While his ‘Satyagraha’ campaign of non-violence was going on and on and I impatiently said we need real action not sitting on the roadside with outdated policy of another era of Mahathma Gandhi. He only smiled. When exasperated by lack of tangible support by UNP stalwarts of the past he said “our people are afraid to even come and see me” and I replied “I come.” His candid reply: “you have nothing the government can take even the car you come in is not yours, it belongs to the company you work for”.
His candour always impressed me as much as his capacity to absorb any criticism I made. He would listen with total concentration. About six months after his coming to power when I criticised the lack of governance and especially lack of tangible results he listened and at the end gently mentioned a hotel which needed to be upgraded and how long it would take. Being a hotel manager I asked him how the finances were, staff, state of building etc. his answer was that all were in bad shape but how long it would take to put it right. My answer - it cannot be done in a short time drew the response “then how long do you think it takes to put a whole country right?” I also found his concentration on what was being told to him was complete. However, mundane the matter he always listened, nothing distracted him. I realised this was a great courtesy he paid to the person talking. He was also never late or missed an appointment another great courtesy. I learned much from this great man of great humility.
Though his bearing and manner can be what is now described as Presidential, he was humble in his being. Once having given me a very intellectual discourse he said “the older generation’s education was better”. I instantly agreed and said “of course sir your generation knows much more than mine” he quickly corrected me and said “no I meant my father’s generation was more educated than mine”. Another time after he had finished his term as President my wife, children and I having had tea with him at ‘Bremar’ left and he walked us to the front door. My son an observant teenager noticed that as he could not get his slippers on in time he walked barefoot to his front door.
His great desire was to be a good Buddhist, as such, a good man. As a Christian I was encouraged by his example to learn what I could about the ways of Buddhism by his approach. He termed the Buddha ‘India’s greatest son’ I realise this to be an indisputable fact.
While I can go on and on about J.R. who to me was in the terms the Indians use for their politicians the tallest of the tall statesman, he most importantly loved this land and his people passionately. Now while he looks down from Mount Olympus or Valhalla or even Xanadu sitting with the Scholar Emperor Marcus Aurelius or Abraham Lincoln or even Kublai Khan, like the latter he can be proud of where his country and nation are going.
My take is that the course being charted by this present successor to the Presidency Mahinda Rajapa ksa would meet with his approval - his vision and dream being carried forward for Sri Lanka, to retake its place at the very top of all nations.
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