It was with deep sadness that I attended the funeral of Dr. Ranjith Peiris last Sunday evening. He left us the previous Thursday night after a prolonged illness. Being in the medical profession he knew it was round the corner as he said softly when Thilak Ediriweera and I visited him at the ICU of the cardiology ward, “Machang, it’s just a matter of time.…!” But we did not expect the end to be so soon.
My friendship with Ranjith amounts to nearly 50 years. It dates back to when we entered Royal College in 1963. He was instantly nicknamed “Pol Peera” (Pol due to his large stature and Peera being a Peiris) as he was the largest amongst the Peirises who gained admission to College that year.
From a distance, we the more subdued students, used to watch his mischievous escapades within the halls of that great institution, in which some of his other more adventurous friends used to join. The nature or the purpose of this article and space restrictions prevent me from writing of their hilarious activities. He was not an exceptionally outstanding student, but brilliant enough to gain admission to the Medical College after ‘A’ Levels together with Sunil Settinayake (a.k.a. Setti) and many others who are well known doctors today.
After passing out from the Medical College Ranjith joined the government service. He was posted in various parts of the island such as Bandaragama, Hambantota, Colombo South Hospital, Kalubowila, Kandana and finally with the Anti Leprosy Programme where he worked till his death. He served as a practising doctor at some stations but opted more to medical administration. It is at this stage that my memory takes me back to 2003 when he assisted me to overcome a health problem I had, which I then took lightly.
Sometime during late 2002 I started experiencing irregular bowel movements. I thought it was some food and neglected the condition until I started losing weight badly. Later I was working at the Royal College Union office as the Coordinating Secretary of the 125th Royal Thomian activities. Ranjith and I met at a Council meeting and he noticed how haggard I looked. He thought that I should have some tests done. “Bring the reports to me” he said “I’ll advise you what to do”. I had the tests done and took the reports to Ranjith. He ruled out diabetes. He persuaded me to have a thyroid test which proved positive.
I gratefully remember the events that followed. “OG, I’ll make arrangements for you to attend the thyroid clinic at Colombo South Hospital. It will be convenient as you live close by,” Ranjith said. And he did. He had spoken to yet another old Royalist, younger to us and I attended the clinic for the next six months until my thyroxin levels plummeted to normal. Seven years later today, I still continue the treatment and will have to till my call comes. Thank you Ranjith, my friend, your thoughtful act extended my life and will linger in my memory forever.
Ranjith was always available to his friends and all those close to him for medical advice. He helped the clergy and those less fortunate than he was in any possible way he could. I know of many members of the group who sought his assistance in health matters. Some Buddhist monks with whom he had built up a friendship used to visit him at every station he was posted. His popularity was truly exhibited by the vast gathering at the funeral. Dr. Sunil Settinayake had the unique experience of delivering the funeral oration in the capacity of class mate at Royal College, batch mate at the Medical College, collegue of the Anti Leprosy Programme, Ministry of Health and family friend which was an inseparable relationship lasting for over half a century.
Ranjith was a devoted husband to his wife Dr. Sriyani and loving father to the three children. Inspired by the father, his son and two daughters have done well in their selected careers, the elder daughter following his footsteps. Together with the rest of the Group of 63 of Royal College, I extend my condolences to them and also to Ranjith’s sister and brothers.
Thank you Ranjith for the wonderful friendship we have had. May all the merit you have accumulated during this lifetime by good deeds and acts shorten your journey through sansara and contribute to achieve the ultimate bliss of Nirvana.
Group of 63,
A great educationist and spiritual guide
Rev. Bro. Alexander Cyrillus, F. S. C.
“Death is not extinguishing the light. It is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
I pen these lines in appreciation and gratitude to a loving son of Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, Reverend Brother Alexander, who is now enjoying his eternal reward. He was called to Jesus on Saturday, January 8, 2010, at the age of 81. He lived the ideals of St. John Baptist De La Salle, founder of the De La Salle Brothers, as a Brother of simplicity and humility. He was a great educationist and man of virtue.
Though short in stature, Br. Alexander was a giant in humanity and spirituality. He was a true gentleman and deeply religious. He did not have many belongings, other than his valuable books. He loved books that nourished the mind and soul. He was a storehouse of knowledge, be it modern spirituality, psychology or pedagogy.
Transfers to new postings did not worry him. With a bag and a few cardboard boxes, he was ready to move even at short notice. He was an example to all who collect worldly fortunes instead of spiritual treasures.
