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Forty-year saga that can never be forgotten

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By Rohan Abeywardena

For the 35th anniversary of The Island five years ago, when our editor Prabath Sahabandu asked me to pen a piece for that issue, I took the opportunity to write about all the hilarious things we did to keep ourselves entertained, while we worked through all types of storms as during much of that period the country was in turmoil with LTTE terror attacks taking place regularly, mainly in the form of suicide bombings that snuffed out innocent lives by the dozens, the JVP’s bloody second uprising and the then government’s counter terror campaign to crush it. We ourselves came very close to peril on more than one occasion after our founder literally vanished into thin air; his newspapers were marked by some of those in power as threats to them. We managed to withstand all that not because we were some heroes, but it was simply a case of us just doing what we had to do in the line of duty.

Last week, when the editor asked me to contribute a column to the 40th anniversary issue, I literally underwent a shock reawakening as to how long it has been since I was among the first few journalists to join this newspaper just about two weeks before it started and a few weeks after the Sunday Island began. In fact, if my now 65-year-old memory serves me right, my first English editorial identity card here bore the legend EE12, indicating that I was the 12th employee to join it. By the time Mr. Upali Wijewardene disappeared with few others who were accompanying him while returning to Colombo on his Learjet from Malaysia in early 1983, our editorial had a formidable team with more than 60 permanent employees, including many veterans and many provincial correspondents, freelancers and even foreign contributors. Of that original lot, I believe only myself, Zanita Careem and Norman Palihawadana still remain here, while many have been claimed by father time and others migrated or are working elsewhere. Both Zanita and Norman have been working throughout at The Island, but I left the newspaper thrice and came back each time, but yet I have put in a total of more than 24 years with the newspaper.

At the time when I first joined The Island in the first week of November 1981, I had been working at the now defunct, staid Sun newspaper of the then powerful Independent Newspaper Group as a sub-editor with Zanita and she followed me to The Island a month or two after me as did many others thereafter.  When I joined that former newspaper, I had very high hopes of contributing to combatting wrongs in the society in general, because the newspaper literally shouted from its roof top how independent it was with regular ‘exposures’ with banner headlines. But I soon realised that it was nothing but a charade and started questioning my inner-self as to whose independence that they practised.

Some of those at the helm there could have even made Joseph Goebbels blush, for most of their exposures were nothing more than recycled formula type stories as in the celluloid world. Those regularly repeated topics were ‘child labour’, ‘pornography’, illicit abortions, boy prostitution, etc.  While the so-called national newspapers kept the country’s intelligentsia generally hoodwinked, the Sinhala language organ of the Communist Party Aththa edited by legendary B.A. Siriwardena (fondly known as Sira) literally went to town, daily exposing corruption and intrigues that were widespread especially among those wielding power and Sira easily wrote the best biting editorial each day among all Sinhala language newspapers. That paper often only had one broad sheet comprising four pages. Even some of those haughty Colombo 07 types who would not want to be seen dead with a Sinhala Commie newspaper, was known to at least read Sira’s blunt down-to-earth editorials, like pinstriped British Bankers reading or ogling at the racy tabloid London SUN hidden inside the broadsheet Financial Times or the Guardian. Of course, unlike the London SUN there was nothing obscene in Sira’s Aththa. It also had formidable cartoonist Jiffrey Yoonoos, who was once slashed with a knife because someone could not stomach his drawings.

The Sun that I worked in and its weekly Weekend were not all about bumming the government in power.  There were naturally exceptions like when they took on the then national carrier Air Lanka and its powerful Chairman and Managing Director, the late Capt. Rakhitha Wickramanayake. It was also a treat to read the weekly political column under the pen name Migara written by present Editor of The Sunday Times Sinha Ratnatunga, at a time when the country was starved of inside authentic news.

It was a very good training school for beginners. And I am eternally grateful that I received a good foundation there, especially under the tutelage of Louis Benedict. And many top journalists of today cut their teeth at the old Sun/Weekend.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was how The Sun covered the way the UNP storm troopers of the JSS wielding cycle chains and what not broke up the July ’80 general strike. I clearly remember staff photographers coming with photos of battered blood-soaked strikers, who were attacked near Lake House, but the newspaper was more worried about publishing those and antagonising JRJ than reporting the dastardly act. The strikers were simply asking for a Rs 300 salary increase from that regime which came to power with a five-sixths landslide victory in 1977 after making all sorts of promises, including eight pounds of cereals per person per week on top of the existing free rice ration. But after assuming power everything was forgotten and even the existing free rice ration was scrapped. Atop that the self-proclaimed Dharmishta (righteous) regime rolled out the red carpet to capitalist Robber Barons by devaluing the rupee by as much as 43 per cent, eliminated all food subsidies, reduced workers’ rights etc. etc.

