Face to face
A traveller who thinks
He dreamt of a hotel in Kandalama
"A very timely publication. Mr. Thambugala could not have made it
easier for those of us in this country, who want to acquire a basic
knowledge of this important European language" commended the " Daily
News" on a certain book. Most of those who read the review undoubtedly
wanted to meet him and speak to him.
I met him at the Cultural Section of the Iranian Embassy, when I went
there to see a movie. Though he does not boast of many certificates,
Vineethe Thambugala stands out among intellectuals, as he is
extraordinarily talented in a wide range of subjects from Botany,
Chemistry to entirely different subject areas like languages.
A foremost guide lecturer, lecturer in languages, magician, a scholar
in Chemistry and Botany, Thambugala portrays an ideal global citizen who
is conversant in many cultures, and yet deeply rooted in Sri Lankan
He is also an author of several books on language studies including
'Multilingual phrase book' with pronunciation in Sinhalese and explains
basic useful phrases in German, French, Japanese, Italian and Spanish.
Reminiscent of his colourful childhood that he spent in Mawanella in
the Kagalle District, Thambugala said, " I was born in Manikkawa
Walauwwa and my father was a Chief Post Master. He was being transferred
from area to area, and I was also transferred along with".
So he had to study in six different schools before he gained
admission to the University of Peradeniya. He was so brilliant in his
studies that he came first in every class, in all six schools.
Suddenly he became nervous, perhaps, because of his intense love for
the subject, which occupies most of his academic career spanning over
decades. His ancestral home was full of books and he was a member of the
Home Library Club of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. It was
there in the library that he first came across "special and unique
people called Germans".
He became so curious about these people and even by then, he knew
that there was a language called German. " I thought that it would be a
very good thing that I should learn a little bit about that language.
But I never had an opportunity, because we were neither in Kandy nor in
Colombo." says Thambugala about his love for the language, that led him
to a multitude of adventures in life and a congregation of experiences.
At his first attempt to enter University, he was offered Veterinary
Science and with that qualification he joined the Bank of Ceylon and
worked there for a brief period until he started his scholarly pursuits
at the Faculty of Science, University of Ceylon, Peradeniya.
"In the evenings, either I went to a cinema hall or the German
Cultural Institute in Colombo. The German lectures were so interesting
and I was fascinated by the entire manner in which classes were
conducted, that I took a liking to the German language, but again broke
off studies as I had to go to the Peradeniya University," said
Thambugala in an emotional tone.
Referring to his famous relatives, he fondly remembered his late
uncle P. C. Thambugala who inspired generations of actors including
E.C.B Wijesinghe and Gamini Fonseka. He also flashbacked on Dr P. R.
Thambugala who had a good practise in Kandy, and by then had become one
of the principal landowners in Kandy.
Peradeniya University, at which Thambugala read Chemistry, Zoology
and Botany, changed his life dramatically, especially, his German
Language studies under Herr Helmut Winter, who laughed and said that"
you already know German" and asked me to come to the Advanced course
conducted for professors.
I had the opportunity of being a class-mate of Prof. Ashley Halpe,
Prof. D. E. Hettiarachchi and Dr.Lesley Gunawardena. So, I became so
popular not only in the Arts Faculty but also in the entire University
and students coined a nickname and called me "German.. German". says
Thambugala on how he stuck to his German studies.
Learning languages became quite a hobby for Thambugala who was
encouraged by the popularity he gained as a ' genius' speaking fluent
German in the Science Faculty, he began to learn other languages such as
French, Arabic,Japanese,Chinese, Latin and Greek.
This abiding interest in languages, led him to be trained as a Guide
Lecturer at the Ceylon Tourist Board where he obtained a distinction at
the final examination.
Thus, entering the field of Tourism, Thambugala came in touch with a
prestigious German Travel Agency called AKAD (Akademische Studienreisen
Heidelberg) and he was taken as a tour guide under the world famous
German Professor Friedrich W. Funke as the Tour Leader.
