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DUDLEY SENANAYAKE: COLOSSUS AMONG POLITICIANS

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(Excerpted from the Memoirs of Senior DIG (Rtd.) Edward Gunawardene)

His visit to my residence: About two weeks after I had shifted residence and with only a week to pass for election day, I was to experience one of the most pleasant and rewarding days of my life.

About 6 O’clock one evening the telephone rang. The caller was Alex Dedigama. He said he was with Mr. Dudley Senanayake at the resthouse and the latter would be pleased to meet me. I very politely told Alex to explain to Mr. Senanayake that it would not look nice for me to meet him at the resthouse and that he was most welcome in my humble home. I also told him that several other candidates including Kalugalle and Ratne Deshapriya Senanayake have seen me at home as this is my official residence. Alex promised to convey my wish to Mr. Senanayake.

As a precaution I telephoned Salgado’s and requested the manager to prepare two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice. Chandradasa (my servant) brought this in a thermos flask. No sooner Chandradasa arrived, the telephone rang again. It was the great man himself. He said that he would be at my residence in five minutes. I instructed Chandradasa to be  ready to open the gate. When a car arrived at the gate I prepared myself to meet the special visitor.

As the car entered the premises I recognized the 4 Sri Series Triumph Herald. It was driven by Dudley Senanayake himself. Seated beside him was Alex Dedigama, a cousin who resembled Dudley very much. After Dudley and Alex sat down Dudley, as if to put me at ease, started filling his pipe saying, “I hope you don’t mind me smoking.” “I too smoke, Sir, Peacock is my brand”, was my response.

Apparently he had heard of my Peradeniya days. I was surprised when he told me that he had skimmed The Students Council Magazine edited by me. Joe Karunaratne who was his private secretary had briefed him about me and even given him a copy of the 1956 Union Magazine.

When Chandradasa served the orange juice, Dudley looked at me and asked what the drink was. When I told him that it was fresh orange juice and he smiled saying “good”. I told him that his brother, Robert, had been a regular visitor and fresh orange juice was his preferred drink too. He then told me that Robert had briefed him about the meetings he had with me; and how my servant too had been courteous and accommodating when I was not at home.

It was only after about 15 minutes that Dudley asked me about what was happening. “Mr.Gunawardena, what is this talk that you are going to be transferred?” Without batting an eyelid I replied, ” I am ready to go anywhere Sir,  be it Jaffna or Moneragala. I have to just  pack my suitcase and go.” He laughed. Alex Dedigama who was silent all the while butted in, “They know it Dudley. Even Kalugalla admires this man’s guts. Edward has a good word among the lawyers too.”

He had been well briefed about the goings on in Kegalle; and he appeared to be particularly pleased about the impartial role of the police. He had even heard of the incident where two children flying a green kite had been assaulted and the manner in which I had dealt with Tissa Wijeyaratne. Apparently Alex Dedigama had related the incident to him.

This first meeting of mine with Dudley Senanayake which was to lead to a close relationship with not only him but also his brother Robert and the latter’s children. This remains remarkably fresh in my memory. As I write this 45 years later I can visualize Dudley dressed in a green casual shirt, smoking a large curved pipe seated close to me. “Don’t be discouraged by threats. Don’t be intimidated. Just do your duty,” his parting words that evening still ring in my ears.

Meeting Dudley on Election Day

The day of the elections was relatively quiet. By the time the polls began in the morning apart from police presence at every polling station in the district all the mobile police patrols were operating smoothly. Apart from visiting a few polling stations in the Dedigama, Kegalle and Rambukkana, electorates most of my time was spent in the Operations Room that I had set up in the office of the HQI Kegalle.

The reports received at the Ops. Room by noon indicated that most of the candidates had been seen visiting polling booths. Only a few minor incidents had been reported by this time. A drunk had been arrested by IP Pilapitiya, OIC Bulathkohupitiya, and locked up in a cell. Being busy with the election duties he had not been able to produce this man before a doctor. Dr. N.M. Perera had casually dropped in at the station as he had received information that one of his supporters was in custody. When he saw the true position he had been more than satisfied with the action taken by the OIC.

When I visited the Warakapola Police Station IP Shanton Abeygoonawardena was there. He had been posted to this station by Police Headquarters because the OIC, IP Wijetilleke had been the OIC of Nittambuwa and had been very close to Prime Minister Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike. 

Abeygoonawardena told me that Mr. Dudley Senanayake and his brother Robert were touring the electorate together. After visiting the Warakapola station I drove to the thalaguli shop of Jinadasa, a man with a Groucho moustache who was well known to many. I wanted to eat a thalaguli and drink a ginger tea. There was a jeep halted outside. When my car was stopped behind this jeep, Themis the driver got down from the jeep. He recognized me and told me, “Sir, Hamu athule innawa”. This man whom I addressed as Themis aiya as a child was from my village, Battaramulla. I waited outside until Dudley came out.

