by Anura Gunasekera
Sujit Canagaretna, in a moving and masterful appreciation of Scott Dirckze, written soon after the latter’s demise in November 2019, has, in the opening paragraph itself, perfectly summed up the multi-faceted man whom he had known from childhood.
Quote. “Humanitarian. Corporate Leader. Entrepreneur. Agriculturist. Raconteur. Citroen Aficionado. Historian. Classical Musicophile. Art Collector. Consummate Host. Explorer. Gentleman. Friend“. Unquote; Elsewhere in the same writing, Sujith refers to Scott as a “Polymath” and “A Renaissance Man”.
I cannot better that description, concise yet all-inclusive. However, on the eve of what would be his 92nd birthday, I would like to share my personal impressions of Scott, as a belated tribute to a man who featured prominently in my life for over half a century, especially as a sounding board in times of uncertainty and, often, shaping my personal direction.For over 50 years, the 4th of July was an important day in my calendar; nothing to do with the Independence Day of the United States of America but because it is Scott Dirckze’s birthday, which he always celebrated in great style. I first attended the celebration in 1968. Since then, if I did miss it, there would have been a very important reason, as it was, literally, a standing but command invitation. Many years ago, the day before the event, I rang him and asked whether I and Malini – my wife – could arrive a bit late as I had another important matter to attend to. He chuckled and said, “Anura, please come early; you can watch the Wimbledon final on my bedroom TV”; a perfect example of Scott’s droll humour! He was all too well aware of my passion for tennis. At that time, he was Chairman of George Steuart & Co, and I was a senior manager of the company.When Malini and I got married in 1971, I had no second choice as my attesting witness. In fact, the two of us were driven away from the function in his beloved, blue and grey Citroen ID 19, chauffeured by his then driver, Dhanapala. At our daughter, Mihirini’s wedding twenty-five years later, Scott again did the honours as her witness. He was deeply touched that we made the request, but it was simply a measure of both our respect and affection for the man.
I first met Scott in 1967, a little over a year after I left school, for me a time of uncertainty and rootlessness. My friend, the late Trevor Roosmale-Cocq, then an estate executive at George Steuarts and later its Managing Director, decided that I needed sane and mature counseling. So, he took me to the man he respected most.
That first image of Scott, wearing a Thai batik shirt and cream slacks, seated on a divan below the large painting of Weligama Bay, in the simply but tastefully appointed sitting room of his modest Park Road residence, is still very vivid and framed him in my mind for the rest of our relationship. To mask my nervousness at meeting a man of obvious importance, a director of the most prestigious estate agency house in the country, I ostentatiously lit a cigarette and helped myself generously to his whiskey. But I shall never forget Scott’s unaffected friendliness and how quickly he put me at ease.
Scott was both practical and kind in his advice. Citing himself as an example, he explained what he considered to be the total uselessness of his classical education – an Honour’s degree from Cambridge –and its irrelevance to the needs of a country, struggling to free itself from the limitations imposed by centuries of foreign dominance. That, he said, was what motivated him to become an accountant, thereafter. When, some months later, I joined the Police Department as a Sub-Inspector, he did not suggest that I was being imprudent. He only said, “Anura, it can be a good career. Just make certain that you have the IGP’s baton in your pocket all the time. You may need it one day”.
Six months later I left the Police and joined George Steuarts as a planter trainee. Twelve years later, when I discussed with him my intention of leaving planting to join the newly established local subsidiary of a foreign production company, he expressed serious misgivings about my choice. I did not heed his advice but a few months on events confirmed his worst apprehensions. However, he was kind enough to facilitate my entry to a highly respected local conglomerate, when, for a number of reasons, my position with my then employer had become untenable. A couple of years later, when I re-joined George Steuarts and eventually became its head of administration and human resources, Scott, as the then Managing Director, became my immediate reporting connection. Despite the deference I always extended to him on all official occasions, he insisted on maintaining an easy friendship. The onus was on me to remember that my friend was also my employer and immediate superior.
