Features
Men and memories – Buddhika Kurukularatne
D. M. Rajapaksa – The Lion of Ruhuna

From the time last week’s article on the Rajapaksas of Giruwapattuwa hit the stands I have been inundated with telephone calls - mostly congratulating me but a few others nagging and teasing me!.

‘Ade, have you done a political, High Jump?. What did Mahinda promise you? queried the haranguing types more in jest for they, knew that I shall always be a ‘Kotan Adina Aliya’ (Elephant that pulls logs), whilst new comers to the herd carried the ‘casket’ and went in procession!. (Again the hallmark of a Manda Buddhika).

Early morning I called Mahinda at his country residence in Tangalle. ‘Carlton’ - thinking that unlike Premadasa who read all the newspapers by 4.00 a.m. Mahinda, not being a Premadasa would still be in bed on a Sunday morning at 7.00!

‘Eei, you have put me with the highway robbers’ yelled Mahinda referring to the Buddhist Jataka story - the Gira Pothaka Wastuwa - I quoted liking Mahinda as the baby parrot who was swept by a gale into the den of highway robbers and soon mastered the vocabulary of his mentors.

I told Mahinda, that nevertheless I had ‘Nishkriya’ fined the contents in the next paragraph stating that at the rate the Prime Minister was now visiting temples he would soon beat Premadasa’s record on this score.

He laughed aloud at my mentioning the word ‘Nishkriya’, the newest Sinhala word to be coined to the political vocabulary - the innovator of which being the Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero of the Jathika Hela Urumaya who used this very apt term to describe their action in voting for the Opposition nominee W. J. M. Lokubandara to annul the 2 rebel votes cast in favour of the Government nominee at the now notorious election of Speaker!.

Sunimal Fernando of the Prime Minister’s staff whilst congratulating me sent me a long fax titled ‘the Rajapaksas and Ruhuna’. He also pointed to an error - I had stated my ‘source’ as Mme. Kamala Wijesuriya when she in fact is Mme Kamala Wickramasuriya - the 3rd daughter of the Lion (of Ruhuna!).

I promptly apologised to Kamala when I am yet to meet and she said that she would sue me for the insult! A clear indication of the esteem, a Govigama lady has a ‘Karawa Surname’. I told her so and she burst out in laughter. She also corrected yet another error. I had said she was 67 years. She proudly said she was 72 years and suggested that I could even mention her age as 75! (She certainly is a rather unusual female of the species!)

Kamala, faxed a hand written account about her father. It was my intention to use this as my ‘source’ and do the ‘write up’!. But on hindsight, I thought it was much better to translate almost verbatim Kamala’s account of her father written in home-spun Sinhalese to English.

Before that I must let the readers including the Prime Minister and his elder brother into a family secret. I have the full permission of Kamala to divulge this ‘secret’. Ever since I came to know Kamala, through the good offices of her 1st cousin, Chamal (She was a ‘wire friend’ of mine is no time as our contacts have been exclusively over the ’phone) she has been asking me to help her to get a small plot of land. Just imagine, a daughter of the Lion of Ruhuna and a 1st cousin of the Prime Minister and a Deputy Minister asking me, an ex UNP MP (readers! I reiterate that I am NOT a ‘Signore’ though - for Sunil Perera’s popular song by that title refers to a defeated and disgraced politician. I was never rejected by the people. I retired ‘unhurt’ from the hurly burly of contesting politics!)

I asked Kamala to speak to her 1st cousins Mahinda and Chamal. She said ‘Aiyo No! I don’t want to ask them!’ I told her that Dinesh Gunawardena is the man to ‘tap’ as he is the Minister-in-charge. Then she asked me to ‘sound’ Dinesh about her request. I said I do not meet Dinesh often, but on my frequent visits to Parliament I meet ‘Geetha’, Dinesh’s brother who is the Deputy Speaker. ‘Ane ask him for me please’, begged Kamala. ‘I know all the children of philip as he used to come to our place with his Samasamajist colleague’ she added. I did mention her request to Geethanjana Gunawardana at a Pirith ceremony in Parliament about a month back, but ‘Geetha’ did not take this request seriously. He said you ask her to write the book that she said she would write. When I told this to Kamala she said a book on Kusuma (wife of Philip) had already been written. Geetha promised me a copy and Dinesh told me that their sister who has the copies is a tough customer’ and Geetha was frightened of the sister! So that was why I was denied copy so far.

Kamala told me why she wanted the land. It was for a nunnery.

Come December, Kamala is going to leave all the materialistic comforts behind, not to mention a loving husband and 3 very successful offspring and take to the life of a Buddhist Nun.!

‘Even Mahinda does not know this!. Let them hear this from the ‘Sunday Island’. That was why I wanted a plot of land!’ said she. I am indeed proud that the Prime Minister’s 1st cousin confided in me, what she had so far not disclosed to even the ‘Agamethi Malli’.

The other matter that I should mention was that according to Sunimal Fernando’s much researched document ‘The Rajapaksas and Ruhuna - An uncorrected Note for Reflection’ (Kamala says that Sunimal stayed at her Mahagedara in Buddiyagama when he was researching into the ancestry of the Rajapaksas).

According to Sunimal’s account, it was an entrepreneur from Hapugoda in Galle who opened up new vistas in developing the rural economy at the seat of the Rajapaksas.

I quote: ‘In the early 1850s a then modern entrepreneur of Hapugoda in the Galle District, by the name of Don Constantine de Silva Waniga Chintamani Mohotti Ralahamy, started developing a series of modern capitalist enterprises in the Giruwapattu. He introduced into the Giruwapattu, a system of what was then recognised to be modern agriculture with modern technology and wage labour in place of feudal tenant farming and at the same time engaged in property development in the then fledgling town of Tangalle. His then modern enterprises were headquartered at Buddiyagama in Weeraketiya - the seat of the Rajapaksas and their management was entrusted to a modernist but patriotic young man of Buddiyagama - the grand father of the Lion of Ruhuna - DM - and the great grand father of Mahinda and Chamal.

