- BYCHANDRAKANTHA SOYSA
“ the leopard’s spring hit me hard on my upper left shoulders and we both went down hard. I had no time to fire the second barrel of the 12 bore that I exchanged for the rifle, as the cover was thick brush. His mouth smelt of putrid flesh and his fangs cut through my left ear, leaving the lobe hanging down. His fangs or right front paw opened a good portion of my upper arm but, fortunately his lower feet did nor cause any serious damage to me. I had fired my first shot, using 2 ¾ Alphamax SGs which had gone through his left side, seeming to hurt his rear right legs, but the first shot from the 7 mm rifle had got him in the lungs, a fatal shot. The tracker, Saranelis “aaratchy” and Carolis were both shouting and trying to scare the animal off, and as the leopard moved away, to die they came and held me up. I was covered in blood by that time…..” Thus, is the description of the now famous “Leopard incident” at Palatupana, by the late Will Soysa.
Firstly, I have to mention my appreciation of anyone and everyone who would have ha a ‘hand’ in producing the DWFWA SOORIYAKATHA MAGAZINE. I am actually a member through marriage; much surprised, that none of the family members of the above mentioned family took upon themselves to write about such a wonderful couple as my father-in-law and mother-in-law.
I grew up in an era where most in our generation – had a quiet yet fun-filled exciting childhood. A period in which we had time to enjoy our grand-father and mother, aunts and uncles and gather memories that would live in our minds forever. I often tell my children and their spouces, that it was a magical world for any child. Therefore, I congratulate the President and committee members of the DWFWA for such a book of stories which take us back in time to appreciate our colourful ancestors.
Kumara (son of Will and Kathleen Soysa) and I went to see his maternal aunt Sybil Fernando, the only survivor of the renowned 7 sisters and 1 brother of the Weerasooriya/Mendis Jayawardena family. There, on the table in the verandah was the Sooriyakatha Magazine. I HAD to immediately start reading it. This interest comes from having heard so many stories of this clan, on my visits to the homes of Marjorie nanda, Derrick mama, Hubert Bappa, Beryl nanda, Johnny Bappa, and by listening to my husband’s discussions, when he got together with his many cousins. I just could not stop reading, enjoying every article and the many pictures that put a face to the stories contained therein.
Fredrick Wilfred Anthony Soysa was the 5th of 7 children born to Haramanis Soysa and Alice Weerasooriya. This family grew up on Hermont Estate where their ancestral home built by his mother still stands. This was very creditable, because this lady had lost her husband when the children were yet quite young. Thatha (as I have called him) “Will” started his education at Trinity College Kandy, as a hosteller. He passed The London Matriculation Examination. After this, very appropriately, he entered the university – made more inviting because Amma too was in the same place of learning. After one year, he could not continue, for the lack of funds available. Giving up his university studies, he very gallantly went back to Hermont Estate to work and redeem their estate, which had been mortgaged by his mother. He had a pioneering spirit and went on to plant three more s’nut estates before he passed away in 1974. I have heard people say, that he had classical taste, whose aristocratic nature was exhibited, being the first gentleman in the village to own a horse and saddle.
Thatha had all the attributes of a Weerasooriya; love of Pork, love of hunting, love of fishing and the ability that every Weerasooriya possessed – to make any conversation into a lengthy story of days gone by. A sense of humor has always prevailed in the “clan” and the few members I have associated with all had this same gift which made them great story tellers to young and old alike.
Early in his life, thatha set his eyes on a first cousin (children of two Weerasooriya sisters) and amidst a little disapproval from elders, won his bride and married her in 7th June 1939. I hear their courting was done during trips to the jungles when amma’s youngest sister Sybil was the “chaperone”. Amma (Dr. Mrs. Kathleen Soysa) was stationed in Batticaloa and after marriage, they spent many happy days in places like Kalmunai, Jaffna, Beruwela, Weligama, Colombo, Kandy, Matara, Panadura, Galle etc..
They had four children, Kumara, my husband, the eldest, Laleeni, Vajira and Kierthi. Sumithra was the 3rd child who unfortunately and tragically died as an infant.
I first met Thatha when Kumara decided to introduce me to his parents a meeting at Fountain Café the restaurant of family gathering in the 60s. I noticed he was a man of few words often curling his lips to show humour that always lurked inside of all the Weerasooriya “clan” his age. I knew thatha for only 7 years. He commanded respect of others around him in the way he moved and was always consulted in matters that concerned his relatives from Gonapinnuwela. His relatives had a habit of stopping by at their Hikkaduwa home and stayed for a sea bath and a meal. There was no fuss to prepare extra food, but everyone sat at the 8 seater and shared the food for the day. He could never be rushed but I suppose was a stickler for time.
The story goes, that on our wedding day, (February 2nd 1967) he announced to the rest of the family “I am leaving at 4 p.m. – anyone who is not ready can walk”. Everyone made it a point, I am told, to be ready on time. Thatha had a peculiar way of talking; very softly, very slowly, using unfamiliar sinhala language. Kumara used to give thatha a bottle of whiskey each year, which he collected – waiting for a suitable occasion to celebrate. I heard he had over 8 – 10 in this collection, kept locked away in his almariah.
I know his relatives thought him to be “wealthy man” but thatha was a very careful spender. However, I know of many occasions where he helped his relations in need as well as friends and neighbours in need with large amounts of cash given without any security or even a pro-note. I also know, that he was “always there” to help a relative who needed his help.
There were no TVs during his time and he entertained himself by becoming a self-taught pianist playing the piano, paying no attention to the tempo of the piece at hand!!
He was a man with his own convictions, voicing it only to Amma and then standing firm without wavering with a mind made up. Thatha, like most of the “clan” was a keen hunter and fisherman. I do not think any of the “clan” could match his story of how he was mauled by a leopard and lived to tell the tale. Thatha purchased Shantha Sri in Hungama, a nature hideout, surrounded by a lagoon, an ocean, elephants,birds, fish and reptiles. This place was a haven to many in the “clan” he belonged to. Amma and thatha lived in a picturesque manner of leisure, living content lifestyles holidaying by the lagoon and spending the latter part of their lives by the ocean.
I have said thatha was a man of few words, one who rarely showed his emotions. This is why I was so surprised one day, to see him sitting by my baby son (of 3 months) and fanning the mosquitoes away. A silent show of love.
Kathleen Mendis Jayawardena was the 2nd of 8 children born to Edo Mendis Jayawardena and Mary Weerasooriya. She attended Prince of Wales Moratuwa and studied to become the highest qualified in her family.
Dr. (Mrs.) Kathleen Soysa LMS (Cey) my mother-in-law was in the 1st batch of lady doctors to pass out. She came from a very simple family where a mother loved her 8 children and instilled in them the fear of God Almighty. One became a missionary (Connie/Constance) who established a mission in Urubokke, which has over 100 converted Christians; one became a stay at home, to look after her mother (Doreen); one became a popular cook par excellence (Florie); the other a teacher (Edna); another who became the first Sri Lankan Principal Matron of Nursing in Ceylon; and the youngest a housewife, to look after two naughty sons!!
Amma was also a soft-spoken, quiet, yet strong minded woman, who put her work and profession first in her life. Her many transfers to different parts of Ceylon made it necessary for her to send her children to boarding school, which was not welcome by her children.
Amma must have had a piece of her heart fall out, when in 1946 she watched helplessly as her 3rd child, Sumithra succumbed to cancer. This must have been such a difficult time for her and I admire her and thatha for having had the courage to have another child (Vajira) born in their 8th year of marriage.
Amma had a way of walking that was only peculiar to her. Her step was light and her demeanour so calm, seeming as if she was always in the presence of God.
I have never seen Amma too long in the “house-coat” the night-time attire favoured by the other ladies. She would always wear a crisp cotton saree which made her slight figure look a little fuller. This was her attire, be it in the house, in the dispensary or jungle. Amma was a very dedicated, conscientious medical practitioner. I would hear her answer the door-bell at all hours of the night, be it 11 p.m. or the wee hours of the morning. Arising from her bed, she would make the least noise as she went to attend to the sick and needy. She did not charge a fee from those that could not afford to pay. Practices long forgotten by the medical profession of today. She would be up early, ready again the next morning, to face yet another day of duty.
She looked so frail yet did not hesitate to drive the large Bogward they owned – even as far as Moratuwa. A Herculean task for her. She and her “matron” sister were among the very few ladies that took to the wheel in those years gone by.
In the midst of her medical work, I used to see her come to give out provision for the day and to make her own cup of tea. She walked close to God which was evident by the bible I found in her dispensary desk drawer. In a ‘gentle way’ she affirmed what she expected others around her to be, and followed it by example. She was respected by all in Hikkaduwa and every relative who knew her personally.
She lost the love of her life in 1974. Whenever we went to Hikkaduwa, it was apparent how lonely she was; still, continuing to serve the people of that town as before. Vajira had married and gone to London and with 2 babies that came one after the other, Amma was given a new lease of life, enabling her to travel away from Hikkaduwa, to be with them. By 1979 she had 5 grand-children. Krishan and Neshanthrie Soysa (Kumara and mine) Dharshan, Praveen and Jiten Wignarajah (Vajira and Wigi’s) Dhushyanthi and Surinda Jayawardena (Laleeni and Senarath’s).
Sadly, however, cancer took hold of this lady of medicine and after 2 surgeries I had the privilege of looking after her in my home. I bathed and fed her and became friends with her and she told me that she was not going to get the operation done again. Her “matron” sister and many others did not accept this, but I did understand and supported her on this issue. Thereafter, one last test was done and she won be insisting on going back to Hikkaduwa. She rested in the large room facing the ocean hearing its sound and feeling the breeze that came with it.
She may have had many a conversations with Jesus till she gave her soul to Him in 1979. My son (Krishan) has a daughter named after Amma. Kathleen Soysa II. We are all praying, hoping she will be everything her paternal great-grand-mother was and more.
Kumara and I have 2 children. Krishan Rajiv Sumitta Soysa B. Sc , working for Xerox Capital Inc., of NY, married to Margo Malvaso living in Rochester NY and Neshanthrie Soysa married to Alakan Sabanathan a millwright technician, living in Toronto, Canada.
Laleeni and Senarath Jayawardena have two children Dhushiyanthi Jayawardena a qualified architect, living and working attached to an architectural firm in New York married to Nagulan Nesiah Consultant to an Aid agency of the Episcopal Church, living in Manhattan NY and Surinda Jayawardena still studying.
Vajira and Wigi Wignarajah have three sons; Dharshan living in Amsterdam and working for the consultancy firm of Makinsey, Praveen attached to the British government Department for International Development, and Jiten who works in a bank. Dharshan passed out of the University of Edinburgh, with an degree in Economics and Politics, Praveen achieved a first class from Cambridge, in Natural Sciences, and Jiten a Degree in Physics and Philosophy from Oxford.
Kirthi is married to Saroja and they have one daughter Shervanthi who is a promising junior grade student. This family lives in Australia.
This is the story of the family of my husband another few illustrious members of “the Clan”.
My parents were very modest people. Many people are not aware of the many welfare and social activity they were involved in Hikkaduwa and Baddegama. My father would quote the Bible and say, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, with reference to the charity work they did. My sister in law wonders why no-one had written about the lives of their children and grand children. Maybe that is why.
But they would be proud of their children and grand children’s lives and what they have achieved.