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This post describes work on the thesis, which was actually fun for it was good to settle down to it after having had to stand aloof for so many months. Not much revision was required and I had the most wonderful typist.

The joys of vacation continued, with my friends at Univ being as hospitable and comforting as ever. And I describe here a visit from my mother when I entertained up in Norham Gardens, a group of my favourite dons though there was some sharpness given that Univ had upset the apple cart by going ahead with admitting women when the university wanted this staggered.

The pictures are amongst my most cherished, Morar Lucas when I saw her in Somerset in 2017, Susan Wood and Leslie Mitchell at the retirement home they were both in a few years back, and George and Pat Cawkwell at Eights Week in the seventies.

The last lap

A friend in the Vile Bodies, Victoria Harper, had heard of my plight and said she was as good as a professional typist and would be happy to retype the thesis for a very moderate fee. She had an electric typewriter on which corrections could be made, which was the height of modernity at the time. Though she got a job at Rothschild’s she kept her word and came up every weekend and typed up what I had finalized during the week, and then did the corrections the following week. There were few and we generally managed to get through a chapter in a week, there being just eight of them.

At Univ Leslie Mitchell was even more hospitable than before, and so was another good friend, the Assistant Librarian Christine Simmons. She would entertain me to lunch in her little basement flat in Polstead Road, with just one or two others she thought I might like, including the Precentor of Christ Church Michael Watts. And I could drop in to Univ Library whenever I wanted for tea and sympathy and also usually delicious biscuits or cake which she kept in stock in her basement office. She happened to be a good friend of the wife of my Supervisor, Tony Cockshut, who was a well known children’s novelist in her own right, and a great cook. I lunched on occasion with them as well as with George and Pat Cawkwell, and also Gillian Peele next door at LMH.

When my mother visited, I had a lunch for her to which I invited the Cawkwells and Oscar and Susan Wood, and also John and Morar Lucas, all of whom had entertained me so often, Morar having known my uncle Lakshman when he was a curate in Poplar. I still recall George’s embarrassment when Oscar and John turned on him to express their anger that Univ had decided to ignore the University decision that colleges should not all go mixed together. After five had gone mixed in 1974, the University after reviewing the experiment said five more should follow in 1979. But since Univ was not amongst those selected it decided to go ahead anyway. This led to a stampede, and only three male colleges remained single sex for some years more, Merton and Christ Church and Oriel. John and Oscar were from the first two and were quite harsh about what said they would be the consequences to their application pool of Univ’s haste. 

I describe here what I think of as the best production Rudi Corens did for us, Aeschylus’ ‘Libation Bearers’, which was put on in the Council Gardens, with a fantastic set, the design for which I still have framed in my bedroom. And political work continued, and work on the furniture project, as well as another drama workshop plus plans for more books funded by the Canadians. 

The pictures are all of the cast of that wonderful production, Manorani and Richard and Kumar and Michelle and Maria and Ranmali. Sadly the pictures I could find of the penultimate two are very recent ones and, though the personalities come out, the effervescence of youth is missing.

The Libation Bearers

On the Thursday after the rehearsal of readings of Sri Lankan Poetry, I went up to Aluwhihare with Ena, though Friday I had to go to the Peradeniya training college to talk on their old favourite, ‘The Merchant of Venice’.

I got back on Sunday and on Tuesday we rehearsed again for the poetry launch which took place on Wednesday at the USIS. On Friday Mrs Bandaranaike came to the APC at Kumar’s, and on Sunday I went to the Deva Surya Sena Centre for arrangements for a workshop which Richard Ralph had offered, though it was not as exciting as those Scott had conducted.

The next week I record receiving the second impression of the second edition of the original selection of poetry, though I cannot now recall when we had revised it. On the next day, Wednesday October 19th, John had a party for a whole lot of new teachers for the Council’s operation as well as new KELTs, a mark of the expansion we were engaged in before the shutters fell over the next couple of years.

On the Thursday I went to Yala with Ena and Romesh and some of his friends, though Anila did not join us. On the way back, the following Monday, we went to the Bopath Falls for a swim, with lunch with a friend of his nearby. Tuesday I could not work for there was a curfew, but the next day I was able to speak about the new Anthology on the SLBC while the next day was the premiere of ‘The Libation Bearers’ at the Council.

