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Remembering ‘Bandes’

The word ‘Remember’ is described in many dictionaries as to recollect, recall, remind, reminisce etc, all of which mean to bring an image or idea from the past into the mind. It implies a keeping in memory of some significant incident or date that may be effortlessly registered in one’s mind as though it were yesterday. Time on the other hand is the compensating factor or healing mechanism for any loss or sorrow.

Every day in our impermanent living we are affected by passing away of someone whom we love or hold in our heart with great esteem.

To overcome sorrow in such instances people have adopted many forms to comfort themselves and in their memory, engaged in numerous religious rights commonly known as transferring of merit to ‘uplift the soul’ of the dead.

In normal circumstances a dead person is remembered in seven days, followed by three months and then annually on the death anniversary.

Unless the departed is a close relative the remembering process tends to fade away from human memory.

Professional
* Born in Kurunegala
*Educated at Ibbagamuwa Central College
* Student of Prof Ediriweera Sarathchandra
* Made music composition for Sinhabahu drama
* Received Best Music Award in 1963 for Kuweni contribution
* Died on March 7, 1998

On the contrary, religious leaders, divine messengers, philanthropists, great rulers and those who had done immense service to the society are remembered with respect on their death anniversaries.

Memorable date

While going through my log of archaic notes I was struck by an entry which read ‘March 7, 1998’ - a memorable date when a dear friend answered ‘the compulsory call from above’ while living in London.

H H Bandara (Bandes) was an intellectual, professional, patriot, journalist, musician and, above all, a jewel of a friend.

Born in Kurunegala district and educated at Ibbagamuwa Central College, during a period when the Sri Lankan society was saturated with Colonial influence and only a handful of colleges in Colombo were regarded as higher seats of learning, Bandes disproved such pseudo theories by gaining admission to Peradeniya University and qualifying as an honour’s graduate.


H H Bandara composed music for Sarachchandra’s Sinhabahu. File photo

The late Prof Ediriweera Sarathchandra, philosopher, man of letters and a connoisseur of art, was a lecturer at Peradeniya during Bandara’s undergraduate days.

Folk tradition

Sarathchandra perceived young Bandara’s embryonic aesthetic talents that overfilled patriotic receptivity.

The Professor afforded Bandara a unique opportunity to compose music to one of Sarachchandra’s admired dramas - Sinhabahu.

Young Bundara’s originality in music composition made the stage play exceedingly recognised.

When Sinhabahu became a hallmark, Bandara’s concentration to draw inspiration from his native folk tradition and melodic creations augmented. Like a magician, who holds the audience with the wagging of his wand, Bandes soon began to ‘hypnotise’ his audiences with his flute.

He received the ‘Best Music Award’ in 1963 for his exemplary contribution to Henry Jayasena’s play Kuweni. After concluding his university education and working as an Assistant Director of Cultural Affairs and as Assistant Secretary to the Minister of Education, H H Bandara migrated to the United Kingdom, a completely strange country and a totally alien culture to him.

Though he ‘settled down’ in London, he was deeply rooted in Sri Lankan culture and tradition.

However, his appointment as a Librarian at the Oriental Manuscript Division of the British Library in London compensated, at least in part, to sustain the Sinhala culture and tradition while living in the UK. In London, he met with his old Peradeniya contemporary, Namel Weeramuni, who had already made his mark as a popular producer/director of stage drama in Colombo.

Unassuming gentleman

Namel was also a serious student and follower of Prof Sarathchandra. Akin to Bandes, Namel too had a burning yearning to revive Sinhala drama in London. (He still continues from the ‘Punchi Thetare’ in Borella).

In 1983, I met with Bandes in London when Namel Weeramuni produced two Sarathchandra’s Sinhala plays, Elova Gihin Melowa Ava and Raththaran and designated H H Bandara as the director of music for both plays.

Modernising his creative talents Bandes conducted music intensifying the plays into stylised drama. Persuaded by Namel and Bandes, I was thrown into the proverbial deep end in stage drama in London where I ended up in performing the beggar’s role in Elowa Gihin Melowa Awa on three consecutive evenings at the Tricycle Theatre in London, with his wife Lanka Bandara, Karuna Bodhinayake and Lilani Perera, each performing the main female character of Kaluhamy respectively. Bandes was an unassuming gentleman with two main characteristics, humility and simplicity.

Such noble qualities made him a catalyst to attract people. He published the first Sri Lankan tabloid in the UK. Was there a need to help anyone in the community, he was always there to give a helping hand, particularly to Sri Lankans. Towards the latter part of his life, he advised and educated many Sri Lankan expatriates in London on the subject of insurance, an area to some extent expatriates had a misguided notion about.

Bandes was ever willing and available at the beck of a telephone call for those who needed assistance to pledge in the process of house purchase or securing a child’s education program linked to an insurance policy.

Sri Lankan cultural and arts programs in London received a sledgehammer blow on March 7, 1998 at the demise of this blossomed flutist and music originator.

His late wife, Lanka Bandara, lost a devout and a loving husband at the time, the two daughters suffered the loss of a caring father and Sri Lankan expatriates in London bereaved at the demise of a gem of a human being whose loving memory has lingered on for 13 years to date. Those of us who attended his funeral in Upper Norwood crematorium in South East of London shed a silent tear whilst the Sinhabahu music which inspired thousands over the years sounded as a heart breaking parting knell of his final exit from our eyes.

Bandes, my dear friend, you have gone from us forever, but your memory will linger on and the music you composed and the service you rendered to your Motherland, your folk, your own culture, and your friends will live forever.

tilakfernando@yahoo.co.uk

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