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I describe here how I fitted in a visit from an old friend from England amidst other obligations, and ensured he saw a lot, even though I was away for part of his stay. But by now I knew Kithsiri could be entrusted to take on some of my responsibilities.

The picture is of Richard a quarter of a century before this visit, which was nearly a quarter of a century ago.

A visitor from England

I taught at the Academy next day and then went to the Bandarawela hotel where I was meant to meet one of my fellow residents at Hawthornden Castle but she was not there. I went on then to Colombo for a dinner my father was hosting for an old friend. Next morning I picked up Paru to go to Sunil Galagama’s wedding, for which I had to sign the register, and then went to a meeting at the Council about the conference.

A lot of minor work took up the next day and I finally caught up with Sue Butler from Hawthornden next day, having her to dinner along with Yasmine and Brendon and our old friends from Canada, Steve and Geneen Kumarapeli who came to Sri Lanka together for the last time. Next morning I did SLCDF accounts and then next morning my old Oxford friend Richard Weatherill arrived for a visit. I took him to have a look at the new cottage and for tea at Kithsiri’s and then left him at the Belihuloya Resthouse after drinks and dinner, to spend the night at the university. I was back there for him the next evening after teaching, and then took him after my classes and the Senate next day to the Haputale Resthouse for the night. I taught at the SLMA next day, having sent him touring, and came back with the Chief Instructor for I left that night, February 16th, for a CALD Conference in Taipei.

I came straight back on Sunday the 20th and went that night to the university and taught, and on the next day too, with a Faculty meeting before taking classes at the Balangoda and Ratnapura GELTs, And then Kithsiri took me to the New Oriental Hotel where he had I think left Richard earlier.

I took him next morning to see the Matara forts and then left him at the Tangalle Resthouse while I went to the Embilipitiya and Walasmulla GELTs and took a class at the latter though Embilipitiya was not functioning. Then I was back at the Resthouse and took Richard to the Dickwella Blowhole before drinks on the balcony before dinner.  

Next morning I left books at the RESC and then took Richard to Madola to look at the new building and for lunch at my uncle’s and then went to the Tangalle and Walasmulla and Kataragama GELT centres, handing Richard on to our Coordinator there who was the wife of the custodian of the shrine so he could have a tour of the place while I took a class. And then having looked at the Kiri Vehera we went to the Ella Resthouse for the night.

I took classes next morning at the SLMA and we then went to Colombo where Peter gave us dinner before Richard left. Next morning I went again to Getamanna with Kamini and with Lalith Athulathmudali’s sister who was over from England and had wanted to see what we were doing. Canadian monitoring staff were also there, and after doing accounts we went to lunch at my uncle’s and then got back to Colombo where I settled, Richard having given me the money, his account with Jerome where he had spent a few days for the Cultural Triangle – and much drinking with Jerome – while I was away.

I record here my first meal in the shell of my Palankadewatte cottage, for my father and my sister and Ena, and also talk about my first classes at Diyatalawa. And I introduce the Ella Bungalow at Diyatalawa where I stayed very happily over the years that followed. The picture is of Niranjan Ranasinghe in a later incarnation as ambassador to Iraq.

A meal at the river cottage

The following week I taught at the university for two days at the beginning of the week, and on the Wednesday started to teach at Diyatalawa, taking the four groups of the first degree programme in two groups for two of the core courses each, which I had realized only I could teach though I also had shadows to follow the classes who were meant to take them up later.

I got to the Avissawella Resthouse for the night and taught next morning at USJP and then went to the UGC for a meeting about English Language Teaching Units which I was trying to have upgraded into Departments, possible now because we had expanded opportunities for English degrees whereas the trained teachers who had been their mainstay previously were not taught worthy of departmental status by the university system.

There was a GELT workshop at the UGC next day, and I gave a lecture on liberalism that evening at the YMCA before my cousin Tekla’s brother-on-law Neville Ladduwahetty took my father and me to dinner at the Galle Face Hotel. Peter came round for drinks next evening after which I went to the Council for a photography exhibition and then had dinner with Ena and Anjalan. Next morning I took her to Palankadewatte and gave lunch there in the bare building to her and my father and my sister’s family, before going on myself to the university.

