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Venerable Bhante Homagama Kondanna Maha Thero, an international monk and a remarkable disciple of the Buddha

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Ven Bhante Homagama Kondanna Thero after his ordination in 1978

by Anoja Wijeyesekera

Bhante Kondanna who passed away in London on February 3, 2022 was a remarkable disciple of the Buddha, who communicated the message of the Enlightened One, to all who sought the truth, regardless of where they were located in the world. He travelled to every continent and communicated the message of the Buddha and taught people in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, UK, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Brazil, to practice meditation based on the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the direct path to Enlightenment.

So profound was the impact of his teachings and the meditation retreats he conducted in all these countries, that his followers from every time zone of the world, participated via Zoom, in the Pansakula ceremony held at the Kavijada Meditation Centre in Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, on February 6. They joined this event to honour their respected teacher, even though for some of them it was in the middle of the night.

His followers from Argentina and Canada spoke of their profound sadness at the demise of Bhante Kondanna whom they considered to be their “father, brother and friend.” He predicted his own death and travelled to the UK, his second home, where he died suddenly and peacefully at the Atuladassana International Buddhist Vihara, Heathrow. With no apparent illness and no cause for hospitalisation, he died exactly as he would have liked, with Ven Kassapa in attendance. A simple cremation would be held in London, in keeping with his wishes.

Bhante Kondanna devoted his entire life as a monk to the service of others and had a unique ability to transcend boundaries and empathise with anyone at a human level of compassion and understanding. He reached out to those who sought his advice and gave them the strength to transcend the vicissitudes of life, the inevitable condition of human existence. The Eight Vicissitudes of Life are praise-blame, fame-ill-fame, gain-loss, happiness-sorrow, which the Buddha identified as imposters to be confronted with equanimity.

Born in 1939, to a large family from Homagama, Sri Lanka, he had his education at Royal College, Colombo, and completed his higher education in the UK. After graduating as a Mechanical Engineer, he specialised in automotive engineering, which enabled him to pursue a lucrative career with Rolls-Royce, the prestigious car and aero engine manufacturer in the UK. With the experience thus gained, he ventured into his own car business in West Hampstead, London.

As a successful businessman in London, and known to his friends by his first name, Don, he dined at the top restaurants, wore the best Saville Row suits and drove around in a Bentley, living what most people would consider the perfect life. However, he began to see the hollowness beneath the glittering veneer of wealth and material comforts. His eyes opened to the reality of the human condition, namely, “jathi, jara, vyada and marana” (birth, old age, sickness and death) which made him completely disenchanted with his worldly life.

He was on the brink of signing a lucrative business deal which had the potential to make him enormously wealthy, when he withdrew from it all. He decided to renounce the lay life completely in 1978, and ordained as a Buddhist monk, under Ven. Dr. Hammalwa Saddhatissa Thera, the Head of the London Buddhist vihara.

At his ordination ceremony, he was given the name “Kondanna” by Ven. Sadhatissa Thero, who may have been influenced by the significance of this name in Buddhist history. Kondanna was one of the Five Ascetics to whom the Buddha preached his first sermon, the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, 2,600 years ago. After hearing the Buddha’s words, Kondanna attained the first stage of sainthood, sotapanna.

Bhante Homagama Kondanna obtained his higher ordination after two and a half years of study and practice, under the guidance of both Ven. Sadhatissa and Ajahn Sumedo, the Chief Abbot of Amaravati. He then proceeded to develop his meditation practice in Thailand and became a disciple of Ajahn Chah, the renowned Meditation Master. Bhante Kondanna spent more than two years in full time meditation at Ajahn Chah’s monastery namely, Wat Nong Pah Pong, in Ubon province located in the jungles of North-eastern Thailand. It was a centre that attracted many western students some of whom graduated to become Chief Abbots of Buddhist monasteries in Western countries.

