18 May, 2022


Beyond The Call Of Duty

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

As I write this the television newscasts are awash with the horror of the terrorist attacks in Paris. It is easy enough in such circumstances to pretty well give up on humanity as a whole. However, in stark contrast to the wanton bloodshed with which we have all been inundated recently, I have had the privilege of being witness, over several years past, to a chain of events the final outcome of which, while unfortunate to say the least, more than restored my faith in the capacity of human beings to give of themselves absolutely selflessly with no expectation whatsoever of reward of any kind, certainly not pecuniary! That this happened in my home country, to boot, was cause for more than simple satisfaction.

It was only a few days ago that we saw an old friend who trod the halls of Trinity College in the Kandyan hills at the same time as I did, breathe his last.

His passing was not without pain to him and those who knew and loved him and the fact that his deteriorating health was spread over a fairly long period of time did not, I know, make it any easier for those near and dear to him who looked after him while he, literally, faded away.

I have chosen not to name names in this piece because I believe that the burden of grief that the survivors bear will in no way be helped by their exposure to public gaze, no matter how limited or how laudatory. However, I do not think that the caring and love they displayed under the most difficult of circumstances should go unremarked. Let it, in no matter how small a way, be proof that humanity’s upper reaches have not been completely abandoned and that “ordinary” people can rise to extraordinary heights even when seemingly bereft of the material means to do so.

When I returned to Sri Lanka after a long sojourn in a place as far from Sri Lanka as can be imagined, it was either the fates or simple circumstance that brought me into contact with someone I’d known, not particularly well, at my alma mater. On our first meeting, when he was still in full control of all his faculties, he reminded me that I was responsible for his entering a school boxing ring for the first (and only!) time because, through a (misguided?) sense of loyalty to the “House” to which we both belonged, I had persuaded him to enter the school’s House Boxing Meet. The reason I had exerted my skills of persuasion was that we were having difficulty in fielding a full team for the competition and every entrant garnered a point, win or lose, towards the final tally and, even though boxing was very much an individual “sport,” the team’s success was what mattered in terms of the ethos of our school. My recently-departed friend reminded me that I had, no matter how unwittingly, pitted him against one of the hardest-hitting and most skilled boxers in the entire schools system at the time and that, as a result, he only had a very vague recollection of what transpired in the ring on his first (and last!) foray into competitive boxing!

We often visited my friend and his wife who was closely connected to my partner, by marriage. It wasn’t just that connection that brought us close. It was the warmth of their hospitality, always good-humoured company and bottomless fund of never-malicious anecdotes that kept bringing us back, often “overnighting” with them when we visited the Hill Capital.

Our friend had retired prematurely from employment as a plantation manager and then from the administrative end of that sector as well, the cause being his need of a several “by-pass” surgeries in Great Britain and Sri Lanka.

Despite these serious health issues, complicated by diabetes, our friends appeared destined to a relatively sedate retirement, living off the interest from the funds they had accumulated by hard work over many years. This expectation, however, was rudely destroyed by the now-notorious collapse of the Golden Key business empire into which they had deposited the entirety of their life savings.

What ensued was the emergence out of this devastating blow of a story of love and compassion by many people who made my friend’s passing, spread over more than half a dozen years, a great deal less painful than could ever have been imagined.

I have never, despite having proceeded beyond the proverbial “three-score-and-ten” years on this earth, EVER witnessed anything like the love and devotion that my friend’s wife, children and extended family and friends gave him.

As one who has (and probably still does!) greet with suspicion any overt display of formal Christian devotion, the absolutely selfless manner in which my friend’s wife nursed him through years of steady physical and mental deterioration, could not but convince me that it was her faith in a greater power that consistently sustained her in a situation that would have completely destroyed anyone of less faith. I have thought long and hard about what I saw unfold over the years before my very eyes and I know of very few, if any, who might have come close to displaying the love and care it was my privilege to see.

In this she was assisted by her adult children, one of whom, not having children of his own to care for, would take several days off work in Colombo and come up to provide his mother with relief from her responsibilities in the matter of personal care of someone whose ultimate mode of mobility in his final days was a wheel-chair propelled by a care-giver.

Gratitude is an increasingly rare commodity as time passes and the world changes. However, the many selfless acts that my friend and his wife had performed in the years leading up to their time of greatest need, both financial and otherwise, did not go unrewarded, with nieces and nephews and other relations and friends rallying round to provide invaluable support of various kinds. I was gratified to see bearing fruit that old saying that, “As you sow, so shall you reap,” when one of their nieces travelled halfway round the world to be with her uncle, not taking so much as a day off, to make social calls to friends and relations in the land of her birth, because, as she said, “Uncle and aunty have been so good to me that I felt the least I could do was spend all the time I could with him during his last days.”

In a microcosm, this was what Sri Lankans can still be capable of: the display of a capacity for persistent love and caring under the most trying of conditions despite the destitution without retribution visited upon them by those who can, truly, be defined as the forces of evil. What I saw in the matter of surmounting seemingly impossible odds was, in and of itself, enough to keep burning the flame of hope for a future of decency and dignity for our homeland.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    This is why we need a National Insurance scheme like in other developed countries – which are funded by every citizen contributing a little bit each week/month – in addition to free health care from birth.

    Some countries pay a lifelong monthly pension even to immigrants who have lived there for ten years, supported by their relatives who sponsored them, while they enjoyed free health care from the date of immigration.
    A few pay from the date of immigration itself.

    Our health care resources have to be organised so that each citizen could be given a complete health examination, once a year, with advice & medication to prevent illnesses rather than cure them after their onset, which costs many times more.

    • 1

      Whoever this unnamed dead person is, whoever, his benefactor may be, thanks to them all for saving us from the ‘poison key board’ of this man that has been plaguing the CT website on Sundays.

      It is a relief to say that this person has had something positive to write about. Hope his unhappiness is cured.

      Three scores and ten, how long more?

      • 0

        Boom Boom:
        Just a (faint) hope that your pseudonym might now be indicative of your fate.
        If I didn’t like horses, I’d simply say that one of them should share the same fate as you!

  • 14

    Emil, I’m sure you’re right about there being plenty of folk who will have the qualities that will give us “hope for a future of decency and dignity for our homeland”.

    The problem seems to be that most of those decent and dignified folk will not touch ‘politics in Sri Lanka’ with the proverbial barge-pole, due to the shit they will have to wade through just to make a dent in our pathetically twisted and corrupt polity.

    Looks like that ‘brain-drain’ that followed Banda’s shortsighted and selfish policies put paid to the diverse gene pool we had and started the drift towards corruption in politics with the dregs of society increasingly rising to the top.

    • 9

      Politicians of all hues are guilty of destroying our culture of decent living as Sri Lankans and upholding values instilled in us from school days. For all the good work this man did in his profession and accolades from his bosses, they still could not prevent him being harassed by a local politico who had his way in having him transferred out of the estate and the stigma that followed.

      How many times this has been re-enacted in Sri Lankan professional life in the culture of ‘political’ impunity destroying this paradise – and in the process increasing the bands of ‘followers’ who keep this system flourishing for their personal gain.

  • 13

    Last week a relative was warded at the General Hospital to remove the cement that was placed to heal the broken hip bone. She is 70. She was taken in the morning for surgery and awaited her turn. Forty other patients were also awaiting their turn. Dr Punchihewa, a person true to the oath he has taken, was the surgeon. He always does his best. But there was no time left to attend to my relative.

    There were patients whose condition demanded priority. So my relative was sent back unattended, as were many others. The anxiety and heartburn never seemed a concern for the Health Ministry.

    This shows how inadequate the facilities provided by the General Hospital are. Not a single politician has ever been bothered about it. Because it is only the poor who are compelled to use the National Hospital. We all pay the Government on every bombay onion and potato we eat. But where does all the money go?

    I can name a few instances: President Sirisena, who went to New York with his son, bashed up Rs 90,000,000. Up to date, we who pay, have never been given an account as to what he ate for the RS 90 million. I read in The Island newspaper that the 225 MPs are to receive a total of 3,375,000,000 to spend (without account) on the electorates for 2016. Every time when the Cabinet of Ministers meet the motto seems to be kaapalla beepalla jolikarapalla. At what cost? Every time a Minister has to visit a brothel house a dozen security vehicles and fifty security personnel have to accompany. What is the cost? Every time an MP gets VD he has to be rushed to a hospital in Singapore. What is the cost to the funds collected from the import of onions and potatoes?

