Posted on January 11th, 2015

 By Gomin Dayasri 

Initials S.L surpassed surname Gunasekera. Branded to blend with the land of his birth – his name attracted shades of love and despair. Reciprocally, he loved those who made the country proud and despised those that discredited his cherished land. His countrymen to their inclinations called him a patriot or racist: he accepted both as compliments without a blink. Never was a seasonal man.

 He timed his exit on a date other events take precedence. That was his life style to remain away from the limelight.

 To call him a patriot was to reduce him. To call him a racist was to devalue his commitment to national causes. He was a national treasure. Reached that stature because of the unstinted support received from the immediate family –especially his wife Nimal, the unsung Lady Friday behind the famed fireball.

  His father was a classic Supreme Court judge greatly respected. SL with a father fixation held the judiciary in the highest esteem in the belief they measured to standards set by his paternal mentor. SL stood fearlessly for the rights of a controversial chief justice. He told me the holder did not measure to his equation of a worthy; yet, the esteemed office need be revered in the name of justice.

 Another chief justice, in his way of thinking, desecrated high office, was treated as pulp and pasted with punches. None dared to take him on- fearing a knockout in round one: any enlightened man on the street would take SL’s word as the last for he sought no personal gratification. SL” was no respecter of title or office or person and saluted the principles of a person. Such was a man of principle who lived by his principles.

 He was Thomian who did not attend the big match to behave silly or was too reserved to offer endless salutations to the known and the unknown. Mattered not to him to be seen or to see: cared not to wear blue and black stripes for reflected glory: not his need. Instead Thomians took pride in calling him their valued possession because of the renown he earned in the country by slotting the values he learnt at his old school and upgrading it to a pitch beyond.

 He devoted chapters of his memoires to his old school in appreciation of his worthy mates and dedicated the book to a former teacher. He spoke from his heart to name the worst Army Commander in living memory came from his old school and the best emerged from mine. That was vintage SL because he was not afraid to speak his mind without a hoot for protocol.

 Hultsdorf lost an irreplaceable lawyer. There will never be another SL. He was known for his name whereas most Presidents Counsel cannot be identified by their name or title. With time, he saw in black and white, a different Hultsdorf developing to queer his pitch: unlike the time he took oaths. He withdrew in veiled disgust to became a ‘car to court – court to car” lawyer: was not prepared to waste time in the lounge on small talk with nondescripts.  His juniors understood the metamorphosis when he did not set a table at an end of the year Voetlights bash: instead invited them home for an end of term jolly binge. 

 Proliferation of Presidents Counsel saw a steady outflow of able juniors from his chambers; those worthies becoming his senior on being titled with or without the needful cabal or merit, which he looked upon whimsically and at an impish moment spoke to me of establishing a club for the undecorated.

 Man of many roles- choirboy, raconteur, debater, humorist, dramatist, politician, landed proprietor, parliamentarian, editor, columnist and lastly a lawyer. In every call he was a devout nationalist who openly and fiercely espoused the cause at every possible opportunity not for fame or gain.

 He came best as a grandfather and sat for the endless hours in waiting rooms of consultants, with his mildly sick grandchildren amidst a busy schedule until a medical man in desperation told him that at first symptoms it is not required to seek specialist treatment: a general practitioner was sufficient. SL responded that he feared consequences considering the dubious standards set by lawyers: the medical profession would be no different and opted for treatment from a specialist at any inconvenience. That rule was not applicable for his ailments; most went mostly unattended. SL was warrior for the country and a worrier of his grandchildren’s well being. Love for his family was a close second to his endearment for the country.

  Know of one he looked up to among his contemporaries – Dr Anula Wijesundera, a great lady, who rendered yeoman service travelling to affected villages in the worst of troubled times. They had much in common and often listened to her obediently like an untamed wild cat. She, in his interest, decreed temperance on him on medical grounds and his final complaint to me was  Anula is an impossible woman”. Heard later he had flouted the order. SL never cared of a tomorrow for himself but only for his country. He said he rather get killed by a landmine than be maimed. That was the unfortunate streak. It did not happen that way.

  H.L. de Silva, greatest lawyer of our times, admired SL immensely for walking out of the Thimpu Team after admonishing J.R.Jayewardane in his prime, naming a mighty President, a traitor for his role on the Indo-Sri Lanka pact. H.L. followed his footsteps deriving inspiration from SL as JRJ pleaded with them to step back to his fold.

  SL drove straight to my house after that encounter to narrate his story. We were no friends and had a distant association but held a healthy respect sharing a common vision with different political perspectives- until then it was a mere nodding acquaintance in court. Strangely while SL was seated before HL telephoned from his home to speak of my friend’s brave histrionics at the President’s House and his own feeble performance. That night opened a bondage that stood between friendship and ardor. Later offered him the slot given to me on the SLFP appointed MP’s list, as he was a greater need in Parliament to which Mrs Bandaranaike reluctantly acceded. Before long received complaints he was toeing an extreme pro –Sinhala line. I spoke to him and surprisingly he conformed. He was always amenable to reasonable solutions in and out of court.

