Island 6 Sep 2001

Island 6 Sep 2001

Stanley: a gentleman par excellence

Stanley Kalpage's birth anniversary fell on 30th August. He would have been 76 years.

Stanley, his career suggests the road ahead had always been for him a challenge. The decisions he made and his work stood out an z_stanly.jpg (12921 bytes)unifying force of achievement for the country. His life situations whether driven by economic imperatives, the language of academic institutions and international conferences, he was a true Sinhala man, absolutely correct supremely confident with ideas that were never locked in a cultural time warp.

With Chitra his wife their two sons, Sanjay and Pravin and their grandmother and there were no limits imposed on their capacity to create a family life. The Kalpage family deeply held the Asian belief that friends and extended family were vital to survive the travails of daily living. Theirs was truly a home. Tethered to any job he took on he was first a teacher par excellence, lecturer and professor at the Peradeniya University later at University of Malay Kuala Lumpur University of Higher Education and guest professor at the Technological University, West Berlin.

In diplomatic positions he was Ambassador of Sri Lanka in India and permanent representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. He was head of the delegations to the 47th, 48th, 46th UN General Assembly, 24th and 23rd UNESCO General Conferences in Paris and Bulgaria. Often attending international conferences relating to science and technology, agriculture and education in USA, UK, USSR, China, Germany, Canada, Australia, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Philippines. He was Chairman, Board of Governors, Arthur Clarke Centre for modern technologies. In position and power he would embrace diversity of opinion, values, personality and learning styles. He had a lot of heart.

When I first met Stanley it wasn't at a black tie dinner or convocation. One night at 10 p.m. I was perched on top of the massive iron gates of his university residence. Alsatian dogs below barking furiously. The occupants were in my car driven against the gate shouting and yelling "don't get down", "get back", "don't fall,", "be careful", "the dogs look fierce." Then came on the house lights.

Stanley opened the front door to this unbelievable scene. I climbed back onto the bonnet of my car and was helped down by Lennie Ratwatte, A. C. M. Faleel and C. D.L. Fernando. Men who always walked through the front door.

Stanley was one of the best Sinhala speakers the UNP had on the campaign trail 1965. He was in very great demand. They wanted him for every meeting but he was overtired, hoarse, and said he just couldn't make it to another. The organisers were desperate. His phone was off the hook. I offered to drive the crew to his residence only to find the massive gates locked. The tooting of horn had no effect. I volunteered to get on the car bonnet climb the gate and go bang on the verandah doors. Nobody bargained for dogs.

But it all worked out. Stanley went to the meeting and helped the UNP win the election.

As did many third world countries Sri Lanka faced extremes of ostentatious wealth and dire poverty. she needed trained, self effecting dedicated Social Workers/Community Educators. Men and women who while they fuelled the enthusiasm of others for development would push-button and lead and dominate the way, not by dictatorial backed political power but by deep knowledge and an enormous capacity to persuade.

As Chairman of University Grants Commission there was no great necessity to try to convince Stanley on this issue. He summoned a meeting to discuss a proposal to elevate the Sri Lanka School of Social Work to university status." The meeting was held on November 23, 1982 at the UGC. Present was Y. Y. Kim, UNDP.

"Sri Lanka School of Social Work was the only source for Training Social Workers." Dr. Kalpage agreed that "social workers community educators who were clearly decisive intelligent, visionary and fait were required. The school needed to be elevated to university status". Those present were Kgosano, UNICEF, Secretary, Ministry of Social Services, Mr. Gunasekera, Professors from Colombo University, Wijesundera and Bastianpillai. Bro. Emmanuel of LCES and I too were present.

An ordinance cited as the Recognition of Institutions Ordinance No. 4 of 1980 was explained by Prof. Kalpage laying down the procedures to be followed in granting recognition which was already in operation. The North Colombo Medical College and the Kotelawela Defence Academy had been recognised under these provisions.