At Ajahn Chah’s monastery, which followed the Forest Tradition, living conditions were extremely spartan. The one meal they consumed each day was obtained through pindapatha, (alms round of mendicants). It meant trekking through jungles to reach the little hamlets of poor peasants, who eked out a living through their land. Pindapatha being a well-established tradition in Thailand, people regarded it as a great blessing to make offerings to the monks who came on their alms round.

For the disciples of Ajahn Chah this was a daily exercise in the practice of humility and gratitude. They learned to appreciate the most basic of food, to eat only for survival, to give up indulging in taste and to transcend the pangs of hunger, till the next meal, 24 hours later. Bhante Kondanna continued this practice of having only one meal a day throughout his life.

Ajahn Chah’s guidance and unique teachings enabled his students to progress on the path. Many were the methods the master used to tear down the ego and self-view that is the most difficult defilement to overcome. The methodology adopted was one of self-realisation through direct experience and meditative insight, rather than book learning.

While Bhante Kondanna was into his second year at Ubon, Ven Saddhatissa of London, was given the task of finding an abbot for the Kavidaja Meditation centre in Moratuwa,

Sri Lanka. He thought that Bhante Kondanna would be the ideal candidate. So, in consultation with Ajahn Chah, Bhante Kondanna was requested to return by Ven Sadhatissa Thero. Unable to refuse the request of his teacher and mentor, Bhante Kondanna returned to Sri Lanka and was appointed as the Chief Abbot of the Kavidaja Meditation Centre.

From then on, Bhante Kondanna devoted his entire life for the welfare and happiness of the many, as the Buddha asked his disciples to do. He dedicated his life to the teaching of meditation both Samatha (Tranquility) and Vipassana (Insight). In Sri Lanka he conducted regular meditation retreats both in his own temple as well as at the Knuckles Mediation Centre, which he founded and at several other locations. One of his pupils, Prof. Rajah de Alwis, Professor of Civil Engineering at the Moratuwa University who followed his meditation classes at the YMBA Dehiwala, himself became a meditation teacher and introduced meditation to his engineering students, giving them a head-start in life.

Bhante Kondanna started an English Dhamma school at his temple in Moratuwa for children attending international schools. This has proved to be a great success as the 200 or more children who attend the school are also given a good grounding in meditation practice. Many of the teachers who provide voluntary services are professionals from many walks of life who are excellent in their English, dhamma knowledge as well as meditation.

Bhante Kondanna has also been the spiritual advisor of Seva Lanka Foundation, a charity that assisted poor rural communities of Sri Lanka. He was closely associated with the German Dharmaduta Society and was their anusasaka (spiritual guide) Bhante was also a regular speaker at the Maitriya Hall, Bambalapitiya, the Headquarters of the Servants of the Buddha, where he conducted meditation classes. He participated in their Centenary Celebrations in April 2021.

From the very outset, Bhante Kondanna received invitations from various parts of the world to conduct meditation retreats. This entailed travel to all parts of the world and long periods of stay outside Sri Lanka. At his pansakula ceremony it was mentioned that he spent approximately 50 years of his life outside Sri Lanka.

His easy-going manner, command of the English language, his sense of humour and simplicity enabled him to reach out to people from all walks of life, all nationalities, all ethnic groups and scores of free-thinking people from the far corners of the world, who were looking for answers to the enigma of life. His popularity as a meditation teacher grew to the extent that he ended up conducting meditation programmes in the long list of countries listed at the beginning of this article.

In South America which was totally alien to Buddhism, he attracted a large following, so much so that he received invitations from most of the south American countries, year after year. His influence was so profound that two persons from Argentina even followed him to Sri Lanka to gain ordination as Buddhist monks, at the Kavidaja Meditation centre in Moratuwa. Later, one of them went to Thailand to continue his meditation practice and the other returned to Argentina.

