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Sri Lanka Book reviews – Sunday, Jan 20, 2002

Unimaginable wealth of knowledge

Sinhalayo
by Dr. Senarath Paranavithana
Published by Visidunu Publications,Boralesgamuwa
Fifth Edition Rs. 300

Reviewed by Padma Edirisinghe

It may not be off the mark to sate that blazing fame of Dr. S. Paranavithana as the foremost archaeologist of our island perhaps has dimmed his radiance in the world of writing. But it can be easily maintained that his prowess in writing stood almost on par with his brilliance in other professional fields.

He had an inimitable style of writing, both rich and eloquent yet economical. From the pen of this gifted son of Lanka poured forth a multitude of books in English. The magnus opus of course was Sigiri graffiti published in two monumental volumes by the Oxford University Press. Besides his numerous contributions to foreign and local journals in the fields of epigraphy, history, art, architecture, religion, languages and literature are the following publications.

The shrine of Upulvan at Devundara (1953), The God of Adam's peak (1958), Ceylon and Malaysia (1961), Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol.l (1970), The Greeks and the Mauryas (1971), Arts of Ancient Sinhalese (1971) Inscriptions of Ceylon vol 11, Story of Sigiriya (both published posthumously) and Sinhalayo.

Sinhalayo written in 1967 is a book of modest proportions and the author puts its objective very simply as "This book attempts to give in brief an outline of the history of the Sinhalese people and the salient characteristics of their culture".

Of course the objective is put very modestly.

One is more inclined to agree with reviewer Akuretiya writing a few lines on the book to the Daily News in 1968 in the following strain.

"Dr. Paranavithana is our fabulous voyager. He is the Ulysses of the Orient discovering for the world the rich past of old civilizations. There are quite a number of books written by specialists but none in a single volume in which we could red and contemplate the many splendoured thing that was our past".

What are these many spledoured facets that the renowned author touches on? The Sinhalayo's devotion to Buddhism runs through out the canvas of the text like a golden tapestry providing sustenance not only to kingship but to our culture and the arts, to our literature, to our mores and values and even our modes of livelihood.

With masterly skill and the pilling wealth of knowledge the author owned he recounts these splendours generously traversing the vast field 'Of the political, social, economic and cultural life of the Sinhalayo". Attention is generously focused on art and architecture, the development of the language and literature and modes of warfare of this racial entity of the Sinhalayo who has trotted the earth under this same name for an amazing length of time, nearly two and half millennia.

"Sinhalayo" is the singular saga of an island race going on and on under one of the longest monarchies of the world. The race's recorded beginnings are from the advent of Vijaya but the author goes back to the neolithic culture of pre - Vijayan times and begins his story there.

The culture that later develops according to him is the fusion of this culture with the immigrant Indo - Aryan Civilization from North India. With remarkable skill the author takes the reader on the uphill climb of the Sinhala race - that is from the crude dolmen of Rambukkana to the refined sculptures of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods. But the writer true to his facts does not rest on the high plane. So he descends with the reader to the sad plummeting of this civilization and to the flight of the Sinhalayos to the central hills.

It is in the second edition of this book put out in 1972 that the account of the decline of Sinhala civilization has been added along with 22 illustrations on places of vintage.

Altogether there are 122 such rare illustrations aptly reflecting the varied facets of "the many splendoured thing that was our past".

The economic style of writing has enabled the author to encapsule an unimaginable wealth of knowledge into less than 100 pages. As for the veracity of these facts no one can dispute for he was and is Lanka's pride in the field of archaeology, the self taught prodigy replete with historical knowledge, indigenous vision and intuition, "the fabulous voyager, the Ulysses of the Orient".

It is almost superfluous to review his books but Visidunu's laudable project at re-republishing works this nature that are of inestimable value needs equal publicity. And the book comes out minus a single printer's devil which in itself is an amazing feat in these irresponsible days.

In some of the current English publications the errors come in such multitude that one gets tempted to cease the reading process, get back into childhood days and launch into a game of counting the mistakes.


Deities and demons

The Deities and Demons of Sinhala Origin
Author: Professor Abaya Ariyasinghe
Publishered by The National Library and Documentation Service Board
Printed by Deepani Printers and Publishers (Pvt.) Ltd.

