Re-visiting PWC

Experience at Kandawala Estate with Sir John Kotelawela.

May 13, 2018

We were adolescents who were in  the eighth form at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa. Three of us, Clinton, Jayasinghe and I decided to make a bicycle trip to Kandawala Estate, which was Sir John Kotelawela’s residence at Ratmalana. It was not an arduous trip by bicycle as Ratmalana was not far out from Moratuwa. Unlike in the present day scenario, there were hardly any cars on the road, which helped  our bicycle tour much relaxed and easier to complete. I particularly enjoyed riding my brand new Raleigh Sports bicycle wherever it took me.

So, one afternoon the three of us paddled all the way to Ratmalana to reach Kandawala Estate. Part of the Sir John’s estate had been donated by him to build the Ratmalana airport. Now, of course, it is used by the Military and established their academy as Sir John donated Kandawela as well to the Army prior to his death.

It happened to be the era when Sir John Kotelawela was the Prime Minister in Ceylon, as it was then called. He owned a white coloured Cadillac motor vehicle. He had just  introduced Srinumber plates on cars and he obtained 1 Sri 1 for himself. It was also a time where Tamil politicians were making a hue and cry politically about the Sinhala issue, and their stance has not changed much even today. It does not matter who is at fault or who is being discriminated, but it is not the intention of this article to analyse such issues.

However, what is needed to explain is that fearless Sir John, despite receiving threats from Tamil politicians and protesters about the introduction of the Srinumber series on cars, commenced  his journey on road to Jaffna in his brand new 1 Sri 1Cadillac motor. Unfortunately, he had to face some protesters somewhere enroute and his immaculate white Cadillac was painted in black with tar by the Tamil protesters.

When we reached Kandawala Estate Sir John was seen dressed in a pair of short trousers and bare bodied, reading the Evening Observer relaxed in a ‘grandfather’ type easy chair.

There was a cabana like a structure in a corner with  a  curved wooden bridge over  a stream of water running separating the cabana and the rest of the land. It was told at the time that all confidential meetings with his cabinet minister were held at this spot.

Clinton who was known to be brave among us went forward, pushing his bicycle, went as close as he could go, to speak to Sir John. Sir John did not pay any attention to him and kept on gazing at the newspaper. Finally, Clinton plucked up courage, while holding the bicycle handle with one hand, and decided to speak to the Prime Minister who was still reading the newspaper.

“Excuse me Sir, may we have your permission to wander around your estate. We are three school boys who are keen to see the Kandawala Estate.”

Sir John without batting an eye lid and still staring at the newspaper roared:

Katha kara piya yako Sinhalen” ( You rascal, speak in Sinhala, will you) ?

Clinton stood there dumb founded while the two of us were biting our nails out of nervousness.

Still looking at the newspaper, Sir John gave us permission to wander around his estate by saying:

“Pala yaw, gihin blapiyaw, mage watta balannta ka gen wath avasara une neha. Palayaw.” Go, and see for your selves.  You don’t need anyone’s permission to  see my estate.

So, we were happily wandering around having parked our bicycles against a fruit tree when Sir John later, in a white long sleeved vest and clad in a sarong, came to the garden and started  feeding his pet animals. It was a like a mini zoo and all the animals surrounded him while he was feeding them. We stood next to him as proud as ever, like three cock birds on a wall, as it was a rare opportunity for three school boys get the chance of standing next to one of the eminent Prime Ministers in the land at the time.

Unfortunately, unlike these days, smart phones or even digital cameras were not even thought of. We regret to- date how valuable it would have been to have taken a photograph with Sir John Kotelawela while he was chatting with us, in Sinhala of course, in a much relaxed mood than he pretended to be at the beginning when Clinton spoke to him in English.

I became a fan of Sir John  ever since and regarded him as one of the honest and forthright politicians Sri Lanka ever produced, despite many stories and rumouers that were spread against him.

When Queen Elizabeth II came to Sri Lanka on a visit, during Sir John’s premiership, I could vividly remember, as a little boy, my parents taking me to Colombo to see the Queen. As we were among thousands of people queued up along the Colombo roads, I could see Sir John travelling in an open car very much in advance to the Queen’s  motorcade, throwing his hand out into the air and shouting, Ke gapi yaw, Ke gapiyaw  (cheer, cheer).

Also, it is said that during Queen’s visit to Sigiriya and Sir John was accompanying the Queen. While they were climbing the rugged stony steps, either due to rain or unbearable sun shine, Sir John was holding an umbrella over the Queen’s head. At one stage, it was said, when  the Queen experienced some difficulty in climbing, Sir John politely had said to the Queen to hold the umbrella  for wee second, as he was holding  the umbrella all that while, so that he could assist her with the  climb. When the Queen held the umbrella  for a few seconds while Sir John  helped  her,  he had shouted at the cameramen in Sinhala saying : “ Gaha piyawGahapiyaw( meaning, shoot, shoot, you rascals). The following day a picture appeared in the newspaper, apparently, the Queen holding the umbrella to Sir John!

There are many such dare devil stories about Sir John Kotelawela, the finest and the most and candid Prime Ministers Sri Lanka ever produced.

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