Sri Lanka suffer third heaviest defeat in Tests
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Former Australia wicketkeeper Rod Marsh passes away
Mysterious are the ways of cricket selectors
Lanwa Sanstha Cement factory in H’tota opens today
24 seafarers at Mahapola Ports & Maritime Academy of SLPA conclude their training
Baurs facilitates revisit of Swiss experts
Central Bank urges banks and NBFIs to promote savings amid rising inflation
HUTCH completes implementation of advanced Oracle Cloud ERP system
by ECB Wijeyesinghe
Just after I left school I thought I should help in a small way to solve the over-population problem, which was then beginning to rear its head. I joined the Medical College in the hope that some day I would become a doctor. A merciful Providence, however, had other plans for me.
Among the students who joined with me were men who later acquired fame in different fields of medicine or surgery. Many others did not specialize at all and preferred to be general practitioners, which was probably much more remunerative. Some of the specialists like Dr. G.R. Handy, are now at the top of the cardiac curve, while GPs like the beloved Dr. G.R. (Raddy) Muttumani of Wellawatte also continue to flourish. Despite the fact that the hair on Dr. Muttumani’s head is grey, the grey matter within remains unimpaired.
Dr. Shelton Karunaratne, of blessed memory, who passed away a few years ago, was the life and soul of the batch of students who entered the portals of the college with us. For some unknown reason someone called him “Carroty” and the name stuck. He was an old Josephian with an extraordinary sense of humour and his best cracks were directed at his numerous relatives, some of whom were near-millionaires. Dr. C.H. Gunasekere, the All-Ceylon cricketer, was his brother-in-law.
Though he was a Buddhist, Shelton was a great believer in the Biblical aphorism that “the love of money is the root of all evil,” and did his best to drive it into the heads of his richer colleagues like Dr. Reggie Allen. Shelton was a good footballer and a light-footed dancer. He also possessed a fair singing voice. But he had a special gift for perpetrating bizarre practical jokes and he figured prominently in every “rag” and extra-mural activity of the student population.
Among our seniors at the time were Dr. Wijesena de Zoysa, (affectionately known as ‘Walhamu’), Dr. Albert Rajasingham, Dr. M.V.P. Peiris, Dr. Arden Ratnayake and Dr. Nicholas Attygalle.
The acknowledged leader, however, was Wijesena de Zoysa, whose impromptu speeches, delivered with such grace and in a beautiful mellow voice, gave one the impressions that he had lost his vocation in Hulftsdorp.
He would have made a mark just as his brother, the late Gunasena de Zoysa did in the Civil Service. But Fate plays strange tricks, and Wijesena vegetated in the Medical College, while less intelligent but more studious colleagues overtook him in the race for the licentiateship.
Almost as soon as we became medical students, the Ceylon University College was inaugurated and we came under the wing of Professor R. Marrs, the Principal, a stern disciplinarian, who came with university experience in Calcutta. His office was at Regina Walauwa, the old Thurstan Road home of Mr. and Mrs. T.H.A. de Soysa, and students in their leisure hours used to leave the lecture rooms with the notes in their hands and a song on their lips.
During one of these ebullient intervals, Professor. Marrs was disturbed by a gang of singing students. He stopped them, summoned his clerk and asked him to take down their names. The students co-operated readily and the clerk, with a weak smile, noted down the names of numerous Pereras, Silvas and Fernandos. I do not think there was a single correct name in the clerk’s list.
Marrs was a diplomat. He invited all the office-bearers of the University College Union to tea and clock-golf after the annual general meeting. There, in his bungalow near the race-course, he must have noticed some of the faces he saw earlier near his office. I had to be there, because incredible as it may sound, I had been elected captain of cricket in succession to Lalita Rajapakse.
Marrs, however, put on a poker face, while we consumed the sandwiches wearing absolutely innocent looks. My early days at the Medical College were uneventful, except that during the first week I cycled under a ladder after a zoology lecture. Some superstitious spectators held up their hands in horror and said it was very unlucky and that I had had it.
They were right. Or maybe they were wrong. But the fact remained I could not attend another lecture for a long time to come. I contracted enteric fever, which kept me in bed for nearly two months, and then as I was about to get back to work, I developed para-typhoid. Thus my first three months in the Medical College were disastrous and I felt that my hopes of becoming a doctor and reducing the population were being dashed to the ground.
