by Namini Wijedasa
The wives of some army officers might be forgiven for expressing surprise at the anguish Anoma Fonseka today shows over the government’s treatment of her husband, Sarath.
Anoma Fonseka ~ pic courtesy: Reuters
They remember the former army commander to have been cavalier towards her and say there was a time Anoma wanted to live abroad as long as she could, just to be away from him. It was an open secret in the military that Sarath Fonseka liked women.
He was dominating and domineering. And even while in military detention, he would berate his wife if she was late visiting.
“If any other wife was subjected to the harassment Sarath put Anoma through, she would have left him,” confided an army source. “I have never seen this man talking to her with affection or respect. I think she will be the happiest to see him locked away.”
For someone not having been inside the Fonseka marriage or associated closely with them, it is difficult to gauge how much of this is true and how much is malicious slander. There is so much of both going around that the boundaries have blurred.
For her part, Anoma would have none of it. She has already been seen crying on numerous occasions, apparently deeply affected by her husband’s fate. She left Welikada prison on October 1, pitifully bunching Fonseka’s national suit against her chest. At her mother’s funeral in June, she clung on to her husband while he sympathised stiffly with her. She has protested, remonstrated and pleaded — though not with the government — on her husband’s behalf.
Having campaigned for him during his unsuccessful bid for presidency, she now keeps his politics alive. Anoma has become the voice of the incarcerated Fonseka.
This reporter recently met Anoma in the meeting room of the large Queen’s Road residence she has taken on rent. (A friend told me it was advertised last year at Rs. 150,000 a month). She was late for her appointment.
Her assistant explained at the time that Anoma’s days were as busy as they were stressful. She spoke with her daughters by telephone in the dead of the night; she visited her husband at breakfast, lunch and dinner (while he was still in military custody); she bathed their dogs; she participated in political meetings; she strategized with other allies; she ran errands.
Dressed in a white kurta and make-up free, Anoma looked drawn and tired when she arrived but was polite, gracious and quick with her smile. She started out by confessing she hates politics and I soon found myself thinking that she was one hard code to decipher.
Anoma repeatedly emphasised her loathing of politics but is clearly — and willingly — delving deeper into it. As others who have met her also analysed, she is evolving as a politician but has not quite found her feet. She cannot, for instance, be spied weeping in public for the rest of her days. They agree that Anoma would be someone to watch in the coming months.
“She is complex,” said one of these sources, requesting anonymity. “I’m not sure what the real deal is. She comes across as the reluctant debutante who is not completely reluctant. There might possibly be a huge change in her though I do not know how much of it would be for her husband’s sake and how much for her own.”
“I remember watching her on the first day that the Supreme Court heard her husband’s fundamental rights petition,” this source continued. “She was listening intently and then she came right out and spoke to the media. Either she was briefed or had figured it out on her own.”
For her husband’s sake
For Anoma, it is simple. She says she will do whatever she is asked to... in her husband’s name.
Asked if she harboured ambitions to be a political leader, Anoma replied: “I don’t have that and I don’t want to do that. But I keep telling everybody that if they need me to do something for my husband, I will do it. I don’t want to be a minister or prime minister, neither president. I don’t like those positions. But I have to do something because of my husband.”
So she would contest the presidency for her husband’s sake? “Yes, exactly,” she replied. Still, she did not see herself entering parliament after her husband’s imprisonment because she did not contest the parliamentary election, nor is she on the national list of any party.
The only way she could take Fonseka’s place (by citing precedents such as Ratnasiri Wickremenayake who stayed in parliament despite not being on any list) is for Tiran Alles or Anura Kumara Dissanayake to resign. And there is so far not a hum from either.
Throughout the interview, Anoma spoke so glowingly of Sarath Fonseka that you would think she worshipped the ground he walked on. The only time she expressed anything even remotely unflattering was when she admitted, upon prodding, that her husband is not perfect.
“He’s a little bit tough, I know that,” she agreed. But asked whether he was revengeful — as is widely claimed — she said: “Not revengeful but if there is something wrong he goes against that. Sometimes if he couldn’t understand, I can tell him, ‘this is the way you have to treat them’.”
Another time, while discussing her life as a housewife, she said her husband was a ‘typical Sri Lankan man’. He preferred her to do the housework without outside help. “He didn’t want anybody else inside the house,” she recalled. “You get a lot of male workers in the army. We didn’t want them doing anything inside the house because we have two daughters. I did everything till he became army commander. Even after that, I made his tea but the cooking was done by an army cook. I selected the items.”
Anoma Fonseka with Apsara and Anoma ~ pic courtesy: lw.lk
Good mother, happy childhood
Anoma was evidently a good mother to their two girls — 27-year-old Apsara and 23-year-old Aparna — and does not hesitate to say so. A bank executive who is reading for her MBA, Apsara is the wife of Danuna Tillekeratne who has an arrest warrant hanging over his head. She does not visit Sri Lanka but Aparna, who is in her final year at university, was here for the summer holidays and is expected again in December.
“They have done a very bad thing to my daughter and my son-in-law,” Anoma said of Danuna’s indictment. “All the things are false. What to do? This is the way of our country. We can fight but I don’t want to involve my daughters here in that part."
Anoma said, however, that both children are campaigning abroad for their father using their contacts in the US State Department and international organisations. “They can’t do those things here,” she pointed out. “I’m so proud of them, actually.”
Her own stable childhood must have influenced the upbringing of her own children. Anoma’s father is from Ratnapura and her mother from Meerigama but the family shifted to Colombo in 1958, a year after she was born. They lived at Baseline Road and she attended Gothami Balika Vidyalaya. She is the youngest in a close-knit family of three daughters and two sons.
Indeed, Anoma is often seen in public with two sisters who resemble her closely. She sleeps at night, not in the Fonseka residence at Bokundara, but at a sister’s house. Fonseka’s meals while in detention were cooked by her sister’s household help. Anoma says she too is a good cook. Her mother was methodical and made sure domestic chores were divided among the children. This helped later in life.
Dismissing talk of her husband being a womaniser, Anoma said briefly that she was 100 per cent confident about her husband. “We had a seven year love affair and married in 1979,” she noted. “I can understand him and he can understand me.”
Anoma is a trained preschool teacher, having qualified after the birth of her younger daughter. She worked for twelve years at Visakha Vidyalaya nursery. Later, Anoma and Fonseka decided that both children should pursue higher studies abroad. “Because this country had no future... both of us thought it was better for them to stay there (USA) and do their higher studies,” she said.
Then, while Anoma was vacationing in the US, Danuna (who was then Apsara’s boyfriend) suggested that she apply for the Green Card. She lodged her papers in 2000 on the closing day and got her Green Card in 2003. She worked intermittently as a preschool teacher in the US from 2003 to 2006 and returned when Fonseka was promoted as army commander. As with any army commander’s wife, Anoma headed the Seva Vanitha Unit and the Ranaviru Seva Authority. She resigned from both in 2009.
Anoma says that the Fonseka family ‘suffered a lot’ during the war. “I thought as soon as the war finished we will also have some good times but it changed,” she observed. “What to do? I don’t mind that. I feel very sorry about my family and my husband. They had thought some day law and order will come to this country.”
When Fonseka went into politics, Anoma knew the field was dirty. Why did she not discourage him? Detractors would say she had little choice. Anoma says her husband told her that he wanted to ‘change things’. “He cleaned up the army and it became number one in the world,” she maintained. “Now, there was the country. I felt he could do it. I thought it would be better to help him because he has a very good heart and clear view.”
Both those who like and dislike her say she is an effective public speaker. “Because I was a teacher, I can talk very well,” she, too, admitted. As a Sri Lankan politician, that would be 50 per cent of the battle won. And whatever she may prattle about a lack of ambition, it is evident that she will only march forward from this point.
Anoma says she would one day go to parliament if the opposition asks her to. She also claims she has no skeletons in her closet that the government can exploit to sink her. And, yes, she cries. But, no, it’s not a sign of weakness. “Every woman has tears, we can’t stop that,” she smiles. “But after the tears end, every woman has a very brave and strong heart which I also have. Now I am so strong. I don’t care about others. I will try my best to save my husband.”
Will her husband come out soon? “Everything is in the president’s hands,” Anoma said. She has checked Fonseka’s horoscope. “These days, there are some problems,” she revealed. “Not years, but months. If I believe that, I have hope.”
Anoma insists quietly that she can handle Fonseka’s incarceration. “I don’t want to bend my knees in front of other people,” she shoots, with a streak of defiance. “If they are good, honest people, I will bend. But I know how they are and who they are.”
Some of what Anoma says — about her husband, herself, her children and their policies — sounds too good to be true. “We are very genuine people, everybody knows my husband... he’s very genuine and never tells lies,” she asserted. Critics would advise a pinch of salt here.
Rosy picture notwithstanding, the question now is how far will Anoma go? And where will she end up. She took to politics after being told there was a vacuum in her husband’s political campaign. And depending on what kind of ‘victimised political wife’ she chooses to be, Anoma may or may not be a force for the government to contend with. - courtesy: LakbimaNews -