Two Tributes in Appreciation of Anne Abayasekara

ONE. Ranmali Ponnambalam:Amma, we thank God for your life”

It is with a heart full of thanks to God for our beloved Amma that I write today on behalf of our family. Ever since Amma passed away on January 4, after a brief illness, the tributes have poured in from near and far from family and friends Annette Aurelia Ameresekere was born on April 3, 1925 to a humble family -Justus and Frances Ameresekere, in the village of Madampe where she spent the first few years of her life. Her parents struggled to make ends meet and moved to Colombo with her and her older brother when she was still a little girl, and opened a boarding house in Colombo.

Anne Abayasekara

It was when she started school at Ladies’ College that she began to blossom. The Principal, Miss Gwen Opie took a special interest in her and she loved the school all of her days. From being a student, she became a parent, then was asked to give talks to the LC girls about a variety of topics and was always an active member of the OGA.

She started work at the age of 17 at Lake House where she met our beloved Thatha and their union was truly unique. It not only produced seven children but was a marriage that seemed perfect and one that we can only strive to emulate.

Amma continued her writing in spite of this large family and was a true journalist in every sense of the word. ‘Telling it like it is’ was her watchword and people came to know her fearless writings which continued until two weeks before she passed away. She had a phenomenal memory and a real gift for words, both written and spoken which she used to communicate with people the world over.

ANE & EARLEven after her beloved Earle passed away nine years ago, she continued to keep closely in touch not only with each member of the family but had abiding friendships with many people of all ages around the globe. We know each of her many friends and relatives was special to her. We her children, and especially those of us scattered around in different parts of the world, thank you for your friendship and love which meant much to Amma. Even as adults, emails, cards, letters and phone calls from Amma were a bright spot in our day. She never made us feel guilty for living so far away.

After my last visit to her it was hard to say goodbye but she reminded me – “Let’s not cry because it’s over. Let’s smile because it happened’.

So beloved Amma, we are so grateful for you. We thank God for your life and are also deeply thankful that we know that this is just a parting, till ‘we meet on that glorious shore’. Thinking of you reunited with your beloved Earle and free from earthly suffering, being in the presence of our dear Lord and Saviour, gives us a peace that transcends our earthly loss.

TWO. Nan: Tribute to Anne Abayasekara – Gracious Lady,” Island, 10 January 2015

She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word’

That couplet from Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ is voiced by Macbeth when he is told his wife is dead. The soliloquy continues with the famous ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace’ with its utter tiredness of continuing life. Mercifully I voice only the first couplet. We are looking forward to a good tomorrow with the political change we so wanted having been achieved.

But as I intended to say in quoting Shakespeare, Anne should have died hereafter since she would also have jubilated the promised and expected revival of democracy, fair play, justice and equality to all, regardless of race and religion. She wrote articles and latterly, mostly letters to the Editor of two major Sunday newspapers and the dailies on the rotten state of Sri Lanka. She was completely outspoken in what she said; fearless and honest. I too criticized the political evils I saw and the stupidities and yes, depravity of some in politics; but I, the coward did it pseudonymously. Not so Anne; she wrote under her name. I was warned about white vans and the fact that I had no organization nor people in power to save me if I was taken in for too severe criticism; or if one criticized, even justifiably, one was labeled a traitor and to be punished forthwith. I said I did not mind my life being ended but the fear of a van ride or even questioning in a lonely space engulfed me with shivers of claustrophobic apprehension. Anne was, as I said, intrepid enough to voice her complaints boldly under her name.

Anne’s writing: I got to know Anne fairly recently – say ten years ago – when I met her at a bi-monthly meeting of the English Writers’ Cooperative (EWC) which I was invited to join. Anne had been a member for long. I noticed at once how wide and welcoming her smile was and how she spoke to this newcomer to make her feel easy. We then got friendly in the sense of me visiting her after she asked me whether I would review her book. Her complimentary copy of ‘Hurrah! For Large Families’ carries the date 8.10.2005. I reviewed it in this newspaper and she approved of my comments.

