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Lord Louis Mountbatten, center, Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia, salutes during a V-J parade on Galle Face Green, Colombo, Ceylon, on Aug. 25, 1945. Troops marched by reviewing stand in celebration of victory over Japan in World War II. File photo

by ECB Wijeyesinghe

Lord Mountbatten’s recent visit to Sri Lanka and the death of Captain Uyangoda of the Galle Face Hotel, one of the few Ceylonese heroes of the Arakan Front, have prompted me to make a short journey into the past, when the noble lord asked the Editors of four Ceylon newspapers to come to Burma and watch the final stages of the war against the Japanese.

I am not sure whether any other journalists from this part of the world were invited to take a ringside seat and watch the Allied blow that was intended to send the Japanese reeling. But Mountbatten, especially after his sojourn in Peradeniya, where the gardens were bristling with the loveliest flora and fauna, had a soft corner in his heart for Ceylon.

Hundreds of Kandy residents have seen him ride on horseback in the beautiful Udawattekelle, or drive a jeep all alone on the road to Katugastota where watching the elephants bathe in the Mahaveli was not the only diversion. In another country, during a World War, a whole battalion of security men would have accompanied the Supremo. But there was no need for such precautions in this peaceful island on which no invader had set foot since the days of Sri Wikrama Rajasinghe.

After Mountbatten moved the Allied headquarters, quietly but reluctantly, to less salubrious climes, he did not forget the little island that had given him so much hope and happiness. He wanted the people of Ceylon to see through the eyes of its newspapers the upper-cut that he was going to deliver in Lower Burma.

The invitations came to the four Editors to go and see for themselves the vastness of the undertaking to push back the Japanese steam-roller which had crushed everything in its path from Singapore northwards along the Malay peninsula. Incidentally, during that drive one of Ceylon’s best-known sons, Manicam Saravanamuttu was locked up by the Japanese in Penang and spent nine months in jail.

How Sara survived it all and was eventually appointed Ceylon Commissioner in Singapore is another story which has been related in a most graphic manner by Sara himself in his Saga which he published a few years before his death.

To come back to the Editors who were invited to go and watch the fun at the Front: they were A.C. Stewart of “The Times of Ceylon,” H.A.J. Hulugalle of the “Ceylon Daily News,” H.D. Jansz of the “Ceylon Observer,” and Iswara Iyer of the “Virakesari.”


Stewart was a Scotsman to whom the idea of being a non-paying guest of Lord Mountbatten for three weeks made an instant appeal, however much he had to face the hazards of war. So, he accepted the invitation with alacrity. Besides, it gave him the chance of indulging in his pet hobby and making a few rupees on the side by collecting stamps from some of the most God-forsaken areas in South-east Asia.

But he was a good companion and had his own way of showing his appreciation of a friend’s kindness. He carried in his hip-pocket a flask of Hennessy’s Three Star Brandy, which he raised to his lips whenever the temperature dropped, and offered you a swig if there were not too many people about.

Herbert Hulugalle, one of the three other Editors invited, though he had a weakness for roaming round the world in peace time, thought twice before he went among the bombs. And the thinking was done by his wife, Lillian, a courageous woman at all times, but who somehow did not relish the idea of her husband spending the rest of his days in a Japanese prison camp.

But the statement which clinched her argument was the grim reminder: “Remember dear, we have seven children.” That was true. They had seven children, five of whom were sons, and one or two of them were not too easy to manage. Finally, Lillian managed to persuade Herbert that after all it was better not to take the risk and lay down his life on what he described as the purple plains of Burma.

There were heaps of purple spots in Ceylon, she told him, where he could die in greater comfort. Had the sweet-natured Lillian been alive today she would have confirmed the truth of my statement.

But Mountbatten’s kind request could not go unheeded. Someone had to go from the “Daily News” and Hulugalle’s deputy was sounded. His name was Gordon Jayanta Padmanabha, the handsome grandson of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, and with a brain as agile as that of his celebrated grandfather. His mother was an English woman. Hence, his mother’s people called him Gordon, while his father’s folk, especially the top-drawer Jaffna Tamils in Cinnamon Gardens with marriageable daughters, lovingly called him Jayanta.

