Piyatilake, as he was then known was the first born of Wimalasundera Fronis de Silva (W. F. de Silva) and Laura de Silva of Wackwella Road Galle. W. F. de Silva was a well-known jeweller, owner of two shops one in Chatham Street, Fort and the other in Dalada Veediya ( then known as Ward Street, Kandy). He had the privilege of being one of the few Sinhalese to be in this field and a pioneer in gems and jewellery, since 1902.
Piyatilake , my father had his primary education at Mahinda College, Galle but was sent off to Colombo, to Ananda College and boarded at a house nearby. He sat for his Matriculation exams and no sooner his father passed away quite unexpectedly. The responsibility of his family, of mother and four siblings fell on his shoulders. Young as he was at 17, he filled his father’s shoes managing two shops and properties in Galle.
P. de S. Wimalasundera was one of a kind. He had a great vision, making plans to take the business to greater heights. His mother gave him all the encouragement. Galle is the home of excellent craftsmen be it jewellery or handicraft.
Being an ambitious young man, at the crack of dawn he would be seen carrying two heavy bags full of these products walking up to the station to board the train to Kandy. It so happens that my mother, his future wife to be lived in a house overlooking his way to the station. Amma was amused at first but watching him regularly she started to anticipate and looking earnestly for him quite unknown to him. Weeks and months passed and one fine day his eyes locked hers and from then on each of them looked forward to meet up. Having lost her mother at the age of 6 my mother was home schooled and was well protected. She had no way of expressing her feelings with the very strict authoritarian father that she had. She refused many marriage proposals and finally she was delighted when her father consented to the proposal from this bright and handsome young man an astute businessman by then.
As the business and family grew Thatha realized the importance of being closer to Colombo and took the bold step and moved to the city. If Thatha wanted something he would get the best, that was my father as I knew him!
Soon after he bought and renovated a bungalow in a quiet residential area in Fife road to accommodate his growing family of 10 children. Not contented in a rented premises in Fort he built his own, a three storeyed building in Main Street, Pettah and established his thriving gem, jewellery and watch import business. Thatha was always one step ahead, to advertise his products he created a radio programme ‘Swarnadara’ with his good friend Ariyadasa Peris who was then attached to the commercial service of Radio Ceylon.
My mother worked really hard and supported him all the way. Our household was always a hub of activity, there were people going in and out with the shop workers, drivers etc. With Thaatha around life never had a dull moment, something was happening all the time!
Thatha was an ardent reader as much as he was a shrewd businessman, while reading he never missed an unfamiliar word, checked with the oxford dictionary immediately and learnt then and there. With all his work he also made time to pick us from school on a daily basis and attend to our needs whether it was school work or otherwise. He loved movies and was quite keen on producing a movie till Amma put her foot down with a firm no.
Coming from a very conservative family Amma was very keen to secure the future of the children especially the girls. She believed in arranging marriages for her growing up daughters and was very keen that they have a house each and having 10 children it was not going to be an easy task. Thaatha as usual arose to the need acquiring a huge block of land quite close to our home and building an apartment block which was quite unheard of in the nineteen sixties. The government brought in a housing act, ceiling on houses, which meant he would not be able to own this property for long!! After so much planning, effort, time and money he was very disappointed.
Being the man he was he gave much thought and came up with the idea of turning this project to a hotel and that was how Hotel Janaki came to be ! Hotel Janaki opened its doors on 29th July 1976.
Now we have come a long way 42 years! Now it is time for the third generation to keep Thatha’s vision alive.
Dear Thatha, you were not an ordinary human being,
You were smart in every aspect
You were the bright light in our lives.
May you attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!