I will never forget Rowena’s serene smile I was emotionally moved reading the article by Kumudini Hettiarachchi in the Plus about the Grand Old Lady of the Malay community – Rowena Ahlip, the eldest daughter of that great statesman and freedom fighter Dr. TB Jayah – a remarkable story of 100 years running through the [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



I will never forget Rowena’s serene smile

Rowena at 100

I was emotionally moved reading the article by Kumudini Hettiarachchi in the Plus about the Grand Old Lady of the Malay community – Rowena Ahlip, the eldest daughter of that great statesman and freedom fighter Dr. TB Jayah – a remarkable story of 100 years running through the fabric of the landscape of Sri Lanka.

Luck smiles on me these days: It was two months ago that I was in the company of a centurian in Cavendish Avenue, London – Miss Hippo Saverimuttu, a teacher of fame at St. Bridget’s Convent, Colombo (who taught the world’s first Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, President Chandrika Bandaranaike, and Sunethra Bandaranaike etc.), AND now, here in Siripala Mawatha, Galkissa, in a party with our own Grand Dame! It was a convergence of sons, daughters, brother, sisters, in-laws and friends who thronged the place, as Kumudini visualised

My  memory went back to  that sunny morning when Rowena appeared  holding  a  steaming  cup of tea before me  when I was seated in front of  that inspirational figure T.B. Jayah at his Pendennis Avenue residence. A teenager just out of school, I was nervously facing an interview by that  great man (rather a mild chat) for an appointment to officiate at the All-Ceylon Muslim League (the mother organisation of the Muslim community) as recommended by Moulavi M.A. Alawi Abulhassen (Al-Azhari) and directed to him by Senator M.D. Kithilan, who was Administrative Secretary of the League.  When done,  Jayah said, “young man you can make it..” It was a benevolent Rowena, wearing a serene smile who wished me good luck.

Jayah accompanied me to the gate (that was the courtesy and affability shown even to the humble by  great men), and I was amazed to realize that I was standing between two giants in politics – one democrat and the other Bolshevik- socialist for it was Dr. Colvin R.de Silva who appeared at  the fence of “Nihathamani”  across the road to exchange views on divergent political issues with ‘our great man’. It was Greek to me and I slowly moved off.

Time and again, thereafter, Tuan Thalib – his youngest son –picked me up from Maliban at Vanrooyen Street and brought me to  his Dad at  Pendennis Avenue (now Abdul Caffoor Mawatha) for a different mission: to interpret Jayah’s speeches at meetings – both political meetings and   Islamic religious events.  Jayah picked me for this onerous task after he first gave his sharp ears to my interpretation of Dr.M.C.M. Kaleel’s speech   at the Muslim League sessions held at Akkaraipattu Junction in 1958, organized by Moulavi Abdul Majeed. The following day Dr. Jayah beckoned me to interpret his speech at the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Amparai Mosque in the Gal Oya Valley. I was uniquely fortunate to  have the opportunity to lay a stone myself with such illustrious figures like Dr. Jayah and  Dr. Kaleel, and also Engineer M.M. Ismail and my father-in-law M.M.A.  Sameen (who was the first store-keeper of the Gal  Oya Board).

Rowena belongs to the most recognized Malay community of  Ceylon.  Her father T.B. Jayah’s name will remain entered in the modern Mahavamsa. As the first Prime Minister of Ceylon D.S. Senanayake, addressing a meeting of Malays once said that since the 12th century, when the Malays first came here, they had established a reputation for fearlessness, courage and loyalty which they maintained through the centuries.

Again, President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 09.1.2007 said that the Malay community is a well integrated segment of Sri Lankan society.  “Its members have served the Sri Lankan state with distinction and in diverse capacities including politics, administration and security forces.”  Their smart intelligent services provided the gateway for Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE which is part of recent history.

Rowena remembers many interesting stories: How Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawela entertained everyone at his “Kandawala  Walawwa” at that famous “Egg-hopper  breakfast” party – never hopper parties at dinner, she mused.  A strained relationship brewed up over the premiership stakes between Sir John and Dudley Senanayake. At one of the Kandawala breakfasts, Sir John, turned towards Rowena and blared:“Rowena,  I tell you, your father is one of the best honest politicians we have. He has come all the way from Pakistan to mend fences.  I say, he is like a lamb in these matters.  He does not know the undercurrents of hate and intrigue in the power struggle..” There was though kindness in Sir John’s manner as he said “Goodbye Jayah.”

Pakistan paid the highest tribute to this much loved Ceylonese leader.   When Sir John was later on a visit to that country, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, at a banquet, showered praise on Dr. Jayah and wished that Dr. Jayah stay in Pakistan for a longer period.  Pat came the reply from Sir John, ‘you can have Jayah as long as you want’. Can Rowena  be more inspirational than this while celebrating her 100th birthday   for being the eldest child of such an illustrious father like Dr. Tuan Burhanuddin Jayah .

- A.H.M. Azwer
Via e mail

Kotte and Dehiwala  MCs will do a better job at running the CMC


he Colombo Municipal Council is the only Local Authority that does not have fixed days to collect garbage.  I was living in Kotte earlier and that Municipal Council collects garbage every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  They came in the morning between 8.30 and  9 a.m.  I made a big mistake in coming to live in Kirulapona.

Here the garbage truck will come on any date convenient to the workers.  We cannot engage ourselves in doing other important work as we will miss it.  One day I had to visit the Doctor due to an urgent situation and as a result I missed the truck and I had to wait with all the trash for another eight days.  There is no one interested in looking after the comfort of the residents.  The CMC presumes that it is doing us a favour by collecting the trash.

When I made inquiries to find out who was in charge, I was shocked to find that there is no Mayor and it is in the hands of ‘Commissioners’ who seem not to care about the residents who pay taxes to pay their paycheques.

I think the authorities should break up the City and hand the divisons to the Kotte and Dehiwala  MCs to run the CMC.  Those authorities have amply displayed their abilities to run big concerns.

I am seriously considering moving back to Kotte.

Via email

Juxtaposing traditional diplomacy with economic diplomacy

The Foreign Minister and his Deputy have time and again mentioned the need to streamline the Ministry and its overseas missions to enable them to play an effective role in promoting trade and investment.

At the recently held meeting of the Young Lankan Entrepreneurs (COYLE) the Deputy Minister had presented the  Ministry’s priority task of addressing the issue of creating a dedicated and more effective method of promoting Sri  Lanka as a trading and investment destination to the world using the platform of its overseas missions. He had reiterated this commitment by the Ministry subsequently at a Rotary District event. He stated, “The Ministry wants our foreign embassies to be more productive and to be more profitable to Sri Lanka.”

The dawn of democratic governance, adherence to the rule of law and some of the progressive measures already adopted towards reconciliation and communal harmony have gained acceptance and appreciation by many in the international community. Hence the vision of the Minister and his Deputy to draw in foreign investment and promote international trade through our foreign missions in the backdrop of this positive environment appear promising and achievable.

In view of this laudable measure I felt it opportune to highlight some of the recommendations made by me to the Foreign Secretary, vide my letter of February 25,  2015 at the tail end of my brief tour of duty as Head of Mission in Baghdad, Iraq.

During my brief stint of less than six months I realized that a relatively small mission such as Baghdad operating in a turbulent atmosphere could still play a pivotal role in promoting trade and investment if there was commitment and the will to adopt a positive role by the officials concerned.

In my letter, I highlighted some of the progressive measures that we implemented such as –the setting up of the Data Bank of Sri Lankans employed and domiciled in Iraq; steps taken to lift the ban imposed by the Iraqi Government on importation of coconut fibre from Sri Lanka; facilitating the shifting of the Chancery and Residence to two modern buildings at lower rentals in an up market area in Baghdad; adopting cost cutting measures in terms of services such as electricity, computers, phones and courier; recommending the setting up of a Consular  Office in the peaceful and economically advanced semi autonomous region of Kurdistan. I also suggested that the Ministry circulars which were outdated, some of which have been issued as far back as 1960 be amended. I also pointed out the need to fully utilize all features of the Comprehensive Integrated Computer System (CIGAS ) which would enable disposal  of the archaic carbon copy voucher system journals and ledgers; the need to discontinue dispatching a bulk of old newspapers in the diplomatic bag was also mentioned as in this electronic age newspapers could be accessed via the internet.

I also forwarded a schedule of Recommended Promotional Activities to be undertaken by our overseas missions under the Heading “Sri Lankan Missions – The Way Forward”. It spelt out relevant action to be undertaken in respect of the following areas. (a)Organizational Set Up. (b).Image enhancement of Motherland (c) Strengthen relations with host nation. (d) Investment Promotion (e) Trade Promotion (f)Tourism (g) Employment Opportunities. (h)  Aid Availability

The above mentioned perspectives may not be a comprehensive and complete list. Nevertheless, it may be of some benefit in the formulation of a pragmatic plan to juxtapose traditional diplomacy with economic diplomacy.

Via email

Bungling in Berlin: Make amends before good relations are strained

The Sunday Times report regarding a ‘confusion over Lanka envoy to Berlin’  prompted me to send this letter. I am more than surprised by what has been reported in your newspaper as the current status of replacing the Lankan envoy in Germany. Why should somebody in the so-called foggy bottom of Colombo aka Foreign Ministry behave and act in this manner?  Has the head of State of Lanka insulted the German counterpart by first proposing a person as the new envoy who is now found unsuitable? And that too after the Bundespresident has concurred with the suitability the new appointee? Has Lanka informed Germany what has been unearthed subsequent to the German government giving its agreement that makes the said senior career diplomat now unsuitable to take up the post of Ambassador to Germany? All these are relevant and important questions that beg answers from the so-called mandarins in Lanka responsible for this bungling.

As the Sunday Times correctly states Germany is the engine of EU and economically most important in Europe. It is a country that has provided development aid to Lanka for more than six decades, long before some of the Western actors whom the current rulers of Lanka seem to have  warmed up to in recent times. In spite of  heavy pressure from certain internal lobbies the German government has over the last two decades never been openly hostile to Lanka,unlike the UK, Canada and US. There were a few German politicians who pushed the ‘federalism’ agenda in Lanka. However, the goodwill that Lanka has earned over five decades remains undiminished by and large among the majority of Germans.

Unlike the leaders of UK, Canada and US, the Germans never openly humiliated Lanka leaders. So one would expect the people ruling Lanka would want to continue this excellent relationship with Germany. We feel that our President who visited Berlin recently will intervene as it is his authority and honour that are at stake with this slight of a friendly country. Can Lanka allow a set of inept officials to have a say over and above the Executive President? The Sunday Times Editor seems to have very correctly asked somebody to explain these undiplomatic and crass actions.


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