Reflections on return of Sri Lanka’s multifaceted Manike, Yohani
By Rohana R. Wasala
Sri Lankan singer and rapper Yohani Diloka de Silva returned to the island on October 13, 2021, after a two-week visit to India. The presence of police outriders to escort her as she left the airport showed that she was being provided special security. Yohani had been given a rousing welcome in that India. Apart from the public shows and the various interviews in which she appeared, hosted by a number of national TV and social media channels, a highlight of her tour was her participation in the Bigg Boss reality television show conducted by one of the mega stars of Indian cinema Salman Khan. The veteran actor repeated after Yohani a few lines from her Manike Mage song. This was no doubt a novel experience for him. As Yohani remarked on her arrival at Katunayake airport, while Sri Lanka was known to the Indians, the Sinhala language was not. She had sung a number of Sinhala songs and she got a very positive reaction from the audiences. This incidental introduction of Sinhala to the youthful world beyond Sri Lanka is a significant event of national importance that has accrued from Yohani’s overnight stardom.
The near complete anonymity (outside of Sri Lanka) of the Sinhala language and the ethnic community known as the Sinhalese who have spoken it as their native tongue over the millennia has already produced very negative results for the whole country internationally, as Sinhala speakers form the majority (Those who bristle at the mention of this fact, please think and be fair minded). Both the language and the community have been eclipsed by Sri Lanka’s huge northern neighbour India with its teeming millions speaking diverse languages, with none of which Sinhala has any dialectal relation (i.e., Sinhala had its own distinct historical origins and evolved in an entirely different geographical location, the small island of Sinhale or Ceylon, today called Sri Lanka). A natural by-product of Yohani’s sudden rise to international celebrity status is that, for most people in the world, it opened a window on the Sinhala language and the Sinhalese who are the majority in Sri Lanka. Yohani is an ethnic Sinhalese. She is proud of her mother tongue Sinhala and her motherland Sri Lanka. (Aside: Of course, I think, she comes from a normally English using background, as is the case with anybody who is somebody in the emerging Sri Lanka, where English will continue to prevail as the working language for most people, and hence that of education. This is not incompatible with her concern, as a socially aware young woman, for her own language and country. Sri Lanka’s future belongs to young people of Yohani’s type.)
To a journalist’s not very intelligent question whether she would think of taking to politics given her immense popularity (as if a political career could possibly be her next ideal goal!), her amused reply was a clear negative: “No, no. I am an artiste, and I am satisfied with that. I want to pursue my musical career.”
Due to Yohani’s gradual emergence over the past two or three years, first as a bilingual (Sinhala and English), then as a multilingual, singer and rapper, Sri Lanka is sliding into international fame, perhaps for the first time since the Cricket World Cup win in 1996, but on a much larger scale. Her dazzling shoot to global stardom seems to have given a boost to the country’s difficult process of coming in from the cold of virtual international isolation imposed on it by the powers that be due to geopolitics-driven false propaganda. The young singer and rapper Yohani’s video of her cover song ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ (Lady in My Heart), featuring fellow artiste Satheeshan Ratnayake, went viral overnight, and has got 151.7M views by now. This is an astronomically high number of views for a YouTube video of a Sri Lankan artiste singing in Sinhala, the native tongue of over 75% (actually over 80%) of Sri Lankans, though hardly known outside Sri Lanka as stated above.
The video triggered the unexpected Yohani phenomenon that is currently sweeping the cross-border popular music scene, particularly in subcontinental India, Europe and America. (May it not be a short lived Yohani craze!) It is bound to have an immense revitalising effect on the young Sri Lankan music entrepreneurs’ foray into the regional and global music market. The whole affair will provide an unprecedentedly powerful impetus for defining and projecting the musical, linguistic and literary aspects of our cultural identity and heritage to the outside world. Most Sri Lankans across the world, gazing up for a new star of hope to delight their sight and refresh their morale, warmly welcomed her sudden rise to starry heights.
Incidentally, ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ has by now (October 13) got over 152 million You Tube views. Over the past weeks she was interviewed by a number national TV channels in India. She’s also been contracted by the mega Indian entertainment company (started 1983) T-Series, whose You Tube channel currently has 195M subscribers (and this number is bound to rise further due to the co-option of Yohani).
“SHIDDAT – JOURNEY BEYOND LOVE” is a Hindi language film made under the banners of T-Series and Maddock Films Pvt Ltd in India. The film was released on October 1, 2021. The official female version of the title song of this film was sung by Yohani de Silva of Sri Lanka. For me personally, Yohani’s perfect rendering of the Shiddat song is even more enthralling than her original cover song in Sinhala ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ that made her world famous.
Yohani generously shares the credit for the success of her cover song ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ with the members of her young team: the gifted musician Chamath Sangeeth whom she implicitly recognises as the principal contributor to the magic of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’, her competent co-artiste, singer and rapper Satheeshan Rathnayake, who, in fact, sang the song first, creative rapper and lyricist Dulanja Alwis, skilled guitarist Shane Vas, and versatile video director, editor and colourist Pasindu Kaushalya. As one interested in the study of verbal arts,
I have followed these professionals being hosted in some TV and social media videos. Something that I have realised about these young geniuses (I honestly think that they deserve that description.) is that all of them take their chosen fields seriously and work hard to achieve excellence; they have a highly cultured, non-mercenary, professional attitude towards their art. They are keenly aware of the inspirational legacy that the greats of the past in Sinhala music have left and acknowledge the debt they owe them. Equally heartening is the fact that these young artistes display an unselfconscious love of their motherland and take pride in a genuine sense of inclusive national cultural identity as Sri Lankans. They do not come exclusively from one social background; it is a mixture of urban, suburban, and rural; Satheeshan is from a village in Kegalle, Chamath is from Moratuwa and only Yohani is from Colombo.
Yohani Diloka de Silva was born and lives in Colombo. She attended the leading girls’ school Visakha Vidyalaya up to her OLs. During her schooling in Sri Lanka, she took part in sports (swimming and water polo) and group events. Then she proceeded to London in 2012, where she studied at the Hatch End High School and completed her ALs. Having returned to Sri Lanka she got admission to the Kotalawala Defence University, Kandawala, Ratmalana, and obtained her first degree in Logistics. Then she went to Australia for her Master’s. Having obtained a Master’s degree in Accounting with distinction, she returned home to Sri Lanka. While studying abroad, she pursued her musical training. Later she dabbled in photography, even covering weddings. Yohani drifted into music somewhat accidentally, it appears. She did some club singing to earn some extra income, as she wanted to be financially independent (of her parents).
She has engaged in her musical career in a more professional way since 2019. Bhatiya Jayakody, a senior musical artiste and entrepreneur who has for years adopted a mentoring attitude towards her, says that Yohani is a ‘very intelligent and smart’ artiste. He is one who got her to perform in his shows before, and foresaw a great career in music for her. Asked by Iraj about her main target (Iraj is another very successful Sri Lankan musician with international appeal and lucrative business engagements abroad), on a Yfm Channel interview in January 2020, Yohani replied that she wanted to work with international artistes. To reach her target she’s worked with a vengeance. It is basically thanks to her own initiative and hard training that she is where she is today.
Yohani is the elder of the two daughters of Major General Prasanna de Silva who commanded the 55th Division of the Sri Lanka Army in the final anti-terrorist war that ended in victory in 2009. She sings about her soldier father in one of her brilliant songs (her own lyrics and melody): “raevvath daesin” “though you looked at me with angry eyes”. Prasanna de Silva played a very prominent role in that war, making many personal sacrifices. ‘Road to Nandikadal: True Story of Defeating Tamil Tigers’ (2016) written by his comrade-in-arms Major General Kamal Gunaratne (present secretary to the defence ministry) features a photograph of Major General Prasanna de Silva under the general caption ‘Immortal leaders of the final war’. Her mother Dinithi de Silva worked as an air hostess at Sri Lankan Airlines. Yohani’s sister who is younger is studying medicine in Russia to become a doctor. During her childhood, she and her family suffered many hardships (some of these are mentioned in the song “raevvath daesin”) due to the circumstance that her father was serving in the army in the embattled North to save the country from terrorism.
Yohani seems to have inherited her father’s soldierly qualities of personal courage, doggedness, and sangfroid in her personal and professional life. She is multi-talented. Apart from being a singer and rapper, she is a songwriter, model, and photographer. She’s had to endure baseless attacks on her personal reputation in the social media, provoked as usual by the green-eyed monster. Though she was thoroughly upset by this at the beginning, her parents advised her to ignore such cowardly harassment and get on with her life. That’s what she has done. She emerged unscathed from the abuse of her celebrity status by social media purveyors of pornography, something that can be safely ignored. With her new star status, she’s started receiving keen attention from our big neighbour India.
