Saluting a soldier, politician, diplomat and an aiya

Major-General Janaka Perera

It was with stunned disbelief that I heard the news, on October 6, that you and Vajira had been killed in an explosion at Anuradhapura. As I absorbed the shock and took in the enormity of the tragedy, my mind went back 16 years to the day I heard that my husband Mohan had died in a landmine blast. I wept then, and I weep now as I write this appreciation of someone I had known all my life, and had the privilege of addressing as “Janaka Aiya”.

Sleep eluded me that night, as it did for many nights and days after, as I looked back on those days of our carefree childhood – growing up together, enjoying our idyllic, fun-filled teen years, and then going our separate ways on reaching adulthood.

You were the patriotic one among us, the one who made the sacrifices. Instead of enjoying a university education, you chose to join the Army. You cut a very dashing figure in your military uniform as you left for England for your cadet training at Sandhurst. We, the younger ones, gazed upon you with awe and wide-eyed wonder.

Whenever you were home on leave, you would entertain us with your stories of Army life in faraway places, and we would listen enthralled. When I married Mohan, also a serviceman, you and my husband would get together and swap Army stories for hours on end. It was wonderful to see the two of you taking centre stage at family functions and talking about your lives as servicemen, but always careful to censor and edit your stories to suit your audience!

In Vajira – your charming wife and companion for 25 years – you found the perfect partner. She was your soul mate. She complemented you in stature, temperament and intelligence.

We enjoyed your gracious hospitality countless times – whether it was at the Army married quarters, or at your Poorvarama Road home in Colombo, or at the High Commissioner’s residence in Canberra, Australia. It was always open house at your home, even to the most casual of acquaintances. Everybody who visited you and Vajira was given a very warm welcome. Your home radiated great warmth and hospitality.

Together, you nurtured a lovely family, instilling in your children the values and moral principles you believed in. They have in them the best of both of you. Their stoic acceptance of the double tragedy in their family, and the courage they have shown in this time of great grief and loss, is proof of the fine legacy you have given them.

When Mohan was killed in a landmine explosion in the North, you came home to pay your respects. I remember asking why this had to happen to Mohan. That was perhaps the only time I ever saw you at a loss for words, but in your eyes there was a profound sympathy and understanding. After Mohan was gone, you and Vajira were so supportive and helpful to us. With all your heavy duties and responsibilities, you would somehow find time to be present at all important family functions.

When you told us about your intention to enter politics, I feared for you, I implored you time and again to be careful. Another family tragedy could not be borne. But being what you were, you wanted to do more – even after giving 35 years of your life to the service of your country. You wanted to make a difference. For all our sakes, I hoped and prayed you would. I believed you could. Alas, it was not to be.

As I paid my last respects to both of you, it was with a profound sadness that I visualised the two of you impeccably dressed just moments before the explosion, and now what remained within your sealed caskets.

Major-General Janaka Perera, RWP, RSP, VSV, USP, rcds psc – soldier, diplomat, politician – and to me, Janaka Aiya – I bid you farewell.

May you rest in eternal peace.


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