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Midweek Review

The last ride of a Jesuit Priest



Greater welfare depends on our Individual and collective actions!

By B. Nimal Veerasingham

We are currently in the cautious process of passing through an unpredictable portion of our life journey. Like time-travelling through an eclipse, our trekking is through an unchartered territory, where Coronavirus is driving the agenda while people are readjusting their lives accordingly. Science has advanced so much for the better – it tells us how to reduce the impact of this contagious disease, or to protect ourselves from becoming victims.

Almost 100 years ago, things were not the same. Humanity, it is said, has advanced in every scope and spectrum, within the last 50 years, in rapidity, as compared to the 500 years before that period. Between 1918 and 1920, almost a third of the world population; that is nearly 500 million people got infected with the deadly influenza pandemic, with an estimated death toll of 17-50 million. For comparative purposes, the current Coronavirus pandemic has infected nearly 24 million and caused nearly 850,000 deaths worldwide.

The 1918 flu pandemic, popularly known as the ‘Spanish Flu’, has the underpinning of the great blame game that is being played out even now, in certain circles. Thanks to the propagators of the ideological divide – the name ‘Spanish’ was intentionally slung to nullify the neutral position taken by Spain during the 1st World War, which was raging during the same time. The parties to the war, without much evidence, blamed Spain as the culprit and the active incubator of the virus.

The deadly influenza pandemic of 1918 and the extent of chaos and casualties it did inflict, along with the ‘Great War’, might have faded away from the collective memories and recollection of history notes. We are busy facing an equal fear, 100 years later, and thus living in the presence, with no time levitating to the past. Sri Lankans must be proud of the track record, so far, as acknowledged by reputed International agencies, with less than 3,000 infections, by taking adequate and speedy measures to contain the disease, compared to many in the region. Things were not this smooth during the 1918 pandemic, which overwhelmed the country in two distinct waves. The Register-General of Ceylon at that time reported the casualty numbers as 41,916, due to influenza (excluding pneumonia and other complications), mentioning that the flu was raging in the Island during later part of 1918. A study at the Michigan State University put these numbers much higher, from the existing high estimate of 91,600 or 1.1% of the population, to between 307,000 and 313,000 or 6.7% of the population. This is in comparison to the neighbouring India’s causality rate of 5.5% of its population.

The staggering casualty numbers of the 1918 pandemic foretells the suffering inflicted on the people of Ceylon/Sri Lanka, and the world in general. Legally, we may think destruction by nature is an unlawful exercise of physical force. Many will agree in casting the flu-virus as being the originator of such unlawful force; whether such entity has legal standing in the grasps of law or not. Although our collective psyche is to build a peaceful society, reflecting our karmic values, history records great natural mishaps, causing gaping holes in our pursuit towards a Dharmic society. Insurance companies prefer to settle with ‘Act of God’ theory, due to unsettled questions on legality and insurable liability. Nature must be respected and its lessons learnt; science being a stronger interloping interpreter in the equation.

It is almost 16 years since the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 wreaked destruction on our people. One of the key recommendations by subject-experts then, was to encourage extensive growth of Mangroves in vulnerable areas, notably in the East. This is not only to limit destruction by violent waters, but also to encourage sustainable marine life, absorb pollutants and limit the damages of Global Warming. In reality, even after 16 years, it is questionable whether there is a systemic effort to follow through on that recommendation.

While growing up in Batticaloa town, we were staying adjacent to the ‘Central Hospital’, managed by late Dr. R. K. Selliah, where my mother worked as a nurse/midwife. We had to move from ‘Puliyanthivu’, the administrative Capital of Batticaloa, where we were born, to ‘Koddaimunai’ North of the ‘White Bridge” that connects both localities. The ‘Bar Road’, signifying its end destination of the ‘sand bar’, where the lagoon meets the sea almost three kilometres away, literally begins where we lived. The house sat on a large parcel of nearly five acres of empty land, with many majestic margosa trees, mango trees and some unusual larger striped versions of house geckos, around. What I observed unusual about this environ was that it had stretches of pure white sandy soil, exactly like the ones you see by the ‘Kallady’ beach facing the Indian Ocean; in density, colour, lightness and depth. On full moon nights, myself and my brother would engage in a friendly wrestling competition, with the soft beach sand providing the cushioning underneath, while our athletic father acted as the referee. It tells us that the Indian Ocean, which is now almost three kilometres away, probably must have been in this immediate vicinity thousands of years ago. The Eastern Technical Institute, a joint venture by the Methodist Church and the Jesuits, to train young people in refrigeration/welding/electrical/mechanical engineering was built in this very plot of land; ironically at the same time taking away the secrets of the white sandy beach soil forever.

The youth of Batticaloa suffered on many fronts for a long time, notably with the higher rate of unemployment. Even the statistics dept. numbers, as late as 2017, placed the unemployment rate as 6.6%, the second highest in the country. The concept of Eastern Technical Institute was to address that duress in a measurable way; to obtain gainful employment locally or abroad. While it was being built, right from the very laying of the cornerstone, I had the opportunity to witness a mastermind at work. He is none other than Rev. Fr. Eugene Hebert, the Jesuit priest, who arrived from Louisiana, United States, in September 1948, and later became a dominant figure in the game of basketball, helping St. Michael’s College, Batticaloa, become All-Island Basketball champions many times.


He not only oversaw the planning and buildings constructed, but instrumental in manufacturing the main components necessary for the buildings, locally – bricks, iron accessories, wooden frames/beams and roofing. The students who assisted in the building project were paid wages besides obtaining valuable experience in the vocation. It was a familiar sight to see the priest up on the rafter, adjusting the pully to raise the roofing frame; or with the students making bricks, mixing gravel and cement in manual compressors. The same ethics of discipline, training, dedication and leadership that brought basketball championships to the high ground of academical esteem perched down Central Road, Batticaloa, allowed the Technical Institute also to rise from the plain white sand patches, giving hope to the youth of Batticaloa. Fr. Hebert not only supervised and partook in the planning and construction of the Institute but served as a devoted Teacher and Director at the same. It is a normal site in the mornings, witnessing the slightly hunched Jesuit priest with a crewcut and circular eye glasses on thin frame, crossing the ‘Puliyantheevu’ White bridge on his bike, all the way from the Jesuit residence at St. Michael’s College, to the Technical Institute at ‘Koddaimunai’.

The administering of proactive measures and implementing it to the fullest in Sri Lanka by the political and uniformed authorities, has resulted in containing the Coronavirus epidemic, compared to many nations. The lessons learnt from previous epidemics, including the ‘Flu of 1918’ may not have directly influenced the outcome, but through the natural evolution in gaining higher ground through past global experiences and informed readiness. Respecting and learning from the past, along with the help of proven science, has resulted in containing the deadly decease, resulting in safer towns and communities. Upheavals free safer societies are not simply slogans, but an open embracement, attitude and deep belief, whether the villains come in the form of nature or not. Nature cannot be tamed fully, whether it’s a virus or Tsunami – but could be contained with less destructive impacts, when human spirit confronts and takes proactive countermeasures to overcome nature’s unexpected onslaughts.

As we pass through the month of August in acknowledging our moment of defiance against an invisible common enemy, it also allows us moments to reflect on some unfamiliar descents from the past. As an unrelated notation of event, the month of August also stroke our memory on the demise of a Jesuit priest, who travelled thousands of miles from United States, to serve the people here. His sign of determination to provide hope, surpassed all the prevailed dangers of fatal tropical diseases like Typhoid, Malaria and Cholera, that was rife in Asia during the 50s.

The Batticaloa lagoon hides many truths amidst its opaque, non-splurgy waves, while gently reaching the clear marshy shores. ‘The truth will set you free’ – as the scripture says, finding the truth under the periscope of Justice and applying it to the larger reciprocal and collective Dharma of society, in some ways could be compared to applying science in the struggle with viruses.

This August 15th, 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the ‘disappearance’ of Rev. Fr. Eugene John Hebert.

He was last seen passing through ‘Eravur’, not far from the shores of the Batticaloa lagoon, along with an Eastern Technical Institute student, at the pillion of his scooter. His and his student’s remains were never found, and no one to date has any knowledge of what happened to them. Even on his very last scooter ride towards Batticaloa from Valaichenai, his mission was to help others – restoring electricity in an orphanage run by nuns and bringing them to safety.

‘Listen to the gentle frothy waves of the Batticaloa lagoon’, said the poet. ‘The mangroves have not multiplied in forming a barrier, to have it still’.







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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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