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It was intensive work from the moment I go back, including on the very next day a workshop at Penideniya which continued with the good work Lalith Athulathmudali had started. Then there was much to do about book production, and interviews, while I continued to work for the Associations through which I did so much. I also mention the Peace Corps, which I tried, successfully as it turned out, to involve in the AUC programme, while I also had my first Board of Study meeting, my first acquaintance with the committees which were prevalent in the university system.

The first picture is one of my favourites, Lalith Athulathmudali on the side verandah at Lakmahal in the very early eighties, with the then Australian High Commission Warwick Mayne Wilson, and also Nirmala de Mel. The second is the only one I have been able to find of Alfreda de Silva.

Training and books and meetings

I had much to catch up on the day I got back, and was delighted that two more books were delivered, ‘Events’, the third of Chitra’s devising for the AUCs and ‘Using Verbs’ in the EASL Primary English series.

The next day I went with Nirmali to the Penideniya English Teacher College to contribute to an Immersion Workshop. These had been initiated by Lalith Athulathmudali when he became Minister of Education in 1990 and, though by now he had left the government, the programme continued. I collect proofs on the way from Paul, whose press was in Kelaniya, and then before heading back to Colombo we dropped in at Aluwihare.

I was not well the next day, July 6th, so stayed at home, which I had to do for the most part during the week that followed, But I corrected proofs, which I got in spades for Printpack which also did some printing for us delivered more of these on the 8th and 9th. But I staggered to USJP on the 7th for interviews for teachers for Rahangala and also for Buttala which was due to open the following year and had to do the same on the 13th. And I went for Liberal Party and EASL and Classical Association meetings, and saw the Peace Corps re volunteers for us and Alfreda about Channels, and also one day did some work at Nirmali’s.

By the 14th I was back to normal and worked at Nirmali’s and then as I had been asked to did a report for the National Education Commission on the various EASL projects. Shanthi Wilson had a host of friends for dinner that night, including Andre, and the next day Anila and I went to the embassy to help him with hanging a batik he had ordered from Ena which I think he had found disappointing. That day I also went with Nirmali to the Sapumal Foundation for we were hoping to work together with them, but on what I cannot remember, and the idea did not come to fruition.

The next day, the 16th, I went to Belihuloya with Chitra Wickramasuriya and took some classes with a discussion with the students to follow. After lunch we had the first meeting of the Board of Studies, for which I had also taken up Prof Ratna Wijetunge from Colombo, while we were joined by the Ratnapura English Director Rajapakse who was a lovely man to whom I had been introduced by David.

This describes yet another workshop Nirmali and Paru and I conducted in very simple conditions, in blazing heat. This was in Amparai, with several teachers who had attended the previous one in Moneragala, and much appreciated our efforts to help them. And we stayed in the Amparai Resthouse, run by the father of a former student, who took good care of us, so we were able to relax in the evenings after an exhausting day. Nirmali I think provided bottles of wine for this, which were most welcome.

And a week after that, with much work on books in between but also much socializing, including with the new Swiss ambassador who became a great friend, I went abroad, getting back only at the beginning of July.

The pictures are of Andre, and then of Mark Shand, who I found had died some years back. I think this picture is not from Sri Lanka, but it suggests his enormous love of elephants which was shared by my cousin Raji, who can be seen in characteristic style in the third picture.

The Amparai seminar

The next day, May 21st, we started a seminar for teachers at the very primitive Education Office, with model classes for students from the Kavantissa Vidyalaya. We finished before lunch on the 23rd and then went back to Colombo, delivering one of Ena’s cupboards to Dutugemunu at Buttala, I presume brought by Nirmali when she came.

My stitches were removed next day, and I then did more work at Nirmali’s, my former Secretary at the British Council Savanthi coming to help for it was a Sunday. Next day I got a Swiss visa and travellers’ cheques and then went to USJP to discusss my future work with Prof Palihawadana, the Dean of Arts who had persuaded me to join them, and Geetha Premaratne who had started the work but then told me she was emigrating to Australia which really left me no choice if the programme was to continue.

