17th February 2002

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Ronnie Abeysinghe

He had thousand friends there lies his greatness

Ronnie in death was, as handsome as he was debonair in life. I almost wondered whether this man was sleeping - that he would soon wake up and greet me, at the Raymonds Funeral Parlour.

I first knew him 40 years ago, when I was a student at the Pembroke Academy and he was a clerk at Parliament. We used to talk of our dreams. But we lived for the day, that's all we could afford to do. As a student I used to gape admiringly at the sartorially perfect Ronnie - always immaculately turned out. Never-never angry. He was a sensitive man. When he realised that my funds were short, he would pass on ten rupees and say, "Return it when you receive your money."

We were in the same room, in the same boarding. If Ronnie received some preferential treatment from the boarding mistress, we did not misunderstand. He was not only extremely good looking but exceedingly charming, kind and helpful.

Both of us had big plans of changing the world. He was certainly not destined to remain a clerk for long. I was not sure where my destiny would take me. Ronnie Abeysinghe was soon appointed Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms, a position that fitted him like his perfectly tailored clothes.

He acquired many thousands of friends on his journey through Samsara. 

Some high and mighty, some down trodden and fallen by hard times. To Ronnie, they were all the same. And there lies his greatness. 

I have watched him on over hundred occasions being extremely kind, gentle and generous to an unfortunate friend, whilst dealing simultaneously with a Minister of State. 

To both, he showed the same degree of courtesy, perhaps he may have been a little gentler and warmer to his poor friend.

No - Ronnie did not wake up. He was gone for all time. Perhaps he may have joined our good friend General (Kalu) Wijeratna - in that celestial abode that knows no pain or suffering - No betrayal or deceit.

We grieve with you Iromi. We have lost a true and gentle friend.

- Malinga H. Gunaratne

Clarence bua: Sketches of a great media era

One of Sri Lanka's most widely respected journalists Clarence Fernando, former editor of the Daily News and the first Asian to be appointed as a Reuters Bureau chief, passed away last Sunday after half a century in the profession.

Former minister the late Ananda Tissa de Alwis in a tribute had said, "Clarence Fernando's career as a journalist needs no special praise from me. It is one of the high peaks on the skyline where he joins Denzil Pieris, Tarzie Vittachi, and others of that calibre and look down upon the valleys below. It is a pity, one concludes, that a man like this should ever 'retire'."

The Sunday Times as its tribute to Clarence Fernando today republishes a short story from his popular book Tales of Willie Bua and Others. 

It is serious, racy, humorous and even reflective but the ingredients are balanced making it a delight to read.

Clarence's friend George Mason commenting on the short stories said these exhilarating sketches are gleaned from the years which probably marked the most scintillating spell of English journalism in this island; the age of Jayantha Padmanabha, Denzil Peiris, Collette Vittachi and Ernest Corea.

Willie Bua is compounded out of history, past and present. Clarence Fernando breathed into this blithe spirit the idiosyncrasies of the West and East and bestowed on him the idiom and grammar of a right royal drop out.

Willie Bua's Favourite Dishes- Seeni sambol, Lime pickle

It is lunch time in Colombo's Fort. Willie Bua is seated in a crowded, smoky, poky, hole-in-the-wall bathkaday in Colombo's Hospital Street, sadly contemplating the mess a sweating, grimy, half-naked waiter had pushed in front of him - trash which passed for his daily bread.

''Anything Sir?" asks the waiter in a hurry .

Lunch time is a busy time for Hospital Street waiters and they are always in a hurry.

' Tea", says Willie.

"Half tea onnu" (one half tea) bellows the waiter as he moves to the next table with a dirty mop in his hand.

The waiter has barely withdrawn when a stranger's shadow darkens Willie's table.

The intruder, a down-and-out but pleasant type gives Willie a patronising look, the kind, helpful look Salvation Army men and women and missionary types wear when they stride out into the world to help lame dogs over stiles.

He is an old man, greying at the temples. He bends low and placing a gentle arm on Wiliie's shoulder, asks in whispers.

