You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2021.

Having finshed my account of work at the British Council in 1986 with nine posts, I thought I should wait to start on 1987 for that brought about a sea change with regard to my work. So I return to Oxford days, though indeed this post should have come in the last lot for it is the last to deal wholly with my undergraduate days.

After term was over

With my undergraduate days drawing to a close, I began to think of what would come next. I wanted of course to do graduate work in Oxford, but was not sure I would get a scholarship, and did not want to ask my father to pay the large amounts involved, even though he was quite happy to do so and as keen as I was that I stay on. I applied instead to America which he suggested, and also to East Anglia, which he did not favour at all. I went to the latter place for an interview, spending the night in a small hotel in Norwich where the landlady spruced me up for the interview, surprised at how casually I was taking it.

I found both the place and the interviewer most depressing, so was not upset when I was not accepted. I was less sanguine about not being accepted by Harvard, but Oxford then turned up trumps and took me with some financial assistance and the prospect of more, so I had no further qualms about my father paying the rest.

That summer I went back home, for the first time in four years. But I had to wait a few weeks in case I had a viva. My mother arrived at the very end of term and had to cope with a few parties, including a Pernod Party John Pike had in Logic Lane, which was supposed to be a thoroughfare so us blocking the entry with chairs and tables was not a popular move. I took her down afterwards to Sussex where the Girl Guides were meeting and she was elected then to the World Committee, so I saw more of her in the ensuing years.

I was down in Sussex again when I went with John and Charles to a party in Guildford. But they had another party in Sussex the previous night, so I said I would be happy to spend that evening by myself in a hotel in Brighton, having first seen my mother who was still at her Guide meeting . That evening I got to a performance of ‘Oedipus’, in which I had acted in my first year. It was nothing like as good, with the bosomy Diana Dors as Jocasta.

John and Charles had both turned up to pick me in College with their own cars, since there had been a misunderstanding as to who would drive. Charles lived in Oxford but he said he could not take the car back since he had had to persuade his parents to let him use it. John refused to leave his car unattended there, so we took both cars down to Guildford and parked one mear the Cathedral there to go down to Sussex together.

We had a lovely drive down, dropping in on the way on a friend called Freya Darvall, who told me her old grandmother was keen to see me: she was the daughter of Rev Buck who had been Warden of S. Thomas at the turn of the century. He had been there only a very short time but he had obviously made his mark for the House I had been in was named after him.

The pictures are of Logic Lane, but then I could not resist Diana Dors and the Guildford Cathedral.

This post concludes my account of work at the British Council in 1986, for in August I left Sri Lanka for a few weeks in England, going on to the States to join the University ship, the SS Universe, on which I taught English that semester. This was followed by a holiday in Brazil, so it was well into 1987 before I was back in Colombo.

The pictures are of Lakshmi and Yasmine, and then of Neloufer de Mel.

A plethora of Educational Work

On the Sunday Lakshmi de Silva hosted a dinner for Yasmine, and then next day I took Ranmali to the Peradeniya Training College for a workshop on ‘The Merchant of Venice’ for which I got her to read. Margie Peiris and her deputy Mrs Swaris gave us lunch but then we headed back to Colombo. That weekend I was again in Kurunagala, but getting there only on the Saturday for just one night.

The following week I had to go to St. Anthony’s Wattala for its English Day for, though I found such events tedious, I had been asked by one of my students at Peradeniya way back in 1980, Brother Bastian. He was usually fast asleep in my classes, but he had become a Principal, and indeed went on to even greater things later, taking over at St. Anne’s Kurunagala. I was astonished when he turned up to see me at the Council, and felt I could not refuse.

The next day, Saturday, was Anila’s wedding, with a lively reception at Lakmahal, and then early next morning I went to Aluwihare with Ena – who had danced energetically the previous night – and after a welcome afternoon sleep I went to the Queen’s in Kandy to spend a few days lecturing at the university which I had been persuaded to undertake. I had to talk on a wide range of subject, Byron and Patrick Fernando, Naipaul and Rushdie, the History of the Novel, Anne Ranasinghe and Dickens. Ashley gave me lunch on the Monday, but on the second I had to go to Hillwood, to check on its piano, and then I spoke at the Girls High School on poetry from Dryden to Eliot, I presume in connection with the Advanced Level syllabus.

