EFC Ludowyk: For Peradeniya and Ceylon ….. His Lasting Legacies

Tissa Jayatilleka, being a Four Part Series in the Island, March 2018, conveying the
…. Text of the 18th Ludowyk Memorial Lecturer delivered by Tissa Jayatilaka, an alumnus of the University of Peradeniya and Executive Director of the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission.

“Elegy for Peradeniya” – Ashley Halpé

Ah, chaste permitted wilderness below our house

complete with winding walks and warbling stream

designed to breed debate and poetry

nursery of our love, it has come,

the never-expected, unimaginable

date of our departure. You will remain,

symbol, monument, and not you alone

but all this involuted dream,

apt replacement for the finest bit of tea land

in the Midcountry. Symbol, monument,

not, please, of us –

we go to build elsewhere –

but of

those sage dreamers, our progenitors;

Jennings, walking these hills early and late

sheering past lovers, sending mischief scuttering,

benign headmaster; Adonis Rodrigo

first genial paterfamilar dean,

Ludowyk, magister magistrorum, perhaps

somewhat unwilling,

considering the metropolis; Attygalle, who whipped

the scientists and professionals here into the hills,

all are gone, most

dead. They barely lived to see

trees tall where the slopes were bare

debate sharpening into clamour

demagogues seeking beachheads into the future

pathetic dons disclaiming responsibility.

The guns are silent again

the rare helicopters only objects of derision:

and this bucolic, unwonted quiet,

is it a pulling in of heads into their shells

or a retraction of claws?

But now we, your firstborn,

must not await the event, must

be gone; what remains of your history

will not be ours. In our twenty-first year

by foul extrusion thrown upon the world,

your world all lost, we will accept the World

with glad eyes and still untired hearts

we will weave your lessons into tight new songs,

strange eyes widening at our onset

shall own your power, quicken to fresh clamour;

the rash new mandarins dabbling in change

might hear at last what they should never forget,

in crooked suburb and in crowded street

the rising thrum of history’s hurrying feet.

This beautiful and moving elegy, I consider a fitting prelude to my words and thoughts in memory of the magister magistrorum, Evelyn Frederick Charles Ludowyk, Professor of English of the Ceylon University College and the University of Ceylon from 1936–1956. I did not have the good fortune of being a student of the great man but nearly all of my teachers at school and University and several of my close senior friends are those who directly benefited from him during what is now nostalgically looked upon as the heyday of our alma mater. Hence I could claim to be a product of the Ludowyk legacy.

During the next several minutes I propose to piece together a sketch of the life and career of Professor Ludowyk on the basis of all that I have learnt from some of his students and colleagues, and then explore the impact of Professor Ludowyk on the country as a whole besides nourishing the University of Ceylon and the fortunate few there. In conclusion, this being the 75th anniversary of our University founded by his colleague Sir Ivor Jennings, in the building up of which institution, they both played such invaluable roles, I shall give you an overview of the promise and performance of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, this ‘ . . . dear perpetual place’, that was ‘designed to breed debate and poetry’ to use Ashley Halpe’s apt and expressive words to describe the beloved institution.

Professor Ludowyk was an outstanding product of Richmond College, Galle, where he acquired most of his primary and secondary education. He spent two years at Wesley College, Colombo, prior to entering the Ceylon University College. As my wish is to not let this moment pass without basking in a little bit of reflected glory, I note for the record that I had the better part of my own secondary education at Kingswood College, Kandy, which together with Richmond and Wesley are the three premier boys’ schools in the island established by the Wesleyan Mission.

Professor Ludowyk entered the Ceylon University College having, as he himself put it in his reminiscences of The English Department, 1921- 1956, ‘had the good fortune of working with the Rev. H. Highfield, a Wordsworthian if ever there was one’. Rev. Highfield known to Wesleyites as ‘The Saint of Karlshrue’ was the legendary 7th principal of Wesley College for three decades (1895 -1925). ‘To have been a student of Highfield’s’, Ludowyk continues to tell us, ‘was to have been conducted almost personally, into the literature of 18th century England which was Wordsworth’s true background’. At University College the young Ludowyk came under the tutelage of Professors Leigh Smith and David Hussey. Having secured a first class from the University of London, he proceeded to Cambridge in 1929 to read for part 11 of the English Tripos, where he achieved a first in English and won the Oldham Prize for Shakespeare in 1931. This was a time of momentous change in English Studies at Cambridge introduced by three scholars of great originality, I. A. Richards, Mansfield Forbes and F. R. Leavis, which in turn had an impact on all university courses in English.

Having come under the influence of these notables, he returned home in 1932, taught briefly at Richmond College before taking up duties as lecturer in English at the University College, Colombo. With the departure of Leigh Smith, David Hussey was now Professor. Later on, having secured his Ph.D. from Cambridge, Ludowyk became, at thirty, the first Ceylonese Professor of English in 1936. He was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Arts in 1940. Having served in the post of professor for 20 years, he resigned and left for England in 1956. It is interesting to remember that both Sir Ivor Jennings and Professor Ludowyk left Peradeniya almost around the same time.

His students have spoken glowingly of Lyn Ludowyk the teacher and the man. The material from his students is plentiful, and I was tempted to let them speak for themselves. I have tried not to resist the temptation. My Principal at Kingswood and later a member of the Council of our University, the late Kenneth de Lanerolle, one of Professor Ludowyk’s earliest students, tells us that,

The arrival of Lyn Ludowyk into this homely scene [of University College of the early 1930s] was an event. As you enter the Arts Block, on the right of the porch is a row of classrooms, whose partitions could be collapsed to make a sizeable hall. Here, you found it easy to get a friend to answer to your name at roll-call. Here J.L.C Rodrigo traced the outlines of Roman History and when this proved dull (as it often did) we would turn our attention to the flocks of sparrows on the window sills and wonder at their unashamed amours. And here it was that Ludowyk made his debut.

David Hussey was good and Hector Passé was correct, but we found Lyn Ludowyk an altogether new experience. When he spoke that day, and on subsequent days to us, Inter-Arts and B.A students, whether it was on Chaucer or Shakespeare, we found his message winged with meaning. He put us on our mettle and gave us undergrads a sense of dignity.

