Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak
knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break -Macbeth
As we grow older and realize more clearly the limitations of human happiness, we come to see that the only real and abiding pleasure in life is to give pleasure to other people. – P G Wodehouse
How do we form our friendships? Is it a matter of chance? Does it depend on who sat next to you in class? Or does it spring out of an act of kindness? Or a crisis shared? In modern times friendships and connections are much publicized matters, but in our youth friendships happened quietly. You went to school, you met others your age, you played, you talked, you enjoyed fun times, you became friends….
I try to cast my mind back to earliest days – about 65 years ago. The usual classroom interactions, singing class, cubs, football field … gossamer-like memories flit through my mind. There is one encounter, and aftermath, that is strong in memory. It may have been about 1959~60, and during the monsoon season since Anoma had his raincoat that day….
We were chasing each other on the main grassy playing field, when I made a grab for him and caught part of the raincoat – which ripped badly! We were both not sure if it would have major repercussions. He travelled quite a distance to school and the long journey back must have been a difficult one, pondering what his parents would say. A day or two later, the teacher addressed the class. “I have received a note from Anoma’s mother. She says that he came home with a torn raincoat which cost 25 Rupees, an amount which is too much to make up easily. She says the tear was not his fault. Who is responsible for this incident?”.
I owned up in front of the class, and the teacher gave me a few days to bring 25 Rupees and hand over to Anoma. My heart was pounding, but I nodded and agreed to do so. I knew that the sum was large, and I would not be able to approach my parents about it easily. I had occasionally seen a rupees ten note and it seemed very big.
One wonders at what age a child feels that there is a divine order that sometimes intervenes in personal struggles. I had not worked out how I could solve my problem or mentioned it to anyone. Unexpectedly, a day or two later, my mother handed me the ‘school milk money’. We took this to school monthly for the daily half pint, supplied via the National Milk Board, that some of us opted to have. The sum was exactly 25 Rupees!
Later that day I handed the money to Anoma, knowing it would get him all squared up at home. I went without the daily chocolate milk half-pint during that month. I suppose that the episode, when both of us went through an unexpected ‘crisis’, strengthened the tie of friendship. We never discussed it afterwards. I only realised after my mother’s death in 2015, that I had never told her or any of my six siblings of this episode from childhood.
1962 was the year we went over to the adjacent big school, Royal College. Anoma and I were not in the same Form but interacted at some of the other lessons. We’d always meet in Religious Knowledge class. He had information of the College from his dad’s schooldays and would relate these tales sometimes. I think his dad knew the principal and some of the masters personally. Later I found that very many people knew his dad, who had been a well-known master and iconic figure at Richmond College, Galle. He also hailed from a family whose ties with the Methodist Church were deep – the Maharagama Church & Manse had been built on Abeyewardene land, probably gifted, adjacent to Anoma’s home, ‘Mahamega’. Over the years every Methodist Minister & family who came to the parish made friends with the Abeyewardenes. In those days the area was known as ‘Mahamegawatte’.
Anoma left his mark on the various groups that he was part of and individuals whose life’s path crossed his. In College days, one group where memories of his personality will endure, is the Cadet contingent. A ‘gang’ of us who happened be Boy Scouts already, were attracted by a notice that indicated that 2nd formers in 1963 would be recruited to attend the annual Junior Cadet camp in Diyatalawa in February the following year. We lined up outside the West wing lobby one day after school, and about 30 were picked out by senior cadet NCOs and officers to be given a rapid training. One of the two junior cadet platoons had been disbanded due to unsatisfactory behaviour, and a decision had been made to forge a platoon out of ‘brand new’ recruits! Since the camp was only a few months away there was intense training for us youngsters, all 12 & 13 years old. There was a training camp held at Hanwella MMV premises for us to experience the rigours of camp life. No doubt the intense training done together involving squad drill, PT, camp duties, first-aid classes etc ensured we formed a strong bond.
