19 June 2023

Sunny Dayananda

I don’t know if he wrote his name as ‘Sunny’ or ‘Sani.’ It was straightforward in Sinhala because the spelling did not matter. සනි අයියා. That’s how people of my generation referred to hm. His contemporaries probably didn’t have to add ‘aiya.’

Sunny Dayananda was probably too old to be called ‘Aiya’ when I first met him. ‘Uncle’ didn’t work because that was not a term used in political gatherings. It was better of course that ‘sahodaraya,’ which is a silly transliteration of ‘comrade,’ but then again not all Marxists engaged in copious translation of whatever the red friends in Europe had to say were not exactly experts on language.

‘Aiya’ may have worked because his almost lifelong comrade-at-arms, Manikkuvadura Daniel, who was ten years his senior, was also referred to as ‘Aiya.’ Danny Aiya and Sunny Aiya were, at that time, inseparable. One could not be referred to without mentioning the other.

What was that time, though? For me, the year 1990. I had never met either of them before. I hadn’t heard of them either and that’s my fault for being a poor student of post-independence govi-satan or farmers’ struggles.

I met Sunny Aiya at an educational camp at Anandaramaya in Pallimulla, Matara where Rev Athureliye Rathana Thero was the Chief Incumbent. Most of the participants were very young. Most were undergraduates while a few had graduated a year or two before. There were three older individuals. Danny Aiya, Jayantha (Jayamuni) Aiya and Sunny Aiya. Ideologically more Marxist than anything else, Danny Aiya and Sunny Aiya were Maoist in their thinking. This I gathered as much from what people said about them as what they themselves said during the discussions held over four or five days. I also learnt that Sunny Aiya had been close to G I D Dharmasekera and that during the 1971 insurrection he had been part of a team that had attacked the US Embassy in Colombo.  

Two years later, both Danny Aiya and Sunny Aiya were arrested with a dozen or so other activists, many of whom had participated in the aforementioned ‘camp,’ myself included. We were ‘arrested’ while we were in the middle of a discussion at the Kaududuwa temple (where Ven Pohoddaramulle Pemaloka, had been gunned down by JVP goons during the bheeshanaya) by a group of armed men who turned out to be policemen attached to the Wadduwa Police Station.

We were beaten that night by the OIC of the police station, who was drunk. I was dragged out of a cell I had to share with Rev Rathana, beaten and literally thrown to where Sunny Aiya (then 50) and Danny Aiya (then 60) were handcuffed and sitting on the floor. I was handcuffed as well.

The OIC approached Danny Aiya but may have decided that he was too old to receive punishment. Instead he stretched out an arm and clobbered Sunny Aiya’s face. He did not flinch. The OIC then called out for a stick, a club really, and issued the following warning in Sinhala: ‘We know how to hit without leaving any marks, but you would lose your mind by tomorrow.’

Then he started hitting Sunny Aiya on his head. Seated next to him, I counted, because I wanted to know at least roughly the number of blows I would receive (I assumed he would turn on me next). Twenty five! Half way through that assault, Sunny Aiya let out a scream…..’Ammo….’ I just got a sharp, hard blow on my wrist, which swelled to twice its size. Nothing close to what Sunny Aiya had to suffer. 

Then we became friends. Political preferences changed, but those friendships remained. An activist to the end, Sunny Aiya was part of many organisations, some Maoist and some nationalist, some with Danny Aiya and some with others, in particular Rev Kalupahane Piyarathana Thero, who too had been arrested that same day.

He was a tenacious defender of the political positions he took. I later learned that while being held in a police station after most of those who were detained that night were ‘transferred out,’ he had been a minority of one defending historical materialism. One day when his wife arrived with food, Champika Ranawaka is said to have asked, in Sinhala, ‘is this the woman who loves you or just another physical object.’ He had said ‘another physical object.’ The lady had not been pleased. Looking back, he could have said, ‘both.’ He wasn’t like that though.

Piyarathana Hamuduruwo would know more about his life, personal and political. Danny Aiya passed away a few years ago; he would have known too. His wife predeceased him. They didn’t have children, but he tried to help their families. He did in fact persuade his friends to support the education of his wife’s niece, who was reading for a degree at the University of Kelaniya.  He probably helped others. He didn’t care too much about his personal needs.

A small man. Big heart. Tenacious fighter. Always on the side of the oppressed, the insulted and humiliated. Whenever there are gains, whenever a sporadic victory is obtained, someday when a just and civilised world is forged, one day when that magnificent edifice is constructed, at least one brick would belong to Sunny Aiya. ‘Sunny Dayananda’ would not be etched on it. He would laugh and dismiss if it was up to him. He left traces that will be untraceable.

For now, those who knew, will recall and be thankful that Sunny Dayananda walked this earth, that he loved people and was always ready to pay the highest price if that is what it took to keep his integrity intact. A bouthika vastuwa is missing. Left quite a mark though. 


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990)

What makes Oxygen breathable? 

Sorrowing and delighting the world

The greatest fallacy 

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi

Beyond praise and blame

Letters that cut and heal the heart

Vanished and vanishing trails


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya

The soft rain of neighbourliness 

The Gold Medals of being

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri

All those we've loved before

Reflections on waves and markings

A chorus of National Anthems

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer


Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart