By Dr B. J. C. Perera
Specialist Consultant Paediatrician
A full year has gone by since my wonderful charismatic wife, Dr Sarojini Perera, left all of us, and this earth, forever on the 6th of December 2019. Yet for all that, it seems only the other day that I was able to hold her gently and ever so softly in my arms. The absolute and complete sense of unbearable loss and the agonising grief that was left behind by her untimely demise has not abated by even a fraction of a miniscule element; not even after a very desolate and bleak one year. Just as Richard L. Ratliff, that passionate orator and poet from Indiana, USA, so graphically described, “Time is a passing: not leaden stepping, but sprinting on winged feet. Quicksilver slipping by“. Yet for all that, the legendary healing touch of Father Time has very definitely passed me by. In point of fact, eons may pass, things may change, but memories will always stay where they are; in the heart…, for hearts never forget.
Sarojini was all of what a man could ever ask for, and even hope and pray for. From the time of developing a starry-eyed romantic liaison with her, as young doctors in the latter part of 1972, and from the day we tied the knot on the 26th of April 1975, it has been a life of perpetual love, in the form of a fulfilling commitment to each other. I have often asked her what she saw in me and her answer has always been “I saw the potential“. What she called ‘potential’ would never have borne fruit without her. Indeed, she was the proverbial wind beneath my wings, the breeze in my sails and the gust that lifted me up to the lofty echelons that I would never have been able to reach without her. She raised me up to being much more than I could ever hope to be. I was forever so strong when I was on her shoulders, literally and metaphorically. Life blessed me with her wonderful companionship for such a memorable length of time, but I do wonder in my heart of hearts, why? Oh, why…? did she have to go away, even after being with me for 44 years 7 months and 10 days. I really have no answer to that and I can only lament quietly. It only brings out the truth of the saying that the most painful tears are not the ones that fall from your eyes and cover your face, but are the ones that fall from your heart and cover your soul.
She was also a doting mother who, like all mothers, was absolutely delighted at even the smallest achievement of our daughter Manisha. But then, Sarojini was also an outright magician as a mother. Nothing ever ruffled her. Our daughter would be witness to the fact that her mother would be quite adept at turning pain into hope, hardships into lessons, calamities to optimism, and even tears into laughter. Manisha would confide in her mother, rather than in her father, ninety-nine per cent of the time. The very special rapport and the bond the two of them had was quite remarkable.
Sarojini’s staunch loyalty to her family and her total dedication to all of us was absolutely fabulous. Oh yes…, it would really surprise many that there was a kind of hidden rugged strength beneath that soft and tender placid exterior. That fantastic asset was carefully veiled in reams of the softest silk of gentleness; a very rare and exceptional blend. In fact, she was much stronger mentally than me. Whenever gloomy thoughts and setbacks tried to get her down, she just blew them away with a dazzling smile; just one of those smiles that she was forever renowned for. However, she would not hesitate to express her opinion on compelling issues and very often her enlightened views were bang on target.
The lady was eternally comfortable with life because she firmly believed that to be happy it was essential to find strength in forgiveness, hope in disagreements, security in fear, and even love in discordance. People used to say, and still continue to say, that no one could fight with her because you need two to fight, and she never ever would fight back. She was just not made that way. Despite her fame and popularity, for her ways were so very alluring and attractive to all around, the lady never felt the need for the parading of flashy and pretentious charades. Humility was her much revered forte. She preferred to be the type of person who would fit in with any type of crowd and she always managed to do it with finesse, elegance and style. It is said that a living is made in this world by what one gets. My wife was very happy with what she got in life, even me for that matter. In addition, she also made her life sublime and inspirational by what she gave to others. She generally worked for a cause and not for the applause. Her life was lived to express but not to impress. She never strove to make her presence felt but now that she is gone, her absence is felt ever so strongly and perpetually. We, her immediate family, together with her numerous friends and admirers, have felt that just to even talk or write about her in the past tense is in itself deeply distressing to all of us.
