He fought Mandela’s fight with spiritual, selfless and fearless zeal Archbishop Desmond Tutu As angels in their flight would surely have carried the soul of Archbishop Desmond Tutu to his well-earned eternal rest on his passing earlier this week, no tribute is greater than that of Nelson Mandela’s who in his memoirs wrote on the [...]




He fought Mandela’s fight with spiritual, selfless and fearless zeal

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Nelson Mandela, right, holds the hand of Bishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, South Africa, in a 1994 file photo. Photo: © Jerry Holt / Minneapolis Star Tribune / MCT / Sipa USA / Reuters

As angels in their flight would surely have carried the soul of Archbishop Desmond Tutu to his well-earned eternal rest on his passing earlier this week, no tribute is greater than that of Nelson Mandela’s who in his memoirs wrote on the occasion of his first speech soon after being released from 27 years of incarceration: “When I greeted Archbishop Tutu, I enveloped him in a great hug; here was a man who had inspired an entire nation with his words and courage, who had revived the people’s hope during the darkest of times.”

Mandela recalls how he walked out onto the balcony and saw a boundless sea of people cheering, holding flags and banners, clapping, and laughing.

And there was Tutu holding up Mandela’s hand in triumph.

Desmond Tutu was the second South African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, followed later by Mandela himself. Known for his rhetorical bluntness spiced with a puckish sense of humour, he joked at his award speech: A Zambian boasted about his country’s Minister of Naval Affairs to a South African, who pointed out disparagingly that landlocked Zambia has no Navy! The Zambian replied, “Well, in South Africa you have a Minister of Justice, don’t you?”

Awarded the highest of civilian honours, the Presidential Medal of Freedom,  at the White House by Barack Obama in 2009, he asked the President to apologize for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and often compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to South Africa during apartheid.

President Obama in his tribute this week stated, “Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a mentor, a friend, and a moral compass for me and so many others. A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere.”

Cautioning governments, Archbishop Tutu once said, “The primary violence is that of apartheid, the violence of forced population removals, of inferior education, of detention without trial.” He went even further and argued that “the primary terrorism in this country comes from the government and until that is resolved there is no hope.”

He was a simple man who was moved by simple gestures.  When a white Bishop tipped his hat to Tutu’s mother when he passed her on the street Tutu said in an interview, “I couldn’t believe my eyes…a white man who greeted a black working -class woman.”  The white man,  Bishop Huddleston, who opposed apartheid was later expelled to Britain and became Tutu’s spiritual mentor!

Desmond Tutu was a delight to the masses. He had a song in his heart and a dance in his step. Courageous to a fault he once broke up an angry mob by throwing himself into the melee to rescue a suspected apartheid spy from being badgered to death.

On a personal note: Bishop Desmond Tutu, the trusted friend and spiritual soulmate of Nelson Mandela was visiting Lusaka, in 1986, and this writer had the privilege of co-hosting a private tea party for the Bishop’s delegation which was reaching out to communities in Zambia to gain more support for the freedom struggle.

At that time, The African National Congress (ANC) was operating in exile from Lusaka where President Kenneth Kaunda, a freedom fighter himself, had made bold by giving the ANC their operational base in Lusaka. In fact their offices were situated less than 500 yards away from State House;  a couple of miles away from the writer’s own residence.   On one occasion the offices were bombed by the operatives of the apartheid regime. This did not deter the ANC operatives to carry on regardless as they had the unstinting and steely support of Kaunda who entertained delegations such as that of Bishop Tutu visiting the country and reaching out for support.

At the tea party, Bishop Tutu spoke in superlatives about ‘Mission Mandela’ and of how the ANC operatives were all fired up “like a power grid”, (I cull from my notes) “to liberate South Africa and the world from terror and the evil of apartheid which is totally against the will of God Almighty.”  I recall taking the cue and asking Bishop Tutu what he thought of the conflict in Sri Lanka: “Ah! he said,” with a prescience of faith, “God Almighty will bless your country as it will mine, with a liberation that leaders like Nelson are striving for, although the nature of the conflicts are different—that in Sri Lanka ethnic, but  that in South Africa more serious as it destroys the very soul of mankind.”

