IN FOCUS – LIFE ABROAD. Pt 21-TRANSFORMATION
Posted on March 29th, 2013

Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

During the late General Sepala AttygalaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s tenure ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ as ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ the High Commissioner in London,ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  President Premadasa decided to take some remedial actionƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  to give a face lift to ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ the ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Sri Lanka High Commission building at 13 Hyde Park Gardens, upon realising ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ the historic value of this vast building where Lord Northcliff had lived with 24 servants in the basement in an era when ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ the British aristocracy occupied the main house, known asƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”upstairsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ and the domestic staff ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ occupied the basement as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…- downstairsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚. A popular British Teledrama called ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Upstairs & DownstairsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ illustrated this fact distinctively.

Successor to Buluwela, the long served caretaker of the building, a new replacement believed to be a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”trustworthyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ employee (namely Ranasinghe) recommended by President Premadasa took over the reins as the caretaker at a time when terrorist attacks became vulnerable. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

TUNNEL TO BAKER STREET

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ A historic feature of thisƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  building was the underground tunnel that stretched up to Baker Street in London where Lord Northcliff had been using for his daily walks from his residence to Baker Street through this tunnel. However, in recent times the tunnel has been blocked out.

President PremadasaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s decision to convert the whole basement area into several flats as staff quarters was to save foreign exchange drain on rent paid out to private landlords every month on diplomatic staff accommodation.

To attend to all building conversion work President Premadasa sent a workforce of tradesmen all the way from Sri Lanka.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Although the building was on a long lease from the Church Commissioners in the UK, the lease agreement allowed for such modifications by the lessee.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ For a long period of time Sri Lanka government owned only one property in the UK, after being there for decades! Ultimately a fairly large house with a spacious garden and an additional three bed-roomed house, at St JohnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Wood, West London, became Sri Lankan property. Subsequently, the GardnerƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s cottage was refurbished and used as staff accommodation. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ NAIVETY

Although it was thought to be a cost effective operation to send tradesmen from Colombo to London to do refurbishing and plumbing work, what the Sri Lankan authorities had not realised was that Sri Lankan tradesmen were not conversant with the UK building regulations!

An apparent disaster during pluming work had been evaded in the nick of time when the Sri Lankan plumbers started on water pipe connections by ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”turning the sewerage into the storm water drainƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

This, in fact, was highlighted by one ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”NimalƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ as a feed back to one of my earlier episodes which appeared in the www.lankaweb.com website, who introduced himself as a Professional in the Building Industry in the UK. On 8 February 2013 ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ he wrote explaining ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ how he managed to ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-avert a dreadful situation, which otherwise could have created a stench in the affluent neighbourhoodƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚.

Mini Studio

Prior to the conversions, a section of the basement was transformed into a mini TV studio to groom senior diplomats to face TV cameras and forthright British journalists. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

For this purpose a well knownƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  British advertising companyƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  was contracted out ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ at an extravagantƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  cost, but the operation did not last long with the resultƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  that SriƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Lankan diplomats apparently becoming ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ diffident from ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ TV ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ appearances ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ duringƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  live panel discussionsƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  with Tamil terrorist sympathisersƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  who were making good use out of ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ fabrications. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

In such circumstances, to fill the vacuum ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ and ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ safeguards oneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s motherland, ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ a ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ few Sinhala Patriots ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ and Sinhala Associations who were brave, brainy and knew their onions appeared on TV and came on radio discussions to counter adverse arguments with historical factsƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  when ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ LTTE sympathisers ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ attempted to tarnishƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  the good name of the country ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ .

The general consensus in London at the time was that the Diplomatic deficiency helped the LTTE sympathisers to germinate the seed of doubt and fear among the TV audiences which has today become a gigantic tree. This is crystal clear from what the world has seen recently from UKƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Channel 4 concocted stories and ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”doctoredƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ videos such as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing FieldsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢.

The saddest part of it all wasƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  how and why the ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ British authorities including the Scotland Yard ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ did ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ not ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ pay much heed to ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ individualƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  protests ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ by the ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Sinhala Diaspora ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ againstƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  LTTE activities and ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ turned a Nelsonian eye ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ by statements such as ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-officially we have not heard ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ anything fromƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  your government sourcesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚.

Such clemency on the part of the British ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ on a ruthless terrorist organisation, whichƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  had been proscribed by many countries in the world including the UK itself, ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ and permitting them to behave freely on London streets ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ by crippling the whole transport system, blocking the parliament area for weeks and most of all tolerating ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ the LTTE spokesman Anton Balasingham ( being a British Citizen) to continue his terrorist activitiesƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  openly fromƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  the LTTE Headquarters, ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ compounded and ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ aggravated the conflict ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ to drag the terrorist war for 30 long years.

It needs to be acknowledged, however, ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ that whatever the High Commission staff did covertly, a major part of combating was done overtly by patriotic Sinhala expatriates to make them heard by organising protest marches, holding placards in front of 10 Downing Street, writing numerous articles to ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Newspapers and websites, and one or two prominent personalities even travelling abroad at their own personal expenses to other countries fearlessly to participate in Tamil ForumsƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  without which the LTTE would haveƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  outshined completely ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ in their publicity stunts internationally. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Internal Politics

There were instances on record where at least one senior High Commission official who did not have the mettle to face up to TV confrontations attempting to block out certain visits of a patriotic individual who had always appeared earlier on TV and Radio at every instance to defend the country when no single face of a diplomat was seen on the box!ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  There is factual documentary evidence on recorded tape to prove such specifics which no one can dare challenge.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

In the meanwhile, the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”internalƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ politicsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ between ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ the High Commission staff and the Sinhala Diaspora atƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  one stage ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ managed to divide loyalties among themselves ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ on a national issue by gettingƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  embroiledƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ in Internet andƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  email-battles condemning one another, throwing mud at each other ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ and/or ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ being partisan through yahoo forums which only ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ helped the ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ critics ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ of the country to have a hearty laugh using satiricalƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  phrases such asƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…- Sinhalaya modaya kevun Kanna yodayaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚!ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

The level-headed patriots ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ in such unfortunate situations referred ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ to such ill-fated situations as an act ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ of vendetta using a Sinhala ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ simile summarising the melodrama ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ as ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ : ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Balla pidiru kanneth neha kana gonata denn eth nehaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ (the dog doesnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t eat straw, neither does he allow the one who eats to do eitherƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢)!

The Sinhala Diaspora even today seem to lament on what could have been done ifƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  the responsible officials who were acting as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”custodians of the motherlandƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  had theƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  full knowledge and oratorical skillsƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  that were required at the height of terrorist activities to crush allƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  adverse propaganda spread by the terrorist sympathisers.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ It also needs to be acknowledged ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ in fairness that most of the time ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”hands of the ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Sri Lankan were ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ bound and mouths gaggedƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ to speak out on their own accord during any critical situation prior to obtaining authority and the green light fromƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  the Foreign Ministry, Colombo! This largely embarrassed the Head of the Mission when British journalists and TV crews bombarded within minutes of an incident in Colombo, such as a bomb blast. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

The main and oldest organisations representing the Sinhalese community in the UK, The UK Sinhala Association and The Sinhala Bala Mandalaya ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ has today given ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ rise to multiples of Sri Lankan Associations under different names ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ and categories.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Man is the only one that knows nothing, that can learn nothing without being taught. He can neither speak nor walk nor eat, and in short he can do nothing at the prompting of nature only, but only weep.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ –Pliny the Elder.

tilakfernandi@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

 

 


Copyright © 2022 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress