It seems as if a grey cloud of depression is over me; not only because of the demise of Nalini Wickremesinghe, but because her death in a way, is the end of an era.
I cannot think of anyone of my generation, or the ones that follow; with her exceptional qualities. She is one who was truly blessed by the good fairies at her birth, for she certainly had it all – beauty, grace, dignity, gentility, intellect, culture and great sense of history. I am proud that we share the same Alma Mater; although she had left school, before I entered its hallowed portals.
As the eldest daughter of the late D.R.Wijewardene, she had the privilege of witnessing at first hand, many stages of our country’s history, before and after Independence. She would often talk to me about those days, when politicians of yore, of the calibre of D.S. Senanayake, D.B. Jayetilleke, E.W. Perera, V.F. and L.M de Silva were frequent visitors to their home. Another vivid memory she often talked about, was the visit of the members of the Soulbury Commission; who had stayed with her father, at Arcadia in Diyatalawa.
This was a truly historic visit as they spent hours and days drafting the constitution of Independent Ceylon. These memories and those of her father beginning the newspaper were always vivid in her mind, and she once told me that this was when her interest in politics was first nurtured. Conversations at her home revolved round politics, the newspapers and her father’s role in the struggle for Independence.
There are only a few who are aware that Nalini had obtained the London Inter Arts degree, for which she had studied privately. Her father had planned to send her to university, but Cupid intervened as he often does when she met her future husband Esmond.
I visited her often and would read the newspapers to her, when her eyesight began to fail. I was careful not to read anything to her which would upset her, but in true Sri Lankan fashion, someone would tell her about malicious, false stories planted about Ranil, her son and nothing upset her more than this. Especially, when they were done by those that she, her late husband or her son had helped in some way. She was a devoted mother, grandmother and sister. She adored her children, was very proud of them all and equally adored her younger brother. She told me that she was just 17 when he was born, and the duty of looking after him was handed over to her.
Her interest in reviving Sinhala culture, led her to play an active role in The Lanka Mahila Samithi and the Sinhala Institute of Culture. Her work in the Mahila Samithi began with encouraging women to have home gardens and develop their talent in other crafts which they could do at home to empower them and to have their own income. Together with the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Mrs. Siva Obeysekera, she was one of the pioneers in promoting handicrafts and handloom weaving. I have seen many of her own designs woven into sarees, which were truly exquisite works of art. At the Sinhala Institute of Culture, she was one of those responsible for reviving Kandyan and low country dancing, drama and other aspects of traditional culture and art. She played a prominent role in promoting and sponsoring Sinhala writers and artistes, by helping playwrights and producers to stage their plays.
Although born with a silver spoon Nalini, in addition to her work for the upliftment of Sinhala culture, arts and crafts, also worked as an active director of Lake House till it was taken over by the then government. She has often spoken to me about this heartbreaking moment; when her father’s brainchild was snatched away; his dreams no longer in the hands of his children; for which he had worked so hard all his life. Lesser mortals at this stage, may have sat back at home, licking their wounds or given in to depression. But not Nalini; instead, she worked at the Lake House Bookshop for many years. Her interest in English literature, stood her in good stead in this role. Her children surprised her a few years ago, on her birthday, by publishing some poems written by her, which she presented to her friends.
During these past few years with her failing health, it was good to see the devotion with which her children, including her daughters-in-law, looked after her. She was showered with tender, loving care by them; through each moment of each day. As a mother, I know that this is all we mothers want from our children, nothing more than their love and devotion. Ranil and Kshanika have both inherited her sense of history and her love of classical music. I was always touched that every time Ranil bought music for himself, he bought the identical tape for his mother. He would sit for hours at her bedside, despite his busy schedule, discussing music of the great masters, musicians and politics with her.
Two people who knew her better than most outsiders were Maya Wikrantha, who was first Esmond’s and then her secretary at Lake House and Dr. Anandaraja, her eye doctor for many decades. Both speak of her innate kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity to them. Maya speaks of her as a boss in a million. Dr. Anandaraja says that she never failed to visit him each New Year’s day with a gift and that he has treasured them all. She was a devout Buddhist who married a Christian and practised her religion as a true Buddhist should. She was never a fanatic, never forced her beliefs on others, but practised it as an inspiring example to those who knew her.
I will always think of Nalini Wickremesinghe as one of those wonders of God, our creator.
When my life is through;
and the angels ask me to recall those who left their indelible imprint on me,
I will tell them that I remember you.
Ilica Malkanthi Karunaratne
No one in the world like dear Aacha
It is one year since you left us to be with the Lord.
In all things we do, we must remember those who are watching over us, those who have guided us with their wisdom and those who shed their light to illuminate our path.
I don’t quite know how to start, and where to start, and I don’t know what to say. How do I describe a woman who for 19 years of my life touched me in more ways than I can recall? How do I describe a woman whose values, strength, honour and respect I can only imagine gaining. A woman whose love for me I have yet to fathom?
For 19 years of my life I grew up with Aacha. No tribute, speech, poem or song can encompass what Aacha meant to me and who she was to me. They say that with some people, there are no words. My Aacha is indescribable.
But the stories told by the many students she taught and the memories she has left behind are immortal. I was told that her sacrifice for me began before I was born, when she gave up the career she loved as a teacher at Methodist College, Colombo 3, to take care of me.
