Sunday, April 29, 2007

GSB Rani

By Tilak S. Fernando

GSB Rani who died last week at the age of 74 was an icon in the Sinhala Radio and Silver screen. Born on 20 August 1930 and named as Gnai Sinari Benzajaya she was 'absorbed' into the musical industry in 1944, at the age of 14 when she accompanied her cousin to Colombia recording studios as a spectator. Providence, however, changed individuals and GSB ended up by cutting two Colombian records: 'Samagi Bale Paame', and " Siri Sara Bhavane, a duet with Mohideen Baig," The biggest obstacle next was to get permission from her father as he vehemently objected to the idea of using her own name. However, with a lot of persuasion an amicable agreement was reached between her father and the record company to abbreviate her name and use Rani. So she became GSB Rani, and later entered the stardom as a popular playback professional singer in Sri Lankan films and an 'A Grade' artiste at the Radio Ceylon.

From 1970 to 1977 GSB Rani worked as a Musical Programme Producer at the Radio Ceylon when Mr. Susil Munasinghe was the Chairman of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation. When the CBC took a bold decision to phase out broadcasting Sinhala songs copied from Hindi and Tamil tunes that responsibility fell on GSB Rani's shoulders, as the programme director Sinhala service. She continued to work in that capacity for seven years recruiting many new singers and promoting original Sinhala tunes through Nanada Malini, Edward Jayakody, Victor Ratnayake, T.M.Jayaratne, Priya Sooriyasena, Mala Bulathsinghala, Abeywardhana Balasooriya to name a few. During her tenure she was successful in recording over 7000 new Sinhala original songs of these artiste's until she fell prey to a poison pen by a jealous element within the Radio Ceylon. It ruined her career for many years to come. Consequently, she was ostracised as a singer by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation for 15 years and Radio Ceylon building itself became out of bounds for her. In 1994 under the PA administration she was brought back to the limelight as a Director of the Independent Television under special instructions from President Chandrika Kumaratunge Bandaranaike. She held that position until 2001.

GSB Rani celebrated her 60th professional anniversary in Sri Lankan musical industry (Parama Ramani concert) in February 2004 from the Bandaranaike Memorial Hall. Immediately afterwards, she did her maiden tour to London in March and participated in Swarna Gee concert organised by Hela Sarana Charity. Inspired by her fans that thronged to the Camden Town Hall to capacity she commented, " I feel like I have come to see my own children in London after so long! Having been trodden under a heavy political boot and raising her head again after fifteen long years she declared in London that she 'bounced back once again from the Bandaranaike Hall in February 2004' and her second journey in her professional path had just begun from London, at the age of 74! When she spoke those emotional words she was determined to catch up with the lost years in her musical career but unfortunately providence served with a sledge hammer blow quite unexpectedly in September, letting down her wider circle of fans, when she had to answer the final call from above.

During her accomplished career in the Sri Lankan cultural scene GSB Rani contributed to Sri Lankan drama by appearing as Mandri Devi in J.D.A. Perera's Wessanthara , Premila Queen in Upali Wanasinghe's Daskon and the main role in Rodi Kella stage plays. She sang most of her duet songs with the most well known singers in Sri Lanka, such as Mohideen Baig, Dharmadasa Walpola, H. R. Jothipala, Sirira Senaratne, N. Karunaratne and W. Prematilleka. In London GSB Rani created history by singing a duet with Isaq Mohideen Baig, the son of the late Mohideen Baig and became the only female singer in Sri Lanka who had shared the microphone with singers of two generations, particularly with the father and son combination.

Gnai Sinari Benzajaya became GSB Rani Perera after her marriage to Anton Perera. Influenced by her brother-in-law, Politician, R. S. Perera, she dabbled in Sri Lankan politics, and became a staunch SLFP supporter and an all Island organiser of the women's wing of the Party . In 1967 she contested the Municipality elections to represent Milagiriya Ward on the SLFP ticket and lost by 448 votes. Becoming a political target and treating her election defeat as only a pitch and toss game, GSB Rani continued 45 years of her life in politics unaffected but only with her strong convictions and political ideology. Naturally she had to pay a heavy price for it, which once lost her lucrative career at the Radio Ceylon. In recognition of her extended service and life long dedication to the SLFP, President Chandrika Bandaranayke Kumaratune, who was the leader of the People Alliance, included GSB Rani's name in the National List of MPs during the recent general election; she narrowly missed the opportunity of becoming a nominated member of parliament in the Sandhanaya Administration.

