‘P. de S. Kularatne — some personal reminiscenses

by Buddhika Kurukularatne

P. de S. Kularatne of Ananda fame was a colossus in the field of education. Notably in the field of Buddhist education.

At a time when missionaries virtually controlled the education system of colonial Ceylon, a man named Kularatne from my village of Ambalangoda championed the case and cause of education in an era where Warden Stone of S. Thomas, Rev. Frazer of Trinity, Fr. Legoc of St. Joseph’s and the like held sway. Kularatne, fresh from securing a BA, BSc and LLB returned from England to become the Principal of Ananda College in 1918.

Ananda College situated down Mariyakade had only 440 students when Kularatne became principal and in just 4 years, the roll stood at 1400. Soon with the Buddhist resurgence that Kularatne created parents were removing their children from the better known schools and admitting them to Ananda. N. M. Perera, who played cricket for S. Thomas’, Mt. Lavinia joined Ananda whilst the famous Lion of Boralugoda. Boralugoda Ralahamy, Don Rupasinghe Gunawardana removed his 3 sons, Phillip, Robert and Harry from Prince of Wales, Moratuwa and admitted them to Ananda.

'Carnival Kularatne'

Ananda was bursting at its seams with the student explosions experienced with the New Head and soon Kularatne was holding fairs and carnivals to find the much needed money for the school buildings. His critics called him ‘Carnival Kularatne’ and questioned his propriety in holding ‘carnivals’ in aid of a Buddhistic cause.

Kularatne, the small built, soft-spoken man answered his critics by putting up more and more buildings. The progress of Ananda under Kularatne was so swift that a second school ‘Nalanda College’ had to be founded in 1925. After a brief spell at Dharmaraja College, Kandy where he went to establish that institution as the premier seat of Buddhist Education in the Hill Capital, he returned to Ananda to complete his unfinished task. Dharmapala Vidyalaya of Pannipitiya was yet another Buddhist educational institution to profit from the Kularatne touch.

I had an uncle, Premadhara Abhayawardhana, who was a very strong ‘Phillipite’ if ever there was one. Phillip’s children remember this national dress clad character very well. He was so critical of ‘P. de S.’ that he used to engage in heated arguments with me as I was defending our UNP candidate for Ambalangoda in the March 1960 and July 1960 General Elections.

‘What Buddhist leader is he ‘bung’. He went to England and married a ‘Suddi’, he would say.

This ‘Suddi’ was Hilda Westbrook, who like Kularatne shed the Western attire and started wearing the Sari. My relations tell me she became a devoted Buddhist in fact a better Buddhist than those Dononghmore Buddhists of the day. She later became Principal of Sri Sumangala Girls’ College, Panadura which along with its boys’ school were beneficiaries of the philanthropy’.

I argued with Premadhara mama, that Kularatne always wore the national dress unlike his leader Bandaranaike who wore the full suit even taking his pedigreed grey bound ‘Tree Tops Bobby Micawber’ for dog shows. I said Bandaranaike excelled in ‘Balu’ Sanskrutiya whilst Kularatne the true Sinhala Buddhist Culture!

‘What Sinhala Buddhist culture, you brat. He was Sella Kapu Palis de Silva Kularatne but upon his return to Ceylon, he became ‘Patrick de Silva Kularatne’ retorted my Premadhara mama.

True ‘Sella kapu’ was a highly respected ‘ge’ name in the Ambalangoda area. Kularatne may have changed his name to ‘Patrick’ because it was easier on the tongue specially of the Englishmen.

My arguments with this elderly relative was not taken very well by my other relations and they admonished me that I should know how to talk to an elderly person.

‘It is all my fault - not his’ said Premadhara mama, for when this fellow was born, Henry Aiyya (my father) asked me to apply ‘Ran Kiri’ on this fellow’s lips so that this fellow would be a great Orator! So, I am to blame for applying ‘Ran Kiri’ to make this fellow an Orator’, Premadhara mama lamented.