Sarojini was beautiful for the way she thought. She was beautiful for the sparkle in her eyes. She was beautiful for the way she smiled, and she was beautiful for her inherent ability to make other people smile too. Oh no…., she wasn’t beautiful for something as transitory and brittle as her really good looks, which of course she had in plenty. She was so very beautiful for the fact that she really was a serenely gorgeous person deep down…., right down to her beautiful soul; the poignant charm of her innermost loveliness. The sublime qualities that were an integral part of her nature, nurtured in her formative years by her fantastic family at Bandarawela, and the magnificent traits like compassion that she acquired as a result of her medical training, depicted her as an outstanding example of an exquisite and caring human being. She was a sunflower to all and sundry. She managed to remain as a blossoming lotus even in a sea of raging flames. Indeed, my soul-mate was somebody very special and unique. They have thrown away the mould in which she was made. However, the fragrance of her memory would live on forever.
As a doctor, she was totally loved by her patients and her colleagues. In fact, the words of two of my younger lady colleagues immediately after the demise of my wife epitomise their appreciation of her qualities. One referred to her as “one of the loveliest people that I knew” and the other referred to her as “the lovable English rose“; metaphors that described my Sarojini perfectly. During this year after her demise, the Sri Lanka College of Sexual Health and HIV Medicine, in which Sarojini was a Founder Member, Assistant Secretary from 1995 to 1997 and then the Honorary Treasurer in 2000/2001, has inaugurated an annual award in her memory for the Best Scientific Poster Presentation at their Annual Congress. The inaugural award was to be presented during their Silver Jubilee Celebration Banquet on 24th October 2020, but was postponed due to the calamity of COVID-19. In addition, the AIDS Foundation of Lanka, in which she worked as the Director – Research and Programmes after her retirement from the National Health Service, has initiated a monthly scholarship in her name for a needy child afflicted or affected by HIV/AIDS. We, the members of her family, are truly grateful to these two august institutions for those most magnanimous of gestures which would perpetuate her memory forever, without any boundaries of time.
It was Christian Dior, the celebrated French fashion designer, who once said that “After women, flowers are the most divine of creations“. My lady loved flowers and that perhaps made her to be a creation doubly divine. She may have been taken away from us physically but her sweet-scented presence lives on and tenderly lingers on around us, every single day.
In our own way, we, of her family, have tried ever so hard to portray our eternal love for her, in a gesture of zealous admiration and affection, in the epitaph that we engraved on her tombstone. It goes as:-
“Forever in our hearts”
Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
Love leaves memories that no one can steal.
You held our hands for quite a while,
With much devotion, in your unique beautiful style.
A super lady gentle to all on her call,
Your radiant smile will be treasured by one and all.
In the words of the religion that we believe in, all human beings are made in the image of God the Almighty. This precious and exquisite person Sarojini, whose body went into extinction when she left this earth, most definitely had her soul taken into the Good Lord’s own kingdom in heaven.
In the arms of her creator, may the eternal heavenly glow shine upon her and may she rest in everlasting peace.
A change of economic policies for Sri Lanka
Millions of Sri Lankans are anxiously waiting to see what actions will be taken to make life bearable again.If we follow the example of successful countries we see them exploit their opportunities, and use the wealth created, not to import cars and go on luxury trips abroad, but to re-invest the money proceeds in further projects to bring in even more money. They proceed in this way until their citizens have good standard of living. Probably, the best example of that compounding of wealth is Singapore.
Singapore exploited its geographic advantages. It provided cruise ships with bunkering services and repair, later they provided airlines with refueling and expanded that to one night free stop- overs for passengers to buy luxury goods at their glamorous, tax-free shopping malls. The Japanese were making wonderful new gadgets: cameras, music players, portable radio cassette players, binoculars, all available in the malls and sold tax free!! Lee Kuan Yu forbade the ladies to wear denim jeans, and to wear dresses with hem lines coming down two inches below the knee! He even instructed the ladies to smile! No man could have long hair for fear of arrest. Littering was prohibited, so was chewing gum and smoking butts on the roads and pavements. The place was kept clean!
