Improvements to Kelani Valley Railway:
By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri
The writer’s article on the above which appeared in The Island of 09.11.2020 brought some responses among which is reference to the Megapolis Transport Master (MTM) Plan released in November 2016, prepared by the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development under the former regime. This Master Plan has forecasted future demand for transport in the Western Province up to 2035 and proposed ways and means of meeting the demand by road, rail and water transport systems.
Though the terms of reference for undertaking the feasibility study of the Colombo Suburban Railway Project (CSRP) discussed in the writer’s above mentioned article said “Collect and review all available relevant studies, reports, materials, documents, and information including findings from the project preparatory team”, it appears that no reference whatsoever has been made to the MTM Plan in the CSRP Feasibility Study.
NEW RAILWAY LINES PROPOSED IN THE MEGAPOIS MASTER PLAN
The MTM Plan has proposed two new railway lines in the Western Province, one from Kottawa to Horana and a second from Kelaniya to Kosgama linking with the KV railway line. Regarding the first, the Plan says “The detailed design and implementation of Kottawa–Horana new rail line (22km) is planned to be commenced after six months and before three years to be completed on or before 2020. The estimated project duration for the whole project is three years and the cost is estimated to be USD 309 million”. Once completed (if at all), this railway could draw passengers now using the 120 bus route for travelling from Horana to Colombo. The proposed Ruwanpura Highway will also have an exit at Horana which will be an alternative route to travel from Horana to Colombo via the proposed elevated highway from the New Kelani Bridge to Athurugiriya via Rajagiriya. This could affect the forecasted traffic expected to use the railway from Horana.
The more relevant new railway line is the second option, that is from Kelaniya to Kosgama. The MTM Plan has marked out this railway line shown as a crow-flying path, touching Sapugaskanda and Biyagama Export Processing (BEP) Zone. About the line, the MTM Plan says “The Kelaniya to Kosgama via Biyagama, and Dompe (30km) to be constructed which gives access to the proposed plantation city at Avissawella. This project is to be commenced as a long-term intervention. A feasibility study needs to identify the demand and finalize the trace. This can be either electrified or use the locomotives that are taken out due to electrification on other lines”. It will be necessary to build a bridge across Kelani River close to Pugoda for this railway line.
ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF THE PROPOSED NEW RAILWAY LINE
The railway line from Kelaniya to Kosgama targets both passengers as well as freight transportation. The line passes the Sapugaskanda oil refinery which makes it possible to use it for oil transportation as well. As a matter of fact, a railway line up to Sapugaskanda was planned several decades ago, and land acquired, but the project was abandoned and the land slowly got occupied by encroachers.
The present refinery built in 1969 meets only 25% of the country’s oil requirement, producing about 1.6 Mt of refined products annually (Petroleum Ministry website). Presently, the refinery is served by two pipelines built in 1969 to transfer crude oil from the Port and refined products to the Kolonnawa Petroleum Storage Complex (PSC). However, the design life span of these petroleum pipelines is only 25 years and hence these need replacements. However, with problems of land and environment clearance, laying of new pipelines is no easy task. Efforts to replace leaky pipelines from the Port to Kolonnawa PSC have been planned for over a decade but still nothing could be realized for various reasons.
As an alternative to a new pipeline, transport of oil to and from the refinery in bowsers could be considered. Assuming one road bowser could hold 20,000 litres, transfer of 16 Ml of oil a day will require 800 bowsers a day. However, if rail wagons are used for transporting oil, using 50,000 litres capacity wagons, a day’s output could be transported in about 320 wagons. If all this oil is transported to the Kolonnawa Complex by pipelines or wagons it will saturate the storage capacity there. Instead, it will be more convenient if this amount could be transported directly to consumer points.
PLANS FOR EXPANDING THE REFINERY CAPACITY
Plans for the expansion and modernization of the refinery were made over the last decade, and according to Petroleum Ministry’s Performance Report for 2012, the cost of such modernization was estimated to be USD 500 million in 2010. However, the matter was not pursued that time as the technology offered when bids were called was found unsuitable. It is very likely that the cost of the project with the latest technology would exceed USD 1 billion today. The Cabinet approval was granted on 02.11.2020 to call for fresh bids for modernizing the refinery and expanding its capacity to 100,000 barrels (16 Ml) per day or 5.0 Mt per year. This is about three times the present capacity. However, it appears that authorities have not given thought to the optimum way to transport away the expanded output of the refinery.
