By Ranee Mohamed
constantly looking for some magic in our lives. Happily,
I found mine down Jambugasmulla Road, Nugegoda.
Col. Ronald de Alwis was a change from the many
magicians I have encountered at parties and gatherings.
It was not just the private show that he had for us that
impressed me, but his ability to turn old pieces of
plain coloured paper into U.S. dollars before my eyes.
What he did thereafter were million dollar questions to
Producing coins from the palm of his hand, Ron changed
the colour of ropes and produced a white dove from a
piece of white paper that he carelessly flung into his
not that I have not seen any magic in my life. But Ron’s
magic was different. At this first viewing, we thought
he seemed to have some supernatural powers.
were no tell a tale signs. His chic long sleeved black
shirt made him look slimmer, and there was not a chance
that he had bundled up rope, doves and dollars inside.
Things up their sleeves
know that magicians have more things up their sleeves
than the average man; so my eyes remained transfixed on
his sleeves. But nothing crept out from there....
where he got the rabbit on his body and how he got the
dove into his hat are mysteries that even the most hawk
eyed investigative journalist will never be able to
his own ‘magic cupboard’ filled with magic ‘items’ de
Alwis says that he enjoys passing on the magic —
teaching magic to those who want to learn.
my first magic show in 1947 when I was 12 years old,”
said Ronald de Alwis, who is the son of the founder of
the Sri Lanka Magic Circle Linden de Alwis of the old
school. Not only did maestro of magic Linden de Alwis
begin the Sri Lanka Magic Circle in 1922 along with his
brother Gate Mudliyar A.C.G.S. Amarasekera and five
others, but also enticed his own son with his magical
talent. “I assisted my dad since I was six years old.”
Alwis was born into a world of magic for his mother
Beatrice Senanayake too had performed magic for a short
while in the mid 1930s.
Ronald de Alwis did not live by magic alone. Having
joined the army in 1965, Magician Ron is also Lt. Col.
Ronald de Alwis. He has a fine blending — that of an
officer and a magician par excellence. “After I left
university I had a great desire to join the forces. I
could not join the police and it was in the army that I
finally found solace,” said de Alwis speaking with great
pride of his 2 slasc regiment.
Magic can change lives
along with his career in the army continued his magic.
“Magic can change lives. It is entertainment that will
be remembered by both adults and children alike. Magic
brings laughter, it brings joy and smiles,” he said.
is why I want to take my magic to the refugee camps, to
the orphanages and to the displaced people,” said de
Alwis who had rushed with his magic to the tsunami camps
during that time. It was the best he could do — change
the sadness in the human heart with his touch of magic.
asked about the cost of a show, Ronald said that he does
not perform with a profit motive but needs some money
for his expenses.
sexually active rabbits and guinea pigs studding his
garden and doves and dogs sleeping in his compound,
Ronald de Alwis obviously had a growing number of mouths
understand the feelings of children who watch a magic
show. They all want a magic show at their own birthday
party. One day a father whose son had been pleading with
him to get a magician for his birthday came to me and
asked me how much I needed to perform. I did not have
the heart to refuse him and his little son and I told
them that I will come and perform and that they can pay
me whatever they can.
A lovely party
I went to the party, I discovered that it was a lovely
party and that it was given solely to make their little
son happy, amidst many a hardship.”
even magic cannot change the sadness brought in by
poverty and hardship.
show continued the little ones and the adults alike had
applauded. It was a great audience whose lives Ron had
the end of the show they asked me how much they ought to
pay me, and I told them that the show was the birthday
present from me, and I walked out,” said Ronald de Alwis,
recalling the tears in the eyes of the grateful parents.
day Ron de Alwis had bumped into a lady who was 37 years
of age. “She recognised me, asked me whether I was the
magician who had performed 30 years ago. She gave me the
venue and details of every item that I performed at that
time,” said de Alwis in awe. A child’s heart absorbs
moments of happiness, holds and cherishes such special
feelings of joy, down the years; this was a fact that
Ronald de Alwis had found out down the years.
A magical moment
de Alwis whose whole life centres around magic said that
his truly magical moment was when he met his wife Rani,
who was in the University of Ceylon with him.
