‘Do not go gentle into that good night’
The above line from a poem by Dylan Thomas, kept reverberating in my mind as I watched over our mother during her last days.
‘Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day.
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light’
Indomitable in spirit and unyielding, she stayed defiant to the last, - the characteristic of a woman with a fighting spirit who always confronted the challenges which life threw in her way.
Our mother, Mary Lena Christabel Wadugodapitiya (nee Nugera) passed away a year ago on January 29, 2010, soon after completing her 100th birthday on January 4. Born to a Catholic family with 10 siblings, she married our father Seneviratna Banda Wadugodapitiya who was acknowledged and respected as a devout Buddhist, but quietly kept her faith, and despite her seven children being brought up as Buddhists, her acceptance of and cooperation with Buddhist and Kandyan Sinhala traditions created a sense of religious harmony in our home.
Blending in naturally, she adopted the Kandyan saree with its customary puff-sleeved white blouse as her permanent dress and would voluntarily participate clad in white in family religious occasions. She would be equally enthusiastic and dexterous about making 20 pounds each of Christmas cake and love cake during Christmas to be shared with our Buddhist relatives, as with the preparation of ‘rasa kevili’ and her speciality -the kalu dodol- for the Sinhala New Year. Of course, Christmas was her special time and we celebrated it as a family and would await her return from midnight mass to greet her and share a round of cake. She has been sadly missed this last Christmas by all her family and particularly by her 16 grand-children.
We were a family of seven children and our mother’s resourcefulness in ensuring that our appetites were kept satisfied was remarkable. Evening tea or tiffin was a highlight, with her brand of jaggery hoppers, lavariya, peni pol pancakes - and to accompany her patties or pancake rolls, her special ‘chilli vinegar’- a hot sweet chilli sauce made on the grinding stone. Feeding her family was her particular joy , - as for any other mother like her.
Now in her absence, we have time to remember and evaluate the selfless contribution this quiet pleasant woman made to our lives and our children’s lives; her inner strength and determination made invisible by her laid-back manner. I feel particularly remorseful as I recollect that I took my mother for granted. Was it because I was so accustomed to seeing her always busy without complaint attending to mundane household matters rendering her inherent diligence to pass unnoticed, or because she lacked the calculated subtlety to purposefully ensure our material advancement, and was not assertive or shrewd enough to fight battles on our behalf outside her familiar territory – our home. How superficial I was! Wasn’t she my mother, doing what any mother should, I used to think. I noticed little her deep commitment to her duty as a wife and mother, and her compassion and integrity as a human being.
Our father, much loved as he was for the help he extended to so many, was tough and demanding as a husband and she was very much the submissive housewife although, to deny that she showed the occasional flare of righteous anger is to also deny her the distinctive personality she possessed. She absolutely loved the home he gave her; it was her castle which she clung to in her memory after finally and reluctantly agreeing, at the age of 92, to move in with a daughter. This was the one big drawback with her during her last years, - it had been a wrench to give up her home and independent living and there were times she insisted the move had been forced upon her, and could not accept there had been no alternative
Our mother was without doubt a fount of practical old-fashioned common sense. Among memories that linger are the regular doses of revolting castor oil followed by wedges of orange caringly but firmly forced on us as children, the burning hot bread poultices religiously applied on bruises which then so quickly and miraculously got better, the ‘dum allana’ (inhalation) nightmares when, ill with coughs and colds, we were bundled under a tent-like blanket structure to inhale a broth of medicinal herbs simmering on hot coals underneath the covering. I found it terrifying, but my mother was there with me under the blanket in the sweltering heat, pushing my face as close as it could take to the steaming broth, participating in the exercise despite the discomfort it needlessly caused her. Strange that as a daughter of a western medical practitioner she clung on to Ayurvedic or old-fashioned treatments which were always effective.
Amongst memories that flitter through my mind, foremost are the ones in which she was always industrious and busy, - sewing, pottering about in the garden or in the house, - refusing to be idle. She had no qualms about following up any task – however rough. There are sweet memories of her at the piano playing melodies like‘Mocking Bird Hill’ and the haunting ‘Ramona’.
Our father often made us gather around the piano and besides ’Diya Goda Hema Thena’, his favourite request was a song sung to the tune of “Glory glory Hallelujah’ with quaint verses which went – “Every morning bare udella, bahimu kumburata, wawaganta sinhalunge kemata’’ and “boncheeda, mekaral patola wambatu, we send them to market Pitakotu” his loud voice joining in with ours, and she valiantly providing the music. To me at that time, the singing seemed regimented, but nostalgia and sweetness comes in remembering. As her hearing gradually failed, and typically she rejected a hearing aid, she quietly gave up playing.
Our mother was a pretty woman but conventionally dressed without make up, so it is now in recollection that I realize how comely she was. As any good mother, she loved caring for her grand- children and was full of excitement when awaiting the birth of her great grandchildren. Her home and family were her kingdom. I would like to believe that many good qualities we may possess have been inherited from her.
I was abroad from around her sixtieth year and although I came over frequently and sent over health food packages, I could never make up for the care and love my sisters, brothers and their families showered on her. Her husband, one son and three sons-in-law passed away before her and though shaken she stoically bore it up. I think her immense faith in God helped. My sisters made sure that until almost the end she attended church. She was lucky in that despite her despair about losing her independence, she had boundless love and attention from her family.
My sister Kamala and her husband Upali made sure that their home was literally our mother’s home where she enjoyed her own space, could be herself and freely receive visitors. As her physical needs increased, and as was characteristic, she was hostile to prescribed drugs, the activities of my sister’s home almost completely revolved around our mother. Mere words cannot express our gratitude that our mother was so totally and lovingly cared for.
Thank you mummy for the love you so quietly and so completely gave all of us. As time goes by all we can remember more and more is your goodness. You were all that a loving mother should be and a wonderful woman and we will always cherish your memory.
The world of scholarship will miss him
My association with the late Gaston Perera began as a schoolboy at Kingswood College, Kandy. He went on thereafter to the University of Ceylon, now the University of Peradeniya when he joined the Classics Department and I the Department of History. After graduation he joined the Inland Revenue Department and I joined the Department of History at the University of Ceylon.
My association with him grew in recent years after he began a successful post-retirement career as a historian. To me he will always be remembered as a distinguished historian of the Portuguese encounter with Sri Lanka. He will rank with the late Professor Tikiri Abeyasinghe and Professor C. R. de Silva as the most outstanding scholars of critically important aspects of Portuguese rule in Sri Lanka, not a bad distinction for someone who entered the picture only after retirement from the position of Commissioner of Inland Revenue.
Gaston often regretted to me that his weakness was that he did not know the Portuguese language but I told him that it was not such a great disadvantage to a man with an education in classics. After all, one of the greatest students of Portuguese colonial rule was the London University scholar, the late Professor C. R. Boxer who did not have a PhD.
Gaston also yearned for a PhD. The fact is that his two works Kandy Fights the Portuguese: A Military History of Kandyan Resistance (2007) and The Portuguese Missionary in 16th and 17th Century Ceylon: The Spiritual Conquest (2009), were two outstanding studies which any professional historian would have been proud to claim as his own. Had Gaston been at the London School of Oriental and African Studies as a PhD student Boxer would have been proud to have supervised his work—as proud as he was to have guided Tikiri Abeyasinghe and C.R. de Silva through their post-graduate work. As it is Gaston would rank with Abeyasinghe and C.R. de Silva as an outstanding student of the Portuguese encounter with Sri Lanka. He did not master the Portuguese language as they had but he read everything written on the subject by scholars such as Father S. G. Perera, Sir Paulus Pieris and the Fergusons. One could not expect to do much more in the circumstances in which Gaston was.
I remember reading a statement by the great British historian G. M. Trevelagan that one of the pieces of equipment that a professional historian needed was a stout pair of boots—boots with which to tread the ground that the soldiers and their leaders walked. In preparing his Kandy Fights the Portuguese Gaston walked the roads in the Kadugannawa hills through Balana and Alagalla down to Ganetenne on the fateful route that the Portuguese armies took on their way from Colombo in their ill-fated campaigns against the Kandyan kingdom. Similarly he went to Badulla and Idalgashinna to the sites of the unfortunate Constantine de Saa’s defeat. When Gaston wrote about the Kandyans’ successful resistance against the Portuguese of de Saa’s ill-fated campaign he knew what the odds were and was able to assess them with a discernment that other historians would have admired.
While we are still getting accustomed to Gaston’s sudden and unexpected death, we are glad that he was spared to leave behind such a solid body of scholarly work. The world of scholarship in Sri Lanka will miss him tremendously. All we can say is that we treasure his memory and that his widow, his children and grandchildren will have a record to be proud of.
K. M. de Silva.
A man crowned with values, leadership and principles
L. S. Jayawardena
With the demise of Leonard Stanley Jayawardena the private sector lost one of its most highly respected leaders whose astute leadership was crowned with values and principles he steadfastly believed in. What was so unique in him was that for the sake of personal glory or accomplishment he would never ever sacrifice the sterling qualities he so zealously safeguarded to prove to the world that hard though it was, he still achieved what he wanted following the dictates of his conscience.
Lever Brothers (Ceylon) Limited which later took the name of Unilever Sri Lanka Limited had the distinction of having honourable gentlemen with proven ability serving on its Board of Directors. Everyone of them was an embodiment of refinement and employees of the Company had reason to feel proud that they worked for such a Company. When the time came for Unilever to appoint its first Sri Lankan Chairman Leonard Stanley Jayawardena was the obvious choice.
