30 September, 2020

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Ravi Jayewardene, Prince And Pauper

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

An otherwise obvious cliché needs to be reframed to draw out the lessons from the life of Ravi Jayewardene who passed away at the age of eighty whose obsequies will be held on Thursday 6th April.

It is not enough to say that he was the only son of President J.R. Jayewardene. It cries out for far more precise qualification.

He was the humble, fearless, bold and wise son of President J.R. Jayewardene, who did many things right and a few things not quite right. The mortal remains of his only son lies at ‘Wijayanthi’ the stately ancestral home of the Jayewardene family where he was born.

Ravi Jayewardene

The point needs emphasis. Giving to the nation is a dying art in this age when duty free sports utility vehicles are a must for the practice of the sport called politics.

Today it is the Library and Museum of the Jayewrdene center. That it is now in a state of disrepair in the custody of the state is a commentary on our indifference to our recent history as a civic nation and our preoccupation with the mythic history of the Sinhala tribe.

Ravi Jayewardene conceived the idea of creating a special combat force that could be rapidly deployed to execute special tasks at the height of the civil war. The force was organized trained and equipped under his watchful supervision and with his exceptional ability to involve and motivate others whose views and contributions he recognized and respected. He emphasized honour, courage and commitment.

We must celebrate the life of Ravi Jayewardene not so much for his self-effacing nature but for his lifelong contempt for sycophants. If he had any, they would have by now dubbed the Special Task Force with an inane moniker such as Ravi’s Regiment!

His cousin Mrs. Nallinka Jayawickreme daughter of Wilmot Jayawardene, President J R‘s youngest brother recalls how the police raided her home in search of Ravi during the first JVP insurrection. They virtually turned the house upside down despite our protests that he wasn’t there.

The Police later arrested him at the Ratmalana airport where he was getting ready for a routine Air Ceylon flight which he was then serving as a pilot in command. Recalls Nallinka , the police drove him off in police car with his ‘Simca’ driven by a police officer tailing. Ravi aiya told us let the law take its course.

He was a well-known marksman. He practiced shooting. He was the son of the Leader of the Opposition. The police may have been anxious to connect some of those dots with the dots of their dotty minds. Yet it is inconceivable that they acted independent of any political direction. The news of his arrest and detention reached parliament which was in session. This writer was then a Lake House reporter covering parliament.

The father was visibly angry. When he rubs his right index finger on his ample nose it was a signal of immense fury held in control by a steely resolve. Not a word from the Sphynx. Son Ravi remained impervious to the temporary inconvenience. Soon he was released at midnight. He refused to leave and waited till arrangements were made to take him back to his home in Ward Place.

A few years later Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was stripped of her civic rights on grounds of abuse of power. When those events unfolded and many wondered about her alleged offenses and the punishment meted out, this writer recalled a conversation in the parliamentary restaurant which he overheard. Dr. N.M. Perera was telling some around him ‘This is something Dicky will never forgive.”

Ravi J was not J.R’s Achilles heel. Ravi was Perseus to JR’s Zeus. In his own right Ravi has slain many a Medusa.

Ravi Jayewardene was unbelievably humble. Born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth renunciation came to him early. In the many phases of his life he was a mischievous Siddhartha, a probing and curious Siddhartha and a tranquil Sidharatha. That said Renunciation was the overarching spirit that marked his eighty years on earth.

He was truly humble. He lowered himself to serve others with remarkable ease, immense charm and a mesmeric magnanimity.

He was incredibly bold. All most all his life, in the shadow of his giant of a father who made the pursuit of power his vocation, Ravi J was unhesitant to speak truth to power.

He was wise. He acquired an incisive knowledge of whatever that interested him. He was fearless to a fault.

It is said that President J.R. Jayewardane did not groom his son for a political career. Steeped as he was in history and philosophy why should he bother? It is not every father’s good fortune to sire a Siddhartha. Readers please note. The use of the term ‘Sidhdhartha’ is in the context of its use by Herman Hesse. Suffering, Joy, Rejection, Revival, Peace and finally wisdom.