They used the proceeds arising from all this commercial activity to build housing blocks, develop new roads and other beneficial projects. (Individuals were not allowed to walk away with the profits, just to fritter them away.) Sentosa Island had installed a communications dish antenna connecting it with New York and the financial markets. This was an example of intelligent seizing of opportunities. I account for this intelligent development as due to the high educational and knowledge of Singapore’s progressive management. The result is a firm currency, holding its value.
Something similar has happened to Russia. Russia is rich. It is under progressive intelligent management. Stalin had developed the railway network across the full eleven time zones. But many areas remained to be connected. Putin found the finances to develop coal mines, develop oil and gas deposits and build railway bridges and tunnels for better access to markets and their demand for Russian products. Even as you read this, trains of 70 plus trucks, each with 70 tons of coal are grinding their way to China, day and night. Gas is flowing through an extensive network of pipelines, both east to China and west to friendly countries in Southern Europe. Mr. Putin and his men have succeeded in getting Russia fully functional. And the more Russians there are to spend money, so the more demand for goods and services: shops, etc., providing multiplying employment in Russia.
Mr. Putin wants to build a road and rail link south through Iran to India. A design plan is in the works. It is being discussed with Iran and India. Putin is displaying initiative for the benefit of Russia and its citizens. Putin cares for the citizens of Russia and is creating both wealth and jobs too. Architects are designing attractive living spaces and buildings which provide a better environment for Russians and contractors are building it. Education of Russian citizens is playing a big part in Mr. Putin’s thinking, too. Russia needs a talented workforce.
The result is that the currency, the Ruble is strong and does not devalue. It keeps its value.Belarus, Russia’s neighbour, can also be praised for outstanding development. The population in the big towns is cossetted with amenities and facilities which provides a luxurious way of life for townspeople especially those with industrial jobs. However, it must be admitted, the standard of life for the minority 30% population living in the countryside has yet to catch up. The administration is strict and everyone is law abiding. For example, you can leave your hand phone at your seat while you visit the toilet conveniences and it will remain undisturbed until you return.
Belarus, being a mostly agricultural country has a big tractor manufacturing plant, it has a fertiliser mining and producing plant, it has a commercial vehicle plant, DK MAZ which produces industrial trucks such as fire extinguishing trucks and also produces the most comfortable, bright, low step buses and so on, and of course, Belarus makes its own industrial vehicle tyres. The towns are prosperous and clean and Minsk, the capital is a beautifully laid out city. Town apartment blocks are multi-storied living spaces, but are so well designed and fitted as to provide pleasant living spaces for its people. These reduce urban sprawl across the wooded countryside.
What are Sri Lanka’s strengths? It is a small island thus making communications short and sweet. Its location in the Indian Ocean is a plus, its scenic beauty is a plus allowing a thriving tourist trade for people from colder climates, and its soil and climate allows almost anything to be grown. Therefore its agriculture is a great strength. Its long coastline can provide fish if the fisherised. It has deposits of graphite and phosphates which can be exploited to produce profits for further investment in development projects. It has its illiminite sands which are an extremely valuable asset but need to be controlled and exploitation expanded. It has a whole gem mining industry which need to be managed in way beneficial to the government. It has several government owned businesses which need to be overhauled and modernized to convert losses to profits. The rupee in 1948 was equal to the English pound, now it is around 450 rupees to the Pound. That gives a good description of Sri Lankan past governance.
Profits from projects need to be ploughed back into further projects to bring about a higher standard of living for all its inhabitants. Then the Lankan reputation of being a paradise island with happy people will be restored.
