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The story of the 29 British Proconsuls

British Governors of Ceylon
by H.A.J. Hulugalle
Published by Arjuna Hulugalle
Price: Rs. 250 (Student Edition);
Rs. 950 (Collectors Edition in art paper); Illustrations of the 29 Governors
Pages: 310
Available at leading bookshops Thaprobane, Bookland, Vijitha Yapa, Lake House Bookshop
Second Edition 2002

To those who were born after the colonial era, the subject of the British occupation from 1797 to 1948 remains just another chapter in the long history of this country. To my father H.A.J. Hulugalle, the author of The British Governors of Ceylon, and his generation it was quite different. They were born into, brought up and lived in the milieu of colonial Ceylon.

He was from Kurunegala with an ancestry from a little village in the Wanni. It must have been a traumatic moment to come face to face with the culture of the privileged British rulers. It was good fortune that he came under the influence of British teachers like the poet W.S. Senior, educationist like A.G. Fraser and Warden Stone and to befriend such men of vision like W.T. Keble, Dr. Hayman, Sir Ivor Jennings and Sir Thomas Villiers. Many of these men were good men, dedicated to imparting knowledge, human value systems and building the character of their protegees. Some had a deep religious and philosophical motivation which brought them to this country because they lived and worked with such commitment to build the great schools of all the different faiths which this country had at Independence.

Placed against the backdrop of these educationist, planters, businessmen and public servants stood the imposing figure of the representative of the British sovereign, the Governor. He could have fallen into the category of what we today call, an imperialist. Derogatory as that term may sound, there was no doubt that the Government was well run and a well ordered establishment and justice was meted so meticulously that even today our judiciary look upon that period with respect and awe.

It is about the 29 men that presided over the destiny of this country that HAJ, as I will refer to my father in this article, wrote in British Governors of Ceylon.

Throughout this book, the central theme is the personality of the individuals involved in the drama of the 150 year British occupation. HAJ revelled in sympathetically understanding the humans he wrote about. Their questions and possible answers interested him; their thought processes fascinated him; and the insight he got from this study was the inspiration for his work.

The good that these men did he recognised and applauded. However, he had no illusions of human limitations and therefore never expected grandiose answers. He was tolerant of human frailties and he admonished his subjects with gentle criticisms and objectivity. Whether he acquired this quality from the Kandyan peasantry he came from or the influence of the Anglican ethos he embraced is an open question. Writing about HAJ after his death, Tarzie Vittachi observed that "nothing human was alien to him".

The story of the Governors is the story of some outstanding administrators like Sir Thomas Maitland, Sri Edward Barnes, Sir Henry Ward, Sir Hercules Robinson, Sir William Gregory, Sir Arthur Gordon and Sir Joseph West Ridgeway. They had all distinguished themselves with substantial contributions in all parts of the empire. In those days that meant a good part of the globe.

The author however, has put them into categories when he wrote "The thirty Governors can be broadly divided into three groups: soldiers, administrators and politicians, by profession". Some were scholars, like Frederick North, Charles MacCarthy and Robert charmers. Charmers, John Andersen and Graeme Thomson were distinguished British Civil Servants. Brownrigg, Paget, Barnes and Campbell had fought with the Duke of Wellington in peninsular War or at Waterloo. Maitland, Horton, MacKenzie, Ward, Gregory and Gordon had been members of the British parliament. Clifford and Caldecott came through the Malaysian Civil Service. Torrington was probably the only one who owed his appointment to influence.

It is quite evident that except for a few exceptions they were honed by years of cadetship and apprenticeship before they assumed office as Governors of Ceylon. Their skill to run an efficient country was one reason as to why Sri Lanka at Independence was considered the pride of the British Empire. Without bloodshed and devoid of any civil war, Ceylon became an independent country. The succession was thought out and its inevitability was wisely accepted. From 800,000 at the advent of the British, Ceylon had seven million at Independence.

