years and more have passed since the Peradeniya Campus of the
University of Ceylon—Sri Lanka’s one and only world renowned
university—was declared "more open than usual" by Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
At the same time, the foundation stone for the
University Theatre with a revolving stage and all the modern
equipment that goes with it was laid, also by the queen. The
theatre, however, remains a mere stone—a testimony to those who
followed Sir Ivor!
The University of Ceylon was an autonomous legal
entity, managed with diligence and foresight by its Senate. The
academic stature of the university was of the highest caliber—of
world standard—and comparable to Britain’s Oxford and Cambridge
in several aspects.
Sir Ivor was the motive force that made things
happen. The move from Colombo, where the university had been
established in 1942, to Peradeniya—the idyllic campus—had
commenced with the Faculties of Law and Agriculture moving into
the brand new campus early in 1952. The Faculty of Law at the
time comprised three undergraduates—John de Saram, Lakshman
Kadirgamar and K. Shinya, as far as I recall.
Other faculties and departments followed quick
on the heels of the first "settlers"— arts, oriental studies,
dentistry, veterinary science, and engineering,
I was privileged to have been among these
"pioneers", having spent a little over one academic year in
Colombo. The mass exodus to Peradeniya was in October 1952.
The autobiography of Sir Ivor Jennings is out at
last—aptly titled: "The Road to Peradeniya". To us,
undergraduates of the fifties, the university was synonymous
with Sir Ivor. It was "world class"!
An international authority on Constitutional
Law, Sir Ivor did a State yeoman service by drafting independent
Ceylon’s first Constitution that served us well as an instrument
As a vice chancellor par excellence, Sir Ivor
administered the university with characteristic vision, courage,
wisdom, integrity and an intellectual capacity that was
astounding. The State may wake up even at this late stage, a
half century later, to honour this great man.
Admist majestic surroundings, encompassing the
slopes of the mountain range of Hantane, Uda Peradeniya and
Mahakande, nestled this most picturesque university site in the
The mist laced mountains, the cool, crisp,
invigorating breezes: the streams and brooks that abounded; the
fish that tippled in the ponds; the beauty of green; lush
vegetation: the soothing, melodious notes of a myriad birds; the
incessant chirping of insects; and the bark, far away, of deer
and the grunt of wild boar, were an integral part of the
serenity and grandeur of this wonderful campus—not withstanding
the snakes that slithered, in and out, of the newly constructed
halls of residence!
The majestic buildings, strongly influenced by a
style of architecture peculiar to the ancient Kandyan Kingdom,
added to the lure of this magnetic campus.
The halls of residence—similar to Oxford’s
"Colleges", were havens of mirth and tranquility. A student
could not dream of a better environment in which to read for a
degree, Marrs Hall (named after Robert Marrs—Principal,
University College, Thurstan Road, Colombo), Jayatilake Hall, in
honour of Sir Baron Jayatilake, Arunachalam Hall— after Sir
Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Sir James Peiris Hall, Hilda
Obeyesekera Hall; and Sangamitha Hall were the focal points of
activity. (The other halls of residence were not constructed at
the time.) The lecture rooms and auditorium (Room B) were fully
operational and tastefully furnished. (The library building had
part of a skeletal metal framework only.) Shirley de Alwis, the
architect, working in close liaison with Sir Ivor, had ensured
that everything was first class.
Sir Ivor personally saw to it that the new
campus was transformed into a riot of colour and natural beauty.
The landscaping had all been completed, such was his vision and
degree of commitment. His sensitivity to nature exuded in
everything he attempted—with great success. Flowering trees and
shrubs were selected with care—with an emphasis on the blending
of colour. There was an abundance of flowers! Rows of phlox,
marigold, petunias, geraniums, lady lace, golden rod, salvia,
dahlia, chrysanthemums, jasmine, verbena and hollyhock filled
the air, with a fragrance we nostalgically identified with the
Peradeniya campus. The lawns were perfect geometrical patterns
of a variety of lush green grasses. This unparalleled effort was
crowned with excellent undergraduate discipline and bonhomie.
