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Edith Nesbit 1858 - 1924

In writing recently about two best-selling authors of schoolboy stories, I realised that I had in fact neglected the great classics of children’s literature that had been published in the first few years of the 20th century. The first of these that I should look at are the works of Edith Nesbit, for she was I believe the founder of the genre of adventure stories for children. Previously, literature for children had been intended to uplift and, though this occasionally led to interesting stories, as in Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water Babies’, by and large what the Victorians thought children should read was not really much fun, certainly not for youngsters who wanted to be entertained rather than uplifted.

It was then the wonderful worlds that Edith Nesbit created in the years after old Queen Victoria’s death, in 1901, that laid the foundations for the books that have thrilled youngsters since, from the works of C S Lewis to those of J K Rowling in more recent years. That formula, of magic impinging on the day to day lives of ordinary children, was created in three superb and very different stories, ‘Five Children and It’, ‘The Phoenix and the Carpet’ and ‘The Story of the Amulet’.

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This is an extract from the Reading Materials in English that are available in the English and Education section of the website of the Liberal Party of  Sri Lanka,

The entire text of Historic Buildings by Goolbai Gunasekara, covering twelve famous constructions, is now available on that website.

Potala Palace - Lhasa, Tibet

Tibet has been isolated from the world for a long time. The capital city is Lhasa and it used to be called ‘The Forbidden City’ because travelers and strangers were not welcomed. Tibet used to be under the rule of the Dalai Lama who was the head of the Buddhist religion as it was practised in Tibet.

Tibet is situated high up in the great range of Himalayan mountains that lie to the north of India. It is to the south west of China, and China claims that Tibet has always been a part of China. However it had its own independent Government for a long time and, though it came under Chinese domination at various times during the last millennium, the Dalai Lama and his predecessors always had a different system of rule from that of the Chinese Emperor in Beijing.

The young Dalai Lama aged 22

In the 20th century, after being dominated for over a hundred years by foreign powers, China began to reassert itself. A revolution in 1911 swept away the Emperor, but this was followed by many years of internal struggle. In the 1930s Japan took over much of the eastern coast, which was the political and economic center of China. The Nationalist government and the Communist party that was challenging it came together to oppose Japan but, when the Japanese were finally expelled with Western assistance at the end of the Second World War, the Civil War in China resumed.

Finally, in 1949, the Communist Party under Mao Ze Dong chased the Nationalist party leader Chiang Kai Shek, and his government, to Taiwan, an island a couple of hundred miles off the east of China. Then, in 1950, the Communist government sent an army of invasion into Tibet. The Dalai Lama, who was very young then, fled to India nine years later, after an unsuccessful revolt by the Tibetan people against the Chinese forces. Since then he has headed a government in exile in a place called Dharmasala in Northern India. Read the rest of this entry »

This is an extract from the Reading Materials in English that are available in the English and Education section of the website of the Liberal Party of  Sri Lanka,

The entire text of Historic Buildings by Goolbai Gunasekara, covering twelve famous constructions, is now available on that website.

The Alhambra in Granada, Spain

The Alhambra is in Granada, Spain. It is situated on a hill overlooking the city and it is one of the most famous examples of Moorish architecture. The Moors conquered Spain in the 8th century AD and ruled it for over 700 years. They brought Islam to a Christian country but they did not force the people to be Muslims. Instead they set about building beautiful palaces and great mosques. They were sophisticated and elegant and, under the Moors, Spain reached a high stage of development in Art, Architecture, Medicine, Science and Law.

The Alhambra was begun in the 10th century and gradually evolved into being a fortress, a palace and a Court. Alhambra means ‘Red Castle’ and the red bricks that were used in certain sections probably gave it this name.

"Honeycomb," "stalactite," or "mocárabe" vaulting in the Hall of the Abencerrajes

In the Alhambra lived the Emirs or Kings of Granada. They made it into the most marvellous of Moorish palaces. European Kings would see it and be rendered speechless by the beauty of its many halls and the stunning visual impact of the decorated walls.