Bhante Kondanna was a monk who practiced what he preached and preached what he practiced. His day began with meditation long before dawn, while the rest of the day was devoted to the service of others. He lived a life of extreme simplicity, that bordered on austerity. He ate only one meal a day. Very often he obtained this meal through pindapatha (alms round), which in addition to being an act of humility is a re-affirmation of a monk’s vows of being totally dependent on the generosity of others, and of giving up personal possessions and resources. He explained that anything that a person puts into the bowl, must be eaten with gratitude and humility. Pindapatha was a practice that was followed by the Buddha.

During the first lock-down and curfew, when Bhante Kondanna was on his alms round, the local police who were arresting curfew violators, stopped him and questioned him. He replied that he was on pindapatha. The police then begged for his forgiveness and helped him on his path.

Bhante Kondanna never stood on ceremony or sought titles or positions and shunned any form of elevation and publicity. He did not promote fanfare and rituals and asked his followers to practice what the Buddha prescribed, namely Dana, Seela and Bhavana, (Generosity, Virtue and Meditation). He expressed disappointment that many people in Sri Lanka, replace Bhavana (meditation) with “puda puja” rituals, which was not what the Buddha recommended.

In his meditation classes, in addition to the instructions on the path to liberation, he advised his students on how to transcend pain through mindfulness. A few years ago, in London, he tripped on a pavement and fractured his ankle. At the hospital, the doctors wanted to give him a local anaesthetic before carrying out the procedure to re-set his ankle. He refused the anaesthetic and told that doctors that he taught his students how to transcend pain through meditation and that he has to practice what he preaches. The doctors had been astounded. Bhante Kondanna also had teeth extractions without anaesthesia much to the surprise and consternation of his dentists!

As a meditation master and guide, Bhante Kondanna leaves a great vacuum in the lives of his followers across the world. However, he made sure that he trained and guided several Sri Lankan monks who were his disciples, to learn English, practice meditation and proceed to other countries to impart the Dhamma. Ven. Dhammakusala of the Berlin Temple in Germany and Ven. Soratha at the Buddhist temple in Canberra, Australia are disciples of Ven. Homagama Kondanna. Here in Sri Lanka, Ven. Thirikunamale Sobitha Thero who was a devout follower of Ven. Kondanna will take over at the Kavidaja Mediation Centre. The torch that was lit by Bhante Kondanna Maha Thero will be carried by them to encourage human beings to strive for Enlightenment through the direct path of meditation, as extolled by the Buddha.

I would like to conclude by quoting from an article written by Bhante Kondanna “Why meditate?” which he wrote for the Centenary Volume of Dhamma Gems, the Journal of the Servants of the Buddha, in 2021. He speaks directly to the reader as follows:

“Through meditation and quiet contemplation, you will realise that, with everything being impermanent and causing so much pain, there is really no control, no power vested in me, you, or us. Even though we think this is my body, and my mind, everything is subject to automatic processes such as ageing, falling ill and dying, and so do the habitual reactions based on perceptions of what one likes and dislikes. Through meditation you will gradually realise that to live means to experience everything that is happening through awareness. That awareness is all that there is. No person, no being, just an ever-changing body and an ever-changing thought process, both of which have come together temporarily in this birth, giving the illusion of a permanent self. Meditation will help one see that the true nature of the world and of oneself is impermanence, suffering and non-self. (anicca, dukkha and anatta)

Once you realise this you have experienced the blissful state of Enlightenment. You are free of passion, desires, aversion. A state of blissful peace that comes with contentment, of not wanting, of having no desires, of just being.

Therefore, my friends, I invite you to tread the path shown by the Buddha, which is to sit in quiet contemplation, and see the truth of the universe within the body and mind.

May you all achieve the blissful state of Nibbana.”

Likewise, may Bhante Kondanna, attain that same blissful state of Nibbana, that he encouraged and guided his followers to strive for, through his life of selfless service as a Buddhist monk.



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

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by Harshana Rambukwella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No solutions to nation’s problems from draft constitutional amendment

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by jehan perera

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

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

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

INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONS

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

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

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

DEATH BLOW

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

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

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

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

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By Hema Arachi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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