go to a different type of board. I was appointed to be a member of the Board of the United States Educational Foundation (USEF), now the Fulbright Commission. It managed the Fulbright programme in this country. It was not a large technical assistance programme, but it did very useful work. The board consisted of three members of the US embassy which included its cultural affairs officer (during my time it was Dick Ross), and three members from Sri Lanka nominated by the Secretary of the Planning Ministry. The US Ambassador was the nominal chairman of the Board, and at that time, it was Chris Van Hollen who was to become a good friend of ours. appointed me to be on the board. During my time, there were many members on the Sri Lanka side. Premadasa Udagama, the Secretary of Education was there during my five years on the Board. The others who served for shorter spells were W.J.F. Labrooy, Professor of History at Peradeniya university and who had been my lecturer in history, Dr. Daphne Attygalle, Professor of Pathology and Prof. B. Hewavitharana, Professor of Economics. Aelian Fernando, a former vice principal of Wesley was the chief executive.

During this assignment of mine, I received much assistance from Miss. Diana Captain, who was in the cultural section of the embassy. She had an enormous knowledge of how the system worked. This was the start of a long friendship with Diana. During my period, the Foundation must have sent about a 100 scholars from Sri Lanka. They sent some of the best and brightest and many of them had outstanding careers later on. One of the scholars who went to the US was Mrs. Indira Samarasekara, who had obtained a first class in mechanical engineering from Peradeniya. She was exceptionally bright. Later, she was to become the President of the University of Alberta in Canada and arguably the Sri Lankan to reach the highest pinnacles of academic governance abroad.

There was another interesting committee of which I was a member. It was a non governmental body- the Ecumenical Loan Fund (ECLOF), of Sri Lanka, which was an NGO created by the World Council of Churches (WCC), around 1973. Adrian Wijemanna, whom I had known from my days in the Land Commissioner’s Department, was now with the WCC and was responsible for the creation of this new body. It had a modest amount of financial resources, from the WCC in Geneva, and these resources were channelled through ECLOF to small mini-development projects in the country.

Adrian requested me to join the board of ECLOF and the other members of the board included Chandi Chanmugam, Mark Fernando (later Supreme Court judge), Soma Kannangara (President of the Lanka Mahil a Samithi), and a couple of others. It was an interesting experience.

(Excerpted from the writer’s biography, The Long Littleness of Life. Leelananda De Silva. A member of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service from 1960-1978 he was Senior Assistant Secretary and Director of Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs from 1970 – 1977)

(Editor’s note: We regret that the byline was omitted from last Sunday’s excerpt on the Commonwealth also written by De Silva.)

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Path to disaster



Either we as a world have failed our human expectations to lead a normal life of peace and progress, or our leaders are nowhere close to offering that satisfactorily. Interestingly, war and destruction are not new phenomena to our civilization or to the world. We have been fighting wars in one way or the other. It seems we have been unable to evolve the right way to live with lasting peace.

The longer the Russia-Ukraine war goes on, the further hope of peace and recovery is pushed away. After all, months have passed, and everyday destruction and destitution have increased, not only in the war zones but beyond.


It is a new-age world, intensely interconnected and interdependent like never before. What happens locally may soon spread globally. The longer the Russia-Ukraine war goes on, the further hope of peace and recovery is pushed away. After all, months have passed, and everyday destruction and destitution have increased, not only in the war zones but beyond.

The possibility of ending the war is not high. Today, the situation is such that everyone in the world is anxious about the morrow. The war is not just making the two warring nations bleed every day in many ways, it has impacted many other nations.

Europe is anxious to save itself from a hard winter, many others are concerned about how to revive their economies that the war has ravaged without visiting their borders. Thousands are dying, millions have become homeless, many innocents have gone to the grave for no fault of theirs, and many more cannot come out of closed doors in the war-impacted zones.

Inflation is growing exponentially, businesses are shaky, and the high hopes of a post-Covid boom have given way to terrible gloom. With rising unemployment, the youth are feeling hopeless. The scale of poverty is set to rise phenomenally; nations and governments around the globe are clamoring for solutions that are simply not there.

