Fortunately, or unfortunately, I had a very early inclination for left wing or red politics by fate or circumstances. My father was an apolitical person who used to say that he would vote for the ‘good candidate,’ no matter what the political party is. I remember him saying this during the 1952 elections. I was only seven years at that time.
On urban council elections, he voted for Watson Fernando (not a relation!) who contested from the Communist Party. That time I didn’t know who contested from what party. I came to know the details later. But what I remember very clearly was an incident related to a ‘confrontation’ between the Reds and the Greens.
The Elephant with the Moving Trunk
Our house was near the St. Peter’s Lane from the main road leading to Korelawella. In between was only the Church. I think this happened on the election-day itself. In the morning, I could suddenly see very colourful decorations along the lane, small flags tied to cords (lanu) laid across the road. Most of them were red flags and in between there were green flags as well. Those days election decorations were not prohibited. I was eagerly watching them fascinated by the colours and swaying flags in the wind.
Towards noon time, I heard a vehicle, decorated colourfully, entered the lane from the main road with a loudspeaker playing music and occasional announcements. The vehicle, a Morris Minor with an open roof, was full of green. It had a mounted green elephant on top. Most peculiar was its trunk; it was movable up or down.
When the vehicle came across red flags, the elephant mounted its trunk and destroyed them. The green flags were spared, the elephant lowering its trunk to avoid them. In few minutes, all the red flags were gone and only the greens remained.
I was annoyed against the Green and the Elephant, the symbols of conservative politics at that time.
The next year was the Hartal. It was a major general strike and/or people’s uprising against the government. I was eight years of age. I remember a major demonstration parading on the main road few days before the event. There were hundreds of people marching, but that appeared to me thousands. I ran to the gate and watched it. It was impressive and colourful. There was some force and courage in it which I liked.
Most impressive was David taking a leading role in the demonstration. He was almost at the front, on a bicycle, wearing a red shirt, a white sarong and most impressively a red cap. I was excited. He even had a large red flag mounted on a pole and tied to his bicycle. The flag embraced his face and he was even shouting something.
We used to call him HadigamaDavid after our father. Hadigama was his home village in Piliyandala, about ten miles from our home. Hadi-gama literally meant ‘brawny-village.’ Hadigama or Piliyandala symbolized the rural to us those days with paddy fields and most importantly several types of monkeys. Ours was urban with no monkeys or paddy fields. David was working at the Velona Vocational School as a carpenter or carpentry instructor. Perhaps my father was responsible for putting him into that job. My father was working at the Labour Department. David used to come to our place and do all carpentry work but didn’t take much money other than some gifts from my mother.
I used to admire this man because he was tall, strong and talked in a brave voice. He was a ‘knowledgeable man’ on many matters (to me) but when he was telling us stories my father used to smile and move away for some reason. He cannot be fighting for the wrong cause, I thought after the demonstration. Therefore, I was in support of Hartal in 1953 when I was eight years.
There were other events. I think it was the day before the Hartal, the army also had a parade on our road. They were marching towards Korelawella. It was different. It was just a march with no guns but small sticks in hand of every soldier. They were about fifty. They did not impress me, except their uniforms and boots. But what was the purpose of the march? I came to know the purpose only later. Korelawella area, popularly called ‘Little Korea’ because of continuous ‘troubles,’ was supposed to be a hot bed of Hartal and left-wing activities. That was the meaning of the army march – to give a clear warning.