G L E A N I N G S
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
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-
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.