Deshamanya Bradman Weerakoon, who turned 80 recently, is an elder statesman in Sri Lanka and one of the oldest living civil servants in the country. During over half a century of public service, Bradman served nine Sri Lankan heads of State. It is frankly impossible in 24 minutes to capture this wealth of experience. What the discussion did concentrate was on key chapters in Bradman’s life. Bradman’s answers are always measured and diplomatic.
We began by discussing the pregnant title of his memoirs, Rendering Unto Ceasar, placing it in Biblical context (from Matthew 22:21) and going on to explore why Bradman embraced Buddhism when he was around 18.
We then discussed the Tamil pogrom of 1983, where the then President made Bradman the first Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES). I asked Bradman how it felt like to work on humanitarian aid and relief within a government, and indeed a President, widely known in later years to have condoned the violence. We also spoke about another bloody chapter in Sri Lanka’s history, the violence in the late 80s with the JVP uprising. At a time when Sri Lanka’s human rights record was significantly blemished, Bradman was appointed Presidential Advisor on International Relations. I asked him to compare his defence of the Premadasa administration versus the defence of the incumbent government, and recent allegations of gross human rights abuse, by those in and close to power now.
In light of the above, I asked Bradman to comment on the 81st comment in an interview conducted by Marianne David and published in the blog of DBS Jeyaraj on occasion of his 80th birthday. The comment noted, ““ Being a close associate to seven past leaders he was equally or more responsible for mistakes made by them.”
We spoke about his latest book, Kalutara, a look at the district of his birth and early childhood, written after the death of his wife. I ask him what led to the book, how he went about the research for it, and importantly, the complex ethnic and identity relations he found in this district alone.
After more compelling discussion on the issues above, the interview ends with a question to Bradman on whether he thinks it is possible to recreate the commitment and work ethic his life is an example of, or whether he is a product of a by-gone era.