Of Sri Lanka I sing
Surya and Nelun
the recording studio
It was said of him ‘the quantity of voice
could be successfully abandoned to superb
dyspeptic critics waxed eloquent about his
‘indefinable human spirit,’ his ‘magnetism,
technique, tone colour.’
The Cambridge educated Herbert Peiris
changed his name to Devar Surya Sena and
wore Indian dress to de-Westernise himself.
He revered the music of Lanka and the
orient. He was unrivalled in his knowledge
of the music of Sri Lanka and Asia. He had
mastered also the spirituals and Western
music. Throughout his life beside him was
his wife Nelun Devi, an accomplished
The Chairman of the Trustees, Westminster
Theatre, K.D. Belden once wrote, ‘In 1972 my
wife and I visited Sri Lanka, invited by
Surya and Nelun to stay with them in their
home. At the Colombo airport the customs
official asked us, ‘what hotel are you
staying at?’ I replied, ‘we’re not going to
a hotel – we are staying with Devar Surya
Sena.’ ‘Oh’ said the official as he waved us
through, ‘he is a great man in our country.’
How right he was."
But it was not only Belden who wrote of
Surya Sena and his wife Nelun Devi this way.
So many had been touched by this man — as a
musician, a teacher, a friend, and
Man of deepest inspiration
Kim Beazley of Australia wrote of him "I
remember Devar Surya Sena as the man with a
beautiful voice dedicated to the holy
spirit. In my contacts with him, I found him
a man of the deepest inspiration...’
A great admirer of Rabindranath Tagore,
Surya would recite his poems often. One of
his favourites was the famous;
‘The red road beyond the village has
enslaved my mind
Towards whom does my mind stretch forth
And lower itself in the dust in
It draws me out of my house, seizes me by
And leads me on — I know not where.
At what bend of the road, what chance or
I shall find, I know not:
How far must I travel before I reach the
I dare not guess, But still it leads me
on — I know not where’
To hear those moving words of Tagore
recited by a man of whose rich baritone it
was once said in England, ‘I wish he would
teach me to speak English,’ was pure
pleasure. ‘The perfect diction in which no
trace of foreign origin was perceptible’ the
Manchester Guardian once bubbled.
Winchester Reading Prize
Devar Surya Sena performed in concert and
on radio and television in all the leading
cities of Europe, Asia, the USA and Canada.
He was the son of the late Sir James Peiris,
the first Ceylonese to preside over the
Ceylon Legislative Council.
Surya Sena was educated at the Government
Training College in Colombo and Tonbridge
School in Kent. A graduate of Cambridge
University and a Barrister-at-Law, he was
elected to a choral scholarship and became
the first Asiatic to win the coveted
Winchester Reading Prize.
During his time in Cambridge he would
attend music classes twice a week. W.S.
Senior who coached him in the classics —
Greek and Latin, before he made his way to
Cambridge was to present him with one of his
poems — ‘O father thou has promised the
isles shall wait for thee.’ ‘Someday,’
Senior told him, ‘Surya, you will write a
tune for this.’
And Surya did.
Surya’s vision was to use his voice to
bring understanding between the East and
West. Collecting vannams and folk
songs and writing in Western notation for
them was how he began. He was to go to the
Shantiniketan for nine months and then spend
another 15 months travelling and collecting
Indian folk songs to take to the West.
Sinhala tunes for hymns
The music for the Sinhala Liturgy which
his cousin Rev. Lakdasa de Mel, later Bishop
and Metropoliton, urged him to do was
completed in 1959. Both Lakdasa and Surya
had been collecting Sinhala tunes for the
hymns and though both were Cambridge and
Oxford educated men they were nationalists
at heart so much so that one changed his
name from Herbert Peiris to Devar Surya Sena
and wore Indian costume to de-Westernise
Surya was a pioneer in re-discovering the
folk songs of Ceylon and of creating a
better understanding between the Orient and
the Occident through music. He was decorated
with the OBE in 1949 for his service to
music and culture and he died at his home,
Gitanjali, on November 11, 1981. Gitanjali
is now the Deva Surya Sena Arts Centre.
On March 28 this year a book titled
Music Of Sri Lanka written by Devar
Surya Sena will be launched at the Deva
Surya Sena Arts Centre. The book also
contains a CD and is priced at Rs. 1500.
An easy and readable work it is of
immense research value for
ethnomusicologists and contains line
drawings, music and an appendix with
photographs. Surya and Nelun Devi started
collecting and writing in Western notation
in 1928 and this book is an account of their
Nobody s child
ago today I was to visit
the RSPCA centre in Canberra
for a kitten. Just a week before, I had
pondered on getting myself a Rag doll or a
Persian and had scoured the newspapers.