It was a wonderful performance, a scintillatingly mobile chorus led by Ranmali and Richard’s cousin and Peter D’Almeida’s wife Maria, and Richard stealing the show practically in a cameo role as Aegisthus. And his mother Manorani was magnificient at Clytemnestra, with Michelle Leembruggen as Elektra and Kumar as Orestes also giving sterling performances. And Kumar hosted the cast party on the Sunday, when I drank not too wisely so I had to spend the night there.

The following week I met Valerie’s husband Phlip O’Meara who worked for the Canadian International Development Agency. He too found my work impressive, which led to them funding a great many more books through the English Association. And the next day I began visits to places which produced furniture for the project, for I was trying to ensure that it was ordered from places which would contribute to rural development. There had been a tendency to place orders with producers in Moratuwa, who were good but there seemed no point in supporting already rich areas.

I describe here how the all party group worked out an alliance whereby Mrs Bandaranaike would context the forthcoming presidential election as a common candidate. But in the midst of all the work connected with that, including the drafting of a constitution for the new front, my work at the Council continued apace. This included a new book, an Anthology of Sri Lankan Poetry in English, which the Council had agreed to publish, which helped to put our writers on the map, and obviated criticism about including them on the Advanced Level syllabus.

The pictures are of Regi and the Pringiers in recent days and Halim Ishak and Wifred Jayasuriya and Rudi Corens, lovely and incredibly creative people from my past.

Plans for the presidential election

The following day was the APC at Kumar’s, and then I met Wilfred at the UGC before going to see Foreign Minister Hameed with Kumar. And the next day the leaders of the APC parties met at Woodlands, for things were now hotting up with regard to the forthcoming Presidential election.

I worked at the GELT project office on the Monday morning, and that day and on the Wednesday the APC met again at Woodlands. Meanwhile I was helping Ena to rent her house at Alfred Place, for her longstanding tenant John Guyer, who was the Asia Foundation representative, had died suddenly. Chris Keleher’s great friend, the Belgian Saskia Pringiers, also a painter, married to a delightful businessman called Pierre, had long loved the house, and was been able to arrange for them to meet Ena and take it at a rate that pleased both sides, pinned to the dollar so that Ena did not lose as the rupee depreciated.

That Saturday John had drinks for a junior staff member who was leaving, typical of his generosity, and the next day he had a dinner for the cast of the ‘Libation Bearers’ which Rudi was going to put on in the Council garden. Then on the Monday, Bandaranaike Commemoration day, I went to Horagolla with Mr Ossman, and I recall talking there to Halim Ishak, the principal Muslim in the SLFP, about the need for an alliance with the SLMC which we had been told he was not keen on.

That evening we had a forum on T S Eliot with a reading of the Waste Land, and also a run through of the play on Bukharin that Regi Siriwardena had written, in yet another incarnation, having recently also produced some very elegant poetry.

The APC was at Woodlands next day, and on the Friday, before another meeting there, the SLFP announced that Mrs Bandaranaike would contest the election on a common symbol, essential since most of the other parties were not willing to simply support the SLFP. The next day I had to attend the opening sessions of the meeting of the College of General Practitioners, yet another institution we had helped with a visiting speaker.

On the Sunday I drafted a constitution for the Front that was being established. The next day we had a talk by Rudi at the Council, and the following day I had a rehearsal of readings for the launch of the new poetry book we were bringing out, an anthology of Sri Lankan poetry in English.

This post introduces an element that was to feature largely in Richard de Zoysa’s life over the next year, his introduction to a very different group of students at Royal College from the elite he had known before. How all that worked out will emerge later, but it was part and parcel of the political upheaval that was going on, which also led to greater intensity of discussion and activity at the meetings of political parties in which we were now heavily involved.

New dimensions in politics and society

The night after the exhibition of Sri Lankan writing in English, John Keleher had a dinner for the participants at Scott’s second workshop, including a couple of the Royal College scholarship students with whom Richard was now heavily involved. Madura Ganegoda, the best actor amongst them, is pictured here next to Chloe de Soysa of a very different provenance.

Richard had been astonished, he said, to find how wide the gap was between them and for instance the youngster he had been taken up with before, whom I had had to get rid of from the ‘Merchant of Venice’ cast. They lived in two different worlds he said, and these were much brighter, but also resentful at the privileges of an elite they could never hope to join.