"You like seeni-sambol?" 

Willie's face glows Seeni-sambol. Boy! He could do with a little.

"Yes, Yes," he says excitedly.

''Good, very good," says the stranger.

"You work hard. I have watched you at work in your shop. It is hard work. You must eat well. This is absolute trash you have before you. You like pork ? You like bacon, ham, sausages?''

"Yes. Yes. Pig products are my forte," Willie says, smacking his lips.

"Good. That's excellent. And how about chicken, mutton chops, lamb and duck? Or do you prefer fish seer, bala or kelawalla?"

This is too much for Willie to take in at one go. Can it be a dream?

He puts his arm out and touches the ministering angel to make sure it is not a gourment's dream.

"Why don't you Sit down ?" asks Willie

The angel sits down beside Willie and speaks in whispers.

''You see'', he explains, "my wife's a good cook, a darned good cook. She sends my lunch every day. She can squeeze in an extra lunch for you. Won't be much. A chip a plate. Not much. I can have it delivered at your shop. "What is the address, friend -?" 

"Boot and Shoe Emporium. Hospital Street.''

"And the name, friend?"

'Willie Bua. Everyone around here knows me. It's a deal."

"Yes, it's a deal," says the stranger and walks out into the street. 

The mess before Willie looks messier after the tantalising picture of a Wattala Church feast day meal.

The stranger had spread out before him. He pushes the mess away, takes the tea in one gulp and sits back to enjoy a cigarette when the stranger reappears. "One thing more, friend,'' he says as he close

in. "You like lime pickle or chutney or both ?"

Lime pickle is the shortest cut to any man's heart even a bandsman's.

His wife Mary too turns out the stuff like prayer every Sabbath afternoon and Willie adores it.

''lt's lime pickle for me, any time and you can cut the chutney out," he says.

'Excellent. I too like lime pickle," the stranger says as he walks Willie to the door.

Anyone seeing Willie in his shop the next morning would have noticed the change that had come over him.

He is unusually gay and feeling like a million dollars.

At 12. 30 that afternoon he lays down his tools, wipes his hands with his overalls, flings them on a chair and walks next door to Brown's for an aperitif.

He has two quick ones straight from the barrel. He takes them neat and returns to the shop. The lunch has arrived. He sits down to it straight-away. The cloth in which it is wrapped is dirty.

So what?

He is not eating the cloth. He is only concerned with what it envelops. He unties the knot and sees a fork and spoon. They are dirty too, with streaks of green on them.

He pushes them aside as he always uses his fingers .

Willie's face falls as he removes the top plate.

He puts it back almost immediately. Without even bothering to wrap up the mess. Willie goes back to Brown's, as any man in his frame of mind would have done, to seek solace in liquid refreshment.

"A double'', he says and sinks into a chair with fire in his eyes and murder on his mind.

Powdered glass in the stranger's soup?

No. Too slow. Cyanide in his rice and curry ?

NO. Too quick and too neat.

A stab in the back? too cowardly, just not done.

Home-made bombs? Too noisy and can rebound.

Shot gun? No.

He has no gun. He has only a permit to buy one. Besides guns are too noisy.

Finally he settles on two thundering slaps for the ministering angel when a gentle hand falls on his shoulder.

It is the stranger's.

"I hope you enjoyed the lunch, friend ?" he says.

Rising to his full five foot six, Willie catches the man by the scruff of his neck.

"Enjoy did you say? If you do not get the hell out of here you will be soon dead as a door nail."

"You were saying something about lime pickle and sausages, ham and bacon, chicken and mutton chops?"

The stranger remains composed. "Keep your shirt on my friend," he said.

"You have got me wrong. I like the stuff, and seeni-sambol and so on and so on. l am glad you like them too. I made no promise to serve you all that. How can I, when my wife doesn't even give me the stuff."

''Besides, what makes you think you can get all that for a chip, eh ?" And he laughed like a drain ha. ha, ha, ha. And all at noisy Brown's bar laughed in chorus. 

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