A note on a father

It was one of those phone calls that one would always remember, the shock it generates pervades all through a lifetime. On Monday 17 August 2009, I received a phone call from my mother, a teacher at Gateway International School, Kandy. In a deeply tormented but extremely strong, poised tone, and keeping her calm to the fullest, she said to me that at around 6.30 pm Sri Lankan time that day, my father, aged sixty-nine, passed away in a hospital in Kandy. She was there until the last minute, and saw him release his last breath, after thirty-three years of marriage.

A senior manager at the Bank of Ceylon, my father retired from BoC almost ten years ago. He was one of the kindest and most good-hearted individuals I have ever met, and will ever meet. Hailing from a rural household in the mountains of central Sri Lanka, he was a man who made his way to the island’s national bank through education and hard work. One memory of him that I will never forget was his deep affection towards less well-off segments of society. He never forgot his humble beginnings. Anyone who would come to him was a recipient of his kindness, and of his strong keenness to help people in need. He was also a man who led the simplest of lives. While other BoC officials of his level lived in architect-designed sumptuous houses and drove luxury cars, he never bothered about a fancy house, a fancy car or fancy anything. Until he passed away, he lived in a small house in Medamahanuwara, a village that lies 34 kilometres from Kandy city. He was never an ambitious individual. Having met my mother late in life, he had only one child, who, for purposes of education, had been away from him during the last few years of his life.

Another key factor about my late father was his love of scholarship. Despite the lack of a formal graduate education, he remained a constant learner, an apprenant perpétuel. Taking courses in Tamil, German and many other subjects, he was also an avid reader, with subscriptions to many local and international magazines and newspapers. During the twenty odd years spent in his house, I had access to all Sunday newspapers in Sinhala and English and to hundreds of books of Sinhala and English writing. He was an extremely discreet man of few words. As I write this in the thick of the night, I am reminded of a father who was hardly ever angry at me, who would give LKR 500 if I asked for a hundred, who ushered in a great deal of affection to all living beings around him. Over the last few months, brief phone conversations were marked by how sad he felt about the thousands of ‘our own people’ in internment camps. A man who always wanted to live in his country, who dropped down several opportunities to relocate abroad, he was a strong patriot. Nevertheless, he always believed that in Sri Lanka, we are all one people, and that ethnic, religious and racial differences were of no importance. That was the backdrop in which I grew up: Sinhala and Buddhist, open to the world and patriotic, while taking pride in the diversity of our society. Not a single word of abuse towards Tamils or Muslims would be tolerated in the Weerawardhana household.

A few weeks ago, ailing, he came to the phone to talk to me. It was the dead of the night in SL time, and as it often happened, I had woken him up from a deep sleep. After several short answers to my questions about his health, and despite being sleepy and weak, he still took a minute to ask about my work. When I said that I am writing a paper on devolution, he said, in a pale voice, that Sri Lanka needs ‘more devolution’. When I added that a political solution has to be based on mutual respect, devoid of the logic of ‘imposing’ one on the ethnic minorities by the ethnic majority, he endorsed that with an emphatic éeka nam etthamai (‘that is very true’). In hindsight (and now that I will never ever talk to him again) it occurs to me that my interest in peace research and conflict regulation has its origins in the years spent growing up under him.

That was my last proper conversation with him. Thereafter, I never got a chance to talk to him. Almost a week ago, my mother passed on the phone to him for a minute. His voice was thoroughly unclear, and he sounded very tearful. For the first time in my life, I heard the voice of a feeble father, not the lively voice I was accustomed to right from those earliest memories of life.

In a society where ‘brainwashing’ the members of the ethnic majority with a nationalist and ethno-supremacist discourse is the norm, my only hope tonight is that there be millions of fathers who think like him about being Sri Lankan. He will be sorely missed, and not having seen him in a good few years, it is extremely challenging to come to terms with the reality that I will never see him again, not in this life. If reincarnation exists at all, I heartily wish to be his son in my next life.

  • Kanishka Ratnapriya

    Dear Chaminda Weearwardhana,

    Our fathers carried the struggle for devolution on their shoulders for many years, like our father’s lets carry on the struggle until devolution is finally realized.

    Your father will be sorely missed, but it is up to you to continue.

    In Solidarity,

    Kanishka Ratnapriya

  • Shibly Cader

    Chaminda – May his soul rest in peace. Like they say..his spirit will live on and i am sure as long as we have Sri lankans as him the desire for peaceful nation will march on ….. I end this with quoting what once a great leader said…Quote..Nearly fifty years ago, in the midst of the noisy early battles to create what would become Medicare, President Kennedy said, “I refuse to see us live on the accomplishments of another generation. I refuse to see this country, and all of us, shrink from these struggles which are our responsibility in our time.” Now it falls to us to meet the challenges of our time. And if we can come together, and listen to one another; I believe, as I always have, that we will rise to this moment, we will build something better for our children, and we will secure America’s future in this new century. unquote
    yes we can make that change for the betterment of our counrty…

  • A Sri Lankan Tamil

    Dear Chaminda,

    May God bless your father. People such as this are like a beacon of hope for us tamils who are demoralised at every glance we take at the newspaper or turn on the radio or TV. Infact now I do not look at any other media except some selected websites. But your letter gives us immense hope. We know that there are very many sinhala budhist who see the world holistically, like your father, but many of them are silent by choice or otherwise.

    Thank you, Chaminda, I know your little letter would have lifted many a tamil heart, just as it has done mine. You will never go wrong in whatever you do. You and your father are true patriots.
    may god bless you.

  • Ganga

    Author wrote:
    “In a society where ‘brainwashing’ the members of the ethnic majority with a nationalist and ethno-supremacist discourse is the norm, my only hope tonight is that there be millions of fathers who think like him about being Sri Lankan.”

    This is a very biased comment. Another piece of reporting regarding IDP camps perhaps 5th I’ve seen so far. This kind of ‘brainwashing’ is common to all humans regardless of ethnicity and religion. If you read Bible or Qur’an, that is brainwashing too. If you listen to a Dhamma talk by a monk riding a luxury car, it is brainwashing too. Tamils have been systematically brainwashed own kind for centuries more so than Sinhalese.

    We all have problems, we all are the reason for problems and let’s accept that before stating biased opinions.

  • Pandora

    Dear Chaminda,

    I was so touched reading your article about your father. My very deepest condolences go out to you, although I know that it is sorely inadequate when you have just suffered such a huge loss.

    I enjoy reading your contributions to Groundviews, and I can see that you must have inherited your humanity and patriotism – untainted by extremist views – from your father. May he attain Nibbana.

  • Atheist

    Chaminda Weerawardhana,

    I am sorry to hear about the loss of your father. Please accept my condolences.
    I am so much in awe of your resilience: you take the time to produce this article to Ground Views in a matter of hours after hearing of your father’s passing. When I first saw the title of your article, I assumed it was about your father’s death anniversary. I am glad I read the article because now I know that there are people out there who are capable of bouncing back from a set-back so speedily. It is a great quality!

    You gave a brief description of your father’s love of languages and scholarship. It was so nostalgic to hear of your father’s interest in German. In the early 1960′s, most of who lived in the Kandy district took German classes at the Wilhelm Geiger Society located at the Queen’s hotel. However, in looking back, I remember that most of the people who attended these classes were girls. Surprise! The fee was only ten rupees, but it was a lot of money for us at that time. As far as stretching a rupee at that time went: the British Council Library fee was ten rupees, the Youth Council Library charged 5 rupees and the Public Library was, of course, free.

    You mentioned that your father knows Tamil; this does not surprise me as most of us Sinhalese from Kandy can read, write and speak in Tamil. I gather from your article that our father has instilled good values in you – especially honesty and decency.

    We need more people like you to work for peace in Sri-Lanka. Many of the so called peace activists I’ve encountered are mere opportunists – only interested in making a buck out of other people’s miseries. This is where, I feel, someone like you differs from the other so called peace activists. Your honesty and decency place you way above the rest! At the end of the day, we all need a clear conscience in order to get some sleep.

    Now in my rusty German, I would like to say: Sie sind verantwortlich fur was sie sagen.

    Chuss!

    Old is gold and cannot be fooled.

  • Atheist

    Chaminda Weerawardhana

    Correction:

    The sentence:”I gather from your article that our father has instilled good values in you – especially honesty and decency” should read ” I gather from your article that YOUR father has instilled good values in you – especially honesty and decency.

  • Ravana

    My father once said “our generation has failed your generation because we have left you a country in a worse state that the one left to us” ,how true !

    If more of our fathers’ were as caring and concerned, our work would be easier !

  • Susan Goon

    A father with a crippled mind has passed his mental disability to his son. Is this something to celebrate? I do not think so. This is what is wrong with the Sinhala Buddhists: they feel they must condemn their heritage, and bow down to the minorities, to stand out in the world.

  • priyadev

    The letter from ‘a Srilankan Tamil’ mentions they are ‘de-moralised’ now. It is unfortunate that this thinking prevails..we the Sinhalese need you as much as you the Tamils need us. I am 75 years old, and have spent very many happy years in my youth travelling all over the Jaffna peninsula with my Tamil mates on holidays to that lovely countryside to eat many interesting meals like crabs, cool etc., and sitting under palmyrahs sipping toddy. There is every opportunity to for these close interactions between to be a reality again. We do not blame you for the past. The misdemeanours of a few who took up arms is history now, and you’ll be surprised how all that will be forgotten soon. But you have to accept our willingness to be friends and brothers, and put your hatreds behind you. I still look forward to visiting Casuarina beach, the pool at KKS by the sea, the Tholacutty farm and many such beautiful places again and enjoy your wonderful hospitality. If you have faith, we can build a future. It is us individuals who have to do it, in spite of the politicians of all hues!! Let us succeed where others might fail

  • Idealist?

