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Personal contacts with top Burgher cops and other Public Servants of 50-years ago



by Senior DIG (Rtd.) Edward Gunawardene

In recent weeks many interesting articles have appeared in the Sunday Island on the Burghers of Ceylon. The contributions by Godwin Perera, Laksman Ratnapala, A. J. Perera, Sumith de Silva and Manel Fonseka have rekindled in me memories of the many public figures of the Burgher community, particularly police officers at the time I joined the police in the late fifties of the last century. The mix-up in photos of Col. F. C. de Saram and Canon R. S. de Saram and the references to Burgher bits were indeed amusing.

When I joined the police, the induction process of new entrants to gazetted rank, required probationary ASPs to be introduced by appointment to senior public officers including the Governor General, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Attorney General etc. As such, with my batchmates before long I was able to meet several amiable public servants of the Burgher community.

It is with a sense of nostalgia that I recall memories of these Burgher stalwarts. Not many days after I first met Justice M. C. Sansoni I had the pleasure of playing a game of billiards with him at the Police Officer’s Mess. In l the mid-seventies I came to know him better as I was the main witness before the Sansoni Commission inquiring in to the communal riots of 1977 in Trincomalee.

Attorney General Douglas Budd Jansze remains unforgettable. In a 1961 murder case well known as the Pathiraja JP murder case of Kurikotuwa in the Veyangoda police area, being ASP Gampaha, I was the chief investigator together with crown counsel Silva, later chief justice, who was my Marrs Hallmate at Peradeniya, and Ranjith Abeysuriya met AG Budd Jansze and suggested that one of the suspects be made a Crown Witness. After a prolonged discussion the AG was of the view that a conviction could be obtained without such a move. After a lengthy trial at the Negombo Assizes the accused were acquitted. The defence team of lawyers consisted of G.G.Ponnambalam Senior, A.C.M.Ameer, Dicey Kanagaratnem; Nihal Jayawickrama and Asoka Obeysekara were assigned counsel. Daya Perera Senior Crown Counsel prosecuted. Although the case failed, I was especially commended by the IGP S.A.Dissanayake.

Budd Jansze, the true gentleman that he was sent for me and apologized to me for not taking my advise of making a suspect a Crown Witness. Such admirable senior officers have become a rarity today. Senior Burgher officers Messrs Neville Jansze, R.L.Arnolda, David Loos and Travis Ludowyk were extremely helpful when I had to learn treasury procedures. Francis Pietersz my classmate at St.Joseph’s College, who as the AGA Kalutara when I was at the police training school was of great assistance in the sustenance of the thousands of Tamil refugees who had flocked to the police training school during the 1958 communal riots. Pietersz, who is today my immediate neighbour at Battaramulla, remains a dear friend.

Anton Mc Heyzer is remembered as the GA Trincomalee who hosted the three probationary ASPs when they rode 1,000cc Harley Devidson motor bikes to Trinco as learners with Sub Inspector Dudley Von Haght as the instructor. Von Haght rode an 800cc Triumph Thunderbird with a booming beat. Mc Heyzer, the dedicated sports promoter, hosted us to lunch at the Welcombe Hotel.

Justice Percy Collin Thome , whom I had met with my friends Prof. Lyn Ludowyk and senior dons Doric de Souza and Ian Van den Driesen at the university faculty club invited me on several occasions to his apartment close to the Regal Cinema. At one of these dinners that were catered by Pilawoos I had the pleasure of meeting Justice E.F.N. Graetien, easily one of the foremost Burgher public figures of 20th century Ceylon. Two Burgher police officers that used to meet with this elite group of officers were Tommy Kelaart and R.A.Stork. More of them later.

As I reminisce about my Burgher colleagues of the police of the fifties, it is with much pleasure that I remember MLD Caspersz, one of the most senior public servants of the time. I had met him before I joined the police, during my early days in the police and also living in retirement. I met him first when I worked as a temporary clerk in the Food Control Department after sitting the university entrance exam in 1952. He was the Food Controller; and my immediate boss was another Burgher, Brendon Joachim, Asst. Food Controller. I came to know him better in 1959 when I had a three weeks assignment as the ASP Harbour as ASP Royden Vanderwall, the incumbent, was on overseas leave. On my second day in office, to my surprise, it was the Principal Collector of Customs, M.L.D. Caspersz himself that walked in to my room saying “Good Morning”. After a pleasant chat he told me that I as the ASP will also enjoy the powers of an Asst. Collector especially in the detection of customs offences.

In later years, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr and Mrs Caspersz on the south west breakwater. They were both keen anglers who got me too interested in this profitable hobby.

By the time I had completed my Divisional Training in the Colombo Division and the CID I had come to know the bulk of the senior gazetted officers of the police. The total number was about 70. Living in the officers mess on Brownrigg Road, befriending most of these officers was by no means difficult but costly. The mess was a pleasant meeting place with a not too expensive ‘watering hole’!

When I commenced police life at the Kalutara Training School there were three DIGs C.C.Dissanayake who was acting IGP, Sydney de Zoysa and Willem Leembruggen, two Gr 1 SP’s (present day SSPs) 17 SPs and 65 ASPs. Of the total of these officers over 25 were Burgher officers ranging from DIGs to ASPs.

In fairness to the Burgher community at this stage I wish to mention the names of some of Inspectors of Police who held key positions. Derrik Christofelsz was perhaps the only Chief Inspector. He was the respected court officer of the Colombo Chief Magistrate Court. This tall and imposing officer was highly regarded by even the senior lawyers of the Magistrate Court of the time; Merril Pereira, Charles Vethacan, A.Mahesan, R.L.N de Soyza and Manoharan Nagaraja to mention few. Derrik’s brother Hague Christofelsz was attached to the Batticaloa Divition. Eric Van den Driesen, Vernon Dickman, Anton Joachim, Mervin Serpanchy and Hubert Bagot were senior Burgher Inspectors on the verge of promotion to the rank of ASP. Bagot who was the chief horse-riding insructor and head of the Mounted Police Div. was an excellent horseman who had been in the Ceylon mounted squad at the Coronation. Inspector Eddie Gray, also an outstanding horseman and boxer, had just retired and was living in the Inspector’s quarters at Bambalapitiya opposite the Officers Mess.

In 1960 when I was ASP Gampaha I was fortunate to have Inspector Mike Schokman as the OIC of Mirigama. With Divulapitiya MP Lakshman Jayakkody, the junior Minister of Defence, the ASP Gampaha had no problems as Jayakkody and Schokman had been cricketing mates and friends at Trinty College. It must be said that the police suffered a great loss when this outstanding officer decided to emigrate before his promotion to gazetted rank.

Other Burghers of the Inspectorate that I remember who served under me in the early sixties were Lyn Taylor, Petersz, Rosairo of the Police Training School, Vernon Elias, ‘Sweety’ Weber, B.Stave my senior at St.Joseph’s an excellent hockey player, Batholomeuz, Eddie Buultjens, Fred Barthelot and Gerry Paul.

The last named was the conductor of the prestigious Police Band and was popularly referred to as the Band Master. His father too had been the first Ceylonese Police Band master. Inspector Gerry Paul was an outstanding musician. His proudest moment had been when Sir Malcom Sergeant, the conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, having listened to a special rendition of classical music by the Police Band had written in the Officer’s Visiting Book “Mr. Gerry Paul is without doubt one of the finest conductors in the East”

As mentioned earlier in this essay when I joined the police in early 1958 the total number of officers of the rank of ASP and above was about 70. Of this number over 25 were Burgher Officers ranging from DIGs to Probationary ASPs. Willem Leembruggen as DIG Range 3 was the most senior of these Burgher officers.

An experience I had with him in 1960 when I was ASP Chilaw is worth recalling. ‘Lemba’ as he was better known by the Junior Officers was to pay me a surprise visit one morning. Having stopped his jeep by the beach with a girlfriend inside he walked in to my office in white shorts and a white cloth hat. He looked a tourist. After saluting I offered my seat. Saying, “Thank you” he sat on a chair in front of my desk. He then politely offered me a cigarette and lit it before lighting his. When I was smoking and chatting with the DIG, HQI Opatha peeped in to the room and hurriedly left. All officers present were moving about in excitement. When ‘Lemba’ left after thanking me he did not want me to accompany him to the jeep. The story that went round Chilaw Police circles was that the young ASP was seated and smoking in front of the DIG! This is what the HQI had seen when he peeped into the room. Indeed, a perfect example of perception.

