This account of travels after I took over at SCOPP moves to the period when SCOPP had closed. But there was much to do with regard to the refugees in my position at the Ministry, and I record here a particularly contentious issue with regard to drainage, about which the highly paid UN Shelter consultant knew nothing. He had been hired by UNOPS, an agency I found very shady, but was talking about fire hazards when unseasonal rain had led to dangerous flooding because of poorly built toilets.

Unfortunately those supposed to monitor such expenditure on our side tended to just give in to whatever was proposed, though I managed to stop at least some wastage when our Ministry was involved. And in this instance, with support from Neil Buhne, we entrusted fixing the drainage problem to our Disaster Management Centre, which under its competent Director General Gamini Hettiarachchi did a magnificent job.

The pictures are of my squad, first on a 2008 trip to the East, and then when checking on those in the welfare and rehabiliation centres, when they stuck close to me as needed, not at all pleased when I got too close to the Tigers.

28. Resettlement and Rehabilitation

I was away in the middle of August 2009 but managed on returning to get to Alu on Friday the 21st, returning the next evening after a Trinity Board meeting to sit with Ena on the lawn before dinner. On the Sunday I went after lunch to the cottage, where I met the workmen with regard to the new building I was putting up, including the garage I had been enjoined to have by the commando security that was being withdrawn. Back in Colombo I met the police on Tuesday about being provided with policemen instead, and bade farewell that evening to the squad which had been so careful and helpful over the last two years.

I had an RCSS seminar on Friday and Saturday but went that evening to the cottage for a full Sunday there, and then got back to an intense week with several meetings about resettlement as well as rehabilitation. On the following Thursday, September 3rd, I went early with Jeevan and Chamil and my new police escort to Vavuniya to meet the SF Commander, Kamal Guneratne, and then had a meeting with a representative from the Social Services Ministry before going on to Manik Farm and Sumathipuram, one of the new camps. I had lunch at the camp and then had a meeting with the UN agencies, where I was very firm with them about their failure to ensure national standards with regard to the construction of toilets, which had led to much squalor.

I still recall the UN shelter expert, who was paid an exorbitant sum, suddenly wittering on about fire hazards when what we had to face, in a season of heavy rain, was overflowing drains. Fortunately the UN Resident Coordinator had approved a rescue operation by our Disaster Management Centre, which did a great job under General Gamini Hettiarachchi, and I asked for the papers about the shelter consultant and ensured his contract was not renewed.

I managed to get to Alu with Jeevan that night for dinner, and stayed on for lunch after he left, with Ismeth and Dileeni and Shanthi joining us, but then I went to Derrick’s for that night, and on the next day went after lunch to the cottage, where I entertained my cousin Theja and her husband for lunch the next day, along with Clara the much older cousin who had been so hospitable when I went to England to enter Oxford 38 years previously, to the day in fact, September 6th.

I write now of the last days of the Peace Secretariat, closing which was sad for me and my excellent staff, but a tragedy for the country. But I did not realize then how hamfisted were the politicians who were to take over administering the peace, and how they failed to use the military productively. They for their part did an admirable job, in both the civilian offices they were asked to fill, such as the Governorship of the North, and command of the security forces in areas that needed swift action. In between perhaps was the post of Commissioner General of Rehabilitation which several serving officers filled admirably, but without a mechanism to promote reintegration for which there should have been solid Civil-Military Liaison.

I know now that I was the ideal person to work from a civilian perspective with the military for, having worked with so many of them now in high positions for a decade and more I knew and understood their strengths, and knew too to overcome their occasional weaknesses and lack of a holistic perspective. But I did not know then that I was unique, for all it required was common sense and sensitivity, to issues as well as people. But that was lacking in those whom Mahinda Rajapaksa promoted. How and why they could have entrusted not only much of the North but also industry, vital to develop at all levels, to Rishard Bathiudeen passes all understanding.

The pictures are of Daya Ratnayake, the first Commissioner General of Rehabilitation after the war, the two Ministers who could not work together, and the Secretary to Milinda Moragoda’s Justice Ministry who had been the previous Commissioner General and I think fuelled Milinda’s resentment of Mahinda working on the subject!

