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BEST TWO YEARS – Part 43

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada

Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

Strengthened the Foundation of CHSGA

In 1979, I was elected Treasurer of Sri Lanka’s largest professional body for hoteliers – Ceylon Hotel School Graduates Association (CHSGA). Together with two leading hotel managers – Malin Hapugoda of Bentota Beach Hotel (President) and Mahinda Ratnayake of Neptune Hotel (Secretary), I contributed to strengthening the foundation for CHSGA. This would inspire future generations of hoteliers to continue building a dynamic association.

Our honorary work for CHSGA at that time, focused on financial stability, fund raising, industry recognition, image building and registration of CHSGA as a company. Having studied the membership grade system of the Hotel Catering & Institutional Management Association (HCIMA) during my visit to the UK in 1979, I proposed a similar system for CHSGA. This resulted in membership grades such as Fellows, Members, Licentiates and Associates with relevant professional titles such as FCHSGA after their names. Forty-two years later, when I regularly see these titles in Sri Lanka used on business cards and for professional work, it reminds me of that memorable day in 1980 when I enjoyed the unanimous approval of my proposal by my peers.

On October 16, 2021 via Zoom, I attended another annual general meeting (AGM) of CHSGA. At that event, both CHSGA and I celebrated 50 years in hospitality. As a Past President of CHSGA (1985-1986) I am proud of the work done by all my six predecessors and 27 successors. The current executive committee includes many of my past students of the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS). They have taken the association to an unprecedented level of professionalism, efficiency and innovation. Considering the humble beginnings of CHSGA in 1971 at the CHS hostel with fewer than 50 members, it is impressive that CHSGA now has over 1,300 professional members and continues to strengthen.

Happiest Internal Customers at Swanee

Our innovative initiatives at Hotel Swanee such as time slot for all of the staff to take part in the New Year’s Eve dinner dances, improved employee relations. Our other initiatives to improve relationships with the trade union and internal customers (staff) focused a lot on sports. We organized a cross country marathon and a cycle race for staff. There were weekly events such as guests vs. staff games of volleyball and football. We also organized cricket games only when large groups of British guests arrived. Encouraged with the popularity of these events, we organized a large-scale staff sport meet during the off season of 1980. Many guests volunteered to officiate the events of this meet.

“Sir, how about a large staff event to celebrate the sixth anniversary of our hotel?” the Union President asked me, soon after the successful sports meet. As I did not consider the sixth anniversary as a significant milestone, I asked him to justify such an event. “Sir, as we are so pleased with the manner in which our hotel progressed to break all records, we thought that we should celebrate it while you are the manager of Hotel Swanee” he said. I suspected that he had heard rumours that John Keells Group was considering to promote me to a corporate position at the head office. “If you approve our suggestion, we will raise funds and organize the whole event. We just need your approval” the union leader gently pushed me. So, I gave the green light.

The union and a few members of the management team worked together to organize a large, sixth anniversary event. It included rich and diverse forms of entertainment, including songs in Sinhala, Tamil, English and Hindi, dance performances and comedy acts provided free by hotel entertainers as well as by talented members of the staff. They commenced the event with a newly formed hotel choir singing the Swanee anthem that the staff had composed with the help of the music bands who performed at the hotel. All hotel guests attended the event as spectators. The organizing committee surprised me by raising tons of money from 190 advertisers (including 33 competitor hotels!) in the event souvenir booklet. The second most expensive advertisement (inner cover) was placed by the former enemy of the Hotel Swanee and now the guardian, Mr. K. Solomon Silva of Moragalla. All profits were donated to the staff welfare society.

Chairman of John Keells Group, Mr. Mark Bostock, in his souvenir message stated, “It is all very well to plan and invest in bricks and mortar, swimming pools and kitchens, but when it comes down to brass tacks, it is the staff of the hotel who really make a success of a venture such as this.” In my message, in addition to thanking the event organizers, I summarized the recent success of Hotel Swanee as, “During the summer (off season) of 1980, we enjoyed an occupancy of 87% and we are hoping to achieve the target of 94% by end of this financial year.”

Organizers also obtained a message from the longest staying and one of the oldest guests of Hotel Swanee, Marta Duchstein of West Germany. She was like a mother to all of us. When she heard that I would be visiting Düsseldorf for business, she insisted that I visit her and stay a couple of nights in her house in Essen. When I pointed out to Marta that I had no plans to visit Essen, she said, “The efficient German express train from Düsseldorf airport will bring you to Essen in 33-minutes and I will pick you from there.” As she did not accept any further excuses from me, I spent two days at her house. She was an excellent host and proudly gave me a tour of Essen. Marta’s message to the souvenir included, “The main reasons why I always return to the Hotel Swanee are the excellent service and friendly atmosphere. The young and charming staff usually bring out my motherly instincts.

