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Omens

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A few weeks back, there were interesting  letters on evil eyes. In the olden days, people believed in omens, forewarning of what is to come. I remember, my mother, seeing a crow perched on a dead branch, and facing my home, said we will hear of a death and sure enough there was a death of a distant relative. Then another, when the hearth makes a noise – Lipa Buranawa- sure there will be an unexpected visitor for lunch. Gecko – HOONA is another harbinger of news – Hoonu Sasthare.

Here is one of my experiences. I was sitting the Senior School Certificate examination from my school St. Mary’s College, Nawalapitiya, in 1942. My class had only six students and after the withdrawal test, only two were selected and I was one. The examination centre was in Kandy, a distance of nearly 25 miles. My father was not happy to send me from home as I would be tired after taking either the train or bus, and, therefore, he decided to take me to Peradeniya, where a relative was living, and travel from there to the examination centre, which was the Government Tamil School at Suduhumpola. About a week before the examination, Hendirick, a person who had done odd jobs, as a boy, for our family, and whom my father had helped to gain employment in the Telegraph Department, came home with presents for us as a gesture of gratitude. He had now been about 15 years in service and had been promoted as a supervisor. When my father told him of my examination and that I had to go to Kandy, Hendrick promptly said that I could stay with him and that the examination hall was only a walking distance from his house.

He said that he was married and had a child of about three years and that his father-in- law lives with them. He requested my father to visit his place and decide. Not wanting to displease Hendirik, my father went to his place, and was warmly received by his wife. The house had two rooms with a garden and my father was impressed as the examination centre was close by, and decided to take me there. I was taken there the previous morning. It was Sunday. Hendrick had prepared the room, occupied by his father-in-law, for me. That evening, his wife suggested that we worship at the Dalada Maligawa and receive the blessings for me to be successful at the examination. That done, we came back, had dinner, and went through some old question papers and slept soundly. The following day, after breakfast, as I was getting ready to go with Hendrick,who was also going to his workplace, his wife called me and asked me to worship at the shrine, placing a tray of flowers and lighting a pahana or lamp.

When I stepped out with Hendrick, a rooster, fluttered its wings and crowed ‘Cock-a-doodle do’. The old father-in-law, with a broad toothless smile said – Podi Mahaththaya, Jayasikurui, Bayawenna epa’- (Do not fear, victory is assured). I must admit, that gave me some sort of confidence and courage. The first paper was mathematics, which I was not good at. However, when I browsed the question paper, I knew I could score high marks. After the examination, I stayed with Hendirick and his family for about 10 days and was sad to leave them.

Those days, the results of the examination were published in the newspapers and we, who had sat the exam, waited eagerly for the evening Times newspaper. That day, when we were waiting at Salgado Bakery, my father came and told me to organise a treat for all my friends, and requested the hotel owner, to send the bill to him. I was puzzled and so were my friends, although this unusual gesture could be good news. At last, the van bringing the Times newspaper arrived and we rushed to the Carvalio shop. I had passed the examination, while my classmate had been referred in one subject. All that over, I went home, to see all in cheers. My father had received a telegram from R. E. Jayatilaka, then a Member of State Council, congratulating me. That is how he had got the information early.

 

G. A. D. SIRIMAL

Boralesgamuwa 

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Opinion

Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library

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Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.

It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.

With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.

As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.

The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.

At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.

When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.

The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!

 

H M Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Ali Sabry bashing

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Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka  made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He  knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and  Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were  members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.  

 

M. A. Kaleel 

Kalmunai. 

 

 

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Opinion

What do Northern political parties seek?

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Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?

Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.

India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.

 

K SIRIWEERA

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