Sir Ivor’s occasional "notices" to us
undergraduates were a source of delight. They were, always,
replete with good humour; and characteristically "friendly". But
the point he made was driven in firmly. There was never any
confrontation, which now appears to be the sine qua non
of university life!
One of our number (totaling perhaps 700)
possessed an Indian motorcycle that disturbed the serene
environment of the campus. To ensure his presence was "heard",
the proud owner of the Indian motorcycle had had his silencers
Though never measured on the Richter scale, the
Indian, it is believed, caused jarring tremors up and down the
mountain slopes of Hantane! Sir Ivor’s response was prompt, His
"notice" to all undergraduates merely read: "This serves to
remind you that the university campus is not a testing ground
for dilapidated machines."
The silencers were promptly re-fitted.
Sir Ivor’s daughter’s wedding was a much talked
about event. The Lodge was clothed in a mantle of festivity.
Many lined the Galaha Road which runs through the campus, to
wish the newly weds good luck! Contributing in no mean measure
to the old buckets and tins that trailed the vice chancellor’s
Vauxhall Wyvern on its departure to an undisclosed destination,
bride and groom enjoying every moment of the warmth of the
unscheduled, yet spontaneous cheers that assailed them.
Life in the Peradeniya Campus was not without
incident—however idyllic the place was. About twenty
undergraduates of Sir James Peiris Hall (then a men’s Hall of
Residence) had congregated on the vice chancellor’s lawn to air
Sir Ivor who had just returned from Colombo,
appeared on his balcony and was informed that the food at James
Peiris Hall was insufficient! The previous night’s dinner had
been skimpy, (the menu comprised two liberal slices of grilled
seer with mayonnaise sauce, mashed potatoes, a coleslaw salad
and plenty of freshly baked bread rolls, with salted butter; and
dessert). Sir Ivor disappeared for a while—and dramatically
reappeared —to inform the group of "starving" protesters that he
had just re-read the University of Ceylon (Peradeniya Campus)
Act—which indicated lucidly—that The Lodge was private property;
and consequently, the group was trespassing! The "protesters"
melted away into the twilight of a beautiful sunset—and dinner!
The halls of residence were run efficiently,
with attention paid to detail. The selective purchasing of food
items, for which the University Supplies Organisation was
responsible, (with Harry Gunatilleke, better known as the
organist at St. Paul’s Kandy in charge) ensured good quality.
The preparation of food at Marrs Hall was`A0often personally
supervised by Dr. H. A. Passe (Warden), supported ably by young
Assistant Lecturer A. D. V. de S. Indraratna now emeritus
Professor of Economics and Dr. Ananda Salgado Kulasuriya, the
The food was always delicious and adequate
(those with exceptionally voracious appetites cajoling their way
to "seconds"!). The hall kitchens were electrically operated,
with stainless steel equipment, including dish washers. A bakery
ensured that all our bread and baked delicacies were absolutely
fresh. The eighty of us initially occupying Marrs Hall enjoyed
every moment of our stay. We had high table dinner on Saturdays
with a guest speaker (mostly university staff) invariably
present, and Sir Ivor, Chancellor Sir Oliver Goonetilleke and
the witty A. M. K. Coomaraswamy included. This meant formally
dressing up for dinner, wearing neckties. The hall president
always wore a full suit in such instances, formally introducing
and welcoming the guest of honour. Marrs Hall’s President at the
time was Christie Gunawardane from the Faculty of Law. The
Committee comprised A. B. Elkaduwe (CCS), Herbert Coorary
(currently Chairman, Jetwing Travels & Hotels). J. R. Madanayake
(who ended up as bursar, University of Colombo), Anton Dhanayake
(Treasury), Rutnam Swami (now in the USA), Peter Gunawardene
(Police) and the writer.
The relationship between staff and students was
excellent. Dr. Passe (Warden) invited those in Marrs Hall in
groups of five to dinner at his home on Sangamitta Hill to get
to know us better. We played party games, discussed the lighter
topics of current interest— ate moderately, and drank red wine!
