Thaththa was unique. He was a self-made man, a visionary, a shrewd businessman, but more than that, what I admired most was his humaneness; he had a kind heart. Thaththa had many accolades to his credit but was a down-to-earth human being with a common touch. His lifestyle was a simple one and centred around Amma; she was his lifeblood.
Hailing from a well-to-do family in Galle, educated at Mahinda College and later at AnandaCollege, Colombo, he carried his father’s gem and jewellery business to great heights. He was a pioneer in his chosen trade, expanding to the heart of Colombo and Kandy, bringing pride to the Sinhala community at a time when the industry was dominated by non-Sinhalese. W.F. de Silva and Co. Ltd., was a household name not just in the cities but in remote areas too, with his mobile shops touring all corners of then Ceylon. Not stopping at that, he ventured into the estate sector, a model rubber plantation ‘GOVINNA ESTATE’ owned and managed by the British came under his wing before long. He was not afraid of taking risks when it came to business and luck was on his side. He thrived on challenges, never gave up!
His brainchild Hotel Janaki in Colombo, now 43 years of age, was born quite by accident. Thaththa, the visionary he was, started building an apartment block to house all his 10 children. There was a threat to takeover the apartment building of 22 houses built for his children during the tenure of Peter Keuneman as Housing Minister under the ceiling on Houses Act. Pushed against the wall, he wasn’t going to give up that easily. He came up with this brilliant idea when the then Prime Minister Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike took upon herself to host the NON-ALIGNED CONFERENCE - 1976 at the BMICH. The government was desperately looking to accommodate the large number of foreign delegates expected to attend as only a handful of hotels existed at the time and offered incentives to the public to build hotels. This was a godsend to Thaththa’s plight and immediately offered to turn the building into a hotel thus saving it from predicament.
My father as I remember him was smart, handsome, active and brave. But he also had a very humane personality, going to lengths to help people in need. I recall vividly an incident etched in my mind when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I was in the habit of playing and chatting to the few domestics at home. We had a firewood cooking hearth in the kitchen and one day, standing by the fading coals with a knife in my hand moving hot coals, I placed the blade on one of the girls without thinking. All I heard was her screaming and realising what I had just done, I ran, petrified, out of the back door to the bottom of the garden where stood a banana grove. I sat thinking of the terrible crime I had committed. I could hear my mother’s voice and the car starting, probably taking the girl to hospital. Hours passed and dusk fell, I dared not move, the guilt was such. Later, I heard Thaththa coming home, the familiar sound of our Volkswagen, but still stayed put. I saw someone walking towards me and moved deeper into the shadows scared to death. I felt a warm hand on mine, turning around I saw my father, he lifted me and carried me into the house, stroking my head all the way. Tears were streaming down my face, he wiped them away. He sat down with me on his lap and we did not talk, he looked into my eyes, knew my guilt and realised how I had punished myself. He never asked me as to why I did something like that.
His kindness and love were boundless. You were the brightest star in my childhood. May you attain the supreme bliss of nirvana my dear Thaththa!