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In black and white

During one of their travels in China
During one of their travels in China

He simply does not read books - he inhales them. Once he sits down with a volume, it is going to take a pretty earthshaking event to distract him. Nothing sounds better than having a whole day to indulge in the simple pleasure of reading, continuously and obsessively. This just about sums up the enthusiasm that renowned publisher Vijitha Yapa has towards reading, a passion which he turned into the largest English bookstore chain in Sri Lanka. Lalana Yapa shares some reminiscences of the former journalist and editor and what it was like to spearhead a process which brought globally renowned works of art to the Sri Lankan reader’s fingertips.

The ‘reading’ habit

Vijitha was born and bred in Waralla, a village between Akuressa and Deniyaya in the Southern Province. His father, Henry Yapa, was a planter and he was the one who had initiated the village temple and the school. There were 10 children in Vijitha’s family and he was the seventh child. He went to the village school first before going to S. Thomas’ College, Bandarawela, and later S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. Vijitha’s father was into reading so the children developed this habit from him.

Vijitha has been an ardent reader ever since his childhood. They say he used to come to the dining table with a book. His father has often called him ‘Pandithaya’ because of this habit.

Even now Vijitha reads from morning till nightfall. He pretty much reads any book that he picks up. I love detective novels. I am mostly into Patricia Cornwell’s books. Whenever Vijitha comes across a section which really interests him, he shares it with me. Our sons, Daminda and Peshan, too are prolific readers. They have seen us reading books from childhood and have become bookworms. I think we read more than we talk to one another!

The meeting

Vijitha is my cousin. His mother, Catherine, and my mother, Sumana, were sisters. I was no book enthusiast then because I was more interested in sports. I worked as an English stenographer at the Attorney General’s Department and Vijitha was working as a journalist, writing for foreign newspapers in 1975. We were in contact mostly due to our work.

The marriage

Vijitha was mostly at the estate. We met only when he visited Colombo. My mother was against our relationship.

Therefore we only held a registration and clicked a few pictures. We got married on March 27, 1977. We have been courting each other for about one year before marriage. We went to the Philippines soon after marriage because Vijitha had to undergo training in television for one year.

Parenthood

Vijitha and I have two sons. Daminda who is 39 now was born in 1978. Peshan was born the following year. Though there was no way to find out the gender of your child those days I personally wanted a son to carry on the family name. When I was expecting our second child Vijitha said that he wished for a daughter but I was determined to have a son again so that the elder one will have a playmate.

In my opinion Vijitha was too lenient on the boys. Even if I try to correct them in certain matters, he tried to prevent the punishment. I was the strict parent. Daminda is employed in Oman. Peshan is a director at the Vijitha Yapa Group of Companies.

Birth of Vijitha Yapa Group of Companies

Vijitha was employed at the Board of Investment (BOI). It was called the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) those days. He was working under Upali Wijewardena and was in charge of promotions. Due to the nature of his job he got to know many journalists who flew down to Sri Lanka. One of them suggested that we import a foreign magazine, ‘The Wall Street Journal’ to Sri Lanka. Vijitha refused the offer saying that he is working for the Government. Then that journalist has suggested that he can at least get the journals imported by me.

Our business started in 1981 and since then it has been very successful. Later we got down the ‘Herald Tribune’, ‘Far Eastern Economic Review’, the weekly magazine ‘Travel Trade Gazette Asia’ and others. I was handling everything with a few staff members under Vijitha’s name.

Other passions

Vijitha loves to travel. It is a passion that we both share. We have travelled extensively even in Sri Lanka. Whenever we see any place of interest in the newspapers, we would visit the place. We go for anything and everything that captures our interest. We went to Hambantota a month ago. We ventured on to Mirissa to engage in whale watching from there. We also paid a visit to Bundala National Park. We visited our eldest son and his wife, Radika, in Oman and then flew to the UK to attend the Book Fair this year. We also went to Chennai and stayed at a beach resort. We attend the London Book Fair in UK and the International Book Fair in India annually.

I really like our visit to Cambodia which was about three years ago. I loved the climate, environment and friendly people in that country. Our favourite holiday destination in Sri Lanka is Trincomalee.

Foodwise

Vijitha and I are into village type of food. He enjoys jakfruit, breadfruit and manioc. Vijitha prefers to have fish most of the time while my youngest son wants meat. I am a vegetarian. Vijitha’s favourite kind of food is probably green leaves like gotukola. He also likes hoppers.

Dissimilarities

I like watching television. Vijitha is not into watching TV much. I watch three of four different types of news bulletins on different channels. He basically watches the BBC News with me. Apart from that the only other TV programs that we both watch are the teledramas ‘Sidu’ and ‘Adhiraja Dharmashoka’.

Habits

At times Vijitha and I take a walk early mornings from our home in Kirulopane through Jawatta Road to Independence Square and back. We do it about once a week to keep healthy.

Unfulfilled dreams

I believe that Vijistha wants to write down his memoirs. During the 1980s he authored a couple of travel books in Singapore. One was on Maldives and the other was about Sri Lanka. He also wrote a book called ‘Insight Pocket Guide Sri Lanka’. 

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There is 1 Comment

Mine too. Travelling was my passion. Seems with all security overpacked airlines not much appealing

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