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Darling we aren't too old, though we pass the Jubilee Gold

Love in a hot climate

A trip to Nagadeepa clinches two hearts

"Writing maketh an exact man" - Bacon

One fine day, three decades ago as a little girl of four years, I was clinging to my parents' hands as I entered the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). I was to take part in the popular children's programme, 'Handa Mama'. Mrs. Sumana Jayathilaka, the presenter and producer of the program warmly welcomed me.

I was naive and nervous knowing nothing about what was happening in the studio. I still remember somebody adjusting the microphone for me. I wanted to run away, but her sweet, soothing voice calmed and subdued me.

Mrs. Jayathilaka started interviewing me. She asked about my school, my best friend, what I learn at the montessori and even about the blue dot I had on my forehead which I was very fond of when I was small. 'Raththa Maage Vahupatiya' (the little calf of mine) was the song I sang.

Mrs. Sumana Jayathilaka's appearance has now faded away from my mind, but her voice remains in my memory; thanks to my father who recorded the 'Handa Mama' programme on his radio tape recorder. Every time I rewind and listen to this programme on our tape recorder I had tried to recollect what she looked like that day. Even after becoming a journalist, I always had the desire to meet her and interview her.

So after three decades, here I was interviewing somebody who became a heroine in my little world when I was a kid.

On the other hand it's a great challenge to write about another writer, for Mr. K. Jayathilaka is a great writer. They celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary on May 24 last year. So, here is their love story.


 K. Jayathilaka and Sumana Jayathilaka.
PiC: Sujani Kumuduni

The year was 1953. Jayathilaka was invited to join a trip to Nagadeepa on the request made by his friend. It was arranged by the Musaeus Teachers' Training College, Colombo. Along with the teachers, a few Senior Prep students of Musaeus College too got the opportunity to go on the trip. The young women were looking smart and pretty, Jayathilaka noticed. But he did not get the chance to talk with any of them as the bashful maidens were clinging together.

He was eyeing one good looking damsel who had a melodious voice. Once or twice Jayathilaka somehow managed to exchange a few smiles with her. She was friendly, he thought. He heard others calling her 'Sumana'. "That must be her name," he guessed.

At one point they had to cross the lagoon by a Ferry to go to the Nagadeepa temple. Jayathilaka used this opportunity to somehow stand beside the girls who were enticed by the enthralling scenery of the sea and the lagoon.

Sumana pointed a sea gull to her friends. Jayathilaka is a man of literature.... A string of lovely poetical thoughts embraced his mind. Suddenly, in the middle of the river the rope that was used to sail the ferry got disjoined, and the boat got stranded on the lagoon for sometime.

Being on a swaying Ferry enjoying the fresh breeze from the sweet sea in a mesmerising scenario with sea gulls, the clear blue water of the sea, busy fish who were waiting to swallow the pop corn that the ferry passengers were throwing for them were altogether providing a romantic atmosphere.

And in a place like this whose mind won't overflow with thoughts of love?. Jayathilaka almost crept towards Sumana. "Nice scenery?" he murmured. "Ha! yes," she replied with a fine and friendly tone.

Then the rest of the girls also joined them. They talked for another few minutes.

Kaluachchige Jayathilaka was born on June 26 in 1926 to Kaluachchige Arunolis Appuhamy, a landed proprietor and a farmer and Madduma Amarasekara Arachchige Podi Nona at Kannimahara, Gampaha. Since the two siblings born before him were dead, Jayathilaka was considered as 'Loku Putha' (the eldest son). Jayathilaka was blessed with five younger brothers and one sister.

Jayathilaka first went to Radawana Boys' School (today, Mahagama Sekara Maha Vidyalaya) at Radawana.

After sitting for the Senior School Certificate (SSC) exam in the Sinhala medium, Jayathilaka came to Colombo looking for a job. 'Gains Borough Tutory' at Maradana was the islands best correspondent college which conducted postal tuition for all the exams (local and London). He could find a clerical post there. "It was 1944.

My first salary was Rs. 45. Out of that Rs. 30 was deducted for the boarding house and only Rs. 15 remained in my pocket. Unlike today, there weren't any labour rules. We didn't have ETF, EPF or overtime. If the employer wanted to chase an employee away he could do it without any prior notice," he reminisces.

Jayathilaka was a talented and a courageous young man. He enrolled himself at Loranze College, Maradana and got through in the SSC in English medium in 1947. Then he started his own business centre called London Correspondent College of postal tuition in the same year.

He got through the G.C.E. (A/L) London and then the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) London in 1956. "I had my initial education in Sinhala and had got the opportunity to read all the literary books available.

And started the English stream very much later, but was able to capture and conquer the language within a year. This was not a big deal. "Those days I used to read detective novels like Sir Arthur Connon Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes'. And later cultivated my interests in French and Russian literature," he says.

Jayathilaka had been writing to the papers since he was a schoolboy. But none were published. He was very angry about this. But, one day in 1944, the piece he wrote appeared on the 'Letters to the Editor' page in the 'Dinamina'. But the 'by line' he wrote under was the bogus name of 'Soma Amarasinghe'.

