Gentlest of human beings lost to a suicide bomber in Peshawar Zafar Khanzada As a college student and subsequently an undergrad, I look back on the friendships and the adventures we had with a nostalgic fondness. Uprooted from my island home Sri Lanka while still in my teens, I suddenly found myself ensconced in the [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka



Gentlest of human beings lost to a suicide bomber in Peshawar

Zafar Khanzada

As a college student and subsequently an undergrad, I look back on the friendships and the adventures we had with a nostalgic fondness. Uprooted from my island home Sri Lanka while still in my teens, I suddenly found myself ensconced in the hallowed halls of Aitchison College in Lahore.

Aitchison I was later to discover had a long and revered history. It was formerly known as Chiefs College, before the partition and through its classrooms had passed future presidents, statesmen, nawabs, famous cricketers and academics. With the coming into being of Pakistan it now became Aitchison College, still holding sway as the Asian equivalent of Eton and Harrow.

Its green playing fields, stables, paddocks, tuck shops, cobbled walkways with students in long flannel trousers, ties and dark blue blazers, mingling with teachers their gowns billowing out behind them, their hoods perched on their heads — a proud symbol of the Oxford or Cambridge education they themselves had acquired. I felt as if I had just stepped into the pages of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
It was here that my friendship with Zafar began, my first cousin, the eldest of the two boys born to my father’s sister.

While in Sri Lanka she was always the aunt who lived abroad, and we looked forward to her periodic visits with eagerness. In the 70s with no imports allowed into Sri Lanka , goodies from abroad were manna from heaven and my aunt was possessed of a generous and giving nature, a trait that passed down to her offspring. She came like a whirlwind, cornflakes packed in garbage bags full to the brim, tubes of smarties and slabs of Cadburys chocolate and bottles of Nescafe — it was gourmet heaven.

Zafar and I were treated to days out on the beaches, trips down the southern coast where the Sunday buffet was at the zenith of its popularity, or lounging in the swimming pools of clubs in Colombo, but these visits were periodic and our bonding temporary. My aunt after a month or two would return to her home in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, taking Zafar with her and I would go back to the routine of my school life in Colombo.

My arrival at Aitchison was prompted by many reasons, I think primarily because my mother wanted to see me in a boarding school away from Colombo. The final result was Aitchison where she firmly and erroneously believed that I would spend my time in serious scholastic pursuits. My one comforting thought on entering Aitchison was the knowledge that my cousin Zafar studied here and was a boarder too, even better we both belonged to the same house “Kelly”. Here began a friendship that would see us through our scholastic lives.

In a very short time Zafar, Scotty (an expat Pakistani student born in Scotland and sent to boarding school to imbibe the culture of his origins) myself and a few other assorted like-minded citizens became inseparable.

The world was ours and we were determined to live it to its fullest. What passed was days of listening to music, sipping contraband Scotch, BBQ’ing chickens in our fireplaces borrowed from an unfortunate teacher’s premises (most of the staff had housing provided within the school) discussing everything from philosophy to politics to the anatomical marvels of the opposite sex, frequent journeys over the school walls to explore the bright lights of Lahore, usually when one of us happened to be in the money or a long awaited allowance had arrived. Zafar was our organiser, neat to the point of being irritating, always smiling and generous to a fault.

He displayed even in those formative years that rarity of human nature devoid of malice, jealousy, envy — the gentlest of human beings. Our adventures at Aitchison were many, too many to recount here, but both of us miraculously achieved the grades required to take us on to a University education and herein began the next chapter in our lives.

University was another heady experience. We arrived at Edwardes College in Peshawar after the quiet cultured, suburban, surroundings of Lahore, Peshawar was the wild west of the sub continent, a frontier town sitting on the borders of Afghanistan, where guns were simply a part of your day-to-day wear and a man in western attire stood out like a sore thumb — hence my immediate conversion to the local mode of dress, the baggy shalwar and long tunic shirts worn by the local citizenry.

Edwardes College on the other hand clung stubbornly to its colonial past, headed by Norman Green, a Englishman who spent most of his waking moments dreaming up ways and means to interest his charges in their chosen subjects, teachers who introduced us to the joys of literature (a daunting task in those surroundings) and buildings that could be transported to any county in England and pass off as a English College, without a trace of the frontier anywhere within its walls.

Zafar and I entered this world with our usual gusto, we formed many friendships and had different sets of friends who gathered together and drifted apart depending on our interests of the moment. We roamed the country, living for days in the mountains of Swat, gathering at friends’ houses in Haripur, usually the sons of tribal leaders living within an archaic but still existent feudal system. We were a law unto ourselves and the future seemed something far away not worthy of wasting our time on, in the here and now of our lives.