The next day Marcus Gilbert had a farewell, which was sad, and the more so in that none of those who replaced him had anything like his energy and commitment. Over the next few days I had to collect visas, but there was much social activity, Anila’s homecoming and a few dinners hosted for and by her, the launch of the New Lankan Review, and even a dinner hosted by the Rugby Union for the coach the Council had financed since the funding had come from the cultural budget Rex and I administered.

We also put on readings of Prize-winning works by Sri Lankans, for which I got Neloufer de Mel who taught at Colombo to join Richard, and I have also noted Rudi’s Play and Rudi’s rehearsan on two different days. But what this was I have no idea, and I was not involved further for on the evening of August 2nd I left, for three weeks in England and two in America before joining the ship in Vancouver on September 8th.

This post deals with yet another book, the first political one I published, about the 1983 riots, which was a pendent to Acts of Faith which had been published by the same Indian publisher, Navrang, the previous year. Then Elektra finally appeared in print, courtesy of the Sri Lankan National Library Services Board, and I also brought out the fourth volume of the New Lankan Review which I had so boldly embarked upon before I joined the Council, in 1983.

A host of books and a break in South East Asia

The weekend after our break at Aluwihare, there was yet another drama workshop at the Council, and I also got then the proofs of my second book that Navrang had taken on, The Current Crisis in Sri Lanka which analysed the background to the 1983 riots. One of the Council Assistant Librarians, Ranmali de Silva, who was in time to become the Librarian, helped me with preparing an index for the book, a much more difficult task in those days before computers could readily be used.

The following week I took delivery of Elektra from Paul and the fourth volume of The New Lankan Review from another Paul, Samuel, husband of my mother’s guide friend Julie, who owned the little Jubilee Press in Lauries Road. He had printed NLR from the start, and I still have fond memories of standing over his workmen as they found the letters to fit into the forms when proofs were being corrected. And then the next day I flew to Bangkok which I used as a hub for both Burma, which I visited on my own, and then Singapore for the ACLALS conference. That was a marvelous trip, though the descriptions of that very jolly conference, my first with ACLALS, and of my exploration of Burma which was rarely visited in those days, come elsewhere in the different sets of memoirs I have embarked upon.

I had three weeks away, getting back on the 26th, in time for my father’s birthday on the 27th when we also rehearsed readings for the launch of Yasmine Gooneratne’s Relative Merits which she had asked me to undertake having heard of the programmes I had devised.

I loved the book and my old furniture from Lakmahal suited her memoirs splendidly while Lazarus’ pots added charm. And of course Richard and Yolande read splendidly, so the launch on Saturday June 28th was a great success, and indeed Yasmine tried later in Australia to replicate the event. But it was also a sad day, for earlier there had been a memorial service for her cousin, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, a brilliant parliamentarian whom I had much enjoyed listening to in my schooldays. And he had been most encouraging in advising me when I had problems at S. Thomas’, telling me with his usual mischievous grin, that I had been ‘the victim of Kandyan cunning’, something from which I suspect he himself had suffered.

The pictures are of the cousins Yasmine and Felix, and then Richard and Yolande.

Ranmali Pathirana to the Council, and Rudi Corens

The reason we took Ranmali on at the Council was so that I could show her the ropes so she could act for me when I went away to join the ship later in the year. The previous year, when I had a long spell in England, Rex himself had suggested that Richard act for me, but that proved a disaster for Richard was not an office person and rarely came in, so Rex and his Secretary, the dependable Jean Bartlett who also acted as my Secretary, and Zem and John filled in. But this time round, when I had asked for leave, Rex told me to find someone who was not Richard.

I had been introduced to Ranmali when I started public readings of poetry along with Richard in 1981, and she had been marvellously dependable. I had then given her tuition when she was finding the lectures at Kelaniya tedious and we got on extremely well. So I was delighted when she agreed to work for me, though for years afterwards her parents would thank me for having given her this opportunity. And Rex and John found her admirable, so there was no question of her not being kept on after I returned.

