Memoirs of a centenarian | Sunday Observer

Memoirs of a centenarian

It is all about the memories. “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away,” goes a saying. In an era of artificial intelligence, smart phones and instagram relationships; memories are hard to make. However, vast is the store when you are a centenarian. Hale and hearty facing the era of artificial intelligence; the oldest living Anandian who stepped in to his 103rd year recently opened a window to the Sunday Observer, for a glimpse of his precious memories.

It was a boy! June 8, 1916 brought much happiness for Don Haramanis de Silva, and his wife Ranso Mendis of Kurunegala, as their eldest son Don Edwin de Silva was born. Haramanis was a merchant, trading in all forms of consumer goods and hoped to pass the business to one of his sons. He doted on his children and wanted them to have the best, all the time. Ranso, was a mother who not only fed the children with good food, but helped them inculcate values and taught them how to live in peace and harmony with people and nature. Edwin, with his elder sister, three younger brothers and parents lived “close to Athkanda Viharaya in Kurunegala. We had such a good time,” he reminisces.

Edwin’s early memories are of the school and the temple he was familiar with. “They selected me to deliver the welcome speech, at the prize giving,” he speaks of his school years at Kurunegala. The incident had been instrumental in changing his life. Soon, he was to visit Colombo with his father.

“I was happy to see all the glamour in Colombo. The tram cars, the ships from Galle Face Green and then, we visited a few people known to my father,” says Edwin, going down memory lane. One of whom they had visited had been the then Principal of Ananda College, P de S. Kularatne.

“When he saw me he recognized me immediately. Patted my head and reminded me that I was the one who delivered the welcome speech when he visited Maliyadeva. And then there was my admission to Ananda College,” he smiles.

At Ananda, excelling in sports as well as academics he had captained the tennis, basket ball and volley ball teams from time to time and had been a member of the cricket and football teams.

One event Edwin remembers clearly is the day, as a member of the relay team they won and established an inter-school record. “I was so proud to be there,” he speaks of the event in 1934. An active role in drama and debating at Ananda College was how he met his sweetheart Nanda, he reminiscences.

“We had to go to different schools. Once at Ananda Balika, they served cake. She served me the largest piece of cake,” he laughs.

After the Cambridge Senior Certificate examination, he had joined the Colombo Municipal Council as a Public Health Officer.

“There I won two scholarships, one to US, and the other to Japan,” says Edwin. He had also had an opportunity to visit many other countries. One such memorable moment was the time he visited UK, where he won a ticket at a lot-draw for the limited invitees to join the Queen’s birthday party at the Buckingham Palace gardens. “At the end of the party, each of us got a picture of the Queen as a gift.”

His ability to win over the goodwill and co-operation of others caught the eye of then Junior Minister of Local Government, Ranasinghe Premadasa (who later became President), who made Edwin his Private Secretary.

Though work with Mr. Premadasa was pleasant, one incident made him resign from that position, explains Edwin. “One day, Mr. Premadasa was handling some very important work and he informed me to tell anyone who asked for him, that he is not in the office. So, when another parliamentarian came in I gave him the same reply. Unfortunately, Mr. Premadasa unaware of the MP’s presence came out of his room at that very moment. The parliamentarian used bad language on me and was about to assault me.

I didn’t do any wrong. I shouldn’t have been treated like that. So, that very day I gave my resignation. Though Mr. Premadasa was sad to see me go, he respected my wish,” Edwin recalls.

Retirement from government service took him away from the country. With his beloved wife Nanda and two daughters Nirmala and Surangani he settled down in St. Louis, Missouri United States, having secured a job in the state health department.

While swine flu raged in Missouri, Edwin’s style of handling the epidemic resulted in him being appointed Assistant Director though he never applied for the post. Losing his beloved wife Nanda to cancer, brought him back to the country again.

A quiet but active life is what he leads now, staying at a friend’s place, with all amenities to his satisfaction. “Order and moderation along with a heart devoid of hatred,” is the key to his longevity, Edwin opines. Early to bed and early to rise, is another maxim he lives on.

Waking up at 6.30 in the morning his schedule has order, allowing time for everything. With a book full of memories published to his credit, portraits, has become his latest hobby. “It is my way of depicting life around me. I have no specific subject, but draw anyone who takes my interest,” he explains. Reading the newspaper and watching television news to keep abreast with the times is an important part of his day.

“An agile mind, that’s the other key,” laughs this centenarian. We bid him adieu as he awaited the good wishes and celebrations of the loved ones.