Lesser known facts of a remarkable personality

As I said earlier in my articles, Prof. Anuradha Seneviratne had discussed his personal life with me. I used to write to him when he was at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 1999.

I still treasure collection of such correspondences between myself and Prof. Anuradha Seneviratne in my private library. One of the noteworthy personality traits of Prof. Seneviratne was his uprightness in pointing out someone else’s mistakes and weaknesses and to point out them to that person.

This was how he commenced one of his responses dated January 14, 2000; “What I am getting back from you, by way of responses to numerous queries are, in fact, only the further explanations of the issues. Sometimes I feel that I am reading thesis for degrees. You should not adapt such a didactic style of writing when you write personal letters. ” That was a piece of extremely worthwhile advice for me. I adapted such an academic approach in writing to him because I thought that was the right approach in corresponding with Prof. Seneviratne. Whenever, Prof. Seneviratne spoke about prominent personalities, he gave me a wealth of insight into their personal lives, which might have gone down under the sand of time.

Once referring to Prof. Sucharitha Gamlath, Prof. Seneviratne said that he is an intellectual of rare distinction and that he should not involve in petty and nasty debates. While saying that, Prof. Seneviratne got me to send him (he was in London at the time) a copy of Kavya Sekara Vimasuma authored by Prof. Sucharitha Gamlath. Writing about the Queen, Prof. Seneviratne in a letter dated July 21, 1999, said that the London Museum was right behind where he stayed and he would visit the Buckingham palace and that Queen has a strong personality and that she would have been tired at the evening of her office. He said that the Queen had hosted him for a high tea. Most people would create impression of them on others and those impressions would either be profitable or harmful largely depending of the intelligent of the persons who entertain them.

Recently in a long chat with me on life and times of Prof. Anuradha Seneviratne, the chairman of the University Grants Commission Prof. Gamini Samaranayake mentioned that “Anuradha was a different personality who wanted to express his heart out. If he was angry with someone, he would scold that person. But he never harboured grudges against anyone. He was very good at telling anecdotes and was a good storyteller who would be surrounded by young lecturers whenever he came to the lecturers’ cafeteria.

He always said that man should lead a memorable life”. Prof. Samaranayake said that he used to spoke to Prof. Seneviratne on the phone and then visit him at his residence in the last days of his life. Senior Civil Servant Dr. Leel Gunasekara when I met him at his Colombo residence said that Prof. Seneviratne used to phone him and that he never thought that he would depart so soon. Dr. Gunasekara said that Prof. Seneviratne was an outstanding personality.

Prof. Seneviratne made life-long friends by starting to quarrel with them and that would eventually cement the friendship. Quarreling was a one way of showing his friendship towards others.

His son and my friend Udayana Seneviratne says, “He would get angry with me when I told him that I would not be able to stay with him. But on the way, he would call me. ”

Following his death, his friends in abroad either spoke or send messages of condolence.

Recently, a function was held at the Asgiriya Pirivena in Kandy. The function was held to felicitate Bhadraji Mahinda Jayatilaka who wrote a large number of books and novels on diverse subjects. I together with Prof. Daya Ameraseakara was invited to deliver special lecturers on Bhadraji Mahinda Jayatilaka. When I told him Prof. Anuradha Seneviratne’s passing away, he got to know it while he was in New York.

Foreign academics who closely associated with Prof. Seneviratne sent messages of condolence on his passing away. Among them were Prof. David Jackson of the Yale University, Prof. Gormrische and former head of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

Prof. Jackson said that through Prof. Seneviratn’s writing, the world came to know about diverse aspects of Sinhalese culture and civilisation. Prof. Gormische said that the passing away of an academic in the calibre of Prof. Seneviratne was an irreparable loss.

Former head of SOAS Prof. Reddi stated, “I remember with great respect and affection his energy, humour, humanity and incisiveness of mind. His historical and linguistic learning was formidable.”

His humility and unassuming friendly nature was well-known along the citizens of Kandy. At the funeral, an old man was there and when questioned he turned out to be a citizen of Kandy town.

He said that Prof. Seneviratne would speak to anybody who reconised him and his writings particularly on the history of Kandy were of lasting value. It is obvious that Prof. Seneviratne could not entertain such a large circle of friends and well-wishers if he had been in ivory towers of academia. In short, Prof. Seneviratne was an unforgettable figure for anyone who came into contact with him.

The writer is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sinhalese,
University of Peradeniya


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