My travels took on an additional element when in 2000 the Sri Lanka Military Academy commenced a degree programme in collaboration with Sabaragamuwa University. Under their thoughtful commandant Gamini Hettiarachchi, depicted here, they had approached the UGC about this soon after I joined Sabaragamuwa in 1997 and I believe the Chairman was happy to hand it over to us to arrange because he knew I would be involved. Almost from the start I took the lead, and worked out a programme together with a few positive colleagues at the university, and the hierarchy at the Academy who were keen on developing thinking skills as well as degree level wider knowledge, and actively fell in with my plans.

But it took time to take things forward, not least because of some opposition within the army itself, and it was only in 1999 that the move took on momentum, under a new Commandant Percy Fernando. And as I note we had finalized arrangements by the time of his farewell dinner, in January of the new year, when we watched him drive away to his new post, a post from which he did not return.

A new year and new responsibilities

I got back to Colombo from my millennium dinner in Bangkok on the night of January 2nd, looking forward to classes at the Military Academy in addition to at the university. There too I had a greater load, for we had taken a double batch, to try to get over the delays in university admission which the country suffered from endlessly, and I had much to do there too when on the 3rd Kithsiri took me to the university in time for breakfast.

I met the new students then and wrote GELT letters after lunch and had a meeting about English with meetings about other elements of our Core Course the next day since I had still to organize these since they were beyond Chandra’s ken. Then on the Wednesday, after more administration and marking, I went to Diyatalawa for a Board meeting, when we also had a presentation about the ethnic conflict, followed by drinks and dinner. I believe that was Percy Fernando’s last function at the Academy, and he left that night to take up his new post at Elephant Pass which was under threat from the LTTE.

That Saturday I went to Derrick’s in Kandy, when he also had the British High Commissioner and Ayra’s sister Savi visiting from Australia. We saw the Mahanayake next morning about the English programme for young monks that Derrick had put together, and that afternoon I went to the university, to meet the old and the new students over the next few days and sort out groups while finalizing the marking for the previous exams.

On the Wednesday night I left and stayed the night at Kuruvita, and went next morning to my site to see that the roof had come up. Then I went to USJP for lectures and then to the British Council to discuss a conference which they had wanted me to organize together with our former trainee Neluka Silva who was now in the English Department at Colombo University.

As noted at the end of the last post, I also went abroad in the midst of the election campaign, which was indeed a great relief, for I found the process of canvassing wearisome. Interviews I was quite happy with, and indeed did them well, but meetings to canvass support I did not enjoy at all, and dealing with some individuals who had joined the party but seemed more keen on making money was irritating beyond measure.

The picture is of the millenium dinner.

Escaping the campaign

So I left Colombo on the night of November 24th and spent time in Manila and Bangkok and Sydney, where his friend Graeme Curran put me up and drove me round, and then Canberra, before I returned home on the night of Sunday December 5th. Then there was intense electioneering, at any rate with regard to media exposure, though we had a couple of dinners at home and I went to the Airport Garden Hotel to have dinner with my old Oxford friend Richard Norton, now a Lord, and also to Palankadewatte and Getamanna, delighted to find that by Sunday December 12th the cottage had reached roof level.

I did go to the university that night to hand in papers and welcome new staff including the daughters of Prof Wilson of USJP and Nihal Herath who had been Director of the Polgolla AUC at its inception. I got back on the Tuesday and did some USJP lectures on the Thursday and had dinner with Peter that night. On Friday I had an interview with the Frankfurter Zeitung, met the International Election Observers on the Saturday and then on Sunday went to Aluwihare for the night. On the way back next day I went to have a look at the new building that had come up where the Old Place had been in Kurunagala, and then went to the cemetery and was pleased to find that my aunt Lakshmi’s name had at last been carved on the cross on her parents’ grave where her ashes had been interred in 1995.

On the 21st I voted and then went for the night to my sister’s so as to avoid calls. Unfortunately one of those who had agreed to be at the count for me got cold feet, but Priyantha went and also my neighbour Maasiri Dias, who enjoyed himself thoroughly and told me a lot about the irregularities that can so often occur in the process.

