Posts filed under 'Tribute'
by Gamini Gunaratne
My relationship with the Bandaranaikes started from the time of my father, K D Chandrapala, who was Village Council Chairman for Dompe and who maintained close links with S W R D Bandaranaike, Sirimavo Bandaranaike and, later, with Felix Dias Bandaranaike.
It was in 1980 that J R P Suriyapperuma asked me to meet Mrs Bandaranaike along with my cousin, Upali Gunaratna, who is now chairman of the National Savings Bank. We went to Horagolla where she was residing at the time. She reminded us that our family were loyal to the Bandaranaikes. She said she had decided to make Anura the SLFP organiser for Dompe and that she was ‘entrusting’ him to us. We readily agreed to support him.
I was electoral secretary for Dompe. We developed a strong friendship. I worked closely with Anura in politics. And when he crossed over to the UNP, I went along. My decision to switch parties was based entirely on the fact that Anura had decided to join the UNP. I did not consider the political consequences for myself. I had no grievance against the SLFP. I can still remember how Mrs Bandaranaike told me, ‘If your father was alive, he wouldn’t have done this.’
I recall the day Anura was suspended from the SLFP. I was with him at Rosmead Place when he got the letter of suspension. He opened it, read it and started crying. Such was the man. He called his sister, Sunethra, who came and tried to console him. That evening he decided to go out of Colombo. People were telephoning him with questions. Anura was not the type who could handle that kind of situation. He was emotional by nature. Politics had no bearing at times like that. He couldn’t give interviews to the press saying, ‘This is my line and this is what I will do’. We went to Nuwara Eliya where we stayed for five days. He spoke constantly of his father and what he, Anura, had done for the SLFP.
Back from Nuwara Eliya, Anura resigned from the SLFP and went abroad. To see him off at the airport was Mahinda Rajapaksa, who implored with him to return to the SLFP fold. Anura told him that he would consider it. But when he came back, he had decided to join the UNP. He was made Minister of Higher Education and leader of the Gampaha district. I realised later that he was not satisfied with the position he got as Minister of Higher Education. He had been hoping for the Foreign Affairs portfolio. He was in two minds while he was with the UNP. That uncertainty was also a part of his character. He made decisions as if he was bold but he regretted them after some time.
It was after Chandrika returned from abroad that Anura was suspended from the SLFP for reasons now known to everybody. Chandrika became actively involved with the party. At the time, I did not agree with Mrs Bandaranaike because I felt Anura was more suitable for the job given to Chandrika. I was critical of Mrs Bandaranaike’s decision. Anura had done an excellent job as Leader of the Opposition, helping Mrs Bandaranaike return to parliament with a large number of SLFPers in 1987. But Mrs Bandaranaike said she had her reasons, and that Anura doesn’t work enough.
Looking back, I would agree that, politically, Mrs Bandaranaike was right-and we were wrong. If I may analyse Anura’s character, I considered him to be a very intelligent man. He was well read and could speak eloquently in both languages. He had a pleasing personality and his family background was incomparable with that of any other Sri Lankan. There was nobody else who had the kind of qualifications that Anura did to be the head of this state-education, family background, knowledge and ability. Then why didn’t this man make it to the top?
“Lokka, oya eka”
My feeling is that he thought he was destined to get that position so he didn’t go the extra mile. That mindset alone-when you think you have all the qualifications and that you are destined to get a position-won’t take you there. He’s a classic example of it. Some people blamed those around him, saying they were responsible for his disaster. I don’t agree because he was a man who did not listen to anybody. That was his nature. If he did not listen to his mother, whom he was so found of, he would not listen to anyone else. Anura had a varied circle of friends. There were people who offered him any support-whether intellectual, organisational or financial-for him to go that extra little bit. But he never made use of them.
I must also add that Mahinda Rajapaksa did everything possible at that time to make Anura leader of the SLFP. Whatever he organised, whether it was a ratha yathra or pada yathra, he gave leadership to Anura. He would always say, “lokka, oya eka”. “Boss, you’re number one.” I have heard him say that. Mahinda may have hoped to make Anura leader so that he could be second in command.
When the UNP was defeated shortly after he joined them, Anura was very, very upset. He had spent 17 years in the opposition where he had worked tirelessly. He joined the UNP at the last moment and that party lost. I was with him on election day. I continued to stay at Rosmead Place for a month after the election because he was so upset. He needed someone to talk to, someone to help him get over it. Fortunately, I was a bachelor so I had time. I think he felt that he had made a mistake in joining the UNP but he was too proud to admit it. He usually preferred to say that wrong was done unto him rather than take responsibility.
During that period, Anura even contemplated quitting politics. Someone suggested that he should be made ambassador to Washington-and he would have accepted the job but Chandrika ruled it out. His relationship with her was not good at the time. It was maintained through messengers, mostly Mrs Bandaranaike.
Mrs Bandaranaike died on the day of the next parliamentary election. From the moment he heard that his mother had died, he was crying throughout. By the time we arrived at Rosmead Place, he was really gone. It was then that I realised how much he loved and was dependent on his mother, even while fighting with her. He had always been fond of his mother. She was a hero in his eyes. But they had a love-hate relationship, as everyone knows. I feel that this was because he behaved with his mother like a child although his mother considered him to be an adult. She wanted to groom him and take the party forward.
Back to the SLFP
After the election, which the PA won, Anura was informed that the SLFP would support his candidature if he was willing to become Speaker. The UNP also backed his appointment. He was happy that he could be Speaker with the support of both parties. He also reconciled his differences with Chandrika. He later left the UNP and decided to contest the next parliamentary election on the PA ticket. It was at that election that the PA lost and the UNP took over. Anura then brokered a deal with the JVP, pressurised Chandrika to take over three Ministries, to dissolve parliament and to call an election. The PA won and he became a Minister.
My political association with Anura stopped after he crossed back to the SLFP. I had followed him blindly to the UNP but when he was returning to the SLFP, he didn’t even ask me whether I wanted to go back. He had decided what was good for him. But I continued my friendship with Anura because he was a good man. I didn’t advise him politically and my frequent visits ended. Still, we kept in touch on the phone. I went for his last birthday party.
Anura was meticulous in his dress and in everything else he did. He had an old typewriter that he had been using since university. He would type his own letters on this contraption. Every document he owned was filed. Before his speeches, he would read books, talk to people related to the subject, make notes and type the entire speech himself. He also loved to watch films. In my view, I think he might be one of the few people in the world who have seen 90 per cent of the films Hollywood has produced. He would spend time in Los Angeles, watching movies. He would return with posters, get them framed and hang them. He would cut out newspaper and magazine reviews of the most interesting films he had watched. He would paste them and file them.
Anura loved his family. I have heard that Chandrika was closer and more protective of Anura, even though they had fallen out at one point. They had a close bond. He was fond of her children. Anura loved all children and would dote on them. A little girl of about two-and-a-half years lived next door to Anura at Rosmead Place. I can still remember how, every morning, he would send the servants to bring her to his house. She would spend a few hours with him, playing, eating chocolates and other snacks, before returning home. He would bring gifts for her from his foreign trips. They moved house but kept in touch. I was happy to see them at his funeral the other day. The little girl has grown up now.
He loved to play practical jokes on people. He would often ask uninvited guests to turn up at the houses of friends on their birthdays. So people kept turning up at houses even when there was no party. One day, his friends turned the tables on him and invited all kinds of people-including Bradman Weerakoon and J R Jayawardene-to Anura’s house on his birthday. Most of them turned up, dressed to the nines. They were sent away at the gate. Luckily for J R, he called Anura beforehand and was told that there’s no party! Once, he invited beggars to the house of friend who lived at Barnes Place. He even printed invitation cards saying that women would be donated a sari, the men a sarong and toys to the children. About 60 of them turned up at 7 am. When this friend opened the gate to go to the temple, they rushed into his garden shouting “apey mahattaya”! He had to give them money to get rid of them. I saw Anura last just before he went to Singapore for treatment. He didn’t talk about his condition. He isn’t someone who can discuss bad news. He said he was going for a health check. I didn’t ask him anything more.
If you ask me if he was happy, I wouldn’t say he was happy or unhappy. Then again, in retrospect, I wouldn’t say he was happy.
March 22nd, 2008
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The saying “Always the bride’smaid never the bride” applied appropriately to Anura Priyadarshi Solomon Dias Bandaranaike who passed away on Sunday March 16th at the age of fifty – nine.
Anura as he was popularly known, was always the “Crown Prince” waiting to be crowned. But coronation never came and now he has departed uncrowned as the prince who never became King.
Greatness,was of three types, said the Bard of Avon. Some are “born great” and some “achieve greatness” while there are also some who have “greatness thrust upon” them.
Degrees of greatness
Anura Bandaranaike was an embodiment in different degrees of this greatness as defined by Shakespeare.
