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Sohan Weerasinghe Award-winning, Ever-green Musician



Sohan’s wife Lali congratulating us for winning 1992 The Island Music Awards


Part 8

Dr. Chandana () Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada


Sohan is a popular singer, entertainer, band leader, song composer, lyrics writer, and showbiz personality. He is an attorney at law but decided to make a career in the entertainment industry. After winning the Observer Talent contest in the mid-seventies, he formed his own band – Sohan & The X’Periments. Sohan did a five-year stint with his band at the Hotel Muscat InterContinental in Oman. His first English original composition – “Whispers in the sand” won the song of the year award at the 1993 Island Music awards. Today, Sohan is one of the most sought-after Sri Lankan singers for performances around the world.

First Meeting in 1972

When I was a first-year student at Ceylon Hotel School in 1972, the idea of celebrating the graduation of the third-year diploma students came up during a booze party at our hostel. We organized Graduation Ball 1972 at the Samudra Hotel with one of the most popular dance bands in Sri Lanka at that time – Gabo & the Breakaways.

That was the first time I met Sohan Weerasinghe, their lead singer. He was friendly and fully focused on entertaining the audience, most of whom were in their late teens and early twenties. With a charming smile, he accommodated a few songs requested by the Australian teenage girl who was my dance partner.

Making Colombo 2000 the # 1 Night Club

When I joined Le Galadari Meridien Hotel in 1986, as the Director of Food & Beverage, I was responsible for hiring musicians and signing their contracts. Just before I joined this five-star 500 room hotel, Sohan had negotiated a good contract with my French predecessor. Sohan & The X’Periments with Estelle performed three days a week at what was then the trendiest night club in Sri Lanka – Le Meridien’s Colombo 2000.

One day I had a business chat with Sohan to renegotiate the contract with a revenue-based payment per night. After a long negotiation, Sohan eventually accepted my proposal. Sohan was shrewd, diplomatic, intelligent, and funny. He also had a good business sense and practical ideas. We quickly became good friends. After that I felt that I should meet all hotel entertainers under contract at the hotel for a brainstorming session, which was productive with some great ideas for the year 1987.

Most of the night clubs in Sri Lanka at that time had a limited operation of three or four nights, focusing on the weekend business. We took a chance on making Colombo 2000 a seven-day operation with live bands every day and opening at the same time (9:30 pm). We used ‘the seven-day’ operation as the unique selling proposition in our ad campaigns.

We found it useful to check night club themes and special effects in Asian countries more advanced than Sri Lanka, such as Singapore (which was around two years ahead of nightclub trends in Sri Lanka). I did a couple of trips to Singapore and Thailand with Sohan to check night club trends. Our two wives joined us on these trips, mainly to keep a close eye on us! We also played lot of 304 card games during our trips. The ladies were annoyed to lose every time and accused Sohan and I of cheating. They never found out how!

One of the many awards won by Sohan.

Late 1980s were the heyday of the nightclub business in Colombo, and with the support of Sohan and many other leading musicians, my team at Le Meridien made Colombo 2000 the king of nightclubs in Sri Lanka from 1986 for a long time… Thank you Sohan!

Hospitality and Showbiz

I gradually concluded that hospitality and showbusiness which go hand in hand and have many similarities, are really one industry focusing on entertaining customers, while making profits. Entertainment was an essential element of our total food and beverage operation. Usually, in the evening, we had live music in three locations of the hotel. I learnt to treat entertainers as very important members of the hotel family. That orientation proved to be mutually beneficial.

Le Galadari Meridien provided me an opportunity to develop a new hobby, as part of my work. I gradually learnt a lot from Sohan and other hotel entertainers and I became a busy showbiz producer. I regularly used images of Sohan and other leading entertainers to promote events, such as New Year’s Eve dinner dances, which eventually established new records in Sri Lanka.

Mastering Show Biz Productions

During a brainstorming session with musicians, after explaining my objective of improving the ballroom occupancy during the slow months, I encouraged the musicians to suggest solutions. They came with a few great ideas and we decided to organize a series of weekly shows under the theme ‘Musical Stars of 1986’ in the ballroom. A key aim was to promote young musicians who had performed in western bands around the country during the year. All musicians under contract at Le Meridien contributed on an honorary basis as judges for these new, weekly contests and as performers for the gala final show.