In a passage of the introduction to the book, Haj sums up the spirit of the times and the relationship between the rulers and the ruled:

"The background and way of life of the rulers and the ruled being so different, opportunities for social exchange were limited in scope, and mistakes were made through inability to appreciate the thoughts and ideals of each other. The British rulers are rightly criticised as a class for being aloof, and even arrogant.

Too few among them were able to see anything admirable in the ancient civilisation of the country or in a culture different from their own. They are also blamed for interfering too much by implanting alien traditions and values among an oriental people with age-old traditions and values of their own. These criticisms are sometimes self-contradictory. In any case, a conscientious administrator can do no better than act according to his own ideals and beliefs, which is what most Governors did.

Furthermore, aloofness is often the path of expediency when a small number of foreigners rule a large indigenous population with whom they have little in common. The British were able, when the time came for them to withdraw, to do so with more grace than certain other Colonial powers which were more deeply involved in the social and economic life of the people they governed.

The Governor of a British Colony in the nineteenth century was not unlike a proconsul of any other imperial power. Subject to instructions and corrections from home, he was an autocrat when he had the strength of personality to command his Executive Council composed mainly of his own subordinates. He was like the captain of a ship into whose care the lives and welfare of his charges were committed. The main qualification was a capacity to exercise intelligently the power which the office conferred and take decisions on behalf of a Government several thousands of miles away."

From 1919, when he first joined the Ceylon Daily News as a junior reporter, Haj would have watched the work of Manning, Clifford, Stanley, Thomson, Stubbs, Caldecott and Monck-Mason Moore from the Press box. One Governor who he seems to have been able to relate particularly well was Andrew Caldecott. Through the profile on Caldecott in chapter 28 of the book, Haj depicts a personal insight of the character and personality of not only Sir Andrew but of many of the other governors.

This is best seen in the passage: "When Caldecott left Ceylon on October 17th, 1944, a tired and sick man, at the end of his labours as a Colonial administrator for 37 years, I published a review of his term of office. His Secretary, who like his chief was a man of culture, wrote to me: "I hope you will forgive my writing to you like this but having come to know that you were the author of the centre page article on Sir Andrew Caldecott which appeared on the 17th, entitled 'An English Gentleman Retires', I thought I would jsut write to tell you what great pleasure it gave Sir Andrew.

It was wonderfully timed-appearing as it did on the very day on which he left the Island, and it did, I believe, a great deal to cheer him up. He was naturally very distressed at leaving Ceylon, as were all at his going, and I am not exaggerating at all when I any that your article put new heart into us. It really is a most discerning analysis if I may say so.

I have lived with Sir Andrew for nearly five years and would claim to know him pretty well, and your appraisal of his character, abilities and personality seems exactly right. I can't tell you how much it has meant realising that Sir Andrew really has been appreciated and that though of course people naturally hold different opinions about his course of action in certain matters the discerning ones value his sincerity and singleness of purpose".

Our problems of Sri Lanka today are so different from the world of the 29 Governors. A democratically elected government in a vibrant society is desperately attempting to manage a nation with 19 million people with exposure to education and all the influences of a changing global scene. The tranquility which the country enjoyed in those times is no more.

There are several social and political aspects that altered for the better in the country under the 29 Governors and these have had a balanced resonance in this work. Yet the problems we still have in this country can also be traced to this period where the self-reliance of the local population and the capacity to innovate indigenous remedies for local problems had been diluted. This aspect my father has not dealt with, perhaps adequately, but that is because he was not a historian or sociologist. He looked at the problem as a journalist and biographer. That was his training. - Arjuna Hulugalle

Violence and sorrow transmuted into art

Violence and sorrow transmuted into art
Chelva Kanaganayakam (Ed.)
"Lutesong and Lament:
Tamil Writing from Sri Lanka",
TSAR Publications, Toronto, 2002.
ISBN: 0-920661-97-1.
Pages: 170.

This anthology consists of post-independence short stories and poems by over thirty authors, some living in Sri Lanka, others in the diaspora because of social insecurity and economic decline. The Editor has included brief biographical notes on the contributors, and a glossary to help those unaware of Tamil culture. The work is fittingly dedicated to one whose life is devoted to Tamil literature, R. Pathmanabha Iyer.

Literature is heterogeneous, and this collection - ranging and varied in subject and mood - is not an exception. In the story, 'A Silver Anklet' (PP. 7-11), a farmer "who toiled ceaselessly against the barren soil of Jaffna" buys his newly-married wife an anklet. His spurt of anger at its accidental loss, and her hurt, causes estrangement but their love and essential goodness bring them quickly together again. It is a wonderful evocation of the shifts of human emotion; its unpredictable and abrupt, analogic, nature. In "Among the Hills", a tea plucker runs away to her lover's hut, but sacrifices private love for duty and love of another kind: her mother is sick, and her siblings are her responsibility. The family simply would not survive without her presence and help. One is reminded of James Joyce's story, 'Eveline'. Literature brings to attention those thought to be ordinary and insignificant: the poor, the lonely, the old.

In "The Chariot", a bewildered old man is confronted by, and ultimately acquiesces to, changed times and behaviour. The accusation made against Burke by Thomas Paine in his Rights of Man - "Not one glance of compassion, not one commiserating reflection... He is not affected by the reality of distress" - cannot be levelled at these authors. Their heroes and heroines are not the great and the powerful, not the wooden horses colourfully painted and prancing at a festival, but the unnoticed, sweating bulls, "foaming at the mouth" that drag the spectacle along ('Toil', p.46). How long will people endure economic exploitation and the resulting degradation? The poem, 'Tea Baskets' (p. 57) reminds one of Langston Hughes warning that dreams deferred again and again may eventually explode into violence.

If literature entirely ignores the immediate and the important, it runs the risk of itself becoming unimportant, decorative and escapist. The works included in this anthology are painfully mindful of the state of the country. Reason and progress seem to occur elsewhere in the world, while demons of destruction beset the beautiful Island, personified as a still-captive Sita ('New Lanka', pp. 73-4).

In these stories and poems, violence and sorrow are transmuted into art, into shapes of beauty that do not blur but, on the contrary, make violence, loss and grief all the more real: that is the paradox of art.

The Editor admits that literature cannot be translated, and yet what this anthology has succeeded in 'trans-forming' into English makes a valuable contribution to Sri Lankan, and to world, literature. To that earnest question, 'Do you understand what I write?" (pp.124-5), the answer, hopefully, will be in the affirmative.

Charles Sarvan, Germany.

Uncovering the human mind

'Dalen Mideema' - (Experiences at the Kanduboda Meditation Centre)
Edited by Denegama Siriwardena
Published by S.Godage and Brothers, Colombo 10.
Price Rs. 150
136 pages
Printed by Piyasiri Printing Systems, Gangodawila, Nugegoda.
by Deepal Warnakulasuriya

'Delen Mideema', latest publication of veteran journalist Denagama Siriwardena was released recently at the Vipassana Meditation Centre, Kanduboda. The book comprises 21 articles which he wrote to the Silumina newspaper on his personal experiences of two weeks at the meditation centre.

The author, who has won a number of awards for his creations, is famous for writing novels, short stories, biographies and children's books too. He has written 100 Jataka stories for children. Seeing the practical side of Buddhism, Denegama wanted to experience meditation at a meditation centre for two weeks. The knowledge he acquired at the centre has made him write Dalen Mideema escaping from the web of Samsara. Written in simple and easily understandable language, he tells the reader what meditation is all about and how a true Buddhist should practise it.

The experiences Denagama has gathered at the centre are not only on meditation but also of yogis who related their life stories.

The author was genuine enough to reveal how he found it difficult to control his mind while meditating. Once he said that his mind was attacked by numerous memories of his past and how he controlled his mind later on.

A reader would welcome the book as one of the best uncovering the human mind.

