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Beautifying for the sake of others

The government making desperate efforts to make the city look beautiful for visitors who probably will not even bother to cast a glance at them is hilarious. I still remember when I was a schoolgirl, the Queen visited Sri Lanka and huge trees were uprooted and ‘planted’ along the Kandy - Katugastota road. They looked gorgeous for a day or two for the Queen to passby and within two to three days they all withered. What a farce!

I am amused to see the year long weeds in the cement baskets in Wellawatte at last being pulled out. How they are going to plant new plants, and make them look lively, is to be seen. May be the same sequence as what happened when the Queen came will be repeated.

This is a typical Sri Lankan mentality. In the name of hospitality, we tend to beautify our homes only when visitors come. We take out our best china and best bedsheets and towels only when visitors come but, routinely use the broken, torn things for ourselves. How hypocritical! The idea is to make the visitors think we live like this always! Why not live like this always? I use my best cutlery and crockery daily for my family. A new bedsheet goes on my children’s bed first - for daily use. What’s the purpose of having good things if we ourselves do not use them but use only to show off?

That does not mean that we treat our visitors shabbily, rather give them to the best too, but not by hoarding the good things for them alone and preventing our own from enjoying them.

It is a shame that the country is putting on a hastened repair of roads and replacement of plants for foreigners when truly it should be doing that as a routine. Or, at least, this should have been planned months ahead and the needful done leisurely so that the flowers would have actually bloomed! And the citizens will not be inconvenienced so much by road repairs as like now.

 If our leaders stop and think of our country and the people rather than their own jaunts abroad and infighting, this would have been the obvious sequence of events.
But then, we know that is but a pipe dream! Let’s be happy at least in the name of SAARC we are getting a little  uplift of the city’s face!

 Dr. Mrs. Mareena Thaha Reffai


Saluting the late Herbert Cooray

It was in 1978, I started my 1st job, at a popular resort in Negombo, I was fortunate to have found employment, as just like now it was rather difficult,  you had to be at the right place at the right time. Boss was a gentle giant of a person who confided in me and provided my 1st ride. He himself chauffeured me in his red VW Passat, an ambitious, industrious personality, who helped scores of people. Last month he passed away leaving an established chain of hotels behind to be run by his children

He would visit the hotel in the evenings always casually attired seated by the beach terrace, perhaps enjoying the sun going down. How could one forget the noble deeds he has done? Boss! You did your best so now enjoy the fruits of heaven! Today the hotel I once worked for is called the ‘Beach’ by Jetwing Group, the Boss was the late Mr. Herbert Cooray.
Don. R


Rare, medium or raw?

Vegetating over a cow and calf...
Decades of dynastic revenge
War! as a weapon on warriors
War! as a weapon on cvilians.
Where is South Asian Association
Living next door for years
with malice?

Irene de Silva
Colombo 5


A fool proof idea to overcome mobile phone abuse

I read a news-item to the effect that very soon owners of Mobile phones should carry certificates to establish their identities.  This is how people thought of almost half-a-century ago. 

This is a modern era where everything is at the touch of a button.  
The Mobile Service Providers could be instructed to issue a toll-free number to the security services.   
And when the mobile phone is presented for inspection, at a security point the officer concerned uses that particular mobile phone and dials that number - full details of the individual should appear on the screen - especially the name and the NIC No.

Check with the NIC carried by the individual and you establish the identity.
I think this should be the system adopted as pieces of paper tend to get lost, displaced and/or misplaced.  Moreover pieces of paper could be forged.
Hope this fool-proof idea will be taken up by the relevant authorities and implemented.
Zulkifli Nazim
Colombo 6


Where have all the old girls gone?

Very recently, a leading girls’ school in the lucky zone number
of Colombo held its inter-house aquatic meet.
I was simply perplexed at observing that a prominent past cricketer
was the Chief Guest at the event.
I have nothing against the gentleman cricketer, nor the school,
but surely could not the school have honoured a past pupil  
to be the Chief Guest at its own inter-house event ?
In a way, not having an old girl as the Chief Guest at a school’s
major event could  be taken (in this case) as an insult to the
Past Pupil’s Association of the School.
Where have all the old girls’ gone …… long time passing !
Neville Overlunde


British spawned today’s Sri Lanka ethnic conflict

Many Sri-Lankans of this generation are of the view that the present communal conflict in the island is due to former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike passing the Sinhala Only Bill in Parliament in 1958, depriving the Tamils of the favoured status they enjoyed when the British ruled. Still others think that the ethnic conflict aggravated after Mr.S.J.V Chelvanayagam having formed the Federal Party and subsequently the Tamil United Liberation front in 1976, at the 2nd anniversary at the Vadukoddai resolution of May 1976, declared that it was now the time for Tamil youth to take to arms to win their demands for a separate state. At that time Vellupillai Prabakaran was the leader of the youth movement of the Tamil United Liberation Front.

Still others are of the view that this intractable conflict started as far back as in 1931 after the Donoughmore constitution implemented a self- governing system in the island. Just like the Indian National Congress which was formed to gain independence in India, Ceylon formed the Ceylon National Congress with Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, D.S. Senanayake and Sir Baron Jayatilleke among its prominent members. The Ceylon National Congress did not permit Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan to be a special representative of the Tamils, broke away and formed the Tamil Maha Sabha, they rejected the Donoughmore constitution and refused to recognise the State Council. They then demanded the ‘’fifty fifty’’ proposal’’ i.e. fifty to be elected from the Tamil community the other fifty from the other communities.

However many are not aware that this ethnic problem really began as far back as in 1818 during the time when Ceylon was under the British imperialists. Historical facts by no less than a Britisher, Jane Russel ‘’Communal Politics from 1931-1947’’ and ‘’History of Ceylon by the University of Ceylon’’ by father S.D. Perera clearly revealed that it was the British with their divide and rule policy that spawned communal politics in this island which today has brought us so much of suffering and misery.

The reason for the ignorance of Sri-Lankan history which shows that the British were originally responsible for the communal strife in the island, is on account of the government led by Srimavo Bandaranaike in the early 1970s removing history as a separate subject in the school curriculum.

Instead of this subject, a miscellaneous hotch-potch called Social Studies was introduced.
The discontinuation of Ceylon history, which is rich in Buddhist culture has had serious repercussion on our society. Today many school children are growing up without any knowledge of our culture, traditional values and heritage.
The ruling Britishers to marginalise the Sinhalese employed Tamils in preference to Sinhalese both in the public and private sectors. The Sinhalese boycotted employment in the plantations, so the British imported Indian Tamils to work in their tea estates. The Tamils although a minority enjoyed more privileges than the majority Sinhalese. With these privileges they lost their heads, and over reached their ambition by demanding unreasonable rights and planting the seed of separation for Tamil Ealam.

With the coming of Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to power, Mr. Bandaranaike was very keen to restore the rights of the majority Sinhalese people which were denied to them by the British colonial power since 1796. The Tamils interpreted this action by Mr. Bandaranaike as persecution of their community and with the 2nd anniversary of the Vadukoddai resolution of May 1976, declared that it was now the time for the Tamil youth to take arms to win their demands for a separate state. At that time Vellupillai Prabakaran was the leader of the youth movement of the Tamil United Liberation Front.

The rest is contemporary history.
From the foregoing it could be seen that it was the British colonial government with its divide and rule policy, who was largely responsible for today’s ethnic problem in Sri-Lanka which has devastated this peaceful island for the past quarter century.

Saybhan Samat



Dharmasiri Senanayake the gentleman politician

Eight years ago on July 27th, 2000 the country sadly lost a gentleman politician the like of whom we will rarely see again. He was a man of the highest integrity, genuine humility and absolutely incorruptible. How different from some of the politicians we have in our midst today! He was a rising star in the political firmament which was beckoning him to greater heights and nobler deeds.

Born on March 30th, 1933 he had his primary education in a village school and moved on to Ananda College, the cradle of budding patriots. On completion of his secondary education, he graduated from the Peradeniya University and later the Law College and passed out as an Attorney at Law. That was the platform from which he launched his political career.

I first heard of Mr. Dharmasiri Senanayake when he contested the Dedigama seat at the Parliamentary General Election of 1970. Over the years, Dedigama had been the pocket borough of the late Mr. Dudley Senanayake. In 1970, it required a gallant David to take on Dedigama’s gentle Goliath. It was a fiercely contested election but the two Senanayakes were on the friendliest of terms. The younger Senanayake always showed great respect and regard for the Prime Minister, who in turn, treated the brash young man with avuncular affection, even teasing him saying he was in the wrong party. Although Mr. Dharmasiri Senanayake narrowly lost the election, he was considered the moral victor because of the great fight he gave the seasoned campaigner. Defeat did not discourage this aspiring politician..

Many prestigious posts were offered to him by Prime Minister, the late Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike but Dharmasiri Senanayake, who was always looking for new and challenging pastures; decided to take into his warm embrace the fascinating mistress of Tourism and accepted appointment as the Chairman of the Ceylon Tourist Board. What a Chairman, what a mistress this happy combination proved to be!

I was a Director of the Tourist Board at that time and naturally looked forward to meeting the new Chairman. He breezed into the Board Offices one sunny afternoon captivating everyone with his winsome smile. At that time, we had some pretty unmarried young ladies on the staff of the Board. You could almost hear their hearts twittering as they surveyed the debonair Chairman and soon found out he was an eligible bachelor with no strings attached. In an exuberance of affection they described him as the ‘Ladaru Sabapathy.’

As Director Administration and Travel Trade, I had to work closely with the new Chairman. The day after he assumed duties he told me that the staff should know what sort of a person he was. Tell them that the politics of vindictiveness is definitely not on my agenda. That goes against my grain. All I ask for is their loyalty, co-operation and of course hard work. The staff were relieved to hear this, and throughout the seven momentous years during which he graced the office of Chairman, he had the unstinted co-operation and goodwill of the staff and the entire travel trade.

Mr. Dharmasiri Senanayake’s greatest asset was that he was not shy to confess that he was a novice, when it came to unravelling the intricacies of international travel. With that disarming statement he could draw out the best in the staff and the professionals in the travel industry. He had the marvelous gift of quick comprehension and receptiveness. By sheer dint of hard work involving voluminous reading, participation at workshops, seminars and international conferences he worked his way into the hearts of the fastidious international, travel community. They spoke of him with warmth and affection calling him ‘Dharmasiri’ with an accent that made his name sound pleasingly musical. .

Mr. Senanayake’s disposition was such that, in all the years I have known him, I have never seen him genuinely angry. On one occasion, an employee of the Tourist Board who had committed an offence was hauled up before him. He tried to look very angry and when it came to admonishing the offender words came to him with difficulty. After the employee had left his office he asked me to give him a bit of my mind and let him off leniently because he said “These chaps are poor and sometimes yield to temptation. In their battle to make ends meet, who wouldn’t?” That was the true measure of the man: a warm heart, deep compassion and a genuine sympathy for the less fortunate. No wonder everyone who had experienced his kindness loved him and held him in the highest esteem.

He was not only a wonderful superior and a brilliant administrator but also a steadfast friend. I had personal experience of this when he went out of his way to espouse my cause for an overseas appointment which was legitimately due to me. He said he was doing this as a matter of principle, because a deserving officer should not be unfairly treated on frivolous allegations. He left no stone unturned in his efforts to help me although he had known me only for a few months. All his efforts failed. As in his case destiny had far bigger things in store for me. He was absolutely fearless in his convictions because he had nothing to fear. Being a politician of outstanding integrity he had no skeletons in his cupboard. He was never dogmatic and was always a robust champion of healthy change.

After seven eventful years as Chairman of the Tourist Board he decided to contest the Dedigama seat once again at the Parliamentary General Election of 1977. Victory eluded him on this occasion as well. There was a change of Government and Mr. Senanayake reverted to a very lucrative legal practice. Such are the ways of an inscrutable destiny that he had to wait until 1989, to achieve his long cherished dream of being a Member of Parliament. He became the Opposition’s Spokesman on Tourism and Civil Aviation matters (Shadow Cabinet Minister) and his contributions in the House were always treated with great respect. Often his ideas were adopted by the Government of the day.

When I was the Sri Lanka High Commissioner in Canada in 1991, I was called upon to represent Sri Lanka at the General Assembly of the World Tourism Organisation held in Argentina. There were several hard boiled professionals who had known Mr. Senanayake in the days when he was Chairman of the Tourist Board. One lady who was obviously enamored with him even wanted to know whether he was still a bachelor. This was understandable, because the elusive, affable and amiable bachelor had the knack of leaving behind him a trail of aching hearts!

