Getting to know more writers; this time post Independence Dr. C.G. Uragoda has written a large number of books on quite a few subjects. His 12 books, so far, are on health and medicine, jungles and wildlife, and traditions and customs of Sri Lanka. He then, in 2011, wrote the profiles of those who have [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka



Getting to know more writers; this time post Independence

Dr. C.G. Uragoda has written a large number of books on quite a few subjects. His 12 books, so far, are on health and medicine, jungles and wildlife, and traditions and customs of Sri Lanka. He then, in 2011, wrote the profiles of those who have authored books on Sri Lanka. This was the forerunner to the book, written this year, which is being reviewed now.

Dr. Uragoda’s publications have not only added to our knowledge on many aspects of Sri Lankan life but some publications have put on record, for posterity, much useful information that has not been put together before. His bibliography of medical publications relating to Sri Lanka and the two volumes of Authors of Books on Sri Lanka are examples of this. Dr. Uragoda has written on medicine in Sri Lanka and wildlife in Sri Lanka in a historical perspective. Sri Lanka, then and now, written by him, gives us an insight into days gone by in this country.

On an analysis of the two volumes on authors, volume one covers a period of 152 years (1796 – 1948) and has 381 authors listed. This covers the period of the British occupation of Sri Lanka. Volume 2 covers a period of 26 years (1949 – 1975) in Sri Lanka’s post independence period. It has 395 authors listed. During the 1949 – 1975 period there was an increased number of authors writing books. Publishing books was encouraged during this period. There were more places that were willing to publish books of local interest. An increased interest in what was happening in the country, by many, also encouraged writers to get down to their typewriters and in later years to their computers. The first Sri Lankan author, in English, was Simon Casi Chitty, a linguist, in 1834. He is best remembered for writing The Ceylon Gazetteer.

These profiles of an author’s work and achievements are potentially one of the best sources of information about that author. Researchers, academics and even amateur readers will find these two volumes useful to obtain details of the various authors who have written on different aspects of Sri Lanka over 300 years.

Researching for this and the previous volume of authors has entailed a lot of painstaking work for Dr. Uragoda. He should be congratulated for this labour of love, which will be a very useful resource for many in the future.

Book facts

Authors of books on Sri Lanka, 1949-1975 – VOLUME 2, by C. G. Uragoda.Reviewed by Jayantha Jayewardene


A message for everyone on multi-culturalism

The peace of a quiet Melbourne suburb in which Rustum Khan, his wife Mehri, and their two teenage children Khalid and Aisha live quiet, ordinary lives is abruptly shattered one bright Friday morning by the arrival on their doorstep of an unexpected and unwelcome visitor. The Khans are normally a hospitable family, and have some acquaintances among their Australian neighbours, but this is different. The intruder is a stranger, instantly recognizable as the criminal whose image has just appeared on a TV newsbreak: a boy , ‘tall dirty blond hair, the face skinny, kinda malnourished, lots of freckles’, who has made the news by breaking out of a juvenile detention centre in Victoria, shooting a guard, and evading capture. He is now ‘on the run’, and is supposed to be dangerous. As, indeed, he is, for in his hand is a gun.

This description is given us by Khalid Khan, the narrator of this delightful book, and it is through Khalid’s intelligence and observant eye that the reader registers the dramatic events which follow the runaway’s appearance. By the end of the day, the Khans have lost their TV and computer monitor (shattered by gunshots) and their mobile phones (which have been flung into the fire): ‘No TV, no telephone, no Internet and no texting, and hopefully nobody will know he is here pointing his gun at us’. Their sofa is in shreds. What they have not lost is their dignity, their sense of humour, their courage or their compassion. As their front and backyards fill with policemen armed to the teeth and a police helicopter patrols their roof-top, good sense asserts itself. Mehri, an orthodox Muslim who wears traditional hijab and niqab, speaks her home language of Dari when everyone around her (including her family) speaks English, whose preferred domain is her kitchen, and whose strict religious principles guide her in all situations including this one, sees to it that the runaway is given food and drink, and insists that the family will on no account hand him over to the police.

“We can’t hand him in,” she says. “It’s not right.”

I look at mum in disbelief. Is she crazy? I mean, the little prick comes into our house, holds us at gunpoint, threatens her and shoots up our TV, computer and sofa and throws our mobiles in the fire and she thinks we shouldn’t hand him over!

But it’s Aisha who puts it into words.

“Are you crazy?” she asks, in Dari. “After all he has done?”

