“THE AGED WRITER”
Simple proof that “age” is just a number. As I have always said (& written), in the context of time, life is but the blink of an eyelid. One is born, lives, and dies, in a flash of lightning.
What matters is how you live your life. Obviously, at very close to a Century in years, this Gentleman of Sri Lanka, Mr. D.L.Sirimanne would have to be someone who has lived his life to the fullest, would also have to be one of the most interesting people to have a friendly chat with, & I would undoubtedly be privileged to know him. In addition, to learn to write like him would certainly not be the easiest thing to do, as I believe that He is quite the Master of his trade.
Folks, herewith, I proudly present “The Aged Writer” to you.
The writer of the article An Unrealistic, Fantastic and Futuristic Dreamreproduced below from Sri Lanka’s ‘Island’ newspaper of August 2, 2019 is Mr. Don Lionel Sirimanne. He joined Air Ceylon as an aircrew Radio Officer at the airline’s inception in December 1947, and was later seconded by KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines to serve in the same capacity, on larger four-engine airliners, on the Dutch national carrier’s international network.
Mr. Sirimanne’s article is a fine piece of writing by any standards. But it becomes more remarkable and praiseworthy when one reflects how, as a 99-year-old ‘veteran’ on this planet, he has the ability to write so imaginatively, ironically, coherently and, above all, entertainingly.
In the first of the attached black-and-white photos, taken in 1947, Lionel Sirimanne is at extreme left, while his future wife Olga (née Gunasekera), one of Air Ceylon’s first stewardesses, is the only representative of her gender in the line-up.
The second black & white photo depicts a dapper Don Lionel Sirimanne at extreme left, enjoying a spot of R&R in Athens with fellow KLM aircrew personnel sometime in the 1950s. The photo is from the privately-published booklet Pilots Flying Logbook by Captain Anders Rogberg, a former KLM pilot of Swedish nationality.
In a 1997 letter to an Australia-domiciled aviation historian, Capt. Rogberg wrote that he enjoyed flying with “…Wireless Operator Sirimanne. I even stayed in his house in Nugegoda outside Colombo, and remember the spicy dinner I was given by his beautiful wife.”
As for Lionel Sirimanne’s “beautiful wife” Olga, she is also featured in the attached Air Ceylon advertisement from the late 1940s or early-to-mid 1950.
In the final colour photo herewith, Olga and Lionel Sirimanne are flanking a friend visiting from overseas at their Kohuwela residence in 2015.
Don Lionel Sirimanne was one of two Radio Officers aboard Air Ceylon’s Douglas DC-3 Dakota Sunethra Devi (registered VP-CAT) which narrowly averted disaster on May 31, 1948 during a one-off Ceylon government charter flight from Colombo to Sydney, Australia.
Immediately below is a link to a detailed account of that fateful flight, as published in the Sri Lanka Sunday Times on December 12, 1999.
Now, read – and enjoy – the following ‘unrealistic, fantastic and futuristic’ piece of prose from Don Lionel Sirimanne. Best wishes go to him for more power to his pen (or typing fingers!).
An Unrealistic, Fantastic and Futuristic Dream
August 1, 2019, 9:01 pm – Daily Island
By D. L. Sirimanne
(The writer is 99-year-old former radio officer and navigator, who flew with Air Ceylon at its inception and then with KLM across the Atlantic while being based in Amsterdam.)
I dreamt I was the Radio Officer on a KLM Super Constellation flight to Colombo with a Dutch crew. Flight Information sent us a ‘red alert’ that Colombo Airport was closed and to divert the flight to Jaffna. I immediately informed the Captain and he accordingly altered heading to Jaffna. I called KKS Approach several times with no success. When the captain heard me calling KKS, he burst into laughter. “Call Jaffna Control, Siri; surely haven’t you flown to Jaffna before?” I said, “Of course Captain, I have flown hundreds of times to KKS on DC3s in the 1950s and knew every bit of the Jaffna peninsula.” Rather amused he said,”But that was 100 years ago, aren’t we in the 2050s now?” I felt embarrassed and then called Jaffna Control, and they answered immediately. I gave our position and ETA and requested weather and landing instructions. Clearance was received to land on runway 22. The Controller’s voice was familiar and I asked, “Is that you Nada?” “Yes Siri, I am Nada, where were you all these years, so nice to hear you.”
Approaching Jaffna, I was surprised to see at a distance the glare of a well lit city like Singapore glistening in the night. I told the captain, “I feel we are approaching some strange airport and this can’t be Jaffna I knew!” He laughed. “You should see Jaffna Airport and the city now.” We landed and taxied to a huge modern busy airport terminal. JAFFNA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT in huge letters glowed above the buildings and in Tamil too.
The passengers and the crew disembarked. ‘I said to myself, Good Lord! This is fantastic and strange to me.’ As we entered the Arrival Gate, I was greeted warmly by the Airport Manager, my good old friend, Reggie Santiapillai. “Hello Siri, where have you been all these years? ” I told him “I was with KLM flying the North Atlantic and this is my first flight to this region after ages.” He said, “That’s great Siri, I am glad the flight was diverted to Jaffna instead to LONGKOK.” “What? Are you referring to Bangkok?” “No Siri, the Chinese took over Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport on a ninety nine years lease for nonpayment of loans and developed it to international standards and changed its name to LONGKOK. It is a very busy airport now, busier than BIA”. I was in fits of laughter at this funny name.