I learned to produce music shows with 1,000+ audiences with help from Sohan and other musicians under contract at Le Galadari Meridien. The first three shows I produced in 1987: ‘Musical Stars of 1986’, ‘A Farewell to Priyanthi & Raja’ and ‘Noeline… a Celebration’, all were very successful in terms of production, audience satisfaction, ticket sales, profits, reviews, and publicity. I eventually produced a total of 16 stage music shows, with Sohan as a key member of my team, who provided sound, backing music to all singers and also performing as a leading vocalist.

Sohan and other performers at the finale of The Island Music Awards show in 1988.

More Creative Collaborations with Sohan

A Mega Festival in Oman – 1988

The experiences I gained in showbiz productions in Sri Lanka were memorable and useful in the next phase of my career as an expatriate hotelier. I was invited by Oman Sheraton to coordinate and lead the food and entertainment aspects of a mega Sri Lankan festival which included a versatile team of 54 Lankans flown to Oman. Sohan once again was my right-hand man in this initiative. During this trip in 1988, I became more interested and knowledgeable about fashion shows, and the concept of the first-ever ‘Fashion Model of the Year’ competition in Sri Lanka was born

After a short break from Sri Lanka, to work in the Middle East and the United Kingdom, I returned to Sri Lanka by the early 1990s for three years to work as the General Manager of Mount Lavinia Hotel. Although Sohan was not under contract to perform there, he collaborated with me in producing some more stage productions. Sohan always was a great team player.

Whispers in the Sand’ – 1991

One day I received a call from Sohan with an unusual request: “Mr. J, Just now I recorded a new English song with the band at my studio. I have themed it: ‘Whispers in the Sand’. If I send you the rough mix, can you kindly give me your comments?” I was surprised with that request. “Sohan, as you know, I am not a singer and have no musical talents. I am not qualified to give you any advice!”, but he sent me the rough mix anyway.

Soon after I listened to it a couple of times, Sohan called me to check what I felt about his composition. “Sohan, congratulations! ‘Whispers in the Sand’ is easily the most beautiful English song recorded in Sri Lanka. You should make a beautiful four and half minute video for it. If you are looking for a director and producer for it, I would love to give it a try.” Sohan immediately agreed to give me 100% free hand with the creation of the video.

Overnight I learnt to create a detailed storyboard for the video. I also consulted movie makers I knew from my acting days. Willie Blake, an award-winning cinematographer, movie director and my friend, was on a holiday in Sri Lanka and was staying at Mount Lavinia hotel at that time. He advice on camera angles and shooting were particularly helpful for me in planning the production. Mount Lavinia hotel was the location and sponsor of the production. ITN network provided the technical support and an excellent crew. We spent a whole day for the shoot and a full night in the editing rooms of ITN to create a video which was nominated for the Best Music Video of the Year award.

‘Fleeting Moments’ – 1992

During the night I spent with Sohan and the editing team at ITN, I learnt about song composing. I was surprised that Sohan created the tune for ‘Whispers in the Sand’ first, then wrote the lyrics, and finally allowed me to write a story for the video. I felt that the better process should be in the reverse: story – lyrics – music. Following that conceptual process, I created my first song composition that night, based on a personal experience I had at Bentota Beach Hotel in 1974.

Sohan did the arrangement for ‘Fleeting Moments’ and sang it. I wrote the story board and directed the video at Mount Lavinia Hotel during the 1992 New Year’s Eve dinner dance at the Empire Ballroom. It was an instant hit on the charts and motivated me to compose lyrics for more songs.

The Show’ – 1992

Having produced, annually, The Island Music Awards shows on three occasions, I did my largest show in Sri Lanka in 1992. It was The Island Music Awards 1991, staged at the largest hall in Sri Lanka – BMICH National Convention Centre. At that time, I was also the General Manager of Mount Lavinia Hotel Catering Services at BMICH. This was my last major production before I left Sri Lanka for good, and I was keen to do something spectacular and memorable. We called it ‘The Show.’

On that occasion, I came with my vision for the show and then requested input from the musicians in the organizing team. It worked well. I accepted most of their suggestions and fine-tuned the concept. With that, we were able to take this show to a much higher level, in terms of production, than all the previous shows that I had produced in Sri Lanka.

In addition to employees of the hotel and BMICH, our production team for that show consisted of 153 professionals: musicians, dancers, choreographers, set designers, sound engineers, lighting engineers, special effects professionals, make-up artists, photographers, video recorders and my favourite stage manager – Kenneth Honter.

We added two new features to this show – a complete dress rehearsal the day before the show, and the show video launched on TV a week after the show. We commenced the show exactly at 7:00 pm with a full attendance of 1,506.