Ashley Halpé has spoken eloquently of the modesty, generosity and civility of the man and testified to Professor Ludowyk’s wonderful qualities as a teacher, who was at one and the same time, ‘the most demanding and the most appreciative of tutors’.

Ian Goonetileke, in his Preface to Ludowyk’s Those Long Afternoons. Childhood in Colonial Ceylon, tells us of his “honesty, compassion, and an attractive, often mischievous, sense of humour—virtues he possessed in abundant measure [that] shine through these pages’.

Ludowyk’s sense of humour is aptly demonstrated in two anecdotes that Fred Abeyesekere shares with us. Abeyesekere writes: “Ludo had set us one of his weekly tutorials and we were left to our own devices, to do or perish! A colleague of mine had gone to town, snaring up volume after volume of Scrutiny to the consternation of Librarian Enright! His had then to be a very comprehensive answer.

There was no doubt about it. A day or two later Ludo, in characteristic style, read out our grades – most of us oscillating between Cs and Bs with a dramatically announced solitary A+! There was much excitement as an A from Ludo meant that one was almost of the calibre of F.R. Leavis! Loaded with drama, he went onto explain that this was truly great, a very excellent effort and continued, as at the climactic point in a play, that he was not aware until then that Mr. Allen Tate was a member of his class! Mr. Allen Tate had scored an A+, and my colleague (the Scrutiny man), naught. (Not even a D-, which usually put us in the dog house).

On one occasion when the dashing Gregory Peck was at the Royal Botanical Gardens, taking part in a film which was being shot there, some feminine admirers decked in their ‘Sunday best’ had dared to cut Ludo’s tute class at 8.00 am. They returned around 8.45 am and gingerly tiptoed their way to the back of Ludo’s class, mercifully unseen by him as he was scribbling something on the blackboard. Suddenly he twirled his spectacles, faced the class, smiled a most benevolent smile and merely pronounced: ‘”Ladies! One must choose between Lyn and Peck.”

Godfrey Gunatilleke tells us more about Prof. Ludowyk’s particular style of teaching in which reading out some passage of poetry or creative prose was a crucial part. They were, Gunatilleke tells us, ‘as it were, “moments in and out of time”. . . ‘. ‘Listening to him’, adds Gunatilleke,

“we participated in the primal sorrow in Hardy’s ‘The Voice’, the irreparable loss of the loved one, “heard no more again far or near”, the infinite sadness at the transience of beauty and self in Hopkins’ ‘Spring and Fall’; the tragic self-realization of Lear “bound upon a wheel of fire”; the mature comedy in a passage from Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, restoring us to a wholesome sanity, giving us the emotional resilience to face life. . . Through his reading we became intuitively aware that good literature chastened and purified the inner self, that it was life-giving and brought us closer to the well-springs of human experience. It is indeed a great pity that we have no recording of Ludowyk’s readings. Having listened to many readings by world-renowned actors and famous literary personalities –whether they be of Shakespeare or T.S Eliot or other poets – I still recall Ludowyk’s readings as unrivalled in their capacity to unfold the intricate pattern of meaning and the inner drama of a poem or piece of creative writing.

As fulsome as is the praise of his students, the beneficiaries of Lyn Ludowyk were not just the fortunate few who read English at the time. His influence and reach were University-wide and spilt over to the wider community outside as well. Bernard Soysa, a close associate of his and a notable politician of an earlier period in our country when our parliament was not so full of mediocrities and dishonest men and women as today, has written warmly of Ludowyk’s contribution to the national politics of the day. Ludowyk was too scrupulous and sufficiently fastidious as to not seek membership of any political party but, on available evidence, one could conclude that he contributed to political causes he believed in from his particular vantage point.

Interesting as this political diversion is, I wish to focus on Ludowyk’s significant contribution to the nourishment of Sinhala Studies in our country, especially to Sinhala literary criticism and Sinhala drama. His contribution to the department of English, English Studies and English drama is too well known and does not require re-telling here. The popular or, more accurately perhaps, the prejudiced view of ill-informed critics of the time was that Professor Ludowyk and those of his background ‘lacked roots in the native soil’ and that they were aloof from anything outside the department of English. This misperceived and undeserved criticism needs to be corrected by situating it in its context.

During the last phase of British colonialism beginning in the 20th century, a militant nationalism was discernible in India in particular and in certain other South East and South Asian societies including our own. Whilst this hostility of the militant nationalists of Ceylon to colonialism was understandable, their inability to distinguish between the different categories of the English educated Ceylonese of the day is lamentable. From all that can be gleaned, some of the English-educated intelligentsia displayed a degree of aloofness.The best of them, however, as exemplified by Professor Ludowyk himself and those of his more sensitively intelligent students –Godfrey Gunatilleke, C. R. (Dick) Hensman, R.C.L. Attygalle, Izeth Hussein, Reggie Siriwardene, Gananath Obeyesekere, Ranjini Ellepola Obeyesekere, Ashley Halpé, YasmineGooneratne and Thiru Kandiah to name but a few– show us that such aloofness was by no means the norm. As to the stimulus given by Ludowyk and some of his products directly or indirectly to writers and critics in Sinhalese, let me first let the great man speak for himself. Here is what Professor Ludowyk tells us in an essay titled ‘The East West Problem in Sinhalese Literature’:

It has often been said of English in Ceylon, that despite the hundred-odd years of its use in schools and by that small class known as the English educated, it has produced hardly anything which could be dignified by the name of literature. This criticism is, however, mistaken. The fruitful results of English have to be sought elsewhere – in the effect it has had on writing in Sinhalese. Within a limited scope it has influenced both the Sinhalese language and its literature. It has done something to create a group of professional writers in Sinhalese, a group which hardly existed before. Imperceptibly, yet none the less definitely, English has made a considerable difference to writing in Sinhalese.

