When a mutual friend rang me up to say that Dharme (as we knew him) had passed to the great beyond, I was indeed stricken with disbelief. It was just a month ago that he was with me at the launch of my book as the chief guest. Earlier, one day I rang him at his official residence and left a message requesting him to call me up, and the very next day he called me up to inquire whether I required his assistance in anything. When I invited him to honour me as the chief guest at the book launch he unhesitatingly agreed and said I am truly honoured I shall be there."
Hard on the heels of that invitation came the demise of another friend, C. V. Gunaratne and his wife. Thereupon, the President imposed an embargo on her Ministers engaging in public functions. A few days before the book launch, Dharme phoned me and told me to keep his visit virtually under wraps. This I was able to do through the good offices of the editors of the daily newspapers. At the function Dharme, in his inimitable style, quipped "when Irwin rang me I was wondering whether he wanted his daughter in Air Lanka!" He knew very well that I had no daughters!
Such was Dharmasiri Senanayke- a close friend not only to many of us but to the vast majority of Sri Lankans irrespective of caste, creed, politics or other considerations. That was the Dharme we knew both at school and the University and later in public life. When he descended upon us at Ananda College from Udugampola M. V. Dharme fitted in beautifully to the scheme of things. Naturally, he came under the tutelage of our late principal, Mr. L. H. Mettananda. No doubt, the qualities of statesmanship, aplomb and demeanour he displayed in his later political life were best attuned at the feet of that great teacher and patriot of Ananda. There were other teachers at Ananda of the calibre of the late G. W. Rajapakse and headmaster Jayaratne who no doubt influenced his later career.
Dharme fitted into our clique very well and joined in all the school-boy pranks such as deliberately misplacing the dreaded "black book" in which our headmaster wrote the names of all the mischief makers. I still remember the time when we collected live snails and quietly introduced them (along with ample helpings of sand into the coat pockets of that great teacher. After all this, Dharme passed into the Peradeniya University before us. I remember meeting him in Colombo sometime after his sessions had begun and asking him what I should bring along with me to the University as I had also entered that great portal of learning by that time. Dharme promptly replied "Bring a bed and a mattress" At that time, I believed him!
Dharme went through University with an honours degree in economics, taught at Ananda for a short while, and entered practice as a lawyer. The next stage of my association with him began when he took up the appointment of Chairman, Tourist Board under the Sirima Bandaranaike government. I recall, with a sense of nostalgia, the words of praise the late Mr. Thahir of the Tourist Board used to describe his Chairman. These words were not an exaggeration but reflected the great qualities of a gentleman loved by the entire staff of that Institution. Dharmasiri Senanayake, the Chairman, was willing to give anything a try. I once suggested to him that we should get down a few expert "belly dancers" not from far off Egypt but from neighbouring Mangalore, and he was all ready to go along with me! Naturally, his appointnent as the Minister of Tourism under the present President, was most fitting. Sri Lanka will not have such a colourful and efficient personality to head that Ministry for many a moon to come!
As a person, Dharme was well loved not only by his friends but the vast populace of this country with whom he came in contact. He would not forget a name of a face easily. He memory was indeed befitting that of an accomplished politician. He had very winning ways and his wit was beyond compare. I have often heard him speak at various functions but without a scrap of paper before him- and always enlivening the audience with his inimitable wit.
Have we then lost an excellent friend and a political gentleman? Indeed, that is my view and to which many will undoubtedly agree. The Hon Dharmasiri Senanayake will live in the minds of the populace of this country for a long time irrespective of political belief. History will no doubt record the achievements and the rich qualities of this rare political gentleman.
I cannot help but join in the sentiments expressed by his elder brother, Ratne Deshapriya, who ended his funeral oration by stating simply
"May my brother attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!"
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