I went then to the NIE which was having its annual conference for staff of the Regional English Support Centres which David now advised, and then, having got a negative report about my cyst, went to Kandy with Jeevan and some of his friends, to spend the night at the Queen’s. Next day we went on to Aluwihare where I saw the elephant which Ena’s nephew Rajitha was looking after for Mark Shand, brother of Prince Charles’ Camilla. He loved this and was immeasurably sad when there were objections for political reasons and Shand lost his elephant.

We went back to Colombo after lunch and I had dinner with the Swiss ambassador, Andre von Grafenried, whose cousin had been with me at Oxford. Next morning I worked on the books as I did on the next three days, trying to finish what I could before my trip on the following day. But I got a Thai visa, worked on ‘Channels’ the journal of the English Writers’ Cooperative I had set up, this issue having been entrusted to Alfreda de Silva to edit, and had dinner one night at Nirmali’s with the Thalgodapitiya sisters and on another at my sister’s, with my parents.

And then I left on May 31st, getting back after visiting several countries, only on July 1st.

Apart from work, I describe here my 38th birthday party when I invited friends to celebrate what I called my early retirement. It was also a full moon day again, following the lunar cycle of 19 years, the second on May 16th since the day I was born.

The pictures are of the Saranga Inn, the Amparai and Belihuloya Resthouses, and Dutugamunu MV in Buttala.

A birthday party to celebrate early retirement

There was more work then on the workbooks and also on the guide I was preparing for Sri Lankan poetry in English. Next morning our trusty printer Paul delivered books, I think EASL readers rather than AUC ones, to Bagatelle Road where we had taken part of Ranjith Atapattu’s house for an office when our work warranted it, and which my father who looked after the place for Ranjith allowed us to use without having it empty. I then went to the Fort for my ticket, since I was due to travel at the end of the month, had lunch with Jeevan, and then worked on ‘Objects’, the second of Chitra’s books on which I had to do a great deal of rewriting. That evening, after consulting Prof Sheriffdeen at Ratnam’s about a cyst on my neck, I saw some Pinter plays at the Wendt, possibly those we had worked on earlier while I was at the Council, with David Woolger starring.

The next day I finally finished ‘Objects’ and did EASL accounts with Nirmali, before having dinner with someone called Garth Pettit, whose provenance I have no idea about. But there was a Civil Servant of that name who headed the UN and Commonwealth department at the British Overseas Developmet Administration and the Education Adviser for Sri Lanka, Michael Francis, was disappointed that I had resigned from the Council and might have arranged the meeting.

Next day, my 38th birthday, I went through the plans I was working on with the Ministry to restore English literature to the Ordinary Level syllabus, and then went to Ratnam’s to have the cyst removed. My nephew and niece came home for tea that afternoon, and then I had a larger crowd after nearly a decade, to celebrate not only my birthday but my early retirement.

The 17th was a quiet day, working on books, and the next day I went to Belihuloya, via the Education office, and then met staff and students at the AUC plus the Registrar. I stayed in the guesthouse on campus but had dinner at the Resthouse, and next day went to the Rahangala AUC to talk to the students and have a session with the staff, who needed guidance on time-tabling as well as tutorials. I checked then on their classes and spoke again the students and staff, before going to Bandarawela to meet the English Director and then also Oscar Panditharatne who had been taken on as a lecturer.

I stayed the night at the AUC guesthouse and went next day to Buttala with visits to five schools, ending up at Dutugamunu. Nirmali and Paru were at the Saranga and we then went on to Moneragala to take a class at Mahanama before getting to the Ampari Resthouse for the night.

I mention here the book publications programme which the English Association developed though the British Council had withdrawn, and then describe a visit to Anuradhapura where the Director Mr Dorakumbura who had been Librarian at USJP proved most hospitable.

But there was much more I was involved in, a literary talk at the Council, support for my aunt Ena, and also working together with the District English Language Improvement Centres, which trained applicants to be Engish teachers who could not be recruited after the exam for this purpose, but who turned out better teachers later because this course involved pedagogy as well, not just knowledge of the language.

The pictures are of Indra and Dorakumbura and then the beautiful Nuwara Wewa for I still see in my mind’s eye Dorakumbura and myself standing in its shallows as the light faded.

