Life Abroad – Part 87-NEW LIFE, NEW WIFE and a NEW HOME
Posted on July 11th, 2014

Dr.Tilak Fernando

Continuation from Pt.86 ………Jinadasa Vijayatunga told me that Sir Solomon had a weakness for English women”.. ……..

Lady Daisy Dias Bandaranaike was at the time President of the Ceylon/Colombo Women’s Federation/Association. I immediately wrote to Mrs. Margaret Cousins at the Theosophical Society in Adyar, South Chennai (formerly Madras) in Tamil Nadu, India when she (Mrs. Cousin) made arrangements for Lady Daisy Dias Bandaranaike to go and stay with Mrs. Cousins for some time. She (Lady Dias Bandaranaike) spent some time with Mrs. Cousins and returned back to Colombo after her mental recovery“.

“When in Colombo, Lady Daisy Dias Bandaranaike wrote me a letter thanking me profusely for helping her at a time she was mentally devastated. These letters were at our home in Pondicherry. As I have not been to Pondicherry after 1959, I do not know whether they are still there. But my letters to Lady B will be among her papers. My letters to Mrs. Cousins will be in the Theosophical Society archives”!

“The last time I saw Sir Solomon was at Brown’s Hotel, London. I told him my wife Elizabeth was a horse-woman and he said he would like to meet with her, but knowing his reputation I did not introduce to him, though I told her about it”.

In India Vijayatunga got involved in many tasks. He participated in the activities of the Mahabodhi Society and became an active lecturer on Buddhism. Vijayatunga’s speech of great magnitude delivered, at the Buddhist Vihara, Reading Road, on the theme of “Precept and Practice in Buddhism today” made a great impact and prominence in the Indian Press. One year later Mahabodhi Society invited Vijayatunga to lecture on Buddhism in New York. His sermons in New York on Buddhism had not gone well; being despondent about it he had to remain three years in New York devoting his time lecturing extensively in Clubs, Churches and Universities. He also went into broadcasting of his discourses over every leading radio station in New York, as much as writing many reviews and articles on Buddhism to the New York Press.

Indian politics

In 1929 Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru declared that, “the object of the Indian struggle was not to attain dominion status but to be absolutely independent”. During this period Vijayatunga became very much involved in Indian politics. A controversial article Vijayatunga once published in The New York Times titled ‘Maharajahs are puppets rulers’ brought the hornet’s nest upon his shoulders. Consequently he received marching orders to leave New York immediately despite the fact that he held an un-expired legal resident visa!

In 1932 March, when Vijayatunga was in London at a round table conference with Mahatma Gandhi at Lancaster House, St. James’ Palace, India League made him their London representative. In London he became a freelance journalist attached to the Fleet Street and contributed regularly to the news chronicle “Star“. He also sent dispatches to The Spectator, New Statesman and Time & Tide journals. After many moons, he still enjoyed telescoping his memory to a canny article he had once written about the English under the caption – ‘Water and the White Man’. He winked at me and said that his intention was not to talk too much about the toilet habits of the English – smiled and said – “you know what I mean….. ‘the passa paththa’ . But in the article, I only emphasised on the fact how allergic the Englishman was to water……… you know what I mean” ?

In 1935 he zoomed to more and more fame and glory with his literal talents thus becoming the first Sri Sinhala person to publish a modern classic under the title “Grass for my feet” which went into four editions making the name ‘Vijayatunga’ flash in New York and London newspapers with excellent reviews.

Lake House correspondent

Mr. D. R. Wijewardene (Lake House) could not have decided an opportune moment to appoint Vijayatunga as The London Correspondent for the Ceylon Daily News at the time the Duke of Windsor abdicated his Throne and George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s coronation took place in 1937. On January 12, 1938 the doors of the London Registry Office for marriages at Hampstead were wide open to welcome a Ceylonese author and a well-known journalist, Jinadasa Vijayatunga, son of Mr. William Dias Vijayatunga of Puwakpitiya and Mrs. Esther Emila (Edirimanna Mohotti) to bring into wedlock with Elizabeth Sadler, the younger daughter of the late Captain Henry Sadler and Mrs. Maud Elizabeth Sadler of Brighton.

With the breaking out of the World War II, many families were affected. Young Vijayatunga was not very fortunate either with his new marriage when he joined the Ministry of Information, Colonial Intelligence section. Subsequently, on the grounds of desertion, their marriage was dissolved in a divorce court. A new life, new wife and a new home, all combined came to reality for Vijayatunga in 1948 in Pondicherry when he re-married Sita Rodrigo. They were blessed with three daughters and a son born in Bangalore. At the time of my meeting with Jinadasa Vijayatunga in London, Sita Vijayatunge was still living in Pondicherry.

During his stay in Bombay (Mumbai) and moving with the social and political hierarchy he was elected as the President of the Indian Stage Society which edited India Independence Bulletin weekly journal VIGIL. He also had the grand opportunity of visiting Ananda Bhawan, in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh (Nehru’s residence) and maintained a closely-knit friendship with Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. Jinadasa Vijayatunge during this period often communicated with Rabindranath Tagore as well. By Command of the King to Kathmandu, he was invited to the Coronation ceremony of King Mahendra Beerbikram Shah Deva and Queen Ratnarajya Lakshmi Devi by the Coronation Committee.

Back in London

Towards the latter part of 1963 Vijayatunga arrived back in London to resume his literary career and took up the appointment as the Editor of India Today. Describing how gentlemanly and humble the British aristocracy was at the time, particularly their behavior in public, he described how the British Prime Minister Harold McMillan helped him into his over coat at a literal get together in London. Having assisted this Sri Lankan with his overcoat, the Prime Minister had politely spoken to him and asked Vijayatunga, “How long are you staying in England?” Jinadasa Vijayatunge had seized the opportunity and responded with a smile by saying, “Sir, until I receive the Nobel Prize for literature“, which naturally made the British Prime Minister chuckle.

However, when he spoke to me in his London flat, he still believed in all seriousness that he would be nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature! He had every reason to think and was entitled to think so, as he had been the leading Sinhalese journalist and poet with bags of experience behind his career for decades. His novel, ‘Grass for my feet’ went into print over and over again up to four editions. Jinadasa Vijayatunga happened to be close neighbor of Lord Mountbatten living at 12, Clivendon Place London and his work had been praised by Connolly and Spender.

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Continued in…..88 

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