When I underwent training in the CID towards the end of 1958, the head of this important Division was David Pate who had been just appointed as a DIG about two months earlier. He was a gentleman to his fingertips.

One evening when I walked in to the Mess after a game of tennis I saw him seated in the veranda with a middle aged gentleman who very much resembled him. There was a bottle of Gordon’s gin on the table. As I passed them, saying “wait a minute” he introduced me to his father who was seated with him. The older Pate was the reputed racing correspondent of the ‘Observer’

Cecil Wambeek was the most senior of the SPs. As ASP Nugegoda I was fortunate to have him as my superior. The HQI was M.B.Werapitiya the elder of the well-known Werapitiya brothers. Blue eyed and handsome Wambeek was an excellent horseman. He insisted that I join him on horseback on the many gravel paths leading to Diyavanna in the Kotte area.

Another Burgher officer, high up in seniority, Richard Arndt, was the SP Headquarters in 1958. He was thorough with all the rules and regulations; and the entire civilian staff came under him. Practical in outlook he once told me ‘’Never be guided by the minutes made by subject clerks. Learn to make your own decisions and take responsibility for such decisions’’. An excellent swimmer be spent much of his leisure in the sea.

Karl Van Rooyen, Tommy Kelaart, H.K.Van den Driesen, Herbert Toussaint and Jamie Rosmale-Koch were all accomplished senior officers. Van Rooyen was the descendant of a Boer prisoner who had been banished for not taking the oath of allegiance to the King. As the SP Kandy he was held in very high esteem. Tommy Kalaart was an excellent cricketer. H.K. Van den Driesen who was SP Colombo was a tactful officers who had earned the confidence of Prime Minister Bandaranaike. Aubrey Collette, the respected cartoonist, caricatured him as Hari Kattaya (HK). Collette a Burgher of the class of Lionel Wendt and Eric Swan enjoyed a place of importance in the Ceylonese social scene.

A considerable percentage of the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) were Burghers. Having become friends with them primarily by associating with them at the Officer’s Mess, I not only remember their names, but also visualize their behavioural peculiarities.

Some of the names I can easily recall are Jack Van Sanden, Rex Hepponstall, I.D.M. Van Twest, R.A.Stork, Fred Brohier, Royden Vanderwall, Louis Potger, Fred Zimsen, Leonard Conderlag, H.G.Boudewyn, Fred De Saram, Alan Falmer Caldera, COS Orr and Ainsely Batholomeuz.

Fred Brohier was the second in command to Stanley Senanayake at the Police Training School. Prior to joining the Police he had been a RAF Pilot who had been awarded the Burma Medal. Van Twest was a national football administrator. R.A. Stork as the ASP Colombo West supervised my training at the Pettah Police Station. He was a national putt shot champion. Alan Flamer Caldera, if he was in the Mess, could be heard from Brownrigg Road. His pretty daughter, Jilska, was an outstanding national athlete.

Fred de Saram nick named ‘Kukul’ Saram claimed he was a Goigama Sinhalese. One of his daughters, Srimani, married Lalith Athulathmudali. When I married in 1966, ‘Kukul’ Saram in retirement was the banquet manager of the GOH. He laid out the best that the hotel could offer when he came to know that Governor General Gopallawa and Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake were to be the attesting witnesses.

Before I conclude I cannot help but mention Rear Admiral, Victor Hunter who was the head of the Navy whom I met under fortuitous circumstances. On my way to Police Headquarters one morning I heard on police radio clatter that a navy rating guarding Radio Ceylon had shot himself dead inside the sentry box. An investigation was on and Rear Admiral Hunter was there as an observer. Being the senior officer present as an ASP, I got chatting with him. He casually asked me ‘’why do you think this fellow committed suicide?’’ My reply was ‘’A young man joins the Navy to see the world and not to stand in a sentry box day in and day out”! Hunter smiled in agreement and said ‘’you have a similar problem. Several young policemen wanting to join the Navy interviewed by me have confessed that they hated manning the gates of residences of politicians and saluting even family members and visitors!’’

