"Star Lanka Online" Our NEW Web site And Web TV Channel Launched

TFGE , The Future Global Educational Center Has Launched
the official web site, called
*** Star Lanka Online Dot Com ........................

www.starlankaonline.com will be completed in very near future....

*** Star Lanka Online TV Channel,..................

Just One Click ahead ...

Now you can watch "Star Lanka Online TV" channel broadcasts from Matara, Sri Lanka in most part of the day. Still we are keeping a test transmission also. There is a link right side of your hand to watch our TV channel. You can watch (Click On the Box) live channel on this site without going to another site to watch the TV. and also recorded parts, following the below link.

Place your Own Ad Here

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Matara : My friends and days in Matara

My friends and days in Matara
- Sunday Times

By Dr. Lakshman Abeyagunawardene

The Dutch Fort: A historical landmark in Matara

What inspired me to write this article (and even some others that were published in Sri Lankan newspapers recently), is an interesting book entitled “On Horseshoe Street” authored by Tissa Devendra. Although I had known him before, I got to know Tissa more closely when he came over as a provincial administrator to the southern town of Matara where I was serving as the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) in the early seventies. About five years prior to that, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Tissa and his brother Somasiri, when they were frequent visitors of an indoor patient at Colombo South Hospital where I was a House Officer. Somasiri Devendra was my class teacher when I was a 15 year-old student at Ananda College.

Brown’s Hill

It was while I was attached to Colombo South Hospital that my bachelorhood ended. Soon after I married Mangala in 1970, I requested and obtained a transfer to her hometown Matara. I went there as an MOH and we moved into my wife’s ancestral home at Brown’s Hill. That was said to be the highest point in Matara and we had a panoramic view of the ocean from the hilltop house. It had been named “The Castle”, but it was a more modest structure far from being a “castle” in the true sense of the word! Nevertheless, it was my home for nearly four years before it was time for me to make my first overseas trip that took me right round the globe and kept me away from my home country for nearly two years.

Not far away, on the adjoining hillock was “The Residency”, the official residence of the GA. All houses in the quiet, highly residential area had large well laid out gardens and Brown’s Hill was known as the “Cinnamon Gardens” of Matara. Over 30 years later, the area has changed so much that some of the old landmarks are unrecognizable. The sprawling gardens of most houses have been blocked out and new structures have come up. The beautiful, winding hilly road became the main Matara-Tangalle road with buses and heavy vehicles speeding through it.

During my time at Matara in the early seventies, the road connecting Brown’s Hill to Matara Fort was the long and straight seaside Beach Road with the Rest House at the Fort end and the Matara Convent and official residences of the DJ and Magistrate somewhere in the middle. Near the entrance to the Fort was the busy bus terminus and the clock tower. The main Post Office and SK Cinema were prominent landmarks in that vicinity.

All traffic proceeding towards Tangalle through Matara plied the road that went past Pallimulla on the outskirts of the town. The Nilwala Ganga separated the rest of the town from this area. Across the Mahanama Samaraweera bridge (named after the former Matara MP and Minister) to the north were other landmarks such as the Matara Bodhiya on the left and the hospital and the esplanade on the right. Within the Fort area were the Kachcheri, Rest House, the Matara Prison, Court House, other government offices, home of Gemunu Watch of the Sri Lanka Army, and some private residences. Today, some change is noticeable after the area was badly affected by the 2004 tsunami.

Unlike in Colombo, it is only a matter of time when one gets to know practically all other citizens in an outstation town, especially when you are a public servant. As in most such outposts, the Public Services Club (PSC) is a popular meeting place for all and sundry. My regular routine was to drop in there for a game of billiards after a set or two of tennis at the nearby Phoenix Tennis Club courts opposite the Rest House.

1971 insurgency

Easily the most unforgettable event of that era was the 1971 JVP insurrection. I was engaged in a game of billiards at the PSC that April 4th evening when news trickled in that the Wellawaya police station had been attacked. We set aside our cues to listen to news on the radio. On the following morning, when I drove to office in my Ford Prefect, the spectacle that greeted me in town shocked me. There was a burnt out truck across the road and three bodies were lying by the roadside. We later heard that practically all outlying areas had been taken control of by the rebels almost overnight. Matara itself was spared but not without a mini-battle that had taken place within the Fort area. With police officers from most areas retreating to Matara, it was from there that the military had to counter attack subsequently.

