Life Abroad 128 - Tricky Tricks!

Bandiya (86) and Rankira (98) posing for writer underneath a rare photograph of King Sri Wickremarajasinghe with his Crown on at there residence​ in Kandy.

Bandiya ploys sub-warden

Standing under a rare picture of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, with his crown on, Bandiya 86 (left) Rankira (right) 98, posing for a photograph to the writer during the interview;. Bandiya has managed to obtain it from Galmadulla Rajamaha Vihara for Rs.15,000 and got it reprinted at Luxman Studios Kandy. It is believed that only two copies of the King wearing the throne is available at present, one at Bandiya’s residence and the other copy at Luxman Studios, Kandy

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. 

In 1968 Wijesim Peelige Bandiya (Peter Wijesinghe) bought his first car - sparkling Lotus white Volkswagen 1500 Beetle, with the help of his brother- in-law in Germany. In its pristine condition Bandiya was seen driving his new toy with pride to office daily. As a ritual, he washed this new car first thing in the morning before the office work commenced at 9 am, while it was parked on the road outside the Sri Lanka High Commission building.

Bandiya says the English neighbours seeing him washing the car on a daily basis gave some waggish looks, perhaps thinking, "how the hell this Asian guy managed to buy a brand new car" ! Seemingly, the serpent of jealousy was beginning to raise its ugly head all around! 

Family man 

His daughter decided to study music and became very keen to learn how to play the musical instrument, the Bassoon. It was not easy to find this musical instrument in London those days but after much research and determination, and with the help of his in -laws in Germany, he managed to source one out from a place called Ushti in Bohemia. Wijesinghe subsequently travelled all the way to Bohemia and got a Bassoon especially made for his daughter at a cost of £4000 in 1960s, which was considered as a fair amount of money. Finally she qualified at the Royal College and Trinity College of Music in England under Rohan de Saram (professor), her music teacher, and was privileged to perform in the presence of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, aboard the Royal Yatch Britannia.

To finance his daughter's education, with all her other extra curricular activities, began to weigh him down financially. This made him do three jobs continuously for some time - one was his permanent job at the Sri Lanka High Commission, second job at the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Forces of Europe at Grosvenor Square, and the third at Seymour Limoscene company owned by Sultan Khabu. Working during weekends alone for Len Johnson at the Seymour Limoscene Company, Bandiya was paid £100 net.

Ceylon Students Centre

During this period the Ceylon Students Centre started to operate from Clarendon Place in Sussex Square, a stone's throw away from the High Commission. Bandiya recalls how some dubious officials appointed by the Ceylon Government at the time to run the Centre engaged in pilfering activities. When bulk orders of rice and other groceries were placed from Gandhi Stores in East London, the invoices were sent to the High Commission for settlement, while part of the orders was dispatched directly to various private addresses of the hierarchy who were appointed to run the place effectively and efficiently!

Shabby management 

It is said that the income, generated by renting out rooms and offering subsidised rice and curry meals for Sri Lankan Students at the Students Centre, appeared to be 'wishy-washy'. The management had been running so haphazardly that most of the time the government treasury had to cross-subsidise to keep the Students Centre running! The worst thing, he claims to be the plundering aspect by the responsible officers who were appointed by the Ceylon/Sri Lanka government to run the Centre efficiently by getting part of the bulk orders for the Students Centre kitchen, getting delivered to their homes! This he fearlessly claims as the downfall of the Ceylon Students Centre in London finally.

Podi Appuhamy was the main cook at the Ceylon Students Centre. Bandiya says Podi Appuhamy was quite aware of what was happening at the time but was helpless being a minor employee. Podi Appuhamy worked as the chef at the Ceylon/Sri Lanka Students Centre for twenty long years, but simultaneously worked in the mornings at the canteen at the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Forces in Europe, during the weekdays. In the afternoons, and during weekends he worked as the chef at the Ceylon/Sri Lanka Students Centre. The Ceylon/Sri Lanka government, from the beginning, accommodated him free of charge until he retired.

Once retired he too became a philanthropist and helped his own mother country in numerous ways to comfort the poor, particularly by sending medicinal cargo and wheel chairs in container loads, out of his own funds as well as collected from others during the terrorist war. By coordinating with the hierarchy of the Sri Lanka Police, he set up several local dispensaries in border villages at war torn areas and ensured that stocks of medicine in such pharmacies were replenished regularly by sending new stocks from London. The writer has written about Podi Appuhamy under the caption " without cap, gown and convocation" under Life Abroad column in episode 21. 

New Year celebrations

During a particular Sinhala New Year, Podi Appuhamy was inclined to celebrate the occasion with a few of his friends, who were mainly army trainees in the UK at time from Sri Lanka. Being a resident at the Students Centre the only way he could do this was by inviting his guests to his room to a tasty rice and curry session. For this purpose he had bought all the provisions from a nearby supermarket as he was, on principle, not inclined to use anything that belonged to the students centre, except of course using his own room as the venue.

On the very next day, after the celebration, news got round when the guilty conscience of those rapscallion officials began to prick their own mind. They straightaway seized the opportunity (may be to cover up their own sins) and prepared a charge sheet against Podi Appuhamy calling for explanation as to why disciplinary action should not be taken against him for using government property and premises. This, no doubt, came as a bolt from the blue to Appuhamy. Podi Appuhamy in a nervous mood contacted Peter Wijesinghe immediately for advice and help.

Peter Wijesinghe (Bandiya) observed that the show cause notice had been signed by the Assistant Warden of the Students Centre, who himself was an invitee to the party and enjoyed the food. He wanted to know the exact number and the list of Appuhamy's invitees who attended the party. Thirdly, he prepared a letter answering all the indictments in the charge sheet and drafted a reply for Appuhamy and addressed it to the Deputy High Commissioner, the late Pathmarajah, and instructed Podi Appuhamy to by-pass the sub- warden and hand over the letter personally to Pathmarajah in the absence of the High Commissioner, Sir Lalitha Rajapaksa, who was on holiday in Sri Lanka; to look it more official, the latter was marked with a cc to Sir Lalitha Rajapaksa.

The moment Pathmarajah glanced at the letter and observed how the sub- warden had cheekily signed the indictment he flew off the handle as the Sub-warden at the Students Centre had no authority whatsoever to sign and issue such a charge sheet to an employee without the authorisation by the High Commissioner or Acting High Commissioner in his absence. 

One-man commission 

On the following day, Mr. Pathmarajah set up a one-man commission of enquiry and vested all its powers to Mr. L. Mariadasan, the Trade Commissioner. Bandiya and Appuhamy in the meanwhile kept mum on the issue. However, in the process of the ongoing enquiry, Sri Lankan elections were held and a change of government took place; evidently the inquiry went underground!

During the trouble period, the Ceylon/Sri Lanka government had allocated a sum of £75,000 a year as a subsidy to run the Ceylon Students Centre, still due to bad management and pilfering that took place by the very people who ' were in charge of running the show’ could not even able to break even, apart from making a profit!

It is also alleged that some 30-40 students regularly, day and night, visited the Students Centre to have a belly full of rice and curry and many cups of milk tea scot-free; it was also claimed that some of the students who rented rooms at the Centre never paid a penny as rent (if they did, those were not accounted for), the  worst being a few others used to break into the telephone coin-box installed at the Students Centre and removed all the coins in it as well! Finally the Health Authorities at Paddington, Westminster Borough, threatened to close down the Students Centre due to 'health hazards'. This is how the Ceylon Students Centre went down, became dilapidated and finally had to be sold out to a foreigner.

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