Currently, the Corporation maintains 11 bulk depots island-wide out of which 10 are built adjoining railway stations, and oil is transported to them from the Kolonnawa Complex by railway. If a railway line is available to the refinery, refined products could be transported direct to regional depots from the refinery itself. This could be done by using several trains each carrying about 20 wagons. This will ease the congestion at the Kolonnawa Complex in handling the entire oil distribution to the country by itself. The proposed railway link to the refinery will meet this requirement.
In addition, the containers presently transporting goods from the Biyagama EPZ as well as Seethawaka EPZ on road vehicles to the Port for export, could use this railway line after building suitable facilities for loading containers on to the railway carriages at the Zone. This will ease the congestion on highways presently experienced when a large fleet of containers use the highways through the city.
AVAILABILITY OF A NEW RAILWAY TRACK TO AVISSAWELLA
A more significant factor is that the new route proposed in the MTM Plan will reduce the distance to Kosgama from Maradana by at least 17 km compared to the route via Padukka. If the Kelaniya–Kosgama trace is taken as a base line, the route via Padukka appears to be a semi-circle. So, naturally, it is about 50% longer. The British moved the original trace via Padukka because a direct route via Hanwella would be over flood-prone land. In building the High Level Road, considerable amount of land filling had to be done to avoid inundation by floods.
The stretch between Padukka and Kosgama is special in that there is no roadway parallel to the railway line along this stretch. Hence to cater to the villagers living in this area, Sri Lankan Railways (SLR) operates a rail-bus service from Padukka to Kosgama at regular intervals. This is an ingenious system developed by a SLR engineer, comprising two normal road buses coupled back-to-back with the road wheels replaced by rail wheels and driven by the normal bus engine. This is a much cheaper system apparently not to the liking of fellow engineers who preferred more expensive conventional locomotive system.
Under the project undertaken for the improvement of the Kelan Valley Railway line as a part of CSRP, it is proposed to build an elevated double track electrified line from Maradana up to Makumbura and from Makumbura to Padukka, build a double track electrified line at grade. The segment from Padukka to Avissawella will be a single track at-grade following the existing line with certain improvements. The total distance of the existing line from Maradana to Avissawella is 58 km. On the other hand, the proposed new track from Maradana to Avissawella via Kelaniya, Biyagama, Dompe and Kosgama will be about 41 km, thus saving 17 km.
AMENDING THE PROPOSED IMPROVEMENTS TO KV RAILWAY LINE
The development of the KV railway line up to Padukka may be undertaken as proposed in the CSRP. The stretch between Padukka and Kosgama could remain as it is with slight improvements where necessary to be serviced by rail-buses as done presently. If necessary, the frequency of this service could be increased with additional units introduced. It will be cheaper to use these than using diesel multiple units (DMU) at higher costs. However, if the rail-buses are not fast enough, DMUs may be introduced.
Under the CSRP, a passenger travelling to Avissawella from Maradana will have to alight from the electric train at Padukka and get into a diesel train to continue his journey to Avissawella. The entire journey is expected to take about two hours, excluding the waiting time at Padukka while changing trains. This does not look attractive enough for a bus passenger to shift to a train ride. The SLR also proposes to extend the KV line from Padukka to Nonagama via Ingiriya, Ratnapura and Embilipitiya. Hence, the KV line up to Padukka may be developed with this plan in mind rather than as a continuation of service to Avissawella, which could be serviced by the new line from Kelaniya to Kosgama.
ADOPTION OF A NEW RAILWAY LINE TO AVISSAWELLA
It is proposed that the Government adopts the new track via Kelaniya, Biyagama and Kosgama as the main railway line to Avissawella and include it in the SLR programme as a priority project. It is the shortest route with a distance of only 41 km compared to 58 km via Padukkaka. People will not want to waste their time travelling in a railway going on a circuitous track. This area North of the Kelani River has less population and less traffic flow than those covered by the present KV line. The new track between Maradana and Kosgama via Biyagama could be double track and electrified, but need not be elevated and hence built at lower cost.
The stretch between Kosgama and Avissawella could be developed as a part of the development of the new line proposed in the MTM Plan up to Kosgama. The topography of the area does not allow moving the track away from the present track very much as the A4 highway runs close to the railway line along this stretch and also the presence of hilly terrain. Also, the railway line crosses the A4 highway at four places and this should be avoided either with flyovers or re-laid tracks as decided by experts after studying the terrain.
If the new line up to Kosgama is built with double tracks and electrified, it is necessary to continue this system up to Avissawella, so that passengers will not have to change trains at Kosgama. The distance between Maradana and Avissawella along this new line being about 41 km and with a fewer number of stations, EMUs will be able to cover this distance in about an hour compared to two hours via Padukka even after improvement. If trains are available in short intervals, people will not hesitate to take a train ride rather than a bus ride to travel to Colombo, even if the fare is slightly high. The freight trains could be operated at night time when there is less demand for passenger transport. Spurs could be laid to link with the refinery for transport of oil as described previously and with the Biyagama EPZ as well as the Seethawaka EPZ enabling transport of containers between the EPZs and the Port or the Airport. This will ease the congestion of traffic on the highways.
It is a pity that the CSRP Feasibility Report has not looked at the MTM Plan prepared during the previous regime which had proposed a shorter track from Maradana to Kosgama via Biyagama. It will reduce the travel time from Avissawella to Colombo to about one hour compared to two hours with the trains proposed in the CSRP, and has the advantage to be able to distribute the oil production from the expanded refinery and transport containers from the EPZs at Biyagama and Seethawaka. The Government may give priority to develop this railway line and limit developing the present KV railway line under CSRP only up to Padukka.
The Western Region Megapolis Transport Master Plan was developed encompassing all aspects of transportation to provide a framework for urban transport development in Western Region up to 2035. It included recommendations for improving the bus transport system, railway electrification of main, coastal and KV lines and introducing the light rail transit system.
It is unfortunate that this master plan developed at great cost by local experts appears to have been discarded in favour of a plan developed by foreign consultants costing hundreds of millions of Dollars, yet found unsuitable for reasons described above. This just is one example where plans developed by one regime at great cost are discarded by the succeeding regime despite the fact that some of them have merit. Naturally, the country cannot show any progress if this is the accepted practice.
Dialectics for a fast evolving scenario
by Kumar David
“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory; it is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a scholastic question”. Second Thesis on Feuerbach
Don’t turn away, this is not going to be a boring treatise in abstract Marxism. I will quickly get to my topic, which is that the political circumstances we are living through are evolving rapidly and we should be alert and adjust to changing situations. First however allow me a few paragraphs about Lenin’s most dynamic years, from February 1917 till he fell seriously ill in late 1921. He died in January 1924 due to complications from bullets lodged in him in Fanny Kaplan’s August 1918 assassination attempt. The February Revolution, (old Julian-style last week of February to early March, new Gregorian-style second week of March) took Lenin and the Bolshevik Party by surprise. When first the women and then the workers of Petrograd fired up leaderless demonstrations which overthrew the monarchy, the Bolsheviks who had prepared the proletariat for revolution for 30 years were stunned! Except Trotsky the general expectation among socialists was a Two Stage Revolution; first Tsarism would be replaced by the rule of the bourgeoisie, then it would be the turn of the subaltern classes – a common at the time static misreading of Marx’s dialectical thinking.
I see developments in Sri Lanka moving fast with unforeseen changes and a regime that most of us last year considered strong and stable, now tottering. Of course it’s going to fall tomorrow but it’s wobbling and the domestic environment is changing unpredictably. Catholics are visibly angry about an alleged “cover up of Easter bombing organisers” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA2Zl1mVrOo); the in the Buddhist clergy have counter-attacked the Cardinal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC0WcSiJiJs0). Farmers in several areas are on the warpath according to News First. Furthermore nobody foresaw in 2019 the havoc covid would wreak, and the ferocity of UNHRC denunciations was unexpected. It is true that red lights were flashing about debt servicing and that the economy was in hopeless straights, but the convergence of bad news has been more rapid than foreseen and the regime has quickly gone belly up. All who join a mission with a single simple objective, to protect democracy, perforce, have to adjust to a fast changing scenario. The ability to think and act on one’s feet is what makes Lenin of 1917-1921 interesting. He remains the star disciple of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a fifth century BC classic on strategy. While shifting and manoeuvring Lenin never lost sight of his final objectives. This is why I call him the dialectic on two feet.
Often in this column I have referred to the dialectic as the scientific method; true but how boring! Yes true enough Darwin, the best example in science was an assiduous and utterly trustworthy accumulator of data but with a mind that was alive to how phenomena change and evolve. Gautama Buddha pointed out that nothing is permanent and that all things are evolving but it took Darwin to work out the precise mechanisms by which this was happening in biology. Still, the dialectics of science and nature are slow moving. It is not exciting, it won’t keep you awake at night. Conversely, jumping from Two-Stage theory to instant proletarian revolution on April 1, 1917, capturing state power in October in defiance of scholastic Marxism, pushing back against attempts to militarise the trade unions and the refusal to give the Germans whole swathes of land so as to commit to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk (on both Trotsky erred), and in 1921 forcing through the New Economic Policy, a key market oriented concession to capitalist farming, these were momentous strategic transitions, quite breathtaking.
Bearded boring Bolshies 100 years ago, what’s it got to do with us you ask? I’ll tell you. The commonality is that quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in a very fast changing scenario. Lenin in 1917-1922, was an embodiment of the dialectic because he was able to think on his feet and keep his side united using his singular ability to deal with a swift change while the other side (sides to be more accurate) were confused and splintered. This is a useful example for those who seek a democratic, plural and united Sri Lanka because to date this side (I call it ‘we’) have managed to keep our message consistent and united while the ‘other’ side is splintering. President Gota bemoans his unpopularity and his inability to address challenges because “there is no unity” or some such words. I don’t have a clue what skulduggery is going on within the Royal Rajapaksa dynasty, though now is just the right time to make visible adjustments. The public is persuaded that Gota failed because he is inexperienced and his inner circle is dumb; Mahinda and Basil deftly keep out of the limelight. Less and less do you hear from those you marvelled 18 months ago that Gota as the incarnation of a strong leader who would lead Lanka to harmony and splendour? Lee Kuan Yew was a frequently quoted prototype. Where have all those people gone? On the other hand the opposition to an authoritarian new constitution, to excessive deployment of retired military brass and those worried that democracy is under threat (harassment of rights workers, fear in the mind of critics, damaging the judiciary) have succeeded in retaining a degree of commonality.
The shot in the arm for ‘our’ side was the UNHRC Commissioner’s Report and the Geneva Resolution which has de facto created a united front of Sri Lankan domestic forces and international opinion. The uprising in Burma and the opposition to authoritarianism in Sri Lanka must not allow themselves to be intimidated by reactionary nationalists who shriek about foreign support and anti-national traitors. International assistance should be accepted on our terms and in any case democracy is a universal clause. Remember that when the Germans offered to transport Lenin from Switzerland to Petrograd in a sealed train (“Like a bacillus” in Churchill’s words) he did not hesitate for a moment to accept the offer. The rest is history. In Burma as in Sri Lanka the defeat of the Junta or the containment of an assault on democracy are transnational tasks. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” when it is used to conceal the machinations of dictators.
You may recall Marx’s quip about standing Hegel on his head which in today’s language we would say has gone viral. It is about the relationship between real life on one hand and theories and philosophies on the other. Tamil agitation and at an extreme the LTTE was not an ideology of a separate state and Tamil cultural-civilisation finding expression in an uprising. Quite the converse, it was the practical conditions of a community creating such angst that it gave rise to extreme nationalism among a large number. That Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist extremism which is holding this country hostage is about ancient civilisation, about hela jathika abimane is humbug. There were class, economic, employment in the late colonial capitalist and state economies, and education sectors which turned Sinhala blood blue with national pride. The nationalists who pontificate the opposite need to be stood on their heads. This critique of what is called the idealism (Ideas and philosophy is what determines the principal features of the real, material world) is very well known now and I think modern bourgeois sociology goes a long way towards recognising it.
What is perhaps not quite so well appreciated is that Marx was more a pupil than a critique of Hegel (not the post-Hegel epigenomes of course) in respect of the dialectic. He speaks of Hegel as a “mighty thinker” in the 1873 post-face to capital I. Certainly spurned the “the ill-humoured, arrogant, and mediocre epigones” who treated Hegel like “dead dog”. What Marx took away from Hegel was how to understand change, the dynamics of how change progresses. The conflicts and compromises in real social and human relations which at times mediate and at times determine how the history of societies evolves. The sociological companion to Darwinian evolution.
We are now live in a fruit salad world of international relations where three powers will decide our fate – over which we have little control – India, China and the US. They are each no doubt pondering what to do about our fruitcake regime. Competition among them to one side, it is in the interests of all three to unscramble this tabbouleh and avert this country’s descent into a failed-state abyss, which thankfully we have still not reached. It is not possible that they each do not have calculations up their sleeves about how to sort out this mess but an initiative from the regime itself proposing a via media to the UNHRC and to the aforementioned powers as proof that Lanka will accept its reconciliation-accountability responsibilities and will maintain a foreign policy balance which will not discomfit any great power will ease a compromise.
The Double-Paksa (two Rajapaksa) regime must forget about enacting a divisive new constitution to claw power into the grasp of the Executive; if firing military sorts already hired for top slots is infeasible at least it must give an undertaking that there will be no more sounding brass speaking in garbled tongues; it must put scientists in charge of pandemic control and win, as Biden seems to be doing; dump this squalid and reckless foreign policy team; it must stop manipulating the judiciary and halt asinine Presidential Commission circuses; it must stop pandering to extremists since this impedes a deal with the minorities. All this is doable if the executive is restructured and a plural orientation is adopted. If the government wishes to pull itself up by its bootstraps it must undertake the policy changes outlined in this para, restructure its personnel, pray much harder and offer trays of mangoes to the deities superintending Sri Lanka. The $64K question is whether Gota has the appetite for this healthy and fruitful menu. Those with no confidence that Gota’s Executive, Mahinda’s government or Basil-in-waiting can extricate themselves from their predicaments, must plan and act on their own outside this purview. The sole self-imposed condition is that change must be constitutional; what’s the point of a fight for democracy if one begins by abrogating it?
S. A. Welgama – A man amongst men
On the one hundred and tenth birth anniversary of my father-in -law S.A.Welgama I pen this tribute with much affection and pride.Affection as he was a second father to me and pride as he was a man amongst men;a man who stood tall and erect,a man unbowed ,unconquered and unsullied.Of him I could truthfully echo Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome,”let men see,let them know a real man,a man who lives as he was meant to live”.
He was born in the hamlet of Ovitigala,in the verdant county of Pasdun Korale,the county of five yojana (sixty kms in Vedic measure),created by Parakramabahu the Great,by draining the basin of Kalu Ganga.
His mother was fair and comely and taught in the village school ,and the father a farmer tilled his own land.SAW never forgot his roots and even at the height of his fame and wealth would often say,I’m the son of a poor farmer.This alone would have tagged him for greatness, for according to John Ruskin “the first test of a truly great man is his humility.”
The origins of the Welgama clan are shrouded in the mists of time.One school of thought says that they were the caretakers of the Welgama vehera in Kinniya ,Trincomalee.Grateful kings had donated land to them in distant South.The stupa was built by King Devanampiyatissa in the third century B.C.and remained unscathed till the end of the Polonnaruwa era.Even the Chola marauders,who razed all they saw ,left it alone as it was a place of worship for Hindu devotees as well,the Navatar Kovil.
Another school is of the view that they were soldiers in the service of the Sinhala kings as evidenced by their ge name Welgama Hewage.This is likely too as the Welgamas were tall and had a martial bearing.
They migrated to the villages of Ihala (upper) and Pahala (lower) Welgama villages separated by a fast flowing river.This could only be forded by a ferry ,until SAW persuaded a friendly minister of state to build a bridge.