Born as Malay and married to a Sinhala Catholic she not only became a Buddhist but also managed to convince her husband and her three children also to become Buddhists.

As a direct result of GSB Rani's intervention and relentless efforts in persuading the Director General of the CBC, amidst a lot of bureaucratic stone walls, she managed to install a young Buddhist priest at the Radio Ceylon for a Dhamma Chinthawak programme. The young priest was effective and became very popular with the listening audiences. Soon by popular demand the Radio Ceylon hierarchy had to allocate a permanent slot for this young monk for Radio Bana programmes, which hallmarked as his first Buddhist sermon on the radio.

GSB Rani was so thrilled with her achievement in her campaign to install this young priest at the Radio Ceylon. Subsequently when this popular young priest ordained to Upa Sampada status, he took the name Panadure Ariya Dhamma Thero who became a household name throughout the country as an effective preacher and an authority on performing Bodhi Pujas. Finally the Director General of the SLBC congratulated and complimented GSB Rani for her determined efforts and fighting spirits by saying " Rani you are not only good in selecting singers but you are pretty good at selecting Buddhist priests also for the radio." Venn. Pandora Aria Damma Thero respected her, thanked her and treated her like his own mother and even addressed her calling' amme'. In London GSB Rani told me whenever anyone calls her 'amme' she could not help but her mind went straight back to the memory of Panadure Ariya Dhamma Thero.

I was privileged to meet with my school days idol in London after many years. During a media interview she told me, "Sonny, if you believe in Buddhism you will never go wrong in life' which kept on resonating in my ears constantly. Now that GSB Rani has left us leaving only the memories, good deeds of her and her voice on magnetic tapes as the only 'living' symbol of her existence on this earth for us to remember, I am certain that she has peacefully gone on the chosen path where she thought it would take her. May her attain nibbana.

Tilak S. Fernando

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dhammika Priyadharshani

She did it

With determination as her only guide, Dhammika blind from birth, faces the challenges in life

By Wathsala Mendis - Sunday Times Jun 20 1999

Dhammika PriyadarshaniWalking with quick, sure steps along the long corridor, she appears within seconds of our arrival; greets us with a friendly nod and waves us to sit in front of her on the parapet. God has blessed her with good looks and a cheerful, infectious smile. At first glance, everything about her seems fine. Then you realise that Dhammika Priyadarshani is blind. She has been sightless from birth.

Her agility, naturally, comes as a surprise to us. "This is like a second home to me. I know my way around here," she explains, with a wave of her hand, towards the school premises.

She was five when she first walked the grounds of the Ratmalana School for the Blind, clinging to her father's hand. Born into a family of two brothers and a sister, all elder than her and all with twenty-twenty vision, Dhammika realised at a young age that life was not going to be easy. But instead of brooding on her misfortune, she decided to meet the enormous challenge head-on.

With her father's meagre income as a labourer at the Electricity Board barely sufficient to feed the family, she found the school which provided board and education free, a haven. There she learnt one of the most important lessons in her life: that blindness was no tragedy, that she should be able to stand on her own feet instead of expecting somebody to always wait on her.

Ahead of her lay long years of toil. But Dhammika knew if she were to try and fit into 'normal' society, she would have to brave it all and get a good education. Proving her worth as the 'family's pride,' she went on to excel in her studies. She got through her G.C.E. (O/L) with flying colours, earning a scholarship to Ladies' College, Colombo to do the A/L. All well and good. But paying the four-figure boarding fees and tuition fees was beyond her parents' means. When she told the principal of her difficulty, she was exempted from the former. As for tuition, it was simply out of the question. She never complained. And when the results were released in 1990, she had qualified to enter university in the arts stream.

During the three year period before starting university, Dhammika joined the Vocational Training Programme at the school, receiving a monthly allowance of Rs. 500. There she gained invaluable experience and guidance in teaching which was to become her future profession.

Once she entered university, Dhammika found herself in a new predicament. Nothing could have prepared her for what lay ahead. From the very beginning she found it difficult to keep pace with other students in taking down notes on her braille slate. Hence she had to settle for a braille-writer, provided by the university. But it was so noisy that others found it a distraction. So she had to record the lectures in toto on free cassette tapes provided by the 'Talking Book Library' of the Sri Lanka Council for the Blind. At night she would replay them and take notes on her braille-writer.