If, during my growing years, I happened to go for a walk in someone else’s care and returned with a scratch on my arm, Aacha would hold that person responsible for my bleeding. She was my favourite hide-and-seek partner, dutifully pretending to look for me. I will forever remember the times I would raid her beautiful saree cabinet, and she would teach me how to drape a saree and the times I would come home from school and tell her about who stole the swing from whom, while she fed me.
Growing up and stepping into womanhood, I was always aware of Aacha right behind me, guiding me through everything. I can feel her cool hand on my warm skin on the nights she stayed up to take care of me when I was sick; I can see her stern but thoughtful expression when I got my homework wrong and I can hear the sound of her laughter.
Aacha left behind more than memories. She left behind a part of herself in me. When someone tells me that I am like her, I feel great pride, because I would be lucky to grow up to be half the woman she was.
I will not forget the long conversation we had on boys and love. It went on for hours. I absorbed her words of wisdom and stories. I sensed that she must have had many admirers, but was reluctant to talk about them.
She was always understanding, patient and not quick to judge. Although sometimes her words angered me, I soon realised she was always right. She had an uncanny ability to judge character. She multitasked – as wife, mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, teacher and friend, and she excelled in all these roles.
Aacha taught me many things. She taught me to love music and literature. She loved fashion and always looked smart and beautiful, not a hair out of place, and always carried a perfumed handkerchief. She taught me the importance of looking good at all times.
If I have any skills in debating, I attribute them to her. Anyone who knew Aacha will tell you that she always won an argument. No one would try to convince her otherwise. She was always the judge in the family and everyone went to her for approval, whether it was about marriage or what colour to paint the new house. I admired the way she carried herself, with respect and dignity.
I know no one who matches up to Aacha in all these aspects. Although she is not with me in body, I know her spirit is with me, guiding me, teaching me. I will miss Aacha every single day of my life – but I will be strong in the knowledge that she is now with our Lord Jesus Christ and that He is taking better care of her than anyone on this earth could.
Aacha held my hand throughout my life – when I was learning to walk, when I was sick, when I bled, when I prayed, and now, even though she is not here to hold my hand, she will hold my heart forever. No matter what challenge may come in my life, when I am standing in the dark, I know that someone is watching over me.
We are what we are today because of you Thaththa
A. Wilton de Zoysa
Thaththa, it has been 10 years since you left us and I still miss you more than ever. It is true when they say, you do not realize what you truly have till it is gone. I must confess that I am at a loss of words when it comes to penning my appreciation of you since my thoughts are far too many and crowded with emotion.
Thaththa, even after the absence of your physical presence for 10 years, I miss you more deeply than words can say. However, I have brought myself to write a few words of what you meant to me since you were my best friend, guru and precious father.
You appreciated us for what we were and trusted us to the extent that unknowingly you built a moral binding in us to be always uncompromisingly truthful to ourselves and thereby never break the trust of others. Your love, appreciation, trust among many things moulded us to be what we are today.
Thaththa, you said learning was the foundation which no one could take away. We are what we are because of you and Amma. You always told me to do my duty with dedication, commitment and integrity. We grew up with your values and we are glad we did, as it has proved beyond doubt what life can give. We note with gratitude, positive comments of others of our ability to go through life with zest, responsibility and honesty.
You were my friend and pillar of strength. I could open my heart to you and you would put us on the correct path on life’s journey. Your love for reading you imbibed in us.
You gave us love, support and a sound education, but most of all you taught us to be fair and have a strong sense of right and wrong. You were always there for us and you made us believe that self-confidence, honesty and courage would help us lead a good life.
Thaththa, I miss your voice but most of all I miss you just being there. I will always hold on to the last conversation we had and how you never failed to let me know how much you loved me. Your spirit and what you have given, will always remain and make us better people.
We all wish we could have had more time with you to catch up up on all those lost years. I sit here thinking of what could have been, should have been and would have been, if things were different, but that is not what I want to focus on. I want to hold on to and remember the good memories I have of you.
I could truly say that I am blessed to have had you as my father, the best and sweetest, the world has ever had. Thaththa my world will never be the same without you but as you have told me we all need to move on with our lives.
I strongly believe that you will be with me forever until I am gone. However, my sincere hope is that you may attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana.
Loving and affectionate
Damitha de Zoysa
I became acquainted with Chandi or “Uncle” as he was affectionately known to us, while working for him at the Associated Management Services/AMS Data Services in the 1970’s.
As I now go through life in the twilight years of my employment, there has hardly been any person who has made a lasting footprint in my working life other than “Uncle”.
As a mentor and boss though feared with reverence for his outbursts at times when clients complained about work issues, he always addressed these problems as “we will look into it” or “we will take care of it”, collectively taking ownership of them. He would then berate one later in his own inimitable style with some flowery words of wisdom.
Uncle was a unique man and to his credit my ex-colleagues and I are still gainfully employed today around the globe because of what we learnt from him. His famous words “no man is indispensable”, gave us the courage to take up challenges in our professional careers.
We are greatly indebted to him for the opportunity given to us, which will always be remembered and cherished until we too leave this temporary abode to join him in Nirvana!