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Sunday, 7 July 2013





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Memories of Peradeniya

In 1962 Bridget and I returned from the U.K. where I had gone in 1959 on leave for study and research at the University of Bristol on the advice of my guru, Prof. Ludowyk.

A view of Peradeniya University

After two and a half wonderfully rich and pleasant years there we returned, eager to make a contribution to the academic and cultural life here in Peradeniya.

Academically, the first experience was of shock. The English Department had shrunk. Only six of the newly admitted students were taking English. Culturally and socially, however, there were many new experiences. The Open-air Theatre had been built on part of what had been the park and the Peradeniya Annual Open-air Drama Festival had been started bringing the best plays of the year here. We saw Maname and Henry Jayasena's Kuveni, for instance. Chitrasena and Vajira brought Nirthyanjali and Ravibandu brought his dance troupe and drum orchestra.


I was able to re-activate the Dramsoc and did Gorky's The Petty Bourgeois, in which Einul Kaleel and Walter Perera gave very effective performances, Strindberg's The Father, made electrifying by Osmund Jayaratne, Margot Bell, Romaine Rutnam and Kumari Wadugodapitiya, Max Frisch's Andorra, with moving performances by Heloise Perera, Mohammed Mauroof and Anoma Jinadasa, followed by many other plays..

Very often rehearsals were held in our sitting-room or garden and actors and choristers and the handful of lecturers and the people of Kandy who joined us enjoyed freedom of interaction with each other and with us when we were not rehearsing and during the interludes for coffee and biscuits thoughtfully provided by Bridget.

Musically, many fine artistes performed here such as the pianist Yara Bernette, a recording artiste for Deutsche Gramophone and the Sri Lankans such as Amaradeva and Nanda Malini. Bridget took over the University Singers, and the Newman Society Choir at the Roman Catholic Chaplaincy.

A string quartet from Colombo performed every year. The Alliance Française, the German Cultural Institute, the British Council and the American Embassy sponsored events and visits by professionals such as the British pianist John Clegg and Jack Teagarden and his band.

There were choral concerts by the University Singers and occasionally by visiting groups such as the Lylie Godridge singers. Christmas carol services at the Roman Catholic Chaplaincy and the Galpalliya, were a great attraction. At Vesak a Bhakthi Gee troupe went round the halls and the Hindu Society and the Gandharva Sabha also organised concerts of a high classical level.

The 1960s were altogether a very rich and fulfilling period in the university and we remember that time with a great degree of nostalgia.

Mental nourishment

All these activities and enjoyments combined richly with the instruction and mental nourishment from intellectual giants and the availability of the fine library constantly developed by Ian Goonetileke to give us the experience of a great "community of old and young" as Prof. Sarachchandra put it, truly fulfilling what Sir Ivor Jennings said in the first Peradeniya Handbook : "the university is a community that one never leaves," the more so when we found ourselves in a place where, to use Prof Sarachchandra's words, "Nature seemed anxious to please." He suggested the beauty of the physical environment in unmatchable terms:

The Peradeniya campus is beautiful at all times of the year, but particularly in the months of Duruthu and Bak, which correspond to Spring in colder climates. Then, it is like a vast pavilion decked gaily as if for a festival, with festoons of flowers hanging overhead, and yellow petals falling lightly from them to rest on the cool green grass and make a carpet for the feet, while bougainvilleas twine themselves into multi-coloured trellises all around.

The shimmering vault of the noonday sky resounds to the cry of the kovula, rising higher and higher up the scale, and ending in a crescendo of longing.

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