Friday, December 16, 2011

The Good Old Days by JB Muller


The Good Old Days -Anglophiles, Eurocentric arrogance and Reality

by J. B. Müller

(This dissertation is written from almost 50 year’s of on-the-job experience in the print and electronic media and from first-hand knowledge of people and events and from careful, objective research. It is written to illuminate a ‘grey-area’ that is often obscured or concealed. As a human being my aim is that the Truth be told with no holds barred and so that the oppressed, the marginalized, and the discriminated-against could come out of the shadows. That can only happen if we change our warped attitudes and acknowledge that great wrongs have been done to harmless people because of various evil motives.)

After 62 year’s of independence we still have in our midst persons who not only admire but who also hunger for colonial rule by Britain. These individuals, men and women, look at the past through rose-tinted spectacles and pine for the ‘good old days’ when decisions were made in Whitehall. Astonishingly, they sincerely believe that the British had a divine right to rule this country for its own good. They are fond of pointing to the roads and railways, the post and telegraph services and the administrative infrastructure as some noteworthy sections of the Colonial legacy bequeathed us by the British. Their naïve beliefs fly in the face of this country’s modern history because they do not go beyond the surface veneer. Their near-fanatical admiration for the Anglo-Saxon ‘Way-of-Life’ is strongly influenced by legend, mythology, and fallacious beliefs that were wrapped around colonial empire-building by such people as Rudyard Kipling and latterly, Winston Churchill.

One of the predominant driving forces behind colonial expansion from the beginnings of the 16th century was Eurocentric Racism. Europeans strongly believed that they were a ‘Chosen People’ superior to the rest of Mankind. The holdovers of this sickening legacy are still with us in the form of some of those of mixed parentage and those anglicized natives who think they were born here accidentally. I actually knew one such warped individual, scion of a Kandyan family who lived at the ‘British’ Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Institute. He lived here because the name of the place had the word ‘British’ in it. He used to meet me at breakfast, sharp 7:30 AM. He used to imperiously summon the white-clad waiter by calling-out ‘Boy, bring me my breakfast.’ That was bacon and eggs (sunnysides up) with toast and marmalade washed down by a cup of English Breakfast Tea! He read only "The Times" from London (about five days old!) and disdained all local newspapers stating that they were only good enough to clean windows or for use in the toilet! Of course, he was a ‘High’ Church Anglican who attended St. Michael & All Angels in Kollupitiya and, occasionally, St. Peter’s Garrison Church in the Fort.

Do these people, these anglophiles, really know the sordid history of British rule in this Island? A rule soaked in the blood to those who dared to resist that rule? Have they ever read the extensive correspondence of Sir Robert Brownrigg to General Hay McDowall available in the British Colonial Office, Series 54? Have they read the General Order (one of several documented by the late Prof. Tennekoon Vimalanda) issued in 1818 that stated: "Kill every man, woman and child including the babes suckling at their mother’s breast. Destroy all dwelling houses. Burn all crops. Cut down all fruit trees. Slaughter all cattle; take what meat is necessary to feed the troops and burn the rest. Destroy all reservoirs, canals and channels. Poison the wells. Lay waste utterly the countryside denying any relief whatsoever to the rebels." This Order was carried out, laying waste Uva and Vellassa, a destruction from which it is yet to fully recover. British writers commented that every tree from Ratnapura to Badulla was festooned with the hung bodies of rotting human beings that gave off a revolting stench. The word ‘genocide’ was coined in the 1940s meaning the wiping-out of a people, but if this wasn’t genocide then, what is? Kandyan Sinhalese survivors of this colonial holocaust reported that the East African Askaris (Negro) were encouraged by their British officers to barbecue captives and eat their flesh! To the freedom fighters watching horrified from the edges of the jungle, these weren’t human beings but demons. They fled into the deep fastness of the southeastern jungles and all resistance collapsed. I have talked with the descendants of some of these survivors in hamlets near Kumana and they confirmed this.

Their records in Africa, Asia, America and Australia have been extensively documented. They wiped-out or enslaved millions of Africans; they slaughtered millions of Asians; they butchered the Amerindian tribes, and they almost decimated the Australian aborigines. In addition to this bloody record of unbridled carnage, European diseases such as syphilis, smallpox and other communicable diseases destroyed entire populations who did not possess the immunity to resist these new-to-them diseases. They also introduced alcohol and to this day it is as blight amongst indigenous peoples throughout the planet.

Even at this moment the Amerindian tribes in South America are being annihilated as precious minerals and oil has been discovered on their ancestral lands. White-owned multi-national corporations are involved in the business of obliterating these indigenous peoples. Those who inhabit Borneo and Papua-New Guinea are also losing their habitats before the inexorable onslaught of giant corporations that either want the tropical hardwood timber or valuable natural resources that lie underground.

Millions died as slaves, treated as sub-human beings. It was preached in churches up to recently that the non-European peoples had no salvation because they were Black, Brown, Yellow, or Red. A well-known lady resigned from a Calvinist congregation in Colombo and sought to join another church because the minister preached a sermon in which he stated that biblically, there was no salvation for non-Whites! She was quoted by Riccardo Orizio in his book "Lost White Tribes" (© 2000.) Another mixed-descent Sri Lankan clergyman walked out of a Christian pastoral conference in South Africa when he was barred from entering a ‘Whites Only’ toilet and directed to a    "Coloured’s/Blacks’ toilet. Didn’t these pastors know that Jesus was an Asian, a Jew, and coloured to boot? And, it is also a fact that non-Europeans were not permitted to even enter ‘Whites Only’ clubs throughout Sri Lanka. One such club in Colombo displayed prominently a notice which stated: "Natives and Dogs Not Allowed." It was removed in 1961 on a government directive. Another club at a popular Up-country resort had a rule that said that you had to be dressed in a European suit plus tie or be denied access to the Dining Room. The Club kept several coats of different sizes and ties for patrons who arrived ‘undressed.’!I worked in one such establishment where the waiters addressed all Whites as ‘Master Sir.’ Jesus Himself couldn’t have used a ‘Whites Only’ toilet in South Africa or entered a ‘Whites Only’ club in Sri Lanka.

In the region of the Plantation Raj, I came to know a man in his Sixties by the name of Kalu Banda. He had a sinister furrow carved diagonally across his face from above his right eye to below his left ear-lobe. He told me that the road on which we were standing was once a horse-track and the European who owned a tea plantation a few miles away was to ride this way often. He met him one day and failed to remove his turban and bow. For this act of ‘disrespect’ the European struck him across his face with his leather riding quirt, drawing blood and leaving a huge gash which healed slowly. He told me tales of labourers being tied to trees and whipped until their backs were shreds of torn flesh. There was no one to complain to he said. Then, pretty women or girls as young as 12 years from the Labour Lines or the village were ordered to be brought to the bungalow at dusk—properly bathed and with the coconut-oil in their hair washed-out thoroughly. The plantation areas have many bastard children—some with blue eyes and blonde hair—the result of the sexual exploitation the voiceless were subject in the ‘good old days.’ Lorna Wright has documented this in her book: "Just Another Shade of Brown" (© 1976), followed by Dr. Kumari Jayawardenain her "Erasure of the Euro-Asian." (© 2007), andDonovan Moldrich in his "Bitter Berry Bondage." Writing about the indentured labour brought from the Ram Nad district of present-day Tamil Nadu, he wrote: "The trail from Talaimannar to Matale was marked by the whitening bones of thousands of men, women and children who perished on the way from infectious diseases, malnutrition, snake-bite, and attacks by bear, leopard, wild buffalo and elephants. When they arrived at Matale they were auctioned off to different White plantation owners: the man here, the wife there, the children somewhere else. The heartless tearing-up of families went on year after year. That became bitter berry bondage as the coffee estates gave way to tea, all built up on the blood, the sweat, and the heart-rending tears of these wretched people." They were like this for 125 years, from 1823 to 1948 when they were deprived even of their citizenship and became stateless non-citizens. The writings of John Capper, William Knighton, Dr. Henry Marshall, P.D. Millie, C.R. Rigg, William Sabonadiere, Edward Sullivan, and Herbert White, among others add grist to the mill and vividly describe some of the many, varied and unpleasant facets of British rule.

Old marriage registers available at the National Archives provide enlightening reading where it is stated in black-and-white: "John Brown* of the 20th Regiment married a native woman." (Name not recorded.) The only redeeming factor was that the issue were no bastards—they were designated ‘half-castes’ and despised by both sides. (*For obvious reasons a pseudonym is used here to illustrate the point being made.) The very reason that the Paynter Home was established by the Indian Christian Mission was to take care of these unacknowledged offspring produced through the unrestrained sexual exploitation of helpless local women. Another home was set-up in Badulla by Methodist missionaries and elsewhere.
Sri Lankan publicists had the courage of their convictions to expose the injustices that were perpetrated on the people of this country. Let me quote the well-known social activist Susil Siriwardena here: "Long was the line of those distinguished practitioners, who provided leadership to their institutions, were gurus to the juniors and who contributed to the profession:Tarzie Vittachi, Denzil Peiris, J. L. Fernando, H. E. R. Abeysekera, Donovan Moldrich, Fred de Silva and Victor Gunawardena.Viewed within the setting of the intellectual milieu of the second half of the 20th century, Mervyn de Silva, both the craftsman and the personality, stands out as an exemplar of a meritocratic age, where the values of excellence, quality, disciplined labour, and commitment to professionalism, a multicultural sensitivity and an intuitive grasp of truth, were the norms of those who set out to reach for the stars. It as an age when youth were inspired by idealism, for which independence provided a supplementary value addition. The whole country, Asia, the Tricontinent, and the world itself, provided the intellectual canvas." These highly-respected commentators despised the entire raison d’être of colonial rule and the utter arrogance of Eurocentric racism that drove it forwards and outwards and its latter-day metamorphosis into ‘decolonization.’ This was its new face with its indirect domination through trade, aid, and military alliances that sought to conceal the hidden hands of command and control.

When people from this part of the world visit London, Paris, Rome, and other European capitals they are awed into profound silence by the magnificent edifices: The palaces, museums, and monuments to greatness that they see around them. Do they realize that all this exists on the bitter and unrelenting exploitation of man by man? Or the enslavement of innocent peoples? On their labour in the cotton fields of the American South, the coffee plantations of Brazil, the cocoa estates of West Africa, the diamond mines of South Africa, the tobacco fields of Zimbabwe, the tea gardens of Sri Lanka, the rubber estates of Malaysia, the sheep farms of Australia, the sugarcane fields of Mauritius? These are the places where people laboured for a pittance in wages or no wages at all. They laboured on lands that were stolen from the indigenous peoples? They laboured in inhuman conditions so that a few White men in London, Paris, Antwerp, New York or Basel could amass fortunes beyond the dreams of avarice. Then, is there any justification whatsoever that Man (created in the image of God), any man, should enslave another and exploit him to the death? In"Roots" (© 1976) written by Alex Haley we read with feelings too deep even for tears a story of how a man rudely torn from his family in Africa in 1750 ends with this recounting of that odyssey seven generations later. Indeed, for a human being whose mind has been opened by the LORD God to the Truth it is abominable that human beings, brethren all under the Fatherhood of God, could countenance, much less, justify the conduct of those who issued forth from the European continent 500 years ago to despoil the Earth. The insoluble problem of global warming, the depletion of the Earth’s water resources, the pollution of the environment (earth, air, and sea) and a score of other grave problems could all be traced back to these arrogant Eurocentric racists. Their attitudes should not be allowed to influence us in any way or manner. The LORD chose to bring His Word to Mankind through an Asian people, the Israelites and, latterly, their descendants, the Jews. Jesus, the Christ was a Jew, of the House of Judah, born on the Western edge of the Asian continent. The Mediterranean Basin in which His Word was first preached is the Melting Pot of three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe. The Word of God went to Armenia, Ethiopia and Egypt long before it reached England. The Mar Thoma congregation in Malabar was established during the lifetime of the ApostleThomas whose grave is to be found in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. A Nestorian Christian congregation existed in Anuradhapura and another in Vavuniya in the 4th century of the Common Era, that is, in the 300s. If one blindly follows the blind both will assuredly fall into a ditch. Open your eyes to reality. Only the utterly naïve and those who would be ignorant would want to be anglophiles# and believe that the Anglo-Saxon peoples represent the zenith of civilization; what they actually represent is the nadir of barbarism. This quote which ends my dissertation puts it quite succinctly:

"The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do." - Samuel P. Huntington

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Colombo in 1947

Sunday Observer Oct 9 2011


Colombo I saw in 1947

[Part 1]

My very first visit to Colombo was in April 1947, when I was a teenager and my reminiscence is clear and vivid of the city and places I visited then with my parents.
We came to Colombo by Kelani Valley Train, boarding the train at Kahawatta railway station, the one before Opanayake which was the last station on KV Line. Coming from the remote village of Emetiyagoda in Sabaragamuwa boarding a train to Colombo was indeed a thrilling experience we youngsters looked forward to passing many railway stations travelling all day long.
We reached Maradana our destination in the evening. I well remember climbing the steep stairs and coming out of the station to the road at Maradana which was well lit up and full of traffic with tramcars moving and the street filled with people on the pavement. At Maradana we boarded a bus to Dehiwala where we were to stay at our aunty's house down Fairline Lane.
Following day we visited the Colombo museum where the Holy Relics of Sariputta and Moggallana, the Aggrasavaka of Buddha brought down from India were in exposition for Buddhists to pay homage. The main purpose of the visit to Colombo was to pay homage to these relics.

Museum

The entire museum was gaily decorated and a long line of devotees in waiting, winding its way to worship and pay homage to Sacred Relics.
A group of drummers clad in white with decorative red headgear was humming their drums outside the Relic Chamber on the green. The entire place looked dignified and serene and devotees moving slowly and silently to pay homage. These many hundreds of Bhikkhus coming in a different queue to pay homage.
After worshipping the Relics we visited many halls in the museum where historical objects including the throne of the last King of Kandy were on display. We the younger were awe-struck by the impressive museum, its long corridors and archways in gleaming white. The large lawns outside neatly kept with flower beds made a lasting impression in my mind of beauty and order in a garden as part of a large building.
Getting out of the museum with a deep sigh, father took us to show the Race Course, Royal College and the University at Reid Avenue. We walked down Thurstan Road to Reid Avenue under the shades of giant Mara trees grown on both sides of the road, forming a green canopy over the road.
We saw the massive Race Course, the grand stand and the white railing along the race track. The university building and its centre tower and the play ground in front were very impressive. I remember father showing some students entering the large building and saying if we studied hard we too could study there. We had no idea then what a university was. Later when we saw the red buildings of the Royal College nearby with very large trees in the front garden. I thought university was another college for senior boys.

Ocean

Boarding a bus from Reid Avenue we came to Galle Face Green where I was awe-struck by the vast scene I saw - The vast ocean in front with the green running along the Galle Face Hotel at one end and the Parliament, grey in colour, standing at the other end. We all walked the entire length of the Galle Face ground to the spot called Galle Buck, a rocky spot with a few coconut palms and the sea waves dashing on the rocks to reach the beach. We were let to touch the sea water and walk on the beach. From there we saw many ships in the sea across and the harbour at the distance. We walked up to Chatham Street where we had lunch. The shops along that street were full of people mostly foreign tourists.
After lunch with ice cream as dessert we hit the street again and saw the massive grand Queen's House with two impressive gates with uniformed guards standing motionless armed with guns. We were too scared to get near the impressive gates and look closely. Father explained that they were special police guarding the Queen's House where the Governor resides. We visited the beautiful garden next to Queen's House. It was called Gorden Gardens. There we saw beautiful beds of flowers, roses and many others well laid with pathways to walk on adorning that garden.
It was full of European visitors, some seated on the benches eating bananas and pineapples, under shady trees. They appeared to be enjoying the sun very much as some had large hats in their hands.
Leaving the beautiful Gorden Gardens to them we then visited the Colombo harbour and saw large ships anchored at a distance.
We saw the jetty and the landing pier and few white passengers leaving in boats, some carrying bunches of bananas and pineapples. Father explaining to us that they were European travellers returning to their countries by ship.
There were several sailors all in white uniforms wearing caps and appearing very smart on duty at the pier. Opposite the harbour was the Grand Oriental Hotel (GOH) from where many travellers walked to the pier. We were told that Europeans stayed either in the GOH and boarded the ships to travel to England. While watching them leaving in boats to big ships, I thought to myself that journey across the ocean must be thrilling and wished I too could go on board a ship London bound. My father explained to us while walking back from the harbour, that the sea journey took several weeks and the ship had all the things the passengers required during the long sea voyage. That visit to Colombo harbour made a deep impression on me and kindled a desire to travel across the seas one day.
We returned to Emetiyagoda after a few days and the pictures of Colombo, the buildings, the roads, tram cars, parks, gardens and the harbour and the ships lingered in my mind for months. Father bought us Pilot brand fountain pens and tooth brushes and tooth paste for us to use as utility items in Colombo.
My second visit to Colombo was in 1950 to join a college for studies after junior level education in Dickwella, Matara at Vijitha Vidyalaya. After coming to Colombo during my early youth, I grew up in Colombo and saw the city growing up after independence in 1948, and experiencing many changes within the city's urban environment.
When I came to Colombo I stayed in a private boarding house, down Maligakanda Road, Maradana. The boarding house was close to Vidyodaya Pirivena and was opposite to Cliffton Girls School.

