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|Let us care for elders
When we are young and healthy, we never for a moment gave serious
thought that we will one day grow old and feeble and that we would
need the assistance of someone to look after us in the autumn of our
In Sri Lanka, prior to World War II, children were very attached and
loved their parents and although they were married and had family
responsibilities and settled down in life, they never neglected to
look after their parents in their old age, whether they had wealth
in abundance or otherwise.
With times, there have been changes in Sri Lanka. Children feel that
it is a burden to look after their parents in their old age, when
they are sick and feeble, perhaps due to financial strains and with
the escalating cost of living. In these circumstances, some would
prefer that their parents die early.
I know many children who have neglected their patents and do not
wish to keep their parents even for a day, although as grandparents
they always love to spend their last days’ with their grandchildren.
In Sri Lanka, a few years ago, I met an old couple near the Pettah
Bus Stand exposed to the elements which is now their home, far away
from home. They appeared to be in their early 80s and partially
blind. The old man related a very pathetic story to me. He was an
educated person, spoke fluent English and had lived his life in
Kandy. He had eight children and had sufficient wealth, which he
divided amongst the eight children equally. He gave them in marriage
and expected they would look after them in their old age.
As time went on, the children had taken up the position among
themselves as to why the other brother or sister could not take the
responsibility of looking after their parents in their old age.
Everyone evaded the real issue of taking responsibility of looking
after their parents and nothing was done to make the parents happy.
One day, a son who could not see the parents being neglected and
suffering any further decided to bring the parents to Colombo from
Kandy with the idea of entering them to an Elders Home in the city.
Having failed in his mission, he just left the parents at the Pettah
Bus Stand and disappeared. Never was the son seen again. What this
son did was really shocking. The aged couple had to beg for their
In another case concerning the parents of a boy and a girl, whom
were given in marriage, the parents had to look after their
grandchildren. However, when they became old and feeble, the two
children refused to keep their parents and started to ill-treat
them. The children although affluent and educated in leading schools
in Colombo, tried, to get them into an Elders’ Home but failed.
Meanwhile, the mother died. It was a great relief to them. The
father lived with the daughter. But after a week’s stay, she put the
old man into a three-wheeler (having pre-paid the fare) and sent him
to her brother’s house. Again, after a week or so, the son sent the
old man back in a three-wheeler (having pre-paid the fare) to his
sister’s house. The old man was suffering.
Since he could not bear this anymore, he went to a relative’s place
with his problems. They refused to keep him or put him in an Elders’
Home, because the children could well afford to put him into a
fee-paying Elders’ Home. These are a few isolated cases but many old
people are suffering in silence today.
Is this not a ‘cruel world’ that we are living in today to desert
our parents at a time they really need the children’s assistance.
In developed countries like Australia, children leave their parents
at an early age of 16 years and live by themselves. When it comes to
old age, the state looks after them and provides them with social
security and free public transport passes, Senior Citizens and
Concession Cards to enable the elders to purchase pharmaceutical
items, etc., at a discounted price.
Several religious organisations in our country, Sri Lanka, with
limited financial resources and donations have provided for the old
and feeble. But this is a far cry compared to the real needs of the
neglected elders in Sri Lanka.
I was pleased to hear recently that the Old Girls’ Association of
Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena have opened an Elders’ Home at
Mabole, Wattala for the aged past pupils of Good Shepherd Convent
who have become destitute. This is a worthy project. Perhaps, past
pupils of other schools and colleges should start similar projects
and will gain ‘merits’ if they help aged past pupils who are sick
and feeble and are unable look after themselves in the autumn of
Our politicians have debated many matters in Parliament but never
for a moment have given serious thought to the matter of opening
more Elders’ Homes throughout the country. Perhaps when the time
comes they can count on their pensions after five years in
Parliament, and fall back on their financial resources. But what
about the thousands of helpless old people who continue to suffer in
silence? Politicians should give serious thought to the elderly
people who have now become deadwood and whom society has also
The government may not have the money to finance the building of
Elders’ Homes in the country for those who have been discarded in
the autumn of their lives by their loved ones. Perhaps, the
Department of Social Services should undertake to launch a
fortnightly lottery to find the money for the maintenance and upkeep
of these Elders Homes. People will no doubt support a worthy cause
since they may also one day seek admission to these Elders Homes.
I have visited several Sri Lankan homes in Australia and have seen
for myself that much food is wasted and thrown into the bin, while
our countrymen are suffering in silence. Nearly 50% of the
population is living below the poverty line.
I would appeal to our dear Sri Lankans living in this great country,
Australia, where all ethnic groups live in peace to think for a
moment of our elders who are presently neglected in Sri Lanka.
I know of a Sri Lankan, who is a banker living in California, who
had built an Elders’ Home and a Children’s Home in Negombo and also
helps to maintain these homes.
Perhaps, there may be several Sri Lankan philanthropists who could
build Elders’ Homes in memory of their parents in Sri Lanka.
There are several Elders’ Homes in Sri Lanka that depend solely on
voluntary contributions to maintain these homes. It is a very sad
fact, but the reality is that many of these homes do not know how or
where to find their next meal!
The first Mother Teresa Elders’ Home was built in Sri Lanka in 1965
at the former
Mission House, St Anthony’s Church, Madampitiya, Colombo 14. It is
presently known as the “Home of Compassion” and presently managed by
the apostolic Carmelite sisters.
There are many Elders’ Homes run by several religious organisations
in Sri Lanka.
The list of these homes may be obtained from the Department of
Social Services, situated at 76/1/1, Duminda Building, Galle Road,
Colombo 4. Any financial assistance and items of clothing may be
given to these Elders Homes direct. By doing so, you will gain
Let us leave this world better than it was found and let our parents
feel that they have not been neglected by their loved ones in the
loneliness and also by the society to which they once contributed
I doff my hat
(metaphorical) in salute to Jaffna Government Agent Imelda Sukumar
for her frank and courageous submissions to the LLRC.
