Monday, 06 June 2011
The line of the Sanskrit Sloka or verse Vidvan Sarvasta Pujate - “The learned is honoured and respected everywhere.” How true when you think about late Dr. N. M. Perera’s life! He was a colossus among our national leaders. He is recognised globally. He was considered as a financial wizard. In his distinguished academic career, he obtained two doctorates. A Phd and a Dsc Doctorate in Philosophy and doctorate in Science-Economics. Dr. N. M. Perera, was a proud product of the world renowned, University of London Economic Professor Dr. Harold Laski. Dr. N. M. Perera was the blue-eyed boy, the favourite pupil of Harold Laski. Dr. N. M. Perera was a keen, student, very innovative and intelligent. He had a magical power to grasp the finer points in a lecture or in a discussion.
Once the eminent economics professor said, “Out of all my students NM was outstanding. He is brilliant. If he was born in the United Kingdom - England, he may have been the Lord Exchequer or Finance Minister and even the Prime Minister of Great Britain”.
What a compliment!
Dr. N. M. Perera was born on June 6, 1906 at Totalanga.
He started his schooling at S’Thomas College, studied under Warden Stone. Later he joined the leading Buddhist Educational Institute - Ananda Vidyalaya - Colombo. The Principal of Ananda Vidyalaya at that time was the great mathematician and Buddhist Educationist Dr. P. De. S. Kularatne.
The Ananda Principal, modelled Ananda College to a standard of a British public school, with a Buddhist background and culture. The boys were taught Sinhala, Tamil, English, Buddhism and there were many co-curricular activities like sports - cadeting etc. He introduced a ‘Big-Match’ with Nalanda, an off shoot of Ananda. In year 1925, N. M. Perera captained the Ananda First XI. His rival skipper of Nalanda was B. S. Perera. Ananda was beaten in the Big-Match.
From his school days at Ananda, N. M. Perera showed leadership qualities. He was appointed as the Head Prefect ‘Head Cop’ the year N. M. captained.
I wish to relate an incident revolved around the Head Prefect N.M. In mid 1925, Ananda College organized a carnival to raise funds for the building project. Elaborate arrangements were made and student stewards, the prefect, were in charge of gates and entrances. Car passes given for VIP’s, staff members to park their vehicles inside the carnival grounds. At a meeting held Principal P. De. S. Kularatne gave strict instructions to the Head Prefect N. M. Perera and other prefects, no vehicles to be taken inside the college premises without valid car passes.
On the day of the carnival, Principal P. De S. Kularatne drove his car to enter the college premises. The Principal did not have a car pass. The Head Cop N. M. Perera who was manning the main gate, very politely spoke to his Principal.
“Sir, I am very sorry, you cannot take your vehicle inside as you do not have the vehicle pass. If you want to take the car in, please produce the car-pass”, stated the Head Prefect N. M. Perera.
“N. M. I will go home and bring the car-pass. I appreciate very much that you are carrying the instructions given to you and other prefects, by our organizing committee. I am proud of you and your prefects”.
P. De S. Kularatne turned, reversed his vehicle went home to bring the car pass. This little story will illustrate how N M as a student, maintained discipline and his character. He never bowed down to any one. He believed in fair-play and justice. The discipline and character he maintained as a student became a “Transfer of Training in his real life too. Its true, he treaded the difficult political path”, but, his conscience was clear and he maintained discipline and strong principles to the letter. Very rarely we come across a man of NM’s standing.
NM was a highly disciplined man throughout his life. He devoted his entire life to serve the people of this country without caste, creed, language, colour or religious differences. This great national leader always stood for One Sri Lanka. He was always a Man of Principles. He never discriminated against any one.
After a brilliant all-round performance at Ananda in 1930’s, he entered the University College, IT was elevated as University of Ceylon in 1944.
N M Perera was a man of many parts. He was an exemplary student, who always stood for justice. Even in his university days, he was a revolutionist. He got involved in all co-curricular activities. He played cricket for the University College team. He was interested in drama and played the lead role in a Sinhala drama written by Dr O H De S Wijesekera and produced by Dr Gunapala Malalasekera. The play was titled ‘Nagareyen Ketata’.