India recognized Yohani’s achievement even before her own country Sri Lanka did so, about which I had some misgivings at first. But now I have realised that it is just as well, because, considering the larger size and wider global reach of the Indian music market, the Indian recognition of Yohani is bound to be much more productive than tiny Sri Lanka’s, as it is being demonstrated currently. Her two-week long Indian visit is proving to be an ideal springboard to wider international conquest for Yohani.
However, no outside power, whether friend or foe, should be allowed to expropriate this Sri Lanka’s multifaceted diamond of inestimable value. Yohani is a trailblazer for all Sri Lankan youth who must take over the country in due course and forge a resplendent future for it.
Living in Paris, exploring London and an encounter with JRJ over a newspaper article
(Excerpted from volume ii of the Sarath Amunugama autobiography)
I found accommodation close to my office in Rue Miollis. It saved me hours of commuting time to my office and EHESS, my study place for my doctorate. My friend Dilip Padgoankar and his wife Lotika were going back to India and their flat fell vacant. Dilip, a ‘bon vivant’ who later became the Editor of the Times of India and advisor to the Indian Government on Kashmir, had chosen well. As M’Bow’s media spokesman he was on call all the time and had to live close to his boss’s office. Thanks to his recommendation I managed to secure that flat.
It was spacious enough to accommodate me, my wife and two children, and was close to good restaurants, cinemas and theatres. Many children of UNESCO staff lived in the vicinity and they all went to the same schools so that the neighborhood was congenial. For instance, Varuni had a friend who was the daughter of a sister of the Shah of Iran who was in exile, living in a mansion close by. Another friend, Mohammed Musa, was the son of M’Bow’s advisor from Nigeria.
Ramanika’s best friend was the daughter of a senior Indian professional in the science sector of UNESCO. All in all it was a stress free life wherein I could easily handle my official duties as well as academic pursuits with ease. From our Metro station Segur, it took me less than ten minutes to get to EHESS on the Boulevard Raspail.
One of the advantages of living in Paris was that I could travel often to the UK. The Paris-London flight took less than an hour and there were commercial flights on 12-seater planes which offered us cut rate tickets. These low cost flights took us to Stanstead airport and not Heathrow which meant that the entry formalities and waiting time was much less. The British government was promoting Stanstead in order to take the pressure off Heathrow. Since our elder daughter Ramanika was studying in England my wife and I took every opportunity to use these low cost flights to get to London.
Another factor was that our close friends, Namel and Malini Weeramuni were living in North London and their spacious house became a home away from home to us as it was to many visiting Sri Lankan friends. The Weeramunis were a generous and welcoming couple and we spent time together exploring the nooks and corners of London including Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate cemetery. At that time J B Dissanayake and his wife were also in London for his sabbatical and Gananath and Ranjini Obeyesekere were hosted by the Anthropology Department of London University. In addition there were a large number of our friends from Sri Lanka working in the UK in different capacities.
H.H. Bandara was employed as a researcher in the London museum library dealing with Sinhala palm leaf manuscripts with Somadasa who way the librarian of Peradeniya University in our time. Mark,Fernando who played the lions role in Sarachchandras “Sinhabahu” was a solicitor practicing in London. R.D. Perera, my Arunachalam hall mate, was a high school teacher who had authored a popular book on economics for “crammers” for public exams and had thereby become rich and famous.
RD generously lent us his new Mercedes Benz for our excursions. One such excursion of our group was to Cambridge University where we met several Srilankan students, particularly those who were attached w a hospital there. With the Obeyesekeres and Weeramunis I went to a West End theatre to see Pirandellos “Six characters in search of an author”. This may have been the beginning of Namel Weramunis fascination with the plays of Pirandello.
After relocating in Colombo many years later he won fame with his production of a translation of a Pirandello play. Here I must write of a memorable dinner meeting with Lindsay Anderson at the Weeramunis. Malini, ever the sacrificing wife, worked part time in a supermarket in North London. It so happened that Lindsay Anderson, the famous critic and filmmaker lived in Hendon and was a regular visitor to Malini’s supermarket for his provisions. Being an admirer of Lester and Sumitra Peries and a frequent guest at their home in Colombo, and a confirmed addict of rice and curry, he became a friend of the Weeramunis who frequently invited him to their home.