DR. V GABRIEL
In course of time I went on to the Anatomy Block, on probation as it were. The lecturer was Dr. V. Gabriel, a handsome young man who had just returned from England, glowing with the FRCS degree. The man fascinated us, especially when he started speaking. He clothed the dead bones of his subject in almost poetic language and Gray’s popular text-book on Anatomy was like a rubbish heap of dull prose, compared with Dr. Gabriel’s picturesque descriptions of the devious ways of nerves, veins and arteries.
We concentrated not on what he said, but on the way he said it. Very soon I had to meet Dr. Gabriel in another capacity. University College was engaged in a soccer match against a club called the Chums at Campbell Park and our team which was captained by my friend, Shelton Karunaratne, was one man short. Shelton asked me to deputise for the goal-keeper and I promptly removed my shoes and stood between the posts.
But alas, instead of kicking the ball at one critical moment, I missed. the ball and kicked one of the hard wooden goal posts. The impact broke two metatarsal bones in my right foot. I dropped down in agony and was immediately rushed to the OPD, where Dr. Gabriel was on duty. I was given to understand then that it was one of his first assays in setting broken bones. I believe it. There is a big knob on my right foot to prove it.
Dr. Gabriel, however, starting with me gained so much experience that eventually he became one of Ceylon’s most skilful surgeons and during his eventful career his knife had probed the insides of half the socialites in Colombo. One thing I must say about Dr. Vraspillai Gabriel. His English diction was impeccable. There were few other I know who spoke with the same fluency. One was the late H.A.P. Sandrasagara, K.C. and another is G.G. Ponnambalam, Q.C., who is still in active practice. If you placed them behind a screen and asked them to say something no one would say they were not natives of the United Kingdom.
My stay in the dissecting room of the Anatomy Block was short but breezy. One of the few things that annoyed me was to find the dried-up sector of a male reproductive organ in my coat pocket when I went home. The following day I did some detective work among the cadavers laid out in the block and was almost sure who the culprit was. But I could not have my revenge as I was dissecting a female body. There was a tit for tat I could have perpetrated, but it revolted against my aesthetic senses and I rejected it as being flat, stale and unprofitable.
When so many blood-curdling stories are told about ragging in campuses these days, I must say that the freshers in my time had a very easy time. The most they were asked to do was to shell out some cash according to their means. As the hat was passed round the seniors stood round them and solemnly intoned the words: “Let us prey.” The students theme song followed. The words of the song consisted of most of the deadly drugs and tinctures in the British Pharmacopoeia.
The ditty, as it was in Latin, sounded suspicious to untrained ears. While the chorus “Glory, glory, alleluia” was intoned the party marched in procession to the tuck-shop, where ‘kalu dodol’ and cakes were consumed with avidity till the stocks were exhausted. With the freshers own money their health was drunk to in hot milk tea.
But the other “rags” in which the whole college participated were of a different order. They were organized on a grand scale and had the elements of a dramatic extravaganza. One such “rag” was got up to protest against the Salaries Commission’s report of the early twenties, which ignored the claims of the medical profession to higher emoluments. A hearse and all the trappings of woe were hired from an undertaker and within the hearse, drawn by a black horse, was a small black coffin which contained the Salaries Commission’s report.
A special hymn condemning the report was composed to the tune of the Dead March in “Saul” and hundreds of students in black arm-bands and carrying appropriate banners followed the hearse. The chief mourners were the senior students, who were soon to feel the pinch of the miserable recommendations. We, the juniors, were in the rear but gained Importance owing to the fact that some of the best singers – S.C.Thurairajah, Botha de Kretser, Daniel de Alwis and Claude Fernando – were in our batch.
And so we proceeded, slowly and sadly to the Galle Face Green, our destination and crematorium. En route people raised their hats in salute to the “corpse”, not being aware of what the coffin contained. On the Green the funeral orations were delivered. “Walhamu” de Zoysa, with his voice of silver, excelled himself and convulsed the listeners, bringing them to the verge of tears.
