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by ECB Wijeyesinghe

Holland has been mentioned so often in these columns recently that one cannot help lamenting the almost mass exodus of a small but important section of our population in search of fresh pastures.

One would have thought that all good Burghers when they die go to Holland, but unfortunately that is not the case. Now they prefer to go to Australia to live, and leaven that vast continent with their traditional contributions, spiced, I am sure, with a little bit of culture of Sri Lanka.

Regular globe-trotters tell me that it is not possible these days to walk through the streets of Melbourne or Sydney without hearing the crackle of kokis or scenting the delicate aroma of breudher studded with a thousand raisins or listening to the sweet sounds of things like fuggetti and poffertjes struggling to be born.

Though a British Prime Minister, in a moment of pique once said “In matters of commerce the fault of the Dutch is giving too little and asking too much,” the descendants of those who came here with the Dutch invaders have left behind a legacy of law, literature and lines of communication of which any nation could be proud. I was lucky to have been associated in my early life with three or four of the most piquant personalities of this generation, and they all happened to be Burghers.


During that period, once walking along the corridors of Lake House where I worked, I came across a spruce debonair young man, with his hair neatly brushed and exuding the aroma of an expensive pomade. His clothes were cut in the latest style, I do not know whether they were Bond Street or Saville Row, because I could not aspire to anything better than the Queen’s House tailor at First Cross Street, Pettah, who had a little shop opposite F.X. Pereira’s.

I asked the omniscient P.C.A. Nelson the secretary who this charming young man was, and he said with bated breath that he was Keuneman, the son of the Supreme Court judge. He had just come out from Cambridge where he was President of the Union. Not since James Peiris had we had a president of the Cambridge Union Society, and it was with a feeling of awe that we approached this thing called Keuneman.

In hushed whispers my informants added he was a Communist. My idea of Communism was a cross between a man-eater and woman-hater. Keuneman was neither. As a matter of fact he looked not only like a human being but as one who had not yet completely shaken off the bourgeois Burgher environment from which he had sprung. He liked good food and knew the difference between cheap Spanish wine and Napoleon brandy. He could distinguish between the Russian delicacy and the roes that pass off as caviar.

Later I learned that he owed his good looks not only to his handsome father, but his grandmother, a Miss Ernst, a woman who was playfully referred to at the time as the Matara diamond. I also soon discovered that, despite his academic distinctions, he was inclined to tolerate common men gladly and it was not long before all his colleagues started addressing him as Pieter.

He was a remarkable phenomenon, a disciple of Lenin eating out of the hand of Ceylon’s arch-capitalist. But D.R. Wijewardene was no fool. He knew his onions and liked them even though they were red. D. R. W. not only had a nose for news but for newsmen and then he sent Pieter in to bat. His first few scoring strokes reached the fence. His epigrammatic and pungent style won for the “Daily News” a large number of new readers. His pieces on the topics of the day often had to be read between the lines. That was where the fun lay. The crimson streak was always there. They were, one might say, “fortiter in re, suaviter in modo.” To those who have forgotten their Latin the old saying can be paraphrased to mean, the red hand in the blue velvet glove.

After occupying for two or three years a ringside seat in the capitalist arena or, to put it another way, after being a sentry in what Marxists considered the Citadel of Sin, Pieter left Lake House with the blessings of the Boss to give to his Party what was meant for mankind. He tramped the streets after quitting a luxurious home to disseminate his creed.

At this stage he was assisted by his first wife, Heidi, a beautiful Jewess, the daughter of a rich Austrian banker, whom he had converted to his way of thinking in Cambridge. Heidi had forgotten many things, but not a dinner party, which her father had given when she was a girl. There were many delicious dishes on that particular occasion but the “piece de resistance” was the dessert. It was a slice of fresh pineapple, which had been obtained at great expense from the fruiterer in Paris.

After all the guests were served, Heidi too, was given a small piece of the luscious fruit. The memory of that taste was never erased. Now this is the sad part of the story. When Heidi came to Ceylon it was the pineapple season and a fruit for which her father had probably paid £5 could be bought at the Borella market for 50 cents. So Heidi revived the memory of the Vienna dinner in a big way.

She indulged in her weakness for her favourite fruit without compunction. She had pineapple for breakfast. pineapple with lunch, pineapple for tea and pineapple after dinner. But Heidi was allergic to the succulent fruit. Big boils broke out and her beautiful face was disfigured for a while. The tropical climate, too, affected her health badly and Heidi bade goodbye to Ceylon leaving behind the memory of a sweet personality.