Hunter and B.R.Heyn were perhaps the only burghers to head the Navy and Army respectively in post-independence Sri Lanka.

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Twin personas; reaction long after the action



I am pleasantly surprised and marvel too most times I read the editorial in The Island. Why? Because they are so very apt on the most current issue in the land. The editor has the clever knack of hitting the nail right on the head and is fearless even when the nail represents a VVIP.

Friday 25 November had the sharp, truth writing editor commenting on President Ranil W and his stunning metamorphosis from a peace promoting, democracy advocating politician to a persona that he himself says is Hitler like. And as the editor has written, one wondered if he and his immediate predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had swapped bodies, for the former sounded just like the latter. Gota was expected to be a dictator; a monk called out to him to be Sri Lanka’s Hitler while his brother Basil bracketed him with the ‘Terminator’.

Ranil seems to hear cries for protection of human rights as a cover for violent protests. Gota, though an army man and later as a civilian, cosseted the army at great cost to the exchequer, did not threaten to bring the army out to quell protests. It was done once or twice: e. g at Rathupaswela and at an FTZ. These orders were not proven to be directly emanating from him nor directly connected to him. However, peace proclaiming Wickremesinghe with his new surname added on is outdoing the former army officer. He maintains the PTA and now says (probably in all truth and belief – scarce characteristics of politicians) that he will call out the army to quell protests, which have been and will be, mostly peaceful.

What this woman, a former teacher and counselor, opines with common sense and intuition is that he is going about it all wrong. He is inciting protest and lawlessness, even violence, since the youth of the country, with others, are utterly frustrated, angered, troubled and volcanic – waiting to erupt and so are the sideline catalysts: the terrorism promoting core politicized protesters of the IUSF, FSP and certain JVPers. Ranil should have been wiser and less outreaching, and negotiated with leaders of the groups mentioned, including trouble rousers like Stalin, and convinced them of the dire state the country is in. Negotiating with die-hard protesters may not be his cuppa; he shies away from direct contact with the hoi polloi. But talk to them he must. He should include persons like Guv CB to the negotiating table since Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe is one of the very few, if not the only high-up, that all respect. The rabble-rousers should be convinced, even threatened privately, that at this juncture what the country needs and the IMF promotes is encouraging money making projects, the surest and largest-inflow-of dollars earning tourism to resume and continue with peace prevailing in the country. With so many countries with so much to offer, why should tourists visit a near warring Sri Lanka? The reality of course is that this dot of an island has most to offer the tourist as pronounced by even Lonely Planet guides.

However, as is always the case, the country pleases but men in it are vile and utterly stupid. The protestors do not realize their protests will not change things immediately. But they most certainly cost the country much. These fire breathing, loud mouthed protestors and so-called protectors of peace and human rights are at present the principal harmers of the land.If after sincere one-to-one negotiation, some remain recalcitrant, then the police should be called in to deal with them.

Bang shut empty stable door

Mentioned many times before by Cass and other writers, Sri Lankans in general suffer short memories: will vilify a person today and praise him tomorrow not only because they are turncoats but because the people have forgotten and of course forgiven yesterday’s sins of leaders. Another characteristic is shutting the stable door once the horse has bolted. The preliminaries of the flight of the horse are seen but no alarm is raised. Once the horse has bolted; then come forth loud hues and cries of damage done.This last character trait of the Sinhala race mostly, was exhibited and exposed in the news telecast on MTV 1 Channel on Sunday November 27.

Villagers of a certain forest area, with voices raised women to the forefront, confronted a man who was in a new built, multi roomed hut-like construction. He seemed settled down. The crowd that walked across a vast area of bare land accused that the forest that covered this area had been illegally decimated. They demanded evidence of his right to settle down there. He said the police and other officials had cleared him. Trespassing was not even mentioned. Cass’ wonder at this loud fracas was why the fuss now with land bare and a house built when the villagers surely heard if not saw trees being felled en masse. Why had they not informed authorities then? Why wait for the deforestation and illegal building to be completed before protesting? Had they been waiting all these past months for the TV cameras to arrive to act angry and national minded?

