Comment on Ajita Kadirgamar’s excellent biography on her Father


The Cake that was Baked at Home: Lakshman Kadirgamar: snapshots of the man’s life by his daughter is more than mere snapshots, it’s a moving film, in both senses of the word: ‘moving’ since his entire life is presented in fair detail as a running film to be seen in the reader’s mind, and emotional to the reader as it surely was to the daughter to write about this "last of the Ceylonese" which term is her summing up of her father. She ends her narrative thus: "My anguish aside, I cannot deny my father Lakshman Kadirgamar was a colossus, a unique being, the likes of which the nation will never encounter again. He gave his all. That’s how he would like to be remembered."

Three persons with whom I discussed the book agreed it could not be put down once taken to hand to read; enthralling reading; skillfully threaded together; fair and objective; non-sentimental and very humane. All these plus points are due to the style and manner of Ajita’s writing: sincere, not hagiographic and dealing honestly with the great man’s achievements and his foibles, even faults. (I take the liberty of referring to the great man in this article as Ajita does, by his initials – LK)

Two outstanding features of

the biography

To me two aspects are commendable and it is about these two that I deal with in this comment. To write a critique on the 441 pages, each one packed with information and many brushed over with emotion would need at least four articles. Hence, I deal with the honesty and openness with which Ajita has written her biography, and I comment on the vast amount of research done and documented within a year’s reading and referencing on her father. I will not touch at all on his greatness and achievements; they are all very well known.

Justified angst

Ajita Kadirgamar had much to accept and be upset over. She does not forgive easily and to ease the burden she carried, she wrote this book, hoping it would be cathartic. This was my opinion long before I read the last chapter Closure. In it she admits: "Therapists and counselors mandate that one has to seek forgiveness and come to terms with one’s ghosts and inner demons. In that vein, the therapy that writing this book has provided me, is priceless." And: "People will certainly ask what kind of a daughter I am, that I can be so critical and judgemental about this much loved and respected man. They will see me as tarnishing a hero’s image. Well, I am the kind of daughter who tells it like it is, … The fact remains that his greatness came at a price. We paid the price for his single minded ambition, drive and brilliance that led him to the highest echelons of public office. We stood in the wings helplessly as, first a woman and then a whole nation hijacked him as their own." (And most readers like it being given straight, since we talk straight, at least the older ones among us.)

I admire Ajita for so bravely moving against the current, as it were, to tell truths about the latter part of Lakshman Kadirgamar’s life as it impacted or, more correctly lost all connection, with his immediate family. Security concerns and a very demanding second wife kept the family – even the closest of son Ragi, daughter Ajita and grandson Keira - so completely cut off from him till even at the state funeral they were treated almost like bystanders. "…he did change as a person. Drastically. The utter mystery of his behavior is incomprehensible and utterly irksome and will always linger, like a giant question mark, suspended over our lives." How utterly sad when we ordinary folk can remember the great man with no blimps or blurs, only admiration. Apart from that after his death too the family had to face incomprehensible denials. One can hardly believe that though asked for through emissaries, no ash after the Buddhist funeral of this Christian man was handed over to the family for internment in the "quiet spot in the Borella Kanatte graveyard where the rest of his family were returned to the earth one by one over the decades." So much of deep grief we share against unbelievable selfishness. All the ashes were supposedly shed into the Kalu Ganga at Kalutara. The familywere given no "items of sentimental value. We were now left with absolutely nothing of the man. Not even a speck of ash."

Exhaustive research

The greatness of this biography that compares with the best, is invested with both strong and gentle touches in the treatment of the subject. As said earlier honesty is a very marked characteristic in the writing. The excellence of the biography is also due in large measure to the extensive research done. It is far from mere memory writing. Not only are opinions, speeches, articles about Lakshman Kadirgamar included but extensively covered are his speeches, writings, notes made and opinions. Whatever fact is mentioned is substantiated with references. Facts being things she knew about her father, heard about him, requested from people who knew him and of course ferreted out through extensive research.

I deal with just two examples to demonstrate how meticulous, how thorough, what extensive reading and internet searching Ajita did in the one year she devoted to this biography. She took space from her extensive writing to include almost an entire newspaper article I wrote correcting a false impression created by another frequent contributor to the print media and known well to LK. It comes in the section Trinity – the Formative Years with two pages devoted to the Trinity College Archives. Ajita sets it straight that Senior School Librarian Sriyanganie Weerasekera Jayasekera (1989-96) mooted the idea of collecting the archival material floating around the school and soliciting TCK memorabilia from Old Boys to start an archives, the first such in a school library. LK agreed fully, got the funding for it, had the then principal, Leonard de Alwis, give space and then, in spite of a very heavy schedule as Minster of External Affairs, declared it open. All persons connected in the project are mentioned by Ajita. She even humanely and gently adds that Sriyanganie ‘passed away prematurely in 2008."

The second illustration of the extensive research Ajita did and thus wrote accurately and again with no holds barred is A Tale of Two Statues. Nahil Wijesuriya, ex-Trinitian and friend of LK, "… floated the idea of doing something to remember him by erecting a statue of him either at Thunmulla junction or Liberty Plaza junction." LK’s widow wanted a Russian person (son of a famous sculptor but by profession a mere repairer of statues) to be commissioned but even falling out with her, Wijesuriya employed Gunasena Kurulugama from Maharagama to sculpt the statue, which was unveiled by then C J, Sarath Silva.

The second statue "was a donation by Russia as an act of friendship in 2007. It was created by the controversial Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli – President of the Russian Academy of Arts". We the public of Sri Lanka are well aware of how long it took for it to be installed in the premises of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies, Horton Place. One person who protested in the Island newspaper often was Dr. U Pethiyagoda, and Ajita quotes him. On 11 April 2013 he wrote: "His statue must surely be smiling to itself as it languishes in a box at the institution, which however is not shy to blandish his illustrious name!" We the public boldly lay the blame for this inexplicable (to us) reluctance to erect LK’s statue in its rightful place in the premises of the institution that bears his name on the Ministers of Foreign Affairs who succeeded him: Rohitha Bogollagama and G L Peiris. It was finally unveiled by President Mahinda Rajapaksa after eight years on August 12, 2013, the eighth death anniversary.

I quote the last paragraph of the back cover blurb of the biography, the publisher being Vijita Yapa Publications: "Written to commemorate Kadirgamar’s tenth death anniversary on August 12, 2015, the book is also the author’s personal journey of healing and discovery where she poses the question: ‘Do we ever really know a person, even one’s own parent?"

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