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Grand daughter remembers the Maha Mudaliyar

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by Chantal Hiranthi Obeyesekere de Saram

My grandfather, Sir James Peter Obeyesekere, was a benevolent man who believed in giving to the society/community in which he lived. He was a linguist and a scholar who made great attempts to facilitate education throughout the Island. He had no interest in politics and was more focused on carrying out social activities to develop education, religion and society as a whole. He was a member of the colonial government service and was appointed to the post of Chief Mudaliyar. He was regarded as one of the most powerful personalities in British Colonial rule.

 

Family Background and Parents

His mother was Mrs. Cornelia Henrietta Dias Bandaranaike Obeyesekere. She was possibly one of Ceylon’s largest landowners and a leading philanthropist. She was married to Hon. James Peter Obeyesekere, a member of the Legislative Council. Her husband met with a tragic accident, leaving her a pregnant young widow of 26 years, with three very small children, Hilda, James and Donald. At the same time she lost her beloved mother. A devout Christian lady, she relied on her Saviour to overcome the tragedies in her life.

Cornelia Obeyesekere managed her estates of tea, rubber, coconut and rice very well. From Kankesanturai, Jaffna to Kataluwa, Galle, she owned more than 20,000 acres. She introduced rambuttan from Malaysia to Ceylon and planted rambuttan on her estates at Malwana. She gifted 1,000 acres of her Muthurajawela land to the Government to conserve the wetlands. She loved her children and grandchildren.

Her three sons James, Donald and Stanley attended Cambridge University. She accompanied them to England. Queen Victoria sent a special train to London to bring her to Windsor Castle. Queen Victoria was very impressed with her ability to speak good English and her style of dress. They enjoyed a close friendship.

St. Mary’s Veyangoda Church, St. Mary’s Veyangoda School, Wathupitiwela Hospital are all gifts made to the country by this noble lady. She built many schools, clinics to combat malaria and helped the temples of Attanagalle, Warana and the Saman Devale in Ratnapura. The Hirdramani family, a business family of repute, owe their beginnings to Mrs. Obeyesekere. She gave them the money to start their shop in Chatham Street. A large population of people in Siyane Korale live on lands gifted to them by Mrs. Obeyesekere and her son.

After her death in 1935, her assets passed on to her daughter Lady Hilda Obeyesekere and her sons, James, Donald and Stanley.

My grandfather was born in Mutwal in 1879. He had three siblings. His eldest sister Lady Hilda Obeyesekere was a well-educated lady. She helped the arts develop in this country. “The Lady Hilda Obeyesekere Hall” in Peradeniya was gifted by her to the University of Peradeniya. Her son Justin Deraniyagala, an old boy of S. Thomas’ College, was an artist of repute. Her grandchildren, Druvi and Rohan de Saram are world famous musicians.

Donald Obeyesekere was my grandfather’s younger brother. He was educated at Royal College. He was a historian and an authority on ayurvedic medicine. His sons boxed for Cambridge University and Ceylon.

My grandfather’s youngest brother, Stanley Obeyesekere, was also educated at Royal College. Stanley Obeyesekere was the country’s first Ceylonese Solicitor General. His grandson Dijen de Saram played cricket for S. Thomas’ College. His great grandson Julian Bolling was a Sri Lankan Olympic swimmer.

My grandfather studied at S. Thomas’ College Mutwal. He was a good scholar and excelled in athletics. He was involved in the Scout Movement and was a Cadet. He was a good horse rider and played Polo. He went to Trinity College, Cambridge University in the UK as did his two brothers. His father Hon. J.P. Obeyesekere also attended Trinity College, Cambridge. After graduating from Cambridge, he and his brothers who all studied Law were called to the Bar. He was an Advocate of the Supreme Court, Justice of the Peace. M.R.A.S., C.B. District Commissioner, Henaratgoda Boy Scouts Association. He went on to become President of the Boy Scouts Association.

He also showed a keen interest in Geology. His mother had owned plumbago mines. He and his brothers after graduation from Cambridge University studied agriculture at the Royal Agriculture University in Cirencseter Gloucestershire, UK.

 

Contributions Made Towards Nation Building

My grandfather was not fond of politics. He was the last Chief of all Chieftains of Ceylon or Maha Mudaliyar, in which capacity he also served as the Chief Interpreter and Extra A.D.C. to his Excellency the Governor. He served under Sir Andrew Caldecott and Sir Henry Monk-Mason Moore. King George VI was the British Sovereign at that time. He was the conduit that bounded the local citizenry and the British. He had a very difficult diplomatic role to play.

