The life of HA Sirisena my man in Ratmale, who looked after me and my property for 8 years (b 18 July, 1953 – d 14 October 2019)
This tribute is written of a good man, who lived, brought up his family, married off his two children and who left them living with their families in adjoining houses now with a total of 5 grandchildren.
He did not achieve greatness in the sense of how we judge success, but please remember we all live and die, and few achieve notoriety, another form of greatness in the eyes of the public.
He had died around 5 am on the 14thand the funeral was at 3pm on the 16th. Finally, and quite unusually for this area, at the time of the last religious rites and up until he was buried, the skies opened up like nothing and it rained so heavily, it was merciful that the sheds put up were large enough to continue with the proceedings without delay. However we were all drenched in our walk to the gravesite and while we watched when the coffin was put and covered over. Only then did the rain cease, only to re start half hour later into the night.
He is buried with the forest surrounding his grave site, so I am happy he has the forest and the sounds of the forest around him, just like how he lived with the same sounds around him at my place, which did not have electricity, also in the middle of the forest and none around even in shouting distance from the house, in complete darkness.
He was born in a village in the South of Sri Lanka between the villages of Werakatiya and Walasmulla in the heart of Mahinda Rajapakse Madamulana home range, and is closely related to Thomaratne Don Franciscu born 16 February 1926 who was a UNP MP and a rival of Don Alwin (DA) Rajapakse of Madamulana, Mahinda Rajapakse’s father born twenty years earlier and the more influential elder brother, Don Mathew (DM) father of George Rajapakse.
He was the eldest of 7 children with the difference in age from him to his youngest sibling being over 16 years. So he left his home town in search of employment around 1977 and found a job in the Textile Mills that had been set up in Minneriya by the Sirimavo Bandaranayake Government, which later closed down as a result of the open door policy of the JR Jayawardene Government that succeeded.
He therefore married Chandralatha, called Chooti Menike, a very industrious and hardworking lady who even now had her own Papaya Cultivation in her front yard selling fresh papaya from the front of the house to whoever stops to buy some. I believe the land was her property, along with the paddy fields.
I even have photos of her working on my wattle and daub house plastering mud for a daily wage, many years ago, so she was equally an earning partner in the relationship as he was, to keep the home fires burning.
In addition to my monthly stipend I paid him, he kept a Betal Leaf plantation on the property taking care of it, and tending to it in his imitable style and plucking the mature leaves, before his evening bath in the lake, and he would then take them to the various shops from where they were sold to customers and that supplemented his income.
Latterly, however, some disease overtook it where most of the plants died and I had just bought 100 plants for him in Hingurakgoda, just a day before he fell ill, in fact that night he had wanted pork for dinner and we had searched high and low for it, but could only get chicken for dinner which was cooked and eaten before his attack that night, that led us to take him to hospital, that night being the last he was able to spend on my property.
Once he fell ill and the property was not guarded at nights, the elephants moved in and destroyed what was left, including the betal plantation, so I guess that was just an end of an era, where I have to begin again, concentrating on just oranges and lime to be planted in between the mature trees, as they are the only crops that are usually safe from elephants and monkeys.
All in all, he was given whatever he had asked for in the last few months, and except for the few weeks in the ICU his demise was swift with minimum of suffering. He admitted it was his fault in not taking his medication when he should have all these years as he was a heart patient of long standing, so it was only inevitable that he would have an attack that could kill him sooner rather than later and he pushed his luck this long, that is about 5 years living the way he wanted.
Most of all I was so happy when his daughter told me he was so pleased that her daughter had topped the area with 161 marks in the Grade 5 exam a few days ago.
A nephew, that is a son of one of his sisters gave the vote of thanks at the funeral and made it a point to mention my name and his work with me at my home, to say that was what he had been doing up until his demise. I was also asked to make a speech at the funeral but declined.
His 6 younger siblings attended his funeral and I spoke with his three younger brothers, at different times to give them some idea of what he was like, and what he liked to do and what he in fact did for me. I did not meet his 3 younger sisters who were also there. His youngest brother has a herd of buffalo and supplies curd to shops in the area, and has built a business based on the quality of his product.
Sirisena suffered a heart attack while I was with him over a month ago, and had been admitted to the ICU of the Polonnaruwa Hospital, which had released him, after a few weeks, heavily medicated, but with the knowledge that he was not strong enough to undergo open heart surgery for blocked valves, due to both diabetic and kidney failure.
While when we said our good byes on October 5th when I returned to Godagama, I had a premonition that it may be the last time I saw him. In fact while we had a few minutes to chat while he was seated in my veranda, I asked him how his family were financially, and if they had the basics to live and he was in the affirmative, as his son had a good job at the DWC, and though his son in law was only a small farmer, with little land, he earned his living doing daily labor to keep the home fires burning. They were not poor, but did not have any financial reserves, living primarily from day to day only.
I had in the previous week bought him a new phone, as his phone had finally packed up, and I had also personally taken him to have his eyes tested to Hingurakgoda, but was told that he should first consult a surgeon as his eye sight seems to be non-static, and possibly needs to be tested for other complications first, before even being able to write a prescription.
Both due to his illness and the need to sort matters out with regard to getting an electricity connection, I had the chance of spending much more time at Ratmale this last month than I had in the past, as well as the fact that I had left my job, and so was both able to spend time a week before his death, not going anywhere else, as well as having the two days to spend with the family and their friends at the funeral having arrived on the night of his demise and left only the following day after the funeral back to Colombo. I therefore look on that as being fortunate!
I was told after his first stint in hospital, he had wanted to keep some cash with him to give the attendants who had put the catheter on him, so they would do the needful, and much to my disgust as he was removed from the ward to ICU just before he died of total heart failure, his new phone I had given him and money on the bed was stolen, most likely by hospital staff! I sometimes wonder about man’s greed even in light of a man who was to die within a few hours and had no one by his side at the end.
I took exception to the priest saying that he never came to the temple, when his daughter and wife did the needful to the temple in offering alms and food. Did they even know that he always listened to Bana and Pirith on the radio when he was in the house? Does that not signify an element of piety? He lived a good life and he has nothing to regret having brought up his family, who are inevitably going to miss, him, but that is sadly the circle of life.