It was suspected, if not known for sure, that vociferous Diana Gamage was a dual citizenship holder or maybe even a citizen of another country visiting her home turf. She was up front for long and since being made a State Minister by Prez Wickremasinghe, his hand guided by a crow pulling strings from even thousands of miles to the west, became prominently vociferous with forex earning projects foundationed on fun and good times. She proposed the growing of ganja plants; creating a Disney theme park; making Mannar an international gambling den and what else Cass fails to recall. Now firmly in Parliament as an elected member she faces the public rising up and declaring she is not eligible to hold a Parliamentary seat since the passage of A21 or 22. The mare had bolted to the green pastures by the Diyawanne and now people are a-rising to close the door she galloped through. Confine her at home with no powers and privileges or deport her to turf in her adopted country?

Bandula Gunawardena, holding the portfolio of Minister of Trade, held forth on the subject he thinks he is omniscient in. He claims economics as his forte of intellectual knowledge; certification of this fact being he was a tuition master in the subject. He refers to himself as Doctor Bandula G; the doctorate coming to him from where we know not. In a pontification in Parliament on the Sunday, he waxed eloquent on mismanagement of the Central Bank and trotted out figures in billions and decimals thereof of printed money. He blamed past CB persons. Why was this economist considering himself on par with Amartya Sen, Paul Krugman and Maynard Keynes, silent then when Nivaard Cabral kept the printing machines in the CB turning day and night churning out 5000 rupee notes? (PS. Cass wonders very much whether he has heard of Krugman and knows Keynes was one of the Bloomsbury Group. Cass can wager her life that he does not know who this group was).

Speaking of this Mr Cabral, he was recently seen on TV at a press interview passing the buck adroitly and proclaiming he was obeying orders to print money. Was he a robot and of whom?

Short take

A very good move was mooted recently in Parliament and will soon be law. Cass refers to the stricture that university students will be allowed one extra year after their graduating date whether they fail the final exam and wish to repeat or when they dodge sitting the final exam. Here again the closing of the loophole after damage is done. Firebrand Wasantha is said to have been in the University of Sri Jayawardenapura for eight solid years. Wasn’t this truancy of sitting the finals seen earlier? Authorities too scared to report the fact; saving their scalps by ignoring anomalies. just as they turn blind eyes to filthy and dangerous ragging in universities?

This land of ours which is truly incomparable, is derogatively a land like no other when speaking of it with tongue in cheek.

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Maris Stella College in 1950s and 60s



By George Braine

Maris Stella College, Negombo, is celebrating its centenary this year. These are my recollections of the years I spent there.Maris Stella had classes from Standard Two. For lower and upper kindergarten (as they were called those days), all boys attended Ave Maria Convent, along with girls, of course. One teacher I recall is Sr. Mary Imelda, diminutive but a formidable force. As she taught, her two dogs, spoiled rotten by the children, roamed the classroom.

Maris Stella sits on the road that extends from Colombo to Chilaw, and beyond to Puttalam and Anuradhapura. Despite the heavy traffic on the road, the school displays a somewhat serene ambience because of the large, well maintained playground, and the lovely main building set some distance from the road. Two storied, with a lengthy Italianesque facade, the main building is reached along two narrow roadways lined by long, single storied classrooms. In the center, shaded by massive mara trees, is a smaller playing field – for soccer, softball cricket and gymnastics- in the 50s and 60s. These buildings, the trees, and the playing field, now a lush green, have been well preserved.

My father recalled that, during World War II, when Allied troops were stationed at the school, these mara trees were covered with camouflage nets to hide the anti-aircraft guns mounted below.