In the cross fertilization of Sinhalese and English Literature, Ludowyk played a pivotal role. As stated above, being at Cambridge at a time of momentous change, he was influenced by the fresh winds then blowing through English Studies at that ancient seat of learning. Modern methods of evaluating literary writing with their emphasis on practical criticism associated with I. A. Richards and the close reading and understanding of a poem, play or novel (criticism as the scrutiny of ‘words on the page’) set in motion by F. R. Leavis and his colleagues replaced the earlier approach with its emphasis on philology, grammar and the socio-economic and historical background of a literary creation. (To be continued)



In the decades of the 1930s, 1940s and until the mid- 1950s under the leadership of Robert Marrs at the University College and Doctor (later Sir) Ivor Jennings at the University of Ceylon, our higher education had begun to flourish and move in new directions setting high intellectual standards in the process. This was the period when men like Lyn Ludowyk, Gunapala Malalasekere, Hector Passé, Doric de Souza, Cuthbert Amerasinghe, M. D. Ratnasuriya, O.H. de A. Wijesekere, Ediriwira Sarachchandra, D. E. Hettiarachchi, Ian Goonetileke, K. W. Goonewardene et al made their formidable intellectual presence felt, both in and outside of the university.

Their products began carrying the new knowledge thus acquired, and through it the new ways of seeing the world, into the wider society as teachers in secondary schools spread across the country. Consequently there came into being a new generation of formally educated citizens who began to question existing values and ideas based on conventional wisdom. This was also the period when a segment of our citizens notably Ananda Samarakone, Sunil Shantha, Makaloluwa, Chitrasena and Amaradeva were making an impact on the cultural renaissance of our country having benefited from Rabindranath Tagore and the congenial learning environment he had created at Shanthiniketan and from other Indian institutions of advanced training in Music and Dance. Although on a different plane, this era also saw the emergence of artists like Lionel Wendt, Harry Peiris, George Claessen, Justin Deraniyagala, George Keyt, Manjusri and Richard Gabriel of the ’43 Group. Their work, too, was suffused with a fresh vigour combining meaningfully, as it did, the idioms of the East and West.

It is in the above-delineated environment that we see the fruitful academic collaboration of the young professors of English and Sinhala, the first Ceylonese to hold these positions, Lyn Ludowyk and Dharmasiri Ratnasuriya, of the University of Ceylon. They both had lived and studied in England in their formative years. Ratnasuriya like Ludowyk, Amaradasa Virasinha tells us, was an unassuming and modest personality who shunned the limelight. His untimely death before he could make his mark as fully as Ludowyk was able to, may also account for why very few know of the pioneering role Ratnasuriya played in the founding of a modern Sinhala literary critical tradition in Sri Lanka, an enterprise in which both Ludowyk and Ratnasuriya combined so effectively. Their own close academic partnership led to the formation of creative partnerships among their students. Of them, the joint effort of Dharmasiri Ekanayaka, Amaradasa Virasinha and S.G. Samarasinghe who read for Honours degrees in Sinhala, is significant. Of these three Dharmasiri Ekanayake, who read Sinhala (1947-1950) with English as his subsidiary subject stands out.

These were the three students who founded the literary journal Samskritiin 1953 in memory of Professor Dharmasiri Ratnasuriya. Ekanayaka had by now entered the Ceylon Civil Service. Despite his manifold labours as a civil servant, his contribution to Samskriti and to the establishment of a modern Sinhala literary critical tradition was immense. From its founding in 1953, Samskriti had a seminal influence on the local literary scene until about the early 1970s, as Scrutiny founded by F.R. Leavis had in the English-speaking world from 1932-1953 in particular and thereafter as well.Samskriti was a boon to senior school students and undergraduates of the bilingual intelligentsia of our country. Professor K.N.O. Dharmadasa in an essay written in 2004 (cited by Chinataka Ranasinghe in a special issue of Samskriti in April 2011), writes on the significance of Samskriti and its kinship to Scrutiny.

Dharmasiri Ekanayaka’s familiarity with both the Sinhala and English literary critical traditions in combination with Amaradasa Virasinha’s extensive familiarity with the indigenous tradition enabled them to feed off each other’s specialized knowledge as Virasinha tells us in the April 2011 issue of Samskriti.The splendid results of this intellectual bond between Ekanayaka and Virasinha are to be seen in their offerings in Samskriti and in the former’s posthumous book, Sahithyaya Ha Vichara Kalawa (2012).

With the departure of Amaradasa Virasinha to the United States in 1970, Samskriti lost its guiding spirit. After nearly three decades, Virasinha returned to Sri Lanka and sought to revive the journal. Although Ekanayaka gave every possible encouragement to Virasinha and was enthusiastic about a fresh involvement with Samskriti, his ill-health did not permit him to do so. An incurable stomach ailment yet dogged him which, in addition to his own disillusionment with the public service, had compelled him to take leave of his civil service career prematurely in 1979, at the age of 51. By 2000, Virasinha’s own health had begun to deteriorate. It was at this stage that Dr. G. Usvatte-Aratchi and Mr. Susil Sirivardana stepped into the breach and together with a younger group of academics and aficionados of literature came to Virasinha’s assistance. In addition to reviving Samskriti, a key project these revivalists devoutly wished to accomplish was the publication of a book containing all of Dharmasiri Ekanayaka’s most valuable contributions to Samskriti beginning in 1953. Sadly, however, before the publication could see the light of day, Dharmasiri Ekanayaka passed on, on the 22nd of September of that year, aged 82.

Sahithiyaya Ha Vichara Kalawa which finally came off the press in 2012, is a collection of Dharmasiri Ekanayaka’s excellent essays in literary criticism. It contains, among other writings, his reviews of A.P. Gunaratne’s translation of Leonard Woolf’s The Village in the Jungle, titled, Beddegama, Martin Wickramasinghe’s short stories, W.A. Silva’s Avichara Samaya, Siri Gunasinghe’s Hevanella, Ediriwira Sarachchandra’s Malagiya Aththo and Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard that has been rendered into Sinhala as Cherry Watte. In addition there is a notable and insightful essay written in 1963 titled Ingrisi Vichara Kalawa Ha Sinhala Sahithyaya in which Ekanayaka notes that universal human values cut across societies and cultures, and that it is perfectly valid to use English literary critical principles to judge Sinhala literature.

In his preface to Sahithyaya Ha Vichara Kalawa, Susil Sirivardana highlights the impact Professors Ratnasuriya and Ludowyk had on the sensibility of the young Dharmasiri Ekanayaka that I have already alluded to above. In an essay on Dharmasiri Ekanayaka’s outstanding contribution to literary criticism, Susil Sirivardana (2011) reinforces the point about the Ratnasuriya–Ludowyk effect on the growth and development of Ekanayaka’s sensibility.

Let me now illustrate with one more striking example, the effective interaction among the students of Ludowyk and Ratnasuriya. Even prior to entering the University of Ceylon and becoming an illustrious product of Prof. Ludowyk and the English Department, the well-read and bilingual Gananath Obeyeskere was a close associate of Amaradasa Virasinha. This close association resulted in Obeyesekere’s intimate involvement with Samskriti in 1953 by which time Obeyesekere was putting the finishing touches to his honours degree in English at Peradeniya. Amaradasa Virasinha notes this development in Samskriti (2011).

Around 1949-1950, Amaradasa Virasinha and Gananath Obeyesekere combined their intellectual resources to adapt and translate into Sinhala, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House as Sellam Geya, the sixth edition of which was released in March 2011. Furthermore Virasinha has acknowledged in Samskriti that it was Obeyesekere who had coined the Sinhala term—‘Bhavitha Vicharaya’ for ‘Practical Criticism’ and noted that the two of them had begun a new feature titled VicharaMaga in Samskriti in 1954 in order to familiarize and educate both the ordinary reader of literature and the literary critic of the significance of ‘words on the page’ in literary evaluation and criticism.

We thus see that Professor Ludowyk’s contribution, both directly as teacher and through the influence he exerted outside the classroom via his students was immense. His love, concern and affection for the country of his birth and its people never deserted him as evidenced by some of his writings after retirement while living in England. The abiding nostalgia, as Ian Goonetileke has written ‘produced three books of enduring value and exhibited his keen understanding and sympathy for the history, culture and people of his native land’. These books are: The Footprint of the Buddha (1958); The Story of Ceylon (1962); and The Modern History of Ceylon (1966). In The Footprint of the Buddha, one can see how Professor Ludowyk was touched by, ‘the depth of the Buddha’s feelings for mankind’, writes Dr. Walpola Rahula Thera (1984). He goes on to say that the classic ‘What The Buddha Taught’ (1959) would never have been written if not for Lyn Ludowyk’s urgings. He says,

Ludowyk insisted, persuaded and even cajoled me to write. He read and edited the first chapter and encouraged me to continue. He impelled me to write all eight chapters. Those who read this book in the world should be grateful not to me but to Professor E.F.C. Ludowyk.

It is now time to take a look at Ludowyk’s contribution to Sinhala drama. No less an authority than Professor Ediriwira Sarchchandra has written of Ludowyk’s connection with the Sinhala theatre. In his essay Ludowyk and the Sinhala Theatre, Sarachchandra is of the opinion ‘. . . in the annals of Sinhala theatre, his[Ludowyk’s] is a name that cannot be left out’. Noting that Ludowyk’s involvement with Sinhala theatre was brief but significant, Sarachchandra goes on to tell us: One reason that people tend to forget (or just overlook) Ludowyk’s contribution to the Sinhala theatre is that his reputation in the English theatre overshadowed everything else. It was difficult for people to accommodate themselves to the belief that a professor of the English language, a Dutch Burgher by descent, could produce a play in Sinhala. But it was not widely known that Ludowyk assiduously studied classical Sinhala for a time, and that he belonged to the Burghers of Galle who were more Sinhalese than the Sinhalese themselves (at least the westernized class). Ludowyk not only understood spoken Sinhala, but had a feel for its nuances, and, being a linguist, enjoyed the new opportunities he got, in the course of play-production, of enlarging his knowledge of it.

We also learn from Professor Sarachchandra that an estrangement between Professor Ludowyk and the dramatic society of the University had resulted in Ludowyk not producing a play in 1945 as he had done consistently in previous years. Seeking to transform the University Dramatic Society’s misfortune to their good fortune, Dr. D.J. Wijayaratna, Mr. A.P.Gunaratna and Sarachchandra himself, decided to invite Professor Ludowyk to produce a play in Sinhala, an invitation that, with characteristic modesty, Ludowyk had declined on the grounds that his knowledge of Sinhala was not up to the task. After a degree of persuasion and an assurance that whatever help he would need where Sinhala was concerned would be provided, Wijayaratna, Gunaratna and Sarachchandra secured Ludowyk’s consent. And thus was born, the Ranga Sabha consisting of the four of them and Mrs. Edith Ludowyk.

It was the conviction of the founders of the Ranga Sabha, that there was no serious indigenous dramatic tradition although there existed a worthy tradition in Sinhala poetry and narrative prose going as far back as the 6th century A.D. They were also convinced that the existing Tower Hall musical as well as the Jayamanne play (so named after the producer B.A.W. Jayamanne and its leading actor, his brother, Eddie Jayamanne) were inadequate and indeed likely to prove unhelpful in the fostering of a tangible, indigenous Sinhala dramatic tradition. In the circumstances, they believed that one way of seeking to accomplish their larger goal, that is the creation of a serious Sinhala dramatic tradition, was to provide local audiences in the interim with, as an alternative to the poor fare that passed for indigenous drama at the time, adaptations or translations in Sinhala of the best plays of the world repertory of theatre.

Accordingly, Ludowyk recommended that Gogol’s Marriage be translated and adapted to suit local audiences, would be an ideal play to begin with. The Sinhala adaptation of this Russian play was titled KapuvaKapothi, which translated loosely means ‘a match for the matchmaker’, and the main roles in it, were played by those who had earlier appeared in English plays produced and directed by Ludowyk. Chief among these players were E. C.B.Wijeyesinghe, Richard Thenabadu, W.J. Fernando, I.D.S.Weerawardene, Eileen Sarachchandra and Damayanthi Dunuwillle and Kapuva Kapothi first went on the boards on 25 April, 1945, at King George’s Hall, on Thurstan Road, Colombo. This is believed to be the first occasion when leading producers, directors, actors and actresses of the Sinhala and English theatre collaborated on a common production which reminds us of a similar fruitful collaboration between the Sinhala and English theatre personalities that occurred in the 1960s which began with the memorable Stage & Set production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman directed by Ernest MacIntyre in 1966. That the leading lights of Stage & Set had cut their theatrical teeth with Lyn Ludowyk in the University Dramsoc, should come as no surprise to us. Henry Jayasena wrote a review of Arthur Miller’s play and as Shelagh Goonewardene has written, the influence of Salesman on Jayasena’s own writing is clearly evident in the final scene of his ApataPutheyMagakNathey. And this coming together of English and Sinhala personalities in the production of Salesman was followed by a period of collaboration and interaction between the two groups. Jayasena was joined by other well-known artistes like Chitrasena and DhammaJagoda.