Grass is flesh

The Forgiveness of Nature: The Story of Grassby Graham Harvey (2002), Vintage,
372 pp., U.K. (Sterling Pounds) 7.99

"All flesh is grass", says the Bible. The truth of this statement is amply borne out in Graham Harvey's exquisitely written book on the story of grass and grasslands and how these have shaped man's culture and civilisation. The book's title "The Forgiveness of Nature" is taken from an article in praise of the bluegrass that U.S. Senator John James Ingalls published in the Kansas Magazine in the 1870s. It outlines the impact one family, the Hominidae with just one species (Homosapiens) has had on another, the Poacae (or Gramineae) with over 10,000 species, and how the destinies of these two families have become intertwined.

No other plant family has played such a crucial role in the advance of human civilisation. As a Chinese saying goes, the most precious things are not jade or pearls, but the five grains: rice, wheat, millet, sorghum, and maize, which trace their origin to wild grasses. They account for 60 per cent of the calories consumed by people in the developing world, while animal protein and fat are obtained from grazing animals. "Grass", according to Harvey, "is a reminder that we have a history older than our lives".

The book also describes the evolution of the practice of animal husbandry in Great Britain from the middle ages to the present, which brought untold wealth and prosperity to the British farmers. Graham Harvey is the agricultural story Editor of The Archers, and he embellishes his narrative with interesting accounts of the impact of grass on sports such as football, cricket and lawn tennis.

Livestock were central to the mobile Neolithic pastoralists, who bred the wild ox or auroch. It is not known how or why nomadic communities ceased their way of life and settled down to a lifetime of tilling the soil. Contrary to popular notion, the hunter-gatherer life style is not harsh. "By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread" might have been the injunction given by God when he banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden - implying that they would have to struggle hard for their survival. But this is not so as far as the Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari desert in South Africa are concerned. They spend less than a quarter of the working week in gathering food. Compared to the subsistence farmer, the hunter-gatherer has time even for leisure!

The study of grasses is known as Agrostology. Grasses trace their origin to the family Liliaceae. They first made their appearance in the fossil record about 55 million years ago, just 10 million years after the demise of the dinosaurs. Grasslands occupy almost a quarter of the Earth's land area extending from Alaska to Antarctica. They are the dominant natural vegetation of the prairies of North America, savannahs of Africa and steppes of Central Asia.

Grasses transform between 1 and 3 per cent of the light hitting them into chemical energy, but make use of two distinct biochemical processes - the so called C3 and C4 pathways - to achieve this. C4 grasses found mostly in the tropics are more efficient and faster-growing than the primitive C3 grasses. Because most grasses grow rapidly, their leaves are able to transport carbohydrates produced by photosynthesis to other parts of the plant, either for continual growth or for storage. A critical aspect of grassland management is the timing of grazing pressure.

Intensive agriculture has led to the reduction in the diversity of soil organisms. Charles Darwin understood the importance of earthworms in enriching soil fertility. His last book was on earthworms and it was published in 1880. But a revolution in agricultural practice had preceded it in 1840 with the publication of the monograph, "Chemistry in its application to Agriculture and Physiology" by the distinguished German Chemist, Justus von Liebig. This marked the beginning of the science of Agricultural Chemistry.

One man who understood the links between grasslands and rural prosperity was George Stapledon, who advocated a return to mixed farming or the rotation of grass leys and arable crops. In the 1930s, he was able to restore the productivity of derelict hill pastures in Wales. He also recognized the importance of grasslands for a healthy way of life.

Even an occasional contact with nature is known to reduce stress, anxiety and aggression in man. He believed - or hoped - that small farms could ensure both profit and pleasure to farmers and city dwellers. To him, small was indeed beautiful. But Stapledon was no match for the powerful agro-chemical companies who had inherited the earth. Farmers have become increasingly dependent on chemical fertilizers to restore soil fertility and control diseases. Economic prosperity has come with an ecological price-tag.

It is time we asked nature for forgiveness.

Charles Santiapillai, University of Peradeniya

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