Ernesto Che Guevara, the Argentine revolutionary (fondly named as Che) was a big inspiration to me while I was a teenager. Though I was born into a family of conventional socialist communist values, I also admired Che more than I did Lenin. My late father being a member of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka from its inception, our home was full of Soviet communist literature translated into Sinhala that were directly sent from the former Soviet Union. I grew up reading Soviet fairy tales as a kid and then I had the capacity of reading and comprehending hardcore communist doctrines that were sent in huge volumes as I was an avid omnivorous reader ever since I could read the Sinhala alphabet. (I could not read a decent English book till I was 25.) I had the luck of reading much-loved Soviet revolutionary novels and short stories at a very young age. Oh, I cherish those good old days. Being an inexperienced and immature kid in 80’s, I believed that all those propaganda literatures was 100% true and the Soviet Union was the Heaven on Earth. But within the next decade (to be exact between 1990 – 1991) I saw the great Soviet Empire collapsing and reducing into rubbles and a cake baked into the real size and the shape of the Founding Father of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin was cut into slices and eaten by the Russians themselves. My dad was lucky enough not to be alive to see such horrific scenes as he left the planet in 1989, a year before the great collapse of the Soviet Union started.
Coming back to Che, I read about him from some (mostly hidden) books my eldest brother Nayanasena Wanninayaka used to bring when he came home during his vacations from his higher studies. For me, Che was more attractive, charismatic and sexier than any of the other revolutionaries, be it Lenin, Mao or Fidel. But I did not find much to read about Che except for the few weekend newspapers articles published during his birth and death anniversaries. Che was not a welcome word in my village, Mahawilachchiya, where a big-time massacre of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) cadres said to have taken place in 1971, a year before I was born. The dead bodies of the JVP cadres were dragged by police jeeps in ropes and put into public display during Rohana Wijeweera’s failed rebellion in 1971. The JVP cadres were commonly known as “Che Guevara guys” (චෙගුරා කාරයෝ) those days by the people. So, people were that scared of Che, whom Wijeweera (blindly) followed. The books about both the Argentine and the Sri Lankan revolutionaries (Che and Wijeweera) were usually burnt as soon as they were read since it could always invite troubles. To make things worse, late Rohana Wijeweera again attempted to topple the government during 1988-89 and the whole country came into a standstill when his then banned party, the JVP imposed “a curfew” in the country and Wijeweera was only a few steps away from overthrowing the government. So, me being a teenager during that time meant a lot of risks and I had to hide my admiration to Che, the revolutionary. Besides hundreds of both military and government sponsored paramilitary troops were haunting at night everywhere in the country and in the morning, one could see slaughtered young men and women by the roadside. Rohana Wijeweera was apprehended by the government security forces and killed and burnt -some say alive – in 1989. The then President Late Ranasinghe Premadasa brutally annihilated the rebels after the invitation for peace talks by the former was completely rejected and ignored by the latter.
I read Malini Govinnage’s Che Guevara (මාලිනී ගෝවින්නගේ – චේ ගුවේරා,) a Sinhala language biography of Che in 2006 which was short and sweet. Then I read Ernesto Che Guevara’s The Bolivian Diary in a year or two later which gave me more insight into this amazing man’s life. I also could watch the movie The Motorcycle Diaries during the same period which depicts as to how Che’s sympathy with the downtrodden people started. Much later, I watched the two-part 2008 biopic named “Che” by the director Steven Soderbergh. This gave me much insight into the man than any of the aforesaid publications I mentioned. I fell in love with this as it used both feature and documentary style that did not end with a “suckumentary” as it happens with most of the hero-worshipping genres.
I am yet to read the other books written by and about Che and hopefully I would get the chance within the next couple of months as I too am eagerly getting ready to go to volunteer in some South American countries during the next 5 years. No, I will not try to imitate him as I cannot make up my mind even to kill a venomous serpent creeps into my house and mostly, I would make it go peacefully. So, killing is not my kind of revolution. It is more into educating the children and youth to make a difference in themselves and eventually, the rest of the world.
I am not in the right position to evaluate the place Che has been given in the history as I am not informed enough for getting into such a daunting task. All I can do as of now is to explore into the legacy the “Comrade Che” has left behind for me and the rest of the world.