40th Death Anniversary of Justin Wijayawardhana: Reminiscences of a bygone socio-political milieu – The Island.lk

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‘Classic WiId’ – Wildlife with a Difference
By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
It was 14th January 1982. I, together with my family, was making slow progress from Colombo to Matara in the pre-expressway era, when we heard on the car radio, the noon news bulletin of SLBC announcing the death of my father. There were no mobile phones then for me to receive the sad news from the family. My sister Mali, the only other medic in the family, very kindly undertook the onerous task of looking after our father in the intimate environs of our traditional family home ‘Wijaya Giri”‘ in Godagama rather than allowing him to wither away on a hospital bed. Having visited my father a few days earlier and persuaded Mali against active treatment in an inevitable situation, I was not surprised to learn the end of his multifaceted life but was sad that I could not be there, holding his hand that penned millions of words, when he left this world after decades of selfless service.
Standing at the foot of the bed and looking at his majestic face darkened by death, I thought to myself, “What have I done, compared to what you achieved in so many spheres?” I am still reading about his unmatchable achievements and learning more and more about him from others who write about him. has taken 40 long years for me to pen this tribute although my admiration of him has grown exponentially over the years. In fact, I wondered whether I could be tarnishing his image posthumously by referring to him as a politician because he had so many other significant achievements. I am doing so purposefully to emphasis that our country was once blessed with politicians whose mission was to serve.

First to represent the UNP from Matara District
Communism took root in the Matara district because the leader of the Communist Party Dr S A Wickramasinghe was from there and also a very caring general practitioner. In fact, my father started social service in the early 1930s with Dr Wickramasinghe, forming the Matara Youth Society with him as secretary and Dr Wickramasinghe as the president. Although they parted ways due to ideological differences, they remained friends, and Dr W was gracious enough to offer him the nomination from the Communist Party on more than one occasion. In spite of certainty of success, my father refused and stood by the UNP. The Matara branch of the UNP proposed him as the candidate for the 1952 and 1956 general elections, but the hierarchy of the UNP parachuted outsiders encouraging caste-based politics.
In 1960, the UNP high-command was forced to relent and my father successfully contested Matara seat becoming the first UNP MP for Matara and the first to do so from the whole district. He was chosen to propose the vote of thanks to the throne speech of the Dudley Senanayake government enabling him to demonstrate his much-recognised oratory in the parliament too. His old friend, Dr W retorted cynically from the Opposition benches, “My good friend has made an excellent speech, as usual, but it may well be the funeral oration of this government”, which was prophetic! Unfortunately, my father lost in July, the seat he gained in March. One reason for the loss was malicious stories spread by his opponents alleging he had said, that he needed to wash the seat in the parliament before sitting on it. I know well this was more hurtful to him than losing the election as he was one of the pioneers in the South to stand against caste divisions. In fact, in early 1940s, when caste discrimination was rampant in the South, he organised, as the Secretary of the Matara branch, a Sinhala New Year Celebration which commenced with many from different castes eating Kiri Bath, sitting on mats with the leader of the Sinhala Maha Sabha, S W R D Bandaranaike.

S W R D’s offer
The SLFP government people elected in 1956 with high hopes also started faltering. Sensing the imminent danger, SWRD started planning a revamp. He wanted to go to the UN to display his masterful oratory and reconstitute the Cabinet on his return. He sent an emissary to my father with the offer of appointment to the Senate as the Junior Minister of Education straightaway to be made the Minister with the planned reshuffle. According to my mother, who overheard the conversation, he did not take even a second to refuse the offer.

Betrayal by UNP
Undaunted by the loss, my father continued to teach and do social work. The crossover of C P De Silva caused Mahanama Samaraweera to be nominated the UNP candidate for Matara. J R Jayewardene persuaded my father to contest the Kamburupitiya seat saying, “Justin, don’t worry. Even if you lose, we will look after you. After all, there is the Senate”. My father lost, the UNP forgot the promises, but he enabled my cousin, Chandrakaumara and my brother, Ranjan to represent that constituency subsequently.
George Rajapaksa once told me, “The UNP does not know how to treat the faithful, the best example being your father. If he had done for us what he did for the UNP, we would place him on a high pedestal”.
