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ROYAL COLLEGE’S MAGNIFICENT GROUP OF 49

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Upali Wijewardena entered Royal Primary at the age of five years when A F De Saa Bandaranayake was Head Master. Some of his classmates who joined the Kindergarten (Baby Class) were Dr. Ranjith de Silva (surgeon), Jayantha Gunasekera (Presidents Counsel), Dr. R S B Wickramasinghe (Former Director of the Medical Research Institute), Sarath Weerasooria (Chairman FINCO), Sam Samaranayake, Dr. N T de Silva, Dr. Tissa Cooray. Their teacher was Mrs. Keyt who looked after her wards as if they were her own children. Almost all of them had “ayahs” and there was a special enclosure for these chaperones.

In 1949, a Group of 96 students, were successful in gaining entrance to Royal College having sat an open competitive exam. About 60 of them, were from Royal Prep, while the balance were from other schools such as St Thomas,’ Mt. Lavinia, Trinity College, Kandy, St Joseph’s and St Peter’s etc. all students were about 10-years old and they were examined mainly on general intelligence and general knowledge, English, Sinhalese and Arithmetic. Although Royal Prep bore the same name, there was no automatic entry to Royal College unlike several year before, and several years after.

The Head Master of Royal Prep was A F De Saa Bandaranayake, while the Principal of Royal College was J C A Corea – the first Ceylonese Principal. Initially, most of these boys did not take studies seriously as a large number were from affluent families, being children of professionals, but once they got into their respective disciplines, there was no turning back. Quite a number of them, have reached the zenith of their profession.

Royal College is indisputably the best school in the Island, or so Royalist claim. Parents clamour to get their children into Royal, but not all of them are lucky enough. Most think of other public schools as second best. Royal and S. Thomas’ are the most prestigious, like Eton and Harrow of England, their alumni like to think.

Royal was founded in 1835 by the then British Colonial Government, mainly for the education of the sons of the Britishers, under the Principalship of Dr Barcroft Boake, a product of Oxford University. Though the school was initially called the Colombo Academy, it came to be known later as Royal College. On the panels of the College Hall are the names of those who distinguished themselves in the field of intellect.

Also, in the College Hall hang the portraits of those who rendered yeoman service to our country. Some amongst them are C.A. Lorenz, KC, the Acting Queen”s Advocate, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Acting Attorney General and his brother Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam of the Ceylon Civil Service, Dr C.A. Hewavitharne and his sibling Anagarika Dharmapala. Of the politicians of recent times were two heads of state – Sir John Kotalawala and President J.R. Jayewardene, while H. Sri Nissanka Q.C, a well known criminal lawyer and one of the founders of the SLFP also adorns the Hall panels.

Messers D.S.Sennanayake, Dudley Sennanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike were distinguished products of the school known by Royalists as “the other place”, namely, St Thomas’.

This batch being written about here came to be called the 49 Group. According to statistics compiled, it is perhaps the best batch that Royal turned out in recent times. It is said that 32 of them became medical doctors, most of them consultants, while six entered the legal profession, two of them becoming President’s Counsel, two others becoming Judges of the Supreme Court, three entered the Ceylon Civil Service and 18 became Engineers.

It is estimated that about 68% of this Group became professionals

, but while in school, each one of them fought for the last place in class! But when they commenced their respective disciplines, they shone over the products of other schools.

Some surgeons

of the 49 Group are, Ranjit de Silva – who captained Royal at cricket, Priya Samarasinghe, Geoff Van den Driesen, Gamini Goonetilake, S.R.Ratnapala, whilst some of the well known physicians are Henry Rajaratnam, J.B.Pieris, Gamini Jayakuru, Brendon Gooneratne, the latter distinguishing himself in Australia. His wife, Yasmine Gooneratne, a Professor of English in Australia, has several publications to her credit Another wife of a member of the 49 Group is Professor Lalitha Mendis, who reached the pinnacle of the medical profession. She was the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and the Director of the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine. She is the wife of the late Dr Lalith Mendis.

The other physicians are, Danilo de Kretser, Tissa Cooray (WHO), N.T. de Silva (UK), H.S.Karunasekera (UK), Leslie Muthukuda (UK), Dan Perimpanayagam, Yasa Rajapakse (UK), Disampathy Subasinghe (UK), V.Dharmapalan (New Zealand), and the late R.S.B. Wickremasinghe – who was the Director of the M.R.I.

Of those who took to Law, are two well known President’s Counsel Jayantha Gunasekera (former Secretary of the Bar Association) and the late Chula de Silva. Two other lawyers S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya and P. Edussuriya became Judges of the Supreme Court, whilst A.Balachandran worked in the UN. T.K.N. Thilakan (District Judge) and Kumar Ponnambalam both died a few years ago. Alavi Mohamed , a Barrister also died several years ago. M.N.B. Pieris is a civil lawyer, in Colombo.

Harsha Wickremasinghe, D.G.P.Seneviratne and Dr B.S.Wijeweera entered the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service.

Of the Engineers that come to mind are Professor C.L.V.Jayatilake (a Vice Chancellor of Peradeniya), Dr Susantha Goonetilake , S.C.Amarasinghe (former GM of the Electricity Board), Dr Sri Bhavan Sri Skandarajah – Sri Bhavan in May 2013 staged a six day fast in Canada in support of the LTTE diaspora (TGTE), H.S.B. Abeysundara (Chemical Engineer), L.H.Meegama, C.Ramachandran and Bandula Yatawara.

Perhaps the cleverest of them all was Chelvanayakam Vaseeharan, a maths prodigy, who was to be appointed Professor of Mathematics.

In this class, were two leading businessmen, namely the Cambridge educated Upali Wijewardene of the Upali Group, and, Lal Jayasundera, Chairman of Hayleys. Ratna Sivaratnam headed another conglomerate – Aitken Spence, whilst K.Manikkavasagar was a Director of Glaxo. Arjuna Hullugalle and Upatissa Attygalle are successful businessmen.

V.H. Nanayakkara and P.H.J.S. Ariyapala both Bachelors of Science, joined the Staff of Royal College.

There was one member of the 49 Group who distinguished himself as a clever investigator in the Police Force. If he had not joined the Police, surely he would have been on the other side of the Law! That was none other than Rahula de Silva. It is reported that he was charged in several cases of violence. In all these cases he was successfully defended gratis, by his classmate Jayantha Gunasekera, a well known criminal lawyer.

There is the very talented Artist Laki Senanayake , who worked with Geoffrey Bawa, whilst A.A.Wijetunga and K.Sivapragasam became Senior Assessors in the Inland Revenue Dept. K.L.Gooneratne is a talented Archtitect.

Late Bimal Padameperuma functioned as Chairman State Engineering Corp, and D.C. Wimalasena was Chairman,Petroleum Corp.

T.D.S.A. Dissanayake ,a prolific writer, first served in the U.N. Later he was our Ambassador in Indonesia.

There were two members of this Group to whom life was a ball! They were Aru Sellamuttu and Ranjit Kiriella. Nimalasiri Fonseka, a bright spark in school, lives the life of a Squire in England. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant.

Lionel Almeida and the late Tyrrel Muttiah took to planting, and were ruggerites. The late W.K.N. de Silva was a propriety planter. Bobby Perera, was one time Director of Quickshaws. Mahinda Gunasekera who is permanently domiciled in Canada, does much for our country by countering false propaganda.

These classmates are a very close knit family, though half of them live overseas… The 49 Group, depleted as it is, gets together, definitely during the Royal-Thomian cricket encounter and the Bradby shield. Sometimes they meet more often, to welcome members coming home from abroad, for some reason or another.

It is at such gatherings that they reminisce about their schooldays, some wild and some even wilder! Only the pleasantest memories remain, and old yarns are told and retold, with salt and pepper added too! It is amazing that there isn’t a tinge of jealousy, and each one is proud of the other’s achievement.

 

Masters then came to teach, in full suit (coat and tie, mind you),and some driving their own cars. They instilled into this impressionable Group of youngsters all that Royal stood for; so much so that even today, they instinctively take the acceptable course of action in any matter.

As the College song goes, “They learned of books and learned of men, and learned to play the game” being absolutely fair minded, in their dealings in later life.

 

S D Sivapragasam

A loyal Royalist.


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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