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The JVP’s Military Battle for Power

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THE APRIL 1971 REVOLT – II

By Jayantha Somasundaram

The JVP evolved in the late 1960s under Rohana Wijeweera as a radical rural youth group. It believed that a socialist change in Sri Lanka could only be effected through a sudden armed insurrection launched simultaneously across the country. Recruits to the JVP underwent a series of political classes as well as military training, while the organisation clandestinely armed itself. The United Front Government responded in March 1971 with a State of Emergency, the arrest of JVP cadre and the deploying of the Army to the provinces.

In March 1971 events rapidly escalated. The JVP believed that the government was planning to use the Army to launch an all out offensive against them. And on 2nd April nine JVP leaders, six members of the Political Bureau and three District Secretaries, met at the Vidyodaya Sangaramaya at a meeting presided over by S.V.A Piyatilake. They took the decision to launch their attack at 2330 hours on 5th April. “The decision taken was to attack on a specific date at a specific time. This decision is completely in line with the evidence that the Fifth Class of the JVP…advocated that in the circumstances of our country, the best method would be to launch simultaneous attacks everywhere,” concluded the Judgement of the Criminal Justice Commission Inquiry No 1 1976.

The date of attack was relayed by pre-arranged code in the contents of a paid radio obituary notice by an unsuspecting state-owned Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation. The JVP cadres at Wellawaya however misinterpreted the instruction and launched their attack on the Wellawaya Police Station 24 hours earlier on the night of 4th April.

The initial targets were rural police stations both in order to further arm themselves and because the JVP viewed the police as the only representative of the state in the countryside. Moreover, they believed that the police and the armed forces were low on ammunition and they discounted the government’s ability to counter attack once the JVP had gained control of the countryside. Besides, the attacks on remote police stations across much of the country’s rural south, a large group also travelled north in order to rescue Wijeweera who was held in Jaffna.

Attacking with home-made weapons in groups of 25 to 30 in order to seize better arms from the police stations, the JVP believed that controlling these rural police stations would provide them with areas of military and political control, thereby denying the government access to such areas which would provide secure rear-bases for subsequent attacks by the JVP on towns and cities. Ten out of the island’s 22 Administrative Districts were battlegrounds. “Ninety two Police Stations had been attacked, damaging fifty and causing around fifty to be abandoned,” wrote Major General Anton Muttukumaru in The Military History of Ceylon.

Piyatilake was responsible for operations in Colombo. He detailed Raja Nimal an Advanced Level student to storm the Rosmead Place residence of Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike on the night of the 5th along with 50 student cadre, to capture the Prime Minister and transport her to a place where she would be held. However the expected vehicle and Piyatilake failed to arrive at the prearranged rendezvous in Borella and the attack did not materialise. Meanwhile unaware of the impending danger, the Prime Minister’s security advisers prevailed upon her to move to her official residence at Temple Trees, where she would be more secure.

Elsewhere in the Colombo District a major attack occurred at Hanwella, where the A4 High Level and Low Level Roads converge. Early on the morning of the 6th about 100 JVP combatants using hand bombs, Molotov Cocktails and firearms attacked the Police Station compelling its personnel to abandon their positions and flee into the surrounding jungle. The JVP captured the station’s armoury of weapons, hoisted a red flag and froze transport into Colombo. They held the town until armed police from Homagama supported by troops from Panagoda overpowered them.

 

The Battle for Kegalle

Athula Nimalasiri Jayasinghe, known within the Movement as Loku Athula, was in charge of the Kegalle and Kurunegala Districts. Once the decision to attack was made he moved into the area on the 3rd, meeting Area Leaders at Weliveriya and coordinating operations with detachments in Veyangoda and Mirigama. About 600 JVP combatants were deployed across the Kegalle District concentrated at Warakapola and Rambukkana.

Under Patrick Fernando, the Pindeniya detachment attacked both the local Police Station and the Bogala Graphite Mines, capturing a lorry load of explosives from the mines. On the 8th the Warakapola Police Station was successfully attacked, its weapons including two sub machine guns seized and the building set ablaze. In addition, Police Stations at Bulathkohupitiya, Aranayaka, Mawanella, Rambukkana and Dedigama were also attacked and the station at Aranayake burned down. Only Kegalle Police Station and the area surrounding it remained under Government control.

