This book ably edited by Tissa Jayatilaka is a commemorative volume done to honour the world’s first woman Prime Minister. This was published in 2010 by the Bandaranaike Museum Committee. It contains essays by Jayantha Dhanapala, Jayadeva Uyangoda, Swarna Jayaweera, Jayampathy Wickremaratne, Ramya Chamalie Jiirasinghe, Lakshman Kadirgamar, M.D.D. Pieris, Leelananda de Silva, Sam Wijesinha, Bradman Weerakoon, Gopalakrishna Gandhi, Tilak E. Gooneratne. Manel Abeyasekera, and A. Javid Yusuf. Lakshman Kadirgamar’s contribution is the speech made by him in Parliament soon after Mrs. Bandaranaike’s (Mrs. B) death. Tilak Gooneratne’s contribution was selected letters and essays by his granddaughter Sunila Galappatti.
This book contains pictures and speeches made by Mrs. B. both in Sri Lanka and overseas.
When I read the book what touched me most were Mrs. B’s human values. Therefore this is more than a book review, it is a reflection on the life of Mrs. B and I give below the parts of the book that touched me most.
1. Jayantha Dhanapala’s reference to the reality that Mrs. B paid out of her personal funds to settle a bill when Dhanapala had to look after a group of Chinese doctors who were in Colombo in the 1970s.
2. Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe’s reference to Mrs. B’s work in the Lanka Mahila Samithi where she touched base with our rural women in the south and in her own way understood their life.
3. M.D.D. Pieris’ references: (a) Mrs. B not mixing party politics with her work with the public servants. Pieris states that when she had to handle papers concerning her work Mrs. B had once told him “please hand back that paper, for it deals with a political matter.” (b) Mrs. B critiquing one of her ministers for not having taken care of a UNP supporter. Pieris states in his essay the fact that Mrs. B had angrily asked this senior and influential minister as to whether those who belong to the UNP were not citizens of this country? (c) Mrs. B despite her age and infirmity had gone to the Galle Face Hotel in September 1997 to be one of the witnesses at Pieris’ son’s wedding.
4. In Sam Wijesinha’s essay we have the record of Mrs. B being sad about MPs’ in Parliament behaving badly, What Wijesinha has recorded in his essay is part of Mrs. B’s speech in Parliament during the budget debate in November 1995 recorded in this book.
5. Sunila Galappatti’s selection of a letter written by Mrs. B to Sunila’s grandmother Mrs. Pamela Jean Gooneratne. This letter was written after the southern youth uprising of April 1971. In that letter one can see the feelings that Mrs. B had for having had in defending the state to shoot young persons from the south. Mrs. B in that letter refers to these youth as our own people.
To continue this reflection one has to appreciate Gopalakrishna Gandhi’s essay. Gandhi in the context of having visited Mrs. B’s home soon after her death records his response to the humiliation Mrs. B had to face when her civic rights were removed. He thus states that it was significant that a person whose voting rights had been taken away should have ended her career as a democratically elected leader just after casting her vote.
To my mind this review/reflection would not be complete unless one reflects on Wickremaratne’s essay on 1972 wherein Wickremaratne states that 1972 was also a historic opportunity to accommodate the diversity and pluralism of the people of Sri Lanka in state power and resolve the language question. Sadly Mrs. B despite her human values and the feelings that she had for the southern rural women and for the southern youth could not change the system in which the majority community found in difficult to share power with the minorities.
Appreciating Mrs. B’s human values and the feelings that she had for the southern youth in the context of 1971 calling them our people I am of the mind that if Mrs. B was around she would have been appalled at the sense of triumph, victory and jubilation that has gone on in this country since May 2009 with the end of the military part of the war Sri Lanka. Having read about Mrs. B’s human values in this book, I am sure that she would have been very sad that even religious people and leaders continue to participate in war heroes’ monuments.
My personal thanks are for Tissa Jayatileka for having given us this book on Mrs. B which in the context of her historic place as the world’s first woman Prime Minister brings out her human values. Her formation at home and at school was strong enough and therefore did not change her human values despite her being a party politician.