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Being a Perera: What’s in a Name

2 January 2017 12:02 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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A reader and a well-known Buddhist scholar mailed a comment in response to my article on Vap full moon day [15/10] entitled, ‘Futility of Abhi-dhamma in the Path of Emancipation’ with a harsh personal attack saying , ‘You are a skeptic heathenist with a Portuguese name who is trying to …’  [sorry, the rest is unprintable, but I referred the dictionary and made a short reply thanking him for upgrading my poor vocabulary];  he, however, coaxed me to reminisce down memory lane to mid 1950s, when our teacher, Mrs … Perera was taking a class on Ceylon history at lower school, St John’s College, Panadura. [I wrote part of this true ‘anecdote’ five years ago in another paper. Let me share it with your readers as well]


She wanted all Pereras to raise their hands.  Five of us responded to a rather friendly appeal than a command made to 25 to 30 boys and girls in the class. Among them was Sumana, the only female in the clan of Pereras, who was a distant cousin of mine. It was customary for the class teacher to nominate a girl and a boy to share a common desk and bench. I shared the front row centre desk with Sumana. She was extremely good in her work and occupied the first two places in the merit list, though only one year my senior— Sumana always ‘helped’ me in answering at term tests! It was sixty years ago and being 12 year-olds, we were good friends, classmates, connected and neighbours too.
The teacher continued, “They say, if someone kicks a bush a couple of Pereras will toss-away, how many of you would agree?” making the entire class roar with laughter. While we the Perera boys were somewhat bemused, agreed with the saying discomforting the teacher herself, but Sumana, the obstinate girl she was, indifferent to the loud guffaw, answered in the negative. She stunned the class, when she rejoined,
 “Teacher, we Pereras would never crawl inside a bush.” 
The pin drop silence embarrassed all other non-Pereras and Pereras, including the writer.
“I am delighted that there was one good answer from a Perera,” replied the elated teacher.
It was when she began her history lesson a few minutes later that we realized she was preparing to talk on the role of Miguel Pereira, the Portuguese administrator in the 16th century’s Lisbon rule over Ceylon’s coastal belt, which prompted her to gossip about ‘Pereras’ in the middle of her history lesson. I doubt if they were trained in student psychology or teaching skills six decades ago at teacher training schools; yet we had exceptional teachers then.  The name Perera was launched here by the Portuguese along with hosts of other Portuguese names like Silva, Fonseka, Rodrigo, and Fernando, to mention a few. 

 

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” 
-William Shakespeare, 

[Romeo and Juliet] 


‘Perera or Pereira’ is a common name even today in Spain, Portugal,  Brazil and even in Goa, the overseas territory of ‘Portuguese India’ which existed for over four centuries until the early 1960s, when it was annexed by India. The name derives from ‘Pereira’ meaning Pear tree. 
During the evening of my corporate carrier, and in the last lap of working life 12 years ago, once I was assigned to go Katunayake to receive a CEO from one of our Indian principals who owned quite a few Pharmaceutical manufacturing operations in many parts of the world (he was crowned the richest in India in 2014).  Their country manager in Sri Lanka introduced me to him mentioning my name with emphasis on ‘Perera’, in addition to other ‘decorations’. I had a brief chat with him at the lounge before travelling to Colombo separately.  The next morning at a meeting with our Chairman CEO, he had mentioned, 
 “That Indian director, who is working for you, a Perera from Goa…”
So, much so for school and working life blemishes: In retirement, venturing into the interesting but somewhat ‘hazardous’ endeavour of writing to newspapers; a few years ago I made a suggestion in the-S/Times, asking ‘why not introduce a few Tamil verses and sing the National Anthem in both languages?’, to receive some harsh responses from readers, once again a few of them targeting the name Perera. Responses to recent article,  “Why Buddhism?, we are a secular State; Give Foremost place to Dhamma only,” attracted the attention of a few ‘Buddhists’, one of them said, “…Pereras were the people who vandalized temples in the 16th century.”

 

"‘Perera or Pereira’ is a common name even today in Spain, Portugal,  Brazil and even in Goa, the overseas territory of ‘Portuguese India’ which existed for over four centuries until the early 1960s, when it was annexed by India. The name derives from ‘Pereira’ meaning Pear tree"

 


My generation’s readers would remember, how the now redundant ‘Independent Newspapers group’ in mid-1970s slander Trotskyite leader Dr N.M Perera, the Finance Minister, in Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s United Front Government by stressing in bold letters “Pe-Ray -Raa” (meaning toddy is oozing), criticizing his proposal to allow owners of coconut trees to tap two trees for toddy without obtaining a valid licence. The global economic depression resulted in a sky-rocketing of food prices; the entire sugar quota was imported causing a severe load on nation’s coffers. While a significant section of the population was clamoring for food in the waste bins[remember the 70s?], the ‘the never-say-die’ factions of party loyalists [a fast disappearing idiotic clan from both camps] walked in procession shouting “SEENI-NETHUVA-TE-BONAVA”, meaning, let’s have tea without sugar, an analogous to a slogan at today’s ‘Diabetic-Day- Walk’. They say ‘History repeats itself.’

 

 

"Dr. NM, the minister, who was coined  ‘N’o ‘M’oney Perera, (Work of smart newspaper men) was forced to introduce the system as an inducement to make jaggery  as a home industry and lessen the burden on the budget’s sugar component"

 


Dr. NM, the minister, who was coined  ‘N’o ‘M’oney Perera, (Work of smart newspaper men) was forced to introduce the system as an inducement to make jaggery  as a home industry and lessen the burden on the budget’s sugar component. May be he genuinely expected the house wives to use it for jaggery making; but, what did the husbands do is anybody’s guess!
However, Independent Newspapers, managed by The Gunasenas, continued their intense denigration not only on the Marxists, but the entire government using a few Sinhala and English journals like Sun, Dawasa and Sawasa, which compelled the UF government of 70-77 to end the drama by sealing their press at Hulftsdorp Hill. 
Private print media, in the absence of electronic were never free and fair then [are they now?]. Every government flexed its muscles to restrict them. That was the media freedom in the ‘good old days’!
My father, who had qualms about continuing with the name, added another name before Perera to all male siblings, expecting us to drop the ‘Perera’ somewhere down the line. However, none of the six males was anxious. We all kept on adding dozens of Pereras down to second and third generations. 

Proud to be a Perera, kks-

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