28 October, 2020

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Lakshman Kadirgamar – The Father I Remember

By Ajita Kadirgamar

Ajita Kadirgamar

Typically on a parent’s birth or death anniversary family members make a trip to the graveyard, place flowers, say a silent prayer or shed a tear. April 12, 2013 marks the 81st birth anniversary of my father Lakshman Kadirgamar, and for the first time since his assassination eight years ago I am here for his birth anniversary, on Sri Lankan soil where the dastardly deed took place.

However I have nowhere to go to remember him, pay respects or even reminisce. My father’s parents, four brothers and sister, all long departed, never received the remains of their beloved youngest son and sibling into the family grave. My father has no symbolic earth-bound resting place, no urn containing ashes, no headstone, nowhere to lay flowers.  Upon his death eight years ago, his ashes were unceremoniously stolen from us, his children and rightful family, despite pleas for at least a fair share. Knowing my father as we his family did,  he would have wanted at least some part of his remains to be returned to their rightful place within the family plot, for he was fiercely proud of his ancestry and of the family name.

For me the past ten years living in the US, during which time he was assassinated, meant there were no daily reminders of my father’s greatness or his standing in Sri Lankan society. But now that I am back in the motherland there is no escape. His name comes up in every socio-political conversation whether public or private, his statue stands tall in the heart of the city, total strangers from all walks of life, upon learning of my connection to him, praise his life and mourn his premature loss. His memory will live on no doubt as a great son of Sri Lanka, forever etched in history.

Kadirgamar with Ajita

What do I remember of my father? I called him dada and he called me ‘sweetheart’ or Ajj all his life.  Growing up, on the very, very rare instances he admonished me, he would call me by my full name. And then I knew it was serious business.

He traveled extensively his whole life. When I was a young girl he would bring me Barbie dolls, lacy stockings and socks, baked beans, chocolate, pencils, erasers and other luxuries that were not available in Sri Lanka in the austere 60’s and 70’s of my youth. I was the envy of all my classmates when I brought my stationery treasures to school or wore my stockings and socks to birthday parties.

I do remember when I was very young, sometimes on a Sunday morning as he lazed in bed with the newspapers, I would breeze in, jump on the bed and coerce him to lie flat on his stomach so that I could  walk up and down on his spine like a tightrope walker or pretend I was a cowgirl riding a horse. Ever patient, he would humour me.

My father was of course the consummate lawyer, always holed up in his chambers located at the front of the house, or appearing in various courts around the country, or travelling around the world. So we did not see much of him. But I would frequently skip in and out of his chambers, past the clerk, other lawyers and clients. He would always acknowledge my presence even if he was in the midst of something important. I was a familiar sight to all of the client and lawyer colleague ‘uncles’ too, usually riding my bike up and down the driveway or the lane, sitting in a tree or on a wall or engaged in some other tomboyish activity.

For the first decade of my life, he had to be summoned, even coerced from his law chambers to pose with my brother and I for annual birthday photos during our parties. This was something he hated apparently, since he can be seen frowning in most photos, his mind no doubt on the case he was analysing or the notes he was taking at the time.  When he was not dictating letters, he always wrote his copious notes by hand. In fact I don’t recall him ever using a typewriter and certainly not a computer. I doubt that even in the last years of his life he ever transitioned to computer and cell phone technology. Yes, he was old school in many ways.

He is of course best remembered for his fine speeches, some prepared, some off the cuff, for he was a master of the English language. When I was in my teens and in the throes of writing essays and sitting exams, he presented me with his Oxford English Dictionary which he had used at Law College and at Balliol College. Dedicating it to me he wrote, “When in doubt, look it up”. I too inherited his love, respect and awe of the written word and even though I am more likely to look up a dictionary or Thesaurus online these days, his dictionary will be passed on to my son who also demonstrates remarkable writing skills.