He was born great as the only son of Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike and Sirima Ratwatte – hailing from aristocratic Low – Country and Kandyan Sinhala families – who were both prime ministers of this country.
[SWRD Bandaranaike with his children]
Birth enabled Anura to have greatness thrust upon himself to some extent.
Being elected as a twenty – eight year old member of Parliament in an unfamiliar electorate on his maiden effort was more due to his family background rather than his merits.
So too was the leader of the opposition post at the age of thirty – four.
He also achieved limited greatness. He was both cabinet minister and speaker. He was also in Parliament continuously from 1977 till his death.
Yet he never realised his full potential as a political leader or attained his ambition to be premier and/or President.
While his sisters were left of centre in their political beliefs Anura was firmly to the right.
In terms of ideology and political outlook Anura was closer to Junius Richard Jayewardena than many of his party colleagues.
Chip off the old block
He was class conscious and was for class solidarity cutting across party lines.Anura engaged in talks with JR about an anti – left alliance in the seventies.
When a by – election to Kalawewa was held in 1974, JR announced that the United National Party would not field a candidate if Anura was the SLFP choice. This did not happen as Anura was not the SLFP candidate then.
Pedigree played a crucial part in Anura being an MP, opposition leader, speaker and cabinet minister etc at different times. Yet in his own right Anura Bandaranaike was an impressive orator in both Sinhala and English. He extensively researched facts before his Parliamentary speeches.
His address on the occasion of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s visit was a splendid effort. It was pehaps the best indication of Anura being a chip of the old block as his father had been dubbed “silver – tongued orator”.
Above all, Anura was a decent human being ! A gentleman-gentle and genteel-in the old fashioned way. In that sense he was a misfit in today’s hurly-burly world of cut-throat politics.
Anura had two characteristics that were rarities or oddities among most politicians. He was not corrupt and he was not vindictive.
But he was snooty and a “snob”. Due to this snobbishness Anura always looked down upon his brother in law Vijaya Kumaratunga .
[Vijaya & Chandrika Kumaratunga]
Anura Bandaranaike was to the Manor (or Walauwe) born and the tragedy of his life was that he was always conscious of it. He thought that being a Bandaranaike entitled him to the highest offices of the land. That was not to be.
Many persons would have been delighted to have gained at least a part of what Anura Bandaranaike had had in terms of political office. But the man had set his sights on something he thought was his birthright.
Being born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth Anura expected everything would be delivered to him on a platter. This never happened and so he was disillusioned and disappointed .
He was the grandson of Maha Mudaliar Bandaranaike and Ratwatte Disawe. The marriage of his father and mother was hailed then as a political union between two prestigious Low Country and Up Country Sinhala families.
The wedding was the beginning of a new political dynasty. With Anura’s demise that dynasty has come to an end.
What a political dynasty that was!
In sixty years of independence there has always been a Bandaranaike in the legislature (Parliament or Senate ) except for 10 months from Sep 1959 to July 1960.Members of the family have been Prime Ministers for 21 years; President for 11 years; leaders of the opposition for 14 years;
Anura was born on Feb 15th 1949. Being the youngest he was the family pet. Unlike his father who studied at St. Thomas’College, Anura went to Royal College and then to University in London where he read for a BA degree.
‘Family-based political succession’
Upon his return to Sri Lanka in 1974 Anura plunged with zest into the family “Vocation” of politics. He was placed in charge of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s youth wing.Anura was then the heir apparent to the crown of party and national leadership.
It was expected that he would have his tryst with destiny in due course. But fate had decreed otherwise.
The phenomenon of “family based political succession” in South Asia began not with the Bandaranaikes but the Senanayakes when Dudley Shelton succeeded his father Don Stephen Senanayake as Prime minister in 1951.
Then came the Bandaranaikes’ turn when the widowed Sirima became Prime minister in July 1960. SWRD was assassinated in 1959.
India’s Jawarhalal Nehru who was prime minister for 17 years died in 1964. His daughter Indira Gandhi became premier in 1966.
The Nehrus and Bandaranaikes were regarded as close both politically and personally.
There is a famous photograph of both families where Nehru, Bandaranaike, Indira and Sirima are seen with their children Rajiv, Sanjay, Sunethra, Chandrika and Anura.There is an interesting story about this.
When the picture was taken only Nehru and Bandaranaike were premiers. But soon Sirima and then Indira also became Prime ministers. Who of the children would become prime minister first? was the question.
The elder Rajiv became a pilot and married Sonia from Italy. He did not evince any interest in a political career. It was the younger Sanjay who got engrossed in politics with his wife Maneka.
But Sanjay died in a plane crash soon after he became an MP in 1980. A reluctant Rajiv was forced to fill in as MP and then after his mother’s assassination in 1984 became Prime Minister.
As for the Bandaranaike siblings both Sunethra and Chandrika were elder to Anura and were in the political limelight to an extent.
Sunethra who played an important role in the Socialist Study circle was co-ordinating secretary to her mother when she was PM. Chandrika after a stint at Sorbonne was director at the Land Reforms Commission.
Yet it was the younger brother Anura who became an MP first in 1977 when he was just 28 years old. Six years later he became Leader of the opposition at 34.
Since his father was leader of the opposition from 1952 till he became Premier in 1956, Anura also was expected to be PM in the same manner. Indeed he may very well have been PM if his mother had won in 1988 and become President.
But that was not to be.
Anura’s sister Chandrika had broken off from the SLFP with her husband Vijaya Kumaratunga and formed a new party the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya(SLMP). After her husband was assassinated by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in 1988 Chandrika left for London in a state of self – exile.
Chandrika however returned and re – joined the SLFP. This led to tensions between Anura and Chandrika and also between Mother and son. Accusing his mother of favouring the daughter the son walked out of the party and joined the arch – rival UNP.
When the SLFP now heading the Peoples Alliance came to power in 1994 it was Chandrika who became Prime minister in August. In November she contested the Presidency and won in a landslide. Sirima was made Prime minister.
The Bandaranaikes who made history as the first husband – wife prime ministerial duo had made history again as the first father – mother – daughter premier trio and also as the first daughter President – Mother premier combination. Anura with his record – creating ambition was out in the cold.
When Anura first contested elections in 1977 he did not do so in Gampaha district where the Bandaranaike family had much political clout. Instead he went to the Central province and contested in the three – member constituency of Maskeliya -Nuwara Eliya.
It was only a few months before elections in Sri Lanka that parliamentary polls were held in India. Angered by the excesses of emergency rule the Indian voters delivered a resounding blow to the Congress which had been in power for 30 years since Independence.
Both Indira Gandhi in Rae Bareilly and Sanjay Gandhi in Amethi lost. The UNP notably JR Jayewardena and Ranasinghe Premadasa sought for a parallel in SWri Lanka.
Just as the cow(Indira) and calf (Sanjay)lost in India the Cow (Sirima) and calf (Anura) will lose their seats here also, thundered the UNP. The SLFP suffered a disastrous defeat in 1977 winning only eight to the UNP”s 141 in a Parliament of 168. But both Sirima and Anura won.
The SLFP suffered a temporary split in the opposition when Anura along with people like Maitripala Senanayake and Haleem Ishak rebelled against Mrs. Bandaranaike’s leadership. President Jayewardena tried to widen the intra – SLFP chasm further. The crisis was ultimately resolved.
In 1983 the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) lost their seats as they refused to take oaths disavowing separatism under the sixth amendment to the Constitution. Mrs. Bandaranaike had been deprived of her civic rights in 1980 and was out of Parliament.
So Anura became leader of the opposition. He succeeded Appapillai Amirthalingam. Perinbanayagam was the opposition leader’s secretary. When Perinbanayagam appealed to Anura that he be retained as secretary to Bandaranaike also the SLFP leader consented despite the political differences. That was Anura the magnanimous.
In 1988 Anura, Kumar Ponnambalam and Dinesh Gunewardena went up to Vavuniya to meet with former tiger political commissar Naren alias Yogi. But that trek came to naught as the tigers refused to play ball.
It was in the early nineties of the 20th century that Chandrika returned to SLFP folds again. Mrs. Bandaranaike felt that Chandrika was better equipped to lead the SLFP to victory and favoured her .
Anura resented this and instead of resisting such attempts within the party , crossed over to the UNP in 1993
He became minister of higher education and national reconciliation under Dingiri Banda Wijetunge. In 1994 the UNP was out of office after 17 years. Anura was in the opposition again.
Mrs. Bandaranaike’s declining health and consequent death saw an end to sibling enmity.There was rapprochement among both the sisters and brother. After the 2000 October election Anura was elected unanmiously as speaker in Parliament.
As Speaker Anura distinguished himself by upholding the independence and supremacy of the Legislature during a difficult period.
