I cannot quite remember when I first met S.L. Gunasekara. As I recall, it was a few decades ago at an embassy cocktail party, at a time when heads like me of scientific associations were also invited. He recalled his correct stand at the Thimpu talks which I had dismissed as Indian interference after Indian [...]

Sunday Times 2

Officer (nationalist) and gentleman


I cannot quite remember when I first met S.L. Gunasekara. As I recall, it was a few decades ago at an embassy cocktail party, at a time when heads like me of scientific associations were also invited. He recalled his correct stand at the Thimpu talks which I had dismissed as Indian

Country first: SL espoused the cause for an undivided country

interference after Indian subversion. I knew the Indian academic scene reasonably well and I explained to him how Ms. Bandaranaike and her SLFP were being denigrated in Indian circles. I also mentioned how Dr. Mackie Ratwatte, her brother and private secretary had on hearing this complaint of mine had taken me to meet Ms. Bandaranaike and when I suggested to her that she send someone from her party to India to explain matters, she replied that they did not have the money. That was a time when a round India trip would cost around Rs. 10,000. The then ruling family was more cultivated than the recent one but had similar “money problems”. Over the embassy drink, SL and I shared his hearty laugh.

But the time we interacted most was when I was living largely abroad and saw the false anti-Sri Lanka propaganda being spread around the world by the LTTE and by paid Western elements in the form of NGOs. SL and a group including Lieutenant Col. Anil Amerasekera and Dr. Anula Wijesundera were then working tirelessly in villages threatened by LTTE barbarity while the then government buried its head in the sand. With others in the expatriate community, I also began visiting these areas to give help. We gave CDMA phones with our family funds (that was before mobile phones) and motorcycles to threatened villages, helped build irrigation tanks for displaced villagers and repaired their schools. I remember well one such visit to a repaired school accompanied among others by Ven. Madulwawe Sobhitha, SL and Champika Ranawaka. The laypersons rested for the night in a farmer’s house and SL pulled out a bottle of arrack, I did sip a bit as I don’t like hard liquor and some others conversed – un-protesting.

These welfare actions were mostly by middle-class professionals. But when two former students involved in the late 1980s anti-Indian protests met me and my wife, we arranged a meeting between them and the middle class activists. This turned out to be the beginning of the National Movement against Terrorism (NMAT) which we wanted only to be a discussion forum to remove the falsities generated by foreign funds. Later, in spite of misgivings by several of us, NMAT turned into the JHU and contested elections. Some of us were disappointed that Buddhist monks would contest instead of acting as a pressure group or advisers as they had done for millennia. And when the then general elections came about and I heard that JHU grassroots were campaigning against SL, their first leader, I felt downcast. When at their last election meeting, SL was being ignored and others were pushed into the front, I telephoned SL and said, “Your own people are undercutting you”. His response was that it was too late. And later SL was removed on the false pretext that he, an atheist with a Christian background was drinking alcohol. I had not heard such an accusation when he had his arrack at the farmer’s house.

At the time of Chandrika Kumaratunga, we with SL through the expatriate group World Alliance for Peace in Sri Lanka (WAPS) organised a series of meetings against LTTE propaganda including a couple at the BMICH and one in Norway. Speakers included also non-Sri Lankans. One telling audio recording we played was the Norwegian Ambassador in cahoots with local officials smuggling transmission equipment to the LTTE. We also invited political figures to the audience which included Dinesh Gunawardene, Alavi Moulana, V. Anandasangaree and a big contingent from the JVP and JHU. We had sniffing dogs to prevent LTTE attacks. But we did manage to get the truth out, both in Sri Lanka and in Norway.
Perhaps the greatest favour that SL did to the country was when Sri Lanka expatriates wanted to sue the LTTE on behalf of the innocents they had murdered. I had missed the meeting in Washington with the US lawyers but back in Sri Lanka, I put SL in contact with them. SL got legally binding statements from the farmers who were attacked in the region of Anuradapura and forwarded them to the US lawyers. The case is still pending.

A related personal event was when he represented me. I had published through a well-known international academic publisher a book on foreign-funded NGOs in Sri Lanka as subverting our sovereignty. Over 10 years, I had collected much data from different sources around the world including on International Alert (IA) which had published a map of their future Tamil Eelam, much larger than the area claimed even by the LTTE. My information included some incriminating correspondence supplied by IA employees in London who were dissatisfied with the then Sri Lankan head of IA. When my book came out, a prominent lawyer meeting me at the OPA asked me to brief him about NGOs because he said he was to appear on a TV programme. I said I could not summarise but he could borrow a book from a library. Shortly thereafter, I found articles in the Daily News written under a pseudonym and in a florid style attacking the Sri Lankan ex- director of IA. Before long I found the writer being appointed politically as an ambassador to a Western country. Soon too, I found myself sued for half Rs. 1 billion by the IA gentleman for the anonymous article I had not written. SL agreed to appear for me free and his reply truly frightened me. He said that the suing gentleman had no reputation to lose and asked me not to worry. The case dragged for years and ultimately was withdrawn simply because I did not write the article.
We shared much irreverence. SL an ex-Christian and I, a secular Buddhist who had once been suspended from my job for one year as the founder editor of the Peoples Bank’s Economic Review for publishing a computer in a meditating pose. This was to illustrate how current computer developments were challenging the mind cultures of Buddhism and Hinduism.

SL would have also been amused at recent events when our Buddhist leaders went to the Indian Thirupathy Hindu Kovil to pray to non-existent gods and fixed political events based on astrology. SL, an ex-Anglican would also have been amused at the current Pope’s visit where our Buddhist leaders had gone to the very Vatican that had destroyed Buddhist culture so much so that Buddhism had to be imported later from Siam and Myanmar. SL would have been truly amused at the Catholic areas voting heavily against Mahinda Rajapaksa despite all this. He would have been tickled at Siam Nikaya monks getting up to the Pope at the BMICH meeting.

SL and I, both secular from different religious backgrounds in all probability would not meet again. He walked the lonely road and departed upright and unafraid. I only hope when the time comes, people could say the same of the likes of me. I hope.

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