    It seems appropriate to raise the question in the vernacular: Meka hena gahana aparadayak neveida?

    • 0

      [Edited out]

    • 1

      Has the Health budget received a boost recently. N0. Unfortunately the 2.9% of a pathetic GDP earmarked for the provision of Health clearly is inadequate. What’s more, the President was a previous Health Minister, but has been less than useful.

    • 5

      The only way to improve the standards of SL hospitals is to make it mandatory for every politician to undergo treatment in a SL hospital. Let them walk the talk and have a dose of their own medicine.

  • 6

    Dear old Srilankans can see Now What the politicians are up to and why they fly off to far away land to get their ailments treated while the poor stay put and wait for their turn to die , Pathetic stories will come to light one by one but chaps there’s no money in the National hospitals to treat you and me in time before You and I take the last Breath.

    Let the politicians the Present and the Past ones swindle our nations wealth and Health while we remain staunch supporters of the CROOKS.


    These politicians and their families were given responsible jobs to run the country truthfully ,In return they ROB the state.

  • 4

    A touching story of love. In my 4 score years and living in many cultures, I have found many families taking care of their loved ones in their last or in early and mid years who are bed ridden or unable to care for themselves. They are from various nationalities, religious faiths living in difficult circumstances.
    Such care is unfortunately is not the norm. But there are enough to shine our path to lead us to be compassionate to another human being. Home, school and the community need to expose children to learn to be kind and love their own and the life of others.

  • 1

    The key point is the Golden Key.

    Mrs K is still living comfortably in the West, with the dosh diverted to Foreign Banks.

    Mr K is out trying to return the favour to Yahapalanaya for helping him with Tax Payers money in the Treasury Account, which is now under the Accountant from Bloemendhal.

    Wonder what Business Mr K will now start to help Yahapalana supporters?.

    How much did Mr P contribute to Mrs K retirement income?…

  • 3

    KASmaalam K.A Sumanasekera

    “How much did Mr P contribute to Mrs K retirement income?…”

    You are talking in riddles, is it because of the new James Bond film, Specter? M, Q ….. MI6, ….

    Who is this Mrs K?

    Shashi Weerawansa?

    Pushpa Rajapaksa?

    Anoma Rajapaksa?

  • 0

    Indra: I applaud you for ending your comment saying: “meka hena gahana apradayak nemeida”. In Sri Lanka no doubt we here “hena gahanawa” every now then; but who are the victims? It is always a poor man in the field eking out a living through tilling the land or an innocent who makes a simple life in the village. Have you ever heard any of these politicians ever receiving this “hena gahana” punishment? If that happens, all 225 members sitting in that “Palace” in the environs of Diyawannawa must be the FIRST to be struck with the “Hena Gedi”. Just leave aside the theory of “PROOF” and think of what the past regime has done to this country’s wealth? We all know the facts and the figures are clearly known; but what is going on. Do they get the “Hena Gedi” that is very deserving? Isn’t it “I scratch your back and you scratch my back”; “If they could do it why not we” etc. etc. Perhaps you would have read the article by Sarath Alwis who related the plight of that “old lady” waiting at the Osu Sala to buy a prescribed medicine. That was “ONE” such case; but how many THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS are made to succumbed to such poverty stricken circumstances and say a silent “GOOD BYE” to life in the midst of all glorious pomp and glare of these VAGABOND politicians. So the big question is: When and who will turn around this situation? As for me, I do not see it happening in the near future before we close our eyes and no one has yet been able to show that leadership or given an opportunity by the very people who suffer in that SILENCE?

  • 0

    Never ever underestimate the capability of man to rise to the occasion when hardship comes a-calling. Sri Lanka is still hugely ahead of the world when it comes to us caring for each other. Family, naturally, and often for total strangers. We have survived hell and bounced back because of this often overlooked strength. Long may this rich quality multiply in our island communities.

  • 0

    Greetings, Emil.

    I was in TCK during this time and also boxed but I cannot think who you are referring to. However, what is sad is that The Golden Key episode appears to have deprived our mutual friend from obtaining better care and all the while, the perpetrators of this vile scheme is very well taken care of. The authorities keep telling us that this matter will be resolved soon but never happens. But a day of reckoning will come and as you so well say, “as ye sow, so shall ye reap”.

    Take care, and God bless you

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