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Rise and fall of ‘Abraham Lincoln of the East’



D.S. Senanayake

Here are some snippets about the late D.S. Senanayake, the father of the Free Nation that was born on February 4, 1948. His 136th birth anniversary falls on October 20, 2020. On October 20 were also born Mahathma Gandhi, the Father of Modern India and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke who, together with D.S., shaped the destiny of our country.

With D.S. it was “Colombo giyath, gama Botale,” meaning his resounding successes in Colombo did not make him forget his native village of Botale. (A rare trait at any time, with many villagers becoming VIPs in Colombo and immediately breaking all ties with their kith and kin and village).

Yes, he was always a son of he soil, with the native wit Sri Lankans are famous for, and sound commonsense or, as some call, it, horsesense. He was fiercely loyal to his men, his friends and his ‘gama’ and also to his old school. At a S. Thomas’ College Old Boys’ tamasha, he once said that the first thing he did when he got a diary for a new year was to note in it STC Old Boys’ Day and the two days of the Royal-Thomian Match. At this, a cheeky reporter is supposed to have asked him, “Sir, with you what comes first your country or your school?” And DS had replied with that throaty laugh of his, “My country, but by a short head!”.

The boy, D.S., who announced proudly to his father that he was the fourth in his class (‘Loku aiya’ Frederick Richard ‘F. R.’ Senanayake later pointed out that there were only four boys in the class) was not very fond of the cloistered atmosphere of the classroom, and would slip out at every opportunity, to wander around the school garden. One day, Warden Stone saw him, and calling up the errant student, said sharply, “What is this, Senanayake? You seem to be everywhere?” And young D.S. replied blandly, “Yes sir, just like God!”

D.S.’s greatest pal, in his schooldays, was Douglas de Saram, and one day, going to D.S.’s parental home, by train, they jumped out of it at Mirigama as the train did not stop there. They were arrested, produced in courts and discharged with a warning. As a student at STC, then at Mutwal, tough and mighty D.S. would oblige his friend by climbing a coconut tree, in the school garden, and bringing down an entire bunch of ‘Kurumba’, lest the sound of falling nuts should attract the attention of the teachers and prefects.

D.S. was very fond of Maldivian ‘diyahakuru and bondihalwa’ and would quite often board the Maldivian boats to get them. He was nicknamed ‘Kela John’ (Jungle John) by his friends.

When Douglas de Saram captained S. Thomas’ College, in the big matches of 1901 and 1902, D.S. Senanayake kept wickets for his school. Both his sons Dudley and Robert played cricket for S. Thomas’ College. Whenever he found the time, D.S. went to see his sons at play and joined the cheering squad.

After leaving school, D.S. served in the Government Survey Department, as a clerical hand. It was a Department that came under his control, years later, when he became the Minister of Agriculture and Lands. D.S. was going through a bad time. His worried father, Mudliyar Don Spater Senanayake consulted a prominent Buddhist monk, in Tangalle, who was a renowned astrologer. The monk studied D.S.’s horoscope and reassured the Mudliyar that there was nothing very serious to worry about and that when the boy’s malefic period was done, there would be no stopping him.

“He will rise slowly but steadily to the highest position in the country,” said the venerable monk. The Mudliyar scoffed at this rash prediction, for D.S. was very backward in his studies and considered the dunce of the family. “If you said that of my elder son F.R., I might have believed it,” said Mudliyar Senanayake. “Our country is under the British Raj now, with no sign of Independence within sight”.

Once D.S. told newsmen, who had gathered in his ancestral walawwa, in Botale, that many of the coconut trees, in the spacious garden, had been planted by himself. A very humane person, when a fellow villager got small-pox and nobody would go anywhere near the stricken man, D.S. promptly went into the man’s hut, heaved the man on to his shoulders and took him to hospital. Upon returning home, he rubbed some lime on his body, had a bath at the open well in the garden, and that was the end of the matter.

When he was manager of the plumbago mines, that belonged to his brother F.R., he found that many of the workers – huge, hefty fellows all of them – got involved in drunken brawls on payday. With a thick cudgel in his hand, he would go round the ‘wadiyas’ settling the fights. In Botale, his native village, hardly anyone ever went to courts. They would all come to D.S., who settled their disputes to the satisfaction of everybody concerned.

