21 September, 2020

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Letter To The President; On My Fulbright Days

By Ranjini Obeyesekere

Ranjini Obeyesekere

Ranjini Obeyesekere

His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa,

The President Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka,

Office of the President,

Temple Trees,

150 Galle Road,

Colombo 3,

Sri Lanka.

Dear President Rajapaksa,

The first time I ever left the shores of my island home Sri Lanka, was on a Fulbright Travel Grant for graduate study in the U.S.  My husband, an earlier Fulbright scholar, was returning to complete his Ph.D at the University of Washington in Seattle. I had been accepted to the English Dept. at the same University.

That was over fifty years ago.

It was to me a mind-blowing experience. I was twenty eight, a mother of two young children, and I was going back to do graduate work at a university.  It was not uncommon for wives to accompany husbands when they went abroad on study leave, but at the time it was not usual for both to be engaged in graduate studies. Was I foolish to attempt it?  What was this new unknown world going to be like? At home I had extended family and a support system which enabled me and many of my colleagues to take on employment after our degrees, and cope fairly easily with the demands of home, family and a job.  But here in a new world without those supports could I make it? There was both fear and excitement at the challenge.

I was overwhelmed by the initial welcome we had and the warmth of strangers.  A university professor and his wife who had been in Sri Lanka, greeted us the very first day we arrived, brought us furniture to make our meagre apartment comfortable, and even offered us money to tide over till our finances were worked out. That act of sheer generosity to strangers was what I will always remember about our first day in America. Thereafter, we had every kind of help; from neighbors, fellow students, from our host family, the Sweaneys with whom we maintained contact and visits until their death.

I was tongue tied at my first seminars, listening fascinated to my fellow students, questioning, contesting and arguing with the Professor over various aspects of a work we were discussing.  Being used to the pattern of lectures and tutorials in my undergraduate years in Sri Lanka, this give and take between the Professor and students was to me, awesome.  Over the years I learned to hold my own.  Since then, as a teacher, I have always brought to my relationship with students, this give and take, so crucial to the learning experience.

We lived in graduate student housing which at that time consisted of army barracks –remainders of World War 2 — situated on the edge of an open space that had formerly been a waste land.  I had imagined America to be a world of enormous wealth and luxury so this two bedroom shack-like unit was quite a disappointment.  However it turned out to be one of the richest experiences of our stay.  Our immediate neighbors were Ned Wagner, a Child Psychologist and his family, just arrived from New York. They immediately became our extended family and he was “Ned mama” to my children ever after.  A Japanese biologist and his family of two children lived opposite us; the younger of them was the same age as my son.  Neither knew English but they would play together for hours each talking his own language and amazingly seeming to communicate! Tuneko’s letters to me still begin, “My dear sister Ranjini.” Then there was the German scientist and family. I remember the awe with which I watched Helga, put her baby in the wash tub of our common laundry area and scrub her with the same intensity as she did her pots and pans! There was Ramesh Gangolli, the Indian mathematician and his family, who, like the Wagners continued to live on in Seattle and have been our connecting link to that part of the world ever since.

As time passed and we went our several ways we continued those friendships, visited each other’s countries, lived over and over again in each other’s homes, watched our children grow, and even though some have long passed away, the sense of extended family never left.  This has not been just our experience but the experience of so many others who like us, have gone on Fulbright scholarships to the US, had our personal and emotional worlds enriched and our intellectual horizons widened and deepened.

The Fulbright programme is an institution that has extended its reach and touched lives like ours over a sixty year period.  In a world that desperately needs to reach out across divides, it deserves the fullest continuing support, of the alumni and the governments of both the US and Sri Lanka.

Sincerely,

Ranjini Obeyesekere

*This essay is taken from the book, ‘Letters to Our Presidents’ published by US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission

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Latest comments

  • 2
    1

    Here we go with that ‘Excellency’ reference again! Deepika Udagama, Ranjini Obeysekere et all, can’t seem to stop genuflecting!

    As someone else pointed out earlier, we live in a Republic. Drop this term please. No wonder this so called liberal intelligentsia has been crucified and are mewling in the dust in the face of the Rajapaksa onslaught! Only Bradman Weerakoon had the guts I think, just to omit this term ‘Excellency’ in his letter written for this collection of Fullbright essays. Bravo Mr Weerakoon who served several Presidents without bowing and scraping.

    Stand up. Have some actual backbone instead of writing useless letters to ‘Their Excellency’ who must be guffawing and tossing them in the waste paper basket!

    • 2
      0

      The Excellency is Tissa Jayatilleke’s idea. [Edited out]
      Part of 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/

      • 0
        0

        CT editors – please spare us these letters to a non-excellency – quite pathetic – no point throwing pearls at swine to boost one’s ego!

      • 0
        0

        Ps. I understand that Dr. Ranjini Obeyesekere is a lovely lady – nothing personal here!

      • 0
        0

        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/

    • 1
      0

      Dear Ms.Ranjini Obeyesekere

      “My husband, an earlier Fulbright scholar, was returning to complete his Ph.D at the University of Washington in Seattle. I had been accepted to the English Dept. at the same University.”

      “That was over fifty years ago.”

      Let’s see. USA is a Republic. There are no Kings and Queens. The Last King, King George was kicked out.

      If you and your husband spent some time in Seattle, Washington State, you should know better. Washington played a key role in kicking the King out and inaugurating the American Republic, and was the First President. He was addressed as Mr. President, not His Excellency.

      Had you and your husband spent some time in United kingdom, you can be excused for using “His Excellency” for the President of the Republic of Sri Lanka, but you spent time in the Republic of USA. Furthermore, you studied English. Please use Mr. President in the future, when you formally address the President of the Republic of Sri Lanka. We do not want any dynasties here. If a dynasty is needed, people will vote in a referendum.

      Please see below how the US President is addressed.

      For somebody who does not follow the constitution, does nor follow the rule of law, His Excellency is a Travesty of Justice and Etiquette. Even the President of the US, a Superpower, is not addressed that way.

      http://www.formsofaddress.info/FOA_president_US.html

      How to Address

      The President of the United States Envelope, official: The President The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20500 Letter salutation: Dear Mr./Madam President:

      Please share this information with your fellow Fulbright Scholars.

      Amarasiri

    • 0
      0

      There is nothing wrong with the courtesy of a “Your Excellency.” It automatically introduces decorum into conversations. I recall Churchill’s quip when criticised for being polite in his declaration of war on Japan: “Some people did not like this ceremonial style. But after all when you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite.”

      Here is his letter from Dec. 8, 1941:

      Sir,

      On the evening of December 7th His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom learned that Japanese forces without previous warning either in the form of a declaration of war or of an ultimatum with a conditional declaration of war had attempted a landing on the coast of Malaya and bombed Singapore and Hong Kong.

      In view of these wanton acts of unprovoked aggression committed in flagrant violation of International Law and particularly of Article I of the Third Hague Convention relative to the opening of hostilities, to which both Japan and the United Kingdom are parties, His Majesty’s Ambassador at Tokyo has been instructed to inform the Imperial Japanese Government in the name of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom that a state of war exists between our two countries.

      I have the honour to be, with high consideration,

      Sir,
      Your obedient servant,
      Winston S. Churchill

      That aside, I do not understand this spate of letters on the Fulbright Program. Is someone planning to shut it down? That would be very foolish

      • 1
        0

        Yes but ‘killing with politeness’ is different to genuflecting and then blabbing on about the ‘American experience’ to a President who cares nothing for it. I would expect that a moderately intelligent man would see the difference.

        So for example, if all these letters addressed to this ‘Excellency’ had taken strong positions on what is wrong in Sri Lanka and put this ‘Excellency’ on notice, public reactions may have been less critical.

        But what we have here is not that; just yet another exercise in nonsense. Pure nonsense.

      • 0
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  • 2
    0

    One more to the list, letter to the president. Surely president has become so cheep or he is not doing his job for every one to write to him.

    CT can you please create a separate document folder and dump all these letters to president their ?

  • 1
    0

    Yet another interminable ‘letter to the President’ from yet another beneficiary of the largesse of our American friends. Delightful reminisces, which are all well and good for a selected few; nice work if you can get it, and if you get it, tell more plu’s so that they too can join in. Sadly, the fact of life is that more of those who take these opportunities seem to spend the best part of their years rewarding other masters in lands faraway from Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, in the morass that remains of our higher education system, the lads and lasses of the unwashed join Weerawansa et al in their historic stands against the several evil empires played out at regular intervals on the dusty streets of Colombo.

  • 1
    1

    What a heartwarming story of humanity being one. I am deeply touched and my eyes were getting misty as I read this testimonial. Thank you. This shows that humanity is one and I hope we catch on.

    Hameed

    • 0
      0

      But we will miss the bus like the intellectually Fulbright corrupted Pakistan.

