|World of books
Of HMCyS Vijaya, London’s
books by the thousands, Lieutenant-Commander Donald
Victor Hunter and a friend who made it all happen
It was such a long time ago. I was born in 1935,
joined the Navy in 1953, the Army in 1959 and
somewhere in-between, went out to England to bring
in the HMCyS Vijaya through the Suez Canal.
HMCyS? Ah yes. Her Majesty’s Ceylon Ship – and all
that was a time before I had done with one wife,
played a messed up serenade with another and finally
settled for good and all with the third. We clinched
it all in the 1970s and have over fifty years to our
credit – and all I now do is remember!
Yes – remember so much of a glorious past; and I
have knitted much of it in my books and have left so
much more yet to be covered. Maybe I’m keeping all
this for some grand exit. What the heck! Can’t live
forever, can we? But there’s something I must tell
of since it should be of immense worth to my
readers. You see, it’s all about books! I didn’t
waste my time hanging around Grimsby Docks while the
‘Vijaya’ was being rechristened for Ceylon! She was
Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship ‘Flying Fish’ of the
Algerian Class of Minesweepers. I wanted to see
London and find out if London wished to see me.
Not to be missed
It was my skipper, Lieutenant Commander ‘Donald
Victor’ who told me of London’s unrivalled
reputation in the world of books. I called him
Donald Victor in my book ‘Spit and Polish’ but he
was Donald Victor Hunter – one of the finest
sea-captains I had served under. “You must not miss
it,” he said. “I know how much books mean to you.
Take a coach to London. Mind you, three days only.
We will be ready to sail by then.” I nodded and
thought 1 should pin him for a small grant to be
deducted from pay, but changed my mind. I had three
days to get lost in London. Good enough. I did not
bargain on what I would see. People saw me in navy
signalman’s uniform and showed interest and respect.
A fair-skinned man said he was from Ceylon and
clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Never knew there was
a Ceylon ship in dock,” he said.
I had to explain. We came over on a British
merchantman. We are taking a Canadian minesweeper
back with us – a gift from the Canadian government.”
He was pleased as Punch. “Come on, let’s go to
Museum Street. Then we can do Great Russell Street.
This is like a massive can of special gravy. I’m a
teacher and my wife also teaches Montessori You can
stay with us. I’ve built up a little library as
I couldn’t have been luckier. My little case carried
two suits of civvies and what was certainly nothing
to do with the navy – and we were set to call at
over 200 bookshops! “Impossible,” I exclaimed.
My friend – he was Malcolm Martenstyn – grinned.
“Are you keen on buying anything?”
I shook my head. “If I can place orders...”
“No go. But you can pick up something that’s
incredibly cheap at Prohsthaines or Luzac and
Company. But say, I can always make a small purchase
for you. Pleasure, especially meeting a sailor from
As I have said, London has an unrivalled reputation
in the book world. Thousands of books, dating back
to William the Conqueror; regular Book Fairs and
auctions; regular Book Weeks attended by over
150,000 dealers and avid book collectors from every
corner of the globe.
We found Museum Street and Brills’ Bookshop. It was
a large Dutch concern established more than 300
years ago... There was everything: from Atlantis to
stocks in Greek, Russian, Arabic, medieval
philosophy to biology and geology. I saw a
red-haired man scanning a hefty ‘Seduction of the
Occult Path. ‘There were tables piled with pamphlets
on Druids, Giants, folklore – even crystal balls and
Tarot cards. We met Rudolph Steiner who, Malcolm
said, was owner as well as a great educator,
architect, philosopher and anthropologist. I found a
repository of esoteric works – odd books like ‘The
Masonic Thread in Mozart’ and ‘The Geometry in Art
“Let’s keep moving,” Malcolm said. “Our best
bookshops are not riding just for their stocks.
There’s a tremendous atmosphere and some very
eccentric owners. This was when Arthur Probsthain,
the oriental specialist, hove into view. Such a
confusion of a shop. There were piles of papers,
pamphlets, books strews on every available table,
chair, shelf: and every inch of floor space.
“This,” I said, “is chaotic!”
