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Midweek Review

How UNP dug its own grave



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The margin of the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) victory, at the Aug 5, 2020 general election, stunned the ruling coalition. The best possible result the SLPP expected was around 130 seats, including National List slots. SLPP Chairman and its top National List nominee, Prof. G.L. Peiris, about aproximately 30 minutes after polling commenced, countrywide, told the writer they expected around 130 seats.

About two weeks earlier, the leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) and Attorney-at-law Udaya Gammanpila, too, privately acknowledged they could secure around 130 seats.

Experienced campaigner and turncoat, S.B. Dissanayake, also of the SLPP, placed the number of seats, anticipated, a little less than 130 seats. But, they all predicted a very comfortable victory for the SLPP, though two-thirds seemed quite unrealistic.

The Aug 5 result proved a two-thirds majority was achievable, under the Proportional Representation (PR) system, though so-called experts thought otherwise. However, the margin of victory surprised even the three-and-half-year old SLPP, as well as the tattered UNP, established over 70 years ago.

For the first time, in our political history, a party (that ruled the country on several occasions) ended up without a single elected lawmaker. The UNP managed to secure one National List seat. The JVP did much better than the UNP by securing three seats, including one National List slot, but it was a comedown when compared to its previous performance at the August 2015 general election.

General Secretary of the UNP, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, on Friday (7), blamed their worst defeat ever on their ‘own actions’ and those of others. The latter was definitely a reference to former UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa causing a split.

It would be pertinent to examine what Kariyawasam meant by ‘own actions’ in his pathetic attempt to explain the debilitating setback the once proud party suffered. The EC decision not to count preference votes, received by candidates of political parties that didn’t receive seats, saved them from further humiliation. If not, the paltry number of votes received by Ranil Wickremesinghe, Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake, National Organizer Navin Dissanayake, as well as financier Daya Gamage, would have become public, adding to the humiliating defeat.

The emergence of the SLPP, at the expense of the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party), should be studied, taking into consideration the deliberate wrongdoings, blunders, lapses, treachery and utterly irrational policies followed by the yahapalana administration, consisting of the UNP and a section of the SLFP-led UPFA.

Before we discuss why the voting public handed over such a massive mandate to the SLPP, it would be pertinent to mention that those who served the ruinous yahapalana coalition ended-up in four groups. The largest group formed (1) the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), (2) remained in permanently damaged UNP, (3) what was left of the SLFP and (4) those who returned to the Rajapaksa Camp, having served Maithripala Sirisena for some time.

Having publicly alleged that he would have ended up six feet under if Mahinda Rajapaksa had won the 2015 January presidential election, Maithripala Sirisena, too, returned to the Rajapaksa Camp to avoid being politically eliminated. If Sirisena’s SLFP contested the recently concluded general election, on its own, it, too, could have suffered the same fate that befell the UNP. The SLFP obviously avoided the disgraceful defeat by contesting under the flower bud symbol.

The SLFP, on its own, winning a seat in the Jaffna peninsula, is an exception. The SLFP contested the electoral districts of Jaffna and Kalutara. Final result of the Kalutara district reflected the ground situation, in 18 districts, where the SLPP recorded landslide victories. The SLFP polled 10,979 votes (1.57%), in the Kalutara district, and was placed 5th, whereas the SLPP obtained a staggering 448,699 votes (64.88%). The SLFP survived a political massacre by accepting the SLPP’s terms. The SLPP, quite rightly, dismissed the SLFP’s efforts to contest both the presidential and parliamentary polls, under a common symbol. Polonnaruwa district candidate Sirisena, in spite of being verbally abused and humiliated by fellow district SLPP candidate Roshan Ranasinghe, as well as Gampaha District SLPP leader Prasanna Ranatunga, polled the highest number of preferential votes from the Polonnaruwa District. Sirisena polled 111,137 preference votes, whereas Roshan Ranasinghe obtained 90,615. The SLFP, due to consensus with brazen SLPP, even at biased terms, has managed to save face.

‘Own actions’

The UNP suffered an irreparable setback, at the third parliamentary poll, since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009. The UNP’s loss, at the 2010 general election, was understandable. The then SLFP-led UPFA obtained 144 seats, including 17 National List slots, whereas the UNP secured 60. The UPFA taking the parliamentary election was a foregone conclusion in the wake of Mahinda Rajapaksa defeating General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 January presidential election. But, the UNP obtained a respectable 60-member group and, five years later, used it to spearhead a high profile project to bring down Mahinda Rajapaksa.