The Muslim religion does not allow human figures to be depicted in art so Muslim artists turned to geometric designs and floral patterns, which they combined with such glorious effect that they have held the imagination of visitors for centuries. Moorish artists also made good use of calligraphy in their designs for decoration.

Court of Lions

The most famous tourist attraction today is the Court of the Lions. Moors loved gardens. As they came from desert lands they also loved water. Being great engineers they diverted water from the hills to feed the city of Granada, and in the Alhambra there are huge pools with many fountains spraying water to create the illusion of coolness. There are also deep canals carrying water to planned gardens. The Moors considered that gardens were an extension of Paradise on earth and the gardens of the Alhambra are truly like Paradise.

In 1829 the writer Washington Irving, an American, visited Spain. He got permission from the Governor of Granada to stay in a tiny apartment in the now deserted Alhambra palace. He was enchanted. To him the Alhambra was the epitome of refinement and elegance. A British writer Samuel Butler said

‘The Moors believe Granada lies

Directly under Paradise.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Emperor Asoka of the Maurya Dynasty

Emperor Asoka of India sent Buddhist missionaries to countries like China, Burma (now known as Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Sri Lanka. Most of these countries accepted some form of Buddhism, and their art and architecture was greatly influenced by Indian art. In Indonesia the Temple of Borobudur is one such instance. In Cambodia the great Temple of Angkor Wat is a magnificent example of this influence exerted by India.

A hundred years ago nobody in the modern world knew of Angkor. How had this happened? For different reasons, the city of Angkor had been left empty and, after a few centuries the jungle grew over the temple and the city, hiding them from view. Cambodians forgot about it. Old Chinese history books spoke of a great temple in Cambodia but no one knew where it was, since no one lived in that forested area any longer.

A source of great national pride, Angkor Wat has been depicted in Cambodian national flags since 1863

One day in 1850 a French missionary saw some old ruins in a jungle and he wrote a description of them. In 1860 an Englishman named D O King visited what he could of the ruins, and wrote an article about them. But the credit for discovering the famous old temple goes to Henry Mouhot, a French scientist who went into the jungle and lived for three weeks in the ruins of Angkor. He studied them. Scholars took notice of this newly discovered city and so the restoration of the city and of its greatest building, the temple of Angkor Wat, began.

Little by little the jungle was cleared away. The rooms and statues of the temple were cleaned. Mud and earth were swept out. The lovely temple, and several others, emerged for the first time after centuries of being hidden beneath undergrowth and trees. Read the rest of this entry »

This is an extract from the Reading Materials in English that are available in the English and Education section of the website of the Liberal Party of  Sri Lanka,

The entire text of Historic Buildings by Goolbai Gunasekara, covering twelve famous constructions, is now available on that website.

Huayna Picchu towers above the ruins of Machu Picchu

The city of Machu Picchu is another one of history’s mysteries. It lies high up in the Andes mountains of Peru in South America. No one in the modern world had ever heard of this lost city till the 20th century.

Gold statue of Inca Sun God - Inti

When the Spaniards conquered South America in the early 16th century, the soldiers of Spain were called Conquistadors. They were cruel and destructive. They burnt down all the beautiful cities of the Incas in Peru and the Aztec in Mexico. They killed the Inca and Aztec kings. They took all the gold of South America back to Spain. Nothing of those civilizations exists today except the great buildings and temples which could not be destroyed by the Spanish.

Fortunately for everyone, the Spaniards did not find the city of Machu Picchu. This may have been because of the difficulty in getting there. Machu Picchu is not easy to reach. The roads are not very good and it was too far away for the Conquistadors to worry about. So nobody bothered about this little city hidden away in its mountain retreat.

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Charles Haviland - BBC News

An exchange of views with the BBC in relation to a report of the Elders Group on Sri Lanka.

