Her gift at the piano expressively translated into her teaching
Her total devotion to husband Babi was enlivened by the common musical passion they shared
Just over 91 years ago Mala Chellappah (or Evangeline as she was christened) made her entrance as the youngest daughter born to David and Florence Singanayagam. One of twins, tiny and fragile, she held on determinedly to life. Her twin infant brother sadly did not survive. Growing up in a love-filled nurturing home Mala together with her sisters Joyce, Esther and Queenie held endearing memories of their parents. A tall, dignified visionary man, David who served as Deputy Auditor General in his day, and beautiful Florence, a Methodist Minister’s daughter, were the inspirational and formative forces behind their early years.
With their spacious, rambling home at Chelsea Garden as the epicentre, she and her siblings were immersed in a rich tradition of strong family values, Godly inspiration and multi -faceted learning experiences. School was an easy stroll down the road to CMS Ladies’ College where Mala and her sisters vigorously engaged, competed and excelled in sport. A netball court set up in their sprawling garden served as the ideal outlet for the wiry and sporting teenagers and their schoolmates. The Kollupitiya Methodist Church, close by, became their spiritual home, place of worship and service. And of course -there was music!
Their home was filled with the sound of a bevy of musical instruments, and the beauty of timeless hymns. All four girls reaching
high levels of skill in the piano: Mala herself became an accomplished pianist obtaining her Licentiate Diploma in Performance. Her gift for singing too, was melodiously evident.
It was her mother Florence, who inspired Mala to offer her gift first to God. So it transpired that one day, an inexperienced, nervous young woman sat with much trepidation at the manuals and foot pedals of the Methodist Church organ as ‘apprentice’ organist. Mala developed a passion and dedication for her call to worship, which matured and overflowed naturally, simply and joyfully to everyone around her. She was one of those rare individuals who could play and sing simultaneously. Her ‘apprenticeship’ at the organ blossomed into well over 50 years of dedicated ministry into which she poured her heart and soul. It was a common sight in the neighbourhood, to watch her impeccably dressed diminutive figure, formidably armed with her well-worn organ voluntaries; feet tap - tapping their spritely way ‘molto accelerando’ to Church, for a Sunday service, wedding or memorial; sometimes on edge, should the organ prove to be overly temperamental that day!
Her gift at the piano expressively translated into her teaching; her earliest and most enthusiastic students being us, her nephews and nieces. Mala swiftly became a second mother to us all, along with Joyce; both of whom embraced their nephews and nieces as their own kids. As youngsters we in turn eagerly responded to her youthful demeanour, childlike delight and animated exuberance.
Firmly adopting her as one of ‘us’, casting aside filial etiquette and the title of ‘Aunty’ to the winds, we called her ‘Mala’ instead- a title she regarded a special privilege. It wasn’t long before her grand- nieces and nephews followed suit!
Her tastefully decorated home was ours to gambol in and out. She was a large-hearted giver in so many ways, with her unique way of caring, and time spent making others feel special; from the most generous to the simplest of delicately hand-wrapped gifts, or the legendary butter biscuits and other delectable offerings she baked for us.
Her total devotion to husband Babi was enlivened by the common musical passion they shared. Playing and singing together at home, or in their numerous choirs, ensemble performances, concerts and other musical exploits was a frequent, very memorable part of ours and our parents’ lives.
When our own children were born, they were lavished with the same delight and affection. Mala became a favourite playmate, storyteller par excellence and cheerleader of their antics. Her well-worn, ever- forgiving piano came to life again with sticky little fingers exploring the keys. Her legacy of music has endured, inspired and shaped many on their journey to become musicians of distinction.
Childhood memories overwhelm us as the endearing unity among the four sisters enriched our own lives. They supported one other, loved, prayed, cared and gave unreservedly through the best and worst of times. Faith and trust in God were central, translating in ways that impacted each one of us indelibly. Mala’s life wove its own colourful and unique thread through this tapestry of experiences that marked both our youth and adulthood.
As the weight of time and ill health began to take their toll, Mala’s physical frame weakened. After she lost her beloved Babi, we were gladdened to have Mala in the care of our mother Esther who took her ‘little’ sister into her home and under her wing with utmost love and tenderness. The two were inseparable and together with Queenie overseas, forged close bonds as a threesome.
Mala’s courage shone through her frailty, as she held on to life despite many a health crisis. Her voice, now fragile and tremulous would rise up dauntless to join in, as we sang her favourite hymns and songs over her….
‘Hide me now under Your wings Cover me under Your mighty hand
When the oceans rise and thunders roar I will soar with You above the storm Father, You are King over the flood!
I will be still; know You are God’
Yes. Mala’s life was a melody. A contagious melody of love, laughter, joy and simplicity. A melody that touched our lives and caused them to resonate. A melody that sometimes modulated through minor keys and cadences, before finding the way home to its final chord, at rest with the God she so loved to worship.
Soar high and free our lovely Mala; where your song and melody blend with the eternal, unceasing songs of Heaven.
Her family’s tribute-on behalf of Mala’s nephews and nieces Naomi Selvaratnam