Beautiful to the end
CHITRA RANAWAKA (NEE MALALASEKERA)
Where do I begin? She was very beautiful, very charming, very simple, and she mixed with everyone – all the marks of good breeding. I met her first so long ago as little kids that I can’t even remember when. It must have been at the Haputale Rest House. I thought she was an English girl – never had I seen anyone so fair in a Sinhalese family. She was asked by her father, Dr. G.P. Malalasekera to sing a song. So I got the shock of my life when she sang the well-known Sinhala kaviya; “ Bada gini wela- mama giya kota puthuge geta – manala vee seruvak dunne’ mallakata…. etc.,”
Later we met at Visakha Vidyalaya – she, two years younger, but in my class. She was easily somewhere at the top of the class, good in Sinhala and English, obvious talents from her father. From her mother, she inherited the talent for piano. That was her greatest talent, not a concert pianist but a gentle drawing room one. A beautiful touch.
As we grew to be teenagers, one could see the difference between her and the rest of us. The boys were coming at her in droves. While we were frightened to even look at them, she was self-confident and quite at ease.
We both started reading very early. One day she ‘stole’ a book from her father’s superb library - ’Oriflamme’ was the name of the book, and gave it to me to read with the suggestion that I return it quickly “before Daddy misses it”. She never spoke one word against her step-mother, and loved her step-sisters and step-brothers dearly. She had no one particular friend, but moved with all – and in turn, they all became her life-long friends – Rohini, Sujatha, Sumitra, so many of us. It’s a very rare thing, because girls who are popular with boys drop their own friends in time to come. She was never that. And girls are usually catty about such girls, but we never stopped loving Chitra, and she us.
The war separated us. I went to Bandarawela, and she went elsewhere. After the war, we met again at the ‘A’ Level stage. Once, all of us had to sell programmes for an Indian dance troupe performing to collect funds to start the Dharmapala Vidyalaya, which began in 1940 with a few students. Chitra sold the most programmes – and today the school has 4,500 students. She was fun, and would even show us all her love letters, one of which was intercepted by her father, who in turn wrote to both parties – “This correspondence is now closed”.
Chitra proceeded to University and met many suitors. With all the boys at her feet, she chose someone who could not, unfortunately, give her the happiness she deserved. I was married by then, and my father-in-law, Mudliyar P.D. Ratnatunga, a colleague of Dr. Malalasekera at the Pali Text Society was an attesting witness.
However much a difficult life she may have lived, she was always smiling, never complaining. I know that her step-siblings looked after her in later life, especially Vijaya and his wife at whose home she lived. She was a rare girl because she was deeply sincere, gentle, gracious, and beautiful to the very end.
May she attain Nibbana.