Sunil Wijeratna: He never forgot his roots

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Source:Island

Sunil Wijeratna, my beloved cousin passed away in Zurich, Switzerland, while convalescing following surgery in Colombo, after a nasty fall in Kandy in February 2020. After the surgery in Colombo, he was flown to Switzerland by special air ambulance arranged by his two sons, Norman and Ranil Wijeratna, who live in Zurich. Both are high calibre professionals in engineering and technology and are married and have their own children. Sunil was in hospital in Zurich until he passed away in mid-October. He telephoned me from the hospital few days before his death; he was my favourite cousin and we were in touch with each other for many years.

He migrated to Europe in 1973, after studying the options, and settled in Zurich working many years till retirement in 2010 for a leading Swiss finance company, CSC, as data base administrator. He returned to the homeland he loved taking dual citizenship. He married a Swiss lady, Magdalene, and raised a family of two sons educating them to become professionals. While working in Zurich he made regular visits to Sri Lanka always visiting our ancestral village, Ematiyagoda, Godakewela, He valued his ancestry, particularly loving the grand old Wijeratne Walawwa in Ematiagoda where many of us were born and raised during the early years.

He returned home post-retirement to settle here despite his well-funded retirement plan and savings that offered him many options. He bought the ancestral Wijeratne Walawwa from Ranjan Wijeratne, another cousin who migrated to USA with his family. This walawwa was built in 1870 by three Wijeratne brothers, our grandparents, Loku Bandara, Madduma Bandara and Tikiri Bandara Wijeratna.

Well designed, the walawwa was built on a beautiful site with local material obtained from surrounding land they owned. It had spacious and well planned living quarters with a very large “meda midula”, measuring 40 x 80 ft, perhaps the largest one in Sabaragamuwa. The roof is 21 feet high resting on 10 elegantly designed pillars standing on the large 60 by 20-foot open veranda above the very large front garden. The unique feature of this grand building is that no metal or cement was used in the construction and all the roof tiles and terracotta floor tiles were made on site with the best soil and clay available. The family history tells us that the Walawwa was built to last for five generations or more. The pride of this walawwa complex is the Bo Maluwa with a bo tree brought from Anuradhapura and planted sometime in early 20th century. Daily pujas were held there since then.

Sunil knew this family history and adored this grand walawwa and its past, getting the Department of Archaeology to recognise the Bo malluwa as a historic site. He invested much of his savings to renovate the walawwa making comfortable living there possible without structural alterations of any kind. He repaired the access road, installled modern conveniences and suitably furnished it preserving its original charm. Having made the old walawwa a very comfortable living place, he employed local workers to maintain the house, its extensive grounds and Bo Maluwa. His sister, Naranjana (Chuty) who came to live there did an excellent job of managing the place while Sunil financed the operations, paying the staff much above prevailing rates in the village. He looked after his people, renovating their homes and even building two houses. Their midday tea was served with Nestomalt and he regularly raised their salaries.

His generosity extended well beyond the ancestral home. He supported the school our grandparents had started way back in 1880s and the village temple on a large land donated by the three Wijeratne brothers in1890s. This was planted with coconut and included a paddy field. Sunil knew his family history and traditions and never forgot to strictly observe these as the occasion demanded. At New Year time he hosted the villagers at the walawwa of his ancestors, observing auspicious times and giving gifts to all visitors including his employees and their families. The house was filled with guests who stayed several days enjoying the grandeur of the old house and Sunil’s lavish hospitality. I was always invited on these occasions. We also visited various historic and holiday spots when he was here at his expense.

The last trip we did together was after the April New Year in 2019. We were to meet again in April 2020 but it was not to be as Sunil had that fatal fall in Kandy in early February. He faded away in Zurich, his second home and the home country of his dear wife on October 14. He had lived there for several decades and fathered two sons educating them well to become professionals contributing positively to Switzerland as Wijeratnes of Sri Lankan descent. Today his grave lies not far from that of that of his wife in a village at the foothills of the Alps. Though he left us so suddenly has left a beautiful memories of love and generosity in the heart of many. May he be blessed by the Supreme bliss of Nibbana.

Bernard Dissanayake,

Nawala



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