Plus - Appreciations

Party loyalty and integrity were his outstanding qualities

Tribute to Dudley Senanayake on his hundreth birth anniversary

The hundredth birth anniversary of this great statesman falls today. We should look beyond politics to honour him as a national figure of significance. It is indeed a pity, that in our country, political barriers prevent honour being given to those who deserve it.

A respected political writer, during Dudley's lifetime wrote 'how many know the qualities he possessed of head and heart which were rarer than one in a million'. The late Dudley Senanayake, as a statesman and as a man, was not made of common stuff.

We live today in a land of paradox--- dirt of one sort or another, dust and crystal clarity. Noise, tumult, violence side by side; with the Buddha's message of peace and tranquillity. As one watches from the sidelines, one sometimes feels as if it is part of an ancient ritual, of which one has no knowledge and can never comprehend.

As we look back in retrospect at the life of Dudley Senanayake, those of us who were privileged to know him are aware that the things which mattered most to him, as a statesman were ethnic amity, his unwavering belief in an agricultural economy and law and order. He strove hard and long through the curves and junctions of his life on all three counts. He believed in telling people the truth rather than in false promises which are inevitably, a surefire passport to popularity. I'm glad that the present UNP leader is following Dudley in this and in his high standards of integrity.

The word 'politics' is derived from the Latin 'politicus' and the Greek 'politikos'; both of which mean belonging to the people. Dudley Senanayake was a man who truly belonged to the people. Although a reluctant politician, he sensed the true gait of politics, and never strayed from the straight path. Although the ordeal of war is long over, the experience of suffering to millions, death and loss of loved ones to others, are like the aftershock of an earthquake. Reconciliation and unity are still a dream; celebrations go on with unprecedented grandeur, but the root of the problem lies unsolved.

Dudley Senanayake did not believe in grandeur in any form whatsoever. He enjoyed the finer things of life but lived a simple life. Even as Prime Minister, he would be seen driving his little Triumph Herald around. Politicians of all hues, in much less important positions travel in luxurious vehicles today, causing chaos on the roads with their security vehicles. Photography, music and reading were his hobbies and he was happy with them and his little dog, Pixie.

Although educated at Cambridge and a reluctant politician, he was able to travel the rough road of politics with distinction. If we had continued with his agricultural economy, we would have been self-sufficient in rice by now. He wanted to free people from poverty, which is a kind of enclosure; and lead them to unity, economic independence and freedom. He did not indulge in revenge, imprisoning opponents behind bars and restrictions. He didn't believe in inflicting pain on the innocent, or even on those who create wrong; and was totally against bloodshed and mayhem.

His gentle, amiable manner and sharp inquisitive mind, shied away from the endless charades of politics, practised by those jockeying for power and positions before their time. To him, the taking of a human life, under any circumstances whatsoever, was an act of murder which he would not condone.
Law and order were a priority to Dudley Senanayake. He thought of it as the cement that held everything together; and the only thing we could cling to when we reach the final line. He would hate to see the lack of law and order prevalent today, in every nook and corner, of the country, that he loved so much.

He was an excellent speaker in Parliament, on political and other platforms; and could hold his own among the shining array of stars that were his peers in Parliament at that time. That was undoubtedly the creme a la crème of Sri Lankan Parliaments. Dr. N.M. Perera, Dr. Colvin.R. de Silva, Philip and Robert Goonewardene, Dr. S.A. Wickremesinghe, Pieter Keuneman, all educated at British Universities. Deeply instilled in them were qualities of justice and fairplay. Arguments, there were in abundance; but all in good spirit and they were the best of friends both in and out of Parliament. Dudley's hearty laugh, wit, humour and powerful voice are legendary in Sri Lanka's parliamentary history. He would be devastated to see the low standards of behaviour, in this most august assembly; sunk to the lowest levels ever, now.

A beacon of light, throughout his political life was his loyalty to his party. Even when he resigned, caused by enemy orchestration resulting in circumstances beyond his control, he refused to join or support another party. This was in spite of being offered any office that he chose. Whether in or out of the party, or as a backbencher, he never hurled abuse or attacked those who had succeeded him as leaders of the UNP. These are good lessons for those who do so today, causing disunity and chaos.
This and his integrity are to me his outstanding qualities; which I think any leader should possess. In today's context of people crossing the floor, and accepting office for perks and privileges; his is an example that any aspiring young politician should attempt to follow. This is the only way one can command respect in life and after it. Just before his death, he was heartbroken by sections being formed within the party which caused discord and strife.

My father, who was at S. Thomas's at the same time, my paternal uncle Harry, who was his classmate, my maternal uncle, the late Bishop Lakdasa de Mel and my late husband, to whom he was a role model and political mentor, all admired and respected the late Dudley, like they did no other. He was to them an exemplary statesman; perhaps too fine a gentleman for politics and one who commanded great respect, nationally and internationally. I got to know him well, after my marriage, but I count it as the greatest privilege of my life to have had this opportunity as any conversation with him was an education.