We did not know then that the decision to join the junior cadets would lead to connections which would endure and form memories which we would savour until the end of our days. Anoma’s dad had also been a cadet in his youth and had told Anoma stories of camps. Evidently Royal had been the first College where a volunteer unit was formed as far back as 1881. A cadet battalion became a reality about 20 years later with Royal, St Thomas’, Wesley, Trinity, Richmond etc being the first schools in the CCB. Later it had expanded to become the CCC – Ceylon Cadet Corps, of which we were the latest recruits.
As with all memories, invariably one’s very first experience leaves the most lasting impressions. Many of the gang in later years attended at least 3 junior cadet camps and 1 or more senior cadet camps held annually at the Diyatalawa army cantonment. Most memorable is our very first trip, in February 1964, on the ‘special cadet train’ which may have had about 500 on board, setting off from Fort Railway Station on the exciting journey all the way to Diyatalawa. Being a ‘special’ train full cadets and officers of the 3rd Battalion, we were given special treatment, which meant being shunted aside as required at various points along the journey! Regular trains always had priority over our train.
I recall my mother giving advice before the trip – “Don’t put your head out of the train window going upcountry. Your Uncle Ira did that as young cadet and he developed a severe ear-ache due to the cold wind.” Anoma told us about the danger of getting coal flakes in our eyes, probably a tip from his father, this being the steam locomotive era. When the train went through tunnels the smoke would fill the compartments if the windows were down, and we soon learnt to push them up. That first trip we got special treatment all right, since the train took about 15 hours to make the 150 mile trip, reaching our destination close to midnight! Most of us won’t recall what we ate during that very long day, or details of what we were taught (First-Aid theory etc) while travelling, but all of us remember one memorable episode that probably filled close to an hour!
The two platoons were naturally together, and we had the adjoining baggage car also to ourselves. There were a few of the older cadets, going on their 2nd or 3rd camp, occupying the baggage car and they had a baila sing song going. Maybe as a bit of a rag, they got some of us recruits to contribute a verse or two. When it came to Anoma, it was not a verse but an entirely new song that he introduced to all. Not only the tune and words but a dance too! Soon everyone – officers, senior NCOs and all the cadets took turns to come into the baggage car and experience seeing and hearing Anoma. It was exhilaration personified – he gave us a true audio-visual experience, singing and dancing – a song that his father had taught him! As Ram Rajan & Muthu, at the service, recollected recently, the four-line repetitive ditty went like this: –Ta ra ra ra boom badiye; Ooru gus mung handiye
Mage thatha bundiye; Ta ra ra ra boom badiye…
Almost everyone in the RC carriages took turns at joining in, and the revelry was greatly enjoyed. Anoma, transported to another zone, kept up the singing for what seemed like ages, bathed in perspiration, and giving of himself. Although he is no more present to sing for us, there are former cadets scattered around the world now, who will be able to close their eyes, and visualise – while a smile spreads around their face – a 13-year-old boy giving a musical performance from the heart, that is imprinted in our hearts forever.
About ten years ago, I found the original song, dating to 1891, on YouTube and sent it to Anoma. He was glad to hear the tune which he drilled into our heads on a train all those years ago.
Diyatalawa – February 1966 – Anoma in front row extreme right
He wasn’t sure where his father had learnt the song – it may have been at Royal or even later in his Richmond days. There had been a Boer POW camp at Urugasmanhandiya said Anoma, and the reference may have been to the portly Boers.
In later life, recalling school days, Anoma would regularly remind me that I had got him into scrapes with higher authorities, while I stayed ‘an innocent bystander’. One incident was when we were mere first formers, and the Head Prefect walked past us in the corridor. I had said something to Anoma which naturally galvanised him into action. He waited until the personage went past us and getting behind him placed a thumb in each ear with palms flapping and put out his tongue. Just then round the bend in the corridor came another prefect who caught ACJA in the act. Anoma was taken to task, having to report to the dreaded Prefects Room for reprimand after school.
Anoma was a gifted singer with a good ear and deep interest in many forms of music. He was part of the school singing group in RPS & RC. When we entered College, our voices had not yet broken. Those of us in the Student Christian Movement were co-opted into the SCM choir, whose major annual event was – and probably still is – the Carol Service held in the College Hall.
A four-part choir was always possible when the College comprised 11~12year-olds in the 1st form and 17~18year-olds in the Upper 6th. The Tenors sat behind us, the Trebles, who sang the melody. A smaller number of Alto singers were next to us and behind them sat the Bass voices. In our early years there must have been about 50 in total. Normally having a bunch of schoolboys practising singing would be a difficult task to supervise for any master. However, the SCM choir was conducted by the College Principal, Mr Dudley K G de Silva! Naturally the discipline levels were higher and the fact that senior students, some even school prefects, were seated behind us kept the Trebles antics and disruptions in check. Anoma says that I was a disruptive influence seated next to him whispering comments during practice!? On the day in question a comment caused him to guffaw, and the principal lost his cool and bellowed “ABEYWARDENE – SHUT UP!” -which would have been heard a long distance away. The tenors behind were very unhappy…and growled at us. Anoma thought I should have owned up, as I had done long ago…. in Primary School.
Writings – mainly emails on various topics – that Anoma wrote are still on my old PC. Reading them elicits laughter when one has made sense of his wit and grasps the verbal gymnastics, funny implications, and clever intertwining of ideas & humour.
His closest friend from school and throughout adult years was Mahes. They were both ‘doctoral scholars in Wodehouse humour’. It was a delight to see & hear them bouncing off each other with words and phrases. Many of these jousts would have been properly understood only by those familiar with the PGW world. Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, Gussie Finknottle, Lord Emsworth and the like seemed to have been close acquaintances of Anoma & Mahes! If Mahes was Bertie, I suppose Anoma would have been Kipper Herring. In the only book he appears, Bertie introduces Kipper with the words “A life-long buddy of mine, this Herring, linked to me by what are called imperishable memories”.
BRP, Mahes & Anoma -25th July 2002
The verbal ‘ping pong’ these two buddies engaged in should have entertained the rest of us in the 2000s. Sadly, this was not to be, since Mahes left us, as suddenly as Anoma did, twenty years earlier – on 11th September 2002. Mahes spent quite a few holidays in England, especially after his very early retirement at the age of 47! He stayed at Anoma & Daksheenie’s earlier home in Herne Hill and is mentioned in multiple letters. The two had met up in July 2002 in SriLanka, not many weeks before Mahes succumbed to sudden heart failure while at a Toastmaster event. Anoma flew to SriLanka for Mahes’ funeral. His friend’s absence would have been a keenly felt void for the past twenty years. We can hope that somewhere their two buoyant spirits have met up now. Mahes may have greeted Anoma with the words – “What Ho, blot on the landscape! What took you so long?”
Although he was Anoma in Primary School, he was dubbed Charlie in cadeting years. Mahes always called him that. They were both music lovers and crooners of a sort with a wide repertoire. I like to imagine them somewhere now, singing together the songs of the 60s that they both loved. Seeing this 1969 video reminded me of Anoma & Mahes, and these songs of our youth…
After Mahes’ death, Anoma wrote about their schooldays and the character of his friend. It was beautifully written. Whenever I read or think about human relationships and enduring connections between people which adds quality to life, I think of these two friends. They shared abiding interests in many things, but most importantly they were ‘in tune’. Together they created a harmony, that their friends and families were also able to enjoy. We can still savour their friendship in memory even after they have left us.
One of Anoma’s favourite songs was The Seekers’ rendition of When will the good apples fall. He would know the words to many songs, and kept any travel companions in tune, being fluent in not only the melody, but alto & tenor parts as well. Harry Belafonte was another of his favourites in schooldays, and I can picture – and hear – him singing Jamaican Farewell.
Daksheenie – a good apple certainly did fall your way when you met Anoma, and you both have influenced and blessed many people positively in your long and generous life together.