The Army could only access the interior regions of the District on the 10th and initially had to focus on removing road blocks and repairing culverts and bridges to gain mobility. When they penetrated the countryside they were frequently ambushed as in Aranayake and both sides sustained casualties. In The JVP 1969-1989 Justice A.C. Alles concludes that “the insurgents had met with considerable success in the Kegalle District.”

On the 12th at Utuwankande the Army was ambushed by the JVP using rifles and submachine guns. But the battle was turning in favour of the Army which brought to bear superior arms to put pressure on the rebels and gradually reopen the abandoned police stations in the district.

Finally on the 29th led by Loku Athula the JVP forces began their withdrawal from the District, from Balapattawa via Alawwa and then north. As they retreated in the direction of the Wilpattu Park they came under attack from the Army and from the air by Air Force helicopters. The Army finally ambushed them near Galgamuwa, killing some and capturing Loku Athula on 7th June.

The experience of the Kegalle District was replicated by the JVP in the Galle, Matara and Hambantota Districts. With the exception of Dickwella all Police Stations in the Matara District were abandoned. While in the Ambalangoda Police Area all stations, Elpitiya, Uragaha, Pitigala and Meetiyagoda fell to the JVP.

Widespread JVP attacks were also launched across the North Central Province where only the Anuradhapura Police Station was spared. As in the Kegalle District the outlying stations had to be abandoned and personnel withdrawn to Anuradhapura. However the Kekirawa Station, though attacked several times, held out. The Army was only able to move into the outlying areas of the Anuradhapura District on the 30th. Further north the Vavuniya Police Station in the Northern Province was also attacked. Less intense activity was reported in the Kandy, Badulla and Moneragala Districts.

N.Sanmugathasan in A Marxist Looks at the History of Ceylon remarked that “The rank and file (of the JVP) seems to have been honestly revolutionary, with a sense of dedication that must be admired, and a willingness to sacrifice their lives – unheard of before in Ceylon.” The first Ceylonese Army Commander General Muttukumaru wrote “Their (JVP) courage was also evident in the display of their military skills which enabled them to control many regions in the country and give battle to the armed forces in fierce guerrilla fighting.”

The military background

In November 1947 on the eve of independence, Ceylon signed a Defence Agreement with the United Kingdom. The military’s threat perception was determined by “the Government’s concern, (which) was invasion by India. The military’s focus was to have a defence force capable of meeting any external threat until assistance arrived from Britain.” In the words of Air Vice-Marshal P.H. ‘Paddy’ Mendis, who was Air Force Commander in 1971, the objective that determined the capabilities of the armed forces therefore was to “hold up an invading force of the enemy until assistance arrived from a bigger country with which we have an alliance.” (Brian Blodgett in Sri Lanka’s Military: The Search for a Mission 1949-2004)

The only military threat perceived was external; there was no anticipation of an internal military threat. Furthermore, in the wake of the 1962 abortive coup against the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Government, and the alleged 1966 coup against the United National Party Government, both parties that had been in power were wary of the Army which in 1970 had an authorised strength of 329 officers and 6,291 other ranks, and an annual budget of Rs 52 million (US$10mn), just 1.2% of total government expenditure.

Despite these inherent structural limitations, the Government and the Army responded swiftly, appointing regional Co-ordinating Officers in the worst affected districts. They were Colonels E.T. de Z. Abeysekera in Anuradhapura, S. D. Ratwatte in Badulla, Douglas Ramanayake in Galle and Derek Nugawella in Hambantota, Lieutenant Colonels R.R Rodrigo in Jaffna, Cyril Ranatunga in Kegalle, D.J.de S Wickremasinghe in Matara, Tissa Weeratunga in Moneragala and Dennis Hapugalle in Vavuniya.

The Ceylon Volunteer Force was immediately mobilised, and the first military casualty was Staff Sergeant Jothipala of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Sinha Regiment [2(V)SR], who was killed at Thulhiriya in the Kurunegala District on the first day of the insurrection. While Sandhurst-trained Major Noel Weerakoon of the 4th Regiment, Ceylon Artillery was the first officer to be killed whilst leading an ammunition convoy from Vavuniya to the besieged town of Anuradhapura; he was wounded when his convoy was ambushed and later succumbed to his injuries.