One bottle of kerosene and a match did the rest. As the coffin and its contents crumbled in flames a mighty roar went up and mingled with the roar of the waves beating on the rocks. It was a great day and a great “rag” — something that the whole country applauded. It was original as well as clever, and the entire proceeding was conducted on the highest intellectual plane. A protest such as that had never been staged before nor since.
The rest of the evening was devoted to merry-making or what some people would call a “wake.” Every pub in Slave Island and the Fort did a roaring business. Five or six students they say, were carried home. But that is an exaggeration. They were merely taken back to college as they could not remember where they lived.
(Excerpted from The Good At Their Best first published in 1976)
Manuka Wijesinghe’s Like Moths to a Flame
The Knuckles Range
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By B. Nimal Veerasingham
School days are always straddled with many fun times in everyone’s hard drives. Remembering growing up, our psyche always keeps the pleasant ones permanent rather than others, as a holistic booster to our overall wellbeing.
Listening to stories is everyone’s favourite, especially during childhood. During my primary school days there were class buddies who could relate fictional stories, at times we don’t know whether it’s one or many, craftly encompassed into one. Many times, there is no official end to such stories and always left in a state of ‘to be continued’. When a subject teacher is absent, the temporary teacher, or the Senior student who fills up, engages such storytellers to the rescue. The class is mesmerised delving deep into the unknown without end. Occasionally there are few temporary teachers who would pose questions to amuse themselves while keeping the class engaged. In one such session a question of futuristic pondering was posed, ‘what do you want to become when grown?’ I can clearly remember almost half of the class raising their hands to become, of course, ‘Father’ (Catholic priest). The young students perceived priesthood as an act of nobility and selfless service to others, as the school was managed by American Jesuits then.
Only one became a Father and all the rest became real fathers to families.
During the same time period at school, I had another classmate whose father had several lorries (trucks) plying back and forth to Colombo as he was an agent to several commercial consumer goods in town. I have noticed that all lorries have a large straight board, mounted from one end to the other behind the driver’s seat. This board contained almost all the known Gods equally in separate square frames. One day I asked my friend as to the logic of having all Gods in the lorries. Coming closer and tapping on my shoulder he told me with a chuckle, ‘Machan, as you know, the road to Colombo after dark has many unknown obstacles. Floods, robbers, wild animals and notably elephants. I am sure one God out of all would help us to overcome those, as we do not want to bet on just one.’
Thinking of it now, he reminds me of the most common recommended strategy of all present-day financial advisers, ‘do not put all eggs in one basket’.
Religions, notably the organised ones, nowadays, undergo a major transformation in many circles all around the globe. As the world becomes intrinsically connected more than ever, the change in the West is quite apparent as droves mainly the younger generation stay away from organised religions. ‘Spiritual, not religious’ is one of the catchphrases. The growth of practical application of knowledge and science perpetuates critical thinking and questions the validity of many beliefs of the past.
Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue, temple or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.
While precise numbers of church closures are elusive, a conservative estimate is that thousands of U.S. churches are closing each year. It’s not uncommon to see ‘Churches for Sale’ in real estate classified advertisements. Developers are busy turning many into condominiums providing the serene structure and reverberating invocations, as part of the sales pitch for potential condo dwellers.
When I see old places of worship, some almost 100 years old, with perceived accumulated positivity are being sold and converted into normal dwellings, it brings back the memory of a science teacher we had at school. True to his calling, he wanted us to think differently, not falling in line with simple ‘why’, but more so with ‘why not’ school of thought. Once he described how he and his friends had stayed the whole night in a very old, abandoned temple to record anything that sounded abnormal. According to his theory when the exact temperature, atmospheric pressure and wind patterns repeats that of a past date, ideally the sounds from that past date also would repeat. It’s kind of placing Newton’s law of motion in analytical interpretation. It made us spellbound to listen to challenging situational variations of physics and life sciences by our beloved science teacher, sharpening critical thinking along the way.
As adults we know that humans are certainly a believing bunch. And evolutionary anthropologists say that’s no miracle. The origins and ubiquity of religious beliefs can be explained by evolutionary theory.
First, our ancestors evolved certain mental abilities, useful for survival and reproduction, which predisposed them to religious beliefs. Many mental ingredients are necessary for religion as we know it. But scholars emphasise three tendencies, which are pronounced in humans, but minimally expressed in other species, that we seek patterns, infer intentions and learn by imitation.