Residential areas

Then the area around Maligakanda was typically a residential area, close to two leading boys schools, Ananda College and Nalanda College. The boarding house had a number of students attending Ananda College including my brother and two graduate teachers of Nalanda College.
I attended Alexandra College, Colombo 7 managed by G. Weeramantrie, the well-known maths teacher of the Royal College. Maligakanda area being close to leading schools had boarding facilities in most private houses. It was a service to outstation students attending Colombo schools as well as a source of supplementary income to those householders who had space to let and willing to provide full-board to a few students.
Those days college teachers wore full dress in white and wore a black tie while most junior students wore navy blue shorts and white shirts and the seniors white long trousers and white short sleeve shirts and girls white frocks.
In the mornings and early afternoons Maligakanda Road, otherwise drab, turned lively with white clad students moving down the road after school on their way home.
wThe girls were orderly though somewhat chatty. The most striking feature was that they were not accompanied by parents or any elders.

Propriety

This was probably due to order and propriety that prevailed then in Colombo. Most students walked to schools by themselves and hardly anyone came in vans or other private vehicles. So did teachers and few came in cars or rickshaws.
The entire length of Maligakanda right up to the water supply reservoir on the hill, was dotted with houses some quaint and others cute with hanging flower pots or window boxes.
Only a few had front yards to grow flowers, but most had neatly kept flower pots at the entry points to the houses. One well kept house down Maligakanda Road was 'Sigiriya'.
It was the house where the late Karunaratne Abeysekara and his brothers, who were students at Nalanda College lived with their parents.
I saw the famous lyricist and radio - broad caster going about along Maligakanda Road.
He was immaculately dressed in white trousers and short sleeve shirt. And he wore a thin moustache.
Opposite the 'House Sigiriya' was the well-known dancer Premakumar's Epitawala's residence. On an ordinary day this road was not congested and one could cross at any point without fear as only a few cars and rickshaws moved up and down.
Evenings were colourful with yellow robed bhikkus in groups, leaving the pirivena after classes to their respective temples. Being close to Vidyodaya Pirivena, there were several bookshops and publishing houses along Maligakanda Road, Maradana.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

He comes from Sri Lanka

Sunday Times Sep 18 2011


Cooking up a taste of Jaffna

Devanshi Mody checks out the Yaal virundu Jaffna food festival
A “pottu” the hostess dots you with and ushers you into Yaal Virundu hosted by the Ramada. Attesting to its immense popularity, the annual Jaffna food festival is now in its seventh successive year. If you haven’t been before, do avail yourself of this opportunity over the next three weekends to get a taste of Jaffna.

Curious about cooking traditions particular to Jaffna, I request to meet the chefs whom one expects were brought down from the peninsula. It transpires, however, that the food has been made by in-house chefs. In-house chefs from Jaffna? There seems to be no consensus for someone says a team of Sinhalese chefs has admirably recreated flavours from the northern territory, someone else says the chef is Tamil but from Hatton and yet someone else says the creations are courtesy of their North Indian Chef Santosh Chaniyalal.

Too many cooks might spoil the soup. But they make a superb kool (famous Jaffna seafood soup) and piquant parippu rasam. I am impressed. I am told, but of course, they have called a Tamil amman as consultant. “Is she from Jaffna?” I ask excitedly. I am told, “Eh no, from Wellawatta….” Admittedly, costs of transportation are rather astronomical nowadays.

I find myself soon distracted by a live station where two chefs prepare hoppers and thosais. Thosais are plump and come with an especially good coconut chutney. The hoppers, crisp, porous, served with stunner seeni sambol and lunu miris, are quite possibly the best in Colombo currently. As methods of preparation of dosas vary erratically across Tamil Nadu, I ask if the technique used to prepare these lovely hoppers is particular to Jaffna. I am told somewhat cryptically, “This is a Sri Lankan technique.” But paal appam made with milk and jaggery hoppers are quintessential Jaffna specialities.

After an indulgence of three delicate hoppers I think I should be making an effort with other items on a buffet that perhaps comprises a hundred dishes including titbits like fried banana chips, jak fruit seed etc. Expect countless Jaffna salads, enticingly displayed in indigenous baskets and exotic paraphernalia, cradled on banana leaves and adorned in vibrant vegetable and beautiful floral sculptures. Nobody quite explains to me the difference between varais, poriyals and pachchadis but the salad counter undulates with varais of murunga leaves, bitter gourd, snake gourd and for more bite shark varai (yes!), multifarious poriyals (long beans, cabbage, plantain flower) and pachchadis like mango or ingi (whatever that is is excellent.

The salads, of course, are accompaniments to enhance or modulate robustly flavoured curries to which I next attach myself. Clay and brass pots lain on striking straw mats fume with fragrant preparations. Not having been to Jaffna I cannot vouch for their authenticity but I have travelled extensively around Tamil Nadu the cooking traditions of which one hears influence Jaffna cuisine. However, had I anticipated the explosive spices and teasing tanginess of Chettinad, they aren’t replicated on this buffet. On the other hand, tongue-tickling red brinjal curry in a lightly textured gravy juxtaposed by white brinjal curry thick and heavy with coconut milk, exemplify strains from Tamil Nadu and Southern Sri Lanka that perhaps fashion Jaffna’s unique culinary culture. Again, the fantastic sambaru throbbing with vegetables evokes Tamil Nadu whilst the dhal is as elsewhere in Sri Lanka.

Jaffna’s cuisine is renowned for its seafood and this buffet presents favourites like nandu sodhi (crab and gravy) or variations on prawns (prawns with drumsticks, shallow fried prawns etc) and several fish curries. However, the unexpectedly large variety of vegetarian dishes arrests. Convened for the first time on a single buffet are potato (here made with an unusual red gravy), ash plantain, pumpkin, manioc and bread fruit curries. Nice, firm textures (unlike soggy or undercooked yams often found on buffets).
Preparations are flavoursome, ingredients balanced and certain combinations interest: Beads of fenugreek with enormous pearls of garlic cloves merge in an extraordinary creation. For once I decide to ignore the sheets of oil under which curries are oppressed and oleaginous rivulets running amuck on my plate. My only protest is that the buffet is enormous and worse, everything is delicious. So when the waiter comes to clear my plate for the third time, I say I wish to sample yet something else.

And then I must queue. You would be well advised to reach early or patiently await access to the food as guests before you pile up pyramids of pittu, uppma, string hopper biriyani and tamarind rice (here, a mild approximation of what I’ve had in Tamil Nadu).

The Jaffna Food Festival certainly seems to have captured the tourist imagination for the Alhambra restaurant is packed, predominantly with tourists. One even accosts me to ask if I’ll do a “reportage” about him, “A Saudi tourist in Sri Lanka.”

