18 September, 2020

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Looking Back From The 21st Century In Sri Lanka

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

Within a month I had occasion to visit the chapel of my alma mater, Trinity College, Kandy (TCK) on two occasions. The first was to be part of the final rites for a good man and a dear friend. The second was to attend the “Carol Service” held on the first Sunday of December at this most unique of Christian places of worship.

While the event held on the first Sunday of December is truly a visual and aural treat for even a catechumen like me, the history of the Holy Trinity Church, to give it its full name, evoked a variety of thoughts not necessarily associated with the practice of Christianity and its rituals.

It is only recently that one of Sri Lanka’s premier architects drew attention to the fact that the TCK chapel is one of Sri Lanka’s architectural gems, combining traditional forms with more open concepts something that preceded the iconic work of Sri Lanka’s premier architect of all time, Geoffrey Bawa, by almost half a century.

The very history of the building also is of enormous significance (or should be!) to anyone interested in the more worldly history of our country.

Trinity, as most would know, emerged out of the Anglican educational tradition during the time of the British raj. The Rev. A. G. Fraser, a man way ahead of his time in the matter of liberal education in a British colony, enabled those who wished to be instructed in their mother tongues – Sinhala & Tamil – to have that facility afforded them at least in the primary classes. This was without precedent at that point of British colonial history, the first quarter of the 20th Century.

To digress, for a moment, I had occasion to work with a very senior government servant in Alberta, Canada in the late 1980s who was of Ghanaian origin. In the course of a conversation, I mentioned the fact that Fraser had spent time on a sort of sabbatical from his primary job as Principal of Trinity, around 1912, helping establish Achimota College in what was then the Gold Coast. My Ghanaian friend was impressed no end by my very association with an institution that Fraser had ties to and which, to hear him tell it, was far and away Ghana’s finest and most highly regarded educational institution. Talk about elevation by association!

What is also interesting about the TCK Chapel is the fact that it owed its architecture to an English, Anglican priest, the Revd. L. J. Gaster, Fraser’s Vice-Principal. The only other church of which I am aware, in similar style is the Anglican Cathedral in Kurunegala, a significant part of the cost of which was met from the personal resources of the first Bishop of Kurunegala, the Rt. Rev. Lakdasa De Mel of revered memory. While the indigenous architectural influence is also very evident in the Kurunegala place of worship, in the opinion of many, present company included, it does not hold the proverbial candle to Trinity’s Chapel.

Mr. K.L.B. Tennekoon who was the supervisor of the project, happened to still be a much-loved member of the staff of TCK when I was a student there in the ‘fifties’ and seeing his name in print also brought back memories of this much-loved, diminutive man with whom the students enjoyed an unusual camaraderie and who was also often the butt of our mild jokes, practical and otherwise!

No description in a piece of this dimension can convey the absolute grandeur of a building that so effectively combined traditional (Sinhala) carved granite pillars, what has been described as a “Kandyan-roof” style with a building without walls of any description so very effectively. Bawa’s Parliamentary complex appears to be stylistically the closest thing to the Chapel at my old school. I expect that, in this age of Google, access should be available to greater detail of the fine building at the upper level of the hill on which TCK is situated.

Other thoughts surged through my mind while we sat through a surprisingly hot Sunday evening, not least of which was the quality of the TCK choir which had walked into the chapel and up to the choir stall in a singularly lovely candle-lit procession.

Some other thoughts that crossed my mind was the role that Gordon Burrows, a Major and the senior intelligence officer of Lord Louis Mountbatten, commander of South East Asia Command during World War II played in the development of TCKs now-nationally-famous choir. Burrows was a pianist of concert standard and I distinctly remember attending, with my mother, a recital given by him in the Trinity College Assembly Hall, which was NOT a venue one would choose for good acoustics! I was a pre-schooler then and enormously impressed. Anyway, Gordon prior to his taking the TCK choir to its position of eminence was the Choir Master at St. Paul’s College which was then adjacent to the more familiar St. Paul’s church. That school was unique in that it was on land, literally, adjacent to the Dalada Maligawa and remained so until it was moved or closed in the later twentieth century. St. Paul’s was acknowledged at the time to have the best schoolboy choir in the country. I distinctly remember that Roland Leslie Simon was leader of that proud band of schoolboys and though he is no longer among us, one of his sons is very much a part of Colombo’s literary scene. I speak here of Richard Simon probably the best practitioner of the English language in Sri Lanka today.

It is, indeed, sad that my final anecdote should exemplify the Sri Lanka of today rather that the generosity of spirit that some of us were fortunate enough to experience in years past.

Recently, the artist responsible for the four magnificent murals in the TCK chapel (and in the chapel at St. Thomas’ in Mount Lavinia) has been in the headlines. David Paynter had bequeathed several of his canvases to an arts faculty of a Sri Lankan university. The person holding in trust these very valuable pieces of art by one of Sri Lanka’s greatest artists prior to their being hung in their final destination has been charged with stealing and selling them to a third party! David, an alumnus of Trinity and a graduate of the Slade in Britain where he was a pupil of Augustus John, is considered one of the greatest artists this country has ever produced and certainly must be most uncomfortable in his final resting place at this turn of events.

In a time when it is easy enough and very popular, to pillory the Christian churches and particularly the Anglican Church, “the church of empire,” and to harp on the differences among the many faiths that our people practice, one needs to remember that …there was a time when tolerance reigned and people following the various theistic faiths and philosophies were not being set at each others’ throats by politicians without conscience!

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    I was surprised (though probably should not have been) to learn of the Paynter works being sold off by the person who held them in trust. I fear for the fate of Ian Goonetilleke’s collection of ’43 group works also held “in trust” at Peradeniya, or the books (e.g. Knox) and Kirinde and Paynter paintings at the Trinity library and archives (the latter created during the librarianship of a person very close to me). Trust, alas, is a strong word in the context of professionalism and integrity in Sri Lanka.

  • 2
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    In a time when it is easy enough and very popular, to pillory the Christian churches and particularly the Anglican Church, “the church of empire,” and to harp on the differences among the many faiths that our people practice, one needs to remember that …there was a time when tolerance reigned and people following the various theistic faiths and philosophies were not being set at each others’ throats by politicians without conscience!

    Look Like Dutch Church does not know how Anglican church and the Vatican killed ech other and finally how Catholics left to Ireland

    • 1
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      Jim, I believe that Emil was commenting “on the differences among the many faiths that OUR PEOPLE practice, one needs to remember that …”, and not to historical events in other countries.

      Maybe you need to rectify your comments???

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        Don’t remind that past.

        How about it is now just a business venture and they are trained to preach, once the training is over, asked to go every where. they have to earn their income. Some times they tried to unionize and it was stopped.

        Besides HIV patients.

        completely different topics.

        Pootan is trying to establish a new culture and a homeland.

      • 1
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        Cheers:
        If you are trying to educate “Jim Softy” I’d suggest that trying to get ANYTHING into that addled extension to his body is more than a complete waste of time!

        • 1
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          Jim Sooty,

          Now that you and Nuisance have lived in the USA can you answer this honestly?

          In the USA Blacks take most of the NBA slots.
          Indians from South India take most of the spelling bee, and engineering slots. Chinese take most of the math slots.
          Jews take most of the banking, finance, and entertainment slots.
          Anything left for the Sinhala Buddhist?

          • 2
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            smith:

            Stil whites get most of the highest salaries

            • 0
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              Just now I heard on BBC- the high salary structure and future with robots.
              eg. Like this newsroom say BMW advertise for design of new series and maybe an Indian wins it so he gets paid less because the cost of living at India is low. Hindia the way its going will never have hardware for 100 years.

              So the machines take over but certain things machines cant do- like our PC it accepts what you feed. There comes the innovative worker.

              You cant kick the west with human rights because if it was so then they won’t be advertising it.

              • 0
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                That is where the eastern philosophy comes.

                Every thing is impermanent and Every thing is a cycle, A spiral.

                • 0
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                  The English distrust of theories and slogans, the Englishman’s way of slowly bungling, if necessary, but in any case slowly finding his way, the Anglo Saxon’s love of individual liberty, self-respect, good sense and love of order, are things which are more powerful in shaping the course of events in England and America than all the logic.

            • 0
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              “Stil whites get most of the highest salaries”

              Because they can get things done while we think we can.

              Equality of opportunity is utopia even for whites.

  • 1
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    Mr. Pooten, how they practiced tolerance……

    ” Institutional Anti-Catholicism in the United Kingdom has its origins in the English and Irish Reformations under King Henry VIII and the Scottish Reformation led by John Knox. The Act of Supremacy 1534 declared the English crown to be ‘the only supreme head on earth of the Church in England’ in place of the pope. Any act of allegiance to the latter was considered treasonous because the papacy claimed both spiritual and political power over its followers. The Scottish Reformation in 1560 abolished Catholic ecclesiastical structures and rendered Catholic practice illegal in Scotland. Today, anti-Catholicism is common in peripheral areas of the United Kingdom, mainly Scotland and Northern Ireland.
    Anti-Catholicism among many of the English was grounded in the fear that the pope sought to reimpose not just religio-spiritual authority over England but also secular power in alliance with arch-enemy France or Spain. In 1570, Pope Pius V sought to depose Queen Elizabeth with the papal bull Regnans in Excelsis, which declared her a heretic and purported to dissolve the duty of all Elizabeth’s subjects of their allegiance to her. This rendered Elizabeth’s subjects who persisted in their allegiance to the Catholic Church politically suspect, and made the position of her Catholic subjects largely untenable if they tried to maintain both allegiances at once. The Recusancy Acts, making it a legal obligation to worship in the Anglican faith, date from Elizabeth’s reign. Later, assassination plots in which Catholics were prime movers fueled anti-Catholicism in England.
    The Glorious Revolution of 1689 involved the overthrow of King James II, who favoured the Catholics, and his replacement by William III, a Dutch Protestant. The Act of Settlement 1701, which was passed by the Parliament of England, stated the heir to throne must not be a “Papist” and that an heir who is a Catholic or who marries one will be excluded from the succession to the throne. This law was extended to Scotland through the Act of Union which formed the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Act remains in force in the present-day United Kingdom, despite the ecumenical movement, which has largely contributed to reducing sectarian tensions in the country. “

    • 5
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      Jim Softy:
      “Koheda yanney, malley pol” sound familiar or doesn’t your “education” extend even that far?

    • 3
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      Jim Sooty,

      The British Constitution is Un-indexed.-
      therefore we call it the one page Constitution.

      If you knew so much then you would be practicing in the inner temple.

      Catholic/Protestant and Catholic+Protestant/Ottoman existed even during the Time of Henry 8 father of Virgin Queen Liz 1.

      So confuse yourself and don’t confuse the rest.

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      Jim softy

      Why do you bother typing here if “Every thing is impermanent and Every thing is a cycle, A spiral”?

      Why don’t you go play with your only friend Willy?

  • 7
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    In today’s Sri Lanka the likes of Champika Ranawaka would not consider David Paynter a SRI LANKAN !
    How sad.

    • 8
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      Absolutely! In a similar vein, not too long ago the University of Peradeniya was terrorized by nationalist students for its plan to name a residence hall after its illustrious legal scholar and founding Vice Chancellor, Sir Ivor Jennings, whose idea it was in fact to establish said University. The reason – he was British! Fortunately Sir Ivor needed no recognition from pitiful Sri Lankan nationalist boneheads – he went on to be Master of Trinity College Cambridge and then Vice Chancellor of Cambridge. The funny thing is that these nationalists would be the first to bail from Sri Lanka given the opportunity of life in the West. This nationalist community is littered with examples people who have educated themselves (on government dime) or their children in the West, domiciled themselves in the West, sought political diplomatic postings in the West, all the while bashing the West. One look at the list of faculty members of Sri Lankan universities (particularly Arts) will demonstrate this.

      • 3
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        Thank You EvdP for this bitter sweet article.

        The Paynter episode has brought the spotlight again on the erosion of trust that has grown over the years in our Sri Lanka. We cannot trust our neighbours, our politicians, our teachers, our professional class, the fighting men who protect us, and even our clergy. Some of us cannot even trust ourselves, though this is not surprising given that concepts like trust, honour, integrity, and respect are not part of our vocabulary any more, and are certainly not dispensed as part of the present-day school curriculum. This ‘sickness’ has spread through the land and contributed to us constantly looking over our shoulders. Have we lost all hope?

        Lotuseater has touched on another annoying trait of our present day Sri Lankan; the selective amnesia of our history that afflicts many. The ‘British’ has become our favourite colonial whipping boy. They take the blame for everything, and the credit for nothing. No mention of our love for the beloved game of the despised colonial master. (The Americans and Canadians promptly thumbed their noses at their old colonial master and devised games of their own.)

        At the first chance, these very same people will decamp for foreign climes to serve the economies of those lately detested. Then, as one hikes through the Diaspora you are likely to come across a dichotomy. Those who will run down our Sri Lanka (and all who sail in her), and others who will find a ‘nationalism’ that would even bring tears of joy to the odious Gnanasara. The very nonsense of picking and chosing is clear. Ofcourse, the earliest coloniser of this blessed land was the banished Vijaya. His arrival with a motley brigade in tow is conveniently overlooked, even though the numbers that followed him were well in excess of those the British had to bring in to develop the tea estates. With not a hint of irony, we do not hesitate to point out the evils that befell the aborigines of Australia and the tribes of America, with not a word of the displacement and disruption that was visited by the Vijayan hordes on the peaceful indigenous (Veddahs) peoples of this land. Furthermore, how puzzling to think that the noble Prince entrusted to the descendants of Vijaya his valuable message to mankind. What was he thinking? What will he say if he could see how his message has been twisted by men and women of evil in these recent years?

