Two Peradeniya colleagues from yesteryear, Professor Kingsley de Silva and Michael Roberts, took sharply different positions on facets of the island history in British colonial and post-1948 times in hardhitting essays in local journals and newspapers in the period 1986 to 1991. The series began with Michael Roberts’s article-length review of KM De Silva: Managing Ethnic Tensions in Multi-Ethnic Societies: Sri Lanka, 1880-1985 (Lanham, University Press of America) ….. and continued with KM De Silva’s hard-hitting review of the book, People Inbetween (Colombo, Sarvodaya, 1989) where Roberts was the principal author in a triumvirate that included Percy-Colin-Thome and Ismeth Raheem.
At independence we had a stable democracy, a sound economy, and an effective public service and external assets equal to 100 percent of annual import value. We were second to Japan on almost all social indicators and above South Korea as late as in the mid-sixties. Singapore’s per capita income was just a little bit higher than Sri Lanka at that time. It is now over USD 64,000 whereas ours is USD 3852. The immediate looming question is why Sri Lanka with better physical resources failed to advance like Singapore.
We hadn’t seen him in years, ever since he left to work abroad. So, on the day of his return, his mother invited the extended family to lunch. As he walked through the door we reacted collectively, gasped audibly. He wore a sharp suit but sported one of those long, unkempt, rowdy beards. Perhaps, I thought, there are no barbers in Saudi Arabia. (You never know, it’s a weird place).
Michael Roberts’s response to my review of his book (the Daily News 19 and 20 September 1990) published in the Daly News of 27 March 1991 is at once characteristic and unusual. It is characteristic because my one-time student and erstwhile colleague at Peradeniya has never been known to do things by halves.
He writes two responses to the review in two separate newspapers (the Daily News of March 27 and the Sunday Observer of 31 March), only one of which, the Daily News, published the original review.
Michael Roberts, in Daily News, 27 March 1991 … reproduced here with highlighting emphasis added
Professor K. M. de Silva’s review of the book People Inbetween Volume I in the Daily News on the 19 and 20 September, 1990 has come to my notice. My response here to seeks to raise issues regarding the way in which history can be written.
Aparna Halpé, in The Island, 23 May 2021, where the title reads “Learning from My Father, Five Years After his Passing”
I was mingling with the audience at a poetry reading in Toronto, where I had been reading some of my new poems, when I was approached by an audience member. He asked me a question that I’ve encountered before in some form or another throughout my entire artistic and professional career… “Excuse me, are you by any chance related to Professor Ashley Halpé?” When I answered that I was his youngest daughter, the gentleman proceeded to tell me this story.
K. M. de Silva, being an article published in the Ethnic Studies Report, Vol. 6/1, January 1988 …. a riposte to a Review of his book Managing Ethnic Tensions inMulti-Ethnic Societies: Sri Lanka, 1880-1985, (1985)
I have long believed that the author of a book under review should not bother to write replies to reviewers however perverse he believes the latter to be. After all he has had his say at greater length than the reviewer. My present departure from this practice, and the response I write to Michael Roberts’s review of my book Managing Ethnic Tensions in Multi-Ethnic Societies: Sri Lanka 1880-1985 stems from two considerations. Invited to write a short review (1,500 words or so) in the style of the present journal Michael Roberts writes a review essay of 20,000 words. It has been reduced to about 2/3rds its length for our journal but it is still the longest review we have published. Secondly, he proceeds to write two reviews of the same book, one for this journal, and one for another [see p. 61 above, Michael Roberts 1987 (a)]
Vibeke Venema of BBC News, 6 May 2021,where the title reads“The ‘smart and cheeky’ Aboriginal boy teaching Australia a lesson”
A documentary about a 10-year-old Aboriginal boy’s experience in school,In My Blood It Runs,has reignited a debate about Australia’s failure to give indigenous children a good education and a fair start in life.
Anoma Pieris** with an introductory note in response to my invitation that is pertinent & runs thus “Hello Uncle Michael, Nice to hear from you. Afraid you reach me at a time when I am overwhelmed with work, in fact that has been the case throughout the pandemic. I dont know if I have the mental space to address your text but offer instead reflection on my understanding of the theme. Best, Anoma.”
My childhood sensibilities of being Sinhala were formed in two ways which were moral and monstrous: (1) First by being educated in a language stream with specific texts like the Guttila Kavya, Saddharma Ratnavaliya, Ummaga Jatakaya, which being religious texts, educated even a nominally Christian child in a missionary college into Sinhala Buddhist forms of cultural patrimony and morality. But because it was a Christian school the lines between Sinhala and Tamil classes were lightly drawn and we came together for sports activities, and after 1983 for many more subjects, partly due to the depletion of numbers but also a deliberate strategy initiated by our principal Sirancee Gunawardana, who was committed to empathetic coexistence. (2) The second way in which being Sinhala was made evident to me was through the 1983 pogrom when for a short time I volunteered in the camp set up in our school, seeing people like myself from my social background who had been displaced, dispossessed and fearful and witnessing and being made aware of Sinhala identification as behind monstrous acts. It also made me aware that I was part of a Christian minority and that a division was being drawn within the Sinhala community because of our greater empathy for Tamil friends.
Chandre Dharmawardana, 30 March 2021, in Email Memo entitled “Alleged Human Rights Abuses of the Sri Lankan Army” ……….. a memo commenting on responses to his previous Essay[i] … with highlighting imposed by The Editor, Thuppahi
Ramesh Somasundaram, (commenting on the Thuppahi website) is absolutely right in saying “that the Sri Lankan governments and the Sri Lankan military personal have been correctly accused of human rights abuses. “Sri Lankan Soldiers have been accused of grave crimes, and they should be investigated and brought to trial. Many of the soldiers were simply carrying out orders, and so the high command must bear the final responsibility except in cases where the soldiers exceeded their acts as soldiers and acted even more inhumanely than needed.
Situation Map 2 February 2009 — an excellent work by, I think?, the Daily Mirror
Thuppahi's Blog · This web site presents the interventions of MICHAEL ROBERTS in the public realm with reference to Sri Lankan political affairs. It will embrace the politics of cricket as well. ROBERTS was educated at St. Aloysius College in Galle and the universities of Peradeniya and Oxford. He taught History at Peradeniya University and Anthropology at Adelaide university. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.