Ragdoll cats go limp when picked up or held
and are very affectionate and friendly. They
easily take to new people and co-exist with
other animals. They are one of the least
aggressive and calmest breeds of domestic
two years during my time in the Australian
capital I had been missing my darling
Persians Solomon and Tiffany who romped
about on my lounge chairs back home.
becoming increasingly more miserable as I
looked down at the fur free cushions and the
immaculate garden and vacuumed nothing but a
speck of dust. I longed for a little fur up
my nose and one Saturday morning still in my
tracks having done a quick walk around the
lake and feeling more home sick than ever, I
took it upon myself to motor down to the
RSPCA centre and take a decko.
there were, but no kittens. Three year old
cats, seven year old huskies, Dobermans and
Fox Terriers but no tiny kittens available —
or so I thought. Arriving just five minutes
before me was a sophisticated young woman
also looking for a kitten. In one of the
cages were two kittens. A lovely white
fellow of mixed breed with piercing blue
eyes who perched himself on the chair in the
room and looked supercilious.
was almost invisible. A scruffy puny little
black and white speckled blob lay cowering
below in a corner. Curled up like a salted
snail the dark blob of fur tried to shrink
further into a corner under the chair as a
RSPCA official opened the door for the woman
to inspect the white kitten. I passed by and
continued my search. As I returned thinking
I would come back next week I heard the
woman inquire if it was possible to buy just
the white kitten as she was not interested
in the scruffy black one.
did a quick check on the computer. The RSPCA
does not usually separate animals living in
one cage if they are accustomed to each
other. It was alright in this case. She
nodded her assent and the transaction
Even as I
was about to step out of the office my heart
burnt a little as I thought of little
scruffy in the corner. I returned to the
cage. There scruffy was. Still in his
corner. I stayed for some time watching and
then tried to call him over. He opened one
eye and then the other and kept looking.
I rushed to
the counter and asked if I could take
scruffy. ‘Gladly,’ she said. ‘Nobody else
will. It’s an abandoned Australian Wild Cat.
I teetered for a moment. Those wild cats
were really something in the Australian
bush. For some reason a vivid image of the
scruffy little foundling Heathcliff standing
next to Mr. Earnshaw in the huge Wuthering
Heights hall as he was introduced to the
rest of the family passed before me.
Like Cathy I
too was drawn to the Heathcliff character in
my romantic youth and so wild cat motif
notwithstanding I brought my scruffy home
and in honour of my most deliciously
favoured male on the planet — Rupert
Everett, named him Rupert.
Mozzarella cheese. Ergo she grew up on
Mozzarella cheese and milk. Rupert grew and
grew and then grew some more. Alas for all
his surly looks dear ole Rupert had a voice
like a girl. Perhaps, says one of my ironic
friends, ‘it’s because you named him
Rupert.’ I ignore this uncalled for comment.
voice Rupert managed for a space to
terrorise the neighbourhood when she
accompanied me back home to Sri Lanka.
First, she wasn’t accustomed to the garbage
and the dust on the streets and immediately
felt it was time to make her home on the
roofs of the houses. Then she sometimes
visited one or two of the houses in the
neighbourhood. I might add that I don’t live
in the city.
carrying mammoties and spears — or what
looked like spears to my untrained eye —
appeared at my door the next morning. "Is
that a dog or what is it?" I was asked.
"It’s a little cat," I said. A large woman
approached my nose.
that little?" She screeched. Well smaller
than you anyway, I wanted to say, but
animal is scaring our children."
ask. "Does it bite? Does it steal food?"
"No." they say a little sheepishly. "It just
stands there like a devil with big yellow
eyes like saucers. It looks vicious."
"But it’s a
sweet little lovable darling cat," I begin
to explain but the rabble will have none of
it. "Well, if we see it again we will stone
it or kill it," they threaten.
On my front
door is hung a message. It reads "Never mind
the dog, beware of the owner." It’s not
there for nothing. Mob or no mob I must
admit that Eve gave these heartless sods a
bally earful about cruelty and religion and
understanding rather than destroying the
unknown. I may have even wagged a middle
finger at them.
to say my Rupie survived the mob and
continues to live a dust free, carefree life
— life on the roof tops and balconies.
Kanthi the cook unbearably harassed by the
other pets was to tell me the other day, "Haamu,"
she said, "Rupert thamai hondama. Kissi
karadarayak ne. Kewa, giya."
is not just a cat who comes in at meal time.
She is as affectionate and as loyal as a
Ragdoll any day. My little Australian Wild
Why men are happier
Men are just happier people — What do you
expect from such simple creatures? Your last
name stays put. The garage is all yours.
