23 October, 2020

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Prof. Ashley Halpé — ‘A Very True, Near Perfect, Gentle Human Being’

By Tissa Jayatilaka

Tissa Jayatilaka

Tissa Jayatilaka

It was in 1957, while a tiny tot in the third grade at De Mazenod College Kandana that I first came across Ashley Halpé. Having distinguished himself by graduating a few months earlier with a First in English from Peradeniya, this former De Mazenodian had been invited to propose the vote of thanks at the annual Prize Day of his secondary school. The Chief Guest that day (I later learnt) happened to be S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, then Prime Minister of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Little did I know that some thirteen years later Ashley Halpé would be my guru at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, It is not insignificant that more than half a century later I am able to recall the young proposer of the vote of thanks but not the silver-tongued Chief Guest, Perhaps it says a great deal about my reverence for my teachers and something besides of my aversion to politicians!

A decade after that first encounter I was once more in an audience that Ashley Halpé was addressing. He was by now the very youthful holder of the only Chair of English in the country at that time. This was in 1967 in Room ‘B’ in the Faculty of Arts at Peradeniya during a lecture he delivered on Shaw. Surprising though it may now seem, in my mind’s ear I can yet hear his opening lines — The material is plentiful and I am tempted to let Shaw speak for himself. I have tried not to resist the temptation — and in my mind’s eye I see Prof. Halpé standing beside a table full of books containing Shaw’s plays and critical writings from which he indeed quoted copiously as promised. That was the same year I had begun to consider moving away from my plans to pursue a possible career in medicine and opt for one in the humanities. Halpé on Shaw was thus a defining moment for me. I eventually ended up not resisting my own temptation to read English at Peradeniya for my bachelor’s degree.

Ashley HalpéI shall forever be in debt to Indrani Abeyesekere, one of Prof. Halpé’s Peradeniya contemporaries, who made arrangements for me to attend that lecture on Shaw in 1967 while I was yet a student in the University Entrance Form at Kingswood College, Kandy. It was some years later that 1 came to know that Prof. Halpé had himself abandoned science studies to become a devotee of the common pursuit. Having qualified to enter Peradeniya for a degree in science on the basis of his University Entrance examination results, much to the horror of his parents, Ashley Halpé at his viva voce had pleaded with and secured from Vice Chancellor Sir Ivor Jennings et al, permission to opt for an arts degree. He was to take another momentous decision similar in character upon graduation. In the fashion of the day, the young Mr. Halpé in 1957 duly sat the examination for selection to the Ceylon Civil Service and was placed first. On being presented with an opportunity to serve his alma mater as an Assistant Lecturer in English, however, the young Civil Service Cadet had no hesitation whatsoever in going back to Peradeniya, compounding his family’s initial horror at his previous decision to change his academic discipline.

Given his excellent and varied achievements as an undergraduate, his decision to forsake the Civil Service for a University teaching career makes absolute sense. He was winner of virtually all of the glittering prizes on offer at Peradeniya and doubtless the biggest of them all was his appointment to the enormously prestigious and much-prized Chair of English at Peradeniya in 1965. At the age of thirty-two, he became one of the youngest to hold a University Chair in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Prof. Halpé is among the finest of Peradeniya men I have had the privilege to meet and get to know intimately. He is above all else a university don in the finest sense of that term. As teacher, researcher, disseminator of knowledge and administrator his contribution to Peradeniya (and to the Vidyalankara Campus in Kelaniya in his brief enforced spell there) has been substantial and significant. Perhaps the only administrative responsibility he did not shoulder in his time is that of Warden of a Hall of Residence.

Despite the load he carried as an administrator, Prof. Halpé found the time for his academic and extra-curricular interests. His scholarly publication record speaks for itself focusing as it does on aspects of Shakespearean drama and Shakespeare criticism and South Asian Creative Writing in English. Aside from several poems published in anthologies, three collections of his poems are available. These are Silent Arbiters, Homing and Other Poems and Sigiri Verses, an adaptation of the 6th – 9th Century Sinhala poems with an introduction and notes. His labours as translator have yielded notable English versions of some of the novels and short stories of Martin Wickramasinghe. That painting is one of Ashley Halpé’s varied talents and that he has held exhibitions of his paintings in Bristol, UK, in Sao Paolo, Brazil and in Colombo and Peradeniya, Sri Lanka is unknown to many. The energy and enthusiasm he has invested in Peradeniya University’s Dramatic Society (DramSoc) have resulted in more than a dozen play productions designed and directed by him. Among these, my favourite is Strindberg’s The Father – the 1966 offering of the DramSoc with the late Osmund Jayaratne in a memorable lead role. His contribution to education and literary activities outside the university is equally notable.

For the extensive and invaluable services detailed above, Prof. Halpé has been honoured both nationally and internationally. The Government of Sri Lanka has conferred on him the Kalakeerthi and the Vishvaprasadini titles. The Governments of Sri Lanka and the United States awarded him two Fulbright Senior Fellowships while the Government of France has made him Chevalier dans l’ordre Palmes Academique. He has been an Honorary Fellow of Claire Hall, University of Cambridge and Resident Fellow at the Literary Criterion Centre for Indigenous Arts and Literature, Dhvanyaloka, Mysore, India, and Visiting Fellow at the American Studies Resource Centre, Hyderabad, India.