The reverence with which we in Zambia, in the mid 1980’s, looked up to Nelson Mandela can only be fitting for that of a saint. And the fight that Archbishop Tutu and his ilk fought from outside the prison gates bestows on them a special place in God’s kingdom.

President Kaunda, a deeply religious person himself, would break out into tears and his voice would choke, when he spoke of the liberation struggle in South Africa which he supported in full measure. In fact, Kaunda would end his letters, one of which I possess and treasure, with “yours in the common struggle!”

Mandela was a giant during his life.  Desmond Tutu served his cause with spiritual, selfless and fearless zeal with a vision of a rainbow nation towards which the ‘moral compass’ will hopefully continue to point.

M.V. Muhsin

My father and the pipes of yesteryear

D.T. Devendra

1972 had dawned in the house my family and I shared with my parents. That night, my father listened to the news before bed. He had seen his last dawn: he died the next day.

Half a century on, I remember him: first as the adult I knew and then, as the father I knew as a child. Of him as an adult, I spoke before a lecture (“Under the waters of Galle” in the “D.T. Devendra Memorial Lecture” series for 1999).

“My talk today is a personal dedication to the first archaeologist in Sri Lanka who appreciated that archaeology under the sea would lead to a fuller understanding of our past.

“He had been a teacher, researcher, writer, school principal, editor, publisher and Buddhist scholar in addition to being an archaeologist.  Although he served the Archaeological Department for a scant eight years, from 1948 to 1956, it is as an archaeologist that he is still remembered. He was a self-taught archaeologist, not an academically trained one. Starting as a historian-researcher in the 1920s, he continued researching till his death in 1972.

“We, his children, were the major beneficiaries of his wide-ranging interests, particularly in the expanding frontiers of knowledge. It is these that we cut our teeth on, in our nightly conversations round the dining table. He believed in taking archaeology along uncharted paths. I vividly recall his happiness at the recruitment of the first man of science, Dr. Rajah de Silva, into the Department, and his excitement over the first scientific test pit dug in the Anuradhapura citadel by Claudio Sestieri, who was Commissioner for a short while.

“He was born in 1901 in the village of Kalegana, Galle, in a modest house, to modest parents who believed in Education as the great liberating influence in this country. After leaving home at the age of 17 to work, he never returned to live in Galle: he was a son of Sri Lanka, not only of Galle. But he painted a vivid picture of his childhood for our children.

My childhood memories go back. My father smoked a pipe. He always had, as far as I can remember. We loved the cosy, tobacco-y smell of him. Absorbed in pipe-cleaning, he threw bits of information, and misinformation, at us. One day it would be about Red Indians smoking the pipe of peace. Another, it would be how Walter Raleigh “lit up” to impress Good Queen Bess and had a bucket of water thrown upon him for his pains. It was a sort of bonding. He did not carry the pipe to school (he was a schoolmaster) and his enjoyment of the pipe was a very domestic luxury.

He had a modest array of pipes, each one with a character. Pipes, he told us, were very personal. They were not to be shared. But, of course, they had to mature, and one of his throwaway stories was that an English gentleman (I think he thought of himself as one, in a kind of way) would buy a good pipe, and give it to the gardener to smoke it till it was “broken in”. Then, only, would he retrieve it; fit another mouthpiece to it and sit back to enjoy a good, seasoned smoke.

A pipe smoker, he said, had more than one pipe. His own modest collection was kept on a pipe rack hung on the wall. There was the straight-stemmed Briar: the “king” of woods. Then there was his Cherry wood pipe that had a silvery, barky, log-like look, with a curved stem and the bottom of the bowl cut at an angle so that it could be set down with the stem up in the air. Father looked a bit like Sherlock Holmes puffing it!  Then there was the small, cream-coloured Meerschaum, made from a special kind of German clay, or stone. When it was new, the bowl would be white but, a really well-smoked Meerschaum would be a rich, creamy brown. Father’s was only halfway there, and it had a small bowl as he could not afford a bigger one: there were, some as big as little teapots. These, he said, were smoked by fierce Prussians! This was the stuff of legend: I lapped it all up.

In those days father smoked “Island Pride”, a local tobacco that was the best he could afford.  During the world war years, when Kandy became the home to young foreign soldiers, he was often gifted such foreign brands as “Capstan No Name” and became quite addicted to them!