The battle rages

In 1971 the Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) consisted of three squadrons: No. 1 Flying Training Squadron with nine Chipmunk trainers based at China Bay, No. 2 Transport Sq. equipped with five Doves, 4 Herons and three Pioneer fixed wing aircraft and four helicopters and No. 3 Reconnaissance Sq. with Cessna aircraft. In the 1960s Britain had gifted five Hunting Jet Provost T51s jet trainers which had gone out of service by 1971.

Beginning at 0900 hours on 5th April the Jet Provost, which were in storage at China Bay, began operating out of this airbase. Armed with Browning machine guns and rockets, they carried out air to ground attacks using 60 lb rockets. The three Bell 206A Jet Ranger helicopters protected by Bren Guns airlifted 36,500 lb of ammunition during April to critical police stations. In addition the Doves carried out supply missions and during the course of April, 900 soldiers and 100,000 lb of equipment were transported by the RCyAF.

The JVP seized parts of the Colombo-Kandy A1 Trunk Route at Warakapola and Kegalle, cutting off the main artery between Colombo and the tea growing highlands. In response the Jet Provost had to mount aerial attacks on the key bridge at Alawwa which led to the downing of a Jet Provost and the death of her pilot.

If not for the premature attack in Wellawaya which resulted in the Police and Military around the country being placed on high alert “the situation would have been very grave for not only would several Police Stations have been captured, but the JVP would have been able to arm itself with modern weapons,” wrote Justice Alles.

Desperate for arms and ammunition in the first days of the rebellion, the Government aware that a Chinese cargo vessel bound for Tanzania with an arms shipment was currently in Colombo Harbour, unsuccessfully appealed to both Beijing and Dar-es-Salaam to make these arms available to Sri Lanka.

International support

As rural police stations fell, the government abandoned others, regrouping its limited forces and anxious to protect the towns and cities. This tactic paid off. The JVP only had equipment captured from police stations. They did not go on to overrun military camps nor capture their more sophisticated weapons. While the JVP did control parts of Kegalle, Elpitiya, Deniyaya and Kataragama uncontested, the Army replenished its meagre stocks of weapons.

Wijeweera had focussed solely on a single decisive blow against the Government. There was no provision to conduct even a short term guerrilla operation, or an attempt to lead a peasant uprising. And during the first 72 hours his strategy appeared to be working. What dramatically altered the balance of forces against the JVP was the immediate and sustained influx of military equipment that flowed in from overseas to enable the armed forces to turn the tide in their favour.

Within four days of the JVP attack, Air Ceylon’s Trident took off from Singapore carrying a consignment of small arms provided by Britain from its base there. The following day the UK agreed to supply six Bell-47G Jet Ranger helicopters armed with 7.62mm machine guns. On 12th April on board a US Air Force Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, Washington shipped out critical spare parts for the RCyAF helicopters which were flying twelve hour days. And at Colombo’s request New Delhi on the 14th sent six Indian Air Force Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama utility helicopters with crews to Katunayake Air Force Base, along with troops to guard them as well as arms, ammunition and grenades. They would remain in-country for three months.

On the 17th Air Ceylon flew in nine tons of military equipment which the Soviet Union made available from supplies in Cairo. While on the 22nd a Soviet Air Force Antonov AN-22 transporter arrived with two Kamov Ka-26 rescue helicopters and five Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 jet fighters and one MiG-17 high-subsonic fighter. The Soviet aircraft were accompanied by 200 trainers and ground crew.

China, Australia, Pakistan and Yugoslavia would also send arms and equipment. Colombo’s Non Aligned foreign policy which enabled it to source and receive military weapons and equipment from countries across the globe had succeeded. However the disparate array of equipment would pose a logistics dilemma for the military.

The sudden influx of arms and ammunition rapidly altered the balance of power against the JVP. For example the Army took Yugoslav artillery into Kegalle to flush out the rebels. And around 16,500 JVP members were captured, arrested or surrendered. The remaining combatants withdrew into jungle sanctuaries in the Kegalle, Elpitiya, Deniyaya and Kataragama areas.

