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Dr Brendon Gooneratne



(28 March 1938- 22 June 2021)

Dr Brendon Gooneratne, acclaimed physician, entrepreneur, author, antiquarian, collector,environmentalist and all round sportsman, passed away in Welimada where he was receiving treatment after a fall. The news of Brendon’s demise was communicated by his daughter Devika just a day following his death.

Towering in physique, and with a broad bodily frame, Brendon was physically outstanding in any crowd. To add to that, he had a dominating, outspoken, and fearless attitude to life, which partly accounts for the many successes that he achieved during a multifaceted and unique lifetime. He also had his detractors, but that comes along as part of the baggage that success is wont to bring!

During World War 2, the buildings of Royal College, and its feeder school then known as Royal Preparatory School, were commissioned for military activity and the school found temporary homes elsewhere. Royal Prep School was for most of the time located in buildings now occupied by Lumbini Maha Vidyalaya on Havelock Road adjoining Skelton Gardens. My final year in Prep school was 1945, and I would often walk back home with my two younger brothers, one of whom was almost always accompanied up to the school gate by a classmate, a boy then about seven or eight years old but at least a foot taller than all of his peers.

I asked my brother who this little giant was and he responded rather disdainfully with ” ah that is Brendon !’. He lived in Kollupitiya and came to school with a few of his classmates by car invariably driven by one of the parents, who took turns to drop off their prodigies in school. The final bell for the day was rung at 12 noon as the buildings were made available to students of the Government Training College which occupied the premises till about 5 pm.

Brendon and his friends who at times included the late C Vaseeharan son of SJV Chelvanayakam, and Lalith Athulathmudali (a year senior to him but neighbour in Kollupitiya) used to await their transport back home biding their time in the home of Mrs Lekamge, a teacher at Royal Prep, who lived across the road from school. I left to join Royal College in 1946, and in 1949, Brendon and his batch entered Royal. Those who entered Royal in 1949 were termed the “1949 Group” and they turned out to be quite an outstanding bunch of students. It included the usual 50 to 60 % of students who entered various professions such as medicine, law, architecture and accounting, plus a a few remarkable personalities who later were leaders of the corporate world in Sri Lanka.

In that group was the Late Upali Wijewardene, founder of the Upali Group, the late LaL Jayasundera Chairman of Hayleys, the late Roti Sivaratnam, Chairman of Aitken Spence, and some others. There were also two boys who later adorned the bench of the Supreme Court.

It was at Royal College that Brendon displayed his all round talent both as a student and as a sportsman. On entering school he was appointed class monitor in Form 1 and continued to be monitor right up to the sixth form. He took to cricket in school like a duck to water and was a pace bowler using his height and build to great advantage. He won College cricket colours for three consecutive years and top scored in the 1955 Royal Thomian match. He won several prizes while in school and in 1957 at the age of 19 he entered the University of Ceylon. I recall meeting him on and off when he was a medical student fortunate enough to own a new Austin Healy Sprite, convertible, gifted by his father.

In athletics too Brendon had some notable achievements one of which was winning the Discus Throw at the Pubic Schools Athletics meet. Other facets of his life as a student was as a member of the school debating team and as a member of the “Do you know” contest where the Royal team ended as runners up. While doing his medical studies in the University, he also represented the University team at cricket which he captained in 1961/62. It will be difficult to find another example of ” men sana in corpora sano”!

There are many other facets to Brendon’s extraordinary life, but I would like to refer here to his genius as a collector. It all seem to have begun with his receiving many prizes as a 15-year old student at Royal where the practice was to give cash vouchers to prize winners. Brendon very thoughtfully for a 15 year old, took his vouchers to Cave and Co in the Fort and in its rare books section spotted a First editon (1681) of Robert Knox’s An Historical Relation of Ceylon which he purchased in exchange for the prize vouchers. That first book obtained as a 15-year old, sparked an interest in antiquarian books which kindled the flame in him to acquire over time, arguably the best collection of antiquarian books on Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

By the time he published his memoirs in 2015 he had accumulated a unique and rare collection of books, maps, and paintings including 29 works by George Keyt. His library consisted of over 7,000 books on Ceylon. He sold most of his rare books in an international auction conducted by Bonhams in 2008. Among the items sold was a set of original manuscripts of Emerson Tennents two volume “Ceylon” published in 1859, which included the original illustrations for the book by Andrew Nicols. This set sold for US $239,000! A canny sense of investment also made him the owner of several blue chip properties in Australia and Sri Lanka. An entrepreneur par excellence indeed !