But, the UNP, at the general election just concluded, has been reduced to just 1 National List MP. The UNP General Secretary should explain what he really meant by ‘own actions’ contributing to its downfall. Let me examine what these ‘own actions’ were as the SLPP triumph transformed the political landscape.

The SLPP can easily secure two-thirds with the backing of the SLFP (one elected from Jaffna) and three other Tamil and Muslim parties. Perhaps, it would be much better to amend the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, in consultation with the SJB (54 MPs), TNA (10), Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB/3) and the UNP (1) than exploiting the overwhelming majority to its advantage.

Sri Lanka is in such a political-economic mess, the SLPP should act responsibly. The formidable political power shouldn’t pursue abusive policies against the backdrop of annihilation of the Opposition. It would be a grave mistake on its part to tinker with the Constitution for its benefit. Perhaps, a consensus can be reached soon, on an amendment, to allow the President to hold the Defence portfolio.

Treasury bond scams

Having ousted Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the 2015 January presidential poll, a cocky UNP leadership brought in Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran as the Governor of the Central Bank, in January 2015. Wickremesinghe simply ignored Sirisena’s concerns as regards the appointment. Under heavy pressure, Sirisena handed over Mahendran’s letter of appointment. The Singaporean moved into the Governor’s Office, on January 26, 2016. The then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake made the recommendation in this regard. The first Treasury bond scam was perpetrated just four weeks later.

Kariyawasam’s reference to ‘own actions’ without doubt include the 2015 Treasury bond scam and the second perpetrated 13 months later, after the 2015 general election. The government was so cocky, it not only once but twice perpetrated massive Treasury bond scams at the expense of the national economy. In spite of the then yahapalana partner, the SLFP, making a big noise about Treasury bond scams, Sirisena’s party solidly stood by the UNP. Sirisena went to the extent of dissolving parliament, on the night of June 26, 2015, to prevent the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) presenting its report on the first Treasury bond scam to parliament. Sirisena exposed himself by delaying the appointment of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) to probe the Treasury bond scams, till January 2017; over seven months after Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy succeeded the Singaporean.

The top UNP leadership caused the party downfall by its ‘own actions.’ The SLFP, too, contributed to the rapid deterioration of the yahapalana government by playing ball with the UNP. Having allowed the UNP to ruin the yahapalana arrangement, Sirisena resorted to a constitutional coup, in late Oct 2018, to take back control of the government. Sirisena failed miserably.

The new government now faced a huge challenge in bringing the Treasury bond scams case to a successful conclusion. Ranil Wickremesinghe and Ravi Karunanayake embroiled in Treasury bond cases are no longer lawmakers. Wickremesinghe and Karunanayake, having first entered parliament in 1977 and 1994 (National List), respectively, served as members of parliament successively until last week. Wickremesinghe and Karunanayake now face the bleak prospect of facing a long drawn out case.

Geneva betrayal

Between the February 2015 and March 2016 Treasury bond scams, the UNP betrayed the country, at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Sirisena did absolutely nothing but to publicly criticize the Geneva betrayal. The President, in spite of being the Commander-in-Chief and the Defence Minister, answerable to the people, stayed with the UNP decision. In a bid to deceive the public, the yahapalana lot replaced the then Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, who directed the then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva Ambassador, Ravinatha Aryasinha, to co-sponsor the controversial resolution, with Ravi Karunanayake, in May 2017. In spite of on and off public criticism, Sirisena, and those SLFPers who received ministerial portfolios, remained with the UNP. Karunanayake, embroiled in the Treasury bond scam controversy, continued with Samaraweera’s Geneva project. When Karunanayake was compelled to resign in the second week of August 2017, over shocking revelations before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, Wickremesinghe brought back Tilak Marapana to the cabinet. One-time Attorney General Marapana, PC, took over the Foreign Ministry. Marapana, too, faithfully continued with the Geneva project. The Geneva betrayal was part of the UNP’s agreement with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the US. Sumanthiran revealed the existence of a treacherous agreement, in June 2016, when he addressed a gathering in the US. Sumanthiran declared that he negotiated with the US and Sirisena’s government, on the Geneva resolution, and the inclusion of foreign judges in war crimes courts.

Lord Naseby, in Oct 2017, gave Sri Lanka a golden opportunity to counter war crimes allegations. Based on secret dispatches from the UK High Commission, in Colombo, in 2009 (January to May), Lord Naseby successfully countered the primary allegation, regarding the massacre of 40,000 Tamil civilians on the Vanni east front. The UNP turned a blind eye to Lord Naseby’s revelations. Yahapalana partner, the SLFP, too, followed the same policy. When the writer inquired about how the government intended to use Lord Naseby’s revelations for Sri Lanka’s defence, at the post-cabinet media briefing, co-cabinet spokesman Dayasiri Jayasekera reacted angrily, though he quickly calmed down. An irate Jayasekera accused the writer of raising unnecessary issues with a view to causing problems. Jayasekera revealed that up to the time the question was posed to him, the cabinet hadn’t at least discussed the matter. Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, as well as the SLFP spokesman Mahinda Sanarasinghe, at separate media briefings, in response to questions posed by the writer, admitted that the cabinet didn’t discuss the Geneva matter.

The Foreign Ministry’s thinking reflected the despicable UNP policy towards the armed forces. The initial Foreign Ministry response, to Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 bid to save Sri Lanka, revealed its role in a high profile anti-Sri Lanka project. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement in response to a query posed by the writer to the then spokesperson. However, the Foreign Ministry cannot be faulted for following the instructions given by the Prime Minister, and the Foreign Minister, at that time.

The SLFP cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for the Geneva betrayal. Today, those SLFPers, who had fully cooperated with the UNP (2015 August –Oct 2018), are in parliament, on the SLPP ticket. They survived by contesting the Aug 5 parliamentary election on the SLPP ticket. If not, the SLFP, too, would have ended up with perhaps one National List MP, like its partner in ‘crime’ the UNP.

In the wake of the Geneva betrayal, several countries imposed travel restrictions on senior military commanders. Field Marshal Fonseka, Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage and Army Chief Shavendra Silva are among those who were slapped with travel bans.

Now, it would be the responsibility of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government to set the record straight. The UNP and the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi-led TNA, responsible for the Geneva betrayal, suffered serious setbacks at the general election. Having campaigned for 20 seats, the one-time LTTE mouth piece was reduced to 10 seats, including one National List slot. In the last parliament, the TNA had 16 lawmakers, including two National List slots. Obviously, the Tamil electorate snubbed the TNA by causing the ITAK leader Mavai Senathirajah’s defeat. The TNA, too, plunged into crisis with a section of the former LTTE proxy demanding that Senathirajah be appointed to parliament through the National List whereas the TNA, at the behest of Sampanthan, named Chairman of Ampara Navindaveli Pradeshiya Sabha Thawarasa Kalaiarasan as their National List member.

Prez-PM failure in 2019

The Treasury bond scams (February 2015 and March 2016) and the Geneva treachery (Oct 2015) was followed by the indefensible failure to thwart the April 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. In this case, too, both the UNP and Sirisena failed the country very badly. The revelations, made before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), in 2019, and the on-going Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI), proved beyond doubt the culpability of both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for the Easter Sunday carnage. In spite of knowing the imminent threat, posed by Thowheed Jamaat, Sirsena went on a pilgrimage to neighbouring India. Sirisena, wife, Jayanthi Pushpa Kumari, and other members of their family, offered prayers at the hill shrine of Lord Venkateswara. Sirisena took part in the ‘Suprabhatha’ ritual and offered prayers to the presiding deity of Lord Venkateswara. From there, the Sirisenas flew to Singapore. They were on holiday when Thowheed Jamaat carried out the near simultaneous attacks. Sirisena got caught lying to the PSC regarding the delay on his part in returning to Colombo in the aftermath of the attack. The PSC, in its report released to the public in Oct 2019, revealed how Sirisena shunned two earlier Sri Lankan flights to return in the early hours of the following day on a Singapore Airlines flight.

The SLPP will have to deal with media furore when the P CoI releases its report later this year. Sirisena, who held the Defence and Law and order portfolios at the time of the attack, in addition to being the Commander-in-Chief, cannot absolve himself of the responsibility for the unprecedented security failure.

H’tota deal and FTA with Singapore

Sirisena authorized the 99-year-lease on Hambantota port, in lieu of what Sri Lanka owed China, as well as the controversial Free Trade Agreement with Singapore (FTA) during his tainted presidency. On behalf of Sri Lanka, Sirisena’s nominee, Ports and Shipping Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, signed the agreement with China. Sri Lanka and China finalized the Hambantota port deal, in late July 2017, and the FTA with Singapore, in January 2018. Malik Samarawickrema signed the agreement on Sri Lanka’s behalf. It was finalized after six rounds of talks. Both Sirisena and Samarasinghe re-entered parliament on the SLPP ticket. Samarasinghe even took SLPP membership in the run-up to the general election. Samarawickrema, who was accommodated on the UNP National List in the previous parliament, quit parliamentary politics.

The SLFP has conveniently forgotten that it held the post of Deputy Speaker in Parliament till May 25, 2018. Thilanga Sumathipala served as the Deputy Speaker and the Chairperson of Committees of parliament. Sumathipala was replaced by Ananda Kumarasiri, who later headed the PSC that probed the Easter Sunday carnage. The Supreme Court has been moved by seven parties, including the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), against the FTA with Singapore. The SC last heard the case in the second week of July, 2020. It will be taken up again on Nov 03, 2020. A committee, appointed by the government after the last presidential election to review the FTA with Singapore, is yet to release its final report.

Having promised to review the Hambantota deal, the incumbent administration subsequently dropped the idea after China, in no uncertain terms, objected to that move. Those who represented the previous parliament and those who elected to new parliament should keep in mind there is no difference in the 99-year-lease on Hambantota port and the outright sale of such a valuable asset.

ACSA et al

Sri Lanka first entered ACSA (Access and Cross Servicing Agreement) in March 2007. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, signed ACSA on Sri Lanka’s behalf for a period of 10 years. Sirisena, in his capacity as the President, authorized signing a far more comprehensive ACSA, in August 2017. Sirisena’s government also discussed SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) with the US, in addition to finalizing the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) Compact.

When the writer raised the issue with Wickremesinghe at the final government media briefing, at Temple Trees, two weeks before the Nov 16, 2019 presidential election, the Premier, without hesitation, declared it would be signed. Now, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government will have to decide on the controversial agreement. The government is obviously in a dilemma. Having secured a near two-thirds majority, the SLPP cannot, under any circumstances, accept the agreement in its present form against the backdrop of Prof. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan’s damning report, in Sinhala, on it. Perhaps, copies should be made available to all members of the new parliament.

Sri Lanka shouldn’t accept SOFA, under any circumstances. Instead, Sri Lanka should guarantee that it wouldn’t engage in /allow foreign activity inimical to regional or world powers. The new government cannot be unaware how the majority community reacted to the UNP’s response to ACSA, SOFA and MCC. The SLPP campaign, against US agreements, gave Gotabaya Rajapaksa a tremendous boost at the presidential poll, as well as the recently concluded general election.

Paddy at Mattala airport

Having ousted Mahinda Rajapaksa, in January 2015, and then won the 2015 August general election, the UNP brazenly stored paddy at the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA). Wickremesinghe repeatedly called Sri Lanka’s second international airport a white elephant. Storing paddy at MRIA was nothing but political suicide. It was meant to humiliate the war-winning President and his administration.

Storing paddy at MAIA is as bad as betraying the war-winning armed forces in Geneva. Five years later, the majority community, through overwhelming votes at the presidential and parliamentary polls, sent the UNP home. Sajith Premadasa and his group survived by contesting under a different symbol. Whoever secures UNP’s solitary National List slot, one UNP lawmaker in parliament would be a grim reminder to those who destroyed the once great party.


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Midweek Review

‘Professor of English Language Teaching’



It is a pleasure to be here today, when the University resumes postgraduate work in English and Education which we first embarked on over 20 years ago. The presence of a Professor on English Language Teaching from Kelaniya makes clear that the concept has now been mainstreamed, which is a cause for great satisfaction.