Even during his era, my father perhaps was too soft and remained with the UNP till his death. Would any other person have refused such offers?
Maybe, to overcome their guilt, the UNP government issued a stamp in the memory of my father in 1990.

Teacher, par excellence
Born on 18 November 1904, Kotawila Withanage Don Charlis Justin Wijayawardhana attended the missionary school in the village before joining to St. Thomas College in Matara. Don Juvanis Wijayawardhana, a notary’s clerk, decided to send his son to Mahinda College, Galle in view of the brilliant performance of his son, Justin at the Junior School Certificate Examination. More than the easy success in the Cambridge Senior examination, what Mahinda College gave my father was the inspiration to fight for independence and the preservation of Buddhism. Though he could have got a more rewarding government position with his qualifications, he opted to be a teacher and joined Rahula College in Matara.
He contributed immensely to the upliftment of Rahula College by the renowned principal Mr D J Kumarage, to be one of the best schools in the country. Rahula was an assisted school, which meant only teachers’ salaries were paid by the government. To meet the increasing demand for admissions, my father went round with Mr Kumarage and persuaded philanthropists in the area to build four buildings which were ceremoniously opened by Prime Ministers DS, Dudley, Sir John and Sir Oliver, the Governor General.
In addition, he was in charge of Sinhala and English debating teams, Arts and Drama society. He wrote many plays for students to stage of which one stands out; Matara Batha, a comedy which was so hilarious, it is said that even Mr Kumarage, who seldom smiled, burst into laughter.
My father taught Buddhism, Sinhala and art. He taught me too and I managed to fail in art, the only subject that I have ever failed! After teaching and inspiring many generations of students, he retired in 1964 having devoted his entire teaching career to Rahula.

Social service
He was a live-wire of the co-operative movement and headed the village co-operative till a few years before his death. He masterminded village development projects like roads and culverts through the Village Development programme.
When Buddhism was threatened by a fanatic sect, Thapasa Nikaya and , defended Bhikkhus threatened by misguided villagers. With the support of Chandraratna Manawasinghe, who was on the editorial staff of Lankadeepa, my father was able to dispel the falsehoods, helping save Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
He reserved his best for Community Centres Praja Mandala, which were established in Matara and surrounding areas. They were the meeting places where villagers could listen to the radio for the very first time. He obtained radios from the government for these centres. Those huge primitive devices needed a massive aerial across the tallest of coconut trees to get a rattly short-wave reception and were powered by car batteries, needing a fortnightly replacement by the post office. When they got late, the radio fell silent and the whole village missed the ‘Radio bana’.
The crowning glory was the annual congress of Community Centres, which lasted a couple of days with many competitions; that was the only opportunity for people to display their talents, unlike today, when we have too many talent shows. One of the highlights was the Kavi Maduwa, the poet’s corner where reputed guest poets gave lectures, in addition to recitals. That was the biggest event in the cultural calendar of the South.

Pioneer translator and writer
A visit to India in the late 1930s changed my father’s life forever as he was able to meet the leaders of the Indian Independence Movement but the most important was his meeting Rabindranath Tagore, whose works he had already translated to Sinhala. He recalled with great fondness the unexpectedly long meeting wherein Tagore granted him permission to translate any of his works.
Sivumal Motagedara, who studied the life and literary works of my father for his research project for the M A degree from Colombo University, has published his dissertation “Justin Wijayawardhana: Jeewithya ha Sastriya Sevaya (Godage, ISBN 978-955-30-9644-9). He argues, very convincingly that it is a great injustice that Justin Wijayawardhana has not been accorded a much more prominent place in Sinhala literature and takes to task the academia for not doing so. He rates Justin Wijayawardhana as the pioneer translator who introduced the works not only of Eastern writers like Tagore but also Western writers like Leo Tolstoy, Hall Caine, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman and H G Wells to Sinhala readers. He also mentions Wijayawardhana’s ability to change the style of writing to fit the original for translation and contends that it is rare.
Perhaps, the main reason why my father’s writings have not received the attention it deserves is they were published in newspapers and magazines––not as books due to lack of facilities like agents for writers and the monopoly held by only a few publishers.