Let me get back to Sarachchandra on Ludowyk now. After Kapuva Kapothi, Professors Ludowyk and Sarachchandra combined their resources and those of the Ranga Sabha to adapt Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid but it was not so successful as Kapuva Kapothi. Having enjoyed a ringside seat during the production of Kapuva Kapothi and learned much during it, Sarachchandra recalled: “To watch Ludowyk produce a play was to me an unforgettable and most enjoyable experience. I did not realize at the time that it was providing me with the basic education I needed in an area of artistic activity that was to become, later, practically my lifework.”

In conclusion let me give you an overview of the promise and performance of the University of Ceylon established in 1942, the institution to which both its founder Vice Chancellor, Sir Ivor Jennings and Professor Ludowyk laboured to give body and shape.


When Dr. Ivor Jennings arrived in Colombo in 1941, he knew that he was a transitional figure, the last principal of the University College at Colombo, and soon to be the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. On his arrival he expected to remain here for no more than five years, that is, till 1946, a period of time which he thought was all he needed to complete the transfer of the newly established university to Peradeniya. While the state’s coffers were fuller in the 1940s than they had been earlier, and there was much more money available to plan the University on a lavish scale, war-time scarcities delayed the construction process by several years. The University was ready by the end of 1942 to take physical control of the Peradeniya site, but the establishment of the headquarters of the Southeast Asia Command (SEAC) in the island, in Kandy, meant that the military needs took priority over all others. The University site became a SEAC camp over the next two years. The only benefit to the University was that the site was cleared, that is to say, the rubber trees were cut down, the tea bushes uprooted and the scrub jungle burnt, for the residential facilities and stores for the soldiers. It was only in the early part of 1945 that work began on the University buildings. Jennings was driven to exasperation by the delays he encountered. He put it all down to at least, as far as the 1940s were concerned, to the complex constitutional system devised by the Donoughmore Commissioners as he explains in his ‘The Foundation of the University of Ceylon (1951).

The transfer to Peradeniya commenced on a modest scale after the end of the second World War, beginning with the Faculty of Agriculture (including Veterinary Science and the Department of Law). By the end of 1940s the process of construction was accelerated rapidly and it was possible to contemplate the transfer of the Faculty of Arts to Peradeniya. This happened in 1950-1952, and the first students of the Faculty of Arts and Oriental Studies moved into residence at the beginning of the academic year 1952-1953, which was at the end of September.

The University at Peradeniya was conceived in crisis and eventually born against the background of a Japanese invasion which seemed imminent at that time (April 1942) but fortunately for the country, it never took place. The shift to Peradeniya had been preceded by the “battled of sites” which had stirred much passion among the island’s emerging establishment. Ludowyk who would doubtless have had first- hand knowledge of this fractious debate has described it as, ‘a sharp and vexatious controversy’. The motives of the planners of the University were questioned and accusations of various kinds were hurled at each other by both proponents and opponents of the idea of a National University located away from the capital city. Opinion was divided on ethnic/communal lines as well. Thus we see that from the very outset the lovingly planned, beautifully situated University at Peradeniya seemed to suffer from the kinds of reversals it was to become violently subjected to in later years.

The first several years of the University of Ceylon may be described as the institution’s halcyon days. The academic staff and the undergraduates for the most part formed a homogeneous community of scholars from a common background and their number was manageably small. The University ran smoothly as funding was available and with Jennings the trusted confidant of the country’s first Prime Minister, D.S.Senanayake and of his senior cabinet members in the Vice Chancellor’s chair everything seemed right with tertiary education in Ceylon. Scholarship at Peradeniya was openly and deliberately designed for an elite of intelligent, energetic civic minded men and women irrespective of their economic circumstances.

Over the centuries, universities the world over had enriched the society outside of them by feeding their products into the realms of law, politics, religion, diplomacy and the general bureaucracy. Through the students who spent their impressionable years there, universities also exerted a socializing, civilizing and moral influence on society. This interaction with the larger society was an indirect one, a useful byproduct of the University’s essential functions which are the creation, preservation and transmission of knowledge and culture. World War 11, forced many changes on society as a whole and the universities wherever they were located were not immune from these changes either.

The University of Ceylon at Peradeniya, too, became subject to the social and political changes that came about after World War 11. Change was more momentous and complex for our society as it was only a few years after the end of the war that we became an independent state after nearly four centuries and a half of colonial domination. Our National University soon began to feel the impact of the gathering forces of post- independence nationalist revivalism.

Post-war changes led the University of Ceylon, which had hitherto successively kept extraneous influences at bay, to a greater and more direct involvement with the society outside the groves of academe. The University thus became more ‘socially-conscious’. From here it was but a small step to the politicization of the institution. The gap between a socially-conscious and a politically-conscious university is a very slender one.

Until about the mid-1950s the experiment in higher education that began on the banks of the Mahaweliganga, guided by the safe and sure hands and minds of the likes of Ivor Jennings and Lyn Ludowyk among others, appeared to have produced the desired results. The fledgling University which seemed to blend some of the most desirable advantages that a bountiful nature and human endeavor could endow a new institution with was making its presence felt in the region and elsewhere.

Influenced by the emerging political trends, militant nationalist critics began to assail Peradeniya for what they perceived to be its elitism and conservatism. Jennings began to be criticized even more harshly than Ludowyk had been, as outlined earlier in this presentation. He (Jennings) was perceived as an unsympathetic outsider determined to establish and perpetuate a luxuriously constructed ivory tower at Peradeniya. Had these misguided critics paused to consider Jennings’ background, a man of humble working-class beginnings, ‘a scholarship boy’ throughout his brilliant academic career and the reputation of a Fabian-Socialist, they might have been less grotesquely off the mark! They should have given Jennings and men like Ludowyk, the benefit of the doubt. Jennings, as a sensitive outsider, and Ludowyk as an enlightened cosmopolitan local, may have–correctly–foreseen the disasters that would follow in the wake of linguistic and religious rivalries–‘the gloomy forebodings’–that were manifesting themselves in the early post-independence era. They would surely have wanted to see the University they helped found and build to continue to produce enlightened men and women who would stand above the fray and provide leadership of a kind that would help direct newly independent Sri Lanka away from the narrow path of sectarian strife down which a section of her people seemed all too determined to take her.