A continuous 24-hour curfew that lasted days was enforced. The family being still limited to just two of us - my wife and myself, we along with a domestic aide named Lucy were “incarcerated” in “The Castle” for days, without any contact with the outside world. It took weeks and months for the military to regain control of rebel strongholds like Deniyaya.

Cholera outbreak

It was also in the early seventies that Matara was again in the news when a suspected case of cholera was detected. For once, doctors and health officials working on the preventive side (including the writer himself) were in the limelight! Cinema halls and some schools had to be closed. Mass vaccination programmes had to be organized. For the first time in my working life, I had to face a battery of newspaper reporters and cameramen. High officials from the Health Ministry in Colombo converged on the town to direct operations. Within weeks, things came back to normal with no signs of any spread of the dreaded disease.

Growing family

It was in 1972 that a new member was added to our growing family. Our first-born son Shehan came into this world in November of that year. However, it was not in Matara that this great event took place. Mangala had her confinement at St. Michael’s Nursing Home in Colombo and was attended to by Dr (now Prof.). W.S.E. (Wilfred) Perera. When we went back to ‘The Castle’ in Matara, there were three in the family!
The Matara Rest House

The people
Reference to events and incidents have to go hand in hand with the human element, meaning, ‘people’. The 1971 insurgency and the Cholera episode provide the opening for me to make mention of two personalities who were in the thick of the aforementioned events. The Superintendent of Police (SP) of Matara at the time was none other than Ernest Perera who rose to be the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Malaysia a few years later. Apart from Ernest (Ernie to friends), his deputy A.A. Samarasinghe who was ASP at the time, also earned rapid promotions to end his Police career as a DIG.

The man in charge of ‘Operation Cholera’ was Dr. Kingsley Heendeniya, a familiar name to readers of Sri Lankan newspapers. He was the Superintendent of Health Services (SHS) who later served in the Health Ministry at the Directorate level. Among other local military men who had a hand in quelling the insurgency were Colonel B.A. Perera and Major Wettasinghe.

Deviating from insurrections and cholera, I must record here that quite a few other provincial officials who served Matara in the seventies assumed high positions at the national level later on. The District Judge J.F.A. Soza was destined to be elevated as a Judge of the Supreme Court. The Additional District Judge Walter Laduwahetty later held high posts such as Principal of Sri Lanka Law College and Financial Ombudsman.

At the time I first went to Matara, Garvin Karunaratne was the GA. When I left, this most important provincial post was held by W.A.L. Wijayapala. Apart from Tissa Devendra referred to earlier, other Provincial Administrators of that period included Additional GA Chandrananda de Silva who later became better known as the Commissioner of Elections and Secretary of Defence. His wife Dayani who was a Senior Assessor in the Inland Revenue Department at Matara, later rose to be Chairperson of the Bank of Ceylon and Commissioner General of Inland Revenue. Another Additional Government Agent of Matara N.V.K.K. Weragoda rose in the SLAS to end up as a Ministry Secretary. Following his retirement, he became the Administrative Secretary of the United National Party.Matara lawyers

I got to know most of the lawyers in Matara very closely because my own father-in law Jothi Wickramasinghe was one. He was also the Crown Proctor. My immediate neighbour and kinsman Richard Kulatunga was another. His wife late Dr. Buddhimati had her private practice and Nursing Home near the Matara Railway station. Buddhimati aunty (as we used to call her) had the proud distinction of delivering the very first baby born at the newly opened Castle Street Hospital for Women in the early fifties when she was a young resident doctor there.

The Matara Rest House

Three lawyers who were involved in politics were Chandrakumar Wijegunawardene, Aelian Nanayakkara and Razik Zarook. The first two are former Members of Parliament while the last named later served as Chairman of the CWE and as a diplomat. Wijepala Abeywickrama was a good tennis player who too lived at Brown’s Hill. It was his brother Keerthi who was killed in the Parliament bomb attack at the time he was MP for Deniyaya. Names of other lawyers that come to mind are Shelton Dias, Peter Edirappuli, Mahes Jayawickrama, Maud Goonewardene, Munidasa Wickramatunga, Sepala Samarasinghe, C.S. Pinidiya, Anver and C.A.P. Samarasekara.

Matara doctors

Apart from Dr. Buddhimati Kulatunga mentioned earlier, another relative Dr. V.P.S. Abeysinghe had a practice near the Matara bridge. Dr. Sunil Epa Seneviratne who now runs a private nursing home and cardiology unit in Matara, became Dr. Abeysinghe’s son-in-law in later years. Not only did Dr. Seneviratne take over his father-in-law’s practice, but he also acquired former Communist Party leader Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe’s practice situated at Main Street. Dr. Mohotti’s Nursing Home was centrally situated close to the bodhiya in the heart of the town. Dr. K.A.P. de Silva who had assisted Dr. Mohotti earlier had later established his own practice and nursing home elsewhere. Other General Practictioners of that era were Dr. Chandra Weeraratne, Dr. T.A. Weerasuriya, Dr. Sarath Mutucumarana, Dr. Ponnambalam, Dr. S.P. Kularatne and Dr. Ferdinands. Dr. Dixon de Silva was a popular dentist who also had his practice near the Matara bridge.

During my time at Matara, consultants who served for long spells at the Matara Base Hospital were Drs. C.P. de Silva (surgeon), R.L. Fernando and W.B. Wijekoon (physicians), T. Ganeshwaran (psychiatrist), R.A.T. Wijesinghe (TB Specialist), R.P. Fernando (paediatrician) and R.Ganeshamoorthy (anaesthesiologist). Other senior doctors included L.G.H. Karunapala, N. Satchithanandan, S. Sivalingam, Mahinda Gunasekara and wife Malkanthi, Vinitha Wijesuriya, Hemaka Soysa, Upali Amarasuriya, Kirthi Jayatilake (dental surgeon). Many others came in for shorter spells as specialists. Among them were Sriyan de Silva (surgeon) and his wife Kamali (physician), Fazli Nizar (obstetrician) and Gamini Wijesekara (paediatrician). The last named who was my classmate from Ananda College days soon resigned from government service to set up his own private practice at Pannipitiya. He took to politics and served for a short spell as Chairman of the Ceylon Transport Board. He met with his tragic death along with other UNP leaders at the Thotalanga bomb explosion.

Other professionals

Among the other professionals were Highways engineer Hector Weerawardhana, Vetus Fernando who served as a Planning Officer (and later joined the UN), Electrical Engineer Rajendran, and Buildings Engineer Lakshman Jirasinghe. B.P. Ariyawansa was the Principal of Rahula College.


Prominent Matara businessmen of the era were C.A. Harischandra (owner of Harischandra Mills), Edmund Samarasekara who owned the Broadway theatre, brothers D.C.P. and D.S.P. Amarasekara, S.K. Piyadasa (one time MP for Matara), S.K. Charles and Galle Oriental Bakery owner Buddhadasa whose daughter Visakha married young cricketer Jayantha Kudahetty who worked for Ceylon Tobacco and was stationed in Matara at that time.


I wish to conclude this article with a confession, an apology and a touch of sentiment. I have made reference to personalities without any form of verification of facts or consent from the individuals concerned. Mainly due to the fact that I am putting pen to paper (or rather typing away at my keyboard!) while being so far away from my homeland, it makes it difficult to extend that common courtesy to them. No “research” of any kind was possible. I depended entirely on my 65 year-old brain and powers of memory to recall names, faces and events from the past. If there are factual errors (there surely must be), I humbly make the plea that they bear with me, for any error is purely unintentional. I know very well that a good many of those mentioned are no longer in the land of the living. I dedicate these memoirs to those dear departed Matara friends.

E-Mail: abeyagln@dhec.sc.gov

No comments:

Facebook > Fans

NASA Breaking News - Feed

Astronomy.com - News

Space Wire Top Stories Feed

Today"s Highlights Of The World

Today in History

Birthdays Today

NASA Image of the Day - Feed

NASACast Audio , To listen, Click - Feed

Medicine Net Daily News - Health News

Health News from Medical News Today - Feed

The New York Times

Crestock Daily Free Image

BBC News | Science/Nature | World Edition

BBC News | Health | World Edition

BBC News | UK | World Edition

BBC News | Asia-Pacific | World Edition

BBC News | Africa | World Edition

BBC News | Middle East | World Edition

BBC News | Europe | World Edition

BBC News | Business | World Edition

BBC News | Entertainment | World Edition

BBC News | Technology | World Edition

Sky News | World News | First For Breaking News

CNET News.com

PC World: Latest Technology News

Newsweek Top News

Guardian UK - Unlimited