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Did the Air Vice Marshall miss his flight?



This article responds to Air Vice Marshall (retired) Sosa’s article titled, ‘How did the pearl of the Orient miss the bus?’ which appeared in the Sunday Island of Feb. 28, 2021. This response is made not as a means to ridicule or denigrate his efforts, which appear to have been penned from a patriotic sentiment in asking aloud introspectively, where as a nation, did we go wrong? In arriving at conclusions however, he appears to have been so thoroughly misled into believing certain twisted and deliberately distorted versions of history.

With such flawed understanding he goes on to make historically inaccurate claims. Every second line almost amounts to gross fabrications that I have decided to correct, thus rectifying these utterances, not by unsubstantiated and sweeping statements through authoritative documented evidence.

The Vice Marshall does injustice primarily to himself in accepting certain propositions without bothering about their veracity. In damning national personalities of our country who have in the past, in stark variance to the politicos of today, rendered yeoman service he belittles the value of the precious. This perspective emanating from an ignoramus may be tolerated, but not from one such as the writer.

The Temperance Movement in Ceylon is a suitable point from which to begin, for it was from that body that rose the public personalities of D.B. Jayatilaka and D.S. Senanayake. This movement was founded in defiance to the Toddy Act of 1912, which aimed at mushrooming bars and liquor vending outlets throughout Ceylon. The Buddhist and Hindu communities were largely outraged, and saw in it the dangers that could befall the populace. The colonial government however, viewed this opportunity as one which would assist in filling their coffers.

The opposition to the Act, mainly came through Temperance leaders such as the Senanayake brothers ( D.S, F.R, and D.C) and D. B Jayatilaka and others inclusive of W.A .De Silva and the Hewavitharana brothers. This resulted in the boycotting of the taverns by the native populace. Hulugalle wrote in his D.S. Senanayake biography, “The Temperance movement gathered strength and the zest and the driving force which the younger Senanayake brought to it in his home surroundings at Botale. The Whole of Hapitigama Korale with its centre at Mirigama, had not a single tavern…

Thus, when some time later in 1915, a riot broke out between Muslims and Sinhalese, and martial law was used to quell the situation, it seemed incredible that almost all of the leaders of the temperance movement were arrested and incarcerated on little or no evidence as being connected or proximate to the riot. These respected leaders were unduly humiliated and subjected to degrading cruelties. The statements given by each of them is worth reading, and in particular the meticulous record kept by Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan in his book Riots and Martial Law in Ceylon 1915. In the interests of brevity I shall confine myself to parts of statements given by D.S. Senanayake, F.R. Senanayake and D.B. Jayatilaka

D.S. Senanayake, introducing himself as a proprietary planter and plumbago mine owner, living in Cinnamon Gardens, went on to say, “The Town Guard and the Inspector of Police, then made careful search of the premises, but found no incriminating documents or firearms… A fortnight after this search, in the early morning of the 21st, I was awakened by a Town Guard who informed me I was under arrest, and would not permit me to answer a call of nature.”

“After they had searched me, I was taken inside the jail and locked in a bare cell. For want of a chair or bench I had to stand inside this for some hours… Mr. Allnutt who, after informing me that I was at liberty to make a statement proceeded to question me, obviously for the purpose of getting some statement likely to incriminate myself and others. Since I was aware of nothing to incriminate any respectable person, I was not in a position to help him.”

“Our midday meals were pushed inside the room. The very sight of the dirty food and the vessels in which it was served disgusted me, and naturally I was unable to take that food.…… on the 5th August, after 46 days of incarceration under as unpleasant circumstances as one could imagine, I was let out.”

The following accounts of his brother F.R. and of friend and colleague D.B. Jayatilaka are also noteworthy. F.R. introducing self as a graduate of Cambridge University, a Barrister at law, and an elected member of the Colombo Municipal Council said thus. “In the ward in which we were placed there are 150 cells, usually occupied by 150 convicts, but owing to the extraordinary circumstances the jail authorities, seeing the accommodation insufficient, found themselves compelled to shelter during the night over a thousand persons in this building. The temporary sanitary arrangements made for such a multitude, and the overcrowding, naturally made life almost unbearable.”

