Features
Men and Memories
‘Vivi’ — the ‘rebel’ is made
Buddhika Kurukularatne

Our previous instalment disclosed how Leslie Goonewardene filed a Habeas Corpus application, citing Vivi’s father, Don Alanson Gunatilake, as a respondent requiring him to produce the ‘corpus’ (Vivi) in court to determine whether, she was being kept by her father against her free will and how she, through her lawyers J. R. Jayewardene instructed by Corbet Jayewardene. (J.R.’s brother who later became a Buddhist priest and took the name Sedawatte Dhammaruchi) filed papers in support of Leslie’s application.

The Judge after listening to submissions made by counsel of both parties decreed that Leslie and Vivi were a matching couple and Dr. Gunatilake, as Vivi’s father, should give the young couple his blessings.

When the court decided in favour of the young lovers, Dr. Gunatilake flew into a rage and rushed to the office of Labour Leader A. E. Gunasinghe, an avowed opponent of the L.S.S.P., to place a statement in the newspaper ‘Sinha Handa’ published by Gunasinghe.

Dr. Gunatilake who gave an account of the proceedings of the case said in his statement that Marxists were a set of people who were arrogant and who had no respect for elders.

Gunasinghe readily published Dr. Gunatilake’s statement and the doctor bought 500 copies of the paper and distributed them free at Boralugoda.

Unable to go to her parent’s home, ‘Vivi’ after the court gave its verdict in favour of Leslie, proceeded to the house of Mr. and Mrs. Reggie Senanayake and after staying there for a week on June 30, 1939, she and Leslie were married at the Hotel Nippon at Slave Island.

After the marriage the couple stayed for a few days with Mr. and Mrs. Henry Pieris and left for India to participate the Indian National Congress Convention.

The L.S.S.P. in the meantime had made significant inroads into the trade union movement which up to then was the domain of A. E. Gunasinghe, the leader of the Labour Party.

The leader of the Railway Workers’ Union at Ratmalana was Leslie and the colonial rulers were determined to break the backbone of the L.S.S.P.

The Governor decided to take into custody the L.S.S.P. leaders and the L.S.S.P. got wind of this in time to take counter measures.

L.S.S.P. leaders faced imminent arrest

The Gazette Extraordinary on Treason was proclaimed on June 3, 1940 and L.S.S.P. leaders like Philip, N. M. Colvin and Leslie faced imminent arrest. The leaders went underground but continued to publish the L.S.S.P. organ, the ‘Samasamajaya, uninterruptedly.

Three persons who were selling the ‘Samasamajaya’ paper were prosecuted and jailed for seven years.

To make matters more complicated ‘Vivi’ was pregnant with ‘Kumudini’ her first child (‘Vivi’ and Leslie had another daughter Premila and a son, Suren. All three children are doing well in England.) To keep his pregnant niece company, Philip had sent Kusuma, his wife as Leslie was in hiding. Leslie was hiding in the house of a friend, Richard Pieris, and N.M. was aware of this fact.

Unable to be separated from his beloved wife, Leslie came home and that very day Colvin had been arrested in the courts. Although it was Philip who told N.M. of Colvin’s arrest, Philip did not want to bother his pregnant niece with this information as he thought Leslie was yet ‘underground’. By this time Leslie, after a hearty home-cooked meal was having a siesta in blissful ignorance of the fact that not only Colvin, but also N.M. had been arrested by then, the latter in his own garden when trying to make good his escape.

When the L.S.S.P. activists heard of the arrest of Colvin and N.M. they went to Richard Pieris’s house. There they learnt that Leslie had gone home. Jack Kotelawala and Reggie Perera immediately jumped into a racing car which had a canvas sheet covering the rear seat.

There was a heavy police guard placed at the junction near Leslie’s house and all the vehicles were subjected to a thorough search. The police looked under the canvas and discovering nothing allowed the car to proceed. Jack Kotelawala and Reggie stormed into the room where Leslie was peacefully sleeping. They woke him up saying that Colvin and N. M. have been arrested and the police would be very soon hot on his trail.

‘Vivi’ came rushing in hearing this din and implored Leslie to hurry up. Leslie got so excited that he wore his pair of trousers over the sarong he had been wearing. Jack and Reggie covered Leslie with the canvas and sped away. As they passed the police checkpoint near Leslie’s house, the policemen did not bother to re-examine the vehicle which they checked barely three minutes ago.