My mother was an email correspondent of Anoma’s and they enjoyed regular communications until her death in early Jan 2015. She had over the years urged him to pen his thoughts into a book, knowing he had such a wide reading range and interests combined with a down to earth understanding of men and matters. She knew he would have also made a much-appreciated writer of humour.
In her last message sent to me via my sister from the hospital bed she wanted me to let Anoma know that her messages were temporarily stopped due to her hospital stay. I know Anoma missed their exchanges. He even sent an email message to her after her death – “One Final Time” was the subject line, and the text contained the well-known Irish Blessing.
When Anoma visited Sri Lanka, he would faithfully visit his relatives especially the older ones. He counted parents of friends in this list and would give an account of his meetings with them. Current state of political affairs in the country never escaped his analysis. In 2011 when Anoma was due to visit Srilanka, I informed my mother that Anoma Charles James & Dakshinee were hoping to visit her after their arrival. She responded asking “who are the two others accompanying the Abeyewardenes?” Anoma replied, updating her about the names of his two grandfathers which he carried with pride. He told me that she had been his Sunday School teacher in 1964-65, something I have no recollection of, although I attended the same Sunday School located at Colombo’s Methodist College.
Anoma was exposed to books at a tender age. He also had a genuine literary gift. Being immersed in emails and reading, he did not find the time for penning a book. His emails however contained many gems and occasionally he would send a composition such as a poem. His limericks too were high calibre, though many of them would be written for adults only! His poem ‘Loss’, written after the sudden death of a friend in Bexhill, UK deserves to be widely appreciated. It was beautifully read by his late friend’s daughter at Anoma’s memorial service.
He would comment on articles, essays and other writings based on his own reading and understanding. He took a firm stand and was able to appreciate a piece of writing even though he may have disagreed with the character or politics or morals of the writer. Current ‘woke’ attitudes were anathema to Anoma, and he called a spade a spade. He analysed ‘religious’ topics too and tried to show the oneness of humanity, and the view from other perspectives. He would foster harmony but call out hypocrisy when he felt the need to do so.
He was not given to name dropping or any kind of pomposity. ‘Plain speaking’ was his style. Often his source would be his parents – ‘Tatha & Mama’ – or his kinfolk. He would quote their words or experiences. A humorous aspect to his emails was the subject title which made one think twice – or thrice – to comprehend what he was getting at.
If it was an item of interest that someone else had sent him, he would reply with comments, and usually copy it to a wider circle. When he didn’t agree with a proposition, he would put forward his arguments and any ‘put down’ would be laced with humour so that there were no hard feelings. Looking at his words and ability to connect one event with another from history, one realises that his power of retention of book knowledge was much higher than average. He would recall information and piece together his arguments.
When he was in a mischievous mood, we would receive extracts from the tabloid papers. An example would be a story that informed us that Hitler’s old toilet had been found in a garage! Another story would inform us of a vegan woman artist who used a novel painting technique – by vomiting Soya milk onto the canvas!
I wonder if Colleges (High schools) nowadays have a ‘last day’ for a batch, when they complete school. Our batch sat for the GCE A/L exam (University entrance) in December 1968 and continued at school the following year until the results were released. Once the results were known everyone simply scattered in different directions. Those who gained admission to university probably spent carefree days attending school until university commenced. Those like me, who failed to gain university entry, had to decide – either take the exam again or apply for a job or a traineeship. In 1969 I abruptly parted ways with classmates since I went away to external tutors & classes in preparation for my second attempt at GCE A/Ls. I lost touch with those who continued at school and didn’t know of their doings. I can’t ever recall a ‘last day at school’ or going round saying farewell to the place filled with so many fond memories.
It is only after Anoma’s death that I came to know of some of his activities in school after I left. In 1969 he had been made Editor of the School Magazine – a prestigious appointment. He had also been Secretary of the Interact Club and been actively involved leading their projects. Being Anoma, he never spoke about himself and any achievements. Rohan Dalpatadu produced extracts of the 1969 Annual Magazine recently.