We had the privilege of being addressed as "Mr. or Miss"... by
our academic staff, and Dr. Passe came to know each of us
personally—especially those outside the ambit of the Department
of English, who did not come into regular contact with him at
Such rapport (not undue familiarity, which is
oft confused with "rapport") led to a wholesome, unwritten code
of discipline, which none of us transgressed. Had we done so, we
would have been truly ashamed of ourselves. Such were the core
values on which the university was sustained.
The University Medical Officer, C. E. S.
Weeratunge, was our guide and philosopher. He spoke to us of the
pitfalls of celibate student lives, and how to channel our
energy in creative pursuits. Climbing Hantane was a very regular
exercise prescribed for us! Also ambling along the banks of the
Mahaweli, capturing its beauty on film. Hikes were organised in
the weekends to Uda Peradeniya, as well as to Galaha and its
environs, when we discovered a mulberry farm (a sericulture
centre) in Mahahalpe, run by an order of the Roman Catholic
Church. The mulberry jam was delightful—with the much publicised
imported black currant jam, instantly receding to second place.
Other than sore muscles, and traces of insomnia
attributed to "examination nerves"— which Dr. Weeratunge handled
admirably—he was deeply concerned about the quality of our
drinking water. The old SEAC reservoir, which served Lord Louis
Mountbatten and his staff during World War II, was our only
source of drinking water—and quite a few of us were tested for
amoebisis! This gave an impetus to additional sources of water
being utilised (treated and purified).
Despite university marshals patrolling the
campus day and night (with the much respected Fred de Saram as
chief marshal—assisted by Bobby Jayaweera, Derek Raymond, R.
Boulton and R. P. de Alwis) we had our share of excitement,
sneaking out of the campus, sans "exeats" to watch the late
night shows at the Regal and Laza (now Odeon) cinemas. An "exeat"
was always issued on request but it was a challenge to go out
"unauthorized"—at times! At Marrs, not only did we get our
exeats, but also the sub-warden, Mr. Indraratna’s car, an Austin
Coupe, for the outing!
Fun and frolic form an integral part of
undergraduate life. Centred more specifically at Marrs Hall was
a memorable happening—this time in broad daylight. A very
spontaneous effort to perform what was termed a humanitarian
act, led to our lightning-like convergence into one of our
friend’s rooms. The undisputed belief was that the man never
bathed. A cat wash was as far as he would go! The man was
snatched from the seat at his desk—where he was poring over a
book on "statistics", the bane of his lifecarried in triumphant
procession to the bath! One of our number (who had a penchant
for seeing the other man’s point of view) carried a golf
umbrella—just in case.
The man yelled, coaxed, pleaded; kicked; lashed
out; and in final desperation, sprayed us closest to him, with
dots of saliva, to leave him alone. He had a blocked nose,
suffered from catarrh and his loins ached from cycling to
lectures and back, uphill!
The water cascaded down our totally exhausted
friend’s head and shoulders and he was literally soaked to the
skin! A sea change occurred, instantly! His blocked nostrils,
suddenly functioned excellently well; and he glowed with sheer
rage—a semblance of the return to radiant good health! Years
later, he made his mark as a much feared director secretary of a
private sector business conglomerate.
This bath triggered off a free for all.
Everybody found some receptacle to carry—and a right royal
"bucketing" session ensued.
A hazy outline of a figure was evinced climbing
up the stairs—stealthily. Those of us who wore glasses had
removed them for safety, so identifying the intruder was
difficult. He was challenged—and tons of water flung at him in
one collective effort! Up came Dr. Hector Passe (dripping and
grinning) suggesting we use a hose pipe the next time!
Evenings at Peradeniya were greatly cherished.
They set the seal on a life of peace and tranquility.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, come a few shrill ear
piercing notes. It dawns on us slowly that one of our number
(who had been threatened with dire consequences for disturbing
the peace) had laboriously climbed the highest point on the hill
behind Marrs to practice his trumpet lessons. He invariably
started with "scales", which created the illusion of a thousand
cats in torment.
Then there were the nights, brightly illuminated
by the silver shimmer of the moon, when S. S. Suriyagoda thought
it a fitting time for volley ball`85. Others with more romantic
thoughts settled down to day dreaming over pages of Lipson
Volume II strongly associated with JEAN.
Sports flourished under the supervision of G.
Brant Little, Director, Physical Education, a Canadian
affectionately called Con-O-Little. Games were played
strenuously, mainly, hockey, cricket, rugby football, lawn
tennis, netball, soccer, athletics, badminton, table tennis and
boxing. Archery had been introduced—essentially for the
women—and ambling along the slopes of the Arunachalam compound
one had ample proof of it when an arrow whizzed past one’s nose!
(Either Dorothy de Saram or Gnani Pelpola had let fly an arrow
from behind a shrub.). Lawn tennis was extremely popular, as it
gave a great opportunity for the greatest number of
participants. Mahinda Dunuwila, K. Arichandran and Derrick Mack
excelled. The cricketing giants were Maurice Wanigaratne, T.
Vairavanathan and Derrick Mack; and in hockey S. A. B. Dias,
Derrick Mack, C. T. Jansz, Rutnam Swami, T. Sumanasekera and B.
S. de Silva. Tara Amarasingham, S. A. B. Dias and A. T. J.
Madugalle were rugby football’s "quick silver" men, mesmerizing
In athletics, the two fastest women in the
campus were Kshanthi Siriwardene and Joyce Samarasinha. The
gruelling cross-country race (for men) run over a distance of
seven miles (Peradeniya to Geli Oya and back) was an innovation
of Sir Ivor. The race provided for "wide representation", each
of the men’s halls naming a minimum ten-member squad; with the
hall first clocking in their first ten runners, declared
winners. The race was open to staff as well.
Vivid memories of George Wikramanayake
(Lecturer) being chased in the opposite direction by irate water
buffaloes as we ran across the bunds of paddy fields close to
Geli-Oya, added lustre to this race. Marrs Hall had the fittest
team but had to be content with the "runners-up" title, as one
of our "magnificent ten", quite cussedly, decided to wind up the
race at Marrs—and not at the official "Finish"—the Shirley de
Alwis roundabout! Arunachalam Hall was consequently declared
winners! The man at Marrs—our tenth man—was re-christened,
The notorious baton charge on an innocuous group
of "Peradeniya" dissenters (one could always produce a
grievance!) spearheaded by Sergeant Morley of the Kandy Police,
resulted in Peter Gunawardena, in a strangely perverse manner,
discovering his vocation. An interested by stander, he had been
hit on the head and his mission was to hunt down Morley by
joining the Police force!
Incidentally, "Peradeniya" produced some of Sri
Lanka’s outstanding Police personalities, men of the highest
integrity, most of them from the pioneer batch: R. Sunderalingam,
DIG (now with Interpol), S. Vamadevan, DIG (Australia), Peter
Gunawardena, Ernest Perera (IGP), T. P. F. de Silva (IGP) and
Edward Gunawardena. (DIG) H. G. Dias, excelled as a banker. The
first General Manager of the National Savings Bank, he rapidly
progressed to the position of South Asia Representative for
Girard/Mellon Bank. Christie Gunawardane, Inthiran Chelvathurai
and Harry Waidyasekera excelled in the Department of Inland
Revenue; K. M. J. Fernando was consecrated Bishop of the
Anglican Diocese of Colombo.
We experienced moments of sadness, as well One
of our vivacious colleagues, Sriyani de Fonseka, died in our
first year at Peradeniya. The entire campus mourned her death.
A regular avalanche of merriment was produced by
Anton Dahanayake, with the launch, quite unobtrusively, of his
campus centred, "in the rush" series, no doubt influenced by
Kandy’s legendary George E. de Silva!
The very first Peradeniya campus social was
organised by Eardley Edirisinha of Sir James Peiris Hall. It was
advertised as a "Fancy Dress" event and eagerly awaited! Only P.
M. D. Fernando of Marrs had, however, taken it seriously, and
transformed himself into a pirate eye, patch and all (with Prof.