These are cognitive adaptations that helped our ancestors survive. For example, it is obviously useful to notice paw prints (a pattern) laid by an animal planning to eat you (an intention), and to deter the predator with tactics others have successfully used (imitation). But people overextend these tendencies as part of human expression and energized renditions. This led to connecting disasters to angry deities and reading the future by way of a whole heap of bodily features and cosmic timings.
Our natural tendency to over-imitate predisposes us to religious practices. Rather than relying on experience and trial-and-error, humans learn most behaviors and skills from other people. Evolved features of our brains, such as Theory of Mind and over-imitation, likely caused the emergence of religions in human societies. It doesn’t take supernatural beings to explain why so many people believe in them, just natural evolutionary processes.
One of the household names in Sri Lanka and one of the oldest God worshipped by both Sinhalese and Tamils is ‘Kataragama deviyo’ or Kandan/Murugan/Karthigayan/Subramaniyan/Velan/Sayon/Shanmuga or Kumaran. There are records even before Christ the existence of Kataragama God situated in a jungle terrain not easily accessed. Sir Pon Arunachalam (celebrated civil servant, legislative member, father of University of Ceylon) writing in the Journal of the Asiatic Society 1924 edition, mentions that ‘hardly anyone goes there except for pilgrimage twice a year, the forest haunted by bears, elephants, leopards and deadlier malaria.
The last stage of about 11 miles beyond Tissamaharama is over a difficult forest track and a river, Menik Ganga, which in flood time has to be swum across there being no boats. In the 1930s, when good roads were scarce even in Colombo, my grandmother walked barefoot the whole way to Kataragama and back in fulfilment of a vow for the recovery from illness of her child, the future Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy (Legislative member and the first Asian to be knighted). Hardships they endured are such as are yearly borne with cheerfulness by thousands travelling by foot along the coastal jungle tracks of the Northern, Eastern and Uva provinces and many from India’ he writes.
Clearly, the abode of Lord Murugan or Skandakumara is mountainous jungle terrain (Kuringi tract as per Sangam literature) and intrinsically affiliated to the then Hunter-gatherer framework. Even the celebrated six abodes of Lord Murugan tied to Vedic times are situated in hilly and once jungle regions of Tamil Nadu. The earliest mention of Kartikeya in Buddhist texts may be found in the ‘Janayasabha Sutta’ of the Pali Canon, where he is referred to as ‘Sanankumara’. Here he is introduced as a deva of the rank of ‘Mahabrahma’ and a disciple of the Buddha.
The antiquity of Skanda worship has been noted in Sangam literature (400BCE – 300 CE) and differing views are still debated on the symbols found in Harappa-Indus valley civilizations (Old Bronze age). The jungle God’s close association with native aboriginals, wild honey in the offerings, ‘aalathi Bami’ dance performed by Vedda women during rituals, and the native priesthood untouched by Brahmanical influences, reinforce the organic nature of the history. To cap it, his second concert Valli Amma originated from the same aboriginal clan. Even the weapon he is identified with, lance or spear, is the first hunting weapon humans adopted to safely hunt from a distance. Lord Skanda’s favourite jungle dwelling peacock and his elephant-faced brother Ganesh are not mysteries in this string of evidence.
Appreciation to nature and origins of human civilization is the centre and possible reason for Skanda worship. Anthropologists argue that this ancient form of rituals and forms of worship originated and got shaped, when humans started or were moving into an agrarian society from the jungle dependent hunter-gatherer society.
As our societies continue to evolve, with the current technological advancements that provide greater benefits and solutions to our existential challenges, the traditional role once religion played becomes foggy.
Societal, cultural and identity markers at times influence the degree of belief or pretention within societies. Developed countries show less, while developing countries show more in this equilibrium. Japan has only about 4% of its population identified as religious and a similar trend in Western Europe where social scientists now characterise as ‘post Christian’. Much of the developed world provides the best to their citizens in their hour of need, which also makes the belief in a benevolent God less attractive and meaningless, allowing a higher power to keep watch over people. Organised religion may no longer be needed in such societies, but its still human nature to perceive agency in the complexity and unpredictability of the world, even when there is none.
The current pandemic has travelled in unchartered territory, destabilising the ways to seek interference of a higher power. The growth in the knowledge and the power of science literally put the Gods muted, even putting their places of residence in curfew or lockdown modes, making the divide even greater for the devotees at the hour of need.
The ‘Groundhog Day’ is a Hollywood movie released in 1993, starring Bill Murray. It’s about a cynical television weatherman thoroughly caught up in a boring, slow-moving small town, facing the same situation again and again, and becoming depressed.
Groundhog is a lowland rodent. The North American farmers of a bygone era had a superstitious belief in its ability to predict a short or a long winter in early February. As weather mattered to farmers in terms of soil preparation, groundhog helped if anyone believed in its prediction. If the rodent coming after hibernation doesn’t see its shadow due to cloudy weather and remains out of its burrow, it means the winter is short. This tradition is kept alive in certain cities still as an entertainment, simply to invigorate the economy by way of publicity for tourism.
The weatherman’s agony of facing a bleak state without hope is captured in the below conversation.
‘What would you do if you were struck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing you did mattered?’
That’s what Phil (Bill Murray) asks two men at a bar as he contemplates the boring dead-end of repeating Groundhog Day over and over, with a known outcome.
One of them answers, ‘That about sums it for me.’
For many of us the situation created by the pandemic has not changed much for the last two years, going through the drill of the same again and again, with no end in sight. No real togetherness, no travels, no public places and no family occasions. Every day is fraught with suspicion, caution and vigilance. Not to mention the physical and psychological complications of being isolated or feeling lonely. The only theme that rises above is the indefinite nature of the jam that we are all in at the same time.
Though Act 2 brings the darker side of depression and escapism through criminality Phil gets enlightened by way of overcoming hopelessness with two key components. He uses his time in the service of others and constantly engages in ‘self-improvement’. In the service of others need not be simply donating money but could be as easy as directly connecting others with gifts of time, empathy and humor. Sharing an uplifting remark or acknowledging or smiling at people that you come across daily or querying the neighbors of his/her welfare, are simple acts that we often take for granted. The inner satisfaction of truly generating care and concern for others also allows us to record the blessings or what we are grateful for. Numerous studies have indicated that this simple act of counting the blessings increases satisfaction with life and frees us from time prison. Constantly allowing us to develop and make new hobbies or getting better at acquiring new skills frees us from the clogged mind or memory lapses and will lead to optimism instead of negativity. Phil takes up ice carving and music lessons as part of acquiring new skills to keep his mind positively active.
When he made a difference in how he sees and reacts to the outside world, his outlook of what a ‘Groundhog Day’ changed entirely. He learnt to reinvent himself and to be in the service of others by acknowledging, ‘Anything different is good.’
Difference achieved by re-examining habits and attitudes.
Doing good we might say what all major faiths propose but ends up as mere habit or routine.
It is not like what we want to become when we grow up to do good, or betting on different Gods for increased probability. If we want to uplift our emotional and physical health now during this time of breakdown of our daily lives, then there is an answer within us, not necessarily a grant from any higher power.
The film encircles the most important theme Tolstoy propelled through the parable ‘The three questions’ published in 1885 as part of the ‘What men live by and other tales.’ When is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do all the time?
As the king learned from the sequent events including practising lifesaving skills, the answer is within us and no need to look for counsel from others when it comes to doing the right thing.
‘Do good for all, and learn new skills’
by Goolbai Gunesekara
During the years of our Civil War it became somewhat imperative that school buildings needed to be emptied of their juvenile populations at a moment’s notice. Not that such a necessity ever actually arose but schools were expected to be prepared for all eventualities.
After all, one or two small planes DID reach Colombo one memorable night and succeeded in dropping a small bomb on the Department of Inland Revenue thereby delighting quite a few tax evaders whose files must have been conveniently bombed too.
Principals of Schools took note. Such emergencies COULD conceivably arise during the daytime and COULD perhaps be targeted at schools. Methods had to be put in place to ensure that otherwise rambunctious children were marshaled instantly into lines that were ready to evacuate the school buildings in under two to three minutes.
Schools that were three or four stories high were not so easily organized. Practice was needed in order to see which floor needed to go first to ensure the greatest speed. Infants obviously needed special care since right through the practice exercises they laughed and gamboled about as playfully as puppies.
One cannot impart seriousness to infants in such situations. Ergo it was turned into a game which our tiny tots soon learned to play enthusiastically. Their safety was assured as far as possible by harassed teachers.
The older and more sophisticated students were first amused more than nervous. They knew the chance of such bomb excitement was highly unlikely. In their eyes it was even desirable. Such a welcome break in the monotony of a normally dull school day was to be highly welcomed. Furthermore they read the news.
“But Miss we will have plenty of time to get out of our buildings,” they remarked authoritatively to me. ‘YOU had about 30 minutes notice.”
It so happened that I had been at a Galle Face function held in the garden on the very night of the (Japanese air) raid. Diners were given plenty of time to clear the garden and get to comparative safety. I related this excitement to my staff who probably passed on the story to the older classes.
“Never mind all that,” I was stern. “Your parents will expect me to keep you safe in school and we are most certainly going to see that you are.”
“MY MOM may not mind my demise,” snickered Abhi whose mother regularly wept across my desk at his latest infringement of both home and school rules. I gave him the sort of look that implied I might join her in such hopes.
Anyway a school of 1,300 children somehow thundered down various stairs out to the back garden, the side garden and the Sports Fields in under four minutes where they made enough noise to scare away any attacking planes.
The neighbours indicated they would prefer the school to take a direct hit rather than be subjected every few days to the noise of the BOMB DRILL. After considerable practice the time was brought down to three minutes despite a group of 13-year-old boys telling some jittery girls, “You are going to die anyway honey.”
Wearily they were told to shut up.
A fresh problem now manifested itself. 1,300 students going back to the dull routine meant the noise factor in the school was high. Classes found it hard, if not impossible, to settle down to listening to a teacher continue with Napoleon’s foreign policy or the art of doing fractions. Kids wanted drinks of water and other form of sustenance after returning to class. That three-minute run to comparative safety reduced their concentration to zero level.
My staff and I pondered the problem until I remembered a little device known as the “Silence Bell” which my educationist mama had used with great effect in her schools. It operated thus.
Whenever the decibel levels of a school rose she rang the school bell in a slightly different manner than usually signified the end of a period. Everyone knew silence had to instantly observed once that bell rang. Teachers stopped in mid- sentence. Kids stopped in their tracks. Classes fell silent. Any class that did not do this was noted and appropriately chastised. It was such a successful metamorphosis from noise to silence that it was something I was loath to give up even AFTER the Civil War ended.
The art of getting instant silence was too good to forget. Accordingly, the ‘SILENCE BELL’ was retained and the benefits of that bell cannot be exaggerated. Special school notices, emergencies due to the weather, Edexcel exam notices and general doings that suddenly require attention can be settled in a minute. Once the whole school is silent quick notices can be read out on the loudspeaker. Even those not affected listen quietly. It all takes under a minute or so.
And there is one more incalculable advantage. All schools reach maximum noise levels at certain times through the day. The SILENCE BELL causes an instant cessation of noise and it is found that once that level of turmoil is reduced it does not go up again for some time, even after the ‘SILENCE BELL’ rings the all clear.
A thought! That Bell should be used by all the rowdy democratic Parliaments of today and good manners will perhaps return to politics.
(This article was written just after the time of Sri Lanka’s Civil War.)
(Excerpted from The Principal Factor first published in Lanka Market Digest)
by Sumi Moonesinghe narrated to Savithri Rodrigo
While I was in training in England, there had been a change at the helm of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation. Neville Jayaweera had been transferred as Government Agent to Vavuniya and a new Director General had taken his place. His is name was Susil Moonesinghe.
As the end of my training period loomed close, I realized I wasn’t ready to leave England just yet. I wanted to stay on, just one more year, to complete my PhD. I sent in my request for an extension of one year to the new Director General but my request was denied. It was then that finality hit and I had to make arrangements to return.
I returned to my familiar surroundings at the station in 1971 and settled in. Even though I had been away for some time, nothing much had changed in a way. It’s quite amazing how good branding transcends time. The name change of Radio Ceylon to the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation had made no difference to everyday conversation. Nearly everyone referred to CBC, which came into being through the CBC Act of 1966, as Radio Ceylon – the name stuck. What I didn’t foresee however was that the name Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation would be short-lived.