This ‘security lapse’ saved Leslie from being arrested.

The incarceration of the L.S.S.P. leaders was not made public for fear of a backlash as the L.S.S.P. movement was very popular in the country and its leaders were ‘hero worshipped’ by the working class and the middle class.

Though heavy with child, even during this period, ‘Vivi’ actively supported the Samasamajist movement spearheaded by Philip Mama and others, who were still at large. She also supplied information to underground organisations of the party.

P. de S. Kularatne of Ambalangoda was one of the leading Buddhist educationists in the Island. Under him dawned the golden era of Ananda College — the premier Buddhist Educational Institute in the Island. The modus operand adopted by Kularatne to collect funds for putting up the buildings for a rapidly expanding educational institute which lured children from leading colleges S. Thomas’ (from where N.M. joined Ananda) and Prince of Wales College (the school that the Gunawardene trio, Philip, Robert and Harry attended before their advent to Ananda) was to hold ‘carnivals’.

Kularatne’s opponents called him ‘Carnival Kularatne’.

Ananda College carnival was held over several days and on each day thousands thronged the carnival grounds. Vivienne thought that the carnival crowd would be her ideal target to propagate the Samasamajist message as well as to educate the masses on the inhuman actions of the imperialist rulers. She got thousands of pamphlets printed and started distributing them herself at the carnival grounds.

‘P. de S’ investigated the red notice people were carrying. Realizing that it was the ‘Samasamajist political material he lost his cool and admonished ‘Vivi’ saying ‘Please refrain from engaging in political propaganda here. This is a school. I don’t like this type of thing’.

Vivi’s face clouded and some ladies who were there offered to distribute the pamphlets surreptitiously as it was not a job for an expectant mother.

Just then Kularatne announced over the public address system that no one should take the scurrilous pamphlets that were being distributed by some women and added that possessing them would be tantamount to high treason!

Then an Assistant Superintendent of Police approached ‘Vivi’.

‘Almost in a whisper he urged ‘Vivi’ to vanish from the scene quickly as Kularatne had reported the incident to the I.G.P.

This A.S.P. was none other than Sydney de Zoysa who later became a D.I.G. who had been eying ‘vivacious Vivi’ during their university days. It was Sydney who was vicariously responsible for Vivi being removed from the university, by her father Dr. Alanson Gunatilaka, after the latter came to know that ‘Vivi’ had gone to the Gampaha Gardens in the car driven by Sydney.

Although Sydney failed to win the heart and the hand of ‘Vivi’ the two remained very good and close friends with the former passing on some ‘classified information’ to Vivi. It was Sydney de Zoysa who told ‘Vivi’ that all the properties of Leslie were going to be confiscated giving enough time for Leslie to transfer the properties to Dismin de Mel and his sisters.

Leslie was in hiding during this time and rumour had it that Leslie moved freely in the crowds disguising himself as a sari-clad lady.

‘Vivi’ too could not bear to be separated from Leslie. ‘Vivi’ badly wanted to see Leslie and this she conveyed to Doric de Souza. Doric realized that this was indeed a tall order as an open warrant had been issued for Leslie’s arrest. However ‘Vivi’ kept on insisting that she should see Leslie, whereupon Reggie Senanayake hit upon a plan.

As ‘Vivi’ was expecting her child she went for walking exercises’ to the Mt. Lavinia beach.

Reggie Senanayeke decided that the Mount Lavinia beach should be the rendezvous for the young couple. Leslie always wore the national dress and ‘Vivi’ couldn’t help laughing when she saw Leslie walking towards them clad in a pair of slacks and a shirt. He was heavy with ‘make-up’. Each knew that it was a dangerous game and any moment they ran the risk of being arrested. The only words they spoke whilst passing each other were to ask the other to be careful and to invoke the blessings of the Gods.

One day Vivienne was highly excited by what Dr. Nicholas Attygalle had told her. Police had come to meet Dr. Attygalle and had wanted to know the date Vivi was expecting the baby. Attygalle well known for his tyrannical mannerism had told the police that communication between the doctor and the patient was privileged.