Scott was a wonderful traveling companion to places of interest in the country, on account of his encyclopedic knowledge of its history, places, people and, especially, its agriculture, in which he was passionately interested. For him the high points of such trips were the dining stops at humble roadside eateries, where he would wade in to locally made sweets – “Gnana Katha”, a supremely unhealthy combination of sugar and flour, was a favourite, along with oily Chinese rolls of uncertain origin and dubious hygiene – washed down, invariably, with Elephant House Cream Soda, whilst engaging in long conversations with servers and fellow diners in his grammatically precise Sinhala; another contradictory aspect of this multifaceted Cantabrigian. I believe the vernacular was more effective for being delivered in a clipped, British accent!
He was a classicist who became an accountant but who may have been happier as an automobile engineer, or a paddy cultivator in the North Central Province, or a tea grower in the Morawak Korale. In fact, for many years Scott was thus engaged, first with his fifty-acre paddy farm close to Mihintale and, later, with little tea estates in Neluwa and Ingiriya, consecutively. Kannattiya Kele Watte, the paddy farm was, for decades, one of our favourite holiday destinations. In between, there was also a dalliance with a rubber plantation in Kuruwita.
As for Scott’s knowledge of automobile engineering, I have heard him explain precisely, over the phone from his hospital bed to a mechanic perplexed by the intricate electricals of his latest model Citroen, how to carry out a complex repair. A favorite, post-retirement pastime was the buying and restoration of derelict vehicles – invariably Peugeots or Citroens – under his supervision, in the little workshop that he had set up at his home in Pelawatte.
Scott came from a highly conventional, upper middle class Burgher family. He lost his mother when very young and was brought up, largely, by his father Dr. Herbert Dirckze, who retired as Chief Medical Superintendent of Colombo. On his return from Cambridge, he taught briefly at Royal College, Colombo – his old school – before joining Mackwoods, eventually becoming its Head of Finance. In 1964, he joined GS&Co at the invitation of its Board, replacing the retiring Finance Director, John Ferguson. Scott became Managing Director in 1973, when Tony Peries, then Chairman, abruptly left the country, paving the way for Trevor Moy to become the Chairman. Scott became Chairman in 1986, on Moy’s retirement and himself retired in 2001. One of Scott’s greatest disappointments in professional life was that unlike the other Agency Houses, GS&Co was unable to branch out into new businesses early, in preparation for the impending nationalization of large private plantations and the consequent loss of the lucrative estate agency business. Scott attributed this failure, not so much to a lack of foresight, but more to a combination of restrictive historical circumstances and the aversion to both change and risk, on the part of a Board which, till 1964, was entirely British.
Amongst his friends Scott will be remembered best for his unobtrusive generosity to those in need, the deep caring for friends and the meticulously organized, lavish parties at his home, which always represented a bewildering, but enchanting, diversity of cultures, personalities, professions and socio-economic levels. Often, his invitation to a gathering at his home would be qualified by the comment, “the food may be mediocre, but I guarantee that the company will be interesting”.
Scott’s sparkling wit has produced numerous gems over the years. Often, he was the object of his own satire. Some years ago, after he was fitted with a stent on account of a minor cardiac deficiency, I asked whether he was in any physical distress as a result. His immediate reply was, “my dear boy, I felt absolutely no pain till I saw the bill”.
A couple of years before the nationalization of plantations and the threatened state acquisition of other private businesses, a well-known British head of a large commodity broking company made what was then considered, under prevailing circumstances, a rather daring investment. When this was discussed at a gathering at which Scott was present, he had offered the pithy observation, “well gentlemen, I fear he will soon be taken over, “Boss-Stock and Barrel”, sending all present in to paroxysms of laughter; Scott was brilliant at the pun.
He was a totally honest man who despised pretension and hypocrisy. He did not hesitate to expose such in others, irrespective of station, with well-placed, often biting observations. He was always witty, sometimes sardonic but never malicious; acerbic though, if the circumstances warranted, when his razor-sharp tongue would be fully unsheathed.
Notwithstanding Scott’s semi-Victorian upbringing, education and Westernized background, he was passionately Sri Lankan, and a fierce advocate of local products, local innovation, and of the imperative of achieving sustainability through national enterprise.
