19th March 2000

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Kala Korner by Dee Cee

Like father, like daughter

Best known for his beautiful lyrics and meaningful poems, Mahagama Sekera was first an artist. As a child he had loved art and grew up wanting to be an artist. If one recalls the last scene of his film, 'Tung Mung Handiya', there is this young man at the Radawana (his birthplace) junction wondering which road to take. There are three roads. One leads back to his home ("where my father will be nursing his betel crop"), the second to Gampaha ("which will take me to Lorenz College, where my Loku Mama wants me sent") and the third to Colombo ("to Technical College"). The young man's choice is the last. Those were the days when the Heywood School of Art was run as a section of the Technical College. And that's where Sekera completed a course in painting and joined Hewavitarana School at Rajagiriya to teach art. (Later he became the head of Heywood).

Sekera was not even 50 when he died. He had by then done a lot in the creative field. From art he moved on to write poetry, stories and dramas. He composed lyrics which maestro Amaradeva has converted into immortal classics. He designed book covers, wrote radio scripts and even directed a film.

It's good to see his daughter, Nirupama following in her father's footsteps. She is turning out to be a talented artist. Her illustrations in Kusum Dissanayake's latest children's book, 'Punchi Mole' (Little Brain) shows her creative abilities. The colourful cover depicts a jungle scene of a group of happy animals and birds. The black and white illustrations inside are simple and they all depict jungle life. Being a playlet based on a folk story, she has captured the moods of the animals and birds to suit the situations.

Unlike her father, Nirupama has not studied art. She is an instructress in English in the Colombo University. But obviously she has acquired her father's talents. In fact, 'Punchi Mole' is the second book she illustrated for Kusum Dissanayake. The first was 'Hansa Prashnaya', a collection of five children's playlets she wrote based on Jataka tales.

I remember meeting Sekera at his Gampaha home way back in 1968 when he was planning to hold an exhibition his paintings. We had a long chat on what he was doing. He was then a lecturer at the Teacher Training College in Mirigama. He told me his simple approach to painting. He first makes a mental note of the subject he is going to tackle. After careful study, he eliminates unnecessary detail and concentrates on a particular aspect of the subject.

This simple and creative man left us 24 years ago leaving behind a wealth of artistic creations-be it in the form of books, songs, dramas or paintings.

He was then a busy dramatist

Meeting one-time active dramatist Sumana Alokabandara at a play in the Lumbini Theatre after many years was a pleasant surprise. He had a few copies of his award winning drama script 'Nirola' with him and gave me one.

The play titled 'Sakviti Sestakus' came second in the 1995 scripts competition at the annual State Drama Festival. He had published it for the benefit of students of drama.

Seeing Sumana, my mind went back to the mid sixties, when he produced 'Akal Wessa' with Dharmadasa Jayaweera. In the four -person cast, both Sumana and Dharmadasa acted beside Malini Fonseka who played the only female role. If I remember right, this was her maiden effort on stage. Hers was the best performance at the 1965 State Drama Festival for which she won the Best Actress Award.

Sumana was active in the years to follow producing several plays -'Nidikumba' (1966), 'Api Kavuda' (1969) and 'Kiri Kandula' (1975). After a fairly long break , he produced 'Nidasa Puraya' in 1993. He also put down his memories of the Sinhala theatre in the sixties in 'Sumana Mathaka'.

Book review

Never sought preferment at the expense of integrity

No, Cousin, I'll to Fife Memoir of a Public Servant - By Victor Wirasinha
Reviewed by A.C. Alles

This Memoir contains the experiences of a distinguished public servant of yesteryear who has provided interesting information in regard to his activities during the Donoughmore and post-independence eras. While holidaying at Matara, the 12-year-old Victor Wirasinha came across an illustrated copy of Shakespeare's work in his uncle's library, and, on reading Macbeth, was fascinated by the scene where Macduff declined to attend the investiture of the murderous Macbeth at Scone, saying, "No, cousin, I'll to Fife".

These words had deeply impressed young Wirasinha, since he has included them in his Memoir. Macduff became one of young Wirasinha's heroes, and he resolved, like Macduff, "never to seek preferment at the expense of integrity". This is the guiding star that Wirasingha adopted throughout the period of his service as a public officer from the time he was interviewed by the commissioners at the viva voce for admission to the Civil Service. Commissioner Wodeman adopted bullying tactics towards the young applicant, but Wirasinha was equal to the task and was successful in being admitted as a Cadet to the Civil Service.

Victor has given us detailed descriptions of the stations to which he was posted throughout the island.

He describes his residential quarters and their advantages and disadvantages, the interesting places within his jurisdiction, the numerous friends he made at his stations, and various facets of social life, which make interesting reading. At times his reminiscences are not without humour, as for instance when the gullible A.G.A.'s wife was fooled with scented cannas, which was the result of rose scent being stealthily sprayed on the blooms by the gardener without her knowledge.