Today social service is very dependent on 'fund raising' with coffee mornings, bring and buy sales, fetes, bazaars, fairs and polas. It certainly serves as a multiplier approach for do-gooding and communal harmony. The first phase 'Compassion' in Fr. Albert Nolan's thesis on development stages, where haves could help the have-nots. The move to anger and radical action follows. The trained community educator with guidance and maturity turned this youth unrest and fury into participation and people's power, finally solidarity was achieved moving to making society a better place for all.

Especially sad that Stanley initiative 20 years ago aborted often still awaits affiliation to a university!!

'Every religion mixed universal principles with local customs' (Huston Smith). The Kalpage's when in Sri Lanka and there never was a Sinhala Hindu New Years Day that a telephone call did not inform me of the nekath time, when I, a Roman Catholic should be at their home. Spirituality and fellowship combined with community tie was the prime source of socialisation of values, they believed in as practising Buddhists. Religion did not reflect greed and ugliness, but its beauty in love of others showed God's handiwork - the best hope for children and youth.

The Moratuwa Campus, Katubedda became Moratuwa University 1979 moral chaos - students were on a hunger strike. Intense, emotional realism as a ragging session had taken place, exploiting the pornography of violence. Social inequalities led to some youth taking and enjoying their energy from pain and humiliation of another. A student was suspended.

They turned to student and youth sympathises of the day Fr. Tissa Balasooriya. At the time I was a researcher at the CSR. Fr. Tissa wanted to meet with Dr. Kalpage, UGC. I met Stanley "My cure for this kind of sadness is to see clean my glasses and when I took up I don't want to see those Buddhist monks and swirling robes on the university roof top - then we'll meet".

Fr. Tissa and Stanley met in an air of cultivated uncertainty - wryly courteous. Dr. Kalpage read extracts from the reports submitted by the Committee of Inquiry into the Ragging. Silence.

Both men were academics team players with a diversity of opinion. Yet in their position and power they agreed they were committed to let young people shine in life, not debase themselves as described in that inquiry report.

Their minds made up. They swapped timeless yarns for an hour. Then parted in the glow of scholarly brotherhood fully realising that in the crucible of actual day to day living love for their fellow beings without dignity, discipline and commitment was an imposter. V. L. Wirasinha and Stanley, two educationalists also supported what is now an Australian programme 'Work for Dole'. It would have brought in young people to teach spoken English. But there was at that time early 80s very much the 'Kaduwa' attitude towards English at universities. JR though he realised the worth of the programme, felt it was not wise to bring so controversial an issue into public debate. It was set aside. Almost 20 years later attempts are now being made to resurrect it.

It is a loss to the country that men of Stanley's calibre are not here today when all and sundry are conducting the nations business like alley cats. He was authoritative as distinct from authoritarian. Freedom and self-respect to him were non-negotiable. For problems, abuses, discrimination he would often observe would always be there, but that did not mean progress made since independence was minimal or immaterial. He found the UN crowded with distinguished Sri Lankans. Men who dealt with ideas sharp-pointed that stuck on ones mind permanently. Concepts that realised energy making problem-solving easier and provided shortcuts to worthwhile goals.

Shine up your neighbours halo, for everyone has a halo worth watching for an acknowledging. It helped, he always said shift emphasis from self to interest and concern for others.

Stanley was a gentleman par excellence.

Dr. Stanley Kalpage: A tribute to an exceptional human being

By Ravinatha Aryasinha
The Stanley Kalpage I was acquainted with as Secretary/ Higher Education and Chairman of the University Grants Commission, had always seemed a difficult man. Since 1982, as a TV correspondent there were many a time that I had crossed swords with him, in interviews and press conferences on matters of education policy and particularly the causes of youth unrest. Given this backdrop, as a Foreign Service probationer with less than one year under my belt, in july 1989, I naturally looked to my first posting to New Delhi, where Dr. Kalpage had just assumed duties as High Commissioner, with some trepidation. But my concerns soon dissipated, and the 20 months I was to work with him for my country, was to become todate, my richest period of learning as a diplomat.

