23rd November 1997


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Unforgettable, that's what you are

By Roshan Peiris

On the night before his birthday for eleven years she left a single large red rose on his dressing table."It was my way of telling him I loved him."

This Wednesday November 26, the lonely widow will make her quiet way to Kanatte and place a red rose on her husband's grave on his sixty first birthday.

"My daughter Serela usually accompanies me, but this year she has her term tests" .In respect for the memory of a loving father who stressed that attending school was an undisputed priority the saddened widow will go alone.

Lalith, Srimani and SerelaThese are the memories Srimani Athulathmudali recalled as she reflected on her life with the charismatic Lalith Athulathmudali who gave so much promise as a political leader.

Srimani said, "We never had grand birthday parties for most of the time even on his birthday, he was out working." She adds, "He is constantly in my thoughts no matter what I do."

She paused to gain control of herself emotionally and said, "Lalith used to say we are as close as thumb and nail. It was his way of expressing our closeness. It may seem whimsical but it was true."

Seated with a portrait of her late husband with wig and gown, with his many law books in the background, in what was once his chambers Srimani said, "We had our ups and downs,but nevertheless had a strong relationship built not only on love but also mutual respect for each other.

She smiled at the memory that she usually avoided arguments, after all, he was an outstanding lawyer. "He could certainly talk his way around any situation. So I resorted to leaving notes for him and he would write back saying 'point taken', "Well written "and" this is not quite correct in the context of my opinion."

"What was wonderful was that Lalith wanted me to participate with him in his work, and took me along when he visited army bases. He thought the soldiers would talk to me more readily than they would to him, their Minister, and tell me the shortcomings they suffered.

"He spoke in fluent Tamil to the young terrorist boys in the custody of the army and expressed sorrow that their young lives had been spoilt. We both felt their manhood had been taken away from them."

Srimani sat quietly and then said, "One outstanding memory was when we were on our honeymoon in Gstaad and I trampled on some dog dirt. He asked me to remove my shoes, took some dry leaves and cleaned them for me. It was memorable. I will never forget this gesture of love."

"And now about our daughter Serela. Lalith considered her birth time according to Buddhist custom and got a list of names she could have. We chose Rasmi Serela and I often reflect on the happiness that glowed on his face as he saw our daughter.

"Whenever he had time, and as she grew he played piggy back with her and taught her Sinhala. Serela adored her father, so much so, that child-like she showed jealousy of our closeness. So just to tease her he often hugged me in her presence.

"We were a close threesome and when we went on trips together he showed Serela how to read a map. There you see that framed map on the wall, that is what Lalith took along with him on our trips.

"I think one of his most memorable occasions was when Serela was placed first in elocution islandwide in her Grade and he as Minister of Education then, gave away her prize. It was a moment of great pride for him. This year she came second islandwide in Grade Five. She is Irene Wanigaratne's pupil."

Srimani's memories of Lalith as his birthday nears are like gossamer thread woven together in an unforgettable pattern.

"When his wisdom teeth were pulled out I kept them and today they are within the statue just here across the junction.

"He ate simple meals of boiled vegetables, fish and chicken in a losing battle to keep his weight down. He had such a weakness for chocolates just like a child," she recalled smiling.

"Lalith impressed on our daughter the gift that education can give one. So though Serela is heart broken not to visit her father's grave with me on Wednesday morning she realises she is respecting her father in a different way by adhering to what was expected of her.

"On his fifth death anniversary next April, I will build a statue at the family estate in Hirulle where part of his ashes are interred," she says determined his memory will be kept alive.

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