Remembering Lalith Senanayake



by Vijaya Chandrasoma

(Written in February 2019)

My old friend, Lalith ended his brief journey on this planet last week. He has, over the past 70+ years, been a part of my life, and my only regret, and I am sure the regret of many colleagues who had the good fortune to call him a friend, is that I was too busy with the petty struggles I faced in my life to take full advantage of this friendship.

Lalith had been a friend longer than I care to remember. Together with his brother, Nanda, our bonds began in our childhood, when we were neighbours, classmates, tennis partners and fellow cricketers. We enjoyed the many relatively innocent delights that childhood offered in those days. We used to play very serious cricket matches in the then bare land between our house adjacent to the “drain” (27th Lane) and Ranil Wickremasinghe’s house on Fifth Lane. Many were our victories and defeats, many the bitter arguments we shared.

We also had sequels to these matches on the bare land near the house of another classmate and old friend, Sarath Samarasinghe, on Reid Avenue, near the Dutch Burgher Union on New Bullers Road. These matches were also fiercely contested, and sometimes suspended, when Sarath was, in his opinion, given out LBW falsely. He insisted that he was not out (he was plumb), and if the decision was not immediately reversed, he threatened to take his ball and bat and go home.

Sarath was a fine wielder of the willow, and it was difficult enough to get him out at the best of times. We soon learnt then that the only way, acceptable to Sarath, to persuade him to walk without disrupting the game was to break his wickets. Sarath turned out to one of the finest school batsmen of our generation, and he scored his runs in spite of impartial umpires.

I left Royal at an early age, not because, as has been snidely suggested, I had been expelled for a variety of crimes, but because my father got a work assignment in England and decided to move his family to those colder and less hospitable climes. On a personal note, I wish I could go back to those days and start my life again. I have subsequently discovered so many more pleasurable and exciting ways I could have ruined my life.

My brief school career ended without much fanfare or achievement, and my association with many of my schoolmates also ended temporarily, much to the relief of many. Lalith went on to represent College in tennis, and I believe he won the singles championship in the Public School Tennis Championships. He was a member of the Royal College First Cricket XI for many years. He was primarily a feared medium pace bowler; I still remember his distinctive little “hop” just before delivery. He was also a fine batsman, scoring a brilliant 69 in a big match, an innings still talked of with admiration.

We lost touch for some time. Then Lalith married the lady whose sister married my brother, so we had a tenuous family relationship for a time. He had a love for wild life, and would drop everything and leave for the wilds if a white leopard (or was it black? It was a matter of no interest to me) had been spotted, anytime, anywhere. Please forgive me for any discrepancies and disrespect about leopards, elephants or other animals so loved by enthusiasts. Wild life at Yala and Wilpattu left me cold. I have never endured the doubtful pleasures of visiting either of those famous sanctuaries.

We used to entertain Lalith and Devayani at our little flat on Sulaiman Terrace when we were both newlyweds. Lalith used to wax eloquently about his encounters with various species of exotic wild animals, when, where and frequency, in minute detail, ad nauseam. Details which left me so bored that not even copious applications of the golden elixir of life could assuage the pain. Many evenings, which turned into mornings, I had to change into a sarong to hint to Lalith that the time was ripe to say good night, but he was so absorbed with his own love for these animals that the torture continued.

I know I’ll be chastised for these irreverent comments by other wild life enthusiasts, but I offer no apology. As I said, I never could understand the love of many of my otherwise sane friends for the need for the live sighting of these animals, which entailed arduous treks to the jungles, living in primitive accommodations and getting up at the crack of dawn. All for the sighting of animals which could be seen on TV or at the zoo, in comfort. The only animals which caught my fancy, then and now, which have reduced me to relative but cheerful penury, were slow horses.

Lalith went on to marry Inge, a lovely German lady. As Inge told me at the funeral yesterday, they were blessed with 43 years of happiness. They were also blessed with three lovely daughters, whose love for their father was patently obvious, who will cherish his memory forever. What more could a man ask for?

I had the great pleasure of meeting and talking with Lalith’s eldest daughter, Janine, who described to me with loving gratitude how her father had intervened, with the wisest and most compassionate counsel, at a difficult time in her life. That was the quintessential Lalith. Always ready to help, always loath to criticize.

Lalith was also a deep adherent of the Dhamma. He lived much of his life according to the gentle teachings of the Buddha, and his devotion showed in all his actions. He was detached when detachment was appropriate, but most of all, he was always compassionate and kind.

I, and all those who had the good fortune to come into contact with Lalith, will miss him. I have felt only affection for Lalith in our enduring friendship, and affection will be the primary emotion I’ll feel in the memories of my friend.