Not anything in the world can match the beautiful friendship we shared for so many years!”
These were my thoughts as I placed a spray of dark purple orchids (embellished with ferns) beside her life-like corpse, beautifully draped in a richly coloured saree, not the usual white saree expected for a deceased person. The choice of saree was her request.
I felt that the flowers, which were from my garden, had bloomed that day especially for her. I thought of how much she loved flowers, and how she would have loved them still more if she knew they were from my own garden.
Grizelda (Aunty Grizie, as she was affectionately called), passed away after a brief illness four years ago, on January 11, 2008, just before her 90th birthday, which falls on January 22.
I first came to know her as an older fellow-Musaeusite, but we later became good friends while working on the committee of the Musaeus College Past Pupils’ Association. It was there that I discovered her genial, generous and gracious ways, which endeared her to everyone around her.
She was married to the late Tissa Wijeyawardena, the well-known philanthropist and business magnate of Handapangoda. Before long the family had reached the peak of success and prosperity. They were the pioneers and owners of the Anglo-Asian Super Market Complex and many other business concerns and ventures.
They had four children, three sons and a daughter, Vajira, Palitha, Nedra and Neelaka, on whom they showered the best of everything – education, career openings, and all the comforts and amenities that they could well afford, with nothing denied. They were an ideal and happy family, with Grizie as the central figure. They moved in close harmony with friends and relations. Their hospitality knew no bounds. The happy couple lived to celebrate with their loved ones their golden wedding anniversary.
Grizelda was on the Musaeus College Past Pupils’ Association committee for many years, as either Vice-President or Treasurer. She dedicated her time, energy and money towards the upliftment of her alma mater, especially the Old Girls’ Association, helping and guiding us. If we faced a problem, we would rush to her and she would find a satisfying compromise or solution. No one can forget the yeoman service she rendered at the initial stages, when we were faced with depleted funds. She was an active participant in the various community and welfare projects, such as helping disabled soldiers and providing facilities for less-privileged schools.
Grizie was a very simple, pleasant, fun-loving and humorous person, often bringing herself down to the level of a child with her unsophisticated ways. I remember how she once squeezed herself into a school uniform at an Old Girls’ social, blissfully unmindful of her expanded vital statistics!
Grizelda also worked for the Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, a volunteer service institution, to which she gave of her best, advising and comforting those suffering from mental and emotional stress.
Although Grizie was not exactly overly enthusiastic about higher Buddhistic practices, such as meditation, she was a true Buddhist in thought, word, and deed, and contributed in a big way towards such pursuits. She always participated in the school “sil” observances.
All good things must come to an end, and so it was with Grizie. Her halcyon days were at an end. After the death of her husband, fate cruelly snatched from her what fortune had lavishly bestowed on her.
Unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances compelled her to give up her beautiful mansion and spacious garden and move into a more convenient place, where her son Palitha devotedly looked after her to the end. It was there that I last saw her alive (thanks to Nimal and Swinton, who thoughtfully took me to see her). She was not ailing then and was delighted to see us.
Grizie, your life was perfect and well lived, and your impeccable ways, especially your large-heartedness and amiability, will be remembered. May you, ere long, have the Unsurpassable Peace we all hope to find – that of Nibbana.
Her progressive ideas brought new life to Mahila Samiti
I really got to know Aunty Dam after I started working with her at the Lanka Mahila Samiti. Her ability to move with the times (and sometimes be slightly ahead), and to understand the needs of younger people in Colombo or in the village, gave her a progressive outlook, rare among her generation.
While some members of the Mahila Samiti resisted change, Aunty Dam supported it, and encouraged what seemed to them rather new and frightening ideas, bringing her wisdom to bear on how these ideas were implemented.
Under Aunty Dam’s direction the project I worked on brought a different energy into the Mahila Samiti.
We started revolving funds in the districts, trained young women to be enterprise agents, and supported women engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry, coir and other handicrafts.
With Dam’s blessing we took women engaged in coir work in Matara, together with women from the Jaffna Peninsula, to Kerala to study the coir industry there.
Aunty Dam saw how stimulating this exposure was to these women, and followed up by encouraging two other rural women to go overseas under a UN volunteer programme, so that they too could reap the benefits of foreign travel.
Aunty Dam’s empathy with young people was evident in the way she supported her nieces and nephews, who she adored and who loved her in return. Anusha Fernando, Uncle SK’s niece, who came to work with us in the Mahila Samiti, Mala Liyanage and I were the core team of the project, and we owe much of where we are now to Aunty Dam.
Uncle SK is the corporate giant, but Dam too had a strong sense of business, and she combined this with her love and knowledge of handicrafts, to make the Kaduwela Training Centre an important production unit that was continuously turning out new products with the amuredhi woven at the centre, the rush and reed ware and the beeralu.
Dam would scout for new designs in her travels overseas and have the team at Kaduwela copy them. The Lanka Mahila Samiti’s annual sale always had some interesting new household products thanks to her.
Dam also tried to link rural women producers to different marketing channels: to Lakpahana and Paradise Road outlets. It was through Dam’s contacts and representations to the UDA, that the Lanka Mahila Samiti was able to move from its obscure location behind the Peoples’ Bank Headquarters, to new offices and more importantly, a new showroom, in Unity Plaza.She finished her term as secretary, the project I was working on ended and I left for another job.
Aunty Dam continued her enormous contribution to the Lanka Mahila Samiti through the Kaduwela Committee, visiting the centre weekly. She continued to look out for me, helping me through some difficult personal challenges.
I saw how she balanced her schedule of voluntary work with her personal commitment to her husband, and wished I could emulate her. I admired the stance she took as president of the Ladies College OGA to create space for the younger generation of old girls to take office.
I respected her liberal political ideas, and recall the story told by Mala, about how, unable to reconcile living in a big company house while seeing young people dying for their ideals in those grim days in April 1971 she and Uncle SK built and moved into their modest home in Claasen Place.
In London, I offered to drive Aunty Dam to see her friend, Aunty Mukta in Oxford, in the battered Volkswagen Golf I had bought for 200 pounds. She was game to go with me and took a smoking engine and two calls to the Automobile Association breakdown service, with her usual calm.
Back in Sri Lanka, I wish I had made time to see her more often – I loved sitting with her on the verandah watching the garden that she had so carefully nurtured and listen to her discussing all manner of things with Devika, Mala and me.
Just knowing she was around gave me strength, and while her death has left an enormous void, I am grateful that, together with all of us who knew her, I had had the opportunity to benefit from her wisdom, her love and her understanding. There will never be anyone quite like you, Aunty Dam, may you rest in peace.
Much-loved immigration officer who lit up our lives with his smile
Sareefdeen Mohamed Ameerdeen
My friend and former colleague Mr. G. Amarasena, Assistant Controller of Immigration and Emigration, called me to convey the sad news of the passing away, on December 19, 2011, of Mr. S. M. Ameerdeen, Chief Immigration Officer. A cardiac ailment had claimed his life most unexpectedly. I received the sad news with tears in my eyes.
Having known and worked with Ameer closely for nearly a decade, I feel it my duty to pen this appreciation.
Ameer, as he was fondly called, was a graduate of the University of Peradeniya, and had diplomas in English and Sports. He was a teacher before he became an Immigration Officer, in 1985. He was promoted to the post of Chief Immigration Officer in 2009, based on his dedicated service and unblemished record.
He also served as Secretary of the Education Development Circle, a social service organisation that helps Grade Five Scholarship Examination students in his hometown, Minuwangoda.
The life of an Immigration Officer is not a sedentary eight-hour office one. His work involves voluminous and variegated duties. We would work 24 hours at a stretch at the Katunayake International Airport. Now the duty turns are 16 and eight hours, I understand.
We also had to work at the Talaimannar Pier, overseeing the arrivals and departures of passengers travelling on the twin-screw ship, the Ramanujam (which is no more in operation). We were detailed for duty at Talaimannar one month at a time, on a roster basis. The work here was less challenging, and we were paid a subsistence allowance. In our leisure hours, we enjoyed each other’s company. There was cheerful conversation and a great sense of camaraderie.
Immigration Officers must also act in what can be described as deeds of derring-do, arresting illegal immigrants and over-stayers, and confining or deporting them, as each case warrants. A deportation order is personally signed by the Head of State. Sometimes we would be compelled to visit the remotest boondocks in search of illegal immigrants and over-stayers. We would travel alone, not accompanied by a Police officer with a blunderbuss. This is the hazardous life of the Immigration Officer, who should be brave and strong in carrying out his duties.
Ameer was great company, witty and interesting. His freely flowing pleasantries were welcome amidst the drudgery of our work. Nattily dressed, he carried out his duties with dignity and aplomb. He embellished the office he held. He was the epitome of a gentleman. He was dignified, and acted with impeccable integrity. He was morally incorruptible.
His endearing qualities touched the hearts of his associates. He had no enemies. He also had an infectious smile, and this attractive and pleasant smile alone was enough to help us get through an irksome situation. With all these cherished memories of yesteryear coming alive, I feel all the more keenly my sadness over Ameer’s sudden demise.
Ameer was a devout Muslim and a strict follower of the ethics of his religion. Even at social gatherings, which were frequent among his fraternity, he never touched liquor. He would slowly sip on a glass of soda, while his colleagues were getting inebriated or rip-roaringly drunk.
To put it succinctly, Ameer’s whole life was a wonderful saga of faith and devotion.
Farewell, Ameer. Treasured memories of you will always remain with me.