Men and memories -
Dudley’s 93rd birth anniversary was yesterday. To commemorate this event, the Ambalangoda Deshapremi Sanvidhanaya of which I am the President provided a water supply scheme to a remote jungle hermitage ‘Alulen Aranya’ off Maligawila, in Buttala situated amidst elephant infested jungles in the Yala range.
Yesterday was also the birth anniversary of another great scholar Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe (and also of yours truly!).
The water supply project cost of nearly Rs. 80,000 was met by Jinasena Ltd., the Maharaja Organisation Ltd and philanthropists M/s. Andrew Silva, former Director/General Manager, Pure Beverages Ltd., N. G. P. Panditharatna, former Senior Partner Ford Rhodes and Thornton and a Lankan dominated in the States, Mr. Jeevinda de Silva.
I have nostalgic memories of Dudley Shelton Senanayake who I came to know personally during my school-days thanks to a man named Jinadasa Niyathapala my mentor and political guru.
When writing of this great man who became Prime Minister of this country on four occasions, I really don’t know where to begin.
I had just completed my schooling and was eager to become a journalist for two reasons. First was that my first love was journalism (girls came much later) and then I believed (I was nearly wrong until Mr. Ranjith Wijewardene, Chairman of Lake House, reversed a decision made by his father D. R. Wijewardene) that working for a newspaper was the ideal job for a prospective law student.
There was a very difficult man at the features desk at the Dinamina. Mr. Esmond Wickremesinghe, the ‘Golden Pen Award Winner’ Managing Director of Lake House personally entrusted my training to this man whose name was "Sisira Kumara Manikkarachchi". Esmond spoke like an express train. He called all his employees by their first names. Before introducing me to ‘Manikke’ (that was how Esmond called him) he confided in me that Manikke was one of the most defficult men to work with. He told me that next to M. A. de Silva who he said was his friend from University days, ‘Manikke’ his opinion was the best Sinhala journalist.
At that time there was ‘Loku Sir the inimitable Piyasena Nissanka (though retired at the time he was a consultant) Edwin Ariyadasa - the walking encyclopedia, Dharmapala Wettasinghe (Editor Dinamina) S. Subasinghe (Editor Silumina) Francis (D.F) Kariyakarawana (Editor Janata) on the Sinhala Editorials whilst the versatile Denzil Peiris (‘Sira’ of the ‘Aththa’ referred to Denzil as ‘Dansal Peeraiya!), the doyen of the English press.
I used my charm on Manikkarahchci and he treated me like a son - no he had problems with his offsprings better than a son. So much so I was named in his last will along with others like G. S. Perera of the Dinamina and Premasara Epasinghe the veteran Sports Commentator who was his friend, confident and neighbour.
During the early days of the 1965 Dudley Senanayake government, mainly to counter the virulent abusive and often vulgar attacks levelled by the Communist Party’s ‘Attha’ (Truth - my word!), Esmond started a paper called ‘Janahitha’. Manikkaarachchi was ‘Janahithas’ (an Express Newspaper Publication) first Editor. However Manikkarachchi’s journalistic acumen was no match for Sira’s brand of journalism. I was hand-picked by Manikkaarachchi as his ‘star’ reporter.
The reading public then as now lapped up political gossip and ‘stories’ about the various scandals (real or imaginary) of the government.
Dharmasiri Kuruppu, another veteran journalist took over from Manikkaarachchi who reverted to his substantive position as the Features Editor of Dinamina.
Kuruppu started with a big boast. Janahitha circulation was nose-diving and Kuruppu with a flair for editing ‘political journals’ (I believe he was the founder editor of the SLFP journal) declared that in just one month he would have long queues outside the office situated down 1st Division, Maradana, waiting for the paper.
True enough within a month long queues were seen at the ‘Janahitha’ office. At that time old newspapers fetched a phenomenal price. So much so a pound (no kilos then) of old newspapers were several times more expensive that the cost of a daily newspaper.
It was the ‘Botal Paththara Karayas’ queuing up to buy not merely the unsold ‘returns’ but also the brand new copies of Janahitha (published every Thursday) straight from the printing press!.
Both Dharmasiri Kuruppu and the Janahitha soon became history.