Twenty years ago, this was not the case. Our initiative was looked at askance, as indeed was the initiative which Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare engaged in as UGC Chairman to make degrees in English more widely available. Those were the days in which the three established Departments of English in the University system, at Peradeniya and Kelaniya and Colombo, were unbelievably conservative. Their contempt for his efforts made him turn to Sri Jayewardenepura, which did not even have a Department of English then and only offered it as one amongst three subjects for a General Degree.

Ironically, the most dogmatic defence of this exclusivity came from Colombo, where the pioneer in English teaching had been Prof. Chitra Wickramasuriya, whose expertise was, in fact, in English teaching. But her successor, when I tried to suggest reforms, told me proudly that their graduates could go on to do postgraduate degrees at Cambridge. I suppose that, for generations brought up on idolization of E. F. C. Ludowyke, that was the acme of intellectual achievement.

I should note that the sort of idealization of Ludowyke, the then academic establishment engaged in was unfair to a very broadminded man. It was the Kelaniya establishment that claimed that he ‘maintained high standards, but was rarefied and Eurocentric and had an inhibiting effect on creative writing’. This was quite preposterous coming from someone who removed all Sri Lankan and other post-colonial writing from an Advanced Level English syllabus. That syllabus, I should mention, began with Jacobean poetry about the cherry-cheeked charms of Englishwomen. And such a characterization of Ludowyke totally ignored his roots in Sri Lanka, his work in drama which helped Sarachchandra so much, and his writing including ‘Those Long Afternoons’, which I am delighted that a former Sabaragamuwa student, C K Jayanetti, hopes to resurrect.

I have gone at some length into the situation in the nineties because I notice that your syllabus includes in the very first semester study of ‘Paradigms in Sri Lankan English Education’. This is an excellent idea, something which we did not have in our long-ago syllabus. But that was perhaps understandable since there was little to study then except a history of increasing exclusivity, and a betrayal of the excuse for getting the additional funding those English Departments received. They claimed to be developing teachers of English for the nation; complete nonsense, since those who were knowledgeable about cherries ripening in a face were not likely to move to rural areas in Sri Lanka to teach English. It was left to the products of Aluwihare’s initiative to undertake that task.

Another absurdity of that period, which seems so far away now, was resistance to training for teaching within the university system. When I restarted English medium education in the state system in Sri Lanka, in 2001, and realized what an uphill struggle it was to find competent teachers, I wrote to all the universities asking that they introduce modules in teacher training. I met condign refusal from all except, I should note with continuing gratitude, from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, where Paru Nagasunderam introduced it for the external degree. When I started that degree, I had taken a leaf out of Kelaniya’s book and, in addition to English Literature and English Language, taught as two separate subjects given the language development needs of students, made the third subject Classics. But in time I realized that was not at all useful. Thankfully, that left a hole which ELT filled admirably at the turn of the century.

The title of your keynote speaker today, Professor of English Language Teaching, is clear evidence of how far we have come from those distant days, and how thankful we should be that a new generation of practical academics such as her and Dinali Fernando at Kelaniya, Chitra Jayatilleke and Madhubhashini Ratnayake at USJP and the lively lot at the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University are now making the running. I hope Sabaragamuwa under its current team will once again take its former place at the forefront of innovation.

To get back to your curriculum, I have been asked to teach for the paper on Advanced Reading and Writing in English. I worried about this at first since it is a very long time since I have taught, and I feel the old energy and enthusiasm are rapidly fading. But having seen the care with which the syllabus has been designed, I thought I should try to revive my flagging capabilities.

However, I have suggested that the university prescribe a textbook for this course since I think it is essential, if the rounded reading prescribed is to be done, that students should have ready access to a range of material. One of the reasons I began while at the British Council an intensive programme of publications was that students did not read round their texts. If a novel was prescribed, they read that novel and nothing more. If particular poems were prescribed, they read those poems and nothing more. This was especially damaging in the latter case since the more one read of any poet the more one understood what he was expressing.

Though given the short notice I could not prepare anything, I remembered a series of school textbooks I had been asked to prepare about 15 years ago by International Book House for what were termed international schools offering the local syllabus in the English medium. Obviously, the appalling textbooks produced by the Ministry of Education in those days for the rather primitive English syllabus were unsuitable for students with more advanced English. So, I put together more sophisticated readers which proved popular. I was heartened too by a very positive review of these by Dinali Fernando, now at Kelaniya, whose approach to students has always been both sympathetic and practical.