        Instead, of taking the rich threads of history and weaving a proud tapestry that would depict the making of this land, we are hell bent on shredding the evidence and re-writing a warped version that would suit one class of selfish Sri Lankans who nurse a massive inferiority complex and think that the ideal solution would be to banish all others.

        Grim reading those this might be, take hope. There are still enough Sri Lankans of goodwill working tirelessly in these dark times to take us to a better land that we all could be justly proud of.

    • 0
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      Isn’t Champakaya now a fully blown UNP Minister?

      Or is he a Hybrid….

      • 0
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        Why have you missed the great man Salvador Dali,or the modern Joan Miró??

        Champakaya¬ does he have to wear bloomers??

  • 4
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    Well, the romantic notions of Anglican arrival in Sri Lanka perhaps why people like Dharmapala is considered in a bad way by some.

    Anglicanism took root in Sri Lanka in 1815. The Anglican renege on the Kandy treaty soon after the treaty was signed.

    The locals revolt. The Anglicans kills every Sinhala male above 25 years. They bring Malabars from India to assist with the killings. The Dutch has left 6000 Malabars in North. The number of Malabars balloon to 180,000 in a few short years. That problem still persists.

    So look, have your Churches and certainly use them for your personal salvation. Although remember its origins and why Dharmapala exist.

    • 5
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      Sinhala Buddhist Lunatic

      Stop air brushing history.

      English East India Company was nationalised much after that by Queen Victoria.

      Welshman Clive the Nabob was the CEO of EEIC.
      He was no Anglican but a polygamist like the Nawabs.

      following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Government of India Act 1858 led to the British Crown assuming direct control of India in the form of the new British Raj.

      • 2
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        Sri Lanka became a Crown Colony in 1802 you donkey.

        The Kandian convention was between the Kingdom of Kandy and the British Crown – not the EEIC.

        The EEIC is relevant to India more than Sri Lanka. Everything I said still stand.

        • 4
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          Stupid monkey Ceylon was ruled from Madras presidency-the 1st mounted police.
          So if Lanka alters its position it is not valid.
          The original copy is known as treaty of London. The treaties are left in many places.- in case.

          stupid seepage of India- which nehru wanted and his grandson is still eyeing it.

        • 3
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          Vibhushana,

          In `our heritage`(school history) the kandayan convention was dated 1818 a very significant date and time EEIC defeated the Maratha Army and took control of the whole of India. It meant free travel right across the Deccan plateau.
          EEIC were pirates!!

          I remember when our schools were just taken over (by stopping foreign funds) 1968 a new sinhala buddhist history master came and said all this history is false (our heritage) and from next year the government would issue new books- I left.
          Even UK teaches us Tudor and about Russia no more but one has to study by self going into reference libraries.
          How many know White Chapel London history from WW1 when the Jewish took refuge??
          so live your dream try making it mono culture and kill yourself.
          USA is strong because its multi culture (whites) unlike Russia and China which used Roosevelt and American money to achieve that- they are getting hit now.
          Hitler ate no meat, did not drink, and did not smoke.
          Beware of the man without weakness!

  • 0
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    Mr.Emil.

    A Fine piece to read n a Sunday afternoon.I wish someone will also write of the Grandeur of the STC-Mt:Lavinia chapel where David Paynter[son of an Indian father and Srilankan mother] had his Mural.There was also another-rather large mural occupying the entire wall of a class-room in the Lower school!

    How do I make contact with Richard Simon- our version of Henry Higgins?

    • 0
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      Plato:
      I couldn’t give you Richard’s email in this forum. However, I do know he is on Facebook and if you are familiar with that abomination (I’m not!) you should be able to contact him there.

  • 0
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    Walt.

    White Chapel-UK has a large Bangladeshi population.Refugees from the war between West and East Pakistan[Bangladesh] in the70s.I did not know that it was a Jewish enclave after WW1.Thanks for this info:

  • 0
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    I thought Mr Poorten worshipped at Dutch Reformed Church..

    But then I also thought Mr Poorten worked at the migrant help desk in Scarborough .

    Until Mr Poorten pointed out to me that he was in Alberta.

    Paynter’s paintings must be still in the hands of the elite , Anglicans and the Vellalas.

    Dalits are not into this sort of collectibles, simply because they don’t have the Dosh..

    Thanks to Maradanakadawela , Theldeniya ,Theliggawila ,Thangalla and other MMVs. our Dalits got a chance to get an education.