I must however state that why I left The Sun and joined a yet to start private newspaper was not because I then had any special illusions about its founder Mr. Upali Wijewardene, except maybe I was attracted to the challenge of working for a man, who was drawing venomous fire from some among the ruling clique, who, I knew, were no angels. However, once the newspaper was started, we all realised that he was a hands-off boss, who gave a free hand to his editor with no interference whatsoever, not even from some of his close relatives. And the editor too was game for a free media culture. In that way, Wijewardene literally opened the floodgates for a truly liberal media culture in this country among national media, which clearly later paved the way for the independent and competitive TV and radio which we enjoy today along with the newspapers and an abusive social media.

When I was called for the sole interview with newpaper’s Editor Vijitha Yapa and Englishman Peter Harland, both had been handpicked by Wijewardene to launch his English newspapers; what really hooked me was the salary that was offered. The interview was not about my competency, but how quickly I could come. One question thatYapa asked me was how much I was drawing at The Sun, when I said I was getting little over Rs 1,200 per month, which was a good salary for a journalist at the time he quickly said: “We’ll give you 1800 a month”. I said I would take it, though I’m sure had I asked for 2000 they would have agreed to it.

What hurt me the most when I left The Sun was the type of departure given to me. Since I felt I was considered just a mediocre, I thought they would be glad to see the back of me, but when I went to give my letter of resignation to editor Rex de Silva, he asked me to give it to the Chairman. But when I went up to the Chairman’s office, I was asked to take a seat and wait and I waited and waited for I believe was well over an hour. Finally, in disgust when I got up to dump my resignation letter with the reception and vanish from there for good, the receptionist said “You can now see the Chairman”. And when I walked into his room and gave the letter all he said was you can go. And that was the treatment meted out to an employee who had taken hardly a day’s leave in the nearly two years he had worked there. But that must be because I must have been the first to join a new rival.

So much happened in those early years of this newspaper that someone should write a book on its history. But I will leave the reader with some interesting personal experiences that must be told.  After the sudden disappearance of Wijewardene, it dawned on everyone that we could no longer go on the way it was and we had to sue for peace especially with Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel and our main nemesis, Ranasinghe Premadasa, the then Prime Minister and Minister of Local Government, Housing and Construction and designated successor of JRJ. But Premadasa was paranoid about being usurped by not only Wijewardene, but even by others like Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, and he even clashed with Ronnie de Mel. While de Mel was willing to kiss and forget as long as he got good coverage in return from us,Premadasa was not the forgiving or forgetting type.

However, once we got into a fresh scrape with de Mel. It all started with him bashing us in parliament in the worst possible way, most probably after someone provoked him. At the time the late Ajith Samaranayake, probably one of the most talented journalists this country has hitherto produced, acted as editor as Gamini (Gamma to most of us) Weerakoon was abroad. So not to be outdone, Ajith wrote one of the most devastating editorials in reply headlined ‘Barbarians at the gate’ and carried it prominently on page one from top to bottom on left side, not on the usual editorial page. The immediate result was fireworks and I will not go into details except to say banks could have throttled us at the time at the behest of the powerful FM.

Around this time, I had started doing a series of interviews with important political personalities of the day called FIRING LINE. But in order to make peace with Mr. de Mel once again I was ordered to do a weekly interview with him.

Similarly, I learned the hard way why Junius Richard Jayewardene was called the 20th Century Fox. He was a person who never gave any official interviews to any local journalist as long as he was in power. So, when in retirement I thought I could cajole him into speaking out as there was so much blood letting since the signing of the controversial Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, for political expediency and there seemed to be no let up with his own party divided and in tatters. Well, I finally did manage to get an appointment for an interview through his Secretary Mr. Mapitigama. At the appointed day and time, I went to his private residence at Ward Place, ‘Braemar’. After a short chat with the head of his security detail SSP Sumith de Silva and Mr. Mapitigama I was ushered into old JRJ’s office and after the initial handshake and my taking a seat opposite him, he at once asked me something like so young man what do you want to talk about? I quickly pulled out my cassette tape recorder and the list of questions.

