'Violet Vivienne', 'Vivi' to family and
friends was a rebel from her very young days. She was born on
18th of September 1916 at the De Soysa Maternity Home in
Colombo. Her father was Dr. Don Alanson Gunatilleke who was a
'King Loving' conservative who believed that Ceylon should
continue to be governed by the British.
Her mother Angelina Dona Gunawardene of course
was of a different mould. She was the only daughter of the
famous loved by the people and feared by the imperialistic
rulers Don Jacolis Rupasinghe Gunawardene who was imprisoned
along with the Senanayake brothers, F.R. and D.S., D.B. (later
Sir) Jayatillaka, Valisinghe Harischandra and a host of others
on spurious charges in the aftermath of the 1915 riots which the
Imperialist rulers called a "Race-riot"!
Don Jacolis Gunawardene was popularly known as 'Boralugoda
Ralahamy'. His wife was Liyanora Gunasekera. They begot 10
children of whom Vivi's mother 'Angelina' was the only girl and
therefore the apple of the eye of her parents and brothers. Of
Angelina's brothers the more famous were Robert and Philip each
of whom carved a niche for himself in the body politics, of this
It is crystal clear that 'Vivi', inherited her
'fighting spirits' from her maternal ancestors.
The name given to the eldest of the five
children of Dr. and Mrs. Alanson Gunathileka by the parents was
'Violet'. 'Vivienne' was the name of the nurse who attended on
Angelina at the child-birth. As a special way of recognising her
services at the birth of their 1st child, the Gunathilekas named
the girl 'Violet Vivienne'. She rose into fame in the political
arena as 'Vivienne'. Her other siblings were Tulin, Danister,
Raja and Luxmi.
At the time of Vivi's birth, her father - Dr.
Gunathileka was attached to the Tissamaharama Government
Hospital. Since he was in a transferable service Dr. Gunathileka,
boarded 'Vivi', a mere child of 6 years at Musaeus Ladies
College - The first ladies school in the island.
She spent most of her time at the boarding and
apart from her parents the other 'permitted' visitors to the
girls hostel were her maternal grandmother Liyanora and maternal
uncles Philip and Robert. At Musaeus her favourite teacher was
Mme Majorie Davidson.
'Vivi' spent her school holidays at the
Boralugoda Walawwa, her mother's 'Maha Gedara',
(Ancestral home) in Boralugoda.
Dr. Gunathileka, though a Western Medical
practitioner was of the firm belief that a girl's place was the
home - more particularly the 'kitchen'. He therefore was
determined to keep 'Vivi' at home without permitting her to
continue higher studies though 'Vivi' was an outstanding scholar
always at the top of her class and an excellent sports woman at
school. She excelled in Tennis, Hockey and Netball although her
father being the old school conservative type he was, did not
approve of girls taking to sports.
She was an all round student and was duly made a
She even deputised as a teacher whenever a
teacher was absent. A fine debater in school, there was not a
girl in school who could match her debating skills.
Her favourite uncle was Philip. Philip had just
returned to the island after higher, studies in America and
England. During school holidays, 'Vivi' used to listen to Philip
'Mama' berating the American and British Imperialists
whilst Robert 'Mama' listening to him would grind his
teeth with clenched fists in a corner.
These anti-imperialistic 'lectures' of Philip
instilled into 'Vivi' a strong anti-imperialist sentiment.
During this time the 'Poppy' (flower) campaign
launched to help the families of soldiers who died in the first
World War was in full swing. 'Poppy' flowers were sold in the
street by hundreds of volunteers. Passesrs by proudly displayed
the 'poppy' pinned on to their lapels or blouses.
To counter the 'Poppy', the 'Sunflower' (Sooriyamal)
movement was started in 1931 by Youth leaders like Ealien Perera
and Terrance N. de Silva of Kolonnawa. The LSSP had not been
'born' during this time although amongst a few rebellious youth
anti-imperialistic feelings were simmering. These youths
organised the sale of the Sunflowers in opposition to the
'Poppy' and the proceeds from the sale of the Sunflowers were
utilised for the welfare of the Ceylonese families who were
affected by the war and to uplift the educational standards of
children from the so-called low castes amongst other social
welfare activities. The Sunflower movement gradually became
popular with the common man.
After the formation of the LSSP on 18th December
1935 the party published a very popular paper - 'Samasamajaya'.