I hope then that, in addition to the texts from the book that I will discuss, students will read other texts in the book. In addition to poetry and fiction the book has texts on politics and history and law and international relations, about which one would hope postgraduate students would want some basic understanding.

Similarly, I do hope whoever teaches about Paradigms in English Education will prescribe a textbook so that students will understand more about what has been going on. Unfortunately, there has been little published about this but at least some students will I think benefit from my book on English and Education: In Search of Equity and Excellence? which Godage & Bros brought out in 2016. And then there was Lakmahal Justified: Taking English to the People, which came out in 2018, though that covers other topics too and only particular chapters will be relevant.

The former book is bulky but I believe it is entertaining as well. So, to conclude I will quote from it, to show what should not be done in Education and English. For instance, it is heartening that you are concerned with ‘social integration, co-existence and intercultural harmony’ and that you want to encourage ‘sensitivity towards different cultural and linguistic identities’. But for heaven’s sake do not do it as the NIE did several years ago in exaggerating differences. In those dark days, they produced textbooks which declared that ‘Muslims are better known as heavy eaters and have introduced many tasty dishes to the country. Watalappam and Buriani are some of these dishes. A distinguished feature of the Muslims is that they sit on the floor and eat food from a single plate to show their brotherhood. They eat string hoppers and hoppers for breakfast. They have rice and curry for lunch and dinner.’ The Sinhalese have ‘three hearty meals a day’ and ‘The ladies wear the saree with a difference and it is called the Kandyan saree’. Conversely, the Tamils ‘who live mainly in the northern and eastern provinces … speak the Tamil language with a heavy accent’ and ‘are a close-knit group with a heavy cultural background’’.

And for heaven’s sake do not train teachers by telling them that ‘Still the traditional ‘Transmission’ and the ‘Transaction’ roles are prevalent in the classroom. Due to the adverse standard of the school leavers, it has become necessary to develop the learning-teaching process. In the ‘Transmission’ role, the student is considered as someone who does not know anything and the teacher transmits knowledge to him or her. This inhibits the development of the student.

In the ‘Transaction’ role, the dialogue that the teacher starts with the students is the initial stage of this (whatever this might be). Thereafter, from the teacher to the class and from the class to the teacher, ideas flow and interaction between student-student too starts afterwards and turns into a dialogue. From known to unknown, simple to complex are initiated and for this to happen, the teacher starts questioning.

And while avoiding such tedious jargon, please make sure their command of the language is better than to produce sentences such as these, or what was seen in an English text, again thankfully several years ago:

Read the story …

Hello! We are going to the zoo. “Do you like to join us” asked Sylvia. “Sorry, I can’t I’m going to the library now. Anyway, have a nice time” bye.

So Syliva went to the zoo with her parents. At the entrance her father bought tickets. First, they went to see the monkeys

She looked at a monkey. It made a funny face and started swinging Sylvia shouted: “He is swinging look now it is hanging from its tail its marvellous”

“Monkey usually do that’

I do hope your students will not hang from their tails as these monkeys do.

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Midweek Review

Little known composers of classical super-hits



By Satyajith Andradi


Quite understandably, the world of classical music is dominated by the brand images of great composers. It is their compositions that we very often hear. Further, it is their life histories that we get to know. In fact, loads of information associated with great names starting with Beethoven, Bach and Mozart has become second nature to classical music aficionados. The classical music industry, comprising impresarios, music publishers, record companies, broadcasters, critics, and scholars, not to mention composers and performers, is largely responsible for this. However, it so happens that classical music lovers are from time to time pleasantly struck by the irresistible charm and beauty of classical pieces, the origins of which are little known, if not through and through obscure. Intriguingly, most of these musical gems happen to be classical super – hits. This article attempts to present some of these famous pieces and their little-known composers.


Pachelbel’s Canon in D

The highly popular piece known as Pachelbel’s Canon in D constitutes the first part of Johann Pachelbel’s ‘Canon and Gigue in D major for three violins and basso continuo’. The second part of the work, namely the gigue, is rarely performed. Pachelbel was a German organist and composer. He was born in Nuremburg in 1653, and was held in high esteem during his life time. He held many important musical posts including that of organist of the famed St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. He was the teacher of Bach’s elder brother Johann Christoph. Bach held Pachelbel in high regard, and used his compositions as models during his formative years as a composer. Pachelbel died in Nuremburg in 1706.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D is an intricate piece of contrapuntal music. The melodic phrases played by one voice are strictly imitated by the other voices. Whilst the basso continuo constitutes a basso ostinato, the other three voices subject the original tune to tasteful variation. Although the canon was written for three violins and continuo, its immense popularity has resulted in the adoption of the piece to numerous other combinations of instruments. The music is intensely soothing and uplifting. Understandingly, it is widely played at joyous functions such as weddings.


Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary

The hugely popular piece known as ‘Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary’ appeared originally as ‘ The Prince of Denmark’s March’ in Jeremiah Clarke’s book ‘ Choice lessons for the Harpsichord and Spinet’, which was published in 1700 ( Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music ). Sometimes, it has also been erroneously attributed to England’s greatest composer Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695 ) and called ‘Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary (Percy A. Scholes ; Oxford Companion to Music). This brilliant composition is often played at joyous occasions such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. Needless to say, it is a piece of processional music, par excellence. As its name suggests, it is probably best suited for solo trumpet and organ. However, it is often played for different combinations of instruments, with or without solo trumpet. It was composed by the English composer and organist Jeremiah Clarke.

Jeremiah Clarke was born in London in 1670. He was, like his elder contemporary Pachelbel, a musician of great repute during his time, and held important musical posts. He was the organist of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the composer of the Theatre Royal. He died in London in 1707 due to self – inflicted gun – shot injuries, supposedly resulting from a failed love affair.


Albinoni’s Adagio

The full title of the hugely famous piece known as ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’ is ‘Adagio for organ and strings in G minor’. However, due to its enormous popularity, the piece has been arranged for numerous combinations of instruments. It is also rendered as an organ solo. The composition, which epitomizes pathos, is structured as a chaconne with a brooding bass, which reminds of the inevitability and ever presence of death. Nonetheless, there is no trace of despondency in this ethereal music. On the contrary, its intense euphony transcends the feeling of death and calms the soul. The composition has been attributed to the Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671 – 1750), who was a contemporary of Bach and Handel. However, the authorship of the work is shrouded in mystery. Michael Kennedy notes: “The popular Adagio for organ and strings in G minor owes very little to Albinoni, having been constructed from a MS fragment by the twentieth century Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto, whose copyright it is” (Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music).


Boccherini’s Minuet

The classical super-hit known as ‘Boccherini’s Minuet’ is quite different from ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’. It is a short piece of absolutely delightful music. It was composed by the Italian cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini. It belongs to his string quintet in E major, Op. 13, No. 5. However, due to its immense popularity, the minuet is performed on different combinations of instruments.

Boccherini was born in Lucca in 1743. He was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, and an elder contemporary of Beethoven. He was a prolific composer. His music shows considerable affinity to that of Haydn. He lived in Madrid for a considerable part of his life, and was attached to the royal court of Spain as a chamber composer. Boccherini died in poverty in Madrid in 1805.

Like numerous other souls, I have found immense joy by listening to popular classical pieces like Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio and Boccherini’s Minuet. They have often helped me to unwind and get over the stresses of daily life. Intriguingly, such music has also made me wonder how our world would have been if the likes of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert had never lived. Surely, the world would have been immeasurably poorer without them. However, in all probability, we would have still had Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio, and Boccherini’s Minuet, to cheer us up and uplift our spirits.

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Midweek Review

The Tax Payer and the Tough



By Lynn Ockersz

The tax owed by him to Caesar,

Leaves our retiree aghast…

How is he to foot this bill,

With the few rupees,

He has scraped together over the months,

In a shrinking savings account,

While the fires in his crumbling hearth,

Come to a sputtering halt?

But in the suave villa next door,

Stands a hulk in shiny black and white,

Over a Member of the August House,

Keeping an eagle eye,

Lest the Rep of great renown,

Be besieged by petitioners,

Crying out for respite,

From worries in a hand-to-mouth life,

But this thought our retiree horrifies:

Aren’t his hard-earned rupees,

Merely fattening Caesar and his cohorts?

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