The Wickramasinghe wisdom
colleague usually covers Martin Wickramasinghe whenever an anniversary
occurs. But this time she was very much caught up with a hectic work
schedule, and wanted me to meet his son Dr. Ranga Wickramasinghe for an
Martin Wickramasinghe is quite our heritage, I have to unearth in
portions. His famous trilogy: Gamperaliya, Kaliyugaya and Yuganthaya all
filmed - and televised too, methinks. His involvement in literature:
juvenile, biology, novels, short stories, drama, literary criticism,
anthropology, philosophy, history, Buddhism and various other
miscellaneous works in both Sinhala and English. I have no clue where to
I have seen Dr. Ranga, the third-born Wickramasinghe junior, in
public places, but never did I notice he had the very same physical
profile of his father. In fact he is the throwback to his senior, whom I
have seen only in pictures, whose loss came to pass before my birth. Dr.
Ranga Wickramasinghe doesn't like to be interviewed as such. But he is
gentlemanly generous in offering necessary information for an
Furniture used by Martin Wickramasinghe. Source: Martin
"I have given out and written almost everything about father." And
yet I was handed some freshly written information. He didn't seem to
need me to leave the premises. Dr. Ranga Wickramasinghe swans back to
those wholesome days, his face gleams with a silvery smile, his tone
"Many people wonder how my father had such a good command of many
subjects. He had a good reference library. He maintained it good and
This word 'maintained' puzzled me. I could not gather what he had
meant by this word. But I couldn't get myself to demand explanation,
lest I may look a holy dimwit.
"He was collecting books since he was 17."
"Your father had financial difficulties, right?"
At this instance his eldest brother S. K. Wickramasinghe joined us.
"He did a job. You can see it when you read his autobiography Upanda
Sita. But since his father was dead, he had to shoulder the
responsibilities of his family. He somehow made do with a job. He was a
little relieved when he was 17, I think."
The past will still remain scattered, if not for his autobiography. I
was nursing a question for the Wickramasinghe siblings.
"So he bought many encylopaedia and dictionaries?"
First-born Wickramasinghe junior uttered a firm no, smilingly.
Most of the books, they said, were subject-oriented books. It's like
an expansion of one encylopaedia. The third-born continued.
"May be because he was tight-cashed he didn't buy books at once. Only
after going through many, he would buy one book."
One of the bookshop owners, a White, noticed this habit.
"One day this owner called up my father and said he knows what's
going on. Do you know what had the owner said afterwards?"
"No." Of course I did not.
"He had said: 'You can go through them one by one, no problem. But I
have seen your finger goes to tongue and you apply spit on each page. It
spoils the book you know. I don't mind you going through the books, as
long as you hold back that habit." We were all laughing - first-born,
third-born Wickramasinghe juniors and myself - and were silent for a few
seconds. And then Dr. Ranga spoke up.
"One thing is he maintained his library properly. He had a collection
of about 5000 books."
There it popped out again. I was forcing myself, now or never!
"What do you mean by maintenance?"
"My room was close to his library. There were days I could see him
inside the library silhouetted through the curtains."
The child could see his father hum an old song doing the errands in
library. He would dust off the books. Some books would be taken out. A
page or two would be read. Something would be scribbled down in margins
by a pencil.
Martin Wickramasinghe never forced education on his children, six in
all. But they all had university education in different streams such as
physics, economics, medicine and history. He set an example of his own
for children to follow. The first-born voices in:
"When he wanted to know about some theory, he would refer one book.
That particular book was enough for him to follow another concept or
two. He would study a few more concepts in one book."
He had no classification to his collection, but it didn't take much
while for him to browse the book he would want to refer to. The
collection is now housed in Colombo National Museum with a
My gaze roams around these two men in their ripe ages - 70s and 80s -
who walk tall preserving their father's heritage. Wish I could see their
senior wedged between his offspring, but that thought falls dead at an
Even so the live brevity of this moment's leisure is simply beautiful
that is enough comfort.