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DateLine Sunday, 29 April 2007

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The secret of a happy marriage:

The camp at Manawa was the very second youth camp held in the history of Sri Lanka in the recent past. The young simple tiny man who founded this whole movement, finally decided to have a rest on a mat unfolded at a weaving centre near by.


Neetha and A. T. Ariyaratne
Pix: Chinthaka Kumarasinghe.

He and his group of well wishers had just finished the first day chores of Shramadana. Many thought social service was the only forte and hope was kindling inside him.

However though many weren't alert, this young man too was in the quest of finding a partner for himself. But that was also not merely to look after himself, but also to fit with him as a mate to shoulder the social revolution he was envisioning. That night the young man had a dream. He saw a well dressed elderly lady coming along with the two girls. He apparently took the hand of the younger girl and flew away like a bird.

The following morning he related what he saw in the previous night to his counterparts, and declared he was waiting for his future partner. His friends who assumed the young leader to be a joker took all what he said as a joke, and just wished 'good luck'. But the young man was waiting for her. It was the day that he was going to pull the strings for the nuptial knot. His eyes were set on every vehicle that entered the camp.

At about 8.30 a.m. a lady in a Kandyan Osari got off from a car and walked towards the office with two girls. The pretty looking younger girl! Yes, she would be his future bride. A hand of some unseen force of destiny was putting things in a certain way, he felt...

Our dear readers would at once know whose love story we are going to reveal this time; Ari and Neetha, the Sarvodaya couple.

Ahangamage Tudor Ariyaratne was born on November 5 in 1931 at Unawatuna to a businessman and landed proprietor Hendrick Jinadasa and Roslin Gajadeera. Ari was the third of their family of two elder sisters, one younger brother and two younger sisters.

Their house was adjoining the famous Peellagoda temple where little Ari had the best education in Buddhist doctrine.

After having the pre-education at the Unawatuna Buddhist Mix School, Meddakanda Buddhist Mix School and Buona Vista College, Unawatuna he entered to Mahinda College, Galle for his upper education.

Unawatuna was a poor fishing village at that time. The main occupation other than the fishing in this village was the coir industry. The women earned a living by going through a long and hectic procedure of making coir ropes. But the middle buyers were exploiting them and a very low income was earned by the poor.

Ari who was 15 or 16, was a clever organiser. The fever and the spirit to work for the depressed and the poor seemed to have been in him since he was in his mother's womb. Ari got together with some of his village friends and opened up a coir centre on a small land in the village so that people can sell their products and get a better income.

Not merely that young Ari's mere love and hobby was social service work. His village benefitted in many ways through his forte.. He entered the Teachers' Training College, Maharagama and there too he formed a social service league. His first and through out appointment as a science teacher was at Nalanda College.

School boys of Nalanda was the first batch to join hands with him in launching the ever biggest movement in Sri Lanka.

Ari, the young man who had the fever of helping the poor, the under privileged, destitute harassed and marginalised people heard from the dove who flew down from India about the land gift movement of Vinoba, a disciple of Mahathma Gandhi who lead a Shanthi Sena (Peace Army) across the terrain of India appealing land from the rich to donate the poor in 1957.

Ari who was inspired by this movement, and Mahathma Gandhi's 'Sarvam Udayam' concept decided to introduce a similar concept to Sri Lanka as well. Ari paid a few visits to India and no sooner brought the novel notion to the country.

'Sarvam-Udayam'; all awakening or welfare of all; was the inspiring slogan of Mahathma Gandhi, a tiny Indian man with an ability of a giant.

'Sarvodaya'; respect for all lives; was the different interpretation of Mahathma's motto moulded into his slogan by the tiny Sri Lankan man. Socially backward and harassed villagers that of like down caste 'Rodiya' people and tribal clans like 'Vedda' people were the main aims of development of Ari's Sarvodaya.

A clean and beautiful environment with clean and adequate supply of drinking water, basic clothing, a balanced diet, a simple house to live in with basic healthcare including toilet facilities, simple communication facilities and energy requirements, well-rounded education with cultural and spiritual sustenance were the basic human requirements Sarvodaya had identified. While the things were cleverly organised in this way, the movement was given a huge publicity by the newspapers.