Zafar was popular, amongst students and teachers alike, his friendliness, generosity and above all his gentle nature even amongst the rugged people and surroundings he lived in shone through.

I got up on Wednesday morning to the news that this gentlest of human beings has been lost to a suicide bomber, his remains still undiscovered. With him lost to this world were another two cousins, two innocents who did not deserve this death. I cannot express what I feel, anger at the senselessness of this violence, anger at the men who perpetrate these atrocities in the name of religion, grief and sadness, sadness for a family that will grieve a good man, the children who will miss their father, his brother, my aunt and uncle who will miss him and cry for him, the frustration of not being able to do anything to make it right. Words won’t be enough, so I thought I would pen down on paper happier times, times we shared. I miss you cuz and pray and hope you are in a happier place wherever you are.

Imran Packir Saibo

From music to adventurous trips, our friendship knew no bounds

Varuni Peiris

‘Time is endless in Thy hands, My Lord…
Days and nights pass on…and ages bloom and fade, before Thy sight…
And none be there to count the minutes…Such is eternity…
Yet, upon my earthly abode, I see death… strike at my door….
He has crossed the unknown seas…and brought the call home to me…’

In moments of silent reflection when my thoughts did grapple with the strange mysteries of life and death… and in deeper meditation did bring to life memories of loved ones gone before, did I pen these stanzas; and I now dedicate them to you, dear Varuni, my friend.
I first came to know you when you brought the cherubic Johann to me for piano lessons. As he waxed strong in skill, revealing exceptional talent, our friendship quietly took root. As with the passage of time Johann moved on to study under my dear friend Ramya, yet our friendship blossomed and grew in strength — nourished as it was by attributes of sincerity, understanding, trust… and a deep empathy for the other’s needs and wellbeing. This bonding was deepened and made secure by the deep and abiding faith we shared. Varuni, the support and the strength you gifted me throughout our friendship are immeasurable and eternal; yet in this humble tribute I will strive to recall some such memories:

The deep love of music we shared was our strongest bond. The bequests of the Western Classical Masters did we greatly love. So often would I hear your voice over the telephone informing me of a forthcoming concert. Often would you be at my gate — well after the time decided, to rush me along with the family to a symphony concert or a choral presentation.

At each event you would discuss the works performed, a reflection which often continued into the following day; such was your involvement with music, imbued with a desire for greater understanding.

Above all, your greatest treasures in music, your finest gifts to the world of music, are your wonderfully gifted sons, Eshantha and Johann. Indeed they were your pride and joy; yet in a simple, humble, thankful manner. Whenever they graced the concert platform you were a hive of activity, working so efficiently looking into every detail. Your concern was deep, your excitement electric! You were truly the mother who had so devotedly nurtured them over the years to reach such heights of excellence; your joy and pride were so well deserved! Yet I personally know how much you thanked God for them. Often would you call me before a performance to seek my prayers, and I was deeply humbled to do so- even in my simplicity. May they remain a shining blessing to your memory!

Our shared friendship knew the love of related art forms — paintings, sculpture, poetry and books. I recall the afternoons we have spent together, looking through paintings of the Renaissance, the architectural marvels of the medieval and classical periods, sharing with each other some beautiful stanzas of poetry we had read somewhere; interests reflected in the little gifts we exchanged with each other.

Varuni, you loved nature; the trees the flowers the birds … lent you happiness. Once enjoying the warmth of your home, you hushed me to silence, as a Golden Oriole happened to alight upon your bird bath; I knew then how well simple things mattered to you.
Our friendship did take us on paths more adventurous — as our annual trip to Pettah when we would walk through the backstreets to the tiny boutique, which was none too clean, to be served with the choicest cake ingredients by the charming Mr. Karuppiah. Our walk through the riotous colour of China street — and our visit to the Dutch museum — to look upon replicas of our rich history. Often we would end up at the shrine of St. Phillip Neri’s to spend some moments of quiet adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

Visits to shrines marked a deeper communion of our friendship. When the opportunity arose I would join you to a Eucharistic celebration at the Shrine of St. Anthony or at All Saints; a day of reflection on the ‘Passion of Our Lord’ at St. Philip Neri’s; to the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka for a poignant healing mass; to the quietness of Carmel; sitting in meditative silence at the feet of our Mother of Vailankanni.

