18 November, 2018

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In Memory Of My Father- Professor Sucharita Gamlath

By Sharmila Gamlath

Sharmila Gamlath

Sharmila Gamlath

My father, late Professor Sucharita Gamlath was one of the most prolific scholars of his time. During his lifetime, he continuously demonstrated his acumen in a range of fields, fulfilling the roles of author, teacher, literary critic, linguist, and political activist contemporaneously. He certainly needs no introduction among the general public of Sri Lanka. Since his demise on the 30th of March 2013, there have been many eloquent accounts of his contributions to the fields of Sinhala language and literature, literary criticism and political views. However, on the eve of his second death anniversary, I thought it would be apt to supply an insider’s account of his life to the large number of Sri Lankan whose lives he enriched with his work.

An obvious question that may emerge is why I did not write such a memoir as soon as he passed away or, at least, why I did not write one last year, in conjunction with his first death anniversary. In fact, several friends and family members did urge me to write an appreciation about him earlier. However, during a couple of previous attempts, I had tremendous difficulty dealing with the myriad of emotions that crossed my mind. Recently, when I spoke to a friend about this state of haziness I was experiencing, he reassured me that it is only human to feel that way. So I decided that was best to wait patiently till I was emotionally prepared to get down to this task. Now I am.

Sucharita Gamlath’s work ethic

It is worth pondering over what motivated my father to work so hard. I feel now that it was pure passion, the urge to keep utilizing his brilliance for as long as he could. The expected monetary payoff associated with his work was not a critical source of motivation for him. It makes me feel that scholars produce their greatest works when they engage in their activities with the sole intention of producing an outcome which challenges them, rather than treating a scholarly work like a pail of milk which can be sold and many things bought with the money. Engaging in scholarly work simply for extrinsic gains such as monetary rewards, career progress and recognition could sometimes negatively affect the quality of one’s work. The selfless gratification he got from engaging in his work was probably the magic formula for my father’s literacy success.

Professor Sucharita Gamlath

Professor Sucharita Gamlath

My father derived the greatest happiness from writing tirelessly. Usually, he organized his working day into three parts: he would generally get some writing -and perhaps reading- done before breakfast. After than he would sit at his writing table till lunch. After than he had a long nap, and after evening tea, he would go back to his writing and only stop at about 9.30pm.

The energy he displayed was truly extraordinary. He would sit at his table for hours on end, writing in his calligraphic hand. Rarely would he cross out a word. Spending a lot of time thinking about what he wanted to write and correcting and editing his sentences many a time was not good enough for my father. He had the rare ability to form a crystal clear sentence in his head and pen it down in impeccable language promptly.

Spending much of one’s day reading and writing demands a great deal of discipline. It also requires a person to be free of the many other household responsibilities that a person typically has to shoulder such as shopping, cooking, child-caring, etc… Hence, I cannot personally help thinking that such a work ethic would primarily be restricted to men. Within our household too, my father was able to engage in his work undisturbed because he did not have to worry about these mundane duties.

Political ideology

All his life, my father was a faithful ally of the hardworking proletariats of Sri Lanka. As he was born in a remote village beneath Adam’s Peak, he was well aware of the hardships villagers in our country confronted. It was without doubt these humble beginnings that created in him a sensitivity to develop a lasting bond with the working class of our country and be an active supporter of their struggle for emancipation from the bonds of capitalism.

While I did not always connect with my father’s stalwart Marxist ideas, I nevertheless respected his political views. He was a strong advocate of the right to self-determination of minority groups. Having seen with his own eyes the atrocities committed against the Tamils of the North during his tenure as the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Jaffna, he steadfastly opposed the marginalization faced by ethnic minorities by the JR Jayawardene regime. In simple terms, his view was that being a Sinhalese Buddhist did not give an individual the right to superiority.

His opinions regarding the ethnic question were often misinterpreted and resented by chauvinists hiding behind the veil of mock patriotism, blinded by their ambition to attain a state of supremacy and rule over minorities with an iron fist. It was this duplicitous stance my father firmly opposed. He believed that every Sri Lankan, regardless of his origins should have the right to live in our country free of fear and repression. Having seen the manner in which our Tamil brethren were crushed by selfish, greedy politicians repeatedly, he, like a true people-centred intellectual, lost faith in the political system completely. In his view, the ideal solution to this state of affairs was the establishing of an egalitarian socialist state within which all Sri Lankans could live in dignity.

