A rare book on rare authors by a rare scholar

BY K. Godage

This is indeed a rare achievement by a medical specialist whose love for books transcends most things. It is a book which is not only rare but will certainly remain unmatched by another on the same subject. It is the only book I know of that sets out the authors of all books written in English on Sri Lanka during the period that Britain ruled our country, from 1796 to 1948. The index of the authors is enhanced with pen sketches of these writers. It is a book that should be in every school library. It should be in the collection of every literate Sri Lankan who is concerned with the acquisition of knowledge no matter what her or his age is.

I am reminded of a conversation I had many years ago with the late Herbert Keuneman (a cousin of the better known Pieter), a distinguished man of letters in his day. When I asked him whether there was any book that was a compendium of all books written on Sri Lanka he told me that he had at one time contemplated on compiling such a book, but as the research required was so exhaustive that he had abandoned the idea.

Our congratulations and gratitude is therefore due to Dr. Chris Uragoda for this thoroughly researched production. This is indeed a prized book, a most valuable guide for any researcher and student.

The book contains a mass of information on many eminent persons of whom we have only heard of. The pen sketches of the writers are more than interesting and revealing. For instance how many of us knew that the famous Ananda Coomaraswamy, who wrote Mediaeval Sinhala Art and Bronzes of Ceylon, had a more than interesting private life!

Then there is B. H. Aluvihare, the man who would have been the Prime Minister of this country had he not left the SLFP shortly before the elections of 1956.

Bernard Aluvihare, an Oxford educated Barrister of Law from the Inner Temple, was a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi and represented the Allahabad District in the Indian National Congress Convention in Karachchi in 1931 and also represented India at the Roundtable Conference in the same year and was imprisoned in India for being a member of the Indian Independence movement in 1932. He is the only Sri Lankan named by Jawaharlal Nehru in his autobiography ‘Discovery of India’. How little we knew of Mr. Aluvihare who had written a book ‘An introduction to the law of Delict’ in 1937.

Dr. Uragoda’s book also contains interesting accounts of the lives of many eminent Ceylonese as they were called at the time. To mention but a few, Sir Ponnabalam Arunachalam, who had been the second national of this country to get into the colonial Civil Service, (after Simon Casie Chetty). Arunachalam had written "The Digest of the Civil Law of Ceylon" and also a comprehensive report on the Census of 1901 in addition to ‘Sketches of Ceylon history.’ An eminent man he was.

This valuable book is a ‘Whose who’ containing pen sketches of Sir Solomon and son SWRD, Annie Besant, LE Blaze, RL Brohier, HW Cave, Mudaliyar Canagaratnam, Prof. Chandrasena, HW Codrington, HCP Bell, Aubrey Collette, PEP Deraniyagala, DT Devendra. Anagarika Dharmapala, Migettuwatte Gunananda Thero, Walisinghe Harischandra, WT Keeble, George Keyt, Prof. Senrath Paranavitana and Paul E. Peiris to name but a few.

Dr. Uragoda also makes a reference to the Indian Diplomat K. M. Pannikar who wrote the book ‘India and the Indian Ocean’, where he makes reference to Sri Lanka throughout the book.

This review would not be complete without drawing attention to two butchers referred to in the book, Samuel Baker, who had been knighted probably because he killed over one thousand of our elephants and another who apparently exceeded the number killed by Baker, a Major Rogers, Commandant at Badulla, who may also have been responsible for the slaughter that took place and not of elephants, during the Vellasa rebellion.

My sincere appreciation to a great Sri Lankan, Dr. Chris Uragoda, who has by this excellent work of research and scholarship carved his own place in the pantheon of the great men and women who adorn our history by their own legacies in the form of writings that they left for posterity. Who is to be blamed if posterity has chosen to preserve trivia and forget the essence? Not such men as Dr. Chris Uragoda for whom scholarship matters over commercial concerns. Truly a rare book by a rare man.

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