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Remembering my father – Stanley Jayaweera



My parents in conversation with Kurt Waldheim, President of Austria and former Secretary General of United Nations.

By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

My parents in conversation with Kurt Waldheim, President of Austria and former Secretary General of United Nations. My father passed away five years ago, just a few months short of his 90th birthday. Since his demise, my late brother Rajeewa and several others have written extensively about his accomplishments. However, I felt at a time when our country is facing an unprecedented social and economic crisis, it would be useful once again to share with readers the qualities of a man whose life was built on pillars of honesty, integrity, ethics, the rule of law and a deep love of Sri Lanka. The country desperately needs loads of such men to state the obvious if we are to reverse the decline.

A quarter-century ago, he perceptively identified the country’s most significant challenge. In an article published in The Island of August 6, 1997, Thathi wrote ‘the country is in shambles, the ‘tragedy is that society as a whole has failed to throw up a community of principled men who can stand up to our rampaging politicians and put them in their place.

Public Servant par excellence, Nationalistic fervour and saying “No.”

As a public servant, he served the country with skill, a sense of duty, loyalty, dedication, and pride. A recent editorial in the Sunday Island, encapsulated these qualities saying, “the late Stanley Jayaweera was a career diplomat at a time this country had a public service as different to what we are burdened with today as chalk and cheese.”

My grandmother used to relate how his intensely nationalistic feelings would cause headaches for my grandfather in the period leading to our independence. A large contingent of youngsters from less well-off families used to attend night classes at the Pirivena along Pirivena Road, Ratmalana, where Thathi used to teach English. He, therefore, had a sizeable number of loyal “followers.” He occasionally led a procession of them shouting nationalistic slogans in front of homes of those they considered loyal to the British! No sooner the march started, a message would be conveyed “anna Jayaweerage rasthiyadu kollo tike enawa.” Many windows and doors were quickly bolted and closed until the procession passed. Several would, after that, stop talking to my grandparents!

Soon after graduating from the University of Colombo, majoring in Philosophy, he took up teaching. He taught at Christian College, Kotte, Dharmapala Vidyalaya, and Dharamaraja College. His first love was teaching. His parents, however, firmly convinced him that he would not be able to support a family on a teacher’s pay and forced him to sit for the Ceylon Civil Service entry examination. Although he came third, he was absorbed to the Foreign Services as he was slightly overage.

His first overseas posting at the age of 31 was as Deputy High Commissioner to Singapore. Earlier, when designated to open the Embassy in Moscow, he conveyed his reluctance to go as he felt he would not be able to work with the person named as the Ambassador. Permanent Secretary Gunasena de Zoysa could not change his mind and therefore took him to meet then Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranaike. Asked by SWRD why he was unable to work with so and so, Thathi had revealed the reasons with trepidation. SWRD had roared with laughter and said, “Gunasena, send Jayaweera to Singapore where he can be his own boss.” Those days the High Commissioner was based in Malaysia.

Interdiction, challenges, and defiance

In July 1965, my father was interdicted by the Dudley Senanayake government purportedly as some files were missing from the citizenship division of the foreign ministry of which he was the head. It was nothing more than a political witch-hunt as he was perceived as a leftist loyal to Mrs Bandaranaike. The government failed to bring charges before the Public Service Commission (PSC) for over four years despite Felix Dias Bandaranaike raising the issue in parliament on several occasions. The PSC enquiry did not last more than a couple of hours and the charges against him were dismissed. He was immediately reinstated with full back pay. However, he and the family were subjected to severe hardship as he was paid only 25 per cent of his salary for the first two years and then increased to 50 per cent.

Coincidentally, his brother Neville a senior civil servant was promoted by the then government as Chairman SLBC. He, therefore, was close to both Dudley and JR Jayewardene. On several occasions, they had told Uncle Neville to tell my father to come and say “sorry” and that he would be immediately reinstated. However, despite my mother, his parents and parents in law pleading with him, he said, “why should I say sorry when I did nothing wrong?” Despite the severe impact on our lifestyle due to the meagre financial resources, he stood firmly by his principles. He also refused several offers of employment from the private sector. He was determined to clear his name. Aiya, my three sisters and I are mighty proud that he did so, and our experience during those challenging times have stood all of us in good stead and no doubt shaped our personalities.