Now, I must say the secret of my success with the Firing Line series was that I literally ambushed my subjects usually with a below the belt question at the opening bell itself as that almost always resulted in my ‘victim’ virtually eating humble pie after being stunned. With the 20th Century Fox I did not however plan any such stunts but the intention was to soften him up first by pandering to his tastes before trying hard stuff. But lo and behold what I finally got from him was the shock of my career.

The minute I moved to switch on the tape he said stop and to put it away. Then he said, “We’ll first discuss what you want to ask me”. I skipped all formalities and started asking about most of the problems facing the country caused by the UNP often changing the goal post because it wanted to control everything through the imperial presidency of his. But each time I tried to raise an issue from the past he simply shut me up by asking whether I was there and he would say, “You can’t say that because you were not there”.

Most interestingly and ironically the old man was not worried about what was happening to the country, but was repeatedly griping about how much they had suffered by being deprived of their estates by the Land Reforms of the previous United Front government of Bandaranaike. In a way, it explained why he wanted to take revenge from her soon after coming to power.

One thing on which he did make his opinion known to me during that one-sided exchange was that it was wrong of Lalith and Gamini to break away from the party to fight Premadasa. His line of thinking was that they should have worked for change from within.

And finally he said something to the effect “now you got what you came for”, but when I protested that I came there after informing the editor that I am going to interview President Jayewardene and I couldn’t go back and tell him I had no interview. Then he thought for a few seconds and asked me to leave the questions with his secretary.

A few days later, Mapitigama called me and said the President’s answers were ready. I quickly drove to ‘Braemar’, collected it without even bothering to look at what was inside the closed envelope and rushed back to the office thinking I was on top of the world with an exclusive interview with the ex-President.

But when I went through it, I found that what he had answered were not the questions I had given; they were either reworded or totally new questions to fit JRJ’s agenda. When I suggested to then editor Gamini Weerakoon we throw it away and forget about it, the boss however laughed and asked me to carry it.

Another interesting experience I had was when I went to do a Firing Line interview with the late Anura Bandaranaike at his Rosmead Place residence when he was the Leader of the Opposition during President Premadasa’s tenure. Bandaranaike being a formidable debater with the gift of the gab I had no intention of giving him any kid glove treatment even though I then literally worked for his uncle Dr. Seevali Ratwatte, who was our Chairman at the time.

Now, I had been battling Premadasa for a long time in my own way, so at the opening bell I asked Bandaranaike how he hoped to defeat Premadasa when the latter got up as early as 3:00 am and began attending to his work at 4:00 am, whereas the Leader of the Opposition usually got up long past noon after enjoying the good life into the early hours of the morning. The question blew a fuse inside him and the burly giant got up, shoving the coffee table that was there between us, at me. Luckily, I was able to jump back. But soon he realised his blunder and recovered his composure and said he didn’t have to work so hard or something to that effect. But I am sure I had the better of him in the ensuing interview.

Over the particular interview I had no problem back at UNL. In fact, the late Dr. Ratwatte was a gem of a boss when dealing with journalists like me. There was a real incident later on when I wrote a story about some local consultants hired by the World Bank to prepare feasibility studies to help start various business ventures, and took it for a ride. Having spent a couple of million dollars or more on the project, the WB found most of those feasibility studies were either frivolous or redundant. For they were about how to start a successful bakery business, a laundry, beauty salon, etc.

When the newspaper hit the market with that story one of the consultants concerned immediately phoned and demanded a correction, but point blank I refused. The result was that this highly qualified guy, being a Bandaranaike, came to teach me a lesson after telling me so by rushing to our Chairman. The minute he arrived in Dr Ratwatte’s office I got a call from the head office saying the Chairman wanted to see me. In fact, I saw this guy driving into the UNL compound in an Alfa Romeo. I immediately armed myself with something that I was able to surprise him with. So, when Dr Ratwatte asked me ‘Rohan what is all this’? I showed everyone a copy of the internal World Bank critical assessment. But before I could even open it the Chairman just said, ‘Okay, okay you can go back’.

Then there was also a Firing Line Interview that didn’t go beyond a few questions with Bulathsinhalage Sirisena Cooray, one-time strongman under Premadasa. So, some time after the latter’s assassination and after he was distanced by both the UNP and the Premadasa family I asked Cooray for an interview to tell his side of the story as he was being maligned by many. When he agreed for an interview, I got myself dropped at his then residence at Lake Drive close to McDonald’s, Rajagiriya, and asked the driver to pick me up later on his way back after dropping several others.