As he came out with his brother followed by Jinadasa I saluted and greeted him. Robert who was quite friendly with me having met me often at my residence smiled broadly and tried to introduce me to his brother saying, “Dudley you must meet Eddie”. “I met him only a few days ago”, was Dudley’s response. I chatted with them briefly. They were quite pleased with the police arrangements. Whilst parting Robert told me that they were operating from the Ambepussa Resthouse. 

Cellular telephones had not come into existence at that time. After a thalaguli, vadai and a cup of ginger tea at Jinadasa’s I was able to skip lunch and leisurely tour the district. At about four in the afternoon I was able to get to my residence, change into a sarong and relax. All reports indicated that voting had virtually ended. The percentage poll was appreciably high in all the electorates. I telephoned the Kegalle Ops Room and told the duty officer to inform me when the ballot boxes started coming into the Technical College, the counting centre for the district. 

After a shower and a cup of tea I went to sleep having instructed Chandradasa to put me up if there was anything urgent. When I contacted the Ops. Room I was told that all arrangements were in place at the counting centre; and the counting proper is likely to begin after 10 p.m. A call from my friend Leel Gunasekera, the Returning Officer confirmed this.

Feeling completely relaxed, I told Chandradasa to prepare a freshly laundered light uniform — shirt and slacks; and a light dinner, before leaving for the Planters Club for a game of billiards. The few of my friends who were there were surprised to see me in such a relaxed mood. Sipping a fresh lime juice I played a few frames of snooker with Dr. Clarence Muttiah. At about 9 p.m. I received a call on my Walkie Talkie that the postal vote count had begun; and I decided to leave the club. Whilst leaving I instructed the Ops Room to keep me informed of the arrival of Messrs Kalugalle, Dudley Senanayake and Dr. N.M. Perera at the counting Centre.

After I had dinner and got into uniform I received a call from the Ops. Room to say that Mr. Ratne Deshapriya Senanayake had arrived at the Dedigama counting centre with several people. I immediately telephoned the Returning Officer, Leel Gunasekera, and he told me that only the accredited counting agents and the candidate could be present. Accordingly I instructed HQI Kegalle to evict all unauthorized persons from the counting rooms. No sooner I entered the Technical College premises the HQI told me that the rule enabling only authorized persons from entering the counting rooms was being strictly enforced. He also told me that Mr. Dudley Senanayake and his brother Robert were also accompanied by two or three unauthorized persons and they had not been allowed in.

I did a brisk tour of all the rooms where the counting was taking place. With the minimum of people allowed there was plenty of breathing space in the rooms. The candidates too appeared to be happy that unwanted persons had been kept out. With even the police on duty at the counting centres debarred from moving in and out, even I felt somewhat embarrassed to be entering and exiting the counting rooms. 

When I entered the Dedigama electorate counting centre Dudley and Robert were having a chat with Dharmasiri Senanayake, the brother of Deshapriya. “Good thing Eddie that you have restricted entry”, said Robert. “You can be assured Edda will always do the right thing”, added Dharmasiri who was a Peradeniya buddy of mine. He was undoubtedly one of the most efficient and honest Cabinet Ministers of the seventies. I called him Dharme and he called me Edda. That was our relationship, With his early demise the country lost a honourable politician.

Having driven round the Kegalle town and having dropped in at home for a cup of tea I returned to the counting centre at about 1.00 a.m. With the results coming in and the indications being a defeat for Mrs. Bandaranaike’s  Government the crowd outside the counting centre had thinned out. I walked straight upstairs. On the corridor outside the Dedigama counting room, seated on the balustrade and leaning against a pillar, to my utter surprise was Dudley Senanayake. 

Casually dressed, with a muffler round his neck he was smoking a pipe. Apparently he had just come out of the counting room. I saluted him. “Hullo, is everything peaceful?” Just then Robert who was his counting agent walked out of the room. After greeting me, a somewhat worried looking man turned to his brother and said, “Dudley it doesn’t look too good”. By this time I was seated on the balustrade beside Dudley.

It was indeed a tense and closely contested election. The comment that Robert made was after having observed how the count was going. At that moment I was the nearest person to the two brothers. The immediate response of Dudley to Robert’s apprehensions was certainly not a studied statement for political gain. It was a soft, low voiced conversation between two brothers and I happened to be a listener. The words that came out of Dudley spontaneously were, “Robert, if that is the wish of the people, we have to accept it.” 

These were great words from a great man. They are greater still because they were not made to the public but out of his heart to his only brother; and I was the only other man who heard this! They were indeed words that brought out the true democrat in Dudley.

Celebrations at Woodlands 

The Dedigama result was officially announced at about 2 a.m. Dudley had won convincingly. Not only had he won his seat, the results that had come in indicated that the UNP had won the largest number of seats as a single party. Although the UNP did not have an absolute majority it was clear that only Dudley could have formed a coalition government.

As I escorted him out of the counting centre the crowd had thinned out. The supporters of the ruling party that had formed the bulk of the crowd had naturally left dejected. The lead picture in the Lake House papers on the following day was Dudley leaving the counting centre with the ASP Kegalle.

From the counting centre Dudley and Robert went to the residence of Winston Wickremasinghe, a prominent Kegalle lawyer who was a friend of the Senanayake family. I too followed in my Peugeot 203 driven by my orderly PC Dharmasena. Robert who was looking jubilant came up to me and thanked me for being with them. I told him that my responsibility was not over and that an escort would be provided. I also told him that I myself would be travelling in the lead police jeep to Woodlands. 

“Eddie, you must join us at Kiribath. We will follow the police jeep”, were the softly spoken words of a tired but spirited Robert. Whilst waiting for the jeep with a Sub-Inspector and a Sergeant and constable, Winston came up to my car and insisted that I have a coffee before leaving for Woodlands. Being a local lawyer he was especially courteous when he spoke to me. At that time an Assistant Superintendent of Police commanded much respect among lawyers and Judges.

With the roads almost empty the journey to Woodlands was smooth and fast. At 5 a.m. we reached our destination. At the gate was a police jeep with several policemen inside. On seeing the signal lights of the jeep I was in, an officer got down from the jeep that was at the entrance. I recognized him as ASP Gamini Jayasinghe who was the ASP Colombo Traffic. The few people who were gathered on the road opposite Woodlands lit crackers and shouted ‘Jayawewa’.

Robert’s wife, Neela, and  their children, Devinda, Ranjani, Ranjit, Lala and Rukman were in the verandah near the porch. Carolis, the faithful valet of Dudley dressed in a white shirt and white sarong, was beaming with smiles. Ranjit Wijewardene the Chairman of Lake House was also there.

After the initial greetings and hugs they all moved into the sitting room. By that time Gamini Jayasinghe also had moved towards the porch with an Inspector. I started chatting with them, enjoying a smoke. According to Gamini the victory of the UNP had not been anticipated by Police Headquarters. Before I could finish my cigarette, Carolis walked up to the two of us and said, “Gunawardena mahattayata hamu kathakaranawa”. I fetched my cap from the jeep and walked in.

The entire family was round the oval  dining table laughing, chatting and eating kiribath. No chairs were to be seen near the table. They were all standing. The few pieces of furniture were untidy and in disarray. Indeed it was typical of a bachelor home.

As soon as Robert saw me he turned to Dudley and for all to hear exclaimed, “Dudley, here comes Eddie. The man who had to bear the brunt of the problems”.

The children also surrounded me whilst Dudley himself gave me a plate with a piece of kiribath and some katta sambol. Rukman was a small boy who was a silent observer.

Devinda spoke to me quite freely. He even told me how his father used to mention the long evenings he spent seated in the verandah of my Kegalle residence. He had not failed to mention that I had a servant who always served him an orange juice! At 6 O’clock I walked up to the Prime Minister-designate and sought his permission to leave as I had to get back to station. His reaction was a visibly emotional ‘Thank you’. As I came out to the porch I met Gamini and told him that I was getting back to Kegalle.

It was nearly nine in the morning when I reached Kegalle. After a quick bath and a cup of tea I went straight to the Ops. Room. The HQI was there with Sub-Inspector Cumaranatunga. Not a single incident or election offence had been reported. I instructed HQI to send an ‘Incident Nil’ report to Police Headquarters and disband the Ops. Room. 

Locked up in a cell was a solitary elderly man. Coming out of a polling station in Hettimulla he had been arrested by a mobile patrol for the possession of a knife. I questioned the man and he said he always carried that knife to cut arecanut for his chew of betel. His betel stained mouth and teeth, showed that he was an inveterate ‘bulath hapaya’. I ordered his release and returned the knife with the advice to file the point off. I casually remarked to the HQI that the police should not act foolishly chasing after such trivialities!

The only unpleasant thing that happened after nearly 36 hours of smooth going where all the police arrangements of Kegalle district worked out without a hitch was that two days after the polls, even before a government had been formed, my explanation was called for by Police Headquarters for leaving station and accompanying Dudley Senanayake to Woodlands. I ignored this; and that was it!

 



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Features

My father, the unforgettable Premnath Moaraes

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Birth centenary fell on Jan. 31

by Pradeep Moraes

Singer, Songwriter, Lyricist.

Actor, Film Director, Scriptwriter, Producer.

Weightlifter, Wrestler, Footballer, Cricketer, Athlete, Gymnast

Journalist, Sports Editor, Creative Head & Copywriter.

Commentator, Compere and Silver tongued Orator,

Believe me, the list goes on.

Renaissance Man? , Bohemian Artist? Yes to both, but to me, most importantly, the gentlest human being one could hope to meet, and the most devoted husband to my mother and loving father my sister Rehani or I could ever have hoped to have .

Premnath Joseph Moraes – born Joseph Peter Moraes Fernando on January 31, 1923, was of solid middle class stock, who carried his simple and devout Catholic faith right through life.In many ways he epitomized the essence of the very best of the Benedictine trademark ,with traits and talents that wove a rich tapestry of Arts, Sports, Humanity, Simplicity and a Christianity that was lived rather than preached.

Abundantly blessed with talent and versatility, he was however trusting to a foolish degree and unfailingly gullible so as to be a target for exploiters and worse, resulting in the vicissitudes of economic circumstances. So it was not his largesse that begets the incredible goodwill he has left as his legacy to his family, but rather a tribute from people of all walks of life to Premnath the man.

Talking of all walks of life, my father trod many paths; a short outline of which I hope will make good reading.

Joining the Police force soon after school , he was seconded to the CID and later advised to leave by a senior police officer after having spoken openly at the funeral of a colleague who had been gunned down when leading an unarmed raid on a den of vice.

Thereafter he sought and secured a position as a reporter with the Times of Ceylon after an interview with its Editor, Frank Moraes ( later Editor of the Times of India and father of the poet Dom), who reminded him that “the coincidence of our surnames will remain just that! “

Leaving the Times of Ceylon building , Premnath was almost knocked down by a vehicle driven by his friend Sangare Sellamuttu (later Mayor of Colombo ) with whom he got chatting and informed him of the job he had just landed . “What nonsense ” said Sellamuttu , “with your looks you should be in films . Let me introduce you to Sir Chittampalm Gardiner. ” Good looks he had, no doubt about it, but rather than me being accused of understandably favourable bias let me quote an excerpt from a long , eloquent and emotional appreciation by the late, great Gamini Fonseka:

“On those extra broad shoulders

rested that handsome head

of a barrel chested man

with a wasp like waist

His features stirred envy

In the hearts of “stars” of his day. “

The shoulders were actually very broad prompting the late T.B. Illangaratne (author and later Govt. Minister) to describe the hero in one of his books (in Sinhala) as having a moustache like Ronald Colman, and shoulders like Premnath Moraes.

Getting back to Sir Chittampalan (also an old Ben) , the great man was too busy to see my father that day and instead told him “meet me in Madras on Monday morning” (this was Friday) leaving the young applicant to find his own fare – perhaps a test of mettle.

Young Premnath (a name he then assumed ) was signed on as an actor and thus started a romance with the film industry which lasted over 50 years ( from 1947 to 1998 , from starring in ” Kadawanu Poronduwa “ (also known as Broken Promise) the second Sinhala film to be produced, to Demodara Palama, circa 1997. Warada Kageda and Kapati Arakshakaya in the late forties were followed by several others .

This was followed by a stint in Shanthiniketan the Centre of Arts north of Calcutta , the stay which was undertaken for purely aesthetic reasons, gave my father the most pleasant memories among which was seeing and hearing Maestro Ravi Shankar perform for over a hundred cumulative hours.

The long visitation was in the company of his close friend Shanthi Kumar Seneviratne (Star and Director of Ashokamala – the first Sinhala film). Though they both learned classical dance in Shanthiniketan, my father unlike Shanti was never a fan of ballroom dancing – much to the chagrin of Rani , my mother.

From Shanthenikitan, Premnath moved to Bombay where he was in the famed Raj Kapoor/Nargis circle , and was close friends of Dilip Kumar (Mohamed Yusuf Khan), and closer still to one of the most beautiful Hindi actresses of the time, whose gift to him – a gold , Universal Genève watch , I wear to this day.

Back to Ceylon , and the man took up to singing, was contracted to the HMV label (His Masters Voice) , recorded solo, and with Latha (Walpola) and Chitra (Somapala), of the many recordings perhaps the most famed are “Sri Lanka Rani Meniye” ( the de facto Catholic anthem of Sri Lanka) and “LakDeepe” .

Mellifluous to a high degree, his voice had the unusual combination of mellowness and power, in fact we have a photograph of my father recording “5 ths” in a studio a full 20 ft away from the “mike”.

Here, permit me to express a son’s view albeit emotionally flavoured ; I truly believe that no one could sing Olu Pipila or Kokilayane Kolila Nade, better . Incidentally the great Sunil Santha who immortalized these songs was also a Ben .

The Sri Lankan Nightingale Rukmani Devi once told me that she and her husband Eddie Jayamanne (both of whom were very close to him) used to badger my father to sing the 1939 classic “Over the Rainbow ” at every possible opportunity, and redoubtable fellow Benedictine Ben Navaratne ( argued to be the best wicketkeeper Sri Lanka or Ceylon ever produced) used to always ask my father to promise to sing ” O Danny Boy ” over his grave; very poignantly Ben Navaratne and Premnath Moraes are buried within yards of each other at the Jawatte Cemetery.

On to 1953. Production Assistant (titles were not grandiose in those days ), and Second Unit Director for Elephant Walk , directed by William De Telle , the son in law of the legendary Cecil B De Mille ( of Ten Commandments Fame ) .

Starring Vivien Leigh, Peter Finch and Dana Andrews – all Oscar Winners – (Peter Finch and Dana Andrews later, Vivien had already won hers for Streetcar named Desire). Living at the Galle Face Hotel for a full nine months, interspersed with long stays at up country locations, my father enjoyed close interaction with the best acting talent the world had to offer, with the huge bonus of frequent visits from Laurence Olivier, probably the most acclaimed Thespian and Actor who was obliged to check on his wife Vivien, who succumbed to a nervous breakdown within the shooting period. Many were the occasions when the “master” himself was coerced to perform Hamlet to a private audience,

What is remarkable (given that this was 1953) is that Vivien’s condition was recognized , possible inability to proceed was anticipated, and EVERY scene was shot twice, one with Vivien Leigh, one without. So upon Vivien being unable to proceed with the film, the images of Elizabeth Taylor were superimposed – without her ever having visited Ceylon. Not bad for 1953!

Two short stints as Second Unit Director for United Artists “Captain’s Table” and “Purple Plains” which starred Gregory Peck , on to India where he was Production Manager at Gemini Studios in Madras, where most of the Sinhala Films at the time were edited, dubbed and produced. Coincidentally his uncanny look alike, the Tamil film star Gemini Ganeshan, got his eponymous name through association with this studio.

Wide varied and versatile though my father’s exposure to the celluloid world, in my opinion his single most significant to the Sinhala Cinema were his unremitting efforts to get Gamini Fonseka into it, culminating in a successful introduction to Lester James Peiris who brought Gamini into Rekawa in a non starring role. The rest – to use a cliché – is history!. Gamini never lost an opportunity to credit my father (whom he referred to as his “guru “) with his entry to films, and Lester has also endorsed the fact over the years.

Many are the others whom Premnath introduced and inducted into the Film world, stars, cameramen, sound artists, script writers, editors , music directors et al, and many are the pioneering developments he introduced to Sinhala cinema.

A classic example is Sri 296 which he directed in 1959, wherein he provided Henry Jayasena , Joe Abeywickrema and Punya Heendeniya with their first “starring ” roles (all had played small roles earlier), introduced the very beautiful Zeena Valencia to whom he attributed the screen name “Sumitra” (a name she retained for life) who then went on to marry Gamini Fonseka.

Sri 296

is considered a watershed in Sinhala Cinema with the introduction for the first time of an all Ceylonese crew (film crew up to that point were from India) and also for the introduction of two full colour sequences under the mastery of cameraman A.V.M . Vasagam

Sigiri Kashyapa

followed circa 1961 with Gamini in the starring role and Shane Gunaratne as Migara. Scenes from the filming of this film form some of my earliest, distinct, memories with sword fighting being practiced in the main hall of our home at Colpetty (this house had previously been perhaps Ceylon’s only synagogue and an extremely large mosaic floored circular hall). And the equestrian escapades of the horsemen who were trained by Ranjith Dahanayake , later of Hermes International fame . Space does not permit a fair recording of his film career but mention might be made of his roles in Kathuru Muwath, Priyanga (where he played Vijaya Kumaratunga’s father ) and Hitha Honda Minihek where he at Gamini’s insistence played a virtual real life role as Gamini’s “finder” and mentor.

Association with Tyronne Fernando (Minister) and Manik Sandarasaga led to my father writing and scripting the rather ribald Colomba Sanniya (Coming Sweet). He also was the “ghost writer of the Hollywood Production of God King , and to use the term employed by that great Ben, Ravindra Randeniya who was the star of the film – “the de facto director” of much acclaimed Kalu Diya Dahara .

Ironically, given his long involvement with Sinhala cinema, Premnath won the most kudos , and international and local acclaim for directing the Tamil Film “Vaadai Kaatru” in the seventies, shot on the arid dunes of Pesalai. As recently as on September 26, 2015, that redoubtable and insightful journalist , DBS Jeyaraj referred to Vaadai Kaatru as “probably the best Tamil Film” ever made in Sri Lanka .

(To be continued next week)

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National Day and news from across the oceans

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Cassandra has groused, groaned and suffered, yes suffered both emotionally and in mere existence by the stubbornness with which the National Day parade and all that will take place tomorrow. She is joined by almost the entire population of Sri Lanka. We are greatly angered by the expense of 200 million rupees on a pointless, useless, far too extravagant celebration with no feeling of freedom or democracy enjoyed. This grand show is on (almost solely for Ranil’s W R’s benefit) while officials circumvent the globe with the begging bowl; us Ordinaries suffer privations; and many almost starve in this land which is bountiful and kind but for the craft, corruption and sheer incompetence of government leaders down the years.

Cass never fails to watch the February 4th celebration at Galle Face Green, Independence Square or in front of Parliament by the Diyawanna. She is involved emotionally: impressed by the dignified splendour of the event; bursting with pride when the Lion Flag is hoisted, getting all teary at the sight of the young girls and boys in three types of national dress singing the Country Anthem, Jayamangala Gatha and the blessing. During the Yahapalana era, tears were doubled in her eyes, compounded with the sense of justice and non-racialism that was evident when the National Anthem was sung both in Sinhala and Tamil. This year only two events to earn reluctant kudos: singing the N Anthem is two languages, which is hoped will be the order of the day, and garlanding the Father of the Nation. This last has a canker in the flowers; its stupendous cost was questioned by the President. So, the native cunning must have crept in the quotation with money slipping into private pockets and not only to the florist.

A letter writer to the Editor of this newspaper classified Ranil W. as a deaf, unseeing, uncaring, stubborn President; also vain. Cass endorses this characterisation; many of the traits thought originally to be alien to this man of good family, good school, good education and good principles –THEN.

It’s Wednesday as Cass writes this Cry and so far she has not heard the practicing jet planes fly past overhead. Has that been cancelled as a compromise to protests? Jolly good if it has as that part of celebration is a fuel guzzler and thus adding tremendously to the cost. Also, doubly unfair as Capt Elmo Jayawardena pointed out in an article last Sunday in the sister paper that “The F7 fighter jets in this aero-ballet burn 40 litres of fuel a minute at low level. And we minions of Paradise loiter in snaking queues down below with our QR codes to get 20 liters for one week.” Do hope at least this crit was taken.

If I were Prez – my speech

An appropriate, non-insulting, above-board video clip is making its rounds. Dr Rohan Pethiyagoda with excellent inunciation of British English gave voice to the speech he would have made if he were President of this country. Cass adds here that zoologist par excellence, knowledgeable scientist with pragmatism and sincere humane being that Rohan P is, he should thank his stars he is not the Prez of present day Siri Lanka – vilified and thought so little of by the general public and puppet-stringed by a person who should live in his adopted country, not here.

Rohan, speaking as a pretend politician, addressing his Fellow Citizens, traced the history of Sri Lanka succinctly from the prosperous Polonnaruwa period -16th C, through colonialism to Independence Day February 4, 1948, when Ceylon was the most prosperous country in Asia and definitely of S Asia. India before colonialism was at its apex of prosperity; export oriented with manageable population. Over here post-independence, in 16 years from living amicably multi-racially and multi-religiously, we were fractured. First the Burghers migrated, then Tamils and now Sinhalese and all Sri Lankans where possible. While in 1955 we had a surplus of rice and a dollar cost less than Rs 50.00, things changed for the far worse. The pretend Prez Rohan blamed politicians but “you, the citizens” more for the rapid downfall. There were the pluses: free education, free health services, free rice, but then the minuses: the Diyaw Diyaw demand of the populace and elections becoming a lottery – biggest bidder and greatest giver winning votes. Hence nationalisation and giving pensionable jobs to most. Gotabaya comes along and destroys agriculture; many in power are thugs, criminals and morons. Again, the politico blames us the people and tells us to look in the mirror to see the bigger faulters.

No truer words were said. No blacker can our mood be; no streaks of light in the bleak future. For how long will this dark spell last, we ask?

Blots overcome by tennis’ No. I

It was an excellent diversion from our sea of troubles and darkness of tunnel we travel through with no glimmer of redeeming light at its end, to watch the Australian Open tennis. Relief was great when Novak Djokovic won the finals in a nail biting three sets. Cass invariably reprimands herself for getting worked up over a match played by, to her, unknown persons, but she does get stressed watching the finals.

She missed seeing Djokovic’s wife and kids who are normally in the area of seats allocated to him. This time noticeably absent. He mentioned, after the semis win, his ten-year-old son as playing good tennis with him and hoped one day he’d compete in the men’s double as a team of father and son. Cass googled to see whether the family is together. They are. Maybe the children’s schooling or whatever kept them away.

A minor upset was his father being banned from witnessing the men’s semifinals because Djokovic had been seen in a video with Vladimir Putin fans on the tennis grounds in Melbourne and Russia is now anathema to the Australians and many others. In fact, the Russian flag was banned from the meet such that against Daniil Medvedev’s name on the score board, there was a blank space where the country flag would be displayed. However, Craig Tiley, manager of the AO – lifted the ban on him for the finals and permitted attending the finals in the Rod Laver court. He absented himself. These would have been troubling Novak who is very family oriented but he won his 10th title in Australia beating Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas and equalling Nadal’s number of wins.

See you after the celebration of independence and nationalism, hoping there will not be massive walkouts of workers protesting the tax hikes.

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Why Neighbours (AsalWasiyo) should be considered an exemplary piece of Sri Lankan drama

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By Charith Gamage and Gem Taylor

With the doorbell ring echoing through the house, Mrs. Josephine, living in the suburbs with her three unmarried daughters, gets excited as she realises someone has come to inspect her vacant annexe house. In the next scene, the face of the sturdy woman (wearing an old patched dress) soon disappoints after seeing her potential rental tenant – a married couple! They have fulfilled all the typical qualifications, such as financials, and are okay with higher rent, but Mrs Josephine turns them down without much consideration. Although Mrs Josephine should only be concerned about receiving a smooth higher rent – all she needs as a landlord – it is not necessarily her expectation through renting out her annexure house.

The answer to the strange behaviour of Mrs Josephine lies in the thirteen dramatic episodes of AsalWasiyo First aired in 1989 in Rupavahini and directed by the veteran director Bandula Vithanage (with assistant direction by Wimalarathna Adikari), the format of the drama can be considered as something that single-handedly challenged the face of Sri Lankan teledrama in the 1980s. Many Sri Lankan viewers still love the drama, proving that it also stood the test of time to become a timeless art piece that can exemplify a quality drama. Although it talks about profound themes and socio-economic issues in that period of Sri Lanka – a mother’s sacrifices, the housing crisis, and even dowry – the director preserves the dramatic quality rather than giving an explicit socio-economic or socio-political tone. In addition, among other reasons, the drama’s unpredictable nature, high-quality comedic elements, realistic acting, and music also make it stand out and intriguing to watch.

As the drama unfolds, it shows Josephine’s circumventing strategy in searching for marriage partners for her daughters. She rents out her annexe house to people whom she thinks have affluent backgrounds so that her daughters build relationships with them. The middle-aged widower Paul, who is going through a housing issue, meets Josephine after seeing her newspaper advertisement. Paul’s family, with his two unmarried sons, seemingly matches Josephine’s dream tenant perfectly, except that he only boasts about himself and his sons without having the qualifications Josephine is looking for. Despite not having the desired qualifications, Paul who just worked for a lawyer for some time introduces himself to Mrs Josephine as a lawyer. Meantime, his younger son is introduced as an Engineer when he is a casual employee at a motor garage.

As Paul’s family lives in their false identity about their status, drama develops with subsequent clashes from Josephine’s family entertaining revenge when their true identities are revealed. Although one may classify it as a comedy, from a socio-economic standpoint, the drama also depicts a segmental view of the lower-middle-class and middle-class life of Sri Lanka at that time. It shows how hopes of solving one problem can lead to a bigger problem, bringing them back to square one.

What does the drama structure tell us?

AsalWasiyo has a simple but rich storyline, making it an excellent blueprint for those who want to study quintessential family dramas which depict wider Sri Lankan society. The show follows a climactic plot structure similar to as laid out in Fig 1, which offers plenty for viewers to analyse. In drama, a climactic plot structure is a term used for when we witness a rise in action throughout the storyline before we eventually witness a dramatic climax and subsequent fallout. The drama initially shows Paul searching for accommodation, while at the same time, Josephine is desperately searching for wealthy tenants to match her taste and needs. As their lives – and the lives of their various children – intertwine, the show’s writer (Somaweera Senanayake) and director bring multiple (character-wise) storylines together, which leads to a dramatic and humorous climax.

The climax in the drama comes when it is revealed that not only is Paul’s son not an Engineer – but he also loses his garage job for using clients’ vehicles to maintain his status. Similarly, as a father, Paul considers himself a master planner throughout the show – and he insists on the annexe house as a dowry to approve the marriage between his son and Josephine’s second daughter. However, his plans fail when he and his sons are exposed. Lastly, viewers watch as Josephine and her daughters go through the full circle of making friends with Paul and his family, building relationships with them initially, and trusting them in their lives and home – only to learn that they were being deceived the whole time. Overall, the climactic plot structure allows audiences to enjoy the tension of these two mismatched families coming together and trying to impress each other – as well as the drama of their secrets being exposed in the climactic finale.

How much Shakespearean influence have helped?

Before directing AsalWasiyo, Vthanage had significant exposure to Shakespearean theatre, particularly through Merchant of Venice in 1980. Shakespeare is undoubtedly a formative force in theatre for blending tragedy and comedy, presenting a powerful genre in his plays. In addition, Shakespearean comedies sometimes end with marriage or reuniting. In AsalWasiyo, Shakespeare’s trait of combining tragedy and comedy is visible, except that the drama does not insist on a marriage or reunion. The elements of Shakespearean comedy, such as mistaken identity, reason versus emotion, and idyllic settings, can still be seen in this drama. Paul’s impersonation of a higher-status professional depicts a mistaken identity. In addition, Josephine’s second daughter, led by emotion rather than reason, is similar to A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Hermia, who disobeys her father, and chooses to pursue a romance with Paul’s second son. She insists on the romance even after he is exposed, regardless of Josephine’s approval. Finally, idyllic settings are common in Shakespearean dramas like the mysterious island of Illyria in Twelfth Night. Idyllic settings depict perfection, like having a house when there is a housing crisis for others and having a professional bachelor in the family when there is a demand from middle-class mothers as prospective husbands for their unmarried daughters.

How have characters been used, and how has their acting helped?

Characters and actors in a play as primary communicators help the director to interconnect and deliver the intended plot to the audience. It starts with Elan Silvester, who keeps the motion of the story going through her portrayal of the protagonist, Josephine. Although Josephine seems humorous, she is tough inside, suppressing all her agonies. Elan’s quick facial changes and ability to shift from amusing to serious emotions are remarkable on this front. On the other hand, Paul (portrayed by Hemasiri Liyanage) thinks about his image and likes to show off. The character’s use of mixed Sinhalese-English dialogues, which boosts his perceived identity by thinly veiling the true one, is a significant feature in the drama. The scenes, such as his English dialogues with an innocent lady who supplied them with dinner at the beginning and knowing she had no idea what he was talking about, are examples. This character (Paul) shows less emotion than Josephine and blends well with Josephine’s psychological expectations of a wealthy potential in-law, as he cannot meet their expectations in his real identity.

Besides the leading characters, other characters also show more realistic passion, improving the drama’s quality that could grab the audience’s attention. Priya Ranasinghe, Samantha Epasinghe and Thamali Peiris play Josephine’s first, second, and youngest daughters, depicting their distinct personalities in the drama. Samantha gives life to Josephine’s second daughter and realistically contributes to more funny and dynamic scenes. Her performance contributes considerably to the drama in filler scenes, from hiding under a bed to evade Josephine, getting attacked by a curry in a pot by the eldest sister in defending her boyfriend, and a series of beatings by her mother for passing Paul’s message of dowry requirement.

On the other hand, how the youngest daughter’s character is architected in the drama shows similarities to how such characters can be used in successful productions. Like Zazu from The Lion King and Ron from Harry Potter, she is knowledgeable, diplomatic, and usually a sidekick of the main character. In addition, she does not shy away from expressing brutally honest opinions with humour, even if the recipient is offended. Quotations such as “Now, do we put this rental ad in the rental section of the newspaper or the marriage proposals section?” in response to the mother’s draft, and “They won’t stay here for long if they have to eat what you [eldest sister] cook.” are examples. She also shows characteristics of “Ingénue characters”, the female characters with a virtuous and adorable appeal that make them immediately inspire great affection in the viewers. In addition, Suminda Sirisena and Sriyantha Mendis, who played Paul’s two sons, are also notable for building up the drama with their contrasting character traits under the influence of their father. Overall the drama has carefully selected those elements and coordinated them to get the audience to connect with the plot.

What does the overall evaluation tell us?

The play is a solid effort on the dramatic front, even with the paucity of technology breakthroughs and resources at the time. Times have changed with the formats of Sri Lankan dramas and technology, but the basics of this drama remain valid for present and future drama enthusiasts. These include careful use of direction and script writing to build up characters; employing natural vocal intonation that matches the acting; and good use of music in supporting character emotions and plotlines. In particular, the music by Premasiri Kemadasa helps build the director’s desired atmosphere while setting up the next scene. Efforts made by the camera relative to the 80s to preserve cinematography are also helpful on this front. Finally, William A. Ward once said (paraphrased) the well-developed sense of humour is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope in achieving your goals. The drama depicts a tragedy, but its use of comedic overlay is very effective as a refresher, keeping the audience’s interest (possibly making the scenes memorable) and carrying them to the director’s desired destination effortlessly with the intended message passed. With everything explained, the drama shows the characteristics of a timeless creation, with elements that can still be used as a stencil for young Sri Lankan enthusiasts in drama.

Charith is an Assistant Lecturer attached to Monash University, Australia. Gem is a UK-born theatrical artist (actress) from Atlanta, USA, with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) focused on theatre. Authors would like to thank Wimalarathna Adikari for helping for the article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. Email: charith.gamage@monash.edu

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