26th October 1997


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My father Gamini

By Roshan Peiris

Last Friday, October 24, 1997 was the third death anniversary of Gamini Dissanayake, the UNP's candidate for the 1994 Presidential elections.

Mr. DissanayakeGamini Dissanayake had an abundance of charisma and charm.

This writer who knew him well had nick - named him 'baby face' and he was quite delighted about it.

It is not only his immediate family but many who mourned his untimely death, for he had an affection for people in all walks of life and loved them in the mass perhaps after the fashion of a philanthropist. He was known to be sensitive to the needs and problems of those whom he knew.

For Navin Dissanayake, Gamini's eldest son, his father's name evokes poignant memories and intense emotions. In the course of this interview he paused for several minutes to compose himself. To Navin his father was not only an influence but a dynamic and pervasive spirit, a fact that remains fresh three years after his death.

For Navin today, hoping to tread in his father's path in politics, his most cherished memory which he says he will never forget, was his last meeting with him on the fateful day he died. "He was at Nuwara Eliya and I walked into his room to find him casually clad in a sarong and banian, prior to his leaving to address the Dematagoda meeting that evening."

"My memory of his face was that of one who was confident. There were no worries etched there. I asked him how the campaign was going and he said, 'I am a bit behind, but in a week's time I will catch up'.

"These were about his last words to me."

Navin's voice broke as he said, "I am sure he had a kind of premonition of his death. Anyway he chose to ignore the warnings given by letter to him by the NIB and the security service of India. His was a fearlessness bordering on negligence. It was, I now come to think of it, a detachment going beyond political realities."

"He did another peculiar thing that day, he went into the shrine room and removed all the soorayas, about fifty of them, and left behind the lingam that Sri Sathya Sai Baba gave him."

"At one o'clock in the morning I heard from a domestic worker when I came home after campaigning that there had been a bomb blast at my father's meeting. Actually he had died at 12.15 a.m. on the 24th. I left for Colombo and when at Maradana I rang my brother and asked him why he was not with Appachi. My brother replied in a tearful voice that he had died."

"I went straight to the mortuary and there was my beloved father lying on a mortuary slab with only a small wound on his chest from which he had died. In death that same serenity that often characterised him was on his face. I gently touched his forehead and found that it was still warm. It is an indelible memory, those moments in the mortuary with him. It will never leave me.

"His fearlessness and his faith that no one would harm him was strong in him. After all people loved him. But I wish he had not neglected the security warnings given and had taken precautions.

"I had to be brave for my mother's sake. She was completely distraught. Their's was a love marriage and a very fruitful union of minds and idealism."

Navin equally cherishes the happy times he had with his father. "He was always there for the three of us, my brother and sister as well. We could discuss anything and everything with him, we never felt inhibited. He talked of our studies and yes I did discuss girl friends with him. In fact, he was trying to make a match for me and only my reluctance held him back. He was our friend and our father.

"We teased him too, when he joined Thondaman and when he paid five rupees to rejoin the UNP after he left the DUNLF.

"He would even play cricket with us showing us the finer points of the game. He also brought cricketers to see us. I still ask the question after three years why my father should have died when he had so much yet to do for the country he so dearly loved.

"He was a decent human being with no complications, he never nursed a grudge. He was always smiling and he never acted a part. I still feel I cannot assimilate the fact of his death." Navin, now 28 still grieves for his father. "I feel I can play a positive role in politics. This is one way I can keep his memory alive."

Gamini's widow Srima is equally determined in this aim to do so through the very many charitable organisations perpetuated to enshrine his memory.

Navin is a soft-spoken young man, almost shy at times, and his future will be one of the most interesting speculations in Sri Lanka's politics. He has the example of a dedicated and charismatic father in whose footsteps he hopes to follow, and an able intelligent mother for guidance.

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