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My Uncle Robert

Heartrending story of love and care

My Uncle Robert is 94 years’ young. He lives in a comprehensive care home for persons with dementia, in a suburb of Paris. Robert receives excellent physical care and virtually no mental stimulation, as he does not have any of the physical or mental capacities to appreciate or value any stimulation.
The evaluation of Robert’s situation and terms of life with dementia was a very personal case study apropos my personal commitment to dementia care and services to seniors in Sri Lanka, as the Founder/President of the Lanka Alzheimer’s Foundation.

In April 2010, I decided to visit my uncle and spend ten days of quality time with him. The few days I spent in his company were long, arduous and full of misgiving. Robert occasionally cheered up and rattled off a few disjointed sentences, then lapsed into long periods of silence in a state of passive apathy. He would look at me quizzically when I touched him or held his hand.

Attempts to encourage reminiscence and evoke curiosity of his long-term memory were of no avail. There was some subconscious recognition, and he treated that sentiment with a lovely smile. Robert is in a senile body without much purpose. There were many instances when I noticed that his subconscious mind was in fine form – a look of guilt and shame when he witnessed his incontinence, partial recognition of items of food placed before him, the ability to pour water from a small bottle into a cup and his ability to berate in a loud voice any fellow patient who came around to pick items off his tray.

Tami with his uncle Robert Tamitegama Olga, Robert’s dutiful wife of some 50 years, visits twice a day everyday. Any conversation that Olga has with the male attendant is treated by Robert with loud derision and active anger. She sits dutifully beside him and patiently talks to him in a slow moderate voice. Robert gets agitated and restless, and Olga says, with passive resignation, “there, he does not wish me to be here at all, but I have to change his clothes and give him a new set of pajamas everyday.”
One afternoon, during my visit, I met with Olga in her lovely apartment, seated in a special chair that gave her some comfort from arthritic pain. She narrated her life story, commencing with the initial meeting with Robert. A very young daughter of Russian émigrés in Paris was enamoured by the looks and sophistication of a fellow boarder who insisted on charming her with descriptions of Paris’ young people and its culture. Olga’s parents were relieved when their immigration papers were passed to proceed to Canada. Olga was too coy to admit to some loving subterfuge by which she kept in touch with Robert. One fine day, he appeared on their doorstep in Montreal. Thus, began the second episode of their courtship.

Their eventual marriage produced four fine children, Vladimir, Svetlana, Igor and Sasha.
My contact with Robert and recollections of our association were very sporadic. I cannot
remember much of our early years together. As I was told, he lived with my parents, my sibling and me for many years until he graduated from university and went to a coastal town in Sri Lanka to teach English in a boys’ school.
Tami and Robert enjoying sometime together. He moved into newspaper reporting and found his life’s niche. He has been in the reporting business until dementia robbed him of his sensibilities, at some 70+ years.
In the early years of reporting for the Lake House Group, Robert was sent to England to cover the Queen’s coronation.

There he met a vivacious French reporter and moved with her to Paris. Robert adopted the Parisian flair for fine living and studied very hard to capture the language, culture and traditions of France. He succeeded, and commenced working for the Le Monde newspaper group. I met him briefly in London during the period of his life, when he was divorced, from his first wife.
The next time I met him was in Quebec City, Canada, many years later, where he was the editor of the Chronicle, the only English newspaper published in the Province of Quebec. He was there with Olga and the four children. Robert authored a number of books on the Canadian Constitution, and was an ardent fan of one of Canada’s most illustrious and flamboyant Prime Ministers, Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
For the long and interesting final episode of his life, Robert moved back to Paris, and undertook many works of writing and translations of books and articles in periodicals. I next caught up with him through the international magazine Goepolitique, which he was translating to English.