With the transitioning of Ceylon into the status of the Republic of Sri Lanka on May 22, 1972, CBC would get a yet another name change, just six years after, to what the station is presently known as – the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
A few days after my return, the Director General wanted to see me. This summoning was nothing out of the ordinary as I had been sent by CBC on training and he would want to know the value addition I now bring to the station. I walked the corridors leading to his office and the moment I set eyes on him, I couldn’t speak. This was unusual for me because throughout my years of school, university and England, I was not a woman who would get fazed or dumbstruck by any male. I had studied, lived and worked as the only female in the room and had always considered males as part of my life and not to be romanced around.
But this was totally different. Here I was in the Director General’s room, looking at the most handsome man I had seen in my entire life. If there is anything called love at first sight, this was it, although I didn’t recognize it at the time. I don’t remember much of that first meeting.
I returned to my usual routine. My engineering room was upstairs, in a building with three floors, at the back. It became a habit for me to peek out of the windows whenever I had the chance to check if the Director General was walking those long corridors that the station was famous for. A bonus was the car park being close to my office and at a vantage point from my window. Each morning I would see him park his car and I wouldn’t take my eyes off him as he walked all the way down to his office.
I would make various excuses to go out of my room, just to catch a glimpse of him or to go to his room to get information or ask a question. I could have done all this by phone or by sending a memo but I would drum up an excuse just to see him.
I think there was some mutual affection building up because Susil too started calling for me at various times and sometimes for issues totally unrelated to my role. He would ask me to sit through recruitment procedures and interviewee evaluations with him. While I worked in his room, I noticed the incessant telephone calls he would receive. Having been appointed by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike into this post of Director General, Susil was a political appointee and as was the norm, he was inundated with politicians asking him to employ their various supporters at CBC.
I soon realized there was a subtle flirtation on his part as well He called me into his room one day and said, very stiffly, “Miss Senanayake, I have two tickets for a play. Would you like to go as I can’t seem to make it?” This was totally unusual as it was not work related and out of the blue. Not daring to ask him why he was giving me the tickets, or how he got them or what it was for, I simply said, “Yes, definitely, Sir. Thank you.”
He gave me the tickets and I went with my uncle to see the play. While we were quite engrossed in it, my uncle said, “Sumi, who is that man looking at you constantly?” I turned my head and saw Susil in the front row, staring at me but trying not to show that he was. It dawned on me that he gave me the tickets not because he couldn’t attend the play but because he knew I would be there too. I pretended not to notice, although my heart was beating very fast and by way of explanation told my uncle, “Oh that’s my boss at the station. He’s the Director General. He’s probably surprised to see me here.”
Work went on. SLBC had some visiting engineers from Yugoslavia and Susil placed me in charge of accompanying them to see the Esala Perahera, which is believed to be Asia’s grandest festival. A vantage point to view the pageant from the Queen’s Hotel in Kandy was generally reserved for CBC, as thousands gather for the parade that takes Buddha’s tooth relic, which is generally housed in the Temple of the Tooth, around the streets of Kandy.
The engineers and I were to spend the night at the Hotel Suisse, which had also been arranged. Susil apologized to the Yugoslav engineers of his inability to accompany them but assured them of being in good hands, pointing to me.
That night as we readied to watch the perahera, Susil surprised us by arriving at the Queen’s Hotel and taking a seat among us. He explained that he had completed his work and decided to make it to Kandy. I was secretly very happy to see him although I maintained my composure. The arrival of the whip crackers, those who herald the start of the pageant may have saved me from some embarrassment, if only he saw my face, beaming with delight.
In my hurry to pack for Kandy, I realized I hadn’t brought any toothpaste. We were by now back at Hotel Suisse and I was getting ready for bed. I am very fastidious so the thought of going to bed without brushing my teeth filled me with dread. I had an idea. I knocked on Susil’s door and asked him if I could borrow some toothpaste, which he willingly passed on to me. After brushing my teeth, I went back to his room and knocked on his door in order to return the toothpaste. Looking back, going back to that room to return the toothpaste was a rather flimsy excuse on my part, although at the time, my intentions, at least to me, seemed good.