The Saturday after Ranmali joined us, May 10th, we had the first drama workshop in which the Belgian Rudi Corens also participated, working together with Yolande. He was delighted I think to find some productive work, though this did mean he would drop into the office and spend ages talking. But Ranmali and I soon learned how to field him in turn and he was always great fun, and an avid gossip about everyone and everything in the arts world he inhabited. And over the next few years we were able to use him for a range of productions too at the Council, which were immensely successful for he was an imaginative and meticulous Director.

The following Tuesday I went to Pasdunrata for a programme on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, though whether that was a lecture or a discussion based on a film I cannot recall. The next day we rehearsed a programme on Victorian poetry which was presented the following day after which John and Chris gave us dinner. By now they had moved to the quite wonderful house Geoffrey Bawa had built in Ward Place for Druvi de Saram, with the long corridor that joined the two original houses on the site.

The next day was my birthday, with a present in the form of the approval of the National Library Services Board for the purchase of multiple copies of ‘Elektra’. That evening I had a small but strange mix of people at home to wish me, family and old friends and Glen Perera and the Essipenkos.

The next day was yet another workshop at the Council, and then the following week I went to Aluwihare with Anila and some friends for the long Wesak break.

The pictures are of Ranmali and Rudi, and then of Chris Keleher kissing Bill McAlpine, the first Council Representative in Ceylon.

At the Sun and Sea

The owner of the hotel we now moved to was a glamorous woman whose son Richard had known, though he rather thought she had never thought her age a barrier to anything. And we both wondered whether she was quite happy that Richard turned up with two others. But the hotel was wonderful, the Sun & Sea which was perched on the edge of a promontory, and I stayed there later too myself.

We had drinks by the sea that evening, and a morning walk and swim the next day. Then we picked up Aruni Devaraja, who had been attached to Richard, and her sister Euni who had some sort of a relationship to Varuna, who was quite happy to look after them when Richard got bored. Lunch that day was at the Unawatuna Beach Resort and we had drinks and dinner that evening at the tourist stretch of the beach, though I retired soon enough from the disco the others had wanted to go to.

Next morning, after a swim, we were out again on the river, going to Madol Duwa this time, which Martin Wickremesinghe had made famous. And then we had lunch at the Tisara Hotel, which I thought was the old Hotel Horizon at which I had stayed with my parents and Anila five years earlier. While we were there my cousin Ranil turned up, along with his entourage, on his way to the bye-elections down south. Richard, being devoted to Lalith Athulathmudali, could not stand him and I suspect that, though we exchanged a few words, the animosity he felt after Acts of Faith came out never really left him.

We went back to Colombo that afternoon and the next morning, Monday, we went to Pasdunrata for a performance and then a workshop with the students. Then that weekend I went to the Old Place for the New Year period, getting back only on Tuesday the 15th. That Saturday we had a Shakespeare symposium, in celebration albeit early of Shakepeare’s birthday since on the 23rd itself I had been booked to talk to the Colombo University alumni. Then that Saturday I got the hall ready for another interesting programme, an exhibition of 19th century British paintings of Sri Lanka which the architect Ismeth Raheem had helped us to put together. That Exhibition opened on the Monday, but then on the Wednesday I was sad to hear of the death of Cynthy Mellaarachchy who had been a great friend when I was a schoolboy and had gifted me Tiko, one of the Japanese spitzes I had so admired when I visited her during a Girl Guide camp at Hatton in 1964.

I had not been too well during these days, with my back playing up and also having some wounds that had to be treated at St. Michael’s, I think from having scraped my leg on coral while at the ‘Sun & Sea’. But I kept on at work, at the beginning of May taking on Ranmali Pathirana as my assistant.

The One Man Kipling show

There followed, in the middle of March, the One Man Kipling Show I had devised. On Saturday March 15th, we arranged the Lionel Wendt with my furniture and British Council pots and then rehearsed Richard in the show which was put on that day, followed by a party for his birthday which had been two days earlier. The next day we had a matinee while on the Tuesday we took the show to Negombo for teacher trainees and on the Wednesday to Kandy – going via Kurunagala to drop Lakshmi – for a matinee at Trinity. That audience was not very good, but we were both delighted to see Ena there and she much enjoyed the show.