I know the great difficulties he had in getting his first book, “Nasthikara Puthraya”, the translation of Sir Hall Caine’s ‘The Prodigal Son’ published in 1964. He had to give up royalty for a tiny sum and the publisher did not even notify how many copies were sold!
Although he had many manuscripts ready, unfortunately, only two more books were published during his lifetime.

One was a translation of a book on the invasion of Tibet “Tibbethaye Bauddha Manava Sanharaya”, which was extensively used by the UNP during the 1965 election campaign. The other was “Tom Mamage Kutiya”, a translation Of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s masterpiece ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, which was published by Marga in 1976.
The Ministry of Cultural Affairs, acceding to our request, published “Seeliyage Lokaya” in January 1983 to coincide with the first death anniversary and “Samawa Deema” in January 1984 to coincide with the second death anniversary. The latter, a collection of translations of ten short stories by Russian writers Leo Tolstoy, Maxim Gorky, Anton Chekhov and Hungarian writers Geza Gardonyi, Kalman Mikszath, Karoly Kisfaludy, was completed in September 1975 and dedicated to JRJ, the then leader of the Opposition. The dedication in my father’s handwriting, in his trademark violet ink, written with his beloved ‘Swan’ pen is reprinted in this book.
“Seeliyage Lokaya”
is an original work written in a novel genre. It is an exploration of village life, a synthesis of events and people in their respective villages of birth as seen by my parents. However, he has titled it ‘Seeliya’s world’, as he called my mother, Jinaseeli Jayawardana ‘Seeliya’ affectionately. The cover was drawn by my youngest brother Kamal. During one of my visits to President JRJ, when I presented a copy, he went through the chapter titles carefully and said “Upul, you must translate this to English as it is a mirror, showing the world what our village life is. It will be the opposite of ‘Grass for My Feet’ by J Vijayatunga”. I tried but, unfortunately, I do not seem to have inherited the translator gene!
The youngest of our six sisters, Champa is doing a tremendous job in keeping our father’s literary heritage going. She had been able to get “Nasthikara Putrya” and “Seeliyage Lokaya” republished. “Samawa Deema” has also been republished with a new title “Idama ha Thanhawa”. In addition, she has got the following in print: “Punarjeewanaya”, a translation of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Resurrection, “Lo Pathala Keti Katha”, a collection of short stories by world famous authors including Tagore, Mulkraj Anand, Guy de Maupassant, Oscar Wild” and “Minis Angaharu Yuddaya”, a translation of H G Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’.
‘Sai Baba: Man of Miracles’ by Howard Murphet was translated at the request of the Sai Baba Society, which was made in late 1974. Although my father finished the translation in a matter of two months, a unique achievement for a book running to 400 pages, it did not come out in print till a year after his death, in spite of Sai Baba’s blessings!
Matara C Justin Wijayawardhana started writing to Sinhala newspapers and magazines from his late teens and continued for six decades. In addition to articles on Buddhism and current affairs, there are many more translations that have been serialised. Champa is engaged in this monumental task of gathering them so that more books may be published.

My father, who initially put service over marriage, changed his mind the moment he saw a new lady teacher who joined Rahula staff. The marriage of Justin Wijayawardhana and Jinaseeli Jayawardana from Ransegoda took place on 17 May 1940, during the biggest flood ever recorded in the Southern Province. We were under the impression that the bridegroom encountered the flooding on his way to the bride’s but two books by Hewamadduma brothers give a different story. The Hewamadduma family from Lenaduwa was one of the closest families to ours. Till his untimely death in 2013, Amare, the well-known administrator, historian and writer used to write regularly about my father. After that his younger brother Dharme has taken over. In Amare’s book “Amara Samara-1”, as well as his elder brother Upatissa’s book “Ma Dutu Maha Purushaya: Justin Wijayawardhana” give detailed accounts, as recounted by their father. Every time a flood occurred, their father Sinnno Appuhamy used to say, “This is nothing compared to the flooding when Wijayawardhana mahattaya got married” and had gone on to relate how my father directed the preparation of boats the previous evening and how they paddled the 15 miles in floodwaters and brought back the couple, disregarding all warnings, safely to Godagama at 3 am, the following day! Apparently, my father having settled the new bride in bed had gone immediately to help flood victims. That shows his character and that my mother was solidly behind him. By the way, Thilakasena Sahabandu, who was married to Hewamadduma sister Karuna, wrote a beautiful anthology of poems titled ‘Sevaye Suwanda (Fragrance of service) which helped a great deal in my father’s election victory.

