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Sunday, 24 May 2009





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Trinity from A to Z

How boring could a whole history of a school - worth of 180 pages - be, especially if it is not your own? Well if it is Trinity by Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe it makes a whole lot of difference. For one it is thoroughly researched, it is not about the boring stats like how many students attended the school since its establishment, how many teachers, how many square feet, buildings, etc... No, the poet in Ramya does not allow that.

Author: Ramya Chamalie Jayasinghe

A commissioned work, the prudence of the Trinity OBA is obvious in their selection of Ramya - a poet cum nonfiction writer, to write the book.

Although the book also mentions all the necessary, supposedly 'boring' details, it reads like a novel, at times it is even poetic. `Trinity' is Trinity from A to Z, providing an account of the whole history of a school that has stood the test of time.

The book traces the history of a school that had to continuously adapt and change according to the times, since as far back as the 1800s. From introducing water borne sanitation to building of the Asgiriya stadium, it is a well documented turn of events. She talks about its humble beginnings when it was established as an elementary school by Rev. Browning and his wife in 1822, how Richard Collins gave it a firm foundation, how Fraser transformed it from Missionary to school and how it went from the 'Collegiate school' to `Oakley's school' to `Trinity College'.

Trinity would have been a totally different place if it weren't for Fraser, one of its most charismatic principals. He was the first principal to break down the caste system ,and introduced vernacular to the curricula. Instead of a documentary the book reads more like a story. We can just picture how Fraser - with the help of just a handful of cadets prevented major disasters during the riots, not for the school but for the whole town of Kandy.

It is not just a history of Trinity. The first few chapters are actually a portrayal of the social setting through Trinity. It provides us a glimpse of the major turning points at a time of turmoil. The book explores how the Official Language Act affected a school like Trinity that offered a `Western education' and how the wave of nationalism forever changed schools like Trinity. Ramya - through reviewing probably most or even all existing documents on the subject - has become an authority on Trinity.

But the most interesting facts (for me) are probably the ones Ramya dwells least on, such as the founder of Kingwood College - Louis Edmund Blaze - being a past student of Trinity or the interesting history behind Hillwood College, Kandy. It's a little known fact that Hillwood College was actually established so that educated young men of Trinity could choose educated young women from Hillwood College as their wives. Trinity introduced Astronomy and Rugby to schools and theirs was the first social workers group. The book also provides other invaluable information such as the origin of the Bradby Shield and how Duncan White lost his Lion for stealing biscuits from a teachers' quarters! Ramya has a knack for saying things without stepping on anyone's toes.

Trinity is stereotyped as a school for the elite. Ramya doesn't beat around the bush, it is an `elite school', but one that feels the pulse of the Kandyan people. She claims - and such an in-depth study no doubt warrants her authority - that the education offered by Trinity enables its students to straddle two worlds. Ramya introduces Trinity as a school having a particular `form' and `shade' as opposed to other missionary schools in Ceylon. It had to respect the cultural identity that the Kandiyans held so high.

The book Trinity is thoroughly researched, not just in terms of technicalities but also the cultural background and its effects on the establishment. It backs its research with maps, postcards, portraits, photographs, paintings, interviews, references to magazines and newspaper articles and other historical documents. The first chapter - A most opportune time - demonstrates Ramya's in-depth study into the social as well as the geographical setting.

But it is not just about the school. The chapter Spirit of a Trinitian focuses on such people that understood the `spirit of a Trinitian'. During the riots of 83 Sinhala students of Trinity refused to abandon their Tamil friends. It is also about the people who define Trinity, not just about the principals but the students - the pride of Trinity - the likes of Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Lieutenant Aladeniya, Ministers Lakshman Kadirgamar, Gamini Dissanayake, M. L. Mushin the only Sri Lankan Vice President to the World Bank, artistes like George Keyt, David Paynter, Donald Ramanayake, Stanley Kirinde and many more. Ramya's expertise in art is evident in the manner in which she compares the murals of David Paynter and the paintings of Stanley Kirinde. However the exclusion of the village scene by Kirinde to compare the two artists with is a drawback.

Ramya has wisely kept the best for last. The last chapter of the book is dedicated to the story of `the Sinhalese Chapel' for Trinity. Ramya focuses on each and every minute detail of the chapel, with the enthusiasm of an archaeologist examining a newly discovered hieroglyphic. Reinforced with pictures, she describes it as a work of art. Ramya gets increasingly poetic towards the end, and it is never more obvious than in the story of the chapel.

The chapel has been left unpainted, she says, and it derived its colours from its surroundings, from the long shadows of the pillars, cast during sunset or the `moods of the trees' and ends the book with a reference to the three magnificent murals of the chapel by David Paynter, leaving a lasting impression on the reader.

