|Tuesday, 24 September 2002|
Remembering D. J. Wimalasurendra on his 128th birth anniversary : He lit up the land
by Karel Roberts Ratnaweera
CEB's debt to Wimalasurendra:Cheap,uninterrupted electricity.
That was the headline of an article by Prof' K. Sivasubramanian on the 127th birth anniversary of D.J. Wimalasurendra, and published in the Daily News on the 17th.
A Daily News news item of Wednesday the 17th reported that a statue of the great man, Devapura Jayasena Wimalasurendra was unveiled to mark his 128th birth anniversary on that date.
A postage stamp was also issued a few years ago to commemorate this Sinhala genius to whom we have a debt of gratitude that cannot be repaid in statues and stamps,speeches and articles.
How, then, can we ever repay this great debt to the Father of the Hydroelectric Scheme which gave us light when we were in a dark age? More statues and more special stamps, speeches and press articles? Such debts are not easily repaid;what would be appropriate is to build on what he began,take 'his lights'to places in this island where there is no light,take the light into the homes of rural people, some of whom still live in primitive conditions in this supposedly enlightened day and age.
D.J. Wimalasurendra became a legend in his lifetime-and that happens to only a few, especially those who are not popular, active politicians.They say he was an engineer without peer in the country.Last year at this time the power cuts were on causing untold inconveniences to millions of people in all areas of the country. D.J. was a visionary,but he could not have foreseen that the population of this country would push 20 million between the time he created his monumental engineering feat and now. He would have been appalled.
A short, stocky man, very dark in complexion, intellectual genius though he was,was never aloof from his people. He was never too busy with his great engineering scheme to sit down and talk about simple things with simple people.
Wimalasurendra's father,master-craftsman Don Juan Dewapura Jayasinghe Wimalasurendra of Galwadugoda, Galle, was honoured by Queen Victoria. The senior Wimalasurendra's ability to engrave on diamonds was not known to anyone else,even those of his own goldsmith clan.
This ability was noted by the British Governor of the time who had his initials engraved on his own diamond ring by the master craftsman.. It is said that on seeing the ring, Queen Victoria summoned Wimalasurendra to Windsor Castle outside London where the Royal Family was in residence at the time, as it still does during the summer social season. Wimalasurendra engraved the queen's name on a diamond pendant. The queen rewarded him -even as his ancestors used to be rewarded by the Sinhala kings of yore for their work-by conferring on him the rank of Mudaliyar and presenting him with a portrait of her in oil which is still to be seen in the formal drawing room of his Colombo 06 residence.
Wimalasurendra took part in an exhibition being held in London on Queen Victoria's invitation. He presented the monarch with a unique gift-a model of a coconut flower carved from ivory. With the sheath of the pol mala in the closed position, it did not look anything unusual. But when it was being presented to the queen, Wimalasurendra pressed a concealed key and the sheath separated into two. The flower 'blossomed' in all its glory.
The gift is now in London's Victoria and Albert Museum which houses valuable gifts given to Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert, and other Victoria memorabilia.
D.J. Wimalasurendra junior about whom this article is written,was a devout Buddhist. Very close to his heart was the designing of the golden pinnacle of Dutugemunu's Ruwanweli Maha Seya, a great honour that was accorded to him by the State and one which he cherished more than anything else.
D.J. Wimalasurendra sat in the Legislative Council, but engineering and creative designing were his greatest loves, not politics. He married Millicent de Silva, sister of a former highly respected Director of Education S.F. de Silva, a close kinsman of the Wimalasurendras.
Produced by Lake House