Till the very end, despite multiple medical complications in the latter years, Scott retained that irrepressible sense of humour, intellectual interest in a disparate array of subjects, the incredibly retentive memory and his concern for fellow men; and, irrespective of the circumstances, he never lost his refined and charming old-world courtesy, another distinctive feature of his personality. In many ways Scott was unique and the last of an ilk, for that ilk died with him.
Some years ago, at the funeral of Abey Ekanayake, a dear mutual friend, as the smoke rose from the funeral pyre Scott turned to me and said, with tears in his eyes, “there goes a very good man; I will miss him very much”. At Scott’s funeral, as the earth tumbled on to the casket, another mutual friend, Nihal Ratnaike, said to me with great sadness, “he was a good and dear friend; I shall miss him very much”. Those are my sentiments as well. I can pay Scott, that fine human being, no greater tribute.
Antics of State Minister and Pohottu Mayor; mum on chemical fertiliser mistake; The Ganga – a link
Reams have been written in all local newspapers; much comment has traversed social media and persons have been bold to call for justice on two absolutely unrestrained and yes, evil, SLPP VIPs who have recently been dancing the devil as the saying goes. These evil doers seem to be pathologically unable to control themselves and behave as human beings: heads outsised with hubris and apparently bodies often pickled with liquor.
Very succinct comments have been made on Lohan Ratwatte, one being: “a leopard never changes his spots” referring to the many crimes supposed to have been committed by him, and the other that he is a gem of a man who may make a jewellery heist soon enough. He has the audacity to say he did nothing wrong in barging into two prisons; in one to show off to pals the gallows and in the other, to brandish a gun and place it against the heads of two shivering Tamil prisoners. All done within the week when world attention was focused on Sri Lankan human rights violations directed by the UNHRC
Cass’ comment is that Lohan Rat was committing hara-kiri (minus even a trace of the Japanese spirit of self sacrifice) and taking the entire country on a suicidal mission through his inability to hold his drinks and destructive hubris and murderous inclination. Cass particularly favoured Don Mano’s summation in his comment on the unlawful prison intrusions in the Sunday Times of September 19. “Any semblance of a shabby cover-up to enable Lohan Ratwatte to retain his position as State Minister of Gems and Jewellery will not only endanger the economy by depriving the nation’s dollar bare coffers of a GSP benefit of nearly 2.7 billion dollars, but will risk putting 21 million Lankans from the frying pan into the fire and test their tolerance to the core.”
The visit to the Welikada prison by the State Minister of Prison Reform and … was said to be with some men and one woman. Identities were kept under wraps and confusion raised by making the dame a beauty queen or cosmetician. But who she was, was soon known along the vine of gossip. One report said the person in charge of the prison or its section with the gallows, cautioned Lohan Rat and tried to dissuade his advance with friends in tow since the lady companion was in shorts and them walking through where prisoners were, would cause a commotion. But no, the State Minister advanced to show off the gallows with his short-shorts wearing woman companion and imbibing mates.
Cass is actually more censorious of this woman than even of the State Minister himself. Is she a Sri Lankan, so vagrant in her woman-ness? Doesn’t she have even an iota of the traditional lajja baya that decent women exhibit, even to minor level nowadays? Is associating with a State Minister and his drinking pals such a prized social event? Shame on her! She, if people’s assumption of identity is correct, has boasted political clout and been elevated by it too. Such our young girls! Do hope they are very few in number, though this seems to be a baseless hope as social events unroll.
Pistol packing – correction please – toy pistol packing Eraj Fernando is aiding the ex State Minister of Prison Reform to deface, debase and deteriorate Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world. He is interested in land and not in gallows or scantily clad gals. With thugs in tow he trespassed a property in Bamba and assaulted two security guards. Repetition of an incident he was embroiled in – a land dispute in Nugegoda a couple of weeks ago. He was taken in by the police and before you could say Raj, he was granted bail. What quick work of police and courts.
As the editor of The Island opined in the lead article of September 20: “The Rajapaksas have created quite a few monsters who enjoy unbridled freedom to violate the law of the land.” A convicted murderer known for his thug ways was presidentially pardoned a short while ago.
The good thing is that people talk, write, lampoon, and draw attention to these heinous crimes and do not seem scared for their necks and families. White vans have not started their rounds. And very importantly the memories of Ordinaries are not as fickle as they were. Wait and see is their immediate response.