Sometimes a handful of people we meet in our lives bring
in a moment of magic, and Ronald de Alwis has played
this role of real life magician in the lives of many
unfortunate and underprivileged people. With his visits
to refugee camps and underprivileged areas, Ronald de
Alwis has not avenged his quest for seeing a light in
the eyes of the hopeless.
Sri Lanka Magic Circle
which was founded by his father Linden De Alwis who was
called Prof. Dalvo, Ron competed in the first ever magic
contest at the Vihara Maha Devi Exhibition held during
the Queen’s visit in 1952. The contest had been
organised by the famous entertainer Donovan Andree and
Ron was placed second in the junior level and his father
had been awarded the ‘seniors’ award.
an active member of the
since 1952, Ron won the Magician of the Year contest in
1962 for the coveted Gate Mudaliyar ACGS Amarasekera
Challenge shield which is being held to date.
de Alwis became the president of the Sri Lanka Magic
Circle in 2001 after the demise of the second President
to give up my position in 2004 to pave the way for
others but had to take over the reins again in 2007,”
said de Alwis who is the current president and engrossed
in the setting up of a building for the Sri Lanka Magic
Magician Ron De Alwis has not only served his land, both
as an officer and a gentleman but was also honoured for
another great contribution — The Kala Bushana Award in
2005 by the Cultural Ministry for his services in the
field of magic.
Maldives and in London, Magician Ron is today looking
for sponsors who will help him to take magic to the
north east, and to the IDPs.
product promotions, Magician Ron can sometimes
materialise biscuits, chocolates and other goodies — to
an audience, who alas, is hungry for more magic.
By Piyumi Buddhakorala
can you go if you are in need of a genuine Rolex? The
latest computer? Perhaps a pair of jeans? Maybe to watch
a movie? Possibly to withdraw some cash at an ATM? Or
even to buy your loved ones that amazing perfume they
were ranting about?
Majestic City (MC) does indeed live up to its name. As a
shopping complex it has anything and everything you need
— from cinemas to stationery to clothes. It’s a one stop
shop that you will find right by Galle Road in
Bambalapitiya. For a student in the midst of her
university career as myself, MC is as old as time. For
as long as I can remember, my shoes — be it for school
or for parties — clothes and toys were purchased from
year, it attracts people of all ages and groups for
Dilshan and Kanishka are two young boys I found seated
by the entrance. When asked of their presence at the
mall they stated that after much time spent with their
girlfriends, a good male bonding session was what they
were in need of, and MC was exactly the place that could
will find many people in twos, threes and some times
even tens wandering around the mall. Some, you will find
at a computer store, trying to buy a flash drive that is
ever so necessary in today’s day and age, others at a
phone shop with the beautifully lit up phones on
display, trying and failing to strike a bargain for that
exact phone they saw Rihanna holding in her music video
will also find the solitary wanderers leaning on the
railings and some others seated by the fountain. After
much observation I found that they do not budge from
there for at least an hour. Some prefer to stay up and
look down and the others, to stay down and look up! I
suppose the view that is on is quite entertaining!
walked into one of many watch stores at the MC — this
particular one being, the Best Buy. After speaking to
one of the shop assistants I learned that they were able
to sell as many as 10 watches daily. Some were priced
between 10,000 and 15,000!
A variety of cosmetics
entering Janet, I found that there was a variety of
cosmetics on offer, ranging from different shades of
lipstick to endless flavours of creams and body scrubs.
The assistant stood up as I entered, and when asked
about her working environment, politely refused to
answer any questions.
my way to the fourth floor, I found that the movie in
line at the cinema is Watchmen. The ticketing guy
informs me that MC mostly offers English movies as it
usually caters to a ‘specific crowd.’ The occasional
full house for other languages will be due to movies
such as Dancing Star or Om Shanti Om.
adds that popular movies such as Spiderman and Hulk draw
a large number of people resulting in a full house in
the first four days at the least.