Meanwhile there were reports that the JVP were endeavouring to bring weapons in by sea. But the Royal Ceylon Navy’s frigate and Thorneycroft boats could not secure the island’s territory nor prevent supplies reaching the rebels. This compelled Colombo to rely on the Indian Navy which sent three of its Hunt-class escort destroyers, INS Ganga, INS Gomathi and INS Godawari to patrol Ceylon’s maritime perimeter. In Sri Lanka Navy: Enhanced Role and New Challenges Professor Gamini Keerawella and Lieutenant Commander S. Hemachandre explain that “Sri Lanka’s dependency on the Indian Navy during the Insurgency to patrol its sea frontier in order to prevent arms supply to the Insurgents, was total.”

At Anuradhapura the JVP had established a base camp as well as six sub camps in the surrounding jungle where weapons, explosives and food had been stored. JVP operations in the Rajangana and Tambuttegama areas were controlled from this base camp. A platoon of 1CLI armed with 82mm mortars was sent to Anuradhapura in May and participated in Operation Otthappuwa, under 1CLI 2iC Major Jayawardena to take control of this area. By the end of May the insurrection was completely crushed.

Some counter insurgency operations however continued into the following year. A-Company 1CLI established a forward base in Horowapatana as late as November 1972 from where they carried out combing out operations until April 1973 while 1CLI’s D-Company closed its Kegalle operations only in December 1974.

Outcomes

The international media reported that summary executions had taken place. Writing from Colombo in the Nouvel Observateur on 23rd May, Rene Dumont said “from the Victoria Bridge on 13th April I saw corpses floating down the (Kelani) River which flows through the north of the capital watched by hundreds of motionless people. The Police who had killed them let them float downstream to terrorise the population.” The New York Times in its 15th April edition said that “many were found to have been shot in the back.”

Lieutenant Colonel Cyril Ranatunga commanding troops in Kegalle was emphatic. “We have learned too many lessons from Vietnam and Malaysia. We must destroy them completely.” While another officer was quoted alongside him in the International Herald Tribune of 20th April as saying “Once we are convinced prisoners are insurgents we take them to a cemetery and dispose of them.” And the Washington Post on 9th May quoted a major who said that “we have never had the opportunity to fight a real war in this country. All these years we have been firing at dummies, now we are being put to use.”

One of these public executions became a celebrated case, the brutal murder of Premawathi Manamperi of Kataragama. She had been crowned festival queen at the previous year’s Sinhala New Year celebration. Two soldiers, Lieutenant Wijeysooria and Sergeant Ratnayaka would be convicted, but both claimed their orders were: “Take no prisoners; bump them off, liquidate them.” (Jayasumana Obeysekara Revolutionary Movements in Ceylon in Imperialism and Revolution in South Asia edited by Kathleen Gough and Hari P. Sharma)

Janice Jiggins notes in Caste and Family in the Politics of the Sinhalese 1947-1976 that “Many in the armed services took the view that the fighting was an expression of anti-Govigama resentment and in certain areas went into low caste villages and arrested all the youth, regardless of participation.”

In the aftermath of the insurgency the armed forces expanded. The Air Force which had 1,400 personnel in 1971 grew to 3,100 by 1976. New units were raised: a Special Police Reserve Force, a Volunteer RCyAF and a new Field Security Detachment targeting subversion. The latter was placed under Lieutenant Colonel Anurudha Ratwatte 2(V) SR, the Security Liaison Officer to the Prime Minister. While a new Volunteer Army unit the National Service Regiment, targeting recruits over 35 years provided according to Fred Halliday “a damning sign that the whole of the country’s youth was in opposition to (the Government).”

The JVP uprising broke the back of the left parties which were trapped politically by the insurrection which they could only denounce at the cost of their long term influence. The SLFP too was isolated from its electorate due to the harsh measures adopted; curfew, censorship, trial without jury, postponement of elections, suspension of habeas corpus and other civil rights. Their Government suffered a devastating defeat at the next elections in 1977.