Mervyn smiled. “Few shops in Great Russell can rival
this. It was founded in 1907. Look - you’ll like
this book on Nepal. It’s part of a general stock and
less than a pound. I’ll take it for you.” I couldn’t
protest. “Don’t be silly,” he said. “You dig long
enough and you’ll find a lot of stuff on British
Ceylon too, but they are pricey. Also you’ll need
time unless you can rattle off the names of
Luzac and Company was run by Knight-Smith who comes
from a French Huguenot family. The shop was started
in 1742 and is one of the oldest in London. In
Berkeley Square we called at Maggs – dealers for the
antiquarian bookshops since the 1850s. So many
glass-cased cabinets, books on travel, military
history, English Literature, but I found prices
extremely high. In Lower John Street is Quaritch’s –
a regular mausoleum of double-locked doors.
Antiquarian booksellers have been in business since
1847 and their clientele included Napoleon’s
brother, Gladstone, and Disraeli. But it’s no place
to browse in.
It was so much nicer at Sotheran’s bookshop in
Sackville Street. Henry Sotheran founded it in 1815
when the Battle of Waterloo was won. It was a
pleasure walking around. There were so many
specialties in Natural History, English Literature
(especially Dickens who, I was told, was a regular
customer in his day).
I felt so helpless. I could have spent six years pay
on a book or two that stirred me! The manager,
Robert Kirkman, assured me that just because books
were old, didn’t mean that they were outrageously
expensive. He took up an 1850 ‘David Copperfield.’
“This is with Victorian binding. Just under 100
pounds. And you see – the old books in fine
condition with unsullied dust wrappers fetch a
As I walked along, I found that helpful, friendly
service was part of the bookshop style. In Vere
Street there is E. Joseph’s tastefully arranged
shop. It has merged with another seller and they
deal in c1assical literature.
We stopped for scones and tea. Mervyn said it was a
real treat shepherding me around. “The most
beautiful bookshops are off Charing Cross road,” he
said. It’s a little street – bookshops everywhere.
Let’s take in a few of them and then lets trot home.
You’re lugging that suitcase... I’ll tell you what?
Let’s go to Images.
Charming place, and I know the owner very well. My
wife keeps going there, picking up lots of stuff for
the nursery children.”
Sturn Dear Lord! Piles of books reach the ceiling
and there sat Peter Stockham, king of the children’s
books castle! He had over 20,000 books and is the
world’s largest specialist on books about dolls and
toys. Whether they are Rupert Annuals, early
editions of A. A. Milne signed by the author; or
Beatrix Potter’s early books, he will have them.
Also books about rabbits, cats, dogs, even rats (‘oh
rat stories are very popular!’) and he said that
it’s a hot trade.
He gave Mervyn an ‘Old Time Jingle’ containing Jack
and Jill, Tom the Piper’s Son, and Sam the
Sportsman. “I don’t know what she’s going to do with
this, but your wife wanted me to keep this for her.
You take it to her. She can settle later.”
It had been quite an adventure and as I was told as
I relaxed in Mervyn’s and Daphne’s well-laid-out
home in Holland Park Road, the fun is in the search.
After a relaxing meal, I sat in the library. Mervyn
said I should take a few books he had read time and
again. We exchanged addresses and sipped wine and
enjoyed our Balkan Sobrani.
The next day I accompanied Mervyn to his school
where I was introduced to the staff as a signalman
of the Ceylon Navy and had the pleasure of
addressing the school on life at sea, and what we
stood for as signalmen, reading codes, ready to
darken ship, meet undersea attacks, know all flag
signals in port and at sea – the works. Wonderful
day and I decided to get back to Grimsby. It wasn’t
right to stretch out my welcome for day three as
I found the skipper readying for the last hurrah. He
beamed. “Back early? Good. Get into number sixes. We
will be cutting out in four hours. It’s looping the
loop down the Suez. Deck watch all the way, then
straight to Colombo”
Mervyn and I kept in touch for many years until he
and Daphne moved to the USA. Suddenly correspondence
became a trickle. My last letter to them in 1990 was
unanswered. I couldn’t think what had happened. He
may have returned to England. I asked friends there
and also hit on the idea to ask Images. Nobody
seemed to know.
It was another blow to learn, that my skipper, who
had left the Navy, had emigrated to Australia – and
died there. I met him on the day before he flew out,
buying hot godamba roti in Wellawatte. “My last Sri
Lankan meal” he said. How true.
By Shabna Cader
From my childhood memories of ‘Nutcracker’ all I
could conjure were the blurred images of a young
boy, a bunch of soldiers and fairies. Unfortunately
nothing of absolute confirmation to the story came
to mind but a flash of laughter, great music, dance
and liveliness. Until of course the much loved
ballet came to life a month ago at the Lionel Wendt
Auditorium. I have director and choreographer Jehan
Aloysius to thank for, for reminding what the
Nutcracker was all about.
“I picked Nutcracker, as I wanted to do a ballet
that was more fun and yet challenging than ‘Swan
Lake’. I wanted the performers to enjoy themselves
and the roles they were creating for the show,” said
Jehan commenting on why he chose ‘Nutcracker’.
Previews of the ballet denoted it as a visually
stunning fantasy. In all hopes of keeping it simple,
it was a stunning sight – the set and costumes, but
it was also a vivacious fairytale brought to stage,
with bouts of music from the great Tchaikovsky,
‘body-narrative’ moves and expression by Jehan
himself and brilliant performances by a cast of
hearing-impaired participants as well as injured
soldiers from Ranaviru Sevana together with
performers and trainers from Jehan’s CenterStage
Production team. The root of the play is about
discovering true ability, strength and beauty and
that notion was perfectly depicted with the
hearing-impaired participants and injured soldiers.
Although ‘body-narratives’ is something new to
Sri Lanka, Jehan’s previous production gave way to
this new form of expression and performance. It
allows those who are differently able to share
performance space, importance and the limelight much
like everyone else and also give their characters an
added touch of humility and truth. “The choreography
I planned for the show included more complicated
dance routines and technically challenging lifts
that had not been done in ‘An Inspired Swan Lake’,”
The performances are well worth a standing
ovation – those who are hard in hearing and use
wheelchairs or/and crutches gave stunning
performances; their form of movement and dance, were
ideally crafted to emanate a different sort of
grace, beauty and sensuality throughout the play. It
was a ballet performance nevertheless, but with the
combination of body-narratives giving the play a
whole unique feature.
The core essence of the story remained the same –
the original play was based during Christmas Eve but
the adventure in Colombo began on the night of a
little girl’s (Clara) birthday. “I changed the
sequence of the story in order to give the
characters more scope for development and to extend
the dramatic tension. In the original, the ballet is
in two distinct parts - the first half is a ‘story
ballet’ and the second is a ‘court ballet’ with
‘character pieces’ performed by characters that do
not have anything to do with the first half of the
ballet or the plot in general.
“I wanted to allow Clara and the Nutcracker to
have a credible relationship that could build up
before the battle scene (which is usually within the
first 15 minutes of the original ballet). I am not
the first choreographer to change the sequence of
events and music, I must add. Nor am I the first to
change or adapt the storyline. I do believe however
that we are groundbreaking in re-imagining the
choreography and vision of both ‘Swan Lake’ and
‘Nutcracker’ with ‘special needs’ performers in
mind,” explained Jehan.
The play was performed in collaboration to mark
the 10th Anniversary of Jehan’s Production house. So
was it a worthy production? Jehan seems to think so!
“I am very proud of ‘Nutcracker’ and do think it was
worthy of being one of the shows to mark the 10th
Anniversary of CentreStage Productions. The
performers, my team and I faced many challenges with
this production, and the standing ovation on the
final night made it all worth it.
“It was a pity that the ICC World Cup coinciding
with the show resulted in smaller audiences, but the
audiences that filled the seats have given us rave
reviews. We have even been offered opportunities to
take the show abroad. Moreover, in shows with a
‘special needs’ cast, the process is often as
important as the show itself. I am thrilled and
humbled by the level of talent displayed by the cast
who continue to overcome challenges each day. These
performers now stand as equally capable performers
in my eyes. That makes the success of the production
and the work of my troupe so much sweeter!” he said.
de Silva unwinds on ‘Celeb Chat’
Senaka de Silva is a man of many parts – craft
designer, couturier, costume designer,
choreographer, interior designer, etc. etc etc. all
rolled into one.