A range of initiatives

I spoke to the staff after the opening ceremony and had lunch with them before heading back to Colombo with Scott and Chris. Next morning I worked on the books the English Association was producing at the little office Nirmali had set up in the building next to her house which was also where she operated the school she had set up. We were helped by the Thalgodapitiya sisters, Mrinali and Malathi, also wonderful workers and with a great sense of humour which made our time in the office enormously enjoyable.

The next day Nirmali and I went along with the girls and the EASL Treasurer Kamini de Soysa to the Council which had allowed us to have there a sale of the books we had produced with the Council, which they had gifted to EASL when they decided that it was not the business of the Council to take bread out of the mouth of British publishers. We made over Rs.20,000 that day, a massive amount given that we charged at most Rs. 20 for a book.

I did more work that day on the workbooks and had dinner that night with my sister. Next morning I went up to Ena’s along with Jeevan Thiagarajah who however left that afternoon. Next morning I went to the Anuradhapura AUC and, after lunch at the Tissawewa Resthouse that I loved, did a workshop for the staff, before seeing the Provincial Education Minister. I stayed that night with the Director, Dorakumbura who had been Librarian at USJP, and went with him for a bath in the Nuwara Wewa, which seemed a regular practice of his, before working on an extension syllabus for him and then dinner.

Next morning I went to the AUC to talk first for a book project it seems we were planning with the District English Language Improvement Centre, and I then took another staff workshop before returning to Colombo. That evening I spoke on Conrad at the British Council, before a party given by the Peace Corps which I was trying to involve in the AUC programme.

Next morning one of the brightest of my students at S. Thomas’, Indra Soysa, came to see me with his girlfriend, I believe the Norwegian he married, for he was now teaching at a Norwegian university. Then there was more EASL work at Nirmali’s, before a meeting at home of the Classical Association which I think I chaired at the time, and then a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Liberal Party at our office in Castle Lane.

I look here at work at secondary level, based on the Australian project we were implementing, and then the formal opening of the AUC. But that was accompanied by the unfortunate sacking of the English coordinator we had selected, who had fallen foul of Somasundara the Belihuloya Director. But since he too suffered a tragedy on that day and left immediately for Colombo, nothing could be done though the idealists on the AUC Board, Prof Palihawadana and Wilson did their best.

The pictures are of Panini and the erudite and immensely kind Mahinda Palihawadana.

Belihuloya opens, with a dismissal

I then went to the Bandarawela District Education Office, to see the lady in charge of English, and then went on a magnificient hilly road to Badalkumbura via Passara. I had a workshop for students at the Gallaba Kanishta Vidyalaya, to which we had also given books, and then went to Wellawaya for the night. There was no room at the Victory Inn near Moneragala which Nirmali and I had stayed in previously, which is why we ended up at the Wellawaya Saranga Inn, which became a regular halt in succeeding years.

The van I had hired had to be repaired next morning, so I did some more lessons for the workbooks I was preparing to supplement the texts Chitra had devised, and then I went to Moneragala for a session at Mahanama MV and on to Buttala for another at Dutugemunu before getting back to Belihuloya with Scott and Christ. But they went to the Resthouse after dinner while I did some more work on the books in the little house which Somasundara had allocated to me.

The next day, May 7th, was the formal opening of the College, before which I had a session with the students. But then I heard from Scott that Somasundara had sacked the only lecturer we had found for the place, Panini Edirisinghe When we had first done interviews, there had only been one good person for each of the three AUCs that had been entrusted to me. But then the chap for Rahangala went to Norway to get a doctorate, and now Panini had been sacked. So we had to survive largely with Visiting Instructors, and though there were good ones at Anuradhapura, the rest initially were hopeless. In time though better staff came in and I also got through David a number of his Pasdunrata students who proved admirable, for both Belihuloya and Rahangala.

But I could do nothing about Panini’s dismissal for we were also told that Somasundara’s wife had fallen ill that morning and he left for Colombo immediately after the opening ceremony. She never recovered, though she was in a coma for I think a couple of years. And I was inhibited too by the fact that Panini had been contemptuous about Somasundara on the grounds that he could hardly speak English, which was not the case, though it was clearly not his first language. However it also turned out that what Panini had been most critical about, the stocking of the library with ridiculous books, was part of a money making exercise, something that continued over the years.