All of these achievements and honours have sat and sit lightly on Ashley Halpé the man. His is an under-stated personality, with the humanity, humility and modesty of the truly educated person at its core. As a teacher, he did not mesmerize his students as some of his predecessors, notably Lyn Ludowyk and Doric de Souza, are reputed to have done. Not having had the good fortune of sitting at the feet of the former, the magister magistrorum, I shall accept the word of my predecessors at Peradeniya for this evaluation, but l certainly am able to vouch for the latter’s virtuosity having heard and watched him perform within the four walls of a classroom. Ashley Halpé the teacher can be humble to a fault. He refrained from histrionics of any kind. His knowledge and erudition were never on obvious display in or outside the classroom. He did not seek to lecture or talk at us. Rather his pedagogic labours were directed at ferreting out what we knew, thought and felt about literature and life. He never tried to poke us in the eye to make us see how much he knew! This understated approach, however, had its drawbacks. Some of my befuddled Peradeniya contemporaries erroneously wondered if Prof. Halpé actually knew more than he let on! Those who stayed on to benefit from his knowledge and wisdom beyond the freshman year were able to discover the light concealed under the proverbial bushel. His disarming simplicity and unobtrusiveness are a crucial part of Ashley Halpé’s immense civility.Ashley Halpé and Tissa Jayatilaka

Photo – Ashley Halpé and Tissa Jayatilaka at a seminar in 1994 in Colombo

It is this Socratic teaching style combined with his respect for the students’ innate understanding that enabled him to reveal to us the inner depths plumbed by great men and women of letters as they (and we) grappled with the eternal verities. My own understanding of Shakespeare and George Eliot in particular is due mostly to the manner and style with which Prof. Halpé led me into discovering for myself those ‘spots of commonness‘ of a Lydgate or the terrifying ambition of a Macbeth. That the hautboys one comes across in Macbeth are musical instruments and not arrogant young males is something I learnt thanks to Prof. Halpé’s insistence on close reading and careful scrutiny of literary texts.

Of the several admirable qualities of Prof. Halpé’s mind and heart, one that has stood out during his long and devoted stewardship of the English Department at Peradeniya is his consistent avoidance of change for the sake of change. I think it is not incorrect to say that he was and is an enlightened traditionalist. He was, however, never dogmatic. Especially in the post-insurgency years of the early 1970s, it was fashionable to seek to introduce into the education sphere ad hoc change. This was the time of ill – conceived, politically motivated, hasty and autocratic educational policymaking – the infamous era of ‘University Re-organization’. The policymakers of the time were primarily the place seekers of the academic community who had sold out and were, for the most part, lackeys and henchmen of the politicians in office at the time -‘the rash mandarins dabbling in change‘. Prof. Halpé had the courage of his convictions to challenge and question the establishment of that day. In numerous and various public fora, both within the university and without, he exposed the eclecticism and the shallowness of the ill-conceived proposed changes mooted for the higher education sphere, especially in the humanities and the social sciences. The coterie of men and women inebriated with political power and ‘Dress’d in a little brief authority‘ were incapable of accepting in the spirit in which it was given those trenchant but nevertheless constructive criticisms of their proposals that Prof. Halpé offered. For his pains, he was forced to ‘build elsewhere‘, having been thrown outside the world of his beloved Peradeniya by ‘foul extrusion‘. Hence his brief sojourn in Kelaniya in the mid-1970s. This is possibly another first for Ashley Halpé albeit a dubious honor in stark contrast to the other laurels won. The forced removal of Prof. Halpé from Peradeniya is similar to that which is known as a ‘punishment transfer’ in Sri Lanka’s public service. Whenever a spirited public servant stands up to a meddling or corrupt politician and refuses to carry out what amounts to an illegal administrative request, he is usually punished for his non-compliance. The punishment often takes the form of a transfer to an under-developed rural outpost of the country. The ‘re-organizers’ of university education of the time hastily created a ‘centre of excellence’ for English Literature at the Vidyalankara Campus of the University of Sri Lanka at Kelaniya and ordered Prof. Halpé to move there. This could well be the first ‘punishment transfer’ meted out to a university don in Sri Lanka!

It did not matter that library facilities for students seeking to specialize in literature and the humanities in general were only available at Peradeniya and that there was no academically justifiable reason to move the specialized study of English Literature to an ill-equipped Vidyalankara Campus. The need of the hour was to get Ashley Halpé out of Peradeniya and out of the way at any cost as quickly as possible. The damage to the university and to those of us following the Special Degree programme in English at Peradeniya at the time was enormous. Several of our teachers having left Peradeniya for less uncongenial academic institutions overseas, the English Department was utterly strapped for variety and specialized talent. The last thing we needed was to be made headless and rudderless. Despite the valiant efforts of those of the under-staffed English Department of the time, our studies and progress were adversely affected by Ashley Halpé’s contrived absence. His guiding hand was now available only intermittently as and when he appeared in Peradeniya as a Visiting Professor!

Prof. Halpé survived the machinations of these pathetic and irresponsible dons who had banished him. He returned a few years later to continue to nourish Peradeniya. His greatest contribution to English Studies at Peradeniya, as pointed out above, was his steadfast opposition to reckless innovation. When less-experienced and short-sighted critics armed with political clout sought to mangle the Peradeniya English curriculum by forcing ruinous curricular reform down the throat of the English Department, he successfully withstood these calculated moves. While standing against academic adventurism, he did introduce meaningful change as and when such change was called for. The inclusion of instruction on the fundamentals of Sinhala and Tamil literature to those following the Special Degree in English is a case in point. Given the dramatic changes in the socio-political complexion of Sri Lanka post – 1956 and post – 1971, this harmonisation of the national literatures and other ‘world’ literatures in English with English Studies at Peradeniya was a far more sensible and profitable innovation than the approach advocated by the ‘re-organizers’ and their accomplices who were merely hell-bent on throwing the (English Lit.) baby with the (colonial/ imperialist) bath water! It was in this exemplary manner that Prof. Halpé and the Department of English he presided over responded to unsympathetic critics who mistakenly sought to accuse Peradeniya English of producing ‘alienated’ and ‘deracinated’ graduates.

In my own time, the two “Special Periods’ in English Literature which those following a Special Degree in English had to study in particular depth were the ‘Romantic’ (1770-1832) and ‘Victorian’ (1832-1901) periods. We were expected to place against their social, political and economic background the literary and philosophical texts of these periods our syllabus demanded we explore. In order to deepen our understanding of this background, the English Department enlisted the services of specialists from the History Department whose lectures were both stimulating and extremely useful. They most certainly served to reinforce our literary critical explorations of the writings of 18th and 19th century England. Later on, Prof. Halpé made the study of Greek Tragedy and Mediaeval and Renaissance European Literature and Culture compulsory for those pursuing Special English.

Two of Prof. Halpé’s proposals to the educational authorities that were accepted at the time they were made have had a lasting educational impact and will continue to have an impact on our educational system long after Prof. Halpé is gone from the scene. These are his successful advocacy for the inclusion of English among Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and related ‘endangered subjects’ in a special category within the universities’ humanities curriculum and his contribution to the strengthening of the teaching of English in Sri Lankan schools. The need for the protection of these subjects in the humanities arose due to the greater emphasis placed by students and parents on degree programmes in science and technology in their understandable, if myopic, quest for a job-oriented education. The future for the humanities thus appeared bleak and hopeless with the numbers of those opting for the humanities which had been in decline dropping alarmingly in the 1970s. It was Prof. Halpé who gave leadership to those members of the university community who saw the need for urgent preventive strategies to arrest this dangerous and unfortunate trend in the sphere of higher education. The continued study of these subjects was safeguarded and further strengthened by the creation of a special category of admissions. Those who had passed in these subjects while passing the exam as a whole but had not obtained high enough aggregates to secure places in the open competition were given ‘special admission’ provided they committed themselves to continuing study of one of these ‘endangered subjects’ right through their studies for the degree. This enabled a large number to obtain degrees in or with English. His specific proposal to reinforce English teaching in schools had to do with his recommendation to enable school-level teachers of English with three passes (inclusive of English) at the General Arts Qualifying (External) Examination to enroll in the degree programmes in English at Peradeniya as internal students. Additionally, despite what I have perceived to be his traditionalism, Prof. Halpé encouraged his juniors to branch out in new directions. He thus left the door open for new post-colonial and post-modernist breezes to blow through the Department of English though perhaps not entirely convinced of the usefulness of some of these breezes!

I wish to touch on certain personal recollections in conclusion. My freshman year at Peradeniya was suffused with boisterous antics as I revelled in ‘uncivilized fooling’ as most new entrants are wont to do. With the advantage of hindsight I am now aware that my early unruly behavior embarrassed Prof. Halpé as he happened to be the University Proctor at the time. Besides the frolic and madness, there were other encounters of a serious nature during my early Peradeniya days that brought me unexpectedly close to Prof. Halpé. One such occurred during the insurgency of April 1971 when I was unwittingly in the way of possible grave harm. Without realizing that all the student hostels except Hilda Obeysekera Hall had been declared out of bounds for all male undergraduates by the authorities, I was yet at Arunachalam Hall after the new emergency arrangements had been enforced. It is more than likely that l would have been a victim of the ‘shoot to kill’ orders in force given the fact that my physical appearance at the time, replete with long hair and flourishing beard, qualified me to be thought of as a ‘Che Guevarist’ student revolutionary by the uniformed men in charge of crushing the insurgency. I sought refuge at Prof. and Mrs. Halpé’s house and was promptly thereafter placed under house arrest at Lower Hantane, the Halpé residence! To keep me from landing in any further danger, with a little help from Fr. Augustine the Catholic Chaplain of the University, the Halpé’s introduced me to the blessed game of Bridge. It was only after the coast was quite clear that I was eventually allowed to leave. I later came to know that Prof. Halpé had taken even greater care of those undergraduates taken into custody under the hurriedly promulgated emergency regulations to deal with the insurgency. It must surely have taken much courage for him to pursue this course as most members of the university academic community were under suspicion and at the receiving end of the hostility of the defence forces personnel because there were dons who were either involved in the uprising or were among those who empathized with the political convictions of the youthful insurgents. Bearing books, sympathy and understanding, Prof. Halpé regularly visited the detained undergraduates. Later on, he was among the university authorities who assisted those of the detainees desirous of sitting their university examinations from prison.

The Halpé residence at Lower Hantane was also our not infrequent venue for Dramsoc rehearsals, Music Society socials and several other memorable undergraduate activities. It was at some of these extra-curricular encounters that students and lecturers mingled informally. Looking down at us from his vantage point, Sir Ivor Jennings would doubtless have blessed the Halpés for keeping alive one of the finest aspects of a residential university like Peradeniya, viz., – that of fostering close intellectual and social interaction between the teachers and the taught. Prof. and Mrs. Halpé were exemplary in upholding this wonderful Peradeniya tradition. It was at some of these events at the home of Prof. Halpé that many a non-academic undergraduate aspiration was also realized. Although to the world outside they may not have mattered, for us the mild flirtations, little romances and other emotional entanglements of a more serious nature that originated during the interactions mentioned above, often the inevitable rites of passage for transition from young adulthood to the real world outside Peradeniya’s charmed surroundings, meant a great deal.

