For Bernadine Rosy Senanayake, it was a consolation comforter to wipe dry her tear-dewed petals for failing to come up roses when she blotted her chance of bowling the public over at last week’s general elections. For Kumar Chokshanada Sangakkara it was a popular presidential tribute for hitting the peak of public applause with his [...]


How Rosy, Sanga faced presidential corker


For Bernadine Rosy Senanayake, it was a consolation comforter to wipe dry her tear-dewed petals for failing to come up roses when she blotted her chance of bowling the public over at last week’s general elections. For Kumar Chokshanada Sangakkara it was a popular presidential tribute for hitting the peak of public applause with his winning willow in which the magic never slept.
Both were public figures with an international profile. Both wore crowns; won for their respective roles. The Queen of Married Women had won hers for her beauty and poise: The Prince of Cricket, for his bat and style.

And the glittering prize laid on the oaken table — theirs for the taking — was the Kohinoor diamond in Lanka’s diplomatic tiara: the once in a lifetime heaven sent chance to be Lanka’s woman or man at the Court of St. James, as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

No other possible nominee for this top post had commanded such widespread approval. Both were above board, achievers in their own right. Both spoke the Queen’s English with a fluency that would have reduced an Englishman to shame. Both would have comfortably streamed into the best English drawing rooms with the casual ease of ducks at London’s Hyde Park taking to water.

But surprisingly, both did not fall in a swoon. Both did not make mad haste to uncork the bubbly or lavish cream on the strawberry. The darling buds of May that bloomed in an English summer held them not as captive spirits in an enchanted spell potent enough to make them embrace the offer with a smothering bear hug. The English weather, like politicians’ promised bonanzas, may have seemed as fickle as a woman’s heart

Rosy: Thanks but no thanks

If it was to be the runner-up’s sash that was offered to Rosy to shroud herself in sorrow for not clinching the Colombo contest judges’ popular mandate to wear the parliamentary coronet, then she brusquely tossed it aside and chose instead to lay bare her soul to the nation.

Fighting back the heartbreak of being denied entry to the citadel after her long march to reach the fort where the turrets now flew the elephant standard only to fall at the moat, she stated with all the anguish of a woman spurned: “I am turning down the offer to be the High Commissioner because I am not happy to desert the people who placed their confidence in me. My intention is to enter Parliament and I have asked the Elections Commissioner for a recount. But whatever the result I will continue to serve the people. I will do my best to improve the lot of women and children and concentrate on resolving their concerns and the problems faced by them.”

For Rosy Senanayake, the 58 year old mother of three who had won the Mrs. World crown thirty years ago after losing the Miss World title as Miss Lanka in 1981, the lure of playing hostess at the Lankan High Commission in No 13 Hyde Park Gardens or mixing with the English upper crust and partaking cucumber sandwiches and imbibing Ceylon tea at the Queen’s Annual Garden tea parties did not hold the same appeal as being in Lanka’s parliament and striking a blow for women.

Far better, it has seemed to her, to sit within its constricting walls and scorch and sweat with the likes of UPFA’s national list MP S. B. Dissanayake of ‘strip Chandrika on the streets’ infamy or breathe the same insufferable air with the likes of UPFA’s Kalutara District MP Kumara Welgama who, as the London Guardian reported in an article titled ’10 sexist moments in politics’, stated in Parliament in 2013 when asked a question by her, “I am choked by your beauty, I am happy to answer a question by a beauty queen. You are such a charming woman. I cannot explain my feelings here. But if you meet me outside Parliament, I will describe them. My thoughts are running riot. I don’t want to reveal them to the public.”

She was not amused. Nor impressed. Her curt response was, “As a woman you are not recognised as a person who has done so many portfolios, but always referred to as the beauty you were in your heyday. I consider that as a sexist remark.” And the woman who had once flaunted her beauty to win her crown and glory as Mrs. World, shuddered to think that her chiseled features and rounded figure were to be used as the sole measurement of her whole delightful being and were the stuff of male dreams.

Perhaps that was the starting point of her conversion to the notion that men will be men in a man’s world and sexism based on a pretty face would always be a formidable bar the fairer sex would have to endure and overcome in the quest for emancipation from male bondage. Perhaps it was a turning point that made her life be born again when realisation dawned that the untold blessings of beauty bestowed upon her at birth, which had distinguished her from the rest of her less blessed genteel gender and singularly fashioned her cakewalk to the top, was also the cross she would have to bear as she climbed the Calvary on behalf of all the downtrodden faceless women of Lanka.

