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Fount and repository of knowledge



By DR. P.G. Punchihewa

Royal Asiatic Society

In the 1950s, when we were undergraduates of the University of Ceylon, the then professor of history, a foreigner, used to say, “I say there are no libraries in Ceylon. There are two bad libraries in Colombo. One is the Public Library.” I cannot remember the other bad library to which he referred.

But he being the professor of history, would have known that there was a tradition of maintaining a library called ‘pot gul’ in every temple, reminding us of the pothgul viharaya in Polonnaruwa, with the great Parakramabahu holding an ola book in both hands. Our professor was probably lamenting the loss of a tradition.

The Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) was inaugurated in 1845, by a well-intended group of Englishmen. Justice Stark had been the first President of the Society. It seems there had been an educated, scholarly and elite group of Englishmen who had come to know of the glorious past of the island and wished to take meaningful steps to study, record and preserve the heritage of the island in contrast to Viscount Torrington who assumed duties as Governor of the island in 1847 and was the cause for the 1848 rebellion.

The object of the Society was to institute and promote inquiries into the history, religions, language, literature, arts, sciences, and social conditions of the peoples of the Island and connected cultures.

By 1852 the library had been set up and had 250 books at the beginning. The number had increased to 7564 by 1995. Today the collection stands at 12,500. The library is the main asset of the society. The aim is to keep the collection within the boundaries of the objectives of the founders. As such, it remains a small, yet qualitative, library.

It has a reference and a lending section. The reference section includes a rare collection, some of which go back to the 19th Century. And includes some ola leaf books and manuscripts. The lending section is open to members.

The library has been enriched by donations of personal collections of very valuable books by eminent scholars, among whom were Dr. P.R Anthonis, C. A. Lorenz, Mc Alpine, R.C. de S. Manukulasuriya, Dr. Lorna Deveraja, Sinha Basnayaka, Bandu de Silva, Kamalika Pieris, Dr. Hema Gunathilake and D.T. Devendra.

The Journal of the society is the main media through which the society takes research findings to the public. The early contributors to the journal were mostly British and amongst them were some of the eminent members of the Ceylon Civil Service like H.C.P. Bell, the first Commissioner of Archaeology, and H.W. Codrington. Over the years, more and more Sri Lankans came forth to present papers and publish them in the journal. There were such luminaries as E.M. de Z. Wickremasinghe, Sir Paul E. Pieris, E.L. Brohier, Prof S. Paranvitana, Dr. C.E. Godakumbura, Simon Casichetty, Dr. P.E.P. Deraniyagala, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam and many others. Today, some of the contributors hail from India.

Membership of the Society is open to those who possess a first degree. Also available are associate membership and student membership to assist students particularly from universities. Royal Asiatic Society is managed by a Council elected by its membership at its annual general meeting.

The Royal Asiatic Society with its library is a national asset. It is a fount and a repository of knowledge where one can spend hours, in its quiet environment, browsing through the revelations of our revered seniors. R.A.S provides a platform to present academic papers. Regular monthly meetings on subjects of interest open to the public, lead to professional discussions and are an occasion to meet intellectuals.

It is up to the intelligentsia, the educated public and the university population to make the best use of the Royal Asiatic Society.

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Send them back to school!



We are not talking about our children going back to school but about the request made by the Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella to allow parliamentarians to enrol in the Sri Lankan Law College, or any other university, to further their studies. How about the basic qualification to enter university? Talking about the basic qualification we remember there was a talk some time ago about some members who have not got through even their GCE (O)Level, a bare minimum qualification, required even for a peon in a recognised organisation or in government services. We request the Chief Opposition Whip to request, on behalf of these members, to allow them to go back to school, no matter how old they are.

We remember one SAARC member country brought in a regulation saying that all those who come forward to contest a seat in the parliament should possess a university degree and at the submission of nomination the officials detected that nearly 20% of the certificates were fake. Anyway, we are proud that such things are extremely rare in our country.

Finally, I urge Kiriella to include schools, too, for MPs, who need the basic qualifications for university admission.


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Compensate victims of gas explosions



There is no shortage of hot topics for the media these days, the latest being the unusual occurrence of gas related accidents. Any ordinary person would understand that the present series of accidents are certainly due to the release of newly arrived consignment of gas cylinders whose composition ratio of propane and butane has been altered to maximise profits.

The responsible institutions and authorities as well as some ambidextrous politicians are defending the culprits who deny any change in the gas composition. The special committee appointed by the President to investigate into the matter, seem biased. The other day the public saw (through the TV news footages) that these so-called experts were trying to bully the innocent victims of these accidents, accusing them of the use of worn out hoses and regulators as the main reason for the incidents. Why the hell can’t they figure out the fact that these accidents are all due to the use of the newly bought wrongly filled cylinders. A committee of this nature is useless if its aim is to serve the vested interests. Instead of blaming the victims, one compulsory question they should ask is if the cylinder is newly bought or an old one. It is sad that this Kekille committee of experts is also trying to put the blame on the innocent consumer and defend the businessman.

All that the government should do at this critical hour is to introduce a mechanism to collect the data of the victims of these explosions and pay due compensation to them forthwith at the expense of the concerned gas company. The ministry in charge should also issue an urgent order to the company to recall the return of all these defective gas cylinders distributed to all districts and take immediate action for refilling them with the correct prescription of the chemical composition and issue with a new label giving all required instructions. In the meantime, the Consumer Protection Authority must ensure that accessories like the hoses and regulators, conforming to the SLS standards, are available in the market at least from now on for the safety of the consumers.

M. B. Navarathne

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Banks make a killing at depositors’ expense



The motive of the government decision to lower the interest rates of deposits was predominantly to engross the banks to lend at lower interest rates for entrepreneurs to boost the economy of the country which is in dire straits. However, would this proposal prove productive?

Owing to this absurd stunt senior citizens and pensioners have been left high and dry high and dry, resulting in unprecedented agony and anguish. Many victims have highlighted their grievances on behalf of the distraught senior citizens and pensioners. This much spoken of government’s harsh decision to lower interest rates has made the lives of senior citizen’s and pensioners miserable with the escalating high cost of living, skyrocketing cost of medical expenses, etc. It is pertinent to mention that monthly interest rates on fixed deposits, which they mostly rely upon, have been reduced to alarmingly low 4% and 5 % which has added to the woes already the senior citizens face.

All senior citizens who are not receiving or entitled for a pension, depend solely on monthly fixed deposit interest as the regular source of income for their living. As a result of lowering interest rates of deposits, their plans have all been shattered causing them to be wondering how to make ends meet.At this dire juncture, the intervention of the President is needed to revoke this unreasonable decision of lowering the interest rates of deposits.

The only redress the senior folk benefits is by the Central Bank’s special scheme of 15% interest for senior citizens. However, in this too the senior citizens have been slapped and battered with a Rs 1.5 million ceiling.

In comparison to the reduction of interest rates of deposits, if one takes into account the number of loans granted to entrepreneurs at lower interest rates the answer would be very negligible, particularly as the bank’s do not take risks to lend to entrepreneurs whom they believe to have projects not viable. The banks of course, would show enhanced profits at the end of the year as they have paid the depositors lower interest rates which reflects as plus mark for their balance sheets. This is a blessing in disguise for the management of banks at the receiving end of impoverished pensioners and senior citizens.

In the above contest the intervention of the President Gotabaya Rajapakse is most needed to bring about redress to ‘distressed” senior citizens and pensioners

Sunil Thenabadu

Brisbane, Australia

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