Kadirgamar with grandson Keira

Growing up in Ceylon, I was always aware of how sociable and well loved my father was. He had a grand assortment of very close and dear friends. They were Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Burgher – such an eclectic mix, such wonderful personalities with names like Ananda, Sandy, Vichu, Fritz, Gordon, Ralph, Singha, Terry, Malli, Douglas. He loved their company, and craved stimulating conversation. He relished spending one-on-one time with them on the verandah or in the garden at Anderson Road and later at Thunmulla Junction, talking about the law, politics, world affairs, and the good old days, all the time sipping their drinks and smoking their cigarettes. During the many years he spent in Switzerland at the UN, I think he felt socially isolated and he missed the camaraderie and old boy’s network that makes Sri Lanka so special. On his trips to Colombo therefore, he would meet up with as many friends and colleagues as possible, getting his full dose of social life  and intellectual revitalisation before returning to the routine and mundane lifestyle of the western world.

He did love the water. Childhood family holidays in Trinco, Passekudah, Kalkudah and Bentota would find him leisurely swimming laps in the hotel swimming pool or bobbing around carefree in the ocean even after the sun had set. How ruthless that he was killed as he stepped out of his own private swimming pool, after doing what he loved, the only activity that allowed him a modicum of freedom and relaxation.

As a lifelong sports enthusiast and prize winning Trinity College and Colombo University athlete (cricket, rugby, athletics) I know it pained him not to be able to go and watch the various matches and tournaments like a common citizen. He sacrificed every personal and social activity that we all take for granted to live as a virtual prisoner, whisked in and out of cars and buildings, surrounded by security at all times. In the early days of his political career and when the security risks were at their height, he apologised for not being able to go shopping personally to buy birthday or Christmas gifts for me or my son. I still have a hand written note he wrote with an apology and a cash check attached instead.

When packing to return to Sri Lanka at the beginning of this year I was faced with the mammoth task of sorting through all my belongings which have traveled around the world with me over the past 40 years. There were birthday cards, letters, telegrams and postcards he sent me during his travels in the 60’s and 70’s to England, Vietnam, India, Switzerland, France and other places. I could not bring myself to burn or shred them like I did a lot of other less sentimental material. And so these yellowing, fading mementos, in the absence of any of his other personal possessions which should rightfully have come to us his children, have once again traveled across the ocean and lie packed in a box, to be stored away for posterity.

My memories of him during our years in Oxford in the early 70’s seem to revolve around him smoking his pipe or cigar, both of which I hated for their pungent odor. I would scold him and tell him to stop the ‘disgusting habit’, which was for him a well deserved respite from the stresses of his life, and he would just keep puffing away, much to my annoyance. I will always remember him in his study – every house we ever lived in had to have a study – hundreds of law volumes stacked ceiling high, wearing his brown corduroy jacket, seated behind his desk with a cigar or pipe in hand, the desk lamp casting a halo of smoky light around him. This was the man in his element, the brilliant mind at work.

I used to love his white barrister’s wig and black robe which he had to wear when appearing at the Bar in London.  Once,  for a school play at Wychwood School in Oxford, I acted the part of a lawyer and he allowed me to borrow the wig and robe as my costume. I looked very dignified and authentic in my role and the other English girls were quite in awe of me.

Dada enjoyed gardening for a brief time while living in rural France. He planted some trees in the large, rather bare garden and enjoyed pruning and caring for the roses in summer. He also loved wine and he and my mother would go on wine buying excursions around France. How he would have loved one day to own a house with a proper wine cellar where he could store his treasures.

During my teenage years in Switzerland, one of the things we often did together was drive into Geneva  from the suburbs where we lived to buy the Sunday English newspapers for him and my favourite chocolate for me. Sometimes I hitched a one way ride with him to meet up with friends in the city. When we lived in a small village in France he and my mother would take turns to drive to the Swiss/French border to pick me up around midnight when I took the last bus home from the city on weekend nights. Once I turned eighteen and got my driver’s license he was very generous about lending me his old beat up car in the evenings and on weekends, for we lived out of the city and my social life was restricted by the train schedule.