During the period of my visit to Paris to be with Robert, I enjoyed the hospitality of his son Vladimir and his charming partner Florence. On one of the days I was with them, Vladimir took part in the Paris Marathon. Subsequently, we talked much of Vladimir’s family inheritance in Sri Lanka, which prompted Vladimir and Florence to opt for a vacation in Sri Lanka.
Tami with Vladimir in Paris I lost no time in inquiring from Vladimir whether he would consent to spearheading an Alzheimer’s Run in Sri Lanka, while he was here on holiday. He agreed, at which point I requested of the Sri Lanka Hashers to lend support for the informal maiden Alzheimer’s RUN, which is scheduled for February 5, 2011.

Tami Tamitegama
Lanka Alzheimer’s Foundation


Neglected public road

The tarmac road stretch from the Galle Road to Payagala South via Gabadagoda area that connects to Yatadola Road has been in a bad state of disrepair and almost impassable.
On rainy days, the situation becomes worse with many potholes along the road. This road has been neglected over a long period of time.
Repeated appeals by the public have not brought any good results.

C M Kamburawala


Dr N Soma de Sylva

A heart which knew only generosity

My grandma was the best any grandchild could ask for. If not for her, I would not be here today. When I was about three years old, my body suddenly experienced a burning sensation and my parents held me under the shower to cool me off. It was of no avail and they rushed me to Durdan’s hospital. The doctors who treated me ruled that I had caught a disease called Kawasaki for which no permanent cure was yet found.
My parents were devastated and from that day on, I was given nearly 20 injections per day. My grandma didn’t give up. She and her sister, who was also a physician, were frantically searching for a cure. My grandma made history as the first lady doctor in Sri Lanka to specialise in General Medicine.
In the meantime, my father bought a CD titled Free Willy which livened me up after a nightmare in the hospital. One fine day, my grandma walked into my hospital room with a vaccination carrying a green-like substance. On it being administered to me, I could walk again in a few days time and I was elated!
My beloved grandma saved my life and each time I felt ‘down’ I would call her and spend few days with her. She recalled her young life with me often and I was mesmerised by all those tales. She would tell about her childhood, schooldays etc.
She loved gardening and took a lot of pride in her beautiful compound which was so dear to my heart. My grandma was a hospitable lady and she made sure that all my favourite dishes were on the table each time I visited her. She could almost read my mind.
Whenever my parents were frustrated with my low grades in school, she would defend me, “Rahul is a lovely child, he needs time to prove it.” Whenever I heard those words, I was motivated to do better. She was a beautiful lady, a committed physician, a lovely mother and a beloved grandma.
When she was hospitalised, grandma did not want us to visit her as she probably did not want us to remember her outside her ‘high spirited’ nature. When the sad news reached me, I was devastated and thought my heart would break into million pieces. We were fortunate to have seen her reaching her 76th year and that was the last day I saw that unmistakable smile of hers…
I love you my beloved grandma and I miss you so much.

Rahul de Sylva



M A C M Saleh

A national freedom fighter and international Islamic scholar

The deeds of men are more often buried in the sands of time. However, in unique instances some men establish their deeds where they create nations, or they become an integral part of the creation of nations, the attainment of freedom for their country, and hence their memory never fades away. One such individual whose memory lingers in our memory as a part of Sri Lanka’s history was Mohamed Abdul Cader Mohamed Saleh.

Saleh was born on September 9, 1901 in Wellawatte, Colombo. He was an Islamic scholar, and a prolific writer of international repute. He contributed largely for the Deccan Times, Hyderabad, India. He wrote copiously invaluable articles to the Islamic Review published by the Woking Muslim Mosque in England, the land for which was donated by King George V through the efforts of that great savant of Islam, Khawaja Kamaluddin.
When I met Moulavi Abdul Majeed the editor of the Islamic Review at the Woking Mosque in 1963, he spontaneously inquired, “How is Mr MACM Saleh?” and I was so amazed to realise how great Saleh’s stature was among the intelligentsia of the world at that time.

