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Old 13-04-21, 07:46 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default Browsing Through Old School Magazines/ Cherry Phillips <cherry.phillips@gmail.com

Feeling nostalgic one night, a few days ago, I browsed through old school magazines. Those magazines, of the 1950?s decade and of early ?60s, are bound and stuck in a corner of a bookshelf in my study. Those were my school years at Trinity. Every few years or so I leaf through them to relive that long lost past, to savor the tranquility and the joys of youth. Maybe that serenity never existed; perhaps it is imagination writ large. On this occasion, nevertheless, I came across an essay written by Chandra Monerawela when he was in Form VI (Arts) at Trinity. This was in 1953. The title of the essay is ?Has Ceylon an Industrial Future??
Good heavens, I said to myself, as I read. What vision, what hopes we had in that first decade of Independence! And how they all crumbled to dust.
Monerawela entered university, obtained a first class, and joined the Ceylon Foreign Service as a cadet, long before he was sent out on his first diplomatic posting as the Third Secretary to Beijing, in 1965. A far cry from the current political appointees as Third Secretaries whose main qualification is being the daughter or the son of a politico! Being a Third Secretary in an embassy is the beginning of a career in diplomacy after a lengthy spell of a strenuous cadetship. Appointing an ambassador or a high commissioner from outside the foreign service may occasionally happen for few important reasons. But making political appointments at Third Secretary level is to destroy the aspirations of cadets, recruited on merit, based on education and competitive exams. But never mind; that was then, this is now.
In his essay, written at the age of around 17, Monerawela talks of harnessing solar and hydro to power industries as in the Soviet Union, of emulating Japan in industrial production, of enticing foreign direct investments, of value adding to local raw material before export and of importing of raw material for production of industrial goods for exports. It is a remarkable vision for a lad in Form VI in 1953.
But where did the country go since then? Downhill. The disparity between Japan and Ceylon in 1953 wasn?t all that much a gap to bridge. Sure, on the scale of volume, Ceylon was small. But technology wise, it wouldn?t have been difficult if Ceylon had good political leadership. It didn?t. All it had was power hungry politicians willing to use whatever tool, whatever opium they could feed the masses, to come to power. And yes, they chose communal politics as the opium to drug the masses into political stupefaction. Resulting in mass idiocy, in fact.
This was unconscionable, on the part of politicians, when Ceylon, in 1953, had excellent foreign reserves the Brits left in 1948 and which was increased substantially on the Rice-Rubber pact with China during the Korean War. That Ceylon was the envy of Asia and even of the war ravaged Europe. Lament not, I said to myself, for that?s the way the cookie crumbles.
Yet, reading Monarawela?s school essay of 1953, I felt saddened. Ceylon had such a rich pool of youth who could have lifted the country out of its backwardness, to industrialize, to preserve its fauna and flora and concentrate on industry more than opening up its pristine forest cover for subsistence agriculture. Seventy years on, the buffoons are still at it from the very top to the crooks at local level, nibbling away at the last remaining forest reserves. Talk of opium!
Monerawela, from Trinity, was one of the several in that era that were of world class intellect. Lakshman Kadiragama, Karen Breckenridge, Jayantha Dhanapala, Sarath Amunugama, Nihal Rodrigo, Jayantha Kelagama, Seneka Bibile and so many others of that period from Trinity who went on to become the intellectual cream of the country. Yet, little use was made of them. A few of them even fell among the political crooks in later years, as a friend of mine said. To be sure, many other schools would have produced a similar crop of budding intellectuals. But what happened to all of them?
Incidentally, Monarawela went on, much later, to become the High Commissioner in London, perhaps the last of the career diplomats to hold that exulted position having been selected from the Ceylon Foreign Service Exam and completing the cadetship and long years of experience. His wife, Rupa, an accomplished writer and storyteller, wrote of their time in Beijing at the height of the Cultural Revolution in her historical/biographical novel, ?The Bridge of Perfect Wisdom?.
As I browsed through the school magazines, as I read what was written about world affairs in the 1950s, about the Suez Crisis, about the Algerian war of independence, about the Korean War and so many issues, I was amazed at the standard of school level discourse on these matters. The topics were not only about international affairs, but also about democracy, about tolerance, about harmony, about social issues and accommodation in the civic society. In a word, true liberalism with a touch of socialism.
Then, it is a question of where did that education go? How did it descended from intellectualism to rote learning to just pass exams?
That leads to the question, what happened to that idealism of youth?
As I turn the pages of the school magazines, I come across an essay written by Sarath Amunugama in 1954, titled ?Patriotism, Police and Panchaseela?. Amunugama writes about Indian Independence and its subsequent fall from the morality and principles that underpinned it. He talks of the occupation of Kashmir, the annexation of Hyderabad, and moans India?s fall from grace. And he decries Nehru?s verbal gymnastics to justify the injustices. But what struck me most is the following passage:
?But the limit of degradation was not that. While the Indian leaders were proclaiming to the world the values of honesty and fair-play, life within India was becoming increasingly difficult for the tolerant and the honest. While the Indian Premier was advocating the ?Panchaseela? and flitting across the seas in order to better the world, bribery and corruption was eating its way in like a cancer into the ?body politic?. Former patriots now began to ?trade in Patriotism?. They demanded key positions for friends and relatives. Genuine democrats looked on and wondered?.
I?ll say it again: Indeed!
Amunugama was in Form VI in 1954 when he wrote this. Probably no more than 17 or 18 at the time. An idealist no doubt. He went on, after university, to pass the much celebrated Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) exam, one of the last of that exalted breed to be recruited to the highly respected Ceylon Civil Service before it was downgraded and expanded (and politicized I might add) to Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS).
However, not only ?genuine democrats? referred to in the essay, but also ordinary Sri Lankans of today may well wonder where that youthful idealist, Amunugama, himself landed in his later years! Was he in bed with those who were honest and played fair, those who were tolerant, those who eschewed bribery and corruption, those who refused to trade in patriotism to get positions for kith and kin? Genuine democrats are now looking and wondering how that youthful idealist himself fell among thieves and murderers, among bribe takers and swindlers, among racists masquerading as ?patriots?, among environmental vandals, among those who are taking apart, limb by limb, democratic values, justice, tolerance and harmony.
In such sad bewilderment, I shut the journey back to that nostalgic past and put those beloved school magazines back in the bookshelf to collect yet a few more years of dust.


Psst! Before speaking, consider whether it's an improvement upon silence

Thanks Cherry for sharing, the Trinitans mentioned were the best of the best.

Not the case when Dr Hayman was the Chief Guest at the Trinity Prize giving
when he said silently to the then Principal - "drains and steps every where, but no brains"
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