But mum is unmoved. It takes a lot more than an indignant son and daughter to move her. Like a cowering, beaten kid, for instance.
“Look at him,” she says. “He is helpless. We can’t hand him to the police. He depends on us.”

Unexpectedly, the Khan family and their ‘guest’ find common ground. To start with, in a coincidence of names: the Australian Russell (or ‘Rusty’, as the gun-toting visitor calls himself) has never heard of Allah, yet discovers that his reluctant host, an Afghan named Rustum, is also known to friends and associates as Rusty. The Afghan’s son and daughter, distanced from Russell by their skin-colour and clothing, share his devotion to football:

“Which footy team you go for?”


“Oh, really?” I say. “So does my sister.”

Rusty looks at Aisha over his shoulder. He seems interested in her for the first time. The power of footy.

“That’s cool,” he says. “Who is your fave player?” he asks her.

Aisha glances in the direction of the kitchen to see if mum is watching. Dad is watching her but she knows that the power of mum is greater than the power of Dad and footy put together. Confident that mum is not looking, she answers.


“Yeah, he is good,” Rusty agrees, and returns to his food. “Aisha!” cries mum from the kitchen.

“Howlett is shit.” I have to say that. For the sake of my team, even though I think Howlett is good.

“Howlett is better than all of Carlton shits put together,” Rusty sneers through a mouthful of rice. I look at Aisha, and she is rapt.
“Aisha!” yells mum. She is obviously not happy about Aisha getting too cosy with Rusty and Howlett. Mum wouldn’t know Howlett from Harry but she knows we are talking about footy players and that footy players are young men running around in skimpy shorts. Not the kind of thing a Muslim girl should get excited about, at least not in her presence.

Considerations of football apart, Rusty has created a moral dilemma for the little family. It should be easy to call the cops in, and surrender the runaway. The Khans are certainly tempted to do so. Their captive obviously expects that they will, and finds it hard to understand why they do not. The answer to the question is to be found in Verse 6, Chapter 9 of the Holy Koran, a well-thumbed copy of which lies on the dining-room table of this Muslim family, but of which young Russell, of course, has never heard:

If one amongst the pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him so that he may hear the word of Allah; and then escort him to where he can be secure.

That is because they are men without knowledge.

Slowly, but surely, the balance shifts, its movement directed chiefly by Khalid’s niquab-wearing mother who stands firmly by her religious principles (‘the power of mum”, says Khalid), by Russell, who discovers that this “f—– weird” family of foreigners care deeply, as all right-thinking Aussies should, about the football results, and by Khalid himself, who feels a sneaking admiration for the young man who can still show fight when all the cards seem to be stacked against him.

The end of the book, when it comes, packs a surprise which I will not spoil by revealing it here. I would only urge readers to get several copies of Asylum for themselves and their friends – it has a message for everyone who can read and think beyond the confines of their own limited conditioning, and understand (as Russell did, and Khalid eventually does) the value of a multi-cultural experience.

Book facts

Asylum by Channa Wickremesekara. A novella, privately printed by Connect Printing Solutions. Colombo 2014.  Reviewed by Yasmine Gooneratne


Lady in white captures Perth hearts

Old Anandians in Western Australia laid out the red carpet for Sri Lanka’s leading songstress Nanda Malini recently in one of her rare visits to Perth. She sang for over two and a half hours – 25 songs – to a packed hall of over 600 Sri Lankan fans. (All tickets had been sold out three weeks in advance).

She came to Perth – the second visit in over 12 years – after highly successful performances in Canberra and Sydney. She didn’t show any signs of being affected by the winter cold and was as fresh as ever. Clad in white as usual with not even a shawl over her shoulders, she was in fine spirits relating very interesting anecdotes and experiences during her musical career spanning over five decades – many of which I have not heard during her shows back in Sri Lanka.

She paid a glowing tribute to the excellent arrangements made by “Anandayeputtu” who were not only making her stay in Perth most comfortable but had selected an ideal venue for the show that had the best of facilities, particularly where sound quality was concerned. She was given strict instructions not to mention their names, she said – “a most admirable gesture where no one was seeking publicity.”

Nanda Malini came with six musicians whom she said were doing the job of 22 who play in the orchestra when she sings back home. They did an excellent job and we, in the audience, did not miss much. Led by Suresh Maliyadda (keyboard – manipulating not one but three) two guitar players – Mahendra Pasqual and Buddhika Sampath, Nihal Kalubowila (tabla), Rukshan (violin) and Priyantha Dissanayake (flute) accompanied her.

Admitting that the Anandians from Sydney had sent her requests as long as a ‘pedura’, she was sorry she was unable to fulfil all but accommodated some in the form of snippets. Her choice was a fine mix of her renderings ranging from ‘thani tharuwe’, ‘ammawarune’, ‘rankenden’, ‘dedunu paya’ and many more wriitten by a host of lyricists inlcuding Dalton Alwis, Madawela S. Ratnayake, W. A. Abeysinghe, Dharmasiri Gamage, Ajantha Ranasinghe andDr Sunil Ariyaratne.

She invited the audience to join her to sing ‘vandanawe’ and ‘ayanna kiyanna’ and was quite pleased with the response.

Going back on her career, she paid a glowing tribute to Pandit Amaradeva who “picked me having heard me simging in a childen’s progamme over Radio Ceylon and got me to sing in ‘Ranmuthu Duwa’ “. That was in 1961. (The first song she sang ‘galana gangaki jeevithe’ made her the best female playback (singer.) She didn’t fail to pay tribute to the many music directors whom she had worked with – Sarath Dassanayake, Premasiri Khemadasa, H. M. Jayawardena, Stanley Peiris, Victor Ratnayake, Rohana Weerasinghe and several others.

Nanda Malini also had at least two messages to the Sri Lankans domiciled abroad. One was “Don’t foget the motherland” and the other “Don’t let your children forget Sinhala”. She lamented that duirng her trips abroad there have been instances when Sri Lankan parents “proudly say their children don’t know Sinhala as if it was a qualification.”

It was also interesting to hear her say how in the early years she used to take cuttings from the Sunday Times to foreign embassies to get visas to go abroad for concerts. “What was written there (in Kala Korner in the Sunday Times) was the only proof of our role since they couldn’t read Sinhala newspapers,” she said.

This was the second concert organsied by OAAWA – the Old Anandians Association in Western Australia. The first was exactly a year ago when Victor Ratnayake came over. Again it was a sellout. They are detertmined to make it their annual flagship fund raising project. While the funds are used for community developmentwork, they also help to develop sports at Ananda.
The OAAWA Committee put in a huge effort to make the Nanda Malini concert (second in the ‘Sende Suvisara’ series) a roaring success. Their meticulous planning made it possible to market the show profitably, get the hall ready for everyone to come in by 5 pm, start the show right on schedue (6 pm), go ahead without any speeches, provide facilities for refreshments at reasonable prices (efficiently managed by the wives of the committee members), distribute the souvenir free (thanks to the cooperation of advertisers who were almost wholly Sri Lankan entrepreneurs in Perth) and above all, offer a value for money quality product.
Well done, Anandians – keep it up!


Rich blend of orchestra, choir and Asitha’s caressing voice  

A Night at the Opera, reviewed by Tennyson Rodrigo

BMICH was the setting for “A Night at the Opera”, a programme of operatic music staged by the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka (SOSL) on May 31, 2014. Before it all began there was an air of exhilaration, exuberance and expectation as crowds thronged the stairway and the lobby leading to the auditorium.Many who had arrived ticketless were anxiously queuing up to buy theirs at the door. A traffic jam at the entrance gate and parking area led to a slight delay to the scheduled start of the programme.

A well-refurbished BMICH had a stately aura and the ideal atmosphere for the evening. However,it’s shameful that this

Gregory Rose: Most popular overseas conductor of the SOSL

complex,showcased as the state-of-the-art, exhibition and convention centre of Sri Lanka has neglected a basic need of senior citizens. There is no lift to carry handicapped or elderly visitors to the main hall. Yes, there is a lift but a security official politely told me the previous day that one can use the lift only by making a prior booking with a payment. Even then the lift starts at a level which can be reached only after climbing several steps.

The event was a remembrance concert sponsored by the Dr. Earle de Fonseka Trust. The Conductor was Gregory Rose, the British conductor and composer who is easily the most adored and popular overseas conductor of the SOSL. He made his last conducting appearance in Colombo over 5 years ago. Then, Gregory Rose presided over the historic and memorable performance of Verdi’s monumental Requiem at the Anglican Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, next door to the BMICH.

In today’s world of classical music,an opera performance delivers the ultimate spectacle of musical theatre; a huge cast decked in magnificent costuming, creative lighting, fanciful scenery and ingenious stagecraft typically embellish the event.Italian, German or French invariably will be the language of the songs and recitatives recounting the storyline while a world-class symphony orchestra forms an integral part of the total.It’s not surprising then that Sri Lanka has never hosted a world-class opera and is not likely to savourits delights in the foreseeable future.