He also believed that language could act as a powerful driver of ethnic harmony. To this end, he proposed that all Sri Lankans should acquire a good command of English, regardless of whether their mother tongue was Sinhala or Tamil. Hence, English would become a medium through which people from all ethnicities could communicate with each other effectively, thereby minimizing the possibility of ethnic disharmony. Although my father and his close friend Professor Karthigesu Sivathamby tried to work on an English-Sinhala-Tamil dictionary to further this noble cause, they received scant support from the authorities for this task, and both these great men left this world with their hopes unfulfilled.

Had he been alive, he would have been overjoyed by how our Muslim and Tamil brethren used their suffrage boldly to overthrow a tyrannical regime at the presidential election in January. On the other hand, he would have been harshly critical of the new government’s fragile stance regarding a range of issues as well. As he never pledged his support for any political party, my father was able to maintain his autonomy at all times. Firmly grounded on his belief that mainstream political parties never worked in the best interests of the common man, he possessed the courage to criticize the actions of successive governments openly.

Unemployment: was it a source of disillusionment or an opportunity to achieve the pinnacle of literacy success?

When a person wages war against the extant political system with his pen, the fine line between bravery and recklessness could sometimes get blurred. In my father’s case, as a consequence of expressing his candid views on the actions of the UNP regime of the 1980s, he had to suffer 14 long years of unemployment. Drawing a parallel with the Ramayana, I like to refer to these 14 years as the period he spent in ‘exile.’ Alas, my father was no immortal. Thus, like any other ordinary man, this unlawful act of vengeance may have left him feeling embittered, resentful, and emotionally shattered. After my father’s death, in the appreciation written to the Ravaya by Hon Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Wickremesinghe stated that on several occasions, he had publicly and in person apologized to my father for the injustice he faced at the hands of the UNP regime of yesteryear. Yet no apology can turn back time or make amends for the wrongs my father faced. There is no bitterness in this reflection; yet I feel an irreversible sense of disenchantment when I think about how much agony my father may have undergone during those long years.

Despite the obvious emotional distress he is sure to have felt, in front of his family, as well as the rest of the world, he maintained a fierce air of defiance, and valiantly tried to look for that tiny silver lining in the dark cloud. When a despotic regime forces an intellectual into unemployment, their underlying expectation is that economic deprivation would force him to quit his literary endeavours. Yet, nothing could shake his iron resolve to convert this turn of events into a blessing in disguise. Undeterred by financial hardships, he completed his best literary works during these long years of unemployment. This was his response to the injustice he faced- an approach to retaliation befitting a scholar par excellence.

Despite being reinstated in his job when HE Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge assumed office in 1994, he was deeply disgruntled with the changes that had occurred within the university system in his absence, almost entirely for the worse. Among other things, the gross politicization of the higher education sector and the shocking decline in academic standards created a deep sense of discontentment in him, and he went into retirement with a genuine fear for the future of the children of our country.

I must also mention that my father never received any compensation for being unlawfully ousted from his job. His great friend Mr Ran Banda Senevirathne represented him in a lawsuit demanding the earnings he lost due to unemployment, but the trial came to an abrupt end due to a mere technicality. Yet never did my father despair. After all he had gone through, losing the lawsuit was just a very trivial incident for him. In fact, he was never very enthusiastic about litigation in relation to his expulsion. This is evident from one of his famous statements, which was,”Places like courts and police stations are capitalist organizations that have been created to waste people’s precious time.”

Sucharita Gamlath’s naivety

His general reluctance to seek justice resulted in my father being played out by swindlers on numerous occasions. For some greedy sharks, my father was nothing but a gold mine. They cheated him in numerous innovative ways over time. They lied to him about the number of books authored by him that were printed, they did not pay him the royalties that he was entitled to, and they made illegal copies of his books and sold them clandestinely.

Worst of all, we have now found out that with absolutely no respect for his intellectual property, entire sections of books he authored have been plagiarized. It is quite ironical that at present such crooks who have stolen my father’s intellectual property in broad daylight are hawking their wares within the new “good governance” regime, portraying themselves as white knights bent on ridding our land of all vices. Good governance per se is a much needed political paradigm. However, it is exceedingly hard to believe that such charlatans, who cannot even respect the intellectual property rights of a scholar, and for that matter a dead one, would contribute towards this endeavour selflessly.

His legacy

My father played a pivotal role in developing the literary, cultural and political sensitivity of the general public in Sri Lanka. Enchanted by his unique writing style, people flocked to buy the newspapers to which he contributed as a columnist. He was able to reach the hearts of people from all walks of life with his words. The accolades the public poured upon him meant so much for him, and the positive feedback he received gave him the vigour to continue his work until he was defeated by cancer.

