Ravi J: A story teller against himself

Ravi Jayewardene (Sunday Island Editorial)

This blogger salute this brilliant and patriotic gentleman honestly from the bottom of his heart  despite his  reservations for his father.

article_imageRavi Jayewardene, the only child of President J.R. Jayewardene, who passed away last week would have been 81-years old at the end of April had he lived. He was an exceptional human being who did not wear his virtues on his sleeves but was always self-effacing to a fault. Born to a wealthy and powerful family, the doors of privilege were wide open to him but he chose never to walk through them or make any kind of deal of the fact that he had not done so. All that came naturally to this exceptional man. Few people would have known that there was a deep Buddhist streak in him and he was learned in the dhamma. In fact he had spent some months in a monastery in Thailand. A total vegetarian most of his life, he remained so at the time of his death. He did not discuss his vegetarianism just as much as he did not display his other virtues. As a Buddhist, he was well aware of the panathipatha precept of not taking life; and not eating fish, flesh or fowl followed naturally from that.

The Island last week editorially noted Ravi Jayewardene’s parting saying that Ravi and his mother, Elina, were President Jayewardene’s greatest assets. Both were unostentatious, neither taking advantage of the power that JRJ wielded beginning from the time he became independent Ceylon’s first finance minister at a relatively young age. Always ready to tell a story against himself, Ravi Jayewardene used to relate how he went to the notice board at Royal College where the results of the SSC examination had been posted. Ever the optimist, he had checked the list of candidates who had passed in the first division. Not finding his name there, he checked the ordinary passes and didn’t find his name there either. Spending the rest of the morning wondering how he was going to break the bad news to his parents, he cycled home for lunch. At the table, JRJ said he’d seen a paragraph in the morning paper that the SSC results were being published that day and asked his son how he’d done. “Failures are the pillars of success,” Ravi had replied. “No,” responded the father. “Failures are the sons of the pillars of success!”

When Ravi Jayewarene’s remains were laid at the Jayewardene Center on Dharmapala Mawatha for relatives, friends and the public to pay their respects, the slim and dapper Ravi was dressed in his Olympic blazer and grey trousers. A skilled marksman he led the Sri Lanka contingent to the Tokyo Olympics where he was competing in the rifle shooting event. Few would remember that Reuters originally sent a wrong report on Ravi’s event indicating that although he did not qualify for a medal, he was placed in the first eight. This news was communicated to the proud father who was in parliament at the time the news broke. A few minutes later the news agency filed a correction and Ravi’s name was not in the list. It fell to the lot of this writer to take the correction off the wire to J.R. Jayewardene in parliament! Ravi’s home for the past many years was at Bolgoda and he had an apartment in the city. His body lay at the Jayewardene Center before his cremation for the convenience of others – always a high priority with him.

It is well known that it was Ravi Jayewardene, serving as security advisor to his father, who set up the Special Task Force of the Police to combat the terrorism that was then wracking his country. Once an officer in the Volunteer Force in the Sri Lanka Army rising to the rank of captain, he was also responsible for the setting up of several new regiments in the army. He was arrested in 1971 during the first JVP insurrection, briefly detained and released with the powers that were suspicious that JRJ’s marksman son, with a military background, may have had something to do with the insurency. As a skilled marksman and a pilot who had flown for Air Ceylon, he had many attributes that suited the job of security advisor. He also had an instinct for picking men with leadership skill and those who commanded the elite unit in its early days would best know what he contributed. This included obtaining expertise from Israel that had made a fine art of developing anti-terrorism capabilities.

As Dr. Hiranthi Wijemanne, a former head of the National Child Protection Authority has said in a piece she has written in this issue of our newspaper, Ravi Jayewardene was deeply affected at the horrendous price poor peasants living in the so-called “border villages” – the buffer zone between government and LTTE controlled areas – had to pay for Tiger terror. They would be slaughtered in cold blood as they slept in their humble homes, often hacked to death as the attackers wanted to avoid the give-away reports of gunfire. His contacts with exceptional bhikkus living in those remote areas and various state agencies enabled the provision of leadership and material succor to the affected villages.

Perhaps one last anecdote would sum up the man who Ravi Jayewardene was. That was when the body of Vijitha Weerasinghe, a legend at Royal College who as a student, teacher and advisor to the Royal College Union had spent between 70 and 80 years of his life at the school was lying in state at the college hall. This writer found Ravi and one of his sons examining the portraits of distinguished old boys, including J.R. Jayewardene and his father, hanging in the hall. Ravi remarked, “I was just telling my son that there is no danger of my portrait or his hanging there!”

A tribute to Ravi Jayewardene

Hiranthi Wijemanne

t was Lao Tzu who said, “When a nation is filled with strife, then do patriots flourish.”* This epitomizes Ravi Jayewardene, who in 1983 during the first manifestations of unprecedented violence and destruction, began a response to protect our motherland, threatened by separatist forces of immeasurable proportions.