They came to Anila’s to report early on the 22nd morning and I went to the Secretariat for the final declaration of results, and then sent my thank you faxes and slept before dinner at Nirmali’s. I wrote more thank you notes next day and then on Friday we had a party meeting when we decided to suspend Harim for he had finally appeared on a platform for Chandrika. So had Mrs Amaratunga but she had not spoken and, given her connection to Chanaka, we did not think we should take any action against her.

Peter Rowe joined us for Christmas lunch next day and was astonished at how unsociable my cousin Ranil was. He was of course disappointed to have been defeated by Chandrika, but his conduct suggested why he was never likely to be very popular. That evening it was back to entering marks, and the next day the Bakers visited in the evening, but then in the night I left for Thailand for I had, after resisting for a long time, finally agreed to join Robert and a host of other friends for a millennium dinner at his flat on the 31st.

I deal here with my candidacy for the Presidency in 1999, which most of the Liberal party supported though a couple on our Executive Committee had wanted to support Chandrika Kumaratunga. I did not spend much, but I did have two former students to stay at home and help me with leafletting, and friends in England contributed small sums to finance the little propaganda we engaged in. The picture is of Vasu, whom i was astonished and delighted to find I did better in the election.

Standing for President

But there was more to do after I came back from my Hawthornden Castle residency before I embarked on a candidacy for the Presidency.  The first thing I have recorded doing was taking Ricky to the garden, on the Thursday, and then after a relaxed Friday I went with Nirmali to Getamanna, to look at the building and the vegetable garden Adhikari had set up, and to take classes. We went on that night to the university, for the MA exams on the Sunday, when Nirmali and I took the oral component. We went back that afternoon, and in the evening the Liberal Party Committee met and we found that Harim and Mrs Amaratunga were keen to support Chandrika while the rest were opposed to this. And that was how it was decided that I should be nominated, the first two grudgingly agreeing.

Harim obliged by signing as he had to, and we deposited the required money next day and on the Tuesday I handed in my nomination. We did not have much money to spend, but Daniel trawled amongst my English friends and we got enough for paper advertisements and there was also lots of free publicity through interviews and the statutory allocations on state radio and tv. And two of my former students, Palitha and Bandara, were hired to work for me, staying at home and addressing leaflets, helped by our boy Chamara.

All in all I spent much less than individuals in parliamentary elections did, but I performed well, coming 6th out of 15, ahead of established politicians who had been members of Parliament such as Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Tennyson Edirisooriya. And my good friend Rohan Ponniah recorded gratis my television appearances, which had a considerable impact, the son of the UNP chairman for instance voting for me since, as he told his father, I was clearly the best candidate.

But, though I had to take leave from the university, other activities continued, the cemetery on November 18th, my mother’s birthday, and a dinner for her friends, the closing of the EASL bookshop at the British Council, champagne at Peter’s and also the preparation of a paper for Australia. For in the midst of the campaign I went to a Sri Lankan Studies seminar in Canberra, encouraged by Peter who had to be there for consultations and said I could stay in the flat the Foreign Ministry made available to him. And though there was only limited funding, I had a ticket to Manila already for a CALD Conference I did not want to miss – not least because it was agreed to appoint me interim chair for a few months, which covered the period of the election.

Back today to travels at the turn of the century, after ten posts about earlier university days. Here I record a sudden and deeply saddening death, Neville Kanakaratne’s. He had seemed so vibrant, and so full of ideas when I had seen him over the preceding year, that it came as a terrible shock.

I go on then to describe my stay at Hawthornden Castle, and the sudden decision I took there to stand for the Presidency, during long walks through the Scottish woods.

Neville Kanakaratne’s death.

The day after Peter’s Olympics party I taught at USJP, and on Friday, after giving Shantha lunch at home, I went to Kandy for a workshop at the Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, I spent the night at its guesthouse and attended the workshop next morning, but in the afternoon went to the wedding of the son of an old family friend. That night I had dinner with university colleagues, and attended the workshop next morning, and then went with Kithsiri to Aluwihare after lunch.

Next morning I got back to Colombo and collected a German visa, with the EASL AGM that afternoon. Next day I took Nirmali to Belihuloya, though I am not sure she had any work there. I had to go that afternoon to the SLMA for our Board meeting but got back to have dinner with Nirmali,, and next morning we set off for Getamanna, first dropping in on my uncle for lunch. I think Nirmali was keen to see progress on the building, which was satisfactory, and we came back that afternoon, via Ratnapura so she could see the cottage coming up too.

I had to talk at an international school next morning and then lecture at USJP, but sadly that was the day of Neville’s funeral for he had died suddenly. I went to his house and then to the funeral, which Peter also attended, having got on so well with him in our few meetings earlier in the year.

I had much to do domestically the next day, while also dropping in at the Council, and then that night, September 24th, I left for a very long trip, getting back only on the night of November 10th. The centrepiece of this was a month’s residency at Hawthornden Castle, to write, but I also went in between to Berlin for an FNS meeting, and had a few days at the beginning and the end in Thailand.

While at Hawthornden I head both of the disasters that had befallen the Sri Lankan army at the hands of the LTTE and of the early presidential election that Chandrika Kumaratunga had called. Communications were limited, but my good friend Daniel Moylan had given me a mobile phone, the first I ever used, and I could talk to him on my afternoon walks, and also hear from others.

It was during those afternoon walks, when I also realized the Liberal Party was torn between those who wanted to support Chandrika – like Harim – and those who inclined to the UNP, that I hit upon the happy expedient of standing myself. This would also, I hoped, serve to resuscitate the Liberal Party which had seemed a spent force after Chanaka Amaratunga’s death.

I describe here my first journeys with a car and a driver from home, though before very long both these arrangements had to be aborted. The pictures are of the memorable Tangalle Bay and the Polhena Reef hotels, and then of Nihal Fernando.

New travel arrangements

I had by then trained one of the boys at home, Jayantha, to drive and my mother thought it best to make use of the Renault, for which I paid her the same rate as I did Codipilly. On this first trip I also took a Codipilly driver, Palitha, who was one of the best of a rotating group, and he said he thought Jayantha could manage. So I went on with just him that evening to Moneragala, to stay at the Resthouse and then check on ten schools next morning, before a few more in the afternoon. Next morning I saw a couple more and went on to Rahangala to meet the Director and the staff, getting back after that to Colombo in time for a Liberal Party meeting.

After some work at Nirmali’s next morning I went to the Asia Foundation to collect their first cheque, and had dinner that night with Jennifer and Anu Fernando, daughter of Nihal and Dodo who had first put me in touch with her. Next day I had meetings at USJP and then the NIE, and that evening saw David who was not quite sure what would happen next since his current contract was ending.

On the Saturday I did some work on the poetry of Jean Arasanayagam who needed to be better known, but I also wanted criticism available for students since I had prescribed her for the courses I had devised. Jeevan came to see me that day, for he had got an assignment in Cambodia, and I was able to advise him about where to stay and whom to contact.

I had lunch next day with Andre, and in the evening I set off with David to Matara, where we stayed at the Polhena Reef Hotel. We both had programmes the next day in Matara and Tangalle, and spent the next night at the Tangalle Bay hotel which was designed like a plane on a promontory, with a lovely beach from which we swam before drinks and dinner.

We had several more meetings next day, including at Weligama where a new RESC was being set up, and then returned to Colombo, with lunch on the way at the Monis establishment which had long been famous for its rusks.

Wednesday was duller, with meetings at the NIE and USJP before work at Nirmali’s after lunch. Next day we took delivery of books from both Pau and Printpack, and that evening I went to Aluwihare, to set off next morning with a cupboard that had had to be repaired. Early next morning I set off in her van with her driver Karim, and delivered the cupboard and saw several schools, taking a class at one of them. But I got back that evening to Aluwihare, via Polonnaruwa, for the last schools had been far north in the Amparai District.

I was introduced at the very start of 1993 to the vagaries of the university system for it was on strike when I got back for the beginning of term. But for me this was fortunate for I was able to spend more time with visiting friends, and also to work on the project I had proposed for Cambodia, though in the end, with little interest at this end, it came to nothing.