Brendon and Yasmine joined the Ceylon Society of Australia (founded in 1997) in its very early days, and have made many presentations to the Society. I recall Yasmine’s book “A change of skies” launched at a CSA meeting in Sydney. When the Colombo Chapter of the Society was formed, Brendon made the first inaugural presentation to the Chapter on the various editions of Knox including the several French and German Editions which he owned and were displayed at the meeting.

To strike a personal note, I have to add that due mainly to a three year age gap between us, my interaction with Brendon in school was very rare. However when we migrated to Australia in 1984, Brendon was already well settled in Sydney, he as a private medical practitioner and Yasmine as Professor of English Literature at Macquarie University. I met him at a mutual friend’s residence, and he immediately invited my wife and me to a most enjoyable Sunday lunch at their home in Cheltenham. I recall among others in that group that day included old Royalists Alan Henricus, Summa Navratnam, and Lorenz Pereira, the latter on a visit from Melbourne. Brendon was a loyal old Royalist and always showed his great admiration for the old school. A mutually respectful friendship developed between us and we were in regular contact. It was sad to note his departure back to Sri Lanka about 15 years ago, and I have not had the pleasure of meeting him since , although we did communicate often over the phone and through email.

Brendon’s passing is sad. Sad for the country of his birth in which he lived, and extremely sad for his family still trying to cope with the recent loss of their son. My heartfelt condolences go to Yasmine and Devika who are left to live a life sans Brendon, a man of such abiding influence and guidance in their lives.


Hugh Karunanayake

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English in Mathematics



By R.N.A. de Silva


“Which subject did you have most difficulties with, having switched the medium of instruction from Sinhala to English?” I posed this question to a Sri Lankan student who was following a pre-University course in an educational institution in Hong Kong, having completed studies up to the GCE Ordinary Level programme in the Sinhala medium in a leading girls’ school in Colombo. “It is definitely mathematics,” she replied. Having served as a teacher for a long period of time at this educational institution with students from over 80 countries, I realised the above-mentioned view was shared by other students, too, who had to change the medium of instruction to English. This does not seem to make sense as one would have expected mathematics to be the easiest subject to follow as it has its own symbolic language. Why then has this situation arisen?

I would like to separate these difficulties into two categories:

1. Hastiness due to mindset

2. Vocabulary issues

Sometimes hastiness can automatically occur due to the mindset that mathematics should be easy to follow even if you change the medium of instruction as you are dealing with symbols. This attitude can cause enormous problems as students may skip instructions or avoid reading the question fully and concentrate only on the symbolic part of the problem

As an example, consider the following question.

The graphs of lines 3y = 5x + 1 and 2y = 7 – 3x intersect at point P. Find the coordinates of P.

Seeing the word ‘graphs’ and the two equations, a student maybe tempted to draw the graphs of the two lines and thereby find the point of intersection, which is a time-consuming affair. If it was read properly, the student could have noticed that the solution can be obtained by solving the two equations algebraically, which is much more efficient.

To a fast reader, obtaining the correct answer to the following question can be a problem as it may end up with just finding the value of x.

If 2x+3 = 5x-3, find the value of 2x+3.

The students need to be trained to read the question fully and understand what is required to be done, before attempting it.

The time spent to grasp the aim of the question is not wasted time.

Many children consider mathematics as an alien language consisting of symbols and expressions. Most of the difficulties that students encounter is related to vocabulary. The mathematical interpretation of the meaning of a word may differ from the meaning given to it in the English language. The word ‘find’ in mathematics means to obtain an answer showing the working while in the English language, it refers to discover or search. The following sketch shows the funny side of this difference.

Two of the words that has caused much confusion are ‘or’ and ‘and’.

In general usage, A or B is considered as either A or B but not both, as shown in picture.

However, in mathematics ‘A or B’ means ‘it can belong to A or B including intersection’. This is shown in picture.

The above, in normal usage is interpreted as ‘A and B’. However, in mathematics A and B refers to only what is common to A and B as shown in picture.

Here are the mathematical meanings of some of the other words which can have a different meaning with the English language definitions.


– Obtain the only possible answer


– Mark the position of points on a diagram

Write down

– Obtain the answer (Working need not be shown)


– A number that does not change


– Having the same shape but not the same size


– To show a result using known information


– A procedure such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc.


