Wijesiri Wettimuny

Erudite scholar

With the passing away of Wijesiri Wettimuny, Sri Lanka has lost a historian, writer, teacher and humanitarian. More than all that, he was an erudite exponent of ‘Mahavamsa’, (the political, cultural and religious history of Sri Lanka), a work unparalleled in the world.

Originally written in Pali, the ‘Mahavamsa’ had been translated to Sinhala by monks, but it was very difficult for the average Sinhala reader to read and understand it. Wettimuny wanted to render ‘Mahavamsa’ into very simple Sinhala, and he did it.

It was not a haphazard job for him. I still remember how he was working with ‘Mahavamsa Attakatha’, ‘Samantapasadika’, and ‘Mahavamsa Tika’. His ‘Sarala Sinhala Mahavamsaya’ is an authentic work piece. People read and understood it, and praised it, but I wonder whether it got the deserving credit from the literati and the state.

The ‘Mahavamsa’ is not a work of a single writer. Its first part was written by Ven. Mahanama Thera, while the latter part was written by Ven. Thibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Buddharakhita Thera. It was continued up to 1948 by Ven. Yagirala Pannananda Maha Thera. The ‘Mahavamsa’ was then continued up to the end of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime by Wijesiri Wettimuny.

Last time we were chatting over the phone, I think two days before Wettimuny’s passing, he told me that he wanted to bring his book, the ‘Sarala Sinhala Mahavamsaya’, up to the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime.

He was also writing about classical Sinhala literature. He went so far as to write about modern Sinhala poetry in his works such as the ‘Sinhala Kavi Sangara’ and the ‘Deshayata Jeewaya Dun Panas Weni Dashakaye Kavi Sangara’.

Wettimuny had been a devout and practising Buddhist. His humanity and selfless services, all bore the Buddhist way of life. In his leisure time, we used to read fiction and poetry, including the ‘Tripitaka’. Reading Buddhist canons was part of his daily routine.

He was so conversant with the Pali ‘Thripitaka’ that he went on to write the stupendous book ‘Samma Sambudun Samaga Sanvada’(Dialogues with the Buddha). No one other than Wettimuny could write a book like that, for it needs such close familiarity with the ‘Tripitaka’. This is the ideal book for anybody who desires to learn Buddhist philosophy through the very words of the Buddha. His last publication, the ‘Budun Wadala Thama Pasupasa Ena Karma Vipaka’, is no doubt one of the best Buddhist books ever written on universal law of cause and effect.

My life-long best friend is no more. Our friendship ranges for over 60 years. Those wonderful memories will be etched in my mind till my last breath!

G.A. Mathupema


Dr. Asoka Polonowita

Ever genuine and sincere

Dr. Asoka Polonowita passed away peacefully on July 26 in Melbourne, Australia. He is the beloved husband of Premi and adored father of Nilanthi (Ranjika), Keminda, Ajith, Renuka, and Rupika. He was the elder brother to Upali, Mallika (Sita), Anruddha, and Parakrama.

Three of his siblings, Upali, Mallika, and Parakrama, are deceased. He loved his family and cared for them lovingly. Asoka was born on August 16, 1931 and was the beloved eldest son of late William and Emily Polonowita.

Prior to his retirement, Asoka was a Consultant Psychiatrist at the Western Suburbs Psychiatric Clinic in Melbourne, Australia. He was a medical graduate of the Ceylon Medical College and his secondary education was at Ananda College, Colombo.

Asoka, in his book ‘The Kuppiyawatte Days’, an epic tale of four generations of the Polonowita clan, describes his family life over 12 decades. If one could script his life, it can be classified as a life of charity and happiness. In his book, he wrote that he had a thought process about poor folks and how they lived their lives.

He further wrote that someday, he would like to be of help to poor people and, perhaps, this process enabled him to be a medical philanthropist. Asoka knew about life and, more than he would express in words, his inner world nagged him to survey another world: the world of the needy and the poor.

Asoka lived a life that showed his empathy and perhaps expressed in words about the human experience and all it encompasses: the good, the bad, light, and darkness. Asoka would often say, and I quote, “We earn money because others suffer with sickness. Therefore, we must practice according to his faith, Buddha Dharma.”