As written on my concept document and the detailed production plan, we had two segments with contrasting sub-themes. For each segment, we used contrasting music, choreographed dance acts, special effects, lighting, and sound. It had two major ‘ambitious’ set changes with unprecedented special effects, to enhance the two segments of the show.

‘Nature’ – 1992

The first half of ‘The Show’ was themed: ‘Nature’ with waterfalls, large trees, mist and 34 little ballerinas performing as butterflies, birds, blossoming flowers in a rainforest waking up early in the morning. A gentle ray of the morning sun gradually made the lead singer of the first song (Noeline) visible to the audience. It was slow moving and misty, using greens and blues in the backdrops with subtle lighting. It was a gentle and happy celebration of our beautiful nature.

‘Future’ – 1992

The second half was themed ‘Future’ depicting humankind advancing with science and flying rockets, but destroying our planet with short sighted policies, human greed, unwanted wars, and disruptions. It was fast moving, with sounds of explosions and smoke, using red and orange in the backdrops with flashing lighting. In one scene a rocket landed on the stage, militants came out of the rocket and took a performing singer (Sohan) as a prisoner before flying away from the BMICH stage. It was a warning that we are selfishly destroying our planet.

Sohan, after recording the song ‘Dream Woman’ composed by Gamini Fonseka in 1998.

With Noeline and Sohan, I co-wrote two new songs aligned with the two segment themes of the show (they did most of the work!). The song, ‘Nature’ dominated the top of the pop charts in Sri Lanka for several weeks, and a year later, Noeline and I jointly won The Island Music Award for the ‘Composer of the Year.’

‘Am I guilty?’ – 1993

My next song was the most popular. I followed my process of ‘story – lyrics – music’ and Sohan became my co-composer and did the arrangements. I chose Dalrene Suby for vocals with Sohan for supporting vocals. We filmed the music video at the Colombo Airport and Airport Garden Hotel. “Am I guilty?” dominated the pop charts for eight weeks at the most popular English song in Sri Lanka. Concurrently I composed another song titled ‘Faithful’ which was arranged by Chandralal Fonseka, who also did vocals with Crystal Williams. I did not make a video for it.

‘Fitness Fever’ – 1993

My sixth and the last song composition was ‘Fitness Fever’. With 20 top Sri Lankan western musicians providing vocals and 16 semi-professional actors appearing in the video, it was my most ambitious song and music video undertaking. We filmed it over a day at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel. It dominated the pop charts for three weeks as the most popular English song in Sri Lanka. Later I produced a cassette with the same name and included four of the songs I was involved in creating. All the participating singers, actors and technicians worked free of charge and we donated all proceeds to Ranvirusevana (fund to rehabilitate soldiers wounded in the civil war). We held a grand launch of the cassette at the Little Hut night club of Mount Lavinia Hotel.

Re-connecting in 2023

After meeting Sohan in January 2020 on the day he paid last respects to his dear wife, Lali, we did not see each other for three years mainly due to the global pandemic. I was happy to re-connect with Sohan in Colombo in 2023, when he sang at my elder son Marlon’s wedding. In the groom’s speech, Sohan’s family was identified as Marlon’s extended family.

Recently, for the first time in my life I sang. I recorded five video covers of old popular Sinhala songs and posted those on social media over five weeks. I was happy to receive thousands of positive reactions but did not see any comments from my friend Sohan. Finally, I heard from him. “Chandi I was not impressed at all! Singing in not your forte. Don’t believe these people who just praise your singing. Your sense of rhythm was bad and your pitching was way out. Please stick to many other things you are extremely good at. This is from the heart of a genuine friend.”

“That’s what friends are for…” I never sang again.

Questions & Answers

Q: Out of all the places you have visited in Sri Lanka and overseas, what is your favourite and most interesting place?

A: My favourite place is Australia. There are so many Lankans who have migrated to Australia, but they still have a special place in their hearts for Sri Lanka. Whenever I perform there, I do get a very warm reception and tremendous crowd support especially in Melbourne. Most musicians will agree with me that Australia is the place for us!

Q: Out of all the inspiring people you have met, who inspired you most to do well in the entertainment industry?

A: I have been inspired by many including Elvis, Humperdinck, Tom Jones, the Beatles, and Bee Gees. In the local music scene by people like Desmond De Silva, Raj Seneviratne, Mignonne Fernando, Dalrene Suby, Victor Ratnayake, Pandith Amaradeva, and Clarence Wijewardena.