Good by sweet prince, May flights of devas sing thee to thy rest.

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Latest comments

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    Little Arrow: I used the same word “persuaded” used by Mr. Sarah. Pl. read his comment dated April 6 addressed to me once again. The Presidential Commission that I referred was the one held in 1987 that looked into the affairs of Air Lanka. I do not sling mud at anyone; but try to place on record the facts and my opinion on those facts. If you followed my comments, you would clearly see that; but you are free to have your own opinion and I respect it. Thank for giving me the opportunity to clarify on those two matters you raised viz. that word “persuaded” and the relevancy of the “Presidential Commission” of 1987.

  • 1
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    Douglas,

    Thanks for your very dignified response.I only responded on the basis of SdA’s use of “suggested ” in his very last response to you.

    As regards RJ’s alleged role in the Commission of Inquiry of 1987,It may have been caused by Rakkitha Wickremanaye’s penchant for thinking that Air Lanka was his fiefdom.I hazily recall in his getting personally involved in the purchase of some second hand aircraft which caused quite a storm.The upright man he was ,Ravi J would have been horrified by the doings of his erstwhile friend who ,as I see ,had been personally recommended by him to JRJ.So Ravi J did the next best thing In recommending a Commission of Inquiry so that the truth prevails.I faintly recall the all powerful Rakkitha W.making an exit shortly thereafter .

    Thanks once again for setting such a high benchmark for comment on CT.

  • 3
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    As much as I admire Sarath de Alwis’ journalism and have said so “on the record,” I think the piece on Ravi Jayewardene was a little “over the top!”
    A few simple facts appear to require recollecting at this point:

    1. Ravi Jayewardene’s Special Task Force resulted from the tutelage and collaboration of Israel’s Mossad, with regard to which organization I think I hardly make comment. Claire Hoy’s book on Ostrovsky and his own writing will bear out, more fully than I care to, the implications of that fact.

    2. The Special Task Force was Sri Lanka’s equivalent of the “Paras” that the government of colonial Algeria used to put down the freedom fighters of that North African country in a hitherto unprecedentedly brutal manner. That Mossad “orientation” was more than appropriate in the Sri Lankan context hardly needs reiteration, given our history since the 1980s of anti-Tamil pogroms etc. etc.

    3. That this man, Ravi, was one of the honoured guests at the re-launch of that book of 21st century Sri Lanka’s “yodaya,” Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, (“Gota’s War”) also says something about his affiliations and those he respected/admired.

    4. While I can, retrospectively, share JRJ’s extreme annoyance at his son being taken into custody at the time of the 1971 JVP uprising, there were some of us who lived in police jurisdictions run by SLFP stooges – in our case my sworn enemy, the late Tamara Kumari Illangaratne (Inspector Seneviratne) – when it was common knowledge that I was, in 1971, one of those targeted as a “JVP sympathiser.” I should add that, on more than one occasion, when my wife asked a bystander what the awful smell was outside what was then the post office in Galagedera, across from the Police Station, she was told it was the bodies of the previous night’s executions being “tyred!” That might sound like a ramble down memory lane but I think some perspective needs to be applied to historical events as they apply to the sons of important people and the plight of “ordinary joes” such as us. Suffice it to say, also that none of these people of public eminence raised a finger to prevent the atrocities of the 1971 “insurrection suppression. The only one I remember was the late Lakdasa De Mel, Bishop-emeritus of Kurunegala. Minor correction: JRJ did raised a finger to rub the wart on his nose when his son was apprehended!

    5. Finally, to use the same language on J. R. Jayewardene’s son that his father used at the final farewell to probably Sri Lanka’s most decent and honourable Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake, is a bit much!!

  • 2
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    As a student of yours at the Flying Training school l can still remember how you took the task of coaching us on correct flying procedures.More than anything your kindness and ” Nihathamaanikama”.May you attain the Bliss of Nirvana, Capt. Ravi.

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