|Tuesday, 8 January 2002|
The pensive Premier: 103rd birth anniversary of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
by Rajah Wijetunge
Doves held captive leapt soaring to the open sky. In the firmament they figured the years spent on earth of their redeemer, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was celebrating his sixtieth birthday. It was to be his last.
Today, we miss not only an astute politician and a skilful strategist, a brilliant orator and a versatile scholar, but before all, a human being with a warm heart and wide understanding. His manner of address was endearing and a perennial smile greeted all whom he met. These with his graceful bow and the convivial greeting, "Hello, my dear fellow' will remain indelible in the memory of those who were close to him.
Even our earliest memories of Bandaranaike remind us of a person all too human. Of a memorable dinner in the early forties, we as children, were permitted a quick survey through a hatchdoor. A stately figure clad in immaculate national dress sat on the right of the host. Tones solemn and orotund accompanied us down the corridor on our hasty retreat.
A favourite Junior Minister of Bandaranaike was once rather disgruntled. The Prime Minister lost no time in inviting him for afternoon tea and asked him gently. "A Prime Minister and a Parliamentary Secretary could afford to have mutual differences. But do you think that S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and yourself could afford to have differences with each other?". The Junior Minister was overwhelmed and there remained no trace of differences to be smoothed out.
Bandaranaike's tactfulness was a part of his humility "I face victory in a spirit of humility" were his memorable words when he was returned to power in the landslide victory of 1956. Addressing a section of public servants two years later, he said. "After all, we are all servants of the people. I, the last Prime Minister, Ministers, Members of Parliament, all owe our positions to the people of this country who in the exercise of their free votes have placed us in power. You, too, are paid by funds contributed by the people of this country. Therefore your duty as well as mine is to the people of our country". Lack of humility betrayed a certain inferiority, thought Bandaranaike. "I am sufficiently superior to recognize my own shortcomings" he said. "It is only an inferior being who thinks he is altogether infallible".
Montaigne believed that the best minds were those that were "most various and most supple". To drive the point home, he quoted Livy's comments on the versatile genius of the elder Cato. A more recent example of such varied genius is Goethe in whom his country found a worthy statesman and a capable administrator, and the world one of its greatest poets. In our own times we have witnessed in Paderewski the rare combination of a renowned pianist and Prime Minister Andre Maltraux was a Minister in De Gaulle's cabinet and his ministerial, colleague Soustelle was a famous social anthropologist. Jomo Kenyatta was a pupil of Malinowski, and Leopold Senghor is said to be one of the finest living poets writing in French.
Although Bandaranaike did not aspire to such heights of eminence, he too was gifted with a rare versatility. Besides his remarkable oratory, political strategy and scholarship, he had the ability to diagnose the ills that beset the nation. With the insight of a Frantz Fanon, he declared as far back as in 1932 "The life of the nation is shot through with a certain falseness and hypocrisy, which are all the more tragic because they are so often subconscious rather than deliberate ... The soul of the people is putrescent, and until that becomes regenerate and clean, no good work can be done."
Continuing this analysis, he stated. "We have hitherto not taken the trouble properly to prepare the soil. When the hearts and minds of men are purified and strengthened and won over from the wrong path by the inculcation of the lessons of simplicity and truth, public and social movements will have the success which they now lack."
A few years before his death it was reported that Bandaranaike was working on a novel on the lines of War and Peace. This individual in the crowd is portrayed in Bandaranaike's somewhat autobiographical story entitled "The Mystery of the Missing Candidate. It lays bare a Jekyll and Hyde conflict in the prominent and successful politician Sunil Rajapakse, "a scholarly and sensitive type". The narrator says "It was quite possible that under that stress and strain of electioneering the mind of a man like Rajapakse might suddenly be overcome by a craving even temporarily, for peace and rest."
Finally it was the bookcase that proved instructive. There was Homer, Berriedale Keith, Agatha Christie, Bertrand Russell, Radhakrishnan, Tolstoy, Emil Ludwig, W. A. Silva, Piyadasa Sirisena and Ven. S. Mahinda, all nested snugly together. The first important clue is obtained from The Poems of Alexander Pope in which the following passage had been heavily underlined -
Thus let me live, unknown unseen
Thus, unlamented, let me die
Pass from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
Yearning even temporarily, through the fretful activity, of a busy politician for anonymity peace and rest was Bandaranaike, the isolated individual who had not lost himself in the crowd. Even dark thoughts congealed in treason could not mar the smile that spread on his face. Nor could they muffle the effusions of his forgiving heart. On that fateful day, in acute forbearance a heart remained whole and noble way of life was bequeathed to posterity.
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