Again there were two days teaching at the university and one at the Academy, before I went to Welimada to drop books and then to the Gampola Resthouse for the night. Next day I dropped books at Peradeniya and the Kegalle St. Joseph’s and Eheliyagoda GELTs, and then after dropping in at Tharanjee to hand in a cheque and collect more of the Study Guide I taught at USJP after which I went to the American ambassador’s for dinner. This may have been in connection with a training project for which Jeevan had secured funding from them for the CLD.

Next day I put together another book about Richard, and had dinner with Peter, and on the Saturday went to Kurunagala for the 50th anniversary of the diocese when an award was given posthumously to my mother. After lunch with the Bishop I went to Derrick’s and took classes at Malwatte next day before going on to the university where I did more work on the Richard book and marked external papers.

I taught again at the university on the next two days, and tried to control the ragging, and then on the Tuesday afternoon I went to Diyatalawa for a Study Board and to meet the new Commandant, Brigadier Niranjan Ranasinghe, who hosted us to dinner at the mess that night. I have recorded having a shower at the Ella Bungalow and I think I stayed there that night, my first introduction to a little two roomed cottage at the edge of the academy premises which was subsequently reserved for Kithsiri and me over the next few years.

I note here my first meeting with Intake 51 at the Academy, the cadets I felt most familiar with for I took them in small groups for a number of core subjects, and did not have to worry about a senior batch too, as happened six months later when I taught Intake 52 while continuing with an academic programme for 51.

And I had much work at the university, while I was also checking on my new house at Palankadewatte and the project at Getamanna. And there were also my responsibilities at the South Eastern University which I also tried to get to every week, and where I helped a former Sabaragamuwa student now an instructor there to develop a project.

The pictures are of Sunil and Palitha and Sameem, all in different careers now after having done so well in English.

Developing a rhythm

The next day I bought toilet fittings with Anjalan, and in the afternoon delivered papers at Colombo university and that evening met one of my brighter USJP students, now Sunil Galagama after he had disrobed, whom I had put into journalism. But he was to tell me that he found the culture difficult, which I thought meant drinking, but he felt awkward because his peers all used cutlery. He then went into the administrative service, where he and a few others insisted on following the training in English, as had originally been planned before their colleagues demanded a change, and after that those brave souls soon outstripped their peers, for they were both immensely capable and willing to develop further.

I had lots of minor bits of work next day on projects and books and then on Sunday I went with Kithsiri to check on the house before going on to Tangalle where we delivered books for the RESC and were fed by NImalka. Then it was on to Madola where I saw the contractor, and then went to my uncle’s and on to the university.

I taught there over the next two days, trying to cope also with ragging, and on Wednesday I went to Diyatalawa to observe classes, and had lunch with the Commanding Officer, Milinda Peiris, who had been a contemporary of my cousin Rohan, along with an ICRC representative. Then it was to Bandarawela where I gave Palitha who had worked for me a generous loan for he wanted to expand the tuition business he had started. It succeeded admirably and he paid me back well on time over the next year or so.

I stayed that night at the Victory Inn in Moneragala and went next day to the South Eastern University for classes and a meeting with teachers before lunch at the home of Anzar, yet another instructor. I spoke then to students on the extension course, and then had tea at the guesthouse with my students and also one of David’s from Pasdunrata with whom he had told me he had had an affair.

I discussed with Sameem a project he was planning, and had dinner with him, and stayed at the guesthouse before several classes next morning. I left before lunch then, and drove back to Colombo via Kandy.

My travels took on an additional element when in 2000 the Sri Lanka Military Academy commenced a degree programme in collaboration with Sabaragamuwa University. Under their thoughtful commandant Gamini Hettiarachchi, depicted here, they had approached the UGC about this soon after I joined Sabaragamuwa in 1997 and I believe the Chairman was happy to hand it over to us to arrange because he knew I would be involved. Almost from the start I took the lead, and worked out a programme together with a few positive colleagues at the university, and the hierarchy at the Academy who were keen on developing thinking skills as well as degree level wider knowledge, and actively fell in with my plans.

