17th September 2000
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By Kesara Ratnatunga
In ancient Greek, the word pearl meant 'perfect purity', to the Romans it meant 'sweetness and pleasure' and astrologers found in pearls a mystique akin to that of the heavens. The beauty of their perfection and their magical allure has stood the test of time, still entrancing the senses of mankind the world over.

They were everywhere, big ones, small ones, odd-shaped ones, white, black, gold, - you name it, the pearl to match was somewhere to be found. Bathed in soft light and nestled in cushioned comfort, this was the collection of pearls and pearl jewellery of Universal Gems, a participant at the Facets 2000, gem and jewellery show held last week at the Colombo Hilton. 

ShanthiUniversal Gems is a family business, which has been in the pearl industry for well over a hundred years and has the expertise of four generations. It was the legendary jeweller T.B. Ellies a.k.a the 'Pearl Doctor' who moved to Australia from Sri Lanka in 1887 and his descendants Down Under have continued in the trade and expanded to markets in all parts of the globe.

The pearls in the Universal Gems display were South Sea pearls, and as Director of Universal Gems, Shanthi Wimalaratna explained, the world's biggest pearl variety. Grown in South Sea oysters, they could reach 18-20mm in diameter. 

The more common fresh water pearls, grown in mussels as well as the Mikimoto pearls grown in Akoya oysters are in comparison only around 2-8mm in diameter. The South Sea pearls come in white, black and gold varieties. According to Mr. Wimalaratne, a single 'clear perfect round' 16mm gold South Sea pearl could cost as much as US$ 20,000. This was because of the perfect unblemished surface, size and vibrant gold colouring of the pearl. The value of the pearl greatly diminishes when its shape and surface are flawed.

The jewellery on display were also exclusively pearl products. "Since the pearls are large, we make it the centre of the piece of jewellery, therefore there isn't a lot of intricate work," says Mr. Wimalaratna. 

Universal Gems caters for a more upmarket clientele, and pays maximum attention to the quality of their work. 

"It's not a thing you can make quick money on," he says emphasizing that it takes time, patience and a lot of hard work to make and market a high quality product. 

This Sri Lankan family venture based in Sydney, Australia is beginning to access new markets. "Family ties have helped me break in to the Sri Lankan market," says Mr. Wimalaratna who acknowledges that he would otherwise have found it extremely difficult. 

Paper magic

By Uthpala Gunethilake
Nayani EpitawelaMost of us have an insatiable eye for pretty things. It's often hard to go past gift-shops that display beautiful little knick-knacks without being tempted to buy them, though you may not have the slightest need for them. Browsing through Nayani Epitawela's collection of recycled paper creations, I was indeed, sorely tempted. 

Her products aren't just useless bits and pieces, nor did I roll my eyes when I heard their prices. While most of us unthinkingly add more pollutants to the already heavily polluted environment, some veer off this easy path to do something environment-friendly. Nayani belongs to the latter group, creating recycled paper products decorated with natural material found in her own garden. Her first exhibition of recycled paper products was opened by Ms. Rosie Senanayake yesterday at the Lionel Wendt and continues till 7.30 p.m. today.

"There's so much we can do with local material, rather than always using imported stuff," she says, showing me jewellery boxes bordered with dried savandara root, and wedding cards adorned with dried flowers, all made of recycled paper. All the material she uses from jute to recycled paper- can be found locally, except for the paint.

She has done a few bulk orders such as company letterheads, note cubes and dripmats for local clients, aided by a staff of five. Though hers is a time-consuming vocation Nayani is determined to make her mark in the local as well as international market.

JR, a man with humour

The 94th birth anniversary of former President J.R. Jayewardene falls today. In this article Premil Ratnayake records some personal glimpses. 

J.R.had a puckish sense of humour. At times it was mischievious too. Alavi Moulana told me how once when they were waiting at the Katunayake International Airport to meet a dignitary arriving from Pakistan on the PIA flight, JR had turned to Alavi and asked, " How do you pronounce PIA? Everybody was silent. JR took it upon himself to give the answer. Then he gave his chuckling audience a Sinhala pronunciation of the letters PIA. It did sound a little obscene and JR had a hearty laugh. 

Alavi was a friend of J.R. who was then Leader of Opposition. He was a disguished guest at the wedding of Alavi's daughter - a glittering event held at Alavi's home in Forbes Road, Maradana. Mingling with the other guests, some top Parliamentarians of the ruling SLFP, JR fished out a gold cigarette case, took a cigarette for himself and passed the case to the others saying "I have had my quota for the day."

At the 1977 Parliamentary elections I was assigned to cover all election meetings of JR (the Leader of the Opposition) for the Ceylon Daily News. It was a hectic coverage. We set out on Monday morning from Lake House in a ramshackle jeep and returned only on Saturday. The coverage took us to all parts of the country except Jaffna. We had covered Mannar too.

One day we were driving to Mannar for an election meeting while JR was travelling in a helicopter. We could see the 'copter from the ground. Suddenly the 'copter circled and landed. We were intrigued and dashed towards the small clearing where the'copter had landed. JR told us that there was a small reception arranged for him at a place near. He had no vehicle to take him to the venue of the reception. We understood his problem and promptly invited him to use our old run-down jeep. He was thankful. After the reception he told me, "Lake House will sack you for what you did." I was quick to grasp the opportunity. "Sir, you are flying to the Mannar meeting. We are in a battered vehicle and we will not be able to get there in time to cover the meeting." 

JR paused a while and said "The Air Force people could not fly me after 6 p.m. I shall try to stretch out the meeting as far as possible. Good luck and hope you could be there." 

At KKS., JR was addressing a meeting where the crowd was Tamils. JR was speaking and suddenly there was an interruption. A barcbodied Tamil cut his finger with a knife and walked towards the rostrum, climbed up and then daubed the blood on JR's brow. JR was touched. He immediately turned to the microphone and addressing the gathering said, "There is no difference between the blood this man shed and mine. We are brothers." The crowd applauded.

That day after four meetings we were to lodge at the Anuradhapura Rest House. There was one meeting we could not cover. At the Anuradhapura Rest House where JR too was staying with Mrs. Jayewardene, we approached him rather tentatively to get a briefing of the meeting we had missed. JR was taking a shower. We waited outside. Light music sounded from the transistor set on a shelf of the fanlight. A little later JR emerged from the shower dressed in trouser and a long sleeved bush shirt. By then we had become friends. We told him that we had missed a meeting. Could he recall what he said? "I can't" he said and added "I don't care whether Lake House publishes my speeches or not. There will be a strike at Lake House soon."

"Sir, will you announce it?" "Yes, I will announce it at Mihintale." We warned Lake House bosses about the impending strike. They laughed and scoffed at our warning.

At Mihintale, true to his word, JR announced there would be a strike at Lake House. Before the announcement, JR had a heap of Lake House news papers placed on the stage and they were set on fire. While the newspapers blazed, JR turned to us and winked. To a Buddhist monk who shared the stage JR explained,"They (Lake House) are publishing all lies."

To the astonishment of the Lake House bosses the strike did take place. Workers including the Editorial staff walked out and all publications came to a standstill. There were handful of workers.

Loyalists of the government, remained at the desks. But they could not get the newspapers published. The strikers camped outside Lake House were listening to the latest results announced over the radio. As the last result came in they stormed into Lake House. A day later publications were resumed. 

Talking about speeches, JR had his own policy. He said "you must speak and say all what you want to say in 20 minutes. If you cannot say all what you want to say in 20 minutes, then you have nothing to say." 

A royal magazine

"The history of Royal College is the history of collegiate education in Sri Lanka. A college magazine is the history of the college. It is an essential item in any school worthy of its name. Tradition is handed down decade after decade in the pages of a college magazine. Without a magazine, in the years that are to be, a college history is non-existent." 

(S.S. Perera - History of Royal College) 

The Royal College Magazine is as old as the college itself. In January 1837, just two years after the academy was founded, the first headmaster, Rev. Joseph Marsh started a magazine known as the "The Colombo Academy Miscellany and Juvenile Repository." It was a monthly publication and was printed at the college press. 

The "Royal College Magazine' was first published in January 1893. The names of the editors are not given. The first magazine contained 30 pages and was printed at the Times of Ceylon Press. Price was 30cts and the annual subscription rate was Rs. 1/90. It was published every term. 

With the arrival of Principal Reed, revolutionary changes took place. A new front cover format came into being in 1923. This format stood for 23 years till 1945. 

From 1946 the front cover format was changed to a plain yellow cover with only the college crest. From 1893- 1959 the cover title was "Royal College Magazine" in English. In 1960 however, with winds of social revolution in the country the title appeared only in Sinhalese. From April 1961 the title appeared in all three languages spoken in College, Sinhalese, Tamil and English. 

Lean years lay ahead for the magazine from 1967. Only one annual issue came out in the years 1967, 68, 69 and 70. The situation deteriorated in the following years. One issue for both 1971 and 1972 and then one issue for the three years 1973, 74 and 75. For the first time there were different editors, one for Sinhala, one for Tamil and two for English and three masters for the management. The price was Rs. 20/- per copy for the 1973-75 issue. 

Unfortunately 1975 saw the end of a 82-year-old tradition. Except in 1915, the magazine which forms part of the history of Royal College had gone into print every year for future generations to read. To pick up the threads of what was lost, took another 17 years. In 1992 a new edition covering the period 1975-92 was published. Thereafter in 1998, six years later, another edition covering the period 1993-96 was published. 

The most noteworthy feature of the latest issue of the magazine is the fact that the Tamil language article segment of the magazine is by far the largest, even eclipsing the Sinhala and English segments. It is due to the sheer enthusiasm of the Tamil Medium students. It is also a clear example of how at Royal College all students, irrespective of any differences, are treated the same and are given an equal opportunity to excel. 

It is heartening to note that after 25 years it has been possible to bring the Magazine up to date and the credit must go to the untiring efforts of Vijitha Weerasinghe, who under the guidance of the Principal H.L.B. Gomes and with the assistance of RCOBANA, the Royal College Old Boys Association in North America, has together with the present editorial committee, been able to continue this great tradition. The latest issue of the magazine, the foremost publication of Royal College is available for sale at the Royal College Union Office, Rajakeeya Mawatha, Colombo 07.

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