What does one say when a dearly beloved friend dies? On an occasion such as this, one relies on the sacrament of remembrance to help recapture perhaps in small, yet personally meaningful ways, the essence of the dear departed that made him so special.
Today I consider it a privilege to lovingly remember Lakshman, a very dear friend of my family for many, many years. My recollections of him will doubtless trigger similarly affectionate resonances of the man in the minds of many who were close to him, and who are also here today.
It was way back in the 1960s that Babi Chellappah first invited Lalith and me to Lakshman’s home to, as he put it, “listen to music”. That was the era when expensive compact music systems had first made their appearance in Sri Lanka. I recall Lakshman greeting us at the door and inviting us in.
What’s still vivid in my mind’s ear was our host’s delightful Oxford accent which, I hasten to add, didn’t seem an affectation and blended perfectly with his very proper and gentlemanly demeanour. Feeling somewhat overwhelmed, I went in and sat gingerly on the edge of a couch. It wasn’t long before the feeling of awe dissipated without trace, and thus began a friendship which gathered strength as the years went by and has lasted for well nigh four decades.
I do remember some delightful details of that first meeting. With us safely seated, Lakshman with practised ease took charge of the proceedings. “Dhanapala!” he called out at a decibel level matching a sergeant-major’s on the parade ground, “Beema gainde!” My first impression of Lakshman was, I confess, that of a strict disciplinarian, somewhat on the lines of Captain von Trapp in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.
However, I came to realize quite early in our long and close friendship that he was, also like the character in the musical, outwardly stern but wonderfully and humanely soft inside. His transparent kindness was not confined only to his family and friends, but was showered on those well beyond the inner circle. I know that the young Dhanapala and John, his household’s twin domestic help at the time, were very much at the receiving end of his thoughtfulness. Mindful of their future, he found them steady jobs in the private sector. Judging by the number of the Central Bank’s former minor staff who turned up to pay their respects at his funeral, Lakshman must clearly have been a much-admired senior at that institution.
Lakshman was also very much a family man. A single parent, he successfully overcame the odds to bring up his two charming teenage daughters, Priyanthi and Lakshmi. Priyanthi recalls she was at the receiving end of his initial attempts to play the stern father, but remembers him mellowing noticeably by the time he had to deal with Nangi. It was as if he too had come of age, so to speak, in the matter of parenthood, recognition finally dawning that his two young girls indeed belonged to another generation. The happy consequence was that Lakshman, to them, became as much a friend as a father. The girls remember one their friends remarking that Uncle Lakshman was the most debonair parent she had ever met, while Priyanthi recalls, “My boy friends were terrified of him, the stern Dad that he was then, but when it was Nangi’s turn as a teenager, he had become one more enthusiastic member of the party.”
Irani and Lakshman kept a beautiful home and delighted in entertaining their friends and relatives. He was a wonderfully thoughtful husband, though not the demonstrative type given to sending Irani red roses on special occasions, preferring instead to express his love in quiet yet meaningful ways. We who counted ourselves as Irani & Lakshman’s close friends were all too aware that over the years Irani became Lakshman’s strength in more ways than one. He came to need her more and more, and she was there beside him to the end.
Over the years, the three couples - Babi and Mala, Lakshman and Irani and Lalith and myself – we spent many holidays together in faraway places such as Dehiathakandiya, beach holidays and in Circuit Bungalows around the country and, of course, at his estate in Baddegama, where, needless to say, Lakshman became the lord of the Manor.
He loved singing and listening to music. One of my children whispered, as we sang his favourite hymns at his funeral before the service, “why don’t we sing his favourite song, Blue Spanish Eyes?” Indeed, that was his signature tune, and he would play it on the piano at our request. Mala, a music teacher herself, was always amazed at his wizardry on the keyboard. Ballroom dancing was another of his loves. During their courting days Lakshman and Irani, along with their friends, were a regular feature at the Blue Leopard every Saturday night dancing their cares away to the music of Gazali Ahmat and his group.
Those of us who had the good fortune to know him remember him as an intellectual and a gentleman of integrity. We cannot but feel a sense of admiration as we remember his life. Death conjures not only sorrow but a sense of pride that we were able to share in his life and be inspired by him.
Lakshman was a true friend, a loving husband, a devoted father and above all, always a man of God.
Reading a Poem
Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I — and you are you
Whatever we were to each other,
That we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone;
Wear no forced air of solemnity of sorrow
Laugh, as we always laughed
At the little jokes we enjoyed together
Play, Smile, Think of me, Pray of me.
Let my name be ever the household word
That it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect;
Without the ghost of a shadow on it
Life means all that it ever meant,
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolutely unbroken continuity.
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of your mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval
Somewhere, very near, just around the corner
All is well
Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes,
A farewell is necessary before you can meet again
And a meeting again after moments or lifetimes,
Is certain, for those who are friends.
Dr. Selvie Perera