But it took time to take things forward, not least because of some opposition within the army itself, and it was only in 1999 that the move took on momentum, under a new Commandant Percy Fernando. And as I note we had finalized arrangements by the time of his farewell dinner, in January of the new year, when we watched him drive away to his new post, a post from which he did not return.

A new year and new responsibilities

I got back to Colombo from my millennium dinner in Bangkok on the night of January 2nd, looking forward to classes at the Military Academy in addition to at the university. There too I had a greater load, for we had taken a double batch, to try to get over the delays in university admission which the country suffered from endlessly, and I had much to do there too when on the 3rd Kithsiri took me to the university in time for breakfast.

I met the new students then and wrote GELT letters after lunch and had a meeting about English with meetings about other elements of our Core Course the next day since I had still to organize these since they were beyond Chandra’s ken. Then on the Wednesday, after more administration and marking, I went to Diyatalawa for a Board meeting, when we also had a presentation about the ethnic conflict, followed by drinks and dinner. I believe that was Percy Fernando’s last function at the Academy, and he left that night to take up his new post at Elephant Pass which was under threat from the LTTE.

That Saturday I went to Derrick’s in Kandy, when he also had the British High Commissioner and Ayra’s sister Savi visiting from Australia. We saw the Mahanayake next morning about the English programme for young monks that Derrick had put together, and that afternoon I went to the university, to meet the old and the new students over the next few days and sort out groups while finalizing the marking for the previous exams.

On the Wednesday night I left and stayed the night at Kuruvita, and went next morning to my site to see that the roof had come up. Then I went to USJP for lectures and then to the British Council to discuss a conference which they had wanted me to organize together with our former trainee Neluka Silva who was now in the English Department at Colombo University.

As noted at the end of the last post, I also went abroad in the midst of the election campaign, which was indeed a great relief, for I found the process of canvassing wearisome. Interviews I was quite happy with, and indeed did them well, but meetings to canvass support I did not enjoy at all, and dealing with some individuals who had joined the party but seemed more keen on making money was irritating beyond measure.

The picture is of the millenium dinner.

Escaping the campaign

So I left Colombo on the night of November 24th and spent time in Manila and Bangkok and Sydney, where his friend Graeme Curran put me up and drove me round, and then Canberra, before I returned home on the night of Sunday December 5th. Then there was intense electioneering, at any rate with regard to media exposure, though we had a couple of dinners at home and I went to the Airport Garden Hotel to have dinner with my old Oxford friend Richard Norton, now a Lord, and also to Palankadewatte and Getamanna, delighted to find that by Sunday December 12th the cottage had reached roof level.

I did go to the university that night to hand in papers and welcome new staff including the daughters of Prof Wilson of USJP and Nihal Herath who had been Director of the Polgolla AUC at its inception. I got back on the Tuesday and did some USJP lectures on the Thursday and had dinner with Peter that night. On Friday I had an interview with the Frankfurter Zeitung, met the International Election Observers on the Saturday and then on Sunday went to Aluwihare for the night. On the way back next day I went to have a look at the new building that had come up where the Old Place had been in Kurunagala, and then went to the cemetery and was pleased to find that my aunt Lakshmi’s name had at last been carved on the cross on her parents’ grave where her ashes had been interred in 1995.

On the 21st I voted and then went for the night to my sister’s so as to avoid calls. Unfortunately one of those who had agreed to be at the count for me got cold feet, but Priyantha went and also my neighbour Maasiri Dias, who enjoyed himself thoroughly and told me a lot about the irregularities that can so often occur in the process.

They came to Anila’s to report early on the 22nd morning and I went to the Secretariat for the final declaration of results, and then sent my thank you faxes and slept before dinner at Nirmali’s. I wrote more thank you notes next day and then on Friday we had a party meeting when we decided to suspend Harim for he had finally appeared on a platform for Chandrika. So had Mrs Amaratunga but she had not spoken and, given her connection to Chanaka, we did not think we should take any action against her.

Peter Rowe joined us for Christmas lunch next day and was astonished at how unsociable my cousin Ranil was. He was of course disappointed to have been defeated by Chandrika, but his conduct suggested why he was never likely to be very popular. That evening it was back to entering marks, and the next day the Bakers visited in the evening, but then in the night I left for Thailand for I had, after resisting for a long time, finally agreed to join Robert and a host of other friends for a millennium dinner at his flat on the 31st.