Wedding plans take care of themselves.
Chocolate is just another snack. You can be
president. You can never be pregnant. You
can wear a white T-shirt to a water park.
You can wear no shirt to a water park. Car
mechanics tell you the truth. You don’t have
to stop and think of which way to turn a nut
on a bolt. Same work, more pay. Wrinkles add
character. Wedding dress $5000; tux rental —
$100. People never stare at your chest when
you’re talking to them. New shoes don’t cut,
blister, or mangle your feet. One mood all
Phone conversations are over in 30
seconds flat. You know stuff about tanks. A
five-day vacation requires only one
suitcase. You can open all your own jars.
You get extra credit for the slightest act
of thoughtfulness. If someone forgets to
invite you, he or she can still be your
Three pairs of shoes are more than
enough. You almost never have strap problems
in public. You are unable to see wrinkles in
your clothes. Everything on your face stays
its original colour. The same hairstyle
lasts for years, maybe decades. They don’t
need facials. They have loving
You can play with toys all your life. One
wallet and one pair of shoes — one colour
for all seasons. You can wear shorts no
matter how your legs look. You can "do" your
nails with a pocket knife. You have freedom
of choice concerning growing a moustache.
You can do Christmas shopping for 25
relatives on December 24 in 25 minutes.
No wonder men are happier!
Think ‘out of the box’
Here are some interesting anecdotes. They
have nothing to do with Chee Chee
Corea. In science, one tries to tell people
something that no one ever knew before, in
such a way as to be understood by everyone.
But in poetry, it’s the exact opposite.
(Paul A.M. Dirac, Quantum Physicist,
1902-1984; Nobel Prize -1933)
Problem and solution
Many hundreds of years ago in a small
Italian town, a merchant had the misfortune
of owing a large sum of money to a money
lender. The money lender, who was old and
ugly, fancied the merchant’s beautiful
daughter. So he proposed a bargain. He said
he would forgo the merchant’s debt if he
could marry his daughter. Both the merchant
and his daughter were horrified by the
proposal. So the cunning money lender
suggested that they let providence decide
He told them that he would put a black
pebble and a white pebble into an empty
moneybag. Then the girl would have to pick
one pebble from the bag. If she picked the
black pebble, she would become his wife and
her father’s debt would be forgiven. If she
picked the white pebble she need not marry
him and her father’s debt would still be
forgiven. But if she refused to pick a
pebble, her father would be thrown into
They were standing on a pebble-strewn
path in the merchant’s garden. As they
talked, the money lender bent over to pick
up two pebbles. As he picked them up, the
sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked
up two black pebbles and put them into the
bag. He then asked the girl to pick a pebble
from the bag. Now, imagine you were standing
in the merchant’s garden.
What would you have done if you were the
girl? If you had to advise her, what would
you have told her? Careful analysis would
produce three possibilities:
1. The girl should refuse to take a
2. The girl should show that there were
two black pebbles in the bag and expose the
money lender as a cheat.
3. The girl should pick a black pebble
and sacrifice herself in order to save her
father from his debt and imprisonment.
Take a moment to ponder over the story.
The above story is used with the hope that
it will make us appreciate the difference
between lateral and logical thinking. The
girl’s dilemma cannot be solved with
traditional logical thinking. Think of the
consequences if she chooses the above
logical answers. What would you recommend to
The girl put her hand into the moneybag
and drew out a pebble. Without looking at
it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the
pebble-strewn path where it immediately
became lost among all the other pebbles.
"Oh, how clumsy of me," she said. "But never
mind, if you look into the bag for the one
that is left, you will be able to tell which
pebble I picked."
Since the remaining pebble is black, it
must be assumed that she had picked the
white one. And since the money lender dared
not admit his dishonesty, the girl changed
what seemed an impossible situation into an
extremely advantageous one.
Moral of the story: Most complex problems
do have a solution. It is only that we don’t
attempt to think.
Ta Ra and see you next week.
— Rabbada Aiya
Thought for the day
For many years I have accorded
intellectual assent to the proposition that
death is only a big change in life and
nothing more, and should be welcome whenever
it arrives. I have deliberately made a
supreme attempt to cast out from my heart
all fear whatsoever including the fear of
Still I remember occasions in my life
when I have rejoiced at the thought of
approaching death as one might rejoice at
the prospect of meeting a long-lost
friend.... It is as clear to me as daylight
that life and death are but phases of the
same thing, the reverse and obverse of the
same coin. In fact tribulation and death
seem to me to present a phase far richer
than happiness or life. What is life worth
without trials and tribulations which are
the salt of life?
— M. K. Gandhi