Once Lindsay came over to share a meal with me and talk about Asian cinema. It was a memorable meeting which went on till midnight and Lindsay’s insights on Lester and Satyajit Ray’s films have remained in my memory. He died not long after and our cinema, particular our radical young film makers, lost a kindred soul.
Being a senior official of UNESCO I interacted with the staff of the British delegation attached to our office. Occasionally they invited me for discussions in London in the Commonwealth office as several media projects in Commonwealth countries were funded by IPDC. I found that the British were less ideological than the US and were willing to work with multilateral organizations because they got much credit without investing large sums of money. As one such official described it, the UK got “more bounce for their ounce”.
Many of these meetings ended with a drink and dinner at London’s famous clubs like Travellers, Whites and Carlton with their distinctive atmosphere and superb food. Of these the Carlton was the most ‘political’ of the lot and we could see several well known politicians in their cups carrying on undisturbed. Privacy was the golden rule and often we had our conversations in hushed tones. Much later when I was a minister I was offered membership in the Carlton but I did not follow through as my visits to London had dwindled and I could not afford the high fees.
When not staying with the Weeramunis I patronized a regular hotel in the Strand which was close to the theatre district. Opposite it was the famous Savoy Hotel which had been the favourite of Winston Churchill during the Second World War. I was entertained there occasionally and I marveled at the efficiency of the staff and the crisp linen and table arrangement which could not be bettered in a hotel dining room anywhere. Fine dining is an art in the western world and without experience of it in London, New York, Paris, Zurich or Berlin one cannot really begin to understand the life of the “haute bourgeosie” in the capitalist world.
Class differences are clear in that society and within a few minutes of association it was possible to place an interlocutor within the social map in which he is embedded. The emerging “pop” culture of the time with its crossing of social boundaries was a working class reaction to the snobbish upper echelons which dominated English society till it was torn apart during the Second World War and the post war period.
The English stage which was invaded by “angry young men” featured characters who rebelled against the upper class due to their envy and sense of inadequacy. They “looked back in anger” but often took it out impotently on their upper class girlfriends and their parents. I will return to these personal experiences later on in this chapter.
Let me now return to my official duties as Director of IPDC. This time I face an editorial difficulty since my readers will not in all probability be interested in the minutiae of this assignment. On the other hand however, in my autobiography I am bound at least for authenticity, to describe the important and memorable experiences encountered in my varied career. I will therefore now turn to the highlights of my UNESCO career.
One of my responsibilities as Director was to popularize the activities of IPDC and solicit funding for the media projects which were identified by us. For this purpose we called for proposals from developing countries and studied them with assistance of the staff of the communications division.Tis included the headquarters staff as well as our regional representatives who were in direct contact with the media authorities of the membe states. These projects were submitted by me to the annual meeting of the governing council which then allocated resources from the IPDC.
Fund from other donors were on a ‘Funds in Trust’ basis. At this meeting I introduced the projects to the members of the Council and made my recommendations regarding the proposals before us. On occasion this led to heated debates. Far instance African countries tended to band together on the basis of their regional affiliations and demand the biggest share of the pie. I had a difficult time to get approval for some projects submitted by Cuba because of objections by the US delegation.
But with the US boycotting UNESCO and a wave of sympathy from the developing countries I was able to get Cuban projects – mostly promoting education – approved, as well as get their representative elected to the Inter-Governmental Council. I could always depend on the Asian group and the African group which tended to follow the line dictated to them by the Director General M’Bow who was their hero and icon.
Once this provided a nasty shock to the Sri Lanka delegation led by our Ambassador in Paris, Balasubramaniam. Bala was considered to be an able negotiator and he was determined to show his diplomatic skills by getting Esmond Wickremesinghe elected to the Council of the IPDC. He began canvassing early and was confident when election day arrived. In the election Esmond and an African candidate got equal votes and it was decided to have a second vote.
While our Ambassador was nonplussed and rendered ineffective the African caucus was, we learnt later, instructed by M’Bow to support their fellow black candidate. Esmond was defeated in the second round. He took it calmly but I knew that he was very hurt by M’Bows uncalled for intervention which was criticized by whisperers in the corridors of the UNESCO building. After that Esmond lost interest in UNESCO and began to get involved with Ralph Buultjens, with disastrous results to him and the country.
