I first met the great don of photography, as he has often been referred to; many decades ago, during my school days. His niece Indrani Ratnam was a school friend and Donald and his pretty wife Sushila were always the cynosure of all eyes on the dance floor at her parties. Later on, I got to know them through their youngest daughter Rohini and grew particularly close to the late Sushila and to Lilamani, who is one of my dearest friends. An interesting fact is that Donald, the legend behind this studio, once the finest and best in the business, began this with just one discarded portable camera. His dedication and commitment to his journey in photography is most admirable. But his photographs taken then compare more than favourably with those done today with the most modern equipment. It was Donald’s father, Peter Wijayaratna who began the business at the same venue in Maradana which was known and gained fame as Donald’s.
His nature was such that he never forgot to show appreciation of all those who had shown him the way, by showing their confidence in him. His first landlady, who was generous enough to waive the rent for the first three months till he got the business moving, and his wonderful wife who he married when she was very young. But he never failed to grant that she was the wind beneath his wings, who guided him on the way to fame and fortune. Under his guidance Donald did not open new branches, but ventured into video production, TV commercials and documentaries. During his working life, he was the first to arrive at work and the last to leave, examining every negative and print himself till his retirement. The secret of his success was his philosophy which was the unfailing combination of hard work, dedication, a good measure of luck and his wife.
As a man, he was known always to have a smile to love life, love music, dancing and to be a devoted husband and father. His life revolved around his family, and even after his health weakened, he would sit happily swinging and clapping to music from his chair. His life changed immeasurably after Sushila’s demise, he missed her terribly and merely lived on for his children and grandchildren, always waiting impatiently for Lilamani’s visits as she lives in England. I recall his last birthday which Lilamani came back for, to organize a small celebration for him, although the house was under renovation. He sat with his little grandson Shehan’s son on his lap, clapping his hands happily and swaying in his chair to the music he loved all his life. Donald was a warm, generous, caring, honest person with the subtle skill of putting people at their ease, one you could call the genuine article. The sunnier impulses of human nature were part of his personality which made him often indulge in the luxury of laughter—the best medicine of all.
Perhaps this beautiful description of dying by Henry Van Dyke will be of comfort to his family left behind. “I am standing at the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails in the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. I stand and watch her until at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud, just as the sea and sky come to mingle with each other…. and just at that moment when someone at my side says: “There she is gone! There are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: Here she comes! And that is dying.”
His children Manel, Lilamani, Chandi, Rohini, Prince and Shehan have had wonderful parents who loved, cherished and inspired them through life and whose lives have been examples of worthy devotion to family, life and work. The legend of Donald Wijayaratna will live on in their lives and in all others which he touched with his camera and with his magic touch of loving life.