Daily News Features Page Sat Jan 18 2003
It is indeed a rare blessing for a couple to have the privilege of celebrating 50 years of marriage together. A blessing such as this was recently bestowed on Sunetra and Sepala Illangakoon.
This celebration, came as a complete surprise to the couple and was organized by their children Riyanjani and Yevendra, together with their respective spouses, Dhamitha and Yamara.
In these days of spoilt brats of the rich and powerful getting involved in brawls; flouting authority; parental or otherwise and many parents being sent on regular guilt trips by their progeny - one finds that family threads are breaking, causing the fabric of unity to fray and sometimes disintegrate. This gesture thus gives one a welcome ray of hope and warms our hearts.
Colombo is certainly not the worlds' best for keeping secrets, but this was one of the best kept secrets of my lifetime; in which Sunetra and Sepala were totally unaware of the celebration, till they reached the gates of their daughter's beautiful home.
Yevendra lives in Canterbury in England and Riyanjani lives in Mt. Lavinia, so all plans were co-ordinated by email; but it was superbly organized right down to every minute detail. We were all invited for 8 p.m. as the stars of the evening were expected at 8.30 p.m. They had been told that they were being taken out to dinner at the Mount Lavinia Hotel, to celebrate Yevendra and Yamara's wedding anniversary. Riyanjali's garden was resplendent that evening, festooned with myriad tiny jets and flares from the many stately trees. Her house is symmetrically proportioned, with bridges leading to both house and garden. It is a dream home, field with antiques collected through the years giving a restful ambience and a cosy feeling of coolness and light with a garden which is its crowning glory.
Sunetra and Sepala were led into the house to the strains of 'congratulations' and found to their astonishment that their children had invited close relatives and all their close friends gathered on life's voyage from schooldays onwards. Those in the bridal retinue from their wedding day were also present, including our Prime Minister, who was pageboy on that memorable occasion. I recall him then clad in a gold sherwani suit. He was only 3 years old.
The fact that this marriage has survived despite it being of mixed religions - Buddhist and Christian speaks much for the couple and their mutual respect, tolerance and compassion. Rare qualities today. Marriage, as we all know, is certainly not idyllic all the time; but patience is the name of the game whatever the circumstances may be.
The Master of ceremonies was Upali Wijesekera, a former S.D. of Sepala's at Hapugastenne and the first item on the agenda were prayers conducted by Rev. James Ratnanayagam, a close family friend. The toast was proposed by Ken Balendra also Sepala's former S.D. at Hapugastenne who related many anecdotes from those "Brown Sahib" days; spoke of Sepala's impeccable English, Sunetra's warm hospitality and hailed Sepala as Sri Lanka's best planter. The couple then took to the dance floor, to "Anniversary Waltz" followed by their children, relatives and friends.
There were two gestures made by the Prime Minister that evening, which I would like to mention. To those who know him well, they were no surprise and typical of his down to earth, simple lifestyle. But I mention them, as there are people who often misinterpret his natural reserve for arrogance. He and his wife got down from their car at the gate and walked up the very long drive to the house like other guests devoid of security personnel. This is an example that many of his Ministers would do well to emulate in the light of allegations that bodyguards of Ministers throw their weight around, bully people and have thus become a public menace.
His second gesture was that shortly before he left he walked up to his mother and asked if she was alright and whether he could take her home. This touching gesture of concern for his mother was a heartening sign that there are still some people around with old fashioned values. This still beautiful, elegant and strongly independent matriarch who has an incredibly an alive mind for one of her years, refused his kind offer and said that she would go as she came, in her own car, with her sister. But nevertheless I have no doubt that she was touched by his thoughtfulness.
All in all, the celebration had the ingredients for a perfect evening; the well crafted furniture and screens, crystal and silver, candlelight and flowers. A rainbow spirit and warmth enveloped the evening; its real enjoyment settling on everyone present like a warm cloak of happiness.
A wonderful gesture to their parents by their exceptional children. Sunetra and Sepala have obviously been dominant forces in their children's lives; involved, caring and exercising enormous influence. As parents, we love our children intensely.
They are bones of our bones and blood of our blood. All we ask of them is their love, trust and respect. Their children too, are rare individuals, totally giving, warm and caring like bright shining lights who will lead the family, forward into the future. Their gesture would I'm sure make their parents feel that the years have flown by on silken wings and that every sacrifice made for their progeny was worthwhile. To honour their parents this way was a glorious manifestation of love and gratitude displayed with style and imagination.