I had several other Dutch Burgher friends at Lake House. One of them was Lionel Wendt, who had been commissioned by the Boss to design and set up an up-to-date photographic studio – Chitrafoto. Pianist, camera artist and brilliant conversationalist, he was regarded as the brightest spirit among the cultural elite of his time. He was like an electro-magnet.

Wherever he went, men gathered round him like flies round a honey-pot. They stood and listened fascinated by the sparkle of his witticisms. A hub-bub of laughter accompanied every remark of his. He never missed a classical concert of music or a serious play. I still treasure a caustic note he sent me after seeing a poignant drama called “The Cardinal.” He was exceptionally hard on the heroine played by the daughter of a famous Colombo physician.

Wendt grew his hair long, like his teacher Mark Hambourg, and in the manner of most young men of the present generation. But there the resemblance ends. Wendt, however, neglected his health. His only physical exercise consisted of running through the musical scales on his grand piano, pedalling his way to the glorious climax of a Beethoven sonata or in the alternative lifting his beloved Leica camera on and off tripods to catch the passing mood of some interesting face no matter where.

His early death was a tragic loss to art and artists. His name, however, has been immortalized by a building erected by his intimate friends. It was a well-meant effort but every week thousands of perspiring theatergoers spend their purgatory on earth before crossing over to meet their patron saint. Lionel, must be in some corner of the celestial regions practising a Bach fugue on a golden harp.


Talking of Dutch Burgher friends, I wish I had the space to write something of the incomparable Hilaire Jansz, journalist and gentleman, or of the versatile Arthur Van Langenberg, the man with a heart of gold. Each of them deserves much fuller treatment from abler hands than mine. Talking of the Burghers who have left their mark on the history of our age, one can provide a list which is as long as the Dutch canal that runs between Colombo and Puttalam. I do not wish to repeat the names of celebrities like Lorenz, but there were hundreds of others whose names will ring a bell.

I am appending just a few that come readily to mind, in order to jog the memory and encourage readers to recall picturesque figures who have passed away. Here are a few: Cox Sproule, R.L. Spittel, James Van Langenberg, Evelyn Jansz, Wace de Neise, Martin Gerreyn, L.E.Blaze, Andreas Nell, Donovan Andree, Durand Altendorf, Arthur Ephraums, Frederick Dornhorst, E.H.Joseph, Percy Cooke, S.P. Foenander and Hector Van Cuylemberg.

There were heaps of families, too, whose names will not be forgotten too early: The Leembruggens, Ludovicis, Greniers, Van Dorts, Colin-Thomes, Morgans, Van Rooyens, Wrights, Herfts, Princes, Kochs, Spaars, Van der Straatens, Rodes, Nicholases, Modders, Sansonis, Potgers, Beekmeyers, Albrechts, Speldewindes, Schokmans, de Kretsers, Kelaarts, Maartenszes, Ernsts, de Voses, Nelsons, Deutroms, Van Geyzels, Daniels, Vollenhovens, Orrs, Macks, Brohiers, Forbeses, Bulners, Ludekens’, Milhuisens, Vanderwalls, Keegals, Driebergs, de Jongs, Christoffelszi’, Buultjens’, Bevens, Schraders, Loos’, Martins, Bartholomeus’, La Brooys, Hays, Heyns, Schneiders, Bilsboroughs, Marcuses, Ludowyks, Horans, Woutersz’, Ferdinands’, Martenstyns, Joachims, Casperszes, Kreltzhelms, Alvises, de la Mottes, de Zilwas and hundreds of others.


Just one word more and this is from Stanley Suraweera who wishes to get the Ondaatje record straight. He writes:

As I do not want a hornets’ nest buzzing around my ears, although I think I richly deserve it, for dropping that brick, I have to say that what I meant to say (although I did not) was that Quint Ondaatje was the greatest Ceylonese of those who took part in European politics.

True, Quint’s grandfather, Dr. Michael Jurgen Ondaatje was an Indian – from Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic in Southern India. He came out to Sri Lanka in 1659 to medically treat the wife of Adrian vander Meyden, the first Dutch Governor of this country. He not only cured the lady but settled down here for good. Quint of the third generation of these fabulous Ondaatjes rightly claimed to be a Ceylon national.

(From ECB Wijeyesinghe’s The Good at their Best first published in 1976)

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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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