You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2010.

Lawrence Durrell

Though sex and sexuality had always been amongst the staples of literature, it was only in the thirties that graphic representation of sexual activity laid claim to being considered as high literature. Pornography of course had always existed, but previously it had been something kept under the counter, and even the classics of antiquity had sometimes been issued in expurgated form to ensure that literature remained pure.

The name that is most commonly associated with the change that took place between the wars is that of Henry Miller, whose Tropic of Capricorn I remember reading, with some disappointment, when I was a schoolboy, having found it on my parents’ bookshelves. He, and other experimental authors as they were described at the time, were published by something called the Olympia Press in Paris, founded by a man called Maurice Girodias. I discovered one of their publications at the old Gunasena’s Bookshop when I was buying prizebooks, and took hold of it eagerly, though I did not venture to take it to school to be duly stamped as a prizebook. It was a parody of the Odyssey, and seemed to me much more entertaining than Miller, as was also the 18th century classic Fanny Hill, lent to me by a fellow prizewinner at school, who later became a lay preacher.

Despite his seminal efforts, no pun intended, Miller is now largely forgotten, and it is not only because he is American that I am not including him in this series. However, one of the group that worked with him in Paris, Lawrence Durrell, having duly published there The Black Book, which only appeared in England in 1973, went on to much greater things after the war. He spent much of this in Egypt, working for the British government as a press attaché, and based on this experience he published The Alexandria Quartet between 1957 and 1960. Before that he had worked for the British government in hotspots such as Yugoslavia, when Tito was cutting himself away from Soviet influence, and in Cyprus when the islanders were seeking freedom from the British so as to unite with Greece. One must assume then that he was involved in all the intrigues that Britain engaged in through gifted amateurs, in the days before spies turned professional and self-consciously dangerous.

Read the rest of this entry »

Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue at the Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

The ability to deal on equal terms with the world at large demands better English, which is an area we have neglected appallingly in the last few decades. In the old days I fear we had a very superior attitude to Indian English, and indeed we still find people in Sri Lanka who believe that only Colombo, apart from one or two denizens of Mayfair, now uses correctly the language of Shakespeare. Such people also look down on the Indian education system in comparison with ours, and talk loftily of our high literacy rates in comparison with the rest of the sub-continent.

Certainly we have much to be proud of with regard to basic education, but we seem since independence to have lagged further and further behind you with regard to promoting excellence. We killed diversity, we killed initiative. Contrariwise, you developed not only institutions such as the IITs, but also world class universities as well as research centres of accomplished professionalism, on a par with the best in the rest of the world.

We have begun now to understand this, and I am pleased that we are relying on India for support for the new Spoken English initiative. Ten years ago the Ministry of Education wanted to promote cooperation with the Centre in Hyderabad, but this died away with the advent of Ranil Wickremesinghe to power, and it was not revived until a couple of years ago.

But in addition to that, we should learn too from you about the promotion of English medium education for not just the privileged, about the programmes you are developing for public-private partnerships in education, about the development of educational materials suitable for and accessible by the majority of our youngsters. When your Foreign Secretary was High Commissioner in Sri Lanka we tried to work together to promote cooperation in educational publishing, but the traditionalists in our Ministry of Education killed that project, and indeed ensured that the wonderful primary English readers that alone we obtained for distribution to students were not used effectively. I have recently come across them locked up in cupboards in rural primary schools, killed stone dead.

Read the rest of this entry »

Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue at Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

But, in addition to these areas where we should work together for conceptual change, there are obviously more practical ways of improving things. In particular I believe we can profitably follow Indian examples with regard to providing a range of options in higher and vocational education. Replicating something like the IITs for instance in previously deprived regions would help with promoting the excellence we need while also showing our commitment to equity.

I was thus delighted recently to hear that our Ministry of Youth Affairs has been in contact with an Indian Non-Governmental Organization that has developed a heartening model for Vocational Training. In Sri Lanka we had concentrated too much in this regard on technical training that came close to being academic, with long courses that made no provision for the varied needs of the workplace. Aide et Action, as the Organization is called (actually of French origin, but it has developed a decentralized system of management that gives priority to local expertise), has instituted short carefully targeted courses that also develop soft skills. I was pleasantly surprised, having attended a couple of their events in India over the last year, to see the confidence of the youngsters who had benefited from their training, the skills bestowed on girls who were breaking into non-traditional occupations whilst also able to stand up for themselves in the workplace as well as at home, the capacity for self-expression and analysis.