Unfortunately, what should have been Justin Wijayawardhana’s greatest legacy was not to be. Seeing how the poor got into difficulty with lavish funerals, he campaigned for simple funerals but his pleas fell on deaf ears. However, he ensured his funeral was simple and my mother did even better, ensuring that we handed over her body to the Galle Medical Faculty when she died on 24 February 1986.
Detailed written instructions were left about the funeral but true to his considered manner, he stated we could make changes if circumstances demanded. He also stated that if we felt bad for not spending on the funeral, to build a house for a poor family, which we did. The day after death, he was cremated in a coffin made from cheap wood and painted white, on a simple pyre made from locally collected wood. Though his voice was heard at almost every local funeral, he did not want funeral orations and as stipulated there was one anusasana. Although we did not inform any VIPs, Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel turned up and as he was representing the government, we allowed him to speak. The only thing beyond our control was the massive crowd.
As we watched, a great man who had rendered selfless service for almost eight decades, gradually turned into ashes. As requested, his ashes were thrown in Nilawala Ganga.
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!

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The Chairman of Litro Gas Lanka, Mr. Thesara Jayasinghe, is certainly a big power – the mighty muscleman in Pohottuva governance. He was brought back as head of Litro less than a day after his removal from the position by Secretary to the Ministry of Finance.
Well, by whom and how did this happen?
It was by none other than the President of Sri Lanka himself – Gotabaya Rajapaksa!
az mobile notaryLet’s forget (if possible) all those gas blasts – especially during the festive season. Just rub off your mind the news about more than 800 blasts from Litro gas cylinders, the several persons – mothers and children killed, and many more injured. That is not the stuff of importance for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Just keep in mind that anyone appointed by President G, can and should only be removed by him. Not even by the Treasury Secretary, who directly serves under the President’s brother, Basil Rajapaksa.
This is the show of the new trend and trail of governance in Sri Lanka.
It is certainly a reminder to many, and even all, that we are not governed by any democratic process, but by the aim and goal of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
In fact, 20 Stuff – is the substance of governance in Sri Lanka.
This should certainly remind Susil Premajayantha MP, how and why he was removed from his ministerial rank, even without a letter to him. Premajayantha was among the SLPP members who so gladly and loudly supported and voted for the 20A. What else could he have expected, other than the stuff of a dictatorial 20A?
There are others too who must also understand and respect this reality.
Just think of former President Maithripala Sirisena. He certainly did a lot during his presidency, spending hours in Parliament, too, to get the 19th Amendment passed. It was the legal move to remove the authoritarian and near dictatorial powers that the Rajapaksas gained through 18A.
But it is the same Sirisena who voted for the 20A, which removed all the democratic advances of the 19A.
All other members of the SLFP, in parliament, too, had better bear this in mind. They too did give their “ayes” to the Gotabaya driven 20A, and saw the complete reversal of what party leader Maithripala Sirisena did in passing the 19A.
Would Vasudeva Nanayakkara, and his present allies in a Cabinet member protest on the New Fortress energy deal of the Rajapaksas, also not recall that they gave their glad and bubbly ‘ayes’ to the 20A – which also allowed dual citizen Basil Rajapaksa to be an MP, Minister and even President, too.
The people of Sri Lanka are now caught in the Vissey Ugula or the 20-Trap.
It is a trap that keeps the Pohottuva governance alive and strong in its powerful and cheerful swing to corruption in all its forms, the manipulation of contracts, the cheating of the Cabinet, the appointment and keeping in place of failures, crooks and huge swindlers, and the swing and sway of the Rajapaksa Pavula.
With the speedy re-appointment of the Litro boss, by none other than President Gotabaya himself, we are clearly told that enough is enough about gas blasts. We will soon have Pohottuva Pundits – even in yellow or any other robes – tell us that gas blasts are part of the historic traditions that kept our kings in place and power, with plenty of “Jaya Hoovas” and no gas at all.
Let’s just see how the judiciary functions in the coming months, it being the only hope that people can have about the democratic process; a situation blatantly challenged by the Attorney-General’s Department itself, as well as the Commission of Bribery and Corruption.