Abaya Ariyasinghe, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Kelaniya, has authoured several books on history, archaeology and folklore themes. And his latest work on the deities and demons who had appeared to have held sway in the beliefs and traditions of the Sinhala people at various periods of time provides interesting reading.

Professor Ariyasinghe comments that demonology had played a considerable role in the day to day life of the Sinhala people over thousands of years. He has selected the legends behind twenty of the deities and demons who had been held in awe or adoration among the common people of Sri Lanka in different regions and examines the reasons for deification of these supernatural beings in the country.

His analysis is a plausible one in that he points out that members of the local human society who had excelled in some sphere as heroes, warriors, or even those who had lived lives of religious excellence after their death had been deified by the people who had known them.

The book is written in lucid language and provides interesting reading not only to the student of history or archaeology but also to the modern day citizen whose life is pervaded by information technology or other technological spheres in vogue in these times. But like all countries of the world other than new lands which had been opened up for migration of people in the western hemisphere Sri Lanka's rich and diverse cultural heritage is underlined in texts such as this.

Professor Ariyasinghe has done much research which is evidenced by the substance of the book.

One of the main points he makes is that demonology or worship of ancestral spirit or adoration of ones who had gone before existed side by side with Buddhism in Sri Lanka as Buddhism did not play the role of being an esoteric or exclusive religion which exercised a strict dogma or authority on its followers in this country.


Hitiwana Kawi

Reviewed by Dhanapala Nissanka.

Culture, it is said, is the intellectual expression of societies. Any society has practices and habits endemic to it and so do we, the Sinhalese. The art of reciting extempore verses (hitiwana kavi) although not widely practised is an intellectual expression of the Sinhala society. Unique to Sinhala language.

Practice of reciting Sinhala extempore verses has a long history. Andare, Gajaman Nona, Barana Ganitha, Patthayame Lekam etc. Who lived a couple of centuries ago were some poets and poetesses who embellished our Sinhala literature and culture with their witty extempore verses. Some Sinhala kings added the hue of royalty to this art with their dialogues of extempore verses with others who at many times happened to be poor villagers. Their exalted positions never precluded them from mixing with them in practising this art.

Some critics hold the view that reciting extempore verses is a practice confined to imbeciles and hence not even practised in other countries. They attempt to degrade and relegate it into insignificance. But the fact that it is not practised in other countries except among the Sinhalese is the very reason why it should be preserved and protected. It is our identity and heritage.

shaping an idea instantly into a quatrain with all the qualities it should have and reciting it before an audience with aplomb, is not an easy task. For its performance one must be very skilled, clever, sensitive, intelligent, witty and should possess a rich vocabulary.

Extempore verses which remained dormant for sometime during pre-independent era, received a new lease of life with the dawning of the Colombo school of poetry.

While many pay only lip service to protect this extra-ordinary art from becoming extinct Piyasena Wickramaratne by publishing the book "Hitiwana Kavi" has done a splendid job for its perpetuation.

Piyasena Wickremaratne, regularly contributes a column containing extempore verses in the weekend "Rasanduna" a supplmenet of "Silumina".


'Voice of Lanka'

It is a common fact that the reading of a book of literature, guide the mind of students. It is a course for those who know little on general knowledge with the moral and ethics. This trend of habit should be controlled by senior students. The context of the present 'Voice of Lanka' consists of religion, philosophy, heritage, social science and environment etc. This is a book for general reading.

The author of the book Mr. D.P.E. Dias is a trained graduate now retired from the service of eduction.


Peace essential for tourism boom

Tourism - Aiming for that magic million

by Carl Muller

Reviewed by A.A.W. Visvanatharajah

Carl Muller recently gave us four monographs published by Stamford Lake.

With these, he told us that the art of the essayist is very much alive and that non-fiction can be just as absorbing to those who relish the right approach to the subject.

His fifth monograph, which I wish to comment on, is timely for, as the hopes of peace grow, the hopes of a more vibrant tourism sector also grow.

These have been lean times for the local tourist trade, aggravated by the incident at the Katunayake airport and then plagued by the hopelessness that followed the US Twin Towers destruction in September 2001. But, as Muller says, in Sri Lanka resilience is the name of the tourism game with its slumps and rises and the strong will to endure.

