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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri KanthaAn Embarassing 'Woman of Paris'
5 September 2000
If one has to search a model for Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga's professional career, I would suggest that the great Charlie Chaplin has already given the answer. His artistic movie, 'A Woman of Paris' premiered in 1923. As Chaplin's biographer, David Robinson has described in his 1985 book, Chaplin: His Life and Art,
"The idea for A Woman of Paris came to him [Chaplin] as a result of his meetings with the notorious Peggy Hopkins Joyce. The term 'gold digger' was coined in honour of Peggy around 1920. Born Margaret Upton in Virginia, she arrived in Chicago at the time of the First World War, changed her name to Hopkins, and landed her first millionare husband, Stanley Joyce. Divorced and with a million-dollar settlement, she became a Ziegfeld girl, from which strategic launching she went on to net four more millionare husbands in rapid succession."
Chaplin had a brief dalliance with this Peggy Hopkins Joyce in Hollywood and as Robinson states, "During their meetings she had regaled Chaplin with her colorful reminiscences. She had described her affair with the rich and famous Parisian publisher and man-about-town, Henri Letellier." And Chaplin was "amused by her protestations that she was really a simple girl at heart, and desired only a home and babies."
Peggy's Parisian adventures were turned into a critically acclaimed movie, 'A Woman of Paris' by Chaplin, though he rather than playing a lead role, chose a minor one in the movie. As a result, financially this movie did not click and was a flop. This was a rare flop in Chaplin's career, because the audience wanted to see him in the lead role, and not only as the script writer and director.
Now, let me analyze Chandrika, the Sri Lanka's version of 'Woman of Paris'. Since 1994, she has flaunted her Parisian adventures to Sinhalese, unsuspecting Tamils, gullible Indians and to the international audience (political leaders, financiers and journalists) as a one-and-only Paris-trained radical idealist and peace-seeker in Sri Lanka. She has been nothing but a 'gold-digger' among these circles for status.... Unfortunately, her glib talk as an angel of peace was riddled with inconsistencies with her deeds. Thus, the first draft of history has already been written, and it is not kind to Chandrika. Kalpana Isaac, in her essay published in the academic journal, Current History (April 1996) noted,
"Many Tamils want to believe President Kumaratunga's call for peace. However the discrepancies between her rhetoric and what has actually occurred during her time in office are beginning to show."
Now four years later, even the discrepancies between what Chandrika presented to Sri Lankans about her sojourn in Paris and what in reality happened also seem glaringly deceptive... In an embarassing expose before the Elephant Pass debacle of Sri Lankan Army, Lasantha Wickrematunga, the editor of pro-opposition Sunday Leader newspaper, revealed the deception related to Chandrika's 1967-71 sojourn in Paris. Chandrika does not have a degree in political science from the University of Paris, and what she has is a diploma in international relations from Sciences Po, which is not part of the University of Paris.
Though her official biography provides dates for everything from her birth, marriage, widowhood, father's assassination and even about entering "into an agreement with LTTE" for cessation of hostilities and continuing "peace talks with LTTE for 19 months", specifically missing are the dates for Chandrika's Paris sojourn between 1967 and 1971.
And I was also curious about what she did between 1963 and 1967. She was born in 1945 and reached 18 years in 1963, when her mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the Prime Minister of Ceylon. She did not enter any university in Sri Lanka in 1963. Her biography also does not provide details about the four years (between ages 18 and 22), during which a student usually continues to study in a university or engages in professional training in disciplines such as accountancy, law, journalism and agriculture.
Tamils in general (in Eelam or in India) are the least bothered about whether Chandrika has a degree from the University of Paris or not. This is a problem for the Sinhalese voters... Political leaders (such as K.Kamaraj, M.G.Ramachandran and M.Karunanidhi) who didn't even complete high school education have arisen among the Tamils. Even now, Eelam Tamils are proud of generating a leader in V. Prabhakaran (an original in the South Asian continent) who did not enter the university. What Tamils look for in their leaders is whether they are blessed with the skill of aligning their words and deeds in unison.
Unfortunately, Chandrika's deceptive record reveals that she can well be a model for another Chaplinisque movie - a Sri Lankan version of 'A Woman of Paris.'