Thinking of my uncle on his birthday
My moment of sadness is today, as I talk to ChatGPT about pigeons. My fingers move from my laptop towards my phone, and I freeze. I was about to text you excitedly about this bewildering and brilliant new technology. But you are not here. You loved technology.
My moment of sadness came yesterday, when a friend pulled out a quirky gadget. I caught myself from making a mental note to buy you one. Because you are not here. You loved gadgets.
My moment of sadness will come tomorrow, when it would have been your birthday. And you will not be here.
How we loved you, we love you.
You would have hated this. All the photographs, the publicity. En route to your funeral, I laughed. There were photographers following us on motorbikes. Paparazzi like we were celebrities. It was surreal, absurd.
You, my uncle, who hated having his photo taken. You, who refused to wear suits and dress shoes.
Now there are photographs of you in a suit everywhere.
What is the relevance of my remembrance? What is my loss to whoever reads this? I struggle to answer that. The ability to make our family’s pain more widely known is a part of our privilege. They say you were a public figure. But you weren’t really. You were a private figure. The world of PR and influence is the opposite of who you were. Brilliant as you were, you never looked for any limelight.
My privilege lets me speak, so what do I say? And you can no longer speak, so what should I say?
Our family is privileged. And you never forgot that. You stood with the oppressed. You noticed the injustices of the everyday. Of domestic workers who were not protected by labour laws. Of prisoners who could not be released for want of a small bail. Of Aragalaya protestors struck with stinging tear gas. You saw people’s hurts and needs, and you didn’t just walk on by. You were quietly busy, trying to fix things, both big and small.
You were, like any other human, imperfect. But you were extravagantly loving. And you did not take your privilege for granted. You would have never wished for your own injustice to be highlighted in this way. You would have noticed an underlying injustice in our family’s tragedy being so greatly amplified, above so many others.
In the sea of sadness and suffering, here is my moment. No more or less important than anyone else’s. I miss you so very much. Every picture of your smiling face feels like a stab in the heart. Saddest birthday, dearest Dinesh Anna. How we miss you.
Adieu dear colleague and friend!
Dr. Maithree Rajapakse
Dr Maithree Rajapaksa was in his prime (a life condition which lasted many more years since ) when he anaesthetized Ayoma. I hardly knew him then, but from a senior to a newcomer consultant, he was friendly, comforting and reassuring. I instantly liked him, but because of the gap in our ages, I always called him “Dr Rajapaksa”, till I saw him last. He was a person I liked to have around, both inside and outside an operating theatre.
That would have been in the mid-’90s. In 1998, when I joined the tight bunch of Kandy Consultants he was the first to invite me to his place in Ampitiya for a memorable dinner. Those days he enjoyed a good drink, a good non–veg meal and a sing-song. He loved the same oldies I loved and very soon, I learnt all the lyrics of his favourites, and the like, and we always gravitated to the same corner for every party and trip.
During those early days, he anaesthetized for my lists in the hospital and the private sector, and during and in between the cases we shared what was in the grapevine and in general circulation. We always had a very light-hearted theatre atmosphere, and inspite of the flying bone dust, the incessant hammering and screwing, the chatting and hearty laughs lasted the length of the list.
Dr Rajapaksa was a legend in our time. He was well-respected, the perfect handsome gentleman, a popular teacher, and a very dependable anaesthetist who always respected the varied whims and fancies of the surgical kind. He was a diplomat, who never hesitated to offer his hand to settle arguments and banter which also are traits too common to surgeons. He was a fine organizer, in the hospital and outside events. He was a gentle leader who took up the position of various socio-educational institutions centred on doctors. He dressed immaculately and made a fine, head-turning couple with Shanthi, in those events.
We worked side by side till his retirement, and I witnessed the gentle mellowing of his youthful ways with his advancing years and the ailment. He gave up many of the finer vices, and became a religious person, almost imperceptibly. Yet he never intruded into our ways to spoil the fun. That was Dr Rajapakse.
He made a sizable contribution to every KSM social event. He directed a comedy for every KSM family get-together and I also had to join the bandwagon of consultants such as Lionel, L Weera, Ananda, Chandrika and WAL Wicks in these dramas of satire. It was amazing to see the effort he put into these dramas, from script-writing to directing and acting. I just can’t fathom how he managed to get all these stage-shy cronies to act under the limelight, acting the fool in front of all their family members! Last time I was dressed up like a lady wanting plastic surgery and he was the surgeon who was attending to me, I had to caution him many times to stop giggling at me, at the sheer mirth of seeing an ageing baldie, made-up like a pretty lady, heels and all! What lovely memories.
Dr Rajapakse was a wild-life guy, but then, he was an elephant guy. I am a bird guy who is mortally scared of elephants. So I can understand why we were not partners in wildlife ventures. But I know he loved his travelling inside the country, the same way I love my travels and travails.
Dr Rajapakse sought my opinion on a variety of Orthopaedic problems. Treating him was done always with my hands tied, as he did not want drugs because of his ailment. The consultations were long but contained mostly matters not at all related to his problem. I knew he wanted reassurance and he knew that I would not give him drugs. Sometimes, he very apologetically would contact me for matters related to his relatives, and all those consultations and treatments ended up with home-grown delicacies like fine kitul treacle, jaggery, avocadoes and mangoes from his garden and yummy sweetmeats from the kitchens of his relatives.
I know you wouldn’t want me to write a pompous appreciation but would have preferred something light-hearted like this. Dear Dr Rajapaksa, friend and colleague, you have left us. I will miss you and so will hundreds of your friends, colleagues, and students. You have left us but your memory will never be forgotten.
Dear colleague, may your journey through samsara be short and may you attain the highest bliss of Nibbana. May you be at peace.
Dr Gamini Edirisinghe
Thank you for being part of our lives
A soul serene, a heart aglow,
A person self-made, whose light doth show,
A presence warm, a grace refined,
A gentle spirit, with peace entwined.
A steady gaze, a confident air,
A humble heart that’s free from care,
A voice that soothes, a smile so bright,
A spirit pure, with love in sight.
In all he does, in all he says,
His wisdom shines like break of day,
His strength and grace, a rare bouquet,
A lovable person, through and through, they stay.
The above verse describes Athula, my brother-in-law. What a serene self he was. His demise alas, created a void in our family, but he did what he had to do in the life he led in an exemplary way.
He was a member of the well-known Liyanage clan from Sam P. Liyanage Mawatha at Nugegoda, where his paternal residence was. His career which spanned around half a century at Upali’s during the time of late Upali Wijewardana in the 70s, to the company he incorporated later, Henex International where he serviced the industries with niche components, was a journey that he enjoyed and carried to the end.
On a more personal note, he was a man for all seasons – ready to cope with any contingency and whose behaviour was always appropriate to every occasion. Lately he was my partner during weekends and holidays, on a morning stroll exploring walking tracks and new venues in Colombo and the suburbs. That was exhilarating and the small talk during the walks was definitely mutually beneficial.
He was the loving and caring husband of my second sister Anoja – they had a happy abode. Their two sons Dilanka and Rajeev, daughters-in-law Sayami and Kushani, two granddaughters and many more will grieve at his demise. But should not we thank him for being a part of our lives?
May he attain supreme bliss of Nirvana.