He also passed on his passion for excellence to a large number of students. The brilliant pieces of writing by his students that appear in newspapers and social media sometimes only bear testimony to what a brilliant teacher he was. I believe teaching was an inborn talent he was endowed with. An elderly lady once said that when she was a student at the University of Peradeniya, even though she did not study the subject my father taught, she and her friends sat through all his lectures, hanging onto every word he said. According to her, they had to always arrive in the lecture theatre a couple of hours in advance to find a seat, as scores of students who were not enrolled in the subject attended his lecture, enthralled by his brilliant delivery of the subject matter as well as his good looks!

My father always believed that a good citizen should earn his living through honest means and maintain the utmost degree of integrity in his actions. I am confident that he was pleased that his children followed the way of life he advocated. What is even more wonderful is the fact that he inspired many Sri Lankans with his scholarly contributions. Even though he is not among us anymore, his words will always reside within the pages of his literary works.

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Latest comments

  • 13
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    The past students of University of Jaffna were fortunate to have his services as a teacher during the late 70s.The Tamils outside the Uni also were very proud to have a genuine progresssive intellectual among their midst. Many people in the North missed the great intellect and wonderful kindness of a true human being.

  • 4
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    I also respect this man., Can the writer tell his association with Balakumaran(.if i remember his name correctly)

  • 7
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    Thank you for this enlightening and moving tribute to your father Professor Sucharita Gamlath, a wonderful scholar with work ethics to match. His was the time education in Jaffna was held in highest esteem. We were from Colombo with a plethora of famous schools, but all of my brothers were educated at Jaffna Central College.

    I agree wholeheartedly with his political ideologies, which at first glance appear far-fetched but in reality the only means of progress for our little nation.

    It was magnanimous of Ranil Wickremasinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga to attempt to make amends for the wrongs done to your father, but I hope it helped, but faced with the ignorance of some of our electorate, they paid a heavy price while tyrants prospered.

  • 7
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    dear Sharmila
    Pls. accept my respects, regards and admiration to your dear late father. May God bless his soul. Bensen

  • 7
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    Brilliant academic

  • 8
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    It was my misfortune not to have known Prof. Gamlath personally until one day some years ago at the Kamban Kalagam at Wellawatta in Colombo where he was the Guest Speaker. My friend, who was then in a controlling position in the Kalagam – and, knowing my established interest in working towards Sinhala-Tamil unity, invited me for the talk. I found the Professor most forthright in his talk. I could then see he was one of those in the minority in circles that matter in the country who knew what went wrong, where and what should be done to set the wrongs right. He did not mince his words. He went to suggest that recognition in the historic role, cooperation between Sinhalese and Tamils will only narrow the gap of the existing gulf of misunderstanding between the two ancient races in the country. He did not hesitate to insist if the 35% odd Tamil words in the Sinhala language is removed the Sinhala language will become meaningless. By that he was not demeaning his own precious language but, as in all honesty as a man of learning, he was only conceding the indisputable fact.

    But it was clear to me, given the ground reality in the country, he was not going to succeed against the ruling forces of prejudice and reaction. It is sad Gamlath was made to undergo extreme hardship during the UNP (1977-1993) years, including the loss of employment income for a long time. This was a period in our recent history when progressive thinkers were sidelined – often violently for holding views different to the more hawkish elements in the ruling dispensation. But it was comforting there were then men of learning in the Sinhala community who were able to see matters in perspective with little care for their personal safety or their livelihood. In my brief chat with him that day he mentioned the Sinhala-Tamil dictionary both he and Prof. Sivathamby were engaged in and he asked me to use my network to help. A few days later I enquired of him from another academic, who was also a successful politician, who confided in me Gamlath was nothing more than a “crank” Needless to say this politician friend of mine is now high up in the UNP – having crossed over from the other side.

    While extending my regards to Ms Sharmila Gamlath and her family, I wish to assure you a day will come soon when politically honest gentleman like Prof. Gamlath will be duly remembered and honoured in the four corners of the country for fearlessly fighting ignorance and prejudice at much personal harm. Prof. Gamlath was, by all all accounts, a good and honourable son of Mother Lanka. The fragrance of the memory of his personality will live for a long time.

    Kettikaran

  • 4
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    SHARMILA, it is nice to read what you have written about your legendary father. Dr Sucharita Gamlath was a profound writer and scholar. I knew him somewhat and our brief encounters have been very memorable. I used to read whatever he writes because he was brilliant. Like to get to know you all.I don’t think he has received the attention that he deserved.May you and family be happy and fulfilled.

  • 4
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    I have heard my mother in law Dr Tilokasundari Kariyawasam talk about Professor Gamlath on many an occasion and your account of your father resonated with what I have heard.

