KKS Perera in E-Lanka, 15 October 2023 , where his title is “More on Senanayakes and Cricket”
Dr. Michael Roberts’ enthralling exploration of the Senanayake family and their ties to cricket in last week’s E-lanka provided the inspiration for me to craft this anecdotal script.
Don Spater Senanayake, was the son of the lesser-known Don Bartholomeus, a native of the picturesque town of Mahiyangana. According to family lore that has been passed down through the generations, the Senanayake family’s roots can be traced back to an ancient era—the Anuradhapura period, specifically between AD 253 and 266. The tale recounts that during this time, a benevolent King dispatched a delegation from Mahiyangana, entrusted with a sacred Bo sapling. Their mission was to plant this revered sapling at a hallowed location in Attanagalle. The delegation journeyed toward their destination, they decided to rest for the night and carefully placed the Bo sapling in a specially chosen spot. The next morning, to their astonishment, they discovered that the sapling had taken root, defying all expectations. This miraculous event led to the christening of the place as “Bodhi-tale,” signifying the spot where the Bo sapling had firmly established itself. Over time, this name evolved into “Bothale.”
From that moment onward, the Senanayake family regarded Bothale as their cherished home, a place where their lineage flourished and thrived. This fabled connection to the Bodhi tree and the unique history of the Senanayake family in this fictional tale lends an air of mystique and significance to their ancestral origins.
- S. Senanayake, a man with limited formal education, possessed remarkable wisdom and sophistication. His eldest son, Dudley Shelton, known as “Shelley” to close friends, was an illustrious product of S. Thomas’ College and had a charming personality, yet he showed little interest in marriage. The Senanayakes of Bothale Walawwa in Salpitigama Korale had become prominent figures in politics by the second decade of the 20th century. Don Spater Senanayake, a 19th-century Arrack renter who became an anti-alcohol champion in the early 20th century, played a leading role in the Temperance Movement along with his sons, DC, FR, and DS.
The Tiny Tot ‘Celebrated’ Father’s Arrest
Amid the tumultuous backdrop of communal violence in late May 1915, the Colonial Government resorted to arresting leaders of the Temperance movement, citing the need to quell racial riots. Their apprehension stemmed from the fear that the Temperance movement might eventually transform into a symbol of resistance and freedom. One ordinary morning, within the serene confines of their residence, Woodlands in Borella, a three-and-a-half-year-old Dudley found himself embroiled in a childlike ‘encounter’ with his maid during breakfast. It was at this very moment that a contingent of soldiers descended upon the household. Their mission: to apprehend the 30-year-old D. S. Senanayake, a prominent figure in the temperance movement.
In the ensuing chaos, one of the Punjabi soldiers forcibly moved aside the ayah, the maid, who vehemently argued and protested against the soldiers’ actions as they attempted to bundle her master into a military truck. The sight of her resistance left an indelible impression on young Dudley, even though he was clueless about the gravity of the situation. To him, it was not a moment of distress but rather a source of amusement as he watched his perceived ‘bête noire’ – the maid – sprawled on the floor, undergoing a form of ‘punishment.’ As he recalled this incident later in life, Dudley, the affable man, reminisced about this peculiar and somewhat comical episode from his childhood, offering a glimpse into the strange and tumultuous times in which he grew up.
Lessons in politics through horse riding and cricket
In 1924, D. S. Senanayake, the recently elected member representing Negombo in the Legislative Council, took a unique approach to teach his two young sons, Dudley and Robert. At the time, Dudley was 13 years old, and Robert was 11. He placed Dudley and Robert on horses and tied their feet to the saddle, effectively securing them in place. With Dudley nervously clutching the saddle, his father proceeded to give the horse a firm whip on its rear. This action forced Dudley to maintain his balance and composure, as any lapse could lead to a potentially dangerous fall. The underlying lesson behind this unusual horseback riding instruction was clear: DS aimed to instill in his sons the principle that fear should never be a hindrance to learning or experiencing new things. By compelling Dudley to confront his fear and adapt to the horse’s movements, the message conveyed was that conquering fear was an essential part of acquiring new skills and knowledge. This anecdote reflects a unique approach to parenting and imparting life lessons that the young Dudley and Robert would carry with them into their future endeavors.
During his first year representing St. Thomas’ College in cricket, Dudley had a memorable incident that showcased his resilience and spirit. He was facing a Trinitian paceman when he was struck by a rising ball that hit him in the nose. The impact left Dudley bleeding, and he returned home with this minor injury. His father, D. S. Senanayake, who was a cricketer himself and had also played for the same school, didn’t dwell on the injury. Instead, he immediately inquired about Dudley’s performance in the game.
Dudley replied, “I scored fifty two.”
“Out for fifty two?”
“No, I retired hurt; a ball hit my nose, and I needed to rest.”
With basic treatment for his bleeding nose and some aspirin for pain relief, followed by refreshments, Dudley was sent back to the cricket ground by his father. He resumed his innings after the fall of the next wicket and went on to complete a century. Upon returning to the pavilion with a well-deserved century to his name, a doctor was waiting for Dudley to attend to his bleeding nose. The question then arises: Did the father succeed in inspiring his son with the idea of ‘spirit and bravery’?
Dudley, a sensitive man, would later reflect on his actions. In 1953, he retired hurt once again, but this time, it was due to a different kind of injury – he couldn’t come to terms with his own conscience for having signed a shoot-at-sight order that killed nine rioters during the violent ‘Hartal’ of August 12. Nevertheless, like his father, he knew the rules and played by them, displaying a mix of resilience, determination, and adherence to principles throughout his life.
‘Fathers and Sons’ –the Sportsman Dudley
In a letter to the Sunday Observer on April 22, 1973, Kirthie Abeyesekera mentioned an interesting cricketing event involving Dudley Senanayake. In April 1963, Dudley, who had no offspring to carry on the Senanayake name, participated in a cricket match for a ‘Fathers’ Cricket XI. At the time, Dudley was the Leader of the Opposition. The match was organized by St. Thomas’ Preparatory School in Bandarawela, and it pitted the ‘sons’ against the ‘fathers.’ Despite his initial reluctance, Dudley decided to join the ‘fathers’ team, likely due to his strong temptation to play the game. He expressed surprise at being included in the team, saying, “I do not know by what stretch of imagination they have included me in this team.”
Remarkably, despite his reservations about playing, Dudley delivered a grand innings, scoring the highest with 47 runs. He also excelled in a demanding bowling spell, where he took four wickets, giving away only 23 runs. Dudley’s performance in this match was notable, especially considering his initial hesitations about his right to play.
The ‘reluctant captain’ was a brilliant all-rounder in the political field as well, who honoured the rules to the letter and spirit.
‘Power has only one duty – to secure the social welfare of the People.’ – Benjamin Disraeli
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