As I was the Joint Secretary of the UNP Youth League and one of his star speakers at all his election meetings ‘P. de S.’ was very fond of me.

When P. de S. went canvassing about 100-200 supporters went with him. When he did his canvassing rounds in Maha Ambalangoda where we lived, lunch for the entire retinue was at my place. I remember even the pudding that was served as desserts had the letters UNP in green icing!

At the end of this feast my mother offered P. de S. a signed blank cheque on a spread of betel leaves on an ‘Ilaththattuwa’. (Betel Tray) P. de S. later rang up my father and asked him, ‘Henry how much shall I put?’ meaning the amount that he should state in the cheque. My father replied that he had so much money in the bank and he could write any figure within that amount.

Dr. Maduwe Hewa Saddasena, who succeeded him as the UNP MP for Ambalangoda, T. Harron Silva, father of the famous Nalandian Cricketer, Anura de Silva, S. G. A. de Silva, (P. de S.’s nephew) were some of the others who financed P. de S.’s two election campaigns in 1960 March and July when he contested on the UNP ticket.

When he crossed over to the Government in late 1960 over the schools take-over issue almost the entire local branch of the UNP was tongue-tied to oppose this erudite scholar and great educationalist. Perhaps, because I was neither erudite nor a scholar I opposed him tooth and nail. The local UNP leaders including the UNP branch President Dr. Saddasena not wishing to antagomize Kularatne instead started singing praise of him much to my chagrin.

To make matters more ridiculous Kularatne was the ‘One Man UNP Nomination Board’ at the local elections that followed a few months after his cross-over from the UNP.

At that time I had fallen out with my father over his acute addiction to liquor and was living with a school master Mr. M. W. Lairis de Silva, Dharmasoka’s famed Art Master whose eldest son, Sarath was my best friend.

Foolish step

Being of the same blood, my father’s blood too boiled due to this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde role that Kularatne played. He took a very foolish step to register his protest. He, twice a member of the Ambalangoda Urban Council (even before I was born) submitted his nominations as an independent candidate to contest our ward in the Ambalangoda UC against the Kularatne nominee Ryter Thilakasekera of the UNP. A very respectable man Mr. Jinadasa of the Communist Party was the other contestant.

I knew that with the UNP vote divided between my father who was the ‘de facto’ UNP candidate and Ryter the ‘de jure’ UNP candidate the C. P. candidate who had been winning that particular ward (No. 6 ‘Maha Pansala’) would have a cake walk!

To prevent my party from defeat I printed and published an open letter with the caption ‘Thaatey Navathinna’. (Father stop!) In my open letter to father I told him that being his only child his blood ran through my veins and promised openly that I would rid the Party of parasites and double crossers but he must leave the fight to me and withdraw from the contest.

It is again my Manda-Buddhika strain that may have compelled me to publish such a letter. But it had its desired effect. He had confided in one of the 8 people who voted for him that if his only child was also against him then, he was withdrawing from the contest But once the nominations have been handed over you cannot withdraw officially and your name will nonetheless appear in the ballot. ‘Light Ariyadasa’ (Ariyadasa the electrician) was one of the 8 who voted for my father because though Ariyadasa was a strong UNPer he did not want to vote for the official UNP candidate Ryter, for reasons well-known.

The result was that UNP scored an easy win thanks to my fool hardiness. Mr. S. G. A. de Silva of the UNP became the chairman of the Ambalangoda UC once again!

I was a frequent contributor to the UNP Sinhala Organ ‘Siyarata’ edited by P. A. Jinadasa Niyathapala who wrote one of the most forceful editorials with correct language usage. Another journalist who used grammatically correct language for his editorials was B. A. Siriwardena of the Communist Party’s ‘Aththa’.

Truth which excelled in lies belong its name. The former’s editorials were heavily laden with Sanskrit and Pali mixed Sinhalese whilst Sira’s editorials were in plain Sinhala, attacking where it hurt most excelling in the brand of journalism which was Aththa’s forte.

