Tried to go back in time today to learn about the people who made me the person I am today. Although my family history can be traced back by almost 200 years to my great great great grandfather and I have yearly family reunion for all those descendants attended by close to 500 individuals, I see the greatest influence on my life stemming from my great grandfather a man by the name of Edward . He was an aristocrat who’s brother was the first speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament. Under colonial rule our family prospered immensely and it was from him that the large portion of our wealth descended. However it was his kindness that really affected my life he adopted my grandmother and raised her as his own, and passed all his wealth and love through to her and this was seen in a bad light by the rest of his family who saw her as an outsider but he didn’t care and because of his kindness I am able to stand here as I am today. A quick visit to his grave was my way of thanking him for what he had done for me and continues to do for me.
His kindness has left its lasting mark on society in so many ways, firstly it has instilled a sense of responsibility in my family we understand all too well our status in society as privileged family and that we are a very wealthy and proud lineage especially in Sri Lankan terms. However we see ourselves as having the responsibility of using this wealth to help our fellow man, just this month my father sent close to $3000.00 to a woman he had never met for an ear surgery, and this in not a one off occurrence. It’s a way of life for us and yes some people do take advantage of us, but those we help are eternally grateful and their children have come to see us when they’ve grown up to thank us as well. I remember once as a child asking my father why he kept giving lifts to strangers when he was driving, and he said it was because he had a car and that made him responsible to fill as many seats in it as he could or he wouldn’t be worthy of having it. A physical legacy left by my great grandfather is the maternity home he donated to the local people in the 1920’s before this building people had to travel almost 30 min to the nearest hospital. It’s no longer in use now but the inhabitants refuse to tear it down as a sign of respect.We then set out to meet someone who my father described as very special to him, it was his childhood nursemaid named Matilda. When I met her it was love at first sight, she was so emotional at the sight of my father her eyes filled with tears as she embraced him and she glanced at me and said I looked just like him and smiled. I began talking to her and she gave me so many revelations about her and my father. My father was the third born in the family of five and according to her was my grandfathers favourite child. She was a former nun who had to take of her robes in order to take care of her family, while a nun she was member of the sisters of providence a french order, and so spoke fluent French, English and Sinhala and she had even visited France. My grandfather who was a high court judge at the time realized that well brought up children should be worldly hired her as a french teacher and live in nanny. She said my father had little time for french lessons and was the naughtiest one of the lot, he was more interested in, “playing the fool.”
As I looked at her I could tell then in her heyday she would have been quite an attractive woman so I asked to see pictures of her. As more often than not, I was right and she blushed when I said she looked beautiful. I asked to take picture with her at first she was shy but relented. As I held her it was like holding someone I had known my whole life. She looked at me so keenly and said, “you really are a Swarnadhipathi, thin like a stick but will one day be just as great as those who share your name.” This took me by surprise because for a long time I was thinking of changing my name saying it’s outdated and not fit for Canada, but me and my brother are now the last of our lineage if we do as we planned there will be no more Swarnadhipathis. A friend back in Canada did go on about what a nice name it was too it means something like “lord of gold” and she said it had the impact of sounding very regal, I laughed at her then but now in this place I see what she meant.
I kissed Matilda’s forehead as I left and she grabbed onto my hand and wouldn’t let go as I walked with her to the car. As I said my last goodbyes she told me, “I can’t do much for you my son, but I will pray for you every night.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was an atheist so all I said was that, “it was more than I deserved.”