Using some profits from the sixth anniversary event and some donations from the hotel profits I approved as a group bonus, we took most of the staff on two ‘around the island’ trips. Our stops included the most scenic spots in Sri Lanka including waterfalls, tea estates and beaches. We also visited some top hotels to gain a little industrial exposure. These ‘fun-filled’ trips further enhanced our industrial relations.

Running successful resort hotels is easy, if the management focuses on three simple strategies:

1. Keeping the internal customer (staff) happy

2. Making the paying customers (guests) happy, and

3. Focusing more on revenue generation (increasing sales volume and creative pricing).

Unfortunately, most hoteliers and their financial controllers focus more on cost cutting and controls. Although important, to me such aspects deserve secondary focus in the context of profit optimization, compared to the three simple strategies I always used.

Crisis Management – Fighting an Angry Ocean

One day Mr. K. Solomon Silva visited me early in the morning. One this occasion, in his panic mood, he did something he had never done before. He came to my apartment with the night receptionist and woke me up around 5:00 am. “Sir, I must warn you about something Mother Nature did to this village about twenty-five years ago during the monsoon period.” After catching his breath, he continued, “It is a warning of a curse when the flow of the river mouth reverses from around the small island on the river mouth. The sea then gets exceptionally rough on Moragalla beach. We may lose the entire beach within a day and the sea erosion can affect the hotel buildings drastically.”

I quickly went to the beach with Solomon and understood the imminent danger. I sought his advice as well as the staff who were from the village. In crisis management, the situational leadership must be delegated to trustworthy people who understood the local crisis better. After listening to their advice, I had emergency meetings, first with the management team and then with all of the staff. We ordered 1,000 strong bags to be filled with sand to create a strong barrier to protect the hotel buildings from the ocean becoming rougher with unprecedented high tides. On my request, all staff and some hotel guests volunteered day and night to protect Hotel Swanee. I called it a ‘Shramadana’ (a concept of donating time and effort practiced in Sri Lankan villages).

When the big, ruthless waves arrived, these affected all of the hotels in the area. Due to our well-timed preventive actions on this occasion, Hotel Swanee was the least affected. Thank you, Solomon! The beach came back by the end of the monsoon period and the 1980/1981 tourist season commenced with a bang. Unfortunately, that scary incident in 1980 was quickly forgotten. Twenty-four years later, during the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, sadly most parts of the Hotel Swanee were destroyed and the hotel was never opened again. Every year, when I spend a month in Sri Lanka, I visit most of the hotels I worked at during my early career for nostalgic reasons, but after 2004, I never went back to Morogalla beach. It would be too sad for me to see the ruins of Hotel Swanee, where I had two memorable years.

My Best Two Years

My two years at Hotel Swanee was a non-stop, fun-filled joy ride. We had parties throughout the two years. Any occasion such as a birthday of a manager or a tour leader became an excuse for us to organize another exciting party at my pool-side and sea-front apartment. During the tourist season we worked very hard while having fun making our guests happy.

On the quiet days when we didn’t have any celebrations, I invited managers of neighbouring hotels with their wives to visit us in the evenings. As some of these managers were relatively new to the hotel industry, they liked to chat with us and observe how we did innovative things to make customers happy. I used to entertain them with dinner in the garden while listening to the rhythmic sound of the ocean waves. We developed excellent relations with our competitor hotels, all managed by much older hotel managers.

On the days that we did not have a late-night event or a party, all members of my young management team and senior supervisors proceeded to my apartment after dinner. We then played a ‘very competitive’ form of monopoly close to mid-night while eating chocolates, sipping coffee and liqueur. Then we went for a sea bath followed by a dip in the swimming pool. After an aggressive, water polo game, we returned to my apartment for another game of monopoly, 304 cards or a fast chess tournament until about 2:00 am. All the other managers lived in management living quarters close to my apartment. Even though we played hard till lat

e, we were still back at work by breakfast time to look after our guests.

One morning, an older guest who appeared to be tired and annoyed, came to see me with a serious complaint. He said that there were some noisy hooligans at the pool after midnight. He added that neither he nor his wife could fall asleep with all that disturbance. He requested me to investigate and take corrective action. I assured him that I would find the culprits and ensure that no one made any more noise after midnight. After that we limited our late-night activities to quiet fun things without going into the pool after midnight.

On his departure, that guest praised me for promptly solving his problem. He said, “I was never disturbed after I complained to you, Chandi. Thank you very much for sorting that hooligan problem.” When I said, “You are most welcome, Mr. Müller. My team and I look forward to welcoming you next year”, his response surprised me. “What next year? My wife and I will be back from Germany at Hotel Swanee in three months’ time for another three weeks. This is our second home, Chandi. We love you and your team”, he said. I was happy about that news, and happier that he never guessed who the real ‘Noisy Hooligans’ were.

Out of the 50 years I spent in hospitality (operations, management, education and consulting), my two years as the Manager of Hotel Swanee were the most enjoyable. During the time of my mid-career when I was the General Manager of seven, large five and four-star hotels, I was too busy to be fully involved in guest relations as I did during my two years at Hotel Swanee. In larger hotels, unfortunately, guests become just numbers, and hoteliers focus more on dollars than guests. If we focus on satisfying the internal customer (employees) they usually make sure that the external customer (guests) is happy, thus resulting in good revenues and profits. When I look back, we certainly did the right thing in 1979 and 1980.

Emotional Farewells

Towards the end of 1980, on my 27th birthday, I received a call from my boss, Bobby Adams, Director Operations of the Hotel Management & Marketing Services Limited, the John Keells subsidiary company who managed all seven hotels of the group. “Chandi, get ready to hand over Hotel Swanee to your Assistant Manager. The John Keells Board has agreed with me to promote you as my deputy and transfer you to the head office in two months’ time”.

Solomon rushed to meet me when heard the news about my transfer to Colombo. Although he tried to act tough in most situations, on this occasion, he was somewhat emotional. I assured him that in my new corporate position, I will be overlooking Hotel Swanee and will be visiting Beruwala periodically. After that, whenever I stopped at Hotel Swanee, Solomon was the first to rush to greet me. Every time we met, if he was dressed in a folded sarong, he promptly unfolded his sarong up to his ankles as a mark of respect common in those villages. Solomon had become a reliable friend of mine and a loyal supporter.

The Hotel Swanee staff organized a series of farewell events. On my last day at the hotel, they presented me with a gold chain and a gold ‘C’. When I heard that each of those lower income employees had contributed their personal service charge money (which was often higher than their salaries) to buy that expensive chain for me, I shed a tear.



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Solidarity and Aragalaya: A few thoughts from an educationist’s perspective

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by Harshana Rambukwella

Very little in Sri Lanka at the moment inspires hope. We are facing an existential crisis that was inconceivable just six months ago. Sri Lanka is also, ironically, just a year away from marking the 75th year of its independence. As we reflect on these seven decades of postcolonial nation building, and as we confront a future of extreme precarity, our scorecard as a country is not a proud one. Much blood has been spilt in the name of postcolonial nation building and the ethno-nationalist conflict that shaped almost three decades of that history and two youth rebellions against the state speak to a history of division and enmity. While our current predicament cannot be entirely attributed to this conflictual history alone, it surely played more than a small role in shaping our present misery. It is within this context that I want to offer this brief set of reflections on what I feel is an unprecedented form of solidarity that has emerged in Sri Lanka as the aragalaya took shape. While I do not want to romanticize this solidarity because it is a highly contingent phenomenon and is shaped by the extreme nature of the current political and economic conditions, it offers us as a society, but more specifically as educators, something to reflect on as we try to imagine our role in a society that faces a painful process of rebuilding and recovery (though my hope is that such rebuilding and recovery does not mean the repetition of the tired old neo-liberal script we have followed for decades).

Before I explore what I mean by solidarity within the aragalaya, let me briefly reflect on solidarity as a concept. Solidarity is a term sometimes deployed in geopolitics. Particularly in this time of global turmoil where not just Sri Lanka, but many other countries are experiencing serious economic challenges, we see nations expressing solidarity with or towards other nations. However, such solidarity is almost always shaped by instrumental motives. This is what we might call a form of ‘vertical’ solidarity where more powerful and wealthy nations extend a ‘helping hand’ to their more unfortunate counterparts. Therefore, when India says ‘neighbourhood first’ and expresses solidarity with Sri Lanka in this time of trouble one can easily discern this as a hierarchical gesture shaped by instrumental motives. It is in reality, India’s strategic geopolitical interests that largely dominate this narrative of solidarity though one cannot disregard the critical importance of the assistance extended by India and other such ‘powerful’ nations in this time of national distress.