Anura later broke ranks with the UNP and re – joined the SLFP in 2001. The UNP came to pwer but once again Anura was in the opposition.
It was finally in 2004 that Anura came to be on the winning side. He was instrumental in forging an alliance with the JVP.Anura was made Investment Promotion, Enterprise Development and Industries minister.. He became Foreign Affairs minister after Lakshman Kadirgamar’s death.
When SWRD Bandaranaike crossed over from the UNP it was President Mahinda Rajapakse’s father who followed him in the house. Thereafter he remained a loyal deputy to the Bandaranaikes.
In 1970 Mahinda entered Parliament as its youngest MP. Though Anura was not an MP , Mahinda used to play second fiddle to him then.
In fact Mahinda and some of his siblings refer to Anura as “lokka”. It was both a term of respect and endearment.
Fluctuating political fortunes saw Mahinda’s stock rise and Anura’s fall. It was Mahinda who became PM in 2004 and also Presidential candidate in 2005 after Chandrika.
Anura was to be a running mate of sorts. He would be Prime Minister if Rajapakse was elected President.
But then Anura was always star – crossed.
He did not cooperate in the presidential campaign as he ought to have. Thus when Rajapakse won due to the tiger enforced boycott , Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was made PM instead of Anura.
Anura was made Tourism minister and later “demoted” to national heritage minister.
A disgruntled Bandaranaike revolted twice.
First with Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathy Sooriaraachi. Within two weeks he was back with Mahinda.
The second was on Budget voting day when he crossed over rashly to the opposition. Realising that he had been taken for a ride Anura walked out of Parliament.
Once again he mended fences with Rajapakse but restoration of ministerial portfolio was delayed due to his deteriorating health.
And then came the final farewell.
Time and tide waits for no man, they say.
In the case of Anura his sense of political timing was atrocious. He frequently made the wrong move at the wrong time and so was always in the wrong place.
He regularly missed the” tide in the affairs of men”.
In that sense he was a tragic figure.
For all his follies and faults and foibles few could be “angry” with him or nurse grudges against him. Neither could he be “angry” for long with others. This personality trait was his greatest asset.
He may not have been very lovable but like Billy Bunter of Greyfriars, was not entirely unlikeable either.
With Rajapakse becoming President the spotlight shifted from Horagolla to Medamulana.
With Anura’s death the era of the Bandaranaike dynasty is over. A new dynasty is emerging.
DBS Jeyaraj can be contacted on: email@example.com
March 18th, 2008
If Philip Upali Wijewardena was among the living he would have reached the biblical life span of three score and ten today (Feb 17th).
Alas, this was not to be as he disappeared twenty-five years ago just four days before his forty-fifth birthday.
This article is written as tribute to the man in this eventful week of significant anniversaries.
Legally Upali Wijewardena is presumed dead though his body was never found. He was travelling in his own lear jet from Malaysia to Sri Lanka when the plane disappeared.
The disappearance continues to linger in the collective memory of the nation as an unresolved myatery. There are people who ask me even now “I say what really happened to Upali? Dont know, no?”
Upali Wijewardena was a man who achieved much in the short period of his life. He was perhaps Sri Lanka’s first indigenous tycoon who captured the imagination of the masses.
Despite his privileged background Upali was basically a self – made man who reached the pinnacle through his own efforts.
The Nation at large recognized this and was proud of him. Though he hardly ever visited Jaffna the people of the peninsula appreciated him greatly. They admired his commercial success.
Needless to say the South was proud of Upali too.The flamboyant business magnate was to many a symbol of success and a role model to be emulated.
The name Upali Wijewardena became familiar to the Country in the early seventies. Yet it was in the late seventies that he was really well – known .
This was when he assumed duties as Director – General of Sri Lanka’s first “Free Trade Zone” the popular name for the Greater Colombo Economic Commission. The GCEC has transformed into BOI nowadays.
I first came to know Upali Wijewardena personally after he became head of the GCEC. I was then a journalist on the Tamil daily “Virakesari”. run by express newspapers ceylon Ltd.
Our chairman then was the well – known industrialist AYS Gnanam. When the GCEC was formed AYS Gnanam was made a deputy – director general by President Junius Richard Jayewardena.
Chairman Gnanam apparently did not inform his newspaper company of the appointment. When news of the GCEC appeared in other papers the “Virakesari” had “missed” it.
When the GCEC held its first press conference at the Upali group premises on Bloemendhal road I was assigned to cover it. I was also asked by my editors to get an exclusive interview with Upali Wijewardena..
When I approached Upali for the interview he agreed immediately.
When I went to see him the following day his greeting was “So you missed the story about your chairman being in the GCEC and now you are trying to make amends by doing a belated write – up”
He then guffawed heartily! I warmed to him immediately.
He was a wonderful subject to interview. He answered each question informatively and at times wittily. He did not bullshit!Pelee Muhandhiram who disaapeared along with Upali was present throughout as a silent observer.
The interview turned out well and my editors were pleased. Upali got it translated and was happy too. Thereafter I was assigned the GCEC as one of my regular beats.
The GCEC was something new and controversial. The “Shannon” experiment was catching on in many parts of the world. The leftists were firmly opposed to the concept.
The idea of providing massive tax concessions and financial incentives to foreign “capitalists” to come and invest in Sri Lanka was a novel project at that time.
One of the attractions was our skilled yet cheap labour. “Exploitation” thundered the left. JR’s famous comment “Let the robber barons come” did not help either.
The fact that a well known “dhanapathi” was heading the GCEC aided the “vahamanse sahodharayo” to attack the project.
It was a difficult time for the pioneering venture. Looking back I think Upali was the ideal man for the job at that time. The GCEC went about its task methodically and diligently.
The much travelled Upali undertook many foreign trips to promote the FTZ. On one such occasion he was in Singapore. At a press conference Upali was asked about the Tamil minority being discriminated against in Sri Lanka.Upali responded to it in his inimitable style.
“Gentlemen” he said “Seated on my right is deputy – director general Raju Coomaraswamy; on my left is Treasury secretary Chandi Chanmugam. Further down is our High Commissioner to Singapore C. Gunasingham.. I am the minority here”Everyone laughed. That was Upali!
It was my duty then to record its progress regularly in the columns of the “Virakesari”. Because of the Gnanam connection the GCEC received top billing in the paper.
I interacted a lot with Upali while covering the GCEC. When working for a Tamil newspaper I have come across many Sinhala persons who simply did not care a hoot about the Tamil media.
I have also come across many Sinhalese who were extremely concerned about what appeared in the Tamil newspapers.Upali Wijewardena belonged to the latter group.
I met him on more than one occasion then.Also he was always ready to answer my questions whenever I telephoned him. Sometimes I pestered him but he didn’t seem to mind.
I remember once Mrs. Wijewardena gently admonishing me on the phone “He is a busy man you know and you shouldn’t disturb him like this”.
Little did I realise then that one day I would be working on Upali Wijewardena’s newspaper “The Island”and that someday Mrs. Wijewardena would become my chairperson
The opposition papers used to regularly publish negative stories about the GCEC. I remember one particular news item in the Communits party’s “Forward”. I asked him some questions based on the news item.
He started chuckling and said ” You have read the “Forward”. Sheepishly I said “Yes”. He then proceeded to answer. This demonstrated that Upali was keeping abreast of all the media reports on the GCEC.
Though he could not read Tamil he got his Tamil employees at Upali group to inform him of what was appearing in the “Virakesari”. Thus he was happy with my work and perhaps due to that made himself easily accessible.
As I stated before the GCEC was a novel project and there no Lanka based precedents to go by in writing about it. Still I managed to write regularly on various aspects concerning the GCEC.
There was very little about the GCEC in the Tamil language then.
But the GCEC became a question at the GCE Advanced level Economics paper. I was immensely gratified when many teachers and students from Tamil schools wrote to me and the paper saying that they had only relied on the “Virakesari” for the exams.
Incidents like those makes journalists feel that they are doing something worthwhile instead of writing about third – grade persons masquerading as political leaders.
Vijitha Yapa who later became the pioneering editor of “The Island” was media liaison officer at the GCEC. Ranjan Perera was Upali’s secretary.He was very helpful. As most journalists know the secretaries can cut you off literally and metaphorically.
One of the biggest criticisms against the GCEC then was that our workers were being exploited by the global capitalists. Being somewhat left of centre in my political beliefs during the days of my youth, I felt this was perfectly valid.
My perspective changed when I interviewed many of the girls employed at the FTZ. Though factory workers many of them were well educated in the Sinhala medium and politically conscious. But they were realists.
One of them observed pithily in Sinhala that she knew she was getting only half a plate. If she agitated for a full plate then she may lose even this half – plate and go hungry.Their families depended on them.
For some reason Upali used to talk freely on many matters with me. Perhaps he was at ease with me a young journalist on a Tamil newspaper.