As the Litro boss is assured of presidential blindness about the suffering of the people from gas blasts, such massive blindness on all aspects of governance from the Central Bank downwards, is the rising substance of Rajapaksa Governance.
It is the massive rise of failure, with the 20-Trap having its sway in the dirty governance of Sri Lanka.
By Ransiri Menike Silva
Holidaying together in Sri Lanka with their families were my son and a friend, both domiciled in Australia. For greater enjoyment they usually planned their trips here together, when they could catch up on belated family news and visits. That was how my son learnt that his friend was looking for an elders’ home for his mother, and his friend was relieved to hear that I myself was already in one. He immediately decided that she should apply to the same elders’ home, facing opposition with, “I don’t have to see it. If it is good enough for my friend’s mother then it is good enough for mine.” It was the best recommendation.
As my grandsons were schooling, my son had to return before school reopened, while his friend opted to stay on a little longer. I already knew him as his parents were known to my elder brother and I had already met him at his place.
He contacted me soon after to inquire whether there were any vacancies in our complex. He arranged to bring his mother, a widow from a young age, to show the place that evening. I awaited the meeting eagerly. He stopped the car near the quadrangle, got off and came up to me asking to see the room, which was already fully furnished. I pointed it out to him as it was directly opposite mine which was an added attraction. I unlocked the door and waited outside to welcome her. Then he gave me the surprising news that she was disabled and unable to walk, and therefore he would carry her in. I placed the chair at a convenient spot for her and waited. After carrying her in he placed her on the chair. The son went to the landlord’s office to get all the details he needed, finalise arrangements and make payments. I sat beside her on another chair and we conversed until his return. She was rather frail but pleasant, and spoke about, among other things, her connection with my brother’s family.
She moved in soon after, having found an efficient and loving personal carer. Each evening this girl would wash her, dress her up and wheel her out to the garden under the shady trees. I would join her there and we would sit watching life around us and comment on the passing scene. It was during these sessions that I learnt how she had been disabled. She had been widowed early, with a young son and daughter. Her husband’s death had hit the headlines at the time, for he had been a top official in the state plantation sector, who had informed the CID of the anti-state activities of those working under him. In retaliation, their party, now pretending to be a peaceful organisation, had brutally assassinated him.
The young family was destroyed with no income of their own. However, the state did not let them down. But found her a job, and along with help from family and friends she had a regular income that enabled her to live fairly comfortably, while educating her two children. Time passed. The children became adults and wage earners, who now rewarded their mother in every possible way for all the hardship she had endured on their behalf. The daughter married and settled down. The son, in order to better his professional prospects, applied for a profitable position in an Australian firm, which was accepted. He migrated with the intention of getting his mother to join him there later. By this time he was married with a young child. The mother was happy. She had already experienced life in Australia on previous trips and she could once again become part of her own family.
The final move involved a lot of work which only she could attend to, not only concluding her personal affairs but also providing all the necessary official information about the family, which only she could provide. The son had already been there for some weeks helping out and now they were seated in the airport lounge ready to emplane. It had all been tiring work, both physically and emotionally and she was exhausted. Then, without warning, the mother suddenly collapsed! When she was rushed to the emergency unit at the nearest hospital it was found that she had suffered a stroke.
She could not immigrate to Australia now, even if she fully recovered, which she did not. She was partially paralysed and confined to a life between bed and wheelchair. It was at this stage she came into my life. After moving in she settled in comfortably with us. The son flew in for brief visits whenever his work permitted, bringing his family along on their annual Christmas vacation for a longer stay. It was during such times that my son’s family also joined them on their combined visits to their respective mothers and we had an entertaining time together. Then she fell grievously ill and had to be hospitalised where she was finally relieved of all the physical and emotional trauma she had had to endure during her lifetime. My brother and I attended her funeral.
Her son continued to keep in touch with me through phone calls, letters and gifts sent through others and visiting me whenever he was in Sri Lanka. This is how he found me in the annexe I had moved into after leaving the elders’ home complex. He was delighted after inspecting the unit and learning of all the conveniences at hand banks, supermarkets, hospitals, my personal GP and regular trishaw man, and best of all, my brother in the lane directly across ours. “K will be thrilled,” he said, referring to my son, and began taking photos to show my son on his return.
We continued to keep in touch, though now unable to meet due to the pandemic situation. But I shall always remember him, for there they all are along with my son’s family, grinning cheerfully from the pages of my photograph album.
By Punya Heendeniya
The era was the mid-sixties. The transitional period of ocean travels to air travels. No hand phones and children read story books and played board games with the adults and sat for dinner together. No phone lines to the rural areas. Electricity was just installed. Roads widened with and given names of the local dignitaries. The only form of communication was by post or by telegrams.
We were invited to a world film festival held in Mexico, and the reason was Gamperaliya, a masterpiece written by the peerless writer Martin Wickremasinghe and transformed into celluloid by Dr. Lester James Peries; it won the Golden Peacock award at the international film festival in New Delhi in 1965. I was the main actress and Henry Jayasena played the male lead in the film.
The invitation was sent to me by Dr. Lester J Peries via a trusted crew member. My father started pacing up and down the sitting room murmuring, “How can we send you to the other side of the world alone? You never even go to the “lindha” (the water well) alone. Send a message saying that you cannot accept this invitation.”
Such was the atmosphere I grew up in. My mother as usual kept “mum”. My elder brother, an ardent admirer of my artistic career, came to my rescue.
In an unusually confident and assertive manner, he told father, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for someone like Nangi and she should make use of it. If you do not allow her to participate, I will take a transfer and move out of the house”. That did the trick and my brother’s firm statement had the desired impact on the situation.
Dr. Peries heard about my problem and devised a plan to make things easy for me.
He transferred his invitation to his wife Sumithra, who also was a co-producer and the editor of the Gamperaliya. All is well, that ends well. I managed to join Sumithra and Henry as part of the smallest group of invitees to the festival.
Foreign exchange
az mobile notaryThree of us had to find foreign exchange for the trip even though the air travel was paid for. Only four pounds was allowed per person for foreign travel. We got together and appealed to the then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, who very generously allowed each of us to carry one hundred pounds. That was just our pocket money.
Sumithra and I appointed Henry as our delegation leader.
As state guests of the Mexican government, at dinner in Hotel El Cano, in Acapulco, and other banquets, three of us said in Sinhala, that we would have stopped with the sumptuous starter itself if we had to pay for our meals.
A mink coat
It was the height of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Coming from a tropical country we were short of warm clothes. Sumithra having been in France had a few warm clothes and she very willingly gave me a pair of old gloves and a flannel vest. A very affluent fan of mine, who became one of my best friends later, came to my rescue. She offered me her mink coat.
A mink coat to Punya Heendeniya was manna from heaven those days.
If I had been offered that coat today, I would have turned it down, given the sheer number of innocent minks killed to make that coat.
Eighth Resenna Mundial
That was how the Mexican festival of festivals was named in Spanish. All the award -winning films of the world of the year were invited and the festival was held on a very grand scale in an ancient battlefield. We were able to mingle with the most famous stars of the world. I kept the then Ceylon (Sri Lanka) flag flying by wearing only the osariya and cloth and jacket for two to three weeks. This was highlighted in bold letters in the national newspapers. In an article written by Henry, at a later date, he mentioned, “Punya created history in Acapulco by refusing to wear a swimsuit.” That was my upbringing and Sumithra in her nonchalant, casual, and calm way supported me by saying we did not show flesh to attract attention.
The newspapers were all full of pictures of me in cloth and jacket and osariya.
Meeting the Asian film giant Satyajit Ray
Our delegation comprising just the three of us was assigned a limousine for travel purposes and it was named “Ceilan delegation
To the adjoining multi-starred hotel to our Hotel El Cano, came a one-man delegation. That was none other than the Satyajith Ray with his Charulatha. His appearance was majestic. He was tall, dark, and handsome. His visit made the three of us feel as if we had a close relationship with him. He very happily refused his limousine and travelled with us until the end of the festival. It was remarkable that he was one of the judges of the panel, at the New Delhi International Film Festival, where Gamperaliya was adjudged the best film. So, he had some understanding about the members of our delegation.
