25 March 2023

The most beautiful father

Uma Shiny Fernando. She is no more. Years ago she lived with her father, Pradeep, in Roxywatte. She was, for many reasons, the most beautiful child. I wrote about her more than ten years ago.

Uma Shiny Fernando was a special child. She suffered from a rare disease I had never heard about until her father told me. Goldenhar Syndrome. She had breathing difficulties and had to depend on a tube-like contraption. She didn’t say a word and didn’t have to. At the time I first saw her, she had already undergone 13 surgeries.

Pradeep was a sculptor with an irregular income. He was proud of his daughter. He was unbowed. Determined. And in his eyes, as I wrote, I had seen a kind of equanimity that is probably rarer than the condition little Uma Shiny Fernando was suffering from. A beautiful father, I thought then.

A few years later, he called me. He had a question: what do you have to say to someone who has lost all reasons to live, taking his life? Tough one. This is how I answered: ‘I am a Buddhist and I can only respond from what I have learned to believe. We arrive with a karmic complement and we depart with a karmic complement too. Sorrow does not end with death, therefore.’  

Uma Shiny is no more, but Pradeep and I talk off and on.  The image of Pradeep carrying his little girl, who expressed love by licking his face and the joy that this birthed in his eyes still remains with me.  Last Saturday I saw those eyes again. In a different face.  

I was strolling across the SSC grounds after a cricket match with friends who decades ago were in the same class. It was a post-match carnival of sorts. Hundreds of fans, loud music, cheers, flags, the whole nine yards of a big match. And, as it always happens, one or more of us would stop to talk to a friend we hadn’t seen in years.  The others walk on, turning back occasionally to make sure that those who were lagging behind didn’t get lost in the crowd.  

On one such occasion, one of my friends who I’ve known since the second grade, went missing. We stopped and looked around and saw him talking to a beautiful young girl, all decked in blue and gold, carrying our school flag. A little while later, they both came up to us. My friend introduced the girl. The pride and joy in his eyes were absolutely pure. Just like Pradeep’s.

‘This is my son, machang.’

And so we talked. Inquired about life, work and studies, as I would from any child of any friend. Posed for pictures. Walked on.

‘You are an exceptional father, machang,’ I told my friend.

Years ago, my father told me, ‘you don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations other than your own.’ Fathers say such things. They say, ‘do whatever makes you happy.’ They say, ‘be who you want to be and not what others want you to be.’  And yet, even they are sometimes disappointed when children affirm themselves, almost as though they are following their fathers’ advice to the letter. I’ve always felt that tough though it is to deal with the prejudices of society at large, friends, co-workers and even relatives, these pale into insignificance compared to a parent’s difficulty of inability to accept children’s choices.

Parents are sometimes forced to accept certain things simply because they don’t have a choice in the matter. Accepting and embracing are two different things. Embracing in private and embracing in public are also different.  

I have seen parents embrace their children. I’ve put my parents through much anxiety and caused them much grief, but they accepted, they embraced, they were proud, in silence and in word, privately and in public. I am fortunate. And I like to think my children are fortunate too, for like my parents with me, I accept and embrace, in silence and in word, privately and in public. I am proud. Imperfect, probably, but I could have been worse, I like to think.

My friend. He’s something else altogether. In all the years I’ve known him, he has been soft-spoken,   gentle, unassuming and non-judgmental. We have had our share of conversations. There have been moments of celebration. There have been sad moments. Empathy. I had never seen this before, though: the unmistakable pride and utter love in his eyes when he said ‘this is my son, machang.’  

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is for me the one indelible memory of all the celebrations, reunions and innumerable ‘moments’ from all the big matches I’ve attended. Simply, I got to know another exceptionally beautiful father.

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart