A great patriot of undying memory
Almost 55 years have passed since the death of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike
and between then and now, much water has flowed under the bridge. It
appears that with the passing of time, the new era which he helped dawn
in which the common man was able to get a place as never before, is
underestimated and ‘played down wilfully’ today.
The westernised elite who were in the charmed circle, dominated the
political scene for the most part, and sneered at and taunted those
trying to get a place in the sun.
In Bandaranaike they saw a person who was very keen on thwarting
their outlook and attitudes, and making a determined endeavour to toss
to the common man what he deserved, and yet being deprived of it by
design and manipulation on the part of anti-national elements.
Born to a prestigious family and being the only son of Maha Mudliyar
Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, S.W.R.D. could have led a life of ease
and elegance, away from the hustle and bustle of politics.
His father dined and wined with the highest in the land, especially
with the officials of the British government, outsmarting them in
sartorial elegance and in the western mode of life. He thought that
young Bandaranaike too would imitate him and serve the English rulers
faithfully and devotedly.
This fact was amply shown when the Maha Mudliyar took his son to the
Governor Sir Robert Chalmers, when he (S.W.R.D.) had passed the
Cambridge Senior Examination coming third in the far-flung British
The Governor asked Sir Soloman Dias Bandaranaike whether he wanted
his son also to be a Maha Mudliyar. No sooner was that question asked
than young Bandaranaike had replied ‘No Sir, I don't want any high
office, I want to serve my country'. The Maha Mudliyar would have been
much embarrassed by his son's audacious words.
Even at Oxford University, young Bandaranaike proved his mettle. He
did not take anything lying down and eat the humble pie as many Asian
students did. In his autobiography which he could not complete writing,
he said that he felt he could hold his own against any batch mate there
and write English verses even better than some of his tutors themselves.
It was no empty boast, but an expression out of sincere conviction.
He was a rebel at Oxford just as much as he was in politics. He was
never prepared to take things lying down and hang the gloves. This trait
in his character marked his entire life and a welter of obstacles.
When he was at Oxford, he felt that his English friends were giving
him the cold shoulder and just tolerated and never considered him worthy
of intimate friendship.
Made of sterner stuff as he was, young Bandaranaike, resisted that
attitude of his batch-mates. Not being able to put up with such
‘cold-shouldering’, he sauntered along the streets of Oxford
straightening out his thoughts. Then only did he hit upon the solution
to his nagging worry. ‘I must be their superior to make them treat me as
That was the golden key to the inner portals of Oxford and indeed he
entered the inner circle of Oxford’ and even to be considered a future
prime minister of Ceylon as predicted by Anthony Eden who later became a
Prime Minister of England.
The name of Bandaranaike is synonymous with beautiful English. He was
a master of both the spoken and the written aspects of that language.
Never at a loss for a word, he was able to cast a spell upon the
audience by the sheer elegance and excellence of his English as shown in
his address on the day we won independence from the British, in February
The Duke of Gloucester who represented the British Government, they
say, was greatly impressed by the oratory of Bandaranaike, that he had
made reference to it later. The artistry and majesty of his English
could be attributed to his profound learning of classics at Oxford where
he was able to get an Honours Degree in that discipline.
Back in Sri Lanka he practised as a lawyer for a short spell, but
that profession was not much to his liking and plunged into politics
with the noblest motive of serving the country. He was head and
shoulders above the common herd of mediocre politicians and no wonder
incurred the displeasure and even the wrath of the others in that field.
According to Bradman Weerakoon who was close to Bandaranaike, he was
never a racist. He had a very broad vision and looked at a problem from
every angle, bringing to bear upon this thinking his profound knowledge
and philosophical insight.
His apparent delay in taking a decision was attributable to his
tendency to study and assess a problem in all its complexity.
Bandaranaike ushered in a new era where the common man was given due
recognition, the Sinhala language was given the pride of place, and
subsequently he did recognise the importance of Tamil language and was
keen on giving it due and reasonable place only to find that very
potential elements were out to thwart that attempt of his.
One of his greatest contributions to the welfare of our people was
his alleviating the common man from the colonial mentality and elevating
indigenous culture to heights which it had not reached under colonial
The greatest hour of his life was the manner in which he faced his
death without having any animosity to his assassin. He called upon the
authorities to pay due medical attention to that man dressed in the
yellow robe of a Bhikkhu.
Even on his bed in hospital, struggling to stave off the severe pain
of the shooting he was subjected to, he cracked jokes and kept his
While being in the thick of politics he yearned for the peace and
harmony of a poet and toyed with the idea as he often said to be close
to nature and assimilate her beauty and be away from the madding
political field. This yearning in him was expressed at the funeral of
W.A. de Silva the renowned Sinhala novelist.
Bandaranaike was indeed one of the most eminent sons of Sri Lanka in
modern times. His greatness cannot be denied and still less obscured,
and it is our paramount duty to remember him throughout, with affection
and undying gratitude.
The writer is on the advisory staff of the Ministry of Youth Affairs
and Skills Development.