Richard was indeed brilliant, rousing in ‘Gunga Din’, bombastic and plaintive in ‘Danny Deever’, lyrical in ‘The Road through the Woods’. He had a ball with the story of the armadillo where he played Painted Jaguar and the Mother Jaguar and the Hedgehog and the Tortoise to perfection with a range of voices and mannerisms. And ‘The Butterfly that Swamped’ was fantastic, with terrifying djinns and hysterical butterflies wondrously recreated.

The next morning he performed at the Training College, but I got back in time for a meeting of the Council for Liberal Democracy with the Executive Vice -President of Liberal International, the Swiss journalist Urs Schoettli, who had great admiration and affection for Chanaka and ensured support for us from the German Free Democratic Party. Previously the representative of its Foundation in Sri Lanka, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, had been opposed to us in the interests of Lalith Athulathmudali whom it supported.

That weekend I was again in Yala, again for four nights, with Ena and the Hard Core. And that week we took delivery of the Liberal Review which Chanaka and I had begun, and kept going for several years though its frequency declined in time since apart from him and me we could not find anyone to write swiftly and incisively.

The following week Richard and I went to Galle, along with Varuna Karunatilleke whom he had declared he needed as his Stage Manager. Varuna had to be roused to action, but it did relieve Richard and me of some of the routine work. We got there in the morning of Thursday April 3rd, and performed Kipling that morning at Sacred Heart Convent which had a delightful principal, Sr. Rosina, who was very keen on literature. And, after lunch with Indira Silva, he performed his Dickens show again at the Convent, after which the ladies of the Cancer Society hosted us to dinner.

We spent that night at the house of my aunt Rupa at Labuduwa and then next morning we went to Koggala and had a boat ride to Bird’s Island. We went back to Rupa’s for lunch and then decided to take up an invitation from one of the Ladies we had met to stay at her hotel by the sea.

The pictures are of Richard and the Convent and Urs Schoettli, and then illustrations of four of the Kipling pieces he performed.

First visit to the Pasdunrata College

The day after we screened ‘The Song of Ceylon’, I went to Manel Abeysekera’s house at Bopitiya for lunch. I have not recorded with whom, but it was probably with my parents for my mother much enjoyed getting there to unwind. But, though I was back that evening, perhaps I should not have gone for Niki died the next morning. I realized then that I never did enough to repay the affection he overwhelmed me with. I think I did not go to work that day, and we buried him that afternoon.

Next day I paid my first visit to Pasdunrata and enjoyed meeting the students with whom I did so much over the next few years and later too, when some of the best taught for me. And that Thursday we had a talk at the Council by James Goonewardene, the first modern English novelist in Sri Lanka, who had been panned by the English establishment. He was very grateful that I had included him in the promotion of our writing that I had also started.

That weekend I went to Yala with Ena, with Richard coming along too, the only time he stayed in the jungle when I was there. Typically, on the way back, he insisted on jumping in for a swim in the Chandrikawewa Reservoir we passed. On the next day I met Yasmine Gooneratne’s husband Brendon, and on the Sunday Lakshmi de Silva hosted a dinner for him, the previous night having been dinner with the Essipenkos.

The following Thursday the Annie Whitehead Jazz Ensemble arrived and performed at the Galadari that evening, with a party to follow, hosted I believe by John who was a great jazz afficionado. Meanwhile, after the entertaining production of ‘Elektra’ the previous year, I had taken advantage of a scheme run by the National Library Services to purchase multiple copies of books by Sri Lankans. This followed on Prof A J Gunawardena, whom I had got to know well after joining the Council, and who became a great friend and ally, telling me they were keen on taking on books in English.

So I began the long process of both having the book printed and applying for it to be considered under the scheme. It was in the end accepted, and I had no qualms about that though Richard told me that only in Sri Lanka would cultural panjandrums use state money to print books which students could not possibly understand for distribution to schools – which was indeed what the NLSB did with the books brought out under its patronage.

There was much then to do now to get it ready for the printer, the work having been entrusted to Paul, the little old man whom Zem had introduced me to as being entirely reliable. And so he was, despite operating from a little place in Kelaniya from where, clad in shorts, he would come to the Council by bus to take material and return proofs.