I deal here with my candidacy for the Presidency in 1999, which most of the Liberal party supported though a couple on our Executive Committee had wanted to support Chandrika Kumaratunga. I did not spend much, but I did have two former students to stay at home and help me with leafletting, and friends in England contributed small sums to finance the little propaganda we engaged in. The picture is of Vasu, whom i was astonished and delighted to find I did better in the election.

Standing for President

But there was more to do after I came back from my Hawthornden Castle residency before I embarked on a candidacy for the Presidency.  The first thing I have recorded doing was taking Ricky to the garden, on the Thursday, and then after a relaxed Friday I went with Nirmali to Getamanna, to look at the building and the vegetable garden Adhikari had set up, and to take classes. We went on that night to the university, for the MA exams on the Sunday, when Nirmali and I took the oral component. We went back that afternoon, and in the evening the Liberal Party Committee met and we found that Harim and Mrs Amaratunga were keen to support Chandrika while the rest were opposed to this. And that was how it was decided that I should be nominated, the first two grudgingly agreeing.

Harim obliged by signing as he had to, and we deposited the required money next day and on the Tuesday I handed in my nomination. We did not have much money to spend, but Daniel trawled amongst my English friends and we got enough for paper advertisements and there was also lots of free publicity through interviews and the statutory allocations on state radio and tv. And two of my former students, Palitha and Bandara, were hired to work for me, staying at home and addressing leaflets, helped by our boy Chamara.

All in all I spent much less than individuals in parliamentary elections did, but I performed well, coming 6th out of 15, ahead of established politicians who had been members of Parliament such as Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Tennyson Edirisooriya. And my good friend Rohan Ponniah recorded gratis my television appearances, which had a considerable impact, the son of the UNP chairman for instance voting for me since, as he told his father, I was clearly the best candidate.

But, though I had to take leave from the university, other activities continued, the cemetery on November 18th, my mother’s birthday, and a dinner for her friends, the closing of the EASL bookshop at the British Council, champagne at Peter’s and also the preparation of a paper for Australia. For in the midst of the campaign I went to a Sri Lankan Studies seminar in Canberra, encouraged by Peter who had to be there for consultations and said I could stay in the flat the Foreign Ministry made available to him. And though there was only limited funding, I had a ticket to Manila already for a CALD Conference I did not want to miss – not least because it was agreed to appoint me interim chair for a few months, which covered the period of the election.

Back today to travels at the turn of the century, after ten posts about earlier university days. Here I record a sudden and deeply saddening death, Neville Kanakaratne’s. He had seemed so vibrant, and so full of ideas when I had seen him over the preceding year, that it came as a terrible shock.

I go on then to describe my stay at Hawthornden Castle, and the sudden decision I took there to stand for the Presidency, during long walks through the Scottish woods.

Neville Kanakaratne’s death.

The day after Peter’s Olympics party I taught at USJP, and on Friday, after giving Shantha lunch at home, I went to Kandy for a workshop at the Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, I spent the night at its guesthouse and attended the workshop next morning, but in the afternoon went to the wedding of the son of an old family friend. That night I had dinner with university colleagues, and attended the workshop next morning, and then went with Kithsiri to Aluwihare after lunch.

Next morning I got back to Colombo and collected a German visa, with the EASL AGM that afternoon. Next day I took Nirmali to Belihuloya, though I am not sure she had any work there. I had to go that afternoon to the SLMA for our Board meeting but got back to have dinner with Nirmali,, and next morning we set off for Getamanna, first dropping in on my uncle for lunch. I think Nirmali was keen to see progress on the building, which was satisfactory, and we came back that afternoon, via Ratnapura so she could see the cottage coming up too.

I had to talk at an international school next morning and then lecture at USJP, but sadly that was the day of Neville’s funeral for he had died suddenly. I went to his house and then to the funeral, which Peter also attended, having got on so well with him in our few meetings earlier in the year.

