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Disce aut Discede



by Gamini Seneviratne

Form-mates, classmates perhaps in Mr. J E V Pieris’s IA, I seem to recall also the ‘J’ in J Godwin Perera. His reminiscences of those times past are indeed welcome. What follows here are some additions / amendments.

Given the heading used by Godwin and repeated here, the first of them must surely be the third option that completes that quote: Caedi (be caned). Looking back from present times, a very mild option, one would say. I was caned only once, by Mr. Bob Edwards: he had forgotten what my supposed misdemeanor was and I couldn’t tell him why I was there as I had ceased to know what it was.

Godwin’s mentioned the Senior Lit. and the Best Speaker’s prize. I was never involved in the first and had a spectacular spell at the second. I forget what the subject was but the Principal’s hand had been hovering over the bell as I passed the time limit. The judge was A B Perera, a Barrister who had served as Principal of Ananda and was to serve as our Ambassador to China. In his summing up he said that I had made a very interesting speech – but rules must be observed. He awarded the prize to Mark (L J M) Cooray who had elocuted his forgettable words finishing on the dot. (He went on to obtain all the postgraduate degrees required for a career as an academic. A high point in that was his attempt to prove that the indigenous people Down Under who had built their culture through some 40,000 years “had no right to the land”. There would have been some applause in academe.)

          L H Meegama had a bicycle and some days when I didn’t join another gang up Buller’s road to Galle road I went with Meeya to his place on Vajira road. Our Mahappa’s place on Janaki Lane was almost directly across Galle road from there. His senior sister would sometimes be in the kitchen cooking – scraping coconut and such – while her fiancée chatted with her. He took up engineering and I last heard was working in the Port when he died relatively young.

          And so did Tyrell Muttiah, superlative scrum-half, who lived on Galle road just by Bin Ahmed’s studio at the top of Janaki Lane. He seemed to have been born smiling and bred in  courtesy. He was the most pleasant of friends.

          K. Manickavasagar, Manicks, and I were immediate, next-door neighbors but we were not together in Form I A.  He went into the pharmaceutical industry and headed Pfizer here before retiring to Canada.

          Am sure have missed many in that class. I have asked as many of that Group of ‘Forty Nine as I could locate here: their memory, alas, is as bad as mine.

          May we all make a good ending!


In that class chaired by Mr. Nathanielsz, aka “Naetta”, Mr Pieris, aka “Bada” was the presiding deity. His approval took the form of “Mr. Mendis, you are a little gentleman.” Surprising as it may be and far less often than “Mr. Mendis” though it was, he is known to have waved the wand over “Mr. Seneviratne”.

“Mr. Mendis” was Lalith, one in the cluster a few of us occupied. Among the others in it were Chulani Wickremasinghe, Laki Senanayake and Punyadasa Edussuriya. Perhaps Tyrell Mutthiah was in it too.

Of those in the periphery, a failing memory prompts the names – Nimal Fonseka, Wonkie de Silva, P S C Goonatileke, L H Meegama and H C Wickremesinghe.

I present a few notes on that lot.

Lalith was an artist and he sketched a good bit of the time.  As a medical doctor he took to the study of filaria and headed that field of research. When he became Director of Medical Services and I saw him there it struck me that he was in the wrong place: he was not built to deal with politicians especially not those in the Department of Health. I suggested that he gets back to his research in an area in which he had already distinguished himself but he passed that with the sweet smile that characterized him.

Laki too did pencil sketches but they were mostly copies of figures, including horses, from the ‘western comics’. Among his skills was the pea shooter and we had exhibitions when Naetta chose to lay his head on his arm and say, “Read”! One after the other we ‘read’ and Naetta awarded marks with his free hand. There were quite a number of zeros and he couldn’t signal any more than five. Laki took aim and sent a spit-ball straight as an arrow to the bald spot on Naetta’s crown.

He took his artistic skills to Dambulla where he sold his drawings, signed kali, to tourists. Laki was and is casual about things. When, on my way to Jaffna, I dropped by to see him at Diyabubula, he had a high fever and looked quite ill. He had obtained medication from the Dambulla Hospital, he said, as he coughed out a typically c & b story – and was sharing the pills with workers who showed the same or similar symptoms. He had been ordered bed-rest and he had complied, he said, by lying flat in his jeep as it juddered around the jungle. A mutual friend, Chandra Subasinghe, lived not many miles away by the Dambulu Oya and managed to get the patient to the Matale Hospital ‘just-in-time’. (Chandra was quite as inventive as Laki and had informed the water-tax collectors from the Mahaweli that for many years his pumps had been accustomed to pumping water from the Dambulu Oya and would continue to do so. If those gentlemen had sent down water there from the Mahaweli and the Sudu Ganga, his pumps knew nothing about that).

Two desks away was Chulani who had the most inclusive collection of westerns – the Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Lone Ranger, Tom Mix & co. freely available to us all. Such knowledge was not prescribed for us at school and Chula suffered a ‘take down’. He made up for it by topping the City & Guilds exams , migrating out there and on to the USA and thence to South America where, by his account, he out-samba’d all the experts that Rio could gather.

Punya Edussuriya’s father and mine had been at Ananda around the same time; Punya claimed that his father would have taught mine. That is unlikely – (I didn’t know it at the time, but my father had won the Senior English Essay prize in 1923 and his father could not have been that much his senior). They sat together in the pavilion at the Royal Thomian. In our first year we were among dozens of boys who encroached into the Oval grounds as the match neared its end. The boundary rope moved up or down and when Bradman Weerakoon was given out caught, Wignarajah the fielder was behind us and well behind the boundary line. We were right there and yelled that it was a six. Nobody listened. Years later when I mentioned it to Bradman he was unaware that he and St. Thomas’ had so been denied a right royal victory. Not the first time it happened and won’t be the last: the evidence of eyewitnesses is swept under, justice given no opening at all. Happens all the time.

Not many years later Punya and big brother Piyasiri were moved across to Ananda – a school that figured prominently in our family. Beginning with mother’s maternal uncle D B Jayatilaka’s contributions at the start, all our male relatives ‘on both sides’ as they say had been at Ananda: my father and his brothers, mother’s brothers, all our cousins. I was the ‘out’ chap and it happened like this. At the same time as I qualified to enter Royal I had been awarded the ‘Entrance Scholarship’ for Ananda – creating sort of competing claims. Regardless of having served on the academic staff at Ananda in the early 1900s father’s eldest brother had said, “Royal”! – after all he lived in Bambalapitiya and could keep an eye on me. That was convenient, a convenient story, but as the old man had told me the previous year (when I was a little over 9) he was disappointed in his sons.

That was the product of another pressure point. Our paternal grandmother had a cousin called Arthur Wijewardena; we had nothing to do with him but Mahappa had been in touch. All I remember is that he was an unsmiling kind of man who lived down Vajira Road next to Visakha; it had a nice garden and there was a son who sort of floated in and out of the verandah and drawing room offering biscuits. What was pertinent at the time was that he had been our Chief Justice and Mahappa had expected his sons to take to the law likewise as he himself had done. But what did they go and do? – One became an engineer on diesel locomotives and went on to become a chemical engineer (he built and ran Kelani Valley Canneries our best fruit processing factory) and the other an architect who also played piano, painted, sculpted and would you believe it? did ballet dancing. I was sort of the last chance to get the law back into his half of the family. I was to prove a disappointment too, but no one suspected it at the time.

In later years, though not for long, I made my peace with Ananda when Principal S A Wijetilleke recruited me as an English teacher. There I was to establish a friendship with V Thanabalasingham, the senior in that field, that continued as circumstances permitted through the rest of his life. Mr. Thanabalasingham’s intellectual acumen was quite on par with that of B St. E de Bruin or S Constantine at Royal. I had come to know of him earlier when, following the communal riots of 1958,  my cousin, Asoka Gunasekara, wrote a short story around Thane’s experiences of those days; titled vibhagaya  it was one of the best bodies of writing in Sinhala. In later years, when I mentioned vibhagaya those who had read the Kelani University literary magazine, Vimansa, assumed I was referring to a short story of mine in it that had the same title [that had to do with an actual vibhagaya, the government’s ‘efficiency bar’ exams.]

Before I continue, a brief note on the Royal Post Primary to which boys who failed to go over from Royal Prep were sent. There they were expected to adjust their focus more towards studies and away from, say, sports. One of them that year was Brindley Perera, generally regarded as the most gifted 10 year old batsman in our schools. (His nephew, Brendon Kuruppu, gave hints of how strong the genes were). Most of those who slipped at that point showed their caliber in later life. Those I recall include Susantha Samaranayake, the first Lankan to be appointed a Director / Manager at IBM; Dharmasiri Pieris, who had a distinguished career in the public sector including that of Secretary to the Prime Minister; and Sarath Weerasooria, Chairman of FINCO. My brother had moved there from Ananda and had the distinction, besides  scoring a near-double century versus Carey, of being the first (only) – student to pass the SSC in the first year that Thurstan students were presented for that exam. He moved back to De Mazenod where he ended with a flourish as Senior Champion at athletics, Captain of cricket and winner of the General Proficiency prize. The police grabbed him then – and a young lawyer grabbed his girlfriend, much the prettiest schoolgirl seen at our railway station. I had written poems to her on his behalf and delivered them as she took a detour down Janaki lane where I lived on her way from the HFC to the railway station.

In the lot who got to Royal College that year (1949), 35, fully one-third, were from schools other than Royal Prep. Perhaps that accounts for the special distinction which seems to have marked that batch.

Even among 10 year-olds, Nimal / Nimma stood out for being pugnacious but was never a bully. He turned his hands to several part-time occupations at one of which, the Hotel De Universe’ he employed school friend Raja (Rahula) Silva when the then government failed to do him justice. When Raja fell asleep at wrong time of night Nimma functioned as bouncer at his hotel bar. An expatriate in England of long standing Nimma became a teetotaler I presume in mid-life: when he took leave of his business and related activities he was in great demand at parties – for drive-home services. “They get cocked and talk cock” he said, “so I stopped going for parties”. He continues his interest in topology and is last known to have remained more or less certifiably sane.

W K N Silva was a Proprietary Planter with tea and rubber in the Ratnapura district. I believe that two of his sisters married a pair of brothers. In his latter days he took exception to being called “Wonkie”; he said it should have been applied to Nalin (WNK) Fernando, journalist, because the name fitted him, initials and all. He had a sufficient number of siblings to retain the bulk of their estate after Land Reform.

Occasionally initials provided a convenient name – say, Jabba for JB. Susantha Goonatileke’s PSC was tempting and tempted. He chose engineering as did his cousin C L V Jayatileke (who proceeded all the way in mechanical engineering) but he took his BSc (Eng) and changed course towards the social sciences. It was a move that opened a range of intellectual challenges for him and brought his academic work into discussion at fora around the world. His son is perhaps way and away the wealthiest among us in the next generation.

H C (Channa) Wickremasinghe was one of the brightest among us but health-related hiccups prevented his full development as a scholar. Turner, his architect brother was a left arm spinner of a most mean disposition who played for Royal. Channa was content to send down mostly friendly off breaks of which he had a good opinion.

Godwin relates an incident concerning our ruggerites et al and he attributes the report on it to Mr. Orloff, Principal of Trinity College. As I recall, the Trinity Principal at the time was a Mr Walters and the incident had occurred not in a room at the Trinity hostel but on the train down from Kandy. However that may have been punishment was meted out as Godwin says. I was co-editor with Nihal Jayawickrema of the school magazine and inserted some quotes in the space for footnotes: one and all pointed towards the merits of forgiveness.

The Principal, Mr. Dudley K G de Silva, sent for me. I was met at his door by Mr. Elmo de Bruin who served as Manager of the Magazine. When the Principal saw that I was not without back-up he asked Mr. Bruin whether he had approved the insertions and he replied, “I have the fullest confidence in their judgment, Sir” spreading the blame.

Principal de Silva tended to take the word of fellow Principals a bit uncritically. I noticed that the Thomian magazine that year had carried a poem published some years previously in ours and wrote a little note to the Thomian editor, Ranjith Wijewardena, ribbing him about it. Instead of writing back in similar vein Ranjith had taken my note to his Warden – who had promptly phoned our Principal. Predictably I was sent for. As the fates decreed, I ran into Bruno on my way there. He heard me out and strolled into the Principal’s office ahead of me. He asked me to show the evidence to the Principal and suggested that “if ‘these Thomians’ had any sense they could have said they don’t retain past copies of our Magazine”! Writing from Jamaica a life-time later, Bruno recalled such and other ‘happenings’ of his years at Royal. There must be hundreds still around who miss him.

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



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



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.


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.


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



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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