by Thilak S. Fernando

As the traditional drumbeats throbbed, an evocative crescendo and six young lasses dressed in conventional white saris chanted sanctified ‘ Jayamangla Gathas’, Mr. Mangala Moonesinghe, The High Commissioner for Sri Lanka, declared open the ‘ Sri Lanka Centre’ in London on 2nd December 2000 during a lavish ceremony in the plush Suite at Alexandra Palace, Wood Green, London by lighting the customary oil lamp, followed by Gamini Abeysinghe and his dance troupe that unfolded fluid movements, supple and graceful, depicting twenty five centuries old Sri Lankan culture - a priceless art form communicating to the people the ‘ legends and tales that live for ever’.

Mr. Moonasinghe, in his speech, emphasised the importance of a ‘ Sri Lana Centre’ catering towards the needs of the burgeoning Sri Lankan community in the UK, which had suffered a sledge hammer blow since the closure of the official ‘ Students Centre’ nearly three decades ago.

The Sri Lanka Centre was an all day event despite its inevitable teething problems, which delayed the proceedings in the morning. As the crowds started pouring in number of stalls selling Sri Lankan products, including high quality Ceylon tea gave the Lankan compatriots the unique opportunity buy various items and commodities in a typical Sri Lankan market environment. In the absence of a Ceylon Tea Centre in London at present, this served as a unique opportunity to fill the vacuum left by the Tea Centre thus enabling the visitors to purchase a variety of directly imported unadulterated tea to be given as Christmas gifts to their English counterparts who always enjoy the golden taste of a ‘Ceylon cuppa’.

Special lunch of string-hopper was inexorably a ‘ smash hit’ with mouth watering ‘pol sambol, kiri bath, parippu and a choice of fish ambul thiyal or chicken curry with seeni sambol for vegetarians. It was just the kind of fad that brought back the shade of the ‘ Students Centre’, but with far more potential and on a much grander scale.

The evening was punctuated by a dance .It went on until late hours to the music of the popular Sunset Band which provided the revellers with endless catch and toe-tapping music. The special guest artiste, Mariazelle Gunatillake, who was especially flown directly from Sri Lanka on the previous evening for the show regaled the dancers with a string of her highly popular songs including her theme song, ‘Kandy Lamissi’. With traditional dance music by Sunset Band and intermittently a disco taking care of the enthusiastic young crowd the entertainment went on, with two extensions by popular request, till 1.30 a.m. to cater to the enthusiastic crowd.

The organisers would like to convey a message to the prospective GCE ‘O’ and ‘ ‘A’ Level students to enrol themselves either in advance or at the next ‘ Sri Lanka Centre’ day in order that a systematic approach could be formulated according to the demand and the size of the groups (classes). The organisers regret their inability to go ahead with this service unless this requirement is met, as it needs qualified teachers and advisers to be allocated accordingly.

The organisers emphasise that the main aim of the ‘ The Sri Lanka Centre’ would be to perform untold service to the Sri Lankan community in the UK not only as a centre for social, entertainment, and business activities, but also as a means to bind the community and develop a national spirit.

With the assurance of full support by the High Commissioner, the organisers are making a determined effort to make their fellow Sri Lankans ‘ re-visit’ their ‘ Ceylon Students Centre’ which they hold very near and dear to their heart and mind, in a much more effective and wider sense through The Sri Lanka Centre.

No human being is just a human being, he or she must necessarily have a cultural configuration, and identity is able to identify in mind, heart, and spirit with a community or a people larger than the immediate family. In this respect, Sri Lankan expatriates in the UK has a bounden and a moral duty to come together, support each other and make The Sri Lankan Centre their national identity and pride in England.

The venue for the next ‘Sri Lankan’ centre is fixed at the Porchester Hall, at Bayswater, London W2, on 3 rd February 2001, with the idea of combining Sri Lanka’s independent day commemoration.