The first picture is of Robert, from that period when he had to interact with D B Wijetunge, who had been Minister for Telecommunications, though this picture could have been from before 1993. The next is of Roddy Campbell on his second visit to Sri Lanka, last December, now with another wife, and a very young son, though he himself looked scarecely older.

1993

I was back in Colombo late on the night of Monday January 4th, and next morning I went early to see Rex Baker who was visiting from Mumbai, where he headed the Council office. He was staying with Jeritza McCarter, an American who had acted for us in several productions during my last years at the Council.

I then went to USJP only to find it was closed because there was a go-slow, whether arranged by staff or students I cannot now remember. So after seeing Gunasinghe and Dorakumbura I went home and had a nap and then wrote up a report of the Cambodian trip to send to various agencies in the hope of funding for a project.

I worked at Nirmali’s next morning and sent off my proposals in the afternoon, before an EASL talk at the Council by Regi Siriwardena on Tennyson. My great friend Robert Scoble was visiting, and gave me dinner at the Hilton that night. Next day I was again at UGC to talk also to Wilson, and sent off the rest of my letters. There was a Liberal Party meeting in the afternoon, followed by a recital at the Council by Prashanthi Navaratnam, daughter of our doctors. She was training as an opera singer in London and I had arranged a recital for her there earlier, which had been a great success so the Council was happy for a another.

Next day I saw the Australians and then went with Robert to Negombo for a delightful two days, John having gone there straight when he and I got back to Colombo. But after dinner on the Saturday Robert and I came back to Colombo and I had to prepare lots of letters the next day. In the night an old friend from Oxford, Roddie Campbell, came for drinks with his wife Sophie and I took them out to dinner.

On the 11th I signed an agreement with the Asia Foundation and spoke at a seminar for English instructors and then went to Belihuloya, which had managed to get a good lecturer, Anoma Amarasuriya, while I had also recruited one of the best of David’s Pasdunrata students, Shantha Balasuriya.

I had previously used a hired vehicle, obtained from Jerome Codipilly who had been the most reliable of those from whom the Council had got vehicles when its own two did not suffice. But then my mother had asked me whether I could instead use my sister-in-law’s car, a Renault, which had been left with us when she and my brother moved to Hong Kong. In theory my mother looked after it, since by then the couple were annoyed with my father, but of course she knew nothing about cars and it was my father who had to attend to it.

This describes the recruitment of new staff, which I was generally satisfied with for I got both Paru and Dinali for the department and some good instructors for the Unit. But I was horrified by the racism which was displayed, overtly just by one instructor, but not argued against by the rest except for the utterly decent Oranee. Paru of course was all right, since she was in the Department, but I wondered about the elderly Tamil gentleman we had recruited as an instructor. Fortunately Oranee took him for the medical faculty, where she built up an excellent team, of which he proved a useful member.

The pictures are of four wonderful teachers I recruited to USJP, Paru and Dinali and Lalith Ananda and Sarath Ananda from Pasdunrata, but also the one I could not have, Madhubhashini Dissanayake as she was then, though later Paru was able to get her, and she had done yeoman service there.

New staff

At USJP the next day I discussed with Chitra the proposal to set up an English Department as had been envisaged from the time I was recruited, and worked more on the Management time-tables, and the number of staff to be dedicated to that Faculty. That evening there was yet another Liberal meeting. Then on the next two days we had interviews, first for instructors, and then for lecturers. I was glad that Paru and Dinali Fernando were selected for the department, and two protégés from Pasdunrata whom David had sent me for the ASSET course I ran at the Council for instructor positions, Lalith Ananda and Sarath Ananda.

They were soon amongst the staff most loved by the students, but the ladies of the Unit were furious, denigrating the language skills of the two boys, and attacking Paru as a Tamil, with the most vociferous of the senior instructors calling her a Tiger. Dorakumbura had wanted to appoint her to head the ELTU but after the harpies had reduced her to tears she refused to have anything more to do with them, and stuck firmly with the department.