Listen to him unwind and relate his many stories on
‘Celeb Chat’ from classes at Cora Abraham’s
Melbourne Art School and classical ballet at the
Oosha Garten of Western Ballet … to mastering the
art of hand-painted batiks and tie-and-die fabrics…
from drawing inspiration from the myriad colours
around him and rigorously training models for the
catwalk… to taking his brand of Sri Lankan ‘haute
couture’ to the world.
His current passion is working with craftsmen and
master weavers from all of Sri Lanka’s provinces,
and this has given birth to his dream – to set up a
‘Crafts Village’ in Kalpitiya, and one day, live
there in retirement.
Catch Senaka de Silva in Eastman colour at 9.30 p.m.
on Monday, May 2 on CSN.
Rathnayake on Speak Easy
This week on Speak Easy catch the loveable
Natasha Rathnayake along with her down-to-earth and
supportive husband Damitha Rathnayake as they
discuss their love life, friends, success and so
We discuss what stood their way when Damitha wanted
to hold Natasha’s hand in marriage and a surprise
guest who ended suppressed.
Speak Easy hosted by Danu is the newest brand on
Channel 1 MTV, catering to all the celeb fans out
there for their weekly dish! From handbags to
business deals, from new apartments to laid-back
family moments, every Sunday from 9:30 p.m. tune in
and discover the real divas of Sri Lanka.
Sunday at 9:30 p.m. on Channel One MTV.
Film Festival – May 11-15, 2011
Cultural Centre will be hosting the SAARC Film
Festival from May 11-15, 2011, in Colombo. Not only
will the general public be able to view some of the
best films in the region, but there will also be an
award given to the best nominated Feature Film at
this Festival by a panel of International Jury from
Italy, Russia and Singapore. Further there will also
be a special workshop specially organised by the
SAARC Cultural Centre for the Directors of these
Films as well as experts on the Film Industry.
The SAARC Cultural Centre is a regional centre
established based on the decision made by the Heads
of State /Governments of SAARC countries to promote
cultural cooperation in order to bring the people of
South Asia closer and to project the distinct
identity of South Asia. The SAARC Cultural Centre,
in keeping with its mandate of promoting culture in
the region through different modes of art, will
showcase films from the region as cultural
expressions at its forthcoming SAARC Film Festival.
The Film Festival will give all Member States an
opportunity to screen some of the best films from
the region. The SAARC Region has produced some films
with a standard of excellence, and this Film
Festival will focus on promoting some of the best
films featured in 2010 from all SAARC Member States,
inviting Directors of these movies for workshops as
well as recognising the best feature film screened
All Member States of the SAARC region have been
asked to send in nominations of two feature films
which will be shown at the Film Festival. To date,
nominations of some excellent films have been
received from Bhutan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.
Among the nominations received are award winning
films from Bhutan, which grabbed the Winner of the
Best Cultural Film at the 9th National Film Awards,
2010 (Chorten Kora) and Shada Semo Winner of the
Best Film of the Year, also at the 9th National Film
Awards 2010. Pakistan has nominated two films by
Director Shahzad Rafique, and India has nominated a
Marathi, and Bengali Film. The film Vihir, Film
Directed by Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni is a much
appreciated film which won laurels at many
international film festivals. Vihir is indeed a good
film to watch for discerning audience. Sri Lanka too
has nominated two films that have won awards,
Bambara Wallala – Directed by Athula Liyanage which
won a Special Jury Award for Director/Best Camara
Director at Houston Film Festival and Ira Handa Yata
Directed by Bennet Ratnayake which won best Film at
the Identities International Film Festival, and an
Honourable Mention at The Los Angeles International
Film Festival. All these films plus more will be
screened free of charge to the general public at the
National Film Corporation Theatre, equipped with its
state of the art facilities.
The SAARC Film Festival is bound to be a treat to
all film enthusiasts and is open to the public free
of charge. The SAARC Film Festival is organised by
the SAARC Cultural Centre. Screenings times will be
made available soon.