The real drama of “lighting the pipe” began with the bowl being filled with the shredded tobacco. Then it would be tamped down and lit with a match. At one end of the pipe was the lighted match and at the other was the smoker applying suction: as he sucked, the flame of the match would be drawn downwards into the bowl! Magic!

Cleaning the pipe was also a spectator sport for us. First, the charred layer on the inside bowl had to be scraped off. Father had an instrument of sorts for this: after cleaning it he would tap the pipe against the heel of his shoe to get rid of the last bits. Next would come the messy part – unscrewing the mouthpiece and cleaning the stem with his special pipe cleaners. These were long, woolly and pristine white, but became dirty and sticky and smelly after they were used! This was the flip side of pipe-smoking!

Some years passed, a war was ending. Churchill was yet pictured everywhere with his signature cigar but then came General McArthur and I was fascinated by his folksy corncob pipe. I was an inveterate experimenter and I now ventured into making pipes, with inadequate tools, scarce resources and an overriding confidence. Once, just once, I got it all right. Inspiration came from a book, or journal: a large picture and write-up about MacArthur. The next time we ate corn off the cob, I carefully cleaned, washed, and dried the much boiled cob. Next, I set about digging out the woody stem and creating a “bowl” for the tobacco. An old mouthpiece of a pipe was forced through the cob till it reached the “bowl”. A running commentary was kept up so that everybody was aware of my momentous task and finally it was presented to Father. The next day he steeled himself to try it. Presented with a twice-boiled stump of cob, the insides raw, rough and woody and my basilisk eye on him, he gave me a lesson on parenting. Without batting an eyelid he started to smoke it and, after sometime, retired with it to his office room. Later, Mother told me he had found that the pipe gave him a “cool” smoke. I had got it right, first time!  I s-t-r-u-t-t-e-d!

(Father would later relate the story to friends, but I never saw the pipe again.)

Some years later, our maternal uncle brought him new pipes from post-war America. This was the time when father’s collection overflowed his old pipe rack.

But the good days were not to last. Something made Mother persuade him to stop smoking. It was tough on him – and us, as he was short-tempered during this “cold turkey” period. He (and we) survived it and the pipes went: first into storage, thence into hiding and, finally, to a kind home far away (where, we do not know).

But I do remember him, and the pipes of yesteryear with affection and, maybe, that’s why I have never smoked one.

Somasiri Devendra

Exemplary officer and indulgent father, many were the lessons he imparted

 Ranjit Goonetilleke

My father, Air Commodore (Retd.) Joseph Leonard Ranjit Goonetilleke, if he were alive, would have been 85 years old on Friday (December 31). He passed away rather suddenly after a brief illness on May 1, this year. He lived a good, healthy and productive life and we are thankful for the many wonderful years we had with him.

Born in 1936 to a devout Catholic family, he schooled at St. Peter’s College. He chose a military career, joining the then Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) in 1959, inspired by his older first cousin, Denis Perera who went on to become Commander of the Sri Lanka Army. My father was sent to the UK for his initial training and returning to Ceylon in 1961, served as Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to the last British Commander of the RCyAF, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Ronald Barker and thereafter as ADC to the first Sri Lankan Commander, AVM Rohan Amarasekere.

He would regale us with many interesting stories from this era; how, AVM Barker would say that being a military officer was not a job, it was a way of life. Those were the days when young officers after work played a round of golf and spent the evening in bow tie and dinner jacket and danced strict tempo. My father happened to be on duty in the operations room at Temple Trees when the leaders of the alleged military coup of 1962 were arrested. The Air Force was trusted over the Army and Navy as there were no Air Force officers involved. Try as I might to get more details, he would not divulge more information.

He served as liaison officer to Heads of State at the Non-Aligned Conference in 1976 and much later in 1981 as ADC to President J.R. Jayewardene during the visit of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to Sri Lanka. He related how Prince Philip had asked Present Jayewardene how well he knew “Prime Minister Banda”, to which the President had opened up about S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike much to the amusement of the Prince who had made the inquiry not about our former Prime Minister but about Hastings Banda, the leader of Malawi.