Perhaps Jennings and Ludowyk saw more clearly than others the coming events casting their ominous shadows. They both left the island in 1955 and 1956 respectively, and in Jennings’ case, not before warning us of the dangers of an over-politicized university. Before I go any further, let me first mention that the establishment of the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya was a decision taken long before Jennings’ appointment as Principal of our University College in 1941. The ‘battle of the sites’ referred to earlier continued from the 1920s until 1938, when the State Council took a decision to purchase a large and scenic site at Peradeniya – the location for the new University of Ceylon that had gained the greatest support from a group led by D.R Wijewardene. Robert Marrs who had supported the Peradeniya site retired from his post in 1939 and Ivor Jennings was appointed in his place as we noted before in 1941.

On reading the documents that were made available to him in London before arriving in Ceylon, Jennings understood his job to be the creation of a university on the lines laid down by the Buchanan-Riddell Commission, commonly referred to as the Riddell Commission of 1928. Jennings has admitted that the Peradeniya scheme was not his and that his task was to make it a reality as he records it, in his autobiography The Road to Peradeniya published posthumously in 2005: “. . . though I was not responsible for the Peradeniya scheme, I had adopted it enthusiastically.”

Jennings, as Eric de Silva (2013) points out, saw merit in both the Oxbridge and Red brick models and sought to extract what was best in them as would be seen by the following statement made by him in The Road to Peradeniya: “This is not to say that Oxford and Cambridge were perfect. On the contrary they had many defects which had to be reformed, including their ignorance of much ‘useful knowledge’ and their social exclusiveness. But they also had qualities which were worthy of being copied elsewhere. The red brick universities could not provide ancient traditions and beautiful architecture, but they could provide common rooms, playing fields, clubs and halls of residence. When new universities were established, great care was taken over the environment, ample halls of residence were provided, and a complex social organization was developed. Opinion is now unanimous in England and often elsewhere that the best education is that given in a residential university in an attractive environment. In Peradeniya we were only carrying out accepted principles of university education.”

These sentiments are echoed by Professor Ludowyk in his essay, ‘Mixed Thoughts on an Asian University’ where he says, ” To fanatical nationalism, the University as it was modelled on English (foreign) institutions, was a sitting target. It is difficult to see how a modern university could have been planned without reference to similar institutions elsewhere in the world. It may be that the English planners believed too strongly in their own institutions. What has to be seen is that both the English and the Ceylonese responsible for the structure of the University were not guilty of malice aforethought, or a subtle desire to thwart the abilities of the Ceylonese, but the conviction that they were giving Ceylon the best kind of university they knew—a unitary residential university.’

In Jennings’ scheme, the immediate objective was to provide a residential university of 2500 students. Jennings felt that a university of 2500, could be adequate for the decade of the 1950s while acknowledging that, “. . . if the economy of the island progresses, they (2,500) may prove inadequate even before 1960.”

He was confident of being able to expand Peradeniya from 3,000- 3,500, if the need arose. This would include a second medical school of 600 students. Anything above this number would be too large for efficient management. As early as 1950 Jennings saw the need for a second university in Colombo or elsewhere, if the number of students were to exceed 4,400 (3,500 in Peradeniya plus 900 in the Colombo Medical Faculty). This is the kind of careful planning and thinking ahead that was characteristic of university administration in the days gone by. And, according to knowledgeable commentators, it was how the University of Ceylon functioned in its heyday from 1942-1955. Jennings was prescient in his warning to the powers that be about the dangers of politicization of the University. During the search for his successor, Jennings wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister Sir John Kotalawala which, among other matters, deals with the issue of politicization: “I do not wish to see fourteen years of hard work in Ceylon destroyed by ‘politics’ in any sense of the word.”


Any objective student of the history of the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya will have to admit that not heeding Jennings’ sage advice, has had a disastrous effect on the institution. Whilst democratization of education was desirable and indeed called for, inadequate and ad hoc planning by non- specialists led to over-crowding at Peradeniya. By 1960, a significant number of entrants to the University of Ceylon could not be accommodated in its halls of residence. A new category of non-residential or external students came into being. They could attend lectures and tutorials, make use of library and other facilities but had to live off campus. Between1963-1965, the University population doubled itself and the University could not accommodate the total intake of students to the Faculty of Arts and Oriental Studies for the academic year 1965- 1966. A second Medical Faculty was established in Peradeniya in January 1962 and the Engineering Faculty came into being in 1964.

It was clear that the state had not planned ahead properly to meet the unprecedented expansion from 1959 onwards in the higher education sector, consequent to the introduction of swabasha and the democratization of higher education in general. And as inevitable problems in regard to university administration began to mount, so did the politicization of the University grow. In the hasty search for a possible solution to the challenge of the growing demand for higher education, measures were adopted to solve immediate problems without much thought for the future. The Vidyalankara and Vidyodaya Pirivenas, two Buddhist seats of learning, were hurriedly elevated to universities in 1959.

By the early 1960s, the University of Ceylon had begun to grapple with serious internal problems arising from mismanagement and student unrest. These problems were compounded by external interference in the affairs of the University. The government of the day responded by appointing yet another commission –The D.C.R.Gunawardene Commission of August 1962 to look into the causes for this mismanagement and unrest and to recommend measures to arrest them. The commission’s report submitted to the government in July 1963, was extremely harsh on the University and contained some startling proposals. The Commission went as far as to recommend that the University Court, the Council and the Vice Chancellor should cease to function for a period of 18 months so as to cleanse the foetid atmosphere at the institution and to seek to resuscitate the University administration. The Commission wanted a University Grants Commission established and powers and functions of the University vested in it. The government of the day ignored the severe recommendations of the Commission.

The next striking change in the higher education sphere came with the introduction of the Higher Education Act No. 20 of 1966 that made the Minister of Education responsible for the general direction of higher education with a National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) to assist him in the task. As K.M. de Silva has pointed out, this piece of legislation ‘was in every sense a major turning point in the history of university education in Sri Lanka’. It certainly led to the demise of the concept of an autonomous university that Jennings had envisaged for us.