She had the distinction of ‘holding the fort’ for the government as
GA Mulaittivu for the years it was under the Tigers’ boot.
Permit me to briefly quote from the chapter on Kachcheries in my
book Memoirs of a Pen Pusher:
“Few are aware that the best illustration of the government’s
never-ending need for Government Agents and Kachcheries is the
network of GAs, AGAs and Grama Niladharies who bravely functioned in
the ‘uncleared’ areas of Mannar, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and
Mullaittivu and, earlier, in Jaffna District. They were the channel
for the distribution of essential food, school uniforms, textbooks,
medical supplies, cash for the payment of government salaries and
the resettlement of refugees from the ‘uncleared’ areas.
They also functioned as an unacknowledged, though sadly essential,
line of communication with the LTTE.
Every convoy that carried supplies to these uncleared areas was
emblazoned with banners proclaiming ‘GA convoy’.
If and when the history of these troublous times is written, the
names of these courageous G.As should be written in letters of
I must frankly admit that it was mainly of Imelda Sukumar that I
thought when I wrote these lines in the final days of battle.
He gave much to Kandy
Sri Lanka Sigamani Nagalingam Ratnasabapathy of Louis Peiris
Mawatha, Kandy passed away on July 31 this year, after a brief
He was 81.
I could hardly believe the news about his sudden demise.
This heartbreaking news came as a stunning blow to me.
Though I am ageing, I am highly in good sense to write a few
paragraphs about him in this appreciation as a tribute to him, as he
was a long-time friend of mine.
Nagalingam Ratnasabapathy, who had migrated to Kandy in the late
1940s from his birthplace, Point Pedro in Jaffna and settled down in
Ratnasabapathy was born on October 7, 1928 at Point Pedro, Jaffna.
He attended Hartley College, Point Pedro from 1935 to 1947.
He was an outstanding student, and a junior and senior prefect at
He was also an outstanding sportsman, and a member of the college
After completing his studies at Hartley College, he moved to Kandy
to help his father, V K M Nagalingam who owned Nagalingam Jewellers,
on Colombo Street, Kandy.
The store was set up in the early 1900s which was a boon town even
then N Ratnasabapathy inherited the business, which grew to become
Kandy’s premier jewellery store.
N Ratnasabapathy was honoured by the late President Ranasinghe
Premadasa for his social work, conferring on him the ‘Sri Lanka
Sigamani’, the National Honours Award of Excellence on February 4,
Later, due to the untimely demise of President Premadasa, the
successor President D B Wijetunga had to present the citation to
Nagalingam Ratnasabapathy and the conferment bestowed on May 22,
In social life, he was a prominent social worker and a notable
He helped the needy without any bias. He was deeply religious. He
was firmly a devout Hindu.
He moved very closely with the clergy of all religions, irrespective
of any bias or ethnicity.
He was a patron of several religious and cultural organisations and
was a vice president of the prestigious Central Province Hindu
Association and a patron of that association. He moved closely with
the religious affairs and religious activities of the Sri Dalada
He was also a tireless social worker and always ready to help the
needy and the proletariat class of people.
On the 30th day of the passing away of Nagalingam Ratnasabapathy on
August 30, a remembrance Memorial Service, a unique ritual was held
at his sprawling home in Kandy at Louis Peiris Mawatha conducted and
officiated by a clique of leading Brahmin Hindu priests and
Kurukkals with a mass pooja and rituals.
It concluded with a mass Dana (alms-giving) given to the retinue of
participants and well-wishers.
Nagalingam Ratnasabapathy’s spouse, Mrs Pathmasani Nagalingam
Ratnasabapathy, predeceased him in 2001.
N. Ratnasabapathy leaves behind four sons - Manoharan, Ravi, Ramanie
and Mohan – all distinguished old boys of Trinity College, Kandy,
who are All-Island Justices of the Peace.
May all meritorious deeds lead the late Nagalingam Ratnasabapathy to
accrue much merit to take him to a delightful place in his next
My sympathies go out to his four sons and their children.
May be Attain Ama Maha Nivana, the Greatest Blissful Nirvana!
A dedicated teacher
The certainty of death has removed Shanthi from the earthly
In an appreciation like this, one cannot forget her husband Aelian
who predeceased her.
I got to know Shanthi and Aelian because of two factors.
One was Aelian’s involvement with our Ecumenical Seminary at
Pilimatalawa where I worked.
The other was Shanthi’s involvement with the Teacher’s Inter
Religious Peace Education Programme.
Both of them were people who were committed to God, therefore, to
people with values both in Church and in society.
Aelian belonged to the
Shanthi was heavily involved with education.
In fact, her involvement with education was focussed on Methodist
College where she spent most of her life.
The crowds that attended Shanthi’s funeral bore testimony to her
life and work.
At the funeral service at her church, we were reminded of Shanthi’s
role in helping the victims of July 1983 in some ways.
She opened the doors of her college to those who had to run away
from those who were on the war path during that tragic week.
What she did was certainly walking the talk where her discipleship
What she did was Christ like. There were others in Sri Lanka at that
time who were reluctant to open their doors to victims of that
Reflecting on Shanthi’s life, it is certainly very clear that it was
her inner life and spirituality that enabled her to be the person
that she was under God.
We shall always remember her and hers with love and gratitude.
All those, who will miss her in life very especially her sons and
their families, can certainly be assured of our prayers.
As I write this in memoriam on All Souls’ Day 2010, I conclude
praying that may her soul rest in peace and rise in glory! Amen.