DM was the 2nd son of D. D. Rajapaksa, Vidana Arachchi and Dona Gimara. He was born on 27th Nov. 1896. D. C. Coronelis Rajapaksa, the ‘Coroner Ralahamy’ was his elder brother and elder sister was Caroline Bandara Weeraman nee Rajapaksa. Don Alvin Rajapaksa (D.A.) the father of Mahinda et al, was the younger brother.

The Vidana Arachchi Ralahamy, though every inch a rural rustic villager, had immense foresight for a man of his standing. After the initial education at Mandaduwa Government School, he got his sons admitted to Richmond College in Galle, which was a premier educational institution in the island founded by the Methodist Missionaries, as were Wesley College in Colombo and Kingswood College in Kandy.

The Principal of Richmond was then the legendary Rev. Small - believing his name he took vast strides in the field of education akin to the ‘stone-age’ at S. Thomas, Mt. Lavinia and the Kularatne era at Ananda.

Young D. M. soon won the hearts of his peers and teachers and displayed qualities of leadership. He excelled in both studies and sports and in particular cricket was his forte.

During those days the captain of cricket was not selected but elected by the popular vote of the students and also of the teachers. D.M. romped home an easy winner at the election and as captain of the Richmond team brought in many a win to his alma mater. This was DM’s first election victory!.

Rev. Small and the staff were eager to get DM elected to be the captain for the 2nd year due to his proven track record as ‘captain’, but had to hold and election according to the prevailing ‘rules’.

DM stood for re-election - but strange and unseen forces were at work. DM’s rival, one Amarasuriya, bribed the entire student population with a ‘seeni pittu’ feed and to the surprise and anger of Rev. Small DM lost the election by a solitary vote!!.

I knew the better known Amarasuriyas, Thomas and Henry went to the ‘other place’ in Galle – Mahinda College – the premier Buddhist educational institute in the South which boasts of its association with Colonel Henry Steel Olcott the famous American Buddhist Missionary.

Wanting to find out who this Amarasuriya who bribed his way into captaining the Richmond cricket team, I asked my friend ‘Lion’ Mahendra Amarasuriya Chairman of the Commercial Bank amongst many other establishments as to which blacksheep in the Amarasuriya clan studied at Richmond. Having listened with acute interest to the ‘seeni pittu’ story I narrated, Mahendra, every inch a gentleman par excellence said, ‘Buddhika I do not know of any Richmondite relation of mine. In any event I do not want to know of any namesake whether relative to not who would stoop to such low tactics!’.

Kamala too readily conceded that the culprit was not one of the famous Amarasuriyas but probably a namesake of rather dubious lineage.

When the results of the captaincy election was announced both the staff and students were shocked beyond belief.

Rev. Small, the Richmond Principal called a general assembly. He told the assembly, that it was indeed a sad day for Richmond as ‘bribes’ were offered to induce the outcome of a student election. He and the staff decided to declare the election null and void.

Rev. Small was so upset about this incident he sent for the Vidana Arachchi and got the elder Rajapaksa to remove DM from Richmond and personally accompanied the father and son to Wesley College (also run by the Methodist Church) and handed over the young DM to the Principal of Wesley.

Soon DM showed his mettle by becoming the cricket captain at Wesley too, where he secured many a victory for his side.

With the sudden death of DM’s father - the Vidana Arachchi the family fortunes took a turn for the worse. The Rajapaksa children had to return to the village and continue their education in the village school as their mother could ill afford the luxury of a ‘college’ education for her sons.

But their mother, Dona Gimara was equal to the task. She sold the paddy from the rice paddies and the milk from the dairy often milking the cows herself. Infact in later years when a marriage proposal was brought to DM from the aristocratic Weeratunga family of the Paregedara Walawwa in Madihe in Matara, the women folk of the Weeratunga clan raised objections as to why they should marry their Emalyn to impecunious Rajapaksas living in a thatched house and running a diary.

These flimsy objections were over-ruled and sanity prevailed. DM married Emalyn Weeratunga and together they fathered and mothered 7 children (4 daughters and 3 sons).

During the difficult times that the Rajapaksas’ underwent with the sudden demise of the Vidane Arachchi Ralahamy the 3 brothers, Coranelis, Mathew (DM) and Alvin (DA) looked after their only sister Carolina (Bandara Weeraman after marriage) and helped their widowed mother in the many household chores.

DM was a lad of 16 years when he lost his father and since the death of the Pater families, the eldest of the Vidane Arachchis children Don Corenelis was the guiding light in the life of DM.

DM under the guidance of his elder brother rose to become a youth who always stood for justice and fairplay. He knew only too well the agonies of impecuniousity and began to champion the cause of the underdog. In the area where he lived, there were very strong caste divisions. The Rajapaksas of course belonged to the dominant caste —`A0the govigamas whilst most of the Govigamas treated those living in the same village but belonging to the so called ‘low caste’ as mere chaffel. Some men and women of a certain low caste were precluded from covering the upper part of their torso. They were not allowed into the houses of the Govigamas although they performed either feudal services (Rajakari) or menial work for those who owned the land.

These social injustices that he witnessed day in and day out saw the young DM harbouring the seeds of anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism in his bosom. Thus the ‘Making of a politician’ showed early signs in the character of DM. He was soon recognised as a village leader who led from the front against every form of social injustice.

Thus was born a legend. The legend of the ‘Lion of Ruhuna’.

Next week — DM the politician.

 

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