On behalf of all her sons and daughters...
Today, as I write, it is morning on the 17th day of November in the
year 2010. I am in receipt of a text message that took me back to the
'It is the 17th (of) November once again and it was a special ritual
for me every year to give a call to that very special teacher we had and
wish her Happy Birthday! This year, like last year, there is a sense of
emptiness about the day. Instead I have remembered her in prayer and
thanked God for all the wonderful memories of her. I also prayed for all
of you and your families. God bless you and give you special strength
On the way to the year 1976, I stopped for a bit in the late
eighties. It was, looking back, an unnecessary argument. My mother was
berating me about something. Apparently, a batchmate at Peradeniya had
complained to her that I was in the habit of asking for money from
'people' and not returning. The truth was that I had borrowed hundred
rupees from this individual and had not paid it back. The other part of
the story was that lots of others had borrowed much more from me and not
returned. I never kept track.
'I gave you three shirts when you entered campus. Where are they?'
she asked. I could not answer. People borrow shirts and they end up
owning them. That happens a lot. I didn't know whose shirts I was
wearing half the time. She was mad because she didn't want to hear ill
about her children.
'You don't love us!', she accused.
I tried to explain to her in a clumsy kind of way that all parents of
all friends were like mother and father to me, all friends were brothers
and sisters, all children mine. She gave me a withering and contemptuous
look and went back to sweeping the garden with that extra bit of purpose
marking disagreement and dismissal.
Today I know such claims are nothing more than easy rhetoric;
innocent, yes, but nothing more than youthful indulgence. Today I know
that there are children and children, mothers and mothers, siblings and
Let me go to the year 1976. My mother was in charge of the Royal
College Dramatic Society (Dramsoc). I remember long nights of rehearsals
at the 'Little Theatre'. I remember 'Black Comedy' by Peter Shaffer
which was produced by Dramsoc in 1973 along with a short play called
'Electronic Explosion'. This was followed by Agatha Christie's 'Mouse
Trap', 'Ah! Wilderness' by Eugene O'Neill and 'All my sons' by Arthur
Miller. There were also excerpts from Julius Caesar and Othello for the
Shakespeare Drama Competition.
She dragged us to rehearsals. 'Dragged' is wrong. We were very small
but liked running around and watching the big aiyas moving around the
stage. It was essentially a gang of players. Each year a different play
and different roles. Same players. Same supporting cast.
Those who had left school would come to help. Gerard Raymond, Nilar,
Ranil Abeysekera, Chris and Arjuna Parakrama, Ravi Algama, Arjun
Mahendran and Dion Schoorman are names I associate with that time. I
remember someone writing on my mother's copy of the souvenir
commemorating the last of the four plays mentioned above, 'Madam, we are
all your sons!'
It was like that. There was no 'sibling rivalry' that I felt. They
were all my brothers. They didn't take my mother from me at all. Not for
one moment. They gave her an opportunity to be who she wanted to be:
energetic, fun-loving, motherly, strict and warm.
One batch was special though. The batch that left Royal in 1977, i.e.
who did the A-Ls for the first time in April 1976. Niraj De Mel was Head
Prefect I think. Those who studied English and Greek and Roman
Civilization, the subjects my mother taught, were of course closer to
her than the others. They came home all the time. While at school and
years later too. Dion, who sent me the text message a short while ago,
took up residence for a year and was my roommate. That was in 1978 I
think. Shanmugavadivel Ranjithan, 'Chippie' to us, also stayed for a
year after the July 1983 riots. Arjuna Parakrama was a Loku Aiyain ways
that did not require residence as criteria. They were all our brothers.
They were all my mother's sons.
Last July, when my mother was in the Intensive Care Unit of the
Cardiology Unit, for observation more than anything else, courtesy the
kindness of Dr Ruwan Ekanayake I believe (whose child she had taught),
Arjuna visited her thrice a day with food. She loved to be pampered. He
was there at her side, feeding her breakfast, lunch and dinner although
she could manage it herself. He was her favourite student and among
those who studied literature from her by far the most accomplished. A
son, certainly and one of the eka pun sanda kind.
I am convinced that she didn't know all her sons. A few months before
she died a batchmate at Royal I hadn't seen in over 20 years told me, 'I
am where I am because of your mother; I was a hosteller and my parents
didn't have money to support me. Madam (that's how everyone addressed
her) got someone to give me a scholarship. Please tell her how grateful
I didn't get a chance. Slipped my mind. She would forgive me, I am
There was always room for another. That was her way.
She left quite a number of sons and daughters orphaned but had made
sure we had one another for consolation.