On a more humorous note, in exhibiting his anger towards the then government, no sooner any by-election results were announced, he would light firecrackers as invariably the UNP lost all such by-elections. This was around 2 a.m, and we woke up all our neighbours, mostly die-hard UNP supporters. Our immediate neighbour, who was the chief government printer would the next day inform Dudley and JR that “Stanley Jayaweera lit firecrackers last night to celebrate the UNP’s loss.” Invariably Uncle Neville used to get an earful!

Despite what Dudley Senanayake and his government subjected him and his family to, it did not prevent Thathi from opening a book of condolences in 1973 at the High Commission in Islamabad when Dudley passed away. An anonymous petition conveyed this decision to the foreign ministry in Colombo. An explanation was called as no such instruction had been given from Colombo. He replied that the death of a five times Prime Minister demanded such a courtesy and found fault with the ministry for not initiating such a move. His explanation was accepted.

The consummate diplomat

When working overseas, a strength was his ability to build strong relationships and network with politicians and foreign office personnel in the countries he served. Some of them became family friends with whom my parents kept in touch even upon return to Sri Lanka. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had a very cordial relationship with him despite knowing that Thathi was also in touch with one of his strongest adversaries, Abdul Wali Khan.

When overseas, we used to bemoan the number of dinners and cocktail parties he would host exclusively at our residence. He used to say that entertaining was an essential tool in networking and building relationships. However, he did not believe in entertaining at hotels and restaurants, saying that the country cannot afford such costs. So, my mother, assisted by my sisters, would invariably prepare the meals, Aiya would serve drinks, and I would be assigned to clean the house! We often asked him whether our cost of labour could be remunerated. You can imagine the response we received! In fact, at times, he would return his monthly entertainment allowance to the ministry, saying that it was not utilized.

I recall a humorous incident arising from one such function at our residence in Islamabad, Pakistan. A lady diplomat of European descent had excitedly approached my mother and said, “Seetha, can you please introduce me to that gorgeous man who looks like Omar Sherrif?” When the concerned person was identified, my mother being somewhat conservative, was shocked and perplexed because it was our Pakistani chauffeur, Mujibar! He was present to supervise the serving of drinks! For sure, the guy was a carbon copy of Omar Sherriff.

Love of India and refusing to ask/plead for an overseas posting

Thathi had a great deal of love and admiration for India because of their great struggle for independence. He often told us that the failing of Ceylon/Sri Lanka is that we never fought for our freedom, which resulted in the absence of truly patriotic leaders. Early in his career, he identified that our relations with India were of paramount importance. Therefore, unlike some of his peers who sought postings to European capitals, he wanted a stint in India, which was granted by posting him to Madras as the Deputy High Commissioner.

He and a few others played a crucial role in putting together the Sirima- Shastri pact. Despite being based in Pakistan, he still had many contacts in the Indian foreign ministry in New Delhi. When Mrs Bandaranaike visited Pakistan, he had made a presentation which resulted in her asking, “Stanley kohomada ochchara danne Indiava gane Pakistan indan?” (Stanley, how do you know so much about India despite being based in Pakistan?)

Thathi was sidelined by A C S Hameed, the Foreign Minister, for seven long years between 1978 and 1985 and was confined to the ministry in Colombo and consistently overlooked when overseas postings were made. He refused to seek or plead for an overseas posting because he believed there was no need to ask or beg for a posting when his seniority entitled him to one. Ultimately Prime Minister Premadasa and senior ministers like Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake forced the hand of President J R Jayewardene to appoint him as the Ambassador to West Germany. But, again, he stood by his principles and was prepared to stomach the indignity of many of his juniors being appointed as Ambassadors/High Commissioners while he languished in Colombo. He constantly said, “I am not going to carry that bugger’s suitcases!”

Family man, social activist, and a true Buddhist

After his retirement, he was a social activist and an opinion writer who contributed to newspapers and journals without fear to discuss many burning issues impacting the country.

A feature of my father that I admire most is that whilst being a practicing Buddhist, he taught all his children that all religions are equal and, if followed correctly, are all good. My father rarely visited the temple. Instead, he practiced his religion within the confines of his home and never tried to convince anyone of the merits of Buddhism. The net result of his broad-mindedness was that three of his children married Roman Catholics, and the religion of the person they married was never an issue. Neither were there any tantrums or requirements that his grandchildren should be brought up as Buddhists.

He also had great empathy towards the less well off. Post his retirement; he spent many hours at the Victoria Home for the Incurables in Rajagiriya teaching English and providing companionship to many whom society had neglected and forgotten. I remember the anguish of many at the institute when Aiya and I went to inform them of his passing. He used to lecture English during the weekends at the Colombo University post his retirement, which I believe was pro-bono. Many a graduate sitting for the foreign service entry examinations would visit him at home and prepare for the exams.

Despite being taskmaster in office, he was pretty relaxed and broadminded as a father. He never demanded that we get the highest marks when sitting for exams. He said a person’s development based on sound values and principles is more important than passing exams. When I was in London as a student and highly stressed before an examination, he called me and said, “Chutta, remember that failures are pillars of success”.

Unlike Aiya, who kept a close tab on my career, my father did not say much about my job. Given his years of public service and socialistic ideals, he may have silently disapproved of my working in the private sector. However, on a few occasions, he did ask me, “Chutta, why do you need to drive such a big car?”

Both Aiya and I were allowed to have girlfriends at a relatively young age despite my mother’s protestations! His view was that boys needed to be boys!

He was very much a family man who liked to enjoy quality time with all of us. He would enjoy a couple of drinks every evening and play western classical music with the family around him, and we all used to narrate various humorous stories and have a good laugh. He also loved listening to Sunil Santha and C T Fernando.

His wife and my mother Seetha, whom he used to call “baby”, yes, he was far ahead of times, predeceased him by five years. She was constantly by his side in both good and bad times for 58 years and confirmed the saying, “behind every successful man, there stands a woman”. She was undoubtedly the rock on which the family was anchored. Her sweet demeanour made him often say, “Ammi is a better diplomat than me.” Her passing resulted in him going into a shell. His interactions with others were after that limited. Aiya took over the responsibility of looking after him post our mothers death.

Finally, I wish to borrow a comment from one of Aiya’s articles where he wrote, “Being a man who lived by his ideals and principles, he left no riches. His lasting legacy to his five children were the ideals and principles he endeavoured to impart albeit by example.”

May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

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Breathtaking new paintings found at ancient city of Pompeii




The frescoes depict Greek mythology: Paris kidnaps Helen which triggers the Trojan War (BBC)

Stunning artworks have been uncovered in a new excavation at Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried in an eruption from Mount Vesuvius in AD79.

Archaeologists say the frescoes are among the finest to be found in the ruins of the ancient site.

Mythical Greek figures such as Helen of Troy are depicted on the high black walls of a large banqueting hall.

The room’s near-complete mosaic floor incorporates more than a million individual white tiles.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe The Black Room

The black room has only emerged in the last few weeks. Its white mosaic floor is almost complete (BBC)

A third of the lost city has still to be cleared of volcanic debris. The current dig, the biggest in a generation, is underlining Pompeii’s position as the world’s premier window on the people and culture of the Roman empire.

Park director Dr Gabriel Zuchtriegel presented the “black room” exclusively to the BBC on Thursday.

It was likely the walls’ stark colour was chosen to hide the smoke deposits from lamps used during entertaining after sunset. “In the shimmering light, the paintings would have almost come to life,” he said.

Two set-piece frescoes dominate. In one, the god Apollo is seen trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra. Her rejection of him, according to legend, resulted in her prophecies being ignored.The tragic consequence is told in the second painting, in which Prince Paris meets the beautiful Helen – a union Cassandra knows will doom them all in the resulting Trojan War.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe One of the "black room" frescos discovered in Pompeii, showing Apollo trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra

The god Apollo is depicted on one of the frescos trying to seduce the Trojan priestess Cassandra (BBC)

The black room is the latest treasure to emerge from the excavation, which started 12 months ago – an investigation that will feature in a documentary series from the BBC and Lion TV to be broadcast later in April.

