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Ananda College years - Memoirs - III:

Artistes of Ananda - Poet monks and student writers

Of the teacher- poets at Ananda two names come easily to mind - Ven. Kalalelle Ananda Sagara, a Colombo period poet who wrote some of the finest verses at the time under the pseudonym Kayes and U.A.S. Perera or Siri Aiya who conducted a weekly children ‘s program called Lama Theeraya at the then Radio Ceylon.

Kayes Hamuduruwo took our Sinhala class and prescribed two of his well-known poetry books, Malhami and Kalakanniya for the class. We read them in class with him in sheer delight. I remember Kayes’ poem opened new literary vistas to us. Some of us were inspired to write poetry ourselves, they may have been doggerel, but we scribbled them on exercise books not meant for school work. Sheepishly we showed them to the poet- monk who smiled at our amateurish literary attempts. We continued while relishing the Hamuduruwo’s classic works.


Sagara Palansuriya


U.A.S. Perera (Siri Aiya) File photos

It was not generally known in school that Ven. Kalalelle Ananda Sagara was in fact the poet Kayes. Some of us probed and discovered the fact. Perhaps the clerical versifier believed in the saying of Oscar Wilde that the artist should remain incognito and concealed in the background exposing only his art, not his identity and name.

Kayes noted this thinking in a preface he wrote to his epic Sudo Sudu which recounted in lucid and simple verse the immortal love story of three village youth. Somehow Kayes Hamuduruwo never prescribed Sudo Sudu for our class. Perhaps he decided that the love theme was too adult in conception and we were unready yet for the literary adventure.

But there were students who had read Sudo Sudu stealthily out of curiosity and admiration for our poet- teacher.

Kayes Hamuduruwo was also a proficient English teacher. I remember with amusement how he shed his Sinhalism when he took an English class: he strained to imitate the highly-tilted diction of Old Blighty.

Kayes took his pen-name after the three initials of his name KAS (Kalalelle Ananda Sagara); KAS was neatly converted into Kayes.

Later, when he gave up robes he reverted to his lay name Sagara Palansuriya. For a while he donned the European suit but opted to the national dress when he took to politics and successfully contested the Horana seat under the MEP of SWRD Bandaranaike and Phillip Gunawardena.

It was while Kayes was at Ananda that his Colombo Period poets’ Association the Aganuwara Tharuna Kavi Samajaya (Athakasa) held its annual general meeting at Prince College in Kotahena.

All the stalwarts of the Colombo Period were there: Borelesgamuwa G.H. Perera, P.B. Alwis Perera, Indra Kumaranayake, Wimalaratne Kumarage, John Rajadasa, H.M. Kudaligama and others. Kayes had composed a brilliant welcome in verse lampooning his poet- colleagues in unmalicious terms: it was hilarious. Kayes invited two of us- Jayawardena and myself to recite the poem. He was residing in an aramaya in Dematagoda and we went there to rehearse the poem. We had to memorize the entire set of verses.

Kayes sat down on a canvas-backed wooden chair and smoked while we recited the verses.

He gave his approval only after an umpteen number of rehearsals. At Prince College it was a festive day. There were poets everywhere and the public response, unlike now, was great. People then seemed to appreciate and relish good Sinhala poetry. It ranked above the trash that went as pseudo literary work.

The welcome poem at Prince College was received with applause. Kayes though he left Ananda continued to write verses. Some of them highly imaginative and even philosophical and contributed regularly to his friend Alwis Perera ‘s monthly digest of poems titled Dedunna.

Kayes while he was teaching in Jaffna wrote poems titled Uthuren and Wimalaratne Kumarage who was a DRO, also a friend of Kayes responded from the South his verses headlined Dakunen.

To us, Kayes was the memorable individual - not Sagara Palansuriya, Kayes was our dream-maker. Some of us later became poets ourselves no doubt inspired by our monk-teacher. Who wouldn’t if he had read the immortal opening verse in Sudo Sudu: Godamada Dekama Sarusaraya Palabaraya; katurodu Gammane tharamake Pitisaraya; Eygama Medin Galana Ganga Manaharaya; Kada Mandiya Pihitiye Gama Kelavaraya.

U.A.S. Perera or Siri Aiya who was also a highly acclaimed poet of the Colombo Period taught us Pali. We always referred to him as Siri Aiya; we were the pioneer members of this vastly popular radio program Lama Theeraya. Every week we trekked to the old broken-down, dilapidated mansion in Cotta Road, Borella to join in the broadcast.

Mostly it was impromptu: Siri Aiya was an excellent broadcaster and able orator; his lips moved over his protruding teeth and grinning he sang (yes, he sang) in a melodious voice impromptu verses called Hitiwana Kavi.

He needed no notes to conduct his program. It was a 45- minute program that was broadcast on Fridays from 6.15 pm- to 7pm and children who had radios (radio was then a luxury rallied round their sets to listen to Siri Aiya. We sang songs (a rare privilege) and on Mondays we came to school proudly to be hailed as heros.

Siri Aiya was also a dramatist - he broadcast radio plays under the assumed name of Jayadeva. He used to record songs, poems and viridu for the HMV discs produced by Cargills Co. One of the most memorable numbers was the song Surathal Nangiye Ape Amma sung by the late Trilicia Gunawardena and another boy. The song (the words and the melody belonged to Siri Aiya) was recorded with the kids seated on Siri Aiya’s lap; it was a single-take recording. Siri Aiya sang many other songs for HMV that included the humorous Pitisara Bada Aadi Kalaye.

To rehearse for the Lama Theeraya program we went to Siri Aiya’s home in Kolonnawa. Wearing shorts and shirt he sat at his double - bellows seraphina (harmonium) and played it softly making wry faces.

Slowly others walked in: Vincent Perera, the chief orchestra-man who played the mandolin (Vincent Perera was paid the princely sum of Rs. 3.00 for his labour; he came riding his push bicycle out of love and respect for Siri Aiya). He worked as a telephone operator at the Railway Department.

There was D.D. Danny, the flutist and Darwin who played the tabla. They did not participate in the Lama Theeraya as professionals; it was a commitment’, they did not care for money. They had their own radio programs and they were professionals. Siri Aiya treated their commitment as his entitlement.

Siri Aiya had a chequered career at Radio Ceylon; he was always at loggerheads with the Director-General John Lampson, an arrogant Britisher who hated our teacher’s guts and resented his talents- Siri Aiya’s radio program was terminated. Later after the Englishman left the island, the program was revived mainly due to the efforts of Trilicia who was to become Somi Akka.

They wanted Siri Aiya to prerecord the program in keeping with the modern trend at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. But Siri Aiya vehemently opposed it.

Maybe he belonged to the old- school- he wanted the program aired live. No doubt it met with an unnatural death.

To be continued...

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