Of those with an education in the humanities that I know personally, there indeed are only a handful who actually live by or reflect the virtues and values of such an education. Indeed of only a few humanities specialists can it truly be said that all that’s best of literature and the arts meets in his aspect and his eyes. Prof. Halpé is indisputably one of the very distinguished members of this wee tribe. I have never heard or seen in print harsh and disparaging words from him about anyone. His concern for family, friends and colleagues is sincere and heartfelt. Two examples are offered in illustration of his inherent goodness as a person. The first of these is his taking affectionate care of his former teacher and senior colleague Prof. Hector Passé during the latter’s difficult and exceedingly lonely last several months of post-retirement existence, subsequent to the early deaths of his wife and only child. He not only provided Prof. Passé a home but also kept him gainfully occupied by inviting him to teach part-time. During this period, Prof. Passé once more became a participant in all of the English Department social activities as well. In fact it was while enjoying himself in the company of his students and colleagues at a Going Down dinner that Prof. Passé fell ill and passed away soon thereafter. Thus it was Prof. Halpé who made it possible for Prof. Passé to die with his boots on so to speak – a consummation any teacher would devoutly wish for. The other example is a very personal experience. At an extremely vulnerable early stage in my professional career as a young Assistant Lecturer at Peradeniya, I had occasion to turn to Prof. Halpé for succour. Having laid bare my inner turmoil, I asked Prof. Halpé for advice and direction. I qualified my request for spiritual assistance by saying ‘Sir, to a non-believer like myself, you are my God on earth’. He did offer me ‘sentence and solace’. Before he left me to ponder over his response, however, he said, ‘thank you for your deep faith in me, but, please, for my sake, let me remain human’.

It is possible that Ashley Halpé may have on occasion revealed the clay in his feet. In so doing, he has offered proof of his complex human fallibility and vulnerability. If any amongst us has found and finds him wanting in this respect, it is perhaps his or her fault for expecting Prof. Halpé to be infinitely more than human as I did in my callow youth. For all of his human frailties or despite them, Ashley Halpé is a very true, near perfect, gentle human being. It is indeed a privilege to pay this public tribute to him.

*This essay was first published in Arbiters of a National Imaginary: Essays on Sri Lanka Festschrift for Professor Ashley Halpé Edited by Chelva Kanaganayakam, 2008. 

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  • 2
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    Tissa Jayathilaka,

    Thanks for this write up. [Edited out]

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      Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka,

      RE: Prof. Ashley Halpé — ‘A Very True, Near Perfect, Gentle Human Being’

      Yes.

      Thank you very much for writing about Prof. Ashley Halpé and his contributions to Sri Lanka especially for the teaching of English. Imagine Sri Lanka had hundreds of the caliber of Prof. Ashley Halpé, from around Sri Lanka, where the country would have been?

      A few tit bits from your excellent narration, and my comments.

      1. “Having distinguished himself by graduating a few months earlier with a First in English from Peradeniya, this former De Mazenodian had been invited to propose the vote of thanks at the annual Prize Day of his secondary school. The Chief Guest that day (I later learnt) happened to be S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, then Prime Minister of Ceylon (Sri Lanka).”

      Thank, and quite revealing. Prof. Ashley Halpé was trying to teach English and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, then Prime Minister of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), was trying to kill English and replace with Sinhala, so that he would be elected the King of the Modayas. Well, he did not want to Nehru, who established Indian Institutes of Technology, IIT’s, and kept English in the Indian Govt. Central Schools.

      2. “He was by now the very youthful holder of the only Chair of English in the country at that time.”

      The only Chair of English! 1967-1956 = 11 years!

      3. “I eventually ended up not resisting my own temptation to read English at Peradeniya for my bachelor’s degree.”

      One convert!

      4. “He was to take another momentous decision similar in character upon graduation. In the fashion of the day, the young Mr. Halpé in 1957 duly sat the examination for selection to the Ceylon Civil Service and was placed first. On being presented with an opportunity to serve his alma mater as an Assistant Lecturer in English, however, the young Civil Service Cadet had no hesitation whatsoever in going back to Peradeniya,”

      Well, Prof. Ashley Halpé followed his passion and dreams.

      5. “At the age of thirty-two, he became one of the youngest to hold a University Chair in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Prof. Halpé is among the finest of Peradeniya men I have had the privilege to meet and get to know intimately. He is above all else a university don in the finest sense of that term.”

      Sri Lanka needed more of them, but unfortunately the numbers were small.

      6. “For the extensive and invaluable services detailed above, Prof. Halpé has been honoured both nationally and internationally.”

      Well deserved honors.

      7. “The need of the hour was to get Ashley Halpé out of Peradeniya and out of the way at any cost as quickly as possible. The damage to the university and to those of us following the Special Degree programme in English at Peradeniya at the time was enormous. “

      “Prof. Halpé survived the machinations of these pathetic and irresponsible dons who had banished him. He returned a few years later to continue to nourish Peradeniya.”

      The Sinhala only culture coming home to roost at Peradeniya! When did Prof. Ediriweera Sarathchandra produce the “Sinhabahu” Drama, based on the lies and imaginations in the Mahawansa?