One blind student was entitled to only five tapes a year which, of course, was totally inadequate. Some days the lectures would go on for about three, four hours and there were times that they had four or five lectures a day. This meant she had to work extra hard to finish the workload on that day itself so that the tapes would be ready for the following day's lectures. The pressure was too much, she admits, but she refused to give in.

Towards the end of her third year, she had qualified to specialize in all three subjects of her choice: Sinhala, Sociology, and History. Faculty advisers reasoned with her when she opted for Sinhala and then sociology, pointing out the difficulties she would have to encounter. So she settled for history, something more within her capabilities.

In April 1998 she graduated from the University of Kelaniya with an upper second class degree. Tears of joy streamed down her face as she walked up to accept her certificate. Yes, she had made it! She had done the impossible. Today she teaches at the Ratmalana School for the Blind as a volunteer and is awaiting the approval of the Ministry of Education to be absorbed into the permanent staff.

Dhammika could easily have given into despair. But she didn't. With sheer grit and calm confidence, she stayed the course. Bravo, girl.

We're proud of you!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Christobelle Enid Oorloff

Christobelle Enid Oorloff

on her 97th birthday - 03 July 2004

My association with Mrs. Chritobelle Oorloff dates back to just over three months (3 months and 7 days to be exact) before she was called to eternal rest on 17th September 2004. It is over a month and more since and as I reflect back on my brief association with her, a sense of amazement envelops me.

My first meeting with Mrs. Oorloff was on June 10th this year, when I visited her at St. Nikolaas’ Home down Sri Saranankara Road, Dehiwala. On entering her room, my eyes surveyed the surroundings. Placed neatly on a table by her bedside were many books and next to these a pile of National Geographic magazines. After all, many people do read such stuff and it is nothing significant. But at age 96 years and 11 months aided by a magnifying glass! This really astonished me.

She looked frail. The Home’s matron told me that Mrs. Oorloff was a little hard of hearing and that one had to speak close to her ear softly. The matron then took me to her bedside and said, “auntie…. one of Gillian’s friends have come to see you”. I was with my son and daughter who had visited her previously. I then introduced myself and told her that I had met Gillian (Leembruggen – her niece) in Melbourne earlier that month.

Since then, I used to go to the home as often as time permitted. Each visit was pleasant and she used to relate various episodes of her halcyon days. One such was her brief sojourn in Jaffna during the days of World War II. “Cedric (Oorloff her late husband who was Principal of Wesley and then Trinity College during the 50s / 60s) was in the civil service and was Deputy Principal Collector of Customs. During the war days, when rationing was first introduced in Ceylon, he was transferred to Jaffna to implement the scheme.”

She continued, in between chuckles of laughter, “when the bombs began falling in Colombo, the Deputy Collector ran away and Cedric had to be brought back here do this work”. During each visit, a different anecdote would follow dating back to 50 years or more. Her memory certainly was fantastic.

July 3rd this year was very significant. It was Mrs. Oorloff’s 97th Birthday. Armed with a flower arrangement of red roses to be presented on behalf of Gillian, I made my way to the Home. There she was, lying in bed in a pretty pink dress with the bed-sheet and pillowcases too of matching pink. I wished and kissed her and said that the flowers were from Gillian. She made me place these on the table by her bedside and said how beautiful these were. She had a birthday treat comprising cake, chocolates, and sweets ready to be served to visitors with ginger beer to wash these down. She was beaming gaily and looked a pretty picture on this birthday, which turned out to be her last.

Mrs. Oorloff was a fine lady. One among the lasting impressions she left in me was that anybody can grow older and it doesn’t take any talent or ability. She gave me the feeling that the idea is to grow up, by always finding the opportunity in change. This she demonstrated amply by her actions. She was a storehouse of knowledge and it’s a pity that the many anecdotes she had could not be chronicled for posterity. She was well liked by all other ladies at St. Nikolaas’ Home and many were the times they would take their trivial problems to her. Mrs. Oorloff was always gracious when proffering advice to whomsoever came to her.