Years later, Susil would recount this story with all the bells and whistles he could muster, saying, “I was seduced by Sumi with a tube of toothpaste!” He considered this the start of our romance and for my birthday one year, hung up a giant cut-out of a toothpaste tube at the entrance to the house. His sense of humour was endearing and definitely one of the reasons I fell in love with him.
Getting back to the perahera night, I had fallen asleep having brushed my teeth with Susil’s toothpaste. Around midnight, there was a knock on my door. Not used to having people knock on my door in the middle of the night, I asked tentatively, “Who is it?” Imagine my surprise when I heard, “It’s me, Susil. Please open the door. There’s been an accident.” I quickly opened the door and let in a very distressed Susil. “One of the officers at the Seeduwa Transmission Station has been killed. He was shot dead accidentally by a security guard on duty.” He slumped into a chair, looking ashen.
True to my nature, I took charge because I knew we had to manage a bad situation that could escalate into something truly worse. Several phone calls later and after some fires had been dampened, Susil asked me if he could remain in my room. “With all this going on, I can’t sleep,” he said. He made himself comfortable in his chair and we talked until morning, while I sat on the bed.
The conversation slowly gave way to other topics like my life. I told him of my fiance in England who was still employed at the State Engineering Corporation but on a leave of absence as he was reading for his PhD. By this time, we were chatting as if we had known each other for years. I gleaned that Susil had a wide network and basically knew everyone — an expansive directory of the who’s who. So I asked Susil if he could speak with the Chairman of State Engineering Corporation Dr. A N S Kulasinghe to obtain a leave extension for my fiance as he wanted to complete his studies but needed the job to come back to. “Ah, anything for love,” was Susil’s reply.
The next morning, not only did Susil call Dr. Kulasinghe and get an agreement for the extension, but also manipulated proceedings so that the Yugoslav engineers traveled back to Colombo in his official car with his driver, which meant, I would be traveling to Colombo with him. By this time, it was understood that a romance was blossoming.
While we were driving back, Susil remembered our conversations earlier. I had told Susil that my parents lived in Kegalle and he suddenly suggested we visit them. When we got to my parents’ home, I introduced Susil as my boss and the Director General of CBC. I believed that by meeting my parents, Susil would know my roots and the family I came from. There was nothing to hide. I was an open book.
My parents, who were used to always seeing me in the company of males, didn’t bat an eyelid when I brought him home. Over the course of a cup of tea, Susil, who was his absolute charming self, gained the complete confidence of my parents. Just as we were readying to leave, my mother looked at Susil and said, “Please see that she doesn’t get married to that Tamil boy. I am lighting two lamps appealing to the gods to break up that relationship.” Susil promptly replied, “Amma, please light one more lamp and the affair will end.”
He then asked my mother to give him my horoscope saying, “I have a good astrologer and I will check on whom she will get married to.” Of course, my mother promptly gave him my horoscope, such was the trust he had built up in the briefest of times.
While Susil knew all about me, I knew little of Susil or his lineage. I knew he had studied at Royal College and was a lawyer with an amazing gift of the gab. I did know he was married but in the middle of a budding romance, that didn’t seem to matter. But what I didn’t know was that he came from a very distinguished line of an elite Sinhala Buddhist family. His paternal grandmother was Anagarika Dharmapala’s sister. They were the children of Don Carolis Hewavitarane.
As a child, I remember learning about Anagarika Dharmapala, who was renowned for his non-violent Sinhala Buddhist nationalism and a leading figure in Sri Lanka’s independence movement against colonial rule. A global Buddhist missionary, he pioneered the revival of Buddhism. However, this was not what impressed me at all. It was simply Susil who held my undivided attention and now, love!
Susil had politics in his blood and in 1960 had contested the Polgahawela seat in the General Elections under the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna. His network and influence in politics saw him appointed organizer for the Southern Province of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, in preparation for the 1970 General Elections. When the United Front, led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike won the 1970 elections, Susil’s hard work towards the win paid off and he was rewarded with the appointment of Director General of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation.
His business contacts too were expansive. But his strong urge to be politically active never left him and he continued being a livewire in pushing a people-centric political agenda with whatever party he supported.
(To be continued)
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