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World Affairs








  Why men are happier    Eve with LIfe   Rabbada Aiya

Of Sri Lanka I sing

Surya and Nelun Sena in
the recording studio

It was said of him ‘the quantity of voice could be successfully abandoned to superb quality.’ Even
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 musician herself.

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 visionary.

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 its arm

And lower itself in the dust in adoration?

It draws me out of my house, seizes me by my feet,

And leads me on — I know not where.

At what bend of the road, what chance or misfortune

I shall find, I know not:

How far must I travel before I reach the goal,

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 himself.

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 life work.

Nobody s child

Four years 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 cat.

Anyway, for 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.

Life was 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.

Animals 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.


The other 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.

The worker 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 closed.

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.

Favoured name

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.

Rupert loved 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.

Despite his 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.

A threat

A mob 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.

"You call that little?" She screeched. Well smaller than you anyway, I wanted to say, but didn’t.

"Well this animal is scaring our children."

"How," I 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.

Suffice it 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."

But Rupert 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 Cat.

What the...

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 the time.

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 friend.

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 mothers-in-law.

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!

Rabbada Aiya

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 the matter.

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 jail.

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 pebble.

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?

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 death.

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


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