29 June 2013


Vipulasena De Silva left a tender footprint

He was unnamed. To me at least.  That’s not unusual in a country where people of one’s parent’s age are either ‘uncle/maama’ or ‘aunty/anti/nanda’.  He was ‘Uncle’ and thus he remained until a few days ago, when I got to know his real age, ‘Vipulasena de Silva’.  And that, thanks, unfortunately let me add, due to the fact that he passed away on June 19, 2013. 
Uncle lived across the lane on which my office is located. That’s Tichborne Passage, Colombo 10.  He lived with his wife, ‘Anti’, their daughter Dilka and her two little girls.  I knew him because he helped Dilka run a small eatery.  I got to know him in the early days of Rivira, way back in the year 2006.  It was the closes shop to get a cup of plain tea and a bite.  I’ve known him for more than 7 years and it is perhaps correct to say I know very little of the man.  After all, just as I didn’t know his name, neither did I know of his life, what kind of work he did, what kind of adventures he’s had or the trials and tribulations he lived through. 

All I know is that life was not easy for him.  He had more than a fair share of troubles.  When I first met him he had already lost a leg to complications arising from a diabetic condition.  He didn’t indicate that the loss had slowed him down in any way.  He walked around with the help of an artificial limb.  Always full of cheer, always with a smile, Uncle served the small clientele that frequented the shop with courtesy.  He would love to chit-chat about the news of the day.  He would indulge in his long love affair with lotteries and freely admit that he had never really won ‘big’.  He washed the tea cups and the plates and managed the shop whenever he had to. 

After I left ‘The Nation’ in early 2007 I didn’t see him often.  However, if ever I was in the vicinity, I would drop in to say hello.  I always got the impression that Uncle had stopped aging when he was around 60; he had the same face, same smile and the same geniality through the years. 

On one such ‘drop-in’ occasion I learned that he had been hospitalized.  The other leg had to be amputated as well.  When I next saw him, i.e. a couple of years ago, he had two artificial limbs and was as sprightly on his ‘feet’ as he had always been.  Same smile.  Same geniality.  Hadn’t missed one step in how he encountered the word and how he treated the vicissitudes of life.  It was as though he brushed aside the bludgeoning of chance as easily and casually as he would wave off a fly.  Such things didn’t settle on his persona and if they weighed on his mind he didn’t show the fact. 

On Friday, a couple of hours before ‘Uncle’ went on his proverbial final journey, his son related the story of his second amputation.

‘I was in hospital at the time for a hernia operation.  When I came out, what had been a small wound in his leg had deteriorated to the point that the wound had spread through the flesh and could be seen on the other side. The doctors told me that there was no option but to amputate.  I had the tough task of informing my father.  I struggled for half an hour to tell him what had to be done.  He listened without a word.  When I was done, he simply told me to make sure that it was cut at the same height as the point at which his other leg had been amputated. He said that he believed this would help him retain balance after obtaining an artificial leg.  He was calm.  He was reconciled to the eventuality.’

‘Uncle’ was like that.  He had his ways of coping.  He had his ways of dealing with the world around him.  He didn’t spread the bad news.  His suffering was private.  He was without legs, without feet, and yet he left tender footprints in the hearts he encountered.  And that was the lesson he left the world. 

May his sojourn through samsara be brief and less encumbered than was his journey in this lifetime.