Speech as delivered by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha as Chief Guest At the Launch of Reflections in Loneliness

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Speech as delivered by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha as Chief Guest

At the Launch of Reflections in Loneliness

By Chandana Ruwan Jayanetti

I am both pleased and proud to be here as Chief Guest at the launch of Chandana Ruwan Jayanetti’s ‘Reflections in Loneliness’, a collection of poems and prose. I am pleased because the book is a fine example of creativity. It covers a range of emotions through poetry, while the prose recreates a lost world which reminds us how swiftly the fabric of society is changing.

My pride however is perhaps the greater feeling on this occasion, for Chandana is one of the first pupils in a new programe I started, which will remain perhaps my most enduring contribution to this country. He was also one of the best, and amply justified the faith we had in our rural youngsters, when we offered them an opportunity that had been zealously guarded before by the privileged.

I refer to the opening up of tertiary level qualifications in English, which commenced at the Affiliated University Colleges in 1992. I had long been complaining of the fact that English continued to be the preserve of an elite, but those in charge of educational policy thought this was only proper. However President Premadasa appointed a visionary University Grants Commission Chairman in the form of Arjuna Aluwihare, and he embarked on a brilliant initiative to expand opportunities in this sector. Having met him by chance at a social event at the British Council at which I was then working, I was drawn into his orbit, and ended up leaving the Council to take charge of all his new English initiatives.

Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 9; Pt 1 – Transitional

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acts-of-faithOn the Thursday there is a great deal of movement. Phyllis descends from the hills in her Range Rover, not as dramatically as she will later on when our story is galloping to its close, but with equal determination. John, though sick at heart, will be driven together with Lily in her Lagonda to Tom’s, and thence to the temple in a blaze of publicity, and will also cross the road as evening falls in pursuit of his destiny. Three shamefaced youths will trundle along from Negombo in a ramshackle Morris to a point near enough to Paul’s house, and then make their way there singly, as unobtrusively as possible. Paul himself will visit Indra three times in the course pf the day, early in the morning and at noon and late at night. Even Harry will advance the date of his arrival in Ceylon, and will buy himself an airline ticket. Only Tom will stay put, at the presidential mansion, the still centre of these whirling storms, but a great many of our acquaintance will of course visit him.

Let us begin with Paul since, though Phyllis left before dawn, he arrived at his destination, or to be more accurate the first station en route, before anyone else. Once again he is with Indra in the garden beneath the jacaranda tree. The scent of jasmine is stronger in the fresh morning air and Indra is calmer than on the previous days. Paul knows he must not be precipitate about shattering this calm. At first they talk just about Lily’s project, and Phyllis’ visit, and the part Indra’s newspapers are performing. Then Paul says that he thinks Radha should agree to the Black Shadow’s suggestion.

Indra knows there must be more, but Paul stays silent. ‘You don’t actually mean,’ Indra says at last, ‘that she should allow herself to be—whatever you call it?’

‘That of course is not the point of the exercise.’ Paul’s tone is matter of fact. He has been anxious that Indra should not be upset at the very start, and he thinks now that all is going as satisfactorily as it possibly could. ‘But to be entirely honest, I don’t think that matters very much in itself.’

Indra plucks a jasmine blossom, this time with a whole sprig attached, and sniffs it slowly. ‘What then is the point of the exercise?’

‘I intend to break in myself, to bear witness to the whole business.’ Paul pauses very briefly before going on. ‘I would hope to get there before anything has actually been done, but I can’t guarantee that.’

Indra throws the sprig of jasmine away. ‘You must be mad, if you think you can get away with that.’

‘I don’t intend to be alone. I shall have the security guards of various embassies with me.’ Paul allows himself to smile. ‘They have a sort of informal association, and can be relied upon to act together. Some of them are very well trained.’

‘But you can’t just break into a minister’s house.’ Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 8; Pt 4 – Home truths

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acts-of-faithJohn too had a very difficult time during these three momentous days. Though on the Monday morning he had declared a holiday and left his office and sought shelter with Tom, he heard later on in the day that a throng of irate entrepreneurs had stormed the Ministry in the afternoon and, finding only watchers there, slaughtered them regardless of race and religion and then set fire to the building. In the afternoon too there had been a concerted attack on his house, though as it happened the armed forces specially stationed there had been able to disperse it, with a few well-timed shots, not all of them into the air. His family had been almost hysterical at these developments, and his eldest daughter who had been sent home, but who still for some reason cherished a fondness for her erstwhile husband who had become a Muslim and divorced her, belaboured John for not having become a Muslim as well. It seemed to her evident after Luke’s speech that all those who were not Muslims would be suspected of being Socialists.

Shortly after the attacks, both from outside and indoors, had subsided, there came Matthew’s performance on television. This roused John’s daughter to a further onslaught on him, this time because he belonged to a government that was intent on persecuting the minorities, and especially businessmen who had never harmed anyone but only made money of which the government was showing itself indecently jealous. She was not the only one to adopt this line. Lily had decided that the time was ripe to put into operation her plan for weaning John away from the government, and she rang him up and said the same sort of thing, and much more logically too. So did several of her friends. Mark’s speech later on in the evening, that detailed Luke’s iniquities but also showed the destruction of all the less radical Tamil politicians, at least one of them an indubitable aristocrat whatever the standard used, only added fuel to their arguments.

They claimed that Luke was the only member of the cabinet who had made clear his support for the prosperous and had attempted to destroy the Socialists. The name that had been imposed on the land, as well as John’s recent regrettable monetary measures, indicated that the government was opposed to Luke’s laudable policies, and Matthew’s speech showed that this was for racist reasons. Mark’s performance had simply proved that, as he himself had claimed earlier, there was a conspiracy of Socialists and Sinhala Brahmins to destroy the fundamentals of decent existence. The irony was that it was the government itself that had launched the conspiracy; and with superb cynicism they flaunted the destruction of all those who did not conform to their requirements, Muslims and Tamils and Sinhalese who were not Brahmins. John did attempt to point out that several Socialists had died as well, but the reply, which only took a moment or two to come, was that these were all Marxists, and he was singularly dense if he could not recognize that what was being advocated and established was National Socialism.

John did not spend a sleepless night only because he took a large dose of vallium. He was quite groggy when he was woken up soon after dawn with the news of the immolation of his son-in-law. If his daughter had been upsetting before, she was almost dangerous now, and had indeed to be sedated. This brought little relief to John because the rest of his family, his wife and his mother-in-law and his other three daughters, kept up the attack. They were even more fierce when news come through that John’s son-in-law’s industrial establishment, which should by rights have now come into the family, had had its name changed in the new found enthusiasm of the converted to one that asserted its Muslim identity, and had during the previous night been razed completely to the ground. Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 8; Pt 3 – Home truths

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acts-of-faithIt is on the Monday that Dick died. It is not as though Indra has been particularly close to his father, not at any rate for nearly twenty years, but they have come to pass the time of day satisfactorily enough whenever they met. Besides, the circumstances under which Dick met his end would be shattering enough, even to someone less sensitive than Indra or more distant from his father. In an obscure way he wonders whether he could not have been kinder to his father, more intimate, whether he might not have moved more closely with him and encouraged confidences, so that Dick would not have found himself alone and defenceless amidst the dangers that his recent activities have precipitated.

Matthew’s broadcast serves only to accentuate these feelings as far as Dick is concerned. The references to him are too obscure and too indirect for Indra to give any serious credence to the notion that Dick had been in any culpable sense responsible for the catastrophe. It is rather the manner in which Matthew speaks that evokes complex responses in Indra’s mind, even before the climax is reached.

That, sudden as it is, has the result of making Indra suddenly turn pale, which Diana notices as she sits beside him. She herself feels that Matthew has gone too far, as the boys on the screen reveal their nakedness. She glances instinctively at Indra and hurriedly asks him what the matter is.

‘It’s just,’ Indra pauses for a moment and then his hand reaches across and takes hold of Diana’s. ‘It’s just that I recognize those boys. I met them about six months ago. It was when I went with Shiva to his house by the sea. You stayed behind.’ Diana says nothing. Complex thoughts strike her too, but she merely increases the pressure of her fingers on Indra’s. ‘One of them I knew quite well.’

There is a silence which Diana feels she must disturb. ‘Do you think Matthew knows anything about that?’

I don’t know.’ Indra moves across the sofa close up to Diana. Krishna, who has been sitting at his feet, looks up, his eyes still wide with amazement at what he has seen on the screen. ‘I don’t know.’ Indra says again. Diana puts her arm around him ‘It’s hard to be sure. He never liked Shiva, you know that. But I still can’t believe he could do something like this deliberately.’ Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 8; Pt 2 – Home truths

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acts-of-faithAt this, when the speech was finally broadcast on television later that evening, there was a sudden cut to a brief glimpse of the blazing interior of Gerry’s little room, with her long cherished piles of money going up in flames. ‘That was what my wife had done,’ Tom resumed when he came back to the screen, and then the camera moved down to a pile of papers beneath his hands, one of which he held up and flourished, ‘and I have proof of this, in that the document I now hold before you is a letter in which even before she set fire to the money she had written to the insurance company demanding compensation.’

‘You are perhaps all of you now wondering why she did this. It is because under the rule of law that my government has established, all people even the wife of the President are equal before the law. You will recall that very recently the cabinet of ministers and I introduced a Bill which so many special interest groups that have now been shown to have been manipulated by traitors protested against. As you all know, we stood firm, regardless of those inconsiderate few who might have been inconvenienced, because we were confident that what we were doing was in the best interests of the nation. We thought that it was against the interests of all of you for people to hoard money, regardless of how it had been obtained.’