There was much speculation then in the media about his political ambition. I thought then that he would focus on Kelaniya but I was surprised when he said “No the South”.
It was then that I came to know of his Southern roots from his mother’s side and the Sarath Wijesinghe relationship. Later he earmarked the Kamburupitiya electoral division and began nursing it.
When I was working on the “Virakesari” I once asked Upali how he would resolve the ethnic crisis if he became Sri Lanka’s head. Of course the problem was not as bad it is today.
He thought a while and said that all people should be able to study and communicate with the Government in their own language, Official administration to be done in all three languages and no person to be discriminated on grounds of race or religion.
Subsequently I left the “Virakesari” and joined “The Island” . Upali had nothing to do with my entry into English journalism. My joining “The Island” was due to Ajith Samaranayake, Ravindran Casinader, Gamini Weerakoon and Vijitha Yapa.
Upali did not interfere with recruitment of personnel for the editorial.I also never approached him.
My interaction with Upali ceased after I became his employee. . I ran across “Mr. Wijewardena” a few times. We simply smiled. He seldom visited the editorial then.
I remember Upali speaking to me only once after I started working at “The Island”. This was about my column.
At the Island I was put on the “Tamil” round by Vijitha Yapa.After a trip to Jaffna I began a series of articles for “Sunday Island”.
Vijitha Yapa then made it a permanent column. That was the “Behind the Cadjan curtain” column. It was quite popular then.
VIjitha Yapa;s instructions to me about the column was simple. “Remember that you are writing for a pre- dominantly Sinhala readership in English” he said. “Explain the problems of the Tamils to them. Think of it as building a bridge between the communities”, Vijitha Yapa said then.
One day I saw Upali at a distance. He was about to get into the car.Pelee Muhandhiram beckoned to me. When I went near Upali praised my column and said that he liked it. “Keep it up” he said. That was all.
Naturally I was thrilled.A few months later came their fateful “end”
“The Island” burst upon the media scene then like a burst of fresh air. Upali had undertaken a market survey which indicated there was no room for a new English paper.
But Upali being Upali he simply went ahead. It was indeed a great challenge then working for the paper
The new kid on the block achieved tremendous success within a short time. Two older kids on the block went out of business gradually.
The paper’s plus point in one respect was the colour and modern printing technology.
On another level it was due to its editorial and news content.
The paper covered events fearlessly and provided space to all points of view. One of its strong points then was its coverage of the ethnic crisis.
This was both good journalism and good business. In this the paper reflected the world view of both Upali Wijewardena and Vijitha Yapa
“The Island ” was a runaway success in Jaffna then. One reason was that the Late City Edition was put on Upali Airlines and sent to Jaffna. The “Colombo” edition was available in Jaffna by noon.
I recall then Jaffna Government Agent Devanesan Nesiah telling me happily ” Thanks to the Island we are able to read the latest sports news without delay”.
The main reason for the paper’s editorial success was the free hand given to Vijitha Yapa. This was possible then only because Upali owned the paper. A lesser man would have interfered unnecessarily.
In those days there was only one sacred cow – Upali’s uncle President JR Jayewardena.. All others were fair game. Open season was declared on Upali’s political rivals Ranasinghe Premadasa and Ronnie de Mel.
It was said that Ronnie de Mel felt Upali was eyeing the Finance minister portfolio. Premadasa thought he was trying to supplant him as Prime Minister.
This was a time when Upali was building a circle of supporters in the ranks of the UNP. But when “The Island” began its fearless journalism many shenanigans were exposed. Several of these stories were about Upali’s supporters.
Since the journalists were not told to lay off we went about our reporting without fear or favour. Those affected complained to Upali. But to Upali’s credit he never instructed the editorial “hands off”!.
One exciting night was when Upali himself became a “reporter” for “The Island”. One day President Jayewardena had taken an important decision about deciding on the criteria for staging by – elections.
Urged by the editor , we the reporters , contacted all our sources to find out the details. We failed.
A desperate Vijitha Yapa appealed to Upali Wijewardena. It was night time.
Still the Upali newspapers chairman went to see his uncle the President. He got the information from the horse’s mouth about the formula to be adopted for by – elections. It was a scoop.
Upali was pleased with himself and joked with the editor that his reporters were useless because the chairman had to personally get the story.
At the initial stages Upali himself wrote the popular A’Pura Diaries. Being a Wijewardena, printing ink ran in his veins.
The incredible achievement of the newspaper was symptomatic of the man’s golden touch. Whatever venture he launched became a roaring success within a short time.
Philip Upali ,born on Feb 17th in 1938 was the son of Don Walter and Anula Kalyanawathie Wijewardena.
He studied initially at Ladies College and then Royal College where he captained the cricket second eleven.
He then went on to England and graduated from Cambridge.
Upon his return Upali began working at Lever Brothers as a management trainee. He quit in disgust when his expatriate boss accused him unfairly of lies and deception over preparing a report.
Upali started out on his own with 15,000 rupees as capital and an old house as his only business asset.
That was the time of a state controlled economy but incentives were provided in some areas including confectioneries. Upali ventured into what was called derisively as “seenibola” industry. He began manufacturing candy and toffee.
One man who stood by him in those days was R. Murugaiah an up-country Tamil. It is said that the name “Delta” was adopted for Upali’s sweets because Murugaiah was born on Delta group estate. Murugaiyah was responsible for marketing the products then.
Years later Upali was to quip publicly “behind every successful man there is a woman but behind every successful Sinhala businessman there is a Tamil” and pointed to Murugaiah walking behind him.
Embarking on a career as industrialist Upali never looked back. The confectioneries developed and soon he acquired “Kandos” chocolates from his maternal uncle Sarath Wijjesinghe.
Then came consumer produts like “Sikuru” and “crystal” soap.Upali also pioneeered the assembling of radios, clocks and TV’s under the “UNIC” brand name
He also went into automobiles . The UMC Mazda and Upali Fiat were assemebled here in Homagama.
In those days the import duty for cars was 300 % but only 100% for motor spares.
Upali brought in automobile parts as motor spares with lesser duty and then assembled them into vehicles. He avoided paying extra duty and remained competitive as a result of this stratagem.
Later in a media interview he was asked about this. Upali replied that he wandered to the edge of legal limits but never crossed them.
Upali also went into aviation and began local helicopter and airplane services.I was present when the Jaffna – Colombo flight commenced.
President Jayewardena and several senior cabinet ministers were present. Jayewardena’s affection towards Wijewardena was clearly visible.
Upali also bought up estates in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. He also had many business concerns in Singapore and Malaysia.
The “Kandos man” was hugely popular in Singapore.During Upali’s heyday more than 33,000 people were employed in his worldwide enterprises.
Upali was married on 7th November 1975 to Lakmini, daughter of Dr and Mrs Seevali Ratwatte.
Dr. Seevali being Mrs. Bandaranaike’s brother and Upali being JR’s nephew the marriage was seen then as a dynastic union.
They had no children.But Upali had two nieces and six nephews through his two sisters Anoka Wijeysundara and Kalyani Attygallle
He had a wide range of interests including race horses, pedigreed dogs and motor racing. His horses ran at Aston and Derby winning laurels. Lester Piggot rode some of his winners.
His ribbon winning canines were Labradors and retrievers.
As a young man Upali raced his mother’s “Opel Kapitan” at the Katukurunde Races in early 60s.
Later he imported an “M.G.A. Sports Twin Cam”, which he raced at the Mahagastota Hill Climb.
His also bought a “Mitsubishi Lancer” to be raced at the Nuwara Eliya Road Races and Mahagastota Hill Climb in 1980.
Upali had a luxury S-Class Mercedes Benz 126 from Malaysia. This was the first car of this type in Sri Lanka.
There were also his private Lear jet and helicopter.
He would conduct a business meeting in the afternoon in Colombo, helicopter to Nuwara – Eliya in the evening for golf and return to Colombo again for dinner.
He would fly in his own plane to England to engage in the sport of Kings. Upali had a permanent suite in a prestigious London Hotel.
Upali maintained a flamboyant lifestyle that his countrymen relished. The people were proud that one of their countrymen had really made it and was on par with the best “suddhas”.
When Upali disappeared the nation was shocked. For many months people believed that he would return dramatically. There were also many rumours of a “kehelwatte” plot and also of an international conspiracy.
A song composed in his honour was a popular favourite then. Its chorus was “Upalee Wijewardena, Upalee Wijewardena”.
Finally the Country realised that Upali was not going to return and was gone for ever. Perhaps he is in the locker of Davy Jones!
The mystery however remains still. The Upali Wijewardena mystique will continue to linger in the popular imagination for many more years.
It was my good fortune to have interacted with him as a journalist and also break into English jounalism through the newspaper he founded.
He was an impressive personality and unforgettable character.