I quickly extricate myself explaining I must get some fresh mangoes before they are all gone, which they are. But the brisk and obliging steward Lakmal winks, “I’ll get you some from inside.” Desserts on the buffet are many but the jalebis, muscats, halwas and such like are too vigorously hued for me.

The milk toffee, however, looks gorgeous and what looks good generally tastes good. Wonderfully chunky, without the Milkmaid overdose, it melts in the mouth- maybe the only milk toffee I’ve actually eaten in its entirety. You might lose a tooth biting into the thala balls, but it’s worth it for that taste. The pongal is studded with swollen raisins and generous in enormous king cashew nuts, contrasting starkly with buffets at grand hotels where cashews have disappeared or been reduced to shavings.

Amazed by the fare, I am persistent about meeting the chef. Mr Dian (Assistant F&B Manager) presents Chef Asoka. I ask, “Is he from Jaffna?” Mr Dian says, “No he is Sri Lankan.” An averment as colourful as the buffet!
The writer is a freelance travel writer who has contributed to international magazines and newspapers including Tatler, Conde Nast Traveller, Harper's Bazaar, Wallpaper, Elle, The Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Independent.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Chartered Bank Boys 1970

            Gerry Carvalho, Felix Vindurampulle, Davidson, Chubby Weinman, Rohan Masilamany

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Martin Lizard King


Martin Lizard King, our Water Monitor friend
a true life adventure compiled by the Sameer family at Eco Village, Sri Lanka in 2006


               Eco Village at Sunrise

We wake up together at dawn, each day, and salute the golden radiation of warm sunshine as it touches the far banks of the Dodanduwa Lagoon and paints the Gin Ganga in subtle shades of colors and hues. Feelings of serenity whisper voices of melancholy and weave Utopian dreams of parading solitude into our hearts and gives rise to an amazing awakening from a silent slumber through the night. The aura invades the innermost crevices of our soul, with emotions from a breathtaking beyond, as our eyes survey the contours of this simple little heaven on earth lurking away in a corner, off the southern coast of Sri Lanka and referred to as Eco Village to all commercial and traveller folks. The beautifully manicured lawn with its foliage feasting in the air emanates the human need for peace and contentment within ruffling showers that fill the flowers with the essence of fresh new fragrances throughout each passing day.

In this exotic environment of beauty and splendor, Martin Lizard King, the silent Water Monitor spells out an ancient love story written by time and narrated through nature’s beauty from generation to generation. In so many ways Martin demonstrates his dignified demeanour and grace as he silently, and in all serenity, plays about on the bounteous land and washes his cares away in the silvery streams of the cool lagoon waters. His steadfast strength moves him on, surviving in a jungle called earth where financially-oriented homo sapiens wait, watchfully, for any opportunity to use him and his fellow creatures for amassing power and profit. I watch him in awe, as he rustles through the dried leaves that have fallen overnight to the ground from the massive Kottang trees that stand tall around encircling the village.

           Our friend, Martin Lizard King

Martin Lizard King moves, glides gracefully across the Eco Village lawn, six feet of sun-kissed hide skirting the mangroves through the grass and sliding silently into the lagoon where he swims in deep delight amidst his fellow water creatures, hoping to catch his daily breakfast and relish it by himself. He then moves up to the surface, his watchful eyes skimming the water line, his webbed feet paddling gracefully beneath, his slithery tail swishing left and right, as he moves regal like a dugout canoe, and shows off to me how great his simple, yet beautiful life, plays out.

That’s Martin, our Water Monitor friend, sleek in design, majestic in float, full of sense and sensibilities of life where his script is written by stealth, silence, shelter and satisfaction, which plays eternally on, like a rhythmic music, every single day and night, until eternity.   

  A walk through the Mangrove Arboretum

The flora and fauna are plentiful at Eco Village, in Dodanduwa, where we spent a few fabulous weeks, on a summer holiday in Sri Lanka. The mangroves dip silently into the water, encircling the lake in its entirety providing a canopy of safety, security, and livelihood to all of God’s creatures who share it as a common home. Live cranes, cormorants, storks, gulls and even hundreds of bats enveloping the skies at night, and an assortment of fish feeders linger in the vicinity of the lagoon. Owls hoot, intermittently at night breaking the still air into peals of wailing sound bytes. Sometimes, the silence is shattered by the screech of a “Did you do it” bird streaking off to perch on the branch of a tree. Martin undoubtedly is the head prefect, strong in stature and rigid in his right, spectacularly prominent in his brown camouflaged coat as he moves, stealthily, in peace, comfort and harmony, amongst his dwarfed family.

We never saw him fight or squabble, no “Big Boss” small fry divisions of ruling the proletariat. There’s enough fish, shrimp and vegetation for all in the majestic waters of the lagoon, and, Martin is very democratic, and the bulk and the best of his wisdom is based on sharing, based on a simple live and let live doctrine. The birds take their allocated slots in this ancient tableau of water and enjoy the gift of life undisturbed and uncomplicated, laced with an unselfish attitude that we clearly see as their daily bread, in order to sustain life.

Martin rules the roost; he has not much to worry about, just a fish or two or even some insects, to relish and then stretch out and enjoy a quiet siesta in the afternoon, as the day passes and the shadows lengthen with the cloak of darkness approaching nigh. We see him moving stealthily away to wherever he beds for the night and we know we should not enter into his bedroom for mutual respect and gentlemanly privacy. That multiplied by 365 would be a year for him, but that too is of little consequence as he does not measure life by Gregorian or Hijri calendar squares hung on a wall.

We know he hasn’t invested or saved up any money in finance companies or big beastly banks, and has no idea, whatsoever, what world recession is. He does not care what Barak Obama plans for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, or where the G20 mandarins meet next to shake hands, lift up their glasses, and postpone world problems for another “party” day. Little does he know of the Madoffs, Stanfords and Kotelawalas languishing behind cold grey bars for their short-sighted selfishness and greed that have botched up this money-chasing Universe into a chaotic cauldron. He has no wars to fight nor lies to read in print and does not worry about how the price of gold and oil barrels yo-yo in the topsy turvy world markets. He gives two hoots for Dow Jones, Nasdaq or Hang Seng. The widely transmitted Satellite news networks of CNN, BBC, MSNBC, AlJazeera, and even Fox never reach his domain, not for the want of a dish and receiver but purely because he simply doesn’t care. He doesn’t have to worry about what Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil or even David Letterman have to espouse in seeking to bring news, discussions, gossip, sensation, and laughter to inquisitive and petty minded human beings. Plastic doesn’t mean a thing to him. Why should he worry about who is taking whom out to dinner in LA? To Martin, land is sacred, green is sacred, and water is sacred, and, I am sure he prays at the sacred altars of nature, a worthy worship sans the hymns, candles, drums, bowing, prostration and pageantry, simple to understand, gentle to live, and easy to believe. 

Yes, John Keats created that historic and unforgettable Ode to his beautiful song bird and we simply could not resist the temptation to try and bring about some of the very same sensibilities in prose and define our watchful Water Monitor friend, Martin, in a similar tempo, even though the two live in far off lands, miles away from each other, in remote corners of the planet. Intoxicated with the hemlock of his Nightingale and bemused by the verses that define nature and life in a way that it aught to have been, I am sure Keats won’t mind, since there are people who sing from similar hymn sheets and odes and pursue a “live and let live policy” within their very own faiths. No legacy to lawyer coffers and no prides for protection rights. No cops to be hassled by and no politicians to vote for. It doesn’t even matter what the weather-people have to say today. Life should be simplified, could certainly be simplified and made truly liveable on this great piece we call our beloved Mother Earth.

If Dr. King was still alive and had the chance to visit the Village, he would probably take a leaf from Martin and quote the simple and pure life that he and his fellow creatures are sharing as an example of how we humans could live in our own little acre. The complete respect for each species within this domain based on simple instinct and survival values teaches many a valuable lesson to all of us mere mortal human beings, even with all our wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge.