D.B. Jayathilaka also highlighted that “the fresh air was befouled by the unbearable smells emanating from the lavatories. They were filthy and foul.” He also referred to the manner in which he and his friend D.S. Senanayake whiled away the hours. “I whiled away the time by reciting from memory endless verses which I had learnt from the Pirivena. So did D.S. Senanayake, who sang carters’ songs, miners’ songs and folk songs.”

There was a silver lining in their cloud, for the Senanayake’s, and Jayatilake were subsequently released as heroes of the masses. Unfortunately however, a bright star among them was court martialled and shot dead by firing squad. This was of course the youthful Henry Pedris. Although no appeal existed at the time, a subsequent investigation revealed his innocence. So at this point, I must once again take exception to the Vice Marshall and his sweeping statement that Ceylon’s independence was gained on a platter and with no angry bullet. I doubt the brave young Pedris would have viewed the bullet that shed his innocent youthful blood as a friendly one!

Furthermore he goes on to conjecture rather unfairly and uncharitably that D.S. Senanayake was instrumental in elbowing his lifelong friend Jayatilake out of his seat as vice chairman of the Board of Ministers, only so that he could occupy it. If he had only read (which I know from his conjecture he has not) of the extents the Senanayake brothers went to, for Jayatilaka, including mortgaging the matrimonial home to build ‘Mahanil’ the building on the Y.M.B.A land in furtherance of Jayatilaka’s vision to which they too subscribed, he would understand D.B. and the Senanayake’s were bonded deeply in spirit.

One person who clearly knew and was a close friend of Jayatilaka, as much as of D.S and also of personalities like D.R. Wijewardena, Sir John Kotelawala and even S.W.R.D was the diplomat and the journalist par excellence Herbert Hulugalle. In his writings of them and the times, one actually gets a true glimpse of firsthand accounts and not conjecture inflamed by fantastic conspiracy theories. In Hulugalle’s ‘Selective Journalism’ he explains who Jayatilaka was, and also what he later became, due to age and human frailty and for no other earthly fault.

No one can be fairer to Jayatilaka, as Hulugalle is for this is what he says, “He seemed to reflect in his life all that is best in our culture, in the Buddhist tradition and in oriental philosophy, and possessed in full measure those gifts and graces which characterize a civilized person such as tolerance, fair play and compassion.” But he notes “Although Jayatilaka never lost the mastery of the State Council, when he reached his seventies, he had lost a great deal of his fire. He was easy-going and lenient. He had lost the sureness of his touch, and signed papers which he had not read”

In 1939, Jayatilaka was the vice chairman of the board of Ministers in the Council. He had also become the president of Ceylon’s largest political forum; the Ceylon National Congress. He was at this time 72 years in age. The Ceylon National Congress itself had attracted to its fold many young legal luminaries that in later years were to become prominent in Ceylon’s destiny. J.R. Jayewardene, Edwin Wijeyeratne and R.G. Senanayake were amongst them. S.W.R. D. though not directly a member had affiliated his organization the Sinhala Maha Sabha, to it.

That same year Jayatilaka’s unblemished reputation suffered a serious setback in what became known as the Bracegirdle affair, this situation was ongoing from as far back as 1937. M.A.L. Bracegirdle was an Australian Marxist who found his way to Ceylon and engaged in what the colonial government saw as hostile activity. While the Governor had liaised with the chief of police, a Mr. Banks to deport him from Ceylon, the LSSP had sought a writ of habeas corpus from the Supreme Court, to avoid the very same. The legal position was that the Governor had no right to act in such a manner, unless authorized by the relevant minister who happened to be D.B. Jayatilaka. The police chief in evidence stated that everything was done under the minister’s concurrence, but the minister denied any knowledge.

In the fracas that ensued, the Governor had appointed a commission under the supervision of a retired Supreme Court judge to investigate and produce to him a report. The findings of the report entirely exonerated the police chief which had the indirect effect of casting Jayatilaka in unfavourable light. Since the testimonies of the police chief and his immediate boss Minister Jayatilaka were at variance, Jayatilaka went on record, stating many times, including to the Congress that he would rather resign from State Council, than have to work with Banks again. Since the Commission’s report was entirely weighted in favour of Banks, it was then impossible for the Governor to remove him from that position even if he wanted to.