Question from the BBC

“The elders say that some recent positive change within Sri Lanka is tainted by “intolerance of debate or dissent and a culture of impunity that protects those close to the govt”.

Response in 40 words please.

Actual response, but edited and used by the BBC without the question, which may cause confusion

“As with many retired elders, these simplify and preach, instead of making recommendations to build on the positive changes they finally recognize. There is certainly no lack of dissent and criticism of government as seen daily in papers and Parliament”.

The BBC version

An MP from the governing coalition, Rajiva Wijesinha, said that retired elders were “simplifying and preaching” instead of making recommendations to build on the positive change. He said there was no lack of dissent and criticism – and this was seen daily in newspapers and the parliament.

Source: BBC News South Asia  3 August 2010

Response to a report of the Elders Group on Sri Lanka (English) –

Response to a report of the Elders Group on Sri Lanka (Sinhala) –

BANGKOK, 21 July 2010

The government has defended its development and resettlement programme, with Rajiva Wijesinha, a member of parliament, saying:

“Education and health facilities are back to what they were before the war; in fact, better in some areas.”

The government has also established language and employment policies designed to assist in integration and overcome the alienation that led to much of the civil unrest, Wijesinha told IRIN.

Moreover, it has established a Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (CLLR), with a mandate to examine what led to the breakdown of a ceasefire in 2002 and all activities that followed until the end of hostilities in 2009. ….

According to Wijesinha, the international community should now focus on the future rather than the past.

“I think the biggest challenge is the idea that reconciliation is all about the past, about war crimes and possible punishment for these,” he said.

“Sadly, some claim that reconciliation is impossible without reckonings, which I think takes attention away from all the positive actions that are happening.”

Source: IRIN Asia  21 July 2010

Rajiva Wijesinha, the former secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, and currently a member of the Sri Lankan parliament, told Al Jazeera that the panel’s launch is an “extremely regrettable action“.

‘Picking on the small’

“It stems from pressure on the secretary-general [Ban Ki-moon] from so-called human rights groups and some so-called independent officials like Philip Alston [the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions], who thinks it is easier to pick on a small country like Sri Lanka,” he said.

“We have said very clearly that if we are given solid evidence of incidents, we will explore them, and the US state department pointed out particular issues which we will look into, but we have no time to focus on all these sorts of allegations by people with no sense of responsibility.”

Source: Al Jazeera News – Central/S.Asia  23 June 2010

Written following the Parliamentary debate on reforms suggested to make justice more accessible, this essay reflects on amendments to increase the number of High Court Judges

Hulftsdorp Court complex, Sri Lanka

Having been made aware recently of delays in the judicial process, I was pleased that one of the first pieces of legislation of the current Parliament dealt with increasing the number of High Court judges. The amendment seemed small in scope, but it dealt with a crucial area where it is important that we move to greater professionalism and accountability.

One reason for continuing criticism of our judicial system is, very simply, that our judges are overworked. This leads to inordinate delays in meting out justice. Apart from the simple principle, that justice delayed is justice denied, it is also unfortunately true that such delays strike hardest at the relatively deprived in our society. The amendment then was a welcome first step towards making our judicial system more responsive to the needs of the people. Read the rest of this entry »

Soon after the First World War, there emerged a new type of schoolboy story which was very different to the public school sort of which Frank Richards was the most famous, if somewhat subversive, exponent. As noted last week, the values that such books celebrated – in general, if not in the person of Billy Bunter – were those the ruling classes were expected to uphold in the service in particular of the British Empire.

Both the Empire and the ruling classes however were less supremely in control  after the War, and titles such as ‘Play Up, Royals’ and ‘Our Fellows at St Mark’s’, redolent of exhortations to a collective to live up to common ideals, had to compete with the very different priorities of the emerging middle class. Of course it may be argued that I am reading too much into different tastes amongst different groups at different periods, but to me the title of the first book in a series that was to dominate schoolboy fiction over the half century after the war sums up the very different approach to life that took over Britain during this period.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2010
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