The Deputy Editor of Siyarata was a national press clad elderly person from Induruwa, P. B. Wijesundara and an article I wrote about Kularatne, using more of ‘Sira’s style branded Kularatne as a ‘Traitor’.

I still remember one paragraph.

‘The people of Ambalangoda who felt pity on this bird named Kularatne who was winging its way in the dark political wilderness released it to sunlit open spaces. However, this ungrateful bird flew away after landing heavy droppings on the heads of those very people who rescued it from the political wilderness. It flew away letting of a heart-rending ‘Kreen’ cry. (The last sentence was an adaptation from ‘Umagga Jatakaya’ where a parrot dumped droppings on the head of the evil Pundit ‘Kevatta!’).

‘Siyarata’ carried this article in banner headlines for I was the Joint Secretary of the Ambalangoda branch of the UNP Youth League (the other Joint Secretary was one time classmate of mine Upali T. de Silva who later joined Lake House.

Ryter Thilakasekara who later became a Member of Parliament for Ambalangoda was the President of the UNP Youth Legne’s Ambalangoda branch. A man who excelled in fishing in troubled waters, he posted a copy of the ‘Siyarata’ with the offending article and the stinging headline ‘Kularatne Traitor - Resign!’, to Kularatne.

Upon reading this, Kularatne blew a fuse and came to Upali’s house which was by the Galle Road and thundered ‘why are you all doing this?’ to which Upali meekly replied ‘Sir, not us, but Buddhika’. Although my name with my party designation was printed prominently P. de S. never came to ask me, why I did it for perhaps he would have remembered that signed blank cheque he received from my mother at the behest of my father when he came canvassing!

In retrospect, I now being an old man of 61, feel that I was too rash, hasty and foolish. Kularatne was a national leader who fashioned the destiny of our nation. But all that was lost on a stubborn teenager that I was.

P. de S. though over 70 at the time never travelled in the rear seat of his vehicle ‘4996,’ a cream coloured Borgward (I cannot remember what ‘Sri’ it was) I had gone one evening with Edwin ‘aiyya’, more a friend than a relative, on his Tiger 100 motor bike to Karandeniya (good portion of which was then in the Ambalangoda electorate) to some party work and was returning very late, when we overtook ‘4996’ with P. de. S. seated as usual in the front seat. Edwin Aiya was riding and I was on the pillion. Also in the car was P. de. S. new found ally LSSP’s S. V. Seelawathi de Silva (‘Sirinakka’) and A. M. Karunaratne (who was a ‘Kularatne-loyalist’ who was a key speaker on the UNP platform for Kularatne in March and July 1960 — Yes the same man who was SLFP’s Assistant Secretary later on). The Headlights of the Borgward was now focused on the Tiger 100 and I made slow measured movements of my hands to mimic a ‘Bat’ in flight. Due to his changing parties P. de. S. was contemptuously branded a ‘Vawla’ (Bat). With P. de. S.’s cross-over the entire Karawa community which he represented was branded as ‘Kevullu (contemptuous reference to the ‘Karawas’) ‘Vawullu’ by our political opponents. I met Sirinakka the next day. She lived just past my house and she remarked, ‘Oh’ last night we saw a ‘Vawla’ on a Motor-bike ridden by a ‘Nariya’. This ‘Nariya’ (Edwin Aiyya) years later became a close-relative of Sirinakka by marriage.

This is definitely one incident that I am really ashamed of in retrospect.

Although I was good at languages ‘Mathematics’ and ‘Buddhika Kurukularatne’ never saw eye to eye. We remain total strangers to this day. I was ‘referred’ in Maths at the Ordinary Level exam of 1959. As the regulations then in force I had to ‘pass’ ‘Maths within 2 years or else I would forfeit the entire exam making me sit again. This prospect was non existent as I knew how I bluffed my way through Botany and Zoology papers liberally dropping Latin Terms (which I ‘picked up’ from ‘Right Pappa’ ‘Oswin Wright my Latin Master at S. Thomas’. Gurutalawa).

My friends, classmates, and teachers tried their best to educate me in the ‘evil’ subject called Mathematics, until Dunstan Perera came to my rescue. It was December 1961 and my final chance to ‘cover’ up my ‘O’-levels, by getting at least a ‘simple’ (‘S’) pass. Dunston, now an Engineer helped me to get not a ‘S’, but a ‘C’ (credit) pass in the blooming subject and I had noted the answers along the margin of the question paper. I was running out of the exam-hall which was in my own school and as I was running past the Principal’s office I was stopped by the Vice Principal — the dreaded O. N. Piyasena.

‘Will you succeed at least this time?’ asked the V. P. and I replied in the affirmative. His pretty daughter, ‘Mani’, then at Visaka was also sitting the ‘O’ Levels that year and Mentioning that fact he asked me for the Question Paper where I had noted the answers.

I gave it to him readily, knowing that being a classics man he would not grill me on how I came by the answers but then a shiver ran down my spine (yes I had a very strong one from my student days!) when I saw the person seated in the Principal’s chair.

P. de. S!

Mr. Piyasena handed over the question paper to P. de. S. with the remark ‘Sir, this is Buddhika’s last chance to ‘cover’ maths!’

P. de. S. rubbed his semi-bald head (which was craftily and neatly covered the way Sirisena cooray covers his) and said I do not know about how you fared in the Geometry and the draft — but you are sure to get at least a credit pass!’.

I did.

P. de S ‘did’ the 3 hour ‘Maths’ paper ‘mentally’ in under 10 minutes. Little wonder then that his ‘Ratna Ganithaya’ series was the bible for arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry for generations of school children as ‘Kumarodaya’ was to Kindergarten children for donkey’s years and more!

During the period I hated Kularatne, NAASU (National Amateur Aquatic Sports Union) organised a swimming coaching Camp for the first time in Ambalangoda. Almost everybody in Ambalangoda could swim, Ambalangoda being a raparian Township. The Crawl, the Brest-stroke, the Back and Butterfly strokes were alien to them except the ‘Doggie paddle’. Thanks to the Australian swimming champion E. S. Scott, Swimming Master at S. Thomas’ Gurutalawa, I was considered a technically correct swimmer and Mr. K. G. Kulasena of the Dharmasoka Staff (Kulasena ‘Aiya’ to me) who was a ‘Varsity’ coloursman in swimming promptly made me the first ever president of the Dharmasoka College swimming club and the first swimming coach!. At the NAASU coaching camp Mr. P. de S. Kularatne was the Chief Guest. NAASUs coach Mr. Greg Thoskowzki who I believe was the owner of Hotel Nippon at Slave Island, then the ‘Colombo Plaza’ of the city was in charge of the camp.

First Sokian

Roskowskie could not speak in Sinhala and, the only other outsider present was "Sonny Weerakkodi’ who can aptly be called the ‘Father of Ambalangoda Swimming’. However ‘Sonny Aiyya’ was present in his capacity as a parent, as his two sons Laksshman and Jayalath were training. The latter rose to become the Commander of the Airforce — the first Sokian to be chief of an armed force — Oh! I forgot there was another Sokian who became the Chief of an Armed Force long before Jayalath. Rohana Wijeweera — the JVP leader!.

As it was not proper for an ‘outsider’ to actively involve himself at a school function, when the Chief Guest asked someone to translate Roskwosskie English speech ‘Sonny Aiyya’ who knew of my prowess with the ‘Kaduwa’ pushed me and commanded ‘do it’.

Thanks to people like my ‘Guru’ English Master Gerald de Alwis who helps me with my English even now, putting our ex-Minister Azwer and Rahulan my friend the chief Parliamentary Interpretor to shame I rendered an apt and technically correct translation no sooner the words escaped Roskwoskie's lips.

P. de S. made a special reference to this remarkable feat by young Buddhika Kurukularatne and said Ambalangoda would soon produce swimmers of an International standard. Yes! He was dead right. We produced the famous Weerakkody Brothers, Pathmadeva Dayananda and the water nymph of Ambalangoda SAF Medalist R. M. Dhammika! et al.

However this tribute failed to soften up my attitude towards P. de S. Although there were no open confrontations!

My father and all his contemporaries ‘sirred’ P. de S. left right and centre. Dr. Saddhasena of course had been his student at Ananda. Early 1961, P. de S. was the Chief Guest at a Dharmasoka College sports meet, where my father was also one of the special invitees. It is because of this very fact that I watched the proceedings from the far-end of the grounds as I had ‘run away’ from home by then. I could see my father with a large straw hat (much like the one that I wear even now for the Dharmasoka-Devananda Big Match) seated alongside P. de S. the Chief Guest.

Soon there was a big commotion at the VIP seats. Even the proceedings came to a halt briefly.

Only after I went ‘home’ to Mr. Lairis Silva’s did I know what it was all about.

‘Hari Vedine Bung’, Dharmasoka’s veteran Art Master started narrating the ‘story’ in his own inimitable witty manner.

‘When P. de S. saw your father, P. de S. asked him, (Why is your son blackguarding me men?) (What you fellow when my son even blackgards me, would he remain silent about the ‘pariah’ thing you did?’) Mr. Lairis Silva said holding his sides in laughter.

It was this remark of my father that created the uproar. Of course I knew from the moment of his arrival with a large straw hat, that he had had not one too many, but several too many.

P. de S.’s stature was such that nobody, not even his worst political enemy would ever dare to address this great leader in the manner that my father had done.

But a man under the influence of liquor is no match for the worst political enemy!

We worked very hard against ‘P. de S.’ at the 1965 General Elections when he lost to his student, Dr. Saddasena.

After his defeat he left both politics and Ambalangoda and I believe he there after lived with his son-in-law Stanley Senanayake the IGP.

P. de S. was the one who tipped off Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike the then Prime Minister about the co-up in 1962.

Educated at Richmond College, Galle and later at Wesley, P. de S. was elected to the 2nd State Council as the Member for Balapitiya. He contested and lost the Ambalangoda Balapitiya Multi Member constituency on the UNP ticket and contesting the 1952 General Election as an SLFP candidate to the Multi-member constituency) Colombo Central he lost again!

At the time of his death on the 16th of November 1976 at the age of 84, almost half of the SLFP Cabinet comprised his students.

During the ‘Battle of the Blues’ between Royal and S. Thomas’s Parliament sittings had often to be adjourned for want of a quorum as legislators from both sides were either Royalists or Thomians.

P. de S. changed this situation. It is a silent but lasting tribute to this man named Kularatne that today there are more and mroe Anandians and Nalandians in Parliament.

Dr. Badi-ud-deen Mahmud, the then Minister of Education in a condolence message from his sick bed said, ‘he will be remembered by generations of yet unborn as the builder of Ananda College which has radiated Buddhist Education.’

It was not only the Buddhists who went through the portals of Ananda to serve Mother Lanka. Although the leading Muslim Boys School Zahira was just a stones throw away, S. M. H. Mashoor who went to become a Senator studied at Kularatne’s feet. Latterly we had Imitiaz Bakeer Markar one of the best Sinhala speakers today and a former Cabinet Minsiter hailing from Ananda. There were many Tamil students at Ananda besides children of other communities.

One of his brilliant students Dr. N. M. Perera in an appreciation published in the Daily News said, "the country owes much to Mr. Kularatne for he was responsible for kindling the nationalistic aspirations of the young generation when nationalism was taboo under colonial domination. The subsequent growth of the anti-imperialist movement in Sri Lanka can be traced to the seeds of patriotism and National Independence sown on the hearts of the thousands who passed through his hands".

It was S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who reaped a rich political harvest with the seeds of Patriotism that was sown by Kularatne.

It is not an over-statement to say that Kularatne indeed was the ‘Architect of the People’s Revolution spearheaded by Bandaranaike in 1956.