A wide residential and commercial block, known as “Region 9”, is being cleared of several metres of overlying pumice and ash thrown out by Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago.

Staff are having to move quickly to protect new finds, removing what they can to a storeroom.

For the frescoes that must stay in position, a plaster glue is injected to their rear to prevent them coming away from the walls. Masonry is being shored up with scaffolding and temporary roofing is going over the top.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco protection

A plaster glue must be injected behind a fresco or it is likely to come away from the wall (BBC)

Chief restorer Dr Roberta Prisco spent Tuesday this week trying to stop an arch from collapsing. “The responsibility is enormous; look at me,” she said, as if to suggest the stress was taking a visible toll on her. “We have a passion and a deep love for what we’re doing, because what we’re uncovering and protecting is for the joy also of the generations that come after us.”

BBC Map showing excavations in Pompeii

Region 9 has thrown up a detective story for archaeologists.

Excavations in the late 19th Century uncovered a laundry in one corner. The latest work has now revealed a wholesale bakery next door, as well as the grand residence with its black room.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Reception Hall

In the reception hall, rubble in the far right corner is from renovation at the time of the eruption (BBC)

The team is confident the three areas can be connected, physically via the plumbing and by particular passageways, but also in terms of their ownership.

The identity of this individual is hinted at in numerous inscriptions with the initials “ARV”. The letters appear on walls and even on the bakery’s millstones.

Dr Sophie Hay explained how a rich politician left his mark on the buildings

“We know who ARV is: he’s Aulus Rustius Verus,” explained park archaeologist Dr Sophie Hay. “We know him from other political propaganda in Pompeii. He’s a politician. He’s super-rich. We think he may be the one who owns the posh house behind the bakery and the laundry.” What’s clear, however, is that all the properties were undergoing renovation at the time of the eruption. Escaping workers left roof tiles neatly stacked; their pots of lime mortar are still filled, waiting to be used; their trowels and pickaxes remain, although the wooden handles have long since rotted away.

Dr Lia Trapani catalogues everything from the dig. She reaches for one of the thousand or more boxes of artefacts in her storeroom and pulls out a squat, turquoise cone. “It’s the lead weight from a plumb line.” Just like today’s builders, the Roman workers would have used it to align vertical surfaces.

She holds the cone between her fingers: “If you look closely you can see a little piece of Roman string is still attached.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Plumb line

It’s possible to see a remnant piece of string around the neck of the plumb line (BBC)

Dr Alessandro Russo has been the other co-lead archaeologist on the dig. He wants to show us a ceiling fresco recovered from one room. Smashed during the eruption, its recovered pieces have been laid out, jigsaw-style, on a large table.

He’s sprayed the chunks of plaster with a mist of water, which makes the detail and vivid colours jump out.

You can see landscapes with Egyptian characters; foods and flowers; and some imposing theatrical masks.

“This is my favourite discovery in this excavation because it is complex and rare. It is high-quality for a high-status individual,” he explained.

BBC/Jonathan Amos Ceiling fresco

The archaeologists have had to piece together a ceiling fresco that was shattered during the volcanic eruption (BBC)

But if the grand property’s ceiling fresco can be described as exquisite, some of what’s being learned about the bakery speaks to an altogether more brutal aspect of Roman life – slavery.

It’s obvious the people who worked in the business were kept locked away in appalling conditions, living side by side with the donkeys that turned the millstones. It seems there was one window and it had iron bars to prevent escape.

It’s in the bakery also that the only skeletons from the dig have been discovered. Two adults and a child were crushed by falling stones. The suggestion is they may have been slaves who were trapped and could not flee the eruption. But it’s guesswork.

“When we excavate, we wonder what we’re looking at,” explained co-lead archaeologist Dr Gennaro Iovino.