Ideal for students of philosophy and comparative religion

A treatise on Buddha's philosophy, "The Teachings of the Awakened" by A. Karunasena, is much different in emphasis from the normal and the majority of books dealing with Buddhism or the Buddha; and as such should receive a wide audience from all sectors of philosophical thought. The author takes a frankly agnostic stance and looks at the teachings of the Buddha beyond the traditional bounds of most offerings from temples. Whilst avoiding preaching, the writer guides the reader through main tenets, without demanding acceptance of his interpretation of the teachings - which is radically different from the traditional version. He clearly separates belief as required in a religion from the necessity of understanding and appropriate action - which are very helpful for those looking for a practical, logical and meaningful insight to the teachings. This book provides a fresh insight, skilfully bringing out an incisive, focused re-appraisal of the Buddha's message that fits into the modern world.

Author: A. Karunasena
Printed by: Commercial Printing Dept. Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

This book is profound on many levels that even a committed Buddhist would find it challenging and thought-provoking. It is written in a language that would suit beginners, westerners new to Buddhism and followers of other faiths who wish to learn the philosophy. It also carries an essential message for those familiar with Buddhist practice i.e., act as a catalyst for a critical re-appraisal of their practice and attitude towards the teachings of the Buddha. What it does so uniquely well is to separate the Buddha's teachings from `religion' by showing that `the self' and `doubt' are necessary parts of faith rather than hindrances.

It completely eschews jargon very effectively - and moves on to analyse the mind process, timelessness of dhamma and the need for direct experience. Interestingly, this style is closer to the Lord Buddha's message because personal experience is so much more important than dogma.

The book is neatly chaptered, making it ideal for contemplation over a period of time. It basically provokes us to ask many questions about our understanding of the teachings and see how we can integrate them to our living. The general topics covered are Dhamma Language, World - a Buddhist perception and the contradictions of considering Buddhism a religion. Author goes on to explain the concept of timelessness, the Five Aggregates, Dependent Origination and the self in such a manner taking the reader on a voyage from a general view to a deeper level of understanding.

Though the book is quite short (212 pages) it is very stimulating. This book is a revelation, as it does not try to make a religion out of the Buddha's teachings. The author has looked at the Buddha's teachings with an open unprejudiced mind and considered facts rationally. He has rejected blind faith, rites and rituals. This is the main theme throughout the book and his message is for the readers to adopt the same approach if they are genuinely interested in the teachings. There is no compulsion for acceptance of the interpretations given in the book. The views expressed are sometimes contradictory to those traditionally accepted and those expressed by some monks, scholars and writers. Therefore, he wishes the readers to test the contents with rational thinking and assess the validity of the interpretations.

The author by profession a Chartered Surveyor accepts that he is not a scholar with a formal education in Buddhism. Nor has he undergone any monastic training. However, his research on this subject has taken him to a new dimension which is clearly evident from the contents of this book. It serves as a guide to many who are in need of proper direction. I also believe that Karunasena's book on "The Teachings of the Awakened" has opened a forum to discuss and deliberate on a subject that will be of interest not only to Buddhists but also to students of philosophy and comparative religion.

Seminar on poetry and short story writing

The English Writers' Cooperative of Sri Lanka (EWC) invites applications to a one day seminar on Poetry and Short Story Writing scheduled for Saturday, June 27, 2009 at the Auditorium of the Sri Lanka Federation of University Women at 96/25. Kitulwatte Road, Colombo 8 from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

The resource persons will be university academics who will take the participants through the sessions with talks, comment and discussion.

Those interested are invited to send in their names, addresses, telephone and email addresses by June 15, 2009 to Vijita Fernando, 572/10 Welikadawatte Road, Rajagiriya with an accompanying fee of Rs. 750 (cash or cheque in favour of the Writers' Cooperative of Sri Lanka) under registered cover.

The number of participants will be limited to forty and applications beyond the cut off date cannot be accepted.

Love, lust and disenchantment in contemporary milieu

With a golden key of brevity and sharp-tongued expressions, the young poetess, Muthu Padmakumara unlocks an intricate web of emotions. `Life after love' offers candid views as never before seen in the contemporary Sri Lankan literature in English.

Although "Life after love" is all about love, the poetess expresses the minutest details of the composite experience of love. It is not only about love but also of the pangs caused by betrayal and deception.

In the poem "Kissing", he/she describes perhaps the most intimate moments of the union with a lover. The first person narration has aptly conveyed the intimacy and the mesmerizing effect on the lover as they devour every bit of the moment which ultimately turns into love-making.

Life after love
by Muthu Padmakumara

"I can almost feel

The warm brush of each

Line and curve darkening and lightening,

Our breaths merging and melting

It's time,

Time to fall in love again

And I

Could breathe you like this


It commences with slow kissing and the sensuous girl acknowledges, at first, her inexperience in reciprocating the gentle kisses. Yet as the kisses gather their intensity creating an unbearable urge in the girl, the lids gently flutter as she totally exposed to embracing reverie.

"The lids gently flutter

When it becomes too much,

Seconds into infinity

Making the heart squeeze

As lips move closer, closer"

This is nothing but the sheer ecstasy of love. The few seconds passed in the intense moment of love-making seem infinity to the girl. With a clarity rarely found in Sri Lankan writers in English, Muthu encodes the experience of lover in a most elegant manner. Poems in her anthology bear testimony to her mastery in expression and even the division of the lines.

