A Personal Tribute to Lanka Nesiah on his 74th Birthday, May 17, 2014
Lanka was a precious part of our family and had earned a unique place in our hearts through numerous acts of love, kindness, thoughtfulness, helpfulness and friendship. I remember with nostalgia the years of our childhood, our youth and young adulthood. Lanka was a dutiful and obedient son to Amma (Pushpamany Somasundaram) and Aiyah (Kunasekaram Nesiah) and an understanding, sensitive and caring brother to the three of us, his siblings.
As he got older we could always rely on him to meet our needs or solve our problems with a sincere heart and spontaneous and willing spirit.
We owe it to Amma for having sown the seeds of love, kindness, and selflessness as children. We could feel these qualities in everything she did – whether reading or relating stories to us, or preparing special food for us and nursing us with tender love and care while we were sick.
Like all children raised by such mothers, Lanka had such an abundance of selfless love, kindness and sensitivity. When Lanka was about four or five years old I can remember Amma sitting on the steps of our Chundukuli house, as she often did, reading the story of the “Babes in the Wood.” The four of us were sitting around her listening attentively to the story. When Amma came to the part where the babes got lost in the woods and finally died all alone, Lanka, suddenly buried his face in Amma’s lap to hide his tears. He felt the pain of others as his own.
He treated everybody in the neighbourhood as his friends. His friendly, outgoing personality was evident through so many of his actions. When we were young we used to have large gatherings for our birthdays. Prior to that Appa (our grandfather, the Rev. Canon Samuel Sangarapillai Somasundaram) would announce in church that he would be conducting a prayer meeting in our house. I can remember, all of us watching Amma, busy all day, making cakes, vaddai and all kinds of eats to serve the guests.
For one of Lanka’s birthdays, may be his 6th or 7th Aiyah had to be away in Colombo for a meeting and they decided not to have the prayer meeting. Lanka must have been disappointed but it was not in his nature to complain. He decided to solve his own problem as he thought fit. He composed and wrote a letter inviting people to his birthday. On his way back from school he dropped in at 2 homes, randomly, showing them his invitation.
The first home he dropped in at was that of Mr. P.T. Mathai, Vice Principal of St. John’s College, who happened to be a Malayalee and could not read Tamil. So he asked Lanka to read it to him and Lanka read it out. The next person he visited happened to be Mr. Charles, also a teacher at St. Johns. Again, unfortunately, Mr. Charles was a Portuguese and could not read Tamil. So he too, asked Lanka to read it out and Lanka, again, willingly obliged.
Later on in the evening I still remember, the four of us (our eldest brother Devanesan, myself, sister Nimala and Lanka) were happily playing in front of our house while Amma stood by watching us. Mr. Charles arrived with a birthday gift for Lanka – consisting of 2 tins of candy, butterscotch and fruitscotch.
We were amazed and Amma asked him how he knew it was his birthday. He told us about Lanka’s invitation.
We were highly amused when Lanka told us everything he had done. Secretly, I was awed by his courage and admired his confidence. May be the others felt something positive about him too.
However, we all enjoyed the candy Lanka received. In our home, whatever each of us got as gifts, Amma always shared it equally amongst the four of us. This included the toys too. We always played together, never conscious of whom they belonged to.
Lanka carried this trait right through life. He was generous and never coveted material possessions. He was a caring and kind-hearted child. Even when very young, he would sometimes walk around the neighbourhood greeting and talking to people. On one of his walks, he must have been about 6 years, he met a woman (Pooranam) , in the neighbourhood who was familiar to all of us. She was a single mother who lived on her meagre income raising goats and cows. For Lanka, class, racial, language or religious barriers did not exist. He treated everyone with the same respect.
Lanka accosted her and inquired about her health. She was touched that he showed concern and assured him that she was in good health. Then Lanka went on to inquire about her cows and goats and asked how they were doing. Again she assured him that they were all doing well. The sincere interest and friendly inquiry filled her with so much happiness that she immediately went home, chose a beautiful little kid goat and brought it as gift for Lanka. I remember hearing her proudly and happily repeating to Amma her whole conversation with Lanka, endearingly calling him “Little Thambi” and lovingly describing the concern he showed her. The four of us siblings spent so many pleasurable hours happily playing with the little kid goat. Lanka brought a lot of happiness into our lives.
Lanka left us a short time ago but to us – family members and friends – all of us who have known him from his childhood, he has left precious memories to treasure. His positive and optimistic attitude to life, his cheerful personality, friendly disposition, helpful nature, and abundance of love and acts of kindness endeared him to everyone. All his relationships were built on openness, sincerity and honesty. He was truly a remarkable person who, through love, tried to make life a little easier for all those around him.
PRECIOUS MEMORIES OF LANKA TO TREASURE.
Memories fall gently one by one
As petals when the blossom’s done
We gather each one tenderly
And save the petals one by one
We place each one with loving care
Till they form a flower most rare
Its fragrance essence for all to share.
Thank you Lanka, for all the happiness you brought into our lives.
*Dr. Puspadevy Seevaratnam (née Nesiah)