From 1966 onwards, the University of Ceylon, suffered one crisis after another. The Minister of Education of the time, I.M.R.A. Iriyagolla was both controversial and unpopular among the academic community. So much so that senior and respected dons of the University of Ceylon who had hitherto kept away from party politics now began to participate in political rallies of the opposition United Front (UF). Many University students and dons openly campaigned for the UF in the election of 1970, partly due to that coalition’s promise that if it came to power, it would restore University autonomy and provide for the expansion of university expansion by setting up three new universities.

In keeping with this election promise, the new Minister of Education of the UF government, Badi-ud-din Mahmud introduced a bill to regulate higher education in the country. It seemed to provide for much that was needed: a University Grants Commission to promote the growth and balanced development of universities and a progressive measure to introduce greater staff and student participation in university administration. Soon thereafter the insurrection of April 1971 broke out and there was a strong belief in government circles that university students had played a significant part in organizing the event. Although it subsequently became apparent that university students had played a very minor part in the rebellion, the government withdrew the promised bill and introduced in its place, a totally different piece of legislation that became law on 15 February 1972 as the Higher Education Act No. 1 of 1972. In significant ways, this Act was even worse that the Higher Education Act No. 20 introduced by Mr.Iriyagolla.

The overwhelming defeat of the United Front government in 1977 paved the way for the introduction of yet another higher education law by the new United National Party government. The aim of the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978 was to return to the traditions of university governance of the Jennings era. Although there were commendable new features in the new legislation, it too began soon to feel like an exercise of changing pillows to cure a headache. One began by now to get the feeling that national politics and university politics were getting enmeshed to an alarming degree. Violence broke out in 1982 after the Students’ Council elections at Peradeniya in December of that year. And when the university reopened for the second term of the academic year in January 1983 as K.M. de Silva tells us ‘more menacing political influences from the national political scene began to intrude into student activity. Events in the north of the island were beginning to affect the students’.

By May of 1983, ugly and unruly events that had never occurred before in the history of the University of Peradeniya, were beginning to take place. Nor have these unsavoury happenings, I regret to note, been recorded in accounts about the recent history of Peradeniya that are available to the general reader. I owe such information as I have on the perilous events of this era to my secondary school Principal and member of the University Council in 1983, Mr. Kenneth de Lanerolle, whom I quoted at the beginning of this presentation. On the 18th of May 1983, the Council of the University of Peradeniya appointed three of its members with Mr. de Lanerolle as Chairman to inquire into disturbances that shattered the peace of the University on the evening of the 11th of May and continued sporadically till the 10th of June. The de Lanerolle Committee submitted an Interim Report after 10 days of enquiry without prejudice to the Final Report (a comprehensive analysis of the entire campaign of violence), both of which dealt with the same phenomenon. The Committee said:

It will be appreciated if all reports dealing with the recent disturbances are evaluated together and are read as one document. However, while the Interim Report was tabled at a meeting of the Council and acted upon, the more important Final Report (issued on 6 December 1983) never saw the light of day.

Prior to his death several years later, Mr. de Lanerolle presented me his copy of both reports for future reference, and now let me quote relevant extracts from them to understand how far we have moved away from the ideals of Jennings and Ludowyk. Let me begin with the following:

A sub-warden is known to have summed up the May-June disturbances as a reflection of present day trends in the country. At first glance, this seems too simplistic an explanation. While it is true that a university is a microcosm of the larger world outside and cannot function in isolation, it is at the same time a captive segment pledged to higher education and for that reason, not expected as of necessity to mirror all the ugly features of society, however sick or bitter or fragmented.

In the context of the awful shock that the entire country sustained in July 1983 (just a month after the University disaster), the sub-warden’s remark acquires a new significance. We recall what was often quoted in the old (University College) days: What the University thinks and does today the country thinks and does tomorrow. Of course this was an ideal; but it remained in the thinking of pioneers like Robert Marrs and Ivor Jennings and their teams of committed academics. What we seem to have today is a grotesque twist to the University of Peradeniya’s leadership role in society. What we intend to engineer at the national level we first try out in the university. This is one reading of the unhappy phenomenon under review.

All, however, was happily, not doom and gloom at that time in Peradeniya. There were those who responded in a humane manner as sensitive and educated members of a community of scholars are expected to. ‘In this desperate situation’ the de Lanerolle committee tells us:

“[The] stand taken by the University Teachers’ Association is worthy of note. Immediately after the first phase it met in emergency session and among other things requested its members to refrain from teaching until such time as the evicted Tamils returned. At least two professors (at some risk to their person) visited the Halls of Residence at night in order to dialogue with the students. In the Council, however, the Association’s decision not to teach met with a mixed reception.

Another happy feature of the disturbance was the kindness shown by several Sinhalese students to colleagues by warning them of possible attacks, advising them how to avoid danger and agreeing to look after their belongings in their absence. One outstanding gesture of compassion was made by a Sinhalese student who had led a Tamil academic away to safety after he had been mauled and abandoned in front of Wijewardena Hall.

If Jennings and Ludowyk could have witnessed these acts of compassion and humanity by the latter day men and women of the University of Peradeniya, they would have been reassured and heartened.

One of the concluding o0bservations of the suppressed de Lanerolle Committee Report is also worthy of quotation because it seems to have (perhaps unwittingly) anticipated the absolute horror of the 1987-1989 period at Peradeniya. Here it is:

What took place at the University of Peradeniya in May –June, may, on the surface, not appear very serious, especially after the holocaust of July which overtook the country. But it would be quite wrong to under estimate its significance and, for that reason, to pass it off with a mild rebuff. Great oaks from little acorns grow; likewise great crimes stem from small misdemeanours.

Prof K.M. de Silva in his monograph titled The Sri Lankan Universities from 1977-1990; Recovery, Stability and Descent to Crisis, describes in detail how the system at Peradeniya floundered and slid into deep crisis from 1985-1989. In the period between 1987-1989 in particular, the student members of the JanathaVimukthiPeramuna (JVP) had an iron grip on the universities and they are considered responsible for the assassination of two Vice Chancellors and some others whom they suspected of being security personnel in civilian clothes. Retaliation by the state thereafter was swift and as brutal as the violence of the JVP had been. Before the end of 1989, the leadership of the JVP was eliminated and the universities were reopened after almost six months.

Almost twenty years after this violent phase of the University of Peradeniya, we are presently living in a time, not only here in Sri Lanka but elsewhere in the world as well, when it is difficult to be optimistic. When we reflect on the political situation or the state of higher education in our land, it is difficult not to feel despondent.