N M Perera after obtaining an Honours Degree in Economics served as a university lecturer for a few years. Later, he proceeded to England to do his Post Graduate Degree and joined the University of London. He was an outstanding student and obtained a Double Doctorate - Phd and Dsc - Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Science. During his stay, he took an active part with other Asian students against British Imperialism. They were anti-imperialists and the struggle for independence began when they arrived in their respective countries.
Most of the Marxist politicians, like Philip Gunawardane, Dr Colvin R De Silva, Dr S A Wickramasinghe, Dr N M Perera, Pieter Keuneman, sowed the seeds of Marxists in Sri Lanka. In 1935, the political party of Ceylon - the Lanka Samasamaja Party was formed. The intelligentsia of the country rallied round this party. The dedicated, honest left oriented Leslie Gunawardena, Vivian Gunawardane, Edmund Samarakkody, Robert Gunawardena, Doric Souza, Bernard Soysa, Dr. Osmund Jayaratne, Karalsingham, Bala Tampoe, W William, joined the Lanka Samasamaja Party. There were ideological differences and they were divided into two groups - Bolsheviks - led by Dr Colvin R De Silva and Trotskiyites led by Dr N M Perera.
Then there was the Communist Party of Sri Lanka led by that kindhearted gentlemen Dr S A Wickramasinghe and Pieter Keunemen etc. They fought against the British imperialists and had to pay the prize.
Many Samasamaja leaders were imprisoned which included Dr N M Perera, Dr Colvin R De Silva, Edmund Samarakkody, Philip Gunawardene to name a few.
They were all honest great political leaders. Their main aim was to see a socialist country and eradicate poverty and give equal opportunities to every individual as Sri Lankans.
During the 1930’s, the Malaria epidemic broke out. It was the worst of our times. It was the season of darkness. People had nothing before them. In the scenario, left leaders like Dr N M Perera went from house to house and distributed food to the poverty stricken people in Yatiyantota, Ruwanwella, Dehiowita, Anhettigama, Udabage, Nilwala, Nooriya, Basnagala and Dodawatta.
He went from house to house, and distributed Dhal ( Parippu ) in the Kegalle district. N M was known as Parippu Mahattaya, in these areas.
When N M Perera, Dr Colvin R De Silva, Edmund Samarakkody, Philip Gunawardena were imprisoned, with the help of Robert Gunawardena, they escaped from jail and went into hiding. Dr N M went to India and took on an Indian name, he served as a banker in an Indian Bank. Leslie, Vivian and some LSSPers were in India for few years. They fought against the British imperialists and their henchmen. Their escape from prison was like an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.
An English planter by the name of Brace Girdle who supported the leftists was another victim of the imperialists and the case of Brace Girdle also hit the headlines during the late 1930’-1940’s. He became a hero among the working class.
Dr N M Perera, held the prestigious positions as Leader of the Opposition. That in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s 1970 government he held the portfolio of Finance Minister. Earlier, he served as the Mayor of Colombo and his era was considered as the golden era of the Colombo Municipality. He was methodical, meticulous committed and disciplined.
He was undoubtedly an ornament in Parliament. He earned the highest respect and regard from D S Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, Sir John Kotalawala, J R Jayewardene, SJV Chelvanayakam, G G Ponnambalam and Dr W Dhanayakae. He was a brilliant orator and fine-debator. He was a wonderful human being. Everyone respected him. His charming pleasant personality and smile was simply magic.
In the 1977 General Elections, Dr N M Perera and all leftists lost their seats. That’s how the game goes.
Dr N M Perera was a fine cricketer and tennis player. He was a President of the Nondescript Cricket Club - (NCC) and later elected as the President of the BCCSL from 1977/1978. He laid the foundation for Sri Lanka cricket to gain Test status.
Dr N M Perera was a national leader, a great son of Sri Lanka and a fine human being.