It was my good fortune and privilege that I met Gillian in Melbourne and through her Mrs. Oorloff. To the very end Mrs. Oorloff displayed tremendous courage and had no regrets. She lived a full life and epitomised that the elderly usually don't have regrets for what they did, but rather for things they did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets. She had no fear of death even in the final moments. I observed this when visiting the Home the day prior to her demise. Intrusive medical investigation was taking it’s toll on her with the onset of pain and trauma. She was calling out to Jesus to "take her"!!. And this Jesus did the following day when she passed away peacefully at high noon, with Gillian by her side. Amazingly, a few moments before this, Bishop Swithin Fernando had been with her at prayer! On completion of the prayers and even before the Bishop could reach the front door of the home, she breathed her last.

To have known Mrs. Oorloff certainly enriched my life as she shared some of her great wisdom and experience with me. In the final analysis, she died peacefully.... the same way she lived. I did not know her before at all, but when my colleague at Royal College, Dick Siebel told me that it was former Trinity College Principal, Late Mr. Cedric Oorloff’s wife, I certainly did want to meet her. Having played rugby for Royal College in the Bradby Shield games of 1966, I was introduced to Mr. Oorloff by our then Principal, Late Mr. Dudley K.G. de Silva at the Bradby second leg game in Kandy. So, a bond had already been in place one score and 18 years ago which manifested into my association, albeit briefly, with this grand lady. To us rugby players of both schools (Royal and Trinity), there is some special affinity binding us. Thus, when Gillian told me to look up Mrs. Oorloff, how could I refuse? I am glad I did not.

Goodbye Mrs. Oorloff! May the Good Lord shower eternal bliss on you.

– Branu Rahim

James Arthur Scharenguivel


A hundred and more years ago James Arthur Scharenguivel, ILLUSTRIOUS THOMIAN CAPTAIN OF 1898, from the prominent Scharenguivel family of Kalutara, played in and for Scotland soon after he left college. He became the FIRST CEYLONESE to play for a FOREIGN COUNTRY. So little is known about Scharenguivel, so little written about one who must have truly been one of our great cricketers and like so many others, an unsung hero.

How good was James Arthur Scharenguivel? This question can only be answered by looking at the limited writings, of some that saw him play, and others who have written about him at infrequent intervals. I do know that his batting record in Royal – Thomian matches was not significant but he did capture 19 wkts in the three matches he bowled including a match bag of 11 wkts. He was CAPTAIN OF THE FIRST EVER COMBINED COLLEGES XI IN 1898.

The erudite, articulate Leonard Arndt wrote in the 1951 S Thomas’ College Centenary number a most interesting paragraph in a lyrical, colourful article: GREAT THOMIAN CRICKETERS -

“I pass swiftly to our greatest name: Scharenguivel the Magnificent. Heard for the first time in 1894, it has reverberated for half a century having been heard also in Scotland and Malaya. Still going strong, Scharenguivel remains our wonder while with the modest charm of greatness he helps the school at Gurutalawa. Names dwarfed by his scale are: Julian Heyzer, C. Orr, O. G. d’Alwis, the Edirisinghe brothers, the Abeykoon brothers.

When ArthurScharenguivel left as Cricket Captain he was the best all round player in Ceylon. He had made 77 against the Colts; he had bowled 8 wickets of the Colombo Club for 24 runs and again 7 for 25. In 1897 and 1898 from 18 innings he got a batting average of 52, and in bowling he took 77 wickets with an average of 4. Within a few months of arrival in Scotland he was in the British News.

Just as the habitat of the balls he hit with grace and ease was the tops of the trees beyond the verges, so he continued to top the averages (once it was 47) in Aberdeen while he studied medicine. He figured in International games though not against England by a mischance.

Douglas de Saram stood for election as Captain with Scharenguivel. Rarely is a syzygy of two such brilliant stars seen. Beau Douglas (as a later generation was bound to have styled him) more sturdily but less generously built eclipsed his rival in some respects. At any rate he was nearer our time and always in our eye, for he remained in Ceylon”

The hugely built Scharenguivel the Magnificent and the debonair Beau Douglas – what a duo they must have been as schoolboys annihilating Royal in the only two “Big Matches” they played together. What a tragedy they were not seen playing together in maturity, combining to demolish our Colonial mentors! What a tragedy so few have been made aware of his contribution to our rich cricket history. As F. L. Goonewardena has stated in his memoirs “They were unquestionably the greatest pair ever turned out by a Ceylon School.”