One of my planned line of attacks was to nail him about his dealings with the underworld characters, like Soththi Upali. So, when I came to the subject of how he came to know Soththi Upali, and no sooner had Cooray told me ‘oya lamaya’ [Soththi Upali] used to drop into see him in connection with Gam Udawa work, than he realised the trap was being laid to corner him; he immediately told me to leave. By that time, I believe Soththi Upali had already been killed by his enemies. But since there was no sign of my vehicle and though the distance from his residence to MacDonald’s Junction wouldn’t have been more than 150 metres, but it felt as if it was the longest walk I had ever undertaken and unlike today Lake Drive was then generally deserted.

My luck with ‘Firing Line’ however, was soon running out with my potential subjects/victims soon getting wise to my shock therapy and some of them even pitched into me on flimsy excuses even before I could open my mouth at an interview.

I believe one of the first to try that counter shock strategy on me was the late TULF Leader M. Sivasithamparam, who succeeded as the TULF Leader after the Tiger hit team assassinated A. Amirthalingam. So, when I went to interview him for ‘Firing Line’, I knew he was no spring chicken as he was a veteran politician and a formidable lawyer. When I got to his place, close to Thimbirigasyaya Junction, I got a shelling from the man accusing me of keeping him waiting for about two hours. That lecture of his about being punctual and not wasting other people’s time would have taken a good 15 minutes. But I was quite sure the appointment I made was for around 10:30, but he insisted it was two hours earlier, or something to that effect.



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Features

Rising farce of Family Power

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Former President Maithripala Sirisena has struck hard on warnings of being deprived of Civil Rights by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

In his recent statement, President Gotabaya was clear on observing the policies laid down in his Saubhagya Dekma manifesto. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had given no importance to the war heroes, intelligence services, and national security, which led to the Easter Carnage.

He was very clear that having a two-thirds majority in Parliament, this government is ready to respond to the false propaganda of the Opposition, and provide a meal free of poison to the people.

He said the Presidential Commission appointed by Yahapalana has stated very clearly who was responsible for the Easter Carnage. This included the then President, Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet of that time.

“We leave all legal action on this to be taken by the judiciary. We have trust in the judiciary and will allow justice to take place, All the PCoI reports have been submitted to Parliament. We will not poke our fingers into the judicial system. While maintaining the freedom of the judiciary, it is not possible to ask that some persons be brought to justice, and others punished,

 “If they want this action to be taken very soon, we can bring a Bill to Parliament (as done before) and remove all the rights of those responsible, so that they will not do such faults again.  If they want this, we are ready for it, as we have a two-thirds majority power. When asking for various things, they should do it with care. We are ready for this too. The people should not be fooled.

“If I am not good, and we are not good, is the alternative to this the Opposition? We have seen how they ruled for five years. That is why I was elected, although it was told that I would not get the votes of the minorities. But we won. Will they be able to reduce the Cabinet to 25?”

Mr. Sirisena’s response in parliament was to this claim of two-thirds strength.  In the midst of a major clash with government ministers, he made it clear that the government’s two-thirds power was due to the presence of the SLFP in the ruling coalition.

It certainly was a shake up to the show of two-thirds strength and power by President Gotabaya.

While President Gotabaya was clear on his following the findings of the PCoI, and stressed the call for action against Mr. Sirisena, there was total silence on the other recommendations of the Commission. The supporters who cheered him, raised no question about what the PCoI had recommended on Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero and the Bodu Bala Sena led by him.

Was it in keeping with the PCoI that Gnanasara Thero has been appointed to head a Task Force on One Country, One Law?  Is this One Law part of the new Gotabaya thinking on Green Agriculture?

What has emerged with the Sirisena response to the Gotabhaya challenge is the emerging reality of the Podujana Peramuna – SLPP politics. The New Kelani Bridge, which was opened, when Gotabaya made his strong speech, had to be kept closed the very next day, showing the rising confusion in Podujana Governance,

The warning given by experts about the situation relating to the LP gas cylinders, is driving a huge new scare among the public. If there are a few more gas cylinder explosions, there could be mass gas protests, even angrier that the farmer protests on the fertilizer disaster.

The Podujana government is certainly in a crisis of governance.  There are turn-arounds on many of its policies from Neo-Nitrogen fertiliser –  from cost to its benefit for Sri Lankan cultivation, and the payment to contaminated Chinese fertiliser. The turn back on the use of chemical fertilisers will also bring a huge new price to the cultivators, leading to another round of protests?