There were absolutely no allegations of dishonesty thrown at him; be it commissions, missing state treasures or any hint of fraud or amassing wealth. He was never self-seeking and power-obsessed, always full of innate kindness and a love for humanity. His funeral was a testament to these qualities.
Never in the nation's history, had such a vast mass of humanity, gathered together on a single day, for a single purpose.

They came from all over the country, irrespective of political affiliations, weeping openly. No crackers were lit at his death. The people seemed aware that they had lost a rare national treasure; there would never be another quite like him. This is why he still remains a political icon today, unsurpassed in honour and integrity; words which have unfortunately, lost their meaning today. Our country is now a Paradise lost through greed, limitless ambition and false pride. Will we ever regain it? That is the question; it appears to me, to be a conundrum without a solution.

Ilica Malkanthi Karunaratne

A picture of elegance she imbibed what was best of both east and west

Nalini Wickremesinghe

Just after midnight on Sunday, June 5, my cousin, Kshanika, called to say that Aunty Nalini had passed away. It did not come as a shock, as she had been getting steadily weaker since her 90th birthday last August. Yet, my sense of sadness was profound as I lay in bed reflecting on her remarkable personality, her life and the memorable moments I was privileged to share with her over nearly 60 years.

Nalini Wickremesinghe, nee Wijewardene, was my “Loku Nanda”, my mother Mukta’s eldest brother Esmond’s wife. In many ways she epitomised the model woman – tall and stately, beautiful and elegant, she had impeccable taste combined with a superb sense of style. She was independent, intelligent and articulate, with strong opinions on global events and local politics. About the latter she may have been somewhat biased, as her immediate family was so involved in it! She also loved books, music and theatre, and worked tirelessly to encourage the performing and visual arts and traditional crafts in Sri Lanka throughout her active life. She was a devout Buddhist, yet respectful and understanding of others’ beliefs and customs. She loved and nurtured her own family, while extending her thoughtful kindness to her wider family circle of brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, in-laws and later, grand nephews and nieces, including my own family.

My earliest recollections of her go back to my childhood, when, every Sunday, my grandmother, Esme, would have a family lunch at our home, Lakmahal, comprising Esmond, Nalini and their 5 children, my parents, Mukta and Sam, and their 3 children, and other extended family members or friends who may have been staying at Lakmahal at that time. Much as we loved her, Aunty Nalini would always be late, and we would patiently wait with stomachs rumbling till nearly 2 p.m., when Loku Nanda would sail in, as regal and elegant as always, to sit down to enthusiastic conversation and the delectable traditional yellow rice, chicken curry, and batu pahi spread. The Lakmahal theory was that her day was just as busy and long as everyone else’s - it just began 2 hours later! Despite being served late, lunch was always great fun, usually ending with treats bought from the chocolate fudge vendor on his bicycle and the “hakuru bola” vendor with the large tin box of goodies strapped in front of his tricycle who came to Lakmahal those afternoons, followed by cricket matches in the front garden or the cousins dressing up and performing on the balcony.

Esme, Nalini, and Mukta were three very independent and diverse personalities, each greatly respected among peers and subordinates in their own fields of interest and influence. Yet, in all the years I knew them, I never once heard a harsh word or criticism among those three, such was the affection and esteem they had for one another. It was only as I grew older that I was able to appreciate how unusually strong those bonds were, between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and the two very different sisters-in-law.

Another aspect of the harmony in which we lived was the mutual respect for, and interest in, each other’s traditions and customs. My mother and grandmother raised us three in an anglicised Christian environment that celebrated Christmas and Easter, while Aunty Nalini raised her five children in a typically traditional Sinhala Buddhist environment where Sinhala New Year and Vesak were celebrated. What a rich culture we grew up in! Each New Year, Aunty Nalini would ensure that her children came over to worship their grandmother with the traditional sheaf of betel leaves, and that we kids at Lakmahal received Avurudhu gifts, while at Vesak, we would visit their home in Fifth Lane to stand entranced under the trees admiring the Vesak kudu that their household had beautifully crafted hanging from the upper branches and later, light the candles in the colourful bucket lanterns which hung on the lower branches. Similarly, each Good Friday, the Fifth Lane kids would be sent their share of Hot Cross Buns, while Christmas lunch at Lakmahal was a major annual event, when they, in turn, would enjoy our enthusiastically decorated Christmas tree and my mother’s Christmas cake and plum pudding. Since she married my uncle in 1944, Aunty Nalini had an unbroken record of sharing 66 Christmas lunches with us at Lakmahal, until ill health prevented her from doing so just last year.

In a culturally Western-dominated Colombo society of that time, Aunty Nalini was a determined promoter of all forms of Sinhala culture and crafts. While she had an abiding love of Western music and literature, she was as enamoured of Sri Lanka’s traditional music, theatre and dance forms. She wrote beautiful English poetry as a school-girl at Bishops’ College, loved to play western classical music on the piano and was an authority on opera - an interest she shared with her son, Ranil. She was also an unobtrusive benefactress to many struggling artistes, and a founder member of, and instrumental in building, Sudarshi, the Sinhala Institute of Culture on Bauddhaloka Mawatha (now opposite the BMICH), home to aspiring dramatists and dancers and handloom weavers. I have memories of stunning sarees woven on the hand looms at Sudarshi and watching dance and drama practices in Sudarshi’s main hall, as well as performances in the open-air theatre at the back. She encouraged those interests in us - classics such as Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s Maname, which she helped to put on gramophone record for the first time; watching the all-time favourite “Nari Bana” at Sudarshi’s open-air theatre; and more recently, meeting the explosive author of “The God of Small Things”, Arundhati Roy, at a dinner in Aunty Nalini’s home, to which she was kind enough to include her nephews and nieces, rather than more important literary guests she could easily have invited.

Aunty Nalini was a true nationalist who lived by her principles. She led by example and by deeds, not mere words. In a post-independence era when most Colombo-based parents of her generation and social standing sent their children to the excellent Church-run private schools of that time, Aunty Nalini sent her children to state-run schools - her sons to Royal College and her only daughter to Visakha Vidyalaya. She made this choice, even though she had been a star pupil and Head Prefect at Bishop’s College in her time and was a very active member of its Past Pupils’ Association, as were her two sisters, Rani Gomes and Kusuma Goonaratne, while her two brothers, Sivali and Ranjit Wijewardene, had been sent to S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia in their time. She also nurtured her children to be truly proficient in their mother tongue as well as in English, a global language, and to appreciate the best of Eastern and Western culture, even though in that era in Colombo, the emphasis was on the latter. Her thoughtfully selected gifts of books by Sri Lankan authors and about Sri Lanka to us and my children over several decades will not be forgotten.

Another aspect of Aunty Nalini’s personality was her artistic appreciation of the beauty of Sri Lanka. She always preferred the indigenous jasmines, ehela, araliya, lotuses and water lilies of the tropics to dahlias, roses and chrysanthemums. She kept an elegant home and took a personal interest in her luxuriant garden with its majestic trees. Over the years, with some architectural help, she single-handedly designed and built beautiful homes for all her children, for which some of those trees had to be sacrificed! She encouraged appreciation of our traditions and culture in us as well. She obliged readily when I requested her to arrange for one of her family retainers, Mudiyanse, to come to my school, Ladies’ College, to give weekly lunch-interval classes to our seniors to make “Gokkola” decorations. That year, Gokkola bedecked the stage at our annual “Kala Ulela” festival of music and dance.

Aunty Nalini was a professional working woman as well, wielding her influence as a Director in the family newspaper business at Lake House, and later, after the family business was nationalised, at Lake House Book Shop. She supported young authors and helped them to get their works published, and also re-printed new editions of valuable Sri Lankan books that had gone out of print over the years. To this day, the Wijewardene family continues to encourage young writers with national awards for literature and journalism. In particular, the D.R. Wijewardene Award for the best Sinhala novel in unpublished manuscript form was her brainchild. She was an avid reader of the newspapers and took a great interest in politics, an interest she shared with her husband Esmond, and later, her son Ranil. Her family interest in the news media also influenced the careers of two sons, Shan and Niraj, who run the TNL television and radio stations, respectively, while Kshanika and Channa inherited her interest in business. A respected professional in her own right, she was offered a directorship on the Board of Air Lanka Ltd., the national carrier under the Jayawardene government of the late 1970s. Her son Ranil, who was a Junior Minister in the same government, quietly told her that he would resign if she took up the position, as it could be perceived as a form of nepotism. She accepted his criticism and honourably declined the position-a far cry from the political nepotism we see today.

She was a warm and gracious hostess. Time spent in her company was always interesting. I remember day trips as a child to her coconut estate in Udubaddawa, a memorable beach holiday on the East coast in Mankerny and, as a young adult, invigorating spout baths and learning from her about the hair-cleansing properties of “Veralu” leaves on week-ends at her home on the edge of the Bolgoda Lake. In later years, with her eyesight and knees getting weaker, she was less mobile and I loved visiting her to spend a happy morning or evening discussing all sorts of topics with her. She was a very family-oriented person, a truly wise and kindly matriarch, not only to her own siblings, children and grandchildren, but also to her relatives by marriage. Her birthdays were an annual event we looked forward to, where we would meet the entire extended family of 3, and later 4 generations – her own children, grand and great-grand children, her own and her husband’s siblings and their children and grandchildren. Such was her magnanimity that several years ago, she gently, but firmly announced that her worldly needs were well met and requested us to support a needy orphanage in Ratmalana in whatever way we could, in lieu of birthday presents to her. So we would turn up at those elegant birthday parties her children and daughters-in-law organised for her, carrying in cardboard boxes of soap and toothpaste and milk powder! The love and attention showered on her by her entire extended family, especially her own daughters-in-law, are a testament to the high esteem and affection in which she was held.

I remember, with gratitude, her warm affection and thoughtfulness towards my grandmother, my mother and father, my siblings, my own family and myself, her regal beauty and stately elegance, her impeccable taste and sense of style, her independent intellect and artistic acumen, her deep appreciation and active support of books, music, art and traditional crafts, her dignity and discretion, her wise counsel and her principled life. Her loving presence will be missed by all of us who knew and loved her. May she rest in peace.

Anila Dias Bandaranaike (nee Wijesinha)

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