This sort of model can benefit us tremendously, especially in the context of the single parent families that will be one of the lasting legacies of the conflict we have gone through. It was encouraging therefore that the Ministry now in charge of Vocational Training had registered the possible impact of such work, and has encouraged an expansion of Aide et Action’s work in Sri Lanka.

Read the rest of this entry »

Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue at the Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

Returnees at Work

But all this is for the future. For the present, what needs to be done to ensure continuing cooperation of the sort that allowed us to overcome terrorism so effectively, while forestalling any backlash within India? In the first place, obviously, we need to continue with activities that will ensure the confidence of the Tamil people within Sri Lanka, but also outside. I refer here by the latter not only to people in Tamil Nadu, but also to the diaspora, some of whom were prepared to threaten the unity of India in addition to that of Sri Lanka, in seeking to deal with grievances real and imaginary.

In what are I think the most important respects, we have done a good job, and will obviously continue on that path. I mean here the programme of rapid resettlement, together with the rehabilitation of former combatants, most of whom we realize were relatively innocent victims of Tiger compulsions. The figures here speak for themselves, and we cannot stress enough how the myths of yesteryear, that we were keeping the displaced in long-term detention, that we were treating former cadres as prisoners, have been so conclusively exploded.

We made it clear that we could not return the displaced immediately, because of the landmines, because of the need for at least basic infrastructure to be in place before people could resume their lives, and because of security considerations. But we made a pledge, soon after the defeat of the Tigers, that the bulk of the returns would take place within six months, and we stuck by this, albeit with slight delays. We must appreciate in this regard the confidence India placed in us, and also the enormous assistance proffered for the purpose, in particular with regard to demining and the provision of shelter. In a sense that approach was an object lesson to those who were less anxious about the displaced than about scoring brownie points with pressure groups through vociferous criticisms of the Sri Lankan state.

Read the rest of this entry »

Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue at the Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

The election of President Rajapakse in 2005 saw a regime that began with a perspective that its predecessors had wasted valuable time in acquiring. Though he continued with the Ceasefire Agreement and tried to negotiate with the LTTE, he also realized the importance of strengthening his defences, spurred as he also was by the blatant violations of the CFA by the Tigers in the first couple of months after he took office. Helped by having a Presidential Secretary and a Secretary of Defence who had no financial or family connections with arms dealers, an unusual state of affairs for Sri Lankan officials, he was able to build up a confident and disciplined military. So too, when the negotiations began, the Sri Lankan government had no illusions about the bad faith of the Tigers, and they could stick to principles without succumbing to Tiger threats or blandishments. Efforts by the Tigers to sweep the issue of child soldiers under the carpet for instance were resisted firmly.

This was the more difficult because the Tigers had used the follies of the Wickremesinghe years, and the slipshod approaches of the Kumaratunga period that followed, to enhance their standing with the so-called international community. The UN for example had poured money into Tigerland with no supervision of what was done with it, while a few Western nations hankered after the happy days of Wickremesinghe when they were allowed to call the shots. The United States, I should note, was an exception to this since, though under severe pressure from the Tiger led diaspora and international agencies that saw themselves as arbiters of the destiny of smaller nations – the smaller the better, for their proconsular purposes – they understood the need to stand firm against terrorism.

But even the United States had to speak with a characteristically Western forked tongue, and it was on its old friends in the Non-Aligned Movement, plus the former Socialist bloc, that Sri Lanka had to rely most heavily in this most momentous period in her recent history. India was foremost amongst these, and kept its position straight despite much more potentially significant pressures from politicians in Tamilnadu. The Indians made it clear that there should be no indulgence to the Tigers, but all efforts should be made to improve the position of the Tamils.

