Though I knew Aunty Manel only as my dear piano teacher since 1982, my family’s connection with her family went back as far as the 1960s. Shelton and Manel Wirasinha had become close friends of ours at the time when my grandfather was the Government Agent, Galle and Uncle Shelton, the Principal, Richmond College.
I recall my grandmother fondly reminiscing about the numerous parties that she and Aunty Manel organised at the G.A.’s residence; and this is one of the many images that I associated with Aunty Manel even during the more recent past. She loved to entertain her favourite family and friends with the most exotic of dinners, particularly on her birthday and Christmas.
The memory of her as the centre of attention whilst she sat in the living room in her Nawala home, always well-groomed and adorning an elegant saree with a necklace of beads to match remains etched in my mind. All the guests who surrounded her in fun and laughter then, share my memories in sadness now and would surely agree that she was one unique personality – for Aunty Manel certainly had character.
However, Aunty Manel’s outwardly vibrant personality was accompanied by a genuinely in-depth love of two things: her family and her music. I believe her marriage brought together two opposites in harmony. Uncle Shelton was the typical classics scholar, calm and reserved, while Aunty Manel was the typical musician, passionate and fun-loving – yet, their commonality was the gift of teaching. He is still held in high esteem for having been a wonderful school teacher and principal and she has produced a number of accomplished pianists.
There is no greater vocation than that of a dedicated and committed teacher, and Aunty Manel was such a person. I will admit without an iota of hesitation that most of my musical achievements to this day have been entirely due to her. Whenever I won an award, my mother would say 90% of the credit was Aunty Manel’s, and it was absolutely true. She made me pursue more than one instrument, she made practising a pleasure. A natural talent I may have had, but healthy sense of competition and perfection to develop that talent and bring out the best in myself, she gave to me. For this loving gift, I am forever indebted to Aunty Manel. I am certain many of her pupils have the same sense of appreciation.
Sometimes from hilarious stories to delicious home-made goodies from the kitchen were also dished out at her music lessons. Students and parents alike enjoyed these afternoons. She openly voiced her likes and dislikes with perhaps a surprising frankness, but her honesty and kindness are to be remembered more. For it was not just in her teaching of music that Aunty Manel extended herself to others. She enjoyed visiting people, reaching out to those who were sick, and often, her Elephant House account would be spent mostly on gifts for others.
The most precious persons in Aunty Manel’s life were who she referred to as “my Shelton” and “my Dushy-girl”. She spoke of both with great pride, and most deservingly so. On April 22, 2007, she left one of them only to join the other, so there should not be much reason for regret. To the end, she had the love and care of her daughter and son-in-law as they looked after their beloved “mumsy”.
To the end, she had a faithful and loyal aide to assist her. She led a full life as well as a life full of life. In the language of music, her life was filled with exciting movements, vivace con fuoco, and she peacefully passed away on a pianissimo note. A quiet and dignified finale everyone wishes for. She rarely spoke to anyone towards the end, but was extremely happy to see me whenever I visited her – she would repeatedly kiss my hand and say “I love you”. I love you too, Aunty Manel. And I hope that just as you were always surrounded by music in this earthly life, heavenly music will continue the accompaniment in your eternal life.
With immense gratitude and fondness.