Three Month-Remembrance - Asoka Warnasuriya
A classic iconoclast with Catholic taste
It was a devastating news that broke when Asoka Warnasuriya’s youngest daughter Mihiri said her father had passed away the night before and her mother Dilmani wanted us informed.
Asoka was also a Royalist although our paths only crossed at the University of Ceylon, Colombo Campus and thereafter at the Katubedda campus in 1972. Asoka was a mathematician there whilst I was an undergraduate at the Department of Architecture.
After the festivities of the wedding and homecoming, Asoka and Dilmani set up house at Pamankada which was like a second home to friends like us. Asoka’s interests were wide and varied. His choice of music was eclectic and ranged from folk rock to ballads to opera. He was also an avid reader surpassed probably only by his wife and companion for life, Dilmani. Arguably he was the one of a kind who could and did hold his own against anyone.
Asoka and Dilmani were extremely warm people who were absolutely loyal to their friends and I was privileged to be a prime beneficiary of their goodwill in myriad ways. So now it is up to Dilmani to take up cudgels and hold the torch for both herself and the incomparable Asoka. They have been blessed with their son Asanga, doing extremely well in the commercial sector and their two daughters, in academia, Renu, a Fulbright scholar and Mihiri is a recipient of a Cambridge scholarship reading for her PhD.
Asoka was an exceptional human being and a humanist at all times. In other words there was never a dull moment with Asoka around, singing his signature song Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind. Of course Asoka was his own man always.
He was also a computer whiz kid whilst I was almost a Luddite. Even at home he would be found staring and working at the computer. He was a master at downloading interesting snippets of information both political and otherwise, and he would send these to his friends and family; so much so that when his friends didn’t receive any such mails for a few days, they would ring and ask Dilmani whether he was ill. We all had a jolly good time with Asoka in his element. Dilmani was the designated driver. Such good times and halcyon days indeed.
"Asoka was never, for whatever reason a globe trotter. He was out and out a Sri Lankan being comfortable in his own skin"
Asoka was a person who would literally give his shirt off his back for a friend. I particularly remember one instance when Nimal came in a rush to my home and requested me to accompany him on a delicate mission in Embilipitya. This was in the mid 70s and Embilipitya was just a name I read in the papers and akin to the American wild west. I said OK and asked him “when’’? He said as soon as possible. We then went to Asoka’ s residence in Pamankada and made a request to borrow his Renault Dauphin. Dilmani looked askance but Asoka readily parted with the vehicle although that was his sole mode of conveyance to go to work. Nimal drove the car with myself as shotgun and reached Embilipitiya around midnight and immediately proceeded to engage in a negotiation with the intended father in law. Happily everything ended up OK and I along with Nimal heaved sighs of relief. The rest is history. It also showed Asoka was never judgemental and didn’t have a mean streak in him.
Of all my friends Asoka and Dilmani were two of my mother’s favourites and she used to look forward to their visits. My mother passed away in 2008 and now Asoka is no more. I suppose that is destiny or kismet. There were different phases in Asoka’s life – a chequered career indeed. Finally he became his own boss and set up a Computer software consultancy. Here too his innate humanism showed in his dealings. Asoka spent his retirement in reading about Sri Lanka’s heritage and amassed quite a collection of books on Ceylon and Sri Lanka. Asoka was never for whatever reason a globe trotter. He was out and out a Sri Lankan being comfortable in his own skin.
On one occasion when I was giving Narada a lift to his home he said Asoka was the most brilliant of his siblings and could have reached dizzy heights in academia, business or even politics if he applied himself . And this was straight off the bat from Narada – an eminent Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics and ultimately Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
I would be failing in my duties if I did not mention a few of Asoka’s salient qualities. Not only was he a true blue samasamjist like his uncle LC and his father, he was a man of the world. There was no racism in his mind or thoughts, his religion was pacifism and he did not subscribe to narrow sectarian politics. His friends included all the races, covering all religions and he did not care for caste or creed . Quintessentially Asoka was a man for all seasons. His vanity extended only to his well tended moustache. So I in turn and for my part having done my bit in extolling the virtues of dear departed Asoka shall conclude by quoting from Robert Frost’s poem
Stopping by woods on a snowy evening
The woods are lovely dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
This is my humble opinion and plea for Dilmani, Asanga, Charini, Nanda, Renu and Mihiri on behalf of dear Asoka to follow without fear and with fervour.