– A member of a set


– The extent of space occupied by a solid

The following illustrate some of the difficulties that the difference of meanings brings:

How odd these odd numbers are? The even numbers are even stranger.

Don’t be mean and help me to find the mean of these numbers.

Is right angle the right answer? Let me write it on the board.

The polysemous nature of some of the mathematical terms make it confusing for the students in the understanding of mathematical concepts. Mathematical terms have precise definitions to describe numerical relationships. At times these definitions resemble the everyday usage meaning but there are instances where the definitions notably differ. Consider ‘in general’ as an example. In mathematics there can be no exceptions to a result if it is considered to hold in general. However, in everyday usage, if a claim is said to be true in general, it would mean that it is true most of the time, but exceptions are possible.

To add to the problem, there are some terms such as ‘degree’ that can have many different meanings within mathematics while having a different meaning in everyday use. In mathematics, degree can refer to the measurement of an angle, the complexity of an algebraic equation and a unit of temperature.

Although mathematics deals essentially with symbols, it is taught through the medium of language which is the major means of communication. Students build understanding as they process ideas through language. It is important for students to give emphasis to the familiarisation with the mathematical vocabulary and at the same time understand the difference of meanings of terms mathematically and everyday usage. Teachers have an important role to play here in highlighting such terms and using them in different contexts for comfortable acclimatization. As Marcus Quintilianus quoted, “One should not aim at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand.”

(The author is a senior mathematics examiner of the International Baccalaureate Organization and a member of the faculty of the Overseas School of Colombo.)



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Success with debut single



Fred-James Koch: Lots of airplay for ‘I’m Runnin’


Fred-James Koch seems to be more in the news, these days, than his illustrious father, Alston Koch.

The turning point in Fred-James career is, undoubtedly, the Hollywood film ‘Night Walk.’

His role in the film is two-fold – actor and singer.

It’s, in fact, his singing of the theme song, ‘I’m Runnin,’ that has generated quite a lot of excitement, among music lovers.

The song is now being heard, world-wide, over radio (in Sri Lanka, on Sun FM), while the video, too, has been seen by many, on social media.

An Australian magazine, ‘Music Injection,’ had this to say about Fred- James:

“Fred- James Koch has written an incredible theme song for the movie ‘Night Walk,’ called ‘I’m Runnin.’ Just released, this song is engaging and gives us a sense of urgency, as the song builds. Fred-James vocals have a unique tinge to them and with the video having scenes from ‘Night Walk,’ it encourages me to watch the movie. ‘I’m Runnin’ features AZ Sheriff.” – Jen.

Following the debut spin for ‘I’m Runnin,’ on The Music Director programme, on 88.3 Southern FM Melbourne, the track was also played on the All New Saturday Ausmosis programme.

And, guess what! It’s now No. 3 on the Australian Top 20 Download chart. and No. 2 on the Australian Top 20 Stream chart.



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Inklings of change in national reconciliation policy



By Jehan Perera


The government comfortably overcame a vote of no-confidence in one of its key ministers over the rise in the price of fuel.  Those who expected to have greater numbers supporting the no-confidence motion miscalculated that the apparent differences and rivalries within the government would be uppermost.  Any government, or institution for that matter, would have its internal differences.  The current government is better secured against these differences that might otherwise split it into different competing parts on account of the familial bonds that bind the leadership together.  The President, Prime Minister, newly appointed Finance Minister, as well as the former Speaker who is now Irrigation and Internal Security Minister, are closely knit brothers who have gone through trials and tribulations together. 

An iconic photograph of recent times would be the joy on (then) President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s face when he embraced his brother (then) Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa shortly after the latter survived a suicide bomb attack at the height of the war.  The brothers, however, have different strengths and constituencies.  They have different groups who follow and advise them, and each of these groups would prefer if their leader was the first among equals.  President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s comment that he has another eight years in which to achieve his goals has been widely discussed.  It would send a signal to others in the polity that it would be premature to gather around another member of the family at this time in anticipation that the baton would be passed on at the conclusion of the President’s current term in 2024.

On his part, the President has been promoting the institution he once served and to which most of his confidantes belonged or continue to belong.  The institution of the military is one where the closest of human bonds can be forged, because on the battlefield each depends on the other for their lives.  In his early period in office, the President has been promoting the military, both serving and retired, wherever he can, as ambassadors to foreign nations, as Covid health guideline monitors and as a supra grade of administrators in government departments.  It is often the case that those appointed to these positions are not the best suited to the tasks they have been set to do.  But the President evidently trusts them and they are his support base.  Unlike any other president in the past, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not a member of a political party.  Civil society organisations have periodically called for a non-party presidency who is non-partisan in decision making. 



However, there is a need to challenge the excesses.  The president’s pardoning of a soldier who was held by several courts, including the Supreme Court, to have deliberately killed children and (adults, eight in all), outside of the battlefield may be due to his conviction that loyalty to the military counts most.  However, the President is expected to uphold the system of checks and balances, and if he favours one institution at the expense of the others, it leads to a weakening of the entire structure of governance.  Another looming challenge is that posed to the autonomy of institutions of higher education and specifically the universities.  The government decision to vest the Kotelawala Defence University with powers to accredit other institutions of higher education is a threat to the freedom of thought and expression.  The military hierarchy who will head the KDU can be expected to have values that are important to the military, but not to democracy which is based on human rights.

The KDU law needs to be opposed as indeed the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) has urged along with opposition political parties.  At the same time there are other issues on which civil society can consider giving constructive support to governmental initiatives.  For instance, they do not engage with NGOs who provide a variety of services complementing the work of the government. The most important of these is the national reconciliation process.  There are indications that the government is shifting its stance on the issues of post-war reconciliation.  President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election victory on a highly nationalist platform won him a big majority of votes of the Sinhalese ethnic majority.  The government felt empowered to publicly declare its intention to withdraw from the post-war reconciliation process initiated by its predecessor government with support from the international community.  This was followed by withdrawal from UNHRC resolution 30/1 of 2015 co-sponsored by the previous government. 

However, the four subsequent internationally driven resolutions against Sri Lanka, emanating from Geneva (UNHRC), Ottawa (Ontario Parliament), Washington DC (US Congress) and Brussels (EU Parliament) seem to have led to a serious rethink within the government about its policy towards post-war reconciliation.  All four make human rights and the ethnic conflict their centerpiece.  Though not yet publicly commented upon, the signs of change are two-fold.  The first is the increased visibility of the US Embassy in meeting with the leaders of the Tamil and Muslim parties.  The media has reported that US Embassy officials discussed issues of post-war reconciliation efforts, devolution of power, rule of law and the Prevention of Terrorism Act with SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem. Recently, a US Embassy delegation, led by Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz, held similar discussions with TNA leader R. Sampanthan where the focus was on the proposed new Constitution.



The second sign of a change is the statement from the Presidential Secretariat announcing a recommendation, emanating from the President Commission of Inquiry for Appraisal of the Findings of Previous Commissions and Committees on Human Rights and the Way Forward headed by Justice AHMD Nawaz.  This is with regard to the EU call for the abolishing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act long seen by those promoting national security as part of the country’s first line of defence.  The Commission said that it cannot agree with calls for repealing the PTA but Sri Lanka’s anti-terrorism law should be reformed in line with similar laws in other countries, including the UK.  This would be aimed at affirming Sri Lankan sovereignty and national security interests, which are important to the government’s voter base, while complying with the requirements of the EU parliament which has called for the repeal of the PTA on the grounds that it violated human rights. 

The Presidential Secretariat statement also contains a significant section in which it mentioned that “It is the policy of the Government to work with the United Nations and its agencies to ensure accountability and human resource development in order to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation. The Government is committed to providing solutions for the issues to be resolved within the democratic and legal process and to ensure justice and reconciliation by implementing necessary institutional reforms.”  This is the first official indication that the Government is reconsidering its earlier position that it would blaze is own path with an indigenously generated reconciliation model which would not require international assistance. In this context it would be useful if the government focused closer attention to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Goals.

Veteran Tamil political leader V Anandasangaree, who has championed Tamil rights for a long time, and whose son is a Canadian parliamentarian, has referred to these recent developments and said that the President who holds the defence portfolio, Prime Minister and Finance Minister being members of Rajapaksa family could ensure genuine post-war reconciliation.  He also urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government not to leave the problem for a future administration to resolve, but address it now.  If the President is to successfully address the problem that has eluded a solution since independence, and been the biggest disaster to Sri Lanka’s development, he will need to broad base his support at multiple levels.  He will not only need the support of the ruling party, led by his brothers, as well as civil society, but also that of the ethnic minority parties and the opposition political parties.  This will require patience, dialogue and self-sacrifice, and the need to break from past and chart a reconciliatory course of action.

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