The next day I had interviews for a secretary and then that Sunday we had yet another CLD seminar at the Taj. The following Wednesday the APC met at Kumar’s, and on the Thursday we gave Scott lunch at the Galle Face, while there was an APC meeting that afternoon at Mrs Bandaranaike’s. Next day we met with Chloe de Soysa about arrangements for the Deva Surya Sena Centre, and I also had to go to the Ministry of Educational Services about the Furniture Project.

Saturday afternoon was Scott’s workshop presentation at the Council, and after that I went with him, and his mother who was visiting, and Richard Ralph, to Kandy where he had a workshop with that group next morning. And the next day the Colombo lot came up and in the afternoon both groups presented their work, which was followed by a party. I then came back to Colombo while Scott stayed on for sightseeing with his mother.

The APC met at Kumar’s on the Monday, and on the Wednesday we inaugurated our Project Office at Nirmali’s. Then, I think, and later, John would drop in with cake which was most welcome.

On the Thursday I went to Aluwihare with Shanthi, getting back only on Tuesday when we had an APC meeting at Kumar’s. That evening we were entertained to dinner by the General Secretary of the SLMC, Mr Ossman, who was the father of a good friend of Chanaka’s at school, and who had been instrumental in raising awareness of the peculation at S. Thomas’ way back in 1982 when he told mr about the money he had raised on a raffle which Duleepkumar had hidden from the Board. And the next night I had Scott for dinner at home with his mother and a great many of those who had worked with him.

I note here how Bandula too contributed to our educational work over the years, and then I mention someone else who did a great deal for the Council, Scott Richards. His first drama workshop was a great success so I arranged another soon afterwards.

The picture after Scott is of the cover of the SLBC English coursebook, with Bandula’s depiction of Nirmali’s grand city. Then there are Clegg and Ramya and Earle de Fonseka.

Scott Richards arrives

Bandula was very grateful after I had facilitated such a successful exhibition for him,  and over the next few years produced wonderful illustrations for some of our books, including for a splendid serial Nirmali wrote for an English course the SLBC presented.

The following Sunday, August 14th, was I think my first meeting with Scott Richards, with whom I was to do a great deal of work over the next few years. He was introduced to me by a teacher at the Overseas School I knew vaguely, Richard Ralphs, who said a friend of his from England who was a wonderful drama teacher was visiting. I was charmed by Scott when we met, as indeed everyone was who met him, and I agreed to arrange a workshop the very next day. This took place at the Deva Surya Sena Centre and the performance that developed out of it was impressive, so I agreed too to a longer workshop in a couple of weeks.

On the next day I record a Double Piano recital at the Hilton. I am not sure what this was, but it may have been with John Clegg, who performed for us and with the orchestra later in the week. If so, I would assume he was joined by Ramya de Livera. But I also record going the next day to see Clegg at the Galadari, so the Hilton event may not have been ours.

On that Wednesday there was a party to herald a changeover at the English Language Teaching operation at the Council, the amiable Mike Smith being replaced as its head by a man called Fred O’Hanlon who was nice enough but dull, heralding the end of the camaraderie that had infused the Council over the eighties. There was another change heralded the next day, for we had interviews for a secretary, John having decided that the increased work we were doing demanded one, instead of us using his staff.

On the Friday Clegg performed with the Symphony Orchestra, with dinner at Earle’s to follow. I was delighted to see there Hans Wijesuriya, one of my brightest students at S. Thomas’, back during a vacation I presume from Cambridge, to which he had gone. Then on Sunday I took Clegg to Kandy via Lankatilleke, for drinks with Ashley before dinner. He performed the next evening at the Council, with a reception to follow. Earlier in the day I had arranged the Hall, not an easy task in a narrow building with steep stairs, and also met with the Drama Group.

Back in Colombo next day Clegg performed at the Galadari, and then the next day I set up an exhibition of Sri Lankan writing in English at the recently opened Liberty Plaza which the American ambassador James Spain opened that evening.

I start with a visit to Aluwihare, which now became my venue for concentrated writing with the Old Place gone, and then describe a delightful week in Kandy when I luxuriated in the first floor suite at the Queen’s, dropping in only occasionally at the drama workshop we had arranged for Rudi Corens to conduct at the Kandy British Council. And I end with an exhibition by Bandula Peiris, a wonderful artist.