He taught Religion, Ethics, English and French. He was strict, but his students had a deep respect for him. As a special guest, he brought wit and humour to every Old Boys’ gathering he graced.
He was frank and fearless in expressing his views. He never flattered, but offered constructive criticism at the right moment. He was a guiding light to many prominent personalities, here in Sri Lanka and overseas, but he never bragged about his achievements and his part in the successes of his past students.
Those who closely associated with him know how punctual and methodical he was. When he received a letter, his reply would reach the sender the very next day. His Christmas greetings would arrive at the beginning of December. When we replied with our greeting card, he would send another card. Asked why he did this, he would chuckle, “Why, it is Christmas!” He was jovial and young at heart.
He had an amazing knowledge of English language and literature. When asked for the meaning of a word, he would give the meaning and also tell us whether the word was of Latin, Greek or French origin.
When he was residing at his St. Joseph’s quarters, in Grandpass, he would walk every evening to Mutwal (Modera) to take a sea bath. He was then 75 years old. He would say, “I am going out of the country”, meaning that he was heading for the sea. He would also go for a short walk after dinner before retiring for the night.
He kept up this daily regimen until he suffered the fall that left him unconscious until the end. Even at 81, he was very steady. In his last years, he would end his letters thus: “I am ready, but God doesn’t call me. He will call me when I am eighty.”
He was Principal of St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena; De Mazenod College Kandana; St. Anne’s College, Kurunegala, and St. Anthony’s College, Wattala. He was also Provincial Visitor of De La Salle Brothers in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. He lectured to seminarians in Borella and Kurunegala, and taught French at Aquinas College, Colombo.
Brother Alexander helped me immensely in my English writing. He inspired me to be straightforward in writing and to bear witness to the truth.
“People may not like to see or hear the truth. It is not your fault, but theirs. You need not worry about them. Be yourself,” he would say. Yes, Brother, you are quite right.
A tribute to my father
Dr. Kingsley De Silva Deva Aditya on his 100th Birth Anniversary
These are the personal recollections and intimate memories of my father, Dr. Kingsley de Silva Deva-Aditya, a great pioneering eye surgeon, medical teacher, humorist, amateur historian, amazing cricket bowler, bon viveur and wit; who was born one hundred years ago.
I have now lived in England for 43 years and the intervening years have made the memories of my father sharper and clearer to me and I felt it appropriate to commemorate him by sharing these memories here on his 100th birth anniversary.
He was born at his grandfather’s home, Henley House, Horton Place (now St. Bridget’s Convent) to the Thakura Artha Deva Adithya Gardiyavasam Lindamulage de Silva family of the Rajput Sesodia Surayawansa clan.
My father was proud of his Sri Lankan ancestry, being a direct descendent of Rajput Thakura whose tales of daring are described in Mahavansa Chapter 90, lines 12-30 and the Kotavehera at Dedigama by C E Godakumbura pp 14-15.
At an early age I was inducted to Sri Lankan history by him, having been given a copy of the – Adithayawamsa, our family history, written in high Sinhalese and Pali, and was hoplelessly indecipherable to me. My father opened my eyes to the glory that was ancient Sri Lanka, with his unique collection of books on Sri Lankan history; a subject I was totally unfamiliar with at school having been taught in the English medium. I was fully conversant as to why Cromwell ordered “that Bauble to be taken away" and why King Henry said, “Who will rid me of this pestilent priest” while being equally clueless as to who King Mahasena was or what King Vijayabahu had done.
I was also shown our family flag, family crest and even an umbrella which I found quite an absurd thing to cherish! Later in life, my father who was a devotee of Sri Lankan dance forms insisted that I learn Kandyan dancing under the great Chitrasena – a pastime I found totally unable to master.
My father explained that Rajput Thakura having arrived in Sri Lanka during the reign of King Parakramabahu II in A.D. 1237 as told by Tod, in the Annals of Rajastan; married the daughter of Vijayabahu III. She was also the sister of the reigning monarch. Later, when General Mitta assassinated Vijayabahu IV in A.D. 1270 and usurped the throne, Rajput Thakura personally slew Mitta and placed his own nephew Buvanekabahu I on the throne. Later his grandson Thakuraka Mandilka Raja of Dedigama established the Keerawella family which was the ultimate repository of the Sesodia Surya Wansa Sri Sangabo Okkaka Lemeni Kula line of kings of Ceylon.