This describes intensive work with the AUCs but also a schools programme I had started with funding from the Australians. And I note the first blow to the AUC programme when Rahangala lost its committed Director, who was replaced by someone who knew nothing of what Aluvihare had envisaged.

The pictures are of the second of the four texts we produced initially for the AUCs, and then of a later one, when I expanded the series to include other subjects for reading.

First AUC workshop

The day after I left the Council, Friday the 1st of May, I went to the Belihuloya Affiliated University College for a workshop over three days for the staff, along with my mainstays, Nirmali Hettiarachch, Paru Nagasunderam who was still at the NIE, and Prof Chitra Wickramasuriya who, having retired from Colombo, had been very helpful to the AUC programme.

I noted that we worked for 8 ½ hours on the Friday with the staff, which included a model class for school leavers, and then another 7 ½ the next day, while on the Sunday I worked for five hours, virtually on my own for the others went back to Colombo that morning. But I note dinner that night with Scott Richards, the Drama Expert I had used at the Council, who had become a great ally, so perhaps he had helped too.

On the previous evenings however I had worked on the texts I had started putting together for the AUCs, originally conceived by Chitra and written by USJP staff, but requiring some changes. But the first and the third books were not too bad, and I had been able to produce final versions quickly and was now correcting the proofs.

The next day I started the extension course which the imaginative Belihuloya AUC Director Somasundara had wanted developed, for community service, and then I went on to visit schools in Moneragala where I had embarked on a project through the Australian aid agency, AIDAB. This was to supply several schools with simple English books, and a mobile cupboard designed by Ena de Silva to house them, which teachers were expected to work with to encourage reading. But of course they needed much training to do this, for they had no idea about encouraging students to have fun with the materials given to them.

That day I went, a beautiful drive along the escarpment over the Walawe plain and then down past Diyaluma and via Buttala, to the Medagama Maha Vidyalaya. I did a class there, and then retraced my steps to the Bandarawela Hotel to which Scott’s partner Chris Majeika had made his way. I assume then that Scott had been with me for Medagama and it is possible he came with me for the rest of this expedition too.

On the Tuesday I went to the Rahangala AUC to check on its time-table and to meet the Director, I think the new rather useless one, for the dynamic priest who had been initially appointed had suddenly died. USJP had sent to assist him an academic on sabbatical who had nowhere else to go, and he had then been made Director, which was a blow to the place. Whereas the first Directors USJP had appointed had been keen educationists, anxious to work on a new concept, it soon became obvious that the post commanded authority and also funds, and those who succeeded them were more interested in the perks and even making money than had initially been the case.

After ten posts about travels with Kithsiri in the late nineties, I start today a new series for I finished earlier this month with accounts of my travel and work while at the British Council. Some of what I write here, about what I did from May 1992 onward, explaining what I had done and what I embarked on, is repetitive of what had come earlier, but I thought it best that this account should stand on its own, so I have given a cursory introduction to my motives at the time, and paid tribute to those who set me on this path, of great commitment to English Language Teaching rather than the literature that he been my primary interest earlier.

The pictures are of three great people who initiated so much, in education as well as in my life, Arjuna Aluvihare and John Keleher and David Woolger.


Having finished my account of travels during my time in the British Council, I move on to a different world, when I did a great deal to expand opportunities for English learning amongst those who had suffered previously from neglect. This was because the systems in place before my efforts began privileged an urban elite. Spurred by the innovative Arjuna Aluvihare however, I was able to extend work to other segments of society.

I have written elsewhere of my efforts but following on the excursus into past travels, and details of the work I did, I thought it might be interesting to explore details of what I did after I left the British Council, the endless workshops I conducted with a group of dedicated trainers and the vast amounts of material I produced, always focusing on the users rather than the teachers, again with immense support from those with knowledge and experience of the field.

I owe a debt to all of them, and also to John Keleher, the Deputy Representative of the British Council with whom I first worked on English Education, who managed to expand my interests from the teaching of literature, which was my original field of expertise, to language teaching.

He did this easily because both he, and the best trainer he employed to work within the Ministry of Education, David Woolger, believed passionately in the need to read to learn a language, and the use of literature in language training. And having got me involved in this, it was a short step to move me on to the learning of the language too.