After graduating from Cambridge, he and his brothers who all studied Law, were called to the Bar. He became an advocate to the Supreme Court on his return to Sri Lanka. He initially joined the Colonial Government service as a district commissioner and was later appointed ‘Maha Mudaliyar’ or Head Mudaliyar in the year 1928. This post was an important one in the British Government of Ceylon. Having served as a Governor’s Chief Interpreter, native representative, adviser and aide-de-camp he came to be known as one of the most powerful personalities in British Colonial Ceylon. It is significant that he was the last to hold the position under the British.

He served in the Colonial government in such a capacity because he had no desire to enter the political arena in Ceylon. He was not power hungry and on the contrary played the role of a mediator between the British Government and the citizenry. He mediated through diplomacy and although this was not an easy task he was able to gain the trust of both the British Government and the Ceylonese people.

My grandfather was a social worker, a suitable role for a benevolent man. He believed that the down trodden and dis-empowered should be empowered and given a voice. He laid the foundation to this through his generosity. He extended a hand as well by listening to the grievances of the villagers in the Attanagalle area and taking steps to solve them. There was even a place in his home separated just for the purpose of meeting villagers to redress their grievances. At our home in Nittambuwa, there were people from all walks of life coming to meet him. He enjoyed the company of those who were interested in science.

Furthermore he witnessed the historic moment when Ceylon gained independence in 1948 with satisfaction, as he had played a role in ensuring Ceylon gained her independence.

Later on in his career he was appointed a Justice of Peace by the Governor and also a Knights Bachelor for public service in Ceylon in the 1936 New Year Honours by King George V.

 

His Contribution To Education

My grandfather owned land in Mt. Lavinia which extended from the Galle Road to de Saram Road. His sister Lady Hilda Obeyesekere owned the land which extended from de Saram Road to the sea. Sir J.P. Obeyesekere donated the land which extended from Galle Road to Hotel Road to S. Thomas’ College. He served on the Board of Governors for many years and helped set up a lot of the buildings of the school. He provided good jak timber taken from his estates and also provided labour necessary to build these buildings. All the school furniture was donated by him.

There were many schools in Alawala, Walpola, Bauddha Vidyalaya, Anura Madya Maha Vidyalaya, Kamburugalle Maha Vidyalaya, Udammitta Indrasara Vidyalaya in Attanagalle that were gifted by him. He donated buildings, desks, chairs, books, cupboards to these schools. He also provided scholarships to needy children.

He also contributed to the development of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, the Nittambuwa Buddhist Pirivana, the Muttune Buddhist Pirivana, the Attanagalle Raja Maha Viharaya and the Warana Raja Maha Viharaya all benefited from his generosity.

He was a linguist and scholar. He was well versed in English, French, Sinhalese, Pali and Sanskrit. He studied Astronomy. He had a very powerful telescope with which he would study the night sky. He was always a student, reading voraciously. He was interested in new scientific discoveries. He would constantly impart this knowledge to the less privileged.

In all these gifts, the family followed the principal of “the left hand not knowing what the right hand give.” My father Deshamanya Senator J.P. Obeyesekere a Royalist and Cambridge graduate gave to S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia 250 perches and made a further donation of eight perches to the school. I made available to S. Thomas’ College 50 perches and a purpose built Montessori and Day Care Centre. This building cost 40,000,000/- as it was a purpose built for pre scholars, thus enabling S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia to now extend their facilities to early learning. It is interesting to note that most of the school buildings, land holding worth over a billion rupees belonging to my family now belongs to the school. This is possibly the largest gift any family has made to this particular School. All his employees children’s text books and school books were gifted to them every year.

Health

He gifted five acres to the Mrs. J.P. Obeyesekere Wathupitiwela Hospital. He built many wards in this Hospital and gifted the necessary equipment. Many clinics in Gampaha were constructed by him. A total of 20 acres and buildings have been gifted by him, his mother and his son to this hospital.

 

 

Contribution to the Anglican Church

A deeply committed Christian he maintained St. Mary’s Church Veyangoda and St. Peter’s Church Mirigama. He contributed generously to All Saints Church, Hultsdrop, the family church. Each day like his mother, he would start the day in prayer in a little chapel in his home, Batadola Walauwa in Nittambuwa. He also administered the “C.H. Obeyesekere Trust” in the Diocese of Colombo.

 

Social Services

He gifted eight acres and helped build the Siyane Korale East Social Service Home for the Elders’ and Children. This was on a request made by daughter-in-law, my mother Deshamanya Mrs. Siva Obeyesekere.

 

Scout Movement

He was very involved in the Scout Movement. His wife Lady Amy Estelle Obeyesekere was the first Ceylonese President of the Girl Guides.

 

Gifts to the Nation

His gifts of land and houses were legendary. The present Pradeshiya Sabhawa is located on 2.5 acres gifted by him.