Sapugaskanda: A huge challenge for RW
It will be interesting to see if anything fruitful will come of the so-called “investigation” announced by the Minister-in-charge, about what seemed like an outrageous overtime payment to the petroleum refinery workers.While waiting for the outcome of that investigation, I thought of highlighting again the real and central issue that cuts across all loss-making government undertakings in Sri Lanka, such as the CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, etc. that have been mercilessly sucking off tax-payer’s money into them like “blackholes”.
These organisations have been typically sustaining a mutual understanding with corrupt or inept politicians. “Sahana milata sewaya” (service at a concessionary price) was the catchphrase used by them to cover up all their numerous irregularities, wanton wastage, gravy trains, jobs for the boys and massive corruption, mostly with direct and indirect blessings of the politicians.
Here, I’d like to bring out just one example to help readers to get an idea of the enormity of this crisis built up over the past few decades. You’ll only have to look at what seemed like gross over-staffing levels of the CPC’s Sapugaskanda refinery, compared to international standards as shown below:
* Sapugaskanda Refinery – 50,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD); 1,100 employees Superior Refinery, Wisconsin, USA – 40,000 BPD; 180 employees
* Louisiana Refinery (including a fairly complex petrochemicals section), USA – 180,000 BPD; 600 employees
* Hovensa Refinery (now closed) – US Virgin Islands; 500,000 BPD; 2,100 employees.
These are hard facts available on the Internet for anyone to see, but I’m open to being corrected. I doubt if any sensible private investor would even dream of allowing such a level of gross over-staffing in their businesses.
As everyone knows, this is the position in all government business undertakings, as well as in most other government agencies in Sri Lanka. One can say that Sri Lankans have been willingly maintaining a crop of GOWUs (Govt Owned Welfare Undertakings), primarily for the benefit of the “hard-working” employees of these organisations, but at an unconscionably enormous cost to the rest. Obviously, this “party” couldn’t have gone forever!
Will Ranil be up to this challenge? I doubt very much.
UPULl P Auckland
Edward Gunawardena: ‘The IGP the country never had’
On a seemingly fine Friday afternoon, day two of the England v India second Test of the LV Insurance Series (that turned out to be a day five thriller), oblivious to how his day would tragically pan out, our dad, retired Senior Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Edward Gunawardena, was glued to his television enjoying the contest between the two cricket giants. As time passed by that afternoon, he felt uncomfortable, weak and had minor discomfort in breathing. Our family doctor, Dr Lakshan Fernando, swiftly visited home and on strict instructions to bed rest, our dad enjoyed his chicken soup for dinner that was prepared by his beloved wife, our mum.
Later that night tragically he took the last breath of his life, and he completed the last heartbeat of his life in the presence of two of his most trusted people, our mum and our family doctor.
This day was that dreaded “Friday the Thirteenth” – in the month of August last year. Our tragedy was upon us.A year has passed, by but the loss is still deep rooted, although it was comforting that his passing was peaceful knowing that he had the assurance of having Dr Lakshan beside him, who in fact rushed him from our home to Central Hospital in Colombo that night in his own vehicle in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, ever so determined to save our dad’s life. It was a blessing to know that our dad had our mum and Dr Lakshan beside him as much as it was possible.
Edward Gunawardena had a successful journey starting his early years through St Joseph’s College, Colombo, Peradeniya University, Michigan State University, USA through sheer determination to succeed, despite him and his three brothers losing their mum when he was at a tender age of just four years. He served our country for nearly three decades in the Police Service in various capacities, including as the Director of Intelligence, Director of Presidential Security, DIG Metropolitan and Senior DIG Administration; and continued his services as the Special Advisor to the Chancellor at the University Grants Commission, Chairman of the National Lotteries Board and in the Board of Directors at the Lake House Newspapers Corporation.