Q: At the present time, apart from music, what is your key passion in life?

A: I love spending a lot of time with my only granddaughter Sienna who means the world to me. I also keep in touch with my son Darshan (fitness trainer) and my daughter Erandika who lives and works in New York. I am also an avid filmgoer and love going out for movies.

Q: After dreaming of practising as an attorney, what made you change your mind about a career in music?

A:Music was my passion, as I come from a very musical family. Although I passed out from Law College with first class honours, when I had to decide between law and music, I opted to make music my full-time career. I have no regrets. I have met so many interesting people and loved doing overseas tours entertaining friends and fans abroad.

Q: You also worked for few years as the General Manager of Finco Group of Companies. At that time, how did you balance your work, hobbies, and family?

A:Yes, it was tough, as I had to spend time with my family, with my band the “X’Periments” and try to pursue my career as a legal officer. The best thing I did was to quit my office job and then concentrate on my music and my family and try to balance it out. Initially it was difficult but eventually it turned out OK.

Q: Before forming Sohan & The X’Periments, what key lessons did you learn from bands you served as the lead singer?

A:I worked with the Moonstones with Annesley Malewana, with Esquire set with Ralph Menezies and with Gabo & the Breakaways with Priyanthi. I realized you had to put in a lot of effort to get to the top. Learn a nice repertoire of songs that were catchy and current at the time. Desist from drinking and smoking and breaking too much rest. Also, I learnt a lot about being a good band leader from both Annesley Malewana and Gabo Pieries.

Q: How successful was your first English original – ‘Whispers in the Sand’ in terms of popularity?

A: ‘Whispers in the Sand’ was an amazing hit for me. It ended up getting the award for the song of the year and was the most popular song in the top of the pops list for a few weeks based on votes to the ‘Teen Page’ of The Island newspaper. Thanks to Chandana Jayawardena who was the General Manager of Mount Lavinia hotel and the ITN network I was able to put out a nice video of the song with Brian Kerkoven and Shani J, playing the lead roles in the music video. That was nominated for the 1992 Best Music Video of the Year award by Sunday Observer newspaper.

Q: Out of many awards you have won during your long career in music, which single award made you most proud ?

A: Yes, I have won many awards during my musical journey but the award I liked most was winning the ‘Showbiz personality of the Year’ at The Island Music Awards show at the BMICH, produced by Chandana Jayawardena of Mount Lavinia Hotel.

Q: You are certainly an ever-green musician, who continues to grow in popularity among Sri Lankans in many countries, resulting in a hectic global travel schedule. What is your secret of success?

A: I have made it a point to “read” the crowd and have constant eye contact with my audience. Do the songs they like and not do advanced stuff just to show them one’s high class. Bringing in humour wherever possible helps you to get the audience on your side. Also being simple, flexible, and down to earth has helped my career immensely.

Q: What is your advice to aspiring young western musicians?

A: My message to young musicians is simple – There is no short cut to success. Hard work pays off in the end. If you choose music as your career, make sure you have the “passion” for it. You also need an element of luck. There will be many ups and downs in your career, but you have to put it aside and have a positive attitude. At least have one or two originals to your credit so that you have your own identity. Be focused and give it your 100 percent and eventually you will succeed. Most importantly, try to get on with your fellow musicians and treat them with a bit of love, respect and understanding.

Next week, 3Ps will feature a doctor turned award-winning portrait artist.

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Understanding policy of neutrality



Yuan Wang 5, Chinese research and survey vessel, at the Hambantota port in August, 2022.

by Neville Ladduwahetty

In order to assuage the apprehensions of India regarding the intended arrival of the Chinese research vessel Shi Yang 6 to Sri Lanka, an informed source of the National Aquatic Resources Research Agency (NARA) is reported to have said “a team of officials from the NARA would board Shi Yang 6 to observe research activities”. This act is “widely seen by Sri Lankan interlocutors as an attempt by the Government to signal to the countries which are at loggerheads with China that Sri Lanka is privy to what is transpiring in the whole process and to make sure that it will pose no security threat to any third country” (Daily Mirror, September 19, 2023).

Continuing the above DM report states: “Sri Lanka advocates a neutral foreign policy. However, India, Japan and the United States are skeptical about Chinese maritime activities in the Sri Lankan territorial waters since they fear that it is part of a major effort by China to systematically map the seabed across the vast swath of the Indian Ocean. They fear hydrographic data, collected in the process, can be used for security related purposes later …. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka insists that it is a neutral venue to all countries, and won’t allow its territory, be it sea, air space or land to be used against the security interests of another country, particularly India” (Ibid).


Sri Lanka is indeed encouraged and heartened by the stand the country has taken to exercise its rights in keeping with its stated policy of Neutrality backed up by provisions of Internationally accepted Customary Law relating to entitlements, such as exploring within Exclusive Economic Zones of Coastal states. However, this stand could be strengthened by incorporating provisions of International Law as stated in Part V of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea presented below.

By incorporating these provisions into the Corpus of Domestic Law, Sri Lanka would be in a much stronger position to exercise its sovereign rights in the Exclusive Economic Zone by way of imposing penalties on those who violate its provisions and in particular those who engage in illegal fishing and destroying natural resources by the fishing crafts of India and other countries.


Rights, jurisdiction and duties of the coastal State in the exclusive economic zone

1. In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has:

(a) sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting conserving and managing the natural resources» whether living or non-living» of the waters superjacent to the sea-bed and of the sea-bed and its subsoil» and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone such as the production of energy from the water currents and winds

(b) jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to:

(i) the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures:

(ii) marine scientific research:

(iii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment:

(c) other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.

2. In exercising its rights and performing its duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone the coastal State shall have due regard to the rights and duties of other States and shall act in a manner compatible with the provisions of this Convention.

3. The rights set out in this article with respect to the sea-bed and subsoil shall be exercised in accordance with Part VI.


A top source that is considered to be familiar with Indian affairs is reported to have stated: “Sri Lanka’s neutral position is acceptable but it is doubtful for India whether Sri Lanka being economically weak, has the strength to maintain such an approach” (Ibid), and cited the example of India purchasing fuel from Russia despite objections by the United States. That top source has forgotten that India despite its power, once “invaded” Sri Lanka hoping to resolve the conflict in Sri Lanka and was compelled to return in shame having failed to fulfill its mission.

According to him “India can act in this way because it is powerful enough to resist any pressure…”. For India to buy oil from Russia despite objections from the U.S. means that these objections are relatively benign because the U.S. needs India as part of QUAD to counter China. However, this being a commercial arrangement, it cannot be compared with the legacy of despicable acts repeatedly committed against humanity of weaker States by so called “powerful states” in the pursuit of their interests.

It is evident that the “top source” is unaware that the International Order does not make a difference between “powerful states” and the rest, because one of the principal pillars on which the United Nations Charter rests states in Article 2 (1) that “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members”.

Furthermore, Principles and Duties of a Neutral State are based on International Customary Law, which in its Introduction states: “The sources of the international law of neutrality are customary international law and, for certain questions, international treaties, in particular the Paris Declaration of 1856, the 1907 Hague Convention No. V respecting the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in Case of War on Land, the 1907 Hague Convention No. XIII concerning the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers in Naval War, the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I of 1977 (ICRC Publication June 2022).

Despite the existence of such International provisions “powerful states” have not hesitated to brazenly flout its provisions in the pursuit of their interests most of which are warped imaginations.

For instance, it was India that imposed its will on Sri Lanka when it forced Sri Lanka to accept the 13th Amendment; an act that denied Sri Lanka the fundamental right of self-determination enshrined in Article 1 (2) of the Charter of the United Nations that state:

“To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…”. This Amendment crafted by India compels Sri Lanka to adopt devolution to Provinces as a form of internal government to satisfy the imaginations of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. This was violently rejected by the People when it was first introduced and ironically even after more than three decades continues to be rejected not only by the majority but also by the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. Despite such rejections, India keeps insisting the Sri Lanka should live by its provisions; the latest being at the ongoing General Assembly Secessions in New York.

Under the circumstances, Sri Lanka has to come up with an innovative strategy within the provisions of the Constitution to get free of 13A because its entrenched contradictions hinder peripheral development. What is most objectionable about devolution as a concept is that it fosters the operation of Central Government and Provincial Government functions simultaneously that often are at variance thus perpetuating disparities within and among Provinces amounting to entrenching discrimination among the Peoples; a fact that is starkly evident among the States in India and other countries that have divested Central power.

Another practice adopted by “powerful” India is to overlook the violations committed by the Fishing community in Tamil Nadu at the expense of the Fishing community in Sri Lanka, by robbing the maritime resources and vandalizing the marine environment by resorting to bottom trawling within Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone notwithstanding the fact that it is a violation of Article 56 of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Instead of raising such issues at bilateral meetings, despite the presence of the Minister of Fisheries, Sri Lanka has been trapped into commitment to issues of connectivity that bolster India’s influence over Sri Lanka.


While Sri Lanka appreciates and is proud of the position taken by NARA and the Government in respect of the intended arrival of the Chinese research vessel, Sri Lanka has to exploit all International safeguards to overcome potential threats from the so called “powerful states”. In a background where “powerful states” would not miss an opportunity to exploit the circumstances in other States, countries such as Sri Lanka have to depend on the shield or weapon of international law to protect their interests.

Therefore, for them, it is the codified rule of the Rights and Duties of a Neutral State and the incorporation of the relevant provisions of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea into Domestic Law or the fact that its provisions are part of Customary Law to protect its sovereign rights and enforce its interests in the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Such material should form the framework of a Standard Operating Procedure as suggested in a previous article (Neutral Foreign Policy in Practice, August 22, 2023). A strengthened Sri Lanka would then be in a position to avail itself of the resources of the International Court of justice, as other countries have done to seek redress. Furthermore, since they are numerically greater, their strength lies in a Rules based World Order and not on “power”, irrespective of its source.

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Some buildings with their attributes gone forever



Rest houses were places we grew up with and most had existed during the later years of British rule in Ceylon. Counterpart in India was called a dakh bungalow, or so Cass remembers from staying overnight long ago in one in Sanchi. Rest houses were really what their name implied: places to rest in; mostly for government administrators when they travelled on government business termed circuits. There were the circuit bungalows too but they were in remote areas and with much less amenities.

The best-known rest houses were Nuwara Wewa and Tisa Wewa in Anuradhapura, the one jutting into the Parakrama Samudra in Polonnaruwa, in Belihuloya, Ella, Hambantota Tissamaharama, Kankesanturai and Elephant Pass, and in Peradeniya, opposite the Botanical Gardens. They were well known for their gentlemanly keepers, most dressed in cloth and shirt, and the food served: excellent lunches with the invariable fried karola or hal messo; the wonderful coconut sambol and the fried red chillies which was not a usual homemade appetizer.

Now, most of these wonderful places of staying in comparatively cheap, are called resorts and expanded, losing the old-world charm, the warm welcoming ambience, and the spacious one storey roominess. They were tossed aside by hotels being constructed and so they too changed ‘shape’. One or two deteriorated – the Hambantota RH accompanied by the deterioration in standard of clientele too becoming more a water hole than temporary stay-in place. Some surpassed their previous selves like the Ella RH which was transformed to a high-end inn.

We often lunched and stayed in several times and remembered was the Peradeniya RH with its wide veranda with tables to lunch or dine at, looking across at the trees in the Gardens, particularly that variety which had red drooping down flowers bordered by bright red spathes which we called kukul kakul and even ate, delighting in its sour flavour. No more. None of the view of glorious nature; none of the almost al fresco lunching; none of the old-world charm and particular ambience of the old rest house. It has been rebuilt and ‘developed’ to a horrible state.

Change – for better, for worse

On a recent visit to Kandy after many years the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens was walked through, with plenty others, both local and foreign. One small niggle of doubt was the fee charged from foreigners Rs 3,500, Cass believes. Too excessive is her opinion particularly in comparison to what locals pay. We should not fleece foreigners though they are with dollars, pounds sterling, euros or whatever.

The gardens are excellently maintained; the orchid house glorious in its blooms and the banning of vehicular traffic very wise. Unlike many of our Buddhist places; visitors who found it difficult to walk much and toddlers were amply catered for by frequently running motorised open vehicles. The layout of the Gardens is almost the same as it was for many decades previous, but improved and maintained sprucely clean.

In sharp contrast was the Peradeniya Rest house. Cass forgot to note its name. The old building was so stately yet with a comforting, welcoming air about it. You usually parked yourself in the wide quarter-walled verandah at a table or in a comfy, un-upholstered chair. Now you are led to the first floor to a fully curtained room. Tall windows were all closed and the drawn curtains obliterated even a glimpse of the outside. Cass ordered rice and curry since she did not want a buffet lunch. Not possible to serve rice and curry a la carte was the waiter’s reply. Only Chinese dishes could be ordered. Cass was aghast.

