My mind travels back to a day in the mid-1970s when I was a young Advocate. At that time, I had a great desire to do a Pitman’s Course in shorthand and typewriting at ‘The Polytechnic’ in Wellawatte, which was an institution established by the Muthukrishna family. Mano Muthukrishna was in charge.
I was young, so with much trepidation, walked up to Madam Mano Muthukrishna’s table. She felt I was nervous and put me at ease immediately. I told her the reason for my visit. She spoke to me for a while, inquired about my interests, studies and wanted some personal information. She had an inquiring mind, not an inquisitive one. In the course of conversation, she said, “We both have two things in common.” I was puzzled and eagerly awaited her comment: “Mano! You are the small Mano and I am the big Mano. We both have had our education in the same school, Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya.” She laughed and continued, “Of course at different times.” She spoke to me with affection and kindness that made a lasting first impression on my young life.
Thereafter, I was enrolled as a student of shorthand and typewriting. In my presence, she requested an officer, Mr. Jansen, to come to her room and told him that I was a promising young lawyer, that he should arrange a class for the few students who were interested in studying law and then in her own words, “This young lady will teach them elementary principles of law.”
The Polytechnic did pay me for those classes. At that time, being young, this was a bonus for me. Soon, I started the classes and would visit the ‘Poly’ when necessary. On occasion, Madam Muthukrishna’s path and mine would cross. Then, we would exchange quick pleasantries. My subsequent meetings with her impacted further. I looked up to her with admiration and respect. She had qualities which are all too rare in a society that is increasingly-materialistic in the assessment of virtues.
Time passed on. To me, life was not so simple and carefree like in school days or during the early years of my professional life. I was now working at the Legal Draftsman’s Department in the Justice Ministry, and married to Rama. One evening, as fate decreed, at a social event, Rama and I happened to sit at the same table with Mano Muthukrishna (now Candappa) and Mr. George Candappa (who was a friend of Rama). We soon got chatting, while talking, Mano recalled my days at Polytechnic. She spoke of Zonta in which she was a key figure.
She spoke of Zonta International, a worldwide service organisation of executives in business and in professions, working together to advance the status of women. Both Mano and George persuaded Rama and insisted that I joined Zonta Club-I of Colombo. Consequently, I became a member of the Zonta Club.
During the presidency of her daughter Ramola in 1990, Mano requested me to be her Secretary. I gladly accepted that position and found Ramola to be an intelligent lady, with amiable and amenable ways. Unfortunately, after a few months of working together, my professional work took me to the University of West Indies in Barbados for further studies and training. After completing my assignment, I returned to Sri Lanka and was back again in Zonta.
One night, Mano telephoned me and after a long conversation requested me to initiate the ‘Young Women in Public Affairs Awards’ programme — it was during the presidency of Joan Forbes. The purpose of this programme was to encourage schoolgirls to enter careers and seek leadership positions. In this project, Zonta Club-I had both district and international winners on many occasions. It has now spread its wings and all Zonta Clubs in Sri Lanka have enthusiastically undertaken to do this project at different times. Many a time, Sri Lankan participants have emerged winners both at district and international levels. Mano intuitively selected me as the right person to initiate this project in Sri Lanka. She had a genuine interest and concern in all of whom she interacted with.
Mano had a lofty concept of what, we as human beings, owe one another. This may have stemmed partly from her Christian faith and partly from parents who had a strong social conscience. But, it was also a matter of her own nature. This was evident in the countless social service organisations in which she was involved. But Zonta had a special place in her heart. She had the privilege of being the club’s charter member, founder secretary, president and the first district governor for Sri Lanka for District-25. Incidentally, District-25 comprises Zonta Clubs in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. In today’s competitive job climate, many women have held prestigious positions. Mano started a project to recognise these women. The project was named ‘Zonta Woman of Achievement Awards.’
Mano is a devout Christian. Her faith in God, her strength of mind, courage and resilience helped her to face many challenges in life. It is an inevitable reality of life, that into every human life, whatever the degree of lustre, some rain must fall. Mano too had her share of difficulty in her young life, when as a single parent she had to bring up her two little girls, with great care and much love. She lived to see the results of her toil. Her two daughters Ramola and Sharada brought her great happiness. She had two caring sons-in-law, four loving grandchildren and at the time of her death, she had seven adorable great grandchildren. She remained a confidante, guide and a dear friend to many!
A push when you’ve stopped
A word when you are lonely
A guide when you are seeking
A smile when you are sad; and
A song when you are glad
I was singularly fortunate in being a friend of a remarkable lady, intelligent, cultured, gracious, good-looking and yet self-effacing.
May you have eternal rest!
Farewell dear Mano!
Finally, in the words of the famous American composer Irving Berlin, for Mano,
“The song has ended. But the melody lingers on!”