In 1982 with just one suitcase in hand I came to Colombo on summer vacation from Switzerland where I was studying languages at the University of Geneva. That summer vacation turned into a 20 year stay due to a timely meeting my father arranged for me with the then Chairman of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, M.J. Perera. SLRC had just launched and was looking for people with any kind of background in TV. I had coincidentally just completed a brief apprenticeship at TV Suisse Romande and when M. J. Perera heard this he readily offered me a job. We all agreed that the newly created Western Music section would be the best fit for me. So even a little experience was better than none at all and I became one of the pioneer producer/directors at the station. I soon got my first break as an interviewer, transferred to the Newsroom, and went on to enjoy a career that spanned 20 years in the public eye.

Thus my father was instrumental in the launch of my TV career. Once I had become a familiar face and name, whenever my father came to Colombo on UN business, the immigration and customs officers at the airport would ask if he was related to me, the Kadirgamar on TV. I think he got quite a kick out saying I was his daughter and of course he was proud of my achievements. The tables turned naturally once he entered politics and then everyone would ask me if I was related to him! I would say yes, that’s my father, and jokingly add “but I was famous long before he was!”

Much has been written about Lakshman Kadirgamar the lawyer, the intellectual, the statesman and the orator and though his whole life may have been a rehearsal for the leading role he was to play on the Sri Lankan political stage, I believe he remained a simple man at heart, with few needs but many dreams and plans for this island of ours.

Sadly, he never got to totally fulfill his role as a grandfather to my son, a role I believe he would have excelled at. His parting gift to his only grandchild, during a rare high-security orchestrated visit just before we left Sri Lanka for the US was a tie pin, something the child, now turned adult, cherishes.

We were never to see him alive again. The final time my brother, son and I saw him he was lying in a coffin, wearing his Trinity tie and tie pin, two items I suspect he may have wanted his son or grandson to have.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    6

    Are you all talking of the Kathikamar who said something to the effect ‘Let the UN confine itself to eradicating mosquitoes’ when thousands of Thamil people were displaced and suffering?

  • 0
    0

    Dear Ajitha,
    Thanks for sharing your memories of your beloved father, a great sri lankan. When I was a teen i used to watch sri lankan rupavihini news, thats how i came familiar with the name “Kadirgamar”, but when yor dad enter politics I thaught he is another corrupt political joker, but later I realise I was wrong. He is one of finest politicians in sri lanaka during my time when I was in sri lanka. everybody respect him even the opposition of sri lanka (except those murderers LTTE idiots). we lost a a great son of sri lanka due to that facist coward act of ruthless LTTE murderers. I wish he should born again in sri lanka and serve our country and nation.
    Jayalath.

    • 2
      0

      Jayalath,

      So you too believe that LTTE was responsible for LK’s demise.
      The fact is that there is no record yet of any verdict by the courts to this effect.
      Granted that LTTE and even many moderate Tamils hated LK for his betrayal of his community. Still there is suspicion of some others who could have been the culprits, as you can infer from some comments hereabove.

      The reason for Chandika to recruit LK in her Cabinet, is because of his talents, and she used him to face the international community
      since she was not very smart enough (one case is her reluctance to face
      “Hard Talk” program on the BBC).
      Another reason for her to pick LK and promote him to be PM was to sideline MR who was next in line for the premiership, whom she did’nt like.

      Further LK, if he was so liked by the majority communty, he shoud have
      faced an election, which he did not do.

      LK was liked by the Sinhalese mainly because he demonised the LTTE, and taking advantage of the post 911 situation got LTTE listed as an international terrorist organisation, despite the fact their activities were confined to only SL.

      MR was the benficiary of LK’s demise, yet he has not given any praise of LK’s past services in public, even after his death.
      MR as President kept silent, and did not even intervene when Bogolagana was blocking the erection of LK’s statue at his foundation Institue.

    • 1
      1

      Then why the hell they murdered him and blamed it on you know who

  • 2
    0

    Everyways he was a High Quality Human–great gentleman.
    Proud to SriLanka

    May be attain Nirvana.

  • 0
    2

    It was a personal tragedy for the immediate family. May be a national tragedy for Sinhala Lanka because he worked round the clock to represent the Governments view and justify its actions.
    But for Tamils it was a Tragedy that he was born a Tamil but never identitified himself with the Tamil cause or their suffering but sought to undermine the interest of the Tamils all around the World.
    We can only grieve ( if that is the right word) his death death as a fellow human being but not as a Statesman who did anything for the Tamil cause and he is not greatly missed by the Tamils.