Imagine not being able to order our basic meal in a restaurant that was a rest house previously with the reputation of serving the best rice ’n curry. You had to have the buffet if you wanted rice and curry; if you ordered your lunch it would be Chinese – fried rice, chopsuey, etc. Isn’t that a travesty? You are enclosed claustrophobically in a heavily curtained room with fans; cut off from fresh air and all the greenery around, and dictated to on what you eat. That is development for you!! Cass calls it mudalali aberration. The buffet was simple enough with a couple of additions like soup to a rice and curry meal costing 1800. Chinese was 1200.

Special committees

I am sure all adults of Sri Lanka object to President RW’s promise to set up a Parliamentary Committee to look into and report on the Easter Sunday suicide bombs in April 2019. A comment people make is that RW’s solution to any problem/matter is to appoint a committee; never mind the report and taking action.

You can bet your last thousand rupees that if a Parliamentary Committee is set up to report on the C4 documentary and its repercussions etc., all politicians will be exonerated and the ones who are pointed at as the accused, would be pronounced lily white. Zahran did it all by himself with ISIS control. We millions of Ordinaries too cry out against a fully local panel of investigators, and never a group of MPS.

A boxed news item on page 1 of The Island of Tuesday September 19 had this heading: CID takes over probe into gun attack on MP. The car with Anuradhapura District MP Uddika Premarathne was shot at. No one was injured. But quick as lightning, the Police handed over the hunt for perpetrators to the CID. They too will work overtime and catch the miscreants.

Good! But what happens over the several motorbike shootings and those guilty of distributing dangerous drugs and making this lovely island rotten with drug importers, peddlers and takers? Oh, those can be taken time over and never nail the guilty and punish them. Rather assist those caught and jailed to get out or at least attempt escape.

Heartwarming story

An Indian friend sent me this story which so gladdened my maternal heart. It is shared here so more mothers could feel appreciated.

Ninth Grader Ajunath Sindhu Vinayala of Trissur (Kerala), often heard his father brush his mother aside as “just a housewife. She does not work.” Ajunath was surprised because he never saw his mother not busy so he painted this picture (published with this article) depicting all the chores she did. His teacher sent it to the State govt office where it got selected as the cover for the 2021 gender budget document. The appreciative son with more of his pictures can be accessed on the Internet.

Almost all Sri Lankan mothers will agree with Cass that our sons and daughters are wonderfully grateful and caring people, with many living overseas but still visiting, transferring money and sending parcels of goodies and necessities. Bless them, we mothers/grandmothers chorus.

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Amunugama on Anagarika: A partial review



By Uditha Devapriya

In the course of his study of myths and legends, Bruce Kapferer observes that those who attempt to rationalise myths are as much in error as those who believe in their literal meaning. There are several points in his book with which I beg to differ, but I agree with this specific point. Myths have a logic and a life of their own, and any external compulsion to alter or rationalise them will be met with hostility. Kapferer’s other contention, that myths are continually being renewed and reborn, is also tenable. The narrative around which these myths revolve may stay the same, but the implications of such stories change from era to era. Millenarian platitudes about glorious pasts and histories, of utopic Edens before the Fall, whether in Buddhist or Christian societies, fall into that category.

I reflected on Kapferer when I reread Sarath Amunugama’s impressive book on Anagarika Dharmapala, The Lion’s Roar, the other day. Dharmapala has gone down as perhaps the most misunderstood national figure or figurehead in our history. For close to two centuries if not more, Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe got a bad press as well, but thanks to recent forays by Gananath Obeyesekere, we have come to understand and, as a nation, identify with the tragic figure that he was. Dharmapala, however, is more complex, because his writings and speeches lend themselves to a multiplicity of interpretations: out of necessity, he made it a point to speak differently to different people. Ultimately, I believe all national figures end up being misunderstood. Dharmapala was no different.

What Amunugama tries to do in The Lion’s Roar is to present Dharmapala in a new light. As one reads through his book, one realises how predictably he has been presented until now. Most contemporary assessments of Anagarika Dharmapala place him at the forefront of the Buddhist Revival of the late 19th century. Though, in later years, he broke ranks with the organisation which gave the revival its impetus, the Theosophical Society, he nevertheless maintained contacts with it. Sociologists and anthropologists have presented the Revival as having been led by an emergent, nascent Buddhist bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. The latter were constantly frustrated in their efforts to join the ranks of the former, a point which more or less pitted them against foreign traders and minority groups.