“Much like a theatre stage, you have the scenery, the backdrop, and the culprit, which is Mount Vesuvius. The archaeologist has to be good at filling in the gaps – telling the story of the missing cast, the families and children, the people who are not there anymore.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Mosaic floor
There are certainly more than a million tiles in the mosaic floor, possibly up to three million (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Roman lamp
Boxes full of artefacts: One of the many oil lamps recovered during the excavation (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco showing Leda and the Swan
Another fresco depicts Leda and Zeus in the form of a swan, whose union would lead to Helen’s birth (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe A piece of moulded cornicing painted in bright colours
Brilliant colours: Ornate cornicing was also preserved under the volcanic debris (BBC)
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Democracy continuing to be derailed in South Asia



A scene from Sri Lanka’s ‘Aragalaya’ of 2022.

Sections of progressive opinion in Sri Lanka are currently commemorating the second anniversary of the country’s epochal ‘Aragalaya’, which brought down the dictatorial and racist Gotabhaya Rajapaksa regime. April 9th 2022 needs to be remembered especially as the date on which Sri Lankans in their tens of thousands, irrespective of ethnic, religious and language differences rose as one to impress on the country’s political class and rulers that their fundamental rights cannot be compromised or tampered with for whatever reason and that these rights should be realized henceforth.

During the ‘Aragalaya’, Sri Lanka attained nationhood, since the totality of the country’s social groups, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, spoke out for equity and equality among them, from the same platform. Thus was Sri Lankan nationhood born, which is quite different from statehood. It is left to progressives to ensure that Sri Lankan nationhood, thus born out of the ‘Aragalaya’, does not prove to be stillborn.

To express it briefly, political ‘Independence’ or statehood is believed by most Sri Lankans to have been attained in 1948 but this is not tantamount to achieving nationhood. The latter is realized when equity and equality are established among a country’s communities.

Of course, we are a long way from achieving these aims but the historic significance of the ‘Aragalaya’ consists in the fact that the ideals central to nationhood were articulated assertively and collectively in Sri Lanka as never before. The opinion climate conducive to nation-building, it could be said, was created by the ‘Aragalaya’.

It is left to the progressives of Sri Lanka to forge ahead with the process of realizing the ideals and central aims of the ‘Aragalaya’, without resorting to violence and allied undemocratic approaches, which are really not necessary to bring about genuine democratic development.

The ‘Aragalaya’ was a historic ‘wake-up’ call to the country’s political elite in particular, which, over the years could be said to have been engaged more in power aggrandizement, rather than nation-building, which is integral to democratic development. Given this bleak backdrop, it amounts to a huge joke for any prominent member of the country’s ruling class to make out that he has been ‘presiding over the only country in Asia where democracy is completely safeguarded.’

To begin with, a huge question mark looms over Sri Lanka’s true constitutional identity. It is not a fully-fledged parliamentary democracy in view of the substantive and sweeping powers wielded by the Executive Presidency and this issue has been discussed exhaustively in this country.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka is not free of strong theocratic tendencies either because there is no clear ‘separation wall’, so to speak, between religion and politics. The fact is that Sri Lanka’s rulers are constitutionally obliged to defer to the opinion of religious leaders. Therefore, Sri Lanka lacks a secular foundation to its political system. This columnist is inclined to the view that in terms of constitutional identity, Sri Lanka is ‘neither fish, flesh nor fowl.’

Moreover, the postponement of local and Provincial Council polls in Sri Lanka by governments alone proves that what one has in Sri Lanka is at best a ‘façade democracy’.

derailing democracy in Sri Lanka goes Religious and ethnic identities in particular continue to be exploited and manipulated by power aspirants and political entrepreneurs to the huge detriment of the countries concerned.

Needless to say, such factors are coming into play in the lead-up to India’s Lok Sabha polls. They are prominent in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well. Statesmanship is a crying need in these societies but nurturing such leaders into existence will prove a prolonged, long term project, which also requires the interplay of a number of vital factors, many of which are not present to the desired degree in the countries concerned.

However, of the ‘South Asian Eight’, India is by far the most advanced democracy. It has a Constitution that explicitly enshrines the cardinal rights of the people, for example, including the very vital Right to Life. Such a right is non-existent in the Sri Lankan Constitution, for instance, and this is a huge drawback from the viewpoint of democratic development. Among other things, what this means is that the Sri Lankan state exercises substantive coercive power over its citizens.

