A beacon of light Leela Dayaratne “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”  I liken my beloved Achchi to a candle – a beacon of light that illuminated and brightened the lives of many others, especially those [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



A beacon of light
Leela Dayaratne
“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”  I liken my beloved Achchi to a candle – a beacon of light that illuminated and brightened the lives of many others, especially those of us who were fortunate enough to be able to call her our “Achchi”. She committed herself to making a meaningful and lasting difference.

A former Deputy Principal of Matugama Central College, Achchi achieved the rarest of achievements, she was among the first batch of students to graduate from the University of Peradeniya. She imparted invaluable knowledge and enriched the lives of the students she taught. She believed that education paved the road for the future and instilled in us the importance of working hard. We used to refer to her as a walking talking encyclopedia and dictionary. Whenever I needed help with homework or presentations, Achchi used to help me as best she could.

For the greater part of the first 1 1/2 years of my life I lived with Achchi and Seeya in Matugama. In essence Achchi served as a second and more experienced mother. Although I remember very little of the first 1 1/2 years of my life, I’ve been told stories of how challenging it was for her to ensure that I ate well and about how she used to stack pillows on either side of the bed in order to prevent me from rolling off the bed.

She would relate hilarious incidents and stories of yesteryear, most frequently told concerning an ancient “Hillman” automobile and a particularly eccentric teacher. She must have recited this story a million times, it never got old.
She had a profound impact on my life and all those who knew her. It’s been three months now, not a day goes by that I do not miss her. She’s irreplaceable.
- Jehan Danushka Samarasinghe

Dedicated educationist and social worker
R.G. Samaratunga
My late father, a dedicated educationalist and social worker, rendered his untiring services to two little known villages – Illukkumbura and Gilimale – in the late forties and early fifties.

Born in 1905 to a well-to-do farming family in Pallegama in Siyanekorale, he excelled in studies from a young age. At the age of 18 years he was appointed as a Monitor Teacher which in today’s parlance would mean apprentice teacher. He fully qualified as a teacher by passing the final examination for teachers known in those remote days as the avasana vibhagaya.

After having served as an assistant teacher for several years he got his first opportunity to display his leadership qualities when he was appointed as the Head Master (equivalent to today’s principal) of the Illukkumbura Government Mixed school in Ratnapura district. At the time he assumed duties, Illukkumbura was a remote backward village. Access to the school was on footpaths and cart tracks. Malaria and to a lesser extent smallpox were prevalent in the area and my father indefatigably worked with the relevant authorities to get the villagers vaccinated for smallpox , and administering quinine pills as a precaution against malaria. It was quite a task for my father to convince the benefits of Western medicine to the villagers who had more faith in the village Vedamahattaya. The school which had less than fifty students at the start had more than 100 students by the time he was transferred out.

His next great service was to Gilimale situated in the foothills leading to Adam’s Peak. It is a beautiful village with Adam’s Peak looming over the eastern horizon. When my father took over the helm as the Headmaster of the Gilimale Government mixed school there were about 100 students and five teachers inclusive of my parents. Within a few years he managed to increase the number of students to nearly 300 and the staff to nine teachers. To accommodate the increased student numbers, he built with the assistance of the prominent villagers, two cadjan roofed wattle and daub buildings. He started a Parent Teachers Association and a literacy course for adults for illiterate villagers in the evenings after school working hours.

At the time there was no bus service from Gilimale to Ratnapura. Through his untiring efforts he managed to get, the Panadura Motor Transit Company, which was operating in the area to operate a single bus service from Gilimale to Ratnapura and back. This was a boon to the village residents who had to ply the distance by cart or by foot for their essential needs from the town.
His next target was to get a Post Office for the village. He managed to get what was then called a Receiving Post Office for the village. Due to non-availability of a suitable person to operate the RPO, he himself operated it from school until a proper Post Master was appointed and the RPO was upgraded to a proper Post Office.

He was also instrumental in establishing a cooperative society in the village and in opening a retail shop managed by this society. He next set his eyes upon obtaining a Rural Hospital for the area. Having made several representations to Cyril E. Attygalle, the MP for the area, he managed to get a Rural Hospital for Gilimale. This hospital was inaugurated by S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, who was the Minister of Health at the time. In his speech Mr.Bandaranaike mentioned his appreciation of the service my father was doing for the area.

During his tenure as the Headmaster of Gilimale, for the first time a girl from the village was successful at the fifth standard scholarship examination. But her parents were reluctant to send her to Sivali Central College in Ratnapura fearing the good looking girl might go astray in the big town. However my father managed to convince the parents about her safety assuring that he himself would keep an eye on her progress. This girl eventually entered the University, and after graduation she passed the SLAS examination and rose in the ranks to become the Government Agent of Ratnapura.

At my father’s funeral, in her speech she reminisced how my father had come to her home in dribbling rain to inform her parents that she had passed the scholarship examination.
- Sujatha Perera

A clever legal personality
Mohamedo Markani
It is one year since Sri Lanka’s first and only Muslim Chief Justice of Nigeria, Haji Mohamedo Markani, Advocate of the Supreme Court passed away at the ripe old age of 96 years. He was born in Galle to a Muslim family of proctors who practised at Hulftsdorp.

In 1953 when Queen Elizabeth II visited Ceylon, Markhani and I, schoolboys then, were invited to accompany his father A.C. Mohomado to Queen’s House to receive the Imperial Honour of the ‘Order of the British Empire’ personally from the Queen.
This year was of significance to both Markhani and me as he was elected as the first Muslim Honorary Secretary since 1835 of the Royal College Old Boys Union and I was elected the first Secretary of the Royal College Islamic Society.

Markhani was a one-time President of the Board of Qazis, an authority on Muslim law, having authored the book on Muslim Marriage Laws in Sri Lanka. Having completed his academic career at the University of Colombo and the Ceylon Law College, he started life as private secretary to his father’s friend Justice E.G.P. Jayathilake, a judge of the Supreme Court. On Justice Jayathilake’s retirement, Markhani joined the private Bar appearing as a junior to legal luminaries of that era like K.C. Nadaraja, H.V. Perera and N.E . Weerasooriya and turned out to be a very clever legal personality.
Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Lillahi Rajioon.
-M.N.A. Cader

I was enriched by simply knowing him
The skies turned gloomy when I heard of the passing of my friend Tony Ranasinghe, the consummate actor, the playwright and the translator of the classical literature of the masters. More than all of the above, he was my friend. He acted in my first films “Adara Kathawa” and “Janelaya”. It was a wonderful experience working with him. He kept the set alive with his anecdotes.
Not known to many is that he worked in the AD’s department on the Steven Spielberg / George Lucas film “ Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”.

Tony in his youth was the most intrinsic, vulnerable, sensitive presence on local cinema screens. He was often compared to the great American actor Montgomery Clift. Our film legend Gamini Fonseka considered Tony the best actor in Sri Lanka and remained his closest friend in the acting fraternity. That should be considered a great achievement since Mr. Fonseka suffered no fools.

My last conversation with him was regarding an original screenplay he wrote for me. A comedy about the Japanese bombing a paddy field during the last world war. It was a comedy that I had planned to direct with Tony and Joe Abeywickrema in the leading roles. He wanted to cast new talent and direct it himself. I agreed. Alas, it was not meant to be.
I was enriched by many facets of life, cinema, art, classical literature, humour and numerous other things…by simply knowing him.
A man of honour, truth and sincerity…………..
Goodbye Tony…my friend.
-Chandran Rutnam

A morally upright, humble human being
Stanley Patrick Senasinghe
Once a son asked his father how it feels to have the best son in the world. His father replied, “Ask your grandfather”.
Every father dreams to live to see his children achieve their goals and live a life of purpose with integrity. Mr. Senasinghe earned that privilege in life. His dreams came true chiefly due to his inspirational fathering.

His sense of concern with the principles of right and wrong influenced his children and made him a proud man. His three sons Namal, Chaminda and Sujeewa ended up with professional qualifiations as a doctor, accountant and attorney-at-law respectively. “An accomplishment three times in a row” is a “hat-trick” in sports and in life Patrick Senasinghe realized this feat by producing three sons to achieve great heights.

I had the privilege of meeting this morally upright, humble human being. He was my school friend Sujeewa Senasinghe’s father. Whenever I was at the Senasinghe residence Mr. Senasinghe’s smile was always inviting and his hospitality was well enhanced by Sujeewa’s mother.

He lived a life of purpose. This courteous and honorable man had a good social position in Kandy. The crowds that thronged to pay their last respects reflected the values of his personality. He was a friend of my late father. They shared the same values. I have witnessed their discourses on varied subjects and I could comprehend the influence he must have had on his own children and those around him.
Knowing him was an enjoyable experience which I shall cherish.
May he attain Nirvana.
-Malik Saheed

Her life was an inspiration
Maureen Jayatilleke
Whenever I read this page, I skim through a person’s academic achievements and read about the qualities that made the world a better place, just because they lived. Hence, I wish to pen what I admired most in my aunt.

She had wisdom and a sense of humour. I never heard her gossip nor speak ill of anyone. Through my growing up years and thereafter, it was always a pleasure to go see her or have her visit us. I always came away the richer for it. I yet have with me the presents of books she gave me when Iwas a kid. I know they were always selected with care. I also have with me the Christian stickers she pasted on the wrapping paper. One says ‘God has no hands but yours, no voice but yours to do His work’ which had a profound effect on me. Perhaps I would have been around ten years old at the time.

She had the quality of gratitude, which few seem to possess today. My aunt appreciated what my uncle was to her. I have with me the note she wrote thanking us for the support given to her ‘and continue to give’ (in her words) after my uncle’s passing. I also have with me, the letter which she wrote after my father’s death. In it she recalled a long ago fact of how my father had intervened and spoken to someone he barely knew, in order to obtain the release of my uncle’s salary that was being unfairly withheld.

My aunt felt for the downtrodden and served in the Mahila Samithi for many years, catching the bus back and walking a fair distance to reach her home. She had the God given ability of seeing a situation from opposing points of view and she would speak for the truth. On more than one occasion I have heard her say, thatthere is always another side to a story. My Aunt was open-minded and understanding.Even if someone had done something horrendous, she would see the root cause and say, ‘It’s been a broken home, he cannot be blamed’. That was my aunt; never standing in judgement. She was blessed with empathy and knew how to say something without causing hurt. To my knowledge, she bore no malice towards anyone.

There was great depth to her personality. Whenever my aunt knew that someone was undergoing some sort of problem, she never spread the fact around. I have told her that she was a role model. She was happy and rather surprised to hear it. She was an enlightened person who could connect with anyone of any age.I think life is also about the example one leaves for the next generation. In that,my aunt did not fail.

It is said that once old age catches up on you, there are still two things one can do: love and pray. I am grateful for the many prayers she has said on my behalf over the years. My aunt led a Godly life in her own quiet way. She never preached but, I guess I could say, her life was an inspiring sermon. It was a blessing to have known her.

I think I won’t be wrong in saying that she was loved by everyone. It’s good to think of her in the Mansion of the Lord, rather than facing the travails of old age. I shall remember her with affection always.
‘Where the Christian walks, his/her footsteps are on fire’
-A Niece

An exceptional and simple person
Dr. Pradeep Wijayasiriwardena
It was on March 28, 2014 that Dr. Pradeep Wijayasiriwardena left us at the age of 58, leaving a vacuum among his family, relatives, friends and many others who knew him.

Pradeep, as I called him, had his entire school education at Royal College, Colombo and entered the Colombo Medical College in 1975. Having completed his medical studies he did his internship under the well known orthopedic surgeon Dr. Parameswaran. He left Sri Lanka in 1981 for post graduate studies in the U.K. Having obtained his FRCS (Edinburgh), he first worked in the National Health Services of U.K for 10 years. His wife Mala was also was a doctor attached to the N.H.S.

He returned to Sri Lanka with his wife and their two toddlers in 1991. This period was one of the most dangerous and risky phases in the recent history of our land. LTTE terrorism was fiercely threatening to engulf the entire country. Our motherland lost the services of a large number of professionals as a result.

Pradeep’s two children Dasuni and Nadun were British citizens by birth and it was just a formality to get British citizenship for Pradeep and Mala. The family could have looked forward to a luxurious life with good education for the two kids in Britain. However Pradeep was different. He took the path others resisted to tread. He returned to Sri Lanka with the family and straight away joined the Army as one of its very few consultant orthopedic surgeons. The call for duty by his country was greater for him than his personal comforts.

It is noteworthy that he was not interested even in applying for a dual citizenship for himself and his family when it was easy at that time to get it. For that matter, he never went abroad even for a holiday, subsequent to returning to Sri Lanka. He also believed that his two children should absorb local cultural and religious values by schooling in Sri Lanka; they could do post graduate studies abroad if they wish. Accordingly, both Dasuni and Nadun did their LLB (London) while staying in Sri Lanka and they are now practising lawyers here. Dasuni went on to do her postgraduate studies at the University of London. It was unfortunate that Pradeep did not live to see his daughter obtaining her Master’s degree in Law from the London University and becoming the best student in her batch.

He performed surgeries on wounded soldiers at the Palaly army camp or in Colombo Army Hospital day and night, sometimes standing for over five hours at a stretch when the war was raging. He travelled every other week by air to Palaly and back when the flights ran the risk of Tiger missile attacks. There were instances when he attended to injured soldiers at the battle front itself. All his work was an enjoyment for him. He addressed every soldier as “son” despite his rank being a Colonel. He devoted almost ten years of his professional life to the Sri Lanka Army before leaving and commencing private practice. He is one of the many unsung heroes of the war against terrorism. He never expected any accolades in return.

When most people in the present era seek accumulation of wealth, power and fame, through education or other means, Pradeep desisted from such pursuits with disdain as hollow values; though he had all the criteria to become so. He was an example to some in the medical profession too.

He never indicated a desire for social climbing by exclusivity in his association with the elite in our society. He easily empathised and blended with any strata of society and this trait made him a lovable popular personality not only among his friends and associates but most notably with minor staff in hospitals, lower ranks in the Army and his relations. Times were numerous when he went out of his way to help a poor worker or a relation by doing their surgeries cost free.

I tend to believe that becoming a surgeon was not the main objective in his life. He wanted to be more than that. The thirst for knowledge in anything that interested him was incessant. That was his vision. I sometimes wondered why he chose medicine as his profession because reading on a vast sphere of subject matter took most of his time than practising medicine. He did not engulf himself day in day out, with his profession. He was methodical in his time management. His routine between hospital and home was systematically allocated so that he could devote his time to his family and the other passion, which was reading books. He had the habit of carrying a book to read even for a short break he got at the hospitals he worked.

His library at home, I presume, is one of the best private libraries one could see in this country. The subjects are too numerous to mention. What was amazing was his remarkable memory in most subjects he had read. He had the intellectual ability to speak analytically on many diverse subjects which were totally dissimilar to his profession, ranging from Sri Lankan and world history, Archaeology, Religions, English and Sinhala literature, folk lore and so on. He could recite by heart most of the stanzas of “Buddha Ghjjaya” and “Sakaskadaya”. Most present day Sri Lankans do not know what they are. These two books have been written centuries ago and have helped with the development of the Sinhala language. These books were used to inculcate a sound foundation in children in the Sinhala language. The books helped to improve correct pronunciation of Sinhala words.

There was no doubt that he inherited his intellect from his father Muhandiram Mullapitiye K.H De Silva Wijayasiriwardena who was a well known Sinhala scholar in the 1950s to 60s who published many books on the Sinhala language. Pradeep’s younger brother and only sibling who predeceased him was a Senior lecturer in Sinhala at the Unversity of Peradeniya and a national award winning author.

A gathering of friends, relations or other associates without Pradeep was more or less empty. At his house one could always have an intensely out of the ordinary simulating debate on any subject. His anecdotes and wittiness was looked forward to by everyone who knew him. For me he was a friend more than a brother – in – law. We looked forward to seeing each other whenever we had the time for long discussions on any subject that interested us. Our thoughts blended quite well whether moral values, culture or politics. The void he has left is very difficult to fill. We have to take solace that we knew and associated with this unique human being who was liked by most who knew him.

He is survived by his wife Mala whom he met when both were at Medical College. She nursed him tirelessly for a year subsequent to his indisposition and was a tower of strength to him in his last days. Dasuni and Nadun provided significant support in their father’s time of need.

May he attain the ultimate bliss, Nibbana!
-Upali Cooray

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