    • 2
      0

      kali

      “he was born a Tamil but never identitified himself with the Tamil cause”

      What is the Tamil cause?

      “Statesman who did anything for the Tamil cause”

      What did you expect him to contribute to your Tamil cause?

      • 0
        1

        You are too ignorant to understand. But for you help is on hand from your elders. You dont Google you dont surf the net so why dont you ask the wise Counsel.
        It might sound harsh and for me every human life is precious but LK paid a heavy price with his life because of his actions and words ( because he worked for the Sinhalese establishment) and he made a foolish statement during the long march and if you care to ask your elders they might be able to throw some light.
        It is no point explaining to you about the Tamil Cause beacause by your own admission it doesnt exist and it is precisely because of people like you we are where we are today and I dont hold much hope for the future.

      • 1
        0

        @Native Veddah [Edited out]

        [Edited out] You are using different names – CT

        • 1
          0

          Native Vedda

          Oh Oh………..We saw your little SURUTTU
          through your Kos Kola Amude

          na-na, na-na, boo-boo,
          stick your head in doo-doo.

          • 0
            0

            Rambler

            Is this a poetry by a HoBo?

        • 0
          0

          Suruttu Siva

          Could you say it in English.

  • 0
    0

    Reading the comments above it is obvious that LK is held in high regard by vast majority of the Sinhalese ( there are fairminded Sinhalese) which is comendable but loathed by his own race for obvious reasons.
    But at least a ray of hope for the future ( but we may have reached a point of no return) if the politicians play their cards right.
    But sadly successsive Governments led by leaders who instead of bringing harmony where there was discord whipped up hatred and screwed up the fabric of the society and the current rulers supported by BBS and the Monks alike are making reconcilation a distant dream

  • 1
    0

    I salute LK for the admirable qualities he possesed and practiced for the greater benefit of his motherland and the Sri lankan citizen and NOT for the Tamil/Sinhalese/Muslim. He was a true Statesman in the modern day caliber of Nelson Mundala. All tamils must be proud that one amiongst them can be so acclaimed.
    I had the great fortune of listening to him at a Seminar in London perhaps couple of years before his brutal murder. The audience was filled with invited guests largely representing the Diplomatic Missions with a lesser representation from Community Organisations in the UK of which I was one.
    Following an introduction given by the Chair, non Sri Lankan accademic defining LK’s alround brilliant career from his Trinity days, he delivered an excellent talk on the threat confronting the Sri Lankan sovereignity and integrity. At the end of his oration which included facts and figures the audience rose up in applause.
    Ajitha, I congratulate you for having had such a great Sri Lankan as your father. May he be reborn a Sri Lankan to complete his committment to the building of the Sri Lankan Nation in which we all can live in peace and harmony.

  • 1
    0

    I admired Lakshman Kadirgamar very much. It was a great pleasure to listen to him talk. I recall reading in Sunday Times in 2009 or so that we will need not one LK but many like him in the times to come. How true it turned out to be. G.L Peris has miserably failed at his job. In fact, I do not know of a single task he succeeded since entering politics. His flimsy conduct is in stark contrast to the solid diplomatic demeanor of LK. LK may be gone but his memory lingers on. May he rest in peace.

    • 0
      0

      Navin

      Its you again.

      Why was he not appointed as the ceremonial first Tamil Prime minister of this island?

  • 1
    1

    Dear Ajita,

    It is obvious you had written the beautiful appreciation of your late father with much love and pain. It is hard for you that you have no place to visit to place some flowers or to say a prayer or to speak to him in the way you want. However, that should not be a cause for sadness, for he is remembered by all of us and the generations to come with much love.

    A friend of your father another eminent legal mind,now in retirement described your father as,”a man who said what he believed and believed what he said.” How many present day politicians stand up to that scrutiny.

    There are you are Ajita, the greatness of your father and of your son’s grandfather. May he rest in peace.