In the poem "Days of lovers", he/she dwells on carefree days that lovers would spend embracing each other and exploring each other's territories. Those were the days in which lovers found everything romantic even the maiden rays of the sun.

"This moment of waking and awakening,

Of honey god sun

Sweeping over sleepy faces, and passing

One lifetime, to laugh more live more

To a rhythm of our own,

So my darling,

What shall we do this morning?"

This poem is, perhaps, about a just married couple spending their honeymoon. As the sun rays sweep their sleepy faces, once again lovers plunge into love-making. She is conscious of the rhythm of their moving bodies. The poem ends with a question, he/she asks her/his lover "What shall we do this morning?". The answer is obvious.

The poem "Reluctant lover" is a poem of interest which explores another dimension in love. Here the lover is reluctant yet yields to the force beyond her control. It is in a way struggle between emotions and reason.

"I didn't want to feel

Love, had no place,

Yet hunted from all sides

No rest, not even in sleep.

While my tongue weaves its tales

My soul yields

To become a willing slave

Who's seducing whom?

I never stood a chance

No more than you

I hated to love.

Although she does not want to love and feels that there is no place for love in her life, she yields unto the forces without quite knowing "who's seducing whom?". Following her inner struggle, she succumbs to the forces becoming a `willing slave'.

`Fire' is a poem which once again, is on the theme of blind love. Here the girl, actually, hates her lover. She wanted to hit him with hands and feet. However, instead , she succumbs to overwhelming love and yields unto his kisses and intimate embraces.

"I want to hold you

Close, so close

You beg to breath

Pummel you

With hands and feet

Instead I close my eyes"

"My First" is a brilliantly crafted poem on the first love-making. Yet she does not want to be conceived or to be a murderer if she aborts the thus conceived child. Owing to the girl's conservative ideas or perhaps conventional ideas imposed on her by the milieu, she believes that love-making is a `sin'.

"I stand before you naked



I had drawn you close,

I wait

Soon to be a sinner."

The perception of virginity or purity of a girl is deeply rooted in Asian collective psyche. It is a predominant character not only in Tamil, Muslim, Christian or any community but also among the Sinhalese. The loss of virginity (before marriage) is considered a scar on the part of the family. The poetess explains this in evocative lines. She also considers the lost virginity as "mistake".

"Saving to remember

The sweeter side to this

Union turned to bitterness,

Aborted in anguish

I wanted you to be all but

My saddest mistake

best forgotten."

The anthology is made up of 30 poems and most of which are evocative and are an expression of innermost feelings of a lover. However, the theme is universal and therefore, applicable to experiences of a lover in any country and at any time. She is marked for her elegant and standard English with its syntax although she may have not lost her Sri Lankan sensibility.

Muthu Padmakumara is, perhaps, a model writer for Sri Lankan writers in English since she has proved it, beyond doubt, that it is quite possible to be international without jettisoning one's own cultural baggage. Sri Lankan writers in English will have a future in international market only if they understood the fact that their writings should be in a language and in idiom which is comprehensible to an international readership and not confining them to local awards and trophies. "Life after love" is a must read for all the Sri Lankan writers in English and for those who are aspiring to make a career in writing. Rich in insights and brevity of expression, "Life after love" can be considered as an authentic experience of love of contemporary Sri Lankan locale.

How research influences public policy and decision-making

Does research influence public policy and decision-making and, if so, how? This is the question probed and analysed in a new book launched in Colombo at the end of April.

"Knowledge to Policy: Making the Most of Development Research", co-published by Sage and Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC), investigates the effects of research in the field of international development.

Authored by Fred Carden, Director of Evaluation at IDRC, it shows how research can contribute to better governance in at least three ways: by encouraging open inquiry and debate; by empowering people with the knowledge to hold governments accountable; and by enlarging the array of policy options and solutions available to the policy process.

The book was launched in Colombo by Ms. Angela Bogdan, High Commissioner for Canada, on 27 April 2009 as part of the meeting of the Community of Evaluators (CoE), held from 26- 29 April 2009. A copy of the book was also presented to the Minister of Plan Implementation, P. Dayaratne.

CoE is a South Asia membership-based body having members from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The establishment of CoE is part of a project to improve the theory and practice of evaluation in South Asia.

It is implemented by the Association for Stimulating Know-How (ASK), a capacity-building institution based in India and supported by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Among other initiatives, the project enabled five members to attend the Perspectives on Impact Evaluation: Approaches to Assessing Development Effectiveness 2009 Conference, held in Cairo in March.

The current CoE meeting provides an opportunity for members to listen to and interact with international experts on evaluation, including Fred Carden.

The launch was part of activities organized to celebrate the silver jubilee of IDRC's Regional Office for South Asia and China (SARO). IDRC is one of the world's leading institutions in the generation and application of new knowledge to meet the challenges of international development.

For nearly 40 years, IDRC has worked in close collaboration with researchers from the developing world to build healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous societies.

IDRC's Regional Office for South Asia and China, located in New Delhi, was established in 1983.


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