I had much to do domestically the next day, while also dropping in at the Council, and then that night, September 24th, I left for a very long trip, getting back only on the night of November 10th. The centrepiece of this was a month’s residency at Hawthornden Castle, to write, but I also went in between to Berlin for an FNS meeting, and had a few days at the beginning and the end in Thailand.

While at Hawthornden I head both of the disasters that had befallen the Sri Lankan army at the hands of the LTTE and of the early presidential election that Chandrika Kumaratunga had called. Communications were limited, but my good friend Daniel Moylan had given me a mobile phone, the first I ever used, and I could talk to him on my afternoon walks, and also hear from others.

It was during those afternoon walks, when I also realized the Liberal Party was torn between those who wanted to support Chandrika – like Harim – and those who inclined to the UNP, that I hit upon the happy expedient of standing myself. This would also, I hoped, serve to resuscitate the Liberal Party which had seemed a spent force after Chanaka Amaratunga’s death.

I describe here my first journeys with a car and a driver from home, though before very long both these arrangements had to be aborted. The pictures are of the memorable Tangalle Bay and the Polhena Reef hotels, and then of Nihal Fernando.

New travel arrangements

I had by then trained one of the boys at home, Jayantha, to drive and my mother thought it best to make use of the Renault, for which I paid her the same rate as I did Codipilly. On this first trip I also took a Codipilly driver, Palitha, who was one of the best of a rotating group, and he said he thought Jayantha could manage. So I went on with just him that evening to Moneragala, to stay at the Resthouse and then check on ten schools next morning, before a few more in the afternoon. Next morning I saw a couple more and went on to Rahangala to meet the Director and the staff, getting back after that to Colombo in time for a Liberal Party meeting.

After some work at Nirmali’s next morning I went to the Asia Foundation to collect their first cheque, and had dinner that night with Jennifer and Anu Fernando, daughter of Nihal and Dodo who had first put me in touch with her. Next day I had meetings at USJP and then the NIE, and that evening saw David who was not quite sure what would happen next since his current contract was ending.

On the Saturday I did some work on the poetry of Jean Arasanayagam who needed to be better known, but I also wanted criticism available for students since I had prescribed her for the courses I had devised. Jeevan came to see me that day, for he had got an assignment in Cambodia, and I was able to advise him about where to stay and whom to contact.

I had lunch next day with Andre, and in the evening I set off with David to Matara, where we stayed at the Polhena Reef Hotel. We both had programmes the next day in Matara and Tangalle, and spent the next night at the Tangalle Bay hotel which was designed like a plane on a promontory, with a lovely beach from which we swam before drinks and dinner.

We had several more meetings next day, including at Weligama where a new RESC was being set up, and then returned to Colombo, with lunch on the way at the Monis establishment which had long been famous for its rusks.

Wednesday was duller, with meetings at the NIE and USJP before work at Nirmali’s after lunch. Next day we took delivery of books from both Pau and Printpack, and that evening I went to Aluwihare, to set off next morning with a cupboard that had had to be repaired. Early next morning I set off in her van with her driver Karim, and delivered the cupboard and saw several schools, taking a class at one of them. But I got back that evening to Aluwihare, via Polonnaruwa, for the last schools had been far north in the Amparai District.

I was introduced at the very start of 1993 to the vagaries of the university system for it was on strike when I got back for the beginning of term. But for me this was fortunate for I was able to spend more time with visiting friends, and also to work on the project I had proposed for Cambodia, though in the end, with little interest at this end, it came to nothing.

The first picture is of Robert, from that period when he had to interact with D B Wijetunge, who had been Minister for Telecommunications, though this picture could have been from before 1993. The next is of Roddy Campbell on his second visit to Sri Lanka, last December, now with another wife, and a very young son, though he himself looked scarecely older.


I was back in Colombo late on the night of Monday January 4th, and next morning I went early to see Rex Baker who was visiting from Mumbai, where he headed the Council office. He was staying with Jeritza McCarter, an American who had acted for us in several productions during my last years at the Council.

I then went to USJP only to find it was closed because there was a go-slow, whether arranged by staff or students I cannot now remember. So after seeing Gunasinghe and Dorakumbura I went home and had a nap and then wrote up a report of the Cambodian trip to send to various agencies in the hope of funding for a project.