A few skeptics had voiced that perhaps Jayatilaka ought to step down but the board of Ministers led by Senanayake strongly backed Jayatilaka even to the extent of passing a motion of confidence in Jayatilaka and then making scathing attacks on the Commission’s report mainly alleging bias and finally passing a motion of censure upon its findings in the State Council. This is hardly the manner in which a person waiting to elbow out another would act! The Vice Marshall may if he chooses, go through the State Council deliberations and decide for himself.

Jayatilaka’s statements however, to the Congress had not been forgotten, nor allowed to die a natural death. It seemed to the young men of Congress that consequent to the Commission’s report and contrary to what he had said before, Jayatilaka would compromise his dignity and continue to work with Banks. At this Juncture, the youngsters had begun taking control of congress and youthful J.R. Jayewardene was elevated to the position of secretary. Jayewardene demanded his resignation.


I quote from K.M.De Silva’s J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka 1906- 1956 (the first fifty years ) . “When the Congress Committee met on 23rd January they did so in the verandah of Jayatilaka’s house – The Congress had no home of its own, and its committee meetings were held in the residence of the incumbent president, and the principle business of the day was to discuss a resolution moved by E. A. P Wijeyeratne that D.B.Jayatilaka should vindicate his honour by resigning.” (Not from the Congress but the State Council). J.R. fully in support of this view explained, “It was to help Sir Baron to resign, to take a step which he had determined upon doing, which he had promised to do, that a few of us suggested to him. (pages 47-48 of J.R.Jayewardena, the unpublished memoirs contain the full speech)

Further illumination of the events that finally did lead to his resignation a few years later may be found in D.S. A political biography by K.M. De Silva, at chapter 15. “D.S was 17 years younger than D.B. Jayatilaka…….. A second point which is ignored by political observers is that both D.B. Jayatilaka and D.S entered the national legislature for the first time in the same year, 1924.”

” Among D.B. Jayathilaka’s contributions to public life in the country was his role in the establishment of the Sinhala Etymological Dictionary… The work he did in establishing the dictionary naturally attracted attention and in the case of some observers, much praise. He had his critics as well and one of them D C W Abeysekera took legal action against him on the charge that he had accepted payment as editor while being a member of the Legislative Council. Abeysekera claimed Rs23,000 as damages and urged that this should include vacation of his (Jayatilaka’s) seat in the Legislative Council.

In a prolonged legal dispute Abeysekera won the day. It required an Act of Indemnity by the Privy Council in London to save Jayatilaka. When he finally did retire in 1941 he was 73 whereupon he was entrusted with the first Ceylonese diplomatic mission overseas. It was a highly presumptuous and a thoroughly puerile view to take that in 1941, Senanayake saw independence being round the corner and feared that if 73-year old Jayatilaka was around he may have to become Ceylon’s first prime minister instead of him. As it turned out, and if the Vice Marshall could add and subtract as well as he conjectures and imagines, Independence came seven years hence and had Jayathilake lived for that long he would have been an octogenarian. The 40’s decade was neither as medically or scientifically advanced as today, and when Jayatilaka passed away in 1944 at the age of 76 he had more than passed the natural life expectancy of the average Ceylonese. It is not directly relevant but interesting to note that when Senanayake died in March 1952 he was only 68.

Senanayake, was the young pup of the independence movement. He was taken very seriously by the masses upon his wrongful incarceration and relied upon more, after the death of his much respected older brother F.R. He was in the thick of the independence struggle along with all the national leaders, but due to age being on his side, he was the only one still there to see its final result ; an independent Ceylon. He is referred to as the Father of the Nation, because at the time of Independence he was the main negotiator and undisputed leader among them. The unique position he was in was not of his design but a design of nature.

When considering some of the other national heroes of the independence movement chronologically we notice the following. Henry Pedris was murdered by the British in 1915. F.R.Senanayake on his way back from Buddha Gaya passed away in India of appendicitis in 1926. Ponambalam Ramanathan died on pilgrimage in 1930. Sir James Pieris too in 1930, W.A. De Silva passed away in 1942, and Sir D.B. Jayatilaka in 1944.

All these personalities mentioned in the previous paragraph contributed much to the well-being of their nation through selfless sacrifice. Some of them particularly D.B. Jayatilaka, D.S.Senanayake and Sir John Kotalawala bequeathed personal wealth and property to the State. The edifices of Thurban House, D.S.Senanayake school in Colombo 7 and the Kotalawala Defence University, all attest to the memory of men that put the nation before themselves.

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India Forges ahead even arts-wise; Sri Lanka out of bankruptcy (?)



Hope springs eternal in the human breast, it is said, but if the breast is of a national-minded Sri Lankan, hope cannot rise; it is stifled by fear, worry, frustration and stark disappointment. Government persons are flapping their upper limbs and crowing about improvement in the economy; nothing much for us Ordinaries to experience or savour.

The President has announced the thuttu deke Sri Lankan rupee has risen against the dollar as if he had achieved the fall in the price of the dollar himself with his great economic expertise. Yes, the value of the dollar has declined from its 360 plus worth but if anyone has to be thanked, Cass boldly affirms, it is the Governor of the Central Bank, bless him, our Saviour at this moment. He works cleverly we have to presume, with dedication and loyalty to the nation, gaining nothing himself except his remuneration which we believe he could very well have done without as he was recalled from retirement in Australia to haul the nation out of the economic blackhole it had been pushed into by its own bigwigs – a past Prez, a former PM who, when he was Prez, borrowed mostly from the Chinaman to build his Ozymandias constructions to have his name emblazoned on them. Assisting these two, pulling the strings and side driving in government, was a former Minister of Finance who absented himself often from Parliament when the budget he presented was being discussed. Then there were ministry secretaries and CB high ups and a Gov himself who helped in pushing the rupee to near worthlessness and the country firmly into bankruptcy. This they did in brotherhood, three of them, and unitedly, willfully and most insanely with glaring mismanagement and mistakes.

And we sit and mourn and suffer on account of their mistakes. Some rose in unison and protested and we saw drastic changes in top positions but not in structures and systems. Naturally, and to be accepted, is the fact that recovery will be very slow and very painful. Those who rise up in protest now – chief among them being the IUSF and persons like Stalin whoever – are only a menace and obstacle to whatever economic progress is underway. We see and hear some of the earlier bootlickers of the R clan, or their kith and kin, pontificating again. Cass mentioned three such in her last week’s column. Add to them a horizontally gifted Minister who is guilty of and charged in court for soliciting payment to do some job he had to do; and another who is associated, wrongly or rightly Cass knows not, in the drug trade. He came to the limelight when rescued in a VVIP power driven helicopter with the said power as an actual presence. Only blood relatives are thus treated!

This is miserable Sri Lanka’s side of the picture. Cass cannot help but create the analogy of a beautiful damsel who pleases in every way, being raped by greed and lack of any sense of decency or humanity but totally for selfish gain by rapacious persons to gain power and enjoy the perks accompanying. Thus, she is grievously harmed and injured both physically and mentally. A brave person comes along and rescues her and attempts giving her the chance to recapture her charms. Cass supposes this could be the present Gov of the CB and not the IMF which organization has its own agenda.

And, so we have secured IMF emergency funding. We hear congratulations to Prez Ranil W being extended by SLPP MPs in Parliament. The SLPP may gloat but the Prez has wisely warned our troubles are far from over. TV1 in its news broadcast on W  ednesday night had an accurate recalling of how the IMF loan came to be granted.

Hearing the loan was approved and the first tranche would soon be released had the immediate image crossing Cass’ mind of some in power salivating with selfish greed to get their hands on bits of it. But to her great delight she finds that one superb condition, loudly greeted, of granting relief through the IMF is that corruption must be reduced and eradicated. Tall order but it is there in black and white so maybe ticking minds will slow down and seeking/grabbing hands held back.

My title speaks of India. Yes, it is outstandingly clear how far India has progressed in its development and position it now holds in the world. She was burdened with a huge and ever bloating population; widespread poverty; a high percent of illiteracy and lack of education; internecine strife between races and religions and the ever-bubbling Kashmir problem. But just see how far she has progressed, outpacing some developed countries, almost on par with China and courted by the US and EU. I remember vividly a cartoon seen when she entered the Nuclear Club which had just five members. The cartoon showed a bare-bodied man in a dhoti entering a posh club with its wide chairs and bar. India now hopes to join the outer space travellers’ club. There was rampant corruption but laws and the right for the public to report and even bring to Court malpractices of bureaucrats and politicians has reduced the prevalence of this canker. Vigilante groups rendered great service.

I mentioned the arts in my title. This because India has bagged two Oscars this year, one for best short documentary and the other for best song. I watched both films: Elephant whisperers and RRR. The first was of an elephant nursery in South India. I thought our Uda Walawe elephant orphanage where abandoned infant animals are nurtured and rehabilitated to go back to their jungle living could have been filmed to an even better documentary. RRR had the rousing song Naatu, Naatu. Goodness! It was a typical South Indian, though Hindi film of impossible feats of bravery, blood drenched and insanely melodramatic. But the songs were superb.

It was said three conditions held the vast subcontinent as one country – after Pakistan broke away. They were: the continuation of democracy and the efficient bureaucracy the British left; the widespread use of English and it being the main language of communication between the centre and states; and communication in the way of a wide web of railways. Cass feels the most important positive that not only held the country as one vast collection of states but also aided its development and march forward to be one of the VIP countries of the world is that Indians are first and last Indians, whether of the south, east, north or west; and their ardent patriotism.

We Sri Lankans lack these great and good qualities.

We invariably intoned “poor Bangladesh”, considering it would always be battered by tidal waves and floods and continually poverty stricken with two widows clawing for power. Look at her now! She lent us money; she is moving upwards as a self-sufficient country looking after its population. While our GMOA and universities acted strong against private medical education, a college in Chittagong earned plenty forex from just our students alone among its international student body.

A radical change in systems, mass and individual behaviours and mostly in those who rule the country is urgently needed. We are in another debt, this time to the IMF. We need to get back on our feet. We stood firm a couple of decades back. With our positives, mainly of clever, educated people, and potential of the country we can get out of the dire straits we are in. Will we even now wake up and work unitedly while getting rid of the dregs of society that wield power?

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The Box of Delights



Seeing through testing times and the future

Text of the Keynote address By Prof Rajiva Wijesinha at the 8th International Research Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura on 16 March, 2023.

At the beginning of this year I read again, after well over half a century, a delightful book by John Masefield, called The Box of Delights. A feature of this box was that it allowed one to travel swiftly, and to make oneself very small. It struck me then that these magical properties were what is needed for us to do better in the field of English Language Teaching. Those making the running as it were must move very quickly, and they must be able to think like the young do, the very young but also all those students who need to be motivated to learn.

Unfortunately, all efforts to take things forward have to contend with the blockages imposed by the equivalent of Masefield’s coven of witches in an earlier novel, The Midnight Folk, now turned sanctimonious as potential churchmen in The Box of Delights. Who these are in real life varies from generation to generation, but what they have in common is slowness of thought and execution, and an incapacity to think except as adults, and sometimes not even that!

At the end of last year, I came to this university to celebrate a welcome initiative on the part of your Library, together with Madhbhashini Ratnayake of the English Language Teaching Department, the first major contribution to English Language Teaching – or Learning as I prefer to term it – since the nineties. In that decade too personnel at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura played a major role in taking things forward, and I was happy to learn that now too those in authority have given unstinting support to the innovations your colleagues are trying to introduce nationwide. But remember that the midnight folk are always waiting to pounce, the negative ones, though I should note that Masefield also thinks of the little people who help as midnight folk, working with their lights under a bushel.

Let me now speak briefly of those initiatives of the nineties, even though this may seem an arrogant move, given how central I was to all the developments of those days. But I should make it clear that none of this would have been possible without not just strong but also imaginative support from many others, including two fantastic practitioners of English Language Teaching at this University, Parvathi Nagasunderam and Oranee Jansz. Interestingly, the latter was not initially enthusiastic about the former joining the university, because she was a strong proponent of autonomy for the English Language Teaching Unit, and resented what she thought was potential interference by a recruit to what was then the Department of Languages and Cultural Studies. The then Vice-Chancellor had expressed the view that Paru should be appointed to head the ELTU, but there was such opposition to this that the incumbent who had resigned reassumed the position.