Victor's descriptions of the towns to which he had been posted and the friends he had made have been of particular interest to me. In the course of my official career and during holidays I have had pleasant recollections of the places he has described and the numerous friends he had made, many of whom have been friends of my wife and myself - Fr. Wickremasinghe, the hunter of Hambantota, Drs. Leslie Fernando and Pasupathy of Batticaloa and Laurie Fernandes of Nuwara Eliya - whom I remember with affection. Even during his holiday abroad Victor and his wife were guests of the Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery at Bruges in Belgium, where my wife and 1 were entertained in similar fashion. Victor's Memoir therefore brings back to me nostalgic memories of happy days spent at the same places and with the same friends.

The Civil Servants during Victor's time were required to do some judicial work, and were appointed Magistrates and were required to sit with the permanent judge to learn judicial procedure. Victor had his fair share of magisterial work, particularly when he was posted to Mannar. He was required to hold court at Mannar and travel across the country to Vavuniya and Mullaitivu for the same purpose. He performed his duties satisfactorily and was once complimented by Queen's Counsel G.G. Ponnambalam at the conclusion of a case for a job well done.

The most onerous duties that fell upon Victor's shoulders commenced when he was appointed Commissioner for the Registration of Indian and Pakistani Residents, and soon afterwards Commissioner of Parliamentary Elections. Both Acts were closely connected, and Victor had to tread warily to satisfy his Minister and the Prime Minister. It was during this period that he came into close contact with D. S . Senanayake, Prime Minister Sir Edwin Wijeratne and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke and A. Ratnayake Ministers of Home Affairs, also Prime Ministers Dudley Senanayake and Sir John Kotelawala, and the Leader of the Opposition, S.W.R. D. Bandaranaike.

For the 1952 election Victor put forward a three-day scheme whereby the elections were to be held on three days, with the areas demarcated for polling on each day. This apparently pleased the Minister, but Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake, wanted the electorates in which elections were to be held on the first day to be chosen by him, so that he could select for polling on that day the electorates where the ruling party had the best chances of success. This was to be repeated on the second day too. This had drawn the caustic comment from Victor, who describes the device as one of "the greatest democrats in action exploiting a situation to bolster his chances of victory."

The UNP won the election, much to the disappointment of Mr. Bandaranaike, who was convinced, quite wrongly, that Victor had manipulated the election. Victor submitted his report on the election, but it was not published.

In his Memoir, Victor deals with problems he had with Sir John Kotelawala and also with Mr. Bandaranaike, which make interesting reading. Victor's confrontations with them were forthright, and he always appears to have got the better in the arguments.

On his return from a holiday abroad Victor was appointed Commissioner of National Housing, a post which he held for almost five years, during which period he was able to implement many useful housing schemes, which are mentioned in his Memoir. But although he earned the blessings of the country, Bandaranaike, when Prime Minister, was hostile to him. But Victor stood firm against intense pressure by him when he wanted applications for loans for his henchmen granted immediately despite paucity of funds, and disregarding a large number of prior applicants on a waiting list.

When Victor was Director of Commerce, his Minister, T.B Ilangarathne convened a meeting of all the Heads of Departments under his ministry and addressed them at length on the subject of loyalty, and at the end of his address invited those present to make their comments. Victor, who was the most senior of those present, then made his comments, which are worthy of reproduction.

A public servant, he said, was committed to serve the people in allegiance to the Constitution, implementing the policies of the minister under whom he served, since the minister was the representative of the people. If an order given by the minister contravened the law, the public servant would express his doubts to the minister and have them resolved. If any final order was contrary to the law, he would decline to carry it out, no matter what the consequences might be to himself. If the order was in conformity with the law but obnoxious to his conscience, but the minister persisted in it and demanded its execution, the public servant would seek a transfer and, if that was denied, tender his resignation.

These are words of wisdom and useful guidelines to the performance of the duties of a public servant even in the present day, being an expression of views of a public servant of high stature.But apparently they were not sentiments accepted by the Minister, and, when Victor returned from a trip abroad, he found that his post as Director had surreptitiously been passed on to another officer.

He was next posted to the Ministry of Health, where he assisted the minister in dealing with a strike by Nurse Aides, and dealt with a ticklish problem relating to the Director of Health Services who had opted to retire before his 60th birthday but later wished to continue until an inquiry pending against him had been concluded. This resulted in a confrontation between Victor and the Public Service Commission, which was ultimately satisfactorily settled.

After 29 years of service in the Government Victor retired at the early age of 51, when he was offered a lucrative post as Managing Director of Lewis Brown & Co Ltd where he served for a period of13 years. However, his connections with the Government resumed when he was appointed Chairmen of the National Institute of Business Management and later Secretary of the Ministry of Industries. But after a short period he was compelled to resign in disgust when he had some serious differences with the Minister. President Jayewardene then offered him the Chairmanship of the Public Service Commission's Education Service Committee.

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