The Muslim Digest was another internationally acclaimed monthly magazine published in South Africa (founded by Allama Abdul Aleem Siddiqi, the great missionary who, as a globe-trotter, established Islamic institutions in the West Indies and the Far East which included even Japan and Korea) invited Saleh to contribute to its publication to enlighten and enhance the knowledge on Islam amongst its readership.
Saleh’s rich vocabulary, and his reservoir of knowledge on international subjects, which included Islamic jurisprudence and international politics, took tiny Ceylon’s (Sri Lanka) image sky-high in the international arena.
He was a true patriot of mother Sri Lanka; a great social reformer. He fashioned the thoughts of the Sri Lankan Muslims to secure their rightful place within the Sri Lankan community.

Saleh was the Deputy President at the All Ceylon Muslim League. He was a great source of strength to the NHM Abdul Cader and Dr TB Jayah (two illustrious presidents of the All Ceylon Muslim League) in their efforts for constitutional reforms. They sought his ideas and guidance to place a strong case for constitutional reforms for the nation’s benefit on various stages of Ceylon’s history - the Manning Commission, the Colebrooke Commission, the Donoughmore Commission ending with the Soulbury Commission. In all these efforts, Saleh always kept in mind the rights of the Muslim community not for a moment forgetting the larger interests of the nation.

There was a time, after the establishment of the State Council under the Donoughmore Constitution, where the leaders of the country comprising of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims consolidated themselves to agitate for self-rule. Saleh, together with the leaders of his time - Sir Mohamed Macan Markar, Dr Jayah, Sir Razik and Dr Kaleel and others formed a formidable force similar to the one established by DS Senanayake, FR Senanayake, Sir Baron Jayatilake, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and others of the Sinhala and Tamil communities.
Saleh together with the late MH Amit, ex-MP was greatly responsible in drafting the Memorandum to be placed before the Donoughmore Commission. When the cry for 50-50 was raised, Saleh would not agree to such a claim, and was of the mindset that the Muslims had to live in peace with both the Sinhala and Tamil communities throughout the island. Such sentiments could now be observed in the concepts laid down in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Mahinda Chinthana.

The memoranda submitted by the All Ceylon Muslim League and the All Ceylon Moors’ Association before the Soulbury Commission eventually added much weight for the representations made by the other communities for Ceylon to gain Independence.
My erstwhile friend, Ahamed Mamun – the eldest son of Saleh – when I met him last in California in the US, recalled with nostalgic memory what his father would always advise the youth that, “Your sincere concern about your community and religion is what one should always be proud of and not one’s affiliations to any political party or organisation.” Saleh was motivated by the emergence of the forces that led to SWRD Bandaranaike’s great social revolution in 1956.

Saleh was appointed by Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike to the Local Government Services Commission in 1956 and served until 1958; he also served in the UNESCO National Commission; he was also nominated to serve in the Board of Education by the Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke.
Being a close friend of Dr Badi-ud-din Mahmud, who was with the Muslim League at that time, Saleh always believed in Badi’s adage, “Don’t put your eggs in one basket (politically), but be realistic in accepting social and political reforms to serve your community, feeling the political pulse of the nation.”

This is the motivation which influenced him to throw his lot with those dedicated bands of men in order to organise the massive reception by the Muslim community for the world’s first woman Prime Minister, Mrs Sirimavo RD Bandaranaike on September 30, 1972 at the Maradana Mosque, Colombo, notwithstanding great pressure from various powerful quarters which opposed the move. Saleh stood his ground and was of the view that the Muslim community would be making a serious historical error if the community failed to felicitate the world’s first woman Prime Minister hailed by the entire world including all Arab/Muslim countries - a salutary lesson to be followed by today’s politicians.

The Chairman of the Souvenir Committee of this historic reception, Advocate Zam Zam Akbar, the prolific writer himself, and a true disciple of that great Justice MT Akbar, KC, wrote thus: “Many are familiar with the part played by the Ceylon Muslims like Sir Mohamed Macan Markar, Dr TB Jayah, Dr Badi-ud-din Mahmud, Sir Razik Fareed, Dr MCM Kaleel and MACM Saleh in the constitutional reforms of the country.
They enthusiastically supported the demand for Dominion Status and also for the Independence. They have never obstructed the political progress of the country. With several others, like Siddi Lebbe, Wappchi Marikar and ILM Abdul Azeez they have forged close and intimate bonds of friendship with the Sinhala people.”