      8. “This enabled a large number to obtain degrees in or with English. His specific proposal to reinforce English teaching in schools had to do with his recommendation to enable school-level teachers of English with three passes (inclusive of English) at the General Arts Qualifying (External) Examination to enroll in the degree programmes in English at Peradeniya as internal students.”

      This had the greatest contribution to the country, given that fact that English is the current International Language.

      9. “His concern for family, friends and colleagues is sincere and heartfelt. Two examples are offered in illustration of his inherent goodness as a person. The first of these is his taking affectionate care of his former teacher and senior colleague Prof. Hector Passé during the latter’s difficult and exceedingly lonely last several months of post-retirement existence, subsequent to the early deaths of his wife and only child.”

      The humanist!

      Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, thanks for the write up on Prof. Ashley Halpé, so that those who do not know will know him.

  • 7
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    Thank you Mr. Jayatilaka for your most deserving praise of Prof. Halpé.

    I had heard very positive things of Prof. Halpé from my brother Rajan who was at Peradeniya — late sixties and early seventies. He refers to Prof. Halpé in his book ,The Arrogance of Power,, as one of those who provided crucial information for the Council Inquiry into the organized attack of May 1983 on Tamil students at Peradeniya as a practice run on the July 1983 riots.

    My own first encounter with this great man was around 1973 when he visited Jaffna leading a team of students and my uncle K. Nesiah asked my father to release our Morris Minor to Prof. Halpé with me as his driver. I was a Katubedde student on vacation with rare opportunities to hear anything outside engineering. It was therefore a privilege for me to be his driver. I remember Prof. Halpé as both soft-spoken and pensive, speaking only as necessary.

    I thereafter interacted with him again when I chaired the UGC Standing Committee on English Language Teaching. It was around the year 2005. The UGC had a research conference on and I was privileged to invite Prof. Halpé to be a key-note speaker.

    We Sri Lankan academics are a funny lot and seem unable to handle excellence in others. After the distinguished man had spoken, a group of English language academics launched what seemed to me to be a pre-planned tirade against him that was little connected to his esoteric speech. This reinforces in my mind the nasty attitude against Prof. Halpé by some academics that Mr. Jayatilaka refers to. To his great credit, Prof. Halpé did not respond and simply sat there on the stage without dignifying the attack and thereby demonstrated his greatness. It was left to me to defend him as session chairman.

    I wish he had torn into the lot but he was being himself, a true gentleman.

  • 6
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    Prof.Ashley Haloe, the quintessential academic. He was the bench mark and you have etched it in words that could not be bettered. He was a distant figure to me during my stay at Peradeniya as a student and academic, but seeing him and hearing of him, made a lasting impression. You have also portrayed aspects of his life story , which I did not know. Dwarfs have indeed replaced giants such as him in our academia.

    Thank you.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 6
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    I was at Peradeniya Engineering during the ‘campus riots’ in 1983. A cousin of mine was beaten up by a mob and was handed over to the ‘authorities’. The attached articles do not have any reference to Prof Halpe with the work of academics during the attack incident, he was very helpful during and after the riots. We need more Halpes in Sri Lanka to take the nation forward.

    http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/spreport19ptIIsuppl.htm
    http://efacmemories.blogspot.com.au/2011/01/oriravu-one-night-part-1.html

    • 12
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      It is nauseating to read in this website, the blogs and comments by Tamils and Muslims that are 100% Tamil or Muslim centered. No other aspect of a person or events seem to grab their attention.

      This applies to people like Husseinn, Lathief and Hooles who hide behind the “erudite academic” label. They do this even when they applaud a man like Professor Halpe – they can only see him as a man who ‘helped’ Tamils and not as a human being.

      And they talk about needing such people to “to take the nation forward”!

      Let us seean Ashley Halpe arising from among the Tamils and Muslims. Bet my ass that is never going to happen!

      • 7
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        Dear Very Ethnic Non-Ethnic,

        I think when Prof. Halpe is brought out as a fair person,a person who helps Tamils and is fair to us, he comes out as a better human being.

        You seem to think a person who helps Tamils is not a human being.

        ????? Very puzzled by your thinking. ????

        • 1
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          Dear Priyan,

          Agree 100% with you.

          Are you Engineering Prof. Priyan Dias of Mora Uni, whom I interacted with for a period, but in circumstances which were bound to make relaxed conversation impossible?

          If you are, you will certainly remember my name.

      • 3
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        Very good fine thinking. Way to go Non-Ethnic. Congratulations!

  • 3
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    A fine tribute, true and valid, even after many years. I think Ashley Halpe epitomized the much learned Guru in the eastern tradition. unobtrusive and self effacing, humble to a fault. for whom the song needed to take precedence over the singer. Though I never knew him as a person, I salute this great Sri Lankan.

  • 2
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    I myself was at Peradeniya during this period from 1965-1971 first as a student, then as a temporary assistant lecturer in Physics.

    The campus life was enhanced with the likes of Prof E.R.Sarathchandra, Prof Vidthiyananthan and Professor Ashley Helpe.

    These colossuses walk along the Galaka road enriching Sinhala, Tamil and English Theater.

    It was also the era of university reorganization.

    The Peradeniya University was not the same in 1971 as it was in 1965.

    Were the changes for the better?

    Thank You Tissa Jayathika for these renaissances

  • 6
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    Tissa.

    Your line….

    …All of these achievements and honours have sat and sit lightly on Ashley Halpe the man. His is an understated personality with the Humanity,humility and modesty of the truly of the truly educated person at its core…

    I could not have said it better Tissa. This indeed is a great tribute to a great man.
    I first met him at our parental home in Batticaloa way back in 1966. My Pater had formed a circle called the ATHENEUM [ not sure of its spelling though!] and had invited Prof:Halpe to deliver a series of Lectures at different times.One such Lecture,I remember was on The Modern trends in Post-war English Drama[This of-course was Double Dutch to me!.

    Perhaps,Tissa you will remember at that debate held in the E-FAC AUDITORIUM in 1973 on the Reorganisation issue,which you have mentioned in this essay how Prof:Halpe blasted those who were attempting to reorganise things.

    In fact,his opening remark went something like this…
    The Hon:Minister is profoundly illiterate,an illiteracy that is dangerous in itself in the sense,he does know his own illiteracy!

    Anyway,thanks indeed Tissa for this write-up on one of the great men I had the privilege to know.

    • 1
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      JEINDRA THAVARAJAH.

      “In fact,his opening remark went something like this… The Hon:Minister is profoundly illiterate,an illiteracy that is dangerous in itself in the sense,he does know his own illiteracy!”

      Thanks for the titbit. This is another reference for the average IQ of 79, and the he Hon:Minister is not exempt.

      National IQ Scores – Country Rankings

      Rank=28 Sri Lanka IQ= 79

      http://www.photius.com/rankings/national_iq_scores_country_ranks.html

  • 4
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    Prof. Halpe is truly a real international professor. But today more than 90% Sri Lankan profs are fake jokers. In order to be a real international professor your PhD from world top 100 University, minimum 20 articles in ISI/SCOPUS indexed journals, 10 text books with international publishers and three countries have to appoint you as a Visiting professor. Prof. Halpe satisfied all these.

    • 3
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      “10 text books with international publishers.”

      Surely you are joking. There are many, many distinguished science and engineering professors I know at reputed US, Canadian and UK universities who don’t have even a single textbook to their credit, though most of them have hundreds of publications and have graduated more than 50 PhD’s.

      As for Prof. Halpe, he was some sort of an academic administrator in the late 1980’s when universities were struggling with JVP violence as well as frequent ‘strikes’ by students and academic staff. He and Prof. Milton Amaratunga, then dean of engineering, would visit the undergrads’ residence halls to see what they could do, but would be overwhelmed by JVP’s aggressiveness on campus. They were too soft in manner and speech to handle the situation, but even professors with a harder edge couldn’t have done anything about it at that time.

      While all the good things said about Prof.Halpe is true, he might not have been above some prejudices; my then roommate, who was from Jaffna and had a very fair complexion, told me that when he met Halpe at some sports award function, the latter told him he couldn’t be from Jaffna and must be a foreigner.

      I always thought Halpe was from the Burgher community based on his name, but friends told me he was not.

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        Agnos

        “While all the good things said about Prof.Halpe is true, he might not have been above some prejudices; my then roommate, who was from Jaffna and had a very fair complexion, told me that when he met Halpe at some sports award function, the latter told him he couldn’t be from Jaffna and must be a foreigner. “

        Interesting titbit. Perhaps Prof. Ashley Halpe thought, as many in the South do, the Tamils are a dark race, and there are hardly any Tamil Burghers in Jaffna. Therefore must be a foreigner, perhaps an Anglo-Indian, North Indian or a Pakistani.

        Well there are exceptions. Even there are white elephants, white cobras and fair complexioned people in Jaffna, perhaps a sprinkling of a few European colonial genes. Why can’t the Southerners accept that?

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        Prof. Ashley Halpe is a Sinhalese, who grew up in Panadura and his family hails from Kadana. He will be sadly missed by many.

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          anotherbuddhist

          “Prof. Ashley Halpe is a Sinhalese, who grew up in Panadura and his family hails from Kadana. He will be sadly missed by many.”

          Must say, Prof. Ashley Halpe is a Sri Lankan who happened to be Sinhalese, who grew up in Panadura and his family hails from Kadana. He will be sadly missed by all Sri Lankans, Sinhala Buddhists, Sinhala Christians, Tamil Hindus, Tamil Christians, Tamil Muslims, Sinhala Muslims,Malays, Burghers, English and Dutch, Chinese, Nayve Veddah Aethho, Atheists and Agnostics, in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho, because he contributed, and he was a humanist.

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            Amarasiri
            You have said my words with the PC that is a requirement in this ‘Yahapalana’ times. Good on you / you have the time for the dribble!

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              anotherbuddist

              I heard that Prof. Ashley Halpe was a Catholic, a Sinhala Catholic, but he was Sinhala before he became Catholic, like the Buddhists, they were Sinhala before they became Buddhists, and they were from India before that, and from Africa before that…..but Homo Sapiens…and not all of them turned out to be humanists…but apparently Prof. Ashley Halpe turned out to be a humanist, even though Catholic.

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    I have gazed at Professor Halpe from afar when I entered Peradeniya University in 1963, only to move away to Colombo the next year when the Law Faculty was shifted. No more gazing at Halpe.

    He was so unassuming. How could I have guessed the underlying greatness!

    I enjoyed reading this Article. It renewed my faith in humanity.

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    Dear Tissa Jayatilaka,

    Your 2008 tribute to Prof. Halpe has been very comprehensive. I want to add many details about the wonderful man from my personal interaction with him – and I will in a few days.

    I was one of those who entered the University “late in life” and benefitted immensely from it; I feel, Tissa, that you gave us a lecture or two (1982 to 1985). I know for certain that we played some tennis together.

