TRIBUTES | Sunday Observer


Marcelline Colin Opatha:

An engineer with a treasure trove of knowledge

‘Where do I begin to tell the story of how great a love can be? Where do I start?’

Four or forty, I was always ‘Thaththi’s girl’. That special bond between father and daughter can never be put down in mere words, but I shall endeavour. He shared the same birthday as Mahatma Gandhi, and in my eyes, he was as great, as simple and humble, as unassuming, as unmaterialistic and yet, remained larger than life. He was born on October 2, 1929 and passed away on November 23, 2018.

Thaththi was the most intelligent, honest, meticulous, down-to-earth person, I have ever met. I count myself blessed to have watched and learned from the best. He taught me always to put my heart and soul in whatever I undertook – “do it well or don’t do it at all!”.

This has been my mantra at school, work and in doing my daily chores. He placed great emphasis on the use of correct language – leaving no margins of error in grammar, spelling or punctuation. I am not half as good as you, thaththi, but you’ll be proud to know that I still think twice, placing that ‘comma’, because of you!

He taught me so much by the exemplary, disciplined life he led. He made sure I learned my ‘basics’ from an early age-Christian faith taking the centre stage. I vividly remember my parents teaching me the Lord’s Prayer, circa age 3. The three of us kneeling at my bedside, while I repeated after them in all seriousness, most often incorrectly, which set them off laughing, which I couldn’t fathom at that time. He was also an avid reader and recited poems off the cuff even in his late 80s. I am proud to say that everything he inculcated in me gave me a head start in life and has stood the test of time to this day, in my life.

I was proud of his life-long achievements as a renowned Mechanical Engineer. Towards the end of his life, he put together various files and manuscripts containing years of engineering knowledge and ensured his legacy will live on. He was always fixing and mending whatever was broken around the house. I believe he applied the same principle in his 55-year marriage to my mother Pauline, “if something’s broken, you fix it. Don’t throw it away”. Theirs was an exemplary journey of love, care and support.

Thaththi placed great emphasis on education. I recall how he used to teach me maths and science at an early age. I admired his knowledge of an array of subjects. He even coached his only granddaughters Santushi and Keshla, up to three months before his demise.

He was not an outdoor person, but rather enjoyed watching movies – great westerns being his favourite. He loved gardening, and I remember undertaking many ‘expeditions’ with him. His love of dogs has been passed down from generation to generation. Our house was never devoid of fur or waggy tails.

Thaththi lived a full life – surrounded by what mattered most, love and family. I know you wouldn’t want us to mope and sulk but want us to always cherish our time together and hold on to our precious memories. We will always celebrate you!

Losing you was hard, thaththi. There’s not a day that passes that I don’t think of you. I was always your precious punchi though I stopped being punchi a long time ago. I always sing “thath thath thath thara patiya” or ‘me gase boho’ countless times in my head, with my eyes closed, and I’m teleported to a bygone era.

And then I feel a touch which

Brings me back to my mind’s eye

It is my father, he smiles and hugs me

I am not alone, he will always be there

Till we meet again on that beautiful shore (James R. Doty)

Kshiara Premaratne


Nirmali de Silva

Teacher par excellence

It was exactly half a century ago, January 1969, that Nirmali de Silva came into my life. I was a seven-year-old impressionable brat at Wesley College Colombo and she was our beautiful 23-year-old, Grade 2 class teacher.

My father Justin, also her colleague on the teaching staff at Wesley, had told me that ‘Nirmali Teacher’ was a distant niece to him. That made her my distant cousin. I felt proud and privileged, but kept that secret all to myself without revealing it to my classmates.

My earliest recollections of her are that of an all-enveloping maternal figure. You wouldn’t expect a 23-year-old single woman to be that maternal at that age, but Nirmali de Silva was all that and more. She literally spread out her large wings and took us under them – teaching us, guiding us, nurturing us, comforting us and protecting us. Even as children, we felt the tangible largesse of her heart. We, in turn, loved her deeply from the depths of our little hearts.

I remember how overjoyed we were when she came back again as our Grade 3 class teacher the following year. We couldn’t have asked for more. Those two years spent under her tutelage formed a deep and lasting impression in my mind. I admired and adored her as my teacher. I loved her as much as I did my mother.

Nirmali was born on March 30, 1946 to a family with a abiding Methodist lineage spanning generations. Her father, Rev. Denzil de Silva was the President of the Methodist Conference from 1970-1975. The Methodist Church was an integral part of the de Silva family. Her husband, Hemal Fernando has been the rock of her life since their marriage on September 25, 1969. They were blessed with two children, Dimantha and Shaneli and five adorable grandchildren. If she were still alive today, they would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year. What a joyous occasion that would have been.

Nirmali taught at Wesley College for 38 years, from 1964 to 2002. It was also during this time that her father was the President of the Methodist Conference. She came to school from the Methodist headquarters in Kollupitiya.

