For a small and compact township, Kandy has four visibly prominant memorial monuments at the town center. Three of these are situated in the George E De Silva Park (formerly, Torrington Park), and are set up almost in a straight line at a few yards’ interval. The oldest of these, as can be guessed, is a monument of a simple design, set up in difference to 257 commonwealth soldiers killed during the First World War. Among these 257, it can be assumed, could have been citizens of Kandy and its neighbourhoods, but the memorial seems to speak on behalf of a larger Ceylonese contingent, whose names are tabulated in alphebetical order.
A few yards to the left of this war memorial is a statue of the late George E De Silva, a member of the state assembly representing Kandy, and Independent Ceylon’s first minister of Industries and fisheries. De Silva, as records testify, comes to Kandy as a young lawyer in his twenties and establishes himself with much courage and difficulty amidst a Kandy community infested with the prejudices and clique-mentality of the “Kandyan” elite of pre-Independence Ceylon. Later, he tries his hand at politics and seems to have courted considerable popularity, specially among the marginalized and impoverished in Kandy’s suburbs. He, among these quarters, was even fondly referred to as “Ape George” (Our George). When Kapila Kumara Kalinga wrote his recent novel “Kandhe Veediya” (කන්දේ වීදිය) many felt that his protagonist strongly echoes the life and career of George E De Silva.
The George E De Silva statue comes up with the Torrington Square and its adjoining park area (maintained by the municipality) being renamed in order to honour this late politician, two decades or so ago. Even today, the park area — now converted into a leisure grounds of sorts — is still referred in common parlance as “Torrington”; and the shopping complex underneath the park grounds, as “Torrington complex”. In the conceptualizing of the statue, George E De Silva is made to stand with one foot slightly in front of the other, with his hand cast out, and his crooked forefinger turned towards the ground, in a humility-evoking motion (from the passerby).
The third memorial – again, a statue – was put up 3 years ago, in 2012, and it is further left to De Silva’s statue but with its back to De Silva; as it startegically faces the congested main bus stand and clock tower area, right at the center of the town. This statue is easily the bigger and bulgier of the sequence, and imitates a gregarious, larger-than-life presence of the former Deputy Minister of Defence during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s term, the late Anuruddha Ratwatte. Ratwatte had earlier had a short career as a Colonel, but was more prominantly involved in Politics during President Kumaratunga’s stint between 1994 and 2004. He was a trusted inner cartel member of the Kumaratunga ring and a off shoot of a politically active regional Ratwatte branch. The erection of the statue also conincided with the late Ratwatte’s son Mahendra being elected Mayor of Kandy three years ago.
The fourth memorial – again, a larger than life (but smaller than the Ratwatte) statue – is the most recent addition to this expanding assortment, put up in August 2015: a memorial for General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, who was Army commander in 1992, and was blown up while returning from an inspection tour in Keyts, along with a dozen other military top brass. Kobbekaduwa’s death gave birth to numerous speculations, even though the official charges were levelled against the LTTE. Among others, the former head of state the late Ranasinghe Premadasa’s name is among those alleged to have had some kind of interest in Kobbekaduwa’s fate. Kobbekaduwa is also a “favourite son” of Kandy, and is considered to have been a popular officer among the rank of the army. Speculations were also quite rife that Kobbekaduwa may have had political ambitions, upon retirement.
The war memorial on behalf of 257 World War I soldiers, the George E De Silva statue, the Anuruddha Ratwatte statue and the statue for Denzil Kobbekaduwa: out of these four, three memorials bear a military insignia and the fourth – that of De Silva – a political motive. Of the four, the memorial obelisk in the name of the World War soldiers is the most solemn and the least assuming, with no elaboration or gaudy decoration. Of the four, the Ratwatte-Kobbekaduwa statues comes across as demanding instant attention and of high visibility in their gregarious stature. Even here, the Ratwatte statue is strategically placed and poised to be a source of immediate attraction. The Kobbekaduwa statue — greenish in coating — is camouflaged among the greenery of the area called “Byrd Park”, right in front of the Kandy clock tower: a small pseudo-leisure ground which are frequented more by pigeons and crows than pedestrians. The Kobbekaduwa statue, again, is at the mouth of the Byrd Park, on the blind side of a one-way road: had Kobbekaduwa done it himself, he wouldn’t have been able to get the kind of screening the officials who have designed his statue’s destiny has given him.
With Kandy’s landscape and town plan changing, how many more statues of politically motivated design would be parachuted into the town center is yet to be known. But, the larger-than-life Ratwatte statue and the Kobbekaduwa statue (a size smaller) quite exaggeratedly represent the presence of two men who, purely by physical definition, were short. Of the two, at least one had a nepotistic office of a high portfolio, criminal charges, and a fall from grace at the tail-end of the career: none of which are inscribed (if only out of humility) at the base pedestal on which the statue is propped.
David Paynter, born in India, spent a lifetime in Ceylon/Sri Lanka nourishing its art and culture. The name of Paynter is deeply carved into the modern age painting tradition of the country. George Keyt is another painter/poet who was born and raised in Kandy. Keyt is possibly the first leading painter from the country to have made an international name. Muttiah Muralitharan is a Cricketer hailing from the Kandyan suburb of Pandiwatte, Kundasale. He captured 800 Test wickets in a career of 133 Test matches, establishing a range of records which would possibly stand for decades, by the standard of the modern game. Muralitharan is a role model for any youngster or citizen where courage, fortitude and accomplishment are concerned. These are the names of just three smart people who have the tag “Kandy” attached to their profiles. The work they have achieved is more than what any monument can ever justify to represent. But, then again — memorialization is an ethic. And in ethics, perhaps, our priorities can be better sorted out.