The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

18th August 1996



The doyen of national culture

By M. Ismeth

Professor Veditantirige Ediriwira Sarachchandra, winner of the prestigious Ramon Magsayasay Award in 1988 for his contribution to journalism, literature and creative communication arts died on Friday. He was 82.

Born on June 3, 1914 Sarachchandra's father was a postmaster. He married a school teacher from Ratgama. Sarachchandra was the only son.

He had his education at Richmond College, Galle, St. John's, Panadura, S. Thomas' Mt. Lavinia and St. Aloysius Galle. Although he was in the Science and Mathematics streams during his high school years, later he took a liking for the humanities. He loved music too and taught himself to play a number of musical instruments. Although chronically short of funds, his father occasionally bought him locally made instruments.

Sarachchandra came of age in the complex cultural milieu of a rapidly westernizing Sinhalese middle class within a colonial society.

His sense of the world was shaped by the contrasting attractions of British modernity on one hand, and Sri Lankan and Indian traditions on the other. At home his father often spoke to him in English, his mother in Sinhala.

The family owned a foot pedal organ on which his mother played. Western music and a gramaphone to play his father's collection of Indian and Sinhalese theater records. Sarachchandra himself preferred to play South Asian melodies on the organ and delighted in village folk ritual, song and dance.

He was also inspired by India's cultural renaissance, of which Rabindranath Tagore was the dominating figure, and by a related nationalism in Sri Lanka, a movement linked to a revival of Sinhala Buddhism and its associated cultural heritage. Among leading exponents of this trend were Prof. G.P. Malalasekera, the Pali and Sanskrit scholar, and P. De Kularatne the leading proponent of Buddhist education.

Early in his university days occured one of the formative experiences of his life. Rabindranath Tagore and his troupe visited Sri Lanka (Ceylon then) and Sarachchandra watched the performance. 'I was fascinated by it', he remembered particularly by the music inspired by Tagore and by the Indian classical dancer, Uday Shakar who came to Ceylon about the same time.

Sarachchandra took up the sitar at that time and it became his favorite instrument. With like minded friends he formed a society for oriental music at the university. They sang Tagore's songs, studied the sitar and learned to dance in the traditional Kandyan style.

Following his degree with honors in 1936 Sarachchandra joined the Ceylon Daily News. Quitting his job at the newspaper he went to Shantiniketan, Tagore's 'Abode of Peace', in Bengal. In 1944, he had a full time appointment at the university. He also enrolled in a Master's degree program at the University of London.

Having studied Indian philosophy at Shantiniketan and in Sri Lanka, Sarachchandra decided to devote his two years at the University of London to Western philosophy. On his return he joined the faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Peradeniya which was to be his professional home for the rest of his teaching career. He was a lecturer in Pali and Buddhist philosophy.

Prof. Sarachchandra was a widely traveled person and was Sri Lanka's Ambassador to France from 1974 to 1977. His fluency in French went a along way during his stint in France.

To Sarachchandra Sri Lanka's moral decline is intimately connected to its cultural decline. This is why

artists and intellectuals, as well as the government must play a part in arresting it. Government should first of all set a proper example. It cannot speak of a 'righteous society' he reminds his fellow citizens, unless it, too is prepared to act in a righteous way.

Though he had written many plays which continue to attract and hold audiences, the popular play Maname has performed more than 300 times. He has no rival as Sri Lanka's national dramatist.

Of his years of study under the royal sage and farewell, Maname says:

"I have crossed the sea of science
The arts of war, the plays of swordsmanship
And archery I've learned,
Skillful as I desired
The time is come now I must go
The king my father to my own land bids me."

First woman soldier to die in action

By Athula Bandara

August 9 recorded the death of a woman soldier, the first since the 13 year old war began. H. M. Rupawathi of the women's brigade was killed by terrorists , while guarding a bunker at Keerimalai, in KKS.

Rupa, 24, joined the Army in December 1995 and after training was posted to Elephant pass in January '96.

From here she was sent to KKS in June to protect territory won thro' operation 'Riviresa'. Later she was included in the battalion that filled vacancies created by operation 'Sathjaya'. She was one of the three women guarding the Keerimalai bunker.

They did their duty night and day as committed men do, and when she could, visited her parents and family in Anuradhapura. At her last stay at home she had told them the rough life in KKS.

Rupa was the youngest of eight, all girls. She had told the anxious parents that she must serve the country, rather than stay at home, when they tried to persuade her to give up her job. She left home on July 4 to go back to KKS. All her seven sisters are married, and her 62-year-old father never felt the need of a son, as they did farming work too. Her elder sister, too is in the army, a lance corporal, who is married to also an officer in the Military Police. Another of her sisters is married also to a corporal. They were residents in Vavuniya before they shifted to Anuradhapura. They left the Kokuvil area, after tigers attacked it in 1984. Her ambition was to defeat the LTTE and get back to their native Kokuvil.

One of the three tigers who confronted her had shot her. She fell only to receive the fatal second shot from another which hit her chest.

Another woman soldier who was a few yards away from the scene told us how Rupa died.