Ludowyk’s Dram Soc influence, permeating his thoughts, no
When it was time to adjudge the winner there was
only one contestant. Quite ingeniously Eardley Edirisinha (until
recently Principal, Hotel School, Mt. Lavinia Hotel) hastily
re-emerged with several playing cards pinned on to his suit. He
was, by doing so, supposed to be the joker in the pack! Two
would still not suffice—there were three prizes to be won. Wai
Tsing Pakstun who was sipping a drink, was hauled out, an
antignom creeper wrenched off a fence, wrapped hastily round her
head, strangely to be considered as Shakespeare’s Ophelia.
After ten rounds of parading (clockwise and
anti-clockwise) to music, the Pirate was adjudged winner! It was
clean, wholesome fun. "PMD" later represented Sri Lanka as our
High Commissioner in several Asian and West European lands, with
great distinction—an unique juxtaposition of piracy and
diplomacy (the influence of the metaphysical poets, no doubt!).
Prof. E. F. C. Ludowyk, "Ceylon’s English
genius" ensured that the English Department flourished in
earnest. Many plays were produced including the ongoing series
of Inter-Hall One Act Plays—and Jubal’s famous "Insect Play".
The English language was studied critically at "Practical
Criticism" classes—and one began to discern "good" writing from
"bad", Feeling, intention, tone and sense were minutely
"examined"! Poetry was analysed with diligence, with an eye on
imagery and clarity.
Prof. E. R. Sarathchandra did likewise in the
Department of Sinhala. One of his Peradeniya productions, Maname
(in liaison with Prof. Ludowyk), was lapped up by the theatre
Richard Peiris (Jnr), now a Jesuit monk,
spearheaded the Music Society; Robin Mayhead conducted the much
acclaimed University Singers’ Choir.
The Department of English with Prof. Lyn Ludowyk
at the helm had a galaxy of stars—Dr. Hector Passe, Doric de
Souza (always brilliant) and Robin Mayhead, fresh from
Cambridge. They collectively produced the cream of the
department—Gananath Obeyesekere, M. L. J. Wickramaratne, Ranjini
Ellepola and P. M. D. Fernando.
Charlie Mahendran—one of us "Peradeniya"
pioneers—distinguished himself as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner
to the United Nations Organization. K. M. de Silva continues his
academic interest in "Ceylon History", as Professor. Desmond
Fernando has excelled in the realm of Law; Evan Melder and K.
Arichandran, at the World Bank; Lakdasa Hulugalle at the FAO;
Ivan Ondaatje as a management consultant par excellence; Indrani
Abeyesekera and Haig Karunaratne as great teachers; Merlin Peris
as Professor of Western Classics; Inthiran Chelvathurai at the
Commonwealth Secretariat in Britain; and Christie Gunawardane as
Tax Consultant to the Government of Kenya in East Africa.
Stanley Kirinde has emerged as a great artist.
Our long vacations—from the end of March to end
of June, each academic year— were interludes of joy!
Camping by the "red bridge" at Horton Plains;
hikes to Belihuloya, Ohiya, Pattipola, Dayagama West, and the
West Haputale tea plantations; and living under canvas in
Kalkudah, Pasekudah and Arugam Bay; the Kumana Bird Sanctuary;
attempts at scaling Bible Rock and Kirigalpotha; Pidurutalagala,
our highest mountain (7271 feet above sea level) and rambling
across the Uva mountain range from Bandarawela to Bibile,
Passara (with shelter for the night plus dinner at Sheila Rao’s
delightful home on Ury Estate), Namunukula, Kokagala and
Madulsima; exploring sections of the Mahaweli and the Knuckles
In retrospect, university life comprised days of
achievement and delight. We had unobtrusively acquired sound
core values which have stood us in good stead in the mundane
humdrum world of formal employment to which we are all
relegated, in the mould of convention. The annual "Going Down
Dinner" initiated by Sir Ivor signified this dramatic change
that would occur in our lives!
Some of our number have done exceeding well;
others caught up in the maelstrom of the arrogance of power and
unwholesome influence have not had the good fortune, nor
opportunity, to break through such stifling constraints!
All in all, however, "Peradeniya" has done well
and the country has been enriched with the great diversity of
the talent of her Fellows.
The writer retired from the position of Manager,
Human Resources, at the World Headquarters of the International
Irrigation Management Institute (IIM), where he also acted for
the Director, Finance & Administration.