I wish to thank the Vice Chancellor Prof Lamavamsa, the Librarian Mr. Maheswaran, and the library staff of the University of Peradeniya, for organizing this event. All we expected was a display of some of the books so that the university faculty and the students would be aware of, and possibly interested in, what they now own. Today’s event and the warmth of your invitation is beyond anything we had imagined.
All we can say is — thank you all for this gesture of appreciation, and to the friends, faculty, and students gathered today — Thank you for your presence.
I would like to add that this is a lifetime’s personal collection and so necessarily follows the shifting interests and research areas of the individual. Thus they cover a range of subjects — Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Buddhism, Comparative Religion, Literature, Sri Lanka’s History and culture and a host of others. No doubt they will be a big headache for you librarians, who have to sort, catalogue, and shelve them. At the same time, for the reader who likes to browse among books, they will no doubt produce much unexpected pleasure and rewards.
This beautiful University in Peradeniya, was where Gananath and I arrived in 1951, as part of the first incoming batch of Arts Faculty students. There we had the good fortune to be exposed to great teachers, among whom was Professor E.F.C Ludowyk; whom Gananath still says was ‘the greatest teacher he has ever had.’ On graduation we taught and lived on this campus for many years.
When after years of teaching abroad we retired, we decided to return with all our books, and possessions – lock, stock and barrel as they say — to the beautiful hills of Kandy. It is where we have continued to live and work these past 20 years.
When we are asked why we decided to donate our libraries to the University of Peradeniya, I mention that our families have had long associations with this university. My sisters Damayanthi Ratwatte and Professor Savitri Goonesekere, studied and taught here. Savitri’s husband, the late RKW Goonesekere, was both a teacher and a former Chancellor of this University. His books were donated by her to the law faculty of this University. Gananath’s sister Rohini and his brother Vasantha Obeysekara also studied here. It was here that Vasantha developed his passion for the cinema, working as an undergrad on Sathsamudura with Siri Gunasinghe.
Thus the University of Peradeniya is for us, a place of many connections and many memories.
Most of the Books on English literature in my personal collection were given years ago to the English dept. at Peradeniya for their library. The rest will go to the Jaffna Public Library, as a minute gesture of sympathy for the great library that was burnt. As for my collections of Sinhala books especially of the 19th, 20th and 21st century writers, I plan to give the signed gifted copies perhaps to the Kandy public library, and the rest to small schools in the rural areas where we have had contact over the years.
I am aware that not many of today’s ‘tec age’ students bother with books. But who can tell whether sometime in the future, when tired of Google, Artificial Intelligence, and their products, students may not seek the quiet spaces of libraries such as this one at the University of Peradeniya, to contemplate and ponder on the thoughts and ideas of past generations for new insights into human life and living.
Books contain more than facts and information. They help one acquire knowledge and understanding as one goes through life and enable one to face its ever changing challenges. This has been so for me.
I hope it will be so for some of you too.