"The topic of the letter was on 'the most suitable dress for girls in a tropical climate like Sri Lanka is the frock'. Since the writer seemed to be a woman, the piece got an unexpected applaud from all over the island. As I added my address too along with the article, I got a tremendous response in letters to my boarding place," he smiles.

'Daivayogaya Vicharaya' was his first book published in 1953. He printed 1,500 copies, but could not sell even 100 copies out of it. He reduced the price of the book from Rs. 1.50 to 10 cents and gave the pavement sellers to deal with them.

After two years he published his second book 'Punaruthpaththiya' (Reincarnation), a collection of short stories was an extreme success. So he continued writing. "Sometimes I was an utter failure, but never got discouraged over anything. 'Parajithayo' (The Losers) was the novel that was a turning point in my life. It was rejected saying 'not up to standard' by two publishers - Saman Press and Gunasena.

So I published it with my own money. At this time Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra was considered as the emperor of the Lankan literary world, and it was he who wrote two criticism to the 'Daily News' and 'Lankadeepa'. It was an unexpected applaud, and it gave him a firm foundation thereafter. All three thousand copies he published were sold like hot cakes and the two publishers who rejected his 'Parajithayo' voluntarily accepted it for its second and third editions. "And at that point I also started my own publication called Pradeepa Publication.

So far K. Jayathilaka has written more than 60 books and won more than ten literary awards. His book 'Charitha Thunak' was later translated by Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra as Grain and Chaff. He got a 6 months UNESCO Fellowship to France, England, Scotland, USA and Japan in 1966.

Nanayakkarage Sumanawathi Cooray was born on April 23, 1937 to Nanayakkarage Arthur Cooray of Port Commission (today Port Authority) and Leelawathi. Sumana was the eldest to a younger brother and a younger sister.

Since her mother died when she was small Sumana and her siblings were brought up by her father and grandmother. "We were staying in Rosmead Place. I studied at Musaeus College up to the SSC. I was an allrounder who did sports and concerts throughout my school days," she smiles.Sumana was gifted with a lovely voice which opened her the doors at SLBC.

"I had won many 'Jana Kavi Gaayana' competitions at school level and island level. I could even win the Gold and Silver medals in the YMBA competitions. So Mr. K.G. Perera, a lecturer of the Musaeus Training College who was conducting radio educational programmes used to fetch me to sing and give voice cuts. And that made me to choose my career later on as a radio artiste," she recollects.

'Handa Mama' children's programme is now on the air on the Sinhala Commercial Service (sponsored by the Bank of Ceylon) on Saturday at 2 pm. Other than that she presents 'Avidda Paya Dahas Vati' a history program for the children (sponsored by the DSI), 'Kaantha Probodhaya' a programme with the National Women's Bureau on violence against women and 'Vananthare Kathandare' an environmental programme.

Sumana Jayathilaka is in the process of organising the 43rd Anniversary of 'Handa Mama' at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Colombo on January 27. The chief guests will be the Speaker, W.J.M. Lokubandara and the Mass Media and Information Minister, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.

Lets zoom back to their love story. After the trip, Jayathilaka could not forget the fair girl he met the other day. After having several dreams of her both during the day and at night, he decided to write to her Principal Mrs. R. Attanayaka.

And she handed it over to Sumana's father. And Arthur Cooray started seeking for the guy who was said to be in the printing business, a writer and so on... and moreover he had fallen in love with his daughter.... Meanwhile, Jayathilaka had also started haunting the Rosmead Place area often in his Morris Minor car.

After spying for several days, one day he managed to catch her. When he saw his dream princess walking towards him, he forgot his words which he was ready to utter. But however, he regained his senses and talked to her. "I promised you to give some notes that would be useful for your exams. But forgot to ask your address.

So it's a co-incidence that we met here," he said. But, no not at all it wasn't a co-incidence. The intelligent Sumana knew this. After politely refusing the lift he offered her in his car, Sumana asked Jayathilaka to handover the notes to her at her home when her father was at home. So he did.

Soon Jayathilaka's humble and truthful qualities won Sumana's elders. And after sitting for the SSC exam Sumana became the bride of K. Jayathilaka at YMBA, Borella.

Soon they became the parents of two sons (Avanthi and Probodha) and two daughters (Dr. Karnika Mabotuwa and Sarala Peramunugama). "We are very proud of our children. We had given them the best education and all of them had at least obtained even the MSc.

Today we are grandparents of six," they say. When talking about K. Jayathilaka if we do not talk about the K. Jayathilaka Foundation Library at Kannimahara it would not be right. He donated his ancestral home at his birthplace to the government along with a large number of his collection of books for the children, students and researchers.

"We rarely got an opportunity to get a book to read when we were small. Abraham Lincoln once said that he had to walk many miles to get a book to read. And he had gone to school only one year, and that was also disrupted from time to time.

When I read about the great people like them I feel that I've also gone through a life like that. So that's why I decided to open up a library like this for the future generations," he says. "Understanding and trust were the two most important tools in our lives. We've never disturbed each other's careers.

If you are faithful to each other you will be rewarded with a long happy marriage," they conclude.

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