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