Hold Me In Contempt: A Memoir

The following foreword to the book by Dr. Shirani A.Bandaranayake, he 43rd Chief Justice of Sri Lanka was removed from her office by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, following a controversial impeachment process in Parliament. While the preceding 2 months were tumultuous in itself, the narrative of what transpired was largely dictated by the media and the Government.

I love the months of October through December. The air in the city of Colombo, which is generally humid, becomes cooler by the evening and it is heavenly to see the setting sun in the backdrop of the homeward bound array of birds. During such evenings, whilst sitting in my favourite chair of our dining table, with my evening cup of tea, I could see over our western boundary wall, the dancing lush leaves of the tree tops at the Golf Grounds. The last rays of the setting sun sweep a crimson red with a gleaming shine over the trees and through the swinging rhythm of the branches, I could see the path I had traversed over five decades.

Dr. Shirani A.Bandaranayake
2018 was exceptional for me. I had turned 60. I was still five years away from my statutory retirement age in either of the institutions I had worked, but had already completed well over five years in the seclusion of my abode. My fingers, curled around the evening cup of tea, were slowly reverberating the events that had taken place in those yesteryears. Throughout the days, weeks and months of October, November and December, whenever I sat with my evening cup of tea, gradually memories started gushing in, pushing me, firstly gently and later quite hard and dragging me to the thought of sharing my life story.

I tried hard to shed the idea; resisting and refusing. All within myself. It took time: minutes, hours, days and weeks. At the end I had to succumb to my thoughts. The end result is what you have in your hand. Still, it is not my life story. I just walked in the garden of my life and picked up some of the parched leaves that had fallen during the autumn through the winter seasons in 2012 and 2013. I thought of keeping the others that had fallen during the spring and the summers of my life which were different, interesting and full of fragrance of life, for a later date.

Throughout my life, in different timelines, I had enormous support, which cannot be expressed in words, from all my loved ones.

I became who I am purely due to the unstinting efforts of my beloved mother and father, my Amma and Appachchie as we used to address them, in my upbringing and more so due to the enormous freedom given to me at all times. My father, soon after his Graduation from the University of London, had started his career as a Principal, in the outskirts of the country, with his zealousness to educate the under privileged. He continued his service setting an example of being the longest serving Provincial Director of Education in the North Central Province for a period of well over ten years, regardless of Anuradhapura being a place well away from my father or mother’s hometown. Appachchie hailed from Purijjala, Matale whereas Amma descended from Madabawita in the Western Province. My mother, an English Trained Teacher, in addition to her expertise as an educator in the English language as well as in English literature was versatile in oriental music and could play several instruments, the Piano and the Esraj, being her favourite.

During the era of my childhood, it was a dream for a child, especially a daughter, to have so much freedom from parents to grow up freely without any restrictions. Amma and Appachchie were not only understanding, but also respected and cherished the desire and the yearning of a child to grow up with the feeling of freedom; with independence. I had an insatiable craving for books, which was inculcated in me at a tender age by my mother and fostered by my father, making me a voracious reader. Whilst being engrossed in reading multiple types of books, both in English and Sinhala, I could climb trees, keep on cycling, fix a car battery, change tyres and drive a vehicle well before I turned 18. I read the books recommended for Senior School Certificate students, whilst studying in Grade 7 and had completed my studies obtaining a Ph.D in Law from the University of London, prior to my 28th birthday. Both my parents accepted and acknowledged with perfect understanding my resistance to be admitted to one of the prestigious Girls schools in Colombo. They realised my desire to be with them during the time I was going through my primary and secondary education and had the perfect appreciation that what mattered to me was not the school, but to be with my parents.

In later years, well after I had graduated, I realised the kind of strain they were in due to my decision to complete my entire primary and secondary education in several outstation co-ed schools, but they never tried to force me to change my mind. The amount of care, patience, tolerance and understanding of my mother and father was unbelievable and both of them had proved beyond any reasonable doubt that they were true to the word, versatile educationists. I had been so very fortunate to have been born to such wonderful parents.

Pradeepa, my husband, Shaveen, our son, whom we affectionately refer to as ‘Putha’, my only sibling; my younger sister Renuka, whom I fondly call ‘Nangi’, and her husband – my brother in law Kapila – were always there for me, like my shadow, for the entirety of the impeachment saga. The period between 2012 to 2015 was an arduous time, to say the least, for all five of us. Pradeepa and Shaveen, who were there with me in Colombo, Sri Lanka throughout that period, had to undergo unimaginable and inexplicable hardships due to my actions and decisions. It is embedded in my mind that they had to suffer unnecessarily and that I am responsible for the fate they faced. During the months of November 2012 and January 2013, Shaveen was studying for his LL.B and I cannot imagine to this date how he did his studies surrounded with all the hounding wolves, and obtained his Degree with Honours.

Although Nangi and Kapila lived seas beyond from Colombo, in Perth, Australia, they had very well felt the flames of the roaring fires of the impeachment just as much as we were within it. I think the two of them suffered as much as we did and their biggest difficulty was that there was no way that they could help the three of us who were far away from them in Colombo. Nangi and Kapila never forgot a single birthday or an anniversary and always there were gifts sent. With my request to stop all that, as there were wolves waiting to pounce at every such interval, the two of them fell into a pit of sadness, not knowing how to help us at a time we badly needed it. I still recall what my sister had gone through not only during the time of the inquiry before the Parliamentary Select Committee, but even after my impeachment. She was stunned when she learnt that I was thrown out of my office in the most unlawful manner possible. Later she had been dumbfounded, when she heard that after throwing me out of office that the Bribery Commission had filed not one, but three cases against me in the Magistrate’s Courts. On both occasions, there had been only one word dangling over her head. She had not uttered or heard anything else. Why? Both of them had been stunned to hear that Pradeepa became a suspect in a case filed by the Bribery Commission against him.

I could always feel the grief and the sorrow Nangi and Kapila were in during our dire days, for not being able to do what they would have loved to do, to assist the three of us in Colombo. The distance between Perth and Colombo or the impounding of our passports barring foreign travel, refusal of visas to enter Australia, even when we were invited, for us to get at least a short breather of one week, had never been a barrier for our closeness and we could always feel the beat of our five hearts. That closeness was our biggest strength. We knew that Nangi and Kapila were there for us always.

Heshi, our son’s life partner, whom we treat and regard as our own daughter, completes our closely knitted small family unit and her closeness and the affection has always placed an extra smile on my face. I still recall her visits during the days of the inquiry, and specially in the month of December 2012. When we were having discussions over the impending reality, she was used to sitting next to Putha, and assisting in whatever matter at hand.

I cannot forget how much the Corgi from Churchlands and the Chihuahua at Lake Drive, whose mischievous deeds we share over Skype and WhatsApp, had helped to bring in vibrant radiance in to the gloomy days of our lives.

When all hell broke loose and my life was turned up side down over night, along with the fondest of memories of Amma and Appachchie, Pradeepa, Shaveen, Nangi, Kapila and Heshi were there with me; holding hands, fingers cuddled in mind and soul. It was so very comforting. I owe a great debt to all of them. I love all of them dearly and that affection would never cease. All of them mean so much to me.