The pictures are of the view at Aluwihare, though this is dawn, well before I used to get up in those distant days, of the Queen’s Hotel, and of Shesha Palihakkara, Tonia Shand and Bandula Peiris, only the last of whom is now alive.

A Drama Workshop in Kandy

The following week the APC met again at Kumar’s on Wednesday and on Thursday I went to Aluwihare, dropping in on Lakshmi on the way. It was to say farewell I think to the house, for on that day I began writing at Aluwihare, with Ena building a shed for me on the upper terrace so I had a glorious view of the Gammaduwa Hills opposite as I wrote.

On the Sunday I went to Kandy where I spent a week at the Queen’s, the kindly Joe Madawala giving me the suite at the corner which I loved, for a very low rate, understandable for there were of course no tourists around at the time. The excuse for this was a drama workshop we had arranged Rudi Corens to conduct for the Kandy Council’s Drama group. The Librarian there, Lalitha Weerasinghe, complained that we neglected her efforts, so John had agreed on this indulgence to satisfy her. It was of course a great indulgence for me too, for I had a leisurely week throwing myself around the suite as Joe had said I would enjoy doing.

I wrote much, having dinner with Rudi at the Queen’s or the Suisse, lunches at various little resaurants in town, drinks once with Lalitha and a party for Margaret Gooneratne at Fred de Silva’s splendid house overlooking the lake. But I did drop in often at the workshop, and visited the training college at Polgolla and the Prinsett course (for in-service English teachers) at Gampola. On the Saturday the drama group put on a performance after which we had a party for them. And then the next day, before we went to Colombo, we visited the culture retreat set up at Wattegama by Sesha Palihakkara. I knew the name, for he had been a famous dancer in his youth, and later taken part in Lester James Peiris’ iconic film ‘Rekava’. And though now large and ungainly, he was still charming, and I was delighted to see his efforts at a rural training centre.

The following Wednesday we had an exhibition of painting by Bandula Peiris, who had designed the original logo for Rupavahini. He was not however given credit for this, and his career was at a low ebb when he asked me whether we could help him with a show at the Council. He was a lovely person and I was happy to help, getting the Australian High Commissioner, Tonia Shand (whom Robert had recommended to me as a good friend) to open the event.

I describe here the aftermath of that Amparai visit, and later meetings with individuals whom I came to know well in later years, Roshan Goonetilleke who commanded the Air Force during the war and did a brilliant job, and Pujith Jayasundera who seemed an admirable police officer though sadly his ambition got the better of him under the Yahapalayana government.

I met Roshan at what was my last stay at the Old Place for soon afterwards Lakshmi, who had held the fort there by herself for 17 years, moved to the house she had built at Bagatelle Road.

I note too here a lovely review of my novel by a Swiss librarian who later became a good friend – and was at a launch in Milan of the Italian version nearly 20 years later – and also the work we had embarked on to produce an Advanced Level English syllabus that students could relate to.

The pictures are of Roshan and Pujith, and then Mrs Ratnayake many years after she retired.

Interesting meetings

Soon after my visit to Amparai the Council sent that Director of Education, Mr Guneratne, and an equally capable educationist, Mrs Ratnayake Principal of St. Joseph’s at Kegalle, on a training course to England, and found them very productive afterwards. Much later, when I took charge of GELT myself, I found the course at St. Joseph’s one of the best.

Incidentally I have recorded meeting during this trip the Asst Superintendent of Police in the area, Pujith Jayasundera, whom I was to come across in two different contexts later. I found him most impressive, so that it was very sad when he made a mess of things as Inspector General of Police.

I got back to Colombo on Thursday July 14th and went that afternoon to the Old Place, where I met the fiancé of one of my Moonemalle cousins. This was Roshan Goonetilleke, son of the former Air Force Commander Harry Goonetilleke, later to become Commander himself. I came back on the Sunday with Lakshmi, and never after that stayed at the place I loved so dearly.

