Senaka Weeraratne: “A Very Personal Memoir”
I came to know Indika in 1960 when I entered Royal College as a student of ‘1B’ class under Mr. Lennie de Silva (Class Master). Dinesh Gunawardena, Malik Samarawickrema, R.J. de Silva, Ruwan Ratnatunga, Jayantha Jayasinghe among others were all in ‘1B’ class. It was through Dinesh that I first came to know his brother Indika. Dinesh was seated next to me in that class as we had a lot in common those days. My father was a strong supporter of Phillip Gunawardena and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) which won 10 seats at the General Elections held in March 1960. Ranil Wickremesinghe and C.R. de Silva were in Class ‘1D’ which had Mr. Harold Samaraweera as the Class Master. The composition of these classes was mixed, however since several subjects such as Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry were then taught in Sinhala the classes were rearranged for these subjects. Ranil and Chitta Ranjan( Bulla) joined the class in ‘IB’ class room for these subjects, ‘Bulla’ who was a very close friend of mine from the Kindergarten days was seated next to me on the right hand side in class IB for the subjects taught in Sinhala. left to right (clockwise) …Dinesh, Prasanna, Indika, Kusuma, Lakmali, Phillip and Gitanjana
Class ‘1A’ (under Justin de Silva as Class Master) had a very elite group of students including Anura Bandaranaike, Ajita Wijesundere, T.P. Murugesar, Rohan Wijetileke, N.C.Walpita, K.Win Baw, S. Anketell among others.
It must be mentioned here that the authorities at Royal College took a deliberate decision to keep both Anura Bandaranaike and Dinesh Gunawardena in two separate classes when they entered the First Form at Royal College from Royal Primary School as their parents( S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and later Sirima Bandaranaike, and Phillip Gunawardena) were at logger heads in the political spectrum of those days. Phillip Gunawardena was a co – architect together with S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in the political revolution that took place in 1956, but Phillip fell out with S.W.R.D. in 1958 over the Paddy Lands Act and both Phillip and P.H. William de Silva resigned their portfolios as Cabinet Ministers and left the Government giving warnings to S.W.R.D that later proved to be prophetic. But that is another story.
Malik Samarawickrema joined Royal College from St. Anthony’s College at Katugastota, where he had his primary school education. His father was Ivan Samarawickrema, a Civil Servant. His uncle was Edmund Samarawickrema, Member of Parliament for Colombo South. I remember my initial conversations with Malik in class ‘IB’ which were all centered on his connections to Edmund Samarawickrema (Public Auctioneer) and the UNP.
Seated next to Malik in Class ‘IB’ were R.J. de Silva and K.R. Peiris. ‘R.J.’ too enjoyed a high prominence in class being the nephew of C.P. de Silva (high profile Cabinet Minister and leading politician) and son of R.T. de Silva (Vice Chairman of the C.T.B).
Coming back to Indika Gunawardena who was then becoming prominent in Buddhist Brotherhood, Sinhala Literary Society related activities in School in 1960, in my earliest encounters with him he sold me a ticket to a Concert at School called ‘Starlight Cavalcade’ which featured Des Kelly as the main artist. This was the first time that I came across the name Des Kelly (who has since migrated to Australia and is now giving a strong backing to Sri Lanka in whatever way he can). This concert was held in aid of a School Society fund sometime in January or February 1960 any way before the March 1960 general elections. The ticket cost me Rs. 7.00 which was quite an amount those days for an impecunious school boy.
Indika rose to prominence in School through his involvement in aforesaid activities and he was made a School Prefect by Dudley K.G. de Silva. The most distinctive feature of Indika Gunawardena at Royal College was his dress code. He wore the ‘Arya Sinhala’ national attire while in the upper classes of the School. The Photographs of the School Prefects published in the College Magazine in the early 1960s capture Indika in this distinguishing dress code and make him pronounced in the photos.
Indika’s dress code in School had its detractors more in fun than anything else. He was called ‘Redda’ because of his sarong attire. It was not unusual for school boys in their formative age at school to engage in mischief and make fun of others by shouting and hooting. This is something I never did – hooting at others. It is foreign to my bones. But others did. On one occasion while we were in the 3A class (1962) several school prefects walked down the corridor and were subject to shouts from some of my class mates. Indika was visibly annoyed when he heard the shout ‘Redda’ being directed at him. He came to the class and asked for those who shouted to own up. Nobody did. He then called me as he knew me to come to the Prefect’s room. He asked me (inside the Prefect’s room ) to name those who hooted. I refused though I knew who did it. I did not want to sneak in on my friends. I was reported to the then Vice – Principal Mr. Bogoda Premaratne who gave me a caning (for something I never did). But that is part of school life. No grudges. But what came out of this incident was more valuable. U.L.Kaluarachchi, school prefect and Rugger captain, came to the same class ‘3A’ and asked us all to wait in detention after school. He then during the detention period delivered a priceless talk on our moral obligations to ‘Respect Authority’.
School prefects were never loath to detain us or force us to write lines in punishment. The School Song was a favourite choice of topic to write lines on. But as Ajita Wijesundere pointed out the other day we were never called upon to write lines on the National Anthem.
Is Royal College more school centered than nation centered as some other schools are? Let others answer this question.
I have shared these thoughts on Indika Gunawardena in the wider context of school life because much of what I have said here has never been aired in public or reduced to writing. It may sound like a ‘warts and all’ write up of Indika. There is no intention of disrespect.
Indika is a scion of the Gunawardena family from Boralugoda (in Avissawella, Sitawaka) which has left an indelible impression in the annals of politics in the country. May he rest in peace. May his sojourn in Samsara be short.
Indika Gunawardena, former Cabinet Minister and MP passed away on September 14, 2015. He was 72. Indika, the eldest son of late MEP leader Philip Gunawardena was the brother of Dinesh Gunawardena MP (a member of the RC 1960 group). The family of Phillip and Kusuma Gunawardena had five children (four Boys and one Girl). All four boys namely Indika, Prasanna, Dinesh and Gitanjana had their primary and secondary school education at Royal Primary School and Royal College respectively.
Three brothers Indika, Dinesh and Gitanjana became Members of Parliament and held Ministerial Portfolios. This is an unique record for one family. Both Indika and Dinesh were Cabinet Ministers. The other brother Prasanna Gunawardena (a member of the RC 1958 group) served as the Mayor of Colombo for some time.
Indika was born in India in 1943 (hence the name having an ‘India’ connotation) when his parents fled to India in 1942 after Phillip together with several other prominent left leaders escaped from Jail in Welikade having been imprisoned by the then British rulers in 1940 on grounds of suspicion of possible sabotaging of the allies war effort. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union under Stalin had a non – aggression pact and leftists in British colonies were therefore suspect of colluding with the enemy. It was only after Germany’s attack on Russia commencing on June 22, 1941 that left wing leaders openly came out in support of the Allied war effort against the Axis powers.
Indika’s mother the late Kusuma also entered Parliament (in 1948) like his father Phillip who was known as ‘the Lion of Boralugoda’, a pioneer of socialism in Sri Lanka and founder of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP).
Obituary Notice: GUNAWARDENA – INDIKA (Former Cabinet Minister). Dearly beloved husband of Dr. Padmini Gunawardana, father of Diyath & Yasith, father-in-law of Thaslima, brother of Prasanna, Lakmali, Dinesh & Gitanjana, brother-in-law of Gamini, Shrimathi, Irangani, Subadhra & Tissa, passed away at the age of 72. Remains lie at residence in Boralugoda (Kosgama). Cremation at 5 p.m. on Thursday 17th at Boralugoda.