Dudley Shelton Senanayake was born on Poson Poya day of June 19, 1911. His parents Don Stephen (D.S.) and mother Molly (Dunuwila) were jubilant over the birth of their first child.
Stephen set off from his home, ‘Woodlands’ in Borella to convey this happy news to his father, Don Spater, at Thiruwana Walawwa in Ambepussa. Don Spater, a landed proprietor and plumbago magnate on hearing the good news of the birth of his first grandchild, gifted his mansion together with all the valuable furniture and fittings to the Ven. Kokaliyagollewe Sri Bharathananda Thera whose abode, the Rukgastenna Temple was situated in a paddyfield which used to get submerged at the slightest rain.
‘Thiruwana Walawwa’ is today a famous Buddhist seat of learning, the ‘Senanayake Mudalindaramaya’ so named after its founder.
My father was one of the UNP stalwarts in Ambalangoda. But Dr. M.H. Saddhasena, his childhood friend was ‘primus inter pares’ of their clique. Dr. Saddhasena was a gold medalist at Medical College and had been a contemporary of Dr. P.R. Anthonis.
‘Sadde’, as my father used to call him was our family physician and President of the local UNP branch at Ambalangoda. He was very wealthy and not only financed the party activities in Ambalangoda, but also in the rest of the Galle District. His hospitality knew no bounds.
Once the Prime Minister D.S. was to visit Ambalangoda and my father described how the good doctor and his friends (father included) took a very rich ‘Hunu’ Mudalali (owner of a lime kiln) of Akurala for a good ride at Dudley’s expense. Of course Dudley was totally unaware of it all.
Dr. Saddhasena had been grumbling that every time a VIP visited the area he had to foot the bill. It was decided that for a change someone else must meet the expenses.
That was the big question.
D.S.’s retinue included his son Dudley, the Minister of Agriculture and his nephew Sir John – who was Minister of Transport and Works. The meeting was to take place at the then ‘Luxmi’ Theatre – present-day ‘Regal’ cinema followed by a grand lunch at the picturesque Ambalangoda Rest House by the sea.
Now this mudalali’s real assets were his exceedingly lovely daughters. The eldest of the daughters was of marriageable age and Dudley at the time was Ceylon’s most eligible bachelor. Besides being a Cabinet Minister (those days Cabinets were very small) and the Prime Minister’s son, Dudley was a Cambridge educated young man and a Barrister of the Middle Temple. Many were the parents with marriageable daughters who were eyeing Dudley as a prospective son-in-law.
But Dudley remained a bachelor until his death on that Black New Year’s Day on April 13, 1973.
‘Hunu Mudalali’ knew of Dr. Saddhasena’s connection with D.S. ‘So,’ said my father continuing his narrative, ‘Dr. Saddhasena went to see the ‘Hunu Mudalali’ and invited him for the function and the lunch without any mention of the plan he had in mind.
Highly pleased with the prospect of lunching with the ‘Father of the Nation’, the Mudalali asked the good doctor, ‘Dostara Mahattaya, apatath karanna puluwan deyak thiyenawada?’ (‘Doctor Sir! Is there anything that we could do to help?’)
“Aiyyo Mudalali, I am being daily pestered by the Prime Minister to find a suitable girl for Dudley. The only requirement is that the girl must be very pretty for she must accompany him on his various foreign visits,” Dr. Saddhasena said.
“Dr, please allow me to meet the entire cost of the function and the lunch,” pleaded the Mudalali.
“Well, I was planning to meet all the expenses myself but as you now have a stake in the proceedings, I will not only allow you to foot the bill but I will also introduce you and your daughter to the VVIPs,” Dr. Saddhasena is said to have replied.
Dr. Saddhasena was in charge of the seating arrangements on the stage and saw to it that the Mudalali’s comely daughter was seated next to Dudley but the Mudalali’s seat was placed away.
My father told me that the Mudalali in his best tweed coat and cloth and his eldest daughter elegantly dressed arrived well ahead of the commencement of the function and Dr. Saddhasena conducted them to their seats in the rostrum. The daughter’s seat was next to Dudley’s.
When the Prime Ministerial party arrived, Dr. Saddhasena , as the master of ceremonies, introduced the Mudalali and his pretty daughter to D.S. and Dudley. Dudley exchanged pleasantries with the young lady seated next to him in blissful ignorance of the plot that had been hatched behind his back. The Mudalali, of course was beaming.
At lunch too, Dudley’s seat was next to the girl but the Mudalali was made to sit out of ear-shot..
My father said that the Mudalali not only met the massive bill but also asked the Doctor to let him know of any other functions where he could ‘chip in’.
After the function, the Mudalali made daily trips to Dr. Saddhasena’s. Ultimately the Dr washed his hands by saying that a girl from an aristocratic family has been arranged for the young minister!
But I have it from highly authoritative sources such as Bradman Weerakoon, Secretary to Dudley on more occasions than one and that charming raconteur, Sam Wijesinha the veracity of the story I narrate next. Rukman Senanayake MP, Dudley’s nephew was not even born during this time, but he had heard the story being mentioned in family circles.
Dudley’s parents along with all his relations were looking for a suitable bride for this most eligible bachelor.
They arranged for Dudley to see a very pretty girl from an aristocratic family in Balangoda. She was the daughter of Barnes Ratwatte Rate Mahattaya – the laird of Mahawelatenna.
The girl was none other than Sirima Ratwatte.
It is said that besides the prospective groom and his parents, a cousin of the groom, Lionel (later Sir John) motored up to Balangoda where they were very warmly received and treated to a sumptuous lunch and watalappam made out of the choicest jaggery from Balangoda.
Now Dudley’s eating habits were only too well known.
As a young student at S.Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, he held a dubious record of downing 75 string hoppers in one sitting. Bradman Weerakoon’s book, ‘Rendering unto Caesar’ quotes Periyasamy, the Indian cook at the Prime Minister’s lodge at Nuwara Eliya as saying that Dudley’s appetite was the biggest he had encountered. This coming from a man who had fed world leaders was indeed something.
Coming back to the visit to Mahawelatenna Walawwa, the Senanayakes were eager to know Dudley’s views on the Ratwatte girl.
‘Kohomada putha?’ his mother asked.
‘Hari shoak! Hari shoak!! exclaimed Dudley.
The Senanayakes were jubilant.
“Yes, Sirima is a nice girl,” Mrs. Senanayake chipped in.
‘What girl?’ queried Dudley . ‘I was referring to the watalappam.”
If Dudley had married Sirima it would have completely changed the political history of this island nation.