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Did this room symbolize the man? If opulence and ostentation is the hallmark of the new rich, then simplicity and spartan living must surely be the stamp of true greatness. Wijayananda Dahanayake was such a man.
It is very rarely that men like this walked across the stage of life. What, if at all, is the message that Dr. Dahanayake left behind to those who call themselves the servants of the people.
"It is not the heights to which you rise but the depth from which you climb" seems to be an underlying note in this mans public life.
Born to a family not of wealth but of great rectitude and courage, Dahanayake said, "My ancestors ran away from the Kandyan province to escape the wrath of the King after a rebellion." It was that defiance that he showed throughout his political life. He was always with the people, not for him the motor car, chauffeur driven. It was always the train or the bus. He was perhaps the only man who travelled 3rd class with a first class ticket.
He was a different man when it came to injustice. If Dahanayake thought he was wronged even by his leaders, he stood up and said so. He changed political parties. He was not frightened to lose his position. He did not want to compromise his conscience.
His austere room was the repository of his only wealth, books. A simple book case contained volumes upon volumes of the best works in English literature.
He was a man of great learning, but he wore his learning lightly. He did not impose his learning on those less learned, thus he was a man of great humility.
When someone asked him, "Sir, tell me why you never left the country after being a politician", pat came the reply, "Socrates never left Athens".
Today politics is the gateway to wealth, power, comfort and opulence and globe trotting. Dahanayake scorned all these foibles which lesser men fall prey to. There lies true greatness. If he left an abiding message to the politician of today, it was "Live a simple life, scorn all forms of opulence, be with the people and be true to youself, and you will be false unto "no man".
Even as a Minister of State he never occupied an official residence, choosing the spartan comfort of Sravasti or the New Colonial Hotel.
Dr. Colvin R. De Silva, J.R. Jayewardene, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, U.B. Wanninayake, M.D. Banda, T.B. Illangaratne were all men who served this nation. They were like all men, not without their faults but one lesson they left to humanity and to the political culture of our country, was simplicity, accessibility, courtesy and kindness to all men.
How does one pay homage to the memory of Dr. W. Dahanayake, not by singing his praises, or talking of his virtues. These have already been recorded in the book of eternal verities beyond the heavenly gates. Homage can only be paid to him and those like him, by following the simple examples of their living.
Against the background of the setting sun, in front of the Galle Fort, as twilight slowly merged into darkness, among thousands upon thousands of simple people from all parts of the country Wijayananda Dahanayake went on his last journey to the land that knows no sorrow.
He often repeated the famous poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson during his last days on earth. He was preparing himself to meet the great pilot.
Sunset and evening star And one clear call for me! And may there be no moaning of the Bar When I put out to sea And after that the dark And may there be no sadness of farewell When I embark.
I came to know Jeanne Moonesinghe for the first time in 1956 when Anil Moonesinghe contested the Agalawatte seat in April of that year. From that time till her death I have stayed in her house on a number of occasions. I came to know how she looked after the household and brought up her daughter Janaki and son Vinod allowing Anil to do politics on a full time basis. Later on, she got employment in England so that her daughter and son could get a University education. She was very happy when Janaki went on to obtain a Doctorate and become a lecturer at the University of Zurich and her son became a qualified Engineer. It was Jeanne who was associated with the housing society which consisted of doctors of medicine, journalists, lawyers and other prominent figures like Herbert Keunemen, Boniface Fernando, Dr.Senaka Bibile, Dr. Dissanayake, just to name a few of them.
It was through her effort that the house at Welikadawatte, Rajagiriya was built and was often a haven for people from the remote villages of Pasdun Korale who came to see their Member of Parliament, Anil who was elected to Parliament from the Agalawatte seat in 1956. Before he became an M.P, Anil had just commenced his legal career and it was Jeanne who had started work at Lake House in order to give the family an income. She used to travel by bus to her work place. Although she was a law graduate of University College, London, she was not professionally qualified and therefore turned to journalism and joined Lake House and at one time was in charge of the periodical JANA which catered to foreign news.
Jeanne first met Anil in October 1945 when he entered the University College, London. It was at a meeting of the Communist Society of University College that Anil convinced her about Trotskyism as she was unhappy about some of the policies of the Communist Party. This was the beginning of a political and personal friendship that developed and continued till her death on 18th April 1997.
Jeanne had an exceptionally bright career at the Slough High School where she was the head prefect. During the second world war, those chosen to a University were given the alternative of being conscripted to the armed forces or working in a factory. She opted for the latter and was inducted as an Inspector of Industrial Production at the Ministry of Aircraft Production where she was well trained in the use of machinery and in the inspection of aircraft engines. After the end of the war she entered University College, London in 1945.
In 1946 she joined the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain which was affiliated to the Trotkyist International. She was a lecturer attached to the National Council of Labour Colleges. It is under her influence that Anil became a practical revolutionary and became a worker in a factory and learned politics and trade unionism, the hard way. Later on when the Trotskyists entered the British Labour Party, both Jeanne and Anil joined the Slough Labour Party. By then they had decided that although she could have a career as a British M.P, it would be best for them to do politics in Sri Lanka as it had a greater potential for a socialist revolution. When they arrived in Sri Lanka she joined the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and for some time worked amidst the up-country plantation workers. Later on she formed the Ceylon Mercantile Union Branch at Lake House and became Assistant General Secretary of the C.M.U under Bala Tampoe, who was its General Secretary. After her departure from Lake House she turned to teaching and was employed at Terrence de Zilvas School at Kolonnawa and later worked in the Education Ministrys Curriculum Centre.
Politically Jeanne and Anil were very close and she supported Anils career and advised him on most political decisions taken and it was her support that prompted Anil to accept the Ministry of Communications which Dr. N.M. Perera had requested him to take up in 1964. It was during this time that she developed friendship with the late Mrs. Vivienne Gunawardena and the late Mrs. Kusala Abeywardene. Jeanne really made Sri Lanka her home and also became a Buddhist. May she attain Nibbana.
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