The reason I have mentioned all of this in great detail, is to explain how Kingsley de Silva as he was known at the time of his birth under British Rule, was suddenly transformed to become Thakur Artha Kingsley Deva Aditya in later life and bequeathed to me at the time of my own birth a complicated North Indian Sanskrit based surname which I now carry and which leaves most of my Sri Lankan friends bemused and strangers wondering whether I am Sinhalese or Indian. Deva Aditya, I am told in Sanskrit means Sun God!!
My father was orphaned at an early age, his own father Francis de Silva who captained Royal in 1894 having died in a riding accident in Kurunegala at the young age of 37 when my father was 3 years old and his mother following shortly; dying, so they said, of a broken heart three years later. This was a loss that my father never got over; telling me from time to time when he was in his cups how lucky I was to have parents. My father was raised in the house, then named Lakshmi Giri (now Villa Saifee) in Thurstan Road, the home of his father’s sister Mary (Loku Archi to me) who was the wife of A J R de Soysa, the son of Sir Charles Henry de Soysa of Alfred House fame.
I remember my father saying that his own childhood was emotionally hard, as an orphan being lonely and along with his elder brother and younger sister and being passed ‘like a parcel’ from one Aunt to another; living in the lap of luxury with an empty heart and feeling pitied by his numerous cousins. This loneliness that only orphans can understand underscored my father’s determination as he later told me, to study and achieve academic excellence at St. Joseph’s College and so earn the respect of his peers and cousins. Because of this, he was grateful to those Uncles and Aunts who particularly cared for him and as young child I was dragged along under protest on frequent Sundays to visit them; a boring and tedious business for an 8-year-old.
It was only when I was about 14 that I realized how famous my father was, not as an eye surgeon but as a cricketer! Time and time again I met his contemporaries who looked astounded when told that I did not seriously play cricket, though given cricket tuition at my father’s insistence, preferring to play tennis and go swimming. They were aghast, that the son of the man who had made cricket history during the St. Joseph’s College versus Royal College match of 1929 which was called “Kingsley’s match” when my father took 7 Royal College wickets in their first innings by achieving a double hat-trick (ie six wickets in six balls) did not play cricket. Though he never mentioned it, I now realized he must have been enormously disappointed that I did not take to the game of cricket as he had and not played for college as he had covered himself with much glory as a googly bowler.
The war years were particularly difficult for him. Having obtained his LMS from Colombo medical faculty, he had to suspend his studies to be a surgeon and delay going to England to complete his studies. Having married my mother Zita, the daughter of Senator Dr M.G. Perera, in 1943, he served as a House Officer in Kandy and District Medical Officer in Badulla Hospital and left on the first available troopship at the cessation of war to Oxford where he proceeded to obtain a DO (Oxon), and DOMS (RCS) England.
My mother followed him and only returned to the island in 1948 when she was pregnant with me so that I would be born in an independent Sri Lanka.
Growing up as I did with a busy eye-surgeon father was quite an experience. His work output was prodigious. Every day he attended the Victoria Memorial Eye Hospital, becoming later in 1960 the Surgeon in Charge of the new Eye Hospital, performed more than 100 eye operations a week, and attended to his private patients under the channeling system. Some of his poorer patients could not afford to pay him and gave him gifts such as crabs, oranges, Malvana rambuttans and mangosteens.
My father pioneered eye surgery in Sri Lanka. He conducted the first cornea graft in Asia in 1951 using intraocular lenses. This was such a bold advance in Asian and Sri Lankan surgery that the world famous Harley Street eye surgeon Dr. Savin paid him a visit to our home.
In 1962 he pioneered another innovation in creating the first Asian Eye Bank. His pupil and junior Dr. Hudson Silva later took this to great fame throughout Asia. I remember the first faltering steps of this great idea when my father asked people to donate their eyes and the first depository I visited with him with all these eyeballs in jars looking back at me!
He was bored in retirement whiling away his time with his old cronies at the Club or at his rubber estate. He passed away in 1977; unable to resist a final joke – his last words to my mother on his death bed being that “he was going out for a six”. The whole of Borella and Colombo North was one traffic jam with hundreds of thousands coming to pay tribute to him at his funeral.
It is a reflection of his great contribution to life in giving eyesight back to thousands of people that even today, 34 years later, when I am in Sri Lanka, I am not “Oh you are that British politician or that European MP” but simply “Oh you are Dr. Deva-Aditya’s son... yes I remember how he helped my mother to get her sight back..”
Niranjan de Silva Deva Aditya