In the Introduction to the 306-paged book about her family, published by Vijita Yapa Publications, she says that she felt it would be useful and entertaining if she obliged those who requested her to get in book form some of the articles she had written to the newspapers. “It was only in mid-2004 that I suddenly realized that a book such as this might serve a useful purpose. As a family counselor over the past nearly 30 years I have listened and still do, to the sad stories of women and men whose marriages are disintegrating. As a school counselor, I listened to the sorrows of children whose parents were in conflict.” Speaking of herself she says: “Yes, we have been blessed.” Earlier on in the introduction Anne says she and Earle were childless and had a fine time traveling all over the Island by public transport. “By year three, when we were beginning to feel a slight unease about our childless condition, the first baby made her debut. Thereafter with incredible speed, six more followed in her wake and husband and I were plunged into learning the hard way about bringing up children.” The couple lived happily together for 59 years.

Clare Senewiratne wrote in her Foreword to the book: “In this age of divorce, broken homes and divided families, it was like coming on a sparkling little oasis in an arid desert to read Anne Abayasekara’s book … I thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘Hurrah! For Large Families’, a warm and loving record of unforgettable vignettes of happy family life.”

Anne herself: What about Anne the woman? The word that comes to mind thinking of her or even mentioning her name is gracious which includes charm, lack of the slightest trace of pride, lady-likeness and affectionate friendship extended to all. The first line of the introduction in her book epitomizes her, particularly her modesty. “It may seem presumptuous of me to think that anyone will be interested in reading a book that is in the main a record of one family’s quite ordinary doings and happenings, put together from newspaper articles written over a period many years.”

She had a subtle sense of humour too. The dedication in her book can be taken at face value or imbued with a bit of tongue in cheek writing. “To Earle, but for whom neither the ‘Magnificent Seven’ nor the book would have seen the light of day.”

Anne Amarasekara schooled at Ladies’ College Colombo 7. I will not attempt writing about her younger days as that would be what others tell me. She was on the staff of the Daily News when she met and reciprocated love extended by Earle Abayasekara who was the Secretary of Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. She worked at Lake House until her third child was born. Then she gave up nine to five work but was never only a wife, mother and busy housewife. She took to counseling and did much work for the Methodist Church she belonged to. When I got to know Anne she was a widow and fairly old but still very involved with the world having children and grandchildren living in many countries. She was also fully alive to the people of Sri Lanka, and as mentioned earlier wrote fearlessly, sympathetically and with great insight on the situations that were not good, on behalf of all Sri Lankans.

She never failed to telephone me if she liked a piece I wrote and I would telephone her to say I was so glad she wrote so succinctly about a situation – be it a political gimmick, an instance of child abuse, a difficulty of the poor in general or a stupidity voiced by a politician of little education and less wisdom. Our conversations were always accompanied by much laughter and never a complaint of the vagaries of ageing. You could feel her smiling and gentle concern as she conversed with you. The fact she was loved and appreciated by the many was proven by the large numbers present at her cremation at Kanatta Cemetery, Borella.

I say it again, addressing you direct Anne, that you should have been with us today (January 9) as we celebrate the victory of sense over insensibility; a desire for clean government against corruption and deceit; a revival of democracy over dictatorship and self-assumed, sycophant-promoted near-kingship. Things will change, Anne, and we will have professionals and educated clever people with the new President, Maithripala Sirisena, who has promised us good governance.

While we bid you a sad goodbye, we shed no tears since you lived a long and full life surrounded by family and deeply appreciated by all who knew you. You were an example to us women, and to journalists. The Editors’ Guild selected you with a couple of other senior journalists to receive the award for lifetime achievement in journalism for 2013 which honour your received in August 2014. They recognized you for your worth and value as a journalist and by extension a Sri Lankan truly rejoicing in the diversity of our people with regard to ethnicity and religions followed. I am so glad to say that we live in optimism with hope renewed.



Am I a Sinhalese first and a Sri Lankan afterwards: An honest attempt to answer the question

Anne Abayasekara

from the Island, 30 June 2008. …..


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