Before it became history I received a telephone call from my ‘political guru’ Niyathapala. I misheard his massage and I thought what he said was ‘I say, ‘Lokka’ wants to know whether you like to go ‘home’. I said I had just returned from home being Monday and that I would be going home on Friday. I thought ‘Lokka’ (Dudley of course!) was travelling down South and was wanting a ‘Katha Pettiya’ like me to keep him company like Minister Rupa Karunatilake did years later).
An irritated Niyathapala boomed at the other end ‘Not home, you mutt. Rome! Rome in Italy! ‘Lokka’ wants to know whether you like to go to Rome!
I virtually jumped in joy. ‘Yes. Yes. Why Not!’ I yelled back.
‘Then came and meet me at ‘Sirikotha’ ‘now’ said he. I jumped a bus and went to ‘Sirikotha’ by the sea at 532, Galle Road, Colombo 3 where I found Niyathapala waiting for me in his upstair ‘Youth League’ office. Niyathapala was the General Secretary of the UNP Youth League for many years and it was through the Youth League that ‘game kollas’ like us blossomed.
Niyathapala himself drove his two toned Ford Prefect to ‘Woodlands’, the abode of Dudley Senanayake, the prime minister. Gates of ‘Woodlands’ are kept open always and police guards (armed and otherwise) were not deployed.
Niyathapala took me to ‘Lokka’ and said, ‘Yes Sir Buddhika will go to Rome!’.
Then the Prime Minister informed me that I was being nominated to undergo a political leadership training for six weeks at the centre for Labour and Social Studies and for this particular course I was the only nominee. I was aware that two groups of Youth Leaguers - Almon Pieris and one Botota from Matale were in the previous delegations.
I thank ‘Lokka’ profusely for this signal honour bestowed on me (no doubt Niyathapala would have been behind this recommendation, although at that time Niyathapala had not secured a trip even to neighbouring India!) even without a request coming from me.
‘But there is a problem. Your name will have to be approved by Iriyagolla as it is the Ministry of Education that has been asked to make the nomination,’ said Dudley and at these words my world collapsed.
I was a persona-non-grata with Iriyagolla and Dudley was aware of this. He also knew that I had to take the flak for something my friend, Percy Samaraweera was to blame. Percy was a formidable political figure even then whilst I was a near ‘Kolla’. There is an apt Sinhala saying ‘Pahat tenin yai gala jaley’ (water flows along a lower level!) and I was this lower level!
Dudley then pretending to be angry said ‘you go and fight with him and now you try your luck!’ I knew that going to Rome was now a distant dream.
‘Go with Niyathapala and meet him’, boomed Dudley and as Niyathapala was going out of the room with yours truly is tow, Dudley yelled ‘Niyathapala!’ I remained outside and Dudley said something to Niyathapala which I learnt only later on.
The UNP Youth League was waging a cold — war with Iriyagolla at that time. Iriyagolla and Manawasinghe assisted by a few others were entrusted with the political educational programme, that was conducted in every nook and corner of the country by the UNP.
These programmes were not only highly educative but also very popular. Iriyagolla who joined forces with S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike had his own political party of which he was the solitary MP representing his home base Kuliyapitiya in the Kurunegala district. He later fell out with ‘Banda’ disbanded his party and joined the UNP.
He was one of the finest Sinhala orators of the day and also a Sinhala scholar as was Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe who according to Dr. N. M. Perera, one of the finest intellectuals east of Suez. Manawasinghe was a Central Committee Member of the LSSP and it was indeed unbelievable that he joined the UNP. However, the LSSP’s lost was the UNP’s gain and the duo were very much in demand. Driver Mendis was assigned to take them round in a Morris Minor Wagon that belonged to the party. I too, accompanied them on several occasions and the trips were always interesting and long!. ‘Long’ because Manawasinghe stopped every few miles for ‘watering’ for he knew the watering points in the country like the lines on his palm. More he quenched his thirst, the more interesting was the journey.