There are plenty of pictures of Pasdunrata on the CLD facebook page, yesterday as well as today, so I have instead a still from the Song of Ceylon, Annie Whitehead and Brendon Gooneratne, and finally A J Gunawardena, on the left.

Cheek by Jowl workshops and the new Pasdunrata College of Education

The day after the Cheek by Jowl performance in Kandy,we had a discussion on the production at the Kandy Library, which students found most stimulating. And I grew very fond of the company, not least because they did not complain when the bus broke down, going up to Kandy as well as on the way down on the Sunday. We had then to go to the Navarangahala to fit up while the Directors had a workshop, and then after the performance that evening the Chairman of the Art Centre Club Rohan Hapugalle hosted dinner. Or rather the dinner was at his place like the party had been at Ashley’s, for the Council funded these events after I had told Rex that it would be more interesting for the visitors to be formally entertained by their target groups.

The next morning we had a press conference at the Taj Samudra, which had to do double duty for a jazz ensemble we were getting down soon, and then I sent the cast to the Mount Lavinia Hotel for a leisurely day while Declan and Nick had a workshop on verse delivery. There was another performance that evening and the next day the two of them did a workshop on ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for students, with a matinee that afternoon and another evening performance. Students of the College of Education for teachers of English which had started the previous year at Pasdunrata near Kalutara came for the matinee, for we worked closely with them. Later, for David Woolger was attached to the place and did wonders to encourage a love of literature, I would visit the place often, though not I think every week as imagined by one of the first students who later I recruited to the Affiliated University College at Belihuloya when I looked after its English programmes.

The next day Cheek-by-Jowl, the hardest working and I think the most productive of the visitors I looked after for the Council, left, and a couple of days later, having finalized our report on the company, and the accounts, I went for a long weekend to Kurunagala. In addition to my writing on the Sunday I visited Dr Soma who had been my uncle Leo’s drinking companion, and who used to come regular as clockwork every morning and evening when I was staying there in the sixties.

On the Wednesday John Keleher had a party to introduce me to those running Pasdunrata, including the Ministry personnel with whom we worked very closely, and also the new consultants we supplied to the Higher Institute of English Education set up within the National Institute of Education to train teacher trainers for English. I think that was when I first met James Drury, the Chief Adviser, who became a great friend, along with his wife Dindy. And that Saturday I had another innovative programme at the Council when we had a forum on ‘Song of Ceylon’, the iconic documentary produced in the thirties with narration by Lionel Wendt. The Film Library in London had a copy which we borrowed for the event, which drew a good audience for it had not been screened in the country for aeons.

The pictures are of Pasdunrata with Ormerod and Donellan in between. The first picture shows David Woolget next to Charlie Gamage, the first and immensely capable President of the Pasdunrata College, and the next has Ranjith Guneratne who later joined the Diplomatic Service and looked after me when I travelled in 2012 to the Lebanon where he was our Ambassador, and later also in Frankfurt where I stayed with him when he was our Consul General there.

Biswas again and the Cheek by Jowl Company

After a drive with Ena from Aluwihare the morning after our night with her, Chris and Jackie and I returned to Colombo via Kurunagala where Lakshmi gave us tea. The next day Chris and Jackie went to Galle and Bentota but I could not accompany them. But I had a dinner for them at home on Friday when they got back, before they left the next morning. And that morning I had a rehearsal for the Kipling programme I had devised for Richard, which we presented there that afternoon.

The next morning Anup Kumar Biswas arrived, again with Nigel Clayton, and we had a party that evening for them before I went on to the party Nigel Hatch had for his birthday. The next day, which was when Anila, who had told me in Polonnaruwa about it, announced to the family that she had agreed to marry Romesh, the duo performed at the SLBC, for we had now commenced having public concerts there which were recorded for broadcast. The next day I took them to Kandy, to have a look at Trinity before lunch at the Queen’s, and then I took Anup to the Victoria dam and Degaldoruwa, before the recital at the Queen’s and drinks and dinner there.