The Gotabaya Keliya is fast doing turns and twists on policies of the government. The Rajapaksas are being surrounded by faults and failures. It will certainly not be easy him to

use two-thirds power, when the reality is the rising farce of family power.

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A tribute to vajira

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By Uditha Devapriya

The female dancer’s form figures prominently in Sinhalese art and sculpture. Among the ruins of the Lankatilake Viharaya in Polonnaruwa is a series of carvings of dwarves, beasts, and performers. They surround a decapitated image of a standing Buddha, secular figures dotting a sacred space. Similar figures of dancing women adorn the entrance at the Varaka Valandu Viharaya in Ridigama, adjoining the Ridi Vihare. Offering a contrast with carvings of men sporting swords and spears, they entrance the eye immediately.

A motif of medieval Sinhalese art, these were influenced by hordes of dancers that adorned the walls of South Indian temples. They attest to the role that Sinhala society gave women, a role that diminished with time, so much so that by the 20th century, Sinhalese women had been banned from wearing the ves thattuwa. Held back for long, many of these women now began to rebel. They would soon pave the way for the transformation of an art.

In January 2020 the government of India chose to award the Padma Shri to two Sri Lankan women. This was done in recognition not just of their contribution to their fields, but also their efforts at strengthening ties between the two countries. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a raging pandemic, these awards were finally conferred on their recipients.

One of them, Professor Indra Dissanayake, had passed away in 2019. Her daughter received the honour in her name in India. The other, Vajira Chitrasena, remains very much alive, and as active. She received her award at a ceremony at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Modest as it may have been, the conferment seals her place in the country, situating her in its cultural landscape as one of our finest exponents of dance.

Vajira Chitrasena was far from the first woman to take up traditional dance in Sri Lanka. But she was the first to turn it into a full time, lifelong profession, absorbing the wellsprings of its past, transcending gender and class barriers, and taking it to the young. Dancing did not really come to her; it was the other way around. Immersing herself in the art, she entered it at a time when the medium had been, and was being, transformed the world over: by 1921, the year her husband was born, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis had pioneered and laid the foundation for the modernisation of the medium. Their project would be continued by Martha Graham, for whom Vajira would perform decades later.

In Sri Lanka traditional dance had long turned away from its ritualistic past, moving into the stage and later the school and the university. Standing in the midst of these developments, Vajira Chitrasena found herself questioning and reshaping tradition. It was a role for which history had ordained her, a role she threw herself into only too willingly.

In dance as in other art forms, the balance between tradition and modernity is hard, if not impossible, to maintain. Associated initially with an agrarian society, traditional dance in Sri Lanka evolved into an object of secular performance. Under colonial rule, the patronage of officials, indeed even of governors themselves, helped free it from the stranglehold of the past, giving it a new lease of life that would later enable what Susan Reed in her account of dance in Sri Lanka calls the bureaucratisation of the arts. This is a phenomenon that Sarath Amunugama explores in his work on the kohomba kankariya as well.

Yet this did not entail a complete break from the past: then as now, in Sri Lanka as in India, dancing calls for the revival of conventions: the namaskaraya, the adherence to Buddhist tenets, and the contemplation of mystical beauty. It was in such a twilight world that Vajira Chitrasena and her colleagues found themselves in. Faced with the task of salvaging a dying art, they breathed new life to it by learning it, preserving it, and reforming it.

Though neither Vajira nor her husband belonged to the colonial elite, it was the colonial elite who began approaching traditional art forms with a zest and vigour that determined their trajectory after independence. Bringing together patrons, teachers, students, and scholars of dance, the elite forged friendships with tutors and performers, often becoming their students and sometimes becoming teachers themselves.

Newton Gunasinghe has observed how British officials found it expedient to patronise feudal elites, after a series of rebellions that threatened to bring down the colonial order. Yet even before this, such officials had patronised cultural practices that had once been the preserve of those elites. It was through this tenuous relationship between colonialism and cultural revival that Westernised low country elites moved away from conventional careers, like law and medicine, into the arduous task of reviving the past.

At first running into opposition from their paterfamilias, the scions of the elite eventually found their calling. “[I]n spite of their disappointment at my smashing their hopes of a brilliant legal and political career,” Charles Jacob Peiris, later to be known as Devar Surya Sena, wrote in his recollection of his parents’ reaction to a concert he had organised at the Royal College Hall in 1929, “they were proud of me that night.”

If the sons had to incur the wrath of their fathers, the daughters had to pay the bigger price. Yet, as with the sons, the daughters too possessed an agency that emboldened them to not just dance, but participate in rituals that had been restricted to males.

