Remembering a sincere friend and her warm loving voice at the other end of the line BERNIE SILVAPULLE  I felt an intense sadness when I heard the news of my good friend Bernie Silvapulle’s death. I recalled the many telephone conversations Bernie and I had, talking about family and everyday matters. She always wanted to [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka



Remembering a sincere friend and her warm loving voice at the other end of the line


I felt an intense sadness when I heard the news of my good friend Bernie Silvapulle’s death. I recalled the many telephone conversations Bernie and I had, talking about family and everyday matters. She always wanted to be in touch and looked forward to meeting a friend or relative. She was childlike in many ways.

I recall how excited she was about her daughter’s wedding and the preparations she was making at the time. She was very happy to know that her brother Traven was coming over to take Rahdhika up the aisle.

As I trace the journey of our friendship, my mind drifts back to 1969, when I first met Bernie and Reggie. It was at my brother and sister-in-law’s home in Thornton Heath. I was told that they had arrived in London about the same time, in the early 60s. It was heartwarming to see them together, enjoying each other’s company. Their friendship lasted through the years.
It was at that time that Bernie and I made a connection, as we talked of our families and mutual friends. She was game to see a play or ballet whenever someone suggested it. With my sister-in-law and a few friends, we would see a play or musical and invariably followed that with dinner.

Those were fun times. The camaraderie we enjoyed was wonderful.We met again many years later in 2000, when I was visiting London. Bernie was happy to hear my voice on the telephone and started making plans straightaway, insisting that I be her guest at a show and a dinner, just like old times. We saw a Buddy Holly show that evening and had dinner in a quaint restaurant in Piccadilly Circus. Sadly, that was to be our last meeting.

Bernie loved birthdays and she never forgot mine. She was like a big sister, which made me tease my own sister about it.
I feel a deep void in my heart at her loss, knowing I will never again hear her warm friendly voice at the other end of the line. I will miss the long conversations, yet I am thankful to God that I had her for a friend. I never did anything special for her, yet she cared and made tireless efforts to call me, in whatever part of the world my husband and I were. I was blessed to have her friendship.

Bernie will remain in the hearts of all who knew her. She was a good woman, someone who loved her family and cared deeply about people. She was never boastful but connected with anyone who showed her love and respect. This is the legacy she has left behind. She is now with God and the company of His Angels.

These lines come to mind as I say my final goodbye to this loving and kind human being.

In the sweet hereafter
Everyone that you know
Will know who you are
And your heart will be an open book.
Till we meet again, my friend.

Charmaine Candappa

He could be depended on to do the right, generous and fair thing


It is difficult to define a friendship spanning a lifetime with a much older person without reference to the times and the personalities. When I first met Uncle Alston (A. C. S. Perera), he was a senior accountant and partner of a leading city firm. I was in my early teens. Those were the austere days of the confused socialist experiments of the 1970s. But looking back, there was also an air of idealism and a system of values prevalent then. The crass materialism and vulgar cynicism of the Philistines that engulfed us later had not yet descended on this land. It is also perhaps relevant to say that he belonged to one of the last batches of students who studied under British tutelage.

I knew Uncle Alston from the time I was a boy. He lived in the neighbourhood, at Bogala Courts, which in those days was considered a haven of upper-middle-class living. He and his four boys – Jehan, Ranjan, Arjan and Hiran – were keen tennis players, going almost daily to the Otters for a game. Although I played at the SLTA (then the CLTA), we met regularly at tournaments and social events.

I recall in particular our annual train trips to Bandarawela during the April holidays. The thrill of the train journey, the excitement of the tennis competition, the nip in the air, the grandness of the planters, the melancholy sweetness of the music at the gala dance (we dared not get on the floor) are etched deep in the memory of those years, when every event in one’s life seemed eternally important.

Gradually my association with Uncle Alston and his sons deepened. Jehan, who was of a studious bent, went to Aitchison College in Pakistan on a scholarship offered when a team from that famous college came here for a tennis tie. The correctness of their selection was confirmed when, soon after, Jehan was selected to the famous Harvard University in the United States to study law.

This brings me to an interesting aside, illustrative of the kind of ethics and standards Uncle Alston stood for. With Jehan joining Aitchison College, Uncle Alston and Aunty Leonie became regulars at functions at the Pakistani High Commission. This continued until Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (father of Benazir Bhutto, who also became Prime Minister and was later assassinated), deposed by a military coup, was tried on a charge of conspiracy to murder. As expected, he was found guilty and condemned to be hanged. About the time the death sentence was carried out, Uncle Alston received an invitation to cocktails at the Pakistani High Commission. Deeply disappointed by the obviously political tone of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s conviction, Uncle Alston decided to write a letter to the High Commissioner, politely declining the invitation. I doubt many Sri Lankans today would forego an invitation to cocktails at an embassy for such reasons.

To know Uncle Alston was to be introduced to many things that make life good and dignified. He was instinctively a conservative. You could expect him to say and do the right thing, the generous thing, the fair thing. I seldom heard him talk about others in a mean manner. The few times he was critical of a person, it was well deserved.

Early in his career, Uncle Alston was an Assessor at the Inland Revenue Department. Considering the quality of the Public Service now, it is hard to imagine people of such calibre serving in what is now an utterly politicised, demoralised and degraded sector.

It was rare to see Uncle Alston without a book in his hand, when he was at home.  Spiritual writers like Goldsmith, Indian mystic writings, books on self-improvement, Ayn Rand – to name a few of the hundreds of books he bought, read and studied. I was amazed at the amount of underlining, highlighting and marginalia I found in his books.

Among his less known but important contributions to the community was his work with Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, an organisation that offers the hand of friendship to the distressed. I was amazed at the numbers that walked through the organisation’s welcoming doors. The depressed, the battered, the wronged, the marginalised, the ignored – they came in their hundreds. Uncle Alston and other dedicated volunteers gave their time and friendship to each of them, sometimes being with the troubled person into the wee hours of the night. Sumithrayo offered help in the form of advice, endeavouring to be a friend to a person who felt helpless and alone. Some of these persons became firm friends with Uncle Alston and were regular visitors to his home.
However, it was as an adult that I came to really appreciate the worth of a man like Uncle Alston. There was never any “falseness” about him, neither anything common nor petty. He had a disarming manner that won him friends from far and wide.

We freely use the word “gentleman”, only to later regret a hasty judgment. After more than four decades of association with Uncle Alston, I can truly say that every passing day only confirmed the description gentleman. He was a good man and firm friend.

“What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” –  Prophet Micah

Ravi Perera

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.