Neetha Dhammachari Alpitiarachchi was born on June 16 in 1942 to Hemapala Alpitiarachchi, owner of Studio Chitra at Kuliyapitiya and a landed proprietor, and Jane Ratnayaka. All in her family were girls. And Neetha was the second.

She had her primary education at Kuliyapitiya Primary School, Maliyadewa College, Kurunegala and then at Musaeus College, Colombo. "I was preparing to sit for the Senior School Certificate when we heard about the Sarvodaya Movement.

It was featured in all the papers. I was a girl guide and always had the wish to help others. When I read about the campaign some kind of burning desire to get involved in this began to rise in me. As girl guides we had helped many places like Lady Ridgeway Children's Hospital," reminisces Neetha.

"Mrs. Tennakoon, Chairman of the Urban Council of Kuliyapitiya was our neighbour. A lot of wishers had also decided to join the Nalanda Sarvodaya camp held at Manawa. When I heard she was also going there I somehow got permission from my parents to join her along with my elder sister. And that was how I first met him," she smiles.

Neetha who was in her sweet sixteen was a beauty. But beyond her pleasant appearance a deep intelligent, exorbitant cleverness and kind compassionate in her would entice anybody whoever who encountered her. She was one of the brightest girls Musaeus has ever produced. She even got the Peter de Aabrew Scholarship at school. Her parents wanted her to excel in studies and to do medicine. And it was her aim as well until she heard about Sarvodaya.

Ari had a few minutes to chat with her when he was escorting the three ladies (Mrs. Tennakoon, Neetha and Neetha's elder sister who came to the camp making Ari's dream come true) around the camp. He was taking the longest path around it so that he would have more time with her. Neetha, the sweet sixteen who didn't know about Ari's 'dream' was highly enthusiastic to talk with the simple 'hero' whose figure had already inculcated in her mind as a giant.

After taking part in Shramadana the group drove away. And Neetha and them also set off for home. Ari also got into his friend's car and followed them. He first paid a visit at Tennakoon Walawwa and then appeared at Neetha's doorstep.

Mr. Hemapala Alpitiarachchi, Neetha's father was so excited to see Ari there. After introducing and greeting Mr. Hemapala, Ari declared his proposal for Neetha to her father. "Mahathmaya, I am in a hurry.

So I would tell you why I am here. I have no regard for caste, racial, religious or political differences. What I want is a partner who would sacrifice her life for the causes I have in mind and help me to reform society.

I feel that your daughter Neetha will fill the gap. I have not asked her. If you agree please let me know later," he said. Mr. Hemapala stood there like a figure hewn out of granite. When Ari was getting into the car the two girls (Neetha and her elder sister) came running to him to greet him.

Ari pulled two magazines from the back seat of the car and gave them to the girls. The magazine 'Kurukshetra' was given to Neetha's sister and 'Link' was given to Neetha. It just happened. But Ari was thinking of how an unseen force was behind him and guiding him in many ways. He gave 'Link' to Neetha.....

Ari didn't get a word of 'okay', but next evening, the campers were invited for tea at Kuliyapitiya at Mr. Hemapala's house. It was unexpected, but was a good sign of positiveness.

However it was not a secret that Neetha was showering some especial attention for Ari. He became more close to the family and Ari was asked to give some extra help to Neetha for certain lessons for her SSC exam. So under especial permission granted on the request made by Mr. Hemapala, Ari started visiting Neetha at Musaeus College for 'tuition' for few hours once a week.

Their friendship grew by leaps and bounds. Ari was the 'driver' for Neetha's family when they were going on pilgrimages. He used all this time to get close to Neetha, during the next few months they were able to get to know about them well.

Ari fell ill, and when it was diagnosed as chicken pox he was immediately driven to his Unawatuna home. And it was Mr. Hemapala who took him there. During his stay on the sick bed, the tiny man of Sarvodaya had a little space of time to pour his flourishing love thoughts out on a piece of paper.

By this time, Neetha's father was quite enticed by Ari. However, the Sarvodaya man knew that his to-be-mother-in-law was not in that much in favour of him. Mrs. Hemapala's wish was to see her ever bright and clever daughter to become a doctor.

Neetha was in her Advance Level classes at school. She was eighteen.In the midst of the oppression of Neetha's mother Ari somehow persuaded Neetha and her father to register their marriage and to take the wedding function later. He got his Punchi Akka to sew all the dresses for his bride.

"I want the most simple wedding in the world," was the only few words he told both family members about it. On July 25, 1960 Ari went to Nalanda as usual, and conducted his classes. By 1.30 p.m. he came back to his Maradana annexe which was popularly known as 'Delgaha yata gedara' (the house under the breadfruit tree).

The house was colour washed by his younger brother and the house owners to welcome his bride.

The simple giant of Sarvodaya Ari and sweet Neetha tied their knot at the Registrar's Office at YMBA, Borella. M. W. Karunanada, Principal of Nalanda College and D. C. Katugampola, Chairman, Milk Board were their attesting witnesses. Still other than the two family members and very close friends no one knew they were tying the nuptial knot.

From the YMBA they straightaway went to Vajiraramaya, Bambalapitiya, and got blessings from Ven. Narada Maha Thera and Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayaka Thera. After a 'Pinkama' and chanting of Pirith Madihe Thera gave the newly married couple fine advice.

"When two people live together, it is natural to get angry. But only one party should get angry at a time. Then the other party should be patient," The other advice was: "If your eyes and ears tell that your husband or wife is behaving suspiciously do not believe your eyes and ears, but believe him or her. And that was the implicit trust in each other," advised the Thera which was followed to the letter by Neetha up to today.

"I have violated these pieces of advice, but Neetha has not given up on me. Alert to my flaws yet tolerating them, she directed me always on the right path without using a single aggressive word.

She is really a great example to women who transform their families here on earth," said Ari in 'Bhava Thanha', his autobiography (page 196 - Volume 1). Their love bonded with their movement, 'Sarvodaya' as they had wished.

They didn't have a special honeymoon as from the day of their registration they were together going from camp to camp, helping and looking after the welfare of the depressed, poor and destitute citizens of this country. Sarvodaya is one of the shower of blessings that has fallen into this country. Facing the unending jealousy, life threats and obstacles Ari and Neetha have sailed this ship of compassion for the past four decades.

It's a miracle! Just a miracle!

Today, even in their old age the loving couple hardly have any time for themselves. Every moment is spent for the welfare of others. Under the umbrella of the main body, Lanka Jathika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya there are several legally independent units that are being conducted. Sarvodaya Suwasetha looks after the welfare of orphan children, teenage mothers, disabled, destitute, old people in their branches all over the island.

And this bunch of branches were under the eagle eye supervision of Neetha. She is the mother and grandmother of all the girls, women and children under 'Suwasetha'. It's heart aching to view how they get around her and cling on to her whenever she steps into their centres as 'Neetha' is the only 'Mother' in their world of salvation.

The work rendered by the Sarvodaya cannot be completed scripting down in a limited space of a newspaper like this. Whoever loves to know more about this great couple and their Sarvodaya movement have access to them at their headquarters at Rawatawatta, Moratuwa.

A. T. Ariyaratne, the Sarvodaya man has been honoured by many awards and titles locally and internationally. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in Economics and then the Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) from the Vidyodaya University (presently known as Sri Jayawardanapura).

Doctor of Humanities (D.H.) degree was conferred by Emilio Aguinaldo College, Philippines, and many other peace awards until last year. But still I (the writer) personally feel that Neetha, the driving force of the whole movement and the God Mother of everybody should have been felicitated much more and better.

"No, No, child, I do these things for the benefit of the people which would indirectly help me when travelling in Samsara and also assist me one day to attain Nibbana. I have no craving for worldly gains," she says. "Nor do I," joins Ari with a broad smile.

The two love peace and meditation. They built the Vishra Nikethan Global Peace Meditation Centre in 1999 to seek both national and global awakening conducive to peace, harmony and spiritual growth. It also hosts a peace library and museum along with the archives of the Sarvodaya Movement.

There is a lot more to write about them. But it would be unending. The memories of their unattached and compassionate excellent service rendered to the world would live forever until this earth prevails.

lakmal@sundayobserver.lk

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