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DateLine Wednesday, 17 October 2007

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Grown up October babies

We are in the middle of October and October is a pleasant month. Some great people have been born in this month. Mahathama Gandhi for instance was born on the 2nd. The Republic of China was born on the first of this month.

International peace maker, former U.S.President, Jimmy Carter was born on the first and so was the Thamilian Thespian the late Chevalier Sivaji Ganeshan. Yours truly was also born on 1st of October.

October 03 saw to the birth of one of the senior educationists in the country - R. I. T. Alles. Let me wish him belatedly though on behalf all of us.

R.I.T. Alles

He rose from humble beginnings in the South to become the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education and from there to be the establisher of a network of higher educational institutions with his dear wife (who is also an educationist) and with one of his three sons- Dr. Harsha.

He gave up a lucrative profession as a medical practitioner to become the key figure in the running of the institutions with his dear spouse.

I had heard of R.I.T. Alles since his D.S. Senanayake Principal days but had not met him until another fine educationist and a truly genuine Sinhala Buddhist introduced me to him.

The Head Master of Gateway Somabandhu Kodikara who practises the great religion to the letter introduced me to the Lokka at the Gateway at Rajagiriya.

The Gateway International School is now known simply as Gateway. Before we come to R.I.T. Alles, let me explain what connection I had with education especially when I was usually known as a translator, a broadcaster, a radio journalist and a print journalist? To answer this question I should go back a little to introduce to you S J Samuel.

S.J. Samuel

I was drawn into the field of teaching by invitation by yet another Lankan who was religious and noble and yet a true rationalist and seeker of truth and a lover of literature although his major was Chemistry. He was the most popular educationist for a long time in neighbouring Maldives. He was S J Samuel, who later became the Principal of Colombo South International School in Dehiwela.

In Male, capital of the Maldives, there is a famous Boys School that prepares students for the London GCE O/L examinations. Majjediya is the name of the school.

Well, Mr. Samuel thought I could be an English/English Literature teacher in his school purely judging me on my articles I wrote in the newspapers.

Ah! I became an English teacher playing the role of a communicator rather than a teacher who spoke down to the students. I filled in as a teacher who spoke with the students than speak down to them.

Thus I won the hearts of the usually uncontrollable Maldivian youth and became myself a man with young at heart. So that was the start. Later I came back to Lanka.

Somabandhu Kodikara

Then, the former Headmaster of the D.S. Senanayaka School became the Principal of the Sri Lankan School in Muscat, Oman, Somabandhu Kodikara invited me over the phone from Muscat to join his Staff in the International School. I did.

And it was a pleasant experience for me because in the school (preparing students for the London GCE O/L examinations ) there were our own Sinhala (Buddhists, Christians) Thamilians (Hindus and Christians), Muslims, Malays plus Pakistanis, Indians, Lebanese, Nigerians, Bangladeshis, Omanis, Arabs and others - lovely boys and girls well disciplined.

I became younger and younger at heart with the growing youngsters. I taught English to students from Grades 04 up to O/L. I taught English Literature to a group of students from Science and Commerce streams in the O/L classes. One hundred percent success was achieved at the exam.

Mr. Kodikara, younger to me, treated me like a friend as he was also interested in the arts despite his proficiency in Mathematics. He could sing well theatrical songs in Sinhala and Carnatic music in Thamil. He was an intellectual and updating himself in modern ways of teaching.

Because of his satisfaction with my performance in school, he made me the Head of Department of Languages (English, Sinhala, Thamil and Urdu). I was amazed that he had full confidence in me.

He also wanted me to be the Announcer at the Schools Annual Sports Meet. The School was famous in Oman for its discipline and updated methods of teaching. Mr Kodikara needless to say was imbibed by the ideals of Mr Alles, his guru. Overnight, I became to be noticed by the parents of the children.

Besides I was writing a column for the Times of Oman. Indian, Pakistani and Arab readers residing in Oman expressed their appreciation of my columns that covered an assortment of cultural activities all around the world. Dear readers, I can't help bragging about me because it involves certain facts and experiences.