Teachers and students

My father had been at Maris Stella in the 1930s and 40s, and when I entered in 1957, some of his teachers were still there. Elias, dark, wizened, and with a tousle of grey hair, taught me in Standard 2. Capt. Jayamanne, a big man, tough as nails, had been the cadet platoon commander during my father’s time, and still was. Bro. Jonas had been in charge of sports for years. Obris, who taught English, had become the vice-principal. My father also recalled Bros. Nizier, Valentine, and Xavier, a Spaniard. Mahaboob, physical training instructor and Bro. Gerard had been his classmates. Undoubtedly, the most unusual teacher was Johannes, who taught Sinhala. The only teacher who wore a sarong to school, worn high up on the waist and held up with a broad belt, he had an owlish, scholarly air; our textbooks on Sinhala had been authored by him. Ms. Wallace, lustily playing the piano, taught us singing. Two younger teachers were Dabarera and Kurera.

One hilarious memory is that of Bro. Jonas, coaching the football team even during matches, running up and down the sidelines, grey hair and cassock flying. He was strict, liberal with the cane and slaps. Another is of Mahaboob, the PTI, in his impeccable polo shirt, pants, and tennis shoes, all in spotless white, taking us through various drills on the playground.

The principals during my time were Bros. Stanislaus and Peter, and the headmasters Bros. Nizier and Gerard.We were living near Ave Maria Convent when I joined Maris Stella, which meant a walk of more than a mile, crossing a railway track and walking along Main Street till I reached Copra Junction along the Colombo – Chilaw road. The street is chock-a-block with shops now, but, in those days, I only passed houses with well-maintained gardens, a couple of boutiques, a dispensary and a dental clinic. A well-off classmate was driven to school and passed me on the way, but never offered me a lift.

Most students walked to school or rode bicycles, in wave after wave. Others came by train or bus. The only person who drove was a senior student named Jayakody from Dankotuwa. This was extraordinary, when no teacher owned a car, and some rode rickety bicycles. His Peugeot 203 was parked under a mara tree while he attended classes and later stayed for football practice.

At Maris Stella, a Catholic school, most students were Catholic. But, ethnically, we were an eclectic band, marked by the Bharatha community and Burghers. The family names of schoolmates I can recall is evidence of this: Siriwardena, Jayawardena, Abeysekera, Swaminathan, Bolonghe, Salgado, Leitan, Tissera, Hettiaarachi, Jayamanne, Franke, Croos-Dabarera, Dabarera, Jayamaha, Coonghe, Aserappa, Rodrigo, Fernando, Pereira, Costa, Gomez, Mirando. Ives Swaminathan had immigrated from Mauritius, and sang French songs in a lovely voice.

After my brother entered Maris Stella, we were five cousins there: Roy and Lloyd Chelvaratnam, George Wambeck, George and Roy Braine. Roy C and Lloyd were in the Tamil stream. Two Georges and two Roys.Latin was compulsory from the Junior School Certificate (JSC) class. All that memorizations were intimidating, so I was relieved when the requirement was taken off when I reached the JSC class. But, Latin prevailed in the daily mass conducted at the chapel, and in the hymns sung there. I recited prayers and sang those hymns, without any idea of what was being said or sung.


Mention Maris Stella and sports during my time, and the name that springs to mind is Melvin Mallawaratchi. Tall and good looking, with a ready smile that lit up his face, Melvin was already legendary when I entered school. Our age gap was more than 10 years, so I had no opportunity to know him personally. All I knew was that, whenever he batted, he lit up the cricket field. I, along with other schoolmates, simply hero worshipped him.

Home games were thronged with enthusiastic spectators. When Melvin came to bat and took his stance, a collective hush fell on the ground.  Soon, we were cheering wildly as the ball sailed over our heads, over trees, onto the main road, or sped along to the boundary in a flash. In his stride, Melvin was unstoppable.

In one game against St. Anthony’s College, Wattala, I watched as he scored a blistering 96 in the second innings, having scored an unbeaten century in the first.  In 1957, playing Ibbagamuwa Central, Melvin had scored 96 in only 20 minutes, which included two sixers and 18 fours.

Melvin’s flamboyance did not stop at cricket. He was also a champion sprinter. Maris Stella’s rival school in Negombo, St. Mary’s, had a champion sprinter named Mello. At every meet where they met, he dueled it out with Melvin in the 100-yards sprint, running neck to neck. We stood near the finish line to see Melvin triumph every time.

