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.