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‘I come from the land of the Buddha’

This country has had many a gifted speaker, but not so skilfully thrustful, to be extraordinary eloquent orators, as the world’s reputed, SWRD Bandaranaike and GG Panambalam. Both established a common bond through the topics they often discussed where emerged a fine friendship.

Ponnambalam had this to say of his friend SWRD, that he was a cavalier among Parliamentarians, while the rest of us were round heads.


G.G. Ponnambalam

He wielded the rapier, while a lot of us have been wielding and some of us continue to wield with gusto, the bludgeon a master of the spoken word. The intention here however, is to draw a narrative of the speech made by the suave, debonair GG Ponnambalam, when leading the Ceylonese delegation, addressed the UN many years ago.

Ponna, as he was affectionately spoken of, had his early education at St. Patrick’s and St Jospeh’s. He won the Ceylon Government scholarship for science. Science and literary pursuits are not hand maids. But almost simultaneously as he gained the science scholarship, Ponna was elected secretary of the university literary union.

The many faceted genius, earned himself a degree in industrial chemistry among other academic accolades and returned as a barrister at law of Lincolns Inn.

According to Reggie Michael, a former leading journalist, covering the UN sessions said that he was annoyed with a Canadian politician who kept on referring to Ceylon as an under developed nation.

The descriptive Reggie says at this point Ponna, dark, nattily dressed in grey suit, silk shirt and maroon tie walked briskly to the podium and addressed the UN – he commenced his speech by the dramatic announcement “I come from the land of the Buddha”.

That captured immediate audience attention, from then on Ponna held his audience captive by flawless fluency, impeccable enunciation and such nuances of voices as bespeak the elegance of polished eloquence.

The Canadian politician stood up as Reggie did, grasped his hand warmly and said “If that is the stuff of the underdeveloped countries, I wish to god I came from one”. As the Ceylon delegation watched and heard the cascade of his effortless eloquence, even the polished fluency of the previous speaker Lord caradon leader of the UK delegation paled some what.

Reggie continues to exult by saying for good measure the staid and starched ex. US Ambassador in Ceylon the pencil slim, Francis Willis, tossed aside protocol and hugged Ponna in salute, as he breezed down from the dais to his seat, “you have done your country proud she commended”.

Sir Senerath Gunewardene, the affable Knight whose ringside knowledge of UN is encyclopedic recalled the surge of national pride that swept through him after Ponna’s decisive debut.

Ponna really put Ceylon on the map said Sir Senarath. An American Pressman exulted at this Asian leaders flawless fluency “man drawled a Negro journalist “If I heard him without seeing him, I sure would have thought it was a westerner speaking”.

It was acclaimed as a masterpiece a brilliant address by GG Ponnambalam.

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