My dear friends, my dear fellow-Trinitians, there are times when it is easy to speak and there are times when it is difficult to speak. I thought that it was difficult for me to speak at my father’s funeral service a few months ago. But in some ways it is more difficult to speak here today because it was only this morning that I heard of Nimal’s death.
My thoughts were with Nimal as I drove to school this morning, unaware that he had died. I had planned to phone him from school in response to three messages that he had left for me during the last three days. He left one message with my wife and two messages with my daughter – messages that contained Nimal’s usual humour and a couple of jokes which only he and I would understand. I was going to phone him to tell him that I wanted to spend this evening with him.
I had planned to spend this evening with Nimal Maralande, and it is grimly ironic that I AM spending this evening with him.
I first met Nimal in January 1947 when he and I were seven years old. I was just starting life as a boarder at Trinity, and the Maralandes, who were driving Nimal to Trinity on the first day of the school year, kindly gave me a ride from Colombo to Kandy. And so began a friendship that has lasted fifty years. We went right through school together – Matron’s Dormitory, Junior School, Squealery and finally Ryde House.
One vivid memory I have is Nimal’s mother’s food parcels. Nimal would be the first to agree with me that there was probably no worse food on earth than the food in the Trinity boarding. The reason why many of us survived was because of the food parcels of people such as Mrs. Maralande. It was typical of Nimal’s generosity that he chose to share his food parcels with the rest of us, and Mrs. Maralande’s food seemed to be made as much for us as it was for Nimal.
Nimal was also my school cricket captain for two years in 1958 and 1959. I shall always remember the final match of the 1959 season. This was our Big Match against our great rivals, St. Anthony’s. Our team was shattered to learn that Nimal could not play in this all-important game because he had turned twenty just a couple of days before the match and the rules prevented someone from playing if they were over twenty. So, having played under Nimal for the whole season, we now lost our captain for the only match that really mattered.
Nimal spent the whole of that match on the boundary line. I don’t think he actually said anything but every one of us was completely aware of his presence, and while Malsiri Kurukulasuriya was our captain on the field, all eyes seemed to be turned to Nimal especially in moments of crisis. Perhaps this was the best indication of his leadership qualities and what we thought of him as a leader.
Nimal was a Trinitian through and through. It was particularly difficult for him because he was following in the footsteps of a most illustrious father. Nimal’s father, Doctor Percy Maralande, had an extremely distinguished school career, excelling both academically as well as in sport and ultimately receiving the greatest honour that Trinity could award – the Ryde Gold Medal. It may be debatable as to whether Nimal surpassed his father’s achievements. Nimal would certainly say that he did not. However, I am sure that he at least equalled them. Nimal was an outstanding sportsman, excelling in rugger and cricket, and being awarded a richly-deserved Cricket Lion. I never understood why he was not awarded a Rugger Lion as well.
Nimal was also an exceptional leader and his greatest honour was to be awarded the Ryde Gold Medal – a rare instance of this great honour being given to a father and a son. If Ashan had been at the school longer I am sure that we would have had three generations of Ryde Gold Medalists.
Another of Nimal’s great sporting achievements was to captain the All-Schools Under 19 Cricket Team. A far greater achievement was to captain the Sri Lankan rugger team. He also had a most distinguished working career. He joined Aitken Spence in 1959 and rose to be a Director on the Management Board and the Managing Director of the Shipping Division. Recently, in April this year, he became the Managing Director of the Printing Division.
Despite all his achievements in sport and in his career, to me Nimal was first and foremost a FAMILY MAN – not only husband and father but also son and brother. When Nimal’s sister Vasanthi heard that Nimal had died, she simply said, “He’s all I had.”
Vasanthi had lost her own son in April last year, her mother a month later, and yesterday, her beloved brother. “He’s all I had.”
To Cleone, Sammie and Ashan, Nimal was far more than husband and father. He was their friend. While their loss is enormous, they will be sustained by a lifetime of loving memories.
To the rest of us, Nimal was a friend – and what a friend he was! I am profoundly honoured to have been asked to speak on behalf of his friends.
He is my oldest friend, and perhaps the greatest compliment he paid me was to ask me to be a kind of substitute father when Ashan was at Mazenod. I remember asking Nimal, “ What shall I say if the teachers ask me who I am?” Nimal replied, “ Tell them that you are Ashan’s acting father!” I might add that the last time I spoke to Nimal was when he phoned me from Sri Lanka when my father died four months ago.
May I conclude by informing you of the family’s arrangements.
The family will fly to Sri Lanka tomorrow afternoon with Nimal’s body. He will be taken to the family home in Nugegoda. Finally he will be taken to Kurunegala where he will be cremated and the ashes interred in the family burial ground which is the final resting place of his father and mother, grandparents and great-grandparents. Kurunegala was probably his favourite place on earth, and he always hoped to live there when he retired.
On behalf of all your friends may I say, “Farewell, Nimal.” For want of a better way of putting it, you were among those very rare human beings who deserve to be called,” The salt of the earth.” We are all better people for having known you.
May you rest in peace.