A tribute to Ceylon Civil Service : The gentleman’s career | Daily News

A tribute to Ceylon Civil Service : The gentleman’s career

I remember the CCS with a wistful longing for a better and happier past. Except for a microscopic minority who were and are exemplary in their behaviour and at times surpassed and surpass in excellence, the service that replaced the CCS, is a dead loss.

The CCS man believed the service was priesthood, the way The Bloomsbury Group of Cambridge, which included among others the Fabian writer Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, EM Foster, Maynard Keynes and others viewed their Group. There were CCS men, who had taken Greats and believed they were philosophers, yearning all the time to explore the truth, even if they appreciated that the final answers will elude them on this side of the mythical river Hades, over which dead men were ferried. Others were learned in the classics, mathematics and the sciences. All performed tasks, so varied they tested the mind.

Take V S M de Mel. It is said that on one occasion a European planter who was charged before him as Police Magistrate, had refused to plead before a nigger. Thereupon without any further delay, he placed a minute in the case record that the accused is not prepared to plead before a brown magistrate. He is conceivably non compos mentis (out of his mind) as such needs to be kept under observation. In obedience to the order the accused planter was shackled by the Fiscal officers and taken to the House of Observation.

Take Shelton C Fernando who converted the sleepy village of Sandalankava into an epicenter for the Cooperative Movement, rescuing the peasant farmer from the clutches of exploiters who were depriving him of a just reward for the sweat of his brow. He was a mutualist and believed in mutualism which is based on the labor theory of value that holds that when labor or its product is sold, in exchange it ought to receive goods or services embodying the amount of labour necessary to produce an article of exactly similar and equal utility.

Colonization schemes

The rickety, always break down, road transport system, was rescued from the jaws of death by a group of CCS men who grouped themselves into a Board called the CTB, whose Chairman was Vere de Mel, and toiling with him, men like Andrew Joseph as Secretary, Grennier as Operations Manager, Chandra Cooray as Personnel Manager and Duggy Liyanage as Traffic Manager. Working till the wee hours in the morning they turned the CTB into a well oiled machine making it a profit making unit.

Recently, a Cardinal in the Curia requested the Pope that he be allowed to return to Valencia, Spain, for the reason he loved the smell of sheep. There were countless CCS men who loved the smell of sheep and left for the villages, walking the bunds of paddy fields and inspecting biso-kotuwas that regulate the waters from the tanks that were the life blood of peasant farmers for generations, characterized by a visiting fake expert, who did not have any qualms obtaining eggs from tortured hens in cages for profit, as numerous and inefficient, as the village cattle.

Others risking their lives left for the malarial infested jungles to build colonization schemes. They were dedicated as the Jesuits who went to South America to build enclosed villages, teaching the people the way of planting high yielding crops and treating the sick infected with malaria with the extract of the bark of the cinchona tree while in Europe the treatment of choice was bloodletting.

Boarded the train in the morning in Negombo to come to Colombo for the Chemistry practicals. While traveling, casually looked into the admission card, to find, to my horror, my index number listed for the morning practicals. Entering the chemistry lab at Thurstan Road, sharp at 2 pm, submitted the card to the professor in charge of the practicals. From what school? When I replied St Joseph's College, he asked don't they teach English there? Your test was in the morning. Leave the lab now. He was not trying to offend. He was offensive and took his snide remarks the way an archaeologist treats relics or fragments and left.

European philosophers

After reading John Lockes's A letter Concerning Toleration (1689) and Voltaire’s Treatise on Toleration(1763), two books borrowed from the school library, I learnt from these towering European philosophers the meaning of bigotry and fanaticism of the educated snob who do what they do best, camouflaging their rank snobbishness with the prefix Dr. Their snobbishness is not a secret. Everyone knows it.

While standing outside in the corridor, an innocuous looking elderly man in nationals approached and in Singhalese asked why are you out. When told, advised me to go and meet Prof Kandiah, the dean. When I disclosed I am a stranger and do not know the way, he held my hand and said I'll take you and led me through a maze of corridors to his office.

The door was closed. Don’t be afraid knock at the door the man said and left. As I knocked a feeble voice from inside said come in and requested me to sit. I then told him what happened. After a few brief words, in which the core message was that in life if you commit a blunder, a stiff price has to be paid, he took a piece of paper scribbled and told me to hand it to the lab professor. Later I came to know Prof Kandiah was a religious and humble man, despite his long qualifications, scrolling out of an envelope.

After the piece of paper was handed, the professor instructed the invigilator to set up an experiment for me. Mind you, all this took almost an hour and to perform a three hour experiment in two hours was impossible. My hands trembling I simply could not hold on to the pipette to perform the titration and to get into the Faculty of Engineering a student must pass all four subjects, Advanced math, Pure math, Physics and Chemistry. Seeing my predicament the invigilator came and said to calm down that he will stay and give me the scheduled three hours.

Dusk had set by the time I finished the practicals. With the bus fare and a few extra coins in my pocket walked to Green Cabin at Bambalapitiya and purchased some sandwiches, some patty, cutlets and a piece of their famous chocolate cake handed to me in a paper bag and walked enjoying them along Galle Road up to the Colpetty Junction, and entered the Bombay Sweet House for a glass of Faluda. Encouraged by the thought, I had done satisfactorily well in the practicals, walked briskly and turned left at the Hyde Park corner on to Darley Road. By the time I reached Maradana and the locked gates of St Joseph's College, a distance of five miles, perhaps more, from Bambalapitiya, it was pitch dark. Vaulting over the gates landed on the grounds and bolted to the safety of the dormitory. A legend nurtured by generations of Josephians was the legend that the ghost of the French Oblate, Fr Le Goc, the much venerated disciplinarian and predecessor of the current headmaster Fr Peter Pillai, also an Oblate, often walked the grounds after dusk, with the rod.

The benevolent invigilator entered the CCS, another example of the type of gracious talent that poured into the service, ending his illustrious career as the Secretary to the Treasury, the pinnacle of the CCS.

As for the man in nationals who gave me a hand, l went in search of him with a gift after gaining admission Assuming he was a lab assistant in the adjoining physics lab l went there to be told there is no such person. I was dumbfounded, the way I am dumbfounded, by the power of placebos, a harmless pill that produces healing. An ancient philosopher wrote one cannot step into the same river twice.

A life with no regrets is impossible in an unkind planet of double-crosses, double-dealers, cronies and lackeys. The week before the Public Schools Athletic Meet I was returning after a holiday in Nuwara Eliya, courtesy of my father. At the Peradeniya Junction there was a delay, awaiting the arrival of the train from Kandy to be coupled on to the train to complete its journey to Fort. Four boys entered the 2'nd class compartment and sat, 3 in front and the other besides. They were from Trinity Kandy and St Anthony's Katugastota and started an animated discussion about the forthcoming Meet. The Anthonians were sure their champion will break the record. The Trinitians were of the opinion that the champion from Royal will break the record. A gentleman in a suit, seated in the far corner said the record will be broken by the Josephian sprinter. The boys replied that is hardly likely disclosing the startling news that there is a move to block his path by getting an athlete to cross into his lane.

Strange revelation

The man in the suit left the train at Ragama. The boys were in the train when I got down at Maradana and walked to St Joseph’s. Lying on the bed in the dormitory began to wonder about the strange revelation, when I realized the only practical way to cripple the conspiracy was to sprint in the second lane, the least damaged, move fast and get out of the pack.

The day dawned for the race and the official college coach, with the internal combustion engine firing, was waiting to take the athletes to the grounds. Entered the beautiful chapel, a gift from Fr Le Goc, and (now in ruins after the so-called reforms of Vatican ll. I am a prime witness after I visited the chapel some years back and saw what I saw. People were shouting from one corner to the other desecrating the house of God with the dictatorship of noise. Even the veil in front of the holy of holies was in shreds. Never did I step into the chapel again remembering the words of the gardener to Mary Magdeline at the empty tomb. “He is no longer there” John 20: 1-18) and thanked God for keeping me in good health and in hushed silence prayed for the second lane. I do not demonstrate, like a Pharisee, my religious beliefs in public.” That is not the shape of my heart” cries the singer Sting with the harmonica playing Toots Thielemans, in the latest melody. That is also not the shape of my heart and unseen in that heart are my beliefs and dare not persecute, by deed or word, my neighbour, who does not share them. My close friends are atheists, agnostics and non-Christians.

The grounds were packed; loads from Negombo had come, expecting an indigenous athlete, the first, to break a record. A transient, a state official, had broken the high jump record before. My father, a widower, with the mother-of-pearl rosary, used by my young mother (she died at the age of 32 and he singularly cared for us) in his hands, was with my sister. A simple and honest man of faith and tradition who often warned not to join the PWD after graduation because they will make you a rich rogue, advice I took very seriously even though the PSC, after the interview, made an attractive offer of Executive Engineer, daring not raise his head and watch the race, depending on my sister to tell him what was happening. 


There is 1 Comment

Then there were honourable people, who did not brook any interference from anyone and did their job very diligently and with honesty. They were the epitome of culture. The PWD were full of bribe takers, as they were packed with men who were known to come from a community that had to display their (enormous ill gotten) wealth at their daughters wedding, if they wanted a successful marriage. The PWD metamorphosed into a phony road development authority and also the farcical Urban Development Authority. The story goes on in the same vein as we see it, and more so. Then there were a few PHD's and the work clean and value for the rupee. Today, the educated are conspiring to loot the economy with the politician as the partners of that progress.


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