On the other hand, the Indian Supreme Court has time and again creatively interpreted the Right to Life, so much so life-threatening conditions faced by Indian citizens, for instance, have been eliminated through the caring and timely intervention of the country’s judiciary. Sri Lanka needs to think on these things if it intends to entrench democratic development in the country. Thus far, the country’s track record on this score leaves much to be desired.

A predominant challenge facing progressives of South Asia, such as the ‘Aragalaists’ of Sri Lanka, is how to forge ahead with the task of keeping democratization of the state on track. A negative lesson in this connection could be taken from Bangladesh where the ideals of the 1971 liberation war under Shiekh Mujibhur Rahman were eroded by subsequent regimes which exploited divisive religious sentiments to come to power. In the process, religious minorities came to be harassed, persecuted and savaged by extremists in the centre.

Whereas, the founding fathers of Bangladesh had aimed to create a secular socialist state, this was not allowed to come to pass by some governments which came to power after the Sheikh, which sought to convert Bangladesh into a theocracy. A harrowing account of how the ideals of 1971 came to be betrayed is graphically provided in the international best seller, ‘Lajja’ by Taslima Nasrin, the exiled human and women’s right activist of Bangladesh.

At page 60 of the 20th anniversary edition of ‘Lajja’, published by Penguin Books, Nasrin quotes some persons in authority in Bangladesh as telling the country’s Hindus during the religious riots of 1979; ‘The government has declared that Islam is the state religion. If you want to stay in an Islamic country all of you must become Muslims. If you don’t become Muslims you will have to run away from this country.’

Not all the post-liberation governments of Bangladesh have turned against the ideals of 1971 and the present government is certainly not to be counted as one such administration. But the lesson to be derived from Bangladesh is that unless progressive opinion in a secular democracy is eternally vigilant and proactively involved in advancing democratic development, a country aiming to tread the path of secularism and democracy could easily be preyed upon by the forces of religious extremism.

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Homemade…to beat the heat



With lots of holidays cropping up, we are going to be on the move. Ok, that’s fine, but what about the scorching heat! With temperatures soaring sky high, skin issues are bound to surface.

Well, here are some beauty tips that will give your skin some relief:

Aloe Vera: Apply fresh aloe vera gel to the skin. It helps to soothe and heal sunburn. Aloe vera contains zinc, which is actually anti-inflammatory.

Papaya: Papaya pulp can be applied on the skin like a mask, washing it off after 20 minutes. Papaya contains enzymes and helps to remove dead skin cells. Add curd or lemon juice to the pulp to remove tan. Fruits like banana, apple, papaya and orange can be mixed together and applied on the face. Keep it on for 20 to 30 minutes. Papaya helps to cleanse dead skin cells. Banana tightens the skin. Apple contains pectin and also tones the skin. Orange is rich in Vitamin C. It restores the normal acid-alkaline balance.

 Lemon Juice: Lemon is a wonderful home remedy for sun tan because of its bleaching properties. You can apply lemon juice by mixing it with honey on the tanned skin and leave it for 10 to 15 minutes before washing it off .

Coconut Water and Sandalwood Pack: Sandalwood has great cleansing properties, whereas, coconut water is widely known for a glowing skin. Mix coconut water with one tablespoon of sandalwood powder to make a thick mixture and apply it all over the face. Wash it off after 20 minutes. This is a perfect cure for tanned skin.

Cucumber, Rose Water and Lemon Juice:The cucumber juice and rose water work as a cooling means for soothing the brown and red-spotted skin. To use these effectively, take one tablespoon of cucumber juice, lemon juice, and rose water and stir it well in a bowl. Use this solution on all over the face and wash it off with cold water after 10 minutes. This helps to turn your skin hale and healthy.

Milk Masks: Yes, milk masks do give glowing effect to tired skin. Just apply milk mixed with glycerin all over the face. Relax for 15 minutes and rinse with water. The treatment softens, rejuvenates and restores a natural PH balance, thus protecting the skin from the negative effects of the sun. You can also take half cup of milk and add a pinch of turmeric in it. Apply the mixture on your face and wait till it gets dry. Use this solution on a daily basis for exceptional results.

(Yes, time to take care of your skin and beat the heat!)

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