Oranee herelf changed completely when there was opposition on racist grounds to Paru by other members of the ELTU, and not only supported Paru thereafter, but took another Tamil recruit whom the other ladies were attacking to work with her in the Medical Faculty. Her imaginative approach there meant that USJP medical students were accepted much sooner by the medical hierarchy than graduates from other new medical faculties – since as you know the establishment in this country belittled any new medical faculty, and in turn, when that faculty gained wider acceptance, it joined the old guard in belittling new ones. Kelaniya and Ruhuna and Sri Jayewardenepura and Rajarata have suffered such persecution in turn, though perhaps that mentality has now changed for the Sabaragamuwa Medical Faculty has not had to face similar belittling.

My return to the state system was because of an initiative by Prof Arjuna Aluvihare to extend opportunities in tertiary education, and to do this in particular with regard to English. Typically, the Midnight Folk sniffed at this, anguished by the thought of English being made available at tertiary level to students who had not studied English at the GCE Advanced Level, in short, to students outside the charmed circle of Colombo and Kandy and Jaffna. After all, as one professor put it, when earlier I had suggested syllabus revision to incorporate Sri Lankan writing in English, her students could go to Cambridge for postgraduate work, though in actual fact no one from that university or indeed any other in Sri Lanka had gone there for postgraduate work for two decades.

So, it was USJP that took up the challenge, through the then Dean of Arts, Mahinda Palihawadana, whose erudition too I see has been honoured by the republication of a seminal work on the Vedas. Given his wide-ranging sense of commitment to students as well as books, he roped me in, and persuaded me to join the university, which seemed essential to keep things going, for he himself was on the verge of retirement. So, I not only took charge of the English Diploma course at six Affiliated University Colleges and of General English at five others but also transformed English at this university, introducing an English Language component in addition to English Literature. And this was available also in the External Degree we started, which rapidly became the most popular external degree in the whole university system.

I was able to do all this because of the wonderful support I had in the Department, and in time Paru expanded on this, when, finally, an English Department was established here. She also when we requested this from the Ministry introduced English Language Teaching as a component of the external degree, which was a great boon to teachers nationwide. Again, in those days, at the turn of the century, the other universities refused, for they still believed pedagogical skills had nothing to do with academia.

That situation has now changed, and all universities I believe understand the need for this, though I fear the idea has not penetrated into other skulls, whereas we also need for instance components of teaching mathematics in university mathematics degrees, if we are to develop STEM education. But while successive ministers of education talk about this, they will not ensure the elementary measures needed to promote such education, namely to produce better teachers – and swiftly, as I started by saying we must ensure with regard to all positive measures.

I have spoken thus far of the colleagues I worked with in the university system to change things so swiftly in the nineties, after half a century of moribundity as to tertiary level English. But there were also other tools essential to take things forward. The most important of these were materials, and materials that could be made readily available, for students to be able to own them and work with them on their own.

This was an area in which The Midnight Folk had a particularly baneful impact. They did not believe in materials which students could use on their own, and instead thought that education demanded power in the hands of the teacher. Thus materials were not easy to understand, and had to be explicated further, and all this meant enormous profits for those who produced materials, books prepared by teams whose members vied to impress each other rather than produce what students could readily understand, and then teachers’ guides which also had to be studied, and only by the teacher. The fact that these did not always reach students and teachers in time – the more remote the area, the greater the delay in transmission – meant nothing in a context in which the production of materials, and the money made on them, through allowances for preparation and contracts for printing, was an end in itself, with little thought for the use that was to be made of them.

I transformed this, using a system I had instituted while at the British Council, where fortunately those in charge accepted my argument that we needed to develop the reading habit, and we could best do this by producing low cost readers. A stream of these were produced, initially costing Rs. 5 each, which meant they were snapped up by students all over the country. And thus we could reprint without further subsidy.