Although Saleh helped with his vast knowledge and wisdom to create Muslim national leaders in this country, he unfortunately could not enter the stately sanctums of legislature. He was almost knocking at the door to enter Parliament in the First Parliamentary elections of 1947, when he unsuccessfully contested the Kalkudah seat in the East. His courage to venture out from Colombo to the Eastern Province contesting this seat, perhaps, paved the way for AH Macan Markar in later years to win both the Kalkudah and the Batticaloa constituencies.
Saleh was a true believer of Mathata-thiththa, and when the Temperance Movement was launched, by great men like Sir Baron Jayatilake, FR Senanayke, DS Senanayake, Ven. Kalukondayawe Pagnaasekera Maha Nayake, Dr TB Jayah and Prof. Rauf Pasha, and MK Mohamed Ali (the first Amir of Ceylon Thabligh Jama’ath), SMM Mohideen, SS Madar, young MD Kitchilan and others, going about closing down taverns in Pettah, Slave Island, Colpetty and in other areas, Saleh did not hesitate to join this brigade.
Incidentally, Badi-ud-din Mahmud, MA Bakeer Markar, MHM Naina Marikar, MLM Aboosally, ALM Hashim, Razick Marikar and Shafie Marikar to name a few, came under the tutelage of Prof. Rauf Pasha who instilled in them Islamic thoughts and national mindedness.

Saleh was in the forefront of any movement for social reform, and he helped form the first Hilal Committee under the aegis of the All Ceylon Muslim League for which he received the blessings of Allama Omar Hazrath and Moulavi MS Samsudeen Hazrath (Baqavi) of Ghafooriya Arabic College fame, an institution established by that great philanthropist, NDH Abdul Caffoor, father of M Falil A. Caffoor, MP, MBE.
Saleh had a well-equipped library on religion, literature, culture and history which was burned down during the riots of Black July-1983; a time when the Tamil exodus began from the country in disgust. Saleh used to recall this dark period and emotionally related to me, “Azwer, I didn’t mind my business premises being burnt but not my treasured collection of my writings, books and articles which were more precious than the gems I sold in my shop.”

As a student at Zahira College, Colombo, and a fresher at the All Ceylon Muslim League, I had the great privilege, of coming under the influence of Saleh when I frequently visited his gem and jewellery shop at Hemas building in Fort, Colombo. What an experience it was for me to listen to copious recitation of his concepts on politics and Islamic dissertations, while I jotted them in shorthand and typed them in English. He used to correct my mistakes. Such coaching helped me immensely to become a journalist (at Lake House and subsequently in the Sun Group), and to sharpen my knowledge in the English language.

During my recent visit to Pakistan with Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, I saw images everywhere of that indefatigable founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah’s features were gaunt and cadaverous, while his intellect was sharp and focussed. This brought to me flashes of Saleh’s personality, who too had such identical similarities.
Saleh always firmly believed the world will not rest in peace until the searing Palestinian Question was solved. He was the true lieutenant of Dr TB Jayah when he addressed mass anti-partition rallies and demanded restoration of the land to the Palestinian people.

So much so, the commercial hub of Pettah, where these meetings were held, came to be called as Palestine or Jinnah Maidan. Saleh’s firm belief in a Free Palestine motivated him to support Haji Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Palestine and the first President of Motamar al-Alam al-Islami (World Muslim Congress) which was established under the aegis of King Ibn Saud in the holy city of Makkah in 1926.
Saleh’s lived by a philosophy which he often would relate to his young friends who came for advice:“Unselfish devotion is the highest form of submission to the will of the Supreme.”
January 22, 2011 marks the 37th death anniversary of MACM Saleh, this great patriot; a man of wisdom and erudition. Innaalillaahi Wa-innaailahi Raajioon!

AHM Azwer
Member of Parliament and
Member of Parliament Council
(Former Minister of State for Islamic
Religious and Cultural Affairs)




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