“Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear,
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness in the desert air.”
– John Gray ‘Elegy in a Country
Mallika Lakshmi de Mel who passed away on October 12 walked with kings, presidents, and prime ministers, the biggest bankers, financiers and businessmen of the world, but never lost her common touch and her compassion and deep feeling for the poor, the dispossessed and the downtrodden.
The thousands who flocked to her house in Devinuwara for help during her lifetime and the thousands more who filed passed her coffin bore testimony to the immense love and affection in which she was held.
Hundreds, including mature men, who came to her funeral cried and wailed aloud. For, she had given them new hope by helping them to find jobs and build houses. Many were the people who were educated upto university level through her own Educational Trust.
Hundreds of unemployed young women were given training in her training centres for sewing, cooking and dressmaking. She also ran centres to teach English.
In times of floods in Bulathsinhala, Matara, Kamburupitiya or Akuressa, she would come wading in the water carrying food to extend help. She loved serving the poor and helping them in every way. Thus it was no wonder that they came in their tens of thousands in unbroken file to pay their last respects.
Mallika was indeed a remarkable embodiment of womanhood. She never wanted to contest a parliamentary seat or run for office, being content for over 40 years to help her husband in his Parliamentary constituency work, but when her husband decided to quit active politics in 2000, not only her party leader but also the common people of the area urged her to contest her husband’s seat. She acceded to their request and won with a handsome majority. She felt one term in Parliament was enough and refused to contest again despite requests from her party.
She retired from Parliament on the grounds of ill-health as she was then recovering from knee-replacement surgery.
Power was not what she craved for. Service to the people was her only motive and her ambition. After all her father, Sir Leo Fernando, one of Sri Lanka’s richest men in the past century, was a Member of Parliament till his death. She wanted to devote more time to work for the poor in her usual way without being encumbered by the trappings of office and that was what she did. Even the day before her sudden death, she addressed two meetings in the poorest villages of Matara.
Mallika leaves behind a fragrant memory of a wonderful human being, always smiling, always laughing, always cheerful to a fault, always ready to help people irrespective of their race, caste, creed or station in life.
It was no secret that she even went alone to the Welikada Prison to meet Rohana Wijeweera as she had known his family in Tangalle and sympathized with them and their sufferings at the hands of the authorities from time to time. That visit to Welikada was indeed Mallika at her best, sympathizing and helping anybody in distress, regardless of any consequences or any reward.
Leaders of all political parties paid their last respects to her either at her Colombo residence or at Devinuwara. Among them was President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his wife Shiranthi, Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe.
The JVP Leader’s only comment was: “My leader Rohana Wijeweera would have wanted me to pay our respects to this great lady. That is why I have come all the way from Colombo to Devinuwara today.”
May this great and noble lady attain Nirvana!