    Thanks for summing up both Prof. Ashley and Bridgette so well. Yes, they were so generous and caring – I will add some details as soon as I find the time – and write to Bridgette.

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      Dear Tissa Jayatilaka and Panini Edirisinhe (and any others),

      You seem to be aware of a lot of things that happened at the University of Peradeniya during the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

      Amarasiri heard that during the above period, the IQ of Perdeinya Students were tested for the various Faculties and Departments. Also heard that the rankings were as follows, but do not know the actual values, so that can be compared to other countries.

      Top: Science Faculty: Physical Sciences ( Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry)

      Next: Engineering Faculty: ( Electrical, Civil, Mechanical)

      Next: Medical Faculty/ Dental Faculty

      Next: Science Faculty : Biological Sciences ( Chemistry, Botany, Zoology)

      Next: Arts Faculty. Do not know the Departments such as English, Sinhala, Tamil, Pali, Economics, Philosophy, Sociology, Geography etc.

      Amarasiri wonders, if any testings have been done for Sri Lankan University Students. This is useful information so that Sri Lankan students can be compared on an international scale in this global economy for competitiveness and innovation.

      Given the Average National IQ being 79, and assuming a Standard Deviation(SD) of 15, with 2 SD, the IQ level is 109, and will comprise 2.2% of the population with IQ’s greater than 109.

      SRI LANKA: WHAT IS THE AVERAGE IQ? 79.

      https://iq-research.info/en/page/average-iq-by-country/lk-sri-lanka

      http://www.photius.com/rankings/national_iq_scores_country_ranks.html

      These numbers came from a work carried out from 2002 to 2006 by Richard Lynn, a British Professor of Psychology, and Tatu Vanhanen, a Finnish Professor of Political Science, who conducted IQ studies in more than 80 countries.

      Richard and Tatu argues that differences in national income are correlated with differences in the average national intelligence quotient (IQ). They further argue that differences in average national IQs constitute one important factor, but not the only one, contributing to differences in national wealth and rates of economic growth.

      These results are controversial and have caused much debate, they must be interpreted with extreme caution.

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        Dear, dear Amarasiri,

        It is true that I got to know lots of things that happened in Peradeniya in the four years that I was there full-time. Some of it is vivid in my memory, others have obviously dimmed.

        I am in good enough health, but I must surely die in the not too distant future, and with me will pass away little bits of information which may be of vital importance.

        I must now say a few things to Mano Ratwatte, who like you, ALWAYS talks sense. Why not call me on 077 2987 665?

        Colombo Telegraph is useful, but is no substitute for a one to one, face to face chat. One could make a start with the telephone!

        Sincerely,

        “Sinhala_Man”

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          Dear Panini Edirisinhe

          “I am in good enough health, but I must surely die in the not too distant future, and with me will pass away little bits of information which may be of vital importance.”

          “Colombo Telegraph is useful, but is no substitute for a one to one, face to face chat. One could make a start with the telephone!’

          Thanks for the information.

          Yes, we all have limited time, but the question is how best to use the limited time, live a useful life, an egalitarian life and let others lice an egalitarian life according to their abilities.

          The mode of communications have changed over the years. There it is the Face book, Twitter, and blogs like CT, in addition to the traditional phone call or the face to face visit over a cup of tea. We simply do not have much time to connect with all.

          Why not become a Friend at Facebook. We can instant message. Search under

          Maha Amarasiri and make a request to connect.

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      Dear Tissa Jayatilaka and Panini Edirisinhe

      FYI.RE: IQ

      Address by Prof.Narada Warnasuriya

      Convocation Addresses delivered at the 38th Convocation of the University, held on 5 – 7 February 2012 at Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, by
      Prof. Narada Warnasuriya
      Former Vice Chancellor
      University of Sri Jayewardenepura

      http://www.sjp.ac.lk/address-by-prof-narada-warnasuriya/

      Excerpts from the talk.

      “I would like to end this talk on a positive note. There is clear evidence that IQ scores have risen steadly and dramatically ever since they were introduced early this century. This phenomenon has been documented in about 20 countries mostly from the developed world. This is similar to the positive secular trend in stature (height) that has been documented in the developed world. There is a general consensus that this is more likely to be due to environmental rather than hereditary factors.”

      “In conclusion I would like to stress that though there is evidence for substantial genetic influence on cognitive ability, it does not imply that differences amongst individuals are immutable and irremediable. In fact there is more than ample evidence that environmental factors could make a difference. Science does not deny the benefits of a nurturing environment or a helping hand.”

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    From someone from Prof Halpe’s younger days….

    ‘He used to come to Hilda to meet his wife to be.
    She was also a very nice person – a painter herself.’

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    Vicky Vigneswaran.

    As someone who knew Prof:Halpe and Bridgette his wife,I would say that they were like curd and honey.
    I would leave it to you to figure out who is the curd and who is the Honey.
    You could in the customary style take it as course-work!
    I recall the number of times I had curd and honey as dessert in their home at Lower Hantane-Peradeniya.
    Nostalgia is a funny feeling?!
    Plato who was down and out these past few days,has had his Tissues restored by Tissa with this fine essay.

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    After reading this article I concluded that tissa jayathiliake has better English than asley halpe

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    How old was the old man when died? in 80s I guess

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    Srimani.

    He died on May 14th at the age of 83.
    I feel guilty that I did not visit him when he was frail and ill.

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      Plato.

      “I feel guilty that I did not visit him when he was frail and ill.”

      Just like, Tissa Jayatillaka, write and article about Prof. Ashley Halpe, and get off your system.