New fad – jogging lanes on wewa bunds!
Some monks and men gathered recently on the partly torn up bund of Parakrama Samudraya and had the foolish audacity to say the bund needed a jogging lane. Tosh and balderdash! Then news revealed that other wewas too were being ‘attacked and desecrated’ to construct jogging lanes. In such remote rural areas which even tourists do not visit? Is there illicit money-making in this activity? Otherwise, no explanation is available for this sudden interest in farmers’ and toilers’ physical well being. They get enough exercise just engaging in their agriculture, so for whom are these jogging lanes?
Sharply contrasting persons
As apposite to the former two, are superb Sri Lankans up front and active and giving of their expertise, albeit unobtrusively. Consider the medical men and women and their service to contain the pandemic; farmers who protest to ensure harvests are not damaged too severely by false prophets who won the day for the banning of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. The latest blow and justification of what so very many agriculturists, agrochemists, have been saying all along – organic is good but to be introduced very slowly; without importing compost from overseas, is the Chinese import containing evil microorganisms. Experts have categorically stated that chemical fertilisers are sorely needed for all agriculture; more so paddy and tea; and if used prudently cause no illness to humans or injurious side effects.
The four experts who comprised the panel at the MTV I Face the Nation discussion monitored by Shameer Rasooldeen on Monday September 20, agreed totally on these two facts and went on to say that it must be admitted a hasty decision was taken to stop import of chemical fertilizers. We listened to the considered wise opinions backed by true expertise of vibrantly attractive and articulate Dr Warshi Dandeniya – soil scientist, of Prof Saman Seneweera from the University of Melbourne, Prof Buddhi Marambe – crop scientist, and Dr Roshan Rajadurai – media person of the Planters Association. Listening to them, Cass swelled with pride and told herself see what sincerely-interested-in-the-country’s welfare eminent scientists we have in this land of rowdy politicians and uneducated MPs. They labeled the sudden banning of chemical fertilisers and insecticides and pesticides as “very dangerous and causing irreversible harm. It is not too late to reverse the decision, even if admitting fault is not possible.”
Oh dear! The stench! Never ending series of scams; executed or approved by politicians and all for illicit gains. Even the tragedy of the pandemic and suffering of much of the population does not seem to have curbed selfish lust for money.
Focus on the Mahaweli Ganga
Interesting and deserving of thanks. Chanaka Wickramasuriya wrote two excellent articles in the Sunday Islands of September 12 and 19 on the Mahaweli Ganga, imparting invaluable facts of the present river and its history, as for example which king built which wewa or anicut. He ended his second article by hoping the waters of the great river will feed the north of the island too: “Maybe then this island will be finally uplifted. Not just from north to south, but across class and caste, language and philosophy, and political partisanship. Hopefully driven by a newfound sanity among its denizens, yet symbolically attested to by the waters of the Mahaweli.”
These humans are Crazy!
Those of us who grew up reading the “Asterix” comics by Goscinny and Uderzo will no doubt remember the resonant words of Obelix, the menhir delivery man. So many times, he has observed the actions of characters ranging from Roman Emperors to Goths and made the statement “these humans are crazy” often accompanied by a few taps from his forefinger to his ample brow. These words remain a universal truth and valid even today when looking at what is going on around us.
Let’s start in Aotearoa – New Zealand with the continuing saga of the young man of Sri Lankan origin who went berserk in a supermarket and stabbed so many innocent people. Despite many assurances from the government and almost all the Kiwi friends and even acquaintances we have in this country that we Lankans are not responsible, we feel deep down inside us that we are in some way, shape or form, responsible for this person’s behaviour. Articles not only from people of my (archaic) generation but young upstanding millennials and those even younger have expressed this emotion in their own characteristic fashion. Also, we feel responsible that our network of ex citizens of the Pearl living in Aotearoa have been unable to offer any support or counselling to this person or others of his ilk.
