Wednesday, 29 June 2011


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Nalini Wickremesinghe:

Devoted mother

It seems as if a grey cloud of depression is over me; not only because of the demise of Nalini Wickremesinghe. But, because her death in a way, is the end of an era. I cannot think of anyone of my generation, or the ones that follow; with her exceptional qualities. Beauty, grace, dignity, gentility, intellect, culture and a great sense of history I am proud that we share the same Alma Mater; although she had left school, before I entered its hallowed portals.

As the eldest daughter of D R Wijewardene, she had the privilege of witnessing at first hand, many stages of our countryís history, before and after Independence. She would often talk to me about those days, when politicians of yore, of the calibre of D S Senanayake, D B Jayetilleke, E W Perera, V F and L M de Silva were frequent visitors to their home.

Another vivid memory she often talked about, was the visit of the Soulbury Commission; who had stayed with her father, at Arcadia in Diyatalawa. This was a truly historic visit as they spent hours and days sitting in the garden there, drafting the constitution of Independent Ceylon. These memories and those of her father beginning the newspaper were always vivid in her mind, and she once told me that this was when her interest in politics was first nurtured.

Conversations at her home revolved round politics, the newspapers and her fatherís role in the struggle for Independence. There are few who are aware that Nalini had obtained the London Inter Arts degree, for which she had studied privately. Her father had planned to send her to University, but Cupid intervened as he often does; when she met her future husband Esmond.

She was a devoted mother, grandmother and sister. She adored her children, was very proud of them all and equally adored her younger brother. She told me that she was just 17 when he was born, and the duty of looking after him was handed over to her.

Her interest in reviving Sinhala culture, led her to playing an active role in The Lanka Mahila Samithi and in the Sinhala Institute of Culture. Her work in the Mahila Samithi began with encouraging women to have home gardens, and develop their talent in other crafts which they could do at home; to empower them and to have their own income.

Together with Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Siva Obeysekera, she was one of the pioneers in promoting handicrafts and handloom weaving. I have seen many of her own designs woven into sarees, which were truly exquisite works of art. At the Sinhala Institute of culture, she was one of those responsible for reviving Kandyan and low country dancing, drama and other aspects of traditional culture and art, She played a prominent role in promoting and sponsoring Sinhala writers and artistes, by helping playwrights and producers to stage their plays.

Although born with a silver spoon; Nalini, in addition to her work for the uplift of Sinhala culture and arts and crafts, also worked as an active director of Lake House till it was taken over by the then government. She has often spoken to me about this heartbreaking moment; when her fatherís brainchild was snatched away; his dreams no longer in the hands of his children; for which he had worked so hard all his life. Lesser mortals at this stage, may have sat back at home, licking their wounds or given in to depression. But not Nalini; instead, she worked at The Lake House Bookshop for many years. Her interest in English literature, stood her in good stead in this role. Her children surprised her a few years ago, on her birthday, by publishing some poems written by her, which she presented to her friends.

During these past few years with her failing health, it was good to see the devotion with which her children, including her daughters in law, looked after her. She was showered with tender, loving care by them; through each moment of each day.

Ranil and Kshanika have both inherited her sense of history and her love of classical music. I was always touched that every time Ranil bought music for himself, he bought the identical tape for his mother. He would sit for hours at her bedside, despite his busy schedule, discussing music of the great Masters, musicians and politics with her. Two people who knew her better than most outsiders were Maya Wikrantha and Dr Anandaraja. Both speak of her innate kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity to them.

She was a devout Buddhist who married a Christian and practised her religion as a true Buddhist should. She was never a fanatic, never forced her beliefs on others, but practised it as an inspiring example to those who knew her.

She felt that each and every person must have the freedom to practise the faith of their choice. I shall always treasure in my heart and mind, a compliment that she once paid me; which was that loyalty such as mine, can never be bought.

I will always think of Nalini Wickremesinghe as one of those wonders of God.

