By Dilanka Gunathilaka
The day was exactly 16 February 1988. It was a time the United National Party (UNP) and the youth power of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) were in a bitter clash.
The unexpected, shocking assassination was a matter for joy for some who were in sympathy with the youth revolt. The victim was Vijaya Kumarathunga who was enjoying the love of the entire country.
The dream star of Sinhala cinema fell dead; his beautiful face shattered while the entire universe was silenced for a moment. We met Vijaya’s closest associate Herman Weerasuriya at the house in Polhengoda in front of which Vijaya was shot dead. Herman had a stream of memories about Vijaya. He was Vijaya’s trusted friend. He let his memories flow freely before us.
“I knew Vijaya since the age of 15 or 16. He lived mostly in his mother’s village in Divulapitiya, then, and I met him there. I was his personal assistant when he was in Katana for the 1977 General Election. We did not spend a lot of money. I think he spent about Rs 20,000. My salary was Rs 400 then.
We travelled around the country for Hector Kobbekaduwa’s election campaign. I noticed that he was like God to the Tamil people in the North. They expected Vijaya would resolve their problem.
We visited PB’s room in the house at Thalakotuwawaththa in which Vijaya stayed when he was a fulltime actor. But the actual house is no more there. The owners of the house have obliterated Vijaya’s memory. They cannot be blamed in this fast moving world. Now there is a flat.
Idols like P.B. Ilangasinghe, Piyasena Ahangama, Somasiri Denipitiya and K.D.K. Dharmawardhana lived there. No one is there any more. But one lifeless being still stands there. It is the pin linda or the public well that provided water to the entire village. The surrounding is so much changed that Herman also would not identify the place had the pin linda was not there.
We thought of the life the loved actor spent in the house at Thalakotuwawaththa amidst the ordinary people of this neighbourhood. All met at the pin linda in the evening. PB’s room was a paradise of taste, art, music, drama and dance and so on. Sometimes they mixed some liquor also to make the company merrier. Vijaya entertained all but he spoke only a few words on politics.
After marriage, Vijaya stayed mostly in the house at Rosmead Place. He was in remand for some time under Naxalite charges. He lived in a house in Kingsey Road for sometime after that and moved to the house in Polhengoda.
16 February 1988 was the most fateful day of his life. The two unknown gunmen who waited outside his house patiently burst a rain of bullets on him when he stepped out of the house. They made false his argument that no one would shoot his face after looking at it once. They shot at him point blank tearing his elegant face into pieces.
We came back to the Polhengoda house. Herman’s facial expressions proved he was actually with Vijaya. That house has also been changed immensely. Herman sat at the place Vijaya was shot dead.
“The JVP shot dead Vijaya with the support of the UNP. They wanted to finish him. They were afraid of Vijaya’s politics. He was popular. He had no guns. There were people who had guns but respected Vijaya. For example Kittu and Mahaththaya of the LTTE were very friendly with Vijaya.”
The earth that was soaked with Vijaya’s blood lay as if nothing had happened. The past is only the memory of some people who knew Vijaya’s humanity. The statue of Vijaya which stood in front of his house has also been removed. There were no other marks as well.
“The statue is now in the premises of the Seeduwa Hospital,” Herman said. There was a stone on which the date on which Vijaya was killed is carved. After the place was sold, Madam Chandrika took it home. She sold the house to fund the children’s education. Their daughter Yashodhara and son Vimukthi recognize me and talk to me as Herman Mama. I feel very sad at such moments. They were torn apart from a lovely father.
“Those who killed Vijaya say that he targeted an image of an Army soldier during his visit to Jaffna. It is not true,” Herman said.
Herman was bursting out his emotions. He added, “Dead Vijaya, I believe, is greater and eternal. But living Vijaya was a wonderful human. He was honest, sociable, live, dear and loyal. He is clearly indispensable. No one could fill his vacuum.”
Herman’s words reminded us how people from the northern tip of Sri Lanka to the southern tip of the island loved this great man.
His birthday was a happy day for many others with whom he shared his belongings. “I have nothing to treasure but the humanity I inherited from my mother,” Vijaya said, as remembered by Herman.
He dispensed humanity to everyone he met. But today is different. Many people sell Vijaya’s humanity for their gain.