Sadly for the British Council, his replacement, who was also a committed educationist, did not last too long, and his successor was a rather foolish woman who thought narrowly and also resented my ability. That was in party why I resigned, having been invited to join the University of Sri Jayewardenepura which was in charge of the English Diploma programmes at Affiliated University Colleges, which Arjuna Aluwihare had set up, and for which I had been virtually in charge of developing the curriculum and training teachers.

When I was selected though I had told the university that I could not join them until October for I had much travel planned for the summer. But that long journey began in August, so I was able to continue with the work I had started after leaving the Council at the end of April, albeit with a break when I went on a shorter journey abroad in May. And much of that was at the secondary level, which I continued with over the next couple of years though my primary focus had shifted to a higher level.

This post describes the commencement of my work at the South Eastern University, something I had almost forgotten, but which was a fascinating experience. Those were days in which many people were nervous about going to the Eastern Province, though I had no reason to think I was in any danger provided I did not travel at night in areas where the LTTE held sway in the hours of darkness.

I have happy memories of the rather functional guesthouse where Kithsiri and I stayed, and of the lavish hospitality not only of my former students, but also of their colleagues at the university.

And I must affirm my gratitude to Kithsiri who had no fears now about staying with me out in the East, unlike in earlier years when I visited GELT Centres there, when he – or possibly his boss Jerome Codipilly – had been nervous and I had had to hire transport from Buttala.

The pictures are of the university buildings that came up, attractive in their different ways, and of Sameem whose friendship I still cherish. Unfortunately I have no pictures of Jinnah Maulana who was also a wonderful friend, and whom I hope I can see on my next visit in that direction.

Work at the South Eastern University

After that first class I took at Madola, I spent the night at the Moneragala Victory Inn and then I went to Sammanurai to start my work at the South Eastern University. I took a class there and was also given a tour of the site at Oluvil where the new university was coming up, and met the lecturer the university had taken on for the English degree, who had no idea how to work with students whose language was week. Fortunately one of my Sabaragamuwa students, Sameem, was an instructor and more savvy.

I had dinner with him that night and breakfast next morning with another Sabaragamuwa student, Jinnah Maulana, who was teaching in a school, and then I observed classes and then worked with Kennedy on a new syllabus. That night, like the previous one, I spent at the university guesthouse, which I shared with the Bursar, a delightful lady called Ranjini.

Sameem brought me hoppers for breakfast there next morning, and then having written up my report at the university I left for the Moneragala GELT, took a class there, and then another class at the BIbile GELT before going to Derrick’s for the night. I went to the Peradeniya university next morning to leave papers and then took a class at Malwtte and went to Aluwihare for lunch and a relaxed evening with Ena, including sitting on the rock on the upper terrace before dinner, which became a regular practice.

I left after lunch for Kandy and then Colombo, and then next day, after EASL work with Kamini and Nirmali went to the university for the night. But I think term had ended, for after meeting Chandra and Somasundara, I went back to Colombo, there being no current, looking at the Eheliyagoda and Ruwanwella GELTS en route and taking classes.

There was work at the UGC next day, when I also took Ravi to register him at the police station, and the next day, March 24th, Nirmali launched her novel at the Council, after which I took off for Thailand and Germany, getting back on the night of April 16th

I record here the start of classes at Malwatte, following on signing the agreement for the Madola project with the Sri Lanka Canada Development Fund, with jak trees being planted on the land to mark the occasion. And I note too taking Peter Rowe with me to Derrick’s and to Ena’s, a mark of how quickly we had become very good friends.

The picture is of my taking a class, with Shantha in the background, in the big hall at Madola built impractically but splendidly next to the old estate bungalow.

Project work commences

After seeing the architect Anjalan, I picked up Shantha’s family and went down to the estate, Madola as it was called, to plant jak trees with the SLCDF officers who had suggested this, after which we signed the agreement. I spoke to Shantha and Jothini then about starting classes, and then saw my uncle before going to the university for the night. 