On Monday I saw Valerie at the Canadian High Commission, and on Tuesday was doubly delighted with regard to my writing for I received a wonderful review of Acts of Faith written by a Swiss Librarian, Klaus Stuckert and also a copy of the edition of the Journal of Indian Writing in English in which ‘The Lady Hippopotamus’, one of my earliest short stories, appeared.

The APC met the next day at Kumar’s, and on the following day John had a dinner for Valerie, attended also by David Woolger, and my old friend Janaki Galappatti, daughter of Tilak Gooneratne who had been so good to me as our High Commissioner in London while I was at Oxford. Nirmali had recruited her as editor of the science books we needed, and she did a fantastic job.

On the Saturday we had a meeting of a Committee the Ministry had put me on to revise the Advanced Level English Literature syllabus, which I had to run, though with sterling support from the Ministry officials in charge of English, M A de Silva and his deputy, Nihal Cooray.

I go on here to describe how we started to produce books for the GELT, setting up an office for the purpose at Nirmali Hettiarachchi’s house, or rather the section on the other side of her house which she used for teaching. The room we were given for our use was one that I spent much time in over the next few years.

And I then describe my second tour of inspection for the furniture project, flying down to Amparai, though on my own this time, arranged for me by the Ministry of Education which hosted me admirably while I was there.

The pictures are of NIrmali and me, and then Mrinali, followed by a view over the Senanayake Samudraya though this was not quite what I had in the Circuit Bungalow, beautiful as that situation too was.

Producing GELT readers

The GELT course was to be conducted at centres islandwide for which teachers had been recruited. The Canadians had thought this a good idea and been willing to help, and Wilfred had asked them to fund textbooks in English for the students. But he had wanted academic works and the Canadians, who had heard about the books we had produced to encourage reading, had asked John if we could take charge of designing and producing appropriate books.

This was grist to my mill and I proposed a number of simple readers in different subjects. Wilfred was not keen, but the Deputy Canadian High Commissioner, Valerie Young, who was in charge of aid, told him firmly that the Canadians could not finance what he wanted, and their support was conditional on us conducting the project. Wilfred, who was a practical man, agreed, and in fact then asked if he could produce a text on economics which was his subject. I thought that a small price to pay for his support, and in fact the book he produced was quite serviceable after some editing.

The course was inaugurated the following day at the Hilton, and I then set up my team, asking Nirmali Hettiarachchi to take charge of the production, with our first CAT Mrinali Thalgodapitiya as the principal assistant. We also got another two girls whom she knew who were splendid, one Diamanthe Wijetunge an excellent typist and the other, who was distantly related to me, Dilrukshi Wickremesinghe, who was very bright and indeed able to produce a book on Sociology. They worked from a section of Nirmali’s house at Torrington Avenue which she used for her teaching. But there was a long room there which could be equipped with computers, and for years afterwards that was used for producing books, including my own after I had left the Council.

The following Wednesday I flew to Amparai to check on the Furniture Project there, and was most impressed by the Regional Director of Education, Mr Guneratne, and his accountant Mr Mustapha. However I found some of the furniture sub-standard, and insisted the suppliers replace these, which duly happened.

I visited nine schools during the day, with lunch in between at the Circuit Bungalow by the Senanayake Samudraya into which they had booked me. In the evening I was taken for a drive on the bund, and then had drinks and dinner with Mr Guneratne who was an intelligent man it was a pleasure to talk to.

This post indicates the range of activity the Council was engaged in, but now yet another dimension was added to my work. The Canadians, having heard about our book production programme, asked the Council to undertake the production of readers for a new programme which in later years became a very important part of my life.

The pictures are of Ralph Buultjens, together with Indira Gandhi, for his friendship with her was something he publicized, and then of Gamini Dissanayake who I believe arranged for his kidnapping for he asked me later to take on Buultjens in print, which I refused. And then there is Wilfred Jayasuriya who set in motion the islandwide GELT programme for pre-university students, which I got involved in at its inception and then more fully four years later.

My introduction to the General English Language Training (GELT) programme

The next after the Martin Palmer performance at the Council in Colombo, Harin and Priyani drove me to the Ceysands hotel where the rest of the family were staying to celebrate my parents’ 40th anniversary three days earlier, which I had had to miss because of the Kandy trip.

On the Monday I went to the Ministry of Education regarding the Furniture Project, and the next day Earle de Fonseka, who had much enjoyed Palmer’s performance, hosted him and me to dinner along with his cousin Evanne, also an accomplished musician. The next evening I took my mother to a performance of Threepenny Opera directed by the East German Benowitz, who had been in the country training for some time, the last flourish of that country in Sri Lanka before the iron curtain lifted.

The next day I judged the Annual Light of Asia Competition, and the following went to the BMICH for a memorial lecture for Felix Dias Bandaranaike, which my uncle Esmond’s friend Ralph Buultjens was supposed to deliver. But he was kidnapped on the way, it turned out later by Gamini Dissanayake, as part of the endless rivalry in the UNP.

The Council held a seminar on English the next day at the Taj, with the entire Ministry hierarchy responsible for English present. We had no idea then that the committed people we were working with would all be swept away next year when a new Minister took over, deeply resentful of what had happened previously. Then on the Tuesday evening I went with Shanthi to Aluwihare for a very long weekend encompassing the Poson holiday.

The following Wednesday we had a party at John’s for the examiner for the Royal Academy of Dancing, for I had taken on coordination for them, which they wanted since it made sense not to work with any one of the ballet schools that had proliferated in Colombo. I much enjoyed this, and my interactions with the very idiosyncratic teachers, and seeing the productions they put on which were remarkable considering the limited resources they had. 

Earlier that day I had had my first meeting with the Canadian High Commission for a project that would lead to a great deal of collaboration with them in the years that followed. This was with regard to a course the University Grants Commission had started to teach English to prospective entrants before they came to University. Dubbed the GELT programme (General English Language Teaching), it had been entrusted to a former Commissioner of Motor Traffic called Wilfred Jayasuriya, who was an excellent administrator, and very keen on the work, though he did not know much about English.

I report the not very encouraging result of my first foray into electoral politics – and my last save for standing for President – and then lots of Council activity including a visit by a delightful if strange man called Martin Palmer.

The pictures are of Gamini and Alex and Mark Tully, and Geoffrey Bawa, taken around this time in Aluwihare.

Election results

The following week I had my first, and last, experience of putting up posters, while we had to rescue a boy who had attached himself to the Party Office from the police who had arrested him and one of my father’s staff who stayed at the office when they were pasting posters. And we also had a press conference on the threatening behaviour of UNP candidates, including a generally mild man called Raja Sinnathurai who was woefully apologetic whenever we met afterwards but who had been carried away by his more thuggish associates.

When the results came out on June 3rd, though none of us had been elected from Colombo, we found that KG, who actually understood the way elections worked, had been elected from the Gampaha District along with Alex Weeratne, a lawyer friend of his who later became the Party Secretary.

It was back to British Council work the following week, which started with my being bitten by the Bakers’ dog Curfew, an ungainly creature loved by Mrs Baker. That necessitated dressings and an injection at St. Michael’s, before a lunch given by Caroline for officials from London, I think from ODA. That evening I met the famous BBC correspondent Mark Tully at the Galle Face and took him copies next day in our publications. And I was also at the Galle Face that day to make arrangements for a performance by a man called Martin Palmer who had written asking us to host him.

On the next two days I judged the semi-finals of the Schools Shakespeare Competition, an iconic event for the generations just after mine at S. Thomas, with dinner at John’s the first night for the Gladstones as well as Geoffrey Bawa, and Gladstone’s reception for the Queen’s Birthday on the following evening. And the next evening I had to go to the Sri Lanka-United Kingdom Society dinner, having before that done a preview for Palmer on the SLBC.

Next day, Saturday June `11th, was a seminar at the Council on English Literature curricula. Then on the Wednesday following I went to the Galle Face to meet up with Palmer, and took him along with Rex to Kandy the next day, for a schools show in the afternoon and then what was essentially a revue in the evening at the Council. Rex was not entirely fazed by his wonderfully camp approach to his material, but I suspect some of the audience was.

Rex hosted a party for him that evening, and we drove back to Colombo next day for a schools show at the Council and an evening performance at the Galle Face, which looked wonderful in its elegant ballroom, but the acoustics were dreladful. We had drinks there that evening, and the next day, having taken him to the SLBC in the morning, following a classical competition for schools at the Council, we had a performance in the evening at the Council followed by a party hosted by Caroline.

Rajiva Wijesinha


December 2021
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