We attended experimental matinee film shows almost daily and one day we gave a lift to an American film critic in our Ceilan vehicle. He was seated with Ray in front and our topic of conversation was Asian films. He talked about Akira Kurosava and Satyajith Ray. All four of us were silent. He said he has seen the Opu trilogy. Ray in his elegant style said, “I am Satyajith Ray”. I do not have words to express the American’s reaction. He was elated.
On the day of the screening of our film, we draped our guide girl Christina Godard in a saree, and she carried it in a real stylish way. I wrote a short speech for myself, and Christina translated it to Spanish. I memorised it and when I addressed the audience in fluent Spanish “Saludos mees Amigos”, the audience went into a rapturous applause. Sumithra in her genteel manner, appointed me to collect the trophy for the film, “The Golden Palanque Head”.
Our sojourn in New York City
az mobile notaryHaving left Acapulco city’s warmer climes, our next stopover was New York. The Ceylon Mission of the National Assembly was aware of our arrival. We landed at the snow-covered John F Kennedy airport in the early evening. We were warmly welcomed by the staff members of the Ceylon Mission.
Among them was another tall, dark, and handsome figure I had seen in only pictures but never met. That was none other than our very own Mahagama Sekara. The funny side to it was, he was from Siyane Koralaya and I was from the adjoining Hapitigam Koralaya. We both were gamayas from rural Mirigama and Radavaana. We had to meet for the first time, in the John F Kennedy airport in New York!
From then onwards it was one full impromptu programme with dinners and sing songs. At one point we were singing “Mey Sinhala apage ratai, mulu lova ey ratata yatai” (lyrics by Mahagama Sekara) from the 42nd floor of a sky scraper. After that we all were walking along the Fifth Avenue to our lodgings. Unusual for the time of the year in the winter sky, the moon appeared through the skyscrapers. That was a very familiar sight for all of us and our very own poet Mahagama Sekara murmured, “Gamey andurana kenek dekka vaage”. (As if we have seen someone known to us back from home”)
That time the ambassador to the Ceylon Mission was Mr. R.S.S Gunawardane. He joined most of our get-togethers and invited both Henry and me to perform at the World Human Rights Day, which fell on the 10 December. The scheduled agenda had Sidney Poitier as an invited speaker. Our very own Shantha Weerakoon was to perform a Kandyan dance item. The Ceylon Mission made use of our unexpected presence at the right time to invite us to perform. We most willingly agreed. A separate printout was made available introducing us as the main actors of the award winning Gamperaliya and also mentioned our most recent and fresh participation at the Mexican festival from which we had just returned after winning the Golden Palanque Head Award.
Henry and I discussed what to perform and we sang our own Maestro Amaradava’s ” Piley pedura henata aragena enavaa“. Again lyrics by Mahagama Sekara. This opportunity proved to be a feather in our cap as we would never have dreamt of such a heaven-sent chance like this to perform on the main stage of the UN assembly. Credit to our great Dr.Lester J Peries and Gamperaliya. In a way it was all possible due to my brother’s support as well. I could not imagine getting garlanded on the UN stage in appreciation of the participation.
Meeting legendary Sir Sidney Poitier
az mobile notarySir Sidney in his speech to the assembly, very humbly recalled how he had been coached to read and write by a senior Jewish waiter, when he was employed as a child in a menial job as a dish washer. He mentioned that his journey from dust to gold, and to hold the prestigious Oscar, was rough and full of hurdles.
Then followed the photographic session. We lined up and I was hidden a little behind, and suddenly I felt two iron tongs lifting me from my waist and placing me in front saying, “Your place is there” and positioned me next to the Secretary General Mr. U Thant. Immensely flabbergasted, I looked back. I could not believe my eyes; it was none other than Sir Sidney Poitier, the heartthrob of the galaxy of Hollywood stars, and at that time he was at the apogee of his distinguished career.
We enjoyed the Green Room hospitality of the Secretary General. I saw this unassuming Knight in shining armour, mixing with the crowd like a well chiselled, well- polished ebony statue that had come to life.
We as artistes adored this trailblazing, ground-breaking Oscar winner’s performances, in films like “Guess who is coming to dinner”, “To Sir with Love” and “In the heat of the Night”.
Sir Sidney is no more. But he will live in the hearts of everyone.
az mobile notary
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