My heart yearns to be able to pick a day from Martin, just one day, where I could wake up and trudge to some beautiful water heaven and enjoy a melodious moment watching the wind move the waves while a dragonfly flicks over the waterline. I would like to strut in peace with my fellow dwellers, both man and beast, eat fish and rice, some fruit and veges, and watch the slow roll of cartoon white clouds across a sheet of a clear blue sky singing its swan song. Maybe ask a stork how he learnt to make his catch so spritely or tell a cormorant his black is beautiful. Kermit the frog would probably retort with a, “grepep” before he smiles back at me and dives into the depths of the sparkling lagoon hoping to find his Miss Piggy down below? How delightful to engage in some peaceful chatter, while dining, with all of God’s beautiful creatures to pass the time away. 

Maria, our grand daughter, amidst the flowers and stone

Not in the least does it cross his mind that far away, in many distant places where streets are named as Wall and Dalal, Docklands count the pennies, and Bulls and Bears engage in mighty conflict perched on top of roundabouts, through each passing day, there are those who seek to wear and display clothing, ornaments and footwear, made elegantly off the skin of Martin and his fellow creatures sun-kissed backs. He does not celebrate the many wonderful people who engage in vociferous campaigns, protests and marches against the illegal trade in animal fur and hide. If he only had the means and ability to send an email to the WTO management to seek their assistance in banning this evil commerce off the face of this planet? 

And the sun rolls over to its zenith bringing a fresh lease of life everyday to every living species in and around the lagoon. Even the grasshoppers, with their bright little green trousers, make merry singing, hipperty skipperty high and low on the lawn, enjoying the summer fun as they watch Martin pass by.

Once, every calendar month the full moon rolls over, accompanied by the chanting of the monks in the Monastery located on the island in the middle of the Lagoon, their tingling bells resonating a pleasant melody, echoing across the water and then through the brush of the mangroves. Martin looks up and smiles. The light which the moon reflects suits him fine to seek his dinner. The sound of the bells don’t bother him one bit.

Grandkids, Maria & Abdullah, and the Lagoon

No doubt he has to keep an eye on the predators, both man and beast, who prowl around all day and night. Security is never lacking, not even in his neck of the woods. I watch in amazement as our eight year old grandson, Abdullah, chases behind him with a twig, staying a safe distance away for fear that he may turn around and bite. I wonder what goes on in Abdullah’s mind as he innocently wants to play with the lizard, another young and carefree simple human being with fewer qualms and issues in his heart and mind. How similar they both are in so many ways, and yet, how different too? And how very diverse they will eventually grow up to become in this place we call home? Maria, our eleven year old grand daughter chooses to stay as far away from Martin as possible. She has yet to churn up her courage to get any closer.

   Rice and curry, served Paradise style

The tranquillity that this place brings into human hearts cannot be fathomed unless one visits and experiences it at a very personal level. In real time, the appetising aroma that seeps from the kitchen that the owner, Abey, cares for so much with his able chef and assistant, must surely kindle Martin and his friends’ senses even though he knows he does not have access to any of it unless he manages to steal a scrap or two from the waste bins after dark. We relish the food and walk towards the water after the sun has gone down and watch the stillness of the night in absolute awe. If you ever want to conjure up a little bit of Heaven on earth then you must visit Eco Village before you depart.

Maybe we can change roles with our Lizard friend, borrow  his lifestyle, if not all, at least some sediments, then maybe we too could have a better day, a better life and a better view of what’s around all of us, and learn the rudiments of how to appreciate living, sharing, and contentment?

Thank you Martin for opening our eyes and letting us see the beauty of life, since they’ve been shut in ignorance for way too long.  


 Writing about Martin with young Abdullah, our Grandson, by my side

"Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books." John Lubbock

"And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." William Shakespeare

Monday, June 27, 2011

Clare Caspersz moves on

The doyen of Sri Lanka's Finishing School for ladies, Ms Clare Claspersz (daughter of Bobby Arnolda), passes away in Colombo at the ripe old age of 92. May she rest in Peace


Clare, a mixture of pride and satisfaction 
 

CLARE Caspersz is a versatile teacher. At 86, Clare is young at heart; she is active and radiant. And she still teaches her many students in her hotel school. The reason for her ever green attitude is simply her love for teaching and helping youngsters to come up in their professions with poise and confidence.

Clare is the proprietress/directress of the Claremont Finishing School and the Claremont Hotel School in Kotahena. Throughout Sri Lanka, she is known for her ability for training students in hotel management, cookery and social graces.

On October 2, Clare will celebrate three major milestones in her life - her 86th birthday, the 50th anniversary of the Claremont

Finishing School and the 35th anniversary of the Claremont Hotel School.

Clare, who hails from a rich Burgher family, was inspired by her father and his business in the travel and tourism. Her father, Boby Arnolda, ran a very successful business and mingled with many top persons of the business community.

"Those days, after school I went to my father's office and watched how he dealt with various business partners. I think that inspired me to start my own business,"

Clare says recalling her childhood. Clare had a knack for beauty culture, dress making and cookery and social grace. She thought of sharing her skills and talent with many other persons by conducting classes.

That's how she got into the trade and began the Claremont Finishing School. "And I had the right attitude.

When you have the right attitude, you can do anything. I had many people coming for the classes. But I needed to get myself qualified in these fields," she said.

She went to London for further studies and studied in well-known cookery, dress making and beauty culture schools.

"When I came back, I was featured in a Lake House newspaper. With that a lot of people came to know about me and started coming for my classes," she said.

Her school has been visited by many celebrities, diplomats and prominent personalities. Among them were the late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the late President J.R. Jayewardene.

"Once, we had an exhibition and J.R. Jayewardene came as the chief guest. Following that, he encouraged me to start a hotel school where lots of other young people - both men and women - could benefit."

JRJ also gave her three scholarships to study hotel management in Germany, France and Switzerland. "When I came back I started the hotel school under the guidance of JRJ in 1970."

But she had very humble beginnings. Her success over 50-years is due to her total dedication and commitment to her work. Being a well disciplined person, Clare made her students also disciplined.

This is one reason why her many students have been successful in their professions here or abroad. Clare has immense pride about her students who hold various positions in the hotel trade all over the world.

And several of her students are the proud owners of successful catering businesses in the country. "I am happy to see all my students carry out their work with integrity and respect for their employers," she says.

She put a lot of hard work to build the institution to be a fully-fledged hotel school. In fact her hotel school came long before the Ceylon Hotels School came into existence. "I built this school by piece by piece" she says with a mixture of pride and satisfaction.
Each year, she trains hundreds of students in the hotel school.

Today, Clare is delighted to see many hundreds, if not thousands, of her students placed in top posts.

"I have taught fathers and sons mothers and daughters. I have also given a lot of free training courses to needy students," she says with much pride.

Besides her profession, Clare has travelled all over the world appreciating the beauty and serenity and history of various countries.

Clare's late husband, who was an Army Officer, gave her much encouragement. But he never interfered with her work. She says that he used to say 'Clare is married to her hotel school'. And she used to say, 'He is married to the Army'. However, the Caspersz family had five sons, four of them now live abroad.

Although she is about to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of her Finishing School and the 35th Anniversary of the Hotel School, the sad thing is that this will be the last year of her teaching career. She has decided to retire at the end of the year.

The next generation of youngsters would not be fortunate enough to be trained and get qualified in Claremont under the guidance of bubbly Clare.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Quest for ShangriLa

Nation June 12 2011
Tissa Devendra: The quest for Shangri-La
There is something immeasurably attractive about the way Tissa Devendra puts down his thoughts, moving into the days of his childhood and youth, memories like those windows of his long-gone world - snapshots, as he says, in soft focus of the times and the way of life that palpitates no longer around us.

Calling this excellent book his Stories and Diversions, he dedicates it all to his first-born grandson, Sankya, and his granddaughters Sahitra and Swyrie, and is wont to say how these memories linger, oddly enough, long after places have gone,

“Many of my diversions are random, often irreverent thoughts on the history and manners of our beloved Sri Lanka”, he says, and the artistry brings back the old to wag fingers at the new.

While he has kept the quest for Shrangri-La for the last of his writers, I found so much more in his second story, Dreaming of Tibet, and of which he has carried a gorgeous cover picture of an ancient Lhasa Temple clinging to its mountain precipice. He tells us first of 1920 Colonial Ceylon when Ananda College, headed by Kularatne, bubbled with patriotic fervour. It was the time when the College students discarded the Colonial symbol of coat and tie to adopt the Ariya Sinhala dress. The college was soon a magnet for the icons of Indian nationalism and students listened enthralled to the Mahatma, to Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, to the Indian poet Sarojini Naidu (who was once known to have a Sinhalese lover) ... It was also the time when theosophists Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott were the guiding lights of Buddhist education, and there flowed in other Britishers and Americans who interacted with the revival of Buddhism.