Muller's art is in the way he pushes his subject along in a conversational style, giving offence where he will. Harking back to the early days of the sixties, he tells of the dubious entities that crowded the footboard:

"Hole-in-the-wall 'Travels and Tours' were run by the smarmiest characters ever, each armed, as it were, with shearing clippers. Touting became an almost honourable profession and unwary visitors realised, often too late, that, at the mercies of these cheats, the lie of the land was actually the lies of the land.

Guides were of the poorest and basest of quality; itineraries were hastily put together with the main eye on the centres where visitors could buy 'glass and brass' at unbelievable prices while guides and drivers would line their pockets with the commissions surreptitiously paid them."

While Muller claims that things have got infinitely better, he protests the willy-nilly development in places like Kandy, Hikkaduwa, Negombo and Nuwara Eliya and the unwholesome competition that rises - mindless cost-cutting, touting for business and the overall effect on morale and conduct of hotel management as staff.

As Muller points out, even in hotel training, stress is not laid on communication skills and language aptitudes. "It is no secret that half the staff of many large hotels in the island is unable to express itself in English; talk badly if compelled to do so and is quite oblivious to English terms and nomenclature."

An important segment of this monograph deals with the global overview, where the World Trade Organisation has forecast the world number two slot for East Asia and the Pacific by 2010. As such, Muller points out, Sri Lanka's position as part of the region remains exceedingly bright.

Locally, he insists that what is needed is a greater development of entrepreneurial and management skills, especially in the small- and medium-scale enterprises that provide the necessary ancillary services, the better promotion of synergies between transport and tours policies, the increase of the relevant elements of the multilateral trade framework and the proper planning and management of our natural and cultural environment.

This monograph has covered so much in so few pages that I have to congratulate the author.

He also insists that we still need to get our act together. As he states: "It amazes me to think that all entrances to Colombo are utterly vile in demeanour and style. Somehow, we have never got down to that essential task of cleaning up our act. The utter lack of civic discipline is of a nature monumental."

Muller is particularly venomous when he tells of local authorities that levy their own charges. "It is in this area that the business of bleeding the tourist (or milking him/her) has become a fine and quite sadistic art."

He adds: "When municipal systems are substandard, roads in bad shape and pollution grave, the industry suffers and the reputation of an area with much to offer, is destroyed."

Talking of the katunayake terrorist attack, he insists that "peace is the vital ingredient in the preparation of a wholesome dish." He calls the calamity "a massive coronary and from which recovery will be long and most painful."

Regional tourism, he says, is the answer. "Imagine the potential that exists for the country if South Asia is marketed as a single destination with a total easing of visa restrictions and with direct air links between the different countries." What is needed is a central agency for market research that would serve all the SAARC countries.

Muller advocates a collective approach that will help identify strengths and weaknesses. "We need to accept that tourism is now in an age of increasing competition in a technology driven market place," he reminds.

What Muller deplores is the "human element that keeps exploding and the unhealthy divisiveness between peoples, cultures and religions that is being fanned to a flame by self-seeking, self-serving radicals and power-hungry politicians.

"This is where we fall flat on our faces and where we tell the world that, as a destination, we can be pretty raw around the edges too."

In conclusion, Muller demands an end to political feuding in this country, to national disunity, economic disruptions and political instability that drags a degraded society along. "Peace is an imperative and peace is the only way we can make this country the finest Asian destination of all.... Mark my words: On the day that world headlines proclaim "Peace comes to Sri Lanka" - that will be the day when the magic million (tourist arrivals) will not be something to strive for. It will simply fall into our laps!"


Book Review
Dealing with Anthropological studies on Sri Lanka
Anthropologizing Sri Lanka: A Eurocentric Misadventure Author: Susanthe Goonatilake
Indiana University Press
Bloomington and Indianapoils, 2001

by Suvimalee Karunaratna - Island Fri Nov 15 2002

The book is a critique on recent anthropological studies on "the complex civilizational entity called Sri Lanka".

The present offering is a very brief introduction. Goonatilake’s vigorous language, with its caustic punch lines, carries the general reader through the entire book without having to scale insurmountable technical hurdles. But the book is no lightweight. It deals with anthropological studies on its own terms.

The author progresses like a one-man demolition squad. At the receiving end of his critique are Richard Gombrich, Gananath Obeysekere, Bruce Kapferer and S. J. Tambiah of "Buddhism Betrayed?" fame.