Just as we start clawing our way out of this mire of guilt somewhat reduced by finding out just how greatly the immigration and refugee systems of New Zealand have been duped, we are now told how a currency smuggler has been granted refugee status. Now currency smuggling happens all the time, mainly due to the punitive profits taken from customers by those licenced daylight robbers the banks, but more on that later. Apparently, a currency smuggler who arrived on a forged passport, evading arrest by the authorities in the Pearl has been granted refugee status! REFUGEE seems to be the magic word as far as the NZ authorities go. Those of us who have gone through the legal immigration channels and filled reams of forms and waited years for replies are left gasping at how those worthies in the government departments of Aotearoa have one set of rules and standards for us and another completely if one puts the word REFUGEE on one’s documents.
We move on to the pearl, if I were to attempt to apologise for the “offensive actions” of members of my family (bearing my “sir” name and direct relatives) that would take up a series of tomes resembling the encyclopaedia Britannica! It may also feature my name in a few volumes as well! The current antics of a kinsman with regard to using his position and power calls for a level of responsibility, on my part. The only caveat being a request to the fourth estate to use the person’s first name. Frequent displays of a family name which some have treasured and tried to bring enhancement to, associated with behaviour of this kind, brings dismay at a level that can only be understood by those who have tried to live up to the standards set by ancestors who held high office with honour in the past. There have been many articles some ranging from biting sarcasm (unfortunately not understood by the majority) to others simply parroting what they have read on the internet. The bottom line is standby O denizens of the Pearl, this maybe just another episode in the teledrama that is Lanka under Paksa rule! There are possibilities of scripting to distract the majority and even a wider spectrum involving human rights issues in Geneva. Also, scrutinize yourselves and remember that “those who live in glass houses should not throw stones” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”?!
In Aotearoa, we call our Prime Minister by her first name and a PM that has gained the utmost respect of the people not to mention the world! Isn’t it time the Pearl followed suit? Of course, comments by the leader of the opposition like “Opposition Leader Premadasa said he vehemently condemned the disgraceful and illegal behaviour” reiterates the comments of Obelix. Especially when allegations and witnesses exist to “disgraceful and Illegal” behaviour by the person who uttered those very words. It may have been in a different context and “only” to do with the decimation of a national park in the Pearl but the behaviour had the same connotations. Looks like social media is the mitigating factor, as in those days, too, the fourth estate had to take care of continuing to exist and survive! Being the first party to spotlight such actions usually led to the “death of the messenger”.
As promised, back to the licenced daylight robbers of today, the banks. There is a “Robin Hood” tax in effect in some of the leading economies of Europe. The most “interesting” aspect for me being taxes on the profits of banks. The billions it could raise every year could give a vital boost to tackling poverty and climate change around the world and definitely in the Pearl. We call upon the “genius” in charge of the Central Bank as he is the “acknowledged” financial maestro of the Pearl (although he is never going to take RESPONSIBILITY for our plight) to look at this aspect if he has the cohunes to do it! But then again levels of corruption and obligations to high profit-making organisations that fund election campaigns, have to be taken into account in countries such as the Pearl.
Powerful efficient and successful economies like Germany and modern Demi-Gods like Bill Gates endorse this tax. Here is an idea for the government of the Pearl. Tax the banks on their huge profits and give some of that money back to the people without burdening an already insufferably burdened people! I fear ideas expressed in this column will meet their usual end either in the oblivion chaos and mayhem or the lack of mental fortitude that exists in the Pearl and her officials.However, one can only hope that people who wish the Pearl renewed status in the Indian Ocean region if not the world, continue to survive in these circumstances, as the village of indomitable Gauls in the face of the mighty Roman empire. We need an “Asterix” brave and quick-thinking warrior, armed with some magic portion from “Getafix” the druid. Instead, we seem to have plenty of pseudo “Getafix’s” concocting “dammika Pani” and such portions and far too many “Vitalstastix’s”- muddle-headed incompetent chiefs!
Policy quandaries set to rise for South in the wake of AUKUS
From the viewpoint of the global South, the recent coming into being of the tripartite security pact among the US, the UK and Australia or AUKUS, renders important the concept of VUCA; volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. VUCA has its origins in the disciplines of Marketing and Business Studies, but it could best describe the current state of international politics from particularly the perspective of the middle income, lower middle income and poor countries of the world or the South.
