Chandra Haththotuwegama

On August 4, it was three months to the day we bid our final farewell to Chandra Haththotuwegama. On that day, his family spoke of the void his death left in their hearts and no doubt his friends felt the same. But Chandra was more than the good husband, father and friend he was; he was a quiet but enormous presence in the Sri Lankan community and this is about how much the community feels that same void.

Chandra’s feeling about the community always reminded me of the philosophy of the poet John Donne ("For Whom the Bell Tolls", 1623) who wrote.

"No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."

No vibration in the community was beyond Chandra’s concern be it a celebration or a sad event. While we were typically concerned only about community problems directly affecting us, Chandra openly showed his anxiety until even a problem affecting a few was attended to. No person was insignificant to Chandra for him to be genuinely concerned about that person’s plight.

Many a time we have seen Chandra being deeply moved about, and taking an interest and action in the difficulties and problems of person who were virtually strangers.

Donne, in his poem, prayed for fairness and sharing in solutions for community problems, thus in a dispute over the ownership of the community bell; with a sect that rang it in the evening, proposing:

"We would be glad to make it ours by rising early (and ringing the bell in the morning)

That it might be ours as well as theirs, whose indeed it was."

Chandra would passionately argue and defend his position regarding a community problem, but his plea, always, was to adopt the fair and reasonable solution There was no desire in him to gain from the problem or benefit from the solution.

He was deeply disturbed and saddened by the human suffering being caused by the war back home, and he genuinely felt for the suffering of both communities. His expressions of anguish over the loss of life are echoed in this well-known line from the same poem by Donne:

"Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in the mankind."

Even during his last days, he inquired about the community and its events, its progress and its problems. He probably felt, as Donne, during his last days, thus:

"So this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness."

Nevertheless, he desired to participate in community events, which were very much a part of his life.

And then, he was gone. He told us, "be grateful for the many years... But now it’s time, I must travel alone... I won’t be far away." It was as if, Chandra, even in his death, was concerned for our grief, our loss, our well-being.

For the community, Chandra’s death adds to those pioneers who have already left us: Maurice, Conrad, Sene, Cyril, to name a few and reminds us of own fragility. The final line of Donne’s poem is for all of us:

"Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Our consolation is that Chandra, our kindest and most sincere friend, will be there, once again with his love and concern for us.
— Gamini Gunewardane
(The late Mr. Haththotuwegama was a resident of Southern California)