L.S.J. (that’s how we referred to him amongst ourselves) hailed from Basavakkulama Walauwe in Anuradhapura and his personality in many ways, so unbelievably honest to the letter, so strong in character and yet unassuming and unswerving, was highly influenced by the simplicity of an outstation lifestyle and upbringing. It was not difficult to notice that he had moulded his childhood days according to the priceless values that were upheld in a sacred city. Born a Christian, he entered Trinity College, Kandy and at the age of 14 chose to be a Buddhist as a result of his conviction. His mother, being a Buddhist and exposure to Buddhism, living in the sacred city, opposite the Thuparama, may have helped.
His personal wish to change his religion being permitted at Trinity, no doubt, enhanced his respect for his alma mater and with no obstacles in the way he went on to excel in his studies. When he was comparatively young and still in college he lost his father, leaving his mother to take care of the children. Facing an uphill task, after losing much of the family wealth, his mother, with sheer determination kept the son at Trinity with the implicit faith that he would live up to her expectations. This, he did and qualified to enter the University.
In the University, he met Sujata in whom he saw a perfect partner and they married after they both graduated. He joined the Inland Revenue Department as a Senior Assessor.
Later, Stanley Jayawardena joined Lever Brothers (Ceylon) Limited as its Advertising Manager and was trained in Advertising at Hindustan Lever, Bombay. Although he was a strict disciplinarian he was a kind and caring human being who never failed to understand the difficulties that others went through. I had the privilege of working under him for a major part of my 22 years at Levers, first in sales and later in marketing.
He gave me the opportunity of working as Merchandising Manager, Promotions Manager, Area Sales Manager (for a short time) Manager – Company Organized Media, Brand Manager for Astra and last of all as Product Manager - Foods. I cannot think of anyone else who at different times handled such a wide spectrum of marketing activity. He made it a point to tell me as to why he chose to do it, showing concern and importance that I needed to know … a typical ‘LSJ’ open-heart attitude in dealing with his managers. With every appointment, it was a rewarding experience for me, venturing into new areas and overcoming unexpected challenges. He took a personal interest in grooming his Managers.
He always had the interest of the country at heart and willingly helped in any national venture where his support was sought. He loaned my services to organize on behalf of the Export Promotion Secretariat, the two biggest Export Exhibitions of 100 stalls each, at the BMICH for visiting chain store buyers from USA, UK and West Germany, during the premiership of Sirima R.D.Bandaranaike.
Later, he released me to organize ‘Poshanaya’ an exhibition on rice substitutes, on behalf of the Sri Lanka Meals for Millions Foundation. He was of the view that all three exhibitions were of national significance and agreed to loan my services when requested. He was present when the Prime Minister was chief guest at the ceremonial opening of all three exhibitions. He similarly took a keen interest to develop the Cooperative Sector when assistance was sought and given forming a team picked from sales and marketing to do the needful.
When I was discussing my storyboard for Astra Margarine with LSJ there came a telephone call from a powerful VVIP who was sponsoring an applicant for a job at a time when interviews were being conducted. Unruffled, calm and collected, he told the caller that the company’s policy was to select the best and that if the applicant concerned measured up to the company’s requirement he could rest assured that he would be recruited. When so many others would have at least with soothing words given some hope to the caller (considering the fact that he was a powerful politico) Stanley Jayawardena who fearlessly practised what he believed in, did not mince his words. That was a display of dignity and refinement that only the highly principled had the courage to express without fear or favour. With that simple incident Leonard Stanley Jayawardena of Basavakkulama Walauwe stood Ten Feet Tall.
At the conclusion of a company organized event in a hotel down South, LSJ chose to return to Colombo in my car. And right throughout the journey it was an awesome experience talking to the boss on various matters outside official work and getting to know what a warm hearted person he was.
What was most remarkable about Stanley and Sujata Jayawardena was that whenever they walked into a company event they came in with a smile and almost instantly merged with the rest, moving from one place to another and having a kind word and something humorous to say to liven up the spirits. Both Stanley and Sujata Jayawardena always had time for fun and laughter and it was a treat to be in their company.
We all knew him to value and respect the truth and honesty. He made his own assessment of his Managers and never failed to give credit where credit was due. I cannot think of anyone who couldn’t have sharpened his skills and developed his personality with the encouragement and the ample opportunities he made available. He groomed his Managers to be men of efficiency and integrity and needless to say, his sincerity of purpose was the power that made him a force to reckon with.
Down to earth human beings like Leonard Stanley Jayawardena are indeed a rare breed. He was one who could have walked with kings and yet not lost the common touch. Remarkable as he was, the elements were so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world … This was a Man !
Sri Sangabo Corea