Most would consider retirement in the ripe old age of sixties, but our dad was blessed to have joined JF&I Printing and Packaging Company, an international company with the head office close to our home. This enterprise was owned and led by renowned late Dr Neville Fernando and his son Neomal Fernando. Edward Gunawardena found his renewed passion and purpose of working with such a talented and committed group of colleagues, where he thrived in making a significant difference to a spectrum of many individuals with a common goal. There was a family atmosphere with abundance of gratitude whilst professionalism was being maintained. The feelings were mutual, and this was evident at a time when our dad was unwell and required a blood transfusion – seven of the junior colleagues at JF&I showed their willingness and donated their blood with heartfelt love and gratitude towards him. Knowing that such generosity and love existed in a working environment was a sincerely humble attitude. This is a true reflection of our dad’s character and personality of giving where reciprocation was demonstrated.
Patriotism and loyalty were two of his strengths. His dedication and professionalism in the Police Service were commendable. This was once clearly expressed by the late Professor Carlo Fonseka at the launch of our dad’s second novel “.. Edward was the IGP (Inspector General of Police) that the country never had”. A truly inspiring and a remarkable Officer and a Gentleman.
His generosity and care extended way beyond his professional arena. One of his many philanthropic contributions was the resurrection of the village Buddhist temple’s school ‘Daham Pasala’ with the support from the late Deshamanya H K Dharmadasa well known as ‘Nawaloka Mudalali’, the founder of the Nawaloka Group. Our extended family and many thousands of youth in the Battaramulla area have benefited and continue to imbibe the doctrine of Buddhism, thanks to the dedicated committee led by it’s Chief Monk, Jinarathana Himi.
As an enthusiastic writer and a passionate citizen, he wrote many thought provoking and fearless articles to the newspapers, which were very well received by the readers. He was not afraid to speak the truth and to stand up for those who did not have a voice, and he became a respected contributor maintaining honesty and integrity. One of his most poignant articles we recall was days after the tragic Easter Sunday bombings, titled “The Unpardonable Blunder” bravely challenging the chain of command and with deep sorrow on the devastating destruction, loss of lives and many innocent people maimed and scarred for their entire lives.
Today, we are relieved that he didn’t have to witness the dismal state of affairs our country is going through as a consequence of decades of poor leadership, mismanagement, and most of all, unprecedented levels of corruption in the recent era of respective governments.
As our dad, we are immensely proud of who he was, his achievements and most of all for how he has bettered many lives throughout his life, with his generosity, professionalism and willingness to help, advise, guide, nurture and mentor all with a selfless attitude. We believe that his legacy has been passed on through many who he has had close connections with. We are thankful that his writing legacy would also continue through his creations of the two novels “Blood and Cyanide” and “Memorable Tidbits…”.
Even until his last days and hours he was sharing his experience and wisdom with everyone around him, that was the calibre of the gentleman. His humble stories of meeting President Nixon at the Fulbright Scholar Dinner at the White House, meeting the 124th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Hirohito at the Akasaka Palace, and his conversations with the great Arthur C Clarke, will always be fondly remembered by us. One of the famous quotes that our dad hilariously shared was the quote from Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom about his political nemesis, the former and the predecessor Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: if Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be a misfortune, but if someone dragged him out again that would be a calamity.”
Our dad was and will continue to be our hero and mentor. Today, we wish to extend our utmost appreciation to each and every one of you who had a close bond with him and made his life purposeful, joyful and complete. We thank them sincerely.
His last day of life was instrumental to the creation of the Edward Gunawardena Memorial Trust that is being organically grown, currently sponsoring medical students at the Rajarata University who are striving to become medical professionals, and as with Dr Lakshan, who was taking care of our dad, these students will have the opportunity to potentially treat and care for many deserving people and make their lives better, and also save many lives.
Whilst we take this opportunity to once again thank all those who were in his life,we would love to hear and treasure all the memories they shared with him. We welcome your recollections, your thoughts and your appreciations of Edward Gunawardena and please do send them via the email
My sister and I would value and appreciate the stories that you have had the pleasure of experiencing with him and of him.
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