The uprising questioned the efficacy of a parliamentary system that could not accommodate a generation of educated youth, nor keep politicians aware of their needs and strengths. The decades-old mass national parties seemed to have no place for them. And the JVP charge that the leaders in parliament were of a different class and therefore they themselves of a different sub culture, seemed valid.



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All communities should be treated equally without distinction

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by Jehan Perera

The government was elected on a platform that stressed national security and unity. The elections took place in the aftermath of the Easter suicide bomb attacks of 2019 that caused the highest numbers of casualties in Christian churches. As the bombers were all Muslim, the Muslim population in the country came under public suspicion which was spontaneous and widespread. There was also equally widespread fear and anxiety about follow on attacks that could target Christians in particular and also the population in general. The cause of the attacks and the master minds behind them were a mystery then as they are now.

Due to the timely intervention of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, in whose diocese the two most serious attacks took place, there was no retaliation against the Muslim population by those who had lost their kith and kin. However, in the weeks that followed, there were mob attacks against the Muslim community in parts of the country that were distant from the bomb attacks. These attacks were not spontaneous but organised and intended to loot Muslim property and cause fear in them. The government, which was under political siege for having failed to prevent the suicide bomb attacks, failed once again to adequately protect the Muslim community.

It is in this context that Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s statement on the occasion of the second anniversary of the Easter bombings takes on significance. About two months ago he gave a deadline by which he asked the government to identify who was behind the Easter attacks and the cause for them. The Cardinal has consistently spoken up on the issue of the Easter bombing, first to ask for restraint on the part of the victims, then to ask the government to identify the perpetrators and prior to the elections to take the position that the people needed a government that could protect them. Now he has said that “Our brethren were attacked not by religious extremism, but by a group that exploited it to use the attackers as pawns in order to strengthen their political power.”

MUSLIM OUTREACH

Two years after the Easter bombings in which they were branded as supporters of religious extremism, the Muslim community seeks in many different ways to overcome the suspicion that once engulfed them and which they fear can do so again. The use of the black Islamic dress that was an increasing trend among Muslim women has been much reduced. Muslim organisations are making energetic efforts to network with other religious organisations, join inter-religious groups and to liaise with civil society. They make available to them the Islamic teachings on peace and coexistence. This weekend I was invited to the opening of a community centre in the Kurunegala District by a Muslim organization.

On the walls of the community centre there were panels put up with sayings from the different religions on a number of important matters, such as how to treat others, and the role of spiritual values in everyday life. The foremost place at the opening ceremony was given to Buddhist monks who had come to attend the ceremony along with government officials and police officers. The monks who spoke said that the Muslim community living in the village had good relations with the Sinhalese living in the neighbouring villages, and this had continued for generations. Another monk said that after the Easter bombings they had heard there were violent gangs heading in the direction of the Muslim village, they had come there to ensure no harm would befall those people.

In this context, the announcement that the government will ban 11 Muslim organisations sends a negative message to the country at large about the Muslim community. It creates an impression that Muslims organisations are under suspicion and possibly even close to performing acts of violence which necessitates them being banned. Of the 11 banned organisations, two are foreign ones, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda which have been reported internationally as engaging in violence. However, the other nine are Sri Lankan organisations which do not have a track record of violence or illegality. Four of them have the name “Thowheed” in them, which in the Arabic language means “faith.”

 

DIFFERENT TREATMENT

The ban on these Thowheed organisations may be due to the fact that the leader of the suicide squad, Zahran, was part of an organisation that had the name “Thowheed” in it. The ban on them may also be due to the fact that the Commission of Inquiry into the Easter bombings recommended such action against them. However, the Commission also recommended that other non-Muslim organisations be banned which has not happened. This suggests that the Muslim organisations are being treated differently. The danger is that when it treats organisations differently, the government may be generating resentment in the Muslim community, especially the youth. If the words of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith are correct, the problem lies not in Muslim extremism but in partisan power politics.

Sri Lanka has experienced Sinhalese youth insurrections twice and even the Tamil militant movement was started by youth, who were once called “the boys.” Perhaps in anticipation of such a radicalisation phenomenon, the government has recently passed an add-on called the “De-radicalisation from holding violent extremist religious ideology” to the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This will permit people who fall into its ambit to be send to rehabilitation centres for up to two years without trial. This may provide the government with an opportunity to release up to 250 Muslim citizens currently under detention on suspicion of being involved in the Easter bombings and send them for rehabilitation. On the other hand, this regulation may be used in the future in regard to other persons and other groups. The better way to prevent radicalization is to make people feel that the law is even-handed to all, and also to encourage engagement between communities.

During the discussion that took place at the opening of the community centre in Kurunegala, it was noted that the younger generation had fewer inter-community linkages than those of older generations. This may be due to the changing nature of society and the economy where people spend less time with other people and more time with machines or doing narrow and specialised jobs. In multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies in which there is conflictual relations, the tendency on the part of those from different communities will be to live in their own silos rather than interact with those of other communities. Living in peace in plural societies requires purposeful and energetic interaction which is organised. Where there has been ethnic and religious strife the world over, the better answer has been to provide people with encouragement and incentives to mix together, which is what the Muslim organization in Kurunegala was trying to do.

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TNGlive…a boon to artistes affected by the pandemic

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No doubt, Covid-19 has ruined the entertainment industry, throughout the world.

Entertainment venues have been shut down, concerts cancelled…and musicians are finding the going pretty tough.

However, it’s heartening to know that there are performers who find solace in keeping the public entertained, via online performances.

In this instance, those responsible for TNGlive must be congratulated for creating this platform, on social media, in order to give lots of folks, from around the globe, the opportunity to showcase their talent, on a regular basis.

Quite a few Sri Lankans have been featured on TNGlive, including Melantha Perera, Suzi Croner (Fluckiger), Sureshni Wanigasuriya, Yasmin de Silva, and Kay Jay Gunesekere,

Suzi did this scene twice, and on both occasions her performance was highly rated, with bouquets galore coming her way…on social media.

On Saturday, April 10th, she was featured (8.00 pm Sri Lankan time) doing songs from the country and western catalogue.

It was a very entertaining programme, which also contained some dance scenes (line dancing) from the audience present, in her living room – her friends.

Her repertoire included ‘Joline, ‘Me And Bobby McGee, “Johnny B. Goode,’ ‘Blue By You,’ ‘Okie From Muskogee,’ ‘Tennessee Waltz,’ ‘Rose Garden,’ ‘Mississippi’ and ‘Cotton Eyed Joe.’

Suzi is to make her third appearance, on TNGlive, shortly, but this time it won’t be a solo effort, she says.

“For variety, I would be having a guy from the Philippines, and he sings the hit songs of Tom Jones and Engelbert.”

So get ready for another special from Suzi, who now resides in Switzerland.

Suzi was the frontline vocalist for the group Friends who were, at that point in time, top of the pops!

Another artiste who impressed viewers, performing on TNGlive, with his daughter, was Nigel Gerrard John Galway.

Nigel is from India, and has been a Chef for the last 23 years, with 12 years spent at the Oberoi hotels. He was also an executive Sous Chef at Taj, in Coimbatore.

In fact, Allwyn Stephen, TNGlive chief, referred to Nigel as…probably the first Singing/Dancing Chef in the world!

He, and his 18-year-old daughter, Lean Pamela Mary, did get the attention of many, with their unique style of presentation; while Nigel handled the vocals, Lean, using only gestures, expression, and movements, brought out the meaning of the lyrics in most of the songs her dad did. And, she did it beautifully.

Yes, she also did exercise her vocal cords, on this particular programme

Says Nigel: “We come from a family of musicians, but we attempted singing, only during the pandemic, on various social media groups, and we did so only because we were all stuck at home.

“We joined TNGlive, through a friend, and have been performing ever since. The love and support we received from people around only encouraged us to keep growing and now we have a page of our own called THE SINGING CHEF.”

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Heard at the club

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Part II

A member reminisced an incident that happened long years ago, during those peaceful times when terrorism was unheard of. He had been driving his car, on the Deniyaya Road, when about six miles from Galle, he saw a village in a state of panic. So he stopped his car near the village boutique and asked the mudalali what was happening? The mudalali had said that the self-opinionated ‘mudliyar’ of the village (a court interpreter) had organised a ‘dane’ (an alms giving) and was awaiting the procession of monks, complete with drummers, from the temple. And, seeing it coming over the paddy fields which was a short cut, instead of the village road as show off, put him in a paddy, and he had chased the monks away. So the monks had gone back to the temple. As the meal time deadline for monks was fast approaching, the villagers brought the meals they had cooked in their homes, to serve the monks! That was the panic.