Another form in which solidarity manifests is through what some scholars have termed ‘enchanted’ solidarities. This is literally and metaphorically a distant form of solidarity where intellectuals, activists and others extend solidarity towards a struggle they perceive as deserving their support but without truly understanding the context in which they are intervening. This has often happened with ‘first world’ academics and intellectuals expressing solidarity towards ‘third world’ struggles which they felt were ideologically aligned with their beliefs. One example is how many liberal and leftist intellectuals supported the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, believing it to be an anti-imperial liberation movement, only to become disillusioned with the movement as they began to see the full horror of the repression and violence unleashed by the Khmer regime. I think if we reflect on Sri Lanka’s postcolonial history, we can also find many such moments where enchanted solidarities were expressed towards various movements from people in the ‘metropolitan’ center with little understanding of the nuances of the politics on the ground.

Premised against both vertical and enchanted solidarities, scholars have also proposed what is called ‘disenchanted solidarity’. By this they mean a situation where diverse groups, sometimes with very different political and ideological agendas, come together to fight for a common cause. They are often critically conscious of their differences but face a common precarity that pushes them together to struggle and align in ways that were not possible before. Often such moments are also underwritten by anger, though the sources of anger or the objects towards which the anger is directed could be different. I would like to read the aragalaya through this lens of disenchanted solidarity. Particularly at the height of the Galle Face ‘Gota go gama’ protests – before the brutish May 9th attack symbolically ‘killed’ something of the ‘innocence’ of the struggle – there was a sense in which the different groups represented in that space were expressing solidarity towards a singular goal – getting rid of the Rajapakasas and a political system they saw as deeply corrupt – there was anger and a gathering of disenchanted solidarities. For many middle-class people, the aragalaya was a way in which to express their frustration at the lack of the basic necessities of life – be it gas, electricity and fuel – and how a corrupt political class had robbed them of their future. For those with longer histories of political activism such as the IUSF (the Inter University Students Federation) or youth activists from the Frontline Socialist Party or the JVPs youth wing or the many trade unions that supported the aragalaya, this moment in some ways represented the culmination, and perhaps even a vindication, of their longstanding struggles against a political, social and economic order that they consider fundamentally unfair and exploitative. Of course, within this larger narrative, there were and continue to be pragmatic political calculations, particularly from groups affiliated with political parties. At the same time, we also witnessed ethnic and religious minorities, often historically marginalized in Sri Lanka’s social and political mainstream finding a rare space to express their anger at the ways in which they have been discriminated against. However, the argalaya gave them a rare space to do so by channeling their anger as a form of solidarity towards the common goal of getting rid of the Rajapaksa dynasty and the corrupt political system as a whole.

But at the same time, we also saw the tenuous nature of these disenchanted solidarities in the aftermath of the 9th May attack on ‘Gota go gama’. Initially we saw another spectacular display of organic and spontaneous solidarity when health workers and office workers abandoned their workstations and rushed to ‘Gota go gama’ when news of the attack broke. But by the evening of that day the story had turned more insidious with a wave of attacks against the properties of politicians and others thought to have been involved in the attack against the peaceful aragayala participants. While we may understand and even empathize with this backlash, its violent nature and what appeared to be other instrumental motives driving it, such as the looting and revenge attacks, made it difficult to associate it with the moral principles that had animated the aragalaya thus far.

Thereafter, at the current moment I am writing, the aragalaya also appears to have lost some of its vital energy as the political configuration has shifted and the tragi-comedy of Sri Lanka’s realpolitik with its underhand deals and political mechanizations seems to have regained the upper hand.

However, what does this mean? Does it mean post May 9th the aragalaya has lost its meaning and purpose or can we push our analysis a little deeper. At this point I would like to introduce one final way in which scholars have discussed solidarity which I feel is appropriate to understand the aragalaya and the spirit that underwrote it and continues to underwrite it. This is what some scholars have called ‘deep solidarity’ – a situation where in today’s neo-liberal context where the vast majority of the population come to a realization of their common social and economic predicament and realize their common enemy is the symbolic ‘one percent’ or an insidious nexus between crony capital and political power that disempowers them. This is of course an idealistic conception but one which I feel holds true at least partially to this moment in Sri Lanka. People from widely varying social and economic strata, from different religious persuasions and people with wildly different ideological and political beliefs have been suddenly pushed together. They are all standing in the never-ending petrol and diesel queues, they are desperately hunting for the next cylinder of gas and increasingly many of them are going hungry. The privileges and the divisions that once defined them, no longer seem to be so ‘real’ and the one stark reality confronting them is a form of existential annihilation. I believe within the aragalaya we can glimpse traces of this deep solidarity and as an educationist I think it is our vital task to think of creative ways in which we might sustain this solidarity, grow it and nurture it, so that we can at least ‘imagine’ a better future. These are idealistic sentiments, but at least for me, such hope, is a political and pedagogical necessity of the current moment.

Harshana Rambukwella is attached to the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University of Sri Lanka

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies

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No solutions to nation’s problems from draft constitutional amendment

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by jehan perera

The three-wheel taxi driver did not need much encouragement to talk about the hardships in his life, starting with spending two days in the petrol queue to get his quota. He said that he had a practice of giving his three children a small packet of biscuits and a small carton of milk every morning. But now with the cost tripling, he could only buy one packet of biscuits and his three children had to share it. This is because their beloved country is facing one debacle after another for no fault of those kids or the larger nation. The latest is the failure of the government to make headway in accessing either IMF funding or other funding on any significant scale. Several countries have made donations, but these are in the millions whereas Sri Lanka requires billions if it is to come out of its vicious cycle of a dollar shortage.

There was much anticipation that the appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would bring in the billions that are desperately needed by the country if it is to obtain the fuel, food and medicines to keep the people healthy and the economy moving. But things have not worked out in this manner. The pickings have been slim and sparse. The IMF has given the reasons after the ten day visit by its staff to Sri Lanka. They have specifically referred to “reducing corruption vulnerabilities” in their concluding statement at the end of their visit. The international community in the form of multilateral donors and Western governments have prioritized political stability and a corruption-free administration prior to providing Sri Lanka with the financial assistance it requires.

The pressing need in the country is for the government to show there is political stability and zero tolerance for corruption in dealing with the prevailing crisis. It is not enough for government leaders to give verbal assurances on these matters. There needs to be political arrangements that convince the international community, and the people of Sri Lanka, that the government is committed to this cause. Several foreign governments have said that they will consider larger scale assistance to Sri Lanka, once the IMF agreement is operational. So far the government has not been successful in convincing the international community that its own accountability systems are reliable. This is the main reason why the country is only obtaining millions in aid and not billions.

INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONS

The draft 22nd Amendment that is now before the parliament (which will become the 21st Amendment should it be passed) would be a good place for the government to show its commitment. The cabinet has approved the draft which has three main sections, impacting upon the establishment of the constitutional council, the powers of the president and dual citizenship. However, the cabinet-approved draft is a far cry from what is proposed by the opposition political parties and civil society groups. It is watered down to the point of being ineffective. Indeed, it appears to be designed to fail as it is unlikely to gain the support of different political parties and factions within those parties whose support is necessary if the 2/3 majority is to be obtained.

In the first place, the draft constitutional amendment does not reduce the president’s power in any significant manner. The amendment is drafted in a way that the reduction of presidential powers will only occur with the next president. The president now in office, who has publicly admitted failure on his part, continues to be empowered to appoint and sack the prime minister and cabinet ministers at his arbitrary discretion. He is also empowered to appoint and dismiss the secretaries to ministries, who are the highest-ranking public service officials. In short, the executive arms of the government are obliged to do the president’s bidding or risk their jobs. This indicates the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose party has only a single seat in parliament, has no independent strength, but is there at the will and pleasure of the president.

In the second instance, the draft amendment was expected to set up a system of checks and balances for accountability and anti-corruption purposes. The pioneering effort in this regard was the 17th Amendment of 2001 that made provisions for a constitutional council and independent commissions. According to it, the members of all state bodies tasked with accountability and anti-corruption functions, such as the Bribery and Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Police Commission, the Public Service Commission and the appointees to the higher judiciary were to be appointed through the constitutional council. The 17th Amendment made provision for seven of the ten members of the constitutional council to be from civil society.

DEATH BLOW

Unfortunately, in a manner designed to deal a death blow to the concept of checks and balances, the draft amendment sets up a constitutional council with the proportions in reverse to that of the 17th Amendment. It reveals a mindset in the political leadership that fears de-politicisation of decision making. Seven of the ten members will be appointed by the political parties and the president in a way in which the majority of members will be government appointees. Only three will be from civil society. This ensures a majority representation in the Council for government politicians, and the ensures government dominance over the political members. The composition of the constitutional council proposed in the Bill undermines the independence of the institutions to which appointments are made through the Council who will be unable to stem the wildly growing tide of corruption in the country.

It is no wonder that the furious people in the endless queues for petrol and diesel should believe that there is corruption at play in the continuing shortage of basic commodities. The government promised that ships would come in laden with fuel a week ago. Then, inexplicably, the information was disseminated that no ships were on the horizon. In any other country, except in a country like no other, the concerned leaders would have resigned. Due to the lack of fuel, perishable farm produce rots in rural farmhouses and markets in urban centres are empty and prices are rocketing up. In the meantime, the media has exposed rackets where the privileged, politically powerful and super rich, are given special access to fuel. It is patently clear that the government has failed to deliver on the results that were expected. The situation is getting worse in terms of corrupt practices.

To the credit of the Sri Lankan people, they are being patient. The bonds of social solidarity still prevail. But the anger at the self-seeking and incompetent political leaders is reaching the boiling point, as it did on 09 May. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to set up an interim government in consultation with party leaders in parliament. However, he did not do so but appointed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and thereby ended efforts of other parliamentarians to form a national unity government. The president’s pledge, made in the aftermath of the cataclysmic and unexpected violence that took place that day, was to reduce his presidential powers, transfer those powers to parliament and to appoint an all-party and interim government of no more than 15 ministers. These pledges remain unfulfilled and need to be implemented to be followed by elections as soon as the situation stabilises.

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Kehelgamuwa’s football skills and President Premadasa’s political sagacity

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By Hema Arachi

T.B. Kehelgamuwa, the cricketer who needs no plaudits from anyone, is well known. He represented then Ceylon and, later, Sri Lanka as a fearsome fast bowler during the pre-Test era. His contemporaries still talk about Kehel with great respect. Once S Skanda Kumar, the well-known cricketer, cricket commentator and former High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to Australia, proudly told me about his playing cricket with Kehelgamuwa. Bandu Samarasinghe, a Sri Lanka film star, on a TV programme vividly demonstrated how he faced Kehelgamuwa in a Sara Trophy game. That was the top-level tournament in the country.

This note is to share my watching Kehelgamuwa playing soccer when he was not so young. Then, though his grey hair was visible, he ran fast and played hard like a teenager. This was during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure. Returning from The Netherlands, after my postgraduate studies, I lived in Pelawatta, near the Sri Lanka Parliament and my workplace – International Irrigation Management Institute headquarters. I used to enjoy walking on Parliament grounds. That day was unique because the game between the President’s soccer team, comprising parliamentarians, and the Sri Lanka Police team, was played there.

President Premadasa was well known for his political sagacity, especially in manipulating any situation in his favour. For instance, the day Anura Bandaranayake became the Opposition Leader, Premadasa, praised Anura stating, “Anura is the best Opposition Leader we have.” He further requested that Anura join the ruling party and become a minister and also marry a girl from a prominent ruling party family. But within weeks, he was critical of Anura. One day an Opposition member asked him, “You said Anura was our best Opposition leader a few weeks ago but now criticise.” His reply was this: “Yes, I said so because Anura is the best Opposition leader for us, the ruling party, not for the Opposition. For the Opposition, the best leader is Sarath Muththetuwegama!”

A few weeks before the scheduled encounter between the Parliamentarians and the Police football team, there was a game between the Parliamentarians and the Colombo Municipality team. Premadasa captained the Parliamentarians and kicked the winning goal. I remember a cartoon in a newspaper where the Municipality team goalkeeper withdrew so that Premadasa could score the goal at his will.

During the game against the Police, Premadasa did not play but visibly played the role of the coach of the Parliamentarian team. Unlike the Municipality players, the Police played the game seriously. Kehelgamuwa represented the Police team that scored five goals by halftime, and the Parliamentarian team was nil. At halftime, Premadasa replaced the Parliamentarian goalkeeper with Jayawickerama Perera. Yet, the Police team recorded a sound victory.

I thought Premadasa was upset due to this defeat for his team. But no. Premadasa claimed victory: “I am happy that my team won the game by beating the Parliamentarians today! Being the Executive President, I do not belong to the Parliament. However, as the Commander-in-Chief, the Police come under my purview, so my team won today!”

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