Tsunami 3 years on: Remembering Prasanna Kirtisinghe

"Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy."

Prasanna, my mother’s first born son was aptly named by her. The bonny ever smiling baby boy coming after two daughters and specially after grumpy difficult me was what my mother wanted. He was a beautiful baby, huge eyes with long curly lashes, blessed with a happy disposition as his name he was an instant hit and my amma spoilt him shamelessly. Prasanna did realize this early advantage and his special position. I did moan and protest at the unfairness but it was impossible not to love Prasanna. Life and responsibilities rested lightly on him and we all adored him.

My sister Yasoja can recall the day he was born. Apparently we were sent next door to Dr. R.H. de Silva’s house and recalled later to look at our new baby brother. I of course can’t remember that day but remember the early days of going to school, in Panadura at the Sri Sumangala Girl’s school. After school I’d hold his hand and we would stand at the road side hoping we would recognize an uncle who would stop and take us with them to Hikkaduwa.

Prasanna chatted non-stop and the senior girls called him the “Kata kachcheriya” – a Sinhala equivalent of Chatterbox. Evenings we would see him sitting with John aiya the carter as he mixed poonac – a residue of coconut after the oil is extracted. Poonac is mixed with water to form a gruel mix for the bull that pulled the carriage that we used on rainy days to go to school. Prasanna was not averse to dipping his hand into the poonac bucket for a taste.

Prasanna’s role model was our neighbour in Hikkaduwa. Will Soysa who managed the family estates while his wife Kathleen practised from home as a Doctor. Most of the time we would see Uncle Will, lounging in a chair reading a book. “One day I too will have a wife who is a doctor and I can loll around reading books while she makes the money,” Prasanna said.

During his rebellious teenage years and the twenties all of us in the family gave up hope of reforming him and bringing him back to mainstream family life except my mother. She steadfastly believed in him, supported him and miraculously he did turn around and found and married his lady doctor Padmini.

Prasanna with Mathisha his younger son, Padmini and Kanishka at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa

In later life Prasanna was the bulwark that we all depended on. When my father grew weak to have his daily sea bath on his own, Prasanna would tie a rope round his waist hold the rope and bath him.

Prasanna  shaved, bathed and nursed our father, a daily ritual he lovingly performed while spinning stories to keep my father amused. Once when my father inquired why I had not come to see him that weekend, Prasanna had told him that I had received a horse as a gift and had gone riding in Nugegoda and caused a traffic jam and was nearly arrested. For good measure he threw in a house in Nuwara Eliya too as a gift from and admirer! When I arrived the following week I was asked how Nuwara Eliya was and given a long lecture on looking after horses and told how faithful horses are by my father. I did wonder why he was rambling and only later discovered the root of that advice.

Prasanna bore the brunt of looking after our father, while all we did during the week was to telephone to find out how he was. Observing this he did gleefully remark to my mother – “See if I studied and was a top executive in a firm, all what I would have done was also to call you from office and ask Amma how is Thatha?.” Among my most treasured memories are  one of a  hilarious morning bathing session, and my father holding on to Prasanna’s hands and blessing him with tears in his eyes.

His jokes and repartees kept us as well as his huge band of Hikkaduwa friends amused. He was my lucky  mascot. I would ask him to come with me when I went for important interviews as I believed he brought me luck.

He would happily chauffeur our younger brother Pradeep, the District Judge to court and back. He was once told off by the other senior chauffeurs that he should pay more respect to the young judge. Never did he reveal that he was the elder brother, but would seriously stand to attention and open the door for Pradeep henceforth. The younger generation visiting Sri Lanka have often remarked that he looked more like a judge than Pradeep.

His life at Hikkaduwa is what most hardworking executives dream of attaining on their retirement. He lived in the house by the sea, where he was born doted on by two women, his wife and mother. The first part of his morning was generally devoted to his cinnamon estate, a job he did well as a just but firm manager.

But on that fateful December 26, he did forgo this trip to play host to his sons friends from the Law Faculty. He was reading the Sunday papers on his easy planter’s chair, Padmini was laying a long breakfast table in the garden for the young law students who were playing cricket on the beach. The time 9:15 am on 26 December 2004.