27 Closing the Secretariat

Two days before the Peace Secretariat closed, we unveiled the Rehabilitation and Reintegration Framework we had prepared through the Ministry with support from the ILO, but I realized then how rocky was the road ahead for the Ministry responsible then for Rehabilitation boycotted the meeting, since that Minister and mine were struggling for primacy.

Later that day we released our last bulletin at SCOPP, and also the brochure we had produced called We help ourselves, which showcased the excellent work of the services in helping the civilians who escaped from the LTTE, and also conditions at Manik Farm with stress on the health and education facilities provided.

But needless to say our Foreign Ministry was not interested in all this, and only a couple of envoys ordered copies. The only major government official to take any interest was Nivard Cabraal, the Governor of the Central Bank, who knew how important the propaganda war was. But the rest of government was sunk in complacence and lethargy.

The next day, the 31st, I sent Felix to the airport, and after my regular administration meeting at the Ministry returned to SCOPP for my last day there. One heartening development was that General Ratnayake had been appointed Director General of Rehabilitation and, despite the animosity of his Ministry, he was happy to work with us and came to see me at SCOPP that day. But since the Framework was never formerly adopted, and since his terms of reference were only about Rehabilitation and did not include Reintegration, he could not work on this. I told the Secretary about this problem and he told me Reintegration was implicit, but since there was no formal responsibility the Commissioner’s Bureau could not take charge, given all the others who wanted to stick their oars in. So after the excellent work in rehabilitation that was done, the former combatants were sent out on their own, and could not readily engage in productive activity.

I cleared out my files that day, taking photocopies of whatever seemed important. I had impressed upon Lalith the need to preserve our documentation but I had no faith that this would be done, and indeed when it was needed it could not be found. In the end my Director Administration was hauled out of retirement and he found everything piled higgledy piggledy in a room at SCOPP that did not seem to have been opened for a couple of years. He was asked to catalogue it, and he did, but a couple of years later the Foreign Ministry again asked me where everything was. I refused to answer unless they asked me in writing which they seem to have been too embarrassed to do, so I suspect the material is now all lost except for what I preserved and what I later collected.

I said my farewells in the evening to the staff I had worked so happily with over the last two years and two months, and went that night to the cottage in a state of exhaustion.

I record here a pleasant trip to Wasagamuwa before Felix left, and also the first visit of Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe to Vavuniya. But I also mention here the dismissal of Dayan Jayatilleka from Geneva, an utterly silly step since anyone who was thinking would have realized the West would not give up and we should not dismantle our defences. But the President, in Egypt for a Non-Aligned meeting with the sycophantic Foreign Ministry personnel who loathed Dayan and his abilities, gave in to pressure and no one in authority spoke up on his behalf.

The pictures are of the book I mention, and Dayan Jayatilleka, the best match in Geneva for Miliband’s machinations, and of the four generals who played musical chairs at this time.

26. Last journeys while at SCOPP

After meeting the still positive police, I set off with Felix for Aluwihare, hearing en route the changes government was making with regard to the army, Jagath being appointed Commander while Sarath Fonseka was promoted to being Chief of Defence Staff, a position with no powers. Chandrasiri, who had been Army Chief of Staff, was made Governor of the Northern Province and though Sarath later claimed this was not proper Chandrasiri threw himself into the work and achieved much, and could have achieved more had he been allowed a free hand.

We had dinner with Ena that night and then left after breakfast for Wasgamuwa, to stay at the Kadurupitiya Bungalow in the park, just Ena and Felix and me and the security contingent as well as Kithsiri and my other driver Ajith. We saw over 20 elephants that afternoon, and the next day much enjoyed sunrise over a heronry and sunset too. But we had to leave the next day, Monday, to get to Alu for breakfast and then a Prize Giving at Kurunagala I had promised to attend. It was at one of the schools run by Newton Peiris who had published several of my books through his International Book House, and he gave me now copies of The Best of British Bluff, a collection of essays by Kath and me which we had put together with a splendid cover for which Felix had found a picture of David Miliband looking particularly idiotic.

On the Wednesday, the Minister having finally decided to get up to Vavuniya, we went in a helicopter to Manik Farm and after touring one of the Zones we went in an armoured personnel carrier to a Rehabilitation Centre. Accompanying us was the new Commandant at Vavuniya, General Kamal Guneratne, who had led one of the Task Forces that destroyed the LTTE. He was large and looked terrifying but I found him actually very kind and helpful with regard to our work.

After a meeting a the kachcheri we flew back to Colombo, where I hosted at home a dinner for Amin Awad, who had been extremely helpful. It was the next day, Thursday July 23rd, that I had a call from Dayan about his summary dismissal. I tried to get through to Lalith to register my worries about this, but I could not get through and I rather suspect I could have achieved nothing given the forces ranged against him.

That Friday I went up to Kandy in time for drinks and dinner with Derrick, sending Felix to see the sights there the next day while I wrote. And the next day Felix went to the Botanical Gardens after breakfast while I began an article the People’s Bank had wanted, and then after lunch we went up through Nuwara Eliya to the cottage. But early on Monday we had to get back to Colombo for my last week at SCOPP.

With the determination of the government to close the Peace Secretariat prematurely, my work to shore up Human Rights became even more important, but there too we faced a problem. The IGP we had worked with was a very civilized man, but his successor Mahinda Balasuriya was dreadful and made it clear he was not interested. He transferred the excellent head of police training, Lalith Jayasinghe, and his very helpful assistant Ajith Rohana, so the handbook we were preparing was forgotten. And nothing was done about rolling out the training which I saw highlighted for the last time at the training school at Kallady I visited on one of my journeys in July.

The pictures are from the July visit to Vavuniya and the Refugee Centres

25.  Further work in the East

After seeing the hospital at Pulmuddai, we met the Divisional Secretary there to check on the situation and then visited two remote army camps which required ferry rides, marvelling at the endurance of the men posted during the war to these remote outposts. Then we had a swim at Uppuvelli Beach which I knew from happy days staying at the nearby orphanage when I looked after the English programme at the Trincomalee Affiliated University College, before I went back to Paterson Lodge.

Next morning we went on to Batticaloa where we stayed in a guest house, before a CBSM workshop the next morning. We visited the Municipal Council and the kachcheri to brief officials on what was expected from the CBSM, and I also went to the Training College, which was under-utilized because I was trying to get the President to do more about training English teachers. I had persuaded him the previous year to make this a priority, but he then appointed an old friend of his, Sunimal Fernando, who knew nothing about English or Education, to take charge of the project and nothing constructive was done.

I had an Al Jazeera interview while I was there, and then went to the Kallady Police School which was run by the seniormost officer who had participated in Scott’s workshop and seemed to be trying to roll out here the concepts he had absorbed. From there we went to the Welikanda Rehabilitation Centre and then went to the Polonnaruwa Resthouse where we all swam in the Parakrama Samudraya next to which it is situated.

I sent Felix with my security to have a look at the ruins next morning and drafted letters and a rebuttal to the Times which had produced outrageous figures about casualties based on very dubious arguments. And then after lunch we went to the Sigiriya Resthouse where Felix and my security climbed the Rock while I wrote some more.

We went for breakfast next day to the restaurant Kithsiri’s former boss had in Dambulla and I did the accounts for all these journeys while Felix and the security boys went to the caves, and then we went via the Nalanda Gedige to Ena’s for lunch. Then we went, this being Sunday, to the cottage for the night, taking in the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala on the way.

The next day in the midst of my other work at SCOPP I met the Navy Commander who was due to take over my office for a new position he was to be appointed to. Then on the Thursday I set off at 3am to get to Vavuniya, along with Jeevan, for a tour of all the camps, including the new Sumathipuram. I also went to the Nellikulam Rehabilitation Centre and then saw the GA before heading back to Colombo.

The next day I saw the Police Officers in charge of training, Lalith Jayasinghe who as Director had been extremely helpful and a youngster called Ajith Rohana who did very well later as the police spokesman, but all our plans came to naught because soon afterwards the very positive IGP was replaced by a blunderbuss called Mahinda Balasuriya who made it clear to the Minister when he was called in to talk about our initiatives that he had no time or inclination for Human Rights work.

After a visit down south to Getamanna, I went with Felix to the East, which included a visit too to the hospital in a deserted area north of Trincomalee. This had been set up to circumvent the trickery of the LTTE in sending down its own cadres in the guise of sick and injured when the ICRC, with support from our navy, brought people off from Mullivaikkal in the last days of the war.

The pictures however are from that first visit to the North, my interactions with former combatants, who responded very positively to my efforts to engage them.

24 The East as well

After my evening with Jagath and Sudantha, I went next day with one of the officers who had been a cadet at the SLMA with me, now in intelligence, to check on two centres where the former combatants were housed while being questioned. I spoke to a few who were good in their English and played ice-breaking games with the girls, who seemed to enjoy this. I mixed among them freely to the anxiety of my security contingent who had told my driver that life was very difficult for them since, if anything happened to me, their lives would not be worth living.

After lunch with my staff I went to the kachcheri to meet Mrs Charles and then had a meeting about education in the camps and protection, and then went to Anuradhapura since I wanted Felix to see something of the glories of the country. The rest of my staff went to Colombo, and I stayed there the next day, marking papers and drafting letters on the wonderful balcony at the old Tissawewa Resthouse while my driver and a couple of the security took him round the sites. And in the evening I drove with him to the Jetavanarama which looked stunning in the evening night.

The next morning I sent him to Mihintale while I finished my drafts and then drove to Yapahuwa which he climbed while I finished my marking. We had lunch at the archaeology circuit bungalow there and then went down to the cottage, it being Sunday night, having dropped in en route at the house of Sergeant Amarakoon to meet his wife and family.

Next Monday, the 29th of June,  we left the cottage early, to be told at the office that SCOPP was to close at the end of the next month. I took Felix to stay at Jeevan’s that night and next morning went to President’s House for breakfast with the Japanese Special Envoy Yakuo Akashi who had been very positive throughout about Sri Lanka. I should have realized then which way the wind was blowing for the only other person there was the President’s eldest son Namal. What I thought was simply an interesting meeting was a precursor to him becoming an important political player.

The following weekend, after Friday night at the cottage, I took Felix down to Unawatune for the night, when we were able to have drinks on the beach as the sun set. Next morning I took him to Getamanna for the annual family almsgiving which I was able to get to after three years, and then we went to the Deniyaya Resthouse for the night, with its beautiful views. The next morning it rained but the dramatic outlook was still lovely, and then we drove over the hills and via Ratnaputa to the cottage for that was a poya holiday.

After work the next day we drove to Trinco where I left Chamil and Felix at the Welcome Hotel and stayed myself at Paterson Lodge which I had so much enjoyed the previous year. I saw Janaka Walgama next morning after breakfast and then picked up Chamil to visit the GA and the Chief Minister and also the local UNHCR staff, and then drove up the coast with a ferry ride en route to Pulmuddai where government had had a hospital for those brought by the ICRC from the last LTTE enclave. The LTTE had sent more bystanders than sick, and when it became clear that some at least of these were infiltrators government decided it was best not to take them to the Trincomalee hospital, from which they could easily vanish, but to isolate them in this remote location. The Indians helped with setting up a well equipped hospital which had done yeoman service till the end of the war.

Unfortunately government did not make good use of these statistics later, to make it clear that we had done what we could for the people, and it was the LTTE that cared less for the sick than for its own cadres. The number of deaths in any war is half or less than the number of those injured, so the claims of massive numbers of dead, when far fewer than 10,000 sick were brought out by the ICRC, were clearly nonsensical.

I mention in this instalment the foolish decision of the government to close the Peace Secretariat. But this was a minor blunder compared with the major mistake of sacking Dayan from his ambassadorial position in Geneva, after his brilliant victory against the machinations of the West.

But I note too the immense amount of other work I was involved in, which limited efforts to correct these momentous mistakes.

The pictures are from June 25th, taken by Felix, and including Bindu. Primary education was a priority as was vocational training, and the Indians had set up a hospital which did yeoman service. Sadly government simply did not bother to make it clear how well we did in treating our displaced, much better than other countries in similar situations.

I did try, and brought out a book to showcase all this, but the Foreign Ministry was not interested at all.

23. The aftermath of the war

I stayed on in Europe to attend also the regular June UNHRC session, with multiple press interviews in England in between, and only got back to Colombo on Sunday June 14th. That week the forces staff were withdrawn from SCOPP, which I was sad about but I could understand we did not need them any more. The rest of the staff were wiser however and realized this meant the Peace Secretariat would be closed, and that indeed happened at the end of July. I had suggested to Lalith Weeratunge that it continue as a Secretariat for Reconciliation and I thought he had agreed, so I did not bother about lobbying the President.

