A colleague writes of Royal icon

Mrs. Indrani Seneviratne

"No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were...and man's death diminishes me and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." - John Donne, Meditations XVII

So are we diminished by the death of Mr. Vijitha Weerasinghe two days ago. A Royalist in every sense of the word, a true friend, the quintessential teacher and unerring guide, we are all poorer for this loss.

My acquaintance with Mr. Weerasinghe, affectionately called Viji, began way back in 1971. I was appointed to the staff of Royal College during those troubled times when the insurgency had unleashed its terror upon us. Although the schools were closed, I was nevertheless required to report for duty. I faced an irate principal, who rudely asked what I wanted. There were two gentlemen with him; one, the late Mr. E. C – Christie – Gunasekera, who uttered not a word but had a mischievous smile on his face; the other was Viji. Viji took over the embarrassing situation and spoke kindly to me. This initial kindness was sustained through all the years that followed, up to the day I said goodbye to him on September 29th of this year, a short while after his 80th birthday celebrations, when I was leaving Royal college for a holiday. We spent a long time speaking of the many wonderful experiences we had shared as members of the staff. He remembered the heated arguments, often irrational on my part, and we laughed heartily. I did not know that this was indeed my last goodbye, or that his words to me, "good luck, you deserve a rest," were the last I would hear from him. Indeed, the morning I received word of Viji’s passing, I had been contemplating sending him a box of the chocolates he loved to eat against all medical recommendations!

Viji was well known for his honesty and integrity. These attributes were never in question. Those who have known him – his students, friends, colleagues and superiors – know that "the scale of justice fell in equity" in respect of everyone. This is why people who knew him irrespective of age, kept returning to him for help, even if they had to sit quietly while he answered the numerous telephone calls he got, mostly from Old Royalists. I for one could never pass his office on my way to work on the first floor of the Royal College Union building without stepping in to say hello, good morning, and to glance through the headlines of the Island newspaper on his desk. It was good to know that he was about the place, frail but a towering rock of strength.

Viji was also one to whom compassion was second nature. The school drop outs, the needy, the ones in trouble, the less privileged parents, all of these were his special concern. He had time for them in all the years I have known him. I know that he was able to console, advice and more often than not, lead them away from their sadness. If there was a solution to be found, Viji could find it, and if not, some word of encouragement was said, so much so that they went away richer for the experience of his compassion and with hearts full of gratitude. They will miss him.

Viji was a mentor par excellence; his students will vouch for this and his fellow teachers will know the spirit in which he communicated his knowledge. There was no need to look at the text and follow the printed word, it was adequate to listen to him. The lesson came alive in his hands dramatically, the reading came later. Even the dullest student of English Literature gained from his teaching, direction and guidance. His was the organ voice that spoke into the hearts of his students.

That voice is still today, but those of us who knew him and those whose lives he has touched will know the void his death has left: a chasm that will be hard to bridge. The present students of Royal College, the old boys whose union he saved after retirement will say "he is gone now, forever, his journeys end," and ask the question, "when will there be another?" The answer, in the words of Bob Dylan, is blowing in the wind.

For me, this is a personal loss: my friend and colleague, my husband’s teacher and my two sons, Arjuna and Malinda’s, guru and guide. It will be hard to return to college to work for the Union without that peerless stalwart, whose association with Royal and vision for his alma mater spanned over 73 years connecting the past with the present, a soldier who died in harness. So I quote from Laurence Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen,’ with apologies,

" (He) shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary (him), nor the years condemn.

At the going down fo the sun and in the morning

We will remember him."

May your journey to Samsara be short; may the highest blessings of Nibbana be yours Viji – farewell.




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