14th December 1997


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Book on Buddha's burden

Publisher's Book Prize winner Tissa Chandrasoma
speaks to Mihiri Wikramanayake

Tissa Chandrasoma is no ordinary man. First impressions are that he is warm and friendly and can laugh at himself. But what makes him extraordinary is that at the ripe old age of 87, he is the winner of this year's Publisher's Award, for his novel, Siddhartha Gotama of the Sakya Clan.

And before any further comment on the book, he added that if the Sangha had read his book, they would surely have started that breaking of coconuts with him!

Siddhartha Gotama, is a book dedicated in letter form to his eight-year-old grandson, Pradeep, who resides in America. In it, he tries to explain to Pradeep the realities of the religion and the reasons for it being what it is today.

Tissa has been a devout Buddhist most of his life. He dutifully studied the religion in school as a young boy, memorizing the importance of the precepts and chanting the gathas at every religious occasion.

He remembers learning the rites and rituals of the religion whilst on the lap of his doting grandmother. He believed every word she told him about the 'earth shattering phenomena' preceding the birth of the young Prince. He was fascinated by the 'truth' and practised the noble way to the best of his ability.

Yet he was not convinced totally. He realized that although it was acceptable to go to temple, light lamps, recite gathas, and observe the eight precepts on a full moon poya day, this was far from enough for 'a Buddhist who wanted to get the best out of his good fortune in being born an intelligent human being which, in itself, was due to his zeal in his past lives.'

Chandrasoma admits being confused by all the preaching of the Sangha and the widely divergent concepts of the Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhists.

But this is inevitable he decided. Because, for the first five hundred years after the death of Lord Buddha, there had been no recorded literature about His way of life. During that time, while the order of monks was being established and getting more powerful and prestigious, the whole body of the Buddhist religious literature was handed down only via word of mouth. As a result, there had to be a certain amount of heresy included by this order. The consequent generations of this religious order have added a whole lot of jargon in order to complicate a simple message to hold sway over the people.

He cites as examples, the professional jargon used by doctors and lawyers to confuse a non professional. And according to Chandrasoma, the only basis to remember is that 'humans with their unique intelligence are responsible for their acts, both individually and collectively.'

'The depletion of the ozone layer and the atrocities of global warming are all the responsibilities of us human,' said Chandrasoma. 'We must take the blame for our definite actions."

Chandrasoma has had a wide and varied lifestyle. Born and bred as a Southerner from Hikkaduwa, he spent a happy boyhood in the company of his grandmother and a bevy of aunts.

According to him, he spent the first 24 years of his life flitting from school to school trying to get himself educated, and the next twenty in the Ceylon Civil Service flitting from job to job. After much disillusionment, he left the government and held various posts in the private sector.

In 1979, Chandrasoma wrote his first novel titled Five to Eight describing his boyhood and his life in his hometown of Hikkaduwa, after which, he was sent to Colombo by his father to attend Ananda College to "finish" off his studies.

His second novel, Out Out Brief Candle, was published in 1981, followed by a third book on the Civil Service. However, Siddhartha Gotama is his best in which he believes that it makes one think about Buddhism unlike any other book would on that subject.

"I believe that the Buddha has put a tremendous burden on humanity," says Chandrasoma and strives to advise his grandson against the pressures of the religion."

He ends his book by saying. "That, Pradeep brings me to the end of my story. You will have to forgive my verbal infelicities, my repetitions and my clumsy terms of phrase."

He admits that it has not been an easy story to tell and 'in trying to make things plain and simple, which has been my aim, I hope that I have not thrust you into confusion." Tissa Chandrasoma now lives in retirement at his 5th Lane home in Kollupitiya. He is happy with his decisions and the full life he's had. His wife, is proud of her husband's achievements and supports his ideas.

Touch of Polo amidst reforms

The following is yet another excerpt in our
continuing series of excerpts from the book
The History of the Ceylon Police, by former
Deputy Inspector General of Police A. C. Dep,

The Officer selected to succeed Major Knollys was Major Albert de Wilton, the Inspector-General of Police and Prisons, Mauritius. De Wilton, too, was an officer with a distinguished military record. He had served as a Lieutenant in the Lannarkshire Militia (1881,) Connaught Rangers (1882-1886) and the Indian Staff Corps. In this Corps he rose to the rank of Captain and Major. He had served in the Burma Campaigns of 1885, 1887 and 1889 and had won a Medal and two Clasps.

His appointment was most unexpected. He had come to England to seek a higher appointment. In the Colonial Office, in the absence of other officials, he had been interviewed by the Colonial Secretary of Ceylon (Mr. Im Thurn) who had himself been at the Colonial Office at the time. His glowing report gave De Wilton the rise he craved for.

De Wilton assumed duties on the 17th August, 1902, taking over from the Acting Inspector-General (Mr. Rudd). Immediately after, he was welcomed into the Force with a special Parade followed by a Conference of Police Officers.

During Christmas, Mrs. De Wilton held a Christmas Party for the Officers and men of the Colombo Police and their families. There was a Christmas Tree and Mrs. De Wilton handed over the presents. Inspector Morris with his banjo provided the music at the sing-song party which followed.

The Police Force.-The Police Force at the time consisted of an Inspector-General, 4 Superintendents, 6 Assistant Superintendents, 29 Inspectors, 9 Sergeants Major, 222 Sergeants and 1,484 Constables. The Chief Inspector rank had been allowed to die out with no new appointments being made and the number of Sergeants Major had been increased.

The Police Stations opened at Haputale, Welimada, Kelaniya and Ragama at the expense of the Imperial Government in connection with the Boer Prisoners of war were closed down. The Sergeant and 8 Constables at Hambantota, engaged on Imperial duties, guarding Kachcheri, Treasury, Escorting specie, attending crime work and supervising the sanitation of the town were withdrawn.

The punitive Police quartered at Ambalangoda, Navatkuda and Nochimunai were withdrawn. A punitive force was quartered at Niravalli in Jaffna.

Police officers.-Mr. Rudd handed over to De Wilton and assumed duties as Superintendent of the Northern Province. Holland retired after completing 29 years service. Tranchell became the Headquarters Superintendent. De Saram was functioning in the Central Province and Thornhill in the Southern Province. Dowbiggin began to impress by his keenness and devotion to duty at Kandy. Mr. Wace, the Government Agent of the Central Province had this to say of him: "I have found Mr. Dowbigg inactive and industrious with a keen interest in his work. His faults are impetuosity and want of consideration towards the Constables and Sergeants and too great readiness to believe that all men are liars, especially Headmen. He is anxious to learn his work and to give every assistance in the discharge of his duties" Dowbiggin went from strength to strength and having passed his examinations, earned his promotion as Superintendent. He and Thornhill went over Armstrong and Bowes. He succeeded Rudd in Jaffna and had Bowes under him. Attygalle, too, passed his examinations and gained promotion as Superintendent, "consequent on the vacancy caused by the removal of Mr. J. S. De Saram from the Police Force".

Reforms.-De Wilton effected slight changes in the uniform and insignia of Officers. He obtained permission to replace the popular Red Cap with a black cap. The blunder was very soon brought home to the Governor and De Wilton himself. " The Black Caps are mean looking and from a practical point of view they are far inferior to the old Red Caps which latter, as I saw during the crowds of the recent Perahera at Kandy serve as flags to indicate to any one, policemen's whereabouts in the crowds ". But it would appear that the replacement did actually take place. In 1905, De Wilton sent a sample of a helmet he wanted to introduce into the Force and was told to leave it for his successor. He effected a change of Insignia. In future the Inspector-General was to wear a Crown, the Superintendents three Stars, the Assistant Superintendent two Stars and the Inspectors one Star on their epaulettes.

Police and Sports.-The participation of Police in sports activities increased. De Wilton played Polo, while Tranchell captained the Police Cricket Team which included Thornhill and Armstrong. Dowbiggin turned out regularly for the Kandy Sports Club, participating in cricket and hockey. The Police Sports came to be held regularly in February each year. The Police were gradually building up a tradition for sports in Ceylon.

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