After the General Election of 1994, he was appointed Minister of Tourism and Aviation in the Government of Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunge. In this capacity, the Hon. Dharmasiri Senanayake led the tourist industry to heights which were hitherto thought to be beyond its reach. He brought into this vital portfolio a fund of knowledge garnered over the years, a balanced judgment and a penetrating insight into the future of the international travel industry.

He was easily the most popular Minister in Parliament. His astute wisdom and his spicy wit coupled with his innate graciousness endured him to all sections of Parliament regardless of their political affiliations. When the votes of the Tourism Ministry was taken up for discussion during the Budget debate everyone without exception paid a glowing tribute to him and exhorted him to continue his efforts to add a new meaning and purpose to this important industry. He accepted all this with a boyish blush of gratitude.

In December 1998, he was unanimously elected to the highly prestigious post of Chairman of the Executive Committee of the World Tourism Organisation. The WTO benefited immensely from his mature wisdom and his proven ability to hold a team together despite divergent opinions and ingrained beliefs.

He was an unrelenting advocate of the view that tourism development should be consonant with the social, cultural and environment priorities of a country. The World Tourism Organisation unanimously endorsed his view. He was one of the finest Chairmen of the Executive Committee of that prestigious body.

Writing about one of his illustrious contemporaries, Sir Winston Churchill has said, “His manner was so gentle, so sweetly reasonable, so matter of fact and so clothed in sensitivity that there was always in him the glow of conviction and an appeal that was instinctive and priceless. He believed that healthy debate was the flame that brought great ideas together. It required fuel to feed it, motives to excite it and a true leader to brighten it. He provided all that and much more.”
Those words could well have been written of this great gentlemen politician and administrator whose untimely death eight years ago we commemorate today.
Walter Rupesinghe


Tissa Dias – The best husband ever!

Dear Tissa, 26th of July 2008 is your 2nd death anniversary

Still we can’t believe or imagine that you have left this world for ever. Every moment in our life we miss you, we remember you, we think about you and we love you.

I can proudly say that I had the best husband a wife can ever get. You shared and helped me in every single thing in our day to day life. I am fond of plants and enjoy gardening as a botany teacher. You always supported and admired that. Later when I was busy and couldn’t find the time, you spend every Sunday in the garden with the plants. When I want to hang ferns and other ornamental plants you were ready with the equipment. That last Sunday when you were gardening, I came to you and told something, and when I turned away to the kitchen you asked me where I was running and to wait a little. You liked my presence in the garden with you. Those memories are sweet and unforgettable.

The first day you came to my place in Panadura after returning from abroad, you gave me three valuable books about indoor plants, vegetables and gardening. You had written to mark that 1st visit to Champi’s home on the books given and signed on the indoor plants book which I really enjoyed reading.

You wanted to have sons. So your wish was granted when we were blessed with two sons Supun and Nipun. The Eldest Supun has your facial features, voice smile, talk and friendly type behaviour.. Younger son Nipun has your body shape, structure, walk, the way you stand, and your handwriting. Sometimes they look just like you. On the day of your funeral, at the cemetery when Prof. Ranjith came to me, I told him “your friend has gone for ever”. Then he replied, “Tissa has given you two sons and gone.” Then I realised the value of our precious sons..

Both of us shared a number of common interests; songs and films are a few of them. I can remember just three months before your demise, how you enjoyed my staff get together which was held at Chrishanthi’s place. You mixed well with all my friends and their spouses. That day when we were singing, several times you shouted and called my name saying you knew all the songs.

You had a good collection of old favourite songs of every singer in Sinhala as well as Hindi. Everyday after dinner you liked to listen to those songs. The day before your death you were sitting in the verandah and I was on my way to my kitchen. You said, “I feel lazy”. Then I said, “ go and listen to a song”.

That last day, our younger son, myself and you went together by car as usual. That day me eldest son was at home. You were talking about our car which was serviced the previous day and wanted to sell it. You asked me what was the date and we went up to the Galle Road,. When I was getting down I said give a call to elder son who was at home, and return early. These were my usual last requests to him each day. So you have had the conversation with elder son over the phone. No one realised these are the last moments of our happy life.