The next day, March 1st, was a holiday but I set papers before a nap. After lectures on the next two days I visited the Bandarawela and Badulla GELTs and too a class at the latter, before driving to Aluwihare for the night, on the route over the dams. I saw the two Kegalle and the Mawanella GELTs next afternoon and went to Derrick’s for the night, where Peter joined us, preparatory to presenting his credentials the next day to the President.

I took a Malwatte class next morning and then after lunch and a nap spoke to a boy called Ravi Derrick had found to work for us, and then went to Aluwihare with Peter, though he stayed down in K2. But he joined us for drinks on the terrace and dinner, and we went down to breakfast with him next morning before a tour of the place. Then it was Derrick’s for lunch and to pick up Ravi to take to Colombo, after which I saw Anjalan about the designs he had done for us.

Next morning we had my old aunts Seelia and Ranee to visit, as had happened every Sunday for decades, and then after cards at Nirmali’s I went to the university for three days of lectures, getting back to Colombo on the Wednesday for the launch of Punyakante Wijenaike’s new book. There was a GELT meeting next day at the UGC, and after a party given by Tissa Jayatilleka who was in charge of the Fulbright programme I played cards at Nirmali’s. Next day, after seeing the EASL Treasurer Kamini de Soysa about the SLCDF project, I taught at USJP after lunch. Ena came home for breakfast next morning, and we had lunch at Nirmali’s and then I saw Anjalan about the plans before drinks with Peter at his residence and then dinner at the Hilton.

I went next day to Madola and took a class, and I stayed over that night, I think with my uncle. I took another class next morning and then went to the lawyer to collect the deed for a block of land that had been recently acquired, and then delivered books at the RESC before lunch at Nimalka’s and then classes at that RESC and the one at Ambalantota.

This looks critically at the great waste of money Marga indulged in for what should have been an illuminating exhibition and workshop. I was pleased however, having taken several students down, to have provided them with parcels of food, which was left over in abundance given the lack of organization and publicity.

The pictures are of Alfie Moragoda as Commissioner of Immigration and Emigration, and of Vigneau and Miles in later life.

An object lesson in project waste

After the usual three days of classes at Sabaragamuwa I went to Tangalle for tea with Nimalka of the RESC and stayed the night at the Matara Resthouse and then, after leaving books at the RESC, went to the estate to hear about how the project was going. After lunch at my uncle’s, I went back to take a class, and then went back to Colombo, leaving books at the Sacred Heart Convent on the way.

I taught again at USJP on the Friday afternoon and then went to Nirmali’s for cards and dinner, going with her the following evening to see Alfie and Ariadne Moragoda, the latter a cousin of my mother who had been close to her. On Sunday I went back to the university in the evening for the usual schedule of lectures, getting back in time on the Wednesday to talk about Tagore and T S Eliot at the Marga Exhibition, which had a tiny audience, sadly so for the Norwegians had funded a magnificient party for a much larger crowd. I had brought down several students from the university for the event, and I insisted on them being supplied with large parcels for I could not bear the waste.

I took Vigneau next morning to the exhibition for the session on Camus and Tony Morrison, and then lunched with him and then, having taken my father to the doctor, went for his talk at the Alliance. Next morning there was a GELT seminar at the UGC, and then I signed the deeds for the Getamanna transfers and then had my USJP class before going to the BMICH with students for a talk on Pasternak and Mahfouz. Next day I was back to talk on Marquez while Peter D’Almeida spoke on Dario Fo, asked because of his wonderful performance in ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ which we had put on at the British Council a decade earlier. Then I had my old friend Miles Young for lunch, for the main advertising agencies in Sri Lanka too came under him as head of Ogilvy and Mather in Hong Kong.

I went to the Eheliyagoda RESC next evening to drop books on the way to the university, taught over the next three days, and went on Wednesday night, having dropped books at Bandarawela and Welimada, to spend the night at the Haputale Resthouse. Next morning I left books at the Buttala Campus and had lunch with Mrs Siriwardena before visiting the Bibile and Mahiyangana GELTs to take classes, and then went to Derrick’s for the night. Next day I left books at Kegalle and then got home for lunch with a lecture then at USJP and dinner at Shanthi’s. Peter Rowe came home for lunch the next day, and next morning I went to see Anjalan about the buildings he had agreed to do for me at Palankadewatte and also the estate.

Rajiva Wijesinha


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