Sadly Dorakumbura was determined to take onto the staff the daughter of a friend, and refused to have Madhubhashini or another bright girl who also had a degree from India. There was much mocking of Indian degrees, which I could argue about, but then the establishment declared that three year degrees were not acceptable, and to specialize in English you have to have studied it for four years. There was no arguing against this, which the university system in Sri Lanka thinks is a sacrosanct principle, even though everyone knows that degrees in the British system take only three years.

An English friend of mine, John Harrison, had arrived that day, but I had to neglect him over the next few days although there was much social activity in the evenings, my grandmother’s birthday party at my sister’s on the next evening, December 19th, and dinner at David Woolger’s the next day. On the first of these, Saturday, I worked at Nirmali’s and the next day I had lots of friends for lunch. But then on Monday the 21st I went with John to Bangkok for a wonderful holiday there and in Cambodia, getting back to Colombo only on January 4th.

Yet another AUC was entrusted to me for English, in the Northern Province which I was glad about, and over the next few years I grew very fond of Vavuniya which President Premadasa had ensured developed apace, as part of his policy of showing those in the North how prosperity came to them within a united Sri Lanka. I was pleased too with the Director there, and also the delightful Bamunuaarachchi at Buttala, which was affiliated to USJP.

The pictures are of two very different characters, in my very different incarnations of those days, Arthur Bamunuaarachchi and Steimgrimur Hermannson. I should add that I had mentioned Haiti yesterday for Marjorie Jeanchild’s 2008 posting whereas it was St. Kitts and Nevis.

Two new AUCs

There was another Liberal Party meeting that day, and after seeing the UGC Vice-Chairman next morning and shortlisting candidates at USJP, I went for the Dudley Senanayake lecture for which Chanaka had got down the former Iceland Prime Minister, Steingrimur Hermansson. But I left the party afterwards early, for we had the daughters of one of my mother’s cousins in England home for dinner, visiting after many years.

On the Friday I went to Belihuloya with Nirmali and Chitra for the Study Board, taking some classes before, but we got back after lunch at the Resthouse. I was at Nirmali’s over the weekend for EASL work, and then on Monday it was the Anuradhapura Board, along with Paru. We both took classes and spoke to staff, and then we went on to Vavuniya which had also wanted to start the English Diploma course. That College was Affiliated to Jaffna University, but they wanted me to coordinate the course, and I was happy to accept.

We got back to Colombo that night and the following day at USJP I shortlisted the candidates and arranged the interviews. I also met Prof Bamunuaarachchi, a scientist who had been appointed Director of the Buttala AUC, a delightful if scatty man. The next day was EASL work at Nirmali’s and I then managed to write Christmas Cards before another Liberal meeting.

On Thursday I was at USJP to meet the Accounts students, who also had a good teacher, as Wickramaarachchi deserved. After that was the Faculty meeting, and in the afternoon was an EASL meeting at the Council. On Friday, after collecting a Thai visa, I saw more classes at USJP, and I think took a class for Speech as well as Grammar, both of which needed more attention, as our syllabus at the AUCS exemplified.

I went to Aluwihare next day, to help Ena with a visit by the British High Commissioner, and got back on Sunday. I saw Paru next morning and went to USJP where I had a placement test for typing, for what purpose is not clear, and then worked on time-tables for the Management Faculty. That evening Andre had a dinner for a Swiss aid team, and the next day the Peace Corps had a lunch before their new volunteers were sworn in. And I also saw my old British Council colleague Asoka Kasturiarachchi at UNDP for I was trying to rope them in for a project to train Cambodians in Sri Lanka to become English teachers, which I thought would mesh in with our own work. But that too came to nothing because no one else in Sri Lanka was interested in such initiatives.

I describe here swift progress on the texts we had put together for the AUCs, which I could not confidently feel would appear on time. The first one was in use along with the first of the workbooks I had put together, and even the speech text, ‘Interactions’, had been licked as it were into shape. And I note the increasing contact with the Peace Corps, which proved so helpful.

The pictures are of Anne Ranasinghe and Ruby Fernando the Sri Lankan director of the Peace Corps. I could not find a picture of her American boss, Marjorie Jeanchild, though Google revealed that she is a member of the Northern Ohio Returned Volunteer Association and also that she was still active in the Peace Corps in Haiti in 2008.