But when nothing happened and I asked Lalith what was happening, he said he had made no commitment. It was probably too late by then, but I did not want to ask the President for what would be seen as a favour, since it was clear that those in authority had no idea what a blunder they were committing. But by now hubris had taken over, and they even sacked Dayan from Geneva, with disastrous consequences.

I was too busy however to bother about all this, what with interviews and meetings and much writing to do. I only had Friday night at my cottage that weekend, and on the Wednesday I was off to Vavuniya with some of my staff to check on the situation of the IDPs. I had left after some work at SCOPP so we got there only in time to meet the GA and check on the CBSM work, before I dropped my staff at a hotel and went to stay with the forces, in the airforce camp this time, so I could meet Chandrasiri and Jagath to find out more about the situation.

Apart from Bindu who ran the CBSM project I was accompanied by Kath Noble who was my Director of Communications, and Felix Vicat, son of my old friends in Oxford, Jane and Giles Vicat, who had come out the previous Sunday to spend six weeks of his gap year working as a volunteer at SCOPP. He was going on to King’s College for a degree in War Studies, and came back twice in the next two years to pick up material for his work. I had allocated him to Kath and they got on very well and produced some excellent publications to make clear how much work was being done for the Tamil people. And they both loathed David Miliband and did splendid demolition jobs on the outrageous claims made by him and his fellow travellers in the Labour Party who were solid supporters of the Tigers.

Next morning we were taken by one of Jagath’s officers whom I knew from the SLMA days for a tour of the different zones at Manik Farm plus Weerapuram, one of the new centres that had been set up. We found that though they were crowded everyone had decent shelter and the food distribution was adequate and the health facilities very good. In the afternoon we met with the International Organization for Migration at the kachcheri though I was sorry UNICEF did not attend as expected, and also discussed what more could be done for psychosocial support. And that night I had dinner with Jagath and Sudantha Ranasinghe who was now his chief support there, and whom I also knew well for he had been Commanding Officer at the SLMA and thoroughly supportive of my work.

We move now to the end of the war in this account of travel within Sri Lanka when I headed SCOPP. I mention the visit of Vijay Nambiar though I did not then know about the controversy surrounding the attempted surrender of some of the LTTE. But I do mention my worries about the communique the President issued with Ban ki Moon, whom I met at President’s House in Kandy before going to Geneva for the special session of the UN Human Rights Council which the West had finally set up. But that would not have been a problem had the President acted promptly which, obsessed by electoral considerations, his bane over the years, he failed to do.

The pictures are of Vijay Nambiar and Mark Gooding, though I have also included Vesak decorations from around that time, bucket lanterns on the tree outside the cottage I stayed in then and lanterns outside Kithsiri’s house.

22. The end of the war

That week I went to the Police Training College to inaugurate the workshop I had finally managed to get going, for ensuring human rights in police activities, with training on interrogation through simulations, given by Scott Richards. I had to deal over the rest of the week with the Danish Human Rights Ambassador, a Canadian Minister and a delegation of British MPs who were all fishing in troubled waters to gain electoral advantage at home; to talk to the Indian High Commissioner and his Deputy, both sympathetic but worried; the Tamil political parties twice with the President; two dinners for Asian ambassadors which the Minister arranged though I also persuaded him to have one sympathetic European at each; a CHAP Donor Appeal; and also monitoring of  the new Disaster Management Centre Building that was being constructed, as well as my own additions at the cottage.

But on Thursday night I got to the cottage, for Vesak the following day, for which Kithsiri’s small son Lohan had as usual put up lanterns for me. There was much to write and I also had an Al Jazeera interview on the Saturday, but it was wonderful to relax on my own.

But I had to get back on Sunday, for the Liberal Party Congress and to have Scott for lunch at home, and meet Jeevan and LC and face a BBC interview, before the Minister’s second ambassadorial dinner. And then the next day, after the opening of an English Teacher Training programme I had pushed for, and the CCHA at the Ministry of Defence, a press conference at the Presidential Secretariat and much else, I left again for Geneva for Dayan was worried about the West pushing for a Special Session on Sri Lanka to try to stop us concluding the war.