      Life goes on. It is called evolution.

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    Enjoyed reading your essay here Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka. The subject was only a famous and respected name to me because I am from a different generation and also didn’t have the privilege of attending a University in Sri Lanka. I know several people who studied in Peradeniya and majored in English and I’ve heard from them about this distinguished professor.

    Sadly I’m a product of the highly discriminatory language policies of the post 1956 era.

    Even at a primo school in Colombo, we found ourselves divided by language, because the Sinhalese and Tamils had to study all the way to our A levels in Sinhalese or Tamil depending on our ethnic identity, while Burgher and Muslim students studied in English. That was totally unfair! At Royal, we had about 8 or 9 Sinhala medium sections,1 or 2 Tamil medium sections and one English medium section. Except for the few who had parents who spoke English at home, when we came to school we really had no way of talking to each other.

    The lucky ones received their education in English. Rest of us had English as a second language but those standards regressed drastically by the time we we in the O-level A-level classes. Luckily, we had some great teachers in the first few years.

    Mine truly was the lost generation compared to your’s or my parents. If my parents hadn’t spoken English at home, I wouldn’t be writing this note.

    I’m glad some sensible reforms were introduced by CBK via the Tara DeMel commission. I learnt that now even Sinhala and Tamil students have the right to be schooled in the English medium. The barriers and walls we erected were because we couldn’t speak each other’s language and we lost the use of English as a link language. India was far more enlightened to retain English. Things seem to look better for the younger generation now.

    The hardworking driver I use everytime I visit my motherland, an ex military man who worked in Saudi Arabia as a chauffeur and also as a truck driver realized the value of education. He insisted that his only daughter received a good education and learnt English. This was in 2008, when we lived in Colombo when my wife did her Fulbright senior fellowship. He enrolled her in English classes and she got her diploma at NIBM and also got an external degree from USJ. Now she’s working in Dubai and has a decent job because her working class father dedicated all his resources to help his child. He wanted to improve his English and spoke to my wife and daughter in English. And he also taught some Sinhalese to my daughter as well, and became almost a member of my family. He now does tours as an owner driver of a tourist van. He spoke Tamil as well and that held me in good stead when we visited Tamil areas.

    One thing he said to me resonates to this date. “Sir, dhan Ingreesi barinum bentara Gangeng mehaata awilla wedak naha”. If you don’t know English, there’s no point from crossing the Bentara river. A simple ex soldier turned tourist car driver realized the importance of learning English. Now compare this with our family driver who drove for SWRD as well as Mrs. B. that Arya Sinhala suit wearing guy could read and speak a little too by merely studying up to 8th grade during colonial days. Two contrastd. I truly resented the limitation imposed on us by our education system. To this date,I wondered why everyone didn’t have the right to choose the medium of instruction.

    I’m sorry I digressed, but I get very angry when some people talk big about sacrifices etc., Let language be a barrier no more.

    Mine was the lost generation of Sinhalese and Tamils who had no way to talk to each other. Thank you Mr.Jayatilaka

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      Mano Ratwatte

      “I’m glad some sensible reforms were introduced by CBK via the Tara DeMel commission. I learnt that now even Sinhala and Tamil students have the right to be schooled in the English medium.”

      “Mine was the lost generation of Sinhalese and Tamils who had no way to talk to each other. Thank you Mr.Jayatilaka “

      Thanks for your comments.

      Finally, the Sri Lankan politicians are realizing that Stupidity is no longer a virtue, and the people cannot be fooled any more.

      When Indians talk to each other, from different states, they speak in English, they study in the central schools in English, and do international business in English.

      Your driver made the correct choice of language. That prevented for her being a maid to work for low wages and being abused.

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      I have read many fine things written by you. I have just stated something like that in a comment that I made to Amarasiri just now.

      There just isn’t time to say all that one wants to, especially when one hides one’s identity behind a pseudonym and gravatar. Here’s an article written by me which will give you my name and photograph, PLUS the last few comments that have been posted will shock you at what happens even today.

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-whited-thomian-sepulchres-the-pharisees-who-cheat/

      Our enemy is something worse than muddle-headedness; too often it is deliberate bigotry: but I still feel that SOME of these bigots can be rescued by appealing to reason.

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    SRH Hoole wrote:
    “After the distinguished man had spoken, a group of English language academics launched what seemed to me to be a pre-planned tirade against him that was little connected to his esoteric speech. This reinforces in my mind the nasty attitude against Prof. Halpé by some academics that Mr. Jayatilaka refers to. To his great credit, Prof. Halpé did not respond and simply sat there on the stage without dignifying the attack and thereby demonstrated his greatness.”

    It made me wonder if it was not a similar desire not to dignify vile attacks by responding to them that made many an academic preserve silence in the face of systematic targetting by some individuals.

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      Yes, one has to remember how poor (History Professor) Leslie Gunewardena was persecuted by the likes of Jackson Anthony and Gunadasa Amarasekera.

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    Mano Ratwatte.

    What sincerity in your response.Plato agrees in every word of you have said.

    I Can only say gone our the days;Gone with the wind! SWRD was the Surgeon; He himself said that he had performed the Caesarean operation on the womb of time!
    But what he had delivered is a still born baby!

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    Amarasiri.

    Thanks. I am locating the papers. In 1984 June when my Pater died he sent our family a note.When he brought the Dramsoc[Peradeniya]-with Osmund Jayaratne the documentation I have located.
    Would I be able to do justice to this great man like Tissa?

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