Photo courtesy BBC World Service

Sunila Abeysekera passed away earlier today after a long battle with cancer. Sunila has a profile on Wikipedia but reading it would deeply frustrate anyone who knew her. A far better profile about her life can be read on Peace Women’s website.

In the days, weeks and indeed, years to come, Sunila will be remembered for what she stood for, did, said and championed, by family, close friends and colleagues, both in Sri Lanka and abroad. She will be variously described as mother, activist, writer, critic, feminist and as much more. I will remember her for all this, but also as a wonderful singer. Very late on Christmas Day in 2011, at the residence of Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Sunila and a handful of others – all close friends – gathered around after everyone else had gone home to hear her sing. Sunila spoke about how songs of resistance were produced and sung during the JVP insurrection of ’71, and entreated us to a few of them from memory. We sometimes sang along too, only succeeding to mar Sunila’s evocative renditions.

It was a wonderful evening of remembering, song and conversation.

For some reason, I recorded close to an hour of Sunila’s singing using my iPhone’s voice recorder, which was all I had on me. I’ve had the recordings ever since on my Mac, but only listened to that amazing hour of her singing and our conversations again today.

Of the many songs she sang that evening with and for us, one song in particular captures Sunila’s own life and character entwined with her activism.

Though she will be sorely missed, Sunila’s voice will continue to resonate in our own lives and work.

  • Dev

    May she rest in peace. A sad day indeed that people of caliber are called so soon, the nation is poorer today as a result.

  • chandula kumbukage

    Thanks for sharing this!! May she rest in peace!!

  • D

    This is beautiful.

  • georgethebushpig

    “Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness,
    And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.” (Khalil Gibran)

    I grieve deeply at this sad news but will continue to dream your dream and sing your song.

  • Peter

    Thank you Sanjana for sharing the sound of her voice and her laughter on this sad day

  • Anpu

    Thank you. Rest in peace.

  • renuka mendis

    we are all poorer. thank you for that sweet voice.

  • johnabbe

    Thanks for posting this, especially the link to the Peace Women profile. FYI I just see a big white space where it looks like the audio should be. Using Firefox on a Mac.

  • sonaliWickrematunge

    We had lost a brave and persistent voice for Human Rights and democratic freedoms. But her work lives on. My eyes well up as I write this. Dear Sunila rest in Peace. Thank you Sanjana for this beautiful piece and for her voice

  • sonaliWickrematunge

    We have lost a brave voice for Human Rights and Democratic freedoms. Her work and inspiration will live on. My eyes well up when I read this and hear her voice. Thank you Sanjana for doing this beautiful thing and posting the recording.

  • Rohini Mohan

    Her laugh at the end just hangs in the air

  • Stina Karltun, Sweden

    I first met Sunila in 1989, and our paths have crossed many times since then. Her life was marked by painful experiences and risky struggles. She made it beautiful in the way she resisted status quo and took on a number of challenges in her mission as a feminist and a human rights activist. Such a multi-gifted woman and an inspiration to many of us! Thank you, Sunila!

  • bajawkamare

    Remembering Sunila

    Embrace close to the heart The sun and the great earth Embrace close to the heart 1) Like the dawn light that shines on a ripening fruit Like a shooting star that falls on a still night Like a heart soaked and pained by? compassion The love poem I write, is about this heart. 2) On behalf of the down trodden and discarded people We wait with a wish for the world to change Flowing with these wishes is the river that doesn’t sleep Out of the splashing against the river bank a child will be born.