Life, friends and cemeteries


I went to a beautiful place in Mallawapitiya, Kurunegala, where a friend’s mother was cremated. It was by a paddy field surrounded by so many trees. It was a cool and windy day too. I felt at peace. I asked lawyer and my brother’s friend, S. T. Jayanaga, who took me there for the funeral. How come I never knew about this beautiful resting place? He said it had been donated by a generous man for the benefit of the people of Kurunegala. I thought to myself what a peaceful way to end one’s journey in this life in Samsara.

Later, Jayanaga showed me the gentleman who had done the good deed and gifted both the land and the crematorium. I told my brother later that I should be cremated there when I went the way of all flesh. The Kurunegala cemetery, too, is peaceful, but I found the Mallawapitiya place to be even more peaceful. I am used to cemeteries and don’t fear them at all. I remember how we lived opposite the Kurunegala Cemetery when I was a kid. To me it looked like a park where people from all walks of life rested. The only sad part to me was when the government at the time piled up bodies of the JVP members killed during the 1971 insurrection and burnt them at the cemetery. It was not a good sight for an 11-year-old child. We got into the bus and got down from it near the cemetery, which wasn't an unusual place for us. My late Amma had taught us from early days what the Buddha taught that nothing was permanent. She told me, "If you think of death always you will live life well and will not harm others". She gave us strength and courage to live well with no fear of death . Thank you, Amma!

Last year in Colombo, at our batch mate Harsha Fernando’s funeral, my schoolmate Anil Gunatileke said they couldn’t come all the way to Kurunegala for my funeral and to have the cremation in Colombo. Anil is right. Why trouble people? There is so much traffic and there is no highway to Kurunegala as yet. Where will young Kiriella be when the highway is completed?

The new crematorium in Colombo, where I went for the first time when that good human being and friend Dr Saman Kelegama was cremated, looked nice and peaceful. That was a very sad goodbye to a wonderful human being. There will never be another Saman. However, I thought there is plenty of room there too for all the goodbyes if I wanted to leave from there. After leaving college, I have spent most of my life in Colombo. Where do I belong now? I wouldn't even know. Born in Kurunegala , educated in Kandy, employed in Colombo. Do I belong anywhere? I still remember my Thaththa said he wanted a large crowd to attend his funeral. We all laughed then. Maybe he said that because he had helped so many people until he became paralysed. We were proven wrong and the joke was on us. There was a massive crowd at his funeral.

I remember meeting Ragupathi my Trinity friend, at Anil Gunatileke’s residence in Mount Lavinia before the Bradby shield rugger match. I had met Ragu after a long time. He sat next to me and we had a very long chat. He told me that he wasn't too well. We went down memory lane and shared many laughs. After few months I was shocked when I saw Mani Raj Kumar’s post on Face Book where he wrote "Ragu, it’s too early for you to go". Those words and his death devastated me. It is strange how we feel about schoolmates even though we don’t meet them for ages. Yes. It was too early for him to leave us. Then I heard about Elikawela’s death. I cannot remember if I met him too at Anil’s place. Maybe I did. He was a good hockey player. He, too, just left us. Then I heard that Harsha Fernando was ill. He was a brilliant architect and a peaceful man. He left too. Though I used to meet Harsha often long ago, I lost touch with him and had to go to the cemetery to bid him goodbye. Then a very dear classmate, Jaliya Subasena or Sube as we called him affectionately left us. He was a jolly good fellow, a good hearted and a cheerful man. I think he lived life to the fullest with his don’t care attitude. However, he and his wife Ganga brought up their three children well. I met him a few times at his Hantana residence and we called each other many times after my return in 2015. I am yet to visit his home in Kandy after his death. May be I will this year, to see his family. But, how can we accept it when good friends are gone.

Another wonderful human being we lost is evergreen and cheerful Senerath Kapukotuwa. I knew Senerath from my Nestle Days back in 1986. He never changed and was always full of humour. Senerath had many stories to relate and he had the time for friends. We became closer again when I joined the Capital Maharaja Group in 2015. I am yet to visit the third floor of the head office after his death. People like Senerath will not fade away easily from one’s life. Though we went out for lunch a few times , the regret myself and Jagath Pattiaarachchi will have is that we couldn’t go out as planned for that long , long chat over a meal. Maybe, in heaven one day. The last was Karunatileke Amunugama, we affectionately called Thilak. I knew Thilak from the time he was Chief of Protocol at the Foreign Ministry and we did work together very closely when I joined the government. I lost touch after he left for Berlin as Ambassador and didn't meet him on his return to Colombo. He left without telling most of us. I regret for not staying in touch and not meeting him when he returned. Regrets, I will have for many more years to come. So, I say to everyone, stay in touch. Not just connected or wired.

But again, I would have been the first to leave last year on April 17th when I got a minor stroke or the Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). I did survive to write this article. But, the time will come for me to go too. I am ready even now to leave this land messed up and destroyed by selfish, self serving politicians from all sides. Where will I be cremated? Colombo or Kurunegala? I better decide soon.


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