Anagarika Dharmapala

Until now, social scientists have been content in casting Dharmapala as a messiah, of sorts, of this petty bourgeoisie. Dharmapala’s actions certainly did not endear him to the up-and-coming Sinhala bourgeoisie. Unlike his brothers Edmund and Charles, he was alienated from the many elite and bourgeois groups which formed the basis of later political associations, of which the most prominent would have to be the Ceylon National Congress. That may have been because of Dharmapala’s own background, which stood a tier or two below that of the Senanayakes and the Attygalles. Sarath Amunugama goes as far as to contend that the death of F. R. Senanayake in India closed the possibility of an open conflict between Dharmapala and these families. Yet even Senanayake’s death did not wholly foreclose these possibilities, as the many press campaigns against Dharmapala shows.

Anagarika Dharmapala

Is it accurate, then, to locate Dharmapala at that crucial juncture between the formation of the Theosophical Society, the beginning of the Buddhist Revival in the late 19th century, and the emergence of a weak but aspirant Buddhist petty bourgeoisie in the early 20th? This is how social scientists have generally viewed him, so far.

Dharmapala himself may not have been conscious of his role here. Yet as Regi Siriwardena eloquently put it once, “[t]o say that any thinker or leader served the interests of a particular class is not necessarily to say that he was conscious of doing so, still less that he was hired or commanded by that class.” The ultimatum of social scientists and anthropologists, hence, seems to be that he became the ideological vehicle of these groups, that as the latter’s attitudes to foreigners and minorities hardened, they saw in him a definitive “ancestor from antiquity.”

Amunugama attempts to shed new light on Dharmapala’s followers and acolytes by bringing to the foreground groups which have been excluded from most contemporary assessments of Dharmapala’s life. Prime among them are what Amunugama sees as “subaltern” groups, among whom he includes the Sinhala working class. This working class, he contends rather convincingly, were swept away from their roots into the cities, where they confronted a new and different social order.

As they became more aware of the conditions of their existence and sought to transform them, they began to encounter foreign traders and minority groups, hired by the colonial government to counter the growing tide of trade unionism and Sinhala proletarian discontent. It is against this backdrop that they saw Dharmapala as a saviour, and not just a saviour, but someone they could call their own.

This is, to be sure, an intriguing point. Yet how “subaltern” were these classes Amunugama associates with Dharmapala? Without splitting hairs too much, I think we must bear two points in mind. The first is that, until the formation of a Left movement in the 1930s, no political association, however radical, envisioned a Ceylon falling outside of the orbit of the British Empire. This was as true of bourgeois reformist associations as it was of nationalist ideologues. Whatever “subaltern group” in Sri Lanka at this juncture saw things differently, in contrast to their mobilisation by the Left after 1935. In that sense Dharmapala fulfilled a role, however limited, for these groups. The Marxists could not have been more different to his ideology, as their struggles on behalf of Indian Tamil plantation workers showed. But then Dharmapala was no Marxist, even if a scion of his family – Anil Moonesinghe – made a seminal contribution to the Left movement of the country.

The second point recalls an observation Gananath Obeyesekere once made in relation to Dharmapala and his disciples: namely, that their attitudes to the Other – which Amunugama dwells on at considerable length in his remarkable study – were paradoxically activated by their alienation from their social and kinship groups. In their quest for “identity affirmation”, the Dharmapalists sought a negative identity for themselves, in relation to the Other.

I think that more or less explains the Sinhala working class’s affinity for Dharmapala, at a time of rising anger against foreign traders and minority groups, including the Malayalis. Such anger cannot be condoned, especially when it transforms into racialist feelings. But it helps explain why, in the absence of an anti-imperialist Left movement in the country, these groups could gravitate to nationalist figures – and why even as key a representative of the Sinhala working class movement as A. E. Gunasinha could invoke him in his struggles.

Does this necessarily mean Dharmapala’s politics were not anti-imperialist, or in the least radical? I think the jury is still out there, though I believe that Dharmapala’s emphasis on industrialisation has been missed out by those who see only his ranting against other social groups and ethnicities. Dharmapala once counted among his defenders a highly unlikely figure: Yohan Devananda.

Writing in the Lanka Guardian, in response to Regi Siriwardena, Devananda contended that Dharmapala “did perform an essential historical function in rousing the national consciousness against the foreigner.” I do not know what to make of this assertion, given that for Dharmapala’s followers, “the foreigner” has come to include all groups deemed “alien” in the country. But there is no doubt that he did, at the end of the day, serve a function. The question that countless scholars have raised, which Amunugama tries to answer, is exactly in whose interests he served that function.

The writer is an international relations analyst, independent researcher, and freelance columnist who can be reached at

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