Family and home were the core of your life, an attribute of good womanhood, for “their price is far above rubies….” As you cared for Merrick, the boys, and those who served you, so devoted was your care of your ageing parents. We shared so much in strengthening each other particularly when our mothers were passing through the evening of their lives. They who had been school mates, passed on… within a month of each other, and you were with me to support me in so many ways.

Many would be the tales which speak of your selfless giving, your compassion and charity to the downtrodden, your empathy with those in need… the reality of which I have beheld so often. I relate one simple episode: ‘Once, an aged pilgrim seeing Varuni, greeted her; having accepted the note handed to her she laughingly read: ‘Dear madam…’ followed by a list of essential needs. Varuni was a regular benefactor… a willing and joyful benefactor! Indeed, you exemplified the Bibilical words: ‘The Lord loves the cheerful giver…’
And so, our camaraderie over the years has also been ennobled by your innate charity and its many attributes: So often did you share in my joys and sorrows; so often did you drive me around and help me attend to my essential needs; when I was laid low you helped with my marketing; in times of crisis you were at my door always with a few groceries in hand; you listened and talked to me; you lent me your counsel and urged me ‘be strong…’. Your laughter and vitality knew no bounds; you filled a soul with hope and gladness…
Our sudden parting weighs heavy upon me even as I write…Yet I know you would urge me ‘be strong…’ So, I strive to draw grace from the abiding faith we shared, and draw close to you in thought and prayer.

And so it was, as the sod quietly laid you unto gentle repose, I saw not the silent grave, but looked up unto the skies in the true faith that you are one with us in praise and song with the choirs in heaven…

‘For infinite are Thy mansions Lord…
Where Thou dost preserve Thy chosen few,
There they stand beneath the golden canopy of the evening sky…
And lift their eager eyes to Thy glorious face,
Yes, their home is Eternity…


A mother like no other


“My Mother, my friend so dear, throughout my life you were so near, a tender smile to guide my way, you were the sunshine of my day.”

It’s more than four months since Amma went home to her Creator whom she loved so much. The void that she created can never be filled. The kind eyes like morning dew, the humble smile that would melt the coldest of hearts, the soft and compassionate voice with which thousands of lives were touched with love, can never be replaced.

The words of a song that come to my mind fit so well with her life.
“A memory often comes to visit, as I lay on my bed late at night,
Of Mama alone in the kitchen, mending clothes by a little oil light,
She sewed till her fingers were swollen, Till she couldn’t keep sleep from her eyes,”

Amma was a teacher by profession and had a career that only a rare few can boast of. She taught for 56 years. This in itself shows the commitment, dedication and love she had for her job. She served Carey College for 36 years, Melbourne College for 10 years and Belvoir College International for 10 years with sheer dedication and passion.

The young minds that she nurtured are endless.

She was not only a teacher but a mother to all the young charges under her. She was not just an English trained teacher with AMI, but also a hand work, art, and PT teacher depending on the need of the school. Many a Christmas decoration, oil lamp bear witness to it and many a principal, head master/mistress and Warden will also bear witness to it.

But her real love was sewing. From sewing for me, to all her nieces and their children to her many diverse customers, from a simple baby frock to wedding gowns, she was an accomplished seamstress. Her perfect cut was so loved that people would come as far as 100 miles just to get a jacket done.

But those are not what I want to remember. Rather who she was to me and the things that she did for me. From my small days, guiding me in the path of God and righteousness, being there to laugh with me in my happiness and cry with me in my despair. Through thick and thin she stood by me being a guide and guard.

It was her dedication, commitment and untiring effort that got me through my school education and to university and AMI. What she did for me is beyond words.

The little jokes that we shared, the advice that she gave me, the secret language that we spoke when we needed to discuss things in private, the many shopping sojourns that we made are little things that I will treasure forever.

In the last year and a half she was not well and she requested me to come and be with her or take her with me. Hence, my husband, our baby daughter and I came to live with and look after her. She was happy that we came and she adored her granddaughter beyond measure.

I thank God that I was given the opportunity to care for the mother who cared for me. Even though she lost her memory toward the end she always said “Rosy look after your daughter well.”

On Independence Day, Lord Jesus gave her freedom from life on this earth. Her last word before she gave up her soul was “Jesus”. What more could a child of God ask for?

All I can say is that she “fought a good fight, she finished her course, she kept her faith. Henceforth there is laid up for her a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give her that day.”

Until we meet again in pastures green, enjoy the rest that you deserve so much, and cheer us as we run the race that you completed.
With Love never ending

Kumuduni Sri Chandrasekera (Rosy)

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