D.S. loved the rustic life and the company of the simple villager. As a young man, he would join the cart caravans bringing the Senanayake estate produce to Colombo, and he would sing the famous ‘Karatta-Kavi’, along with the carters. When he was imprisoned for 46 days, during the riots of 1915, he whiled away his time singing these ‘kavi’. Of course, what his fellow prisoners thought of this is not known.

Always loyal to his employees, D.S. was once in the Negombo Courts, where one of his men was the accused in a certain case. Spotting him, the Magistrate, an Englishmen said, “Mr. Senanayake, why don’t you come and sit at the Bar Table?” While the case was going on, the Magistrate told D.S. that he could cross-examine the prosecution witness and D.S. did so, to devastating effect. When the case was over and D.S.’s man discharged, some members of the Negombo Bar protested to the Magistrate. “That man is no lawyer,” they said. “Why did you allow him to cross-examine?” “No lawyer?” gasped the Magistrate aghast. “But, good God, I thought he was Mr. F. R. Senanayake, Barrister-at-Law!”

D.S. never gave in to opposition if he felt that anything was good for his country and his people. When he was in the Legislative Council, he proposed that the trout streams in Nuwara-Eliya, which was then the sacred preserve of the European Club, should be made open to the public. The club had introduced not only trout, but other varieties of fish, and at D.S.’s proposal, a European member jumped to his feet and roared, “Who put the fish there?” D.S. turned to the man and retorted. “Who put the streams there?”

In the year 1936, a gramophone record of the first Sinhala song, so melodiously, sung by the then 18-year-old Mohideen Beig and K. K. Rajalakshmi, was released. The song was composed by U. D. Perera and set to music by Mohamed Ghouse. They presented their first record to D.S., who was then the Minister of Agriculture and Lands, at his residence. D.S. summoned the entire household, including the domestic aids, and played it on his gramophone.

“Karuna Muhude Namu Gilila,

Prema Manohara Geetha Gayala….”

D.S. was no communalist, and his Tamil, Muslim and Burgher friends were many. In fact, when he was capped in jail, his Power-of-attorney was held by one of his friends, S. Sanmugum. It is said that D.S. met Oliver Goonetilleke quite by chance at the Orient Club one evening. It was the first time they had met, and it was the beginning of an association that was to shape the destiny of our country. Unkind critics of Sir Oliver said that he never left anything to chance, and, shrewd and far-sighted man that he was, he is sure to have engineered that ‘chance’ meeting.

He, with his shrewd and keen intelligence, pulled Sri Lanka out of many a messes she got into, thanks to the bungling stupidity and crass selfishness some of her politicians. In the mid 1940s, the British government sent the Soulbury Commission to Ceylon to explore the possibility of drafting a constitution that would give our people a greater say in the government of our country. Although D.S., the then leader of the State Council, and the ministers, at first boycotted the sittings of the Commission, D.S. was persuaded by Sir Oliver Goonetilleke (Sometimes referred to as “the wise old owl”) to make friendly overtures to Lord Soulbury.

They became good friends and when Lord Soulbury evinced a desire to see the country and assess for himself the living standards and the educational level of the ordinary people of our country, D.S. volunteered to show his Lordship around himself. So, one morning, Lord Solubury found himself seated next to D.S., driving up to Kandy in D.S.’s official limousine.

They passed the Kegalle town and were going through vast tracts of paddy fields. It being the Maha Season, the farmers were busy ploughing the paddy fields.

“Shall we stop for a moment and stretch our legs?” asked D.S. and Lord Soulbury nodded in agreement. Then they got out and watched the busy ploughmen. “Would you like to speak to one of them?” asked D.S. and once again Soulbury nodded in agreement. The rest of the story is described in the ‘Best of Amita’ book thus:

“Oi!” shouted D.S., in his stentorian voice. “Thamusela ekkenek mehe enawada poddak” (Will one of you come here for a moment”)

A burly middle-aged ploughman looked up and, handing his plough to another farmer, walked up to the distinguished duo. The farmer was bathed in mud but his bearing was proud and dignified.

“This is Lord Soulbury who has come here from England,” explained D.S. in Sinhala. “He wishes to speak to you. I’ll translate what he says into Sinhala, and what you say into English.”

To everybody’s astonishment, the farmer said in impeccable English: “That won’t be necessary, Mr. Senanayake. I’ll converse with his lordship in English.”

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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development



There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka



By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?



Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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