It was this association I had with Bandhu that prompted him to invite me to Gateway. He wanted me to be a short term teacher of English Orientation Classes for children who have completed local GCE O/L classes in Sinhala who would follow Science and Commerce subjects in English later to sit for the London GCE examinations.

Here again it was a very pleasant experience for me. Then, Harsha and R.I.T.A. and Bandhu wanted me to become a permanent member of the English Department. I agreed to teach in other classes from year 07.

And taught English Literature for three girl students preparing for GCE O/L examination. Unfortunately these particular students were not enthusiastic and preferred examination readymade questions and answers.

This I must admit I could not do as I was more interested in making students respond to issues independently because that was what the London examiners expect. So, I quit. But to get back to R.I.T. Alles, please read this:

Meeting a replica of mine

I really don't know whether I had any connections with the respected R.I.T.A. in my previous birth, because the members of the entire staff and the children thought my face resembled his face. I came meeting face to face with Mr Alles at the interview, where Dr Alles was also present. I was selected as a teacher. May be astrologically October people have some affinities.

Dear Mr. Alles (Snr) if you are reading this column, please accept my birthday wishes to you, though belatedly. Wish you healthy and much more longer life to render yeomen service to the society at large. My only regret was that I wasn't present at the launching of your biography. Congratulations again.

Vijitha Yapa

One other October personage is Vijitha Yapa who at present is the owner of a large network of bookstalls and most importantly a publisher of seminal works in English by Lankan writers and others.

A freelance journalist at the beginning and contributor to Indian journals, business oriented man from South Lanka ( He had presented Money Matters over the TV some years back), Vijitha Yapa was the first Editor of The Island.

Although I applied for a suitable position in the editorial of The Island, I was not called to join the paper, It was because experienced senior journalists from Lake House had already been taken in.

And further, I had not worked full time in a newspaper then. After sometime, when I was desperate in finding a job after the then USIS decided to reduce the staff in Lanka (I was then working as an Information Assistant in the Press Section with the late Benedict Dodampegama, Daya Gamage, Anthony Fernando and Janaka Perera), I telephoned all the English newspaper editors whether I could be accommodated. All of them regretted because they would not pay me the salary I got from the U.S.Government.

The last day of my service at the USIS approached. I phoned Vijitha Yapa, although I did not know him personally then. But his Deputy Gamini Weerakoon knew me well because the press people at the USIS interacted with the Lankan Press very often.

Vijitha asked me to come and join his paper the next day. And that's how I became a fulltime working journalist. It is for this I am grateful to Vijitha Yapa. He gave me a good position and I hope I lived up to his expectation.

Gamini Weerakoon who took over from Yapa took good care of me and I am grateful to him too and lasted in the paper for 10 years.One thing great in these editors was that they could easily spot people who have the abilities and talents.

Two other October people in the media were Mansoor and Rafeek. When I joined The Island as Deputy Features Editor of the Sunday Island, I had to look into all the feature pages (excluding the news and sports pages).

My assistants were Mr. Mansoor and Ms. Zanita Careem. They were so helpful to me in understanding the bromide system then prevalent and the like. Mansoor is a fine sub editor. He is a widely read man, speaks English like an Englishman and had a sense of word consciousness. Unassuming, he was a source of inspiration.

There a lot of things I can write about my stay in the paper, but this is not the place. Just as much as I remember Mansoor as a fine sub editor, I must also pay my tribute to the late Winston Rodrigo who until his passing away recently was working for The Nation.

In the then Sunday Times edited by Muttiah with the late Eshan Sourjah and Winston Rodrigo, I used to write reviews for the paper. Winston was the sub editor who subbed and polished my copy.

There was a review of a book of short stories by the Thamil writer K. Daniel. Winston gave the headline Daniel comes for Judgment. He was also an unassuming and pleasant person. I am not sure whether he was also an October baby.

One other broadcaster born in October is S.Rafeek, a poet in Thamil and author of two books, who presently works as the Marketing Manager of "Pirai" transmission from Akkaraipattu. He is a permanent Thamil announcer over the "Thentral" broadcast of the SLBC.

One more October personality is Prabath Sahabandu, Editor of The Island. They were all involved in helping me in my career as a journalist and teacher. That's It. More on other matters next week.

Contact: [email protected]


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