ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday June 01, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 53

A mother’s love snatched away in an instant

By Madhushala Senaratne

Just seven years old, little Amalya barely realizes the gravity of her loss as she runs from her father to grandfather, letting them cuddle her close. Her mother is dead and will never return to hold her in her arms, feed her or teach her. So is her unborn brother, dead inside his mother’s womb, even before he saw the light of this cruel world. The weight of it all is too heavy to sink in for little Amalya.

Lasanthi Chamindika Elvitigala from Ratmalana was returning home from work by train as usual on Monday evening. Six months pregnant, she was offered a seat by another passenger as she boarded the Panadura bound train from Fort. A few feet away from her on the overhead luggage rack lay a deadly bomb that would later rip through that compartment killing her and eight others.

Ranidu and Tissal, Priyani’s young sons

“Lasanthi never hurt a soul and this is what happened to her,” her grieving father, Newton Elvitigala says. “Now we have to look after the little girl, that’s our duty.” Minutes after Lasanthi’s body was brought home on Wednesday afternoon and wreaths were laid by her side, Amalya had sat beside her grandfather telling him that the lady who lay there looked so much like her mother. “My granddaughter was asking me who this was and then she was telling me it looked just like her mother,” Mr. Elvitigala sobbed.

“She seems to understand. She cries at times,” he says. Just 37 years of age, Lasanthi had been working as a staff assistant at the Housing Development Finance Cooperation (HDFC) in Colombo. She had left home around seven on Monday morning with her father, who, as usual, dropped her off at the Mount Lavinia station.

However, something unusual happened that day her father says . “My daughter kept gazing at me till I went back to my motorcycle and rode away. It didn’t hit me then. But I remember it very clearly now. She didn’t take her eyes off me,” Mr. Elvitigala says, recalling the last few minutes he spent with his daughter.

“I heard about the bomb from my relatives. When I got home, my son-in-law, Sunil had already gone to the hospital. My phone rang late in the evening. It was Sunil. He couldn’t talk. All he said was aney thaaththe,” Mr. Elvitigala says, through tears. Sunil, a businessman, is not in a condition to talk to us. It’s just too much to bear. He holds his little daughter close, as if someone might snatch her away too, his only treasure left.

“Lasanthi studied law as well. I often tried to persuade her to take up law. But she never did,” Mr. Elvitigala says. Lasanthi’s father has one more thing to say. It’s a polite request. “We were faced with an unfortunate situation. Our daughter was killed. All we wanted to do was to bring her body home fast, to perform the last rites. But this was not to be, for the relevant officials didn’t arrive on time. We were told to come to the hospital on Tuesday morning. But they released the body only on Wednesday.

“The Lasanthi lying there is so different. It doesn’t look like her at all. We were already in pain and why, oh why, do they have to cause us more pain? Let this not happen in the future,” he pleads. Not too far from the Elvitigala household, another family in Moratuwa is engulfed by sorrow.

Priyani Chandralatha boarded the same train as Lasanthi on Monday evening, never to return home to see her two little boys, the youngest whose ninth birthday was only two days away. Priyani’s husband, G. L. Jayawardena had asked her to come home early that day, so they could do some shopping for a wedding they were to attend the following day. But work at the Foreign Ministry had held her back.

Lasanthi’s father Newton Elvitigala

“I told her to come early. She called me at around 3.30 that evening and said she would leave office at the usual time as she had some work to finish. But…” Mr. Jayawardena stops midway, choked with grief. “When I heard about the bomb, I called her mobile phone several times. No one picked up at first, but on the tenth try or so an army officer picked it up and asked me to come to the hospital,” Mr. Jayawardena said.

Fearing the worst, he went to the hospital and spent the rest of the evening searching for his wife. And when he did find her, it was too late. Priyani had succumbed to her injuries at the hospital. Now it was just a matter of identification.“I was quite certain this was Priyani. But I just wanted to confirm that it was indeed her,” Mr. Jayawardena recalls those agonizing moments.

“I didn’t know what saree she wore to work that day because I left home before my wife did. So I looked for the wedding ring. But it was not there on her finger. Then I looked for her chain and earrings. But these were not there as well. Then I looked to her toe nails because they were placed in a rather unique manner. This was the only way I could identify my wife,” he says adding that he had then called his son to ask the colour of the saree she had worn that morning.

Mr. Jayawardena said that he was also asked to come and collect his wife’s belongings, but all that was left were her slippers, umbrella and the train season ticket. Her identity card was not there either.“We didn’t want these. All we wanted was to take her body home. But there was only one police officer. It was a slow process. It took such a long time for them to release the body,” he says.

“We were a happy family, so close to each other, but now, it’s changed forever,” he laments. “Priyani used to get up at 4 in the morning and prepare our food. She used to help us out with everything. How can I do all this?” he asks.

Priyani’s older son, Ranidu Jayawardena, just 12 years old, seems to be already taking charge of some household duties. He invites us for a cup of coffee, putting on a brave face, fighting back his tears. On Wednesday morning, Ranidu’s younger brother, Tissal’s friends had come over and sung a quiet happy birthday to him. Had his mother been around, she too would have sung along. For Amalya, Ranidu and Tissal what could ever replace a mother’s love and care, snatched away in an instant by a brutal terror attack?

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