(The English paper 'Samasamajist' was edited by the young
Leslie Gunawardene, a son of Dr. Simon Gunawardene, a popular
medical practitioner of Panadura).
The LSSP organ, 'Samasamajaya' played a
key role in arousing the anti-British feelings of the people and
the popular Sinhala poet P. B. Alwis Perera implored the people
against the 'Poppy' movement.
Alwis Perera, wielded his pen very effectively
when he wrote a series of 'Kavi' to the 'Samasamajaya'
paper in 1936.
okj;a n,h ;yjqre lrkg fm<g
hqom;a w`86rdc .e;s fin`A8ka le,g
fo;fyd;a msysg Tn f.j`F1ka `A7fmdms`B6 u,g
uereK;a fyk jefohs je<`A8j ;eka j,g
The 'Poppy' campaign even 'invaded' Musaeus
College and the Prefects were also entrusted with the
responsibility of selling the Poppies.
1st of November to the 7th was declared the
'Poppy' Week. To counter the 'Poppy' campaign, the Sooriyamal
drive was launched for the 11th of November.
As a mark of respect for the dead in the
Imperialistic War, as claimed by the 'Reds', a 5 minutes silence
was to be observed islandwide. Traffic came to a grinding halt.
Workers in government and private offices and factories stopped
work and stood at attention remembering the 'dead' who
sacrificed their lives in the war.
Schoolchildren were also required to observe the
five minute silence. The commencement of the period of silence
was heralded by the sounding of sirens.
As the sirens wailed, the Musaeus girls stood at
attention. There was pin-drop silence everywhere. As the 5
minute silence was being observed, it was shattered to smithers
with the tingling sound of boxes of instruments falling to the
floor from where they were kept on top of a stand.
Just by the stand was standing Prefect Vivienne.
'Vivi' however could not pull her leg back from the stand which
she deliberately knocked to protest against the enforced silence
without being observed by the principal.
The principal promptly summoned 'Vivi' to the
stage and meted out a severe form of punishment which 'Vivi'
suffered not with pain but with pleasure.
Uncles Philip and Robert were 'Vivi's permitted
visitors to the hostel and the uncles conducted their pretty
niece to several other schools to conduct the Sooriyamal
campaign - of course without the knowledge of the Musaeus
College authorities and 'Vivi's' parents.
Apart from 'Vivi', there were several other
young girls who were involved with the 'Sooriyamal'
campaign. To name a few they included a Doreen Young (who later
became Mrs. S. A. Wickremesinghe), Helen Alwis, Eileen
Weerasekera and Susan Caldera.
'Vivi' knew that if her father came to know of
her involvement with the anti-imperialist campaign it would
spell disaster to her and would certainly put an end to her
schooling. The very fact she was defying paternal and school
authority gave 'Vivi' a great impetus, joy and satisfaction.
Thus a young and pretty 'Rebel was in the making'.
'Buy a Sooriya flower-for freedom! Buy a
Poppy for slavery!' were the slogans of the 'Sooriyamal
However Dr. Gunathileka decided that 'Vivi' has
had an adequate education for a girl. He knew that if 'Vivi'
continued her education she would most certainly enter the
university. 'There was co-education in the university and it was
no place for a pretty girl like Vivi decided her father. Much
against her wishes and the advise of her teachers, 'Vivi' was
removed from school and brought home to be taught the finer arts
of being a good housewife.
Though removed from school, 'Vivi' was always in
her room reading to the annoyance of her mother who asked 'Vivi'
to pay attention to household work as a young lass should do.
But 'Vivi', insisted that she already knew to cook rice and make
a 'pol sambol' and if she wanted, to advance from there she
could always refer a 'cookery book'. Angelina accepted defeat
and declared, 'I can't argue with you - but you must realize
that being a 'Lamissi' (young lady) you must learn
cooking and other house hold chores!'
These words of advice fell on deaf ears!
'Vivi', though forcibly taken away from school,
did not give up her desire for studies. The books she was
reading were text books for the University Entrance Examination.
She would not confide even in her mother that she was 'secretly'
preparing for the University Entrance Examination in fear that
she would tell the father.
Both Philip and Robert were very upset about the
abrupt termination of Vivi's schooling and tried to talk their
'brother-in-law' into seeing sense.
The resulting position was that Dr. Gunathileka
chased away his two brothers-in-law from the house.
But Robert Mama managed to smuggle in the
required text books for his niece. Philip mama too realized that
'Vivi' should be encouraged to continue her studies.
'Vivi' applied to University Entrance
Examination as a 'Private' candidate giving the address of an
aunt at Wellawatta.
Although she received the admission card to sit
the examination, she realized that it was well nigh impossible
to keep away from home for about a week to sit the examination.
She was very upset over the predicament that she faced.
It was when she was so pondering that uncle
Robert brought a letter from her aunt in Wellawatta to her
Dr. Gunathileka who read the letter a few times
called Vivienne and told her to read the letter sent by her
As 'Vivi' was reading the letter her uncle
Robert was observing the proceedings with a twinkle in his eye.
Vivi's mother arrived on the scene and 'Vivi'
gave the letter to the mother who upon reading the contents was
The letter stated that Vivi's aunt at Wellawatta
was ill and that there was no one to attend to her. As 'Vivi'
was in the mother's opinion doing nothing at home she suggested
that she should go to keep her aunt company for a week or two
until she was cured.
Uncle Robert accompanied his niece to Wellawatta
from where 'Vivi' sat for her university entrance.
Some weeks later, Vivi's father came home
visibly angry and with a worried look. He had a newspaper rolled
in his hand. He called out to 'Vivi' in a loud voice and started
scolding her left, right and centre.
'Look at your 'Hapankam'! (clever deeds) so
saying he fling the newspaper at Vivi'.
'Vivi', perusing the newspaper bust out lauing
for the paper carried the results of the University Entrance
Examination. 'Vivi' had not merely passed the exam but had also
secured a merit scholarship awarded to only 10 students!
'You may have passed the exam. But you are NOT
going to the university!' was Dr. Gunathileka's quick and curt
'Vivi', did not want to plead with her father to
obtain permission. As her father was in a rage she thought it
was best to remove herself from the scene. She was inwardly very
happy at what she had done behind the back of her parents.
She found no solace with mother either. Her
mother upgraded her for pulling the wool over their eyes and
said that father was hopping mad at her.
'What did I do for father to be mad at me?';
'Your father doesn't like you mixing up with
boys. That will spoil you. If not for that, father is not
against your studying!'
'Then, there are plenty of girls who study along
'You go and ask that from your father!' was her
mother's sharp retort.
Vivienne did not go to argue with her father on
this issue anymore.
One day 'Vivi' heard her father telling a
visitor who called on him the stubborn and untowared conduct of
her daughter in sitting the University Entrance Examination. hHe,
'Vivi' could see from behind the curtain of her room, was still
Dr. Gunathileka's close associates were J. T. R
Perimpanayagam, Warden of S. Thomas' College, V. Coomaraswamy, a
Civil Servant J. N. Arumugam, a judicial officer at Gampaha.
On this particular day, the caller was Mr. V.
Coomaraswamy handled the case on behalf of 'Vivi'.
If she could win a merit scholarship having read privately, to
what height would she have risen if she had been a school
'This is a grave injustice. If she doesn't avail
herself of the admission, she would be only depriving another
child from being admitted. You need not worry about your
daughter 'mixing' with boys. How many girls have successfully
completed their university education in an environment of
co-education? All you have to do is to get her to join the
university and keep an eye on her,' Coomaraswamy argued. Dr.
Gunathileka had no answers to the lucid points raised by
Dr. Gunathilaka called her daughter.
'I will allow you to go to university only
because of this gentleman who had interceded on your behalf. But
if I catch you on the wrong footing I'll not only remove you
from the university but also will not permit you to step outside
the house. Don't you know who I am?' contioned the father.
However Vivienne was only 17 years of age when
she passed the university entrance examination. The qualifying
age limit for admission to the university was 18 years and she
was compelled to while away her time at home for another year
until she reached 18.
'Vivi' gained admission to the university
'college' in 1934. She was in the Girls' Hostel down Queen's
She read for an English special degree after
successfully completing the Inter-Arts. There were only 3
students offering English Special for the degree in her batch.
As at Musaeus College she excelled in sports
activities in the university, too. As she was an all-round
student she became very popular with the rest of the students.
She proved her prowess particularly in Tennis,
Hocky and Netball.
Whilst she was playing hocky where some boys
also played, she to her horror saw her father observing her,
having stopped the car by the university fence.
'This is it!. Today is my D day. I am sure to be
taken home!' she quivered.