But amidst all this, the rising voices of war and revenge are filling the air and more plans are being hatched to intensify the war. For whatever reasons, one thing is conclusive.

Either we as a world have failed our human expectations to lead a normal life of peace and progress, or our leaders are nowhere close to offering that satisfactorily. Interestingly, war and destruction are not new phenomena to our civilization or to the world. We have been fighting wars in one way or the other. It seems we have been unable to evolve the right way to live with lasting peace.

Wars haven’t left us, and we have not stopped warring. It has been and is still around as a monstrous reality, teaching us to justify it as a necessary evil. But the evil is growing bigger by the day, and we remain unmindful of its perils. Time and again, we promise ourselves that we will not embark on wars again, but soon we seem to forget and get embroiled in them. What could the reasons behind this madness, or if I can say self-deceit, be?

After every war, we think and talk of peace. Then the very essence of our pledges evaporates into thin air. Are we thick-skinned, hypocritical, liars, unmindful, or simply incapable of keeping the promises that we make to ourselves?

This demands deep introspection. With the advent of pacifism in the late 19th and early 20th century, it felt like the world would embrace peace and harmony over violence. Then the First World War happened. The optimism at the start of the century was gone. There was widespread destruction, millions lost their lives, and several empires were reduced to rubble.

When the war ended, political leaders of powerful nations agreed on several treaties to ensure lasting peace and the world breathed a sigh of relief. That relief, however, was short-lived. Twenty years later a bigger war broke out. The Second World War was uglier and more destructive in all respects. It was the deadliest conflict in the history of human civilization, leading to a loss of around 80 million lives with several more being brutally affected.

Nobody wanted a third world war. So, nations sat down and decided to form a global body that would work towards ensuring world peace, and the United Nations was formed. Cut to a little less than a century later, and you will agree that the UN has become nothing but a symbolic organization that serves no practical purpose.

Several nations are in armed conflict with each other, and tensions are building across an increasing number of borders. It is as if war has been our way of life. This is not to say that devastating tactics are only used by the United States. Russia too uses these often, although only half as often as the US.

That may be not because of a lack of a will for supremacy, but because of the inability to afford the risks and resources so effortlessly. China, seeking to become the dominant power in the East and later the world, has also employed this methodology occasionally. And the intent is unfolding more vigorously along with matching actions. The question arises: why does the global leadership in general and the US in particular use mean to escalate conflict rather than defuse it?

Hasn’t anyone learned a lesson from the major world wars and their aftermaths? Nuclear conflict is a looming possibility, and everyone knows there will most probably be no human civilization left to tell the tales of that war.

On global forums, all nations repeatedly warn others to avoid nuclear war, but ground reality proves otherwise, as these same nations openly or secretly acquire nuclear weapons. That is the game plan, isn’t it While big nations churn profits from war, war-ravaged nations suffer brutal damage.

Aside from the destruction of their economies, the humanitarian losses are huge. Millions lose livelihoods if not their lives, families are displaced and the after-effects last for several generations. And this is when two nations clash across borders.

With the number of provocative tactics being applied by the USA around the world and Russia, China, and North Korea, adopting an eye-for-an-eye attitude in response, a third world war seems an increasingly likely possibility. To a neutral observer, this might seem childish, or even laughable. But there is nothing laughable about war, especially in modern times when almost every powerful nation is equipped with nuclear armaments.

What is frustrating is that world leaders do not recognize this. Or if they do, they don’t do enough to emphasize the point. Do our leaders ever realize that they are chosen by the people to lead them to progress and peace, not death and destruction? Are our leaders not accountable for their karma?

The karmic theory has its own bona-fide, unfailing principles. As you sow, so shall you reap. Often, I wonder what will happen to our leaders who flaunt their strength and arrogance and unleash acts of hegemony, rather than ensuring harmony for humanity to live in peace. Do they have no fear? Do they think that their power is eternal? Or are they simply not concerned about all this, blindly driven by their own misplaced missions?

Many questions arise in both mind and soul when one thinks of these destructive leaders. In many countries, the financial systems are fast collapsing and soon many banks may shut down. The world with its aspirations for better standards of living has been pushed a decade back. Every thinking human must have apprehensions about a dark future. (The Statesman/ANN)

(The writer is Chairman and Managing Trustee, Paras Foundation and can be reached at

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Twin personas; reaction long after the action



I am pleasantly surprised and marvel too most times I read the editorial in The Island. Why? Because they are so very apt on the most current issue in the land. The editor has the clever knack of hitting the nail right on the head and is fearless even when the nail represents a VVIP.

Friday 25 November had the sharp, truth writing editor commenting on President Ranil W and his stunning metamorphosis from a peace promoting, democracy advocating politician to a persona that he himself says is Hitler like. And as the editor has written, one wondered if he and his immediate predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had swapped bodies, for the former sounded just like the latter. Gota was expected to be a dictator; a monk called out to him to be Sri Lanka’s Hitler while his brother Basil bracketed him with the ‘Terminator’.

Ranil seems to hear cries for protection of human rights as a cover for violent protests. Gota, though an army man and later as a civilian, cosseted the army at great cost to the exchequer, did not threaten to bring the army out to quell protests. It was done once or twice: e. g at Rathupaswela and at an FTZ. These orders were not proven to be directly emanating from him nor directly connected to him. However, peace proclaiming Wickremesinghe with his new surname added on is outdoing the former army officer. He maintains the PTA and now says (probably in all truth and belief – scarce characteristics of politicians) that he will call out the army to quell protests, which have been and will be, mostly peaceful.

What this woman, a former teacher and counselor, opines with common sense and intuition is that he is going about it all wrong. He is inciting protest and lawlessness, even violence, since the youth of the country, with others, are utterly frustrated, angered, troubled and volcanic – waiting to erupt and so are the sideline catalysts: the terrorism promoting core politicized protesters of the IUSF, FSP and certain JVPers. Ranil should have been wiser and less outreaching, and negotiated with leaders of the groups mentioned, including trouble rousers like Stalin, and convinced them of the dire state the country is in. Negotiating with die-hard protesters may not be his cuppa; he shies away from direct contact with the hoi polloi. But talk to them he must. He should include persons like Guv CB to the negotiating table since Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe is one of the very few, if not the only high-up, that all respect. The rabble-rousers should be convinced, even threatened privately, that at this juncture what the country needs and the IMF promotes is encouraging money making projects, the surest and largest-inflow-of dollars earning tourism to resume and continue with peace prevailing in the country. With so many countries with so much to offer, why should tourists visit a near warring Sri Lanka? The reality of course is that this dot of an island has most to offer the tourist as pronounced by even Lonely Planet guides.

However, as is always the case, the country pleases but men in it are vile and utterly stupid. The protestors do not realize their protests will not change things immediately. But they most certainly cost the country much. These fire breathing, loud mouthed protestors and so-called protectors of peace and human rights are at present the principal harmers of the land.If after sincere one-to-one negotiation, some remain recalcitrant, then the police should be called in to deal with them.

Bang shut empty stable door

Mentioned many times before by Cass and other writers, Sri Lankans in general suffer short memories: will vilify a person today and praise him tomorrow not only because they are turncoats but because the people have forgotten and of course forgiven yesterday’s sins of leaders. Another characteristic is shutting the stable door once the horse has bolted. The preliminaries of the flight of the horse are seen but no alarm is raised. Once the horse has bolted; then come forth loud hues and cries of damage done.This last character trait of the Sinhala race mostly, was exhibited and exposed in the news telecast on MTV 1 Channel on Sunday November 27.

Villagers of a certain forest area, with voices raised women to the forefront, confronted a man who was in a new built, multi roomed hut-like construction. He seemed settled down. The crowd that walked across a vast area of bare land accused that the forest that covered this area had been illegally decimated. They demanded evidence of his right to settle down there. He said the police and other officials had cleared him. Trespassing was not even mentioned. Cass’ wonder at this loud fracas was why the fuss now with land bare and a house built when the villagers surely heard if not saw trees being felled en masse. Why had they not informed authorities then? Why wait for the deforestation and illegal building to be completed before protesting? Had they been waiting all these past months for the TV cameras to arrive to act angry and national minded?

It was suspected, if not known for sure, that vociferous Diana Gamage was a dual citizenship holder or maybe even a citizen of another country visiting her home turf. She was up front for long and since being made a State Minister by Prez Wickremasinghe, his hand guided by a crow pulling strings from even thousands of miles to the west, became prominently vociferous with forex earning projects foundationed on fun and good times. She proposed the growing of ganja plants; creating a Disney theme park; making Mannar an international gambling den and what else Cass fails to recall. Now firmly in Parliament as an elected member she faces the public rising up and declaring she is not eligible to hold a Parliamentary seat since the passage of A21 or 22. The mare had bolted to the green pastures by the Diyawanne and now people are a-rising to close the door she galloped through. Confine her at home with no powers and privileges or deport her to turf in her adopted country?

Bandula Gunawardena, holding the portfolio of Minister of Trade, held forth on the subject he thinks he is omniscient in. He claims economics as his forte of intellectual knowledge; certification of this fact being he was a tuition master in the subject. He refers to himself as Doctor Bandula G; the doctorate coming to him from where we know not. In a pontification in Parliament on the Sunday, he waxed eloquent on mismanagement of the Central Bank and trotted out figures in billions and decimals thereof of printed money. He blamed past CB persons. Why was this economist considering himself on par with Amartya Sen, Paul Krugman and Maynard Keynes, silent then when Nivaard Cabral kept the printing machines in the CB turning day and night churning out 5000 rupee notes? (PS. Cass wonders very much whether he has heard of Krugman and knows Keynes was one of the Bloomsbury Group. Cass can wager her life that he does not know who this group was).

Speaking of this Mr Cabral, he was recently seen on TV at a press interview passing the buck adroitly and proclaiming he was obeying orders to print money. Was he a robot and of whom?

Short take

A very good move was mooted recently in Parliament and will soon be law. Cass refers to the stricture that university students will be allowed one extra year after their graduating date whether they fail the final exam and wish to repeat or when they dodge sitting the final exam. Here again the closing of the loophole after damage is done. Firebrand Wasantha is said to have been in the University of Sri Jayawardenapura for eight solid years. Wasn’t this truancy of sitting the finals seen earlier? Authorities too scared to report the fact; saving their scalps by ignoring anomalies. just as they turn blind eyes to filthy and dangerous ragging in universities?

This land of ours which is truly incomparable, is derogatively a land like no other when speaking of it with tongue in cheek.

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Maris Stella College in 1950s and 60s



By George Braine

Maris Stella College, Negombo, is celebrating its centenary this year. These are my recollections of the years I spent there.Maris Stella had classes from Standard Two. For lower and upper kindergarten (as they were called those days), all boys attended Ave Maria Convent, along with girls, of course. One teacher I recall is Sr. Mary Imelda, diminutive but a formidable force. As she taught, her two dogs, spoiled rotten by the children, roamed the classroom.

Maris Stella sits on the road that extends from Colombo to Chilaw, and beyond to Puttalam and Anuradhapura. Despite the heavy traffic on the road, the school displays a somewhat serene ambience because of the large, well maintained playground, and the lovely main building set some distance from the road. Two storied, with a lengthy Italianesque facade, the main building is reached along two narrow roadways lined by long, single storied classrooms. In the center, shaded by massive mara trees, is a smaller playing field – for soccer, softball cricket and gymnastics- in the 50s and 60s. These buildings, the trees, and the playing field, now a lush green, have been well preserved.

My father recalled that, during World War II, when Allied troops were stationed at the school, these mara trees were covered with camouflage nets to hide the anti-aircraft guns mounted below.

Teachers and students

My father had been at Maris Stella in the 1930s and 40s, and when I entered in 1957, some of his teachers were still there. Elias, dark, wizened, and with a tousle of grey hair, taught me in Standard 2. Capt. Jayamanne, a big man, tough as nails, had been the cadet platoon commander during my father’s time, and still was. Bro. Jonas had been in charge of sports for years. Obris, who taught English, had become the vice-principal. My father also recalled Bros. Nizier, Valentine, and Xavier, a Spaniard. Mahaboob, physical training instructor and Bro. Gerard had been his classmates. Undoubtedly, the most unusual teacher was Johannes, who taught Sinhala. The only teacher who wore a sarong to school, worn high up on the waist and held up with a broad belt, he had an owlish, scholarly air; our textbooks on Sinhala had been authored by him. Ms. Wallace, lustily playing the piano, taught us singing. Two younger teachers were Dabarera and Kurera.

One hilarious memory is that of Bro. Jonas, coaching the football team even during matches, running up and down the sidelines, grey hair and cassock flying. He was strict, liberal with the cane and slaps. Another is of Mahaboob, the PTI, in his impeccable polo shirt, pants, and tennis shoes, all in spotless white, taking us through various drills on the playground.

The principals during my time were Bros. Stanislaus and Peter, and the headmasters Bros. Nizier and Gerard.We were living near Ave Maria Convent when I joined Maris Stella, which meant a walk of more than a mile, crossing a railway track and walking along Main Street till I reached Copra Junction along the Colombo – Chilaw road. The street is chock-a-block with shops now, but, in those days, I only passed houses with well-maintained gardens, a couple of boutiques, a dispensary and a dental clinic. A well-off classmate was driven to school and passed me on the way, but never offered me a lift.

Most students walked to school or rode bicycles, in wave after wave. Others came by train or bus. The only person who drove was a senior student named Jayakody from Dankotuwa. This was extraordinary, when no teacher owned a car, and some rode rickety bicycles. His Peugeot 203 was parked under a mara tree while he attended classes and later stayed for football practice.

At Maris Stella, a Catholic school, most students were Catholic. But, ethnically, we were an eclectic band, marked by the Bharatha community and Burghers. The family names of schoolmates I can recall is evidence of this: Siriwardena, Jayawardena, Abeysekera, Swaminathan, Bolonghe, Salgado, Leitan, Tissera, Hettiaarachi, Jayamanne, Franke, Croos-Dabarera, Dabarera, Jayamaha, Coonghe, Aserappa, Rodrigo, Fernando, Pereira, Costa, Gomez, Mirando. Ives Swaminathan had immigrated from Mauritius, and sang French songs in a lovely voice.

After my brother entered Maris Stella, we were five cousins there: Roy and Lloyd Chelvaratnam, George Wambeck, George and Roy Braine. Roy C and Lloyd were in the Tamil stream. Two Georges and two Roys.Latin was compulsory from the Junior School Certificate (JSC) class. All that memorizations were intimidating, so I was relieved when the requirement was taken off when I reached the JSC class. But, Latin prevailed in the daily mass conducted at the chapel, and in the hymns sung there. I recited prayers and sang those hymns, without any idea of what was being said or sung.


Mention Maris Stella and sports during my time, and the name that springs to mind is Melvin Mallawaratchi. Tall and good looking, with a ready smile that lit up his face, Melvin was already legendary when I entered school. Our age gap was more than 10 years, so I had no opportunity to know him personally. All I knew was that, whenever he batted, he lit up the cricket field. I, along with other schoolmates, simply hero worshipped him.

Home games were thronged with enthusiastic spectators. When Melvin came to bat and took his stance, a collective hush fell on the ground.  Soon, we were cheering wildly as the ball sailed over our heads, over trees, onto the main road, or sped along to the boundary in a flash. In his stride, Melvin was unstoppable.

In one game against St. Anthony’s College, Wattala, I watched as he scored a blistering 96 in the second innings, having scored an unbeaten century in the first.  In 1957, playing Ibbagamuwa Central, Melvin had scored 96 in only 20 minutes, which included two sixers and 18 fours.

Melvin’s flamboyance did not stop at cricket. He was also a champion sprinter. Maris Stella’s rival school in Negombo, St. Mary’s, had a champion sprinter named Mello. At every meet where they met, he dueled it out with Melvin in the 100-yards sprint, running neck to neck. We stood near the finish line to see Melvin triumph every time.

Eddie and Rukmani

By 1958, we had moved to a house across the road from Maris Stella; 120 Colombo Road, if memory serves. Now, I only had a 5-minute walk to school. It also meant that we went to Sunday service at the Maris Stella college chapel.

Eddie Jayamanne and Rukmani Devi, husband and wife, were at the peak of their popularity. She was the reigning queen of Sinhala cinema, and the nightingale of Sinhala music. Eddie was less flamboyant, somewhat short, with curly hair and spectacles.  He was a comedian. Even to a mere schoolboy, Rukmani’s luminous beauty and grace was overwhelming.

So, on Sunday morning, a two-toned Buick convertible would drive up regally, passing those majestic mara trees, Eddie at the wheel, and the couple would walk up to the chapel. They did not put on airs, and behaved just like the rest of us, sitting on the benches, singing hymns, and walking up to the altar and kneeling to receive communion. After the service, they mingled and chatted. And nobody asked for autographs!

I think Eddie and Rukmani were fond of Maris Stella. They attended fund raising events, like the Maris Mela carnival and a football match, which I recall vividly. Their nephew, Gamini Jayamanne, was my classmate.

Scouting, and a school take-over

Cousin George Wambeck and I were Cub Scouts, Wolf Cubs as they were called those days. The chip-a-job weeks were the best, because we got to roam all over Negombo and beyond, with no adult supervision. Most people treated us kindly, giving 50 cents or even a generous rupee for the odd “job” we did, and also a snack and a soft drink into the bargain.

One day, cousin George and I, along with another friend, visited a relative’s house in search of a “job”. He had been drinking, and was stretched out on a hansiputuwa when we dropped-in. Thinking of having some fun with us, he assumed the role of a drill sergeant, lined us up, and put us through military “maneuvers”: attention, right turn, quick march, left turn, halt. Scouting doesn’t teach marching, and we were mere 8-year olds anyway. Our female cousins were watching from behind curtains, and we could hear the giggles. But, the man did reward us well, and also insisted that we have a meal before letting us go.On another day, we walked down Temple Road to Jaya-Ruk, the residence of Eddie and Rukmani. But they weren’t home.

Perhaps the most memorable event was planned take-over of schools by the government, in 1960. The Catholic church was opposed to the move. The conflict escalated, and, as a final resort, parents of students occupied some classrooms, bringing mats and pots and pans. They cooked, ate, and slept there. They came to “defend” the school, but from whom wasn’t certain. From a new principal appointed by the government, from the police, the army?

Classes were suspended, and we enjoyed loitering around the school, waiting for the confrontation to take place. Eventually, the matter was resolved, but, in Negombo, only Maris Stella and Ave Maria Convent remain as private fee-levying schools.

When my father moved to Nattandiya for work, my brother and I travelled to school from there, by steam train. We wore khaki pith hats and carried our books and lunch in little, cardboard suitcases. Every day was an adventure. Later, when father moved to Madampe, we were boarded at Maris Stella.

What I recall most from the boarding is the constant hunger. We didn’t have much pocket money, so gouging at the tuck shop was not an option. On Sundays, a long line of boarders was taken for a walk, most often to the beach. Going through town, the aroma from the thosai boutiques was irresistible. Despite Bro. Raphael, an Italian, keeping a sharp eye, boys would take turns to dart into the boutiques and buying up the vadais. Our pockets would be stuffed and we salivated at the feast to come.

In 1962, my last year at Maris Stella, my brother and I were boarded at a home on Temple Road. Bertram Fernando, a pioneer comedian of Sinhala cinema, also lived there. Every Sunday, a game of bridge went on for hours on the verandah around a round table. A regular attendee was Eddie Jayamanne, who drove up in his Buick convertible.

All our teachers named earlier have long departed. One by one, former classmates are also passing away. When I drive by Maris Stella now, the memories come flooding back. For some, the past is a foreign country. Not for me. Even after 60 years, the school anthem that we sang so robustly is fresh in my mind.

“All ye lads of Maris Stella proudly sing

May your voices boldly ring

Face life’s trials bravely

Act upon your motto gravely

Iter para tutum”


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