The new caretaker, Ranasinghe, appointed to the Sri Lanka High Commission in London was closely associated with the late President R. Premadasa, being a staunch member of the UNP. He was extremely dedicated, hardworking and a true patriot of Sri Lanka, with a mixture of good and bad activities and deeds during his term as an employee of the High Commission. In fact, Ranasinghe Premadasa personally selected him to the London position.
Upon his arrival in London, and assuming duties at the High Commission, he managed to persuade the late President R. Premadasa to convert a huge basement area, which was not being utilised for donkeys’years. The late President took swift action to convert the whole of the basement area into several staff quarters for diplomatic officers, where at the time, Sri Lanka government was losing a quite a sum of foreign exchange as rent paid to private landlords in London. This was the first time that Sri Lankan workers were ‘imported’all the way from home, as a Presidential command, for building works in a foreign mission, thus saving a colossal amount of foreign exchange drain to British landlords in finding accommodation for diplomats, who assumed duties in London.
When the late General Sepala Attygalle relinquished his duties as the High Commissioner in London, a new replacement as his successor was put on hold for some years due to a specific misapprehension between the British Foreign Office and the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry based on an allegation that a number of Sri Lankan foreign office officials, who had been sent to the London High Commission in the UK, had remained in the UK without returning back home after their tour of duty, which included from top brass to the most junior staff at the High Commission over a period of time.
This resulted in an embargo by the British Foreign Office to appoint any new officials from Colombo to London, until such time the High Commission cooperated with the British Foreign Office – to either furnish information about the missing ex-diplomats and other home based staff and their whereabouts of all those who had absconded and become technically ‘illegal immigrants’ in the UK.
Diplomatic officials normally are not subjected to any visa restrictions on entry to the UK, and their passports are not ‘rubber stamped’with restrictive conditions with regard to their resident visa, as opposed to any ordinary visitor or a student’s passport clearly carries a condition, which states: “The condition attached to admission to the United Kingdom is hereby varied so as to require the holder not to remain in the United Kingdom later than (given a specific time frame) and the holder does not engage himself/herself in any employment or any business for reward or charity”.
As opposed to such constraints on the normal traveller to Britain, passports of diplomatic and home-based staff carried a simple date stamp with the word ‘embarked,’which gave them an open ‘invitation’ to stay in the UK (although it was an unwritten law which the British Government expected to execute it by relevant High Commissions or Embassies). This facility or the loophole managed many Sri Lankans who came out of the Foreign Ministry in Colombo to remain in the UK, even after the termination of their contracts as long as they did not step out of the country. However, after five years of continued stay in a disguised manner it became a different kettle of fish as some managed to seek refugee status and achieved the freedom to travel in and out of the UK.
The Foreign Office impediment made the deputy, who was acting as the High Commissioner, to continue in London for a record number of years. It was during this period that Ranasinghe’s term of employment too came to an end in London.
Caretaker, Ranasinghe, was a family man with one of his sons needed psychiatric medical treatment for a nervous malady, which was ‘supposed to have brought upon himself’– may be due to an environmental change! Yet, it was indeed a stroke of fortune that Caretaker Ranasinghe was able to come to London to work at the Sri Lanka High Commission where medical help was available at hand at St. Mary’s Teaching Hospital in Paddington, which was only a stone’s throw away from the High Commission building.
St Mary’s is a general important hospital that diagnoses and treats a range of adult and paediatric conditions. ‘The Jefferies Wing, which is a sexual health clinic is an internationally renowned centre of excellence for the diagnosis, treatment and care of people with sexual health problems, including sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and AIDS. The paediatric service includes a dedicated children’s A&E department and Northwest London’s paediatric haematology service. The hospital has pioneered the use of robotic surgery, including the UK’s first da Vincirobot for keyhole surgery. The Hospital is also renowned for medical treatment for the members of the Royal family. Prominent people born at St Mary’s included members of the royal family as follows:
• Alexander Windsor, Earl of Ulster (born in 1974) – son of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
• Lady Davina Lewis (born in 1977) – daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
• Peter Phillips (born in 1977) – son of the Princess Royal.
