Saturday Magazine
The Language Lobby
Twin Happiness — resounding slap on all chauvinists

Dr. P. R. Anthonis recorded his deep appreciation in a foreword to Deshabandu Edith Fernando’s latest book, "Twin Happiness". As he wrote, "Twins, tripletsBy Carl Muller

, quadruplets, sextuplets have been reported in every country — twins being the commonest." Even as I write, there is before me a news report of the birth of a second set of triplets within a period of three months, at the Hambantota Base Hospital. The doctors told the press that a triplet delivery occurs only once in 6,400 normal deliveries.

Multiple birth is not all that extraordinary and the human animal is not all that special either, come to think of it. As a boy, I remember how our Airedale bitch "Bess" presented us with 14 pups and a woefully inadequate set of dugs to milk them all. The hullaballoo was unbelievable. All the neighbours trooped in to look at Bess’ sad eyes, then suggest a sort of queue system, bottle feeding, teat rotation and other weird suggestions including the services of a canine wet-nurse!

Anyway, Deshabandu Edith, filled with the sort of energy that is reserved for the old and memory-laden, decided to record the incidence of twin births in her own family line. She was spurred to make such record upon hearing of the birth of the Millennium triplets — Rushmi, Eranga and Pubasan, born in the first hour of year 2000 at the Castle Street Hospital. The mother, Eresha Dilrukshi, was sixteen. Edith decided that part of the proceeds of her book be donated to the triplets. She began collecting records. Nine families connected to her late grandfather, Jacob de Mel had, had twins. The period covered 87 years and as she writes: "Our grandparents, Jacob and Helena de Mel had ‘as many descendants as there are stars in the sky.’"

Deeply religious, most conventional and cultured, Edith quotes the Bible with much facility and recalls the first twins born to Isaac and Rebekah — Esau and Jacob — the two nations that struggled in the mother’s womb. Significantly, the Biblical name Jacob was also given to Edith’s grandfather who was not only a devout Christian but also (as his grandson Deva Suriya Sena said) a "true Sinhala in his living and thinking".

It is also interesting to know of the strong Portuguese train. Edith’s family of the Laksapathiya Mahavidanelage de Mel clan, trace back to Samuel de Mello and Dominga de Soisa who married in 1691. Tracing down the generations, one sees the strong emphasis on Portuguese names and their gradual ‘Sinhalisation’ with the dropping of the ‘Don’ and ‘Done’ as the family became all-within the all-Sinhala fabric of the land.

This is where the book becomes, to me, specially relevant. The record of twin births; the research into multiple births, the many interesting notes on such, drawn from many sources, are useful and vastly informative, but they tend to mask the most important message of all: that we, as the sons and daughters of Sri Lanka, remain as the one great inheritance of all — our country!

I think Edith had this in her mind all along. There is pride in family; the emphasis on Christian ethics and wisdom, the sense of true belonging to past and present; but all this would have little meaning if the acceptance of one’s true ‘Lank an-ness’ is not there. This is where the book issues its most important lesson — that we are one people and, in the end, the only true faith that will take us to the stars and beyond, is that we are a true national family.

Edith has done the right thing in telling us of her ancestral line. We should all be aware of the blood that flows in us — but in her enthusiasm and, shall I say, sense of commitment to record the incidence of twin births in her family and draw historical and social parallels, she has not firmly emphasized the underlying message that like her’s, thousands and thousands of families in this country could look at their own blood lines and know that a million colonial transfusions have not made them any less Sri Lank an that what they are today. Why, even the Bandaranaike family of Horagolla are not without Indian and Portuguese influence.

"Twin Happiness" is both informative, informative and enlightening, but what struck me in the author’s preface, are the strong Christian principles she upholds on home and family. Edith had faithfully kept to her role as "the sun of the family". I would like to quote her if only to remind those strange people with "other ideas" that the rocks and pillars of this country’s social stability do not rise where there are such aberrations as burning bras and knickerless Nicklebys.

"As you walk in step along the same path of life, united in your minds and hearts, the tranquillity of your spirit is not disturbed but rather renewed and expanded. You will be happy within your own home; you find no darkness; there, your family has its own sun — your wife.

"Yes, the wife and mother is the sun of the family. With generosity and devotion, with constant readiness, she watches over and provides for everything that helps to make life happy for her husband and children. She radiates light and warmth. It is usually said that a marriage is successful when each spouse strives from the beginning, to insure not its own but its partner’s happiness. Although these noble sentiments concern both parties, it is the chief virtue of the wife who is born with a mother’s instinct, a heart full of wisdom — that wisdom which gives joy for, bitterness, dignity and respect for humiliation — like the sun which dispels the morning mists at daybreak and gilds the clouds at its setting.

"The wife is the sun of the family with her bright look and the warmth of her words which sweetly pierce the soul, moves and softens it, raises it above the tumult of passions, welcomes the husband to the delights of family conversation after his long and hard day at the office. Her eyes flash, a world of meaning, and one word bespeaks a world of affection.

"The wife is the sun of the family by reason of her natural candour and her serious Christian bearing. Delicate, refined, tactful, she has the grace of an exotic yet simple flower that opens its petals to receive and reflect the light of the sun.

"If you only know what profound feelings of love and gratitude such an image of a mother arouses and imprints upon the heart upon the father and the children! May the guardian angels of that home, who listen to prayers, shower heaven’s perfumes on such a home of Christian happiness."

The above, and the twin-packed data that follows, makes this book a good read but it is what lies, unsaid, between the lines that is the key to it all.

Shakespeare fathered twins. George and Laura Bush had twins. And take the nine families of the Jacob de Mel line: Seelavani Wijeyewardene, wife of Ray, is Rohini de Mel’s twin. Shirani and Shiromi and the twins of Sirini and Sago; Iromi and Gihan are the twins of Irene and Gamini Salgado; Anjana and Nirupa are the twins of Ilika and Chandra Karunaratne, Viran and Shiran are the twins of Mala and Gehan Salgado, Wangdue and Jigme de Silva are the twins of Tenzin and Chulaka; Jared and Brittany and Sherine and Lysandra are the two sets of twins of Mark and Dayanthi Bonarius; Naya and Anya Weerasuriya are the twins of Yohan and Nishka.

We see how the family enriched the blood line — oriental, Mediterranean, Eastern and Western What does that do? Does it all make Edith less of a Lank an? Dos it make the two beautiful girls, Lysandra and Sherine Bonarius wholly Australian? Their mother, Dayanthi Fernando, will always be "the sun of the family" and its true Lank an sun as well!

This book is indeed a resounding slap to the face of all jingoists, chauvinists and those of the intolerant fringe who peddle their own racial hatreds and animosities. I would ask readers to add it to their collections if only to know this one important truth. It is not really necessary to shout from the rooftops of what we are. It is more worthwhile, as true Lankans, to recognize inside of us, who we are — and with that, realize the peace and unity we so sadly lack!