Even being offered the job first by a male dominated government may have been driven by a misplaced male chauvinistic chivalry, typical isn’t it, that laid down a patronizing ‘ladies first’ policy. Such condescension would have gone against the very grain of a liberated woman fighting to have women recognized for their own selves and not for fast fading, ever fleeting, ephemeral beauty, as some shallow men thought they beheld and would forever behold.

After all what difference could there possibly be between Rosy and UPFA’s charming but tough looking Moneragala matron Sumedha Jayasinghe who could hold her own fort and ramparts as well against any ex-beauty queen young or old. After all, as the Good Book says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Would she barter her born again convictions, would she sell out the rose revolution for a piece of tinsel in London town? Even a pussycat could look at the Queen of England but who would mind the Cheshire homes for fallen angels back home without Lanka’s Mother Theresa to keep a godly watch?

If there was one possible reason that may have driven her to try her best to re-enter Parliament, it may have been due to the rambling rose from Kaduwela, scarlet red with fire and passion that had climbed through the fence and crept into the greener pasture and usurped her forlorn stalk on the rose bed. When Hirunika, who received 70,584, about 5,000 more, eclipsed Rosy’s light and strayed into the House kicking Rosy out, it would have been only natural for the former Mrs. World to feel a tinge of bitterness at the way her voters had deserted her. Yet she has bounced back with a new mission.

For Rosy Senanayake had followed the instincts of her heart and, by the great sacrifice she has made in giving the thumbs down to the envied topmost diplomatic posting in London in order to serve the women of Lanka by staying put on Lankan soil, has shown to all the supreme glow of inner beauty. Why add another colour to her rainbow or paint her wuthering rose a deeper red when her rosy hue that had settled upon the cribs and crèches of the land sufficed to tend the Les Misérables?

Prince of Cricket twiddles his bat before playing presidential corker
Well, if the first choice as Lanka’s envoy to Britain, Rosy had conveyed her ‘thank you, but no thank you’ message to the government last Saturday, then the decision, smashed with all the spontaneity of a Sanath Jayasuriya ‘pol adi”, to offer it to second choice Sanga, nearly caused the newly retired cricketing hero to go into a tailspin. It was indeed a presidential ‘dhoosra’ in the guise of a full toss that Maithripala Sirisena bowled from the Paget Road end to him which the batting maestro deftly avoided and put on hold to strike another day.

Sanga: Full toss to cricket hero

The president’s casually lobbed offer made to Kumara Sangakkara at the P. Sara Oval grounds on Monday when Sri Lanka Cricket gave him an emotional farewell after he played his last test match, took the cricket legend by surprise. He was flummoxed by Sirisena’s potential sixer, delivered with so perfect a sense of timing that it caught him unawares; something he had never encountered when facing one of Warne’s wily leg cutters or Kumble’s deceiving off spin devilry.

He simply did not know how to brave Sirisena’s disguised delivery. Whether to lob it for a six or or meekly to let it pass? On Friday evening as stumps were drawn for the day he has still not been able to figure out what stroke to offer, what footwork to employ. It had come at a moment when he was savoring his retirement, at a time when his guard was at its lowest.

With all the humbleness he is duly credited with, he told a press conference shortly after that he had not yet decided whether to accept the President’s publicly made offer to be Lanka’s next High Commissioner to Britain. “I do not know whether I have the necessary experience and the qualifications for the job,” he declared with all sincerity and humility and anxiety writ on his brow. Whilst he should have been soaking in champagne fizz, here he was drenched in doubt.

Cricket, the willow and the leather, had been his life. He had no other. He had even sacrificed his law studies to pursue the game. Cricket had been his water, it had been his rice and curry, and it was the very air he breathed. Cricket was his religion; cricket was his way of life. It stroked his day with action and it filled his night with dreams. Now after 134 test matches, he had realised it was time to make the graceful exit and pass the bat onto others. He would want no “Bring back Sanga” cries. The 15-year stint, padding up at test level, was the biblical three score ten of a cricketer’s span of life.

