W.Sumith Wickramasinghe of Sri Lanka




Sumith Wickramasinghe was born on the island of Ceylon as it was known in 1935. His illustrious parents were Wickremarachige Subatheris and Somawathie Wickramasinghe - both his parents were Headteachers in two different village schools - Sumith\'s mother was Principal of Ambaraluwa Maha Vidyalaya in the village in Weliweriya in the Gampaha district. To this day Sri Lanka enjoys one of the highest literacy rates in Asia - the key message is education, education, education and Sumith\'s parents played a pivotal role in Ambaraluwa - their students went on to greater heights.


This ethos on learning and the value of education came from the hearts of Subatheris and Somawathie Wickramasinghe, they would certainly have agreed that \'knowledge is power.\' As a result of their status as Headteachers they were accorded the highest respect in Buddhist circles in the village.


Teachers were held in such high regard because of the value of education. The schools in Ambaraluwa were absolutely vital, the lifeblood of the village and Headteachers were very powerful people in the life of the village they would be today\'s community leaders - Ambaraluwa hasn\'t changed much over the years and the family house still stands off the main road. Sumith\'s surviving brother Daya lives there. Dayananda Wickramasinghe is also known as Podi Mahaththaya in the village of Ambaraluwa, Sumith was known as Punchi Mahaththaya.


Sumith grew up in Ambaraluwa, he was one of five children and his only surviving brother Daya lives in the sprawling family home in the village of Ambaraluwa - his nephews and nieces still live in houses built on adjoining family land. Ambaraluwa is off the beaten track in the island of Sri Lanka, the village is a very quiet area, the pace of life is slow certainly much slower than the commercial capital of Colombo - you find the usual shops and boutiques on the main road in Ambaraluwa - selling everything from Coca Cola to bananas. Sumith attended the local school during World War II.


The island became the Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972. Sri Lanka is situated at the tip of India.Ceylon was going through a transfer of power when Sumith was born in 1935. The British were ruling Ceylon at the time and the Governor and Commander-in-Chief was Sir Reginald Edward Stubbs.


The cry for freedom and independence grew stronger in the 1930s and the Ceylon National Congress were calling for responsible government for the people of Ceylon, others followed the Gandhian ideal of \'swaraj,\' advocating more forceful expressions of opposition to British rule. D.B.Jayatilake, D.S.Senanayake, Ponnambalam Arunachalem, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, A.E.Goonesingha, C.E.Corea, Victor Corea (father of Sumith\'s good friend Charlie Corea), E.W.Perera, and the \'younger generation\' of Ceylonese politicians -G.G.Ponnambalam, S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, Dudley Senanayake, J.R.Jayewardene were among those who were deeply involved in the political struggle at the time.


These politicians were fearless and spoke out for the rights and freedoms for their people. It was partly to acknowledge this and to encourage the freedom movement that Mahatma Gandhi arrived in Ceylon on his first and last visit in November 1927 - Gandhi travelled the length and breadth of the island - from Jaffna to Chilaw - promoting his message of non-violence.He even visited Sumith\'s alma mater, Ananda College and spoke to the teachers and students. Gandhi also visited Kalutara - Sumith and Prema Wickramasinghe were to make Kalutara their home. The people of Kalutara raised Rs. 1,695.85 for Mahatma Gandhi\'s fund during that historic visit in November 1927.


The Ceylonese looked to him as a role model and embraced his concept of \'swaraj.\' Sumith\'s parents longed for a free Ceylon and the goings on in Colombo were the talk of the verandahs in Ambaraluwa. They were avid readers and were fully aware of current affairs in Ceylon. They talked about the visit of Mahatma Gandhi to Ceylon even in the village of Ambaraluwa.


The introduction of universal suffrage in 1931 with the general elections on the island in 1931 led to the formation of the first State Council in Ceylon from 1931-1935.Sumith Wickramasinghe was born into this world of change - by the time he joined Ananda College as a young student, Ceylon would win her freedom in 1948 through independence on the 4th of February