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In 2005 I had a sabbatical, but spent most of it in Sri Lanka, partly because, for the last six months of that year I continued to be a Consultant in English at the Ministry of Education. My main task was to revitalize the English medium programme we had started in 2001, which had flagged in the period in which Ranil Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister and seemed determined to kill it. Fortunately his Minister of Education, Karunasena Kodituwakku, was supportive, which helped it to survive until Tara de Mel came back as Secretary in 2004 and got me back in service.

She also got a lot more out of me, since I chaired the Academic Affairs Board of the National Institute of Education, and we started a radical programme of syllabus revision. Unfortunately we began too late, and it was only in 2005 that she overcame the objections of the educational establishment, so we had a lot of hectic work that year, very little of which unfortunately survived her departure when a new Minister who disliked her intensely took over. Though he told me he wanted me to stay on, I realized the old guard were back with a vengeance, so at the end of the year I took myself away. This allowed me to have a few months abroad early in 2006, for the launch of the Italian translation of Acts of Faith, which ended in the Ena figure marrying the President.

But the high point of my sabbatical year was three journeys round Sri Lanka I made with Ena and Kithsiri in the yellow Fiat. The first, in July, began down south, for I had to attend the annual almsgiving for my father’s brother in his home village of Getamanna. Ena and I spent the previous night at Tissamaharama, after a satisfying evening round in Yala in the trusty Fiat, in a quiet little hotel I had discovered, only to find that Karu Jayasuriya, Deputy Leader of the UNP, knew it too. He turned up late that evening, since the protests against what was claimed to be President Kumaratunga’s efforts to have an extra year in office were supposed to begin there.

Karu was astonished to see me, and also to be introduced to my Aunt, when she emerged in a night-dress, not expecting the sleepy little hotel to be full of politicians. The essential good breeding of both came out in the manner they handled that bizarre situation. I should note that Karu agreed with me that the UNP did not really have a case, and it was clear the protest march was simply to rouse the opposition. Unfortunately for them, those in government who wanted a quick election and to see Chandrika Kumaratunga off, took advantage of the protest and asked the Supreme Court for a ruling. This went against the President but allowed the then Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to emerge as the government candidate when the opposition was still comparatively weak.

After lunch at my aunt’s house, we set off for Deniyaya, along a winding road that had still not fully recovered from the storms and landslides of a couple of years back, and reached the Resthouse where our first travels had begun, 22 years earlier. I had stayed there once in between, with Kithsiri, when I was checking on Advanced Level English marking, but for Ena it was the first time since that early trip, and the first time after that too that she was able to enjoy the Hayes-Lauderdale Road. We ended up the next day at my little cottage on the Kalu Ganga, having reached it on the road from Ayagama that reached the Panadura-Ratnapura Road at the wooden bridge a few yards from the cottage. In between we had come through Sooriyakanda and Kalawana, retracing the steps we had taken on those long ago journeys to the Sinharaja.

The next expedition, a few months later, began at Teldeniya, at the Resthouse I had grown to love, though it was new, for it had been constructed over the Victoria reservoir. The Keeper knew me from previous visits, and gave us the rooms with the best views over the waters and the lights twinkling in the distance. And the next night was even more spectacular, for we drove up to what I still think of as a completely mad hotel called the Eagle’s Nest, high up above the road between Belihuloya and Beragala that I had traversed so often when running the Diyatalawa Military Academy Degree programme on behalf of Sabaragamuwa University.

The Manager of the Eagle’s Nest turned out to be the father of one of the officers I had known at the SLMA, and he coped admirably with our strange ménage, given that Ena wanted me to share her room. This was because the better rooms were quite expensive, with a cheaper set further back on the hill, higher but with less good views. I had assumed Kithsiri and I could stay there, but Ena thought that was too far away in case she needed anything, so to the Manager’s surprise I stayed with her. Service, which had been slow previously, picked up because I think of Ena’s clear air of expectation, and we got our coffee early enough to see the sun emerging through the mist, which had not been the case on my previous stay.

The final journey was quite convoluted, because after we had arranged it, I was asked to come for an interview at Kelaniya University to confirm Manique Gunasekara as Professor of English. It was a formality, but since there had been endless delays previously, with poor Manique kept waiting, I thought I had to oblige. So we changed track during our trip, which had been planned for the Dry Zone.

We began that trip too at Teldeniya, which had been so enjoyable the previous time, after which we drove down the 17 hairpin bends to Mahiyangana, and then up through the Mahaweli settlements to Mannampitiya to spend the night at Polonnaruwa, reviving memories of our expedition there to see the magic lighting.

Then there was a long journey through Kalawewa across to Puttalam, and then down to Negombo where we found a rather charming hotel on the coast towards Jaela. This allowed me to make it to Kelaniya early next morning, and Ena and Kithsiri shopped while Manique’s interview was conducted.

It was on that journey that I discovered the joys of what Ena described as double egg rotis. She claimed that this was what Ossie and his friends consumed at early morning breakfast boutiques after a night of dancing. It was certainly a very filling meal, and the various roti makers at stalls to whom we put the proposition fell in with it enthusiastically, and produced squelchingly good products. The meals were finished off with Kandos chocolate, the large bars which all three of us loved, and which we could easily demolish between us.

Those expeditions were bliss, and perhaps the worst part of the security I have had to have since taking over the Peace Secretariat the following year is that I cannot repeat them. I still continue to hope that soon I will be able to do without security and travel anonymously with Ena in the yellow Fiat. If not, perhaps I will be rash enough to escape from the rather stern Sergeant who is my Personal Security Officer, and get away on my own to renew those past joys.

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