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112th birth anniversary fell on November 3:

Prof Gunapala Malalasekera - ‘his habit of giving never depleted us’

Fond recollections of my father:

Fathers are very different to mothers. There is some thing inherently special about them, the myth of a father as patriarch, apparently invulnerable and in control, is one of our most powerful beliefs. Forty years after his death, I remember my father as totally special. The academician and philosopher admired by many in the world around him, enthralled his family whenever he embraced us with his warm smile and humour. He was an affectionate man in his own way, always gentle and charming.

Successful man

Most often it was around the dinner table that we had the most time with him. His tales of wisdom were always stories with powerful imagery, related to enhance our imagination and enliven our education about the world around us. If only our childhood fantasies had less importance and we had all listened more intently. He talked to us about his impoverished childhood, his desire to learn new things and to instill in us the same yearnings. What mage glow-worms glow he would ask, or the stars to twinkle. He was a naturally gifted teacher and whoever listened to his wisdom had some thing to learn.


Prof Gunapala Malalasekera

My father’s humble origins gave him a gift for compassion and giving. We should give as we receive, he told us cheerfully, quickly and without hesitation. For, there was no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers. His generosity frequently angered my mother who believed my father was a thoughtless donor to many an undeserving recipient. We were happy that his giving never depleted us, as he always gave us special treats on many occasions. Dinner at a Chinese restaurant and ice cream at Kreme House, when he got a little extra money from a radio talk.

His love for our mother was especially endearing. She was always his ‘Darling Dimples’.

He firmly believed that behind every successful man was a comforting woman.

He would joke however, that a woman could be more charming if one could fall into her arms and not into her hands. Age never took a toll on his humour.

Mysticism and spirituality

My father was mostly content with his university career. His one great desire, however, was the honour of being its Vice Chancellor, which was unfortunately denied to him.

The announcement came on the day of my sister Chitra’s wedding. I asked my father if he was disappointed.

He believed that every thing has a purpose and nothing happens without a reason. There was no hint of sadness, nor a sigh. Soon after, he was appointed as Sri Lanka’s first Ambassador to the Soviet Union.

As we grew older, I realized his deep interest in mysticism and spirituality. Buddhist philosophy was central to his life. I recollect the incident of a man shot dead - politically motivated - very close to our embassy in Moscow, and the apparent guilt of those involved. This made my father comment on regret, guilt and remorse and the three things never given back to man - the spoken word, the past deed and the neglected opportunity.

It was in Moscow that he would tell me about his sensitivity to things spiritual. His deep love for his own mother, and how he could ‘sense’ her need for him. At her passing in Sri Lanka, my mother, father and I were intent on our reading in the lounge of the Embassy. We heard the distinctive ringing of a bell around us, arousing our curiosity with no explanation for this unusual sound. We learned later that the bell sounded at the exact time of my grandmother’s death in Sri Lanka.

Classical music

My wedding in Moscow caused a bit of anxiety at our decision to model the Poruwa in the form of a lotus. It was to be constructed by a Russian artisan with no knowledge of the flower or its significance. I remember my father’s explanation to him. The beautiful flower that rises up and blossoms free from the mud in which it is born, yet unsoiled from it. And how it could be adopted to human life, our capacity to rise above obstacles and sufferings and bloom untainted.

My father’s unusual attire in Moscow always aroused a great deal of curiosity. So did his views on non-alcoholism, the Buddhist attitude on taking of life, and if animal life could be compared to that of plants, with plants experiencing same animal emotions. He replied that he had never twisted a plant around him to know the difference! Always a quick riposte to an answer yet unknown.

In Moscow, he developed a love for the ballet, and a greater appreciation for classical music.

He would listen to the compositions from Swan Lake and very occasionally comment on the musical abilities of his first wife who died young. Perhaps, there were painful memories he did not want to elaborate. In contrast, when I listened to the flamboyant strains of ‘Stupid Cupid’ - popular at the time, he would shake his head in disbelief that this could be music. Because of these memories, ‘Stupid Cupid’ still remains one of my favourites.

To us his family, my father was indeed special. To the world, he was but one - but special all the same. Deepest feelings are almost always shown only in silence (Buddhist Times November, 2011).

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