WALKING DOWN CIVVY STREET AGAIN!”
"Civvy Street" was fun, bringing me memories of the times I had walked this street before. In those days I was a school teacher, teaching History in the upper forms. To teach, one has to have personal knowledge, not merely "book larnin’ ’’ and Lecture Notes. My father, being an Archaeologist, had inducted us, his children, into our History and Heritage and I knew that my students should see, smell, hear and feel their heritage: and that we should experience it together. Heritage is about that part of my life. "Jungles…" is about the forest that had given shelter and protection to our heritage sites, and an introduction to how I relate to my past. "Hiriwadunna" is about a group of us school teachers who took our students to the flood-ravaged village of that name, to experience dignity amid poverty, record oral history and walk and talk with the oldest and youngest residents and see how they lived, what they cultivated and ate and listen to the stories they told about themselves."Ratnadweepa…" - a trilogy – is about how my country became "A Child of the Sea". I had become certain that, to understand our people, we had to understand how we became an island, only 7,000 years ago. Everything that happened follows from this event.So it starts when we were part of (what is now) Africa and ends with how we were settled by a more advanced people from India.
But being on "Civvy Street" also meant that I had to work, and sing loud for my supper.I had exchanged Navy "whites" for the equally traditional "whites" of Produce and Stock Brokers. Those ten years was hard work indeed, not very exciting nor uplifting but providing enough opportunities to learn some things that came in handy later on. During that time I worked as Tea Shipper, Produce Broker and Stockbroker; then Chairman of the Colombo Brokers’ Association (CBA) and, finally, mid-wife to the Colombo Stock Exchange. The last found me defending my new profession and fighting for it before the Cabinet sub-Committee for Economic Affairs chaired by the President of the country – an intimidating personality! The Honest Broker starts with "The Stock Exchange Stakes", the story of this "battle". Since all this happened during my tenure as CBA Chairman, I had to give an account of my stewardship at the annual meeting of heads of Broking Companies, and that is the "CBA Chairman’s speech". "A century of Share Trading", was written for the Exchange long after I had ceased being an "Honest Broker", but my erstwhile colleagues and the CEO of the Stock Exchange thought that I should write the one hundred year history of Share Broking in Sri Lanka for a Centennial publication. It was an ego-boosting moment which I cherish, and hope I have done the subject justice.
Meanwhile, I began to feel the pull of our maritime culture. With the tales of my maternal grandfather, who had "run away to sea" as a schoolboy and ended up sweeping for mines at the approaches to Colombo Port, and my own naval background and University education in History, this was inevitable. Personal Odyssey is about all that.I had been ‘hooked’ by "Arab ships and sailors" from the time I stumbled upon a centuries-old Arab settlement and graveyard in the Naval Dockyard at Trincomalee and I made personal contact with the modern Arabs in Sharjah, UAE. This led to a greater interest in old Sri Lankan ships and I mounted an "Exhibition on Sri Lankan shipbuilding" for the Colombo Museum which lasted for far too long! Finally, in the "Lost Ships of Lanka", another trilogy, I put together the many thoughts that stemmed from my awakening to three nautical cultures that flourished together, till WW2.
All this gave me the chance to travel - something I missed out in the Navy. I was shutter-happy on those journeys and, in Photo Essays I try to share my fascination through images.
And then, the re-discovery of Reading, ventures into Writing, and Reviewing. About Others’ Books is a collection of Reviews: of books by Noel Crusz on a WW2 mutiny, Ronald Lewcock and Barabara Sansoni on vernacular architecture, Sean McGrail on Asian boats, Pundit Gunapala Senadheera on Buddhist Symbols and Manthi Ranawaka’s novel .Lastly, an account of how Gerhard Kapitan came to write on our fishing craft and an appreciation of long forgotten short stories by that "Gentleman Sailor", Rajah Proctor.
Yes, it was good to be back in “Civvy Street” !
Sunset over Trincomalee
Sunrise over Anuradhapura