The Food Court
much observation I decide to find my way to the Food
Court at the MC which has on offer tasty food for the
tired customers to relax and have a good meal. It was a
typical lunch hour time — 1.30 p.m. It was absolutely
crowded. Even with so many tables I had to walk around
for about two minutes before I could find myself a seat.
ordered my usual chocolate milkshake from The Hub and
went over to the Orient Express to get my meal. After
placing my order I spoke to one of the staffers and
found that the MC today does not attract much of a
crowd. Oddly enough, I was told that while the war in
the north was ongoing, the Food Court attracted a much
from the Orient, there are various other outlets that
offer a wide variety of food, including Peppers, which
is a favourite among Italian lovers. 7 to 7, Thai
Express and the ever famous smoothie shop Roots are some
of the others.
finished my meal I resumed my wandering; but not before
stepping into the ladies room. It’s been some time since
the MC began charging customers in order to empty their
bladders and what not. I decided to strike up a
conversation with the lady issuing the Rs.10 ticket for
the toilets. She told me the management had decided to
charge a fee for the use of the toilets, to buy the
necessary cleaning chemicals which are used for the
toilets five to six times a day and also pay an
allowance of Rs. 250 a month to the attendant from the
continued my wanderings after paying for what could be
done at home for free and peered into the Wonder World —
any Sri Lankan child’s paradise. It had children from
the ages of three to eight running around, driving
various toy cars or jumping up on the bouncer.
look on the sides, you will find their mothers seated in
corners, waiting ever so patiently for their kids to be
done with their ‘happy hour’ while munching pop corn,
creating yet another theatre like scene.
ground floor I came across a foreign looking young man
standing outside Odel. Tom happened to be a British
national down on holiday with his family in Sri Lanka
for the second time around. When asked to rate MC he
gave it an eight out of ten! He suggested that more
natural lighting could be used in order to make it an
all out 10. When asked about the prices he stated that
things were reasonably priced — neither absurdly
expensive nor ridiculously cheap.
To everyone’s liking
caters to every taste. It attracts all sorts of people
and any ordinary Sri Lankan, having spent more than two
hours there is sure to run into someone he knows. It is
the common ‘hang out’ spot that almost everyone goes to
at some time of the year.
need more malls like the MC in this country. It may help
the local economy and bring together people of different
backgrounds. It will also accommodate a large number of
shops and prevent unsightly tiny shops springing up all
over the place and make it more centralised and a better
shopping experience for the consumer. Shopping of course
is a must, not just in a girl’s books but also for the
average city dweller. Having such complexes in abundance
would not hurt anyone!
A grateful people
By Sankaran Kasynathan
in Batticaloa will note this month the centenary of the
birth on July 1, 1909 of V. Nalliah who represented
Trincomalee-Batticaloa in the State Council from 1943,
and Kalkudah in Parliament till 1956. Batticaloa’s debt
to Nalliah as the most vigorous motivator, contributor
and inspirational force for the progress of education in
the whole of the eastern region has always been widely
acknowledged and celebrated by a grateful people.
Numerous small and large educational institutions all
over the region including the Teachers’ Training College
in Batticaloa and the Central College in Vantharumoolai
— now the Eastern University — bear testimony to
Nalliah’s conviction that the poor in the east, in many
ways a neglected province at that time, must be given
access to the benefits that education alone could bring.
State Council functioning under the Donoughmore
constitution, Nalliah became a member of the Executive
Committee for Education and became a tireless fighter
for educational reform, free education for all and for
the implementation without delay of education in the
From a poor background
Nalliah was from a poor background well outside the few
established families in the east which, as in the rest
of the country too at that time, had a monopoly of
Nalliah won election to the State Council it was
therefore as a people’s candidate and this he never
forgot. With all the energy of the self made man that he
was, his interventions on behalf of the poor and of the
Eastern Province in particular were so vigorous and
annoying to the establishment that D. S. Senanayake did
not take long to see in him a meddling gadfly and call
him “a new broom.”
sneers notwithstanding, as a representative of his
people Nalliah did indeed sweep very well and very
worked hard to open and expand hospitals, small post
offices, roads and culverts in places like Vaharai and
Valaichenai where only the poor lived. He demanded
water for rain dependent farmers and argued for the
improvement of tanks and channels in the east.
small tanks and channels were rehabilitated due to his
efforts. He refused to be satisfied with the State
Council’s offer of compensation to farmers affected by
the floods which were then a regular feature in the east
and insisted on construction that went beyond repair and
maintenance alone. It was necessary, he argued, to deal
with the cause than to give the farmers charity.
