By Inka K –
Dr Gamani Corea “A gentleman par excellence”, as mentioned in the funeral oration by Dr Tissa Vitarana, and a son of the soil who rose to one of the highest international positions ever held by any Lankan is now ashes and dust. A trickle of people gathered for the last service for him, on strangely his Birthday. I am sure those of us who gathered there annually for a Birthday service and refreshments to share his gentle smile and few comments, felt a tug at the heart strings. The brilliant brain had gone into hibernation leaving only the amiability and that lovely full smile in the past few years. Malini Kotelalwala the ever constant supervisor of Horton Lodge (lately with largely clipped wings owing to circumstances rather than her health and defiant spirit) summoned us all every 4th of November be it rain or shine….
Horton Lodge was an open house for people from all walks of life. There was always food and drink and rest and conversation there. Two prime ministers of this country John Kotelawala who grew up there and Dudley Senanayake (who visited Gamani’s mother every day if he was in Colombo) were frequently seen there. You could say the house and its women (Alice K / Freda C) hosted the country’s unofficial planning and policy making always with the best interest of the country and people. Hot arguments between dissenting cousins like RG Senanayake the ever rebellious son of FR would have also helped streamline and shape the process. I for one consider myself privileged that young and raw as I was that a place would be cleared for me at the dining table always when I happened to be present. I benefitted much from the food and the lunchtime conversation.
You could say that Dr Gamani Corea the wizard of Economics and statesman to his fingertips died a biological death and was cremated that day but he was dead or buried years ago. Being Buddhist we could heap it all on karma and be very complacent as we are quite guilty of being up until now. However, I need at least to say my piece before I too ‘go under’ one of these days.
My argument is; there are ways that people live and the way people lived in those days was how Horton Lodge was run till Gamani had his stroke a few years ago. People always dropped in unannounced, the house looked the same and they were greeted and feted. The original domestic aids were long dead and gone while their descendants stayed on and obviously multiplied. They went to school and work from there and attended to the needs of the household in their spare time evolving into a minute community (a kind of back up) somewhat out of synch with the environs of the Colombo 7 dwellers of the neighbor hood. With cousin Lailth and Ceylinco forces taking over an attempt was made to change all that and make it more ‘up to date’ but I think they only succeeded partially. It definitely caused dissent and the gates were closed for any of us for awhile and one would not really know the basis of qualification to enter the now quite rickety gates! Rest is history and is available in full account on the internet and legal sources for all interested parties. With the Ceylinco saga and the jail sentence of Lalith K the gates opened fully and those barred hitherto and even those deemed undesirable could enter at will. Strangely Ceylinco services continued to run the place. …… I never inquired as to how or why not considering it my business.
Afterword the times I met the then ‘afflicted’ Gamani C he was always very clear in recounting the past and retaining his long term memory. He was nostalgic for the friends and his life in Geneva, Switzerland where he spent most of his working life. He remembered the extremely colorful relatives from his childhood. He was still diplomatic! Once when I inquired from him in the midst of a conversation if he really knew who I was he pondered the question. He never affirmed the negative as it would be rude to do so but put the ball back into my court very efficiently. He asked me “do you know who I really am?” I thought that was clever and shut up from that line of questioning for good. We must not forget the hard work of the legally appointed guardian for giving her time and commitment & for looking after Gamani till his end. Congratulations and thank you Chandani G (Channa). Sure it would have been a very tough job given the space and circumstances.
The few who gathered for the last rites at Kanatta cemetery heard the President’s message read out by Vijaya Corea his step brother. His Excellency had done the needful by sending a well worded tribute. Yet, seeing him opening the ‘ White House’ styled – pink glowing new House of Fashion with beaming smiles a few yards away with much pomp a few hours later on TV was ironic. Could it be part of the city’s accelerated Beautification Program which seems to be the priority of the government that with less pomp helped disappear the very moving artists’ monument to the Disappeared near the Parliament turn off in Battaramulla – erasing any trace of that history which should be a lesson learnt never to revive. So beautification over history in both instances it seems….
The final curtain on the story of Dr Gamani Corea a truly genuine and lovable human being not knowing the meaning of the word arrogance although holding much high office and hobnobbing in the highest echelons; was drawn soon after the funeral. The doors to the always-open house in the midst of the city were sealed tightly. I know not the reason and am beyond believing words and explanations either in time like ours. The KALIYUGAYA has set in so it is not surprising?
We await the next chapter hoping that reason and sanity will prevail with breath held and in limbo. Farewell sweet prince. It was a privilege to meet you in sansara and rest in peace.