Read the rest of this entry »

Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

But before we look to the future, let us review relations in the past, and the generally positive tenor of interactions. In the first decade after independence there were some slight tensions, caused I believe largely by our own adherence to an Old Commonwealth model of independence, and suspicion on the part of at least one of our leaders of the emerging idea of Non-Alignment. I should note however that Nehru’s effortless superiority may also have contributed to a sense of resentment, as may be seen in the retort of Sir John Kotelawala when Nehru remonstrated with him for his unabashedly pro-Western speech at Bandung. Upbraided for not having consulted Nehru beforehand, Sir John responded that Nehru had not consulted him before his own much more significant speech.

Fortunately that situation changed with the election of Mr Bandaranaike whose approach to international relations was much more in line with Nehru’s. Personal affinities continued when Mrs Bandaranaike took over, and in time her own relations with Indira Gandhi took cooperation between the countries further. Thus we had Sri Lanka able to offer itself as a peace-maker during the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, and also maintaining the trust of India despite providing refuelling facilities to Pakistan during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan conflict, when India disallowed Pakistan flying over her territories to what was then East Pakistan, soon to become Bangladesh.

Those days saw too the Sirima-Shastri pact which provided a mutually acceptable solution to the problem of the then stateless labour which the British had brought over for their plantations, as well as a determination in favour of Sri Lanka of the status of Kachchativu, an island in the Palk Straits between the two countries. Underlying the generally benevolent Indian approach to Sri Lanka then was I believe total confidence that we would support Indian interests in any international forum.

Read the rest of this entry »

Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue. Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

In writing many years ago about the Indo-Lankan Accord of 1987, the single most crucial element in bilateral relations since the independence of both countries, I made the following assessment –

The full text of the Accord, revealed only after it had been signed, indicated that in order to win peace Jayawardene had gone far down the road he had tried to avoid. It had already been let slip the previous week that the President would have discretion to postpone the referendum whereby the east could break free from the north if the union proved unsatisfactory. Apart from this and an agreement to appoint an interim administration for the area (which would allow immediate power to the terrorist groups), there was also an appendix to the Accord that, in dealing with Indo-Lankan relations as apart from the internal conflict, made clear that Sri Lanka had formally accepted Indian suzerainty over the region. 

In this appendix, which took the form of an exchange of letters of intent, Jayawardene agreed to ‘reach an early understanding about the relevance and employment of foreign military and intelligence personnel’, that ‘Trincomalee or any other ports in Sri Lanka will not be available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interests’, that ‘the work of restoring and operating the Trincomalee oil tank farm will be undertaken as a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka’ and that ‘Sri Lanka’s agreements with foreign broadcasting organizations will be reviewed to ensure that any facilities set up by them in Sri Lanka are used solely as public broadcasting facilities and not for any military or intelligence purposes’.

Perhaps there had been little gain to the country from Jayawardene’s manoeuvres over the past few years and the letters of intent did no more than enunciate what should have from the start been accepted as a cornerstone of any realistic foreign policy for a small country situated so helplessly at the tip of India.  Yet that this should have been set down in writing was indeed a triumph for Gandhi.[i]

In an earlier version of this analysis, I had noted the type of manoeuvre Jayewardene had engaged in, viz ‘with regard to the Voice of America, Israeli agents, Pakistani military training, and the shadowy companies that had been chosen for the tank farm concession’[ii]. I had argued before that Jayawardene’s efforts to present himself as a knight on the side of the West in what turned out to be the dying years of the Cold War were potentially disastrous for Sri Lanka. So it proved, and in getting this reversed India engaged in a programme that sadly provided terrorist groups with support that facilitated their development into dangerous entities.

On the  occasion of the DSC South Asia Literature Festival, London – October 2010

I must thank the organizers of DSC South Asian Literature Festival for giving me this opportunity to introduce from Bridging Connections, the first anthology of short stories to showcase writing from all three Sri Lankan languages. It was published by the National Book Trust of India, and has now been translated into several Indian languages, including Tamil which is of course one of the Sri Lankan languages too. 

Regrettably the Sri Lankan education system until recently ensured that most Sri Lankans were stuck in reading knowledge of one language only. Students were compulsorily educated in their mother tongue, and in most parts of the country schools were segregated, not only as Sinhala and Tamil schools, but also as separate Muslim schools. Though English was in theory a compulsory second language, it was not necessary to pass any exams in it, so it was usually neglected. The other language, Sinhalese for Tamils and Tamil for Sinhalese, was rarely taught.

