“That was his dream and hope to his last breath”
Good bye my Gurudewa
By DR THUSHARA RODRIGO
“The light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere”. This is exactly what I felt when I heard the sad news of our beloved Gurudewa’s passing away just within a few hours of my landing in Sri Lanka.
The words I quoted were those of Pundit Nehru, which he uttered spontaneously on hearing of the death of Mahatma Gandhi.
I who had planned to visit Sir, the next morning and spend some time with him was only left with his lifeless but still warm body. I was only able to bid adieu and worship at his lifeless feet and give thanks for making a man out of a little boy. He was a colossus of an influence on my life for which I am eternally thankful.
I had hoped to hold his hand and reminisce the golden days of ‘DS’ and to receive even a flicker of response if not a smile. I had hoped to once again recite the memorable little poem “Ooranta meeyanta haranta my hith ….” which was the challenge thrown at us DS boys by the late President Premadasa at a prize day many years back which he religiously made me recite whenever we met, and responded with a hearty laugh. However, in this instance I did not expect such an exuberant response but earnestly hoped for one last warm twinkle of a smile. But all my hopes were dashed, yet thankfully had the relief of being with his family sharing this unfathomable grief.
Waves and waves of mourners were pouring into the dead of night after hearing of the demise of Mr. R.I.T. Alles which was spreading like a wild fire not only throughout Sri Lanka but gone viral worldwide. I watched this throng… faces contorted with grief, sympathizing with Mrs Alles, Harsha and Tiran aiyah. Mrs Alles whom I fondly call “the first lady of DS” was the strength behind this great man. She took care of the family affairs with efficiency and military precision, giving our Gurudewa all the time and freedom to found and nurture our Alma Mater from virtually nothing, to a great seat of learning.
Today as she received the mourners I could see the strength and the resolve that sustained the family, draining away. After all, her beloved life’s partner of more than fifty years had finally left her. The two sons and their spouses Lydia and Dinali who looked after Sir with such love and devotion were now broken and inconsolable. Watching these scenes unveil, it dawned on me that a most important chapter of my life had come to an end. This undoubtedly is a watershed in my life, where I felt orphaned and robbed of my moral compass.
For once lost for words, I yet again turned to Pundit Nehru “we will not run to him for advice and seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow”. Indeed he was there for us like a giant Banyan (Nuga) tree to seek shelter, advice and solace during turbulent times. I consoled myself with the thought that he will speak to me from heavens above in his inimitable tender voice and direct me in the correct path. Oh how I yearn to hear you call me “putha” just one last time…
As I dwell deeply in to the past, my first encounter with Sir unveiled before me. It is so vivid after all these years that for a moment I once again felt like a five year old boy. This memorable day was way back in 1969 when our Gurudewa returned home after completing a scholarship from The University of Cambridge. Earlier that year I was admitted to DS by the amiable Mr. Karunarathne who deputized for him. I still remember that buzz in school when everyone was excited with the news “Sir is back”. I was a little boy in grade 1B of Mrs. Rajasinghe and remember vividly taking a peek outside from my class.
I was impatient to have a glimpse of this man who seemed to command so much respect with such awe. I saw a tall man with a chiseled and impressive jaw line, walking ramrod straight with a warm smile. To me he was a Dark Prince. He was suave and moved among the crowd with confidence and ease. He made such an impact on me that day though it never occurred then that he was about to play such a pivotal role in my life. Mr. R.I.T. Alles Sir’ to all his DS sons, became a monumental influence in my life for the next half a century.
When I looked at the gaunt but serene lifeless face of my Gurudewa I was teleported back to our first prize giving where Sir, in his youthful handsome self was hosting the Chief Guest, then Prime Minister Mrs Bandaranaike. These were the first glory days of DS. Our forward march was unstoppable with the dynamic Mr. Alles at the helm. DS was going from strength to strength and becoming a power to reckon with. We were basking in the glory of achievement in every field and suddenly every parent wished their son to be a part of this success story.
We carried on until we were given a deadly blow, when the then minister of education decided to send our Gurudewa packing home. The fledgling school was shaken to its foundation and became a rudderless ship. This was the beginning of the dark era of DS, which lasted for many years. However, Mr. Alles, as the proverbial phoenix managed to come back home to us during President Premadasa’s watch.
Once reinstated, Sir started rebuilding and reshaping his beloved DS from many years of neglect and decay. Finally after xx years his stint at DS came to an end when President Premadasa observing his unlimited energy and talent in the field of education, head hunted him to steer national education for the benefit of millions. As my Gurudewa’s love of Sri Lankan youth was unmatched, President Premadasa once again selected him with other intellectuals to form the youth commission to probe into the root causes of the bloody youth uprising of the late 80s.
In a more personal note, it suddenly occurred to me that Sir had shared the most important milestones in my life. Needless to say, Sir was by my side at my graduation. Next to my family, he was the one I had to get blessings and approval from when I decided on my life’s partner. With his blessings and unbridled approval my wife proudly joined the legion of “DS daughters”. The day I became a father, Sir was present to bless our little Mahari and since then became Ralph Seeya to our children. I think of his last visit to the UK with much affection. Sir and aunty Rohini spent a few delightful and memorable days in Warrick with my family. While going for a walk with Thusith, a much loved DS son, we got him to climb over a stile which he did gamely and jocularly complained that the “golayas” got the “gura” to jump over fences. Those were restful days for both of them spent in the idyllic British country side away from the usual hustle and bustle that they are accustomed to.
Coming out of my reverie I look at the mourners passing by, I notice that it’s a mixed bag of humanity belonging to all races and religions. They are Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers with eyes reddened with tears all coming for the love of one great soul who taught us that “irrespective of race and religion we are the children of Mother Lanka”. The great visionary he was, foresaw the impending disaster that was to tear this beautiful island home of ours asunder with racial and religious disharmony. He preached the gospel of tolerance and racial amity. He drilled in to our collective psyche that Sri Lanka was indeed a multicultural, multi -racial and multi religious country which equally belonged to us all. Racial discord was never encouraged amongst us. His constant mantra was inter racial harmony. We gradually realized that we were one big family of brothers who revelled and rejoiced in the beauty of diversity.
Being an able bi-linguist he addressed us in school in fluent Sinhala and English while Mr. Thamotharampillai or Mr. Ajward did a simultaneous Tamil translation. During his watch we had head prefects from all racial and religious backgrounds purely selected on merit.
Therefore we were fortunate to have Sujeewa Alwis, K Sriparam and Mohideen Cader whom we could be proud of and look up to. Sriparam and Hussein Jayah also led the Western Band with much aplomb. To my mind this is Gurudewa’s legacy to us. His dream was for a united Sri Lanka where people of all races and religions flourished in harmony. And to achieve this dream, he appealed to our uncorrupted little minds from our formative years.
If we are to perpetuate his name and legacy one should work towards realizing his dream of a united Sri Lanka. To be a true disciple of Gurudewa Alles is to shed all parochialism from one’s self and extend a hand of friendship and love to those from other races and religions and to treat Sri Lanka as a multicultural nation. That was his dream and hope to his last breath.
Beloved Gurudewa, may your journey through samsara be short and sweet and may you soon attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!
DR THUSHARA RODRIGO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy: The Island