Eddie and Rukmani

By 1958, we had moved to a house across the road from Maris Stella; 120 Colombo Road, if memory serves. Now, I only had a 5-minute walk to school. It also meant that we went to Sunday service at the Maris Stella college chapel.

Eddie Jayamanne and Rukmani Devi, husband and wife, were at the peak of their popularity. She was the reigning queen of Sinhala cinema, and the nightingale of Sinhala music. Eddie was less flamboyant, somewhat short, with curly hair and spectacles.  He was a comedian. Even to a mere schoolboy, Rukmani’s luminous beauty and grace was overwhelming.

So, on Sunday morning, a two-toned Buick convertible would drive up regally, passing those majestic mara trees, Eddie at the wheel, and the couple would walk up to the chapel. They did not put on airs, and behaved just like the rest of us, sitting on the benches, singing hymns, and walking up to the altar and kneeling to receive communion. After the service, they mingled and chatted. And nobody asked for autographs!

I think Eddie and Rukmani were fond of Maris Stella. They attended fund raising events, like the Maris Mela carnival and a football match, which I recall vividly. Their nephew, Gamini Jayamanne, was my classmate.

Scouting, and a school take-over

Cousin George Wambeck and I were Cub Scouts, Wolf Cubs as they were called those days. The chip-a-job weeks were the best, because we got to roam all over Negombo and beyond, with no adult supervision. Most people treated us kindly, giving 50 cents or even a generous rupee for the odd “job” we did, and also a snack and a soft drink into the bargain.

One day, cousin George and I, along with another friend, visited a relative’s house in search of a “job”. He had been drinking, and was stretched out on a hansiputuwa when we dropped-in. Thinking of having some fun with us, he assumed the role of a drill sergeant, lined us up, and put us through military “maneuvers”: attention, right turn, quick march, left turn, halt. Scouting doesn’t teach marching, and we were mere 8-year olds anyway. Our female cousins were watching from behind curtains, and we could hear the giggles. But, the man did reward us well, and also insisted that we have a meal before letting us go.On another day, we walked down Temple Road to Jaya-Ruk, the residence of Eddie and Rukmani. But they weren’t home.

Perhaps the most memorable event was planned take-over of schools by the government, in 1960. The Catholic church was opposed to the move. The conflict escalated, and, as a final resort, parents of students occupied some classrooms, bringing mats and pots and pans. They cooked, ate, and slept there. They came to “defend” the school, but from whom wasn’t certain. From a new principal appointed by the government, from the police, the army?

Classes were suspended, and we enjoyed loitering around the school, waiting for the confrontation to take place. Eventually, the matter was resolved, but, in Negombo, only Maris Stella and Ave Maria Convent remain as private fee-levying schools.

When my father moved to Nattandiya for work, my brother and I travelled to school from there, by steam train. We wore khaki pith hats and carried our books and lunch in little, cardboard suitcases. Every day was an adventure. Later, when father moved to Madampe, we were boarded at Maris Stella.

What I recall most from the boarding is the constant hunger. We didn’t have much pocket money, so gouging at the tuck shop was not an option. On Sundays, a long line of boarders was taken for a walk, most often to the beach. Going through town, the aroma from the thosai boutiques was irresistible. Despite Bro. Raphael, an Italian, keeping a sharp eye, boys would take turns to dart into the boutiques and buying up the vadais. Our pockets would be stuffed and we salivated at the feast to come.

In 1962, my last year at Maris Stella, my brother and I were boarded at a home on Temple Road. Bertram Fernando, a pioneer comedian of Sinhala cinema, also lived there. Every Sunday, a game of bridge went on for hours on the verandah around a round table. A regular attendee was Eddie Jayamanne, who drove up in his Buick convertible.

All our teachers named earlier have long departed. One by one, former classmates are also passing away. When I drive by Maris Stella now, the memories come flooding back. For some, the past is a foreign country. Not for me. Even after 60 years, the school anthem that we sang so robustly is fresh in my mind.