As Wing Commander, he was the senior most of four officers selected for Staff College in 1979. My dad together with then Capt. Mohan Jayamaha of the Navy also underwent training in advanced studies on Humanitarian Law at the  International Institute of Humanitarian Law (IIHL) in Italy, in order to train other officers in the law of war.

He ended his career with the Sri Lanka Air Force in 1989 after three decades of service. The many messages of condolence we received remembered him as an elegant and exemplary officer, a thorough gentleman, a helpful senior, a very honourable man who did what was right fearing none.

He was an indulgent father to me. I remember on my 10th birthday he bought me a camera; on my 15th birthday I got an expensive watch and on my 18th birthday a car!

He allowed me to make my own decisions and life’s choices. When I obtained an American Field Service scholarship in my A/L year, he encouraged me to take it up saying it would be good exposure.

The material gifts I got as a child were replaced with words of wisdom when I reached adulthood. Every year on my birthday till his passing away he wrote me a note with reflections on the past and encouragement for the future.  Still vivid in my mind is the 21st birthday note with a parody on Kipling’s poem stating; “in your case there are no ifs, for you are a man my son”. He recommended General MacArthur’s prayer for his son. Too long for reproduction in full, the salient words read;

“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

……Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength.

Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, ‘I have not lived in vain.’”

I also learned from the example of my father; to prize integrity over expediency. He would refer to this in his military language as ‘appreciate the situation, don’t situate the appreciation’. He also showed by example that it was better to be patient and slow to anger, that encouragement and support produce superior results to opprobrium; to value relationships; to take a long view of things, to consider value over cost; to be helpful to others and to find time in life not only to do the things one is obliged to but what one would like to.

He epitomized Adam Lindsay Gordon’s verse that “life is mostly froth and bubble but two things stand as stone; kindness in another’s trouble and courage in your own”.

When my mother, Vivette, his beloved wife of 20 years passed away at a relatively young age due to cancer soon after his retirement, he bore it with courage and did his best to ensure that I got on my feet. Having mourned her death, in later life he found love once more and married again.

He and Aunty Chitra travelled, entertained friends old and new – theirs was an open house. Fond of music, he also possessed a good voice. His favourite pieces included the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” and Cesar Franks’ “Panis Angelicus” which we would, on occasion, sing together. He had a fondness for Irish tunes such as ‘When Irish Eyes are smiling’ and ‘O’ Danny Boy’ but his favourite was ‘I will take you home Kathleen’. I can still hear his voice singing the last line of that song – “When the fields are fresh and green, I will take you to your home Kathleen”.

He is home himself now.

May he rest safely, knowing that he is highly regarded, much loved and fondly remembered.

Rajiv Goonetilleke

Success sat lightly on his shoulders

Frank Irugalbandara

My friendship with Frank, popularly known as Franky dates to 1976. I first met him when I married my wife Swarnamalie whose first cousin Nesta was married to him. He was a friendly soft-spoken pleasant sort of guy whom I liked, and Nesta and Franky formed an ideal couple. He was a young architect at the time.

Soon I learned that he with five other friends had launched Sierra Constructions. It was good timing for a construction company to kick off with the open economy policy of the J.R. Jayewardene government. Franky was the Chairman of the Company from its launch until recently.

Within two decades, Sierra rose to become a market leader.  Franky never lost his head over what he achieved in life.

Franky was very humble family man who lived in Welivita, Kaduwela all his married life. Franky and Nesta were blessed with two daughters. He provided his wife and children with everything but let the children grow up like in any middle-class family without spoiling them. Both are qualified accountants.

Franky was a tower of strength to his extended family. He was a kind and generous person who helped the poor and needy in numerous ways. He aided renovations and improvements to the St. Mary’s Church Welivita, Kaduwela and to many other churches and homes, without publicity.

My wife and I last met him in January 2020 when we were in Colombo on a holiday. He took us to the East Coast providing us an unforgettable holiday.

He had few medical issues latterly and overcame all that with prayers. He was a staunch Catholic who practised what Lord Jesus Christ taught to the best of his ability. He had a peaceful death at home surrounded by his family after a brief illness. We were very sad when we heard the news .

Our sympathies go to his wife Nesta, daughters Sujeevie, Cynthica, his in-laws, grandchildren and all other family members and friends. I am sad that I lost a dear friend.

May he rest in peace.

Hemal Perera



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