Growing up with my grandfather was a magical experience. He was a very disciplined person. He kept fit by riding twice daily his favourite horse, a very feisty animal, a polo pony. At a very early age he taught me to ride. I was three years old when I received my first pony. It was selected by his friend who was the V.C. Chairman of Delft Island. Patiently and slowly I was taught to ride. Then we would get up early morning and ride through his estates to Mahibulkande. He had gifted his lands to the villagers there. We were given two stools to sit on and they would welcome us with kurumba water. It was lovely listening to folk songs and stories, My grandfather loved entertaining my friends. We were very young but he knew how to amuse us. He was so witty.

In the night he would show us the night sky through his powerful telescope. Our home was always vibrant with people of different walks of life sharing their knowledge with us. In particular he was interested in natural history and geology. I would spend hours in his company and never tire of listening to his stories. He would read children’s books to me. I would go for long walks with him. I was very privilege to share my childhood with him.

 

Death

At the age of 89 he passed away at Batadola Walauwa, Nittmabuwa. My father and I were by his bedside. He was given a grand funeral complete with Lascarine guards and was laid to rest at the Borella Kanatte Cemetery Anglican section in September 1968. He lived by the noble saying “it is not what you have but what you give that brings you happiness.”

(This article follows last week’s excerpt from DIG Edward Gunawardane’s memoirs of his meetings, as a young ASP, with the Maha Mudaliyar)

 



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South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and what it means for SL

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At the head table (L to R): High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya and Executive Director LKI Dr. D.L. Mendis.

State circles in Sri Lanka have begun voicing the need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the country, on the lines of South Africa’s historic TRC, and the time could not be more appropriate for a comprehensive discussion in Sri Lanka on the questions that are likely to arise for the country as a result of launching such an initiative. There is no avoiding the need for all relevant stakeholders to deliberate on what it could mean for Sri Lanka to usher a TRC of its own.

Fortunately for Sri Lanka, the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI), Colombo, took on the responsibility of initiating public deliberations on what a TRC could entail for Sri Lanka. A well-attended round table forum towards this end was held at the LKI on November 25 and many were the vital insights it yielded on how Sri Lanka should go about the crucial task of bringing about enduring ethnic peace in Sri Lanka through a home-grown TRC. A special feature of the forum was the on-line participation in it of South African experts who were instrumental in making the TRC initiative successful in South Africa.

There was, for example, former Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Communication of South Africa Roelf Meyer, who figured as Chief Representative of the white minority National Party government in the multi-party negotiations of 1993, which finally led to ending apartheid in South Africa. His role was crucial in paving the way for the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Highlighting some crucial factors that contributed towards South Africa’s success in laying the basis for ethnic reconciliation, Meyer said that there ought to be a shared need among the antagonists to find a negotiated solution to their conflict. They should be willing to resolve their issues. Besides, the principle needs be recognized that ‘one negotiates with one’s enemies’. These conditions were met in South Africa.

Meyer added that South Africa’s TRC was part of the country’s peace process. Before the launching of the TRC a peace agreement among the parties was already in place. Besides, an interim constitution was licked into shape by then. The principle agreed to by the parties that, ‘We will not look for vengeance but for reconciliation’, not only brought a degree of accord among the conflicting parties but facilitated the setting-up of the TRC.

Meyer also pointed out that the parties to the conflict acted with foresight when they postponed considering the question of an amnesty for aggressors for the latter part of the negotiations. If an amnesty for perceived aggressors ‘was promised first, we would never have had peace’, he explained.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fanie Du Toit, Senior Fellow of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa, in his presentation said that the restoration of the dignity of the victims in the conflict is important. The realization of ethnic peace in South Africa was a ‘victim-centric’ process. Hearing out the victim’s point of view became crucial. Very importantly, the sides recognized that ‘apartheid was a crime against humanity’. These factors made the South African TRC exercise a highly credible one.

The points made by Meyer and Du Toit ought to prompt the Sri Lankan state and other parties to the country’s conflict to recognize what needs to be in place for the success of an ethnic peace process of their own. A challenge for the Sri Lankan government is to ban racism in all its manifestations and to declare racism a crime against humanity. For starters, is the Lankan government equal to this challenge? If this challenge goes unmet bringing ethnic reconciliation to Sri Lanka would prove an impossible task.

Lest the Sri Lankan government and other relevant sections to the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict forget, reconciliation in South Africa was brought about, among other factors, by truth-telling by aggressors and oppressors. In its essentials, the South African TRC entailed the aggressors owning to their apartheid-linked crimes in public before the Commission. In return they were amnestied and freed of charges. Could Sri Lanka’s perceived aggressors measure up to this challenge? This question calls for urgent answering before any TRC process is gone ahead with.

Making some opening remarks at the forum, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya said, among other things, that the LKI discussion set the tone for the setting up of a local TRC. He said that the latter is important because future generations should not be allowed to inherit Sri Lanka’s ethnic tangle and its issues. Ethnic reconciliation is essential as the country goes into the future. He added that the ‘Aragalaya’ compelled the country to realize its past follies which must not be repeated.