Ivor Jennings with able assistance from Lyn Ludowyk and other colleagues laid so secure a foundation for the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya that despite all the problems and tribulations that the University today has confronted since their departure and the negativity around us notwithstanding, one could still end this assessment of the institution’s promise and performance on a note of cautious optimism. The odds against success have been very great, and yet the University has survived with some of its spirit intact and prevailed over a succession of difficulties including a series of catastrophes, that could have destroyed a system with less secure foundations. To those of us who have had the privilege of studying here during better times, it has been an exhilarating and enriching experience. The sadness with which we view the decline and what might have been a great institution is mitigated by the hope that the resilience the institution has demonstrated through very trying times, will ensure a renewal of its spirit, and a fulfilment, in some degree, of the promise of its early days. Even when a mood of pessimism is warranted by the realities of the day, the gloom is often lifted when one contemplates, as Ediriwira Sarachchandra has done in his Curfew and a Full Moon (1978) the natural beauty of its location:

If ever a community of young and old sought the tranquility and inspiration of a natural environment in which to engage themselves in the pursuit of knowledge, they could not have found a place where nature was more kindly or more anxious to please than the valley of Peradeniya. You pass ugly little towns all the way, Yakkala, Warakapola, Kegalle, Mawanelle, till you come to the bridge that goes over the Mahaweli. Then, through the arches formed by the bamboo branches that droop over the river from both its banks you catch a first glimpse of the archaic-looking buildings of the University built there only a little over a quarter of century ago. You turn right after crossing the bridge, and enter into a world that you would never have believed to have been there. A world apart, indeed, which has been often condemned for being so, for being an ivory tower in which the youth of the country grew up without a care for the masses who were not as fortunate as they. But as you go through the campus and see more of it, you wish, however just the condemnation may be, that there were a few more spots on earth left, like it.

The Peradeniya campus is beautiful at all times of the year, but particularly in the months of Durutu and Bak, which correspond to Spring in colder climes. Then, it is like a vast pavilion decked gaily, as if for a festival, with festoons of flowers hanging overhead and yellow petals falling lightly from them to rest in the cool green grass and make a carpet for the feet, while bourgainvillaeas twine themselves into multi-coloured trellises all around. The shimmering vault of the noonday sky resounds to the cry of the kovularising higher and higher up the scale and ending in a crescendo of longing.

And the nights are enchanting, wrapped in mystery. A thin transparent veil descends on everything, making the jagged edges of the day look smooth and muffling its coarser sounds. The fireflies – one can almost hear them rustling like strands of tinsel in the green darkness of the Cyprus trees. For hours one can watch the silent commerce in the sky of moon and stars and clouds, among themselves, never understanding and not wanting to, what it is all about.

Unfortunately this most glorious season falls in the third term of the academic year, which is examination time for the students. Hence it is rare that they get the time to enjoy the beauty around them, or to make love in the crisp moonlight on the banks of the Mahaweli. All day and half the night, they keep to their rooms and swot, emerging only for the unavoidable meals and an occasional cup of tea and a cigarette. During this term, therefore, the campus is completely deserted, and one feels it is a pity that all the efforts that nature seems to be making to please the human eye are wasted. There is not even a demonstration or a strike to break the monotony that is campus life for a great many of its residents. Only such an event would bring some animation to the senior common room, where otherwise the teachers quietly sip their tea while reading the papers and walk away as quietly.1


Colin-Thome, Percy  and Ashley Halpé, (eds.) (1984) Honouring E.F.C. Ludowyk Felicitation Essays,Tissera Prakasakayo Ltd., Dehiwela.

De Lanerolle, Kenneth M. Student Disturbances University of Peradeniya May – June 1983 Vols. 1 and 2, 6 December, 1983. Unpublished Report of the Committee of Inquiry Appointed by the Council of the University of Peradeniya in May 1983.

De Silva, Eric J. (2013) Politics of Education Reform and Other Essays, Sarasavi Publishers, Nugegoda.

De Silva, K.M. (n.d) The Sri Lankan Universities from 1977 – 1990: Recovery, Stability and the Descent to Crisis.

—. (ed.) (1977) Sri Lanka: A Survey, C. Hurst & Company, London.

De Silva, K.M. and Tissa Jayatilaka (eds.) (1997) Peradeniya: Memories of a University, The International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Kandy.

De Silva, K.M. and G.H. Peiris (eds.) (1995) The University System of Sri Lanka Vision And Reality, The International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Kandy.

Ekanayake, Dharmasiri (2012) SahithyayanHa Vichara Kalawa, Samskriti Publications, Boralasgamuwa.

Gunawardana, R.A.L.H. (1992) More Open Than Usual? An Assessment of the Experiment in University Education at Peradeniya and its Antecedents, Aitken Spence Printing (Pvt) Ltd., Colombo.

Jennings, Sir William Ivor (2005) The Road to Peradeniya An Autobiography, edited and introduced by H.A.I Goonetileke, Lake House, Colombo.

Ludowyk, E.F.C. The East – West Problem in Sinhalese Literature. Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), No. 6, 1957.

—. Mixed Thoughts On An Asian University, Universities Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 4, August 1958.

—. The English Department, 1921 – 1956. Navasilu. The Journal of the English Association of Sri Lanka and the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, Sri Lanka (Peradeniya). No. 3, December 1970, pp.1-6.

Samskriti, Special Edition on Dharmasiri Ratnasuriya – Dharmasiri Ekanayake,SusilSirivardana and G. Usvatte – Aratchi (eds.), Gangodawila, Nugegoda.

Sarachchandra, Ediriwira (1978) Curfew and a Full Moon, Heinemann, London.

University of Ceylon, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Annual Reports of the Council, 1947- 1950.




  A Greek play being performed at Sanghamitta Hall in the mid-1950s –Pic from Francis Pietersz

Audrey Roberts in her role as ?? in one such play

A NOTE: I wish to express my warm thanks to Lilani Jayatilaka, Susil Sirivardana, H.L. Seneviratne and Ranjini Obeyesekere for their invaluable help in the writing up of this lecture.

COLLETTE’S ‘Take’ on LUDO ….


 Lyn Ludowyk is 4th from Left standing in this image from within Galle Fort


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