• Lord Frederick Windsor (born in 1979) – son of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
• Lady Rose Gilman (born in 1980) – daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester
• Zara Phillips (born in 1981) – daughter of the Princess Royal.
• Lady Gabriella Windsor (born in 1981) – daughter of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
• Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (born in 1982) – second in line of succession to the throne.
• Prince Harry (born in 1984) – fourth in line of succession to the throne.
• Prince George of Cambridge (born in 2013) – son of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and third in line of succession to the throne.
In this regard, Caretaker Ranasinghe’s family was extremely fortunate that they had a golden opportunity to seek medical help out of an eminent consultant professor at St. Mary’s Hospital in London.
A bolt from the blue
Ranasinghe’s sick child had been visiting the hospital regularly for a considerable period of time and his prognosis was thought to be extremely optimistic. However, to Ranasinghe’s disappointment and shock he received an official letter from the acting High Commissioner to vacate his post and also the quarters overnight, stating that a replacement had already arrived in the UK and the new caretaker had to be accommodated at the official Caretaker’s flat.
Such news to Ranasinghe appeared as a bolt from the blue as he had well in advance applied for an extension to his contract sighting the illness of his child backed by a report from the Professor at St. Mary’s who treated the boy. Whatever the obscure reasons behind the rejection for his extension in London, Ranasinghe became helpless, apprehensive, tensed and was on the horns of a dilemma.
In his desperation he gritted his teeth and took it personally on the acting High Commissioner and approached the Head of the Mission once again, calmly with the hope of seeking some solace to his predicament.
One could just imagine the desperate nature of a father when he was thrown in to the deep end, with marching orders to vacate his quarters and the job overnight with his family, especially with a mentally sick child as he had no choice except to end up on a London Street shivering in the cold.
Out of sheer despondency he pleaded with the acting High Commissioner over and over again to sympathise with his situation and to show some compassion, but even the head of the mission might have been under specific orders directly from Colombo that he was unable to help Ranasinghe.
Out of misery and dejection Ranasinghe turned a wild man surpassing even than the Kung Bushmen, who were considered as “among the most treacherous creatures on earth”in South-West Africa (now Namibia), and threatened the Deputy High Commissioner with a severe warning in the cream of Sinhala ‘not to step out of an aero plane at the Bandaranaike International airport in Colombo, in the future, if he had any love for his dear life’!
After such fear-provoking threats, he walked out of the High Commission building and went straight up to St Mary’s hospital to pour his heart out to the staff. The hospital staff having listened to the desperate nature of the situation wasted no time in contacting the local social workers immediately.
Silver lining in a dark cloud
An empathic social worker finally accompanied Ranasinghe to the Home Office, Immigration Section in Croydon and explained his plight in detail to an immigration officer, backed by a report from the Professor who treated Ranasinghe’s son. The immigration officer, who was compassionate at the core of his heart, revoked all conditions attached to Ranasinghe’s passport and granted full residential status for the whole family to live in the UK.
The social worker finally arranged accommodation for the Ranasinghe’s family, through Kensington and Chelsea Council, in a spacious house in Queensway, London W2, (posh area) behind the famous and the oldest Departmental store, Whitley’s.
He was later able to find a new job at the London Hilton hotel as a concierge where he earned much more money than his salary, out of voluntary service charges (tips) from the rich customers to the hotel. His sick son too managed to shed his suppressed mentalities, thanks to the efforts on the part of the professor at St. Mary’s hospital.
The writer lost contact with the Caretaker Ranasinghe once he started living at Queensway, but after a few months, a Maroon coloured 190 series Mercedes Benz vehicle went passed the writer in Cricklewood, London NW 2, and stopped a few yards ahead of him.
Unexpectedly Ranasinghe and his son (fully recovered) got out of the car and walked towards the writer with a beaming smile saying ‘Ah Tilak Mahattaya, Kohomada jeevithe? (Hi Tilak sir, how is life)! It was obvious that Ranasinghe was a happy and contended man after going through every rack during his time spent at the last stages attached to the Sri Lanka High Commission in London.
Ranasinghe’s transformation of life in London could be seen as how destiny can shape one’s life through providence – needless to say the existence of divinity above!
Quite recently the writer received the sad news about this great character’s natural demise from this world. May he attain Nibbana.