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by ECB Wijeyasinghe

When Julius Caesar said: “let me have men about me that are fat,” he must have been thinking of persons like Lionel Wendt.

Wendt was half a dozen extraordinary characters rolled into one and would have delighted the heart of Caesar’s recruiting sergeant. Naturally, Wendt was a heavy man where adiposity was concerned, but he was not in the same class as, say Percy Cooke, or N.J. Martin. Percy Cooke was one of the most highly respected solicitors of his time.

He traveled in a limousine specially built for him by Colonial Motors. The front seat which he occupied had no doors for obvious reasons. N.J. Martin, Crown Proctor in distant Chilaw, had an enormous office table, carved out in the centre to fit the shape of his body. When he retired, Albert Peries, the former Speaker, took over Martin’s office, lock stock and barrel, but re-modelled the furniture to suit his slender frame.

Lionel Wendt, on the other hand, despite his heavy build was a bundle of energy and when he walked up the steps of Lake House, two at a time, he was obviously putting an undue strain on his great heart. The premature death of perhaps the greatest Dutch Burgher of this generation put an end to a brief but sparkling career.

It is difficult to believe that the one and the same man could be a photographer with an international reputation, a brilliant pianist, a conversationalist who could bandy wisecracks with Oscar Wilde, and an aesthete, if ever there was one. Wendt’s father was a staid and scholarly judge of the Supreme Court. But the secret of his versatility probably lay in the fact that his mother belonged to the old De Saram family.


Whether they play cricket, tennis or golf, or perform on the ‘cello or piano, or merely manufacture castor oil for ICI, they are always at the top of the class. It is also a curious thing that some of the most enthusiastic admirers of and authorities on Sinhala Art and Culture should have been non-Sinhalese. There was Ananda Coomaraswamy, of course, but most of the others were Dutch Burghers.

Take these for examples – Andreas Nell and Cyril Nicholas were antiquarians of the highest order. There was one more thing that was common to both of them. They were bachelors. In the evening of their lives, instead of hitching their wagons to some falling star, they spent their time studying things that were old but beautiful.

L.E. Blaze, the founder of Kingswood College, Kandy, wrote one of the most readable histories of Ceylon. R.L. Brohier, now an octogenarian, is still the last word on ancient irrigation systems which provide food for thought to modem engineers. George Keyt has absorbed the beauty and grace of Oriental Art to such a degree that nobody thinks of his Dutch connections.

There are people who are convinced that Keyt is the re-incarnation of one of the painters who kept old Kasyapa happy on the Sigiriya rock, by taking his mind back to the houris who had done their bit for King and country.

There are other Dutch Burghers of this generation whose contributions to culture and art cannot be ignored. In the field of drama, the work of Professor E.F.C Ludowyk, Arthur Van Langenberg and Percy Colin-Thorne are outstanding. All of them were friends of Lionel Wendt who in some respects resembled Nataraja, the Hindu deity with two legs but four arms, especially when he played the piano.


D.R.Wijewardene, the Boss of Lake House, always on the lookout for talented young men saw the camera-artist in Lionel Wendt and made his plans accordingly. Wendt was given a free hand to design and build a modem photographic studio where excited bridal couples could keep cool while their features were being recorded for posterity.

Even fathers-in-law who had reluctantly parted with big dowries looked happy under Wendt’s barrage of witticisms. Chitrafoto ultimately became a permanent adjunct of Lake House and the model for up-to-date studios. There were other good photograpers in Colombo, but very few people could tell their children and grand-children that a man with an international reputation handled the camera when they posed for this picture.


One of Lionel Wendt’s most intimate friends and admirers was Harold Peiris. Harold who occupies a part of Alfred House built by Soysa, is also an aesthete like Lionel and a patron of the Arts. Since his youth he has cultivated the habit of doing noble things, not dreaming them all day long. One of his dreams was to build a permanent memorial to his bosom pal and nothing more concrete could have been raised than the Lionel Wendt Theatre and Art Centre.

Harold built it on the very site where Wendt used to give impromptu recitals of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms for his high-brow cronies, but something simpler to low-brows like myself. One of the documents I prize highly is a note written by Wendt in blue pencil on copy paper, after seeing “The Cardinal” a high-powered drama staged at St. Peter’s College Hall. After a most generous reference which I scarcely deserved, he said: “But my gawd ” And added some unprintable comments on the performances of one or two others who happened to be his friends.

A couple of days later he dropped in at the “Observer” Editorial room and extended an invitation to Editor Hilaire Jansz and myself to a drink at his home. There, looking very much like Mark Hambourg, his teacher, he sat at his grand piano, wearing a scarlet dressing gown. For half an hour he entertained his two-man audience with music and words.

Probably thinking that the classics were not good for our digestion, he let himself go in a species of Boogie-woogie, with variations of his own, in order to please our simple musical souls. There was no cant in his make-up and he did not pretend to be a plaster saint. To most of his friends and pupils however, he was a demi-god. When Harold Peiris conceived the idea of a memorial, the play-song public heaved a sigh of relief that Colombo was going to have a model theatre at last. The plan was to make it sound-proof and heat-proof. In fact it was going to be air-conditioned.


“But how oft the schemes of mice and men gang aft agley!” The Wendt Theatre at present is merely air-tight. That is all. After the first act of a play the animal heat of the audience begins to make itself felt. However amusing the comedy the people who come to laugh either remain to gasp for breath, or quietly follow the dramatic critics to the well-stocked bar to recharge their enthusiasm for Drama.

There is a body of Christians who believe that sinners must go through Purgatory before entering Heaven. St. Peter is supposed to stand at the Golden Gate and check up on this. There is also a formidable body of opinion inclined to the theory that visitors from Sri Lanka to the celestial regions are absolved from this penal formality, on one condition. They have to prove that they spent a certain number of hours at the Lionel Wendt before the footlights. But air-conditioning will change all this. The fever and the fret will go for ever and you will not be able to sit in the dark and hear each other groan.

To cut a long story short, a big drive is now on to help Harold Peiris to achieve this meritorious goal and make the Lionel Wendt Theatre worthy of its name. Besides, every cent given towards this corporal work of mercy will receive its reward, if not at Guildford Crescent, at least in a higher region where there is no comedy or tragedy and the only man who raises a laugh is Harpo Marx looking for his brother Groucho, who had evidently given him the wrong address.

The next step after getting the air to blow in the right direction is that a section of the Lionel Wendt Complex should be named after Harold Peiris, who has almost killed himself physically and financially to keep alive the flambeau of his friend’s fame.

(From The Good at their

Best first published in 1978)

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Glimmers of hope?



The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis



By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.


1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.


1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 



Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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