  • 1
    0

    Dear Ranjini Obeyesekere -,

    RE: From Fulbright Scholarship

    Some Editing and Corrections are needed.
    1. “His Excellency”President Mahinda Rajapaksa,
    Please change to: Mr. President Can you Please the ” His Excellency” Part out. Just stick to Mr. President, as he was elected by the people, whether they were fools, educated, racists, paras, atheists, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or non-believers. For somebody who does not follow the constitution, does nor follow the rule of law, His Excellency is a Travesty of Justice and Etiquette. Even the President of the US, a Superpower, is not addressed that way.

    http://www.formsofaddress.info/FOA_president_US.html

    How to Address The President of the United States Envelope, official: The President The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20500 Letter salutation: Dear Mr./Madam
    President:

    Amarasiri

    • 1
      0

      My apologies Amarasiri, it was you who originally pointed this out. I could not remember.

      If these so called intellectuals genuflect like this, what can be expected of ordinary folks? Who said, lets get rid of all the lawyers first? We should adapt that saying here. Sri Lankans should now start getting rid of all these sham intellectuals!

      First we have Dhanapala moralizing from the Friday Forum with all these good people signing on with him while at the same time, he sits on the board of a company which is blocking websites. What happened here was that he got found out and had no option but to step down. Otherwise, he would have continued. What shame. No wonder Mara run rings round these people.

  • 1
    0

    Why is it all of a sudden the Fulbright PhD’s taking oath to pursue the President to brainwash the dimwit Lankan stocks? Aren’t there any better Lankan mechanism to educate our masses than pampering on an overseas graduation? What’s happened to our fatherland, is it walking in the shoes of Pakistan?

  • 1
    1

    There seems to be some misunderstanding on the use of the adjective ‘ Excellency’ in the series of essays by former Fulbright scholars extracted from a book published by the US- Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission. It is likely that the ‘ Letters to our Presidents’ theme of this book , required the adjective ‘ Excellency’ be used. It was apparently not the authors choice and cannot be attributed to sycophancy on their part. It is the Joint Fulbright Commission that has chosen to follow the Sri Lankan stupidity for obvious reasons.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 0
      0

      There are two issues here Narendran. This highly unnecessary salutation is one, whether it was the Fullbright Commission at fault or not. The writers should have taken a principled objection to it anyway.

      The other is the motive behind what looks to be a typical esoteric exercise. Do these writers think that because of their names and because this is a explanation of the good of the Fullbright exercise, that it will make a jot of a difference to that ‘Excellency’ to whom they have addressed their laborious missives? This is the real joke.

      The inability of these esteemed worthies to grasp exactly what we are up against here is well seen. Has anyone read that brilliant poem, the ‘Apolitical Intellectuals’ by Otto Rene Castillo? Where he condemns the ‘intellectuals’ who indulge in their airy-fairy nothingness while as he says when their country was slowly dying out,like a sweet campfire,small and abandoned.’

      This is what comes to my mind when I read this tripe.

  • 0
    0

    Pathetic in my opinion

    Irrelevant and meaningless drivel. Pitiable seeking of attention by another of that small coterie of Fulbright participants.

    Why CT finds it expedient to publish such wretched twaddle when there are so many burning issues confronting Sri Lanka is beyond me.

  • 0
    0

    What the hell is going on here ? Is it that Fulbright scholars can’t find jobs ?

    One of first things they should have learn t was to think and reason for themselves ! How on earth can you genuflect to a thug from Medamulana if you are able to THINK !

  • 0
    0

    I believe these are a collection of letters from Fullbright Scholars published by the Commission on this theme to commemorate an anniversary. I remember a previous publication styled ‘Encounters’. All the letters extol the virtues of the american education and experience, quite rightly, for it’s ability to free the mind of fetters and bias.

    If Mahinda Rajapaksa had followed a Fullbright course it is likely that he would have been a different personality today. If there is no age restriction, it may still be worthwhile to send him to Seattle or wherever, to imbibe fresh thinking and instigate creativity and egalitarian values. That would be the best contribution the Fullbright Commission can make to bring about peace and reconciliation.

    • 0
      0

      It was the UNP dictator Ranil Wickramasinghe who got the free trip to MIT to study how to make a constitution!

      Ranil’s first job on return from the US was to join Mahinda Jarapassa at some Vesak distraction, rather than meet with the UNP which he has destroyed, but which is supposed to be the OPPOSITION party..Wheels within wheels. CBK would make a far better opposition leader. Ranil should succeed Dimu Jayaratne as Jarapassa’s Prime Minister!

      Buddhism has been turned into a commercial circus by politicians and the military who run Vesak zones – never mind that the Buddha taught nonviolence and right mindfulness!

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