 Fortunately that situation has changed in the last decade, with the second national language being made compulsory in schools, though as yet with no compulsion to pass in it. However knowledge of this is now compulsory for new recruits into government service. In addition, English medium education is now permitted, which will once more enable people of different ethnic groups to study together.

For the older generation however the problem continues. Though this volume will at least enable some Sri Lankans to read stories written originally in the other national language, we must remember that this will be confined to a small elite, namely those who read readily in English. We have yet to develop better policies and abilities in translation, though I should note that steps in the right direction are at long last being taken.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sir Terence Rattigan

Born over a decade after Noel Coward, Terence Rattigan only established himself as a dramatist after the Second World War, but then lost his standing rapidly in the new wave of theatre that engulfed Britain in the fifties. Unsurprisingly I think that genre, including what was known as kitchen sink drama, which seemed to privilege the aggressively sordid in its adherence to realism, was soon forgotten, allowing a revival of Rattigan and his more subtle subjects, plotting and characterization.

Rattigan’s first major success was The Winslow Boy, which was based on the case of a cadet expelled from the Naval College for stealing in the run up to the First World War. His brother, who became a Conservative MP, was convinced of his innocence, and got his father to challenge the verdict. The case was taken up by Sir Edward Carson, later famous for opposing the Liberal government’s plans for Home Rule for a unified Ireland, and the cadet’s name was cleared. He died subsequently in the War.

Rattigan changed the story somewhat, to include a suffragette sister who was the boy’s main champion, his brother becoming a student whose career at Oxford was disrupted because the money to finance him was expended in the case. The sister’s boyfriend is pressurized by his military father to break off the engagement, though it is suggested that she might end up happily with the barrister, in spite of his opposition to suffragettes. These additional emotional complications do not however detract from the basic story of the victimized youth and the suffering inflicted on his family by the repercussions of such an allegation.

Read the rest of this entry »


Richard De Zoysa

Introductory remarks by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha to a discussion after the presentation of the docu-drama on the  occasion of the DSC South Asian Literature Festival, London – October 2010


In the run up to this festival, I was struck by an article that related Richard de Zoysa’s murder, way back in 1990, to recent attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka, and in particular to the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of ‘The Sunday Leader’. In one sense this is understandable, because both cases involved murder, and murder clearly for political reasons. Strengthening condemnation in such cases by drawing attention to previous such occurrences obviously makes sense.

At the same time this should not detract from the differences. Richard’s murder took place in the context of pervasive violence against the southern youth insurrection of the time, the thousands of disappearances that are still on record as unsolved at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. In those days Human Rights was not fashionable in Colombo, because the insurrection was against a government that represented Colombo’s elite. Richard was seen in some quarters as a traitor to his class – the government indeed read out in Parliament extracts from what was claimed to be his diary, in an attempt to suggest that this had something to do with his sexuality – and it took much effort to draw attention to the murder elsewhere in the world. I still remember a piece a friend of mine, Sandra Barwick, wrote in the Telegraph at the time, drawing attention to the silence in Britain then about abuses in Sri Lanka – but we have to remember that in those days we were considered a useful ally of the West, and strong and decisive leaders were generally considered desirable, through old Cold War habits, without any consideration of their moral status.

All that thankfully has changed now. In Sri Lanka the chattering classes woke up to at least some sense of principle, and I believe that in fact Richard’s death contributed to the end of the total violation of all norms in the decade that ended with that death. In my novel, The Limits of Love, I put it as follows – ‘The outcry has been so tremendous, both within Sri Lanka as well as abroad, that it is clear that any repetition of such activities will be disastrous for the government. The message evidently has gone out therefore, that restraint will have to be exercised in the future, and that the open season in which the security forces would not be held accountable for counter-subversive activities is now over. Diana says too that the Death Squads have been dissolved, not officially of course, for officially they never existed, but with a certain degree of pomp and circumstance including a party at which Ranjan made an appearance. In that respect, it would seem, Richard did not die in vain. Because of him, the reign of terror has ended.’

Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha


October 2010
%d bloggers like this: