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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 soil.

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 ancient castles.

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 that occasion.

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 diverse fields.

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.



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