When he started the private medical practice in the Southern city of Amblangoda, and later in the suburban town of Nugegoda, patients thronged to meet the new dashing young doctor—and that is when my family had a chance to meet him. The patients who met Dr. Polonowita were charmed by him, and his engaging personality, along with his innate interpersonal skills, helped him connect with his patients. Asoka greeted whomever he met with genuine sincerity and showed empathy towards his patients. To the latter, his services were always free-of-charge.

Asoka had the skill to make sincere human bonds with whomever he met and had a knack to remember everyone’s names. Asoka never lost his ideals and compassion when it came to the convictions of his personal life.

He could sing and entertain and have a hearty laugh and that came to him naturally. There was no pretense in his personality, the attribute Polonowita clan displayed generously. His charity had no bounds in helping his family and friends.

I met Asoka over 50 years ago, when he was the DMO of the Southern town of Akuressa. His brother Anuruddha, the brilliant cricketer of International fame, was my classmate at Ananda College. On many occasions, I had the privilege of visiting their family home and enjoying their hospitality. I also knew Asoka’s parents Mr. and Mrs. William and Emily Polonowita. Asoka and Emily’s children all have the charming personalities of their parents.

Ranjit Santiago, USA


Santha de Zoysa

Beloved mother

Amma dearest, you were our queen mum! It is said that death ends a life, not a relationship. You had a very staid upbringing with a Convent education in Colombo and public school in England.

Later on, while reading for your degree at the Peradeniya University, your heart was captured by that dashing prosecutor. Both of you, hailing from the Sunny Golden shores of the South, found romance in the cool of the green hills.

Out of this holy alliance you bore two children; I may say they are two stunning assets. Modesty, they say, is unbecoming at a time like this.

You handled life’s challenges with serenity. Trials and tribulations, you never took seriously; you knew they were transitory. You shared Kipling’s view that success was a mere impostor! Your balanced approach to life gave you the ability to enjoy life the way you wanted.

Never did you refuse anybody in need. You were never a taker, but a giver. Over the years, the charitable handouts I witnessed you giving were immeasurable. I am told the first cheque signed by you was a donation to the Lanka Mahila Samithi. However, you were extremely private about it.

You led a good life. I am told you were the cynosure of your contemporaries when driving around in your swanky red M.G. Your spell in the travel trade earned you many accolades from counterparts, both locally and internationally.

At work, your secretary told me you had never raised your voice to her. You were very accessible to all employees of Monaro and ever ready to sort out a problem at anytime. Your desk was always neat and tidy, and you never passed the buck.

You cut a fine figure walking into parties and more solemn occasions with equal dignity. Glamour and style, you did not clamour for it. It came naturally to you.

Your love and passion for animals put you in the role of a hockey mum! Some of them, you bred. You got your thrills and spills when your horses sprinted to victory or dropped dead while on course; you enjoyed riding them in your younger days.

Lately, your little pet poodle winning at the dog shows put you in a champagne drinking mood. They were nurtured by her with absolute tenderness. As a friend, she cherished friendships and the consensus is that her beauty was honesty. As a hostess, she made any guest feel royal. As a mother, she taught us life was the greatest test of endurance!

You put your artistic flare to good use during the time Sri Lanka had a closed economy. I remember how organising our birthday parties was a challenge; you had to hunt for white sugar and wheat flour. I have memories of you calling around going in to every nook and cranny in search of these. Once the challenge was overcome, you produced the most beautiful cakes.

My friends still remember the individually painted birthday cards and the attractive packages of takeaway gifts, which were extremely novel. She was empowered which made her a great lady. Asjitha, your grandson, when learning of your death, said, “Amma, you must step into her shoes which may be too large, but I will help you fill them in a small way.”

You were always there for your cousins, nieces, and nephews and always had their best interest at heart. Amma dearest, I shall not cry because it is over, but smile because it happened.

Today, we celebrate your life and ask St. Peter to open the pearly gates wide, so that God welcomes his dear child who leaves us with no regrets into his eternal kingdom.

Santhosh de Zosya