 Previous works

Goonatilake, with his Engineering Science background and also Sociology, has been writing on science and knowledge related subjects. This is his first essay into the writing of a nontechnical book. His previous works include, Towards a Global Science: Mining civilisational knowledge (Indiana University Press, 1998); Merged Evolution: The long term implications of Information Technology and Biotechnology; Technological Independence: The Asian Experience: Evolution of Information: Lineage in Genes. Culture and Artifact: Aborted Discovery: Science and Creativity in the Third World: Crippled Minds: An Exploration into Colonial Culture and Food as a Human Right.

In part I of the book, the author contextualizes anthropology and Sri Lanka. Though its content is a condensation of a mass of information, it forms an absorbing chapter. Here, the reader’s attention is drawn to many factors such as the growth of anthropology as a discipline, its criticism in the 1970s and its present complex character. It also focuses on Sri Lanka itself and what the view would have been from Sri Lanka of the "Other" down through its long history from its own philosophic lens.

Having been a half way house between cross civilizational traffic for several centuries it would have acquired not a little experience in observing the "Other". Sri Lanka had not been a stationary observer either. Its ubiquitous ambassadors have been seen in the ancient courts of Rome and China. The ancient Chinese author, Li Chao, has recorded that among the vessels calling on Chinese ports "the ships from the Lion Kingdom (Sinhala — Sri Lanka) were the largest, with stairways for loading and unloading which are several tens of feet in height".

(Weerasinghe, 1995, p. 35, quoted by the author, p. 8.)

That anthropology began as a colonial enterprise is made clear but the author’s discussion of anthropology’s object of study as the "Other" goes further with its psychological and philosophic implications.

In colonial times, Sri Lanka had been the happy hunting ground, the classic "Other" of Western and colonial anthropologists. Today, the "Other" has become the observer. The author explains:

"Aspects of Sri Lanka’s formalized view on human behaviour, Buddhist Psychology, has recently percolated into the West. This has muddied the classical relationship of Sri Lanka as the Other of anthropology’s formal human behaviour theorizing. The other’s (Sinhalese) formal psychology is now helping observe the observer’s (Westerner’s) mind. This partial change of role is accompanied by a large shift as the centre of gravity of the world — economic and cultural — increasingly shifts to Asia". (p. xiii).

He also indicates that "The cognitive shifts in the West are also due to inflows of cultural elements from Asia, including some from Sri Lanka".

The background information given sets the stage for the author’s critique:

"The post-colonial anthropology appears worse than anything colonial anthropology wrought and in fact, worse than the colonial writings of the 19th and early 20th centuries on Sri Lanka". (p.xiii).

Gombrich’s Precept and Practice (1991) is taken to task in Part II of the book. The author faults him on the limited time period spent (one year) on the study, interviewing only thirty six within a small geographical area of a village near Kandy. This, the author says is too short a time and restricted an area to do a study to capture the nuances of a total civilization. He faults Gombrich on leaving out an important subject area, such as the impact of Walpola Rahula’s work Bhikshuvage Urumaya on Sri Lanka’s Buddhist society. Walpola’s book advocates monks being social activists, involving themselves even in politics. Goonatilake sums up Gombrich’s thesis in the following words:

"Any religion would display departures from its texts ة The obvious question that then needs to be asked is why haven’t there been studies similar to Gombrich son his own Christian Britain? ة the practices of all religious and belief systems do not always match their precepts. Even if these factors are overlooked, no one would dream of studying British Christianity only by interviewing thirty six individuals of British society taken from say, one small Devon village. But this is what Gombrich does for Sinhalese Buddhism ة" (p.54).

Puzzled

The author is also puzzled by Gombrich, who a linguist and who, moreover, had learnt Sinhalese, having difficulty in understanding the list of contents in the Bauddha Adahilla and having to get his translation of it corrected. Goonatilake observes:

"If the list gave Gombrich such problems one could only imagine what the full text did, as it described the precepts of Buddhist practice".