I worked at Nirmali’s next morning and sent off my proposals in the afternoon, before an EASL talk at the Council by Regi Siriwardena on Tennyson. My great friend Robert Scoble was visiting, and gave me dinner at the Hilton that night. Next day I was again at UGC to talk also to Wilson, and sent off the rest of my letters. There was a Liberal Party meeting in the afternoon, followed by a recital at the Council by Prashanthi Navaratnam, daughter of our doctors. She was training as an opera singer in London and I had arranged a recital for her there earlier, which had been a great success so the Council was happy for a another.

Next day I saw the Australians and then went with Robert to Negombo for a delightful two days, John having gone there straight when he and I got back to Colombo. But after dinner on the Saturday Robert and I came back to Colombo and I had to prepare lots of letters the next day. In the night an old friend from Oxford, Roddie Campbell, came for drinks with his wife Sophie and I took them out to dinner.

On the 11th I signed an agreement with the Asia Foundation and spoke at a seminar for English instructors and then went to Belihuloya, which had managed to get a good lecturer, Anoma Amarasuriya, while I had also recruited one of the best of David’s Pasdunrata students, Shantha Balasuriya.

I had previously used a hired vehicle, obtained from Jerome Codipilly who had been the most reliable of those from whom the Council had got vehicles when its own two did not suffice. But then my mother had asked me whether I could instead use my sister-in-law’s car, a Renault, which had been left with us when she and my brother moved to Hong Kong. In theory my mother looked after it, since by then the couple were annoyed with my father, but of course she knew nothing about cars and it was my father who had to attend to it.

This describes the recruitment of new staff, which I was generally satisfied with for I got both Paru and Dinali for the department and some good instructors for the Unit. But I was horrified by the racism which was displayed, overtly just by one instructor, but not argued against by the rest except for the utterly decent Oranee. Paru of course was all right, since she was in the Department, but I wondered about the elderly Tamil gentleman we had recruited as an instructor. Fortunately Oranee took him for the medical faculty, where she built up an excellent team, of which he proved a useful member.

The pictures are of four wonderful teachers I recruited to USJP, Paru and Dinali and Lalith Ananda and Sarath Ananda from Pasdunrata, but also the one I could not have, Madhubhashini Dissanayake as she was then, though later Paru was able to get her, and she had done yeoman service there.

New staff

At USJP the next day I discussed with Chitra the proposal to set up an English Department as had been envisaged from the time I was recruited, and worked more on the Management time-tables, and the number of staff to be dedicated to that Faculty. That evening there was yet another Liberal meeting. Then on the next two days we had interviews, first for instructors, and then for lecturers. I was glad that Paru and Dinali Fernando were selected for the department, and two protégés from Pasdunrata whom David had sent me for the ASSET course I ran at the Council for instructor positions, Lalith Ananda and Sarath Ananda.

They were soon amongst the staff most loved by the students, but the ladies of the Unit were furious, denigrating the language skills of the two boys, and attacking Paru as a Tamil, with the most vociferous of the senior instructors calling her a Tiger. Dorakumbura had wanted to appoint her to head the ELTU but after the harpies had reduced her to tears she refused to have anything more to do with them, and stuck firmly with the department.

Sadly Dorakumbura was determined to take onto the staff the daughter of a friend, and refused to have Madhubhashini or another bright girl who also had a degree from India. There was much mocking of Indian degrees, which I could argue about, but then the establishment declared that three year degrees were not acceptable, and to specialize in English you have to have studied it for four years. There was no arguing against this, which the university system in Sri Lanka thinks is a sacrosanct principle, even though everyone knows that degrees in the British system take only three years.

An English friend of mine, John Harrison, had arrived that day, but I had to neglect him over the next few days although there was much social activity in the evenings, my grandmother’s birthday party at my sister’s on the next evening, December 19th, and dinner at David Woolger’s the next day. On the first of these, Saturday, I worked at Nirmali’s and the next day I had lots of friends for lunch. But then on Monday the 21st I went with John to Bangkok for a wonderful holiday there and in Cambodia, getting back to Colombo only on January 4th.

Rajiva Wijesinha


June 2022
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