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Death of Barbara Carolyn Sansoni Lewcock

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A rich life comes to an end

Barbara’s extraordinary life came to an end on April 23, 2022. Much has been written and will be written of her work by the cognoscenti in the Art world. My impressions and conclusions on her life and her significance is based on observations made directly and indirectly over 70 years. This article is mostly about the ambience that influenced her as she progressed to become an iconic figure. It would be appropriate to say at the outset that a person who had the foremost influence on her life to become a great artist was her devoted husband Professor Ronald Lewcock.

Barbara lived 94 years. Much has happened in the country during this very long period. She was fortunate to witness at close quarters to the centres of power the changes that were taking place . From a relatively docile well managed British Colony it has changed, to what it is today, a sovereign democratic nation with its vibrant people tearing themselves apart without impunity and totally unaware of what the future will bring.

Barbara’s father was Reginald Young Daniel, who was a War Civil Servant. Straight from Oxford, Reginald had joined the British Forces in World War I. He was wounded twice, the first time in the battle for High Wood on the Somme, and the second time when he was an Officer in the 13th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers at Cambrai. After the war he was one of four World War Veterans who were selected to the Civil Service. This meant that he had to serve as a Magistrate, a District Judge, an Assistant Government Agent and a Government Agent apart from several other official functions. He had to move all over the country. Together with her parents, Barbara was able to see the entirety of the country first hand.

Barbara was born in Sri Lanka to a Burgher family whose established ancestry goes back to Germany and the Netherlands and to Ireland and England. Strangely, there was a streak or better said a strong vein which attached her to this island. When others related or close to her left the country, she remained and worked out a comfortable but refined existence here. With her genius she proceeded to try to help the country to find its soul in the broader world.

Living in this beautiful island bathed with sunshine, she plucked the colours from her environment and with that inspiration wove exquisite fabrics. Her colour combinations are distinct and universally recognized. I remember standing at the crowded Marktplatz in Stuttgart, Germany in the 1980s, when a lady carrying a bag passed us and my friend turned round to me and remarked that the bag was a Barbara Sansoni creation made with her handloom fabric. At that moment I realized how distinct her combination of colours were to be singled out in a far off land, in the midst of a teeming crowd.

When my wife Sally and I married 54 years ago, Barbara wove a piece of cloth which was tailored into my wedding suit. Sally’s cloth and jacket was also made with a Barbara Sansoni handloom. So were the dresses of the bridesmaids, Ranji Krone and Sussanah van Langenberg. The two page boys Simon and Dominic Sansoni donned their garbs with the same material. We were gifted a beautiful piece of cloth, an indigenous creation, hand woven, made by a supremely gifted craftswoman Barbara herself, and here we are looking back on it 54 years later.

Barbara had an inbuilt self confidence which gave her a make up to have faith in what she did and make the simplest object or the simplest act embellished by her touch. This enabled Barbara to make an enormous contribution to social change in the field of clothing in the tradition bound Sri Lankan society. Here, the town folk had adopted sarees, an essentially Indian creation as the accepted dress for women, and trousers and the suits introduced by the British had almost totally replaced the sarong. What had started in colonial times gripped the country post independence. Barbara set the pace for a fresh look. Together with a classmate of mine, Laki Senanayake, who worked closely with Barbara, she introduced a change to cloth and jacket and sarongs. Laki also worked with Ena de Silva and created masterpieces using the batik techniques.

Barbara’s brand name became Barefoot, changing from the original Barbara Sansoni Fabrics. Barefoot embraced fabrics; setup exclusive boutiques, in Colombo and Galle, Sydney and Seoul Korea; a bookshop, a Gallery, a pulsating café where cross cultural groups were at ease over a cup of tea or listening to Jazz. Barefoot also was the home of the Gratiaen Prize, the Sri Lankan equivalent of the Booker Prize, a Prize initiated by Booker laureate Michael Ondaatje and named after his mother’s family. The late Hildon Sansoni and Michael’s mother were first cousins.

Barbara in her individual capacity and in collaboration with others was also the author of several books.

Teaming up with Geoffrey Bawa, Barbara and Laki supported by Ismeth Rahim, Ulrik Plessner and Anjalendram and a large number of other artists worked ovr time to evolve and usher in an indigenous architectural ethos and style.

Geoffrey Bawa and Barbara had grown up like siblings, though there was a generation gap. Geoffrey’s father, Benny Bawa, and Barbara’s grandfather, James Albert van Langenberg were legal luminaries and both very close friends. Benny had deviled under James Albert’s father. Every morning the two friends traveled together from their homes to Hulftsdorp in a horse and carriage. Van Langenberg lived at Merten in Guildford Crescent and Bawa at Chapman House, Darley Road. Their wives were also so close that Barbara’s mother Bertha inherited her name from Geoffrey’s mother.

Like the Bawas, the Spittels were close to the Daniel family. Mrs R.L.Spittel’s mother was a sister of A.Y.Daniel’s wife, Barbara’s grandmother. Christine Wilson, R.L.Spittel’s daughter, though older than Barbara remained close to her all her life.

Another family Barbara’ parents were fond of were the Barbers. This quotation from R.Y.Daniel’s diary describes it best:

“Your Uncle Cyril Barber owned 800 acres of the best cocoa in the Island, in Ukuwela. Barber’s Cocoa was much appreciated in the First World War. We ate it in the trenches. Cyril was responsible for that high standard of chocolate.

“After the war, to enable his brothers, who had been on active service, to come out and take a share in the family business, he moved to “Blackstone” in Mahawella, which he owned. After his brothers returned to England and one of them, Jim, had died, Cyril’s son Reginald went to Ukuwela. The estate was called “The Grove”.

“You, my dear children, will remember the happy times which you spent at Blackstone, which was a second home to us. Your Uncle Cyril and Aunt Edo were excellent hosts and loved to have the members of the family around them. Cyril manufactured his own cigars, liquor, vinegar, kept poultry and cattle and grew most of his foodstuffs. All this was much appreciated by his guests. Everything was of such a high quality”.

It was at Lukkanon, however, the home of Ern and Etta Mack that Barbara felt happiest. Here she was received by her aunts and uncles and grandmother who were all living there. Her genius was recognized but so was her eccentricities accepted without reservations. The good, the great and those in need visited this house but all received the same welcome. Lukkanon has gained historical significance after Michael Ondaatje featured it in the internationally acclaimed best seller “Running in the family”.

Barbara’s grandmother, Ethel Van Langenberg was herself an artist. She was adept at doing miniature paintings. Ethel and her daughters were very committed to works of charity.

The van Langenbergs were devout Roman Catholics. It was therefore natural for the Irish nuns Sister Canice and Sister Good Council of the Good Shepherd Order in Ceylon to ask Barbara to help the mothers in need who they were looking after to be trained for a meaningful job and if possible to give them a livelihood. What Barbara has done on this subject in the last 70 years is phenomenal.

A H



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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