“All ye lads of Maris Stella proudly sing

May your voices boldly ring

Face life’s trials bravely

Act upon your motto gravely

Iter para tutum”


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China’s Covid Trap



by Gwynne Dyer

“Our COVID-19 policy is the most scientifically effective, the most economical, and yields the best result,” insisted the ‘People’s Daily’ newspaper in China after mass public protests against the government’s ‘zero covid’ policy last weekend. If President Xi Jinping believes that, he is in for a lot more trouble.

The protests were unprecedented in their scale and daring. They broke out spontaneously in twelve cities all across China after ten lockdown-related deaths in the remote province of Xinjiang. All sorts of people took part, from students to workers to pensioners. A few even called for the dethroning of Xi and the Communist Party.

That doesn’t mean the regime is on the brink of collapse. Public anger at the endless lockdowns and resulting loss of income is strong, but the regime’s surveillance technology is excellent. There was relatively little official violence last weekend, but many of the protesters will have an unpleasant visit by the police in the coming days.

Xi’s problem is that the protests will probably recur and may well escalate, because over-long mass quarantines and lockdowns are a non-political issue that can unite almost everybody against the government’s policy. Or rather, against Xi’s personal policy, for he has deliberately chosen to portray zero-covid as the greatest achievement of his time in office.

That made sense in the first year of the pandemic, for China’s relentless lockdowns and mass testing campaigns saved a great many lives then. Total covid-related deaths in China have been around 5,000 out of a population of 1.4 billion. The United States, with less than a quarter of China’s population, had more than a million covid deaths.

Xi and his propagandists naturally used this contrast as evidence that both Chinese medicine and the Chinese political system were superior to their Western equivalents. Was he even aware that the zero-covid policy could only be a stopgap measure until effective vaccines were developed, never a lasting solution?

His scientists must have tried to tell him that, but, somehow, he didn’t take the message on board. There was a vaccination programe, but not a very rigorous one – and Xi kept chasing the fantasy of completely eliminating the covid virus. He is caught in a trap, but he built it himself.

“Lockdowns should always be a temporary phenomenon, not a long-term strategy,” explained Dr Anthony Fauci, now President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser. Continuing them for almost three years “without any seeming purpose or endgame” is sheer folly. Moreover, Xi seemed unaware that the covid virus was growing more infectious with time.

The latest versions of the omicron variant, which first appeared a year ago, are estimated to be up to ten times more infectious than the original virus that appeared in Wuhan in late 2020.

Those versions haven’t reached China yet, due to drastic curbs on travel into and out of the country, but the Chinese population is so poorly protected that the only alternatives if they arrive would be semi-permanent nationwide lockdowns or nationwide carnage.

Chinese-made vaccines are only 70% effective against earlier variants of the virus, and may be wholly ineffective against the later omicron versions. The elderly are particularly vulnerable: only 40% of the over-80s have had even a single booster shot.

An article published in Nature Medicine last March estimated that ending the covid-zero lockdowns and quarantines in current circumstances could overwhelm hospitals, with 15 times more people needing hospital beds than those currently available. It predicted around 1.5 million deaths.

That would still be a far better outcome than the US record, but arriving all at once so late in the game, when the rest of the world is long past lockdowns and mass deaths, it could spell political disaster for Xi Jinping. Perhaps even for the Communist regime.There is a way out. First, Xi has to eat humble pie and import several billion doses of the highly effective mRNA vaccines. Let’s say six months for that.

Then he has to control the rising infections with the hated lockdowns and quarantines as best he can, containing popular anger as much as possible, until a high enough portion of the population is properly vaccinated – say another six to twelve months.

Then, sometime in 2024, he can relax the restrictions and let the Chinese rejoin the rest of the world. That strategy worked for the Australians and New Zealanders, who ended similar mass lockdowns as soon as most people got their (imported) mRNA vaccines.If Xi can’t bear the humiliation of doing that, he could gamble that an effective Chinese-made mRNA vaccine will become available soon. Several are under development, and one is allegedly about to enter Phase 3 clinical trials.But if he bets on that and it’s not ready soon, his newly acquired status of de facto president-for-life will become a nightmare. Covid infections are rising fast.

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