In 1973, I got a Nuffield Foundation Fellowship and proceeded to England with my wife and two children.
The United Front Government was in power at that time and it was the height of the era of shortages, bread queues, and the infamous haal polu - things everybody found so frustrating, but had to bear. But my wife and I did not have to. We had got this rare chance to get out of the country, (a very difficult thing at the time with all kinds of restrictions on overseas travel) and after a lot of soul searching we decided to settle down in the UK. We conveyed our decision to my father in Sri Lanka and he wrote back to us.
His letter made us change our minds and return home. My father was then 97 years old and a very sprightly 97, I must say. He read widely, smoked cigars, enjoyed the occasional Brandy and was very active and was healthier than many people half his age. Of all his faculties, only his hearing was slightly affected. Here is the magic letter sent us by my dear father, that changed my fate. Up to date, I have not regretted that decision I took based on paternal advice.
My dearest son and daughter,
I received your letter last week and was quite surprised to read about your decision to stay back in the U.K.
There is absolutely no harm in going round the world as a tourist, or to educate oneself, but when one thinks of people deserting the motherland in search of pleasure and material comforts, such people are hardly patriots : I would call them ‘stateless destitutes’.
You, my son, got this wonderful opportunity to go to the UK in the face of much competition. Many were the machinations and impediments you had to overcome. But those who awarded you the Fellowship had the fullest confidence in you, and that is why you got it. They believed that you would enlarge your professional horizons and return to Sri Lanka to place the knowledge so gained at the service of your country and her people. Heaven knows our country needs such knowledge. Take a good inward look, my dearest son and daughter, are you going to honour that faith and that trust, or are you going to turn your back on the people who gave you that Fellowship?
Whatever irritations, frustrations and even hardships there are in Sri Lanka right now, remember they are temporary, that a new era will dawn. And this is the country of your birth, the country that nurtured you and gave you the chance to be what you are today.
We are still groping for a national identity, still labouring to resurrect our old cultural values, our traditions and our heritage. After all, they had been suffocated under the enormous weight of foreign cultures and influences for almost four centuries. It is not going to be easy. It is going to take time. But it won’t help this debt ridden poor country of ours, if her educated sons and daughters flee to serve foreign masters and themselves.
A few must sacrifice for the good of the many and the ability to resist the temptation of dollars and pounds and the fleshpots of the West, is the sacrifice you must make. This is the least your country expects from you. Anyway, my son and daughter, the decision is yours. Take my advice or leave it. May the blessings of the Noble Triple Gem be on you.
Your Loving Father.
P.S. My father did not tell me how to live. He lived and let me watch him do it.
Dr. W B Wijekoon