4th June 2000
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Minister C.V. Gooneratne

'Chief guest? No, a cheap guest'

Down memory lane

By Roshan Peiris
Clement Victor Gooneratne has sartorial elegance. Khaki trouser and shirt, a red handkerchief in the shirt pocket and red socks. "I am wearing khaki as a symbol, since I have asked the country to be on a war footing," he says.

Minister Gooneratne has adventurous and sometimes scary memory for there have been four attempts on his life.

Recalling his days as Opposition Leader in the Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia Municipal Council, where his father L.V. had been the first Mayor, he was a vociferous critic of the then UNP administration. "I was a lively and adamant crusader against bribery, corruption and injustice."

When the then moribund UNP administration did not pay "attention and heed my criticisms, on one occasion I defied authority and calmly sat on the Mayor's chair".

He says, "Any childhood gesture which could be categorised as mischievous, I indulged in. I used to steal sweets and play practical jokes on my elders by saying that the Prime Minister was calling them on the phone. It was fun." 

"We had a cart and bull and my brother and I drove it and people were wary when they saw us coming. Any accidents, you ask? No, because the bull was efficient and perhaps knowledgeable, not us!!"
There were pretty girls down the lane and C.V. was attracted to one of them. "The girl was not well disposed towards me. (He was all of 14 years!) To make her think of me I threw a tortoise through her bedroom window. It naturally didn't endear me to her. She used to shout, 'Ane ibba enawa balaganin' (Here comes the tortoise, beware) whenever she saw me!" Royal College was CV's school and also where his father taught. "We had a lot of innocent fun such as telling one of the masters that his pretty daughter was awaiting him in the car."

That is not part of the lesson, said an irate teacher and C.V. shouted "a thing of beauty is a joy forever". He was caned for being inattentive in class. While at Royal most girls "were not averse to knowing me, and the same applied to me too. We exchanged letters. You want to know whether I flirted? Not really. Flirtation is a multi-faceted thing and not an expression of love".

Asked how many girlfriends he had, C.V. raised his bushy eyebrows and said, "One never counted the number of girls. Counting is a prosaic mathematical exercise not connected with young love!"
From Royal, C.V. went to Aquinas College where he studied Economics, Constitutional Law, Political Science and Political History. "After that I joined the Merchant Service. I joined as the Group's Personal Manager and was later promoted as Managerial Consultant after being trained in the prestigious Industrial Society of London."

C.V. believes that marriages are made in heaven! "Anyway Sheami's and mine was a love marriage, and she has through the years been a tower of strength to me. It has been a very happy marriage."
On his political career, C.V. says, "I entered Parliament in 1988 and was in the Opposition where Sirimavo Bandaranaike guided me with tact, adroitness and understanding. I was the Shadow Minister of Trade and Shipping." Without self-pity he relates one attempt on his life. In 1988, at Belekkade in Ratmalana during the Presidential elections. "A meeting presided by Mrs. Bandaranaike was bombed and we narrowly escaped with our lives."

The greatest experience of his life was when "I had the singular honour of being chosen as the only representative from Sri Lanka as a Commonwealth Observer to the famous first multi-racial election in South Africa. A young South African air-hostess went down on her knees pleading, 'Sir, you are such a nice man please don't go for the elections, there will be much pre-election violence.' About clothes C.V. says, that once he wore an Indian kurta to Parliament. When he stood to speak, an opposition heckler had said that the Minister was improperly dressed. To this, C.V. had replied, "The Member is envious of my elegant clothes, I could tell him where to get them from. If he is envious of my looks, I strongly suggest he indulge in the profound miracles of plastic surgery!"

Witty as ever, he says, "I have been Chief Guest so frequently through the years, that I almost feel like considering myself a cheap guest." a typical C. V. remark.

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