Entrepreneurship And Philanthropy

Good Heavens! I am taken by surprise by the fact that those seniors who are living abroad writing back to me saying how the series rekindle their 'memories of home country and the many Sri Lankans they met in London'. I am thankful to Faith J Ratnayake, wife of Dr. Hema Ratnayake (BBC Sinhala Service 'Sandesaya'- 1959 to 1965) who has worked in many places and with the FAO Colombo for 25 years, for writing to me last week in appreciation.

It's very rare to find many individuals (still living!) with interesting past events and equally who are able to remember and relate such experiences during their 'life abroad'. In that respect I raise my hat to Sepala Munasinghe, an erudite Barrister, whom I have been able to convince (with greatest difficulty), to decipher some of the interesting and valuable information of the past, worthy of note, for the benefit of readers like Faith Ratnayake to take them back along their memory lane.

Departure

Young Sepala was sent to England by his parents in 1958 to read law and qualify as a Barrister. After qualifying, he returned to 'Ceylon' in 1963. At the time Barristers had to pass in two subjects, Law of Property and Civil Procedure to meet the criteria and practice as Advocates, according to the prevalent regulations of Council of Legal Education of Ceylon.

In 1964 Sepala Munasinghe took oaths as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Ceylon before Hema Basnayake, then Chief Justice of Ceylon, and established as a practicing Advocate at Hultsdorf being a junior to Vernon Wijetunge QC; also worked in the Court of Appeal in many cases as junior to, inter alia, H. W. Jayawardene QC, HV Perera QC, G.T. Samarawickreme Q.C, TB Dissanayake, etc.

After practicing for approximately nine years in Ceylon, he got married, produced two daughters and returned to the UK to educate the children in 1972. When 'Ceylon' became a Republic, the two professions of proctors and advocates were fused into Attorneys in 1972 and all lawyers were described as Attorneys. In London, he was in practice as a Barrister in Chambers in Middle Temple from 1973 until he retired in 2002.

Antecedent

Sepala's father, Lairis Appu Munasinghe (City Mudalali) was a renowned entrepreneur who owned the Green Line Omnibus Co. Ltd. During nationalisation of bus companies, Green Line Omnibus Company had a fleet of about 200 buses or more along with the area monopoly to operate the town bus service in Anuradhapura. Green Line bus services also covered all over the NWP including routes such as Kurunegala to Anuradhapura, Putlam, Chilaw, Narammala, Wariyapola, and Nikerwaritiya etc.

By then Sir John Kotelawala, who entered the State Council in 1931 with the help and support of Lairis Appu Munasinghe, was the Minister of Transport and Works (before he became the Prime Minister).

Ministry of Transport was responsible for allocating routes to 'bus Companies' at that time, and all bus companies had to become registered as Limited Liability Companies with Nelson bus bodies (circa 1950) to obtain an operator's licence.

In that respect Sir John Kotelawala was able to display his gratitude to Lairis Appu Munasinghe, for his facilitation in coming into Sri Lankan politics through the State Council in 1931, by being munificent and granting Green Line Omnibus Company numerous bus routes as a mark of appreciation. The Green Line Bus Company operated under the City Bus Service symbol, hence Lairis Appu Munasinghe became fondly known as City Mudalali; his friends called him 'City'.

Prior to bus companies' registration procedure as 'limited liability companies', bus owners plied their busses according to their whims and fancies and anywhere they liked in competition, at times challenging their rivals and becoming almost murderous! (Similar to what is happening today within allocated routes!)

Defiance and providence

In the course of his professional practice of law, Cyril de Soysa came over to Kalutara. Providence paved the way for his life-long service to the cause of Buddhism at a time when Kalutara Bodhi Tree was in controversy and the Government Agent had deployed security officers to chase away devotees, who visited the sacred place!

Defying the decrees of the Government Agent, young Cyril de Soysa, invested his personal funds and took charge of the shrine to upgrade the temple. Ever since the Kalutara Bodhi Tree has become the zenith of his glorious service towards the cause of Buddhism where millions make offerings to the Buddha shrine and the sacred Bodhi tree today, irrespective of peoples' different faiths.

When financial constraints nearly throttled the building effort of the Colombo YMBA building, Cyril de Soysa approached Sir Ernest de Silva, a business magnate, banker, barrister and a renowned philanthropist and a philatelist, for assistance. Sir Ernest gave him a stamp, saying; "Cyril, take this to that particular stamp dealer. He will give you Rupees One-hundred thousand for it."

When Cyril de Soysa's business enterprises developed and the South Western Bus Company emerged he became the Managing Director; simultaneously he held the post of Chairman of All Ceylon Motor Bus Company's Association, which was a sorority of all the bus magnates of Ceylon. At the same period, Lairis Appu Munasinghe was the Managing Director of Green Line Omnibus Company.

Nationalisation

Nationalisation of bus private bus companies gave birth to the Ceylon Transport Board when SWRD Bandaranaike advocated 'nationalisation as part of the mandate' he sought from the electorate in the 1956 election. There had been an agreement with Cyril de Soysa that, 'if he could deliver the bus magnates without a conflict and hostility through The All Ceylon Motor Bus Company's Association, SWRD Bandaranaike would then appoint him as President of the Senate', the ultimate result being 'Sir Cyril managed to sell the bus owners down the drain by agreeing to deliver the bus owners without any competition or protest to SWRD Bandaranaike'.

Sir Cyril became President of the Senate, SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959 and W. Dhanayake became the Prime Minister. At that time Sir Cyril's brother V. T. de Soysa became the Managing Director of South Western Bus Company.

Friendship

Lairis Appu Munasinghe was a close friend of Sir Cyril de Soysa because of their business interests in Omnibus companies and Sepala Munasinghe came to know Sir Cyril when his father took him to Sir Cyril's residence in Melbourne Avenue, Bambalapitiya, and introduced Sepala to the great man prior to the young man's departure to England. When young Sepala was a student, reading for 'A' levels, at a "cram shop" in South Kensington, he managed to see Sir Cyril on numerous occasions whenever the latter visited London.

Through Sir Cyril's friendship with other bus magnates, such as Sir Leo Fernando, Jayasena Madhanayake, B.J. Fernando, B.H. William et al, Sir Cyril was able to raise funds for many Buddhist projects including the London Buddhist Vihara and Kalutara Bodhi.

The latter became Sir Cyril's pet project - the Bodhi by the bridge across Kalu Ganga at Kalutara South. Today the Kalutara Bodhi stands in all its glory as a fitting tribute to Sir Cyril's generosity and the tremendous efforts he, as a devout Buddhist, had put into propagating the Dharma and making it possible for thousands of devotees to worship at the Kalutara Bodhi in such splendid and serene surroundings with a massive Pagoda and a 'museum' underneath.

For many travellers passing through Kalutara it has become somewhat of a ritual (even for non Buddhists) to stop at the Kalutara Bodhi and insert coins to 'pin petti' (charity Boxes) to seek the Buddha's blessings and protection during their journeys before they proceed towards south of the country.

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PS. Sir Cyril and the London Buddhist Vihara in next episode.

Courtesy of Daily News Features | First published on 20th Feb 2014 : Submit by Tilak S Fernando


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