It was the American scholar of Tibet’s Tantrayana Buddhism who was most interesting. He was W. Y. Evans-Wentz. Tissa gives us a title print of a book - Tibet’s Great Yogi Milarepa: A biography from the Tibetan being the Jetsun-Khabum - Biological history of Jetsun Milarepa according to the late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdep’s English rendering. This book was edited with introduction and annotations by Evans-Wentz.

Tissa’s father, the famous DT, also read every book on Tibet he could find, and Tissa was free, even as a schoolboy, to read all the books in the home. He was soon fascinated by the intricately-carved temples, whirling dragon-dancing monks, yak caravans and the beautiful forbidding mountains, He learnt of yak shepherds, serene monks in strange headgear or in fearsome masks, the paintings of spirits in conjugal embrace - a spiritual ecstasy - and the sky burials, where the dead were cut up and left as food for the mountain eagles.

Tibetan Buddhism held young Tissa enthralled - Lamas in the snow, meditating in a trance ... others in their small kulis, meditating for years within walls ... the transference of the spirit of high Lamas to infant boys. That was the tradition that gave an unbroken line of thirteen earlier Dalai Lamas.

It was another book, Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer that told Tissa of the present Dalai Lama’s flight from Lhasa’s Forbidden Kingdom to India where he fashioned a Little Tibet at Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Tissa has held scant toleration for the Communist China of Chairman Mao that brutally invaded Tibet. Books gave the western stories of ill-armed Tibetan guerrillas and stave-wielding Lamas who resisted the Chinese Peoples Army and the Red Guards. Many Tibetans perished, many fled to India and China established administrative control, abolished the clerical regime and dragged medieval and monastic Tibet, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century.

Tissa has little love for the Dalai Lama too, who had learned to love his multi-cultural freedom in Dharmasala, attracted journalists, politicians, and film stars, and travelled the western world, establishing Tibetan monasteries in America and Britain. Tissa was saddened by the way the Dalai Lama became a sort of pop icon, compromising his moral stature to hobnob with Presidents, Prime Ministers and Hollywood stars, even blessing the US President for the thousands of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today there is a high-speed railway linking Lhasa to Beijing and Tissa’s Tibet of his dreams lies buried in the permafrost of history. But he does not forget Evans-Wentz who left behind The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Decades later, this became a ‘sacred text’ of the Hippie – Beat-LSD movement.


Malalasekera’s Dream 
I would like to drop down to Tissa’s 14th story: Malalasekera’s Dream. It is not that I wish to confuse readers but I feel that this story carries much that deserves to be told of, Mind you, should this article be too long for my editors, I have already patterned a Part 2, maybe Part 3 as well. Will my editor mind? I think not.

On page 79 we have Malalasekera’s Dream: The World Fellowship of Buddhists, and Tissa’s memory takes him back to that very first 1950 gathering in Ceylon - a gathering that gave impetus and inspiration for the 1956 Buddha Jayanthi celebrations. This Wesak, we celebrate the 2,600th Golden Jubilee of the Buddha Jayanthi. The first 1950 gathering was the need, the dream, to knit together the many Buddhist organisations and scholars the world over especially those of Buddhist culture and traditions.

As Tissa says, Asia was then emerging from the dark clouds of Colonialism. This gathering would not allow the rising flood of western materialism to submerge the old ways.

Malalasekera was a leading member of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA), and President of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC). He was also dean of the University Faculty of Oriental Studies, and in setting up his core group, made his dear friend D. T. Devendra, his key player.

Such a gathering it was ... King Sisavong Vong of Laos; Rani Dorji of Bhutan; Princess Poon Diskul of Thailand. There was also Ambedkar and Zen scholar Dr. D. T. Suzuki; Major-General Tunttla Aung of Burma ... Bhikkhu Sujivo of Thailand told of why Thai Bhikkhus wore shorter robes to avoid mud when walking through fields, and he also introduced the saffron sling-bags that had never been seen or used before in Ceylon.

There were elegant Japanese Buddhist ladies from Hawaii, and the Chinese twins, both with wispy beards, from Hong Kong. The Catholic Minister of Religious Affairs represented Emperor Boo Dei of Vietnam, and England was represented by Miss E. B. Homer, a Pali scholar, and Cyril Moore.

Tissa, who was a bit-player at the gathering, also met Mademoiselle Suzanmne Karpeles who came from France’s Les Amis du Budhisme. (Is that The Friends of Buddhism?).

It was soon noted that our Bauddha Kodiya - so popular here, was not known of abroad. Malalasekera then made of it the universal symbol of Buddhist unity. He placed hundreds of the little silk flags on the delegates desks and these were eagerly taken back to the delegates home countries.

This story takes me back to 1956 when I sailed on Her Majesty’s Ship, Vijaya, to Burma, carrying a statue of the Buddha as a gift to the Schwedagon monastery and pagoda. Our Chief Signals Officer hoisted the Buddhist Flag on the main mast while we were alongside Queen Elizabeth pier, and this brought signals from many ships in harbour. A Canadian destroyer actually slipped moorings to come alongside, asking if we were in trouble. ‘What is that strange flag?’ we were asked. It took time to explain, for any flag not known of in the Book of International Signals only meant that the ship was in serious trouble.

There have been instances of a ship in “labour” even hoisting a broom and a bucket!

It is now time to take on the first diversion on page 120, titled The First and Last Tisssa. As Tissa says: “Having been named Tissa by my parents, I was, as a schoolboy in the 1940s, basking in reflected glory whenever a King Tissa appeared in our history books.”

Again, the wandering mind - The Arahat Mahinda called to our hunter king, Tissa! Tissa! Reading the ‘Rajavaliya,’ Tissa discovered that Devanampiya Tissa was not the first Tissa who answered Mahinda’s summons. His father was Mota Tissa, and Mota’s father, who was the son of Pandukabhaya, was Gana Tissa. So there was a pre-Buddhist usage of the name.

There were also some of the early Buddhist disciples: Mogaliputta Tissa, and the name was also adopted by twenty kings - Suiddha Tissa, the pious; Sura Tissa, the fierce; Deta / Jetta Tissa, senior, and Upa Tissa, junior; Kuda Tissa, the little; Kelani Tissa; Yatala Tissa; Kavan Tissa, the crow-black; Mahadalioya Tissa of the big beard; Vankanasika Tissa, the crooked-nosed; and Voharaka Tissa, the loud-mouthed; Dalpa Tissa, a rather obscure ruler who reigned for nine years.

Buddhist monks will occasionally use the name Tissa to this day, but the name seems to have gone into hibernation for nearly 1,000 years. Anyway, our Tissa found his first post-Mahavamsa friend: Tissa Amerasekara, and a most wonderful man at that. As he says, ‘His achievements in Literature and in film, his brilliance in Sinhala and English, left an indelible imprint to be long remembered and studied. It is our tragedy that he left us at the height of his creative power and I dedicate this in memory of the greatest Tissa of our age.’

Well - I have still so much to tell of so many stories, diversions and writers. Let’s go on to part 2. How about Karapothas, Kan-Kun, Kokis and the Kakkussiya?

Nation June 19 2011
Of Portuguese comings and Dutch doings
Part 2 of Tissa Devendra’s Quest for Shangri-La
Tissa Devendra was an interested observer at an International Conference on The Portuguese Encounter. He tells about it in his Diversions (page 125): Encountering Portuguese Names, and in his next tale: Something Rich and Very Strange. I’m holding back the ‘Encounter’ for a moment, because Tissa has taken some pains to tell us of – guess what? – that all¬-too-familiar insect pest, the Karapoththa!
‘I was reading an old travel book about Brazil,’ he says, ‘and I discovered that fro the local Portuguese, this pest was Carpatos. I fired off a query to the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) that had published something about this in its journal. I wanted to know whether we in Ceylon had no karapoththas until the Portuguese came here 500 years ago in their vermin-infested wooden ships and ‘gifted us’ these pests and their word for them. Or did they never have such pests till they landed here and took the creatures and the Sinhala word for them back to Brazil?
‘The RAS had many scholars who knew much about the Portuguese language, but there was no response. No etymologist made reply either until a Sinhalese scholar, Professor Vinnie Vitharana said that we did have cockroaches here before 1505 and we called them deliyo. But why and when did we start calling them karapoththas? He never knew and could not imagine how the name went to Brazil unless there was some Iberian connection.
Tissa is still trying to sort this out and adds: ‘If the cockroaches came with the Portuguese in 1505, we have yet another grudge to curse them with!’
Coming back to names, that 2005 conference was prevailed on by scholars who still carried Portuguese surnames that their forefathers had adopted five centuries ago. Tissa regrets that there was no paper presented that gave reasons for the wide prevalence of Portuguese family names among the Sinhalese of the south-west maritime region. In fact, a Brazilian friend was astonished to find so many such names and said that most of them seemed to come from Portuguese Jews who had bolted to the colonies to escape discrimination at home.

Silvas, Pereras and Mendis’
Let’s put this into quick mode, shall we... How come our Silvas, Pereras. Mendis’s, etc., are all Buddhists. In Goa, Pintos and De Souzas are Catholic. Our people also stuck to the Portuguese honorific, Don for men and Dona for women. We had Don Baron Jayatilaka and Don Stephen Senanayake. Tissa says that his grandfather and all the sons were also Dons.
He gives us a cutting from a Telecom Directory, full of Portuguese surnames as well as a picture of lace-making – a cultural heritage left behind by the Portuguese. The women wear typical jackets of Portuguese fashion that prevailed in that era.
When the Dutch barged in there was another stir, for no Sinhalese was allowed to adopt Dutch names. Soon, the Sinhalese with Portuguese names began to reject any suggestion that they were of Portuguese ancestry. It was a name-game of sorts. There was more nonsense when the British moved in and we began naming our sons after British Governors, government-agents, British politicians, poets, and even in the early 1930s thought they had great children they named after Benito Mussolini and Hitler.
In Jaffna the Hindu Tamils resisted Portuguese names but there were adaptations of Christian names, giving us Jesu-thasan, Maria-thasan and Saveri (Xavier) – muttu. When the American missionaries came in the late 19th century, there was, for some Hindus, a rush to convert and take the names of their Godfathers. We then had Handy, Mather, Crossette, Watson, even Shakespeare!
Tissa tells us that the British rulers liked the spelling ‘oo’ to indicate a specific Sinhala sound. We have the old estate La-boo-kelle and family names such as G-oo-newardene and G-oo-netilleke with the ‘e’ ending in wardene, tilleke, naike, etc. Many of these families tended to be Christian since the Brits favoured competent natives of that faith. However, by the 20th century families began the New Spelling of the Brits who dumped the ‘oo’ and used the ‘u’. Soon the English directories were full of G-u¬newardena and G-u-natilaka with the endings in ‘a.’

Caste-marker
To the Portuguese there arose caste, creed and colour. Our English Sinhalese twisted the alphabet to make it a caste-marker. While the Portuguese had Perez, we got onto ‘Pie’ris, ‘Pei’ris, ‘Pei’ries and ‘Pee’ris. The Portuguese Sous(z)a was adapted as Soysa. The Sinhalese also hyphenated names as an unmistakable caste-marker – such as Dias Bandaranaike.
The Burghers then fought a rear-guard action, using the non-Sinhalese letters F and Z. They changed Perera into Pere-i-ra, telling of their European ancestry. At times they even dropped the P and used the F and became Burgher F-ere-i-ras. When the Sinhalese-Portuguese descendent spelt his name Da Silva, he was using the same as the name of the Brazilian President, Lula Da Silva The Burghers used the Z and W making the Z-il-w-as and De Z-il-w-as.

Tissa also tells of one amusmg transformation where the Scottish “McCloud was spelt Ma-ek-la-wood’.
In his story, Frocks, Clogs and Rompers (page 132) we are told of the traumatised villagers of Kebittigowella and Seruwila – where he had worked – where women wore frocks, knee-length, shapeless and of cotton. Yet, long ago these same women wore the Redda-hattay at home, the Osariya to the temple and the Diya-Redda when bathing. In the Rajarata he tells of the Diga-Kamisa – ankle-length cassock-like garments worn by the boys in the village school. They wore no shoes and played boisterous games with their Diga-Kamisa tucked waist-high.
Then came the saree. At first, such sarees were kept to be worn only at weddings and conventions, and the wearers would soon go back to their usual skirts, salwas, denims, while the elders put on their Dubai-Gavum or Laesthi-Gavum,
It was Tissa’s father who told how the Anagarika Dharmapala – a resolute nationalist - waged a war against such dresses of colonialism. He called it a disgraceful aping of 16th century Portuguese dress and even compelled his mother to discard her Saaya and wear the Kandyan Osariya. Yet, in the low county the women rook to long flowing skirts – but the Anagarika’ s message came across and soon the saree dominated the fashion scene. However it wasn’t long before the Indian saree began to fill low country wardrobes. The Anagarika was not happy, but in the Pettah, Sindhi and Gujarati merchants brought in the Indian sarees to be eagerly snapped up.

All this brought in various saree styles. In Panadura and Moratuwa the saree fall was drawn over the back of the head. This is now long forgotten. Muslim women wore the saree steadfastly with the fall to cover all their hair. Today they wear Hijabs. In the 1920-30s the temple artist M. Sarlis, enlivened the viharas with colourful portraits and these were popularized by W. E. Bastian. Soon many old houses had their living rooms honoured by paintings of queens, princesses and devas, draped in modest sarees so unlike the revealing stuff from India.
Badge of distinction
We find the saree becoming a badge of distinction. The lady of the house wore it, while the Ayah and Kussiamma wore the Redda-Hattay. But even this began to crumble by the 1950s when the ‘Veevin’ (Rural Handloom Centres) took in village girls who were termed Working Girls, dressed in frocks; and all over became full-frock Factory Girls. With the exodus to the Middle East, Dubai-Gavum, Bhai-Suits and Hijabs became the wear of housemaids.

What would we call our national dress? Tissa suggests that Sinhala Buddhist peasants never did have a tradition-bound or religiously-ordained national costume. They wore anything that was appropriate. Even today one can worship in whatever one wears if it is modest. It would have been the Anagarika who insisted on the wearing of white to the temple, but we have one of Keyt’s early works: Worshippers at the Dalada Maligawa, that shows women in many-coloured sarees.

Today, as Tissa says, our streets, even jungle trails carry an infinite variety of frocks, school uniforms, Dubai-Gavums, minis, dresses that are flared, flounced, hip-hugging, saucily split. Yes, the frock struck back!
We have also had clogs – wooden slippers that resounded in Ceylon homes in the World War Two years. No one knew how they appeared, then disappeared. The town dwellers of Ceylon would pound the streets in clogs. It was the war effort that took our rubber and the shoe-and-slipper makers demand for rubber could not be met. It meant flat wooden rubberless slippers – and then came the ‘Issato’ wooden clogs trademarked by a Mr. Issadeen of the Pettah. There were large masculine designs for men, slimmer stylish clogs for ladies and dinky versions for children.
Tissa tells of his brief life in Kandy’s Dharmaja College where the boarders wore clogs to school. Their massed entry in thundering clogs drowned all other sound. ‘It was like the Charge of the Light Brigade,’ he says. ‘The Principal then announced a ban on clogs and that was that.
Corning to a fashion scene, he then tells of children’s clothes, when newspapers and British women’s journals told of ruffled silky suits for Page Boys and crinolines for Flower Girls. Tissa’s family portraits show the home-made garments they wore, called the Romper. This was a one piece garment buttoned up at the back. Ayahs called it the Jungee. He, as a child, wore it until he qualified for shorts and they were a vital element of his faraway childhood.