We went back the next day via the Gardens and the Penideniya Training College and the Elephant Orphanage, and they then had a couple of days off before a concert at the Council on the Friday. In the days in between I had received my formal contract from the ship, and also a letter from Literature Department to say they would be happy to fund me to attend the Triennial Conference of the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies to be held in Singapore in June.

The following Monday Livy Wijemanne, a renowned broadcaster in my childhood who was now Chairman of the SLBC, had a dinner for Biswas at another icon of my childhood, the Taprobane Hotel. That Wednesday was the funeral of Hector Perera, the veterinarian who had looked after all my dogs from childhood, a lovely old man who would always counsel me to keep the animals free of ticks.

The next day, January 30th, an innovative Shakespeare Group called Cheek-by-Jowl arrived, and I took them straight to Kandy where Ashley hosted a workshop. The director Declan Donellan and his designer Nick Ormerod, who made it clear they were a pair, went along to Trinity next morning for a workshop while the stage was got ready, and that afternoon there was a matinee performance with another in the evening. Their production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was hilarious, with a lugubrious Rev. Bottom whose amateur theatrical group had only two old ladies apart from himself, and their rendering of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ was a hoot. I still remember that, while the others went back to the hotel, Bottom decided to stay on at Trinity between the performances, and wandered outside while we got rearranged the Hall for the evening.

The pictures are of Biswas and Clayton, but also of the admirable Livy Wijemanne in his office.

After ten posts about travel out of Oxford in the seventies, during student days, I get back to the next decade and travels in Sri Lanka while I worked for the British Council.

The second picture is of Chris Hall in Sri Lanka in 2014, and the first of Arjuna Kannangara’s two sons, Yoram and Aaron. The first seems to have dropped Rajiva, in an account of a bicycle ride he and his brother made earlier this year from the Netherlands to the Vatican where their mother is the Dutch ambassador. Unfortunately I could not find any pictures of their father.

Old friends to Matale, and older friends there

1986 was a period of intense travel, with the Council and otherwise. On Thursday January 10th I went to Kandy with Yolande, to introduce some films at the Council, and then after lunch at the Queen’s for which Zem joined us, we had a drama workshop at the Children’s Library. The next day I went to Bandaragama to see our old family friend Donald Kannangara who had retired there to his old family home. I was not that close to him, nor in childhood to his children who were much older than me, but his oldest son Arjuna had palled up with me the previous summer and come to see me while I was at Univ over the summer. He was immensely handsome, though nearly 40 now, and a great cachet for when Univ dined at All Souls where many of the dons who lived in were enthralled. And I was gratified when, having married a Dutch diplomat, he named his eldest son by that marriage Rajiva.

That evening I went to the airport to pick up my old Oxford friend Chris Hall, and his partner Jackie Wardell whom he remained with for years before marrying and then divorcing her. Next morning we set off for Aluwihare, going via Pinnawala and Lankatileke and the Botanical Gardens and the Maligawa before joining Ena, and then the next day we went to Dambulla and Sigiriya. That evening I fulfilled an obligation I had long promised my mother, to look up some old friends who were at the Baptist Mission Retirement Home for their last days.

These were Naomi Schokman and her niece Edie. We had met Edie’s mother Edith de Zylwa in Canada where she had gone with her youngest daughter Shirley, who had had polio, hoping that medical attention would help her live a more normal life. Edie, who was backward, had been left behind with Naomi who looked after her uncomplainingly.

Edith had gone to Canada because her second daughter Isa had married a violinist who had played at the Galle Face after the war. But after we had left Canada she died and Shirley could not be kept on so she came back to Ceylon where Naomi looked after her too, uncomplainingly. But she died in the sixties so it was only Edie whom Naomi had on her hands.

She lived in a little house in Kalutara which I recall Isa’s son Tracy finding squalid when he and his mother visited in the late sixties. But Naomi soldiered on, running a pre-school, until finally she could not cope and retired to a home in Matale from where she had originally hailed. Indeed Ena remembered her brother Ray, settled now in Australia, and he dropped in once when I was there when on a visit.

She lay in bed when I went to see her, but chattered away cheerfully while Edie bustled around trying to be helpful. It was a bleak place but she said they looked after her well. I did not see her or Edie again, but I am glad I made that effort.

Rajiva Wijesinha


October 2021
%d bloggers like this: