Plus - Appreciations

A final goodbye to my grandmother

Daphne De Soysa

My dearest Archa,

I may have shown up in the early evening of your life, but I still remember how I saw you as a remarkable lady. You were a legend. You had so many adventures and lived your life with such character and flair that you really were comparable to none.

I remember the Sukiyaki parties for which you dressed Sammy, Akkie, and me in bright-coloured kimonos, mainly just as decorations, tottering around in two-small sandals smiling at guests. I remember the Norwegian party decorations that I found one day, only to realize the extent of your party-planning skills.

Your love of Christmas was infectious with the four Christmas trees (one in white) adorning 25/6 Barnes Place every year. You sent those ornaments to California. These ornaments have decorated my every Christmas tree since, and will continue to decorate any Christmas tree I have as your spirit lives through another generation. You didn’t just show me the beauty of Christmas, but also the beauty of tradition and celebration, the beauty of life.

I always loved the pride that you took in your birthday: how much you planned the parties, the best purple saree chosen, and the very events that they were. You always let me help you open your birthday presents the next day, laughing at my dismay over yet another bottle of eau de cologne as I hastily searched for the chocolates.

I remember an elocution prize-giving to which you came. I recall how proud you were of me, and how many times you told me so. You were always so proud and happy for all of my accomplishments, and you always made it so clear.

When we moved to the United States, you mailed me two cookbooks which I, to this day, still have. Today, I love cooking. Many recipes that I tried were in those original books. On the two occasions that I returned to this great land, you laughed at my accent and told me you must be so important for Americans to visit. The whole time you were so happy to see me, and patiently and laughingly listened to all the stories I always had.

My truly favourite memory of you was when I got sick and was unable to visit you, you would ask me to come to the balcony in our house. You would stand on your balcony, and I, a little girl at that time, would stand on mine. Then, we would blow air kisses to each other. You used to catch them, count them, and then tell me when I could go back to my room.

You were one cool lady who taught me so much about life not only with your words, but also through your actions. You really knew what it was to live life to the fullest. Thank you for being my Archa. I will miss you.


Tashiya Gunesekera

Your too, too short life brought us untold happiness

Baby Minindu Matheesha Hewage

It is three months since you bade us goodbye, on March 7, 2011. Never did I dream that as your Grandma I would be writing an appreciation in memory of my darling Chuty Baby. My heart aches and my eyes fill with tears as I write this.

Your beginning was so sudden – you rushed into our lives, ahead of time. Why so, darling Minindu Baby? Did you have a premonition of a sudden departure, just at your beginning? Your Amma sacrificed a lot to be with you and nurture you. She did it to the letter. She was like your shadow, up to the moment you left us.

Your loving Amma and Thaaththa’s untiring efforts, love and dedication transformed tiny you in no time into a cute little bundle of love. You gave us happiness to last a lifetime. Your first words, first steps, sweet smile, adorable ways – the many firsts in your short life brought us untold happiness. But it was to be just 16 months, from beginning to end.

You showed exceptional talents, promising a bright future. At that tender age, you could manipulate the remote control or mobile for your favourite songs and tunes, whenever you wanted to sleep. And how happily you would sleep, listening to the music and relaxing in our arms. All this will never be erased from our memory, as long as we live.

You had an unusual interest in the moon, flowers, and statues of Lord Buddha. You worshipped Lord Buddha with your tiny hands clasped above your forehead, just like an adult. Every day you wanted to worship, and with signs you directed Amma and Thaaththa to light the oil lamp and joss sticks. You have left us with many beautiful memories, but also endless heartache, and so many questions for which we cannot find answers.

Your unusual beginning, lovely existence and sudden departure have left a void in our lives, never to be filled. Your sudden departure came as a bolt from the blue, shattering our lives. We are still lost in a wilderness, trying to find a way out. As Buddhists, we should tell ourselves that death is inevitable and a stepping stone to another life.

Sweet little darling, may you never face such an untimely death in your sojourn in Samsara. Come back to us, dearest Minindu Putha, with a new beginning, and enjoy a long life.

We are waiting. . . .

Your ever-sorrowing Grandma

Champion of teaching English as a second language

Dr. Douglas Walatara

Dr. Douglas Walatara died on February 2, aged 91, leaving behind long and lingering memories among English teachers of yesteryear of a colossus in the field of teacher education. His mission was not merely the training of English teachers but more significantly their education, both at the Government Training College, Maharagama, and later at the University of Peradeniya. A mission of a life-time it turned out to be, from the 1950s right down to the end of the century.

In those days of yore, there were teacher-trainees at the Government Training College, ranging in age from their late teens to their early forties. Among the younger trainees were those who aspired to an English degree but had failed to gain admission to university. They sat for the Government Training College entrance examination, considered the second best option, and then sat at the feet of Dr. Walatara and Mrs. Evelyn Geddes, both English Honours graduates of the University of Ceylon.

That was abundant recompense for the lost privilege of sitting at the feet of Professor Lyn Ludowyk and his colleagues of the prestigious university English Department. (Mrs. Geddes died at 95, four years ago, in Australia.)

The trainees’ university entrance texts were brought out of limbo, dusted and opened for a fresh look several years after Form Six. Dr. Walatara and Mrs. Geddes invested these volumes with new life. There was also extra reading of texts such as Eric Newton’s “European Painting and Sculpture” that we drank deep of. This was the rich content of the subject of English that went beyond Hornby’s “Structural Words and Sentence Patterns” –“the dry bones of structure from which all living flesh has been plucked” (to use the memorable words of the late Dickie Attygalle), but which the new English as a second language government syllabus decreed to be the sum and substance of a second language.

Dr. Walatara eschewed such thinking and argued the case for “English as a non-medium vehicular language”, not just a second language. He wrote a fine tail-blazing book, “The Teaching of English as a Complementary Language in Ceylon.”

In it he argued for the teaching of English “whole”, that is, inclusive of its literature and culture, and not merely as a shadow language. He lamented the English teacher’s own declining command of his subject. The problem is a matter of not knowing English. It was Dr. Walatara’s view that “there is no other way of improving standards of English in the country save by enforcing a thorough study of English language and literature on the prospective teacher of English.”

One wonders who among our English teachers and those engaged in directing them, the myriad directors, advisers and consultants, are even aware of such a book, more relevant now than then. It was published in 1965 and priced at Rs 9.50, just to indicate the long lapse of time since.

Dr. Walatara also initiated the publication of “Changing Times”, in response to deteriorating standards of English in our schools. The Department also transferred the editorial board members, who taught in schools in the vicinity of Maharagama, to distant places.

A more recent reminiscence of Dr. Walatara’s contribution to the Teaching of English was “The Reconstruction Method.” This was designed largely for the benefit of rural children struggling to get a handle on the second language under teachers who themselves “learnt English as a foreign language and for whom English was entirely foreign”, as Dr. Kamal de Abrew once wryly remarked.

It was a bilingual method that relied on using the mother tongue as a resource for providing “a runway for taking off on the second language learning flight”. Dr. Walatara was seconded from the GTC to the Secondary Education Division of the Ministry of Education to organize and direct the “Reconstruction” pilot project in selected rural schools.

This project, and the textbook to go with it, was sabotaged by two professional antagonists who obtained the favour of the powers that be. The textbooks were sent to the Valaichenai paper factory and turned into pulp. It was the destruction of “Reconstruction.”

The irony is that a prophet was unhonoured in his own country by the powers that be in the Ministry of Education. But the gross attempt to extinguish the candle that Dr. Walatara lit in the gathering darkness of English studies did not succeed. He packed his bags and went to Peradeniya to join the University’s Faculty of Education, where he continued his mission of educating English teachers and not merely training them. He also obtained his doctorate there and his thesis: “Education and Attention: A Basis for the Humanities”, was published by Macmillan in 1980. He retired as Associate Professor of Education.
After his retirement, his services were avidly sought by the Workers’ Education Institute, the Postgraduate Institute of Management, the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration, and also banks and corporations.

–This little tribute to Dr. Douglas Walatara, a renaissance man of our time, is from one of his callow students of the Fifties, who in later years became a grateful colleague. To Hermi, and Aruni, Vassathi, Ajanti and Sepali and their families, condolences felt in the deep heart’s core.


A great show, thank you to a great man of the theatre

Kenneth M. De Lanerolle

The St. Thomas’ College Matara Ex-Seniors’ Drama Club remembers a great show and a master of stage production

It was the year Nineteen Hundred and Forty-Eight.
Exams over, our heads were light,
Books were out of sight.
The ex-seniors’ Drama Club saw light.
At St. Thomas’ G.H.S. Matara,
Mr. Kenneth de L’s home.

His sister, Ruth de L. undertook
The formidable task
Of producing Lady Precious Stream,
Now a dream.
“Oh, we can do it,” the Principal,
Miss Ruth’s sister, beamed.
Brother Kenneth was called upon
To train a teen-age group.

We were struck by his personality
Resolved and firm.
Strict discipline – “Accomplish
Your task, girls!”
Of course, Sister Ruth, the chaperone,
Took her seat aside,
All under her watchful eye,
Her laws to abide.

Our first hurdle -- my cousin Shanti
Was Lady Precious Stream.
Her stern father was furious:
“Falling in love with the gardener!
She cannot take part! Imagine
The PM’s daughter!”
I conveyed the news to Miss Ruth,
Who changed the Truth –
“Oh, tell him the gardener is a prince in disguise!”
It worked! Permission granted – how I lied!

Producer K. de L. started rehearsals,
He never smiled.
I was the Prime Minister with the
Well-trained voice – never mild.
K. de L. drilled me to be the ferocious father,
To oppose my daughter’s marriage
To crush her lover.

Rehearsals were serious, giggles were many;
One stare from K. de L. silenced the silly.
The stage was set at Broadway Theatre
With a real Chinese cast.
Our producer was also director
And a clever make-up artist.

I was transformed into a powerful PM
With curled moustache.
All players had eyebrows raised
For Chinese eyes.
K. de L. trained the ladies to trip
Short, quick steps:
And sail across the stage, fanning away.

Midst laughter and cheers
A grand, grand show.
Today, I gaze at the photo
of Lady Precious Stream –
It is indeed a beautiful dream.

To Mr. Kenneth de Lanerolle –
Producer, Dramatist, Artist.
The ex-seniors’ Drama Club
Pays this grateful tribute.

You left this world sans “Kala Awards.”
We hoist this flag to honour you –
This is our Award.

Chathurani Abeyawira

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