June 4, 2010 was probably the saddest day of my life. It was the day my precious darling Ammi left us for eternal life, to be by the side of our loving Lord Jesus. Dear Mother was probably my best and only true friend. It was only when she left us that my sister Enakshi, my father Edward and I realised how much she meant to us.
My mother was known to many as “Mrs. Dora Boteju, the English Literature Teacher.” Her standing as a teacher was demonstrated by the crowd of grateful students, young and old, who came to her funeral. Many of them stopped to tell me what a wonderful teacher and friend Mrs. Boteju was to them.
Ammi loved her job, and she is still remembered at Methodist College, Colombo, 18 years after retiring from active service.
She retired prematurely when my sister and her husband announced they were going to have a baby. My mother chose the baby girl’s name, Anarkalee.
Despite family responsibilities, including taking care of her grandchildren, Mother still found time and energy to teach needy and poor children. She did not expect anything in return. All she wanted was that her students did well at the public exams. She never took a vacation with the family because she did not want her “deserving students” to miss a lesson. If there was a teacher who called her students whenever they missed a class, it was Mrs. Boteju.
Ammi was the driving force in our lives. We consulted her on all big decisions, whether it was planning a party or naming a baby.
Ammi was such an inspiration that I aspired to be like her in everything I did. She was a perfectionist. She would say that if I decided to do something, I should go ahead and do it, without looking back, and stop only when I had completed the task. She was supportive of any decision I made, so long as it was in my best interest.
When I met my future wife, I was nervous about telling Ammi. I had fallen in love with a Buddhist girl, and Ammi was a devout Christian, a Baptist. How would the family receive the news, I wondered. One day, while chatting with Ammi, I told her about Manik.
With her warm smile, she said: “When am I going to see her?”
I repeated that Manik was a Buddhist. Again Ammi smiled, and said: “Why should that worry you? If she’s a good girl, that’s all that matters. My advice is don’t pressure her for a church wedding. Your wedding day should be special to both of you.”
Manik and Ammi were the best of friends.
Even when her cancer was getting the better of her, up to the middle of May this year, Ammi would continue to call daily to ask how the family was. Every call had some good advice for me.
She once told me she had no fear of dying, and was in fact looking forward to eternal life, in the arms of Jesus. But she couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from her grandchildren. She wanted to see Dineth and Manish grow up just as Anarkalee and Nevan did. She wanted to see them enter the gates of S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, holding their parents’ hands.
She recalled my first day at the same S. Thomas’. I was holding her hand and begging her to stay at the gate as she handed me over to my class teacher. I remember that day too. I was crying, and Ammi’s eyes too were filled with tears. That was the first time I saw tears in her eyes.
I feel her loss daily.