My brother Lionel Pilimatalauwe was the sixth child in a family of 10. I was a few years younger, as No 7.
My mind often goes back to the days of our youth, in the village of Kotagama, in Rambukkana, where the two of us would collect the coconuts picked on the family estate and heap them for counting and dispatch to the buyers.
As “cheap labour”, we were doing our father a cost-cutting service, and we were also getting valuable on-the-job training in field work, something that would come in useful later on life, when we started our careers. But what was more important to us was the extra pocket-money we would be taking back to boarding school after the holidays.
Lionel was also quite a handyman, with a mechanical bent. I remember him stripping a Raleigh sports bicycle belonging to our older brother. This was a “sports special”, with white mudguards and a red frame. The villagers dubbed it a “tappal bicykale”, because it resembled the red bicycles that postal peons rode to distribute our letters, in those far-off, disciplined days.
During Vesak, Lionel assembled a large lantern and hoisted it on a tall pole on our front lawn. Needless to say, I was always at hand as his helper.
My brother was an average student at Trinity College, Kandy. He had ambitions of entering the Medical College, but failed to do so because he could not get a high enough score in Sinhala language, a compulsory subject.
His prowess as a sportsman at school was legendary. He represented the school’s First Eleven in cricket and was opening bowler and opening batsman. He had the crowd at the Asgiriya grounds spellbound during the big match against St. Anthony’s College in 1952. He had a superb spell as opening bowler, taking 3 or 4 wickets at the outset, followed by a knock of over 30 or 40 runs as opening batsman.
He won his cricket colours, captained the Napier House rugby team, and won the House Competition challenge shield. He went onto represent the school’s Rugby XV, earning his colours. In his final year at school, he missed the coveted Lion for excellence because he had to leave school a few days before the return Bradby Shield match against Royal in order to take up an appointment as a trainee tea planter in Haputale.
A few years later, I too took up tea planting. The first billet I was posted to, in Uda Pussellawa, was close to Lionel’s own charge, Alnick Estate. He advised me on estate management and gave me the confidence to administer my own division.
He was always a caring brother. When he was made an estate superintendent and given a company station wagon, he offered me his own Volkswagen car, which he had used for only a year, telling me I could pay him when I was in a position to. Later, we both worked in the Dimbulla/Dickoya and Uva planting districts, where he continued to be a source of strength to me.
In our retirement, we both settled down at our ancestral property in Embilmeegama. Here, Lionel’s religious side found expression. He cultivated a deep interest in Buddhism and became involved in the Centre for Buddhism, under Professor Buddhadasa Hewavitharana. He also took an interest in the local village temple and the Pirivena at Heerassagala.
He took up meditation, following the system developed by the guru Goenkaji, and became a regular at the Dhamma Kuta Meditation Centre in Hindagala. He even went to India to hear Goenkaji preach.
His interest in religion and meditation did not affect his great sense of humour. When age and sickness caught up with him, he would say that his “old bones could take it no longer”.
He was later diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable lung ailment. He moved to Battaramulla so he could be close to Colombo and good medical attention. During his last illness he was warded at the Nawaloka Hospital. He was put on a ventilator, and three days later, on November 25, 2009, he gave up the fight in his last battle.
In keeping with his religious convictions, he had gifted his body to the Medical College, in Colombo. One of his contemporaries at school said that Lionel may not have entered Medical College in life, but in death his mortal remains entered this hallowed institution to benefit future medical practitioners.
My brother’s friends at Dhamma Kuta and his staff described Lionel as a gentleman par excellence, with Bodhisattva qualities.
May he attain Nibbana.