We had produced well over 50 titles at different levels by the time I joined USJP, and we then produced dozens more which were made available to students, some at just Rs. 10. Needless to say I was accused of making money on this, though the students themselves, who had initially objected to paying for materials – provoked by The Midnight Folk who did not like the successful impact of my programmes – agreed that Rs 10 simply covered costs and that, having got money, from the Canadians who were very supportive, to publish the first copies, I was not going to go begging again to them.

Unfortunately, this very simple principle, that we cannot live for ever on handouts, is very far from the minds of our decision makers, for as you can now see, when we are hopelessly in debt, the only answer they can think of is more debt. The idea of generating income, of using borrowed money only to promote productivity that can pay for itself, the horror of sinking further and further into debt that future generations will have to repay at the cost of their own productivity, is not something that occurs to the unimaginative Midnight Folk.

To return to the idea of producing our own, I believe that over the years I have been responsible for well over a million books for language learning, which were snapped up by students all over the country. I had wonderful collaborators in this project, Nirmali Hettiarachchi and Sybil Wettasinghe and Madhubhashini Dissanayake as she then was for primary and secondary level, Madhu again and also Nirmali and then Janaki Galappatti (and a team of university scientists) and Goolbai Gunasekara and Oranee and the ELTU head Damayanthi Ahangama for tertiary level, Paru and Dinali Fernando – who was at USJP for several years – and Rapti de Silva, later of Moratuwa University, for pedagogical input.

We used these materials, refined further, when Oranee and I were also asked to take charge of the pre-University General English Language Training (GELT) project, where we changed the term teaching to training, for we were also concerned to introduce soft skills, the first time in this country, long before they became fashionable – and still with no proper system to develop them nationwide. Sadly the Life Skills curriculum developed when I headed the Academic Affairs Board of the National Institute of Education was perverted to exclude this, with a change of Minister and another of the Midnight Folk appointed in my stead. Entertainingly that same Minister is now in charge of education, and tertiary education and vocational education too, for the umpteenth time, with nothing to show for his many periods in office, only sanctimonious pronouncements.

(to be continued)

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Happy Birthday dearest Mrs. Peries !



Dear Mrs. Peries,

So you would have turned 88 today, 24th March 2023. On a day like this, my mind goes back many, many years, to all those birthday parties and celebrations at the old Dickman’s Road (Dr. Lester James Peries Mawatha) house.

Birthday month at No 24 residence spanned both March and April and usually kicked off today, when in the morning you would offer dane to the Bellanwila Temple.The floors were polished, as was the gleaming brassware. The prized crystal ware would sparkle from inside the glass cabinets and the vases would brim with flowers. The birthday mood was all pervasive.

That faithful telephone, the much memorised 011.2588822, would ring incessantly right through the day and this was perhaps the only day in the year when LJP would not volunteer to answer, since the calls were invariably all for the Missus.The evening was generally a subdued quiet affair with family from both the Peries and Gunawardene sides, and a few very close friends, and even fewer from the big screen.

I remember Mrs. Paddy Mendis, a regular birthday visitor. After all it was during her husband Dr. Vernon Mendis’ tenure as Ceylon’s Charge d’Affaires in Paris in the late 1950s that LJP first met you, when en route to Cannes with Rekawa.Remember how you carefully chose your short eats. Getting pride of place were your favourite delicate asparagus sandwiches. Coming a close second would be those cheese and chicken bouchees, and the ginger beer and the iced coffee.

There would be Nuran Gomez, the great-grand-nephew from the Peries side, at the piano, tickling the ivories and entertaining everyone with music from the Peries’ films and old world continental hits much to LJP’s delectation. Aaahhh such lovely soirees those were.

Today would also begin the countdown to 05th April, when No 24 literally overflowed with humanity and when the maestro would blow the increasing numbers of candles on his cake. Oh 04th April is another story altogether !

Yes No 24 overflowed with humanity from the film industry. But then as I sadly observed over the years, as the both of you made fewer and fewer films, those crowds decreased. When the both of you finally stopped making movies, he with Ammawarune (2006) and you with Vaishnavee (2018), those numbers dwindled down to a mere handful from the film industry. You were left with family and a few very close friends.

I remember one of your birthdays a few years ago when you and I decided to go on a “loaf” one evening. We drove around, loafing around, I actually forget where, and when we finally got hungry it was past 10.30 pm when most of the restaurants were closed. We were hungry, very hungry and there was no place open.

I remember calling my good friend Harpo Guneratne who, in turn, immediately called the staff at Harpos Pizza Pasta Parlour on Mirihana Road, Nugegoda and told them to keep the shutters open despite it being way past closing time. The boys were there, all smiles, to greet and serve the celebrity Birthday Girl guest.

I remember, very, very vaguely, another birthday soiree in the late 1990s in Paris when you were our Ambassador. It was just LJP and You and I in that beautiful salon at your Ambassadorial apartment on the Avenue de Longchamps with the French cheeses and the wines, and Coq-au-Vin for mains, and as the champagne popped we sang Joyeux Anniversaire in French. Quelle nostalgie !!!

‘Carols for LJP’ at Christmastime was yet another looked forward to event at the old Dickman’s Road House with Nuran Gomez once again at the piano and everyone joining in lustily. What absolutely memorable and joyous soirées those were.

There were also those New Year’s Eves when you lit sparklers in the garden with Kumudu Casie Chetty, Surangani Wijewickrama and Lalinka Mutukumarana and much to LJP’s fretting and concern, those after-dinner chats that went on beyond midnight, the impulsive drives we went out on for iced-cream and those occasional dinners out. Those were the simple pleasures of life you also rejoiced in.If I were to go back in time, the both of you came into my life that morning in 1986 when I walked into your Dickmans Road sitting room and we shot my first ever interview with you for “Bonsoir” for the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka. I was in great awe and felt terribly small and insignificant in your presence.

Little did the three of us ever realise that this was to be the beginning of our private lifelong bond … sealed by France and the French culture and language. Yes it was our very private “Club Français”. In it we regaled. In it we journeyed through French history, gastronomy and culture through our innumerable chats. In it we constantly celebrated the francophones and francophiles in us. LJP was the first to leave us and our little Club got empty. Mrs. Peries now you, and our Club is emptier than before.

Seated in the audience at the BMICH that afternoon in January 2022 with Nadeeka Gunasekare and Yashoda Wimaladharma, I vividly remember the joy jubilantly splashed across your face when the University of Kelaniya conferred on you an Honorary Doctorate (Sahithya Chakrawarthi). Your portfolio of honours and achievements was finally complete. You were now Dr. Mrs. Sumitra Peries.

And exactly one year later you’re gone. Mrs. Peries, as I write this piece I don’t think even you realised, two months ago, that you would go, go just like that, in literally a flash. Yes you were ailing but you were ok too. And then suddenly you were gone.

That evening at the Independence Square was sad and overcast as the flames consumed all that was mortal of you, at almost the identical spot they did to LJP five years ago in 2018. And as I did with LJP too, I patiently sat there by your pyre, in the intermittent drizzle that evening, and stayed with you way past midnight, until you were finally gone, until all that was you turned into soft, burning hot ash. Those images still haunt me.

My dear Mrs. Peries, it’s already two months and a week for today, since you’re gone … gone on your journey in Samsara. The inescapable humdrum of life has overtaken us all, yet the grief still persists, thick, viscous and heavy. It sits like glue at the bottom of my heart.

The nation mourns. The film industry mourns. Family, friends and colleagues still mourn. I too grieve my very personal loss, yet celebrating the memory of two wonderful people who lit up my personal and professional lives and who were also my ‘alternate’ Father and Mother. You often referred to me as “the son we both never had”. The feeling was absolutely mutual.

Yet … just as a rainbow slowly appears after a torrential downpour, there is also a very strange sense of joy … joy as we now celebrate your life and everything you meant to a lot of people.As you journey on … what more can I say but “Thank You / Merci Beaucoup” for the memories, those warm, cheerful, nostalgic and indelible memories. May your journeys through Samsara be speedy my dearest LJP and Mrs Peries, my ‘adopted foster mother and father’. Love you both from the depths of my heart … always … and beyond always.

Joyeux Anniversaire
– Happy Birthday Mrs. Peries.

Kumar de Silva
Trustee – Lester James and Sumitra Peries Foundation

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