Life Abroad Conclusion Part 131 - Not a fairy tale! Bandiya accomplished the lot
Continuation of a fascinating true to life story of Wijesim Peelige Bandiya, son of a Kandyan ‘hack & burn’ peasant farmer, who sailed away from the Colombo harbour to the UK at a very tender age, with only three Australian pounds in his pocket, accompanied by Sir Oliver Goonatillake in 1948, married a German girl and transformed his life into something unimaginable over the years and returned to his roots as a ‘ laxapathiya’ (millionaire) and is now settled in a spacious house at the age of 86 with his brother Wijesim Peelige Ran Kira, 98 years old in Pahatha Dumbara, Kandy. Following are excerpts from an interview the writer had recently in Kandy with Wijesim Pelige Bandiya.
Wijesim Peelige Bandiya creditably transformed his village life in Sri Lanka into something unimaginable in the UK, like in a fairy tale in a fiction novel. From the time Sir Oliver Goonatillake, as the first High Commissioner in London, absorbed him to the Sri Lanka High Commission staff in London as a minor staff, Bandiya managed to transform himself into something sophisticated, both as Peter Wijesinghe and through his sheer enthusiasm by expanding his knowledge and improving his personality.
His assertive nature helped him to progress in his career attached to the Sri Lanka overseas service and was able to hold the record as the longest serviceman to his mother country by continuously working from 1948 until he retired officially on 9 November 2002. His self-edification, from the time he was trained to read by Rev. T.A de Silva, while he was ‘adopted’ in Kandy, helped him win the first prize for reading, which was a Bible. His other experiences of having the opportunity of working for Lord Mountbatten in Kandy, prior to his departure from Sri Lanka to the UK, did pay him off finally
His pleasing and obliging personality appealed to almost all his masters. That ‘very factor made all the High Commissioners to cherry-pick him as their ‘personal assistant’ exclusively during their tour of duty.
He widened his level of general knowledge through zealous reading of many books, newspapers and magazines of a wider scale, particularly the Bible and the Bagawath Geetha.
The dark pin- striped three-piece suit he always donned to office blended neatly with his polished clear-cut accent in English. When Peter Wijesinghe appeared and spoke a few words, it startled those who knew him as Bandiya and to wonder whether it was the same old Wijesim Pelige Baalaya’s son! Evidently his charismatic behaviour out numbered many a diplomat of recent years, who were posted to London from the Foreign Ministry in Colombo to represent Sri Lanka
.His marriage to a German lady, Hannah Worschech, also enhanced his character and helped him to particularly adjust to move with his Western friends and German in- laws. Yet he never paid any heed to the employment label he had to wear as a junior member of staff at the High Commission as he perfectly understood the meaning of division of labour and discharged his duties to the best of his ability honestly.
Once married, Wijesinghe couple travelled the world extensively to - France, Sweden, Germany, China, Russia, Belgium, Egypt, St. Francisco, Australia, Switzerland, India, Italy, Spain, Greece, Norway, Oslo (Vigeland Park); sailed the Corinthian Canal, Elbe River in Czech Republic, the Ganga (India), Mosque River (Perth), Yellow River (China,) Glacial River Warren in North America; walked one mile along the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square (China), Napa Valley St. Francisco, The Danube Europe's second-longest river in Central and Eastern Europe, visited the valley of the Kings and Queens in Egypt, Climbed the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo, Coliseum in Rome, Ankorwat the largest religious monument in the world and one of the Wonders of the World in Cambodia and Thras in Bulgaria which was an empire 10,000 years ago.
During his service at the High Commission in London, he has helped many a High Commissioner on various tactical issues concerned with national security and/or internal in-house disputes, but one thing that distressed him was when he retired officially in 1988, he received a cheque only for £1025, as his contribution of PSPF – minus the employer contributions over the years which would have amounted to approximately Rs.20 million as his final retirement according to his estimation.
He had no option but to file a case against the Sri Lanka High Commission in the British Employment Tribunal. It indeed appeared to be a cataclysmic situation where an employee who had given his longest service in the history of Sri Lanka's foreign service being denied of the employer’s PSPF contribution.
The High Commission maintained the government’s inability to pay the employer’s contribution share due to various obstacles that existed at the time! This he attributed to a “certain amount jealousy' of his receiving the British Civil Service Pension as well as his PSPF entitlement”.
As a last resort he appealed to Queen Elizabeth II, who is accredited to the Court of St. James. The Queen, in return, referred the matter to the Head of the Civil Service, and from there it was channeled to the Head of the Foreign Office and finally FO made a written appeal to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner with request to reconsider Wijesinghe’s case.
The High Commissioner, he said, never responded to the Foreign Office request, instead empowered a shrewd Sri Lankan lawyer, through the assistance of a Diplomatic Secretary, to approach Peter Wijesinghe on the premise of offering legal advice to win the case against the government on his PSPF dues.
The final out come was that the lawyer playing a game of duplicity purposely made Wijesinghe lose the case by deliberately avoiding the dead line assigned by the Court of Appeal, claiming he suffered from a bout of amnesia. The case was dismissed.
The lawyer’s conspiratorial and despicable act helped the Sri Lanka High Commission to come out of the woods. Peter Wijesinghe states that the High Commissioner at the time made an open statement to say that the government won the case on the grounds of diplomatic immunity'!
Although Wijesinghe lost about Rs.20 million rupees, his case paved the way to reintroduce the PSPF scheme, which had been abandoned for the locally recruited staff for a long time. This had been bugging him over the years. He is not concerned with the money aspect, but what he wants is to expose the injustice meted out to him after serving the Sri Lanka government for over 50 years continuously! Recently he has written to President Maithripala Sirisena highlighting this issue, with a cc to the Deputy Foreign Minister.
When Peter lost his wife in London he was devastated. His memory played up to remind him that Hanna died on the same bed next to him. He could not possibly live in the same house. Finally Hannah’s ashes were taken to Germany as per her wishes, and buried in Munich next to parents’ tombs. Her epitaph reads. Hannah Wijesinghe 1927 - 2005. Her parents’ epitaph reads: Worschech Alfred 1897 – 1958 and on her mother’s: Emilee 1903 -1967.
Finally he decided to come back to his roots and build a new house for him and his elder brother (98) and both of them live happily to date. To demonstrate his indissoluble love towards Hanna, Peter Wijesinghe has built a new Dharma Sala (Hall) at Yakgahapitiya village temple at a cost Rs. 8.5 million (85 lakhs) displaying the words “Hanna Wijesinghe Brook Newton Hall” carrying a prominent photograph of Hanna and daughter Rebecca, as a young child.
His main theme in life at present is to concentrate on charity. Being a vegetarian and attached to the Buddhist temple in his local village, he meditates in the mornings as a ritual. On account of the Poson Poya (on 2 May 2015), he organised an ice cream Dansela in his village Temple to feed 3000-4000 people out of his personal funds.
Thus concludes the fascinating true to life story of Wijesim Peelige Bandiya, son of a Kandyan ‘ hack & burn’ peasant farmer, who sailed away from the Colombo harbour to the UK at a very tender age, with only three Australian pounds in his pocket, accompanied by Sir Oliver Goonatillake in 1948, married Hannah Worschech, and transformed his life into something unimaginable over the years ; after the demise of his love he returned back to his roots in Kandy and leads a calm and relax life at the age of 86 with his brother, Rankira, 98, who seem to be both active and healthy. The writer had known him in London as Peter Wijesinghe from early 1970s.
Two items are overdue
Tilak S. Fernando