To her utter amazement her father complemented
her. 'Go on and play. You play very well!
One day there arrived in the university a young
man - Robin Ratnam, the son of Mary Ratnam, the founder of the
Mahila Samiti Movement.
A fine orator he said that the time had come to
change the social structure of the country and that several
youngsters had come from abroad and they had a plan to usher in
a society sans poverty. Their movement would herald an era of
National Independence and National revival.
Robin Ratnam said that they held their first
meeting that day and one Colvin R. de Silva had been elected the
President. He asked all the 'intelligent', young men and women
to join this movement to drive the 'White Man' out of our
The organisation that Robin spoke of was the
Lanka Sama Samaja Party, which was formed on 18th December 1935.
'Vivi' was instantly attracted towards Robin's
forceful lecture. She realized that this was the same thing that
her uncles Philip and Robert were also saying.
'Vivi' was indeed a very vavacious and very
pretty young lady and it was natural for many a young man to
court her. Among the many young men who displayed an acute
interest in her were two persons who later became Deputy
Inspector General of Police.
They were Sudney de Zoysa and C. C. Dissanayake.
'Damn the Police Force!' was one of the topics,
debated at the university. The proposition was lead by Vivienne
and the Opposition by C. C. Dissanayake.
'Vivi's side won!
Once several university students including 'Vivi'
went on a picnic to Gampaha gardens. They went in a vehicle the
driver of which was Sydney de Zoysa.
Two days later 'Vivi's' father received a letter
which disclosed that 'Vivi' went to Gampaha Gardens with Sydney.
Even the registration number of the vehicle was stated in the
Dr. Gunathileka stormed into the university
hostal in a rage and removed 'Vivi' home putting an end to
Vivi's university career.
Even as an university student, Vivienne took a
very keen interest in the Samasamaja activities and stealthily
attended its several public meetings. The British Government was
keeping the LSSP activists under close scrutiny and Dr.
Gunatileka was keeping her comely daughter also under closer
scrutiny. There were occasions when hired things and drunkards
were deployed to disrupt LSSP meetings. These incidents took a
serious turn in Marawila, Naththandiya, Bulathkohupitiya and
As 'Vivi' continued to attend the meetings and
other activities of the Samasamaja Party she came across a young
and handsome party worker.
This was Leslie Gunawardene.
In no time they became lovers. As the Bard said,
'Love is Blind' and two lovers threw caution to the winds and
before long the news of this love affair reached the ears of Dr.
Knowing how keen Vivienne was about her
University Education, he offered a compromise albeit with a
catch is it.
'If you promise to give up your connection with
Leslie, I will allow you to continue your university education.
If not you will remain at home', the father decreed.
Vivienne preferred her lover to an university
Having thus been 'grounded', Vivienne again
absorbed herself with books. She studied unobstrusively. Her
younger brother and uncle Robert helped her in her studies by
securing the various text books required. The examination fees
of Rs. 108 was also found by Robert.
During this time a frequent visitor to the
Gunathileka home was M. D. H. Jayawardene who besides being a
leading lawyer was an economic wizard (He was later to be the
Minister of Finance in the UNP Government!) M. D. H. coached the
young Vivi in Economics and Vivienne passed the exam with flying
It was only when the results were published in
the newspapers that Vivi's father came to know that she had sat
the exam without anybody's knowledge.
Any other father would have been delighted over
his child's success. But not Dr. Gunathileka. His face was
clouded with anger.
That evening his brother-in-law Robert paid a
visit. On seeing Robert, Dr. Gunathileka erupted.
'You are the fellow behind all this!' growled 'Vivi's
Robert ran away laughing loud.
One day Vivienne stealthily crept into the LSSP
office then at Maradana and became a member having paid the
subscription of 25 cents.
During this time Philip had conducted a series
of lectures on 'the LSSP as a political party' and on 'the
political situation in the country'.
This was when 'Vivi' took her mother - who
happened to be the younger sister of Philip into her confidence
and confided in her that she was now a member of the LSSP and
that she wanted to attend the lectures delivered by uncle
The response from her mother - Boralugoda
Ralahamy's daughter was most encouraging.
'Doesn't matter daughter. However much father
grumbles, I know my brother is on the correct path. Even my
father used to say the same thing what Philip says now when we
were young! I shall take you to those functions whithout telling
'Mother, you are like my uncles. I must also be
like them' exclaimed 'Vivi' in joy hugging the mother.
From then onwards, mother and daughter left the
house together and having sent 'Vivi' to the venue of the
lectures, her mother went visiting her sisters.
Occasionally Dr. Gunathileka would ask where
they went and the mother would tell a white lie saying they went
to the sisters or to see a film. As Dr. Gunathileka was serving
in the outstation these activities of mother and daughter
It was during this time that Madam Kamaladevi
Vattopadyaya, an eminent socialist from India arrived in the
island at the invitation of the LSSP for a series of lectures.
The main lecture was at the Galle Face Green and
'Vivi' went for this lecture with her friend Kusuma Amarasinghe.
After the very successful meeting at the
'Green', the Organisers retreated to the '80 club' for dinner.
This was where Philip met Kusuma for the first
Leslie who was in love with 'Vivi' already,
thrust a small love note to 'Vivi' which said:
Although 'Vivi's' father, Dr. Gunathileka was
dead opposed to the love affair between his daughter and Leslie,
Leslie's father Dr. Simon Gunawardene who saw Vivienne at a
Spanish Art Exhibition made inquiries as to who that pretty
young lady was.
'That's Vivienne - Philip's niece!' was the
'One day Leslie should also marry someone like
that!' remarked the good doctor blissfully unaware that the two
were already lovers.
Dr. Gunathileka's opposition to Leslie as a
son-in-law was two pronged. On the one hand he was a Christian
whilst the Gunathileka's were Buddhists. On the other, the
Gunawardene's were of the Karawa caste whilst the Gunathileka's
were of the Goigama community.
During this time Vivienne applied for a teaching
vacancy at Ladies College, Kandy of which the Principal was Mrs.
Hilda Kularatne wife of P. de S. Kularatne of Ananda fame.
Vivienne was given the appointment even without
being called for a 'Viva' 'Vivi' pleaded with mother to get the
father's consent to accept the appointment. Father's response
was that he would get Philip's views on the matter before coming
to a decision.
When Philip arrived one evening at the
Gunathileka's home, 'Vivi' assigned brother 'Danni' to earsdrop
on the conversation between her father and uncle.
'Vivi' was very fond of the uncle as he was of
her and everything now rested on Philip mama's response.
Shattering her hopes, Philip said 'I think this
is a ruse to strengthen the association with Leslie'. When 'Vivi'
heard this remark she felt utterly let down and told Philip that
his views were contrary to the socialism he preached. She lost
her respect for Philip over this incident.
Meanwhile the Governor issued a proclamation
forfeiting all Leslie's properties. This information was
'leaked' to Vivi by Sydney de Zoysa who vied with Leslie and a
host of other eligible bachelors for 'Vivi's hand. On receipt of
this information Leslie made outright transfers of his 4 massive
houses down Pedris Road to Dismin de Mel and the other
properties to his brothers.
The state filed action against Leslie for
fraudulent disposal of property. The matter went up to the Privy
Council, but the State could not succeed.
When two people are in love they adopt ingenious
methods of communication. As Dr. Gunathileka would open all the
letters addressed to 'Vivi', Leslie requisitioned the services
of a book-seller to carry his love letters. 'Vivi' being a
voracious reader, no one suspected when Vivi spent a long time
turning the pages of the books. 'Vivi's return letters to Leslie
too were sent via the same modus operandi.
However this situation was telling on both
parties. 'Vivi' began to pale and was becoming a psychological
Leslie gave notice of a Habeas Corpus
application if Vivienne was not sent to the Boralugoda Walawwa
within a week for him to get married.
As there was no response from Dr. Gunathileka,
Leslie filed the Habeas Corpus and 'Vivi' too responded by
filing papers that she was being kept against her will by her
After a hotly contested case Leslie and Vivi
It is pertinent to note that it was J. R.
Jayawardene who was assisted by his brother Corbert (latterly
Sedawatte Dharmmaruchi Thero) who appeared for Vivienne.
Leslie and Vivienne were married on the 30th of
January 1939 at Hotel Nippon, Slave Island.
I am grateful to my friend Wimalasiri de Mel,
the General Secretary of the LSSP for having gifted me with the
booklet 'Rathu Senpathini - Vivienne - jointly authored by
Malalgoda Banduthilaka and Nandasena Sooriyaarachchi which I
used extensively in writing this article.
More on 'Vivi' next week