George Braine

“Ingreesi Mahattaya” – Two years a village schoolmaster – by GEORGE BRAINE   Getting on the bus in Badulla town, I asked the driver if he could let me off at the Kendegolla Maha Vidyalaya. He gave me an odd look, but said “Naginna” (get in). The small bus went along the Passara Road, turned left, and began to climb a narrow road, winding past village houses and patches of tea. After half an hour, the driver stopped and pointed to a small white speck on the highest hill, miles from the road. “That’s the school”, he said. My heart sank. What was I, barely out of my teens, doing in remote Uva hills, hundreds of miles from home? At Maharagama training college, I had met Fawzia, and we had fallen in love. She was from a traditional Malay family, and we did our best to keep the relationship a ...

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Alex Lazarus, and the missing school bell – by GEORGE BRAINE The year would have been 1964 or 65. At Trinity, the end of each class period was signaled by the ringing sound of a large bell which hung on a low branch of a pine tree above the quadrangle. The bell ringer, I’ll call him Arnolis, was a rotund man who wore an oversized shirt and a sarong worn high above his waist, held up by a thick black belt. At the end of each period, Arnolis would approach, carefully put on filthy ear plugs he kept hidden on a nearby crevice, and beat the bell with a metal rod. The noise rang out throughout the upper school, and the boys would stream out of class rooms. All was well. Then, one morning, the bell was missing. Gone without a clue. Chaos reigned. That was a time when few teachers, let alone students, had wristwatches. Without the ...

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Singing alongside Victor – by GEORGE BRAINE I spent Christmas 2017 with Victor Ratnayake and a few friends at Nuwara Eliya, and, on our return to Colombo, he drove me to my home near Lunuwila. I sat in the front seat, and his wife sat in the back. As we were passing Rukmani Devi’s statute at Tudella, Victor began to reminisce about the Rukmani he knew and respected. He has a phenomenal memory, and he brings in numerous anecdotes, usually funny, to his stories. But, on Rukmani, his memories were tender and tinged with sadness. Then, I related my own story. While schooling in Negombo in the early 1960s, I was boarded at a house on Temple Road, only a few hundred meters from “Jaya-Ruk”, the home of Rukmani and Eddie Jayamanne. They were at the height of their popularity.  The boarding house owner was the sister of Bertram Fernando, ...

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“Do you play cricket?” – by GEORGE BRAINE The job interview was at a hotel room in San Diego, during a major academic conference. A few chairs had been lined up outside the room, and, as I sat there, another applicant who had just been interviewed walked triumphantly out of the room, giving a dismissive glance in my direction. Rather dejectedly, I walked in. The room had two arm chairs and a large bed. Three white males, who turned out to be Americans, were waiting expectantly, the oldest seated on a chair and the other two on the bed. They were the interview committee. I was directed to the second chair. I was not surprised by the arrangement. Years before, while facing multiple job interviews at another academic conference, I had been in stranger interview scenarios. The person seated on the chair turned out to be the director of the ...

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My lovely Chinese friends – by GEORGE BRAINE In the late 1960s, Peoples’ Publishing House, in Slave Island, advertised a list of Chinese periodicals at bargain prices, and I dropped in and bought a subscription to China Pictorial, a large, colorful, monthly magazine. The annual subscription was only Rs. 10, and even I could afford that! In those days of black-and-white newspapers and magazines, when most news stories came from the West, China Pictorial was a welcome change. Filled with colorful, large photos of dancing troupes, farmers in their fields and fish ponds, young “pioneers” in red scarves, soldiers and ballet dancers in heroic poses, steam powered trains and their drivers, and – the main attraction for me – young, smiling, Chinese women, all in pigtails. It was pure propaganda, of course, but I had no inkling how this knowledge would come in handy 40 years later. Shumin The first ...

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Training College Days – By George Braine In memory of Colonel Nizam Dane, Died in Action on June 24, 1997 The entrance to the Maharagama Teachers Training College wasn’t particularly impressive. It was a narrow, tree lined, pot-holed path leading off High Level Road, some distance from the Maharagama junction. About a hundred yards beyond the entrance, the path opened up to the training college premises. The sight, in the early 1970s, was more akin to an internment camp than the premier teachers’ college in the country. World War II vintage Army barracks, made of carelessly white washed rough-hewn stones, rusty wire mesh, and grimy asbestos roofs, were scattered among overgrown lawns and gravel pathways. To me and the others who had gathered there on a January morning in 1970, our first day as teacher trainees, the environment was indeed forbidding. Senior trainees, rumored to be merciless raggers, hovered menacingly. ...

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That $100 Trillion Currency Note – by GEORGE BRAINE When he died, a few articles in Sinhala newspapers and online sites glorified the late Robert Mugabe, (who blamed his self-inflicted disasters on the West), as the liberator and savior of his country. What I detect in these articles is an irrational anti-Western, anti-white bias that has crept into the Sinhala media. Enough ranting.   Robert Mugabe fought heroically against the white racist regime of Ian Smith in Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was then called), and spent years in jail. He came out with three university degrees, and after Britain negotiated a transfer of power, became Prime Minister in 1980 and later the President. Articulate and friendly to the media, he was hailed as a beacon of democracy. All praiseworthy. But, that didn’t last long. Time and time again, he proved that he would go to any length to stay in power. ...

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Chef George at POL KIRI – by  GEORGE BRAINE When I travel around Sapporo, in Japan, I keep an alert eye for English wording that appear on shop signs because they often make no sense. The syntax and semantics are intriguing, but they do provide me a with few delightful minutes of speculation, wondering what on earth they mean. My favorite is “Freaky Wardrobe Coffee”. Now, I ask myself, why is the wardrobe freaky? Is the wardrobe in the coffee shop? Does the shop sell coffee or wardrobes and coffee? Finally, dying with curiosity, I went there one day, and, passing a sign that asked “Are you freaky?”, found it to be a retro 1960s place, which served average coffee but overpriced coffee, where young women came to linger and take photos of the displayed artifacts. The manager could not explain how they came upon the name. Perhaps to sound ...

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Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge – by GEORGE BRAINE I was jolted awake with a searing pain in the chest and heavy alcohol fumes on my breath. It was severe heartburn. Soon, the diarrhea started. A large dose of Imodium, which I always carry on my travels, slowed the runs. I was in the lovely, ancient city of Lijiang in Yunnan, China, on a week-long visit. The previous evening, I had shared a bottle of “Cabernet” with my guide Haba and another friend. China is rife with fake wines, but I had paid a high price and the label said “Great Wall”, a reputable brand. Yet, I had been duped. When Haba arrived for the planned hike to Tiger Leaping Gorge, I was in no state to travel. But more Imodium and lots of water gave me the confidence to face the 100km, 2-hour bus ride to Qiaotou, the starting ...

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Hantana – A Fond Farewell – By GEORGE BRAINE Three years ago, in March, I drove away from Hantana for the last time, ending a long relationship, perhaps a romance. As with any relationship that ends, the memories are bittersweet, for the house at Hantana had been our beloved second home for 35 long years. For those who have been students at Peradeniya University, or for older fans who recall the hit movie Hanthane Kathawa, or more recent fans of Amarasiri Peiris’ Hantanata payana sanda, Hantana has an aura of romance, of nostalgia, of lost love. But this is not about that Hantana; over the range of hills from Peradeniya, above the city of Kandy, is the other Hantana where my house was located. In the mid-1980s, when I was planning to travel abroad for higher studies, my son was schooling in Kandy. “If you buy us a house in Kandy” my ...

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