was suddenly filling with restaurants ...
I had nowhere to stay at Peradeniya, and I did not do much to
overcome this problem. At first I had stayed in the University
Guesthouse, high on the hill above the Arts Faculty with beautiful views
westward, but little in the way of food or even coffee.
Ashley Halpe then put me up once or twice, with his usual generosity,
but he was in effect camping out himself, for his wife had stayed on in
Colombo with the children, after he got himself sent back to Peradeniya
with the re-establishment of several universities.
The SLFP led government of the early seventies had engaged in what
they termed rationalisation, setting up one university with several
campuses, with high level English becoming the responsibility of
Ashley had had to move there, while his erstwhile rival for the
Chair, Yasmine Gooneratne, had gone away to Australia. Peradeniya had
been left then to those whose speciality was Linguistics, that esoteric
discipline that bright youngsters had engaged in when, a decade
previously, it had been realized that language teaching was the urgent
need of the hour.
Ashley also introduced me to Tissa Jayatilaka, whose first love was
teaching, though he was no on the staff but instead had the far more
prestigious post of Director of the Kandy American Centre.
He came to us for Visiting Lectures and, apart from in the end
marrying one of the brightest of our third years, he also took me under
his wing and let me stay at the delightful flat he ran in Kandy.
He used to take me regularly to the Faculty Club, where the
opposition to the government held court in a haze of alcohol, Shelton
Kodikara the brightest and most articulate amongst them.
The government supporters, I should note, also attended, and
relations were friendly enough, the Vice-Chancellor Leslie Panditharatne
being particularly good natured.
It was held however that he did not really exercise power, since
Kingsely de Silva, considered his eminence grise, suitably enough given
his splendid head of white hair, sat in his office daily and was thought
to give him instructions.
Things got worse with the General Strike of 1980, which was dealt
with brutally by the government. There were efforts to discipline
government supporters, most shamefully if I recollect aright Anuruddha
Seneviratne, an utterly decent if somewhat emotional scholar, on the
grounds that his doctorate was from an Eastern bloc university that was
not in the league of better known names.
The opposition then struck back with a vote of No Confidence against
the Dean of Arts, C. R. de Silva, a very distinguished scholar who
however had some personal problems that made him vulnerable to
He ended up leaving the country a few years later, though in between
he contributed actively to the work of the Council for Liberal Democracy
that Chanaka Amaratunga had set up.
This rapidly became the main source of criticism of the government
from a non-socialist perspective, and it is a tribute to scholars like
CR as well as Ministers such as Gamini Dissanayake and Ronnie de Mel
that they realized that things were going wrong and that reforms were
I soon settled into a fairly easy routine, travelling up to lecture
for two or three very full days, with one or two very convivial evenings
arranged by Tissa. Occasionally there were special lectures at the
American Centre or the British Council.
One I gave was a comprehensive critique of Leonard Woolf’s ‘Village
in the Jungle’, at which the other speaker was Ranjith Goonewardene from
Kelaniya University, who thought the book a masterpiece. He thanked me
after the discussion, in that I had not been personal.
When I expressed surprise at this, he told me that academic disputes
in Sri Lanka were always personal which, though an exaggeration, I found
was not entirely off the mark.
Ashley indeed, when thinking of his sabbatical, asked if I would act
as Head of Department, because the second and third most senior members
of the Department loathed each other and hardly spoke.
I thought the idea excessive, and fortunately I was no longer there
when he went.
As it turned out Thiru Kandiah managed perfectly well, though sadly
he went off to Singapore a few years later” though retiring from there
in time to succeed Ashley as Professor around the turn of the century.
More than half the week then I usually spent in Colombo, which I
think my parents liked, for the house was indeed empty after the
fullness caused by two teenagers and their friends in the previous
The garden however continued to be made use of by the children of the
neighbourhood, a whole host of unfamiliar youngsters, the most prominent
sportsmen being the Gunasekara family which lived in the main part of
the old Alfred House property, and which had a host of boys who all
looked the same, a phenomenon repeated a decade later by the Muzammil
boys from opposite.
There was Faris Uvais too who was next door, the middle one of five
brothers, and the two younger Pathmanathans from down the road, though
they were now young executives in the burgeoning business life of
The Selvanathans opposite, two amiable boys who were not at all
interested in school though they had provided me with a lift early on
before their lateness proved impossible, were meanwhile turning into
extraordinarily distinguished and successful businessmen in the new
economic climate the UNP government had engendered.
My mainstay though of the old family connections was Sharya de Soysa,
who like me had come back from a postgraduate degree, and was lecturing
in the Colombo Law Faculty, where she now occupies the Chair.
We were particularly struck by what was a new phenomenon then in
Colombo, good restaurants, the species having been confined previously
to expensive hotels. We took then to exploring these occasionally,
beginning with the Eastern Palace, the first real Chinese restaurant in
Those we had been used to in our childhood, the Modern Chinese Caf,
the Great Wall, Park View Restaurant, served Chinese food adapted to Sri
Lankan taste, but the Eastern Palace purported to be the real thing, and
seemed to justify the claim.
Later there came Flower Drum, in the house where my dentist had
practised when I was a child, and many others, but I still remember
vividly the Eastern Palace, as I do Chez Amano, the first proper Italian
Restaurant, down Turret Road. Interestingly enough, it was not just
Colombo that was suddenly filling with restaurants.
The same thing had happened in Oxford, which when I went up had a
couple of very expensive restaurants and then nothing but several cheap
and cheerful Chinese and Indian eateries. By 1980 however the place was
full of posh restaurants of all types, beginning with the Opium Den,
I was delighted to return to a few years back. The Eastern Palace
however vanished long ago, as did Chez Amano.