Mothers come in all shapes and sizes, and mine came as a package of innumerable talents and ideals.
She combined the tenacity of her father who, from a village boy, became arguably one of Sri Lanka’s foremost mathematical minds and the adventurism of an English mother who made this country her home due to her life-long commitment to education.
Living with educationalist parents meant she moved with them, and her life was built around schools. Starting with Ananda College – where she was, at the time of her passing, the oldest old girl – to a myriad of other institutions that her parents chose to establish or uplift. I remember her constant complaint that they would mark her papers down purposely to show there was no favouritism.
What was most impressive was how she threw herself into her interests with huge commitment - sewing like a professional, knitting all our so-called ‘Nuwara Eliya clothes’, crocheting her own designs and even mastering the complex lace pillow. When it came to batik, she taught herself enough to make her own clothes, and during her pottery stage, pieces of unique design would appear in her ‘Whatnot’ duly signed and dated at the bottom.
What was most impressive was how she threw herself into her interests with huge commitment
In sports, she was equal to any task: she played a mean game of tennis often with the love of her life, my father, and rode horses and competed in swimming with equal aplomb. Badminton, Tabletennis bring it on, she would say, and would display her fierce competitiveness with no quarter given. Being a police officer’s wife immediately made her a fan of all the force’s teams, and her particular favourite was rugby. Here she would cast aside the polite reserve of an IGP’s wife to boisterously cheer the team from the front-row seats. Her four boys and husband would cower when she would loudly question the referee’s decision and look to us for support.
Pragmatism and multi-tasking were words invented for her: all decisions had to be well thought out, practical and self-sustaining. So it seemed the natural thing to do when she launched a factory to tailor police uniforms that employed only policemen’s children and wives. Such was also the case when she embarked on building a three-storey building as president of the All Ceylon Women’s Buddhist Congress and a training bakery, accommodation for its female trainees and a retail outlet to cover the relevant expenses. These and many other positions she held in benevolent organization came at a price as her no-nonsense approach was not appreciated by all - though in hindsight, they all agree she had the best interest of those bodies at heart.
Pragmatism and multi-tasking were words invented for her: all decisions had to be well thought out, practical and self-sustaining
Then there was Maya, the business women. Accepting the challenge to manage the printing press that was producing my grandfather’s standard-issue school books at the time, she managed a team of sixty employees whilst balancing the care of her four boys and a husband whose career was progressing rapidly. As the self-reliant person she was, she drove her trusted Morris station wagon herself, not hesitating to admonish any motorist who crossed her path.
Amidst all this we saw a mother to whom family meant everything, – not in a spoiling or passive sense but one who encouraged and guided. She taught us to be practical but at the same time hugs and kisses were there in plenty. Every birthday cake, every big match outfit, every cricket match my brothers played were considered personal duties by her; the quintessential daughter, wife and mother.
As her 91st birthday draws near, it is hard to accept that she is gone but, in her own words, her work here is done.