True, in his test career he had scored 12,440 runs and ended with a batting average of 57 plus, the fifth in the list of highest test run scorers. But, he must wonder as he thinks of the president’s offer, do 12,440 runs scored at test matches make him fit to keep the Hyde Park Garden’s wickets at the envoy’s residence in London and bat for Lanka at St. James Court? Though the Government considered his mastery over his white willowed bat as sufficient evidence of his genius to pass the parcel from the High Commissioner’s seat in London around the gathered diplomatic circle even as thousands of his fans so earnestly believed he could, would his track record so excellent in the field of cricket enable him to keep the promise the president and his fans had placed on him?

Could the runmaker be turned rainmaker overnight, could the miracle striker with the bat as his wand be turned the savant of diplomatic scriptures with the scholar’s staff to win the test of diplomatic poker? The tools were different, so was the turf, Sanga will probably muse as he chews upon the gravity of the decision he will soon be summoned to make.

And as he continues his inner debate, he may also broach another facet his decision will entail. For one who had always breathed with gusto the freedom of the open air and lusted the playing fields of sport – would not the High Commissioner’s British seat of office, a throne for many perhaps, be to him but a wheel chair more apt for an invalid? Would the High Commissioner’s formal wear of white tie and tails after six in the evening be but a straitjacket of starched formality that would incarcerate his spirit and stifle his talents and murder his in born genius in the realm of professional sport?

Could he advance his nation’s interest, could he influence her affairs? Even as fellow team mate Muttiah Muralitharan stated on Monday “Kumar Sangakkara was not the most influential, its Arjuna Ranatunga. But Kumar certainly was the most consistent.” Did the honour to represent the nation thus fall on Arjuna whose leadership qualities had won the World Cup for Lanka while he, Kumar, was still at the nets? If Murali was right in his assessment, shouldn’t it be the more mature, more rounded and more experienced Arjuna who should be taking the honours and being called His Excellency, even as he had liked to be addressed in the dressing rooms twenty years ago?

And also there was the matter which must give Sanga sleepless nights? And that was the dilemma he faced. Only last Wednesday, August 19th, he had been appointed by the President as the Brand Ambassador of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board on Wednesday at the President’s Official Residence at Paget Road.

In a gala ceremony nationally televised, the President pointed out that the drug prevention programme should pay special attention on children and should take effective measures to safeguard them from the drug menace. As brand Ambassador, Sanga was tasked with taking this message and spreading awareness through the length and breadth of Lanka
Sanga was undoubtedly the ideal ambassador to take the message home to the people. The youth looked up to him. He was adulated. When he talked they would listen. They would trust him. And what he told them would greatly influence their lives. Even give a great majority of drug addicts the required impulse to kick the deadly habit.

How well Sanga must remember his acceptance speech. How well he must recall how he thanked the President for giving him that honour to play a major role in weaning the youth of Lanka from drugs and affirmed his commitment to “extend his every support to eradicate the drug menace from society which destroys the lives of young people”.

But hardly had the ink on the presidential signature dried on the official credentials, President Sirisena had offered him the top post of High Commissioner to Britain, effectively packing him off to London for the next four years or so to play the role of a diplomat. As the diplomatic saying goes, he would be ‘an honest man sent abroad to lie for country’s benefit’.

The two missions entrusted to him within a span of five days were mutually exclusive. If he went to London, then gone would be his ability to act as brand ambassador of the anti drug campaign and promote the ‘say no to drugs’ message amongst youth. Rosy’s words refusing the post that was offered to her first, ‘I prefer to stay here and improve the lot of women and children’, must echo in Sanga’s mind this Sunday morning as he grapples with his conscience on the best course to follow.

Will it better for him to stay back and uplift the condemned youth who have fallen victim to drugs or will it be far better for him to sojourn in England as Lanka’s High Commissioner and, as one of his prescribed servile task in his sinecure office, lift and carry the Minister’s bags each time he makes a London visit?

Let’s hope his household gods give him guidance to arrive at the best decision, if he has not already done so. But at this hour, whilst he sits in silent prayer awaiting a providential sign from heaven, how he must wish that the Government could find a person more experienced, more qualified and more flexible in the vertebrate column than he is to act as High Commissioner cum glorified porter to any Government minister on a London jaunt? And possessing a greater faith and virtue in the Christian tenet to turn the other cheek even when slapped by some drunken lout parading as a monitoring minister at some fancy society cocktail?


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