But that danger passed as I have noted in my account of visits to Geneva. So I was able to get back to Colombo on the 16th, my 55th birthday. I had the family and Nirmali and her daughter to the cottage for lunch, and stayed overnight. Next morning I got back for a lunch for Vijay Nambiar, Deputy Secretary General of the UN who was here for the end of the war and also, though I knew nothing about it at the time, the possible surrender of the leaders of the LTTE political wing. After a press conference at the Ministry that afternoon and seeing the President I had to also attend dinner for Nambiar at the Mount Lavinia Hotel. Hectic work that week, including efforts to ensure psychosocial counselling for those who had suffered in the war, was interspersed with going to Parliament on the 19th to hear the President announce victory, Prabhakaran having been killed the previous day, and a meeting with the Deputy British High Commissioner Mark Gooding, a shrewd operator whom I rather liked, to upbraid him about the efforts of the British to punish us for defeating terrorism.

For the West did now get the required signatures for a Special Session about Sri Lanka, and I had to leave again for Geneva on the Saturday night, having gone up to Kandy that afternoon to attend the dinner the President gave there for Ban ki Moon, the UN Secretary General, who had also turned up to check on the situation after the war. That was the night the President and he signed a joint communique which I was the only one there to suggest might be dangerous. Dayan in Geneva understood the implications too, but instructions were to use the communique in our discussions, and we did so and in the end roundly defeated the Western effort to undermine us.

After ten posts from Oxford, I move back to my Peace Secretariat days, and the approaching conclusion of the war in 2009. I note here the conclusion of the visit of Walter Kalin, the UN Special Representative on the Rights of the Displaced. He was very helpful, and would not let himself be guided by the junior UN staff, paid by the West, who tried to fulfil a Western agenda. In appreciation of his commitment, I hosted him at the end of his visit for lunch at my my cottage by the river. This pleased the also very helpful UN head, Neil Buhne.

And then we moved swiftly to the end of the war, with our forces finally breaking through the LTTE defences at Mullivaikkal, and rescuing a vast number of the civilians who had been held hostage.

The pictures are of the very helpful people I worked with at this stage, Kalin and Neil Buhne and John Holmes of the UN, Generals Jayasuriya and Chandrasiri who did so much for the displaced, and Jeevan Thiagarajah who did as much on a voluntary basis.

21

The beginning of the end of the LTTE From Omanthai Kalin and I went back to Vavuniya by helicopter, for lunch at the Kachcheri, and then visited a couple of the transit centres before seeing Jagath at headquarters. We stayed that night at the Palm Garden Lodge for Kalin to write his report and then next day, having flown to Colombo, I took Kalin to the cottage for lunch.

I had arranged this with Neil, who was happy about the arrangement and my specification that I did not want anyone else from the UN to come along. Kalin I think enjoyed the place, with the river running below, and was charming with Kithsiri’s children. Neil sent a car to Ingiriya to pick Kalin up as I had requested, and later sent me a thank you not to say how much he had appreciated the gesture. 

I slept after he went and then wrote up what was going on, for the SCOPP website was now one of the most visited sites for information about the war and its impact. Back in Colombo next morning we had a round up meeting for Kalin with the Minister, and I then had a press conference as well as several interviews over the next couple of days before leaving for a new year break in Thailand. Back then on the 15th, I left after three days for Geneva, for Dayan had wanted me around when a couple of Ministers made presentations, using the opportunity to brief friendly countries which were being subjected to a barrage of propaganda against us as the war began to draw to a conclusion.

By the time I got back home, on Sunday April 26th, our forces had broken through the LTTE’s bulwarks, and about 200,000 of those they had been holding hostage had been freed. This obviously meant a great effort at Manik Farm, and the world was watching closely, with John Holmes in Colombo on yet another visit. He was balanced as usual, but it was not so easy dealing with the British government representatives, a Minister as well as a group from DFID.

That Thursday I went up to Aluvihare, for a lovely day with Ena on Friday 1st May which was a holiday, though I had to deal with a lot of calls before relaxing on the lawn for drinks before dinner. And then Jeevan arrived, for we had arranged to leave early the next morning for Vavuniya. We had breakfast with Chandrasiri and then met with the NGOs and UNHCR and Jagath, who was still dealing with the laststages of the war. We then went to Manik Farm where we had lunch before checking on the medical arrangements at the clinic that had been established. Then there was a final meeting with the UN before we went back to the camp for tea, getting back to Alu for the night.

