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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 life.
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 livelihood.
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 their lives.
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 neglected.
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 “merits”.
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 their ‘might’.

Fred Rodrigo-Sathianathan
Melbourne, Australia


Viva, Imelda!

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 gold.”
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.

Viva Imelda!!
Tissa Devendra



Nagalingam Ratnasabapathy

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 illness.
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 Kandy.
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 Hartley College.
He was also an outstanding sportsman, and a member of the college soccer team.
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, 1993.
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, 1993.
In social life, he was a prominent social worker and a notable philanthropist.
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 Maligawa, Kandy.
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 birth!
My sympathies go out to his four sons and their children.
May be Attain Ama Maha Nivana, the Greatest Blissful Nirvana!


Shanthi Peiris

A dedicated teacher

The certainty of death has removed Shanthi from the earthly scene.
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
legal profession.
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 was concerned.
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 tragedy.
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.

Sydney Knight






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