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!


Short film festival at Lumbini on July 1

‘Chathu Ranga,’ a short drama festival will be held in Lumbini Theatre, Havelock Town, at 6.30 p.m. on July 1, 2011. The following dramas will be performed in the festival:
Subha Upandinayak (Happy Birthday) written and directed by Oshadee Gunasekara. Dilusha Nadeekamali, Arunodh Wijesinghe and Anuradha Mallawarachchi are performing in the drama. Music by Chinthaka Jayakody, lighting by Ranga Samarakoon, set designing by Chamara Prasanna and costume designing by Dilusha Nadeekamali.
Eyath Ekkath Yaalu Wenna directed by Chula Dasanayake. This is a children’s play written by Janaka Prasad and a production of the Rangamadala Saundaryashramaya, Kuruwita. Kavishka Dananjaya, Nishantha Kamalindu, Subhoda Charithapani and others play the characters in this play. Music of the play is by Dimuthu Deshapriya. Lighting and costumes designed by Chula Dasanayake and the set designed by Chamika Sanjeewa.
Sindu 5i Calls 5i (Five Songs and Five Calls), written and directed by Jehan Srikantha Appuhami. Jehan Srikantha, Palitha Aberatne, Thusitha Laknath, Prasadini Athapattu and Lanka Bandaranayake appear in this drama. Music is by Palitha Aberatne, lighting by Ranga Samarakoon and costumes by Jehan Srikantha.
Kalu Lea (Black Blood) directed by Mahesh Eranga Umagiliya. This short ballet is choreographed by Mahesh Umagiliya. Dilusha Nadeekamali, Suminda Nawarathne, Dhanushka Nuwan, Achala Umayani and many others appear in this play. Light designing is by Mahesh Umagiliya.


English Day – Rural children showcase their talent
English Day 2011 which showcased the skills and talents of the John Keells English language scholars of 2010/11 from across the island was held on a grand scale on June 18, 2011 at the Bishop’s College Auditorium, Colombo 3.
The English Day is an annual event organised by John Keells Foundation (JKF) in collaboration with the Gateway Language Centre.
The scholars displayed their talents in drama, poetry recitation and speeches with much enthusiasm, while over 126 Honour students also received certificates for the “English for Teens” course they had completed in 2010/ 2011.

Among the highlights of the programme was a humorous play titled “Robots on Rampage” performed by the students of the Ampara branch, a Greed play titled “Ion” performed by the Habarana students, “O Captain, My Captain’ performed by the students of the Trincomalee branch and ‘Unity” performed by the students of the Negoambo branch. The eloquence of the students following this four month course, as well as the confidence with which the delivery was made, was indeed noteworthy.
The Chief Guest at the event was renowned educator and human rights activist, Deshabandhu Jezima Ismail. Among the many titles she holds, she is currently a member of the United Nations National Advisory Board and a member of the Independent Commission on Human Rights.
In 2010/11, John Keells Foundation reintroduced the popular foundation-level programme for school children within the age limits of 12 to 14 years. Branded as “English for Teens”, the programme is designed to help early teens to understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases and to interact with others in English in a simple way.

The focus areas during the year were Ampara, Anuradhapura, Batticaloa, Chilaw, Colombo, Gampaha, Kurunegala, Matara and Ratnapura (First intake) and Bandarawela, Galle, Habarana, Jaffna, Kandy, Negombo, Panadura, Trincomalee and Vavuniya (Second Intake). The programme was also extended to cover a special class for 20 children of Samata Sarana – a non-government charity organisation dedicated to serve the poorest and most vulnerable slum dwellers including children regardless of gender, race or religious belief.
“This Scholarship is important to me as well as all the other scholarship holders”, said an enthusiastic Panchana Madara, a scholarship student from Matara. “Now I can speak and write English very well. This time I got good marks in my school term test too. This is a very valuable scholarship. I hope you will continue this scholarship programme. Then it will help to develop English skills in many students like us.”

Less advantaged schools in the identified districts were requested to nominate eligible candidates under the two intakes during the year. Scholarship awardees were selected after a placement test set by Gateway Educational Services and a total of 1149 students registered during the year, entitling them to course fees, examination fees, text book and other course material. As at date, a total of 938 scholars have completed the course with over 97% passing the final examination. The classes at Habarana and Samata Sarana organization are in progress and due to conclude by June and August 2011 respectively.
The English Language Scholarship Programme of the John Keells Foundation was launched in 2004 in collaboration with Gateway Language Centre. This long-term project is aimed at enhancing English language skills of school children and youth across the island towards improving their opportunities for higher learning and sustainable employment in an increasingly competitive world. As at March 31, 2011, the Programme had empowered the lives of over 4,400 individuals.

(Pix by Ravindra Dharmathilake)


Sybil Wettasinghe on Celeb Chat with childhood dreams
Sybil Wettasinghe, celebrated writer of children’s books brings her many tales to Prime TV CSN’s Celeb Chat at 9.30 p.m. on Monday June 27, 2011 in a tete-a-tete with host Kumar de Silva.
She grew up in the cozy village environment of Gintota, down South with its happy childhood memories. Her work provided her with an extensive canvas where she recaptured the nostalgic reminiscences of its blissful moments. The refreshing rural background to all her stories and illustrations are recollections of her early childhood days which never seem to have diminished in her mind over the passing years.

Sybil Wettasinghe is remembered as the author and illustrator of ‘Kuda Hora,’ a legendary Sri Lankan children’s story which has been read and cherished by generations of children. A pioneer in the field of juvenile story writing and illustrating in Sri Lanka, her stories for children and her delightful rendering of images have innovatively brought to life the essence of the tales narrated.

A grandmother of five, Sybil says that all the world’s children are like her very own. She loves them all. Children are the spice of her life. Sybil’s creations have amused and entertained children for over five decades, with over two hundred books in both languages, local and international, to her credit. Sybil has also received recognition in the way of many awards for art and literature.
REPEAT: Tuesday June 28 at 8 a.m.


Competition at British Council to guess winner of Gratiaen Award 2010

The Gratiaen prize is an annual literary prize awarded to writers who are residents of Sri Lanka and demonstrate the best work of literary writing in English. The award was founded in 1992 by the Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist, Michael Ondaatje, with the money he received as a joint-winner of the Booker Prize for his novel ‘The English Patient’. The “Gratiaen Award” was named after Michael’s mother, Doris Gratiaen.

Embracing English literature and promoting it amongst Sri Lankan youth, the British Council Library in Colombo held a ‘Guess the winner of the Gratiaen Award 2010’ competition, after the shortlisted titles were announced. Five writers were shortlisted for the award; namely, Rozaine Cooray (author of Colours of the Sun), Shyam Dissanayake (author of Dalada – unpublished novel), Herman Gunaratne (author of Suicide Club), Shirani Rajapakse (author of Breaking News) and Sakunthala Sachithanandan (On the Streets and other Revelations).

On 21 May, it was announced that the Gratiaen Award 2010 winner was Sakunthala Sachithanandan. Promptly, the British Council held a raffle draw of all the correct answers. Devni Perera, a student of Kalutara Balika National School and a member of the Library’s Young Learners’ Centre, was the lucky winner of the ‘Guess the winner of the Gratiaen Award 2010’ competition. Devni was given a copy of the winning title ‘On the Streets and Other Revelations’ and a free British Council Library membership by Country Director, Tony Reilly, OBE.