The couple of nights spent with them were equally pleasant as always, with engaging banter over Saro’s culinary creations
While in Hong Kong, Saro used her time to earn a Master’s degree and a Ph.D. in English and a Diploma in Education
Though memories are many and pleasant they are difficult to recall in her absence. Six years have passed, but it seems like six months. Saro (Sarojini Jayawickrama) was the sheer embodiment of elegance, beauty, intelligence, and friendliness all rolled into one.
I first met her at the then beautiful campus in Peradeniya. That was about the time that the Vice-Chancellor, at the behest of her parents, had admonished her, warning her that she would be sent down if she and her future husband Nihal were to be found together within the campus! Well, with the passage of time, matters had cooled down, and I joined Nihal and Saro with her roommate, a relative of mine, on the dance floor at our graduation in 1962.
Ever since then, it was my delightful privilege to call them my friends. Though we were living oceans apart, we never lost touch ever over the next six decades. I always looked to enjoy their company and never missed a chance to visit them. It is, of course, the intercontinental telephone calls that kept our friendship alive.
I remember the long hours spent chatting at their Park Road flat in Colombo, often accompanied by dinner. It was always pleasant conversations about the affairs of the State. Saro, though mild-mannered, would never fail to express strong views and frequently warn us whenever she knew almost intuitively that we were naive in our analysis of politics or politicians.
Saro, though mild-mannered, would never fail to express strong views and frequently warn us whenever she knew almost intuitively that we were naive in our analysis of politics or politicians
Shanthi and I have visited them on three occasions while they were in Hong Kong. There, they had a gorgeous flat overlooking the harbour and the skyline beyond. I distinctly remember being seated on the balcony some ten floors up the skyscraper watching the boats go by. It was heaven on earth. We went down to the boat club to have lunch and enjoy the waterside scene. On another occasion, we took an enjoyable boat ride to visit Macau. Saro guided Shanthi through the narrow lanes in the open-air shopping market. Once, they arranged a flat of one of their colleagues who was away for us to occupy while we were there for nearly a week. That was in 1995 and happened to be the 30th wedding anniversary of Saro and Nihal. We celebrated the event together with some friends, including our mutual friend, the eminent journalist, Neville De Silva and his wife Sunetha.
While in Hong Kong, Saro used her time to earn a Master’s degree and a Ph.D. in English and a Diploma in Education. All that she achieved while teaching English Literature at the University of East Asia in Macau. That speaks for her tenacity and the yearning for knowledge. Much later, we were delighted to get an autographed copy of her thesis published as a book. A seminal work on Robert Knox’s writings on Ceylon, which displayed her mastery of English literature and the history of Ceylon.
During a summer vacation they visited us in Vienna, where we were then based. Shanthi had his nephew, who was living near us, vacate his apartment, so that Saro and Nihal would have a comfortable stay as Nishana and Sharanya accompanied them. They had company as our two sons Chaminda and Janaka, were also visiting us from the United States during their vacation. We spent a few pleasant days visiting the famed palaces and churches in Vienna and Salzburg and dining at famous Viennese Heurigen in the Grinzing wine country. Then we were off to Prague, where we toured the famed Prague castle and took a pleasant walk from Wenceslas Square to the historic museum and dined by the Charles River.
I believe Saro enjoyed the time she spent in Hong Kong. Just as they moved there following Nihal’s escapades with governance in Sri Lanka as an indispensable administrator and adviser to Mrs. Bandaranaike, resulting in the loss of his civic rights along with Mrs. Bandaranaike; they moved out of Hong Kong having been the most sought after adviser and advocate for Human Rights for the local residents following the return of Hong Kong to China by the British.
I did visit them at their next home in Germany, where Nihal was based as the Executive Director of Transparency International, the anti-corruption agency. The couple of nights spent with them were equally pleasant as always, with engaging banter over Saro’s culinary creations. Then they moved to London, where Saro was lecturing at the Open University. Shanthi and I had visited at least twice and enjoyed the usual hospitality.
Of all the visits, the most memorable was when Saro and Nihal visited us in New York in 1993. They were then living in Canada where Nihal was occupying the prestigious Sallows Chair of Human Rights at the University of Saskatchewan. Shanthi had met with a serious car accident and broken both her ankles. Following surgery, she was at home with the expectation of at least three months in bed before she would be ready to walk. After about three weeks, she was undergoing a strict physiotherapy regimen and other treatments when they arrived. After a couple of days, Saro and Shanthi were chatting, and the next thing I saw was Shanthi walking out of the room with the help of Saro and Daya, our household help! Later I learned that it was the encouraging words of Saro that Shanthi got the courage to take baby steps months ahead of schedule. The vision of that scene keeps repeating in my mind every so often, even after so many years since the incident.
In his latest incarnation, Nihal began working as a Senior Consultant for the U.N. Expert Group of Judges working on Judicial Ethics and Human Rights and found that he could be based anywhere. It is no surprise that both of them, who always had their heart and soul in Sri Lanka, moved back to base in Colombo. Whenever we were in Colombo, we have visited them as usual in their Queens Court apartment.
The warning that happy days were coming to an end arrived with the shocking news that Saro was diagnosed with the dreaded disease. Though we knew that she was receiving the best medical care in London, Shanthi and I were distressed to hear the news. We kept in touch with Nihal and hoped that she would be soon back to her usual cheery person. Knowing that a brew made of a Brazilian herbal plant had helped a couple of our friends, we arranged to send some for her use. Regretfully, by the time it arrived, Saro had left us.
It is equally sad that Sharanya, just like her mother, having earned a Ph.D. and been a University Lecturer, was struck down by cancer and left us to join Saro at a very young age.
There is birth, and there is death, two acts to a complex play called life, and between them is an interval which should be enjoyed. I believe Saro did just that and went with no regrets!
Shanthi & Nandi
(Dr Nandasiri (Nandi) Jasentuliyana was the Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs in New York, and Deputy Director-General, United Nations, Vienna)