number of resolutions he moved in the State Council on a
single day — for instance on July 12, 1944 — would give
an idea of his energy and the range of his attention to
the needs of the people:
resolution calling for admission to the Ceylon
University students from the backward Eastern and
Kandyan Provinces for the next five years, providing the
candidates from these two provinces a reasonable
standard of scholarship, not on the basis of simple
resolution that the long neglected left bank channel
under the Vakaneri scheme be opened to avoid water going
to open the right bank channels of the Unnichchai tank
to give relief to poor rain dependent farmers who were
suffering losses when rains repeatedly failed;
construct a 10 mile stretch of road between Manampitiya
and Polonnaruwa to ensure communication for this region
with the main centres of trade;
provide suitable waiting facilities at the Gal Oya
Railway Junction for the use of travellers between
Trincomalee and Batticaloa who had to wait there for
eight hours; and,
resolution to compel employers to provide suitable
accommodation to the rapidly increasing labour
population in Trincomalee and the acute shortage there
Living wage for village headmen
Another telling example of his dedication at breaking
the power of the wealthy in rural life was his
passionate advocacy in the State Council for a living
wage for village headmen. Nalliah argued that this
crucial position of influence over the well being of the
poor was kept as the preserve of the rich and the
corrupt because of the state’s failure to offer a living
wage to applicants.
efforts to develop his region earned for him the dubious
title of ‘regionalist’ — a pradesha pirivinaivadhi. He
certainly thought of himself primarily as the
representative of his region that was backward in most
his regionalism was never exclusive and was firmly
rooted in a broad nationalism and a sincere concern for
the common people and their entitlement to dignity and
equality. His contribution to the debate on the future
official language of the country when he moved the
amendment to include Tamil along with Sinhalese
(seconded by R. S. S. Gunawardene, Member for Dumbara)
and to the debate on free education and other
educational reforms were applicable to the whole
Equality and dignity
Nalliah was inspired — as many young Ceylonese at that
time were — by the agitation in neighbouring India led
by Gandhi and Nehru for national independence from
colonialism, as well as by deeply felt ideals of
equality and dignity for the poorest in the land. He
argued for the use of the mother tongue — Sinhalese or
Tamil, in schools and in the courts of the country as
necessities for the freedom of our people, especially
is absolutely no point in having a State Council and a
Board of Ministers if no power is transferred to the
people….. I hope the members of this house will insist
that …the languages of this country will be the
languages of the courts in this country and that the
legal system is made less expensive.” (State Council
Debates p.31 Feb 8, 1944.)
He endeared himself to his constituents not only by his
efforts for them but also by his personal integrity.
When he ceased to be a member of parliament in 1956 he
was not a cent richer than when he was first elected,
having already disposed of the entirety of his wife’s
little inheritance also for election expenses. He lived
and died in a rented house.
By Rohan Pethiyagoda
General Cyril Ranatunga’s autobiography, An Adventurous
Journey, contributes remarkable perspective and insight
into the transformation of a gentlemen’s army headed by
a Brigadier to the more than 200,000-strong fighting
machine it has become today. In 1950, when Ranatunga
enlisted as an officer (the national army was only a
year old then), he did so not because there was a cause
to fight and die for, but because it was a respected
makes no bones about it: even as a schoolboy he had been
fascinated by the military uniform, and the debonair and
dashing appearance of the army officers he had seen in
and around Kandy during the war years, when Louis
Mountbatten’s Eastern Command was headquartered at
Peradeniya. And, like all subalterns of his generation,
Ranatunga received his training as a soldier initially
at Aldershot and Sandhurst, and later at Bovington, en
route to which, following an ardent shipboard romance,
he ensnared the charming and beautiful Myrtle
Sumanasekera, who was shortly thereafter to become his
Ranatunga obtained his first opportunity to prove his
mettle in the JVP’s 1971 insurrection, when he was a
Lieutenant Colonel. As one police station after another
fell to the rebels, Sirimavo Bandaranaike appointed him
Military Coordinating Officer of the Kegalle District. I
myself was a teenager at the time, and remember well the
panic that engulfed the country. Such was the
desperation that even my father, then a tea planter in
Talawakelle, together with other planters, took his
shotgun and went off to defend the local police station.
his part, Ranatunga distinguished himself in Kegalle,
promptly bringing the situation under control with
minimal bloodshed and with great humanism. His account
of the crisis contains several novel insights. The fact
that the insurrection took place at all was a result of
the government persistently ignoring intelligence
reports that a youth rebellion was being planned.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike had reckoned — mistakenly as it
turned out — that her Marxist rhetoric would obviate the
desire for a Marxist revolution. Then there are the
reasons why the rebellion failed (many have forgotten
that it very nearly succeeded). There is no gainsaying
that the young rebels had been well trained. They also
knew their local terrain intimately, an advantage denied
the troops, who were inducted from outside.
Finally, there was the neglect on the rebels’ part to
factor in the importance of communications. With curfews
in place, the telecommunications system paralysed, and
having failed in their bid to take over Radio
(now SLBC), the JVP cadres were isolated from one
another: as the rebellion progressed, no one group knew
what the fate of the others was and their organisation
fell into chaos.
Indeed, in the General’s analysis, even the Tamil
separatist rebellion might well have headed in a
different direction had the governments of the day
heeded police intelligence. He quotes at length from a
memorandum from the Superintendent of Police in Jaffna,
R. Suntheralingam, to the IGP dated November 16, 1970,
which was even before the JVP uprising: “There is a
political aspect which has also become a contributory
factor for the illicit trade between Ceylon and South
India, which cannot be overlooked.”
Tamil Nadu ideals
the advent of the Dravida Munnethra Kazhagam (DMK)
regime in 1967 in India there continued a free flow of
magazines propagating Tamil Nadu ideals into Northern
Ceylon via VVT (Velvettiturai). Communal extremists are
capitalising on illegal import of literature for their
was the least of it. Even as Tamil Nadu was growing more
stridently chauvinistic, things were beginning to change
also in Sri Lanka’s northern peninsula. Seaborne
smuggling between southern India and Jaffna had been
going on for centuries, involving spices, sarees and
even soap. With the DMK in power, the smugglers for the
first time began also a lucrative trade in arms.
its part, the Sri Lankan government had always had a
network of defences against smuggling dotted along its
northern littoral. The JVP’s insurgency in 1971,
however, resulted in the government hastily recalling
police and armed-services personnel from the relatively
peaceful north to join its struggle for survival in the
south. The upshot was a surge in smuggling activity and
this time, the magazines that were winging their way
across the Palk Strait were of an altogether more lethal
early 1983, having served the army with distinction and
gallantry, Brigadier Cyril Ranatunga was put out to
pasture. He had served the maximum four years in the
rank and declined the offer of an extension offered him
by J. R. Jayewardene on the grounds that it would affect
the prospects of junior officers awaiting promotion.
Offered a directorship of Airport and Aviation Services,
he reverted to civilian life with characteristic zeal.
Eliminating perceived rivals
not summarise General Ranatunga’s analysis of the
separatist war save to say that unlike most analysts, he
lays the blame for it squarely on the mainstream Tamil
political parties of the time. As the LTTE began
systematically eliminating its perceived rivals in the
fight for political domination of the Tamil people,
these mainstream parties by and large egged them on.
Each, it seemed, delighted in seeing its rivals blown
Tigers became affectionately known to them as ‘The
Boys’, and their acts of barbaric cruelty were accepted
with the indifference of an indulgent parent towards a
spoilt child. Soon, every single one of these Tamil
leaders — many of them formidable intellectuals — fell
victim to Pirapaharan’s bloodlust. The result is the
political bankruptcy we see in the Tamil electorate
today, whose leadership, it should be remembered, was
decimated by Tamils themselves — not the Sinhalese.
General is also not sparing in the calumny he heaps on
perfidious India for having armed, trained and funded
the Tigers from the very beginning. He cites chapter and
verse to demonstrate that the separatist war that was
visited on Sri Lanka was hatched in New Delhi and
executed by its infamous intelligence agency RAW, using
pawns in Tamil Nadu.
now view the murder of Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah by
Pirapaharan in 1975 as the beginning of the LTTE’s
campaign of terrorism in Sri Lanka. Maybe it was, but
General Ranatunga shows how even in the 1960s,
preparations were under way in Jaffna to resort to arms.
One needs especially to remember that in the 1960s, Sri
Lanka was still the jewel in the crown of what had
previously been Greater India. The grass was infinitely
greener here, and Indians were green with envy.
Indira Gandhi, India itself was still mired in the
Mahatma’s pseudo-socialist ideology that venerated the
peasant, more obsessed with impoverishing the wealthy
than with enriching the poor. Sri Lanka’s per capita GDP
at the time was far greater than
— and it still is, despite three debilitating decades of
debacle upon debacle piled upon the Sri Lankan armed
forces in the aftermath of the 1983 pogrom against the
Tamil citizenry — following which most of the developed
world joined in an arms embargo to the island — the J.
R. Jayewardene government grew steadily desperate.
Finally, in 1985, Ranatunga was recalled to service,
promoted to Lieutenant General and made General Officer
Commanding the Joint Operations Command. From there he
set about expanding and equipping the armed forces (with
China and Pakistan being the only willing suppliers of
military ordnance then, even as they are now) in
preparation for the Mother of All Battles, which finally
came in May 1987.
Vadamarachchi Campaign, as it later came to be known,
was hatched in the greatest secrecy by the General and a
handful of trusted officers. Extensive preparations were
made, and the objective of the operation was simple: the
utter annihilation of the LTTE.
since the war began in earnest in 1983 I, as a gung-ho
27-year old Director of Biomedical Engineering Services
in the Ministry of Health, decided to do whatever I
could to help the medical corps of the armed forces to
cope with casualties. Usurping funds voted to my
Ministry (an act the Auditor General is yet to catch up
with) I made it my business to help design and equip
hospitals and casualty centres in many armed forces
camps and to provide every soldier with a field
Army’s medical staff
small contingent of civilian doctors volunteered to
supplement the army’s few medical staff in the north:
surgeons Narendra Wijemanne, Michael Abeyeratne, M. H.
Zoysa, Mohan (now Professor) de Silva come immediately
to mind. It was during this time that I came to know
Cyril Ranatunga well, frequently being summoned to the
JOC to be briefed on imminent operations for which the
medical staff would need to be provided and coordinated.
the Vadamarachchi Operation began in late May 1987, we
were all assembled in Pallaly, though none of us of
course knew what was coming until we got there.
Ranatunga quotes from a contemporaneous letter that my
friend, the late Surgeon Commander Laki Dissanayake, who
was among us, penned to his wife Cynthia, from there.
“We in the hospital realised this was history in the
making... The General addressed the officers before the
battle. It was reminiscent of the likes of General
Patton... He ended his address saying that he had
assembled here the best medical team in the country and
they had nothing to worry... Tell the boys that I am
taking part in history... The air is full of
expectations, but morale is high... Pray for me and for
an easy victory.”
words were not as melodramatic as they seem now, 22
years later: we all felt that way at the time. It was a
privilege to serve. From the very first hours of the
operation, there was a flood of casualties, but we were
well prepared and I do not believe a single injured
soldier who reached Palali alive lost his life, although
in the case of dozens of others less fortunate, only the
Final push into Jaffna town
indeed, the plan worked to perfection. In just eight
days the Tigers were surrounded and looking at imminent
annihilation. Then, on June 3, as the army began its
final push into
town, the cry went out to Mother India to come to the
Tigers’ aid. To his eternal shame, that is exactly what
Rajiv Gandhi did. The Indian naval flotilla bringing
‘aid’ to the civilian population of Jaffna, the
incursion into Sri Lankan air space of Indian Air Force
jets, and the threatening Indian naval fleet moored off
Galle Face, together with dire threats from New Delhi’s
viceroy in Colombo, J. N. Dixit, were sufficient to
force the Jayewardene Government to capitulate.
result was the humiliation of the Indo-Lanka Accord, the
13th Amendment to the Constitution and the invasion by
the IPKF. These insults to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty
perhaps go some way to explain the wave of nationalistic
euphoria that has now engulfed our country in the wake
of the final destruction of the LTTE.