Both Miriam Pieris and Chandralekha Perera displeased traditional society when they donned the ves thattuwa, the sacred headdress that had for centuries been reserved for men. But for every critic, there were those who welcomed such developments, considering them essential to the flowering of the arts; none less than Martin Wickramasinghe, to give one example, viewed Chandralekha’s act positively, and commended her.

These developments sparked off a pivotal cultural renaissance across the country. Although up country women remain debarred from those developments, there is no doubt that the shattering of taboos in the low country helped keep the art of the dance alive, for tutors, students, and scholars. As Mirak Raheem has written in a piece to Groundviews, we are yet to appreciate the role female dancers of the early 20th century played in all this.

Vajira Chitrasena’s contribution went beyond that of the daughters of the colonial elite who dared to dance. While it would be wrong to consider their interest as a passing fad, a quirk, these women did not turn dance into a lifelong profession. Vajira did not just commit herself to the medium in a way they had not, she made it her goal to teach and reinterpret it, in line with methods and practices she developed for the Chitrasena Kala Ayathanaya.

As Mirak Raheem has pointed out in his tribute to her, she drew from her limited exposure to dance forms like classical ballet to design a curriculum that broke down the medium to “a series of exercises… that could be used to train dancers.” In doing so, she conceived some highly original works, including a set of children’s ballets, or lama mudra natya, a genre she pioneered in 1952 with Kumudini. Along the way she crisscrossed several roles, from dancer to choreographer to tutor, becoming more than just a performer.

As the head of the Chitrasena Dance Company, Vajira enjoys a reputation that history has not accorded to most other women of her standing. Perhaps her greatest contribution in this regard has been her ability to adapt masculine forms of dance to feminine sequences. She has been able to do this without radically altering their essence; that has arguably been felt the most in the realm of Kandyan dance, which caters to masculine (“tandava“) rather than feminine (“lasya“) moods. The lasya has been described by Marianne Nürnberger as a feminine form of up country dance. It was in productions like Nala Damayanthi that Vajira mastered this form; it epitomised a radical transformation of the art.

Sudesh Mantillake in an essay on the subject (“Masculinity in Kandyan Dance”) suggests that by treating them as impure, traditional artistes kept women away from udarata natum. That is why Algama Kiriganitha, who taught Chandralekha, taught her very little, since she was a woman. This is not to say that the gurunannses kept their knowledge back from those who came to learn from them, only that they taught them under strictures and conditions which revealed their reluctance to impart their knowledge to females.

That Vajira Chitrasena made her mark in these fields despite all obstructions is a tribute to her mettle and perseverance. Yet would we, as Mirak Raheem suggests in his very excellent essay, be doing her a disservice by just valorising her? Shouldn’t the object of a tribute be, not merely to praise her for transcending gender barriers, but more importantly to examine how she transcended them, and how difficult she found it to transcend them? We eulogise our women for breaking through the glass ceiling, without questioning how high that ceiling was in the first place. A more sober evaluation of Vajira Chitrasena would ask that question. But such an evaluation is yet to come out. One can only hope that it will, soon.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Features

It’s all about France in Kandy !

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Sarah Toucas, Director Alliance Francaise de Kandy

This month’s edition of Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar, on Tuesday 30 November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, makes a journey to the hill capital Kandy to the Alliance Française de Kandy.

A venue of historical significance in central Sri Lanka which celebrates its 55th anniversary next year, the AF Kandy was once even located on the upper storey of the ancient Queen’s bath or the Ulpangé, just outside the Dalada Maligawa.

All about France and the French in Kandy, on the show will be the newly appointed director of the AF Kandy, Sara Toucas, who will talk about plans to further popularise the French language in Kandy.

Joining the show is also Dr. Kush Herat, former Director AF Kandy and visiting Senior Lecturer in French at University of Peradeniya, who talks about motivating undergraduates and inducting them to the French language and culture.

Frenchman Dr Jacques Soulié, a former Director of the AF Kandy who has contributed immensely to the propagation of the French language and culture in Kandy then takes viewers on a tour of his brainchild and a major cultural venue – The Suriyakantha Centre for Art and Culture – which has been visited by hundreds of Sri Lankans and foreign visitors.

To close the show is Ravana Wijeyeratne, the Honorary Consul for France in Kandy whose links with France go back to his childhood when his father Tissa Wijeyeratne was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in France in the early 1970s.

Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar

comes to you on Tuesday 30th November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

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