I remember daddy telling me that never ever did she flaunt her father’s position, nor did she expect any privileges. She behaved like just another teacher at Wesley College. Such were her simplicity and humility. Similarly, being her colleague’s son, I was never a privileged student in her class. I was treated just like any other child. She was fair by all.

Years later she must have been disappointed when she learnt that I had converted to Buddhism, but not once did she ever mention it. She just smiled. What a co-incidence it was, years later when it was she who interviewed my son Rahul for admission to Grade 1 at Wesley College.

Nirmali Fernando had an uncanny ability to see the world through the eyes of a child. This gave her great insight, and she often took the side of the child. She touched the lives of 38 successive batches of Wesleyites with her love and gentleness.

That night at the AF Raymonds Funeral Parlour was sad. To me it was like seeing my mother in that coffin. Nirmali de Silva was my quintessential mother at my Alma Mater. And as her mortal remained lay there, there was peace on her face.

I still grieve, but Nirmali Fernando continues on her journey through Sansara. My only wish for her is that the journey be speedy. May she one day attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!

Kumar de Silva


Jayantha Nanayakkara

The joyous refinement of audacity

The untimely demise of Jayantha Nanayakkara of Uplands, Kandy left an unfilled void among those who came to know him as an exemplary gentleman of genial and friendly disposition. His character was moulded on precious Buddhist principles which shaped his life striving for better refinement. He hailed from a family of repute well known for their benevolence to those in need.

Jayantha Nanayakkara was the epitome of exemplars and was the good counsel of erudition to the younger generation who came to know him. Over the years, he had accrued a wide spectrum of family and social values with experience making him mature as a beloved parent and a social peer much sought after by all who came to know him. When on instances others grew weak Jayantha Nanayakkara strove forward with much relish, vigour and energy. He was a friendly and ever willing neighbour ready to help all those in need. His joyous and infectious character won many friends for him.

His devotion to his religion and family was an inspiration to those who came to know him. His conditioning of character endeared his friends to be better colleagues in spirit. Many learned from his altruistic humanitarian life specially those around him.

Jayantha had a wide circle of friends who were grateful and appreciative of his presence among them. He was a well educated and much experienced well learnned gentleman who had large public appeal as a registrar of marriages.

Throughout his tenure of distinguished service he accrued many of the young who were grateful for his official duties towards their evident need.

Jayantha Nanayakkara was a duty bound, wise and exemplary parent to his family undoubtedly proud and grateful towards him. His wide knowledge of education, nature and philosophies, language and religion earned him much respect. He had the opportunity to read and mould his character through chronicles of Buddhism and other volumes of science and art like many of our contemporary society. He was a magnanimous paternal figure always willing to share his knowledge with all who came to know him.

The impeccable conviction towards his religion the practice and life of a better Buddhist appealed to him greatly. The much needed refinement in today’s competitive convinced him for a better preparedness for a better tomorrow. Jayantha was a beacon of light to those in darkness of impoverishment.

With the untimely death of Jayantha, his family has lost a paternal colossus, his friends an endearing companion, and to his community a most trusted and worthy a fellow human being.

Jayantha may be no more today but what values he has left to all those who came to know him cannot be measured but leaving all others to emulate his life. He is no more but will be dearly missed by all those who came to know him.

May his remembrance strengthen the spirit of all those who came to know him in joyous refinement as in himself also being confident of a prosperous future to all.

Miran Perera


Alan Nugawela and Irangani Nugawela

Epitome of benevolence and humility

‘Tempus Fugit-Time flies’, and in its unending flight, it gently nudges us with memories of those gone before us. This tribute is time’s gift in remembrance of two lovely human beings who demised within less than a month of each other 12 years ago.

Alan passed away as quietly as he had lived in his ancestral home at Eladetta, Handessa on February 8, 2007 evening and a grieving Irangani passed away quietly on March 3, 2007. Their separation within 24 days after over a 55-year partnership of love and care was perhaps what they would have wished for.

They were nurtured in the best traditions of their families. Alan was from Kanda Udarata and Irangani from the bosom of our civilisation – the Rajarata. Going into retirement, it inspired them to touch the lives of those in need from across the green pastures of Eladetta to the outlying hamlets and beyond. They carried out their silent mission of care and compassion to fellow humans and in the words of Nelson Mandela - “What counted for them in life was not the mere fact that they had lived, but it was the difference they made to the lives of others”.

In their mission of benevolence, they shunned the bright lights of publicity and were modest and had the humility to recognise that every human being no mater from what station of life they were from, they all have their own worth and dignity. The humane paths they walked together brought back smiles and sunshine to a once despairing people.

This was what they set out to do and the smiles and bright tears of joy shed was Alan’s and Iranganie’s rich reward.

They will be remembered down the years with love and gratitude each time a hearth is lit and their services to the indigent peasantry will fill the pages of Udunuwara’s rich folklore.

Donald Nugawela