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Salute to greatness

23 February 2017 12:07 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The then Minister of State, Anandatissa De Alwis’ address at the Inaugural Presentation of the D.R. Wijewardene Award for Sinhala writing in 1985. 

I consider this an opportunity to pay the sincerest respects to someone to whom he owes possibly his entire existence. In my case it was D.R. Wijewardene. 
There are many of us to whom it was a privilege to work in an institution which is part of the history of this country. It has truly been said by somebody that it is not the mastery of language that makes a book but the mind and the man behind it. 
It is true that the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. was known to be always ahead of the hours in the introduction of technical excellence in the production of its newspapers - in the introduction of the business management of a newspaper enterprise. 
But these, valuable as they were, were not the main propelling power and force behind the institution that we have come to know as Lake  House. That great power was a mind - the mind of D.R. Wijewardene. 
I remember when he published a supplement in the Daily News to commemorate the opening of the extension of the new Lake  House building in the ’30s. He said in an article he wrote under his name, which was very rarely: “I did not start a newspaper enterprise to bring home great auguries. There are many other fields in which fortunes can be made faster than in the newspaper industry.” 
And in saying that, he continued to explain why he began these newspapers. 
He began these newspapers because he was motivated by the same powers and forces that propelled our best people of that time - people like F.R. Senanayake, D.S. Senanayake, Sir Baron Jayatilaka, people of that rank, a standing force in this country. 
They were the men who worked in the fields, the men who worked among the people. D.R. Wijewardene was a man who worked among the minds. While the Senanayakes, the Jayatilakas and other leaders went about the country from temple to temple, meeting to meeting, talking about the worth and value of freedom, self-government and of one day ruling ourselves and being free of British domination, Mr. Wijewardene, from his room in Lake House, told the people every day what all this talk was about. 
In so doing, he gathered around him men of great eminence and patriotic endeavour. Men like E.W. Perera, I remember, took hours of Mr. Wijewardene’s time talking ardently, seriously, furiously and angrily, discussing the events of that time. 
Other people of that same calibre including C.L Wickremesinghe, father of Esmond, his friends and many others like D.S. Senanayake met in his bungalow, surrounded themselves with opinions from the four corners of the island and planned out a campaign to win the favour of the colonial office so that it could grant greater and greater measures of self-government for the colony called ‘Ceylon.’ 
D.R. Wijewardene at the same time attracted severe criticism. There never was a meeting held at the Galle Face Green at that time by the Marxists elements of this country at which what they called the ‘Beira-gedera’ newspapers were severely attacked. At times, copies of newspapers were burnt on the platforms. 
If you happened to turn back the pages of those days and re-live the campaigns the Lake House newspapers ran, the astounding pioneering thought to which Lake  House can very pleasurably bear credit will be apparent. 
The university argument, for instance, was not merely whether the location should be Colombo or Peradeniya, but the greater concept that Mr. Wijewardene began to push forward. It was that Sri Lanka was ready for its own university, and that, that university should have its own life and thought and being 
and personality. 
If you turn back the pages you will find that the leaders upheld that they must not be copies of Oxford and Cambridge and London. That the ethos of a nation must create its own educational structures. Numerous articles were published at that time, particularly in the Sinhala papers of the organisation, where it was pointed out that the ancient Pirivena systems of Asia were forerunners of the universities of Western lands. 
Mr. Wijewardene also campaigned for freedom for women, recognition of their rights not solely to courtesy, elegant manners or etiquette of the West, but to the freedom that was pro-pounded by the Thathagatha the Buddha himself - the first liberator of women from being second to man and the vassal of man. 
Here again to find this philosophy you have to dip into the pages of the Silumina and Dinamina of that time. 
I must tell you that Sir John Kotelawela, whose private secretary I was for some time, told me that there was a discussion at the very highest level after Sri Lanka had a Prime Minister and a parliament, that the highest possible honour that the Queen or Royalty in England could confer, should be accorded to Mr. D.R. Wijewardene. There was a discussion that mere knighthoods, KCMs, CMGs and things of the sort would not do for the man. 
They proposed that Whitehall should recommend and approve a baronetcy for him. But it was not the practice in those days in Whitehall to get accustomed to the possibility that a baronetcy might well be conferred on people outside the British Isles. 

While the Senanayakes, the Jayatillekes and others went on talking about the worth and value of freedom, self-government and of one day ruling ourselves and being free of British domination, Mr. Wijewardene, from his room in Lake House, told the people what all this talk was about

But that was the level of the respect and honour in which he lived, worked and died. There was nothing in the social, educational and political life of this country to which his mind did not contribute through his newspapers. Nothing he did not contribute in the promotion of the arts, the construction of the Art Gallery, the Society of Arts, the far-ranging field of colonisation in Minneriya - (the pioneer of which was Mr. D.S. Senanayake), the concepts of agricultural development and so many other fields of human life, every single one of which interested him, a student of which he was of great diligence. He had an array of eloquent and capable writers to present his views to the nation and its people. 
He could be a very tough employer. He knew a colleague of mine who once told me: “I have been re-employed for the eleventh time.” He was, I remember, re-called ten times in the time I knew him, but while he demanded an excellence, a diligence, a dedication to work, (without which those achievements would not have been possible), he also had the soft, kind, heart of a noble and good man. 
His efforts to set up a Sangharamaya at the Peradeniya  University show the vision he had for the educated Sangha of the future who would have an academic background second to none. That would be the background that would make a Bhikkhu stand out anywhere else in the world outside Sri Lanka and speak in the many tongues in which Buddhism should be promulgated all over the world. 
That was the vision he had at that time. He not only urged or wrote about it, he left large bequests to make it come true. 
Thus we are using the name of Mr. D.R. Wijewardene for a tremendous and noble enterprise; the name to be given to the finest Sinhala novel this year. Modern Sinhala journalism, modern Sinhala writing, had a great leap forward in the time of 
D.R. Wijewardene. 
The Dinamina and Silumina were the equal and sometimes the specimen of national language newspapers in the whole of Asia (here I refer to India, Pakistan and Burma, all of which at that time were part of the British Commonwealth of Nations - or the British empire if you like to call it - publishing newspapers in many languages). 
The Dinamina and Silumina were not only technically ahead of that time but they were ahead in content. The traditional style of Sinhala journalism up to that time was interminable debates around a chosen few on some obtuse grammatical point. 
Issue after issue, week after week, hundreds debated in the newspaper columns of that time on whether the letter ‘k’ was better and correct or should it rather be the symbol ‘{.’ These were rewarding and graceful exercises of scholarship, but they let the language die gasping for life. 
The Dinamina and the Silumina ignored all this and gave the people news, which is the primary function of a newspaper. 
He set up an organisation which could not be beaten, he gave the news not only from all over the country but he gave it in time reaching the four corners of the Island - making a modern distribution system which still survives after all the changes that have taken place in this country. 
And then he began to give vitality to the contents of the newspapers. He flung open the doors and windows of this country to the heroes of the world. People began to learn through the Dinamina and Silumina what went on in the West, in the East, in Asia, Japan and the Far East. 
They were keeping step with the developments of the world. Sinhala journalism began to grow up. Began to be vital, powerful, strong and suddenly as a result of his endeavour, it is today the most vital development force in this country. 
For the reason I stated at the beginning - it gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to the man - working for whom made life so different, so vital and so rewarding for me. 

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