As fate would have it, I just happened to attend a seminar at the Orchid Room at the BMICH on steps to improve “real education in schools in Sri Lanka” by reinforcing the need for social workers, training and educating teachers in all aspects of the development of the whole child in order to strenghten the Human Resource of ALL our youth (including differently abled) when they leave schools empowered and emboldened to cope with the modern world. I believe this was part of the Government’s initiative of the 5 day event on Sustainability & Development in ALL its SENSES!
As one exited, on the opposite side of the Foyer, the book launch was taking shape, where I was introduced to Dinesh Weerakkody by my sister, as her daughter and Dinesh’s daughter are good friends. He invited me personally then to attend the launch and I took my seat just behind the reserved seats at a prominent vantage!
The Event, the Political Biography of Ranil Wickremasinghe was due to be attended one and all, with the President being the Chief Guest, and Dr. Shashi Tharoor MP of the Indian Parliament and former Diplomat in the UN as the keynote speaker.
People from all walks of life, from current and retired Parliamentarians, Business Leaders, Academics, Local and Foreign Diplomats, Clergy (including a Cardinal) Political groupies and family of the author and the subject filled the Hall to the gunnels. There were many distinguished personages who came late, who had to stand, and for a moment rank and title did not necessarily get rewarded with location! Being at one with Plebians and Patricians, there were more than 100 people I knew personally in the Hall, with another 100 I have been acquainted with over the course of my varied career, many who I had not seen in a while.
My niece due to her connections mentioned earlier was in attendence to assist in the proceedings, handing out the books to the VVIPs in the front row etc.
The event began with lighting the traditional lamp from where they stood using a tab, which automatically lit it a distance away! That was the first time I had seen that stunt! The event was interspersed with English and Sinhala, with foreign dignitores handed headsets to hear instant translations as is common in international fora. The Ven Galaboda Gnanissara Thero, who has known the family of the Prime Minister through his life explained his colorful, uncommon heritage.
I will not go through the proceedings and speakers, which are covered in the papers and I leave a link to the FT of April 5th for those who are interested in that aspect.
The PM gave a short and sweet speech covering some aspects in Sinhala and others in English aimed at the dignitories present, and Dr Tharoor gave the prepared speech on how he felt the Indo Sri Lanka relationship has been through history to the present and how it should develop in future.
After the event was over, the guests were invited for refreshiments in the foyer, but I had a special task in hand, as Dr Tharoor had another appointment, which was dinner at Nirj’s, Nirj Deva being a friend of Dr Tharoor’s, had asked him to say a few words at the now infamous Horton Debate Society which invites famous and infamous to speak and have questions answered under Chatham House rules!
I was tasked (only as I had inadvertently attended the event) to shadow Dr Tharoor whilst he was greeting friends, signing autograph requests from swooning women, some old enough to be his mother! And let the Host at Horton know when he left. The Horton Debate begins at 7.30 and it was long after 8pm when the Selfie craze had Dr Tharoor in its sights like a Bollywood star that he seemed at the event, with flowing locks and light eyes loved by the Lankans. In his gracious demeanor he allowed himself to be photographed by strangers, whilst yours truly was gently trying to get him towards the exit.
I asked Dr Harsha the Deputy Foreign Minister if he was coming to Horton. He said he had been with Dr Tharoor at lunch and heard him speak and would like to hear more from him and would likely come, and I am sure glad he did as the dinner speech was way more fun and interesting than the serious one at this event.
In the end at the door, when his man Friday did not know how to get to Horton, I merely jumped in and rode shotgun pointing the way, with a motorcysle Police escort leading through traffic, to safely bring him to the waiting diners. As he needed to get out early, in order to take a early flight in the morning, to attend Parliament in New Delhi, I conveyed this to the host so his speech came early after the hors d’ovres.
Here again he spoke to the packed restaurant on one of his famous subjects, being the horrors of Colonialism which had ruined a prosperous India which began as the richest in the world, and ended up raped and plundered by the British to be one of the poorest at Independence. Of course he explained with example why he had this opinion, and to those unfamiliar with history, was a real eye opener on how the Indian Rulers were benign and caring, whilst the British who replaced them were anything but, ending in building a railway that the Indians had to pay for at a cost estimated at 9 times what it should have been. It had the audience in rapt attention with his unique and inimical take on British rule, with a frightfully British accent!
To conclude a Serendipitous evening, one of Dr Tharoor’s local friends popped over to his house during dinner and got a bottle of the best Malt Whiskey to wet Dr Tharoor’s thirst during the talk at Dr Tharoor’s request, highlighting the enigmatic personality that he is. I was fortunate to help finish this off, once the guests had left, and we had time to call Nirj (where ever on Earth he happened to be) and brief him on a job well done, with the hope of enticing PM Modi to be the the guest speaker at the next debate during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the Island over the special Vesak Events planned in his honor.
Horton Debates! What is that? How can I become a member of this exclusive circle of “Hill Billies!” Ask Nirj Deva the man with the Midas Contacts.