Some music-lovers worldwide associate opera with high society, high class and highbrow. Yet, season after season, the great opera houses of the world are passionate in their adherence to a tradition that has dynamically evolved and lasted for over 400 years.
Its exclusivity apart, the operatic genre has spawned an assortment of subgenres that have enriched and popularized the classical music repertoire. Overtures, cantatas, arias, oratorios and choruses are byproducts of the opera that are performed in their own right as popular works in classical music––a delighting outgrowth of an inherent sophistication.

So in context, though SOSL’S event was somewhat misleadingly titled “A Night at the Opera” the intention was not to stage even a short scene or a single act from an opera. Instead, the evening’s programme was a sumptuous collection of 15 operatic jewels, vocal and instrumental,perfect for lighthearted listening.What follows briefly are some highlights.

Nothing would have been more apt to launch the evening’s programme than Mozart’s Overture from the Marriage of Figaro. Mozart wanted it played as fast as the double basses can handle. It blasted off stunningly setting the pace, momentum and the mood for the rest of the evening. BMICH reverberated and an enthralled audience listened and finally erupted. Rarely has SOSL sounded so crisp, so coherent, so confident and so opulent.

The “Anvil Chorus” from Verdi’s Il Trovatore is one of the most fancied and tuneful operatic choruses. It depicts Spanish Gypsies striking their anvils at dawn – hence its English name – and singing the praises of hard work, good wine, and Gypsy women.

It calls for large forces and spacious atmospherics and BMICH offered space that was amply voluminous. Listeners were saturated with a blend of rich orchestral sound and a body of robust voices from the emerging “SOSL Choir”, an amalgam of several Sri Lankan choirs, directed byMenaka de Fonseka Sahabandu. However at high-decibel voice and percussion levels there was some overkill audible from the speaker sets on either side of the stage. It spoilt the fabric of natural sound of the vocal and orchestral mix.The impairment of sound quality by high-decibel surges was a feature of almost all the choral renderings (mercifully however, they also had the salutary effect of hiding the occasional flaws of individual instrumentalists).

Richard Wagner was a supreme genius and a formidable giant in the history of the opera. He was an unyielding perfectionist and visionary who demanded much from his singers.In that context it was pardonable if the Pilgrims’ Chorus was a bit lacking in vocal strength, high intensity and dramatic expression.

One of the most beloved and treasured choruses from any opera is “Va, Pensiero”, Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s opera Nabucco. The plot involves the Hebrews as they are sent into exile from Jerusalem by the Babylonian kingNebuchadnezzar. This beautiful melody continues eternally to haunt the heart and soul of music-lovers.Its specific quality of patriotic passion had prompted Italian Senator Umberto Bossi in 2009 to propose that the chorus replace Italy’s National Anthem even though it’s generally seen as the unofficial national anthem of modern Italy.

SOLSL choir and orchestra’s rendering of Nabucco brimmed with a poignancy and melodiousness that would have been heart-rending and memorable for the entire audience.

Interspersed between overwhelming choruses, tenor Asitha Tennekoon’s lone voice was a contrasting fount of expressive singing perhaps better suited to the intimacy of a smaller venue.I last heard him at his debut with the Colombo Chamber Music Society concert at the Lionel Wendt in August 2013 when he carried a heavy load of serious stuff as a baroque tenor. At BMICH his duties were different, perhaps lighthearted, joyous and relaxing.His account of the romantic aria, UnaFurtivaLagrima from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amor was tender and caressing.

French composer Charles Gounod transformed Shakespeare’s enduring love story, Romeo and Juliet to an opera.Here Romeo’s starry-eyed,amorous aria “Ah! Lève-toi soleil”, (Ah! Fairest Dawn Arise) was given an alluring exposé in original French by Asitha Tennekoon. The singing was passionate, diction was crisp and culmination was rousing.As a leading tenor Asitha Tennekoon is a rising star in Sri Lanka’s vocal landscape.

If the evening’s programme was somewhat over-stretched by a bounty of works from a multitude of composers,Gregory Rose kept an eager audience splendidly entertained. He is a professor of conducting who extracts quality sound with gentle demeanour while at the same time earning the esteem of the orchestra’s players. He connected and related well to SOSL players and showed respect for and appreciation of Asitha Tennekoon’s singing that was well-backed by the orchestra.

I believe there is no other guest conductor that SOSL players would love more; Sri Lankan music lovers and SOSL would fervently hope it will not be another 5 years before he makes the next appearance in Colombo.

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