Her hospitality had no bounds
Kusuma Hewa who passed away at the ripe age of 90 years a few weeks ago, hailed from Galle and moved to Singapore in 1939 after her marriage to William Hewa. The story of her life, beginning with the trauma of a village girl leaving Ceylon to set up home in a foreign land, which was then under British rule, the surrender of the British Army in Singapore to the Japanese imperial forces in 1943, life under the Japanese occupation, the unforeseen death of her husband at the age of 46, the several trials and tribulations that beset her, is one which evokes admiration.
Kusuma Hewa was my aunt and we called her 'Singapore Auntie'. She was also 'Singapore auntie' to the multitude of Sri Lankans who knew her and enjoyed her hospitality in Singapore.
It was not unusual for her to offer lodging and food to any Sri Lankan irrespective of whether they had their own arrangements or not. She was the kindest among the kind and her hospitality was beyond one's imagination. A smile always adorned her face.
She was married to William Hewa who worked in Singapore Civil Aviation even through the Japanese occupation. She had three daughters - Manelle, Rosie and Mallika whom she had brought up single-handed in Singapore although several of her uncles in Ceylon had asked her to return after her husband had died of a surgical misadventure at the age of 46.
Her daughters have all become successful in their own lives, and she instilled in them the virtuous qualities she possessed in such large measure. Her sons in law - Pat, Pema and Deen also possess that level of kindness and virtue.
Singapore Auntie was an ardent practising Buddhist. In her home was a beautiful shrine with pictures of her late husband to whom she transferred merit daily with all her love and gratitude.
She was a founder member of the Sri Lankaramaya, the foremost Buddhist temple in Singapore and it is acknowledged that she played a major role to support the temple at times of crises. She often recited pirith and other stanzas to visitors and to the sick and the needy. After a recent sojourn in hospital she had distributed 200 copies of her favourite Buddhist stanza to the hospital staff and other patients.
It is said that she held a deep affection for Sri Lanka throughout her life and her cherished wish had been to come to Sri Lanka before she died.
She did come with her daughter Manella and her son-in-law Pat two years ago and it was in Sri Lanka that she died two weeks ago. Her death amounts to the 'demise of an institution' and this was borne out by the number of friends, children and grandchildren who attended her funeral from near and far-from Singapore, Australia and England.
Her loss has still not sunk into us. When I think back I am proud that during one of her visits here I was fortunate to be able to take her on a mini pilgrimage to two places she particularly wanted to visit – the Tooth Relic Chamber at the Dalada Maligawa and the Sri Maha Bodhiya. She deserved more and I pray that her journey in Sansara will be short and that she will attain the eternal bliss of Nirvana.