Chathurika Sirisena, launched Janadhipathi Thaththa (My father the President), on 15 September at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall. The first copy of the book was presented to President Sirisena by the author. The following is based on an interview with Chathurika, the President’s eldest daughter.
Excerpts of the interview:
? Did you give any thought to becoming a writer or did it happen by chance?
A: We have dreams when we are small. When I was a student I had a dream of becoming a writer. At that time, I was not only a good writer, but also a good stage actress and announcer, at school level. I have studied drama and acting and my leaning towards literature is from my father.
? Where did you school?
A: I studied up to A/L s at the Rajakeeya Maha Vidyalaya in Polonnaruwa.
? What made you to write your very first book on your father?
A: I had no intention of writing a book when I initially started collecting information on my father. As the eldest daughter, I felt I should gather all facts about my father and record them, as with time these will be lost, even for my children to remember what sort of a man their grandfather was. So this information gathering took a considerable amount of time.
? When did you actually start collecting this information in a systematic manner?
A: It was from the day, my father was presented with the Harvard University Global Award, for leadership in Health, as Minister of Health. It was a dream for us during that period. It was then that I decided on keeping a record of my father’s achievements. By that time, mother had collected a certain amount of information that had been written about my father.
? What did you feel when it was announced that your father was the common Presidential candidate?
A: It was a very complex experience. We as a family had experienced many political vicissitudes and suffered much. During the time of the war not only my father but we too had to live with death threats. But the experiences of that, one and a half months was totally different.
? How was that moment?
A: It was a moment that I will never ever forget in my life. The moment when my father stepped out and addressed the people…I have written a whole chapter on it every word that my father uttered that day in his speech. We were stood with our father, that day and we stood as one. We never gave thought to what would happen to us if we did not win.
? Were you agitated?
A: It is not a pleasant experience to be the daughter of a career politician. I witnessed what happened to politicians during that era. From the time I was very young there was cause to panic. During my whole school career the war was on… and in between that the elections. I sat for the A/ L in the midst of an election. It was all about the election at home, while I was sitting the exam. We were always living on the threshold of uncertainty and anxiety so I was not especially agitated.
? How did your mother take it ?
A: My father’s strength was my mother. She said do what you think is right; all of us will be with you. At the time my children were very small; the younger one was a baby; my sister’s child was an infant. We had some fear regarding their future. We lost that fear when we saw my mother’s courage.
? Did you believe that your father should be the President?
A: The entire country knew that Maithripala Sirisena was not from political lineage and was from a very basic farming family. He has had to endure the same pain and difficulties of any ordinary person in this society. I can confidently say that my father is someone who fulfilled the responsibilities given to him with total commitment. In any ministry given to him he did the maximum he could for that ministry. I thought that, for someone who works with such commitment there should be some justice.
? What is your most cherished childhood memory of your father?
A: My father is someone who read books at every possible moment. However busy he was, he found time to spend with the three of us and enjoyed life with us. When we were children, he used to sing songs from stage dramas and act out the parts, we also joined in them. I am very fond of that memory.
? What is the place you most like to visit with your father?
A: Our ancestral home in Polonnaruwa. The life there was wonderful.
? Which location has the most calming impact on you?
A: the Gal Viharaya in Polonnaruwa, there is an amazing sense of serenity there.
? Did you like to engage in fashion as a young girl?
A: I was not the one who was fond of fashions.
? How about your sister?
A: She likes fashions.
? Was your father in favour of fashions?
A: Our father advised us to dress to suit the place and the occasion. It was my father who brought me beautiful fashionable clothes at the time I was doing my higher studies. He is a very lovable person.
? What is the most memorable incident about your father?
A: From my early childhood my father was a Member of Parliament, a Minister. When he returns from Parliament he always brought some eatables for us. When he came home my younger sister and I run forward to greet him, at the time, brother was not even born. He was born long after the two of us. When we go running towards him, father carries us both. I still love that feeling of warmth.
? What is the most wonderful trip that remains in your memory?
A: When we were small our father had a bike. ‘Thaththa’ took me, my younger sister and mother on the bike to bathe in the tank. We were taken for haircuts, also on the bike. Those memories are really wonderful.
? What sort of environment existed in your home?
A: It was always busy. Crowds gathered often. There was a big garden in the ancestral home. It was here that people used to collect. There were crowds every day in that garden. This was a puzzle for me when I was small. Later of course we got used to this busy environment. All of my father’s friends became close to us too.
? What is the experience like being the daughter of a President?
A: It is only when you question me, like that, that I remember that I am the daughter of a President. I have not felt it in a big way. I still go to market to buy vegetables and fish and also take my child to school. I buy them medicine. When I was doing my higher studies, my father was a very powerful Cabinet Minister. My father did not allow me to feel any importance on account of it. I was sent to school by bus. We were brought up like ordinary children.
? Did your father see this book?
A: I spoke to my father about the contents of this book. I asked about the accuracy of certain information.
However busy my father was, he gave me the maximum possible time.
? What did your father say when he got to know, you were writing this book?
A: My father is not open about his feelings; he may not have thought I will undertake such a task, however, he also knew that I was different from my siblings. Later, father had inquired from my mother how I came to remember so many things.
? What was your father‘s reaction to the book?
A: He said it had been written well…but that there were some flaws and to correct those. Father only gives such short answers.
? Do you have a favourite writer?
A: I like Sumithra Rahubadda’s works. Also am very fond of reading Kathleen Jayawardena too.
? Do you have a favourite translation?
? How did you find the time to write the book?
A: It was very difficult with the two children. I took to writing the book at night when the children had gone to bed. Very often, I went to the ancestral home in Polonnaruwa. There the children are in a different environment and are not completely focussed on me. I got more freedom, than on other days, for my writing activities there. Memories came alive at the ancestral home, the imagery came alive.
? Was there a group that assisted you in this endeavour?
A: At times it became a small research project. I had to meet various people. I had to look up documents to find out the historical facts of certain incidents. In some instances, I was on an exploration to find facts to get to the truth. During that task several members of my staff who are like my children and my friends helped me.
? If your father had not become President would you have still written a book about him?
A: My father is important to me, not because he is the President, even if he was a farmer he is important to me. I had a lot of things to write, about my father, as a man who rose from the oppressed class; a man who achieved momentum amidst a life of suffering; a person who has experienced terror. He is someone who served honourably under several Presidents; he was a regional politician, a Parliamentarian and a Minister. Being the President was not pivotal to my writing about him.
? What is your mother like?
A: A mother, any child could yearn for; a wife that a husband should wish for. Even today she is a housewife. My father is the President but it is my mother who still makes his meals. It is my mother who takes my father’s food to the table. When my father is ready to go out, she wipes his pair of slippers and keeps them near his feet.
? What are your mother‘s special qualities?
A: She is an unusual woman, she is very spiritual, and she does not eat even biscuits as she is a total vegetarian, as eggs are used in biscuits. She has amazing patience. She was the strength behind all the honourable things my father engaged in. When faced with issues many politicians say our wives are crying our children are crying. Our mother never cried. I saw my mother’s expression change during serious situations during the war era – when the terrorists, who came to kill my father, were caught by the intelligence division; when claymore bombs were found. My mother was calm through all these incidents.
? Do you read the newspapers in the morning?
A: Yes, those days the three of us used to get together and read the newspapers and then discuss issues. Mother used to say, don’t talk about these things, as even father does not talk about them, at home. But mother would read the newspapers from beginning to end and she will not miss anything, she was the person who knew all that was in the newspapers.
? Do you have any thoughts of writing a book about her?
A: It is my mother who is in every line on every page of the book ‘Janadhipathi Thaththa’, her love, equanimity, courage and the excellent humane qualities that she possess are all in there, between the lines.
? Do you have any intention of writing another book?
A: Yes. However not in the near future! My father became the President with the votes of 6.5 million people and he has the huge responsibility of achieving justice for the country. I believe my father will fulfil it. When my father leaves the office of President to return home, on that day there is a story that I have to write with pride. It is my dream to create something, based on reality and our experiences during his tenure as President and the emotion of the moment when he leaves office.
? Will Chathurika Sirisena be in politics by then?
A: Aristotle has said that by birth we are all political animals. Anyway, by birth I am the eldest daughter of a career politician. I see politics in a different way. My politics is to serve the people for their benefit. It is not a power hungry type of politics such as party politics and politics in Parliament. As at present I work as a voluntary social worker. I will continue to work on behalf of people in the future as well.
? I will ask you directly…have you any intentions of entering Parliament?
A: I always look at today. I do my day’s work. I can think about tomorrow, tomorrow.