She did not want to be named. She had joined the army the same day as Rupa did. As early as 2 am on the 9th, three tigers had come into Rupa's bunker creeping. She had shot them. One tiger fell but the second shot at Rupa. Another tiger threw a hand grenade, which however did not go off.

"We shot them too, the friend said. They had removed the injured tiger and left. Then only she had seen Rupawathie dead in the bunker. Another woman soldier, Sakunthala who was with Rupa, was injured. Next morning we saw a blood soaked trouser of a tiger left behind. I am sure, she said, that the Tiger whom Rupa shot, would have died. She said that they lost a heroine.

Rupa's father told us that she had bought a TV for the parents to watch TV and wanted the house provided with electricity the next time she came home. In her last letter she had indicated that trouble was brewing in the area where she was guarding. 'I am proud of my daughter's death in a way', said the father.

He was happy that though he did not have a son to fight the enemy, two of his daughters had done that job. The mother was too sad to speak to us. She would only say 'My daughter went to the war and she sacrificed her life for the country'. This is what she tells everyone, who talks to her about her loved daughter.

World body honors Uvais

Uvais Ahamed a Sri Lankan educationist who served with UNESCO, FAO and Commonwealth Secretariat in Asia, Africa and Pacific countries has been elected a fellow of the prestigious world futures studies federation.

Wickremabahu takes oaths as municipal councilor

By Kumaradasa Wagista

Nava Sama Samaja Party leader, Wickremabahu Karunaratna is scheduled to take oaths as a municipal councilor before Colombo Mayor, K. Ganeshalingam tomorrow.

He fills the vacancy created by S. Jeevaratnam, who resigned from CMC membership on a decision taken by the party politbureau to make way for Mr. Karunaratna to enter local government politics.

Meanwhile Romesh de Mel (UNP) took oaths as a councilor before the Mayor on Wednesday. The UNP high command nominated Mr. de Mel to fill the vacancy created with the ousting of former mayor Ratnasiri Rajapakse.

Disputes bill delay irks trade unions

Five members of the National Labor Advisory Council have expressed their displeasure to President Chandrika Kumaratunga over the alleged holding up of a Bill that sought to amend the Industrial Disputes Act No 43 of 1950.

Minister of Labor and Vocational Training Mahinda Rajapakse presented this Bill in Parliament on May 23 this year but the Second Reading and debate were held up for no stated reason, the members claimed.

The Bill implements, the International Labor Organisation's Convention No 98 concerning the application of the principles of the Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively which was originally ratified by the Sri Lankan government in 1972.

The five members have called upon the President to take immediate steps to remove any obstacles in the way of the labor minister by parties hostile to the trade union movement of the country.

"Failing this, we shall raise the issue outside Parliament with all sections of the trade union movement for appropriate action", they said.

Jalberry in Mulberry

By Dayaseely Liyanage

Over 20 members of the 'Mulberry' group, made up of government back benchers in Parliament, are to quit the group disgusted over the action of four of its members.

One of the main allegations against the four members is that they were trying to gain prominance over the other members and were trying to get appointments as deputy ministers.

Some of the MPs preparing to quit said that the action by a few of these members had led to differences within the group.

The next meeting of the Mulberry group is likely to be held before the PA Parliamentary group, would be a decisive meeting, some of the members said.

Luxury vehicles: why not, says MP

UNP MP for Badulla district R.M.Ratnayake will move a motion in Parliament asking for drivers and fuel for government and opposition Mps.

He told The Sunday Times that there was a time when people thought that members of Parliament did not deserve to use luxury vehicles.

But a lot of people who make money by questionable means travel in those vehicles. If they can, why not the members of the supreme legislative body in the country use them, he asked.

Mr. Ratnayake also pointed out that by giving a driver and fuel the government could get more work out of Mps.

Meanwhile, Hambantota district MP Nihal Galappaththi is protesting against the provision of luxury vehicles to Cabinet ministers, their deputies and MPs. His proposal is to be taken up as a motion in Parliament.

Jane says thank you

The gross misrepresentation of facts and derogatory remarks in the statements made by the Controller of Immigration and Emigration regarding the deportation of Dr. Jane Russell is presently under legal counsel, according to a press release issued by Dr. Russell.

Dr.Russel thanked Sri Lankans who voiced their opposition against her deportation.

CID probes drug capers in school

The CID has been called into investigate the antics of a teacher and three students of a leading school in Galle suspected of taking drug.

It is alleged that the teacher and the canteen owner had supplied the drugs.

Director of Education A. Dayananda said the teacher had been interdicted and the canteen owner prohibited from entering the school premises. Police have taken them into custody.

Investigations had revealed that the students had been shown blue films in a house close to this school.

The students are alleged to have been taken by a van to the Hikkaduwa area and get them involved in the production of a 'blue film'.

The three students are to undergo a medical test for social diseases.

A teacher of the school and a canteen owner involved in the incident were produced before the Galle Additional Magistrate, Kumara Bandara and remanded until July 21.

Continue to the News/Comment page 3 - Conspiracy charge: no evidence, Saudi Lankans reach out to cancer victims, Wira- "sinha" joins his tidy little menagerie, 'Calculated distortions'

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