So Jayanta was asked to act as a substitute for Hulugalle and a signal was accordingly sent to the Allied Headquarters, as arrangements had to be made to confer on them the rank of Honorary Majors in the Army. The reason was that if the journalists by some stroke of ill-luck fell into the hands of the Japanese they would probably receive an additional potato and a cupful of congee with the prisoner’s rations.

So “Major” Padmanabha was asked to present himself before the Commander-in-Chief of Lake House, D.R. Wijewardene, who gave him his blessing and Rs.100 to cover out-of-pocket expenses for three weeks.

The third Editor to receive Mountbatten’s note was Hilaire Donald Jansz of the “Ceylon Observer” whom Lionel Wendt described as the “quaint, gaunt, saint,” a quiet Burgher with a puckish sense of humour, whose Sunday editorials, notable for their cynical levity, have evoked the highest praise from every journalist, British or otherwise, who worked in Ceylon.

Though his grandfather Ezekiel Jansz was a bit of a thug and once horse-whipped a British Government Agent, Hilaire was so meek and mild that people doubted whether he had the strength to hurt a fly. But to compensate for his physical infirmities, Providence compensated him with colossal intellectual gifts. I am saying all this to lead up to the point that D.R. Wijewardene considered Jansz indispensable.

Once, in a weak moment – and such moments were very rare – D.R.W. had confessed to one of his buddies : “Where can I get another Jansz.” Hence it was useless even to suggest to send Jansz to the battle-front. Somebody had to represent the “Observer” and he had to be dispensable. It was not difficult to find such a man.

For nearly 15 years Jansz had a deputy to do the odd jobs that he was physically incapable of doing. That was my business. Without further ado, Wijewardene decided, that I was the other man from Lake House to go on the Mountbatten mission, and the magnificent sum. of Rs. 100 was slipped into my hands also, to cover expenses.

The fourth invitation went to Iswara Iyer, the Managing Editor and part-proprietor of the Tamil daily, “Virakesari.” Iyer was a South Indian who had been educated in England and was fully conversant with the niceties of European culture. Though he was a Brahmin he was not too fastidious regarding what he ate, and had a liberal attitude towards what he drank.

He was a vegetarian and considered brandy a close relative of grape juice, and whisky as something extracted from concentrated barley water. There was no mention of alcohol when either of these potent liquors was consumed, the emphasis being on the grapes and the barley. Therefore, they were ideal drinks for vegetarians, especially rich Brahmins.

Iswara Iyer, however, was too busy with office matters to find the time to go to the Arakan and K.V.S. Vas, the chief leader writer and virtual editor of the paper, was pressed into service to take his boss’s place. Vas was also a Brahmin and except for a swig of brandy from Stewart’s flask to keep the cold out, he generally adhered to the diet and tenets of a conservative Hindu.


So one day in January nearly 32 years ago the four Musketeers, some of whom had never handled a musket in all their lives, were given the honorary rank of Major, and asked to assemble on the old racecourse, where an aircraft was waiting to whisk them off to India.

It was one of those ancient Dakotas with two long metal benches to serve both as seats and for luggage. The aircraft had been on the racecourse since early morning exposed to the rays of the burning sun and when we got in about noon, the temperature inside must have been according to a modest estimate, about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. All of us, except Vas, wore fairly heavy clothes as we were warned that it would be somewhat cold in North India through which we had to travel.

There was neither pressurizing nor air conditioning gadgets in our section of the plane and for the first half hour, wrapped up in my tweed suit, I was just wondering what sins I had committed in my previous birth, if any, to deserve this punishment. Not beads, but torrents of perspiration ran down my face, back and chest and reduced me to a kind of pulp. I well remember, when crossing our Palk Strait I felt that I had just emerged from a shower bath.

Then came the climb to higher regions when the temperature started to fall so rapidly that it was a mercy I did not contract double pneumonia before reaching Bangalore, our halt for the night. The next morning we resumed our journey and after a short stop at Vizagapatam reached Calcutta. We were billeted at the Grand Hotel and were now ready to take the Great Leap Forward to the Arakan Front, regarding which I hope to write some day soon if I manage to survive the present hot spell.

(Excerpted from The Good Among the Best first published in March 1976)

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Is it impossible to have hope?



So, a woman has lost again to a man. I refer here to Matale District SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne having to concede her bid for Deputy Speaker of Parliament to some bod of the Pohottu Party, who, sad to say makes only a negative impression on Cass. Conversely, Kaviratne looks competent, capable, trustworthy, able to communicate and command, and most importantly speaks and conducts herself well balanced. So different from most of the MPs, particularly of the government side, who lack education, and in appearance and behaviour – decency. Please, take my word for the fact that I am not a party person. What I want in our representatives is education and decorum. And they should at least once in a while use their own heads and make decisions that are good for the country and not follow the leader through sheep like, sycophantic obedience. Of course, even more than this is self interest that prompts the way they act and decisions are taken, especially at voting times.

Rohini Kaviratne made a bold statement when, as Wednesday’s The Island noted, she told Parliament “the government was neither run by the President nor the Prime Minister but by a ‘crow.’” Utterly damning statement but totally believable. Deviousness as well as self-preservation is what motives action among most at the cost of even the entire country. And, of course, we know who the crow is – kaputu kak kak. Cass lacks words to express the contempt she feels for the black human kaputa, now apparently leading the family of kaputas. Why oh why does he not depart to his luxury nest in the US of A? No, he and his kith are the manifestation of Kuveni’s curse on the island. Strong condemnation, but justified.

You know Cass had a bold kaputa – the avian kind – coming to her balcony in front of her bedroom and cawing away this morning. Normally, she takes no notice, having developed sympathetic companionship towards these black birds as fellow creatures, after reading Elmo Jayawardena’s Kakiyan. She felt sorry for the crow who cawed to her because his name has been taken to epithet a politico who landed the entire country in such a mess. And he is bold enough to attend Parliament. Bravado in the face of detestation by the majority of Sri Lankans! Cass did not watch afternoon TV news but was told father and son, and probably elder brother and his son attended Parliamentary sessions today – Wednesday May 18. May their tribe decrease is the common prayer; may curses rain on them. Cass recognises the gravity of what she says, but reiterates it all.

I am sure Nihal Seneviratne, who recently and in 2019, shared with us readers his experiences in Parliament, moaned the fact that our legislature always lacked enough women representation. Now, he must be extra disappointed that political allegiance to a party deprived Sri Lanka of the chance of bringing to the forefront a capable woman. Women usually do better than men, judging by instances worldwide that show they are more honest and committed to country and society. The two examples of Heads of Government in our country were far from totally dedicated and commitment to country. But the first head did show allegiance to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in fair measure.

As my neighbour moaned recently: “They won’t allow an old person like me, after serving the country selflessly for long, to die in peace.” Heard of another woman in her late 80s needing medical treatment, mentally affected as she was with utter consternation at the state of the country. One wonders how long we can be resilient, beset on every side by dire problems. But our new Prime Minister was honest enough to voice his fears that we will have to go through much more hardship before life for all Sri Lankans improves.

Thus, my choice of pessimistic prediction as my title. Will we be able to hope for better times? Time will be taken but is it possible to have even a slight glimmer of hope for improvement?

There is much debate about the appointment of Ranil W as PM. We admire him for his knowledge and presence. But the greatest fear is he will defend wrong doers in the R family. Let him be wise, fair and put country before saving others’ skins. He has to be praised for taking on the responsibility of leading the country to solvency. He said he will see that every Sri Lankan has three meals a day. May all the devas help him! The SJB, though it refuses to serve under a R Prez, has offered itself to assist in rebuilding the nation. Eran, Harsha, and so many others must be given the chance to help turn poor wonderful Sri Lanka around. And the dedicated protestors, more so those in Gotagogama, still continue asking for changes in government. Bless them is all Cass can say at this moment.

Goodbye for another week. hoping things will turn less gloomy, if brightness is impossible as of now.

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Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line



Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer



Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.


had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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