The next day was a welcome contrast, coffee on the lawn, breakfast with Ena and Jeevan, and then staying on after he left for lunch with her before getting to Colombo to meet again with Jeevan and L C Perera and also Mohan Peiris whom I thought of then as a positive member of the team. But I then went off to the cottage, to write quite a bit including a comment on what David Miliband had been up to in his insidious effort to save the LTTE, purely for electoral purposes as he confided in the Americans.

These last letters from that second summer describe much activity, but they mask what I still think of as my greatest disappointment, failing to get on Standing Committee as I had hoped. The then President changed the electoral system at the last minute, to privilege those with a committed political base, so the two positions went to hard conservative and labour party stalwarts – I was eliminated by one of my proteges by a whisker, and I suspect he knew the system had been changed to make sure he was elected, as the President later admitted.

The pictures are of that party at Evenlode in Gloucestershire which I mention, my long suffering SRC Rep dressed as Nell Gwynne at the Delusionists, and a picture of the Chalet from the previous year, which conveys something of the splendour of the scenery.

From the city of aquatint 30

June 1973

I thought the card looked a bit crude, but horseshoes are supposed to be the thing, aren’t they? Took part in the Univ – funny – regatta and fell off my slide continuously, made my Union paper speech to tumultuous – Univ-based – applause, established myself as a fascist at SRC, played rounders against the Dean’s team and lost, finally decided not to go to America, got up and served on the morning after the Boat Club dinner and felt dead all day, discovered a shortage of handkerchiefs – hint – as the advantages of your pyjamas suggestion, and worked hard enough to have one rotten tutorial and one good one.

Perhaps the lack of letters is explained by forgetting to post the birthday card I wrote to Hope and Kaly about the 20th, but I’m sure I did, and I can’t find it here. Sorry for any worries caused, and have a marvelous week – I shall be up on the 15th night, waiting for Union election results, and shall think of the great do.

PS – I shall be here throughout July for Punch and anyone else who might come, except for the first week.

27th June 1973

Happy Birthday for today – it was not forgetfulness or carelessness, but a desire to finalize my plans, which were thrown into confusion by $300 from the Stokeys arriving for my fare, to which I succumbed, though only for 4 weeks. I leave for the States on the 15th of July, after Punch & Peggy’s daughter’s wedding, and go straight to the Chalet on the 11th of August, and then have a week in Italy with A. Thilaka’s sister, and a week in France with a friend, till about the middle of September. Shall send you the Chalet address if mail comes there, the Stokey address being – I seem to have lost it, so Concord Rd will have to do.

I had a chaotic 2 weeks before term ended, 7th week spent in a terrific tussle with the lefties in the JCR which culminated in my attitude to S.R.C. being deplored, and my N.U.S. Rep. – who only stood for office for my sake – being censured.

Disturbance 5 hours ago by my P.P.E. protégés coming in with exam fever, so we went out to dinner and got caught to a thunderstorm and smoked cigars and philosophized and Unionized. One of them got onto Standing Committee last week – I didn’t barely, but I did come 2nd  for Treasurer, to everyone’s surprise, even though it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t win – and we just got back, which says a lot for my looking after, when I’d given the S.R.C. Rep a lecture on not looking after the 1st year exam candidates properly. Anyway, that’s what happens when one ought to work. I’ve got a lunch in the country tomorrow with a pathetic man from Merton who might have won Treasurer but failed and came 3rd, dinner with a Don, 2 parties next evening and Cornwall on Saturday. I went to Bexhill also to relax after 3 dinners and 3 parties in 6 days which got me to bed after 2 each day, but having recovered, it starts again.  It’s not worth refusing through – only 2 years more. Do send me dates of your trip soon, & I’ll write before leaving.

This records a wonderful summer, though I note my disillusionment with politics and also how very happy I was in an almost empty College. But this was in part because of the continuing hospitality of the dons.

Sadly there is just the one letter surviving of that very full term. A taste of the relentless activity I engaged in is presented in the penultimate paragraph here.

There is no mention therefore of another of my entertaining wheezes, a music performance on May Morning from the top of the Radcliffe Tower outside my rooms. The Magdalen choiristers were famous for greeting the morn from their tower but we caught the crowds returning with bagpipes and a recording of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and balloons thrown to them.