The author examines next the book Buddhism Transformed jointly written by Gombrich and Obeysekere, in which they describe the arrival of "Protestant Buddhism" in the 19th and 20th centuries ushered in with rationalism from the West. Apparently this rationalism from the West was "implanted" in the Buddhist Revival Movement becoming the new Protestant Buddhism. Goonatilake observes:

"Blavatsky and Olcott who allegedly brought Protestant rationalism to Sri Lanka were themselves strong believers in the irrational and the mystical". (p. 76)

Anyone conversant with the flamboyant Madame Blavatsky’s prowess at invoking the spirit world and dabbling in the occult and Olcott’s fascination with the psychic phenomena at Eddy Farm which he reported to the New York Graphic in 1874 (which astonished readers for they expected his scientifically and legally trained mind to interpret them rationally) will not fail to appreciate Goonatilake’s cryptic remark. Goonatilake points out that there was a reverse flow of Buddhist rationalism and Hindu ideas from South Asia to the West. (It was Migettuwatte Gunananda’s rejoinders to Christian arguments published by Copper and Pebbles, translated, printed and circulated in the West that caught the attention of Olcott resulting in his corresponding with Piyaratanatissa Thero of Dodanduwa.)

Goonatilake criticizes the authors for not recognizing the fact which Guruge points out (Guruge ed. 1984, pp.xiv, cxiii) that is, the extent to which Western scholars on Buddhism were indebted to Sinhalese monks. In letters written by them, these writers and translators have acknowledged their indebtedness to those erudite monks.

In actual fact, the Buddhist renaissance began in the 18th century with Velivita Sri Saranankara who with the Higher Ordination reintroduced from Thailand (then known as Siam) became a full fledged Upasampada monk. It was he who began the work of reestablishing Pirivena education in order to bring into being again scholar monks on Sri Lankan soil.

Another area focused on by Goonatilake is the alleged fundamentalism in Buddhism.

"Alleged "Buddhist Fundamentalism" occupies a central position in the thesis of Protestant Buddhism. Gombrich and Obeysekere mention, in the same breath and with the same implied meaning, fundamentalism as it occurs in Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam, thus equating all these different "Fundamentalism’s". (1988, p. 448)

Difference

Goonatilake explains that there is a great difference between Judeo-Christian religions which are revelatory religions and Buddhism. Fundamentalism in the former means going to the textual sources of what God’s messengers said. On the other hand the central Teachings of Buddhism refer to the observational practice of how the mind-body functions and the accompanying theory.

Purging a particular Teaching of heresies, of course, cannot be considered "fundamentalism". Goonatilake points out that there have been several councils in Buddhism’s history in which accretions have been got rid of from the tests.

On the mat

Bruce Kapferer is on the mat in Part III of the book for ‘demonizing’ Sinhalese society by using "the unsophisticated epistemological apparatus of the exorcist", with which to view Sri Lankan Buddhist society. He even extends his study of Sinhalese exorcism ceremonies to explain the "macro processes governing the ethnic conflict". Kapferer’s aim, the author says acidly is "to reveal the dynamics of Sinhalese Buddhist society".

Not to be out done by Kapferer’s demon rituals, the author has introduced into his analytical text very innovative sub-titles. At every turn of the page they come a-cropper:

"The Demons enter the national stage". "The Demons Come (in Riots): The empirical study" "Kapferer discarding Demons: enter Sorcerers" and "Finding the Sinhalese in Sorcery".

The literary device used by the author is a fitting tribute to Kapfer’s "extended case-situational studies’ approach where the demons of exorcism ceremonies seen to break loose and run amok into the ethnic conflict arena!

Part IV is devoted to the critique of S. J. Tambiah. He has written 3 books relating to Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka Ethnic Francticide and the Dismantling of Democracy (1986), Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka (1992); and Levelling Crowds: Ethno-nationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia (1996).

Goonatilake’s main criticism of Tambiah’s controversial book Buddhism Betrayed? Is that he does not recognize the disabilities and oppression under which Buddhists suffered during colonial times. Goonatilake also disagrees with the image created of Dharmapala as an "uncharitable propagandist". Dharmapala was not a rabble rousing demagogue, neither was he a racist. He was outspoken about the cultural oppression of Buddhists under the colonial regime and the missionary activity supported by that regime. Equally, he vehemently criticized Sinhalese Buddhists for being apathetic, survive lackeys of the British.

