Of people and travel: Drawing colourful word pictures with bold strokesView(s):
Soaring Spirits and Shooting Stars- by Lakshman Ratnapala Reviewed by Pradeep Princeton University and of Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A
At first glance, this book appears to be a biography or even a hagiography of people in the world of international tourism, mostly in Sri Lanka. The author, however, sets the record straight at the very beginning in his readable ‚Äėforeword‚Äô that this is a compendium of tributes to people who, by example, have influenced him ‚Äď for better or worse, between the beginning of his adulthood and his time as a global corporate executive in travel and tourism, in the position of PATA President & CEO.
Lakshman Ratnapala brings to these tributes the analytical mind and his candid writing style, evident in his first book, the popular Flickering Fortunes in changing Ceylon of mid- 20th century. The rather racy language he adopts in this his second book in 10 months does not lose sight of the facts about the characters he has chosen to feature here; nor does he embellish the facts to draw colourful word pictures with bold strokes, as he did in Flickering Fortunes. These stories are presented in delightful, effortless prose in a forthright manner.
Here, the author resurrects from the heap of historical fiction that has surrounded some of his heroes, the hidden truths about their complex lives and work, with a clinical dedication.
I found Ratnapala‚Äôs references to the roaming mind and the restless monkey, in the foreword fascinating. Here he pays brief but handsome tribute to the giants of PATA, the visionary Ken Chamberlain, the marketing maestro Gerry Picolla and the iconoclast Alwin Zecha. Equally riveting is Sunday Island Editor, Manik de Silva‚Äôs introduction to the author‚Äôs life as a journalist ‚Äúin a spacious time when he could walk into the prime minister‚Äôs home‚Ä¶‚Ä¶. and find Mr. Bandaranaike lounging in his verandah, dunking ginger biscuits in his tea‚Ä¶.‚ÄĚ
In all there are 14 pen portraits of well- known personalities, not all of them in the travel industry, ranging from Muhammad Ali and Joop Ave, Indonesia‚Äôs exuberant Tourism Minister who was Chairman of both PATA and WTO to S.D. Saparamadu, Sri Lanka‚Äôs insouciant nature conservationist and J.O. Yatawara, versatile sportsman and head prefect at S. Thomas‚Äô College at the time Ratnapala was a boarder there. He credits Saparamadu with having being responsible for his transfer from the ‚Äúnatural jungles of Yala to the concrete jungle of New York‚ÄĚ.
More than even these colourful pen portraits, I was totally captivated by the Landmarks of Sri Lanka Tourism presented more like an old slide show in technicolour accompanied by an utterly engrossing narrative. In fact, it is from this superb presentation of history going back to 400 AD that I learnt there was apparently a flourishing domestic travel industry in Sri Lanka 1,600 years ago! Ratnapala traces its growth through foreign visitors who left their writings about the island, from Chinese scholar Fa Xian, Venetian Merchant Marco Polo, Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta and Genoese diarist Fr. Giovanni de Marignolli, all the way to American story teller Mark Twain, PATA‚Äôs own Checchi Report and Hollywood actors like Liz Taylor. There is also an amazing account of the grand-dame of Asian hotels, the venerable Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, founded 1864, before the Suez Canal was built.
These revelations alone make the investment on this book fully worthwhile. Outside Sri Lanka, the book is available on Amazon.