Vivienne had her confinement at Dr. Wickramasuriya’s Nursing Home. The police thinking that Leslie would definitely make an appearance at the nursing home to see his child, strengthened security around the nursing home.

Even in her worst moment ‘Vivi’ did not lose her wit and humour. She wanted to play a joke on the police. One day she in a whisper told the nurse that Leslie was coming that night to see the baby and pleaded with her to keep the room in semi-darkness, knowing very well she would confide in the matron who in turn would tip off the Police. As evening fell, she noticed heavy activity amongst the Police surrounding the Nursing Home.

That evening there was a stream of callers. All men wearing the national dress — putting the police in complete disarray. All her male visitors disguised themselves like Leslie and Vivi burst out laughing when she saw Corbert Jayewardene (J. R.’s brother) coming to see her wearing a national dress for the first time and also having put on heavy make up.

When Corbert Jayewardene left the Nursing Home, ‘Vivi’ could see the Police chasing him like a pack of blood hounds.

In the meantime things were hotting up for the LSSP leaders with Hector Abhayawardhane, V. Karalasingham, Bernard Soysa and Anthonipillai already in hiding in India. It was thought that Leslie who was a physical and mental wreck after the games of hide and seek he played with the Police should also seek refuge in India.

Leslie too escaped to India and was followed by ‘Vivi’ with her 14 month old daughter — Kumudini — Vivienne posed of as the wife of Allan Mendis.

The couple having united assumed the name of ‘Pinto’, but to avoid being detected changed their abode frequently.

It was during their stay in India that Hindu-Muslim riots broke out. By this time most of the other LSSP leaders were also in India. Though they were runaways from justice in their own country they became involved in the anti-British struggle that was taking place in India at the time. Vivienne worked in a newspaper published in India supporting the Indian Movement for Independence. In fact the entire paper was produced by those who arrived from Ceylon. ‘Vivi’ went round with a Bengali woman named ‘Yupuwa’ selling the papers throwing caution to the winds.

After the end of the World War in 1945, those who fled to India were able to return to Ceylon and their loved ones. This they did only in November 1946 after the warrants issued for their arrest were recalled.

Vivienne launched her career as a people’s representative by winning the Havelock Town ward in the Colombo Municipal Council which she held for 4 years. She later was returned as the Member for Mahawatta in the CMC.

She had mixed fortunes when she contested the Parliamentary elections.

Her maiden attempt at Parliamentary elections was when she contested J. R. Jayewardene at Kelaniya in the 1952 General Elections. At this elections she was betrayed by her own maternal uncle Philip who supported Wimala Wijewardene. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who initially backed ‘Vivi’ ceased to display an interest when he realized that the high priest of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, the influential Mapitigama Buddharakkitha Thero was backing Wimala Wijewardene at the insistence of Philip Gunawardene. ’ finished 3rd behind Wimala.

In 1956 she won the Colombo North constituency in Parliament but failed to retain her seat in both March and July General Elections of 1960 as also in the General Elections of 1965. However she re-entered Parliament as the MP for Borella at the by-election held in 1974, on the death of Dr. W.D. (Dadi Bidi) de Silva.

She represented the LSSP at several international seminars and was an active member of the International Womens Federation. She passed away on October 3, 1996, a few weeks after her 80th Birthday.

In 1970 she was returned as the MP for Ratmalana but lost in 1977 to a kinsman, Lalith Athulathmudali of the UNP.

A UNP Front Bencher Wijeyapala Mendis speaking at the condolence motion in Parliament on May 21, 1998 paying a glowing tribute to ‘Vivi’ recalled how he was impressed, when he met her in his capacity of the Mayor of Negombo, with ‘Vivi’s’ grasp of the subject of local government of which she was the Deputy Minister during the ULF regime.

During her colourful career as a politician Vivienne was slapped by a ‘strong woman’ of the UNP on the day the Opposition organised a massive demonstration from Horton Place to the old parliament at Galle Face. This was on the January 8, 1966 and the opposition was protesting against the regulations to be promulgated.

This was also the day when a Buddhist in the procession was killed by a ricochet bullets. That day in Parliament under the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act. Vivienne’s ‘slapper’, later became the wife of a leading UNP politician who has now distanced himself from the UNP.

