Demise of a ‘colourful’ cousin that leaves a huge void in our lives Dr. R.K. de Silva When I heard the sad news that Raj aiya had passed away, I thought to myself ‘there goes another of my favourite cousins’. He was just days short of his 88th birthday. As the senior elder of my [...]




Demise of a ‘colourful’ cousin that leaves a huge void in our lives

Dr. R.K. de Silva

When I heard the sad news that Raj aiya had passed away, I thought to myself ‘there goes another of my favourite cousins’. He was just days short of his 88th birthday. As the senior elder of my generation, his demise leaves a void.

It was my good fortune that I saw Raj and his wife, Mano, on a recent visit to Colombo. He was physically weak as time had taken its toll.  But for all that, he was, as usual, in good spirits. His mind was agile and we had a wonderful time recalling memories of yesteryear. With Mano at his side seeing to all his needs and fully devoted to him, he lacked for nothing.

He came from a family of doctors and artists. Raj and his sister, Lilamani, followed their father, Dr. M.W.M. de Silva, into the medical profession. (MWM had earned the highest academic honours at the Harvard School of Public Health.) Sisters Nela and Preethi – the accomplished harpsichordist – took after their mother, Maisie, who was a well-known artist and painter.

Sometime after Raj graduated from University of Ceylon’s Medical College, he was practising in Tangalle with Dr. Sunil Wickramasuriya. During one of my school holidays in 1959, my sister Mahnil and I enjoyed spending a week as guests of Raj. Later, at a family gathering in the early 1960s, Raj knowing of my interest in cricket said to me, “if you play for the first XI team I will give you a cricket bat.” We had a good laugh about it years later as I never saw the bat.

Raj left for England in 1964 for post-graduate studies and to continue his professional career. There, in addition to his busy work schedule he pursued his passion for collecting art and early editions of books on Ceylon. Britain in the 1960’s had recovered from the war and Britons were more interested in buying cars, homes and household goods to enjoy a higher standard of living which eluded them for decades. Meanwhile the youth spent money on the Beatles. Art was not a high priority, though London’s flea markets and antique stores were a gold mine for art collectors and antiquarians; and there were bargains galore. Raj had the foresight to explore them in his spare time.Quite a few of those gems would find their way to the books he later authored.

The next time I saw him was in the late 1960s when I went to England for higher studies.We would meet on and off, but invariably when one of us was going on holiday to Sri Lanka. Whoever was travelling would act as a courier to take a parcel back to relatives at home. Once when he visited me in London, I was surprised to see him driving a Sunbeam Alpine Sports. One can surmise that as a young man he had an affinity for fast cars. Indeed, among friends he earned the nick name ‘mile a minute’ for his reputation for driving on the wrong side of the speed limit.

Never one to miss an adventure he did the overland trip from Paris to Colombo in 1972 in his new Peugeot 404. He had hilarious tales to tell of his trip when I saw him later in Colombo. I too had thought of doing that trip one day. A trademark characteristic of Raj was, if you asked him a question he would get into the minutiae. So when he gave an account of the harrowing details of the journey, I remember changing my mind and telling him, “I am not going to do that trip.”

I was passing through London in 1985 when Raj was finishing his first book, Early Prints of Ceylon, 1800 – 1900.  He took me to his study and showed me some illustrations for the book. I expected it to be a medical book, but instead he was writing on art. He was to become a prolific writer of books on art and art history during the Colonial period.

Raj was a consummate bridge player. Wherever he lived he liked to engage with a like-minded group of people to enjoy the game. It reminds me that his father MWM and my father LH Sumanadasa were partners when they often used to play bridge in their retirement.

In our most recent meeting, I noticed him walk with some difficulty and offered to help. He turned down any assistance saying “I am fine. You know I have College Athletics Colours.” On questioning him, I found out that he was a member of Royal College’s 4 x 110 yards relay team that broke the Public Schools’ record back in the day. Probing further I discovered that he represented Ceylon against India at table tennis. Well, who knew!

He was a contrarian in many ways and always one to question the status-quo. He was the type of person who would venture off the well-trodden path out of curiosity. If someone were to tell him “follow me, I know the way,” he would certainly run in the opposite direction.I think those brave qualities likely made him an Atheist.

Raj was truly a Renaissance man of the generation he was born to. He was a compassionate soul. He cared for the sick. He gave generously to the needy. His job here on Earth was well done.

When we bade farewell he gave me a copy of the last of his books, Memories and Medical Memoirs, which is quite unlike his earlier scholarly publications and presents vignettes of his personal and professional life. It is both very interesting and a joy to read. He will be missed.

Ananda Sumanadasa

Beautiful memories of a wonderful life


“Memories don’t leave like people do”

The room was crowded with happy people moving around, chatting and smiling with the occasional ring of laughter rising above conversational tones. They had all come in response to invitations that had been sent to celebrate her 75th birthday, mostly family, some from abroad, and close friends. It had been a difficult task to whittle down the invitees as she had many friends.