Anoma with headman
Photographs also surfaced of Anoma and Interact Club members in Batticaloa, where a building of a school in a Veddah village named Murthani, had been financed by a club organised fund raiser – the first interact discotheque. Those junior to our batch who knew him via the club spoke fondly of Anoma’s contribution.
One rowing event he participated in was the 1969 Regatta. I made it a point to attend and cheer Anoma who rowed 3 in the B crew. I have the souvenir which records the teams and the results. Except for the Senior Pairs race, Royal crews won the other 6 events, and it was an enjoyable evening by the Beira Lake for us all.
It was not only at school that I had memorable interactions with Anoma. We attended YMCA Boys Camps in teenage years. I recall one in 1965 at Trinity College, Kandy with about 80 youngsters attending over 4 days. These were super events packed with activities and character-building experiences. There were no photos taken so I do not have a photo of Anoma posing like Charles Atlas when he won the Runner-up award in the “Mr Camper” body building contest!
In 1969 the College Rugby supremos asked Anoma to edit the souvenir for the annual Bradby Shield encounter. It was the Silver Jubilee and an important milestone. He shouldered the responsibility well and I recall doing many trips with him to Thilak Printers in Pannipitiya. It was the era of hand assembled type, and many errors were possible. Careful proof reading enabled a reasonable product. He wrote a short editorial for the souvenir.
Dalpe also told me that they had both attended the Senior Cadet camp that year, held later than usual in August. Anoma and Dalpe had both been Lance Corporals.
In August 1967 when we were in the Lower Sixth form at school, we also attended a National SCM Conference held at the Girls’ Home Badulla. This was a memorable experience since there were about 10 schoolboys/girls among the 50 university students from Colombo & Peradeniya campuses. We were exposed to discussions on ‘intellectual matters’ and listened to debates (sometimes heated) on various topics. Subjects affecting society were discussed more than ‘religious’ topics. Liberation theology from South America was beginning to be addressed in the SCM. How could the church ‘be neutral’ in the struggle of the poor and marginalised against oppression?
Social justice was the big theme and I recall hearing the word ‘iconoclasm’ for the first time. We were exposed to Marxist doctrine during some of the discussions and heard phrases like ‘Hegelian Dialectics’ and ‘Class Struggle’. Anoma, Dileepe de Alwis & I were three from Royal and we had an enjoyable & stimulating time. One evening we three & a few others from Wesley College were given leave to attend an afternoon tea party at the residence of the Government Agent, Badulla! He was the father of fellow Royalist, Rohan Abeyaratne one year junior to us in school.
Anoma is at centre in dark shirt, holding two fingers behind the head of a lady undergrad, while his pal Dileepe next to him, is holding two fingers behind Anoma’s head!
It may have been 1969 or 1970, that six of us set out on a sort of adventure. Anoma had a cousin working at the Uda Walawe Project. The Waulpane Cave had been discovered in the Pallebedda area, not far from where the cousin was based. The caves had featured in the newspapers. Since Anoma’s cousin had told him he could provide a place to stay, Anoma mooted the idea that we do a trek – to explore this famous limestone cave and see its stalactites & stalagmites. So, we took bus to Embilipitiya from Colombo and made our way to Uda Walawe. The living quarters of the crew the cousin worked with were not far from the Udawalawe dam and reservoir. The facilities were quite basic, and we roughed out the first night. Next day we set out without any map or details of our route. I think a vehicle attached to the Project dropped us off at some point and we thought we’d find our way to the cave on foot, by asking people along the way.
Mahes, Anoma, BRP, Rohan, NKA intrepid explorers We found the distance was much longer than expected for a trek. The villagers we spoke to could not give us an exact distance to the cave – it was always “just a little bit more to go”. Anyway, we kept at it and were quite exhausted when we got to our destination in the evening. We didn’t have any gear or lighting and were not properly attired for cave exploring. We made a cursory exploration at the entrance – dark, forbidding & slippery it seemed. The hundreds of bats and their droppings are the main memory of the trip! Being wet & dark, cavernous limestone cave exploration requires a good deal of preparation…we realised this a bit too late.
The return journey, some of it being uphill was quite tiring, and we had many encounters with what we thought were snakes. For sustenance we may have had some biscuits and chocolates and it is likely that we shed a few kilos that day. Late at night we stopped at a humble village home and asked if we could sleep in their front yard. In traditional welcoming style they were said yes. Next day, in the afternoon we got back to base, expecting that cousin would have been alarmed and sent out search parties. All he said was “Oh, you have come back”, when he saw six bedraggled & exhausted young men walk in.
Anoma went to USA in August 1970, and Mahes & I left for Peradeniya in December. He kept in touch with us by letters and picture postcards, aware that we two were roommates in our first year. Coincidentally that same year, a smart girl from Methodist College had been selected as an American Field Service scholar to spend a year in USA. She was Daksheenie de Silva!
Before I went to Peradeniya I paid a visit to his home, knowing that his parents would find their only child’s absence hard to get used to. I took bus from Dehiwala’s Station Road Bus Stand on Route 119 to Maharagama. It was a lovely scenic route. One left the hubbub of the city behind, and the road went through pastoral areas -Pepiliyana, Bellanvila, (where a temple was located near a lake), and Boralesgamuwa – a journey of about 8 km which took about 40 minutes in those days!
‘Mahamega’ was located adjacent to the main High-Level Road, which was quite different in ambience to today’s bustling business precinct. I was given Anoma’s room & large bed (may have been a four poster) for the night. I had an interesting time, conversing with his parents. His father, Uncle Ikey, had an extraordinary range of interests and could talk for hours on varied topics. He was known to attend meetings of various societies and associations in Colombo and hence stayed UpToDate. On his outings he had a cloth bag slung on his shoulder which contained reading matter. He could talk about Robert Knox or the Sigiriya frescoes or Hamlet or Principals of Royal College…. all in one long conversation. Anoma’s mother a kindly lady, had her hands full with her energetic spouse and son, in addition to a boarder or two. His parents were justly proud of Anoma winning the prestigious scholarship to spend a year at the Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, USA. His father would later tell me that the syndicated column which appeared in the newspapers under the name James Reston, was really his boy using a nom de plume!
During that stay, I walked with Uncle Ikey to a public well located close by for our morning wash. His amiable nature meant he knew many people in the community he lived in. In the 1960s Maharagama had a rural feel and was not the teeming town it is now. His ability to relate to people of all walks of life and make connections, was a worthy trait that Anoma inherited in full measure.
A few years ago, I read a Richmond College Old Boys magazine where they paid tribute to some of their old masters….
From ‘Lessons that Richmond taught me’ by Noel Wijenaike
The late Mr Ikey Abeyewardene was my class teacher in Standard 4 as well as being the hostel master. He was a strict disciplinarian as well as a voracious reader. His room was stacked with hundreds of books, and discussing issues with him was an enlightening experience, as his knowledge seemed to encompass every conceivable topic of discussion….
In later years I encountered people who knew Uncle Ikey from their own childhoods – he was a visitor who ‘dropped in’ at home they said, and engaged with everyone in a household, young ones included. Anoma, like his dad, knew that the most important thing in life was human relationships and nurtured these all his life. He did sometimes use email as a ‘soap box’ for his pet topics, but he also used it to connect individually and forge close ties with many of us, probing deeper into subjects of mutual interest or simply to ‘be a pal’.