A summary of part V in the author’s own words is the following:

"(It is) an excursion into the sociology of anthropology of Sri Lanka ة it identifies also the peers and key informants for the anthropology. This is an identifiable group of Sri Lankans who fill in the contextual details of the complex reality that is Sri Lanka. It is this set of institutions and individuals working largely outside the university structure and public domain that acts as a social cognitive matrix that filters the local reality for the visiting anthropologists. The re-emergence of a virulent colonial anthropology in Sri Lanka is examined in this last part from the perspective of a particular social structure in Sri Lanka that generate and legitimize knowledge".

Anthropologizing Sri Lanka is a stimulating and invigorating critique. Let us hope it will play a catalytic role in Sri Lankan society and outside.

Island Saturday Magazine 21 April 2001

Book Review
Honesty and integrity

Book: "No, cousin, I’ll to fife"
Author: V. L. Wirasinha

Reviewed by Premil Ratnayake

Honesty and integrity are not virtues normally attributed to public servants as you know them. But rarely though you come across an exception. Such an exception is V. L. Wirasinha who has brought out a memoir of his life during the years in which he served the Government of Ceylon/Sri Lanka as an Officer of the Ceylon Civil Service and as Permanent Secretary. Wirasinha’s honesty and integrity had not been solely confined to his work as a public servant. He has lived them for 88 years.

The title of the book, "No, Cousin, I’ll to Fife," is borrowed from Shakespeare’s Macbeth - Wirasinha has been a lover of the Bard since his school days, Shakespeare being his hero of letters. Wirasinha read Macbeth when he was twelve years old and Macduffs tragedy left an indelible mark on him. He was so moved by Macduffs reply to Ross - "No, counsin, I’ll to Fife" - he decided to use the words as title to his autobiographical work. And, Wirasinha says that he resolved like Macduff he would never seek preferment, at the expense of integrity.

Wirasinha’s account of his interview with the "White Board" for selection to the Ceylon Civil Service in 1935 is hilarious. He has the upper-lipped White bosses on the edge of their seats with his Shakespearian quotations which nearly flunked him because the Britishers were not accustomed to a classical assault even via a countryman unleashed by a potty Black Ceylonese! Wirasinha’s reply to the question, why do you want to enter the Civil Service is indeed a classic — "to earn my livelihood." If he had a free option he would rather be a teacher, but teachers are so poorly paid, but if he could receive as a teacher two thirds of what he would receive as a Civil Servant he would prefer to be a teacher!

In his cleverly crafted work, full of spicy anecdotes, written in masterly fashion, using the English language as it should be used (students of the Anglo - Saxon lingo may read it both for literary pleasure and profit). Wirasinha, always honest with himself and others, and whose sense of humour is puckish, with an unerring eye for the whimsical, does not pontificate. Rather, he relates a story taking you from one posting to the other throughout old Ceylon in the public service, which, I think, did not do full justice to a man steeped in the classics, besides being totally honest, shunting him from one station to the other because in their view he was too obdurate, not "playing ball" (public service is a bed of intrigue, not an Ashram) and in the administrative lexicon," not co-operative" which in other words means" refusing to be an "Yes Man."

Wirasinha must have kept a meticulous diary of his daily life both personal and official, for, he renders some verbatim reports of events encountered more than 60 years ago. Wirasinha being a very pragmatic and unbiased man may not have had inbuilt prejudices against the White men who held high posts in the public service. But he certainly courted their wrath for his sometimes blunt forthrightness. The Europeans were amazed that a pint-sized blackie could be so "insolent" but the youthful and daring Wirasinha could not care a damn. His encounter with a European named T. H. Green ("no kinsman of the Cambridge philosopher, Wirasinha says in parenthesis) is a gem: Black David vanquishing the White Goliath. Green had possessed an unlicensed revolver and had come to see Wirasinha to obtain a license. The European strode haughtily into Wirasinha’s room (Wirasinha was then in Nuwara Eliya functioning as Addl. District Judge, Police Magistrate and Commissioner of Requests) and perched himself on the desk of Wirasinha.

Over to Wirasinha’s own narrative of the incident.

"Green bellowed," Aren’t you going to attend to my matter?"

"Let me first tell you something you should know," I said with delicious calm. He (Green) continued to sit where he was and glared at me interrogatively.