There were no repercussions, understandably because I had got the Dean and Chaplain involved, and the latter gave us oysters and Black Velvet in his rooms afterwards.

The last two pictures are of Morar Lucas whom I took to lunch in 2017 when I visited a number of friends in the West Country of England. Her husband, the famous philosopher John Lucas, was in hospital, but he recovered, and only passed away earlier this year. She was the soul of kindness, to both my sister and me, having worked with my uncle Lakshman when he was a curate in the East End of London.

From the city of aquatint 29

4th April 1973

I must confess my own determination to come back has weakened slightly and, my results having just come out today, with a 2nd, I’ve decided in any case to do a postgraduate somewhere before returning, though unfortunately I probably shan’t be able to do it here. Five of us here got 2nds, though the sixth failed completely, which is a bit upsetting. 

Having spent days at Clara’s, I came here last week partly to finish my work as I shall have to be free in London for Thatha, partly because I can’t bear to be away from here. I had various people around last week, including Aruna, and this week the Opera twice, once with the only Don left in College, and yesterday I found myself next to the Junior Dean and his wife who’ve asked me for dinner tomorrow. But even the weekend, when I was practically alone in College except for the barman in the Beer Cellar, was marvelous. I hope I have the energy to escape from Oxford next summer.

The Dean and Chaplain return tonight from the Schools’ men reading party to Cornwall, and I hope to get them to lunch to meet Thatha at Pam’s – I hope they’ll be satisfied with the 2nd – my tutor seemed delighted.

This morning I spent at the Union and, being now trusted by the Higher Echelons, witnessed the opening of the President’s correspondence, and subsequent resealing – done at Balliol, of course – which was fascinating, but quite disillusioning, as there were the Senior Members of our side which considers the other dishonest. I think I shall find the Union elections fun next term, but I can’t quite see myself fitting into one side or the other sufficiently dedicatedly enough to get very high.

1st June 1973

I’ve got time today between a play in Magdalen Deer Park, produced by Univ. mainly – I feel quite powerful, because as I went in the Producer said he’d left his accounts for me, as though what the JCR gave them depended on what the play seemed like tonight! – and the late night film ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ with a Leslie charabanc.

After half an hour at S.R.C. – the Central Students Union which is the preserve of the horrid left and where my identification with conservatism has led to trouble with the Labour Club – I spent the afternoon on the river, where Univ. is slowly but surely going down in the Eights Week races. I had to play patience with the Captain of Boats last week and tell him it wasn’t his fault – it was quite melancholy, but the refreshments were good today and the 1st VIII wasn’t bumped. Unfortunately my program of work this morning was ruined by the Choir Conductor’s champagne to celebrate his retirement, due to a tiff with Lady Maud over a Victorian evening, which is a very complicated story. But I’m not as behind as I was last week when Enid and Frank came round on Sunday, Puff on Monday, and the aftermath of the Victorian evening went on till 4. 

Luckily, due to hard work in the previous 3 weeks, George Cawkwell had given me a light week, and philosophy consists of bluff anyway, though I was crushed in the argument, due to Covent Garden the night before with Burgess, when we were stopped on the way back for going through a red light by a policeman who kept saying ‘diabolical’, and breathalysed Burgess, though the alcohol content was far below the level. This was after Covent Garden on Saturday with Leslie, when my neighbour and I fled a party for which we’d foolishly lent our rooms, to discover chaos when we returned. Imagine Jeremy – whom you’ve seen on TV – and me walking through the quads, trying to think up a way of stopping the party to get to bed, being helpfully told by Burgess to let off a fire–extinguisher. We got rid of them by 3. I shall probably give up by my 3rd year, and relapse into cloistered study, unable to keep up the pace – but it’s so magnificent while it lasts.

Due to a combination of circumstances that leaves me with only 3 weeks free between Punch and the Swiss Chalet, I might end up staying in Oxford, or at least England, till the 2nd week of August, so do send Aachchi if you can. Tell Punch I met the Lucases, who are delightful.

P.S. Thank everyone for birthday cards. Out to dinner on the 16th, had a few to a party at the H.C.’s and hurt a few feelings!

Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2020
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