February 16th, 2008
By Lloyd. R. Devarajah
As I was playing truant and was very poor in my Tamil, I left St. Peter’s College Bambalapitiya where I was a student from 1937 and joined Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai on January 17, 1948. Jaffna College which was my father’s alma mater was founded by American missionaries in 1822.
Two weeks after I joined the college as an outstation boarder, Alagan Kadirgamar who was the secretary of the college Young Men’s Christian Association asked me to be in charge of its radio as he was going home to Chavakachcheri for the weekend. Alagan Kadirgamar on leaving college, joined the Colombo YMCA in the 1950s and rose to the position of general secretary and later, the national secretary of this international organisation.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
It later transpired that, that was a crucial and epoch-making weekend. It was Friday, January 30, 1948 when I was entrusted to be the temporary custodian of the college YMCA radio set which was being operated on a car battery. The college had two Homby-Rustom generators to supply electricity to the entire college as well as the campus where most of the staff lived. But these generators function only from dusk to dawn.
Some of the boarder’s sought shelter in the YMCA building from the slight shower that interrupted their evening games. I tuned the radio to Radio Ceylon (English Service) for the 5 to 5.45 p.m. Yours For The Asking listeners’ request programme.
As that programme ended, some of the boarders wanted me to switch to another programme. Whilst I was twiddling with the radio knob as I was not yet familiar with it I managed to hear very faintly an announcement from an unidentified Indian radio station: “Gandhi was shot by a youth. He died peacefully a short while ago.” The time was 6.04 p.m. I and some of those around me couldn’t believe what we had heard. After a long silence which lasted about three or four minutes, religious music came on air.
The radio programme was then interrupted and an announcement, punctuated with sobs, came over the airwaves. It said: Mahatma (Great Soul) Gandhi, the spiritual leader of millions of Hindus had been shot dead by a fanatic and that he succumbed to his injuries. Later, the station identified itself as All India Radio, Trichinopoly.
After this confirmation, the tragic news spread like wildfire round the college campus, its environs, and also some of the neighbouring villages and hinterland.
It should be noted that 60 years ago, the radio was a luxury and only a few owned or possessed one. In Colombo too, it was a rarity and worse still, in the rural areas television was virtually unknown then. Television became popular in the late 1950s in the Western world and came to Sri Lanka only in 1979.
Crowds then gathered at the college YMCA hall within minutes of the sad news breaking. As the hall could not accommodate such a large crowd, the powerful Zenith All-World Radio (with about 10 to 12 piano keyboard like press-button studs) was brought out into the terrace and placed on a wooden bench. Mats were spread and the whole area around the YMCA was floodlit for the benefit of the several hundreds who had gathered there. A freshly-charged additional car battery was pressed into use for the benefit of all the listeners.
It was not long after when the now well known Indian song Raghupathi Ragava Rajaram came over the airwaves.
The then Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and other leaders such as Sardar Vallabhai Patel spoke to the nation that same fateful night. They appealed to the Indians to uphold the principles of universal brotherhood, communal love and tolerance, and non-violence for which Gandhi had lived and died.
Pandit Nehru who spoke with great emotion said: “The father of the nation is no more. Now that the light has gone out of our lives I do not quite know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader is no more. The light has gone out of our lives and there is dark ness. I do not know what tell you and what to speak.
“Our beloved leader Bapuji, the father of the nation is no more. We will never see him again. A mad man has killed Gandhiji.”
Sixty years ago on Friday, January 30, 1948, five days before Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) won her Independence from British Colonial rule, Gandhi, the Hindu spiritual leader and champion of a free united India and communal peace, was shot dead by a Hindu nationalist in New Delhi. Gandhi was walking with his two grandnieces — Manu and Ava through the garden of Birla House about 5.00 p.m. that fateful day to the place where he conducted a daily prayer meeting when a youth — Narayan Vinayak Godse, 25 years, editor of Hindu Rastra fired three shots with a pistol at point blank range. The Mahatma fell with severe injuries in the chest, stomach and groin. Rastra (Nation) in Poona, stepped into Gandhi’s path, bowed down and worshipped him and He was then gently carried into Birla House where he died at 5.47 p.m. the same day.
The assassin was disarmed and pummelled by the crowd that had gathered to hear the Mahatma at the prayer meeting.
The news of the death of the Mahatma was first flashed to Earl Mountbatten who was then Governor General of India, and then to King George VI.
Mahatma Gandhi (his full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi) born on October 2, 1869 was trained in law in England. He began advocating self-rule, non violence, pursuit of native handicrafts, removal of untouchability (which forced millions of the poor to remain menials by heredity) in 1919. In 1930, he launched a “civil disobedience” including the boycott of British goods, and rejection of taxes without representation. India won her Independence from British rule on August 15, 1947.
The following morning (Saturday, January 31, 1948) a special edition of the Times of Ceylon announcing the death of Gandhi (which was put out the previous night in Colombo over radio) was flown to Jaffna. A copy fetched the then fabulous price of Rs.5 owing to the demand
January 30th, 2008
By Robert. O. Blake Jr.
Ladies and gentlemen, a very warm welcome to all you. Thank you for coming. We are here this afternoon to remember and honor not only a remarkable diplomat and dedicated patriot in the service of his country, but also a true friend of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, one who spent more than twenty years of his life in this beautiful country. Although I never had the privilege of meeting Ambassador Spain, his is an example that I and all of his successors have endeavored to emulate.
At the outset let me thank our good friends and partners in the Sri Lankan American Society, Chris Perera and Nihal DeSilva, for co-sponsoring today’s service, and for strengthening the people-to-people ties between our two countries.
Ladies and gentleman, Jim Spain’s extraordinary life began in 1926. He was born on the famous South Side of Chicago, the son of a streetcar conductor and a seamstress who were Irish immigrants. He attended a local Catholic school and a seminary, before going on to receive a Masters degree from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Columbia University. In addition to being a diplomat, he was a scholar and writer, the author of several books and numerous articles on foreign policy, as well as a series of mystery novels.
Many of us have heard the legend about Jim Spain having seen up close in his youth the Chicago gangster and larger-than life character Al Capone, an experience on which he would draw many times to regale his listeners over the years. His personal knowledge of that special era was to provide a rich vein to be mined for many tales over the years to the delight of his audiences, from Prime Ministers to office clerks. That he could hold the interest of the one and take the time to engage the other, speaks to his skills as a story teller and a diplomat.
Ambassador Spain had a long and distinguished diplomatic career, which included three Ambassadorships-to Turkey, Tanzania and, finally, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Despite his wide experience around the world, it was here on this island that he chose to retire and continue to make a difference. I have heard many times from his legion of Sri Lankan friends of the warm hospitality he extended to so many, first at Jefferson House, and then at his quarters in apartment 42 of the third floor of Galle Face Court.
Ambassador Spain continued to speak and write frequently following his retirement. One of the first pieces I read on Sri Lanka as I prepared for my assignment was the chapter he penned in a book edited by our mutual friend Tissa Jayatilaka exploring relations between the U.S and Sri Lanka on the 50th Anniversary of the Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission in 2002. In this chapter, entitled “Fifteen Mostly Serendipitous Years” written in 1999, he reflected on the many changes he had witnessed during the years he lived in Sri Lanka-some of them negative in keeping with his American penchant for straight talk, yet with an undertone of abiding respect and affection for Sri Lanka, its people and its 2500 year old civilization and culture. In closing his chapter, after some presciently pessimistic comments about prospects for defusing ethnic tensions, he observed:
“Sri Lanka will remain an appealing country for both foreigners and its own citizens. My own judgment on the future can be stated simply: I intend to live out my remaining years in Serendip.”
I have heard many people observe that Ambassador Spain was a diplomat of the “old school,” that he really cared about the people he met, and that he could put everyone at ease, no matter their station in life. Michael Owen, now our Consul General in Mumbai, recalled his four years serving with Ambassador Spain in Sri Lanka when Michael was a much more junior officer. “Ambassador Spain invited me to many dinners at his residence, introduced me to innumerable interesting Sri Lankans, regularly gave me sound advice, and was always generous with his time.”
Ambassador Spain’s Deputy Chief of Mission here in Sri Lanka, Edward Marks, himself long retired, commented that Ambassador Spain was an exceptionally intelligent, outgoing, and social individual.
Shaun Donnelly, the fine American Ambassador who had the challenge of succeeding Ambassador Spain, recalled with affection the wise and generous counsel Ambassador Spain provided him on things big and small throughout Shaun’s successful tenure. Shaun characterized Ambassador Spain as “one of the most honest, straight-forward and principled men I have met anywhere, a man whose focus was always on what was right for the people, whether American or Sri Lankan, rather than what was best for political leaders or him.” Shaun concludes that “He was the model of what an Ambassador, a Foreign Service Officer, an American and a man should be.”
Jayantha Dhanapala, one of Sri Lanka’s most distinguished diplomats is out of the country and regrets he could not be here today. He was kind enough to share several memories, however. Jayantha was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington following Ambassador Spain’s retirement. He told me “Jim was a sincere friend of Sri Lanka. Unburdened by the responsibilities of office he spoke with candor and yet with a deep understanding of the country and a genuine affection for its people. I felt proud when Jim told me how touched he was by the wide circle of genuine Sri Lankan friends who continued to remain steadfastly by his side long after he had shed the trappings of Ambassadorial office. That was traditional Sri Lankan hospitality displayed with dignity and grace towards a man who loved Sri Lanka and her people. Jim embodied the best American diplomatic traditions.”
These are only a small sampling of the warm recollections Ambassador Spain’s many friends have. He set the bar for his successors very high indeed, and will be greatly missed by his many friends.
Thank you all again for joining us.
[Ambassador Blake's Remarks for Ambassador James W. Spain Memorial Service-St. Andrew's Scots Kirk, Friday, January 11, 2008]
[Robert Blake, Jr is the current US Ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives]
January 11th, 2008
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”-Martin Luther King Jr.
2008 dawned with the news that another Tamil Member of Parliament (MP) has been assassinated at a Hindu temple in broad day light, ostensibly by the Sri Lankan government sponsored paramilitary group.
That was Late Hon T. Maheswaran.
* The man who represented the interests of the Tamil people in and outside the Sri lankan parliament
* The man who was not afraid to vote against many anti Tamil bills and acts, defying his party orders, whilst the Tamil Nationalistic MP’s were “absent”.
* The man who was capable of articulating the plight of the Tamils in Sinhala, both inside and outside the parliament
* The man who was prepared to fight for the rights of the innocent Tamils detained by the defence authorities, in front of the detention centres and even prepared to march towards the presidential palace.
* The man who voted against the government in the recent budget debate, despite being threatened not to do so, unlike some of the Tamil Nationalistic MP’s who were “absent during the vote”.
* The man who was elected to parliament twice, once from the Tamil heartland of Jaffna and then from the capital Colombo. A unique achieve in Tamil political history.
To my astonishment the expatriate Tamil community, failed to publicly mourn and remember the life of Maheswaran in the same way they mourned and remembered Hon. Joseph Pararajasingham and Hon. Raviraj.
* No memorial meetings held,
* No eulogies written,
* No special programs in radio or TV
* No petitions prepared
* No appeals made to the international community
* No Tamil MP’s rioting inside the parliament
Is that because
* Maheswaran was elected from the Sinhalese nationalist UNP not from the Tamil nationalist TNA?
It takes a brave heart to be elected from a UNP platform and be the voice of the long suffering Tamil people. How many former Tamil MP’s elected from UNP has been able to raise the voice for the Tamil people?
* Tigers didn’t bestow him with a marmanithar award and thaialvar didn’t write a eulogy?
Tigers have their own protocol in determining the awards. That shouldn’t stop the expatriate community from remembering an MP who served for the Tamil people.
* He was a wealthy businessman and not an “educated” professional?
Tamil community undervalues entrepreneurship. It is this attitude which is hampering our lobbying effort in the western world, as we do not have any significant financial muscle to financially support political campaigns.
* He didn’t take part in the Pongu Thamizh rallies?
At least he is not a Chandrasekaran who took the tigers and Tamil nationalism for a ride.
Hon T. Maheswaran is a true Tamil nationalist as he is a
* Supreme human, who stood up for the oppressed and sacrificed his comfortable life to serve the Tamil community
* Brave patriot who risked his life to give voice for the people of his occupied nation
Maheswaran’s life is a testimony that
* One doesn’t have to be in the tiger tribe to be a Tamil nationalist.
* The “problem of the other” (Barak Obama quote) in Sri Lanka is not just between the Tamils and Sinhalese, but between Tamils and Tamils as well.
May your soul rest in peace
January 10th, 2008
by Tissa Jayatilaka
News reached us over the weekend past that Jim Spain’s time on earth had run out. Heaven knows this world of ours cannot afford to do without human beings of his calibre and yet there is only so much that an individual can do for humanity before he, too, must unto the dust descend.
Ambassador Spain was one of the most decent, gentle, caring and perceptive human beings I have known to-date.
He was unfailingly generous and kind to his fellow-companions on this bitter-sweet journey on earth that we travel on for a while. It was indeed a privilege to have worked with him briefly and shared a long and fruitful friendship with him thereafter.
I first came to know him during my days in The Colombo Plan Bureau in the 1980s. He had arrived in Colombo sometime in 1985 to head the U.S. Mission here. Until then, Sri Lanka was the only South Asian country he had not lived in before.
He was to make up for this in the years ahead, when in 1989, consequent to his retirement from the U.S. foreign service, he made Sri Lanka his home.
This decision of Ambassador Spain was all the more remarkable because the last several years of the 80s was a period when most Sri Lankans were seeking to run away from their land of birth.
Jim Spain not only stayed behind but also did a great deal discreetly to assist this beleaguered country of ours to save itself from self-destruction.
His chauffeur during his ambassadorial days, Mr. Miranda, himself a kindly and refined man, continued to serve his gentle master until his death a few years ago, evidence of the kind of loyalty and personal devotion that the ambassador inspired in his colleagues.
Jim Spain’s retirement apartment at Galle Face Court was elegant and spacious wherein he continued to be the gracious host he had been before.
It is a tribute to his sincerity that he was a much sought after public speaker and dinner guest long after he had ceased to carry diplomatic clout. He was a diplomat who was several significant notches above and beyond the hail-fellow-well-met type.
I got to know him intimately during a time of great personal sadness. Donald Toussaint, ambassador in Colombo before Jim Spain, a former colleague and close friend of my family became Director of The Colombo Plan in 1985 where I was then serving as the Special Assistant to the Director.
Don was U.S. Ambassador in Sri Lanka from 1979 to 1982 having succeeded the venerable Howard Wriggins the finest American student of Sri Lanka.
Prof. Wriggins it was who diagnosed quite early in the day the dilemmas that post-independent Ceylon/Sri Lanka was most likely to endure in later years if the early signs of extreme resurgent Sinhala nationalism were not bridled. Like Jim Spain Don Toussaint was a lover of this complex island nation.
Within less than four years of his leaving our shores on completion of his diplomatic assignment here, he was back ‘home’ despite the rather meagre responsibilities that were now placed on his broad and capable shoulders by that entity meant to promote economic and social development in the Asia Pacific-The Colombo Plan-which by now had run out of steam having had its heyday in the 50s and 60s.
That Ambassador Toussaint accepted the posting was more a compliment to Sri Lanka which his wife Charmian and he loved with a passion than to any illusions he had of turning around the moribund Asia Pacific development organization. Less than a year after his return, Don Toussaint died untimely of a heart attack.
It was during this essentially difficult time when I organised on behalf of The Colombo Plan a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of Ambassador Toussaint that I came to know Jim Spain, the warm-hearted human being.
Sweet indeed are the uses of adversity. He gave me all the support he could muster for the event while consoling me and helping me to come to terms with my great loss.
It was several years later that I came to know that only a couple of years prior to his coming to Colombo that Ambassador Spain himself had suffered a monumental personal loss.
Consequent to a memorable family re-union after some years during Thanksgiving 1983 at a resort in West Virginia, Jim Spain, his wife Edith and daughter Sikandra bade farewell to their sons and brothers Patrick, William and Stephen and began to wend their way through country roads back to Washington.
Near Leesburg, Virginia, their light fibre-glass car was hit by a huge old station wagon going at 85 miles per hour, driven by a local football player who was not wearing the glasses his license prescribed. He was not even scratched, but the Spains had to be evacuated to the Washington Hospital Trauma Centre by helicopter.
By next morning, Sikandra was dead, Edith was clinging to life in an intensive-care unit and Jim was immobilized with a variety of fractures and bruises. A few weeks later, Edith died.
With the help of his sons and his strong spirituality, Jim Spain bore his irreparable loss with fortitude. The sympathy and empathy he extended to Don Toussaint’s wife and family and friends surely stemmed from his humanity doubtless deepened by his own sorrows.
Jim Spain born on July 22, 1926, was a diplomat, scholar and writer. He received his MA from the University of Chicago and PhD from the University of Columbia. An early posting to Pakistan (1951-3) kindled in him a fascination for the Pathans-those fiercely independent tribesmen of north-west Pakistan made famous by Rudyard Kipling’s stories and poems.
This enchantment proved to be an enduring one, leading to repeated visits to the Frontier and several notable books-The Way of the Pathans (1962); People of the Khyber (1962); The Pathan Borderland (1963); and American Diplomacy in Turkey (1984). Pathans of the Latter Day (1995) was a sequel to his 1962 publication on the Pathans.
In Those Days-A Diplomat Remembers (pictured above) is his candid, and often funny, autobiography.
In it he familiarizes us with his Irish Catholic childhood in the gangster-era Chicago, his military service as Douglas MacArthur’s photographer in occupied Japan and his foreign service career which brought him postings in Islamabad, Istanbul, and Ankara and four ambassadorships in Tanzania, Turkey, the United Nations (Deputy Permanent Representative) and in Sri Lanka.
Jim Spain’s experiences with such major world figures as Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, President Suleyman Demirel of Turkey, Ayub Khan of Pakistan, Sir David Owen and Lord Peter Carrington of the United Kingdom, and U.S. presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter are woven into rich stories in In Those Days.
He tells us, among other things, that Douglas MacArthur was “brilliant and theatrical”; Harry Truman, “tough and indomitable”; Dwight Eisenhower, “shrewd and paternal”; John Kennedy, “rash and dynamic”; Dean Rusk, “glacial but kindly”; Richard Nixon, “tricky but competent”; Henry Kissinger, “brilliant, naive, and not altogether to be trusted”.
Jim Spain’s contribution in assisting CIA Director Allen Dulles to make Eisenhower get the pronunciation of Prime Minister Nehru’s first name right during the latter’s official visit to Washington is a typical foreign service moment-’heady stuff for a twenty-eight-year-old’ notes the author.
Jim Spain’s memo of 1963 to CIA Director McCone on his weekend in Rome with Pope John XXIII’s associates led to several journalists giving Jim the familiar tag of ‘CIA agent’. Spain’s cryptic words to describe the erroneous castigation is worth quoting:
Basically I approve of popular history. It is easier to read and remember than the scholarly kind. But, then, as with Flamini and Kwitny [two of the journalists who misread Spain], it is a mish-mash of unsubstantiated quarter-truths put forth without first hand knowledge of the people and events involved, it is better offered in a novel.
I find myself longing for old-fashioned academic accuracy. Anyone who is interested can find my memorandum, dated May 13, 1963, in the Kennedy Library.
Spain’s assessments of Lyndon Johnson (’the quintessential joker in the American pack’), Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger are unflattering, to put it mildly, while those of Jimmy Carter, Averill Harriman, Dean Rusk, Andy Young and Cy Vance are affectionately appreciative.
I could go on, but let me end these recollections with some of Jim Spain’s personal kindnesses to me.
Two of his one-time junior colleagues in the U.S. foreign service happened to be rather nasty to me at two different times. On both occasions, he listened sagely and gave me sound advice over gin and tonic and good food.
When I brought out the first volume of a Sri Lanka-based Journal of International Relations in 1987, it was Ambassador Spain who gave it a birthday party.
And again, it was he who inspired a book of essays on U.S.-Sri Lanka Cultural Encounters that I put together a few years ago, contributing an insightful essay himself and making a speech at the ceremony for its release.
His excellent chit chat over several bottles of wine with my Liberal Party colleagues at a dinner I hosted at my home in Mount Lavinia in 1988 during which he held us spellbound with his superb grasp of politics I remember vividly.
Jim Spain was a fine diplomat and even better human being. In a certain sense I am glad that he has gone as life, advancing years and illness had already heaped a great deal of sadness and indignities upon him however bravely he coped with them.
He was too good a man to have to suffer more. But I shall miss him enormously. Thank you for the memories, Jim.
January 9th, 2008
By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
Late Kethesh Loganathan was a man of action. He showed his humanity. Kethesh was a committed human rights activist. He campaigned for the rights of the Tamils within the framework of an united Sri Lanka. He cared; and was killed.
Kethesh Loganathan was assassinated on August 12th 2006 in his house at night.
A modest event paying tribute to Kethesh Loganathan was organized by Point Pedro Development Institute in association of Bhawani Loganathan on August 12 th 2007 at Ramakrishna Mission Hall at dusk.
An anthology of articles written and published by Kethesh Loganathan entitled “Truthfully Speaking: War, Peace and Human Rights was launched at the end of the event. The event was attended by the peace activists, human rights activists and civil society members.
Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuthu the Executive Director of Center for Policy Alternatives delivered the commemoration oration. Bhawani Loganathan garlanded his photo and lit the traditional oil lamp. Deshabandu Jezima Ismail, Vice Chancellor of the South Eastern University and Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Consultant of the Centre for Policy Alternatives shared their personal thoughts.
A minute of silence was observed at the beginning to pay tribute to Late Kethesh Loganathan.
Mirak Raheem, Senior Researcher of Center for Policy Alternatives welcomed the gathering
Speakers paid tribute to the Life of the slain human rights activist.
Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuthu the Executive Director of Centre for Policy Alternatives:
“Kethesh was showed love and salutation for Tamils. He showed his stubbornness on humanity and commitment to human rights. He had an unwavering love for people. He was a nationalist. He loved his people, from which he came.
He had the space to pursue of the plight and distress of people. He was an excellent colleague, not because he was an easy one, but because a tough one. He had the moral hope. Kethesh was very determined to human rights, which should be safeguarded.
The Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed between Ranil Wickremasinghe and the LTTE in 2001. We formed a Peace Support Group. Human rights were too dangerous for peace process. Kethesh was a key mover. We produced the first public document. An open letter to the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Norwegians, and Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). A return of sanity was insisted, where everyone would be a stakeholder. There is a ground for it. There will be a consensus in a peace process. All Party Representative Committee is in progress.
The Centre for Policy Alternative (CPA) took the case of eviction of Tamils to the courts, and there was an interim order issued by the courts. The eviction of the Tamils was a slap on the face. Kethesh would have been with us on eviction case. In the context of Sri Lankan politics, long hard struggle gets punctured. Kethesh worked tirelessly to change the orthodox. They killed him, above all he cared. How many do care? How many are willing to care to make a little bit of difference?
Kethesh believed in caring. He was killed because; he cared about the Tamil people, within the unity of the country. He worked hard to provide space for its entire people. He despaired; terribly depressed; very angry to do something for the people. Do we care as he did?”
Deshabandu Jezima Ismail, Vice Chancellor of the South Eastern University shared her thoughts:
“Kethesh was so accessible for the inner-seekers. I met him at a symposium for the nuns and widows on conflict transformation, which was held at St. Bridget’s Convent. There, I saw the humanitarian side of Kethesh. We spent about five hours as resource persons of the symposium. He had an expression of enough is enough. Kethesh was independent and passionately committed. It bothered me, when he was appointed as the Deputy Secretary General of SCOPP (Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process). Because he was a man who cared for the people.
I was in complete despair, after Tsunami. I was disappointed to see how the Muslim community was treated in post-Tsunami. I was becoming communal, which I did not want. Kethesh, who stretched his hands out, and told me this is natural to feel likewise after a disaster in which a community suffers the most. He was sympathetic at the same time understood the problem of the Muslim community. This was an instant incident. It’s an integral part to talk to the people.
Kethesh was loud, when the Muslim community was excluded from the peace process. He mentioned that the Muslim community is an integral part pf the process. Compassion and feelings for the other community has to come form the heart.
The dove seems tired and fatigue. The landscape of violence is on the increase. How does one rebuild the nation even after negotiations? The need is at the moment is security and certainty. The people in the Eastern province are suffering, and their absolute sufferings are unheard. The civil societies have to mobilize its activities. Imply the death; some light on the path we may have to take. Peace means dignity, self- confidence of every being.”
She recited a poem, which was written by Dr. Jinna Sheriffdeen. The poem was dedicated to Late Kethesh Loganathan in Tamil.
Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Consultant of the Centre for Policy Alternatives:
“Kethesh and I first met in the home of his cousin who had been one of my closest friends since our days together at the Colombo Campus. At that time I had completed my Masters in Development Economics at Sussex, and he was contemplating enrolling in that course. I had gained much from Sussex, and it transpired from our conversation that Kethesh too would find that course most rewarding. For those interested in Development Studies there was no institution more exciting to be in at that time tan the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex. Kethesh enrolled there and completed his course work, undoubtedly with distinction, but opted to defer formulating and submitting his dissertation till he had relevant work experience in Sri Lanka.
On his return, Kethesh joined the Marga Institute, the at its prime, and was soon deeply immersed in research and analysis of public policies. He got married to Bhawani in 1978. But that did not stop his gradual drift into left wing political activism.- a long standing family tradition. In due course he joined the EPRLF (Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front). Given his inclination towards total commitment to whatever task he undertook or cause he espoused, it is not surprising that his attention progressively diverted from completing his Sussex Masters dissertation. With his intellectual and writing skills, had he taken a month off from his other commitments, that could have been done, but securing a prestigious personal academic milestone was not his priority. He seems to have lost his enthusiasm for the Sussex course but another academic challenge superseded. He did take a year off to enter the Institute of social Studies in Hague, and completed a Masters in Development Studies in 1985 with distinction.
The romantic idealism that took Kethesh into political activism eventually led him to breaking out of the shackles of political institutional affiliation. In due curse he joined the Centre for Policy Alternatives, and contributed much to the growth and prestige of that young institution. Three years ago, when I was looking for an NGO base that would be compatible with my interests and priorities, Kethesh, then Head of the Peace and Conflict Unit of CPA, invited me to join as Consultant. I readily accepted, and was assigned a special responsibility to contribute to a project on Ethnic Violence in Cities as well as other ad hoc assignments. I have very much enjoyed working with Kethesh, who took over as the Deputy Secretary General of the Government Peace Secretariat (SCOPP) with effect from April 1 st 2006.
Kethesh was frequently in the midst of controversy. Among the most controversial of his acts was to join SCOPP. No one better qualified to serve on it, but from the vantage perspective of hindsight, he joined it at the wrong time, If it was some years earlier, he could have made a critical contribution to the peace process. In the event, he joined SCOPP when the peace process had all but died. His hopes of rescuing it did not materialize. The net impact appears to be that his voice was stilled, his civil society activities stopped, the flow of his political journalism dried up, and he became even more vulnerable to assassination. If he lived, the peace process restarted and he was suitably empowered, he undoubtedly had the capacity to make a major contribution, but sadly that is not to be.
This is not the forum to assess the varied achievements of Kethesh in public life as an academic, a civil society leader, a journalist and writer and a political activist. I will not seek to make such an assessment. However, like many others, I would identify the Thimpu Principles, which emerged under his leadership as a Tamil political consensus and which he presented on August 17 th 1985 in Thimpu, as one of his enduring legacies.
Hurriedly drafted in the inhospitable environment of an acrimonious conference, the formulation of those principles contains test of time, and two decades on, retain their political legitimacy and potency. To the best of my knowledge none of the organizations listed by Kethesh ever disclaimed those principles; neither did Kethesh. The fill statement was reproduced in his book of December 1996 tilted ” Sri Lanka: Lost Opportunities”.
Some refinements in his wordings of the Thimpu Principles are clearly warranted, example to underline the reference to self-determination as referring to internal self-determination and not secession, and to explicitly recognize the multi-ethnic composition of the Tamil speaking people. In fact the Oslo Statement did just that-presented the essence of the Thimpu Principles subject to such refinement. Perhaps it is a tragedy that Kethesh was not in a vantage position in SCOPP at that time-December 2002 to help to build on the foundation laid by the Oslo Statement. In the event it became yet another lost opportunity”.
Audience at the commemoration oration
Mrs. Dhanapala with Bhawani Loganathan
Bhawani Loganathan with Dr. Devanesan Nesiah
August 13th, 2007
Ajith Samaranayake: The conscience of the younger generation, a voice for lost causes
by Lester James Peries
With much spluttering of engine and tooting of horn the three wheelers would sweep into No. 24 (formerly Dickman’s Road) like the famed ‘Chariots of Fire’. Over the years this heralded the arrival of our brilliant young friend to our home in Colombo 5.
Unlike many Sri Lankans who would drop in with no agenda to darken the early morning sunlit hours with idle prattle, Ajith would phone and say, “I’ll be there in half an hour-Ok?”
Of course it was always ok for me for I always knew our young friend would light up the darkening skies of our troubled days. – No one has left us quite so suddenly.
Who in the public life in this country be it politician, artist, dramatist, musician, dancer, film maker evoked such over-whelming grief, a genuine outpouring of sadness, such laurels in flower and words and poems for a life so young, snuffed out by the hands of fate that awaits us all.
An year has passed since he left us. Has it really been a year?
It has taken me that long to write a few words that can scarcely do justice to a master-craftsman of the English language. Would he really like us to mourn for him? Are there watering holes in Eternity?
Wherever he is, he will be what he has always been, a younger generation’s conscience, a spokesman on behalf of our embattled island home.
At his passing away, members of his tribe, his peers had no inhibitions to link his name to the greatest in the world of Sri Lankan journalism. H.A.J. Hulugalle, Tori de Sousa, Regi Siriwardena, Jayantha Padmanabha, Tarzie Vittachi, Mervyn de Silva et al…
Had he been alive I doubt whether these encomiums, eulogies, panegyrics…call it what you will, would really have meant much to him.
I have no academic qualifications to write a critical analysis of his style. But however inadequate my analytical skills may be some observations must be made.
In all his best writings Ajith combined lucidity, elegance and grace-grace as Hemingway said under pressure…as a combination this is a difficult style, difficult to cultivate or imitate but a gift possibly bestowed on the chosen few by the deities who look after the fortunes of the fourth estate-should there be any.
In the hurly burly of daily journalism, to keep to deadlines, journalists even the best ones are forced to resort, by the compulsion of time to use the cliche, the hackneyed-phrase.
Ajith was no exception. Read any of his critical essays on Arts, Politics or his Profiles on our very important people and one would find him using the language of daily journalism. But by some mysterious process, even a cliche reads as though it was re-invented, newly minted in a style that depended on the dignity and eloquence of simple prose.
To digress for a moment. Long long ago when I was young, a fanatical English teacher told me…”Take this sentence from the Bible-God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Improve on it, of course I couldn’t. Now I often think of Ajith; he may have performed the miracle; he may have improved on that peremptory divine pronouncement. After all the Bible did have some of the most inspired reporters in literary history.
Over the years Ajith was one of the most regular visitors to what used to be No. 24, Dickman’s Road.
He would insist (not that there was any objection on our part) on bringing his three-wheel drivers and offering them seats either in the verandah or in the drawing room. I suspect at the beginning this was a challenge to our social conventions. Neither Sumitra nor I bothered very much about it….but we did feel sorry for some of the poor guys who looked thoroughly discomfited surrounded by paintings by my brother, the great……artist in our family, Ivan Peries, seated on antique chairs which they suspected might collapse at any moment. For his part Ajith would say, “I dropped in to borrow some books and have a good katha.” Though I can’t boast of an extensive library, I had some of his favourite authors-Edmund Wilson, Cyril Connolly, the Letters and Diaries of George Orwell (I’m sure a kindred spirit) Walter Benjamin, Steiner, etc.
His favourites were critical essays rarely novels, no magic realism, no post modernist, structuralist stuff of which I had just a few from our four years in Paris. Strange he never picked a book on the Cinema. Ajith knew I never kept a little black book to record the ones he borrowed, nor did I badger him to return them.
I’d like to think he visited us not merely to borrow books but for our companionship-Sumitra’s and mine. It was not intellectual stimulus he was after. It was, as I suspect a relief from it. He always appeared to be completely relaxed, perfectly at ease. He knew he was always welcome, the bar was open and though he often dropped in on his way home (after visiting his favourite “watering holes”) to his wife who always waited for him; it was always one for the road or….
Though there was a considerable generation gap between him and me I rather think that what strengthened our friendship was his involvement in a number of lost causes on our behalf. The first I remember was his urging the Government at that time to take over our ancestral home in Dehiwela and convert it to a museum for Ivan’s paintings and a room reserved for my films. It wasn’t surprising that in 48 hours the building was demolished. Another was a series of very powerful editorials that the State should construct a special archive to preserve our local films. Had he been alive I can just imagine his fury and horror at the news that the original master-negatives of “Nidhanaya” – the film voted by local critics as the best in the fifty years of Sri Lankan Cinema had been burnt.
In Sri Lanka gossip is the fourth major language after Sinhala, Tamil and English. In all the years I’ve known him I’ve never heard him gossip, never about his colleagues, never about his workplace, never about his bosses.
Occasionally he might hint about the many vicissitudes he suffered in the newspaper offices he worked, from the ‘Upstairs-Downstairs’ Syndrome, but that too with a self-deprecating smile. He knew he had his enemies, those who exploited his weaknesses but that didn’t seem to bother him unduly.
This was inevitable as his journalistic gifts, not merely the elegance of his style but the mature insight with which he analysed and probed in editorial and feature article our present discontent as a nation and a people where our multi-religious and multi-ethnicity should be our strength and not our weakness.
One has to admit though it is sad but true, that the real magnitude of his achievement came to be realised only after his death. It was not a surprise to me that the great Regi Siriwardena said he was his true heir and his last wish was that he write his obituary.
I still remember the last time he was here. We were in the office-the shades of night were fallinghe had sipped his last “one for the road” – collected his books – one a bulky volume of Scott – Fitzgerald, the American author’s incredibly moving letters to his daughter. The books under his arm he walked out got into his three-wheeler which with much stuttering and tooting of horn disappeared into the night. Will we see him again?
[Where are you Ajith - where are you?]
[August 10th is the 53rd Birth Anniversary of Ajith Samaranayake]
August 9th, 2007