By Wing Commander, Nalin Jayetileke (Retd.)
It was exactly 25 long years ago I lost my dearest friend, Member of Parliament, Mr. Nalanda Ellawala. I have referred to him as a ‘Dearest friend’ not only because he was a beloved friend, because he too used to always refer to self and a few other good friends with the use of ‘Dearest’ whenever there was a letter or a card sent up and down during the time.
Especially during school holidays where telephones was a luxury in the late 70’s, it was letters and post cards that did the talking in distance communication. It is often said that the bonds that are built in school lasts a lifetime and are the best and so was our bond as best buddies from the School by the Sea at Mount Lavinia.
We happened to be best buddies since the age of 13 years and had the opportunity to do many things together being away from homes at the College Hostel which we cherished and appreciated as Home for the boarders. Only rivalry we had was due to the fact that we were in separate Dormitories, Miller and Copleston where when it comes to sports against each other, being from separate Dorms and the little fights were seen between us in the field of sports, especially when it came to Badminton against the said boarding houses.
Nalanda and I were in the College Badminton Team and any free time during weekends either we played badminton in the College Hall or had a sing song playing the Piano. At the time we did not have the luxury of a Gymnasium like the one that is in place now. We were Badminton doubles partners which was seen by many as a formidable force at play, being a left hand / Right Hand combination. Nalanda was a far better Tennis Player and went on to Captain College in both Table Tennis, Tennis and was the Vice-Captain of the College Badminton team in 1985.
He was an all-round student and was always within the first 3 placements at year end examinations. Lots of his Art/ paintings made him get on stage during the College annual prize giving.
Lots of our mates in the Hostel waited for an invitation from Nalanda during weekends to visit his aunt’s place for lunch, as we try to use our 5 Hrs leave given to the boarders during Saturday and Sunday for this purpose. It ensured a sumptuous meal and a sing song. It was also a good feeling to be alongside a few Methodist College Girls who use to come too as invitees of Nalanda’s sister. Though a few years older, we did not mind the company.
Nalanda, during free time in the prefects’ room, use to talk of a lot of history and Politics oriented stuff which we found difficult to understand sometimes. This was largely because he had a lot of depth in what he spoke of and we were clueless of stuff he referred to, having no idea and interest in Politics at that young age.
However, doubts in my mind about such was cleared when I had the opportunity of visiting Ratnapura in 1983 where self and a few friends were kind of trapped at his residence after a few days due to heavy floods where I was able to listen to some of the long conversations that Nalanda use to have with his Father Uncle Nanda Ellawala. I being clueless about politics did not understand a thing but could see my friend very keen and eager to learn from the father and was very assertive and had the assimilation power to grasp what his father told him.
Although Nalanda adored his father and wanted to be like him following his footsteps, he never wanted to be referred to as the son of the great Politician Nada Ellawala and always shun in being introduced to someone that way but wanted his own identity. As such, he appreciated when he was introduced as ‘Nalanda Ellawala’. At College his lifestyle was a model for others who never believed in responsibility and was never boastful of where he comes from, people to whom he was related to or his achievements. From his College days Nalanda showcased that he was a man who respected human values and lives.
He was always quick to introduce a friend to any of the Politicians when he started rubbing shoulders with them in Parliament. If I may recall, in 1996 when a team of parliamentarians headed by the late Mr. Mangala Samaraweera was visiting Jaffna by Air, I happened to see them off at the Ratmalana Air Port and whilst having tea with the guests who were with my friend Nalanda at the Air Port VIP Room, He happened to introduce me to Mr Mangala Samaraweera who was the then Communications Minister. When the introduction was done as a dear friend, Minister Samaraweera asked me if I wanted a Telephone Connection. I was kind of stumped for a moment and the Minster said, “Well, when someone is introduced to me as a good friend of Nalanda, I take a step further and ask them if they would like a telephone connection as eventually most request me for such being the minister in charge, so as you are his best buddy, I thought I must show some more respect than to any other and that is why I asked you if I can give a connection”.
It was a clear indication of the status Nalanda had achieved even amongst the senior ministers during the time and I realized the amount of clout my friend was having in Parliament.
When they returned from the Jaffna trip, Nalanda sent his vehicles back and said that he will find his way and at that moment I was wondering how as I did not have a car to drop him home to Mardiwella Kotte where he was residing during the time. I told him I have my motorbike for which he readily said, “Not before I visit your house my friend”. We had some quick drinks and Dinner and I dropped him Home thereafter.
I guess it was the last time I had the privilege of seeing my friend as whilst he was busy dealing with his law collage stuff together with Politics, I was engaged with war executing duties as a Flight Lieutenant during the time, with the Sri Lanka Air Force.
It was shocking to note that Nalanda had been shot as a result of a Political dispute. In fact, he was never seen by anyone of us as an aggressive person and whatever the dispute may have been, it was a mystery as to how things would have unfolded to such a situation and end up my friend being shot at. 25 years ago a cruel bullet aimed by a political assassin silenced the life of our dearest friend. Nalanda was a promising and shining young politician from the Ratnapura District who had a heavy heart, a voice and depth of a character that loved the masses behind him.
He was a politician who was unhappy with the low level political culture during the time in the country. Even within his own party, he fearlessly raised his voice and aired his thoughts and opinions against corrupt politics. As a young politician, he was seen as a man with a sharp character who had a vision to establish peace where the national conflict was concerned and was not only popular amongst the Sinhala youth but also with the Tamil and Muslims. His dream was to see the Sri Lankan National Anthem sung in Tamil by the Tamil minority. I believe he spoke of this in Parliament and said “ If the National Anthem is sung in Tamil, the person singing it will know and understand the meaning and thereby would have a greater feeling towards what he/she is singing”. His political vision I believe was no match to any other at such young age, and had the never say die attitude when executing what he thought was the right thing.
Unfortunately, he was only able to function as a Parliamentarian for just three years, but was seen and appreciated by many for the yeoman service done during that period especially to the youth, which has created a formidable foundation which is now regarded as the “නොමියෙන මනුෂ්යත්වය/ Eternal Humanity”
Till we meet again – Kots