‘For this reason, amongst those who resented our just and fair enterprise was the lady who was my wife. It does not matter now from where she got the money. I have evidence here to suggest that some of it was obtained from persons who did not have the best interests of the nation at heart. Had it not been for our vigilance that money might have been used to the detriment of all of you. But I do not intend to discuss that issue now. Let me merely assure you, as your President, that I had no inkling before this of what was going on. And I can further assure you that, despite my position, I have no intention of deriving any benefit myself from these activities and arrangements. I will state categorically now that, when the insurance claim is met, after the essential repairs in this household have been made, I will use whatever money remains to establish a Special Presidential Trust for the relief of all those who have suffered irreparable loss in the recent tragic events. Indeed I will try to ensure, though I cannot guarantee that this is medically possible, that the most sophisticated research will be undertaken to attempt to restore their manhood to those who have sacrificed it in the interests of the nation.’ Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 8; Pt 1 – Home truths

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acts-of-faithThe slaughter of the Muslims, which had begun after Matthew’s speech, continued apace despite Mark’s performance. It was in any case sporadic, for there was a curfew in operation and the armed forced were in general more disposed to maintain law and order than they had been before. Nevertheless, even by noon the next day there was still enough bloodshed going on to warrant concern, particularly in areas where gemming and tourism and the spice trade were the chief means of livelihood. Even in Colombo there was come confusion, though this was primarily due to groups which had previously owed allegiance to Luke going on the rampage to prove their bona fides. Occasionally this led to supporters of those associated with Matthew fighting side by side with the armed forces against them, though in none of these instances was much saved for the original victims of the violence.

Yet it was not primarily the state of the nation that determined Tom to make a public statement on television that evening. All his counsellors were against it, and they adduced in support the violence of the shock he had undergone on the previous day. Yet he felt that he simply had to appear. It seemed to him in some dim way that this was the best way of expiating the curse that had fallen upon him. He grasped in the emptiness that possessed him at the notion that, if he were to share with the nation his anguish at what had really occurred on the previous day, its importance would somehow be reduced.

The fact was that the shocks he was being given on this day far exceeded in gravity those that had assailed him before. In the first place he was told by several people connected with the media that it was Gerry who had rung them up on the previous morning and asked them to be in attendance for some momentous event. The television network went further, and brought him rushes of the burning interior of the room under the stairs, and asked him hesitantly whether he would like these destroyed inasmuch as the vast piles of money scattered about were clearly visible in the flames. Then, in going through Gerry’s papers, he had found an envelope addressed to her in Luke’s handwriting, with MADAM- MASH inscribed prominently on the top left hand corner, and written with a flourish underneath, ‘For your eyes only, Luke’. Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 7; Pt 4 – Cathartic

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acts-of-faithNor did Mark. He had far too much to think of at the moment. He supervised the editing of the film himself, and just managed to get it done in time for his scheduled broadcast. He had to make a mad dash to get to the studios on time, but as it turned out this was all to the good for it gave to his performance an air of breathless urgency that all those who appreciated the seriousness of what he had to do agreed was totally warranted.

He started by apologising to viewers for inflicting yet another ministerial performance upon them, but the gravity of the situation and the near fatal attempt on the life of their leader and the integrity of the nation made it imperative that he crave their indulgence just once more. Only now, he went on, could it be conclusively revealed that, contrary to what Luke had told the nation, it was not the Leninist who was responsible for the attack. Nor had things happened as his dear friend and colleague Mathew had hinted, though at the time he spoke things were not quite clear so that he could not really be blamed for his error. No, it was not the President’s brother Dick who had made the attack, on behalf of MASH and MADAM as had been suggested. Indeed it was more than likely that MASH and MADAM were not involved at all, except insofar as they had been made tools of by the unscrupulous blackguard Luke, who had only masqueraded as a Muslim, when he was not one in spirit but only as it were in the flesh.

That it was Luke who was responsible should indeed have been clear to all those who had seen the President’s last words to him. At this point Mark’s image faded from the screen, and there appeared once more the scene of Tom’s valediction at the door of the breakfast room. Those moving words, ‘Et tu, Brute,’ Mark pointed out as he appeared once more, could only have been addressed to Luke. It was a regrettable fact that the President, albeit he was an Executive one, had taken Luke previously to his heart; and those words could only have been addressed to someone who had plunged a knife or a bomb into the bosom to which he had been clasped. Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 7; Pt 3 – Cathartic

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acts-of-faith‘You may well say,’ he resumed calmly, ‘that they brought this upon themselves in submitting voluntarily to such an operation. But you must not forget the force of the temptation dangled before them, the overwhelming power of these organisations that we must now strive to destroy. We have to recognise that, even though they might have invited it, they have suffered much more than they ever could have anticipated. And in their suffering, we must also recognize them as symbols of our nation, which will suffer a similar fate if at this point we do not forcefully assert ourselves. If this goes on, there will be fewer and fewer of us, and more and more of them, until we are utterly effaced from the soil of this precious land, that we have guarded with our blood through so many thousands of years. I tell you now, we cannot bow our heads and meekly endure this devastation any more.’

‘Earlier I showed you the body of a man, one of the most loyal and devoted of our countrymen, cruelly murdered while discharging his duty on your behalf. That was upsetting enough, and would have moved even a stone to anger. Yet what I have shown you now is I think even sadder. It cries out even more strongly for action to show that we will no longer tolerate such incursions upon our birthright. Let us while we are still able, all of us who cherish and belong to this dear land, make clear to the whole world and to the aliens in our midst that we are indeed men who will at any cost guard our own.’ Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 7; Pt 2 – Cathartic

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acts-of-faithIt was to Mark, however, after Matthew had gone off to make all necessary preparations for his broadcast, that Tom entrusted the task of looking after Luke. Without any publicity being given to this for the time being, he was to be placed under house arrest with a very strong military guard, and the telephone wires to his house cut. He was not to be allowed to communicate with anyone, and any messages he received were to be promptly conveyed to Mark and if necessary to Tom himself. Mark was very conscientious about his task, and remembered even to have a close watch kept on the Telex machine; so that he had due notice, even before Matthew began his broadcast, of the imminent arrival that night of Snow White and some Dwarfs and two socialists in a helicopter due to land on Luke’s rooftop.

*

Just before dusk, Matthew appeared on television to address an expectant nation. He had had only a few hours to prepare but, together with the Black Shadow and his skilled bands, he had made the most of them. He had got to hear about Luke being placed under house arrest and, though he was somewhat peeved that he had received no social authority or indeed intimation in this regard, he had managed to have the news spread far and wide so that the suspense throughout the nation was even greater and more confused when he appeared on the screen than in the morning.

‘You have all heard about the terrible tragedy that befell our nation today,’ he began. ‘You know that three people died this morning at the President’s house, and that our beloved leader himself only just escaped with his life. My former colleague, who happened to be there, for reasons which I will not stop to consider now, appeared before you earlier today. He gave you his version of what occurred and urged you to actions that he thought appropriate. I do not intend now to show you what it was that actually occurred. There is no need to do that, for what is necessary at this point is to think and plan for the future, and for the welfare of our land and its people. Besides, there is still some doubt about how the tragedy occurred. I will merely show you a brief glimpse of what happened later, and our great leader’s reaction, which will enable you to judge for your selves.’ Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 7; Pt 1 – Cathartic

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acts-of-faithWe move again now to Singapore, where the news of the attempted assassination of Tom has halted CARP in its tracks. The delegates have scattered, to mull over the news and their future plans on their own. Harry, who might have kept them together, has retired to his room to pray. Insignificant as was the news of his death to the rest, Dick was his brother. Harry is also upset about Gerry, whom he remembers from before her wedding, long before everyone had begun to go their separate ways.

Grumpy and the two Communists retire to the bar. They are not dissatisfied with what has occurred, though as the two Communists put it, had the Leninist been more up to date in his Marxism he might have got rid of Tom as well. Sneezy and Sleepy, on the other hand are more worried even than before and go up to their rooms to plan for the future. Bashful and Dopey go to their rooms as well, where they both soon fall asleep. Happy and Snow White go to the Coffee Shop to discuss the situation over a banana split, and Veronica and Doc go out, separately, to make further inquiries. Veronica goes to the local offices of Amnesty International. Doc as it happens has a very close friend in Singapore, in the form of Luke’s second cousin’s brother-in-law, who is the First Secretary in charge of Information at the Ceylonese High Commission, a special envoy of the President, and it is to his office that he goes.

Happy and Snow White, in comparing what has happened to the worst excesses of the French Revolution, have just remarked on the wisdom of the government in having proscribed all Communists earlier on, when it suddenly strikes them that at this very point they are closely associated with two of the gentlemen who have been proscribed. It occurs to them that it is going to be very difficult for them to return to Ceylon. Switching on the radio they have brought with them, they hear from the BBC about Luke’s performance on television, and they are even more frightened, for it is interpreted as being a clear call to battle against anyone who could be accused of socialism. It is while they are wondering what they can do to redeem themselves from the taint they have unwittingly incurred that Doc returns, and comes direct to them in the Coffee Shop. He has heard of the massacre in the jail of the Stalinist and the Trotskyist, amongst others, and he has come to them with a plan. Continue reading

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