  • 5
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    Thank you very much for writing this Sharmila. I knew Sucharitha when he was a young teacher. He tried to explain his views on aesthetics to me with such great patience. I shall always remember him with affection. I had lost touch with him as I had to migrate. He will be remembered fondly by those like me who know that he always fought for justice and against the travails heaped on the less fortunate peoples of our country despite personal cost to his career. Thank you again Sharmila for this very thoughtful and moving piece you have written about your father.

  • 6
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    Your father might have been a good academic, but, I find this article so shameless. Only in a little academic pond like Sri Lanka that such ‘guru’ like veneration would be tolerated. No wonder Sri Lanka doesn’t produce any creative thinkers. Your intellectual naivete is shown by the reference to Ramayana – a nonsense tale that some academics believe actually happened. As to Ranil apologising – did he also refer to Batalanda when he spoke to you ?

    • 13
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      Dear Preethi, You would do well to re-read the article before grinding your axe.
      Alternatively, If you are into **trolling**, CT is probably not the place as its readership is more sophisticated than you know.

      • 6
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        Baudelaire, you are so right. Preethi David is either Trolling for the sake of it or there is another reason she instantly dislikes this wonderful son of Sri Lanka. It’s like showering roses before a chimpanzee, Preethi will not know how to appreciate it. Fortunately, there aren’t many of them.

    • 7
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      BDs, of bandes dessinées (literally drawn strips)

      Franco-Belgian was the place on earth to be for romance and art. #
      his was politics what a shame. anyway per favour!

      English colony – still the place for English tragedy not Art

      Art is what we don’t see with our eyes but like a little child with the mind.

      Genius starts with grim cartoons depicting and sympathising with the state of the poor,- sometimes doleful subject matter – prostitutes and beggars are frequent subjects – many paintings, ink drawings and prints have as their theme an old, grotesque dwarf as the doting lover of a beautiful young model.

      He was often harassed by the Gestapo. During one search of his apartment, an officer saw a photograph of the painting Guernica.
      “Did you do that?” the German asked Picasso. “No,” he replied, “You did”
      Retreating to his studio, he continued to paint, producing works such as the Still Life with Guitar (1942) and The Charnel House (1944–48).

      Although the Germans outlawed bronze casting in Paris, Picasso continued regardless, using bronze smuggled to him by the French Resistance.

      You would do well getting rid of Banda’s and LK’s statue out of Oxford like a Lenin.

      Given an opportunity to drive a space capsule at lanka I would get rid of all idiot politician statues in one go. Is what I mean by being creative to all ar**lickers.

      Guernica is a painting by Pablo Picasso. It was created in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain, by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces on 26 April 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.

      Guernica is a statement against fascism, showing the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace. Upon completion, Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and widely acclaimed. This tour helped bring the Spanish Civil War to the world’s attention.

      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(painting)

      • 5
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        Poor old codger Jaavi.Here he goes again with his incomprehensible remarks.What else can I say but”hey you twit, get a life man” !!

        • 4
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          How slime flies!!

          • 1
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            Not it’s more about how twit Jaavi’s brain flies!!!

            • 0
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              Paavi ,So,
              Sooooo,
              Saaaad,

              on a course of collision,
              & cant explain, position or the condition in..!!

              Paavi/The Young One/Pandu, chuff,
              has it:
              Jackboots:Gender identity disorder (GID)

              :-))))

      • 1
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        Javi, what are you babbling on about man. That saying “Kohada yanne, malle poll” applies to the garbage you spout so readily.

  • 6
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    Gamlath was a true intellectual giant and a master of Sinhala language and in critical thinking. In some later essays he mixed hela basa, with sanskritised Sinhala and the occassional modern vernacular brilliantly and effortlessly. Only a few could match his versality.

    His inclination to unconditionally praise Sarachchandra and refusal to critically examine his works possibly was one his weaknesses? Also judging every work of art from a Marxist or Troskyte or whatever that political yardstick peculiar to him was at times boring and one dimensional. He missed the artistic merits of some works due to this political vision. But then that was his characteristic style.

    Politically- especially his understanding of the ethnic issues and commitment to equal rights for Tamils, minorities and for every citizen including the downtrodden Sinhalese was unwavering to the end. I will always salute him for this.

    His concern for the plight of the innocent Tamils caught during the final phase of the war was courageous in that political environment where any sympathiser with Tamils running the risk of being labelled a kotiya or a LTTEr. His unwavering sympathy for the plight of the Tamils (and minorities)and the downtrodden Sinhalese typified what he stood for as a man and a political thinker. MJA

  • 9
    3

    Today at 9:24 AM

    OMG, Preethi you look like a jealous cow. For your information, to start with,” Gamlath was not just a good academic, he was brilliant. Ramayanaya was a legend, like the Iliad and the Odyssey. I don’t see any reason why a person can’t refer to any of these legends when writing something. You can’t accept that this is a great piece this lady has written in memory of her father.

    Ranil is just mentioned casually in this article, and the writer does not talk about his apology as a big deal. Why are you talking about Batalanda when this lady is writing about her father?You just look like someone with a rare disorder which cannot understand the context of the article and have some sort of big problem with society as a whole.

    Dear Ms Gamlath,
    Your father worked so hard to bridge the ethnic divide. He was a great intellectual who always fought for the rights of the disadvantaged. He believed in equal rights for all. Through your writing you are showing that you share his thoughts. This is a great piece of writing. You should be proud to have a father like him.

  • 3
    2

    dear ms.galath,
    prof.mookaiah was a good friend of prof.gamlath. he will be able tell you lot of worthwhile things about your father. .now he is in india. i think your father visited india along with prof .mookaiah.
    prof.sandarasegaram… ssantha44@yaqhoo.com

  • 3
    2

    “My father always believed that a good citizen should earn his living through honest means and maintain the utmost degree of integrity in his actions”

    Accordingly, all politicians in Sri Lanka are not good citizens.

  • 2
    2

    Yes,a very moving tribute and thank you very much for enligghtening us.
    LakshmanLakshma

  • 1
    3

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 3
    1

    Dear Sharmila Gamlath,
    Thanks for this great tribute. A reputed scholar according to my Sinhalese friends, Sucharita Gamlath lived, lectured and published beyond the ethno/linguistic divide in a deeply fractured Island. My interactions with him were in English, insightful and meaningful. He never failed to remind me of his days at the Jaffna University where I myself served a few years.

    I heard him deliver a full-fledged lecture only once a few years ago. He spoke in Sinhalese, which was interpreted into Tamil paragraph by para. It was a brilliant lecture on the History of Lanka lasting over an hour, the whole meeting lasting nearly three hours.

    This event was at the Colmbo Tamil Sangam in Wellawatte. The hall was packed with a predominantly Tamil audience, the meeting itself having been organized by the New Democratic Party deriving its Marxist line from the veteran trade unionist N. Shanmugathasan. At the end of the lecture some of us walked up him and requested that the full lecture be published in all three languages. I do not think it materialized. It will still not be too late for a younger scholar to compile a historical survey of Lanka according to Sucharita Gamlath especially for readers in Tamil and English.

    We met off and on by chance but longer meetings never materialized. When the Handy Perinbanayagan – Jaffna Youth Congress volume was due to be released – trilingual event – at the Saraswathy Hall in Bambalapitiya in May 2012 our first choice was to have Sucharita Gamlath as the main speaker in Sinhalese. He happily agreed but finally he was not able to make it as his health declined.

    Thanks again for helping us to revive old memories of a humane, committed and wonderful life.

    Silan Kadirgamar

  • 2
    1

    Prof Sucharitha Gamlath was a good friend of mine. I associated him for more than two decades. I know how he was blackmailed by some people. There were people around him who lived from what he wrote. Those who were ideologically barren exploited Sucharitha.

    However, what the daughter has done is delightful. These memories will last.

  • 2
    1

    This is really a moving piece of a daughter about her legendary farther. I have never met Prof. Gamlath because of the big age gap between me and him. However, I have read his articles and some of the books, especially political writings. His Marxist legacy about the Sri Lankan society should continue.

    Many respects for him and thank you Ms Sharmila for this piece!!!

  • 5
    3

    Professor Politician student. at campus:

    At Campus Marxist like even a Gandhi – idiots – when one plays alongside the proletariat then they can expect either to be ignored because they achieved something for the proletariat or emptiness, void clear and full like a fool.
    Buddhist can be the worse at this.

    At campus USA capitalist both Bill & Mark of Facebook showed their middle finger like in a Ayn Rand

    • 1
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      Javi:
      I write to compliment you on the clarity of your thought and the stylish and systematically polished writing.Keep it up and keep us laughing!!

      • 3
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        Jaavi is one wasted life,it seems.

        • 0
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          [Edited out]

          • 0
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            [Edited out]

            • 3
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              Oh dear Jaavi edited out!!! Now it seems the old codger can’t even write a comment properly.Oh he seems in need or urgent help.

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

  • 0
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    A true Sri Lankan intellectual of our time. A wonderful literary critic who kept the audience well informed with his knowledge of many subjects.
    -Nizam-

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