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For many Sri Lankan parents sending their children abroad for higher education is the ultimate goal. Spending millions, they choose the best for their children, even if it means selling their homes and properties. It was with these same aspirations that the Samaratunges sent their only child Harsha to Russia two years ago, to study medicine. But all their hopes and dreams for their son were shattered last week when he was found dead at the Tver University premises in Russia.
Today Harsha's parents have not only to bear the loss but also to live in the dark not knowing the manner of his death. They have been told that Harsha committed suicide, but do not accept that their son would have taken his own life.
According to reports they received, Harsha died on the morning of September 29. The previous night Harsha and his room-mate had not been together. The following morning between 9.00 and 9.30 am the boy was found dead near the foot of the dormitory. A letter alleged to have been written by Harsha to a girl named Nishanthi was found in his room. The letter in Russian stated he had had a nightmare where he killed his parents and couldn't handle it anymore.
"There are so many doubtful details that we are convinced that it was not suicide. My son was not a fool to take his life over some silly dream, even if it did occur. He was a very level-headed person and he knew how difficult it was for us to send him abroad. His only aim was to complete his studies and come home" said Harsha's father, Thilak Samaratunge.
Harsha a second year medical student had completed his first year at the Lumumba University and had switched to Tver University for the rest of the course last month. He was to start his term on October 3.
Knowing that he could not see them often, Harsha had made it a point to visit his parents in July. "He left on August 22. By then, he had already made arrangements and was settled in at his new University. He was happy and confident that he knew the country and the people and could manage on his own. He often told us that even among Sri Lankan students there were the good and the bad and he had to mix with both" said Kamala Samaratunge, Harsha's mother.
Harsha's parents are determined to find the truth in their son's mysterious death and have already requested an investigation by the Russian authorities. However upto date the University has not officially given a statement as to the events that led to the boy's death. "They wrote to us about arrangements which were made to bring the body. Other than this no one has come forward to enlighten us with the exact truth.
Once the body was brought I requested a doctor to carry out a post mortem. My son had received injuries on his chin, nose and forehead. That could not have happened due to a fall, it's as if he was beaten. It seems he had fallen on his feet but he had received injuries on his chest. His feet were broken. We were also told that the letter was found in his room but why should he leave it there and go to another room and jump?" queried Mr. Samaratunge.
It had been Harsha's room-mate's father who had broken the news to his parents. The agent confirmed his death. Although Harsha's colleagues had not come forward to give any information they had in fact made all the arrangements to send the body to Sri Lanka. "They kept phoning me and even wanted my permission to have a service in the church and a Hindu ceremony for my son. I gave them permission. We are told that the University was closed for two days", said Mr. Samaratunge.
Harsha's parents had received a greater shock when Harsha's belongings were sent home, sans his books, notes or diary. "We found it so strange because if my son had written a letter we would have been able to see his handwriting but there was nothing. Further on his recent visit he said that he had a lot of photographs but we received none. Things like this make us suspect foul play," Mr Samaratunge said.
A past pupil of Stafford International School, Harsha's lack of fluency in his mother tongue led him to go abroad for his higher studies. He was willing to do a Sinhala paper and gain entrance to a University here but as it takes about two years, he said it would be a waste of time. From his younger day he was a brilliant student and his teachers suggested he should take to medicine. Once he completed his studies he asked us whether we could finance his studies. He was so sensible and we knew he was serious about it" said Harsha's mother.
Many parents whose children are in Russia had visited the family wanting more information for fear of their children. Mr. Samaratunge believes it's high time that parents should form a Union to safeguard their children from crimes of this nature. "I know it will not bring back my son but at least for the sake of the other children something should be done", said Mr. Samaratunge who has already written to the President to inquire into the matter.
The Silverkandy bungalow doubtless has many tales to tell. Now it stands silent, keeping its secrets to itself.
It is surprising that the Silverkandy bungalow at Brookside is still standing. Perhaps it was the parsimony of previous owners that saved it. To have built a new bungalow in the place of Silverkandy would have been an expensive exercise. So Silverkandy survived the frenzy of new bungalow building in the 1920s and 1950s. It remains a collector's dream: a classic.
There is a mystery about Silverkandy that someone with a Ferguson's Ceylon Directory for, say, 1905, should be able to solve. The exterior of the bungalow bears prominently an insignia on two of its walls. This resembles a letter "V" set in a circle with geometric wings. The design is repeated on pelmets in the bungalow so it seems to be the crest of the owner of the estate when the bungalow was built. But who was he?
The Silverkandy plantation is now part of the Brookside group. It stands, typically, on a hillock which overlooks the road between Kandapola and the village of Brookside. Below it the much-lamented Udapussellawa Railway (UPR) built in 1902 ran from Nanu Oya, through Kandapola (then the highest station in the country) to Brookside and Ragala. It never reached Udapussellawa but until 1948 served the plantation community with steam trains that puffed along at six miles per hour. The old ticket office at Brookside is still there, a wooden building used as a bar but with the ticket window intact.
The Silverkandy bungalow belongs to the steam era. While a monstrous, pillarbox-red brick annex has been tacked on to its side to serve as an office, the true lines of a classic, antique planter's home remain. The bungalow is used today for visiting directors so it is bereft of the personal possessions of an occupant. To whom, then, does the precious Royal Ironside china chamber pot belong, which we found neglected on the floor of an empty anteroom?
Entrance to the bungalow is through a glassed-in verandah, acknowledgment by its builders that not every day at Silverkandy is sunny. A warmth of wood, of glass panelled doors and five-petalled fanlights, greets the visitor. The impression of Edwardian times is immediate. The doors to the dining room have been removed which adds depth to the narrow verandah.
On its left is a room to enter in style since its wooden floor is raised, like a stage, about 18 inches above the floor of the adjoining room. It commands the attention of that room, which is also a sitting room. There is no proscenium arch, only carved wooden columns at either side and an intricately patterned board ceiling, painted white.
There is a fireplace too. This one is of polished wood and, remarkably, has a pair of coal tongs resting by it. A combination of antique and not- so- modern furniture, the long drapes, and perhaps the lack of residents, helps preserve a hallowed atmosphere.
"The Rose" cast iron boiler with chimney burrowing in to the wall takes pride of place in the dining room. This would have kept the room, and plates, warm. Behind the dining room is a hall used as both pantry and, judging by the atmosphere created by its new pine board walls and ceiling, also as a good place for informal entertaining. The back of the bungalow remains the realm of the servants.
There are only three bedrooms at Silverkandy. In the main one the gorgeous fanlights have been blackened to shade the room. The main bathroom has a tub and Doulton Ribble toilet made in England and a Doulton Glenbrook washbasin. There is a second door leading to the garden, to allow entry by the bathboy.
There are several little touches to the bungalow that must have made the expatriate planters of colonial days feel at home. In the pantry, there is something called grandly, an "Imperator Filter" made by the London Filter and Pump Company. The door with green glazed window panes, that leads to the sitting room, has its original brass lock, made by John Morton and Company of Wolverhampton. It has been installed up side down.
The Silverkandy bungalow doubtless has many tales to tell about the days when it must have been a formidable residence for a gentleman planter. Now it stands silent, opened only for the occasional visiting director, keeping its secrets to itself.
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