S. P. Foenander, the doyen of our cricket historians, in his classic history – SIXTY YEARS OF CEYLON CRICKET 1863 – 1923 had this to say. ”Dr. J. A. Scharenguivel has claims to rank as one of the six greatest cricketers Ceylon has ever produced. In his school days at S. Thomas’ he enjoyed a remarkable reputation as an all round cricketer, and before he left school he had the honour of playing in representative cricket for the Colts against the Europeans. His achievements with bat and ball at S. Thomas’ were such as to stamp him as an exceptionally gifted cricketer. As a schoolboy he equalled the record for the highest score ever made, up to that time, against the Colts. After leaving school he studied medicine at Aberdeen University and while in Scotland he shone both as a brilliant left hand batsman and a deadly left-hand bowler. He was INVITED BY A. C. MACLAREN TO PLAY FOR LANCASHIRE, and was qualifying for that honour, when he was called away to the Far East by the serious illness of his father. In Singapore he has proved himself one of the greatest all round cricketers that the Straits have ever had.

S. P. Foenander’s book was published in 1924, long before Dr. Scharenguivel came back to his native land in the late 1920s.

The recent (1999) Janashakthi Book of Sri Lanka Cricket compiled by S. S. Perera reveals more and records that Scharenguivel was CAPTAIN OF THE FIRST COMBINED COLLEGES XI – “The first time a Combined Colleges XI was raised to play the powerful Colts CC was in 1898. J. A. Scharenguivel of S Thomas’ Mutwal, captained the schoolboy team. The others in the team were D. L. de Saram and C. E. Arndt (S. Thomas), M. L. Warish and C. L. Wickramasinghe (Wesley), C. H. K. Scharenguivel, F. A. Obeysekera, A. W. Beven and E. Weerasooriya (Royal), J. Fernando and C. O. de Silva (St. Joseph’s). The Scores: Colleges XI 99 and 136 for 6 (Scharenguivel 77 not out, the highest score against the Colts up to that time) drew with Colts CC – 194 (Scharenguivel 5 for 38). The match was played at Galle Face”.

The Janashakti book further records that THE FIRST CEYLONESE CRICKET PROFESSIONAL, THOMIAN ALFRED HOLSINGER, (Ceylon’s fastest bowler) and probably the first “coloured cricket pro” was performing great feats in English League Cricket in1902, when another old S Thomas’ boy, James Arthur Scharenguivel, was proving equally efficient with the bat (left-hand) and ball (left-arm) for Aberdeenshire in Scottish County Cricket.

Scharenguivel scored THE FIRST CENTURY BY A CEYLONESE OVERSEAS. Scharenguivel returned to Ceylon in the late 1920s and played for the Kalutara Town Club and the Nondescript CC. In the last years of his life he migrated to Australia and passed away there in his 90th year. In 1938 when he was 58 he opened the batting for the NCC with

D. Vollenhoven an 18 year old from Royal. In 1940 he represented the Kalutara Town Club in the Daily News Trophy Tournament. Kalutara Town club in 1938 were the winners of the inaugural Daily News Trophy Tournament, the first organised cricket tournament in Ceylon.

Neil Leitch and Tim Lamb (prominent cricket administrators in U K) have revealed to me that one of the Aberdeenshire club histories notes the following: -.

“J A Scharenguivel was a noted player with Aberdeenshire.

Although Aberdeen University had long been a rich source of talent for Aberdeenshire C C, 1899 introduced a fresh vein with the introduction at Mannofield of overseas student cricketers. The first of these was J. A. Scharenguivel, a native of Ceylon, who for 7 seasons proved himself to be one of the most talented left-handed bats in the Club's history. In each of his best seasons (1899, 1903 & 1904) his runs aggregate exceeded 500, while in each of the other years his contribution was such that he finished in the top five in the Club. In the light of such batting success, it seems strange that he had been recommended to the Club as a bowler, a role in which he produced only slightly less formidable results, still, however, taking well over 100 wickets for the Club.

The history also confirms his score of 105* against Stirling County in1902. He also scored 7 50s in Scottish County matches and once took 5 wickets in an innings. Scharenguivel does not however appear on the list of Scottish Cricket Caps as he never played in any recognised as a full Scotland game. He did however play for "15 of Scotland" in July 1905 against Australia. The match was played at West of Scotland's ground in Partick, Glasgow, Scharenguivel scoring 15 & 5. The match against South Africa may have been in 1901 when the tourists travelled to the North of Scotland to play R Williams Aberdeenshire XI and also Aberdeenshire”.

Dr .J. A. Scharenguivel became one of the leading cricketers in the Straits Settlements and did play against a visiting Australian side led by Monty Noble, (the then current and famous Captain of Australia) in November 1909 on the Singapore Padang. Unfortunately he failed to score in that match. The Singapore Matches had other players, N. E. Grenier, A. W. Beven and Martensz who surely must also have been Ceylonese. The Australian visitors had with them Warwick Armstrong (subsequently a remarkable Captain of Australia), Albert Cotter (the fastest bowler of his time), Frank Laver and A. J. W. Hopkins. I am indebted to Imran Khwaja of Singapore for the material he has provided about Scharenguivel in Singapore.

Many of this huge family migrated to all corners of the globe. Despite this, from those who were left, many figure prominently in our sports history. A very close relative, (half brother or young uncle) Albert Julian Richard Scharenguivel played for STC from 1899 - 1901 and subsequently went on to hold high office in the PWD. Cousin C. H. K. Scharenguivel, an outstanding wicket-keeper for Royal (1897 – 98). Lloyd Scharenguivel, an uncle but younger than James Arthur played for STC in 1904. Lloyd’s eldest grandson Wyvill Captained the water polo and swimming teams and coached at STC in the late ‘50s.

CHK’s granddaughter Deanna married the record-breaking batsman Ronnie Reid; grandson Cecil was a prominent schoolboy athlete in the late ‘50s. The distinguished Thomian tennis player Rupert Ferdinands and Royalist cricketer and ruggerite, Lorensz Pereira were mothered by younger cousins of James Arthur.

The Scharenguivel dynasty lives on, young cousin Hugh, schooled in Kalutara, was an enormously successful bowler for Kalutara Town Club playing a huge part (88 wkts in 11 matches) in the Daily News Trophy triumph of 1938. Present Sri Lanka Captain Marvan Attapattu and his cousin Marlon Von Hagt are direct descendants of James Arthur through their grandmother. Incidentally their grandfather Adrian Francke was a member of the winning 1938 Kalutara Town Club side. Douglas Scharenguivel, Ceylon Davis Cup player who played regularly at Wimbledon and won the West of England Tennis title was a young cousin.

Apart from his cricket exploits Dr. James Arthur was a prominent public figure and according to Mr. R. D. P. Gunewardena of Kalutara “Burly Dr. Scharenguivel, a nominated member of the Kalutara U. C. was a Medical Practitioner who rendered his service reasonably and dedicated to common people living in and around Kalutara without monetary considerations. When he heard about the railway disaster of Katukurunda in 1928 he at once rushed to the spot to treat casualties.”

It appears that he lived in the Bandarawela area for some time during World War Two as the History of the Gurutalawa School states that “Dr J. A. Scharenguivel offered his services free of charge as the College Doctor. He has always been willing to come to help us at any hour of the day or night. It is impossible to express adequately the debt of gratitude the boys of the Branch owe to him.”

It is almost impossible for us who have followed in the footsteps of giants to adequately express our gratitude for the example and inspiration they have set.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Deshabandu Dr. Wimala de Silva



DE SILVA - DESHABANDU DR (MRS) WIMALA (Former Chancellor of Sri Jayewardenepura University, founder Principal of Devi Balika Vidyalaya, former Principal of Maliyadeva Girls' School, Kurunegala and Princess of Wales College, Moratuwa). Beloved wife of the late Dr S.L. De Silva and sister of the late Mr P.M. Jayatilaka, passed away peacefully. Cortege leaves residence at 4.30 p.m. on Thursday the 19th April. Cremation at General Cemetery, Borella. No flowers by request. 26, Swarnadisi Place, off Koswatte Road, Nawala, Rajagiriya. DN Tue Apr 17 2007


Grief, is a selfish thing, some claim. We grieve cos WE lose. Not the one who passed away.

I was swelled with grief, this morning too, when I scanned the obits in the DN & DM to find that Deshabandu Dr. Wimala de Silva (nee Jayatilaka), former Chancellor Sri Jayawardenapura University (1983-2000), had passed away, yesterday.

Although she was much older to me, by 28 years, I remembered the wonderful Sundays in the Seventies, when a few of us young chaps, friends of her maternal first cousin, Lal de Silva (ex Ananda College, now living in Toronto, Canada), gathered at her beautiful home in Koswatte to play Bridge with her and her wonderful husband, the late Dr Luxman de Silva, ex Chairman State Rubber Manufacturing Corporation and ex President Insitute of Engineers Sri Lanka, who passed away in 1992.

Her humor, her laughter, her intelligence, and her beautiful conversation, mixed with the humongous hospitality that she showered upon us, young men, which included a grand Sunday lunch cooked in typical Sinhala style, is something I find very hard to forget.

It is more than 30 years since I last saw her but the fact that she has always been someone whom I have admired immensely, for her magnificent manners and charming character, will always linger in my heart and mind.

I wanted to so much to try and see her in 2006, when I was down in Colombo on a short vacation, but failed on account of busy schedules and family commitments. It hurts me so much that I didn't make the effort and take the time to call on her just to say hello.

Now I grieve, so sadly. Yes I do. I grieve for myself. That is the basic essence of grief, I think?

They dont make people like her, anymore.

May she be in splendor wherever she has gone to.

Fazli Sameer, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Tue Apr 17 2007

The lessons of a father:

Dr. Wimala de Silva's childhood

By Roshan Peiris

She grew up with her father to guide her, in an old world house in Negombo. Her mother had died when she was five years old. Her father, a practising Buddhist, sent his only daughter (there was also a son) to a little village Buddhist school which he helped to build and manage.

In the village school, her best friends were the vegetable amme's daughter and the labourer's daughter with whom she sat on the school bench together.

Dr. Wimala de Silva Chancellor of the Sri Jayewardenapura University and the first and only woman Chancellor in Sri Lanka says it was her father's influence that taught her one must not look down on people because they were deprived.

Dr. de Silva recalls, "Ours was a traditional Sinhala home where even my aunts did not sit at table with my father. It was also a hospitable home where all were welcome to stay or have a meal. To me as a young child I valued tradition, for it gave me a sense of belonging and security and a tranquil home.

"My father was Eastern oriented and my aunts who attended Newstead, Negombo were Western oriented and so early in my life I came under the influence of two different cultures.

"I read Sinhala books since my father did so and English books and Latin because of my aunts. I think my father was a very tactful person and in a way a good psychologist. He once found me trying to fix a piece of lace for my underskirt and asked why I was doing this. Why do you want this? Who will notice it and how much does it cost? I replied that it cost fifty cents a yard. He told me rice was five cents a measure and one can buy 10 measures of rice for that money.

"He thus taught me relative values at an early age. It was done tactfully and gently with no scolding."

On another occasion while at Newstead, Dr. de Silva recalled the visit of Tagore's troupe.

"Our dancing teacher Gem Paulickpulle had told us about oriental dancing and we were going to be taken for the performance. But when I told my father he reminded me a teacher from my first village school was getting married on the same day and she would feel very hurt if I did not attend the wedding. I was very unhappy about it but now in retrospect I am glad that as a teenager I was given two lessons in life. One not to hurt people and second to get one's priorities straight. These lessons have stood me in good stead.

"At school as a bright student I was chosen to do Western classics. All very well, said my father as long as you do not forget or neglect the value of your mother tongue. So, I always kept up with my Sinhala which has undoubtedly helped me.'

'I did well in my Cambridge Senior and when my aunts and I were jubilant wanting to celebrate, my father said, don't be boastful and invite envy- another good lesson. On his death bed he told a fellow ayurvedic physician Mudaliyar S. B. A. Samarasinghe to please look after his pupils, particularly the youngest of them. He said he was happy to die, having built a free ayurvedic dispensary for everyone irrespective of race or caste. Until his end he taught me the salutary lesson of selflessness.

"I learnt at school, the ideals of simplicity, responsibility and concern for others. The Methodist Missionary school is very firm about instilling these values .I still recall and cherish Miss Dixon the principal, who in one of her prize day speeches said we are sending from Newstead girls who find happiness in simple things, dependable girls who put their conscience into their work and girls who can take responsibility. This is something that has stayed with me.

"My husband Dr. S.L. de Silva always told me whatever we buy for the house must be functional. We must not buy to keep up with the Joneses. He also wanted to build a house in a rural setting so that we could live a quiet life with no pretences.

"He also asked me not to wear ostentatious jewellery for he felt it was in bad taste. These are the influences he had on me."

At the University Mrs. Silva sat for English honours and while there inculcated a measure of independence.

Today our first woman Chancellor lives in her beautiful house with a large garden and says humbly it was all because of the influences in her early life which set her values.