    Atheist said: “Many of the so called peace activists I’ve encountered are mere opportunists – only interested in making a buck out of other people’s miseries. This is where, I feel, someone like you differs from the other so called peace activists. Your honesty and decency place you way above the rest! At the end of the day, we all need a clear conscience in order to get some sleep.”

    There are both kinds of people in the world and, by extension, in peace activism, human rights work, development work, religious institutions, etc. as well. It is a fact of life: generalising and painting everyone with the same brush doesn’t help. I’ve seen many genuine people in Sri Lanka working on peace, human rights, etc. who, at great personal cost and giving up other opportunities, have invested their lives in making a difference. I think we need to celebrate those people instead of labelling everyone ‘so called peace activists’!

  • jayathilaka

    The letter is very impresive and heart-felt. I tis good that every fatehr,mother perhaps everbody irrespective of tamil or sihnhalese ,muslims thinks the way how chaminda,s father thinks. But unfortunately it is not the truth. Moreover Politics has done a n irrreparable damage to unity of th nation and the intergririty of in Sri lanka. Ordinary tamils sinjhalese are helpless.

  • P.G.Wijeratna

    I feel great respect for you father but dont agree with him about the devolution any special powers any cmmunity. I left Sri Lanka about fifty years ago Before I left Sri Lanka I worked ti the Colombo habour the majority of the people worked tin the offices were tamils . There was no signe of discremination. Our boss was a Tamil too. The rift between the people in Srilanka was a creation of the Tamil politician and the demand of special rights wijeratna

  • Jayendra De Silva

    The Late Mr.Weerawardhana was working with me at BOC Badulla during my period as the Manager.t the otset let me offer my deepest sympathies to his son and the wife.
    I fully endorse his son’s memories of his late father.The late Mr.Weerawardhana, never wanted to hurt the feelings of his Superiors and Subordinates.Due to his kindness, I can with autority that , some of his subordinates are still in the Bank’s service
    He was a dedicated loyal obeidient worker.He never used his position to obtain any financial gains,whilist in Serveice.His mode of transport was the Public Transport

    May he attain Nibbana !

  • Atheist

    To: Jayathilaka, P.G.Wijeratna and Jayendra De Silva

    First of all fellow(s) fix your key board or get a new one. P.G Wijeratna, you left Ceylon fifty years ago? Where to? I am sure it was to the Galapagos Islands.
    Jayendra De Silva, you claimed to have lived and worked in Badulla. Did you by any chance sell ‘beheth thel’ at the Pacha Pittaniya (Senanayake Grounds) on the weekends? The Pacha Pittaniya is well known for snake oil salesmen doing their rounds.

    Whoever is concocting these stories is going overboard. Many clues along the way have pointed out to a deep deception being carried out here. If you have something to say, please come out in the open and say it. Don’t resort to lies and mislead the readers by mistaking us for gullible dingbats.

    People like you are wolves in sheep’s clothing – capable of instigating riots by spreading rumours. We, in Sri-Lanka, have experienced these types of ‘boru prachara’ by opportunists who want to destroy ethnic harmony in return for a little wealth and fame.

    Fellow(s) now stop smouldering and have a swig of Gin instead!

  • Atheist

    To: A Sri Lankan Tamil and Kanishka Ratnapriya

    A Sri Lankan Tamil: Neengal mazhaikendaalum pallikooda pakkam othungi irukkeerkala?

    In case you don’t know the meaning, ask Chaminda Weerawardhana. Surely, Chaminda Weerawardhana’s father would’ve imparted his knowledge of Tamil to his offspring.

    If Chaminda Weerawardhana’s letter could lift your heart, and the way in which Chaminda bounced back from such a setback, you must hire this person – out of the way Tony Robbins – as a motivational guru to the people in the IDP camps. Receiving Chaminda’s heartfelt letters would be the best therapy for them. While you are at it, send Chaminda’s marvellous letters to other suffering people throughout the world so that they, too, could bounce back with such speedy recovery!

    Kanishka Ratnapriya: I am sure the first word you ever formed as a baby was ‘devolution’. It seems like you still haven’t evolved from ‘devolution’.
    Now fellow(s) I am sure your friend is grieving, but you don’t have to partake in this grieve fest. Without SMOULDERING, have a WHITE MARTINi, and, please, remember to wear a ROSE on your lapel while singing Michelle, my BELLE. Celebrate while you’ve still got cash coming in.

    Jayawewa to Columbians! Jayawewa!

  • kanishka ratnapriya

    Dear Atheist, its sad that you lack the intellectual capacity to make any worthwhile contribution to this dialogue. Your words are a disgrace to the memory of chaminda’s father and the people that truely love the motherland.

    You probably don’t even understand what devolution means, your probably dont even know that it is codified in the 13th amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution.

    This is probably for the simple reason that you are a atheist, with no deities to worship, and nothing to believe in but your narrow self worship and ignorance.

    I will not reply to what you say next, on this blog, I will reply by my actions in Sri Lanka. The time for talking has ended my friend, your time is up. My time is now!