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The last letter I got from the former Chaplain of my College reverberates still in my mind. He was already old when I went up as an undergraduate, and no longer Chaplain, though he continued as a Fellow in History. Oddly enough he had been a sort of spiritual adviser to my uncle, Lakshman Wickremesinghe, when he had been reading for a Master’s degree at Keble 20 years earlier. This was in Political Science, in which he had excelled at Peradeniya, getting the best first ever in the subject, Dayan Jayatilleka coming near but not quite rivalling him thirty years later. But Lakshman gave up political science and, perhaps because of the influence of Tom Parker, decided to become a priest, and went on to Theological College at Ely in Cambridge. His understanding of politics and his commitment however never left him, which is why he was seen as a Red Bishop and wrote, when his mother exulted at the UNP victory in 1977, that his party had lost.

Tom had no College position when Lakshman was a student, for he was considered too High Church. But Univ later gave him a home, where he was able to deliver the most erudite sermons. ‘You will all remember’ he began on one memorable occasion, ‘the controversies associated with the question of the double procession of the Holy Ghost’. Fortunately he had handed over by then to a younger man, who was more in tune with the times, and became a great friend as well as a mentor.

Tom came from a distinguished family of Butchers and, while still Chaplain, he became Master of the Worshipful Company of Butchers, one of those strange trade guilds that still exist in Britain, and hold elaborate ceremonies in the Guildhall. As a special mark of favour, he took one of his pupils to dine there when he presided. This was Ravi Dayal, whom I met in the eighties when he headed Oxford University Press in Delhi, and I was trying to get permission to republish some of the later poems of Patrick Fernando in one of the early collections I brought out while at the British Council. This was before some Thatcherite groupie in London declared that it was not the business of the Council in Colombo to take bread out of the mouths of British publishers.

Ravi was a delightful man, and we got on well, not only I think because of the Univ connection. He regaled me with the tale of the dinner which consisted entirely of red meat, notably beef, which as a orthodox Hindu he could not touch. Tom, unworldly to a fault, had no idea of the solecism he had committed. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2016
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