He was an unpopular villager who rose to a high position in the public service with political influence. Cussed by nature, he used his official position to harass villagers. When he met with an untimely death and, right at the moment the coffin was taken to the hearse, the whole village reverberated with the sound of fire crackers, organised by the irate villagers.

****

Once a terrible post office blunder very nearly wrecked a marriage. A certain sales rep sometimes sold his wares on credit. One such creditor was the owner of a shop named ‘Chandra Cafe’ who was slack in his payments. So the sales rep sent him a telegram that he would be coming to collect his dues, next Monday. On receipt, the owner of Chandra Cafe telegraphed the rep asking him not to come on Monday and the telegram received by him read, ‘Do not come on Monday – Chandra K.P.’ And when the rep’s wife read the telegram there was some misunderstanding at home which nearly rocked his marriage.

****

This reminded us of another telegram. An army officer was to go back to camp by the night mail. When he arrived at the railway station, he found a lady in an advanced state of pregnancy, almost in tears, because no berths were available. Gallantly the officer offered her his berth and, at the nearest post office, sent a telegram to his commanding officer saying ‘Unable to return tomorrow as ordered. Gave berth to lady. Arriving tomorrow evening.’

Obviously, the vital word ‘berth’ had been misspelt as ‘birth’, for the gallant officer received this reply from his commanding officer, ‘Your next confinement will be to barracks’.

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A philanthropist donated a building to his old school. An opening ceremony was held with a VVIP as the chief guest. A group photograph was also taken. As the donor was keen to get this photograph published in the newspapers without delay, he sent the local correspondent in his limousine to Colombo. He met the editor who happened to be an old boy of the same school. After a look at the photograph, he folded it in such away to eliminate the principal and sent it for publication. The editor seemed to have an axe to grind with the principal!

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It was in the early 60s and I was on my way to the club in the evening, when I met a friend near the club. With him was another, I invited them both to the club and after a few drinks we were headed out of the club, when near the gate, my friend pulled me aside and said that his friend was going for some trade union work to Hambantota and was short of funds. I told him that he should have told me that before I paid the club bill and also told him I had only Rs.18.00 which I gave. This trade union leader was non other than Rohana Wijeweera, who was to become JVP leader.

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It was towards the end of the 1980s and a club member, a tea factory owner was on his way home all alone in his car, at the break of down, after finishing his factory work. He had to travel 12 miles. After about five miles, he saw a youth profusely bleeding with injuries, coming down a hill. The good Samaritan that he was, he took him in his car to the hospital. On the way, the police took him and the injured youth into custody for terrorist activities. Fortunately for him, Major-General Lucky Wijeratna, who was a classmate of his at school, was there to save him.

 

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This happened several decades ago. There was a certain popular elderly club member, who was a wealthy businessman and drank nothing but whisky. That day when he came to the club, he seemed to have lost his bearings. He told his friends that he was going to donate all his wealth to the Home for Disabled Children which was close to his house, because his only child, a daughter, had eloped. His friends prevailed on him to defer his decision for a few months. About a year or so later, he came to the club one evening carrying a big flask in his hand. He said that it was for his errant daughter who has now reconciled, adding that he was a grandfather now!

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A busy garage was located in a residential area and it was open day and night. To highlight their services, they put up an impressive signboard, ‘We never sleep’. The following day a prankster had written below it ‘and neither do the neighbours’.

During the day of insanity – 29th July 1987, the Open University at Matara was burnt down and the Ruhunu University remained closed. A wall poster came up. It read: ‘Close the Open University’ and ‘Open the closed University’.

****

A young teacher, met a young man at the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens. Although their native villages were far apart, they

became close friends and planned to get married in the near future. He posed as a private bus owner. One day on a visit to his fiancée, he stayed the night over and muttered in his sleep, “Borella – Battaramulla! Borella – Battaramulla!” This aroused serious suspicions about his identity. So a few days later, her parents came to the Borella junction, to see him in a sarong loading passengers to private buses as a ‘bus crier’. And the love story ended right there.

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A long time ago a wealthy industrialist, a popular member of the club, was having his drink in a secluded corner of the club, most unlike him. He appeared to be quite agitated. Some concerned friends asked him what happened. He said that his only daughter (he also had a son) had married a man of her choice adding that his wife was in favour of the marriage. The daughter he said, was 22 years old. His friends told him that at that age, she was entitled to choose her partner in life and appealed to him to take things easy as his wife too approved of the marriage. After about a year or so, a friend visited him. Proudly pointing out a large multiple storey house in his sprawling garden, he had said that it was built by his son-in-law.

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A certain member served abroad for many years. One morning he come back to his native Galle in a hired helicopter. That evening he came to the club and ordered a case of beer for his friends!

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Several years ago, a member had gone to the Galle Post Office to send a telegram to a close relative. He was informed by the postal authorities that there was a breakdown in the telegraphic services and that it was unlikely that his message, about a bereavement in the friend’s family, would reach his relative in time. They advised our friend to telephone someone in the area where his relative lived and to get the message delivered orally. Those were the days when only a few had telephones. As the member did not know anyone in that area with a telephone, he thought of S. Jayasinghe, known as Mr. S, who was not know to him personally and who was a Junior Minister residing in the area where our friend’s relative lived.

When our friend telephoned him from the post office, he had just got into his car to go somewhere. Soon after he was speaking to our friend over the phone as if he was talking to an old friend. He also told our friend that he was about to go to the site where he was building a new house. Our friend then gave him the message and appealed to him to get it delivered. The rest of the story was told to our friend by his relative who had said that during a heavy shower of rain, he found a car near his gate and that when he went up to the car he recognized him to be the Junior Minister. Like my friend, he did not personally know the Junior Minister. Instead of giving the message then and there, he had got off the car and had gone to our friend’s house and not only given the message but also consoled him by talking to him for a few minutes.

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It was in the late 1980s, at the height of the insurrection, that this member was travelling all alone to Galle in his jeep. He was going through the Kottawa Forest which was famous at the time for tyre pyres. The Navy had stopped his vehicle and asked him to take a young man who was injured in a motorcycle accident, to the Galle Hospital, about eight miles away. The young man was bleeding profusely. He got him admitted to the hospital but our friend was forced to stay there for a long length of time, culminating in his having to give his consent for a surgical operation on the injured, whom he had never seen before. Alas! The purpose of his visit to Galle was lost.

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A member had two sons, twins aged three years. As they fell ill, he channelled a specialist doctor who examined one twin and refused to examine the other, as an appointment was not made for him. So our friend had the other twin channelled as well. Certainly, it was no personification of Hippocrates!

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A popular elderly member used to come to the club only on his pay day to keep himself warm. He worked at ‘Sathosa’ (C.W.E). The younger members would then tell him that he is very fortunate to work in a historic establishment like ‘Sathosa’ which is also referred to in Guttila Kavya (an epic) thus:

‘Sara Salelu Jana Sathose.’

Highly elated he would order a round of drinks, adding ‘Surapana karathi mese’.

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This happened many decades ago. A member who was an inveterate gambler once lost heavily at the card table and mortgaged his expensive wrist watch. A member who was not well disposed towards him had sent a post card to his wife informing her that her husband sold his watch to gamble. He also had a 15-acre well-maintained tea estate which he had to sell when his gambles failed.

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This story was related by a member and is about the ‘kings’ in the planting circles. A planter in the coconut belt of the North Western Province who owned acres of coconut, once named himself ‘King Coconut’. He argued that if a planter in the Kalutara District who owned vast acres of rubber could be referred to as a ‘Rubber King’ why shouldn’t he be called ‘King Coconut’.

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One day a member related a story, which is hard to believe. A teacher who served in an uncongenial station, in his quest for higher knowledge, had studied for an external degree at a university. And he passed the examination with flying colours, obtaining first class honours and was highly commended by the university authorities for his brilliance, while serving in a different area. He had confided to his friends that his success at the exam was due to the gift of seeing all the question papers in a dream, before the examination!

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