Acts of Faith – Chapter 9; Pt 2 – Transitional


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acts-of-faithPhyllis decided at once that she would leave for Colombo the very next morning. Harry was due the following week, and the march to start soon after. At the same time she tried repeatedly to get hold of Matthew to find out more, but was told that he was not at home. She did get hold of Diana, who told her that very strange things were happening and that no one was to be trusted, and then refused to say anything more since Phyllis would be down in person on the following day. So Phyllis too had a disturbed night; though she did have at least the satisfaction on the way down next morning of seeing, since she had made her intentions clear to Diana, that whereas the government papers declared in bold headlines that the march was to be postponed at the government’s suggestion, Indra’s proclaimed in even larger headlines that the march would most certainly go ahead.

Having got to Colombo, Phyllis found things even more upsetting than she had thought possible. Everyone at the house seemed in a distracted state, and though Diana did tell her that there was reason to believe Matthew had behaved very badly in the current crisis, no one would elaborate. Tom, who had been very upset by the conflicting reports in the newspapers, tried to refuse to see her and, when she insisted and forced her way in, refused to discuss the matter with her on the grounds that an even more urgent crisis had arisen. In its own way this was not entirely inaccurate, because John’s resignation, and the widespread publicity given to it and the fast, were driving him into an almost morbid frame of mind.

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Rajiva Wijesinha’s The Past Is Another Country – Down memory lane with Lionel Pieris


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The Past is Another Country is a series of interviews with individuals distinguished for their contributions to culture and to society. In addition to discussing their individual contributions, the programmes explore the context in which each of them functioned. The interviews, by Rajiva Wijesinha, cover a range of developments in post-independence Sri Lanka, and present a panoramic view of social change in the latter half of the 20th century.

Lionel Pieris is the son of Harold Pieris, who lived at the famous Alfred House and turned it into a centre for drama and other cultural activities. He was the brother in law of George Keyt and the confidante of the photographer Lionel Wendt, in whose memory he built the Lionel Wendt Theatre. His son Lionel describes the commitment of Lionel Wendt, as well as his father, to cultural activities that promoted a Sri Lankan identity.

Rajiva Wijesinha’s The Past Is Another Country – Down memory lane with Laki Senanayake


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The Past is Another Country is a series of interviews with individuals distinguished for their contributions to culture and to society. In addition to discussing their individual contributions, the programmes explore the context in which each of them functioned. The interviews, by Rajiva Wijesinha, cover a range of developments in post-independence Sri Lanka, and present a panoramic view of social change in the latter half of the 20th century.

Laki Senanayake is the son of Florence Senanayake, one of Sri Lanka’s first women legislators, and the brother of the distinguished lawyer Nimal Senanayake. Laki however was an artist, who collaborated for many years with Geoffrey Bawa, and designed some of the most remarkable features of Bawa Hotels. He was also a partner of Ena de Silva, and describes working with her to develop distinctive Sri Lankan designs in the sixties and seventies. The interview is conducted at Diyabubula, his idyllic rural retreat near Dambulla.

Rajiva Wijesinha’s The Past Is Another Country – Down memory lane with Tamara Kunanayakam


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The Past is Another Country is a series of interviews with individuals distinguished for their contributions to culture and to society. In addition to discussing their individual contributions, the programmes explore the context in which each of them functioned. The interviews, by Rajiva Wijesinha, cover a range of developments in post-independence Sri Lanka, and present a panoramic view of social change in the latter half of the 20th century.

Tamara Kunanayagam was born of Tamil parents from two different communities, who were both radical in their outlook. Educated in the Sinhala medium at Ladies College, she also studied for a while in Jaffna when radicalism was developing there during the sixties. Having travelled overland to Europe in her teens, she studied there and worked in Human Rights in Geneva, before being appointed by the present government as Sri Lankan ambassador in Cuba and then in Geneva.

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.

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Acts of Faith – Chapter 9; Pt 1 – Transitional


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



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


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


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


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