Whilst the UNP youth league treated Manawasinghe with love, respect and affection, Iriyagolla was treated as an outcast. He had a parallel youth organisation in the Kurunegala District and his youth leaguers (I believe called the United Socialists ‘Eksath Samajavadis’) had a yellow band across their Green T-shirts. I was the founder General Secretary of the 1st ever UNP Students Union the National Democratic Students’ Union forerunner to the present Samajavadhi Students’ Union. Iriyagolla could not clash openly with Niyathapala who was not only the undisputed King of the Youth League. But also he had ‘Lokka’s’ ear. So, the National Democratic Students’ Union and I became a soft target for him on the same basis of water flowing to a lower level.
Mr. Dudley Senanayake one day called me and Granville Silva who was the President of the Students’ Union (Granville later became the Editor of the Lake House film magazine Sarasaviya. It is said he fell foul of Premadasa and fled to Canada!) and told us to proceed to Welimada where Percy Samaraweera was organising a Youth Convention. It was a 2-day affair held at the Welimada Central College and the convention was addressed on both days by Iriyagolla, Manawasinghe and others on a variety of political topics. ‘You can form a branch of the student union there as the majority of the participants would be students’, said Dudley who advised us to meet Percy. Percy has already been informed of our visit and he welcomed both of us with his usual open-heartedness.
As the second day’s proceedings were coming to an end Percy went up to the microphone and announced that the President and Secretary of the UNP Students’ Union were there to form a Branch of the Students’ Union and requested the students to remain in the hall after the main business was concluded.
Iriyagolla, always a man with a quick temper quite unlike the soft spoken, witty and gentle Manawasinghe blew up.
‘Who the hell are you to interfere with my work’ thundered Iriyagolla in full view of the packed house. ‘Rupial asse alukkal gahanda enava’ trying to shove shellings in a wad of pound notes would be a near enough translation.
Granville and I were non plussed and didn’t know what to do.
Percy the Party Organiser for Welimada electorate, he as an independent candidate defeated Basha Boy K. M. P. Rajaratne who met his Waterloo at Percy’s hands! called Iriyagolla on the pretext of covering a message and took him behind the screen. Then plastering him to the wall of the stage started punching him. It was Manawasinghe who rescued Iriyagolla for Percy was a strapper.
Of course Granville and I returned to Colombo empty handed!
A few days later I received a telegram from Niyathapala and when I went to see him at Sirikotha he said, I say ‘Ara Yaka’ Iriyagolla has reported you to Lokka about the Welimada incident. ‘Lokka’ wants to see you!.
I was not particularly worried for I was not at fault. I dared not raise my little finger against a father-figure like Iriyagolla but wondered as to why he did not report the actual culprit — Percy!. It is the same ‘pahat tenin yai gala jale’ story for Iriyagolla, knew that Percy was Lokka’s blue eyed boy. Another reason why I was not worried was because Niyathapala was going to accompany me (or so I thought) Niyathapala, accomanied by the UNP Youth Leagues strong man. P. D. Kalunnatilaka MMC, Kuppiyawatta West drove his Ford Prefect upto the open gates of ‘Woodlands’. At that time from Dudleys’ office one could see the road upto Rowlands showrooms across the road and we saw Dudley standing by the open-window. Instead of taking the car into the premises, Niyathapala dropped me at the gate and said ‘there he is! Go!’. I asked him ‘Aren’t you coming?’ and he replied with a twinkle in his eye. ‘No! NO! We went earlier and sped away. Dudley has been watching how these two offered me as the sacrificial lamb at the altar.
Infact it was that which saved me.
‘Did I send you to fight? Iriyagolla is very angry and upset with you. But I know it was those two who brought you upto the gate who instigated Percy!. ‘So saying he discharged me and I could see no anger but sympathy in his face.
This was the background to Dudley’s comment, ‘you go and fight with him. Now you try your luck!’
At that time the Ministry of Education was at ‘Sirimathipaya’ on Flower Road, where that Prime Minister’s office is now situated.
Driving his vehicle from Woodlands to Flower Road Niyathapala observed, ‘don’t know whether he has somebody from Kuliyapitiya lined up!’
I of course had given up hope.
Niyathapala went straight into the minister’s office and I followed. Iriyagolla speaks ‘Singlish’, a rich mixture of Sinhala pronunciation laced into his peculiar vocabulary and ignoring me completely hailed Niyathapala and said ‘I shay come, come, Niyatha take a sheet (seat). Niyathapala pretending to be in a hurry told Iriyagolla, ‘No, I just came to ask you to nominate Buddhika for the Rome Trip!’
Iriyagolla then let the cat out of the bag.
‘I shay Niyathe, I have an ideal fallow from Kuliyapitiya. First class chap. I wash thinking of him’.
Niyathapala too is a quick tempered man.
He replied, ‘I don’t know about that. I came because ‘Lokka’ asked me. ‘Lokka’ wants Buddhika sent’.
There was a 360 degree turn about in his attitude.
‘Yersh, Yersh, the problem with my boy is that he does not know English no? Buddhika has no such problem. We will send Buddhika!’ I breathed a sigh of relief.
On the way back to the "Janahitha" office to drop me, Niyathapala told me, that as we were leaving Dudley’s office he was called back and told to inform Iriyagolla if he had other plans that I was the Prime Ministers nominee.
At the time I was madly in love (in retrospect one has really to be mad, to be in love) yes that time with Malini, my better (or bitter) half but my father (mother had died by then) would not hear of it.
I wrote to my father that I have been nominated by the Prime Minister to go to Rome and that I was sure that he would prefer a Karawa-Buddhist-Sinhalese as his daughter-in-law rather than an Italian-Catholic.
As there was no response within the time limit unilaterally set by me, I eloped on that fateful day in Sept. (7th) and with `A33 and 10 shillings (Rs. 50) in foreign exchange (that was all that was allowed and I being the Prime Minister’s nominee dared not dabble in ‘black’).
At the instate (I believe it was a CIA joint) I was called by the Director of Studies Brian Buckley and asked what was going to be my parliamentary constituency.
Taken aback by its question, I said quite truthfully ‘No, I have no such intentions!’
Then it was Buckley’s turn to be surprised.
‘Aren’t you Kurukularatne?’ he asked.
As there was no doubt about that I answered ‘yes’.
Then he took a file with my name and read a letter. I could see Dudley’s signature where only the first letter ‘D’ and the last letter ‘Y’ were decipherable.
‘Young Buddhika Kurukularatne is a prospective parliamentary candidate for the ruling United National Party’ was what Dudley had said in 1966.
I couldn’t possibly let the Prime Minister down by saying that he was talking through the occasional hat he wore, but swiftly changed gears and said, ‘I must first become an Advocate which is my priority. There after I will contest’.
I was asked to describe the social, economic and ethnic composition of the constituency that I was billed to contest.
It was easy for I knew the Ambalangoda electorate in and out.
Apart from me there were only three others following the political leadership course. As a cover I was also required to simultaneously follow a Diploma Course in Public Relations and Trade Union Journalism. One Sekhar Oliver a Malaysian Trade Union Journalist was the only Asian amongst the academic staff whilst the rest were all Americans. Of the three, two were from Ethiopia — both had "selassy" surnames — one was "Gabrisellase, and the other was ‘Hailselase’. Ehiopia’s ruler at that time — but Patrick was not related to the King (fortunately!). The other was a Vietnamese — Tan(g). The Vietnamese was a Catholic, very charming and mild mannered unlike the two Ethiopians who were returning after their ‘masters’ in the States, kicked up a row with the authorities and were unceremoniously packed home (just what those guys wanted as they had been away from home for several years!)
I completed both courses and passed the exams with flying colours. I was told that my Diploma certificate would be sent to the ‘nominating authority’ in Ceylon (Yes, we were Ceylon in 1966) which was the Ministry of Education.
Upon my return I met Iriyagolla, who congratulated me and said that the authorities in Rome had sent a separate commendation about me. I asked for the ‘Diploma’ certificate and Iriyagolla said ‘No! We will arrange a tea party and get the Prime Minister to hand over your Diploma to you!’ ‘Gamini Jayasuriya, Iriyagolla’s Deputy Minister too spoke to Iriyagolla on several occasions on my behalf but there was no tea party. No Diploma! However as I was not Manda Buddhika then, I had the intelligence to get a ‘proton’ certificate! from the institute.
To conclude I quote Junius Richard at Dudley’s funeral.
"Good Night Sweet Prince — May host of Devas sing that to thy sleep’.
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