Dona Catherina
Let’s break away to consider Dona Catherina, shall we? Readers will find this Diversion on Page 143. As you can see, the word Dona takes us back to the Portuguese. The father, Karalliadde Bandara, fled to the Portuguese with his infant daughter to escape internecine slaughter in Kandy. The Portuguese realised that they had a ‘Crown Jewel’ in their hands - a potential heiress to the Kandyan throne.
They planned to make of this infant another Don Juan Dharmapala. She would gift the Kandyan Kingdom to them. The child, who was Kusumasana Devi, was then unethically baptized and named Dona Catherina. She was then entrusted to the nuns but none knew that she was destined to marry two ‘heathen’ princes.
Long before the coming of the Portuguese in 1505, Lanka’s kings were proudly bejewelled, but went topless in bare-chested glory. Dona Catherina of Portuguese taste was offended by the sight. She needed the support of her royal husband, Vimala Dharma Suriya. There was also Konappu Bandara who the Portuguese had baptized, calling him Don Juan of Austria. (Why Austria?) But given the opportunity he abandoned the Portuguese, rallied the Sinhalese, defeated the Portuguese army invading Kandy, seized the teen-aged Dona Catherina and crowned her puppet queen of Sinhale. In any event, both carried a lot of the Portuguese characteristics, possibly even speaking Portuguese to each other.

Dona Catherina began to cover up the bare chests of Kandyan nobility if only to show the Portuguese that the Sinhalese were not half-naked barbarians. She also changed the headgear and redesigned all royal regalia.
As Tissa says, ‘I came to realise that Kandyan dress underwent a change around the 16th century. All this had to be the work of one woman Kusumasana Devi - who was taken to bed by two kings and into the hearts of the people of Sinhale. ‘

Ok... so I told readers earlier of Kan-Kun and Kokis. Can I go on to this Part Three? You see how beautifully this book has been presented. I know also that whether you enjoy (or not) what I give here, there is also a great deal I intend to leave out. My proposed Part Three will bring my own reviews to a close. This is why you must simply take this book into your house, your library, and your bed... any place you can read and reread and know how memories gather and keep gathering in the mind of one of our finest writers.

Nation June 26 2011
A final clutch of memories
Review of Tissa Devendra’s Quest for Shangri-La – Part Three
As I told readers in Part Two, I will be leaving a lot unsaid, simply because this book has to be read.
How will it serve to keep writing of all that it contains? I hope to take you that final threesome: Tissa, his Mother, Father, and learn of their first home off Baseline Road, Borella. They had lots of good neighbours as well as a young couple from Japan who were firm friends. I’m carving this up in the best way I can so please don’t think that I am deliberately making omissions.
As Tissa says, they had a lot of Door Stop Shopping. There came the Vattiammas with their vegetables, the fish vendors. The old Kooni-amma with shrimps, a Chinaman with his bundles of silks and laces, the Thrombal-karaya, Bombai-mutai-karaya, and the milk man. There were fast food vendors too, with their lunumiris achcharu and unu-unu pittu and, on certain months in an open playground space, the Sakkali Usaviya where latrine coolies gathered to squat round an old ‘judge’ who pronounced justice on those who had to bear the brunt of pilfering, assault and domestic disputes.

Readers will be told of his mother’s love for gardening, the magnificent zennias she grew that were so impressive that that an artist-friend made an award-winning pastel drawing of the flowers – a picture that still adorns their home seventy-five years later. Tissa also tells of a 1939 musical performance by a white-bearded Rabindranath Tagore who, with a book on his lap sang to a troupe of Indian maidens who dance with supple grace.

It was when schooling came that that the Devendras moved to a new home, nearer Nalanda College. They were four children then and yet another move to Dharmajah Hill, Kandy. No... I wont tell you of the Steroiopticon that when put to use, a box of pictures told of a long-lost world and street scenes of 1897 London. Many moves later, Tissa takes you to the Forbidden Forest of Kandyan Royalty and thereon to Horseshoe Street. He has given us a separate book on this collection of stories – a must buy if you don’t have it already.

Tissa’s father bought his first camera – a German Agfa – and it was when at Dharmarajah College that Tissa was diagnosed as short-sighted and had to wear spectacles. On doing so the boys in his class hooted and even called him Kannadi Polonga – but it was worth it. He could see as never before.

Considering that Dharmarajah was founded by Colonel Olcott, with a student body of mainly Sinhala Buddhists as well as Sindhis, Muslims and Tamils, there still came to the upper kindergarten the exotic George Davies, a yellow-haired Lansi whose father was a forest guard and lived across the road at Uduwattakelle. As war closed in Tissa’s father was appointed Principal of a Ratnapura school. Another move... and Ratnapura was the rainiest of towns, where he travelled by buggy to school in the 1940s. He could not forget Kandy. Seventy years ago he saw the twilight of the Colonial era and remembers the Grass For My Feet author, 1. Vijay-Tunga, who came from Galle.

There is a very interesting – no, fascinating chapter on the Karl Kasmana Caper that I leave for my readers. Let’s say it involved an Estonian cargo ship that had sailed into Colombo Harbour and was impounded. There were Soviet films and books Claudine Libovitsz, an East European blonde, the Red American Rhoda Miller and both deported by Prime Minister Kotelawala.

Moving to Colombo it was the season of the old tram cars in 1946. When, in the 1950s, the Municipality scrapped the trams the last tramcar was decorated with streamers and balloons on its last haul to Grandpass with a hired Kotahena Band belting out the Funeral March.

He tells of the streets of his childhood memories, porticos to shelter people running in from the rain and how he accompanied his father to ‘keep an eye’ on the filming of Elephant Walk at Sigiriya. Since his father was then Assistant Archaeological Commissioner, they stayed at the Circuit Bungalow and spent evenings at the Takaran-roofed rest-house. You must read about it all especially when they took Vivien Leigh to Anuradhapura. Not long later she abandoned the film and flew back to London – and Elizabeth Taylor was spliced into the film.

And so to Galle where Tissa was a District Land Officer. He tells of Fred Brook, an American with a Hasselblad camera and of encounters with super swamis who broke every rule to take villages for everything they offered – food, money, flowers, honey. Trincomalee was in this regards most attractive.

As Government Agent, Jaffna, he was close to Alfred Duraiappah, Mayor, who was a close ally of Felix Dias Bandaranaike, Mrs B’s right-hand man.

Tissa makes no bones about this. When a young Tamil shot Alfred on the Temple steps of the Vishnu kovil. He later knew of the teen-age thug, Prabhakaran who had fled by boat to Tamil Nadu.

Read, of Tissa’s year at Cambridge, 1968-69. It’s worth every word and I’m keeping mum. He also tells of the women of passion, poison and power from the Chronicles of the Mahavamsa, Culavamsa, Rajavaliya and folk songs - their celebrations, festivals, the Sandesa poems, then of the Kokis – or Koekjis as called by the Dutch, and how the Dutch Kak-huis, the outside lavatory, had become the Sinhala Kakkussiya.

You will be told of George Keyt and young Lionel Wendt and how they met another Keyt named Thomas who had forged Keyt’s paintings. He was convicted by the Supreme Court and transported to Penang jail in Malaya in 1865. In 1870 he met George Wendt, also convicted of forgery while in the Ceylon Bank. Both were dispatched to Singapore where they were engaged in building the Governor’s Palace while ringleaders, the Blaze brothers set the prison ablaze to destroy incriminating documents Keyt and Wendt were supposed to have.

It is in his final piece, Quest/or Shangri-La, that Tissa tells of D. H. Lawrence, having discovered that Lawrence lived for some time in Kandy and for a few months in the old bungalow they had occupied near Dharmarajah College. Lawrence came to Ceylon in 1922, but he found Kandy incredibly hot. He did write his beautiful poem, ‘Elephant’ and was an indefatigable letter writer. However, even after a trip to Nuwara Eliya he began to feel upset by Buddhism. Read some of the letters Tissa gives. Lawrence then sailed to Australia, saying that I don’t like Ceylon, not to live in... From West Australia he moved to New South Wales, saying that Australia goes from bad to worse in my eyes... and sailed away.

So now, readers I leave it all to you and say a big thank you to my editors. Too bad that it all had to end... but will it? Tissa is now a flashing, rainbowed cataract of literature. Soon we will. See more and more and so much more!