However, a few years later, on the recommendations of clients,
Mr.Thambugala was offered the position held by the professor. And he did
accept it as long as he enjoyed the same facilities as his predecessor.
In those study tours he had the opportunity of meeting with people
from the highest strata of the German society including aristocrats who
still live in castles and was also able to visit and stay in those
On one occasion, when he was about to leave a castle, he was given a
visitor's book to sign, and to his amazement Mr. Thambugala found that a
few pages before his note, was a note made by Johann Wolfgang von
Goethe, who is considered as the greatest Poet in German Literature.
Reminding numerous obstacles that he had to face in his struggle for
upward social mobility, Mr.Thambugala said how a certain professor was
embarrassed by his remarks at the opening of the Kandy branch of
Alliance Francaise which was mooted by his idea.
"The founding of the Alliance Francaise, Kandy branch, was originally
my idea promoted by the very popular French professor Prof. Ravilly of
Paris, where the then French ambassador in Sri Lanka was present.
Another Professor of a Department in the Science Faculty, a local, who
also happened to teach French for twenty odd years was also present at
I spoke to him in French and I said that I did not have time to come
to his special lectures in French. As he could not respond to my
statement, he was embarrassed and acquired a long face. Later, when I
got employment in Colombo and quoted the incident in the staff room of
an Academy, there had been a feedback from the professor.
The professor was my supervisor at a certain examination and even
though I was quite confident that I did well, I failed the examination
twice and up to today I could not get the certificate," said Thambugala
with a mischievous smile.
"English itself is not a foreign language to me as we are the third
generation of our family speaking English. So English, German, French,
Sinhala, Chemistry and Botany are languages in which I am supposed to be
proficient in. I know immediately you would ask me how Chemistry and for
that matter Botany, become a language.
But in reality, Chemistry is a basic language that even a non-chemist
should master to a certain extent to survive in the present society. For
a healthy life one has to have a basic knowledge of Chemistry. The
Chinese had a premonition of it in applying the "YING - YANG" principle,
even to food science.
I went beyond the superficialities of the Science of flora and I am
at home with the Sri-Lankan tropical vegetation and the temperate
vegetation of Germany." said Thambugala on his wide range of studies in
Among his achievements, he had the record of planning and conducting
the longest guided study tour in Sri Lanka. A 30-day non-stop tour
covering the entire island before the outbreak of violence in the North
and the East.
According to his research, he, for the first time, identified that a
hotel could be built in the village of Kandalama (not in the catchment
area) and he found that there were no spice-gardens along the Colombo-Kandy
highway, and it was his idea that prompted one of his students to open
the first spice-garden.
"When I travelled from Colombo to Kandy, I observed that the
micro-climate of Nelundeniya and Kadugannawa was very similar to the
micro-climate of Tamale and the very same spices grew there.
So I just happened to open the very first spice-garden in a private
house garden of Dr. Ranaweera who happened to be the father of one of my
students of Chemistry, which was so successful that Spice Gardens sprung
up at every nook and corner, disfiguring the landscape."
Mr. Thambugala has thirty-five years experience in the Travel Trade
as a Tour Leader since 1970 and 60 % of his students now occupy top
level positions in the Travel Trade.
Holding the post of General Secretary of the World University Service
Peradeniya Branch together with Professor Senaka Bibile, Dr. S.N.
Arsekulatne and Prof. Stanley Wijesundera he launched the most intensive
anti-ragging campaign in the history of the University and holding the
post of Administrative /Public Relations Officer Berlin Vihare
(1990-1991) and also organised the most successful Vesak Celebration in
the history of the Berlin Vihare, which were some of the achievements in
his trailblazing career.
Mr.Thambugala holds the "Grosses Deutsches Sprachdiplom" from Ludwig
Maximilian University Munich with a credit in the oral examination.
Although he does posses numerous academic achievements together with a
wealth of experiences, he remains the same charming personality.