At the same spot R. G. Senanayake MP was also assaulted by a UNP strong man P. D. Karunathilake.

‘Vivi’ was rousely dealh with by the Kollupitiya Police. This incident took place when a procession of women were passing ‘Temple Trees’ after handing over a petition to the American Ambassador. Angered by the shouts to reduce the price of children’s food, the police dragged a photographer Wimala Surendra who was photographing the protest march and severely beat him up. On seeing this ‘Vivi’ rushed in and argued with the Police that the photographer be released. The end result was that ‘Vivi’ was roushed-up and locked up. On hearing this NM and Colvin rushed to the Police Station and got ‘Vivi’ released. She had to be almost carried out of the station.

A case was filed against the Police and the Police were found guilty by courts but rewarded by way of promotions by the ‘Dharmista’ Government of J. R. Jayewardene.

UNP hooligans hooted in front of the houses of the Judges who heard the case. ‘Vivi’ was also awarded Rs. 2,500 as personal damages which Vivienne donated to the Cancer Society.

Vivienne was editing the pro-LSSP paper Janadina when I was on the editorial staff of Janahitha, a pro-UNP publication of Express Newspapers Ltd of Esmond Wickramasinghe.

I was writing a ‘lobby’ column for ‘Janahitha’ and I used to meet Vivienne in the Parliament press gallery. She usually sat next to me but she did not know me personally. I was another correspondent as far as she was concerned.

I used to stealthily glance at her ‘copy’ and write a reply to her ‘story’ which appeared on the same day her paper hit the stands. I don’t think she ever knew how her stories were leaked.

One day Jinadasa Niyathapala, my political guru who was editing the ‘Siyarata’, came and sat next to me on my left. On my right was ‘Vivi’.

Mr. Dudley Senanayake was on his feet and just then. Dr. N. M. Perera entered the Chamber. Dudley paused briefly and ‘Vivi’ like a mischievous school girl said, I believed for Niyathapal’s benefit, "see how Dudley’s- mood changed upon seeing N.M.". This was enough for Niyathapala to erupt. He challenged ‘Vivi’ and ‘Vivi’ said pointing to me, ‘I was not speaking to you! I was speaking to this gentleman!’. I not being the gallant young lochinvar said ‘No you were not talking to me!’

I believe in the chair was the amiable Shirley Corea and the tall and lanky Ananda de Silva Sergeant-at-Arms approached us and said that the Speaker had complained about the noise.

In the early 60’s Jinadasa Niyathapala was contesting a by-election, the Borella North ward of the Colombo Municipal Council.

The ‘ward’ included notorious areas such as Wanathamulla and Serpentine Road. It was a vice den where criminals held sway. During that time the drug menace was not present. The combined left fielded one Wijesuriya and his campaign manager was Vivienne. I had cut school and had come all the way from Ambalangoda to assist my political guru in his campaign.

During those early times, there were no restrictions on transport of voters. I carried in my arms old men and cripples into the polling booth. I was a marked man and ‘Vivi’ was throwing ‘gal’ looks at me.

With me was a sturdy six footer, Watawala Dharmaratne who was a key speaker at UNP youth rallies. He had a booming voice and could address any meeting without the public address system. He was also the right hand man of Donald Ranaweera, owner of the Times Group.

We were seated inside a white Volkswagan Beetle sending chits to our polling agents to object to people whom we suspected as impersonators.

After about an hour or so, Leslie came up to the vehicle and demanded to know who had given us permission to occupy his vehicle.

Whilst I managed a weak apology. I have never seen a giant of a man — 6 footer he was bolting from the scene in lightening speed.

Vivienne too arrived on the scene and told me in Sinhala ‘Umbata ada rewenna kalin bomba gahanawa’ (You will get a bomb before dusk today!)

Vivienne was a person who kept her word.

A bomb was flung — though not at me.

The target was Jinadasa Niyathapala who won the hotly contested by-election but had to resign soon after in view of an election petition that had been filed on the ground that he was not a resident within the municipal area.

Instead of Niyathapala, the bomb hit Lake House cameraman Harvey Campbell whose leg had to be treated as a result.

(Sources ‘Rathu Sen Pathini — Vivienne)

Mr. C. Kuruppu — Deputy Librarian Parliament.

 

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