With the implementation of the pact, Australia will be qualifying to join the select band of nuclear submarine-powered states, comprising the US, China, Russia, the UK, France and India. Essentially, the pact envisages the lending of their expertise and material assistance by the US and the UK to Australia for the development by the latter of nuclear-powered submarines.
While, officially, the pact has as one of its main aims the promotion of a ‘rules- based Indo-Pacific region’, it is no secret that the main thrust of the accord is to blunt and defuse the military presence and strength of China in the region concerned. In other words, the pact would be paving the way for an intensification of military tensions in the Asia-Pacific between the West and China.
The world ought to have prepared for a stepping-up of US efforts to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific when a couple of weeks ago US Vice President Kamala Harris made a wide-ranging tour of US allies in the ASEAN region. Coming in the wake of the complete US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the tour was essentially aimed at assuring US allies in the region of the US’s continued support for them, militarily and otherwise. Such assurances were necessitated by the general perception that following the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, China would be stepping in to fill the power vacuum in the country with the support of Pakistan.
From the West’s viewpoint, making Australia nuclear-capable is the thing to do against the backdrop of China being seen by a considerable number of Asia-Pacific states as being increasingly militarily assertive in the South China Sea and adjacent regions in particular. As is known, China is contending with a number of ASEAN region states over some resource rich islands in the sea area in question. These disputed territories could prove to be military flash points in the future. It only stands to reason for the West that its military strength and influence in the Asia-Pacific should be bolstered by developing a strong nuclear capability in English-speaking Australia.
As is known, Australia’s decision to enter into a pact with the US and the UK in its nuclear submarine building project has offended France in view of the fact that it amounts to a violation of an agreement entered into by Australia with France in 2016 that provides for the latter selling diesel-powered submarines manufactured by it to Australia. This decision by Australia which is seen as a ‘stab in the back’ by France has not only brought the latter’s relations with Australia to breaking point but also triggered some tensions in the EU’s ties with the US and the UK.
It should not come as a surprise if the EU opts from now on to increasingly beef-up its military presence in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ with the accent on it following a completely independent security policy trajectory, with little or no reference to Western concerns in this connection.
However, it is the economically vulnerable countries of the South that could face the biggest foreign policy quandaries against the backdrop of these developments. These dilemmas are bound to be accentuated by the fact that very many countries of the South are dependent on China’s financial and material assistance. A Non-aligned policy is likely to be strongly favoured by the majority of Southern countries in this situation but to what extent this policy could be sustained in view of their considerable dependence on China emerges as a prime foreign policy issue.
On the other hand, the majority of Southern countries cannot afford to be seen by the West as being out of step with what is seen as their vital interests. This applies in particular to matters of a security nature. Sri Lanka is in the grips of a policy crunch of this kind at present. Sri Lanka’s dependence on China is high in a number of areas but it cannot afford to be seen by the West as gravitating excessively towards China.
Besides, Sri Lanka and other small states of the northern Indian Ocean need to align themselves cordially with India, considering the latter’s dominance in the South and South West Asian regions from the economic and military points of view in particular. Given this background, tilting disproportionately towards China could be most unwise. In the mentioned regions in particular small Southern states will be compelled to maintain, if they could, an equidistance between India and China.
The AUKUS pact could be expected to aggravate these foreign policy questions for the smaller states of the South. The cleavages in international politics brought about by the pact would compel smaller states to fall in line with the West or risk being seen by the latter as pro-China and this could by no means be a happy state to be in.
The economic crisis brought about by the current pandemic could only make matters worse for the South. For example, as pointed out by the UN, there could be an increase in the number of extremely poor people by around 120 million globally amid the pandemic. Besides, as pointed out by the World Bank, “South Asia in particular is more exposed to the risk of ‘hidden debt ‘from state-owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and public-private partnerships (PPPs) because of its greater reliance on them compared to other regions.” Needless to say, such economic ills could compel small, struggling states to veer away from foreign policy stances that are in line with Non-alignment.
Accordingly, it is a world characterized by VUCA that would be confronting most Southern states. It is a world beyond their control but a coming together of Southern states on the lines of increasing South-South cooperation could be of some help.
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