The Sunday TimesPlus

1st June 1997




Rajasinghe Lankasa de Alwis

A gentleman to his fingertips

Rajasinghe Lankasa de Alwis was laid to rest at Kanatte on April 28, 1997 amidst a gathering of friends and relations.

We used to meet often on our almost daily walks either in the morning or evening, living almost on parallel roads down by the sea at Colombo 04.

What used to be casual contacts on the road grew to be a very firm friendship cemented by regular conversation either at his place or mine, at times bringing his grand-daughters and their friends down the lane to play in the garden.

Lankasa was a person who was well-read, well versed in many things. He showed an abiding interest in current affairs of state and politics and related matters. Hailing from a well-known family in the Siyane Korale, Gampaha District, educated at St. Thomas’ College, Mount-Lavinia, with a brief sojourn in law, he had cousins occupying the very top echelons of public life. He showed a complete absence of personal ambition to be in the maelstrom of politics, though he was a perceptive onlooker from the ringside. I gathered from his conversation he was actively associated with his cousin (latterly) in electioneering at many a general elections and even in the 1956’s when his maternal uncle won a historic landslide victory to become the Prime Minister of this country. In 1983 he was mobbed by a crowd at an election meeting in far away Badulla, having been mistaken for then Presidential candidate late Mr. Hector Kobbekaduwa while his cousin looked helplessly on from the platform.

Born a country squire, a man well-read and leisured, he was a dog lover highly knowledgeable about dogs. A friend of his went on to breed a champion of champions out of his selection.

A person who did not show even a trace of malice, a gentleman to his fingertips who carried himself with dignity, honour and much laughter, he was a member of a fast vanishing tribe in Sri Lanka.

My acquaintance is frankly limited to the last 5 years but I immensely benefitted by his ways and manners.

To his wife, son, daughter-in-law and 2 grand daughters, I know his passing away was an irreparable loss but may these few words help in some extent to lessen their grief.

-Methsiri Cooray

Ravi John

Endearing at all times

It cannot be that you are sleeping in some quiet resting place
You whose hands were never still, whose feet moved at an eagerpace....
You who loved the throb of life, the crowded streets, the stir of things. 
You who loved the busy world, the whir of wheels, the rush of wings.
Too young you were to fall asleep, too young to rest in death’s embrace.
I know that you are striding towards some strange and lovely place....
The grave could never hold your spirit or your quick and questioning mind.
You march ahead with bolder steps, new paths to seek, new life to find. 

He was not born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth - although most of his success stemmed from the manner in which he used his mouth! Not for him a birthright which took him on a magic carpet ride to fame.... Oh no, everything he achieved in his tragically short life span was by his own effort.

In spite of family, friends, fans and a following - he was a loner in some ways. He was sceptical of the faith into which he was born, confused about his ethnicity, he was alive to the hurts of its countless victims, and hated the insanity of this seemingly never-ending conflict.

He was an angry young man. Keenly aware of the wounds that can be caused without the use of weapons, he lashed out in anger on seeing Richard - first being torn apart by thoughtless talk and speculation then being brutally silenced for good.

He knew only too well that his prowess at broadcasting and tremendous appeal on the small screen, his disarming good looks and great popularity did not endear him to everyone in the business. As such, he was sometimes unsure, sometimes shy - but at all times endearing. However, there were a few, like Mahes, who saw promise and leaned over to encourage and give him the benefit of their experience in the early days.

He was one personality behind the mike - another behind the pen.... there were perhaps unfathomable depths that will now remain frozen in time because death has set him free! Free from the shackles of pain and sickness, free from all doubts and fears, may his liberated soul make its joyful way to that place we will all find ourselves in sooner or later. Only for Ravi it was sooner

-A friend.

Rev. Fr. H.S. David

He died seeing the Jaffna library burn

The 3rd of June happens to be the 14th death anniversary of Revd. Fr. H.S. David. He died on the night the famous Public Library of Jaffna was burnt.

I am told he was in his room which was on the third storey of St. Patrick’s College when some priests called him out and showed him the "Treasure Trove" going up in flames. His heart must have bled. He kept gazing at it with shock and horror and then retired to bed and that was his last sleep. Having missed him at breakfast Revd. Fr. Selvarajah went to his room and found he had passed away ‘beyond the bridge where there is no more sorrow’

Those who had known the Rev. Fr. H.S. David who died at the age of 74 know what an extraordinary and prodigious memory he had. All the things he had seen, heard, read and experienced must have been arranged in his brain in different drawers (cells) and that too very neatly. And he seems to have had the extraordinary gift, like Napoleon, of being able to open the drawer at a moment’s notice - like pressing a computer button and getting the required information! No wonder he had mastered nearly 35 languages and had acquired some knowledge in another seventy odd languages, besides having learnt history, economics and many other subjects. He was examiner for the Ph. D. examination of Madras university.

Such men of gifts and learning are very rare. But we in Sri Lanka had not recognised his gift, knowledge and ability, and, more than that, we had failed to make use of his vast and expansive knowledge in the field of languages to the benefit and enrichment of our national languages, Sinhala and Tamil.

Fr. David held the view, which his Guru the late Fr. S. Gnana Prakasar also held, that the Sinhala language and the Tamil language are very closely related to each other and that they are not of different groups - Aryan and Dravidian - as is commonly believed. In his vast learning and deep and detailed study of many languages of the two groups, he had found that there are many root words of common origin to both languages and that these two languages cannot be considered as languages of two different groups but that they are of the same group. He was working towards the establishment of this view and if his work had been completed as he had planned he would have made a very strong case for his point of view, if not succeeded in establishing it. The last and final part of the lexicon, all of which he could not publish due to lack of assistance was to have been written entirely in Sinhala.

Persons who inspired him in his life were, he once told me, his father Abrahampillai and, of course, the eminent scholar the late Fr. S. Gnana Prakasar and the late Fr. (Dr.) Xavier S. Thani Nayagam, who, however, was about five years younger than him.

Fr. David showed no discrimination whatsoever of caste, creed, colour or race. In fact, it was totally non-existent in him. He told me several times, very seriously, that because he had drunk milk from the breasts of many mothers of all castes and creeds in and around the village of Thumpalai where he was born, after his mother’s death within a few days of his birth, that he, probably did not have this feeling of discrimination. To him all people were human beings and the children of one God. He could not look at them as Sinhalese or Tamils, Burghers or Moors or Malays, Europeans or Chinese, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists or Muslims and so on. He loved all and treated all alike.

Though very highly learned and qualified, he was like a child. He lived a life of simplicity, wearing inexpensive clothes, himself sewing and darning them when they were torn. He did not go after anyone seeking favour or honour. He shunned publicity and stayed in his room reading and learning. But at 4 o’clock in the evening every day, whether the weather was conducive or not, he left his room for his tennis or cycling or for a long walk visiting students’ homes.

He was much concerned and pained at heart that the Sinhalese and the Tamil people of this country, common in origin, but by some wrong concept believing themselves to be of different origin were at each other’s throats, wasting their lives, and their time and energy. A proper understanding of the origin of the languages of these two peoples and the races to which they belong, he considered, would go a long way to foster goodwill and amity. That is why he wanted to establish that the two languages, Sinhala and Tamil, are not languages of two different groups but are of one and the same group.

Though only five parts of his planned nine part Lexicon have been published I believe that he had written out almost all the other parts. My only hope is that what happened to Fr. Gnana Prakasar’s manuscripts will not happen to Fr. David’s manuscripts. Some responsible person or organisation should take charge of these manuscripts before they are spirited away or damaged or lost.

- Mrs. G.P. David

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