Jayantha Somasundaram, in The Island, 9 January 2015, where the title is “Remembering The Lady With The Lamp”
Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” John Adams
Anne Abayasekara, the grand old lady of letters, left us last Sunday morning. She was 89 years old, and was physically, intellectually and emotionally robust to the end of her earthly days; as her post-Christmas email to me testifies. During this long, fruitful and productive life, she was many things to many people. To her family she was a home-maker and mother to seven children. To the literary world she was a writer, columnist and journalist for seventy years. Within the Christian church she was a mentor and role model. And to the community she was a professional counselor and friend. Those whom she has touched and influenced in these spheres of life will no doubt have much to say about her remarkable role and contribution, in both her personal and professional life.
To me she was and is the keeper of our conscience. In the decades that have gone by, as the conscience of many have fallen by the way due either to fear, expediency, fatigue or compromise, Anne Abayasekara remained as constant as the northern star. During these years she moved beyond journalism. Her literary output, oft times a lone voice, cried out against violence, injustice, inhumanity and oppression. At a time when many were silent or silenced, she remained undaunted. Refusing to be cowed by the culture of indifference and self preservation, her pen and keyboard kept up a relentless campaign for the truth, for compassion and for integrity.
Anne Abayasekara was the daughter of a liberal age and a liberal heritage. Her education, her religion and her values made her hypersensitive to the moral, political and ethical degeneration that has come to dominate life and the prevailing world view.
Many around the world remember with gratitude the principled stand that she took in her writings beginning in 1983, when she stood alone against the prevailing tide of mainstream opinion. With the wisdom of hindsight we can claim her not only as the voice of our conscience, but also as a prophetess of what was to come.
In the years of darkness that was to follow, she never lost heart, never lost hope, would never give up. Though just a flicker in the night, the flame of conscience that she carried for us remained a visible and ever present lamp. If someday the future brings the dawn of a new beginning and better days, it will not merely vindicate the faith in goodness and truth that Aunty Anne clung to. It will also remind us that through the darkest of days she carried the flame of conscience almost alone, with little encouragement and no glory. Her mission was to carry the lamp of conscience for all of us, including those unborn.
Jayantha Somasundaram, in Canberra