Ilica Malkanthi Karunaratne

Rienzie Gunaratne:

Person with an astonishing English knowledge

A person of great calibre, as a teacher of English Language and Literature, the founder of the Full Moon Institute of English (which implies that he wanted to bring students from darkness to light in English) at Maharagama, Rienzie Gunaratne passed away recently, creating a huge void in the sphere of teaching English. He was suffering from his fatal illness for several years, despite which he continued his services towards the student population of the area on a busy schedule, even while taking treatments at the Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore at regular intervals.

He was a person with an astonishing knowledge of English poetry and drama, and all the other fields of English Literature. He joined the tutorial staff of the then Government Teachersí Training College Practising School (now known as Maharagama Central College) and started teaching History in mid 1960s. I was fortunate enough to have him as my class master in 1966, when I was in Grade eight.

Our Principal at that time was T G S Gunawardhana, an eminent scholar and an English educated gentleman. When Rienzie Gunaratne started teaching English Language, Gunawardhana placed a challenge before him to obtain positive results. He was successful within a short time. From then, the number of English passes grew annually. His ability of teaching English was not a secret to anybody.

In early 1970s he was appointed as a Lecturer in English at the Maharagama Teachersí Training College. But, as a result of requests made by many parents and students, he was compelled to prolong his former career in the way of private tuition in weekends. As a result, we too were able to prolong our studies and become well versed in English Language and Literature. He has worked as a Lecturer at the Open University of Sri Lanka and as a Radio Script Writer, presenting Western Classics in Sinhala Language.

He emerged the most bright scholar at the Manchester University in UK in 1983 and was offered a Post of Lecturer there, but he was loved by the students here in Sri Lanka and he too concerned them so much that he returned to the island as he valued not money but his service to his students.

What mattered the most in all his endeavours was punctuality. When we were his private students after our schooling age, he was present sharp at 8.00 am and started the class. He maintained this paramount quality of him until his demise. I think, many of his students including myself studied that lesson. I am humbly saying that I have been one of his pupils until his death, and he was a regular admirer of any of my literary works and his demise is an irreparable loss to me too personally, as it has been to his wife and daughters.

Atula A Dodangoda Pannipitiya

A Wilton de Zoysa :

Thaththa was my role model

Thaththa it has been 10 years since you left us and I miss you more than ever. It is true what they say, you do not realize what you truly have till it is gone. I must confess that I am at a loss of words when it comes to pen my appreciation of you since my thoughts are far too many and crowded with emotion. Thaththa, even after 10 years of absence of physical presence, I miss you more deeply than words can say.

However, I have brought myself to write a few words of what he meant to me since his death anniversary falls on July 3, 2011.

I am certain that the sentiments I felt are that which are felt by any child or adult who has ever lost a parent. As such this is my humble attempt in capturing the essence of a man whose presence I could never limit to words on a page.

Over the past, I have not felt his absence because I realized that everyday I continue life as his daughter being true to all that he thought me in life he continues to live.

You appreciated us for what we were and trusted us to the extent that unknowingly you built a moral binding in us to be always uncompromisingly truthful to ourselves and thereby never to break the trust of others. Your love, appreciation, trust among many things molded us to be the children we are.

Thaththa you said learning was the foundation which no one can take away.

We are what we are because of you and Amma. You always told me to do my duty with dedication, commitment and integrity. This was just but one lesson that we repeatedly say. We grew up with your values and we are glad we did as it has proved beyond doubt what life can give. We note with gratitude to you, the positive comments of others of our ability to go through life with zest, responsibility and honesty. You were the biggest champion in all over endeavours.

He was my friend and a pillar of strength to me. I could open my heart to him with his advice and guidance he put us on the correct path on lifeís journey. The deeply rooted values in my life all came from my father. You gave us love, support and a sound education, but most of all you taught us to be fair, have a strong sense of right and wrong and taught us good moral values. Whenever we needed you were always there for us and you made us believe that self-confidence, honesty and courage will help us lead a good life. I so wish you hang on for a little longer, so you could have been there for me as my role model to direct and guide me when I needed.

My sincere hope is that may this simple man realize early the supreme Bliss of Nirvana.

Damitha de Zoysa


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