  • 1
    0

    R.A.Wimalasekera

    If he was a great Sri Lankan as you state why was he denied the opportunity be appointed as being the Prime minister of Sri Lankan Nation to which he was committed to and worked hard for many years?

    I have raised this question many times over in the past several years to which I never received a satisfactory answer.

    Was he not good enough for the country or was his race a decisive obstacle in the selection of Prime minister? Many think the latter.

    • 0
      0

      Vedda,

      You hit the nail on the head. He was a bloody bloody, bloody ( three times a lady I love you) Tamil but even marrying a Sinhalese ( nice lady I hope and I dont know if it was love or he had other designs sorry it is my humour ) didnt work the oracle for him.
      May his soul rest in peace

    • 0
      0

      Native,
      How can you expect the racists approve LK as PM?
      I wonder if you are aware when the TULF got the second higest number of votes and Mr. Amirthalingam became the Leader of the Oppositin, this was resented by many in the political circles.

  • 0
    0

    Dear Madam,
    I read your great letter about your great loving father.He is one of the god gifted humans to Sri Lanka, unfortunately we lost him.What a great person I ever see my life.Being Sinhalese we always appreciated what a great encourage he did to eradicate terrorism from our country.We always salute you sir.

    • 0
      0

      [Edited out] You are using different names – CT

    • 0
      0

      Wijesri,

      If you are right it is a pitty he is not around to eliminate State Terrorism that has crippled the Country. But then again he would have been part of that evil act sweeping the Country.

  • 1
    0

    Dear Ajitha, [Edited out]

    [Edited out] You are using different names – CT

  • 0
    0

    Dear Ajita

    I understand your love and pain, I have a dughter too. Once i read some time ago about his ashes were not given to the family I thought how ignorant(the best word i can use for the injustice) some times humans can be. Anyway once I read your article I think your dada has given you the answer to look upon. ““When in doubt, look it up”.
    LK is bigger than life.
    “…the effect of [his] being on those around [him] was incalculably diffusive, for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.”

  • 0
    1

    No doubt, Kadirgamar was a brilliant academic and did his job as a diplomat well. But it does not erase the fact that he died next to a luxury swimming pool, which was his very own. [Edited out]

    • 1
      0

      [Edited out]

      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

    • 1
      0

      Lester

      I am not sure why you are harping in Mr. LK’s pool.

      Did your beloved blood sucking podian VP also have a luxury pool in Vanni? Why are you worrying about Mr. LK’s poor that was funded from his own funds unlke the blood sucker VP who collected those blood money at gun point.

      At last your beloved terra leader podian Preaba had to have a dip in the mud bath at Nandikaadal logoon for the final journey. How good was it?

      • 0
        2

        @ Manesh,

        How does a Sri Lankan civil servant afford a luxury swimming pool? Was Kadirgamar a politician or a cricketer?

  • 0
    1

    He should have stuck to rugby perhaps he would have been a another murali justifying the tamil quota in rugby now like the tamil quota for the army with forced and raped tamil girls.

    • 1
      0

      Punchi

      Have you persioanlly checked those girls for been raped? Or are you going with the flow?

      At least those poor girls have an income now to support thier families than prostitution. That is what people like in Die-Ass-Poo-ra want to happen. Peelm on somebodyelse blood. Heh. How nice?

    • 0
      0

      Gynocologist Punchi Banda

      Tell me what you have done to SL other than funding the 30 odd year calamity which took valuable lives of both poor tamils and sinhaleses.

      • 0
        0

        Manesh Rajakaruna

        “which took valuable lives of both poor tamils and sinhaleses”

        With of course support of Premadasa & Mahinda.

  • 0
    0

    Dear Sir,
    The honorable sir Mr.LK is one of the best foreign ministers we ever had.During his period he sacrifice his valuable time to let the whole wold LTTE is a terrorist group. Yes Si you are totally correct.I presumably he would have become our county president.He got a massive knowledge about foreign policies as well as great human.I never ever forget what a valuable and great job you did to your motherland as a pure Sri Lankan Sir.Once again We sri lankans salute you Sir.We wish you reborn in our mother country and become head of our beautiful island.

  • 0
    0

    Since leaving Trinity College Kandy,I next met LK in London wayback in 1968 Having being admitted to the Bar in UK, and with the idea of returning home,I thought I should get some professional advice from LK,and whether I could serve my apprentice period in his Law Chambers.
    During the course of conversation I suggested that he should think of entering politics.His reply was that it was the last thing he had in mind. I think it was Oscar Wilde who wrote”It is strange though but it is a fact that we do not seem to know what fate has in store for us”
    Mahinda

  • 0
    2

    why did this traitor’s [Edited out]

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy
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  • 0
    0

    Mr Kadirgamar was my best favorite politician whom i admire in my life time. I saw lot of maturity and honesty with him in a very miserable environment. At that time i do not think any one else would have handle such an important roll. My opinion is, we all missed him a lot at the UNHR Sessions. Ajita, please accept my personal prayers to him.

  • 0
    0

    Christy Marcelline

    Why was he denied even the ceremonial post of Premiership?

    Wasn’t qualified?

    Didn’t he have the right looks?

    Was he not a able administrator?

    Was his race prevented him being promoted to the ceremonial post?

  • 1
    0

    A great son of the motherland, who took “Vesak Day” (Gauthama Buddha’s Birth-Enlightenment-Death) to declared as the International Day of vesak to the UN. We wanted him to be the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, but certain parties barred it.

    • 1
      0

      Leel Pathirana

      “We wanted him to be the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, but certain parties barred it.”

      Racism lives on, so much for one nation.

  • 1
    0

    A beautiful recollection of your father, who I adore more than any Sri Lankan lived even though I am born as a Sinhalese. It is unfortunate that Sri Lankans could not make use of his far thinking ability as well as his finest diplomatic leadership. I firmly believe that every Sri Lankan should know about Mr Kadiragama as one of the finest personalities that this country had produced.
    If he had born in another country, many films and much more scholarly discussion would have taken place about him with the view of spreading his finest abilities specially among the young generation like in the case of the Irish journalist who stood boldly against the drug trafficking. It is unfortunate why some Tamils ( Some Sinhalese as well) still cannot understand the violence of any sort should never be commended. Our silent approval to any form of violence has brought us immense trouble.
    Finally I am very sorry to hear that your father’s ashes are not given to the rightful people and wish you would have the inner solace reminding your father lives in many of our hearts now any in the time to come.

  • 1
    0

    Brilliant article. Please remember whenever you wish to pay tribute to your father you may visit Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute at Horton Place where I am completing the work of his statue which will belong to the public of Sri Lanka.

  • 0
    0

    Ajita – what a refreshing and well written article. It’s heartwarming for us expats to read such stuff.
    Thank you again and keep writing.
    HOPE is eternal.

    Aloha nui loa

    Sohan Pieris
    ( jetliners ) living in another paradise called Hawaii….

  • 0
    0

    Hi Ajita,

    Thanks for sharing this with us. I was greatly moved by your article. Keep writing

    God be with you & your son

  • 1
    0

    this is to DONALD – true hero’s like LK though passed way will live for ever. cowards like you though living is good as dead. for all LTTE terrorist supporters LK was bad (obviously) but for all SRILANKANS is he our nelson mandela!!! iam proud to have attended LK school TCK!

  • 0
    0

    Beautifully written in praise of a great man. Politics is dirty.
    What I would say about having a place to see where his ashes buried is that is so sad. However,what is cheering is that he is remembered. One person asked Spike Milligan the comedian how he would like to be remembered. His reply was ” to be remembered”. That certainly your father will be and for all the right reasons.

  • 0
    0

    I read your book on dad.It is nice to know that your dad had an interest in Buddhism.I am 64 years old man, lawyer by profession having a daughter and a son. My wife a lady from a Sinhalese family from deep down south origin. My daughter, graduate in English married to a TAMIL musician from Jaffna, her husband versed in the mystical aspects of Meditation found in Hinduism and by contrast, my brother-in-law a STF police officer, was body guard of your father.He had to leave your since the widow of L.K. ……….if not could he be living, now.
    You book in a mystical way connects me to the soul of your father since I wonder whether Death an illusion.

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