Textbooks in position

Next day was a workshop at the NIE for the new Literature syllabus, and then I went to USJP to see Dorakumbura who was now in place as Vice-Chancellor, and then did more work on the third Workbook. I took Anne Ranasinghe next morning for the NIE workshop for we had used one of her poems, and then after work at USJP I went back to the NIE to wrap up for Anne, and then in the afternoon I had to talk to the Peace Corps about the rural libraries I wanted them to support. That evening we had a meeting of the Liberal Party, for the political situation was changing fast and there were different views about what our approach should be.

Next morning I went again to the NIE for the start of the workshop and then went to USJP and also saw Palihawadana at his house before getting back to the NIE for the rest of the day. Then on the Friday I went to Rahangala with Chitra and her sister, who looked just like her, and also Palihawadana for interviews and a look at classes and a talk to the staff, before a Board of Studies meeting. I believe the AUC returned them to Colombo but I stayed overnight at the Director’s and then went on to Peradeniya where I met the journalist Prithi Kodagoda with whom I went on to Ena’s for she had agreed to publicize her range of work.

I stayed on till the Sunday, having sent the car back, and went that evening by bus back to Colombo. It was USJP again next day, and in the evening I had dinner with the Peace Corps head, Marjorie Jeanchild. On the Tuesday I worked at Nirmali’s, and that evening we took delivery of ‘Objects’ while I finalized both ‘Interactions’ and the third workbook.

The following day at USJP I went through the list of candidates for the Department and I spoke to the department heads regarding the time-table I proposed for English when term started. Given the combinations of subjects the Arts Faculty permitted, putting this together was not easy, but the scheme I devised was perhaps the worst possible for it required students to understand which group they should belong to, and they could not absorb this in a context in which staff did not help them, leaving them when they entered to the mercies of the senior students who were ragging them. But at the moment it all seemed very simple, and it was only several months later that it was, disastrously, put into practice.

I describe here how our book publications programme expanded, with a book put together at the request of A J Goonewardene whom I could not refuse. Besides, I felt it was a good thing to have some record of the work of Ranjith Goonewardene with whom I had spoken at a programme at the British Council afterwards. He had thanked me afterwards for not having attacked him, and I realized then the strange world of Sri Lankan academia where differences on issues led more often than not to personal attacks.

More books

On Tuesday we returned to Colombo after the seminar and I was at USJP on Wednesday, with a Liberal Party meeting that afternoon before a party at home for my mother’s birthday. Next day I was taken by the Peace Corps to the Polhena Reef Hotel for a workshop, and the found time to visit the Matara DELIC Centre before getting back to Colombo. 

Friday was USJP and Saturday EASL work at Nirmali’s, while on Sunday I worked on the fourth AUC text Chitra had devised. This was called ‘Interactions’, to promote speech, but we had got a very silly draft which Nirmali and I had to change greatly. Chitra realized, with satisfaction, that ‘Objects’ had been transformed but the writer she had selected had not minded. The original author of ‘Interactions’ was however furious, but there was nothing we could do about that, and the book did at least serve some purpose in the end. And that afternoon I also worked on a book which had been requested by A J Gunawardena who had been in charge of English at USJP before he moved to the Institute of Aesthetic Studies as its Director.

He was a great friend so I wanted to oblige him, and what he wanted also served a purpose for what he gave me was a selection of texts chosen by Ranjith Goonewardene who had been a colleague of his at Kelaniya University. He was a strange man who was very nervous, though a good scholar, and though he had been led to believe that my views on literature were very different from his, he was deeply gratified that, at a discussion at which we presented different perspectives, I had treated him with great respect.

He had died young and A J wanted the texts edited and presented as reading material, which I was happy to do, not least because Ranjith had been Oranee Jansz’s brother and she was pleased by this act of piety. The book, Studying English: Culture and Society, to go with the People series, proved quite useful at higher levels.

The next day I had lunch with my two favourite colleagues at the Council and went in the evening with my sister to see Richard de Zoysa’s mother Manorani, for it was her birthday. She had been brave about it, but Richard’s murder two years earlier had shattered her, and it was a very different occasion from the birthdays when he had been there.

Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2022
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