Ravi became a catalyst for change during one of the most challenging period in Sri Lanka’s history, as brutal attacks of violence occurred by terrorist forces on unarmed, innocent, villagers, living in the border areas of the North Central Province, soon spreading to Batticaloa and Trincomalee in the eastern province, and occuring even in the highly populated capital city Colombo. I visited these areas, met the families of men, women and innocent children killed in the most brutal of manner, and was aghast that any humans were capable of such brutality and inhumanity on people who were poor, innocent and unarmed, including children and even pregnant women.

It was in this national crisis that Ravi revealed his true character and patriotism, as he sensed with his keen military acumen that this was no ordinary war, but an insurgency of an immense and ruthless nature, which needed great skill, strong determination and immense courage to overcome.

During those early days, there were 33 splinter groups, including the LTTE, at war against government forces in their effort to claim ownership of certain territory by brutal attacks on unarmed civilian targets, obviously creating panic and mayhem. Among such groups the LTTE which was by and large the strongest and most sophisticated in the context of training and arms, waging unconventional and not conventional warfare, using the most sophisticated of weaponry to attack unarmed civilians. The LTTE with time soon assumed notoriety as one of the most ruthless terrorist groups in the world.

Ravi was among the first to sense the magnitude of the threat to his motherland. He then established the elite STF, a specialized, highly skilled and disciplined group of well trained officers with the necessary capacity to counteract the continuing deadly carnage which was occurring against people as well as public and state property, occurring with impunity.

It was Ravi’s inborn sense of a responsibility to protect the motherland that influenced him to act as his did, to counteract the violence that had been unleashed.

Ravi was also a Buddhist by thought, word, and deed. He led a life of great simplicity, totally different to the progeny of most political leaders of yester year and even those of today. He never sought power, wealth or a position for himself. Ravi thus was a true son of Sri Lanka, whose best interest lay in protecting the sovereignty of the motherland.

One of the favourite sayings of the late Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, himself a victim of an assassin’s bullet was, “who is a terrorist? They do not wear uniforms like regular soldiers. They perform violent acts, dressed as civilians. They are radicalized from a young age, and most are forcibly recruited, conditioned to believe in violence as the only means to achieve a goal.

Ravi was particularly disturbed of the carnage that was occurring in “border” villages in Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, and Polonaruwa, in remote rural areas such as Kebbethigollewe , Horawapotana, Padaviya, Tantirimale, Gomarankadewala, Herathhalmillewa, Nikawewa, Seruwila and Serunawa, where endless violent attacks occurred on innocent villagers, particularly children.

Many families, particularly women and children, could not access basic health care. I was involved in supporting Ravi to organize teams of volunteer medical staff to visit all vulnerable areas affected by the conflict with essential drugs, dressings and other essentials. The Ministry of Health gave their unstinted support, particularly former Secretaries of Health such as Dr. Malinga Fernando and Dr. Joe Fernando. Mass immunization camps were held for children and special services for pregnant mothers.

These humanitarian services were undertaken through the Sathsarana foundation founded by Ravi. He had close contact with local Buddhist priests in many key conflict affected areas, including Tantirimale, Siripura, Padaviya , Vilgamvehera, Dimbulagala, and Budhangala. The Buddhist clergy in such areas provided immeasurable support to all the villages at risk of violence. Ravi’s continuous support to the temples and priests of areas at risk of violence was of immeasurable value as they, in turn, supported the families living in such areas.

Ravi’s most valuable assets were his simplicity, total lack arrogance, great integrity and immense courage to face adversity. He was admired by those among us who loved our motherland as he battled with all his might against all odds to preserve the unitary state.

It is said, a hero is a person who gives his life to something bigger than one’s self. Ravi was indeed such a hero.

Ravi, born to a wealthy and prominent family, the son of a president, led a life of austerity and simplicity. The wisdom of the Buddha had a long abiding and profound influence on him as his mind evolved with time, leading to a gradual detachment from all that was worldly in his prime aim to achieve spiritual advancement.

May his sojourn in Samsara be brief.

*Ravi J and a handful of rarest breeds doubtlessly fit this quote but 99% of Sri Lanka’s politicians and bureaucrats will never.  They show their “colours” during disasters (politicians, bureaucrats, JPs, Grama Niladharis).   In the context of the world in general and of Sri Lanka in particular, this quote should be amended as “When a nation is filled with strife, then do rogues, criminals and thieves flourish. rajapakshas, vasudevas, weerawamsas, all factions of the so-called Muslim Congress, rishard bathiuthiutheen, hisbullahs, azvers, rauffs, cegus, et al are typical examples.