Few diplomats anywhere in the world, would have bargained for what Dr. Kalpage had to deal with, as he strode into New Delhi as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner-designate in mid-May, 1989. Even before he was to present his credentials, President Premadasa on 1st June 1989 was to propound what came to be known as the ‘Battaramulla Declaration’ — giving the IPKF a two month deadline by which to leave, and in effect bringing relations between Sri Lanka and India to its ‘nadir’ in modern times. Given such an inheritance, it is no small credit to Dr. Kalpage’s personal style and character, that by the time he moved-on to become Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in New York, in February, 1991, he had turned around the relationship, to a position that was to become irreversible.

That this happened well before the compulsions in Indo-Sri Lanka relations brought about following the Rajiv Gandhi assassination by the LTTE and the liberalisation of the Indian economy, is significant. That he did so without either foolishly brow-beating or tamely pandering to India, but by understanding India’s compulsions and making them understand that it was in our mutual enlightened self-interest to be cooperative rather than conflictual, is phenomenal.

Complicated brief

Given the complicated brief he had to carry, Dr. Kalpage’s success in Delhi was not by accident — but by sheer hard work, coupled with a sincerity of purpose, the likes that New Delhi had not seen from the Sri Lankan side since the days of the ‘bon homie’ between Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Mrs. Indira Gandhi. To my mind Dr. Kalpage personified what an imaginative and courageous diplomat, who had the confidence of his Head of State could do, to correct perceptions created largely due to errors in style, rather than a lack of substance. He rejected the maxim that ‘diplomats must lie for their country’ and strongly supported by his ‘activist’ Deputy High Commissioner Nanda Godage, Counsellor A. H. Seneviratne to whom nothing was ever impossible and the rest of his staff, set aside protocol and overcame numerous operational hurdles placed in his path by petty minded bureaucrats in Colombo, in reaching out and explaining his country’s thinking to all he interacted with — from the President of India, through the pro-LTTE sympathizer in Madras, to the businessman in Bombay, to Rotary Clubs and students of schools and universities in far flung places in India away from the metropolis.

What I admired most about him was that he never rushed into taking up positions hastily. But having analysed the factors, once convinced that a cause was right, with him there was no turning back. This was to manifest itself in many ways. As for Indo-Sri Lanka relations, despite being the representative of President Premadasa who was at the center of a storm, Dr. Kalpage did not hesitate to nudge and push and seek to defuse tensions using his very first call on a rather ‘peeved’ Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in mid-July, 1989. I also vividly recollect, sitting up in the Taj Mahal Hotel in new Delhi as the clock ticked by, at the end of July 1989, as Dr. Kalpage resisted to tamely sccumb to President Premadasa’s repeated telephonic interruptions, that we give up the effort at trying to work out a time table for the peaceful withdrawal of the IPKF and allow him to sign the proclamation ordering the IPKF troops back to barracks — which all were convinced would have had catastrophic consequences. Dr. Kalpage with then Foreign Minister Ranjan Wijeratne and Justice Minister A. C. S. Hameed stood-up to the President, convincing him that they should not leave Delhi without a deal, as the alternative was a ‘non-option’.

Having bought a temporary respite, driven by the ‘politician’ instinct in him, in the months that followed, Dr. Kalpage sought to reach beyond the Congress Party and the South Block. He was to cultivate then opposition figures such as I. K. Gujral, Gurupadaswamy, Atal Behari Vajpayee, L. K. Advani, George Fernandes, among others — and was seen as ‘an old friend’ when a few months later they were to form and support the new National Front government led by Prime Minister V. P. Singh. It is the same political instinct that in late 1989 prompted Dr. Kalpage to personally deliver a letter from President Jayewardene to Rajiv Gandhi commisserating with his defeat. He often used his visits through Madras to develop a parallel rapport with the Madras based political elite in order to prevent the ramifications of ‘linkage politics’ in India, obstructing the furtherance of better relations between Delhi and Colombo. Conscious of the influence wielded by the Indian beauracracy which were deeply suspicious of President Premadasa, he also sought to engage particularly the ‘Babus’ of the South Block (the Indian External Affairs establishment).

‘Eelam War 2’

It was as a result of this combined effort of carrying along both the Indian politician and the beauracrat, that enabled him in August 1990, in the aftermath of the outbreak of ‘Eelam War 2’, to organise an unprecedented visit to New Delhi by a Sri Lankan all party delegation led by then Speaker M. H. Mohammad, comprising Ranil Wickremasinghe, Anura Bandaranaike, Dinesh Gunawardena, M. L. A. M. Hisbullah among others, with a view to project a collective front on Sri Lanka’s predicament and meet with all Indian political parties, and a cross section of the academic and the media.

In the face of the acrimony and ambiguity that surrounded the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, realising that President Premadasa’s effort to develop a more balanced ‘Indo-Sri Lanka Friendship Treaty’ was not selling, he got the National Front Government with I. K. Gujral as External Affairs Minister to agree in principle to institutionalize an ‘Indo-Sri Lanka Commission’, with sub-commissions for trade, cultural affairs and investment, which was to be managed by the respective Foreign Ministries. Despite the fall of the National Front coalition, using his personal leeverage with Rajiv Gandhi, Dr. Kalpage then ensured that this pledge was implemented by the interim Chandra Shekar administration which the Congress backed from outside, enabling then Foreign Minister Harold Herat and his Indian counterpart V. C. Shukla to initial the document in Colombo, in January 1991, one month before he ‘moved on’ to New York.

Dr. Kalpage agreed early on that Sri Lanka’s image problems within India at the time, as much as it was with the world beyond, were rooted in media projection of ‘events’ that were being viewed in isolation from the ‘processes’. Conscious that much of the coverage of Sri Lanka was by the large Delhi based journalistic community, he found time for regular informal interaction with the Indian and foreign media and academia. Once a month, he met with some of Sri Lanka’s strongest critics, to hear them out and to share his thoughts. This interaction, towards the latter part of his term was to metamorphosise into the India-Sri Lanka Forum — a forum where ‘issues’ of relevance to either country, were analysed dispassionately, in public. He left no stone unturned to ensure that Sri Lankan students got the best possible placements in Indian Universities and was insistent that the High Commission champion their cause. He also saw the growing hitherto untapped Sri Lankan professional and student community in Delhi, Madras and Varanasi, as potential ‘Ambassadors of goodwill’ and ensured that they were fully tapped in the quest to change Sri Lanka’s image in India. For these persons the mission and often the High Commissioner’s residence became ‘open house’ and the Association of Sri Lankans in Delhi (ASLID) which came into being during his tenure, remains a living testimony to his vision.

Not only was Dr. Kalpage’s professionalism, discipline and meticulousness infectious, rarely if ever did he allow his political persuasion — which was well known — to cloud his vision. The process he used in decision making was rare by Sri Lankan standards. He never cramped one’s personal style nor threw age or rank at you. Infact he revelled in healthy debate among his senior staff, whether after a public speech he made or before taking an important decision. He was a good leader, a great listener and en exceptional human being.

To me Dr. Kalpage stands particularly tall for the guts he showed, when the chips were down. In February, 1990 in the immediate aftermath of the abduction and assassination of my friend Richard de Soyza, Varuna Karunatileke whose name was being bandied around as being wanted for questioning, landed in New Delhi seeking refuge. There were many a place I could have arranged for him to stay, but he seemed too devastated from the events of the previous weeks to go through that. So I went with him to Dr. Kalpage and having briefed the High Commissioner on developments, sought his permission to let Varuna stay in my residence which was also on the High Commission compound. Dr. Kalpage’s reply was "of course, he is not a fugitive from justice, but a fugitive from terror".

Dr. Kalpage was also a caring ‘family’ man-not just to Mrs. Kalpage, Sanjay, Praveen and the immediate family, but to all of us who had the fortune of having worked with him and became part of what seemed to be an extended family of sorts. As years went by, though no longer my High Commissioner, to his death Dr. Kalpage continued to be a father figure in my life. There was possibly no important personal decision I took without having a chat with him — and displaying the brilliant ‘Chemist’ in him, he was always able to break down the concerned issue into its particles, and come up with a synthesis, that seemed to satisfy both the micro and macro dimensions of any problem.

I shall always cherish the moments we shared and know that I had worked, for above all, an exceptional human being.