Now life is not the same and life is tough. Now I understand life does not belong to us. Your 50th birthday, our 20th anniversary and my 50th birthday all important events in our lives have passed without you. If you were here for these events what happy moments they would have been.

Your untimely departure is felt by everyone who you associated with. Everyday your office friends remember you. They remember the help, support, guidance, friendship you gave and your remarkable jokes. When people tell your good qualities I feel you are with us. I realise your life is a good example for others.. No. one will forget your memory Tissa. You live in our hearts for ever.
- Champika Ramani Dias



Rabindranath Tagore did put it aptly; “death is the stamp that gives value to the coin of life.” Having been the Founder and Chairman of Jetwing, the value of Herbert Cooray’s work is bound to take precedence over the man he was, in the final reckoning. However, it would hardly do justice to the task.
I first got to know Herbert Cooray when his son Hiran and I were 10-year olds in school. Even then, Uncle Herbert and I struck a great conversation. At least, so I thought. Now I realise that he was just being kind! Later, I had the opportunity of working with him in the early days of my enterprise… again, I am sure he was being kind in commissioning my services! We once toured the Middle East with the late Lakshman Kadiragamar when the latter was the Foreign Minister.
Thus, I am fortunate to have known Herbert Cooray well, and seen him in action in his many roles from entrepreneur and leader to husband, father, friend, brother and son over a continuous period spanning nearly 4 decades.
The enterprise he has built and his pioneering moves in the early days of Sri Lanka’s foray into tourism are well known. However, little would most know the grit and determination with which he undertook his task. The buck stopped with him both metaphorically and literally for the better part of the first two decades of Jetwing. Yet he did not fear to focus, invest and reinvest relentlessly in Sri Lanka’s tourism industry. He did so in the best of times and the worst of times. What he did is there for the senses of mortal beings to perceive. Yet, how he did it, is a sweet waft in the portals of time. To have achieved what he achieved or endured what he endured in any other way but the fair, just, truthful and honest way that he chose, would have relegated their value to a minuscule. That these qualities in an entrepreneur were hardly celebrated in the world that he lived in, did not discourage him either. His example has inspired the next generation and the many top professionals who lead the vast Jetwing enterprise. He was indeed a happy man in the twilight of his life, to see Jetwing forging ahead, whilst holding true to the high ideals he built into its foundation.

Uncle Herbert and Aunty Josephine’s devotion to each other was remarkable. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a year ago. Celebrations were never glitzy affairs in the Cooray home. They preferred the quiet company of each other, often with their children, grand children, close friends and long standing professionals of Jetwing who were very much a part of the family, and in and out of their open house.

Friendships were by no means on the surface. Uncle Herbert had a set of close friends, the majority of whom predeceased him. In their day, they were a spirited lot who met unfailingly. Uncle Herbert particularly, loved a good old sing-song. He was also full of humorous anecdotes with his own brand of witty humour, spiced with varying degrees of wryness.
During major growth phases, he would put everything on the line from his reputation down to his last shirt… as entrepreneurs typically do in the name of calculated risk taking (in his case with a good dose of intuition). Yet, he had the knack of living life with its lightness. I can’t remember seeing him rushed, despite the busy and never ending schedules in the peak of his working days. His imposing physique, nonchalant manner and few words uttered in a characteristic baritone staccato, made him an unique personality.

The Herbert Cooray philosophy is as paradoxical as it is multifaceted. Here was a man who was a socialist at heart with the head of a capitalist. As a young university student he was inspired by the likes of Trotsky, Lenin, Marx and Castro. He was a close associate of the Leftist stalwart Philip Gunawardena. However, this was more than a passing fancy of a University student, as would be evident in the frugal lifestyle he opted for and his quest for social justice. His intellectual honesty made him a strong influence on those who came under his stewardship. This is most evident in the paths that his son Hiran and daughter Shiromal have chosen to tread. As a father, he had a subtle ministry over his children.

Thank you, Uncle Herbert, for being my inspiration, mentor and true friend. May your soul find eternal happiness!
Vijith Kannangara






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