Sweet MemoriesMarch 29, 2013, 7:38 pm
by Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana
I have hailed in the past the ‘glory’ of retirement but, of late, it has dawned on me that there is a price to pay for living seven decades! Whenever you open a paper you see obituary notices of friends, relations and acquaintances. Every morning, when you wake up, you feel you are lucky and sweet memories keep you happy than allow deaths to depress you.
Recently I lost two very good friends of mine, both of whom were great romantics in their youth and had to overcome a degree of ‘social discrimination’ to make ‘the love of their lives’ their wives. I feel there is no better way to pay my tribute to them than reporting on the conversations I had with their widows, a true exercise of ‘sweet memories’
The first is the well known Psychiatrist, Dr Jayantha Harischandra about whom much has been written. I first met him when we joined the Colombo Medical School in 1959 and became great friends when we had the fortune to be room-mates in the newly started ‘Jeevaka’ Buddhist Medical Hostel in 1961.Thanks to Dr R P Jayewardena, our first warden, Dr P R Anthonis, the well known surgeon, and other well wishers we were able to have a decent place to stay & study for the last three years of our medical-student life though it was not without trouble. As one of the ‘philanthropists’ took over three months to provide us beds, in spite of our having made the full payment, we had to sleep on mattresses but it was not a problem for ‘Harish’ or me as we had done so in our humble abodes in Talpe and Matara, respectively.
Not a day passed without Harish telling us about his beloved Padmi and being ‘unpolished’ medical students, must confess, we delighted ourselves by ‘bullying’ Harish about his romanticism. He never lost his temper and faced us with an eternal smile. He was very keen to qualify, without any delays, so that he could get married, which he did during the internship, a few months after qualification. I still remember the day I travelled to Matara, my home town where Harish did his internship, for his marriage and the beaming smiles he had. When he started training in Psychiatry, his second ambition the first being taking the hand of Padmi in marriage, in Mulleriyawa, we visited them very often, mostly to listen to his vast collection of Hindi music first and then to play with his delightful eldest daughter, Nesha, who later became the flower girl at our wedding.. They had two more daughters, one of whom, Tolusha, became the very first lady Cardiac Surgeon in Sri Lanka.
Since I left Sri Lanka, a quarter of a century ago, we could not meet as often as we wished to but whenever I visited, found him to be busy with professional and religious work. I could not attend his funeral as I was in UK but visited Padmi at the first available opportunity when we could reminisce.
On that fateful day, Harish had woken up Padmi to make him a cup of porridge before getting one of his daughters to take him to the bus that plies on the ‘Southern Expressway’. While getting ready for the television programme he had slumped and was pronounced dead on arrival at the Kalubowila hospital. When Padmi gave all these details, I told her;
‘Harish had a lucky death but you are the one who suffers. Did he ever give an indication that he may die?’
‘No Upul, he did not but a few weeks before death he told me that if I were to die first, he will not survive even a week’
"That is absolutely true Padmi’ I told her knowing how dependent he was on Padmi. From the day they got married, she was his shadow but also his rock. When I told her that millions of viewers will miss him, she reminded me that it was I who invited him for the first television programme, ‘Nethsera’ ages ago. She also reminded how Nesha, as a little girl, always used to say that she wanted to marry Upulmama!
With a parting hug, I realized Harish would not have achieved what he did without the active support of Padmi though she is hardly mentioned in any of the tributes. I know my dear friend would have wanted her acknowledged; hence my tribute to him through her.
My second friend is Mr Tilakasena Sahabandu, whom I had known even longer, from my very early childhood. As a child, I was mesmerized by his ability with instant poems, ‘Hitiwana Kavi’. It was an amazing ability but, unfortunately, Tilake could not achieve his full potential as we are still not good at supporting exceptional talents like this. However, I see his creativity and genius through the marvelous editorials of his youngest son, Prabath Sahabandu, the Editor of this esteemed newspaper.
Tilake was from our village and we all knew him for his ‘love story’ as much as for his artistic abilities. I can not remember his father but well remember his doting mother who was a frequent visitor in our house. He fell in love with ‘Karunakka’ from the adjoining village but met with opposition from her family. I remember well her father visiting my father to persuade him to ‘have a word’ with Tilake, as my father was adored and revered by Tilake. I greatly doubt my father having had that ‘word’ as he himself was someone who had been bitten by the ‘lovebug’. They ‘eloped’ stirring the wrath of families but when Karunakka got pregnant,her mother came to see my mother requesting her to give support and look after the daughter, illustrating the beauty of ‘Sri Lankan Motherhood’!
They had to surmount enormous difficulties but, finally, Tilake joined Hospital clerical service and worked at Matara Hospital where he looked after the interest of all of us from the village. It was long before ’channelled consultation service’ when Consultants were so distanced from patients& relatives but Tilake was the conduit. They produced four children, two daughters who are teachers and another son who is a Medical Technologist.
I was fortunate to be able to pay my last respects to Tilake but was shocked to see his shrivelled body devastated by Parkinson’s disease. That handsome Tilake was no more. I last met him two years ago when we had lunch at my sister’s place in Matara when he had signs of early disease but was full of spirit. He presented me a copy of the book of poems he had written about the pilgrimage to India he and Karunakka undertook. We talked about the book of poems he wrote when my father contested Matara seat in 1960 and was the first person from the UNP to win that seat. Tilake’s book was a significant contributor his win. Tilake did the same when my brother, Ranjan, contested and won, too.
I wanted to have a chat with Karunakka but her brother, my good friend Amara Hewamadduma tried to discourage me by saying she is vulnerable and would start crying. I told him "Amare, there is nothing wrong with crying, It is good to cry than pent up the emotions" We did have a long chat talking about the’ good old days’. We discussed the difficulties they went through and I realized what a big role she played, silently, in Tilake’s life. She repeted a poem Tilake once recited, instantly, about my mother which I will not dare translate as I do not posses the ability to translate Tilake’s genius.
I reminded her how my father used to tease Tilake; "Tilakasena, how much does the Chairman of the Urban Council pay you for sweeping the road?" This was a reference to the way Tilake wore his sarong. It was always long and was actually sweeping the floor! As I was leaving, I told her, "Karunakke, after all yours was THE love story of our village" and witnessed a sweet smile through a pearly tear-drop. Sweet memories are meant to be cherished!
I am sure, if there be a rebirth, both Harish and Tilake would be born in a good place as a result of their selfless service. May they attain Nibbana!
The wives they loved, cherished but left behind, while indulging in sweet memories, will continue to look after their families, as the great Sri Lankan Mothers do. I can not help but think of my own mother too. Much has been written about my father but he was able to achieve so much only because my mother stood behind him like a rock. After all, ours is a matriachal society where the mothers know how to make their husbands feel important and facilitate them to achieve greatness while they toil hard for the families.
Three hearty cheers to Sri Lankan Motherhood!!!