    Because Anglicans never gave them a chance on their watch.

    With that facility,, some made a bit of Dosh and others made a career in Politics with lots of Dosh.

    And kept the Elite ,and the Anglicans in the doldrums for a long time.

    Thanks to a Pollonnaruwa MMV drop out, all that changed.

    And the Elite and the , Anglicans have returned with vengeance.

    Their first act of Yahapalanaya was to cull the 1000 MMVs. which would have given more Dalits a better chance to make the cut.

    And the Polonnaruwa drop out is now running around telling fibs to our Dalits to save his ass , until his progeny and his Madam’s are anchored well to give us more Yahapalanaya going forward.

    Wonder why some of those Anglican school educated Yahapalana dudes wear the white Sarong in parliament, when their bosses Batalanda Ranil and Galleon Ravi never get out of the Anglican suit, even when they are home?..

    • 2
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      Its not that the “dalits” have no “dosh” for art. The “dosh” is well and truly – and legitimately or illegitimately – in the hands of the “dalits”. Rather, the “dalits” have no interest in what might be considered a nuanced understanding of the arts. Their interests are in flashy cars, grotesque homes, gold, personal elephants, guns, thuggery, booze, obesity and the like. Perhaps the children on this generation of “dalits” might, with their financial footing, be inclined to be patrons or creators of art. The sorts of Namal, Daham, Malaka et al do not inspire much confidence, but there could be others. After all, the privileged class of the early 20th century that punched well above their weight in the international art and culture scene was also recent descendants of the nouveau riche.

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        Lotus Eater,.

        Dalits wouldn’t know a Monet from Nelum kolle( Lotus Leaf ).

        Based on Anglican Poorten’s rantings, they are not much chop either when it comes to post Renaissance real Paintings by famous Artists .

        When Batalanda Ranil takes them to be the highest income Aboriginals in South Asia in 2035, they may perhaps start appreciating the goodness of Rembrandts , Picassos, Valazques, Rubens and the more recent ones.

        In the mean time they will be happy drinking Red Label and watching their Yahapalanay gutting the poor Dalits, by stopping the big development projects , culling armed forces of Sinhala Buddhists, trimming their Scholarships, free Uniforms and any other free bees which they got from the previous regime.

        I don’t know about Namal,but the others ,you mentioned have a better than even money chance of representing Poorten’s progeny in Lankan Parliament going forward..

        I am surprised you missed Rajith’s loving Son whom the Anglican Faction Leader Batalanda Ranil shoe honed in to Parliament on the UNP ticket.

        He will be the first Demosthenes of the grand old Elite , Anglican and Vellala party..

        Batalanda can earn a descent living as a talent scout for Chelsea, is he is in East London with the Cousin.

        • 2
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          Sumaney:
          Now the expert on “Valazques” too, eh?

          The following, i sup there at the upper levels of your incomprehensibilities:
          “I don’t know about Namal,but the others ,you mentioned have a better than even money chance of representing Poorten’s progeny in Lankan Parliament going forward.”
          That possibility should be most interesting given the fact that my “progeny” live, literally on the other side of the world.
          I would suggest that your behaviour is symptomatic of dementia, except that such a pronouncement would be giving dementia a bad name.
          P.S.
          Who the hell are “Dalits” and “Velllalas” you constantly refer to? Are they some kind of neanderthal creatures or just your near and dear relations?

          • 0
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            Mr Poorten,

            I like Rembrandt the most….

            What about you?….

            • 0
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              Sumaney:
              Was he a Sinhala Buddhist with 2500 years of (kallathoni) residence in Sri Lanka?
              Must have been a “dalit,” no? Or a “vellala?” or just a “vella” fellow?

  • 0
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    Thanks Emil.Frankly,facebook is Greek to me!

    • 1
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      “David Paynter[son of an Indian father and Srilankan mother]”

      Why do you say his pop was Indian (UP)??

      You need to go to ref library old tate gallery with a letter from a professor of history of art that you are researching (you need a student to help) then see see the plates and can request for copies plus read.

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    The premier architect you refer to I presume is Bawas protege Channa Daswatte, I once saw him draw a stylised jungle where animals merged into foliage, this drawing went on too win Shankars international at prize, I remember thinking at the time that the picture seemed remarkably like the carvings on the columns at the chapel,…. Daswatte must have been ten years old then.

    • 0
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      Murage:
      If memory serves me right, I think the architect who made the reference to the TCK chapel recently was Anjalendran who, I understand, was also a protege of Bawa’s.

      • 0
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        [Edited out]

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