"It is very simple, but not to you, perhaps," I said slowly and deliberately," no one, just no one who has ever come to see me here in Nuwara Eliya or elsewhere has had the effrontery, the ill-bred brazen effrontery to sit on my desk! It is not a piece of furniture meant for you to burden with your bum. Have the goodness to lower yourself into one of those chairs you see there - then only I will attend to what you say is your matter."

He (Green) was shattered. This from a native, a pint-sized one at that! But he wasn’t giving up, not yet.

"What if I don’t?" he ventured.

"You will be forcibly- removed."

"By you?" with a contemptuous chuckle.

"Oh no, I wouldn’t soil my hands. The Police will, I am sure, soon be here from downstairs to perform the office."

"What? In surprised disbelief.

"The peon," I said," is an intelligent man, he’d been listening, just inside the door - you could not have seen him. He knows English, he’s heard your crescendos, he heard me say, "Police" raising my eyebrows to him, and he’s left the room! I can imagine why."

Green quietly lowered himself into a chair.

"Splendid," I said," now we can consider your ‘matter",

"And the Police?" He was a mouse bloated beyond belief.

"I have told you the peon is intelligent. I am sure he will keep them merely ticking over until I give the word, which will be never if you behave yourself." I was enjoying small and cat and big mouse.

Victor Lloyd Wirasinha had the two Christian names bestowed on him by his uncle, father’s brother. Old Wirasinha had nothing to do with it, since, he was a very liberal and easy-going man. The names, "Victor" and "Lloyd" held some fascination for uncle Wirasinha - Victor representing King Victor Emmanuel and Lloyd for Lloyd George!

Another interesting anecdote which is pungent concerns Wirasinha and his wife Lilian whom he adored since he first proposed to her both in orthodox fashion and full of love. Wife Lilian was involved in women’s organizations. The YMCA was celebrating some event, somewhere in 1947. Wirasinha was invited to chair the meeting. Wirasinha demurred saying he was a sceptic (not an atheist) not even a member of the YMCA. But the organizers said they had seen Wirasinha going "up to the church" every Sunday.

"Up to, but not in the church," Wirasinha retorted in his usual repartee fashion," as an uxorious husband I have to take my wife there, but I remain outside, reading Butler’s Hudibras or whatever."

Lilian was furious. "You are not a normal human being," she hissed. "Thanks," Wirasinha exclaimed," I know now."

But, Wirasinha writes, "she did not know what it was I knew, and probably feared my sanity."

"Came the day and there I was presiding in the town meeting hall, my wife seated in the front row, wondering what words of wisdom I would utter. "Ladies and Gentlemen," I began," let me first tell you something about myself, I am not a normal human being. This is not just my own estimate, it is the considered valuation of someone who knows me very well indeed. "I said this looking straight and intently at my wife. Remembering the context, she could not suppress a titter, which was taken up by those seated nearest to her, and then soon rose to a swell that filled the whole hall with clamour.

"Well," I said, as soon as I could be heard again, "this mental affliction of mine, I regret to say, is not something peculiar to me. None of you, my friends, is wholly normal. In fact it is no easy matter to determine what is wholly normal.

"Now the YMCA is a place where people gather, who, in one way or another, are not normal human beings, any more than I am or you are. By associating with them you’ll have every opportunity of having your rough edges planed smooth. So my advice to all males present, no matter how old or young you may be is to join the YMCA before the cock crows even once.

"The next item on the Agenda is ......................"

Victor Lloyd Wirasinha now leads a placid life in retirement at his youngest daughter Rohini’s house in Borella. Despite his age (88 years) Mr. Wirasinha is very much mentally alert and relishes his old jokes about the old public service. He narrates them when you meet him roaring in laughter and laughter. Wirasinha’s laughter is infectious. His narrative style is as polished and impeccable as his writing. Now and then he lapses into his most beloved literary indulgences: Shakespearian classics

The walls of his daughter’s house are daubed with the paintings of his son-in-law Nihal Jayamanne PC. Most of them are nudes. But Mr. Wirasinha showing them says puckishly," my son-in-law assures me they are not obscene - only erotic."

Wirasinha’s book is available at Vijitha Bookshop and at his residence at No. 7, Chandralekha Mawatha, Borella.


EPPAWALA: DESTRUCTION OF CULTURAL HERITAGE
IN THE NAME OF DEVELOPMENT

by D.L.O  Mendis
1999
ISBN: 955-647-001-8