SAW had his early schooling in the Ovitigala village.His heart was ,however not in books but in machines and motor vehicles.Many a day he played truant with his classmates,one of whom was to later become an eminent Buddhist monk and a mentor to me and my brother.When I was being screened as a prospective son -in-law ,he made enquiries, from his friend the Rev Kevitiyagala Dhammasidhi.The priest had categorically stated ,’Sir do not look any further,he is the best of the best’.My fate was sealed.
While still a teenager he apprenticed himself to a local workshop and then came over to Colombo to gain further experience and skills.He had fifty cents in his pocket.The friend who accompanied him returned to the village after two days.But SAW soldiered on and joined the workshop of an English engineer.He worked long and hard and became a master of his trade and also earned the respect and goodwill of his employer,whose pet name for him was Pattison.
Being thrifty he regularly added his wages to a till which was well hidden.With his savings and some help he bought a car for the then princely sum of two thousand rupees ,and plied it for hire between Gampaha and Kaluthara.
As the war clouds gathered in the horizon in the late 1930s he sensed an opportunity in road haulage and this became his trademark.At one stage he owned and controlled over one hundred and fifty trucks and became a trusted agent of the colonial government;transporting goods to and from the Colombo harbour to the massive godowns built in anticipation of wartime food shortages.SAW and Sons became synonymous with road freight.With foresight he bought land at Panchikawatte,an emerging commercial hub for his headquarters.Later with the help of his son Nimal he extended this to a much larger holding.
A prized possession of his was the luxury tourist bus,which he imported when Mr J.R.Jayawardene inaugurated the push for tourism.This was used for family outings too and Kanthi and I remember vividly the visit to his estate with business associates.We also accompanied a group of visiting American cardiologists and spouses to Kandy.On the way ,the ladies started a singsong
to which we had to respond.My contribution was “My Bonnie lies over the ocean” which I had learnt at school.Our guide was a personable young man who later married a young French traveller and settled down in France.Although his fluency in English was not optimal Father saw in him the makings of a good escort.
Having reached the top of the greasy pole ,he knew the value of skills and hard work.He instilled these into the many young men he trained.They were accepted anywhere.The truck drivers employed by him needed two licences;one from the department of motor transport and one from him.He would personally conduct the driving test.In later years his son Mahinda assumed this role.
He had a fondness for new cars especially Mercedes.An exception to the run of Mercedes was the Holden Statesman which he purchased after the Non-Aligned Leaders conference in Colombo.When it was due for repainting,the original colour Salamanca red was not available in SriLanka.Kanthi and I shipped it from Brisbane where we were then living.
The first occasion we met was when he arrived at our house in his magnificent Mercedes.He was accompanied by his beautiful wife Beatrice and his eldest son Melvin.An imposing man dressed in an immaculate white sarong and shirt he was keen to meet the young lad who had been highly recommended as a prospective son in law.After the usual pleasantries ,I joined Melvin who became a close friend.SAW had been much moved that I too was dressed in sarong and shirt.
An interesting quirk of his was the insistence ,that all his vehicle registration numbers should end with the figure five.It’s likely that his birthday being on the fifth of April,this to him was an auspicious number.The denizens of Panchikawatte named him the ‘‘Agata Pahe Mudalali i.e the tycoon with number five at the end.”
Being a man of the soil ,land was at the core of his soul,and he invested in a rubber estate in Kahawatte and then a two hundred and fifty acre rubber plantation” the Deniston” in Mathugama.For the children he bought land in the most fashionable suburb in Colombo and also in Nuwara Eliya a block adjacent to the venerable Grand Hotel.Kanthi and I once spent a night at Deniston in the hilltop estate bungalow.He had arranged for us to be blessed with a ” thovil”, a devil dance ceremony to dispel any unseen hands harassing us; this went on all night.We were exhausted before the performers ,although their colourful costumes,masks,gyrations and the drumming held us spellbound.
About the same time as his rise, there was a group of Sinhala businessmen who too made their mark.They were all southerners who began their careers at the bottom of the pile.SAW and Nawaloka mudalali (H.D.Dharmadasa) were the unofficial leaders of this closely knit cluster.They too never forgot their roots and were all noted for their conviviality,philanthropy and vivacity.Two of their major projects were the Ranweta the gold fence around the Sri Maha Bodhiya and the first coronary care unit in Ceylon.The Sri Maha Bodhiya is the only living relic of the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the shade of the parent tree in BodhGaya.It is the oldest ,historically documented tree in the world.The coronary care unit was built at the instigation of Dr Ivor Obeysekare ,the first cardiologist of Ceylon and a former chief of mine.
SAW was a mover and shaker and associated with the highest in the land.J.R.Jayawardane the first executive president of SriLanka was a good friend and was an attesting witness at all the weddings of his children.He did have friends across the political spectrum including ,Maithripala Senanayake the benign deputy to Mrs Bandaranaike and Peter Kueneman,the sophisticated Cambridge educated leader of the Communist party.Though he “walked with Kings ,he did not lose the common touch” and was equally at home with the masses in villages and the busy bazaars of Colombo.
At the age of sixty five he handed over the control of the trucking company to his sons,but still supervised the estate.The weekly sojourn in the plantation became his greatest pleasure and relaxation.Meandering around ,he may have got to know every tree and shrub,hillock ,valley and stream and mingling with the Indian Tamil workers and villagers gave him a lot of satisfaction.The elder brother whom he adored,lived in a homestead and sharing the customary village fare with him at lunch gave him much gratification.The Sunday visit to the estate was a ritual he maintained till the last week of his life.The bracing air ,the soft breezes ,the solitude and the rural populace seemed to revitalize him.The work was challenging but less so because of his passion and enthusiasm for the land and the labour.
He epitomised Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words that “The heights by great men achieved and kept were not attained by sudden flight,but they while their companions slept,were toiling upward in the night.”
Unexpectedly,at the age of thirty three,he met a beautiful Kandyan teenager Beatrice Hidellarachchi.It was akin to Adam meeting Eve and was love at first sight.
Like John Milton,in “Paradise Lost”
“He saw grace in all her steps,
Heaven in her eyes,
In every gesture,dignity and love”
Beatrice being the cynosure of all eyes and adoration,delighted him ,and he encouraged her to dress herself in haut-monde finery.
It was a marriage made in heaven.and their happy partnership lasted till his passing away in 1990.
There were ten children in the family,five boys and five girls.He was a strict but adoring father.They were all brought up according to conventional Sinhala Buddhist values.Having missed out on a formal education,he made certain that they went to the highest ranking schools regardless of the denomination.For boys ,he chose S.Thomas’s College the famed school by the sea.Girls were admitted to the Holy Family Convent as he had the highest respect and admiration for the Catholic nuns and their discipline.But he also ensured that they got a Buddhist grounding through the Sunday school at the Vajiraramaya temple which was well known for its pious and erudite monks.
He would have loved for one or more of them to become doctors;instead he got two sons in law who achieved eminence in their specialties of medicine.However two sons became leading business men and chartered accountants.Another a prominent politician and one more a German trained gemologist.The youngest son Nalin was sent across to London ,while we were there, for further studies.
He did have reservations about girls attending universities ,but sent them to finishing schools where they became versed in social graces and upper class cultural rites.Later on he relented and permitted the youngest daughter Pradeepika to study at the Colombo Law school.
As he grew older he mellowed and relished having a drink with Mahinda and me.The faithful domestic Gamini brought his bottle of whiskey and he poured the pegs to all of of us himself.In our younger days we never imbibed with our elders.When he desired company ,he went to the Automobile Association or the Angler’s club.One night he spied us,the two eldest sons in law enjoying a drink in the confines of a car ,with our wives and sent us a round of drinks and a tray of devilled prawns which was a specialty of the AA.
He was a believer in rebirth and would say with conviction that Kanthi his second daughter was the reincarnation of his beloved mother,perhaps because she looked after him like a mother;and Nalin the youngest son,the reincarnation of his father.While on a trip to India ,he insisted on selecting Kanthi’s wedding saree himself ,while mother selected sarees for the other daughters.Kanthi’s saree was more expensive than all the others.
A special relationship too was with his second granddaughter Sadia.I reproduce what she wrote.
“He loved to put his dark arm against mine and tell me we were the same colour.We were.
He called me Podi Sriyani.( Loku Sriyani was his daughter).
He was a wonderfully patient and loving grandfather.He had a warm hug which made you feel loved and how I loved sitting on his lap.It felt like a very safe place to be.
He had a twinkle in his eye and always wore his hat.He had good taste and style.I had a feeling that he had some great stories to share ,but that I was too young to hear them…
He was magic.I still miss that magic.”
SAW was large hearted and munificent primarily to but not exclusively to his village ,villagers and less affluent relatives. A monk told us how ,even Beatrice was not aware of the monthly emoluments he dispensed to the needy.
The Diyapattugama junior school,now named S.A.Welgama junior school was given a large assembly hall.He built a new Stupa at the Ovitigala temple;Kanthi and I joined in this meritorious deed by gifting the “Chuda Manikya” the large crystal placed at its very top.Electricity was provided to the shrine and its environs.The Bodhi tree in the temple (the prathana ,i.e supplication,Bodhi) was brought by him from Bodhgaya.
After his passing away Beatrice built a maternity home in his memory in the village of Wettawe.This had been a cherished ambition of his.His own mother is said to have succumbed at childbirth,and he wanted the impoverished women of his village to have easy access to modern medical facilities.
SAW of course provided employment to hundreds of villagers at his establishments.
In retirement he indulged in travel which he had long denied himself.He wanted to ” walk where he had never been and wonder at the beauty of this world”Kanthi and I were lucky that we were able to host him in Britain and also in USA.The long morning walks,the coach trips and the sundowners ,while the ladies cooked supper ,brought us closer in a way not conceivable before.He revelled in the sights and history of UK Germany and Switzerland and also Disneyland and Hawaii.One of the highlights was his visit to the Mercedes factory in Stuttgart.The automated production of his favourite cars enthralled him.Caravans enticed him,as did the miniature trains he rode in a fun park in Newcastle upon Tyne.He did not care much for shopping ,although Mother and Kanthi dragged him along,and grumble that he had become a ‘nattambi’,a carrier of goods.I feel however he secretly enjoyed seeing Beatrice buying apparel and wares unavailable in Ceylon at that time of austerity.For him ,all he wanted was a couple of hats.
The beauty of the Lake District,the Black Forest and Switzerland and the ancient cities of London Edinburgh and Freiburg fascinated him.
He was indeed a man for all seasons.
We rejoice in a life lived to the fullest and that we were blessed to be touched by this great man.
Emeritus Consultant Cardiologist
The Townsville University Hospital.
I acknowledge the help of Ven Suriyagoda Siri Dhamma,Nimal and Mahinda Welgama and Sadia Samarasinghe.
Some thoughts on Geneva
I was saddened by the events in Geneva having thought we were a popular country and our people well thought of internationally.To think that only 11 countries supported us in Geneva was indeed a cause for alarm and distress. Maybe the want us to take a step back and think of how to make Sri Lanka a better place.
Reams have been written about this resolution by erudite men and women. There is a common theme running through all of this: the UNHCR is against us; the western countries have ganged up against us. I beg to disagree.
Let us look at this resolution dispassionately. The high commisioner has made note of the very things we ourselves don’t like about recent happenings in our country. Did we want all Muslim Covid dead to be cremated? No. Once the WHO okay was given, we all agreed that religious customs may be followed.
Did we want our civil administration to be invaded by the military? No. Our civil adminitrtion is not the world’s best but we have no great issues over that. A military presence has not resulted in a marked improvement either. The public service meanders lazily as of yore.
As for killing of prisoners, what happened in Mahara is unfortunate. Surely there must be other ways of dealing with rioting prisoners than killing them? There are other pitfalls we could have avoided had we been less arrogant and a little more submissive. After all we are in UNHCR on our own volition
Our political leaders are very visible in the Buddhist scene, frequenting temples, prostrating themselves before Bodhi trees and participating in Buddhist rituals. All that is well and good. At the same time I wish they would embrace the Dasa Raja Dharma edict on governance of King Asoka. We will then have fewer problems with the likes of UNHRC.
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