24th September 2000

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Little growing lessons

Growing Bonsai- in Sri Lanka and the Tropics by Rev. Fr. Artie Amaratunga

This comprehensive introduction to Bonsai growing details the secrets of nurturing a classic dwarf tree, giving essential tips from choosing pots to disease prevention, for the benefit of the amateur.

Compiled from notes left by the late Fr. Artie Amaratunga, the founder of the Bonsai Club of Sri Lanka, the book was first published in Sinhala in 1990 and launched at the Bonsai exhibition that year. At the time Fr. Amaratunga was alive, but in failing health.

"The publication of the English version of his book nearly ten years after it was written is but a small tribute to a very dedicated person who spread the art of growing tropical Bonsai in Sri Lanka," says the tribute to the author penned by two members of the Bonsai Club, Lourdes William and Hermie de Livera.

Bonsai culture has its roots in Chinese history, where paintings in the first century AD show the use of dwarf trees in containers as decor inside homes and palaces. Japan, whom many associate with the origin of Bonsai, adopted this unique art form from neighbouring China. According to Fr. Amaratunga's book, excavations at the rock fortress of Sigiriya revealed small flat containers that led archeologists to speculate about their use as Bonsai pots, but unfortunately there is no further supporting evidence to prove this theory.

In Sri Lanka the first prominent grower of recent history was the late Dr. C.V. Jayakody who began Bonsai growing as a hobby in the 1940s. In November of 1980, Manohari Vira, an expert from India, ran a course on Bonsai growing to a local audience, including Fr. Amaratunga. Shortly afterwards the Bonsai Club was formed to develop the art and initiate others in the craft.

Fr. Amaratunga was a Catholic priest, born in Kandana. After serving in a number of Parishes around the country, he was appointed Director of the Pastoral Institute in Negombo. An ardent nature lover, he took his hobbies of orchid cultivation and bonsai very seriously. Fr. Amaratunga was a member of the Orchid Society and had won many awards at exhibitions. He established one of the first laboratories for tissue culture of orchids in the country. The book, priced economically at Rs. 150/- is a treasure trove of information. Bonsai styles and their names are supported by drawings of each type. Advice on choosing pots, potting material, plants, grafting, training and pruning the plant to the required shape, maintenance and care, disease control and fertilizing and even to the detail of record keeping on progress are explained simply and clearly with diagrams to illustrate.

- Tharuka Dissanaike

Observing the observers

From this week election observers will be parachuting into Colombo- that is if a couple of recce groups have not already made a soft landing. It is already known that a number of regional and worldwide organisations have been invited by Sri Lankan groups which have set themselves up as election monitors. The credentials of these local organisations would be ultimately judged by their impartiality in assessing the October 10 election. If they are seen to bend in favour of one side or the other or pull their punches in the final report, then their credibility will suffer in the eyes of the Sri Lankan public.

Anyway the final judgment on the impartiality or otherwise of the local monitors will be passed by the Sri Lankan people.

What will be of concern to political parties and students of politics is the legitimacy of some of the organisations that are invited as observers. What are the antecedents of these organisations, what kind of activity have they been engaged in, in recent years, how impartial and credible have their work and assessments been, what are their ideological positions etc.

Having impressive titles and names and projecting themselves as regional or international organisations might make some fall at their feet in awe and others to burn incense at these foreign altars.

Over the years it has not been uncommon for some local groups to pay pooja to foreign organisations in the hope that their coffers will be filled by foreign benefactors who have been honoured- and in more recent years by casting them as election monitors. In the past 20 years or so non-governmental organisations have grown even faster than breeding rabbits. The journalistic profession has not been immune to such mushrooming. The number of the journalists' bodies in Sri Lanka is proof of this.

The crucial questions with regard to election monitoring is how balanced and impartial are such invited organisations and how well-equipped are they to play a responsible role. Election monitors should be judged by whether they have performed their task in a well- rounded way and actually monitored the election and not given vent to their pet prejudices and hates.

To draw from a recent case, readers might remember the recent national election in Zimbabwe where President Robert Mugabe's faithfuls in the ruling Zanu-PF killed and maimed opponents and made it virtually impossible for the opposition to conduct its election campaign.

Yet the Commonwealth Observer Group that was sent to monitor this election seemed somehow reluctant to describe the whole election as critically as the European Union's Observers were wont to do. If the Commonwealth does monitor the Sri Lanka election, its observer team will not be constituted in the same way as the one that went to Zimbabwe. That was a team composed of political and other figures from different Commonwealth countries and from different professions and vocations.

The Commonwealth has offered to send an observer group to Colombo but it would be made up of officials from the Commonwealth Secretariat. At the time of writing the Commonwealth had not received a reply from Sri Lanka.

However the Commonwealth Press Union(CPU) will be sending a six or seven member team drawn largely from Asia and Africa with just one-Linda Christmas formerly of The Guardian-being from outside those two continents.

The CPU team will be led by Sidhat Bhatiya, an Indian journalist who is no stranger to Colombo.

The CPU team will probably be working out of newspaper offices because its main task is to monitor the media, particularly the newspapers to see how the newspapers cover the election campaign and how fair that coverage is.

The most important aspect of media monitoring is to observe the coverage by the electronic media which, after all, have the widest audiences and possibly do influence political thinking and public opinion. I understand that the European Union which is sending a big observer group is likely to undertake this aspect of the monitoring. If that is so, then the groups should arrive there at least two weeks before the election to get any idea of the fairness or otherwise of the media coverage.

Eventually the crucial question is whether the presence of foreign observers can make an election any fairer, if those in power are determined to win by all means at their disposal. Certainly the presence of an observer group might well prompt politicos and their goons to act with some restraint.

St. Lawrence's School -through the years

By Audrey de S. Wijeyeratne

Janet Poulier began her little drawing room school in 1900 in a house called 'Lawrence Villa'. Perhaps it was the name of her house that made Mrs. Poulier interested in the life and work of St. Lawrence. Though a Protestant by denomination, in later years she called her school St. Lawrence's School and this great admirer of the saint stipulated when selling her school that its name should remain unchanged.

The Poulier school flourished under this great lady, an educationist dedicated to her calling. In 1932 when Mrs. Poulier found the pressure of work hard to handle, she appointed her niece Gladys Poulier her successor, though she still remained on the scene as consultant and adviser.

In the early years the school catered to both boys and girls. With Burgher ladies and gentlemen at the helm, many English speaking children began studying in the school. Mrs. Poulier and her noble band of teachers worked tirelessly and the school expanded moving premises from the early "Lawrence Villa" to across the Galle Road where Mrs. Poulier purchased land for her new school building.

In 1951 Fr. Robert Fernando who built St. Lawrence's church at Wellawatta purchased the school on behalf of the Catholic Church. The school came under the direction of Miss Gozmao. Many religious congregations were invited to take over the school and finally in 1953 two Good Shepherd sisters with Mother Finbarr as the head of the school began their work here. Certain changes were inevitable but the school continued along the same lines for some years more.

Girls and boys continued to be educated here till later on, the boys were allowed to remain only up till standard 5. In the early Sixties they were stopped altogether. Sinhala, Tamil and English classes ran parallel though numbers at the start were small.

The school went from strength to strength and today as an assisted private school holds its own as a small school producing all round students who take their place in today's society. Ten principals have held office in the second half of the school's existence with each principal developing the school in one field or the other.

A Centenary celebration is indeed a landmark. All those connected with St. Lawrence's School can look back with justifiable pride on the school and its achievements towards which they have also contributed over the years.

"School of our girlhood years to thee

We pledge our love and loyalty

Oh Red, Gold through triumph, through strife

Blazen our trails to endless life"

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