It was exactly half a century ago, last month, January 1969, that Nirmali de Silva came into my life. I was a 07 year-old impressionable little brat at Wesley College Colombo and she was our beautiful 23 year-old, Grade 2 class teacher.
My father Justin, also her colleague on the teaching staff at Wesley, had told me that ‘Nirmali Teacher’ was a distant niece to him. That made her my distant cousin. Wow I felt proud and privileged but kept that secret all to myself without ever revealing it to my classmates.
Years later she must have been very disappointed when she learnt that I had converted to Buddhism (after years of being a Christian) but not once did she ever mention it. She just smiled
My earliest recollections of her are that of an all-enveloping maternal figure. You wouldn’t expect a 23-year-old single young woman to be that maternal at that age but Nirmali de Silva was all that and more. She literally spread out her large wings and took us under them – teaching us, guiding us, nurturing us, comforting us and protecting us. Even as little children we felt the tangible largesse of her heart. And we, in turn, loved her deeply from the depths of our little hearts.
I remember how overjoyed we were when she came back again as our Grade 3 class teacher the following year. We couldn’t have asked for more. Those two years spent under her tutelage formed a deep and lasting impression in my mind. I admired and adored her as my teacher and class teacher. I loved her as much as I did my own mother.
Nirmali de Silva was born on 30th March 1946 to a family with a very strong and abiding Methodist lineage spanning generations. Her father Rev. Denzil de Silva was the President of the Methodist Conference from 1970-1975. The Methodist Church was an integral part of the de Silva family.
Her husband Hemal Fernando has been the rock of her life since their marriage on 25th September 1969. They were blessed with two children Dimantha and Shaneli and five adorable grandchildren. If she were still alive today, they would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year. What a joyous occasion that would have been.
I remember how overjoyed we were when she came back again as our Grade 3 class teacher the following year. We couldn’t have asked for more. Those two years spent under her tutelage formed a deep and lasting impression in my mind
Nirmali Fernando taught at Wesley College for an eventful thirty eight years, from 1964 to 2002. It was also during this time that her father was the President of the Methodist Conference. She came to school from the Methodist headquarters in Kollupitiya.
I remember Daddy telling me that never ever did she flaunt her father’s position, nor did she expect any privileges. She behaved like just another teacher at Wesley College. Such was her simplicity and humility. Similarly, being her colleague’s son I was never a privileged student in her class. I was treated just like any other child. She was fair by all.
Years later she must have been very disappointed when she learnt that I had converted to Buddhism (after years of being a Christian) but not once did she ever mention it. She just smiled. What a co-incidence it was years later when it was she who interviewed my son Rahul for admission to Grade 1 at Wesley College.
Nirmali Fernando had this uncanny ability to see the world through the eyes of a child. This gave her great insight and perception and she often took the side of the child. She touched the lives of 38 successive batches of Wesleyites with her love and gentleness.
That night at the A.F. Raymond’s Funeral Parlour was sad. To me it was like seeing my own mother in that coffin. Nirmali de Silva was my quintessential mother at my Alma Mater. And as her mortal remains lay there, there was peace on her face.
I still grieve … but Nirmali Fernando now continues on her journey through Sansara. My only wish for her is that that journey be speedy. May she one day attain the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana.
Kumar de Silva