Soon, a number of my Tamil friends whom I knew at KKS in the 1950’s surrounding me, Customs and Immigration Officers Siva, Raja, Airport Controller Nada, Traffic Officers Fitch, Shakespeare, Panchalingam etc to greet me. I asked Reggie, “How did KKS airfield with only a Control Tower in the 1950s become Jaffna International Airport?” “It’s a long story, Siri; I will tell you when we get to the hotel.” I couldn’t believe what I saw. We were in a very busy airport like Croydon.
I expected a coach ride to the city, instead we went by sky-train which was almost supersonic and in 15 minutes we were in the city centre. I wondered what happened to the miles and miles of cadjan fences that lined the rugged road in the 1950s from KKS airport to Jaffna town. Huge high-rise buildings well lit and with beautiful avenues lined with large beautiful shops displaying their products in show cases was unbelievable. It reminded me of Bond Street in London, a beautiful metropolis crowded even at this late hour with shoppers and tourists. The crew was booked into Jaffna Hilton an impressive hotel with manicured colorful lawns and walkways, swimming pools. Reggie and I settled down in the cafeteria for a chat and a beer.
“How did all this happen, Reggie?” I asked. He thought for some time and smiled. “Siri, we are now a Federal State. It is called THE FEDERAL STATE OF ILLAM.’’ “That’s wonderful news Reggie! Congratulations!! I am so proud and happy you people have at last a Federal State of your own.” “Thank you Siri,” he said. “Can you remember when we were under British Rule, Sinhalese, Tamils, and Burghers Muslims and other ethnic groups were known as Ceylonese. Unfortunately when Ceylon received Independence in 1947, the majority Sinhalese Governments took control of the country, and named it Sri Lanka, and a Sinhalese Buddhist Country.
Instead of treating all citizens with parity, they treated us Tamils and Muslims with disdain. Two major Sinhala Political Parties formed alternate Governments and for years fought each other for power neglecting the country. They thought none other than a Sinhalese Buddhist should rule the country. Due to this discrimination, a Tamil uprising leo by Prabahakaran with a gang of terrorist suicide bombers called LTTE fought a 30 year war with the government and finally was destroyed in 2009 by President Rajapaksa. The country thus suffered a major setback with immense hardships.
It was time the Sinhalese and Tamils united to rebuild Sri Lanka as one nation, but the corrupt Governments whose desire was power and riches and win elections did not heed our plea for parity and unite the different ethnic races and name all peoples born in the country as Sri Lankans, but to our disappointment we were suppressed and government after government did not attend to this crucial matter. Our people requested at least a Federal State but they kept on postponing it.
The worst happening in the 2020s was rise of the Sinhalese Buddhist culture which disintegrated the country. The Ethnic Tamils and Muslims were treated as second class citizens and Buddhist Sangha getting more and more powerful. Misinformation was rampant and there was a great deal of bloodshed in the country and culminated in a Political firebrand Buddhist Monk elected as President. The country’s economy and wellbeing were in ruins.
The Ethnic Tamils and Muslims disliked what was happening. Their cry was, ‘Why should we suffer mismanagement of the country by the corrupt Sinhalese Governments and now the country is in severe debt to China.’ They appealed to the United Nations for a State of their own. The UN passed a Resolution temporarily dividing the Country into ‘Northern Territory’ and ‘Southern Territory’, for a period of fifty years.
The Chinese bought over control of the Southern Territory and appointed a Governor to rule the Southern Territory and made Colombo similar to Hong Kong and we and the Muslims received our freedom in the Northern Territory. At last we were able to develop parallel to the Southern Territory. The island developed in leaps and bounds and is the business centre in the Indian Ocean.
I must say, the Chinese Government improved the Southern Territory rapidly. There was strict discipline and the country started flourishing. Living standards improved so quickly that there was no unemployment and people were getting a decent livable wage. The value of the rupee appreciated rapidly. The monetary system was revised. A rupee note is now equivalent to an American Dollar, so much so, for example, 10 eggs could be bought for a rupee. Salaries and wages were revised. Old currency notes were withdrawn and New Rupee notes of 1, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 were introduced. Government finances are now in billions and not skyrocketed to trillions when under Sinhala/Buddhist governments. The south became highly industrialized and exports doubled; imports drastically reduced due to local production. Tourism expanded to over 10 million a year with free travel over the whole island.
In the Northern Territory the old British Colonial form of Government was introduced. India, Britain, USA and the European Union came to our aid and established Jaffna International Airport. Jaffna, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Batticaloa became major cities. Very soon we became highly industrialized with Trincomalee becoming a financial and industrial hub with Container Terminals, ship building yards, Steel Factories, Car Factories, Flour Mills, Fishing etc. In double quick time the North too became a highly successful State in the island. Most of the expatriate Tamils came back with their earnings and expertise and developed the North into what it is now. Trade oriented Universities were established in all our cities since skilled labour was required for development. Tourism developed very rapidly. Last year we had almost 10 million tourists and the two friendly Territories permitted free travel between them. Successful drilling in the Mannar basin produced oil and gas for our industries and we shared it with the South for development.
“What about border defense?” I asked Reggie. “Actually, the North and South have their own police forces. There is no need for border patrol as major crimes such as smuggling narcotics, currency and gold disappeared. After all we were once one nation and now both the North and the South have developed simultaneously and the two governments have cordial relations living side by side. The whole island has developed as the ‘Most Beautiful and Peaceful Country on Earth.’ Who knows, someday these Territories may merge as one Nation in one country,” he said.
The dream ended suddenly with a loud knock on the door. It was the maid bringing our morning coffee. My wife asked me, “Why were you laughing talking in your sleep?”