 His request to me do a review of his memoires was a compliment. Such was modesty; he complained of spoiling him with a review he thought was an over-estimation. If he reads this piece he will hunt me down to haunt me. Obtained his wife’s permission before writing this piece.

  To him law was a lucrative by-product from which pedestal he peddled the causes he believed to propel a vision he carried with him. He worked hard to succeed and spent lavishly if he thought the cause was worthwhile. Whether he spent wisely is in the realm of doubt as he was often exploited due to his over bearing kindness He would not listen – once his mind was made.

 Remember the case of the north – east demerger where HL, SL, Manoli Jinadasa and me undertook a daunting assignment. We had virtually won the case, as it was a sitter any mediocrity could have succeeded, when HL became over ambitious and wanted to demolish the homeland theory, his pet aversion. As he embarked on this proposition which was not relevant to the point in issue in the case, Chief Justice Sarath Silva rightly and sternly declined to hear him; dogmatic HL refused to let go as the subject was too close to his heart notwithstanding our persuasion at the bar table to dump it. A dogfight was on the cards and our case was in great peril as HL was on the verge of irritating the bench and blowing the case to smithereens. Something need be done with a possible national danger impending.

 Still can visualize HL been brought down to his seat in open court with a tackle under the table by SL in the style of a rugby lock forward and me as the next counsel leaping to my feet as in a lineout, in a well coordinated movement performed on the run of play. Having irked HL we disappeared into thin air when the case adjourned as HL was on a search and blast mission ordering Manoli to hunt down ‘those two rascals’ for ruining his life long mission. SL told me later that he heard HL at the bar table encouraging an opposing counsel (Batty Weerakoone) to raise the issue as his last straw thus giving him an opportunity to respond. SL put the ‘specter of Sarath Silva’ into Weerakoone’s mind to banish such thoughts. SL was outrageously dedicated to any cause he valued.

 Beneath the steel like stances he took, SL was humane and childish and his juniors will attest was a immensely gentle and understanding senior to whom often a junior had to merely lend his name to mark an appearance because most of the work was often done by him. Working with him made them richer and wiser without much strain or effort.

 A tribute he will not appreciate is that he acquired greater fame, idolized with a much larger fan club: than his father.  One was an able judge the other was a national monument. Son overtook the father by a whopping distance to become legendary.

  There was a quartet in law that functioned in Hultsdorf to safeguard national interest and worked fervently without fee or favor and achieved success in every case they fought on behalf of the country. Of course in their professional career they would have lost many a case but never where the national interest was at stake.

 Let me take you to the secret of their success. Probably most judges were conscious the causes they expounded was genuinely patriotic and in national interest, their commitment was unselfishly whole hearted; the determination was passionately zealous and took on such an assignment only and only if, the law was unassailably on their side and the case was a sure winner. Silva, E.D. Wickremanayake and now S.L Gunasekera are gone from that quartet; ironically they all came from elitist public schools, were Christians by birth, westernized in outlook and more at home in English than Sinhala. Three quarters of that quartet is no more. Fourth has to keep the flame alive.

 Aromatic trio if met would sure agitate irrespective of the realm in which they traverse.  It’s apt to call them, rebels within the bounds of law. They reached the outer periphery of law and skirted around it puckishly treating contempt contemptuously and glided safely to land on the wings of a cheeky angle. Give them another chance – singularly or jointly would dismantle or dislodge or dismember the 13th Amendment with SL goading them, if there was any sign of reservation, hesitation or trepidation. That’s him.


  1. Samanthi Says:

    The late Mr. S.L. Gunasekra is a hero of our times.
    “Me rata gena mata thiyena kekkuma ape samaharak hamudhuruwaruntawath nehe” he once said.
    Well said, my hero! May you rest in peace!

  2. Nanda Says:

    Rest in peace ? May you attain Nibbana !

  3. Nimal Says:

    He was a patriot, never knew he died. RIP SL!

  4. douglas Says:

    Mr. Dayasiri: “MAN BEYOND SEASONS -S.L. GUNASEKERA. Yes, absolutely. Let me prove it by “SL,s” own words:-

    ” What this country needs today is not the “Packages” nor the vivisection of our Country in the name of “devolution”. What the Sinhalese, the Tamils, the Muslims and all other races who together constitute the Sri Lanka Nation need is a mature political leadership with commitment to the Country rather than to self: a leadership that realises that while people belong to different races, the problems afflicting them do not-that there are no different types of hunger called “Sinhalese Hunger”, “Tamil Hunger” and “Muslim Hunger”, and that such problems must be tackled not as “Sinhalese”,”Tamils” or “Muslims” problems, but as national problems according to the national plan, and acts accordingly; a leadership that realises that the key to peace and harmony whether ethnic or otherwise lies not pandering to the hunger of politicians for power, whether in the name of devolution or not, but in fairplay and justice, and acts according to the fundamental principle that all citizens of all races, castes, creeds and political opinions are entitled to equal rights in every part of the Country; and above all, a leadership, that realises that the People are not mere voters to be duped or manipulated by political horse-deals and fine words, but human being to be served and proceeds to serve them.”

    With above words, I believe “SL” will live with us for ever and ever. Hope our Leaders will get the “MESSAGE”.

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