The cool breezes from across the seas made the open area comfortable despite the many that were present. The celebrations began with the celebrant priest calling all those present to prayer, followed by a homily of thanksgiving for Sybil’s God fearing life. He recounted the many Christian acts of charity and love she had extended to those around her particularly to those who were in no position to repay her acts of kindness and then thanked her Maker for having used Sybil and her many attributes and strengths to reach out to the students she had taught in her capacity first as a trained English Teacher in her 45 years in the profession, then as a Principal, and finally in her retirement when she had given of her knowledge and professionalism freely to all those who were in need of her love, care, and expertise particularly amongst the forces.

On a different note, he recalled how Sybil was a very dedicated and constant attendee of Sunday worship where she participated in the proceedings especially in singing of the hymns. Communion was celebrated thereafter followed by the singing of the popular hymn “How Great Thou Art” sung lustily by all, followed by the Celebrant blessing Sybil and those present.

The Thanksgiving Service now over, the partying began with the singing of the birthday song and the  cutting of her birthday cake which had one big party candle (with a big pink tag around it  with “75”) which she blew out happily. All those present especially her grandchildren and great grandchildren clapped and shouted signalling that the fun and games for the night were about to begin.

This was her 75th birthday celebrations held in thanksgiving for her devoted service of love and sacrifice to her family and friends – a constantly widening circle. At this point in time her four children and their spouses had expanded to 11 grandchildren and spouses, and eight great grandchildren (subsequently to increase to 14). As for her gathering of friends, it was a Herculean task to keep track of all of them; but the beauty of it was that she knew everyone of them by name and how and where she befriended them. It was easy for her to make friends with people and they found her very easy to make friends with, as she was a very genial and caring woman; she was also a good Christian, a charming conversationist, easy going and humble.

My mother left us when she was 86 years, on August 21, 2010, having succumbed to cancer after a very short period of illness. She was aware that she was afflicted with the disease only when she was taken to John Hopkins Singapore, and that was a month before she passed on.

These and more beautiful memories of her wonderful life come cascading in from time to time and especially on her birthday anniversaries.


You are still loved, still missed, and very dear

Victoreen Marina Hassan

It is with a sense of sadness that I write about my loving wife Victoreen Marina Hassan who passed away peacefully on August 25, 2008 after a brief illness. We married on October 8, 1968 and spent a happy and peaceful life for almost 40 long years. Now 11 years have passed and I am left alone.

Victoreen was loving, caring and the greatest blessing in my life. The day I first held her and kissed her sweet face are precious memories time cannot erase. Every step of the way we walked together side by side. These special memories always bring a smile to me.

Though she is no more, Victoreen walks beside me everyday, guiding me and protecting me, still loved, still missed, and very dear.  Vicky, you are forever in my heart, never forgotten, and always treasured and cherished.

On your last journey it broke my heart to walk beside you on that fateful day. There is only one thought that eases the pain– that is when we will be together again. You gave me years of happiness and then came sorrow and tears. I pray for you in silence and I hold you close in my heart. You are not forgotten my love, nor will you ever be, as long as life and memory lasts, your soul will live with me.

You were a wife in a million and I cannot understand why you had to go. Your loving smile, your gentle face, no one can fill your vacant space. I was proud to be your husband, and every day in a small way I celebrate your life. Wherever Victoreen was, I was there for her, always beside her as she was my one and only shining star. I walked beside her, loved and guided her, wherever she was until her untimely death.

Thank you Victoreen, for the wonderful and generous sacrifices you made for me, our children, and all the loving care and affection you showered on us. I remember not what I did for you but what I was for you and what you were to me. Thank you for loving me and being what you were.

Darling Vicky, our special years will not return, when you were with me together.

Till we meet again.

Sadly missed by your loving husband,

M. Kamil A. Hassan

Remembering a generous spirit

Jean Arasanayagam

How does one describe Jean?  Ageless, exuberant, unique and imbued with an exceptional generosity of spirit.

She stood apart from the common herd, so much so, that one forgot that the limitations of mortality applied to her too.

Her unexpected death at the age of 88 was a real shock to me.

International acclaim rested lightly on her shoulders. Her flood of words transforming the mundane into the magical never abated; surely there is yet another book awaiting publication.

My acquaintance with Jean goes back several years. We used to meet regularly at literary do’s.

Ten minutes in her company was sufficient to seal a life-long friendship.

I started writing poetry only in the eighties when I was around 50. Jean was a great source of encouragement to me- in fact she told me that she used a couple of my unpublished poems in her class.

Just a few days before her death she sent me an email congratulating me on a positive review I had received .I still feel bad that I didn’t get back to her.

My sympathies to her closely-knit family Arasa, Parvathi and Devasundari– all of them talented writers who will surely keep the flame of remembrance alive through their work.

Premini  Amerasinghe

Life is not the same

Sampath Agalawatta

Solemnly, a year has passed away

Amidst the shock and grief of your demise

Many are the memories we cherish,

Painfully borne. Life is not the same.

All your laughter and humour gone.

The happiness you gave will linger

Heaven be your reward, we pray.

Edward and Lucille Ekanayake (in-laws)




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