After his year at PEA in New Hampshire, Anoma went to university at the US Virgin Islands. I have letters he’s written from New Hampshire and later from London, but none from the Virgin Islands. Maybe the place name explains why he could not find time for letter writing 😊
I recall attending Daksheenie & Anoma’s wedding on (my elder brother’s birthday) March 27th, 1979, with my wife. I was working at the Petroleum Refinery in Sapugaskanda at the time. In 1982 Anoma, BRP with Kumar (Wanky) & spouses visited us in our home there. Kumar reminded me that he had been instrumental in Daksheenie and Anoma meeting up. It had been just after my elder sister’s wedding which both Anoma & Kumar attended. Kumar told me he was off to a dance at the Women’s International Club that evening. I told him to take eligible bachelor Anoma along. Hence, I know the exact date when the ‘good apple fell’ – 7th June 1975. Ranjan, BRP, Anoma, Kumar 1982 at Sapugaskanda
I went to work in Qatar at end 1982. Unfortunately, when we visited UK in August 1985, I was unaware that Anoma & Daksheenie had moved there by then. Hence, we did not meet up. This was something he needled me about in later years when mention of our only visit came up.
Travel was a special interest and starting from his first overseas trip in 1970 – when he described tasting the snails, potato chips & mussels off the street in Brussels – he would write of the culinary delights and the wines in every place. He was one who would prefer to take the road less travelled, not wanting a ‘touristy’ experience but keen to savour the ordinary joys in places they visited. In letters he mentioned visits to beautiful Vancouver in Canada where Daksheenie’s brother, Bunchy and classmate Anil (PAS) gave them a great time. In a PPC sent from China showing the ruins of Yuanmingyuan, he says that “the weather is like London but with smog”. Writing after a trip to SL he describes spending 4 days in Singapore tasting Australian meats emu & crocodile! He liked the stir-fried crocodile but didn’t like the Chinese sauce that drowned the emu flavour. Fish head curry in Serangoon Road and Singapore Sling at the Raffles Bar had been duly tasted.
The last time we met was in Srilanka in the late 80s. Anoma & Daksheenie were on holiday from UK and we were there from Doha. He visited me at my parents’ home in Wellawatte with Mahes & BRP.
Anoma had the knack of connecting people. Almost as soon as we settled in Whyalla in South Australia in 1995, he informed us that his favourite cousin Dawn lived in Adelaide, and her daughter worked in the same place as I did! We were glad to meet and get to know Dawn and her daughter & family. Classmate Jura too who was in Adelaide got to know Dawn. We have enjoyed her hospitality on more than one occasion. Anoma also connected us with a niece, Dimanthi & family in Darwin who also extended warm hospitality to us when visiting there. There was also the serendipitous discovery that friends of ours in youth were friends of Anoma in his Maharagama days too! Manel & Sindy who lived in New Zealand until recent times, moved to UK to be closer to their children. It was Manel who provided the beautiful piano accompaniment at the service on July 18th celebrating Anoma’s life. Sindy had stayed at ‘Mahamega’ in his young days.
The UK based group of classmates will miss Anoma the most, as apparent by the heart felt messages that have come in after the initial shock. If Anoma heard that a classmate was visiting London, he would ‘show them London’ if possible. He would organise a meal with as many of the group who could attend. Photographs of many such gatherings abound and were sent round the group via email.
The Vacant Chair, a song from the US Civil war, comes to mind when I think of that group when they gather next in London.
We shall meet, but we shall miss him, there will be one vacant chair…..
There were many other people who would be personally hosted by the Abeywardenes. Relatives, friends, or children of friends & relatives, visitors on holiday, all were made welcome under their roof. They had a large circle of friends and would enhance Christmas by gathering them together. People alone, or far away from loved ones, would benefit by Anoma & Daksheenie’s embrace. In one letter he describes hosting an Islamic friend, who was on a business visit to London after a pilgrimage to Mecca. Due care had been taken in positioning the prayer rug in his bedroom in the right direction. Unfortunately, when the visitor got up from prayer, his eyes fell upon a photograph opposite. It was one Anoma had taken in Chiang Mai on a holiday there – and featured a cockerel and two pigs! It was duly replaced.