In his closing remarks, former Minister of Public Works of South Africa and High Commissioner of South Africa to Sri Lanka ambassador Geoffrey Doidge said that Sri Lanka’s TRC would need to have a Compassionate Council of religious leaders who would be catalysts in realizing reconciliation. Sri Lanka, he said, needs to seize this opportunity and move ahead through a consultative process. All sections of opinion in the country need to be consulted on the core issues in reconciliation.

At the inception of the round table, Executive Director, LKI, Dr. D. L. Mendis making some welcome remarks paid tribute to South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela for his magnanimous approach towards the white minority and for granting an amnesty to all apartheid-linked offenders. He also highlighted the role played by Bishop Desmond Tutu in ushering an ‘Age of Reconciliation’.

In his introductory remarks, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena said, among other things, that TRCs were not entirely new to Sri Lanka but at the current juncture a renewed effort needed to be made by Sri Lanka towards reconciliation. Sri Lanka should aim at its own TRC process, he said.

During Q&A Roelf Meyer said that in South Africa there was a move away from authoritarianism towards democracy, a democratic constitution was ushered. In any reconciliation process, ensuring human rights should be the underlying approach with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights playing the role of guide. Besides, a reconciliation process must have long term legitimacy.

Dr. Fanie Du Toit said that Bishop Tutu’s commitment to forgiveness made him acceptable to all. Forgiveness is not a religious value but a human one, he said. It is also important to recognize that human rights violations are always wrong.

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Cucumber Face Mask

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*  Cucumber and Aloe Vera

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel or juice • 1/4th grated cucumber

Method

Mix the grated cucumber and aloe gel, and carefully apply the mixture on the face and also on your neck.

Leave it on for 15 minutes. Wash with warm water.

* Cucumber and Carrot

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon fresh carrot juice • 1 tablespoon cucumber paste • 1 tablespoon sour cream

Method

Extract fresh carrot juice and grate the cucumber to get a paste-like consistency. Mix these two ingredients, with the sour cream, and apply the paste on the face.

Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water. (This cucumber face pack is good for dry skin)

* Cucumber and Tomato

Ingredients

• 1/4th cucumber • 1/2 ripe tomato

Method

Peel the cucumber and blend it with the tomato and apply the paste on your face and neck and massage for a minute or two, in a circular motion.

Leave the paste on for 15 minutes. Rinse with cool water. (This cucumber face pack will give you brighter and radiant skin)

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Features

Christmas time is here again…

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The dawning of the month of December invariably reminds me of The Beatles ‘Christmas Time Is Here Again.’ And…yes, today is the 1st of December and, no doubt, there will be quite a lot of festive activities for us to check out.

Renowned artiste, Melantha Perera, who now heads the Moratuwa Arts Forum, has been a busy man, working on projects for the benefit of the public.

Since taking over the leadership of the Moratuwa Arts Forum, Melantha and his team are now ready to present their second project – a Christmas Fair – and this project, I’m told, is being done after a lapse of three years.

They are calling it Christmas Fun-Fair and it will be held on 7th December, at St. Peter’s Church Hall, Koralawella.

A member of the organizing committee mentioned that this event will not be confined to only the singing of Christmas Carols.

“We have worked out a programme that would be enjoyed by all, especially during this festive season.”

There will be a variety of items, where the main show is concerned…with Calypso Carols, as a curtain raiser, followed by Carols sung by Church choirs.

They plan to include a short drama, pertaining to Christmas, and a Comedy act, as well.

The main show will include guest spots by Rukshan Perera and Mariazelle Gunathilake.

Melantha Perera: Second project as President of the Moratuwa Arts Forum

Although show time is at 7.30 pm, the public can check out the Christmas Fun-Fair scene, from 4.30 pm onwards, as there will be trade stalls, selling Christmas goodies – Christmas cakes and sweets, garment items, jewellery, snacks, chocolate, etc.

The fair will not be confined to only sales, as Melantha and his team plan to make it extra special by working out an auction and raffle draw, with Christmas hampers, as prizes.

Santa and ‘Charlie Chaplin’ will be in attendance, too, entertaining the young and old, and there will also be a kid’s corner, to keep thembusy so that the parents could do their shopping.

They say that the main idea in organizing this Christmas Fun-Fair is to provide good festive entertainment for the people who haven’t had the opportunity of experiencing the real festive atmosphere during the last few years.

There are also plans to stream online, via MAF YouTube, to Sri Lankans residing overseas, to enable them to see some of the festive activities in Sri Lanka.

Entrance to the Christmas Fun Failr stalls will be free of charge. Tickets will be sold only for the main show, moderately priced at Rs. 500.

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