I travelled to donor countries to firm up their offers of assistance to the IPDC Fund as well as to `sell’ large projects they could finance on a multilateral basis. This funding mechanism was called ‘Funds in Trust’. Going around with the begging bowl was an interesting task for which I had good experience in promoting projects like the introduction of TV to Sri Lanka with Japanese assistance. Norway was the biggest donor to the IPDC Fund pledging a million dollars every year. So Norway was one of our target countries.
At an international conference there was an inter-mixture of Norwegian media and government officials as well as a large number of internationally famous media personalities. Sri Lanka was represented by my friend Mervyn de Silva, and together with Kumar Rupasinghe who was then living in Norway, we spent time exploring Oslo and its restaurants in which venison dishes were a specialty. The forested hills of Norway were full of deer and a saddle of venison was on everybody’s table. But some killjoys created a scare that the deer had migrated from Chernobyl, with its radiation leaks, and the venison may be contaminated. However, these scare stories did not prevent our participants from tucking in.
Another important donor to IPDC was the Federal Republic of Germany. The German Government as well as their powerful NGOs were keen participants in the New Communication Order debate. The FRG delegate to IPDC was Bertolt Witte who was an important figure in the Free Democratic Party [FDP] which was the junior partner in a coalition Government with the Social Democrats. He later became a Minister in the FRG.
The FDP though small in numbers was quite influential and the Foreign Minister came from that party. Witte was a liberal and deeply concerned about questions like the freedom of the press and training for journalists. He arranged a meeting with media scholars at the ancient University of Hohenheim which is near Stuttgart. This University specializes in agrarian sciences with special emphasis on communication for promoting new agricultural practices and marketing.
During this time many German media scholars looked to the US for their theoretical orientations. In the Hohenheim seminar an important role was played by Everett Rogers who had written extensively on use of media in achieving developmental targets. Since he taught in a midwestern University much of his attention was on use of media for agricultural development. Everett was a genial person who was supportive of IPDC. We got on well.
The Hohenheim Conference did the IPDC a world of good because FRG became a contributor to our programme. Witte who was a well-known journalist and a senior in the FDP, continuously lobbied the German government on our behalf. He was a member of the IPDC Council and a great supporter of UNESCO.
After the Seminar I was the chief guest at a dinner offered by the Rector of this old University. Hohenheim was a beautiful agricultural area with its rolling green hills and vast swathes of arable land. Stuttgart was an industrial town which was the heartland of German motor car manufacturing, including the Volkswagen works, but Hohenheim with its old castle and large irrigated fields was a peaceful agricultural university town.
Helsinki was a unique experience fir most of us since Finland is not on the conference circuit. But both in the conference room and out in the freezing winter amid. we were treated with extraordinary friendship and courtesy. Sharing a territorial boundary with the USSR, the Finns while cherishing their independence were extraordinarily careful not to offend the hibernating Russian bear. The organizers had made sure that a strong USSR delegation led by Professor Zassousky of Moscow University also participated in one of our conferences. The USSR team comprising their regular delegation to IPDC and Zassousky, weremost cooperative and supportive of my suggestion to have a similar meeting in the USSR. The Soviets, soon to drop that name and call themselves Russians, were strong advocates of the New Information Order as a way of embarrassing the West.
Finland was full of surprises. Just across the square facing our hotel was the beautiful ‘art decor’ railway station designed by Saarinen. He was a Finnish architect who later migrated to the US and made a name for himself with his path breaking designs. Helsinki is full of his buildings which give a modern look to the city. We were guests of a rich magazine publisher of the country. His country home was built on the shore of a small lake. He had installed a wave making machine on one side of the lake so that there were artificial waves for surfing in the summer.
That being a winter, he took us to his sauna by the lake. This was an authentic Finnish sauna and not the artificial one we usually come across in big hotels. We had to alternatively sit inside the sauna sweating profusely and then run naked to the lake for a dip in its ice-cold waters. This had to be done several times so that the skin is subjected to extreme heat followed by extreme cold. In addition we had to hit our bodies with branches of birch so that the skin is drawn tight by the time we dip into the water.
This was a once in a life time experience. Though fearful at first I found this invigorating and the body was made ready for large gulps of Finnish beer which was sucked up by my tormented body. Fortunately none of us came down with pneumonia.
Another interesting feature was that most of the buildings we saw were built by Scotsmen. It was the Scots who had introduced electricity to Finland. We were told us that Scottish businessmen had invested in infrastructure development in Finland prior to World War Two. Now however, Finland was too close to the USSR for the west to intervene in its economic development.
Parts of Helsinki looked very much like St Petersburg before the revolution. In fact Lenin had come to join the revolution in St Petersburg via the Finland railway station. Many films like David Lean’s ‘Dr Zhivago’ were shot in Helsinki where the streets and houses could be used to simulate the life and atmosphere of the Russian capital about the time of the Russian revolution.
The participants at this seminar who were the world’s leading communications scholars of the day were bowled over by the life and customs in Helsinki and the goodwill of our Finnish colleagues. There is a ‘back story’ which involves Finland which I can narrate here. At the height of the shooting war with the LTTE, Gamini Dissanayake, who was being fast overtaken in popularity by Lalith Athulathmudali who had been put in charge of defence, presented to JRJ a memorandum which advocated a `detente’ with India. This was an alternative to the hostile approach of Lalith to India.
One of the references in this memorandum dealt with the ‘inter se’ position between the USSR and Finland. Here the two countries functioned without the smaller country challenging the interests of USSR. JRJ did not comment on this suggestion. However on the day after the signing of the Sri Lanka-India accord, the editor of the ‘Sun’ newspaper, Rex de Silva had an article which highlighted what he called the ‘Finlandisation of Sri Lanka vis-a-vis India.
It may be that Gamini had fed Rex a copy of his memorandum which was the usual practice at that time. JRJ called me in a fury after reading this article which appeared the day after signing the accord. He wanted me to get the Information Ministry to take over the Sun newspaper. This was a challenge to me as a newspaper take over was the worst thing that could be done at that juncture. Rex was my friend and after much thought, I got him to join me in a visit to ‘Braemar’ to meet the President.
That was a time when I could walk into ‘Braemar’ without notice, as Anandatissa, the Minister was in hospital and the President relied on me to handle the Department of Information, in which my lieutenant, Anura Goonesekere was Director. By this time JRJ’s fury had abated and he patiently explained to Rex that his analogy was the last thing he wanted the Indians to adopt. Rex replied in a conciliatory manner and the matter was dropped for the time being.
Governor Hugh Clifford quoted Emerson Tennent to defend Waste Lands Ordinance
by GAD Sirimal
Your editorial, ‘Tea Snapshot’ (SI June 4) kicks off with the comment, ‘The publication of Merril J Fernando’s autobiography last month is a useful peg to hang a discussion on the Ceylon Tea industry.’ As a person hailing from an up-country tea growing area with family engaged or employed in tea estates, I decided to comment on two aspects mentioned in the editorial.
These are: (1) “The British brought in indentured Tamil Labour from India to work on their tea estates under harsh conditions because the upcountry peasantry was reluctant for various reasons to work on the plantations.” (2) These were created at tremendous environmental cost on land sold for a pittance under the infamous Waste Land Ordinance of 1840″.
In so doing, I wish to quote from an address by Sir Hugh Clifford, Governor of Ceylon, at the second Annual Agricultural Conference on March 11,1927. On indentured Tamil labour from India, he quotes Emerson Tennent thus: “The temptation of wages and no prospect of advantage, has hitherto availed to overcome the repugnance of the Sinhalese and Kandyans to engage in any work on estates, except the first process of felling the forest.”
Tennent adds: ‘That the Ceylon estates enjoy a perennial supply of voluntary immigrant labour is one of the happy accidents which have contributed to the welfare of this fortunate isle; but if the soil of the districts of Madras Presidency from which that supply is drawn, were as fertile as is that of the most thickly populated parts of Ceylon, the estate owners might whistle in vain for the Tamil labourers to flock to their assistance, and our principal agricultural industries would quickly languish, for the place of these workers, on the upland tea estates at least, could never be taken by the people of this Island.”
The Governor says: “The repugnance to work upon the upland estates, to which Emerson Tennent bore testimony in 1886, is, I believe, as unconquerable today as it was 70 years ago.” On the question of land Sir. Hugh says “whether in ancient times, waste and unoccupied land was or was not vested in the sovereign, to me it seems that the matter is one of historical and academic, rather than of practical interest.
“The section of the Ordinance No.12 of 1840 – all forest, waste, unoccupied or uncultivated land are presumed to be the property of the Crown until the contrary is proved, and that is the law as it stands today. As I understand the contention of some of my honourable friends, their claim is that ‘forest, waste, unoccupied or uncultivated lands’ should by right be vested, not in the Crown but in the people. “But I would ask, for practical purposes, is this not a distinction without a difference?
What do we mean by such land being ‘vested in the Crown’?. Not that His Most Gracious Majesty, personally or through the agency of his servants, desires or proposes to put it to uses of his own, but that all such land is to be recognized , not as the property of individuals, but as one of the principal public assets of Ceylon. As such, the Colonial Government – whether it be constituted as it was on the past under the old Crown Colony system or administration, or as it is constituted today, when the power of decision in matters great and small has in the main been transferred to the chosen representatives of the people of this Island, or as it may hereafter be constituted in some yet more liberal mould – however, the Government of Ceylon may be constituted, it will always be one of its primary and most imperative duties to guard and defend the land – this great asset of the people, of the taxpayers – free from encroachment by individuals or groups of individuals; and further, to the best of its ability, to see that it is alienated in the manner most nicely calculated to promote the prosperity of the Island and the highest interests of its inhabitants”
On the accusation ‘The upcountry peasantry lost their common grazing land….’ he comments ” I occupied the Colonial Secretary’s chair in this colony for more than five years, and I can and do bear unhesitating testimony to the fact that every application for land from Europeans or Ceylonese planters received at the hands of the Revenue Officers of that time the most searching scrutiny; that the requirements of the villagers were invariably their first consideration, and they were prepared to fight tooth and nail to prevent encroachment upon them”,
The pioneer European planters invested their own funds, walked through pathless jungles and lived in log cabins when they planted the estates. Within a few years these paths were converted to roads and their cabins replaced by bungalows at picturesque sites. Progressively, they opened up roads, railways, constructed irrigation channels, in short developed infrastructure to serve their purpose no doubt; but in the long run it helped the development of the country. One should consider the stupendous work undertaken in constructing the railway track, tunneling through mountains manually, as there was no machinery then. How many would have lost their lives?
In addition to the plantation sector, the colonial rulers had an efficient administrative service, maintained law and order and also encouraged restoring ancient ruins. One such is the restoration of Ruwanweli seya in the mid 1880s. To all appearances, they considered this country as their own and ploughed back what was earned by way of taxes for development, not expecting that time would come for the indigenous people to demand independence to govern themselves.
I leave it to the readers to judge the present situation of the country, where what the colonial rulers built is now being sold, enriching a few. No legal action is taken against he culprits who are given state protection
“Are we fit to rule ourselves?” I ask.
Jayantha Dhanapala, An Ambassador For The Human Condition
Birth, abundance – adequacy- poverty, thought, emotion, morality, conflict and death may summarise the human condition. Not only through our friendship, but over the long years I had accessed much of Jayantha from a wide circle, to be able to say that he was an ambassador for the human condition. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka has sent out a statement that “…. the late Mr. Dhanapala was deeply admired and respected in Sri Lanka and internationally for his humanity” and “…dedication to a world free of weapons of mass destruction” He was the Deputy Chairman of the Governing Board of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which tracks military spending by Governments around the world.
He had a formidable intellect like many others. What separates Jayantha from most is that, his brain serviced the humanity that his heart conveyed.
That Jayantha achieved distinction in the Sri Lanka Foreign Service and The United Nations is not what his friends and those who knew him will remember. The memory will be of a human being as an individual reacting to the condition of other individuals congregated as societies and states.
My wife and I first came to know him and Maureen, his wife to be, when they entered Peradeniya University . It was our togetherness in university theatre, the activity that at its best probes the living human condition by the live duality of actors and audience that initiated our friendship. We continued to do much theatre at the Lionel Wendt. He played leading roles in plays I directed including Horatio, in Hamlet, in which he shared with his Trinity College friend , Breckenridge as Hamlet, pondering, ” the undiscovered country from which no traveller returns”.
It is not improbable that The United Nations wanted him to be at the top of the Disarmament Division because they became aware of his thoughts and feelings on international war as the most downgrading evidence of the human condition.
About a human like Jayantha what religion he happened to be in is irrelevant. Whatever the nature of the afterlife it will receive you with acknowledgement, Jayantha.
Jayantha Dhanapala, a star in a Trinity galaxy
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