In an email he mentions ‘the annual Goose vs Turkey debate’ raging at home in early December. Both Daksheenie & Anoma had been on the Senior Debating Team at Methodist College & Royal College respectively, so they would have argued their points well. One year he stated that the issue had been resolved by the neutral selection of Venison!
The news of their warm & welcoming home must have spread to the animal kingdom as well because in the summer of 2009 a ginger cat decided to walk into their house and hearts. Cattipuss has been a member of the household ever since. Anoma would write about his antics now and then.
Cattipuss showing Anoma who’s boss
I recall speaking to him rather anxiously in July 2005 after hearing of the London bombings, knowing that his work was with the London Underground. He sounded quite calm and matter of fact describing what was known at the time. It must have shaken him and Daksheenie when the full scale of the acts of terror became known. I also recall the conversation during the 2011 riots which started in London and spread to other areas of the UK.
When an Aussie family of 5, close friends from our town, were on holiday in London in January 2012, I asked Anoma to recommend a restaurant to them, where I would play host for the night. Anoma & Daksheenie in their typical way had other plans. Anoma picked them up from their hotel, Lakeview Court Apartments, and took them home where they were hosted to a home cooked meal.
It was in late 2015 that Chito first informed us about Anoma’s medical issues which required hospital treatment. He had stents installed in some arteries in February 2016. He was soon back on email and giving us insights into his experience with the NHS, laced with customary humour.
When a much-loved niece Shenuki, informed us in 2019 that she was due to leave SriLanka for England with her husband, my wife & I, living in Australia, instantly knew how we could help the couple. We’d give them an email introduction to Anoma & Daksheenie. For a young couple starting life in a big city in a new country, what could be a better gift, than a connection to a friend of one’s childhood. I had not met Anoma since the 1980s, but it mattered little. We were not ‘Facebook Friends’ – we were merely ‘Old School’ friends.
Within a short time Shenu & Chrish established contact with Anoma & Daksheenie. Even though Covid19 imposed its restrictions six months after their arrival, the kindness of the Abeywardenes, warmed the hearts of not only of the couple, but also their loved ones living in far-away places. Shenu told us that the adverse circumstances that deprived them of making new friendships were overcome by the affectionate bond made with Anoma & Dakshinee, who became, in her words, their ‘proxy parents’. The joys of welcoming their first child, Ralph in June 2021 was added to by the visits and support given by them. Anoma & Daksheenie shared a strong faith. They lived it out, giving their time & energies freely towards helping others throughout their long partnership.
Shenu took this pic at Anoma’s Birthday lunch – 6th February 2022
Shenu who had grown up in the ‘FB era’, when people talked of “having 500+ friends”, marvelled that a couple, who were a generation removed, and personally unknown to them, could be such sincere friends. I told her, a bit pompously, “in our time, we had REAL friends!” Anoma’s sudden demise caused much distress to Shenu, who had been looking forward to introducing Anoma & Daksheenie to her parents. They had arrived in England before Shenu’s second child’s arrival. Her parents, and baby Kimberley who was born a week before Anoma’s death, did not get a chance to meet him….
As we look at Anoma’s life and its impact on ours, it is normal to grieve because we now can never meet him again. We would do well to remind ourselves of the words of Epictetus – “He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not but rejoices in what he has”.
What do we have to rejoice in?
We have the knowledge of a friendship which enriched our lives. Many people journey through life without such an experience. We haven’t had any words or exchanges with Anoma to regret, but only fond times to look back on and be grateful. As Bertie Wooster would say, we have ‘imperishable memories’, and they are ones which lift our spirits and bring a spontaneous smile to our faces.
That is the legacy left to us by a friend who ‘derived pleasure by giving pleasure to other people’.
Friendship, peculiar boon of Heaven,
The noble mind’s delight and pride–
To men and angels only given,
To all the lower world denied! – Samuel Johnson
A NOTE: Ranjan’s preferred title for this eulogy is “Anoma C J Abeyewardene (6 February 1951 – 5 June 2022) …. Boon of heav’n”