Vadamarachchi saw Cyril Ranatunga at his finest, and he
knew it. All his life had been but a preparation for
that hour and for that trial. He had the support of some
of the finest soldiers any army could have desired, not
least Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Wijaya Wimalaratne. Indeed,
the General tells of how, when he was Secretary of the
Ministry of Defence in 1992, he abortively nominated
Kobbekaduwa as the next commander of the army, over
Cecil Waidyaratne. President Premadasa overturned his
recommendation and chose Waidyaratne instead; Denzil
was, after all, a close relative of Srimavo Bandaranaike
(a point Ranatunga is too polite to disclose in his
Ranatunga’s memoirs are an excellent — if too brief —
read. They tell of a Sri Lanka that, for those of us not
old enough to remember, has been long forgotten. Having
quit the army and high office as secretary to the
Ministry of Defence and High Commissioner in Canberra
and London, he and Myrtle now live in their charming
estate in Mawanella.
General is an enthusiastic farmer, promoting green
values (the kitchen operates on biogas) wherever he can.
Next time you drive to Kandy note that all the unsightly
roadside boutiques have crossed to the other (left) side
of the road, leaving the view clear for everyone to see.
That was his doing (10 years ago!). So is the greening
Pass with thousands of trees.
who wants to understand the context in which Sri Lanka
came to be what it is, should read Cyril Ranatunga’s An
Adventurous Journey. It is a tale told with the utmost
(and sometimes insufferable!) modesty by this all too
modest soldier. (Indeed, he had even brushed aside an
offer by J. R. Jayewardene to elevate him to Field
Marshall on his retirement!)
would give a right arm to have lived Cyril Ranatunga’s
life, and one can see in his writing and ideas the
source of the strength and conviction we see in our
armed forces today. That perhaps is the legacy for which
he would most like to be remembered. To call him an
officer and a gentleman would be trite: he is indeed
what the French would call a preux chevalier — a gallant
knight. If only there were more like him...
King of Pop who never grew Up
with Rev. Al Sharpton
and Michael Jackson Performing
Michael Jackson jokes started trickling in the day it
was announced that he had passed away. They were not
funny. Just sick. Some called to say news of his death
was a hoax. Those calls weren’t funny either. Just lame.
His last photo spread through the net with senders
calling it disturbing. So why forward them on? Seldom
had my delete button been so used.
this was coming in from all around the world. This was
the real phenomenon surrounding Michael Jackson. He
really was known and respected throughout the world.
Elvis mania and Beatle mania were big for their time.
Comparisons as to who was “bigger” are stupid. The
timing of the Michael Jackson phenomenon meant true
worldwide recognition. He was the world’s first and,
possibly only, Global Megastar.
Michael Jackson phenomenon was born on MTV, took off at
Motown’s 25th Anniversary, and then went on-air, on-line
and off-the-map. Eventually, it went off-the-ramp, but
the This Is It Comeback tour was going to fix that. This
Is it has now become that was that.
day it was announced that MJ had passed away, the first
person I saw on TV was Reverend Al Sharpton. He didn’t
know when to give it a rest. Having said this, apart
from turning his speech into a racist tone, he made some
King was talking to
this kid who never grew up and became The King of Pop.
Cher was great — honest, candid, interesting — as she’s
had been friends with the performer when he was in his
teens and said how she had lost touch with him. How she
had met him when he was no longer the sweet, fun-loving,
teenager that he was and just how much he had changed.
were countless tributes including a devastated Quincy
Jones who said that he had just lost his kid brother.
Quincy produced his greatest hits and Michael, whom he
nicknamed Smelly, made them come alive. During the
recording of Billie Jean,
had also said, “Stop squealing, mother******”.
was when the singer started adding his usual hiccups and
squeals after each line in the song. Michael did what he
was told and the result was the Billie Jean we hear
today. Theirs was a relationship and partnership that
was like The Sorcerer and The Apprentice. It was magic
and without the Mighty Quinn, Michael never re-captured
Meanwhile, Madonna, they said, was crying all day.
Crying for herself, I thought.
Mortality is a tough gig for many to handle. Notably
silent was his one-time friend and musical cohort Paul
McCartney. They recorded some pretty bad music together.
was Say, Say, Say, the terrible The Man and the cloying,
This Girl Is Mine.
the Mac and Jack magical portion went sour. MJ is said
to have used Macca to buy the Beatles catalogue behind
the ex-Beatles’ back. They never spoke after that.
Michael Jackson was a very savvy businessman. He knew
the value of owning publishing — his and everyone
else’s. He was just not smart by leaving others to look
after his own finances.
News, the only person they could find to interview was
some unknown talking about Michael Jackson’s influence
on his career. Suddenly, everyone was cashing in.
Everyone had something good to say about this King of
Pop. I was reminded of Lennon’s line: “Everybody loves
you when you’re six feet in the ground.”
tend to honour the dead and forget the living. Or else,
honour the living once they’re no longer with us.
Hypocrites? Sure we are. We have just pre-conditioned
ourselves to think how everybody else is and how we’re
above it all.
However what I care most about is the music and memories
that he left behind. Memories like that spell-binding
performance during Motown’s 25th Anniversary when the
world first saw the moonwalk. He literally floated
through air and, to this day, his intriguing, mysterious
and sometimes disturbing personal life, is not my
concern and should not be yours too.
just remember the great artist who churned out an
insurmountable number of hits, created the moon walk and
most importantly made a difference with his music, all
while being a 12 year old stuck in a 50 year old’s body.
Rest in peace Micheal.
The Hilton is back
The best Dim Sum
By R. Wijewardene
over 20 years the Hilton has sat securely at the top of
Colombo’s hotel hierarchy. Year in year out it was the
Hilton and its restaurants that set the standard which
every other five star hotel in Colombo sought to
the conflict that poisoned so much of this country
managed eventually to even take some of the gloss off
the Hilton, and with road closures and the rigorous
security surrounding the Fort, even die hard fans of the
hotel found themselves drifting to more accessible
the final end of the conflict however Colombo is slowly
coming back to life and unsurprisingly the focal point
of the life now animating the once moribund centre of
the city is the Hilton — which is fast reestablishing
itself as the capital’s premier hotel.
experience this resurgence The Sunday Leader made a
beeline for the Emperor’s Wok – a Hilton stalwart which
has for over a decade consistently produced some of
most authentic Chinese food.
removed from the mediocrity of Colombo’s average Chinese
restaurant as authentic fresh noodles are from instant
chopsuey, the Emperor’s Wok is the Chinese restaurant
for special occasions – when your everyday chow mein
take out joint just won’t do. And overlooking the
Hilton’s perennially pleasant pond, with gilt dragon
centerpiece and a faintly turn of the century
‘shanghainese’ banquet hall atmosphere the Wok is still
replete with a sense of occasion.
the dining area is reasonably formal, the open kitchen
is a hive of activity and much as in any China town or
Cantonese high street, roast ducks dry in the window,
woks spurt balls of alcohol induced fire, and noodles
are stretched and tossed in full view of the
complement the authenticity of your surrounding you can
begin your meal with a selection of dim sum — delicious
bite sized little appetizers — dumpling, buns, rolls ,
cakes which, rolled around on trolleys as yam cha in
their in native Hong Kong, are regarded, quite rightly,
as the ultimate fast food.
Hilton’s remains the best selection of these delicacies
in Sri Lanka and the unlimited dim sum brunch on
Saturdays is a meal in itself. In fact with such
generously filled dumplings, succulent roast pork buns,
and crisp prawn toasts we were tempted even on Tuesday
to make a whole meal of the dim sum but managed to
restrict ourselves to a few servings and leave room for
the main course.
range of main dishes is vast but not overwhelming from
roast duck, to a range of sea food and representing
several styles of Chinese cooking, and like the dim sum
main courses are both generous and authentic.
rice with discernible chunks of prawn is a genuine
rarity in Colombo and the – honey and pepper chicken,
and crispy lamb made excellent use of the sweet and sour
flavours that define Chinese cooking.
crispy garoupa was genuinely exceptional – delicately
flavoured and at once both meltingly soft and
the dishes we sampled were simple – somehow a business
lunch doesn’t seem like quite the time for salvers of
crispy aromatic duck and wok fried crabs, even with this
simple selection the freshness of everything on offer
was outstanding. A far cry from the reheated oily,
overly sweet masses that are the staples at so many of
the city’s Chinese restaurants.
the generosity of the servings is such that while the
Emperor’s Wok will never be cheap, a meal still
represent good value for money.
Washing down mouthfulls of perfect Chinese food with
fabulously fragrant jasmine tea, while watching a
procession of ducks and swans glide over the hotel’s
shaded central pond is the ultimate lunchtime escape.
And on this showing the Hilton seems more than ready to
pick up where it left off, amidst the security
restrictions imposed last year — as the standard bearer
for good food in Colombo.